We got on the flight yesterday afternoon. Just about six hours door to door, I forgot how long the transcon flights can be. The captain was a friend of mine from my days on the Airbus, so we chatted for a few minutes before I settled into my seat next to Beth. It’s always nice to see a familiar face. We got in late-ish last night and grabbed an Uber to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. This morning, I was up at 0530, just before dawn.

Twenty-four hours to go.

In my entire running career this is the closest I’ve ever been to running this race. I have mixed emotions as I sit here in bed waiting for the sun to come up. My default is to say I’m nervous. That’s mostly true. I’m not especially worried about the distance, or the course. I’ve run in San Diego many times, and while the route is different and certainly longer, none of that really bothers me. It’s all the unknowns that come with running my first real half marathon. Things like, where do I get the shuttle? How will I find the right start line? And mostly, water. I’ve trained all my long runs with a hydration belt, carrying 40oz of water with me. My impression is that this isn’t something people do on race day, so I’m going to have to hit the water stops. I know that’ll slow me down, and I know I can do ten miles without water, but since that’s not ideal on race day I’m going to have to make it a point to stop. Since I’ve never actually done this before, I suspect it’s going to be a learning experience.

I’m putting together a plan for tomorrow morning. The timing will depend on when I start, which I’ll find out later today. I’m assuming I’ll be up at 4ish, make some coffee and oatmeal, relax for a few minutes and get my gear together. Since I’m not running too fast I’m expecting to be on one of the later busses to the start line. I have a plan for the race, and I think it’s reasonable. I’ve been training my long runs at a 10:00 per mile pace, so I’m hoping to be done in around 2:10:00. Is it lightning fast? No, but who cares? I’m getting it done. After this race is over and I start looking to the next one, I’ll start figuring out how to get faster. Right now, the goal is to get it done, the time doesn’t matter as much.

Considering my history with attempting to run races, I’ll spend the rest of the day wrapped in bubble wrap and looking both ways before crossing any streets. This is happening.

Twenty four hours to go.

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Amid a flurry of grass clippings and dust, I saw the USPS truck speeding around the bend in our street as though our few humble homes were the last deliveries standing between this mail carrier and the freedom of a holiday weekend off. I rumbled to the backyard on a mower that has likely seen better days, and when I came back, there was a box resting on the doorstep. As a self confessed Amazon Prime junkie, I knew I wasn’t expecting a delivery. I examined the return address and immediately knew what was inside.

ScooterBob had arrived.

When I first signed up to host ScooterBob I was the proud owner of a 2014 Triumph Bonneville. My third motorcycle, the Bonne turned out to be a perfect fit for me. In the two years that I had it, It took me on pretty amazing adventures. There was no ride too long, no adventure too daunting, simply nothing I could not do with that bike. The story of its passing is as dramatic as it is sad, and is a post for another time. I mention it now because given the untimely parting with my Bonne I was unsure if I was the right person to host ScooterBob. Would he still want to see New England if it wasn’t on two wheels? My correspondence with the current host (Toadmama )and moderators ensured me that Bob would still want a visit no matter how it happened. I was touched by their kindness.

So here he is. As I opened the box I was profoundly moved by the small wooden motor scooter I found inside so lovingly packed in bubble wrap and peanuts. I found the bag of souvenirs that chronicled his journey around the world. I carefully unfolded each piece, remembering where I had read about it before. There was no doubt in my mind that this little scooter, and the man who inspired it’s travels, meant a great deal to the people who are keeping his mission alive. Described as an imperfect human, I feel like maybe Bob and I would have gotten along.

So for this man I have never met, and the people who have taken such good care of the tiny scooter that embodies his traveling sprit, ScooterBob and I are going to kick some ass.

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As a gun owner/advocate I feel strongly about taking the responsibility of owning and carrying a gun seriously. To me that means being proficient in not only the safe handling of your guns, but also the efficient employment of your defensive firearms. There’s a significant difference between a range gun, one you like to shoot for fun, and a gun you rely on to save your life and the lives of your over ones if needed. The best way I’ve found to determine which category one of my guns falls into is to take it to a class and train with it. Not just practice at the range on my own, but to run it hard it all day, or multiple days, through a variety of drills, positions and weather. At the end of a training evolution like that you should be able to tell whether you’re going to want to fight with that weapon or just plink with it on the range.

Case in point: Last year, I was bitten by the AK bug, and decided that I really wanted to add an AK47 to my safe. Because, you know, all the cool kids had one. I did some research and bought a Century Arms C39v2. One hundred percent made in the USA it seemed like a decent option for a somewhat less expensive AK. Now before I go on, whatever you may have to say about the Internet rumblings about CAI reliability, standby, I’ll speak to that in a moment. Moving on. So, I had my new AK and immediately took it to the range. It ran great, but as an AR15 guy, I realized I was going to have to I spend a good deal of time learning how to actually operate this rifle in the way it was intended, as a fighting rifle. I did a lot of reading, made some functional cosmetic changes – swapping out the nice walnut furniture for Magpul polymer, and adding an optic. After all that, and hours of dry fire and live fire practice, I finally felt ready to take it through some training. I signed up for a one day rifle class at the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. I’ve taken quite a bit of training with them, so I was confident that I was going to get a good day of work in running this rifle. My goal for the day was to be able to tell if I, as a lefty, could run the AK47 platform as efficiently as my AR15.

First, the rifle, now with over a thousand rounds through it, ran 100% reliably. No malfunctions whatsoever. I’ve found some wear on my bolt and carrier but none of that has affected its performance. All guns will fail at one point or another but so far my experience with this AK47 has been positive. Before getting into the operation of the gun I will add that the C39v2 with its milled recover is heavy, weighing in at just under 9lbs with no magazine. That’s pretty stout when you start adding body armor, sidearm, additional mags and gear. For the class my loadout probably weighed in the vicinity of 50lbs. Definitely doable, but something to take into consideration.

Concerning left handed operation of an AK47. Its no secret that being a left handed man operating in a right handed man’s world takes constant adaptation and improvisation. Running an AK47 is no different, and as such, there are pros and cons to being a lefty with an AK. With the charging handle located on the right side of the gun, if you watch a right handed guy running a reload of an AK you’ll see him doing a couple of different things to reach it to rack a round into the chamber, reaching under or over the rifle to operate the action. So here’s my big win for the AK: since the charging handle is on the right side of the gun I can keep my left hand on the grip and rack the bolt with my right hand after loading a fresh magazine. This makes for a super fast and smooth reload sequence, assuming I do my part.

Here’s what is less awesome: the safety. Unlike the AR15 the AK47 is decidedly less modular and an ambidextrous safety simply isn’t an option without a significant amount of work, and probably a gunsmith. I’ve done plenty of reading that says as a lefty all you have to do is swipe the safety off with your right thumb and go to work. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, and it does work. The problem I found is that if you want get your support hand out on the end of the rifle for more control, it’s slower than already having an established grip. I recognize this as a training issue, and by no means impossible, but I’m not sure how practical it is in real world employment. From the low ready position, it’s not bad but from the high ready I found it even more difficult to get the safety off, my support hand out and the shot off in any kind of reasonable time. The trained AR guys were smoking me. I eventually gave up moving my support hand at all and just held the magazine. It should be noted that if you’re going to do that, get your thumb out of the way of the charging handle. The charging handle doesn’t care about you or where you put your thumb. Ask me how I know. Lastly, when put into a real world simulation at the end of the class, I found that when forced to moved to multiple firing positions, flipping that safety on and off between moving was clunky and slow. It was obvious how much easier the AR15 thumb safety was to operate in that kind of dynamic environment.

By the end of the day I could draw a few conclusions. First, I knew that I could reasonably operate this rifle, and fight with it if I needed to. I feel pretty good about that. However, I also recognized that as much as I like it, the AK47 is not going to be my go to defensive rifle. Will more training and practice smooth out these issues? Absolutely, and I will continue to work with it. But if you asked me to grab a rifle out of the safe right now and defend my loved ones, the AR15 would be the first one out the door. That realization alone made the cost of admission and ammunition more than worth it.

I have and always will encourage gun owners to get out and train. It’s easily the best money we can spend and best way to tell if your guns and gear are going to work when you need them. I will be the first to tell you that there are plenty of shooters out there, far better than me, that have forgotten more about shooting than I’ll likely ever know. It’s in our interests to seek those people out and learn from them. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Techniques and and technology are constantly evolving. We must evolve with them or be left behind.

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I don’t always love it. Sometimes it’s cold, raining, windy and easily the last thing on earth I want to be doing. Yesterday was no different. I procrastinated in the car for an extra song working up the nerve to get out there and get it done. The first half mile was cold and the wind seemed to go right through me. I finally warmed up somewhere around mile 2, and by 3.5 I was committed. At mile five I thought, it’s only five miles back, that’s nothin.

It’s been hard for me to get motivated over the last couple weeks. Cold weather, rain and some pain has made running not a thing I’ve been super interested in. I’m not proud of it but it’s the truth. The thing that makes me suck it up, step outside and run the miles is that for the last eight weeks, every long run has been the longest run since my accident. That accomplishment reminds me that even though it sucks sometimes, I’m not dead, and I’m not quitting.

Monthly Totals for 2016 not including cross training:

January: 6.22
February: 24.57
March: 36.76
April: 57.70
May (to date): 17.11

I hit double digits yesterday with the ten miler coming in just a little under target time. Four weeks to go. I just might be able to pull this off after all.

Gear Check

Posted: March 2, 2016 in Shooting
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It’s a popular, and well reasoned opinion that you should clean and inspect your defensive tools often. Keep your folding knife sharp, change the batteries in your flashlight, clean your gun regularly, check your mags, and cycle out old ammunition. These are good practices that will ensure that if you ever need any of your gear, you can count on it to work.

I wrote recently about moving my spare magazines back to my pocket for ease of carry. I haven’t had the opportunity to get out to the range so the other night I had some time to myself and thought it would be a good time to do some dry fire practice, including simulating emergency reloads from the pocket using snap caps (inert training rounds). As I was downloading my mags I noticed the follower was hung up inside the body of one of the magazines. I shook the last few rounds out and attempted to unstick the follower. It wouldn’t budge. I took the magazine apart and found this:

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This small pile of paper somehow managed to work it’s ways inside the magazine causing the follower to get stuck. This is critically important because if I were using this magazine I would have experienced a failure that would have required an immediate action drill: Tap, Rack, Strip, Reload, Bang. If I encountered this failure at a time while relying on the handgun and this magazine for my life, I would have been in one hell of a tight spot. I’m glad I found it when I did.

Preflight your gear people, and do it often.

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So as I understand things, every four years we get an extra day in February. My first thought on this is, why can’t we get an extra day in a month that doesn’t suck? Like July. Who doesn’t want one more day of July? Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

But I digress. Today is February 29 which happens to coincide with the first long run of my training program. It was on the schedule as a five miler, and since I’ve been running this winter more than most I wasn’t feeling too intimidated when I set out. The mercury was reading a balmy (for February in New England) 54 degrees when I stepped outside, so there was no need to layer up. The air was chilly but comfortable and the only issue I had working against me was a line of weather pushing in from the west. I knew when I left the house I was likely going to get rained on.

I’ve been doing some reading this winter about how to better train for half marathons, incuding the concept of running slow or taking walk breaks on long runs. I’ve never really done this before. My approach has always been to run a faster pace early and slow down towards the end. I didn’t really care as long as my average pace was a number I was happy with. I’m getting to understand that this isn’t really the most efficient way to train. Since I’m pretty intent on not getting injured in the next eleven weeks, I decided to make a change. My last 5k came in at roughly a 9:00/mile pace so I set the pace for the five miler at 10:00/mile, a goal of an even fifty minutes. I didn’t realize how difficult this was actually going to be. Rather than just putting my head down and going, I had to keep a close eye on my pace and when I felt myself getting too fast, make the conscious decision to slow down. I found this to be completely counterintuitive to what I’m used to. I’m usually pushing myself to go faster.

A couple miles in the wind picked up and the rain started. It wasn’t a monsoon by any means, but the rain was steady enough, and as you might expect, being cold and wet was pretty awesome. All I wanted to do was pick up the pace, get the run over with and get into the hot shower I had waiting for me at home. Is that what I did? Nope. I watched my pace and ran slow, even though it was uncomfortable to be outside. I got back to the house in 49:35.

So its the end of February, and in the last two weeks I’ve logged 20.57 miles with a couple days in the gym for some cross training. Not so bad for winter and I’d say a pretty good start to 2016.

Here comes week two.

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A few months ago I went through the somewhat painful process of choosing a new every day carry pistol. After some trial and error, I tabled my ever reliable Glock 19 for the smaller and slimmer Smith & Wesson Shield. I’m pleased to report that after about 1000 rounds the Shield has turned out to be a reliable pistol up to the task of every day carry. Of course, the system doesn’t stop with the gun, it needs a holster, which anyone will tell you is almost as important as the gun itself.

Before making the switch from my G19 I ordered the Incog Holster with the Mag Caddy option from Gcode Holsters. The research indicated that this was going to be a solid, and complete carry system. This is all true. The retention of the gun in the holster is about as perfect as anyone could ask for, and the belt clips lock tightly around the entire belt which means once you clip it in, it’s not coming off. I thought the mag caddy was a great idea to keep a magazine handy so I don’t have to dig through a pocket to reload. It’s a complete system. So when I bought my Shield I ordered the same holster with a detached mag pouch.

So why am I writing about this?

After a few months of carrying in the Incog I found a few problems. First was concealment. It’s good and bad. The way the clips are designed, they push the gun up tight to the body which, in terms of concealment, is a pretty good thing. The downside is that to achieve this, the clip actually pushes the belt out a little bit causing a fairly noticeable bulge under tighter fitting clothes. Add the magazine pouch to this and the result is a shelf like bulge at the waistline, which in the world of concealed carry is a lot like a neon sign screaming “I HAVE A GUN!” This is undesirable. I realize that 97% of people would likely never notice, but to me if feels pretty obvious.

Getting a complete grip. So yeah, this one is important. To make the gun as concealed as possible, the holster is set with a low ride height, meaning the grip of the gun rides almost right on top of the belt. I have two issues with this. First, in the draw stroke I found it difficult to get a complete grip on the gun. I would have to two finger grip it, then reestablish the grip during the presentation. If I actually had to draw my gun in an adrenaline dumping defensive scenario, this is never going to work. Additionally, because I’m left handed the magazine release faces out. This is important because with the low riding holster I had a consistent tendency to eject the magazine in the draw. Kind of a problem here too. There’s not much I can do about the button itself, so I decided to try changing the ride height, and have the gun sit higher above the belt line. This was a notable improvement in establishing the grip without ejecting the magazine, but it’s also where I started to struggle with concealablilty. I ended up ditching the mag pouch and going back to pocket carry, which helped a bit, but it’s not a solution I really like for my mags.

Lastly, is comfort. Not that it’s completely uncomfortable, it’s just not…. Great. Even tucked into the right spot in front of my left hip, I could never get it in a comfortable position, and with the added mag pouch, it was worse. I think it has something to do with the clip pushing the belt out and wearing clothes that actually fit. This is, of course, the least important issue, but as I have said before, if your system is uncomfortable, you’re not going to carry it.

After going out with Beth one night and feeling like I looked like someone getting ready to give birth to…. something…. I decided it was time to try something else. I recently advised my father in law to go with a Crossbreed Mini Tuck holster for his G43, and since I used to use a Super Tuck for my G19, I thought it would be a good place to start over. I put in an order for the appendix holster for the Shield in the hopes that it might remedy some of the issues I discovered with the Incog. In initial testing, the first thing I noticed was that the ride height was about the same as the adjusted setting on the Incog, and once I got the cant adjusted I could get a full, complete grip on the gun without inadvertently hitting the magazine release. That’s a pretty big improvement. Like the Incog, the Crossbreed comes equipped with a strong belt clip, but because the clip doesn’t push the belt out, it creates a less obvious bulge under an untucked shirt. Lastly, I find the design of the Crossbreed, kydex over leather backing, distributes the weight of the gun and holster so there isn’t one point of pressure, making it more comfortable and easier to carry.

Although it’s still early in the trial process, it seems that the Crossbreed Appendix holster is an improvement over the Incog. The only problem I haven’t solved is how to carry my spare mags. I don’t love pocket carry for a number of reasons and finding an IWB mag pouch that is comfortable and actually works is proving to be a challenge. It may be that pocket carrying magazines is a training issue that just has to get worked out. Time and range trials will tell.

Lastly, I feel it’s important to note that the Incog really is a good holster. My findings here are just the result of trying to integrate it into my personal system. Your own experience may be different. I would not hesitate to recommend the Incog to someone looking for a well made, top of the line kydex holster.

Ok, that was more like 1000 words.