Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"You are better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can."

Ragnar Relay: Cape Cod with the NE Spahten Chicks 

Dear Blogland,

This weekend, I finished the single hardest race I've taken on, to date. Harder than the NJ Spartan Super, harder than the Vermont Beast.... harder than my first half marathon..... this weekend, I tackled my first (...and not last) Ragnar Relay, in Cape Cod.

Sometime last November, on a whim, I happened to mention out to Facebook that I thought the Ragnar Relay: Cape Code would be a cool race to do, someday.
Next thing I know, less than 2 weeks later, my home team the NE Spahtens, had run with the idea, formed teams (one chicks only, one guys only and one co-ed), registered..... and was holding me responsible.

Oh. Shit.

However, that was back in November, I was getting back into training and surely I'd be all set, by the time May rolled around, 6 months later. However, alas, Life happened and I was nowhere near where I should've been to start this race, wanted to be, or could've been. I was in a complete flat-out panic. As race day loomed, I reflected on all the training I had not done, all the weight I had not lost, and all the miles I had not logged. I was going to let down my 11 other teammates, I was not going to be able to finish, etc.... you can see where the negative spiral was going. Nonetheless, my team held me to it, and dragged me to the event.

Start Line: Hull, MA, 5am
After a full work-day on Thursday, I rounded up the Great White Rental Van, picked up my other Vermonters, Stacey and Shelley, and hit the road, bound for Massachusetts. Shortly after beginning our journey, while stopping for a Dunkin' fuel stop, my flip-flop (my only other pair of shoes, other than my race sneakers) died. I immediately assumed that this was not a good omen for the beginning of the journey...

Upon our Late Arrival in Massachusetts (thanks to a lack-luster dinner at Friday's and a quick stop at Target for some new flip flops!), we met up with another of our teammates, April, and crashed quickly to sleep. We hit the pillow just about midnight... expecting the rest of our teammates to arrive at the hotel to rendezvous at 3am. NOT our best plan ever.

Sunrise over the water at the start line!
Alarm clocks off at 3am, and we all groggily pulled on our spandex, before meeting the rest of our 12 person team. Hugs and greetings were exchanged, bags were shuffled, and we piled in to our two mini vans, to head to the start line.

The co-ed team was starting the earliest, at 5am with our team to follow at 6:15am. The energy at the starting line was intense, full of life and positivity, despite the pre-dawn hours.  Our first runner, Tora, took the starting line looking totally bad ass and ready to kill it. The announcer amped up the crowd and sent off the racers to start the clock on our event.... there was no turning back now. I will freely admit, I was a huge ball of nerves and there was absolutely nothing I wanted to do more at this point then run away. Far. Far. Away.

Van 2 Ladies (minus Amy our photographer!) at the crack of dawn.
Looking around at all the teams gathered to send their racers off at the start line, I was the heaviest person there. Although the population of OCR's and other obstacle races is flush with intense athletes, usually, there is a healthy population of weekend warriors, or people in the beginning stages of their fitness journey, who are working for a finish line - not an elite time. Looking around at the Ragnarians, this was NOT the case.... this was a compilation of established runners; I felt out of place, out classed and more unsure than ever, that I had made a good decision showing up.

Ready for my first leg!
None the less, the Van 2 ladies (Amy, Jess, April, Katie, Stacey and myself), piled into our van, to begin our "downtime" while Van 1 (Runners 1-6) ran their first legs. Despite the early morning hours, energy, anticipation and nerves were running high, so no one got any sleep. Instead, we found our first exchange point and got ready to rally.

Sending off Amy (our first runner of the 2nd van) early Friday afternoon, really began the journey for our half of the team. So far, our team was right on our predicted pace, running strong and doing well. I wanted to throw up more and more, as each minute ticked closer to the time I'd have to run. As we passed all the runners on the road, it became increasingly evident to me that I was WAY out of my league. These were not 12-13 minute miler's on the road. These were spandex clad running athletes.

I readied for my first leg, which was to directly follow Katie's epic 12.8 miler (so epic, she got a special medal for it being "wicked hahd"). The weather was overcast, cold and windy - but at least I wouldn't be too hot, right?

I spotted her neon outfit (she's hard to miss...), received the hand-off slap bracelet, and off I went down the road. I knew I could run for at least 6 minutes straight, if I took an easy pace, and I just hoped this was enough to take me out of the eye of most of the crowd gathered at the exchange point.

A scenic Exchange point!
I trotted along, getting honked and screamed at by other passing team vans (it's how you show your support at a Ragnar!), and tried to stay positive. I wasn't running fast, but I was running. Other gazelle-like runners floated by me, passing words of encouragement as they went by. I pushed.... until the effing hills. Isn't Massachusetts supposed to be FLAT? I assure you, it most certainly, is not. My body was saying it was just about time for a walk break, and I didn't want to kill myself on the first couple of hills, will the majority of my 4.5 mile run still ahead of me. Strategy: Walk up the hills, run down them.  Taking a peek at my GPS watch, I was still doing okay, for what I predicted... 13 min mile or under - which seemed reasonable with walk breaks.

4.5 miles wore on and I did my best. Trudge up hill, run down it. Try and run the flat as much as possible. In the last couple of miles, my calves started feeling tight (never a good sign for me), so I did a little extra walking.... and felt pretty crappy about it, watching the gazelle-runners continue to breeze by. Forcing myself into my run intervals, a new complication arose.... my right foot... then also my left foot, went completely numb. Like, you-sat-on-your-foot-too-long numb. Couldn't feel them at all. Could still feel the calf cramps, but the feet were just numb stumps on the end of my legs. I had a little panic about that, walked, rotated my ankles, and returned the feeling to my feet. Started to run again and within a minute, both feet were gone.

Having not experienced this before, I was unsure as how to proceed. My logical brain was telling me that my calf cramps, coupled with foot swelling from running and a chronic ankle injury, and sitting in the car, etc. was just pinching a nerve. However, my emotional brain was freaking out. This was only my first leg, and I wasn't done yet.

Thankfully, I was able to run through the numb feet a bit and saw the "One Mile To Go" sign (a blessing that Ragnar puts on every leg!!), and decided to get the job done. I was rewarded with my leg opening out onto a nice FLAT run on the bike path next to the canal, under the Bourne Bridge. Flat surfaces are much easier to run with numb feet. LOL. I finished under an hour, averaging a 13 min pace, and considered that a success. Surely the other legs would be better?

Nutella and Bagels: Race Fuel!
Van 2 finished up their legs that evening, passing the baton back to Van 1 to take their second round. In the meantime, we were HUNGRY. We located an IHOP, ate our weight in eggs and hashbrowns, and restored ourselves to somewhat human to prep for the rest of the event. We tried to get a bit of napping in, but still, everyone was running on a very small amount of sleep. Here's where our endurance would start to kick in.

Van 1 finished up their second runs around midnight and handed back the baton to us, as our runners set forth into the night, headlamps and blinking tail lights ablaze. I have to say, Ragnar did a great job at marking the course, having police present all night long to help with crossings, and generally, make you feel safe and not alone, as you ran through the wee hours.

As my second run approached, I wasn't feeling too nervous. Even though I was still feeling like the Fat Kid on the block, my next run was a short 2.3 miles, that I was sure I could bang out at the same, consistent pace. 5:30 dawned, and my teammates chucked my groggy self out of the van and set me off of on my supposedly flat, scenic run.

It was a quarter mile in, when my calves locked up, that time. I don't mean "my calves felt tight" or "they were a little crampy".... I mean, they locked up solid, felt like rubber bands pulled to tight... and shortly thereafter, the foot numbness followed. Less than a half a mile in, I was walking, couldn't feel my feet and faced the longest 2 more miles I could think of. Taking a minute to stop and evaluate, I noted that my feet/ankles were super puffy - presumably from sitting in the van so much.  Coupled with the calf cramps (that I'm prone to anyway).... that seemed like a recipe for the foot numbness. Having a reasonable explanation helped my mental state a bit..... but did not help the task at hand.

I looked forward to the scenic route that I would be running through the marshes at dawn, and noted the uneven dirt road, lots of loose gravel, and other obstacles. that running with numb feet didn't seem like a good idea, on. I could just picture me trying to run along, stepping wrong on a rock because I couldn't feel my feet, and rolling an ankle. I had zero idea what to do at this point.... so, I just kept moving. Run where I could, until my feet went numb, walk a bunch. Run again, walk again. My frustration was at an all-time high, as I watched my pace sink slower and slower. The negative self talk started spinning, reminding me that I was in no way ready for this event.

One of the gazelle runners ran by me, while I was walking, and turned to me and said, "c'mon girl! You got this!!"... and I tried to muster a smile, but I was too busy feeling ragingly ashamed. I'd undertrained, over committed and saddled myself with a race that I couldn't handle.

As I rounded the 2 mile mark, with a small .3 to go, I had pretty solidly reached the conclusion that I would not be able to complete my last leg. I was facing another 4.5 mile leg... which, after this epic disaster of a 2.3 mile one, I couldn't find any way in my head to complete. I felt like I was beaten, I'd let everyone and myself down, and I'd have to DNF for the first time in my life.

Last .3 miles, and I rallied as best as I could, trotting into the exchange point, trying to cover up the pain face. I was a solid 10 minutes or more behind my projected finish time, but my teammates were there, cheering and waiting for me, regardless. I passed off my snap-bracelet, barely acknowledging Jess, as I did so, and tried to walk off the cramps and flood of emotion that was suddenly hitting me. Katie asked me how it went, and the best I could do was shake my head, muster a "not good" and try and suck back the tears welling up in my eyes. I choked down a few ibuprofen, stretched a bit, and climbed into the van to deal with my thoughts. Thankfully, my teammates seemed to sense the space I needed, and left me to myself to process for a bit.

At this point, I felt that the only thing I could do was bail out of my last leg, and hope one of my teammates could pick it up for me. I even texted my GT (Guru Trainer), saying that I could not finish, and I was cramping, etc. The situation was bleak, in my head. I'd failed. Yet, not one of my other teammates ever started talking about taking over my leg, or what the plan would be if I could not run. "Not finishing" was simply not an option. We were in this together, we would all finish, one way or another.

I sat in the van reserved, unhappy and lost in my own tangle of thoughts. I'd been in tough spots before, at races, but never really got to the point where I really felt I couldn't do it. This was the time, this was the wall. my last leg was slated to be 4.5 miles of "moderate". That was not an encouraging thought. However, I looked around, and despite tired faces, there were smiles. My team, after being up a solid 24 hours at this point, was still joking, cheering for runners and "tagging" vans with #NES at every opportunity. They were all putting solid efforts into their runs and coming out on top, despite the adversity presented at them.
I could not quit now, I wasn't that person.

Right about that same time, Katie announced that she was feeling pretty good and happy to pace my last leg with me, to help me get through it. I had two legs and some support and a team that didn't care about time. It seems I had no excuses left.

I broke out the Tiger Tail and started rolling my legs. Time to STFU.

For the next 6-7 hours, while 10 other runners ran before me, I stretched, I rolled, I massaged, I walked.... I did everything I could possibly think of to loosen up the legs and get the swelling to go down. Sitting at our last major exchange, waiting for our Van 1 to finish, I stuck on my KT tape, with a little prayer to the running gods, to just get me through this.

While catching a luke-warm shower for the first time in 36 sweaty hours, I adjusted my wardrobe choice, even. Although I was planning on a hot-pink tech tee, I elected to sport a STFU t-shirt, with a spartan helment and "Spartan the *&^* UP!" on the back. It seemed like the right sentiment to be going into this last trial with.

The day was 70, sunny and beautiful, down the far reaches of the Cape, as my last leg drew nearer. I reminded myself that there were a lot of lessons to be learned here, and a lot of things to be thankful for. It was a perfect day, I was with some of my favorite people, I had all the support I could ask for and it was JUST another 4.5 miles for me. (In comparison, some of my teammates had 6 or 9 miles facing them to finish!)
The T-Rex Run, as I started my last leg

Around 3:30 that afternoon, it was Go time. Katie, our neon-clad mileage beast, passed me the baton, and promised to catch up as soon as she had caught her breath, and I set off at a hopeful slow, steady pace.

I was barely around the corner and out of site of the exchange, before my calves went angry. I gritted my teeth and kept going. Shortly after my feet going numb, Katie appeared with a smile and a cheerful outlook, to help me trudge up a few hills. We trekked on, chatting, running whenever I could manage it, walking as needed and generally pushing through. When, out of nowhere, Van 1 (done with their runs for the day) appeared, screaming and yelling and blasting some tunes. After dragging a smile out of me, they drove on a little ways, to greet me with the Rocky theme song. Later, I got an 80's dance break, to Pour some Sugar on Me. LOL. Van 1 ladies, your antics certainly broke up the monotony that could've been the walk-trudge of death. (and we know the other runners loved it!!).

Last leg, trying to rally!
Miraculously, the miles went by. They certainly weren't pretty, nor did they feel good... but they were a means to an end. That "one mile to go" sign was so welcome, as we turned into a small "trail" section, where we found ourselves walking through loose sand. My calves were having NONE of running in loose sand, but we kept plowing forward.

Sprint Beginnings... 
Emerging on the other side of the sand-trail, there was a volunteer with a flag, that loudly proclaimed, "You're almost there! 500 yards to go!" and pointed us around the corner. I have never been so insanely relieved in all my life. I could do anything for that long. Katie and I picked up a jog and rounded the corner. As soon as I could see my team in the distance, something clicked over in my head. We were getting this done, and we'd do it Spartan style - Leave EVERYTHING out on the course. I didn't want to simply trot to the finish and know that there might've been an ounce more that I could've done.... there was a little more in my legs, so it was time to use it.

Cue The Sprint.
Leaving it all on the course, and getting lift-off!

Katie and I picked up into a dead sprint, each of us pushing the other to go just a little faster. I saw Jess, amid the pack of cheering and clapping Spahtens, waiting for the hand off, and charged right at her. Skidding to a stop I snapped the bracelet to her, and paced around, trying to catch my breath. I felt awesome. THAT was how you finish a race, no matter how crappy the rest of it went.

I'd done it. I'd covered the miles, and didn't have to run anymore. All I had to do was cheer my ass off for the 9.6 miler that Jess was going to pull off and bring us to the finish. With no doubt that she could do it, I smiled in satisfaction. We were almost. there.

We rallied our vans and made our way over to the Finish area. I inhaled my free burrito from Boloco and remarked about the cruelty of Ragnar to put the food area UP three small flights of stairs and a small hill. However, the food was pretty tasty and the energy at the finish was awesome.

It wasn't too long when we heard that Jess was a couple miles off. It was time to gather the troops and wait to bring her in. The Chicks were all smiles as we waiting a few hundred yards from the finish, trying to spot our runner off in the distance.

Before long, we spotted her, cresting the last hill and headed towards us. Our cheers - both for Jess's feat and our own personal wins - drowned out the surrounding sounds of Provincetown. She barely slowed as she rounded the last corner and stormed the finish line.... flanked by 11 of the coolest teammates anyone could ever ask for.

Charging the Finish!
After crossing the finish line, tears welled up for some, smiles and hugs spread like wildfire, and medals were handed to us. I think the epicness of what we had just completed as a team, really started to settle on us.

I was slow, fat, undertrained and not ready for this.... but, my team dragged me through. For that, I'll always be grateful. For me, getting this "success" under my belt was the final push to get back to where I was, with training and running and racing. I LOVE the competitiveness of a race, the camaraderie of your team and even the people you don't know, and the irreplaceable experiences that come out of these situations. This race, really hitting bottom and crashing through that dark space in my head reminded me why I chose to get out of it the first time around.
NE Spahten Chicks: 2014

Thanks to the Greatest Team (including the support, hugs and cheering from the Men's and Co-ed team!) ever, I'm motivated and pushing to a goal again.

As for Ragnar.... well... we're going to have to have a rematch. I finished, but in no way near the way I'd like. Next time, I will run more than I walk, I'll feel strong going into it, and I'll run that race the way it's meant to be run. I hear there is the Adirondack version in late September... which sounds like a good goal to train to. Plus, from finishing this Cape Code Ragnar, we'd be eligible for a special double medal (the Docks and Daks medal!). And really, who doesn't love bling?

Again, I'll say, this was the toughest event I've tackled, to date; however, probably one of the most gratifying as well. Sometimes, it is in your darkest places, that you see the light to go on. :-)

Our Van, post race-tagging. Next time, we're all over this!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. –Chinese Proverb

Spartan Shape-Up 2.0, Day 4:

I'm sitting here drinking an abundance of water (so. thirsty), after a wonderful 60 minute massage that the man in my life got me for Valentines day. It was pretty great... it hurt. so. good. Walking in there today, my muscles were a bit stiff and creaky - but it was earned stiffness. Not just the kind you get from sitting around in a chair. Huzzah! This is progress.
Further, I saw this massage lady about 5 weeks ago (Christmas present massage, yes!), and she told me today that she can see that I've gained some muscle and strength - particularly in my quads and hamstrings. GOOD LORD, because there's nothing a T-rex needs more than MORE LEGS.... but, hey, I'll take the gains wherever I can get them. (and more muscle gain=more calorie burn= faster weight loss!)

Allow me to tell you the next chapter in the how-I-got-sore-but-earned-it, this week.

Monday's WOD at Crossfit was awesome, but after some KB swings and deadlifts and such, I'd earned a day off of that sort of thing for a bit of rest. Tuesday was going to be a run day for me, but Life got in the way and it just didn't happen. However, I rallied, and on Tuesday, I found myself back at CrossFit Waterbury for the lunchtime WOD.

(...because this cracks me up.)

A note about lunchtime workouts: I highly recommend them, if you can manage it. I've found that I start my day, get working, and just about the time I need a break, it's lunchtime and I head to my WOD. After that  break and some movement, I feel energized, accomplished and ready to sit back at my desk and tackle the next thing. Good times!

First, we did some Skill Work on Rope Climbs. As many of you know, I have yet to get up an entire rope climb (there was that one time I got halfway up a dry rope, before a workout and not tired...) and it is one of my long-term goals. In theory, I know how to do it - I've watched hundreds of Spartans beast through it, I've watched videos from Navy Seals on the technique, and yet... it eludes me. This is supposed to be a more leg-based activity, if you're doing it correctly, but I've still yet to get it.
Through some patient coaching and demonstration from Robyn, I went for a few solid attempts. Still not there. I can execute the maneuver, but when I go to stand up on my S-hook rope, I slide.
Although, I did learn a new technique for "learning" purposes. Start sitting on a box, put your feet in position, then stand up. This more closely simulates the action you'll be doing when you're actually climbing - bringing your knees up as high as you can, gripping (not pulling) with your hands, and then standing to bring your hips to the rope. I -still- can't really do it.... YET.  You just wait. :-)

Next, we headed on to the WOD:
For Total Working Time:

10 power cleans (55#)
15 Burpee Box Overs
20 OH Walking Lunges (10#)
40 Double Unders or 80 singles
REST 3 Min.
Rest 3 Min.
REPEAT (for a total of 3 rounds). 

So, my total time came in at 23:23, and I was pretty sure the Burpees were going to kill me. Burpee Box Overs, for those that haven't yet experienced this new kind of hell, are ugly.  You do a burpee, stand up, Jump Onto and Over box. That's One. Burpee on the other side of the box.... stand up, jump on box and over.... that's 2.
Fat Chick Syndrome (you've all heard me talk about FCS before?), gets really inflamed during this sort of task. Burpees kill me, cardiovascularly. I'm panting and sweating like I'm about to die (clearly this means I must do more). As such, refusing to quit, I am forced to do them slower. There are points (we've all been there, with The Burpee), where I'm laying on the floor, working on getting up, and start beating myself up over the fact that this would be SO MUCH EASIER if I wasn't the fat kid. Enter FCS. I have spent a lot of the last few years working to change this thought pattern, or at least channel it differently. Now, I get angry and push through. There was a point, during the second round of these burpee box overs, after a particularly sharp pang of FCS, that I pushed a few out quickly and had that dreaded, "am I gonna throw up right now?" moment. Luckily, I moved through that as well.
I guess that's the key to these ugly movements.... JUST. KEEP. MOVING.  It can't go on forever. If you keep chipping away at it, it'll be done. Then, you will feel awesome.
Thankfully, there was an excellent cheering section at CFW for the WOD that kept the positive mojo flowing. Definitely helps!

I was happy that I beasted through the power cleans with some efficiency. I try to remember things like that when I am feeling particularly weak (like while doing burpees). For instance, I might say to myself.... "Hey, so these burpees suck really bad because our spare tire is WAY too big right now... BUT, I owned those power cleans...."  Whatever gets you through, right?

Over Head Walking lunges are not a great favorite of my t-rex self. While the lunges are that bad (although, nothing is that great, after burpees and box jumps...), using my wimpy arms to hold something over my head, arms locked out, is not pretty. However, it had to get done, even if it meant doing two, taking a 3 second break to breathe, and getting back to work.

Here's the moral of the story, BlogLand. It may not be pretty, you may not feel athletic, it may not be as easy as it once was..... but in order to see the results, you have to do the work; as slowly as necessary, as scaled as necessary, as sweaty as necessary.... but you must keep moving.

Tomorrow, I think I'm going to take an easy run to stretch the muscles back out (I'm not sure what is more sore, lingering Crossfit achiness, or the aftermath of a rigorous massage?).... because this weekend is Adventure Weekend with the Man. We're trying SNOWBOARDING!!!! (stay tuned for that update).

Monday, February 10, 2014

“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don't sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we've satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late. - Lee Iacocca”

Spartan Shape Up, 2.0: Day 1

Dear BlogLand,

The time has come. I'm well again (screw you, mono!), I'm cleared of all weird injuries and healing issues (screw you hip and ankle!), and there are no excuses left.

I've been "trying" to get back in shape and get back into the routine for the last month or so.... since that moment where I stepped on the scale (Jan 1) and realized EXACTLY how bad the holiday reckless eating had become (bad. real bad.). We all know how "trying" goes though... "trying" isn't exactly "doing." Trying means that I've acknowledged that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, I have a loose strategy on how to do it, but I haven't quite 100% committed to the arduous task of correcting the situation. However, in that last month or so, I have used that time to take a really thorough self-inventory and figure out where the mental blocks are now, how I can best over come them, what my goals are and where my priorities lie.
One thing that I have learned is, as one of those lucky sort that get to Work From Home (yes, sometimes in yoga pants, allllllll day!), I'm a social person and I desperately need to leave the house on a regular basis and see people. For all my best efforts, instituting a totally at-home workout plan (while cost effective...) was never going to be very successful. I'm a person who loves a group atmosphere, the energy of a crowd and the outside motivation of "other people" to help push me a little harder than I'd go on my own. Struggling to figure out how to make that happen, the solution fell in my lap:

CrossFit Waterbury opened, 12 minutes down the road from me. CrossFit is a activity (sport?) that was instrumental in getting my spartan-self shaped up the first time around, as it is constantly varied, fast paced and has a friendly-yet-competitive atmosphere that I found worked well for me. Also, it's probably the only time a person of my fitness level can do the same workout as that superfit guy.... thanks to the wonders of being able to "scale" each movement to your ability level.

CrossFit Waterbury, boasted a super convenient location (right on the main road!), a cool space (garage doors! yesssss!) and some super friendly, encouraging and supportive owners (Shea! Robyn! woot!). The stars have been aligning, BlogLand. No more room for the excuses that I've been setting up for myself.

The test subjects... there I am! center, back row
So, I took the leap. I suited up all my extra squishiness into the familar spandex and lyrcra, and joined them for their promotional (free!!) week of classes.

Blogland, it's great to report that I had a fantastic time. It's been quite a while since I had *fun* working out. But I did. I chatted with all the other scared newbies, swapped stories about our goals and journeys ahead, and - most of all - felt part of a small community of awesomeness. SOLD.

That feeling of "I-Can" was reignited in me, where I had lost it for the last few months. I'd spent a lot of time at home, feeling out of shape, Fat (yes. I use the F word), defeated and discouraged. What I'd found at CFW was a reminder that I CAN do it.... even if I have to do my push ups on a box, or lift something lighter, or go a little slower. Baby steps are still FORWARD steps.

With that, I ponied up my hard-earned cash and grabbed a membership, so I was ready to go today, on Day 1 of their official opening. Here's how it went:

I hopped in for a lunchtime WOD, which Robyn was leading. I admit, I'd scoped it out last night when they posted the WOD, and was... *gasp* looking forward to it! It was a WOD that would play to my strengths (heavy stuff! Yeah!), and work out some of my weak areas... (t-rex arms, boo!).

After some hip mobility work, which felt AWESOME for a desk jockey (all-day chair sitters... do yourself a favor.. STRETCH!) like myself, we got into the first part of our WOD:
Front Squat: 10-8-6-5-5-5 

Starting out light, I practiced my form with the 35# bar to do that initial set of 10. Although squatting is a strength of mine, front squats require some shoulder mobility to perfect that rack position, that I don't yet have. A few suggestions on keeping my elbows up, and I was on my way.  Time to add some weight. I threw on a couple of 10# plates, leaving my total only at 55#. I say "only" because historically this isn't much weight for me. BUT, I'm trying to make good, sensible decisions as I come back to training. I haven't been very active, I have a (theoretically recovered) hip injury that will need to get stronger, I needed to work on that form, and there was a good number of reps there. So, sticking with my 55#, I felt solid working through my ladder sets, keeping my damn elbows up.

Next, we moved onto the first half of the main WOD:
6 Min AMRAP (as many reps as possible):
Odd Minute: Burpees
Even Minute: KB Swings (25# KB for me)

I died inside. It probably looked like I was dying outwardly, too. LOL. Burpees for me, like many Spartans and non-spartans alike, are the enemy. No matter how much practice I have, they continue to suck really badly. Further, when you've reached out-of-shape-again, they suck particularly badly. Nonetheless, I panted and sweat-puddled my way through them, one minute at a time. I was reminded of something a veteran Spartan told me once - "You can do anything for one minute." So, I did. I used the KB swings as my anchor (I like those!), and powered through them, as best as my body could handle. Needless to say, my cardio has some room for improvement, but I logged a solid 87 total burpees and swings in 6 minutes. I also logged several "*pantpantpantnotquitedead* stops" . At some point, I'd love to get through this without having to pause for air.

With 2 minutes for us to catch our  breath, we moved on:

WOD, Part 2:
AMRAP, 6 mins.
4 Deadlifts (75# for me)
6 Push Ups (tall box, for me)
8 Toes-to-Bar (.... knees to 90 degrees for me!)

So, another example of a great scaled WOD.  Deadlifts are something I can do pretty easily, and in retrospect, I should've made these a bit heavier. However, I was still recovering from burpee death and all my brain could handle was Yes.Light.Good.
Further, this T-Rex hates pushups, because I'm quite sure my arms are going to fall off, so I chose to use a box here, instead (maintain good push up form, but relieve your arms of the evil weight!).
Last, toes to bar is a little challenging with a good-sized mid-section in the way, so I went with Knees up as high as I can for some core work.

On we went. I felt awesome plowing through DL's and overall, this wasn't too bad.  I logged 5 solid rounds in 6 minutes, which I was happy with. I was able to keep moving right from one to the other, without a lot of lag for OMGIMDYING breathing in between movements.

Home now, my leg muscles are reminding me that it's been a while since we've done much squatting, swinging or really.... ANYTHING.  I fear that tomorrow and the next day could be a bit challenging when I try to walk up the stairs in my house.... however, I'm going to take that as an affirmation that I did something. I kept trying, and I showed up. VICTORY.

Dear BlogLand.... we begin the journey to fitness, again... but, dare I say... I'm looking forward to it?

“The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Yoga: "Bullshit rainbow unicorn calisthenics"... or not...

I over actively recovered on Rest Day...

Typically, Sundays are a Rest Day for me, where I sleep in, recharge my batteries and prep for the craziness that will be my life the following week... this week, thanks to the new gym membership, I decided to mix it up a bit and try something different.

I got up early this morning and went to BodyFlow, lead by a high school friend of mine (and fitness inspiration!) Shelley. Supposedly, BodyFlow is supposed to be like Tai-Chi, Pilates and Yoga mushed together. That sounds relaxing and like a good stretch and stuff, doesn't it? Sounds like a great way to start an "active recovery day" right?


They  neglect to inform you that you will STILL get your ass handed to you.

When I got there, I was happy to learn that this was a no-shoes class. While I know many of you are grossed out at the thought of going shoe-less in your gym, I generally find shoes confining and was thrilled to "relax" in a yoga class with no shoesies. ahhhhh....

And that, friends, is where the "relaxation" ended.

Having never done this class before, I entered with an open mind, trotting merrily over to get my loaner yoga-mat. After adjusting myself out of the Front and Center spot (ooops!), I felt good about this. Looking around the room, there seemed to be ladies (and one dude!!) of all shapes and sizes, ready to get their BodyFlow on.

The music started, and I was glad to hear some current tunes, just remixed in a way to make them a little more soothing, or with an appropriate back-beat. We began with some tai-chi breathing and I tossed my energy ball (slightly less than gracefully, I think) around the room. I admit, I was envisioning a CrossFit wall ball while doing this... then, when I chastised myself for thinking of it that way, I moved on to a super villian, throwing energy balls..... also not exactly the relaxing image one is hoping for during the tai-chi session. Nonetheless, I hurdled super-powered energy balls around the mirrored room, avoided catching glances of myself in the floor to ceiling mirrors, and took some deep breaths, as we moved into some yoga.

Now, Blogland, I know Yoga is not my special talent. Even at my fittest phases of life, I just.don't.bend. that way. I want to. I try. I put my weight in my heels in my down dogs, and I try and open my chest in twisting triangles, but good lord.... it's just not a natural progression. I continue to try. Thankfully, BodyFlow didn't seem to have TOO many pretzel moves, instead focusing on more strength/balance yoga... which I do kind of like (... maybe because I'm better at it?).

I breathed into my baby cobras and up dogs, and rocked some steady, deep, Warrior 2's.... balance, though I like it, is not an aptitude of mine at the moment, due to some rehab I'm still doing on my ankle. My "tree" pose, looked more like the ever-serene "tree-in-hurricane" where you spend your 2 minutes (or 3 hours. It felt like three hours!), wobbling, re positioning, touching down, wobbling... However, the Physical Therapist recommended that I stand on one foot as much as possible, to help strengthen those ankle support muscles.... sooooo.... tree, star, eagle stuff, it is.

About 2/3 of the way into the class, I had worked up a little sweat from the exertion, and the close quarters of the group, but was feeling relatively strong. Then it happened. A seamless, unassuming, transition of instructors, where the announcement that we'd be doing some Pilates-style core work, happened.
I didn't even have time to think, "how bad could it be?" before I was down in a plank, alternating knee touches, and leaving a lake of sweat pooling directly beneath my brow - furrowed in burning muscles and concentration.
I attempted to power through, but I won't lie - I had breaks. Core is also another area that's not my favorite (thus, underpracticed...), and I definitely don't look graceful doing ab work.

However, I'd like to use this time to comment on people that "phone it in" during group classes. I don't get it. While I FULLY understand the need to modify, take a break, etc.  I do not understand just not trying at all.... why? Because it seemed to hard? You might break a sweat? what?! Isn't that why you're HERE? ..... Dear women that just laid on their bellies looking around all guilty, while the rest of the class (including the women 2x your size) were giving their best effort at "swimming" and working on our back muscles..... you KNOW you're only cheating yourselves, right? Anyway, rant over. Back to Me.

Just about the time I was convinced that my abs were going to go on strike (this would be right around the time I was doing some sort of planking or something, where I was shaking and sweating...), we moved on to the more relaxing stuff.

The room lights were shut off, the music was more calming and we were lead through a little guided relaxation and stretching.
True to what they say in the description, I felt relaxed and had no other thoughts in my mind...... It was nice. A couple minutes where I just chilled out and breathed.

Overall, I had a great time. I was afraid this was going to be a little on the touchy-feely-hippie side, but instead, I ended up getting a nice, calm workout. My (generally tight!) muscles feel stretched out, I was pleasantly tired, and I could see the potential for strength and mobility gains, if I kept coming to class.
Okay, BodyFlow, You Win, I'll be back.
.... I will still be sweaty, whiny and unbendy for a while, but I'll be back.

Following that, I ran home and ate some lunch, and had a little time to relax and rehydrate, before heading out on Sunday Adventures, Part 2.

A couple of my local Spartans (and Spahtens!) Stacey and Hannah had agreed to take on a 5 mile walk around a local scenic pond, with me. They both ran the Fenway Spartan Sprint yesterday, so it was going to be a lovely, relaxing Sunday stroll (it seems like that's how all my intentions *started* today...).
We did have a lovely time, walking around the pond, with my wee dog in tow - and Stacey's Sloshpipe (I think it needs a name). Clocking in around 25#, SloshPipey McPiperson (?) was rotated through us, every mile or so, or after steep hills. It was a nice way to just push our endurance a little more, without extremely upping the intensity. My FitBit clocked me in at 13K steps, at this point in the day! WIN!

Now I'm home, had a great dinner and am EXHAUSTED. Seriously. I don't feel like I did anything particularly "hard" today... but OMG I'm tired. I blame DayLight Savings Time.

With that, I leave you Blogland, for another cup of tea, and then - following shortly thereafter - my bed.

Rest - equally important in the fitness journey!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

Left foot, Right foot, left foot, right foot...

It's been a good few days, BlogLand, with a distinct theme: Just keep moving. Try something. Anything. Decide to change.

On Thursday morning, I found myself up EARLY and headed out to go walking with my Mom, step-Dad and my Man (and the dog!). My Mom has recently been motivated by a health scare and is taking some significant steps to improve her health, despite the fact that she's 63, a heavy smoker and hasn't been particularly active for the last few years. It wasn't a long walk, maybe a mile and a half, but we (She!) was outside, moving and making a decision to change. I couldn't have been happier to walk along beside - what a great, motivational way to start the day. If my mother, given the physical/mental obstacles she's working with, can get off her couch, I have ZERO excuses to not get my ass in gear and continue down my path towards my fitness goals. For the last few days, I've used this thought as inspiration to go up and down the stairs and extra time, or skip the honey in my tea, or whatever little thing I need to do to stay on track. Blogland, if you learn only one thing from my list of trials and tribulations on my way to success, it's to compile a long list of reasons "why" you're doing what you're doing - especially those that exist outside of yourself. Whether it's the quadruple amputee many people saw take on a Spartan Race earlier this year, or simply your Momma skipping her morning smoke and taking a walk, supplemental motivation and inspiration is all around you. Take note.

Today was another "Run" day for me (I currently still use that term loosely), so I laced up the sneaks, grabbed the dog's leash and off we went. (it's worth noting that it was November 15, in VERMONT, and I was comfortable in capris and a t-shirt.... WTF? Hellooooo Global Warming.).
The Zombie, Run! 5K app is really a saving grace right now. I'm intrigued with the story line, and the workouts are very approachable, while still moving along my run training, that I don't feel like I dread taking them on.
Today went like this:
5 Minute Warm Up Walk
5 Minute Free Form Run (Run/Walk at your discretion)
THEN (5x)
1 minute run
1 minute walk
10 sec of knee lifts/high knees
8 minute free form run
2 minutes of guided stretches
8 minute free form run
Walk/cooldown for remainder.

I am happy to report, BlogLand, that I successfully completed this workout as written. I ran every second of the run drills, and I ran a lot of the free form runs, in burst of run/walk. I'm really satisfied at how today went, because I feel like I'm making a bit of progress. A month ago, between rehab and pain and out-of-shapeness, running 1 whole minute (much less repetitively) would've been awful and just not doable. I'm also finding that with the small successes again, I feel motivated to keep going and keep pushing to the next thing. I was missing that for a while - without biting the bullet and getting over the initial unpleasantness, it's impossible to find your small successes. I'm glad I discovered this silly Zombie app, it's definitely easing the way.

Also today, I took another step to help hold myself accountable: I accepted a DietBet challenge. The basic idea of this DietBet is that each participants puts in $15, then has the following 4 weeks to lose 4% of their body weight (for me, this is just under 10 pounds...). If you do, then you go in the winners pool and split the pot of money. If you don't, you lose your cash. I like money and I don't like to lose at anything... SO... this seemed like a doable challenge to keep me moving.

UnHappy Scale Face. :-(
Subsequently, I got on the scale today, to determine my starting weight, etc. for this challenge. I pretty much wanted to die. I saw a number that I SWORE I would never go back to.... but thanks to Life in General and the fact that sometimes, Shit Happens, here I am.

While my initial reaction was one of shame, horror and OMFG ?!!?!?!?!!?!??!?!, I am happy to report that it has passed and I have come to a better place with my thought processes. Basically, it is what it is. It is where I am starting. That's it. It's no reflection on me as a human being, it's not a judgement of how awesome I am, or how much potential I have, it's just a number - one that I can, and will, change.

SO, BlogLand.... Starting today, I have 4 weeks (until December 15) to lose 9.9 pounds. It's on like Donkey Kong.

With that, I leave you all, in order to work on getting a better night's rest. Tomorrow, I'm up early to check out a BodyFlow (yoga/pilates/other?) class and then go take a stroll (5 miles...) around a pond with some Spahtens. It promises to be a good day.

One foot in front of the other.... slow progress is better than no progress!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Sic Parvis Magna" - Greatness from Small Beginnings

... And So It Begins... Again.

Dear Blogland, 

It's been far too long. After a long string of illness and injury (and subsequent rehab), I finally find myself back in a place where I'm "healthy" and really ready to get back at it. I've got no more pain, no more excuses....... and exactly no motivation. I have a metric ton of goals and plans and desires, but lately - although I was itching for months to get back on my feet - I'm having trouble getting started. 
I was cruising along with amazing momentum last year, making huge progress, really turning myself into who I wanted to be..... then Life happened. Now, too many months later, I'm back to recommit and gather that momentum all over again. 

Recently, I've found myself sitting around, unhappy, not feeling energetic, distinctly feeling the 35 pounds I've put BACK on (Yes. 35. I want to poke my own eye out. However. It is what it is, and where I'm starting over.), and at a loss at what to do. How do I pick myself up again and get back on the right path towards health, fitness and a Spartan-esque lifestyle? I sat with this question for weeks, as I dabbled in sporadic exercise, but just couldn't get back into the routine. 

Finally, it hit me...Do what worked the first time. Last year, I lost over 90 pounds, was crazy strong, ran up to a half marathon, a Spartan Beast and had all sorts of adventures. THAT is where I want to get back to... so it would stand to reason that a good place to go is back to the start. That's where you come in, BlogLand. I realized that in my slump of a pity-party, I didn't write. I didn't tell you what was going on, and I certainly wasn't holding myself accountable (or letting you help me with that) for all the crap I was shoving in my face, all the workouts I was missing and all the life that was passing me by. SO, for better or worse, BlogLand, you have me back. Buckle Up... I'm moody, cranky, and a little nuts... but I'm determined. 

Today Marked Week 2, Workout 3 of the Zombies Run! 5K training app that I'm currently following, to structure my running progress. It's literally been a year since I've been able to comfortably (no pain, etc.) run a solid 5K, so having a structured program, to help pace myself and prevent re-injury is essential. Plus, having something to "do," like listen to an interactive Zombie story, livens up the time. 

I won't lie to you... Today, it was 29 degrees and a bit windy here in Vermont. Going OUTside (I work from home, so I hadn't really had to go outside today) didn't seem like the most appealing plan. It seemed cold, unpleasant and a lot like WORK. With that, I suddenly was reminded of why I needed to do it. *Needed* to. Not wanted to, but needed to, to get to my goals. Donning my tried and true UnderArmour coldgear (good lord, what would I do with out that stuff?!), I grabbed my Puppers, Dobby (Dobby, because her ears look a lot like THIS, when she's being silly... ), and away we went. 

The workout starts out benign enough with a 10 minute warm up walk, while you intermittently listen to your playlist and hear some plot development from Zombie HQ. Then, we're on to walk/run drills. This workout was 30 second run, 5 heel lifts, 1 minute of walking.... Five times. After that, it was a 10 minute "free form" (run, walk, whatever) run. I'm happy to report that a 30 second run is no problem at all (finally!) and in my "free form" run, I'm once again able to start measuring my run time in MINUTES, rather than seconds. It's been a while. 

I will also admit that a little "saving face" and internal competition fuel me through these workouts. I went running on a busy running path today - so I was constantly confronted with other runners - all of whom (today) looked very fit and scenic as they trotted merrily along. A start contrast to my strong, but steady, thump thump thump (I sometimes hope that having my adorable dog along distracts people from the complete ungracefulness that is me right now.). When I see these other runners, I always push to run just a little more strongly, or a little further than I want ("Self, we're not going to stop until we PASS them..."). Competition, even if it's in your own head, can be a good time, sometimes. 

After the completion of my free form run, I had some time to walk and stretch it out, before returning to my car. I've been feeling good after my runs, lately. No cramping, no aches, no stiffness. I'm pretty proud of that, as it means I'm doing SOMEthing right. 
Overall, I rate today as a complete success. And the wee pup had a great time too, despite the weather. She's not ready for her sweater, just yet!

Further, I'm happy to report that I'm back eating pretty strictly Paleo (with the addition of dairy). The Man and I have been shopping based on a pre-planned menu for the week, leaving no room in the cart for "bad stuff" or random things that don't need to be in the house, lest I shove them in my face in a moment of weakness. 
We've also acquiesced and joined a local SnapFitness. It wasn't my first choice of gym (I REALLY wanted to get back to my membership at my CrossFit gym), but it was the cheapest price tag around, offered a month to month "contract" and would me more than sufficient to serve my workout needs for the foreseeable future. Also, it's 24 hours... that means I have even LESS excuses to not get to the gym. 

The Key Concept here: Setting oneself up for success.
It will be a long road. It will be a bumpy one.... but you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other........

Until Tomorrow, BlogLand! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead. ~ James Joyce

 Dear Blogland,

This is my Dad.
This is MY Dad, standing at the starting line of his very first Spartan Race, at 62 years young.
I couldn't be more proud.

Many of you are familiar with the crazy adventure I've been on the last few years, transforming my life, losing weight and trudging on the quest for Increased Awesomeness. In the process, I found a passion for Obstacle Racing and a real support family in Spartan Racers. Starting in May of 2012, I crossed my first Spartan Race finish line and "knew" as they say, that my life would never be the same. Finish line after finish line followed, and I had trouble expressing to my family - who was not athletic or competitive at all - WHY I would willingly do these things. Yet, they kept seeing the physical changes, as well as the mental changes, as I became healthier and happier. Finally, my Dad wanted to know what it was all about, and came to see my finish my greatest challenge yet - the 2012 Vermont Spartan Beast. He stood at the finish line into the darkness, waiting for me to cross - which I did, muddy, bloody, exhausted and most of all, accomplished (here's the whole story) .  After which, in a comment on my blog, he said: "If there is a prouder father anywhere in the world right now I'd like to meet him and tell him about MY daughter! And who knows... maybe these creaky old bones, now inspired, will "get off the couch" and do something too. You've set the bar high - I wonder if I can 'Spartan Up'?"

Dad shows a muddy wall what's up.
And so it began, Blogland. For the last eight months, I watched my Dad take a turn and change HIS life. A computer geek all his life, "light hiking" would be the extent of my Dad's athletic experience. He's never been in any sort of race that I know of, not a fan of competition, and never would've considered spending money on a gym membership. Weight came and went in spurts (due to an irrational love of Little Debbie and Coca-Cola).  After seeing my VT Beast Finish (which was symbolic of a lot of mental finish lines for me), that all changed.

One day, he wrote me and told me of his plans to attend a local boot camp to learn how to workout (it's a funny concept for most of my readers... but it is something you need to learn!). Twice a week he'd email me and regale me with his Adventures At Bootcamp from the previous night - how the chest fly machine nearly wrenched his arms out of their sockets, how he was improving on the treadmill, how he was actually enjoying the assisted pull up machine. My personal favorite, however, was the day he learned how to Burpee. They weren't comfortable or easy (when are they ever?), on injured 62 year old shoulders and knees that have seen a few bumps along the way, but he learned how to push through and modify - because nothing is more iconic of the Spartan Race, than the Burpees (of Death!!). He wanted to be "ready."

Dad takes on Canada's crazy Upper Body Killer!
Being an excellent student, my Dad started studying the races. What else would he need to prepare for? What clothing should he have? Where to get such footwear? I knew he was serious, when he informed me that he had mounted a regulation size rope-climb rope in the garage to practice with (which, to this day, remains the victor in every attempt my Dad and I have made to climb it. ONE day, Rope, the Varney's will get to the top!).

Suddenly, May was upon us. I'm sure my Dad had "The Final Countdown" playing in the back of his head. First-timer nerves (and questions) bubbled up as The Day drew closer.

Dad (afraid of heights) owns the Cargo Net!
Then, disaster struck, just a week and a half prior to the race. I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis (at 30!! ARGH.), and prescribed NO activity and decidedly no obstacle races for the foreseeable future. As I kissed my racing season goodbye, I was suddenly heartbroken - I was supposed to take my Dad through his first Spartan Race. Dad and I were supposed to cross that finish line TOGETHER.  Now what?

Ultimately, my Dad did the only thing a true Spartan would do - he decided that, even if he had to go it alone, he had trained, felt as ready as he was going to be, and he would find that finish line, whatever it took.

It seemed there was a Spartan Spirit in my desk-jockey Dad, after all.

Race Morning dawned over the Montreal Sprint, a brisk 45 degree high, cloudy, with periods of rain. This is where I should mention, there is nothing my Dad hates more than being cold. I was anxious FOR him, as I really wanted him to have the full awesome Spartan experience, so he could understand my passion, not just be cold and miserable the whole time.
... and does his penalty burpees!

Apparently, my fears for my Dad were completely unfounded. At 62 years old, without any "buddy" on course with him, my Dad took down one obstacle after another.

The heights didn't get him.

The temperature didn't get him.

The new challenges didn't get him.

The lack of experience didn't get him.

I am also very happy to say that three sets of 30 penalty burpees ALSO didn't get him. He followed my advice to take them slow and steady, and did every single one.

I can't attest to what may have happened out on that course, as only my Dad can say (Perhaps a Guest Blog coming on?), but I can say that my Dad, too, "Knew at the Finish Line."

Upon crossing the US border, where the cell phone would work again, I immediately received a call. I was worried he'd be hurt (we're all protective of our parents, right?), or that he'd be miserable, or that he would've not finished.... But instead, he told me that a) He was HANGRY (racers, you'll understand), and finally understood my need for immediate food consumption after races and b) He had returned from his international soiree VICTORIOUS.
Varney Determination.

The picture to the right, although not glamorous, is my second favorite picture of my Dad from that day. It's cloudy, it's super muddy, it just looks cold, and he's covered in mud. His face is showing that point that every Spartan hits at some point, EVERY race; it's the moment that you're tired, uncomfortable and wondering what you were thinking when you signed up for this. It is also the moment you Spartan Up, start really earning your eventual medal, and separate yourself from the masses that are still sitting on their couch, because YOU - spartan racer - keep putting one foot in front of the other. In this picture, my Dad doesn't necessarily look like he's having a good time. We all know what those muddy, wet clothes feel like. It doesn't look like the end is in sight. On his face, though, is Determination. What that says to me is: I. Will. Finish.

Welcome to Spartan Race, Dad.

However, I must conclude with the photo of the day, capturing the moment perfectly (yes, Varney's have all the luck, getting awesome fire jump pictures at their inaugural Spartan Races):

Forged from the flames, my Dad emerges SPARTAN.

Still Smilin' at the end!
For all of you that doubt yourselves, are afraid, unsure, feeling out of shape or non-athletic, or too old... My Dad disagrees. 62 years young, he got off the couch (or, more fittingly, out of the office chair), changed some habits, got moving more, ate a little less and took one step after another towards getting healthy. Why? Because he decided he could.

Decide you can. Regardless of your age, weight, fitness or perceived limitations. You'd be amazed at what you will find you are able to do.

As the cuts and scrapes heal from this crusade (Dad. Don't forget the Neosporin), my Dad and I are looking forward to tackling a race together, when the doctor says I'm good to go. I never thought I'd say this, but I am thrilled at the prospect of carrying sandbags side-by-side with my Dad, or (maybe?!?!) holding the rope, as my Dad climbs to the top and hits the bell. Mostly, I look forward to crossing a finish line - A Spartan Family, getting healthy, training and being triumphant, together.

Oh, and Dad... AROO! AROO! AROO! ... I'm so proud of you. I can't wait for the world (BlogLand is a big place!) to know about MY DAD.

Editors Note: A HUGE Thank you to veteran Spartan, Dave Huckle for the great photos!