Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spartan Chicked: Spreading Holiday Awesomeness, Worldwide!

Last year, on a whim, I posed an idea to a smallish group of Spartan Chicks: let's do a Secret Santa, Holiday Gift Swap. Many of the ladies had been my inspiration through that inaugural, formative  year of my Spartan Shape-Up, and it seemed like a great way to spread out the love and camaraderie that we'd all found in the FaceBook group, on the muddy courses, and frequent email exchanges. 

Our Holiday Gift Swap that year had just about 100 participants. This year, with the uprising of women into obstacle racing, subsequently finding the Spartan Chicked group at a staggering 8000+ women strong, our gift exchange garnered roughly 250 eager participants. While I can claim to be the facilitator, the Chicks involved brought the event to life, creating searchable posts introducing themselves to each other, brainstorming useful and creative gift ideas and making sure there was no chick left behind ("Yes! We'll figure out how to get a Chick gift to a women stationed in Korea in military training! Aroo!").

From the Pacific Northwest to the tip of Florida, the United Kingdom to Australia, Mexico to Canada and beyond, the Chicks embraced their Giftee like long-lost family. Some mailed gift baskets of practical use: their favorite fueling bar or gel, training gloves to prevent blisters, anti-chafing sticks for those long runs, or technical socks to keep our feet running the mountains. Others decided to pamper the inner goddess that makes the Chicks special, shipping out relaxing bath salts, salves for sore muscles, nail polish in Chicked Pink, or shiny delicate baubles (ironically) shaped like kettlebells or weight bars, to keep our head in the game when not clad in spandex. Finally, there were the socks... While all sorts of t-shirts and gear were mailed around the globe, the Chicked movement has embraced socks as a personal, feminine, yet practical, statement. Bright colored running socks, striped knee highs to protect your shins during mud crawls, dramatic thigh-highs to pair with your shorts and every incarnation in between, were gifted from chick to chick. My personal favorite, all the tall socks that proclaimed loud and proud, statements of Spartan Strong Women: "Bad Ass," "Burpees Suck," "Lift Strong" and "Girl Power." 

While the gifts were a wonderful surprise (almost all the Chicks will tell you that they were waiting anxiously by their mailbox for their Spartan Santa gift to arrive!), the thing that differentiated our Chicked Holiday Gift Swap from any other Secret Santa I've ever participated in, was the expressions of community. Every package reached it's recipient with hand-drawn cards, lengthy letters sharing holiday well-wishes, motivational notes for the year ahead and a lot of support from one Chick to another, regardless of age or distance. One package even included a small token addressed to the Chick's child, from one mother to another, because the time had been taken to learn something about the recipient and acknowledge her as a person - not "just" an obstacle racer.

As the year draws to a close, I count myself extremely lucky to be grouped in among the Spartan Chicks. Although I know they are a spectacularly determined, driven group of women, sweating their butts of to show their stuff on the race course, every year this gift swap reminds me that they are so much more than that; the women of Sparta are group of ladies, ready to welcome you with open arms and support you through whatever life throws at you. Come tall, muddy walls, a difficult personal situation, a training plateau or a bad day at work, Spartan Chicks are there - worldwide - to keep your head up and your feet moving forward. 

A big Thank You! to all the Chicks who continue to inspire one another and were willing to share some Holiday cheer with their fellow ladies. Our gift swap went off without a hitch, and I can not wait to see how much Spartan love we can flood the Postal Service with in 2013! AROO!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working. -Kenneth Grahame

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 525:

Now that the Holiday Craziness has hit a bit of a lull (after the crazy 12" snowstorm we're now cleaning up from!), I feel compelled to tell you all about the awesomeness that was my Christmas Day.

While in Christmas' past, this would involve me sleeping in until Whenever, putzing around the house in my PJ's while my mother made a big dinner and eating myself silly on carb-laden holiday treats... I'm happy to say that this Christmas (Aja 2.0!) was a little different.

Thanks to the creative ingenuity of my fabulous Spartan buddy, Stacey, I was up *before* 8am and preparing to head out in 16 degree weather for a "Festive Run" on Christmas morning. We were instructed to dress festively and prepare for an easy 5K.

Race Bibs!
Upon our arrival, Stacey passed out our race bibs. Yes. Race bibs (there's rumor that next year might have finisher medals!)! We were all rocking a festive array of clothing - Santa hats, candy cane striped socks, red and green running attire, infamous "ugly" sweaters... you name it. Stacey, our fearless organizer, was even toting a handful of jingle bells for merry-making along the way.

Festive Run Style!
Our festive crew geared up and pinned on our bibs and headed out behind our leader to greet this holiday in sweaty style. Being a Spartan and always ready to throw in a curve ball, Stacey headed us up the infamous Hill, to start. We started plowing up it and my out-of-condition (sigh) legs were a little cranky, but they were not what forced us to slow to a walk; there was actually a bit of ice that made running uphill near impossible. Not to be deterred, we trudged up the hill and resumed our run into town.

Stacey, leading the Merriment!
Turning onto the main street, we set about running a long run throw the downtown of the booming metropolis of Barre, VT. The snow was coming down heavy, in big scenic flakes, and it was everyone's picturesque dream of a White Christmas.

We were forced to go a little slow and shorten our stride a bit to accommodate for the occasionally slippery terrain - you'd know when one of the ladies had found a slightly slippery patch by the "eee!!!" followed by a giggle and continued footfalls.

Running through the main part of downtown (down one side of main street and up the other!) was the most entertaining. Drivers headed to their holiday destinations beeped and waved and smiled at The Crazies that were out taking on a Festive Run. However, if there's one thing I've learned in this Spartan Shape-Up journey, is you really just can't care what other people think... otherwise, when would you run around carrying a tire, or dropping to do burpees?

Overall though, we seemed to bring a smile to everyone's face, as Stacey would grin ear to ear and enthusiastically shake her bells and wave at the cars, while the rest of our group would laugh, smile and try not to fall on our butts.

I'm happy to say that, despite my body reminding me VERY enthusiastically that we haven't been running enough, a grand time was had by all (and hopefully, this is just the first of our festive runs!). We all made it back to our start warm and toasty and unscathed, and ready and energized to tackle the rest of our holiday plans.

It has been interesting to reflect on how things have changed, since committing to a healthier lifestyle. While I will admit there have been slip ups and backslides (I can't even TALK about ridiculous amount of cookies that have been eaten the last few days - the rest just hit the trashcan!), I recognize that I have made the change to mostly healthier decisions. While it would've been easier to stay in bed and laze around in my PJ's, I willingly suited up and went out for a merry run in the sub-20 degree weather. It can be done folks, sometimes it just takes a little longer to get your head in the right place.

Now, since I've run for every holiday so far... I wonder, what is my New Year's Day plan? HMMMmmmmm......

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 518:

VICTORY was MINE!! on Tuesday morning, when I dragged myself out of bed pre-6am and fell into Stacey's car to head to CrossFit. The weather was spitting and slushy and wet and icy.... but we were not to be deterred. Tuesday morning is CF morning, BlogLand, and I'm trying to get back in the habit of reminding myself that it is non-negotiable - no matter HOWcomfy and warm my bed may be.

It was a predominently "heavy" WOD at CrossFit that looked like this (after a warm up, of course):

E3MOTM (Every 3 Min on the Min) for 15 min:
- Push Jerks
5-5-3-3-3 (reps, with increasing weight)
- 10 Toes to Bar

So, I did pretty well with this WOD. It's been a while since I did push jerks, and usually overhead lifts are not my strong point, but I think I've gotten stronger (climbing???). I was adding weight the first 3 rounds, then the 4th round, I stayed at the same weight (85#)... but then I thought to myself, "Am I pushing? Am I doing all I can do?"... and the answer was No. SO, I tacked on some extra weight, to max out the last round at 95#. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. It was difficult, but I could accomplish it. And to think, I might've stopped at 85#, because I was doubting.

Here's the lesson... Ask your self, are you REALLY pushing yourself, and doing your best, or are you just afraid to try a little bit more and fail? Are you doubting yourself? Obviously, you need to keep yourself safe and listen to your body... but you also need to gut-check that little voice in your head that sends you all the doubts. Most often, you can do a LITTLE more, or a little faster, or a little longer.... maybe even just one more rep. DO IT. That is where growth occurs... and you just might surprise yourself.

The Toes to Bar are a neutral exercise for me. I can't quite do them, so I end up doing something like Toes to As High Up as I can Get Them... but, my grip strength has gotten better, so it's begun to get slightly easier to hang through a set of ten... rather than having to break it up into 2-3's as I used to have to. Progress! Slow and Steady.


5 Rounds for Time:
50 Jump Ropes (Double Unders if possible)
10 Push Jerks

Again, this was the type of WOD that I like, BlogLand... I really enjoy lifting, and less enjoy things like Burpees and Bear Crawls (but really, who likes that?). I did all my jumps without consequence (haven't figured out double unders, yet...), and beasted through the push jerks.
I scaled down the weight for this WOD to 75# which felt heavy by the last round, but I was able to complete (which says to me that I picked the right weight! Yay!).
Never once, during this WOD did I doubt whether I could complete it strongly. For once (in quite a while since coming back off injuries), I felt capable and powerful again. RAWWRRRR Push Jerk.
Having said that, the last round of 10 push jerks was an effort... 75# gets mighty heavy after the first part of the day and then the rest of the reps.... I had paused before my last two reps, looked at Stacey working her ass off in front of me, and giving me a GREAT example of putting your mind to something.... and taking a deep breath, I focused and banged out two more, good form, Push Jerks at 75#. I won't lie... there may have been some primal-grunting, which is never out of place in a crossfit WOD. I swear, sometimes that grunt or scream or exclamation helps you rally for that one more rep.


I felt awesome and accomplished all day. A good WOD can do that for you... remind you that your desk and your office job are not all that you are. You are powerful, capable, determined and a force to be reckoned with. How many people in the world can say they were up pre-6am and on a mission to better themselves, before the sun even came up? YOU WIN.

Today, I'm patented CrossFit Creaky.... Those push-jerks have rendered my upper body a wee bit stiff... but nothing too bad. Just a reminder of yesterday's fun!

Tonight, on the schedule is a bit of mid-week climbing, followed by a nice easy 35 min yoga session to stretch it all out. Ahhh yeah. I'm learning to appreciate that, even though I STILL suck at flexibility.

One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, making good decisions one moment at a time....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 515-16:

My biceps are sore, my deltoids are creaky and my lats are unhappy and making their presence known.

It feels AWESOME.

It's no secret, BlogLand, that I've been a little off track of late; I've had difficulty getting back into the training routine after being "out" injured, I've been struggling to get the food part under control, I've been struggling to remind myself WHY I want to get up early and go run in the cold. Further, I'll admit, when I have gone out, things that were easy (running a 5K) are challenging again, and I get into that negative "why bother!" head space.

BUT. I'm a Spartan and Spartan's don't quit. Particularly when they have big plans for a 2013 race season.

Anyway, Saturday found me in Everett, MA. at MetroRock for the Dark Horse climbing competition. No, No, BlogLand... it's not what you think. I'm *definitely* not competing (LOL!), but the CG is a sales rep for MadRock climbing shoes/gear, so he needed to go for work purposes.... and I needed to go get my climb on!

One of the first things we wanted to try out was the Auto-Belay system that they have in place. Basically, it's a device that allows you to climb without a partner to belay you - which is pretty cool if you don't have a regular belay buddy. It works on the same principle as those badge holders, or vacuum cord retractors: the device is always pulling up, until you start to fall, at which point it lets you down slowly. Sounds great, right? (we were particularly interested in trying these, because our home back rock gym - Petra Cliffs - was installing the auto belays, too...).

Clipping in for the first time was disconcerting. When you're climbing with a buddy belaying you, you can feel a constant person at the other end of your rope, that makes it feel "safe". They can keep the rope a little extra tight if you're struggling, and basically, their constant activity of belaying you reminds you subtly that someone has your back. With an auto-belay, you have a constant slight, gentle pull. One you don't notice all that much while you're climbing up... but hey, no big deal, because you're climbing up. However, at some point you have to come down and this is where the BIG DIFFERENCE lies.                                                                            

In a normal buddy-belay, when you reach the top, they've got the rope taught and you can just sort of sit back away from the wall, at which point they can lower you down at a consistent rate. An auto-belay doesn't work that way. When you reach the top, you have to just let go and trust that it will catch you; you actually "fall" about a foot, before the auto belay catches and realizes that you want to go down, at which point it slows you to a gentle, even lowering speed. But that first 12 inch "fall" is TERRIFYING. 1) you have to trust the machine to catch you, 2) it feels like you're jumping to your death, because there's no tension on the rope, really, until you pass that first 12 inches of falling and it catches. So, I won't lie, every time I got to the top with the autobelay, I had to take a few deep breaths, close my eyes and force myself to push off the wall.

I am happy to report that after a dozen auto belays in the last couple of days, I am still here to blog about it. Crazy to get used to, but safe for some solo gym work.

So, the CG and I did a few climbs at MetroRock, but then he had to get back to work... so it was just me and the auto belays. I dutifully attacked a few routes that I thought I could handle... a 5.6 and a 5.7... I managed the 5.6, but the 5.7 continued to elude me, with it's small, pinchy hand holds. I could barely get up 5-6 feet with that one. Frustrated, I was. The other thing is that, with an auto-belay, you don't have a buddy that you're switching off with, giving you some built in rest time. Therefore, like any self-competitive sort, I was working the routes in quick succession, inadvertently working on my muscle stamina. I knew it was time for a break, when I got to the top of the 5.6 and my arms were burning. Ohhhh yeahhh... that battery acid in your veins sort of feeling, that reminds you that you're alive and making progress.

With cooked arms, I unclipped for the day and went to watch the pros at work on the competition. It's really impressive what some of these people can do - hang their whole body weight from two fingers, while explosively jumping to grab the next hold. Something to aspire to, for sure. When pursuing a new activity or sport, I find it extremely helpful to have the picture of an "expert" in  your head to try and emulate. For instance, watching some of the basic, good technique that comes so naturally to the pros, helps me envision it for when I try my own tricky routes.

Fast forward to today, the CG and I headed off to Petra for a real workout. Yesterday didn't "count" so much, because I was only at it for about 45 minutes or so (although, did get a pretty good burn) and my CG didn't get to climb much at all.

We warmed up on a few routes and my biceps twitched a little, reminding me of yesterday's activities. But no matter, time to get a real WOD in. The CG suggested we do some bouldering today. Bouldering: tricky short-wall problems that you work through, usually requiring more strength, not roped up.

I fought with one problem for quite some time, as it required you to hang from your right arm (holding a wide grip on something maybe the size of a 4x6) with your feet on small holds out to your left.... then, with an explosive swing and pull on that one right arm, REACH with your left arm and grab on to another hold (thus getting your body back over your feet). Here's the thing, BlogLand... as we all know, I have T-Rex arms. The hanging was difficult enough, never mind the swing, reach and grab. We fought. I landed on my ass a whole bunch of times. There was even a moment (honesty, here at WhataBeautifulWreck...), where I was so angry that I just couldn't make my body do this - which I thought I should be able to - that I hit the squishy floor, butt first and ground my teeth, wanting to cry in frustration a bit. It's lingering remnants of my inner fat chick, feeling incapable, as well as self-depreciation, because I feel like I've been failing on staying on track, eating right, etc.

BUT, BlogLand... here is key. You can have those thoughts, acknowledge that they're a part of you.... and then tell them to STFU, as you move past them. The simple fact that you're frustrated because you can not perfectly perform a difficult activity should be a reminder that you're NOT on the couch and you're attempting difficult activities!! SO, you're not there YET.... but you're still on your way.

We bouldered a little longer, until my biceps were screaming while I just stood there, then did a few runs at some easy routes, while I focused on using my strengths (legs!) instead of trying to drag myself up the wall by my (mostly-decorative) arms.

Finally, with hands that did no longer close, and arms that were limp with exhaustion, we unroped and headed home.

.... but, oh no, we're not done yet. As you all well know, I've been trying to incorporate more stretching into my life a) to increase mobility, b) to prevent re-injuries from happening and c) to increase my performance and abilities going forward. SO... Yoga time!!

To cap of this weekend of climbing, we Warrior 1'd and Twisting Star'ed ourselves (yep, the CG does it with me too!! WAHA!) into a stretched out, pleasantly exhausted state. Corpse pose (laying flat on your back, breathing), was AWESOME.

As I sit here telling you about my adventures, I'm tired.... but that's the point. It's the end of the day, the end of the weekend , and I DID something with my life, rather than just held down the couch. I am probably going to be creaky tomorrow, but it will remind me to do some more yoga, and I will know that it is just a step in the right direction for getting my body into the shape I want it to be in.

Baby steps.

That said, it's time for some hydration (water fixes SO many things!), and some good fuel. There's a tasty pot roast cooking, some cauliflower mash with bacon (when you can't have potatoes, this can be a good sub), and brussel sprouts.

So, as you spend your Sunday evening planning your crazy holiday-filled week to come, take a moment and assess where you're at and where you've come from. Yeah, today your deltoids are on fire, and your back is tired.... but hey, would old you have ever worked that hard? Would your previous Fat Kid ever have even THOUGHT of going climbing? I know mine wouldn't.

VICTORY! One screaming muscle at a time.......

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 511:

Getting back into workouts in the early morning (AT the gym for 6:15am) is the bane of my existance. I'm not a morning person. It just doesn't go well for me.

Thankfully, I have an excellent gym buddy (rule #1 of sustained training!) who drives to my house and picks me up - I don't even have to be awake enough to drive... just clad in my sneakers and spandex and stumbling out of the house. .... which, is pretty much all I'm capable of at that time of day. It's not even light out when I leave my house, these days; that's something that's really difficult for me, as I am a S.A.D sufferer (lack of light issue).

Nonetheless, Tuesday morning found Stacey beeping in my driveway, and I tumbled out the door (banana in hand!) and grunted an intelligble "good morning."

Crossfit consisted of not one, but TWO WODs...

First WOD:

EMOTM (Every minute on the minute) for 10 minutes:
7 Kettlebell swings
7 box jumps
max pull ups

Yeahh..... That was an ugly time. I tried the first two minutes as prescribed, but while I'm fast and competent on the KB swings (using the RX weight for women), the box jumps were slowing me down something fierce. Once I got through 7 of them, I didn't have time to get in my pull ups. Basically, I'm paranoid about the box jumps, because I do start feeling them in my shin a little bit. It's totally fine, but I'm leery of aggravating it again, so I'm being extra cautious - resulting in me stepping down, rather than a more time efficient jump down.
Nonetheless, I was doing work, so it was time to figure out how to scale it. What I ended up doing for the remainder of rounds was:
7 KB Swings (I was killing those bad boys!)
3-4 box jumps (depending on the time I had)
2-3 pull ups (with a heavy duty band)
This was pretty cardio heavy (KB swings and box jumps), and I am feeling the extra weight that I have put back on and the lack of training during my injury times. I got through it and I pushed the whole time, but I was aware that I really need to get back to it.

The Second WOD:
This one was an ugly AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) for 10 minutes.
21 Wall balls
15 push ups
4 laps bear crawing

...... yeah. Again, I TRIED the first round. I did the 21 wall balls, I was good there. But the bear crawls were killing me. My arms and shoulders just don't have the oomph to do push ups and then support me for all that time doing bear crawls.
Again, I had to swallow my pride at not being able to do WOD as written, and modify it down.
15 Wall balls (14#)
9 push ups (on my knees)
2 laps of bear crawls

and BOY my ass was handed to me. Bear crawls have officially begun to rival burpees as my least favorite exerices.

Having said that, I reminded myself that I'm just getting back into Crossfit. I have to have a little patience with myself. Also, I have to think about the way I approach these things... we were doing these WOD's AFTER doing a warm up that included Ski/Row sprints, 30 burpees and situps. My WARMUP really was (as the saying goes) more difficult that most people's typical workouts.

That said, the victory was that I was THERE, in the gym, at the crack of dawn, taking another step in the right direction. The battles that lead toward ultimate victory are won in these small moments... not big giant leaps.

So, today, I'm sitting here, with the worlds stiffest quads (it is not great to sit at an office job, after doing a lot of KB swings! lol), stretching and anticipating my next WOD. I think this weekend will be some climbing, some stretching yoga and an easy paced run.

While it's a battle and I've lost a little ground, one must always remember - it's a lifestyle change, not an event you train for or a finish line you cross. You're not done. You're never done. But are you happy with the direction you're moving in?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. -Dale Carnegie

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 500-502:

As ever, this weekend was a busy one for me, BlogLand... but I'm prioritizing training again (REFOCUS.), and I got down to business.

Friday night found me at the climbing gym with my CG and some friends, "pulling on some plastic" as they say. I'm still a raging beginner and lack a lot of finesse, but I keep telling myself that that just means I am gaining more from these visits. I am not spider-like and graceful when I climb, in fact, I'm pretty sure I must look more like an ogre storming a castle wall, when I do it. BUT! I'm doing it. That's what's always key, BlogLand, and probably one of the most important lessons I've learned along the way. It doesn't matter how stupid you think you look, how slow you go, or how "bad" you might be at something... 1) everyone starts at the beginning sometime, and 2) you're beating the crap out of everyone else who is too afraid to try in the first place.

So, I will continue to muscle my way up these routes (I swear, I must look like a bull in a china shop!), but along the way, listening to the instructions of my CG and other people in the know, I will learn to do it a little better. Use my legs more efficiently, stop death-gripping with my hands and wearing out my t-rex arms. One thing at a time. It's pretty cool though... I am equally nervous and excited about the prospect of trying climbing outside at some point. I understand that is a large mental game - that it's not the height of the climb, but the feeling of exposure (you're like a bug on a rock face) that plays with most people's heads. After all the mind battles that training for Spartan Race has put me through, I'm pretty sure I can brain-muscle through this one too. Plus, how cool will those pictures be????

After struggling through a few climbs and being weary of my stupid leg (it's not a fan of walking on the soft mats in a climbing gym), which I'm pushing to get back up to speed, I did leave the gym feeling energized. It was a (relatively) short, after-work workout, but my arms felt trashed (in a good way), and my legs felt good to stretch out, after being at my desk all day.

Saturday brought some real work. I had some downtime while the CG had to pack for his next business trip. I also knew I should go for a run. The plan is to ease back into running, 3x a week, short runs, to get my leg back in the game and not anger it too much from the get go. However, after Thanksgiving's disastrous 5K, I was feeling a little... apprehensive. I had a mental fight with myself, while pulling on my insulated CW-X (I love these things, so much.) tights. It had snowed the night before, it was going to be brisk out... but I hate running in the heat, so this is good, right? My legs were relatively fresh and the area was mostly flat, so again, I was in good shape for a successful run, right? SELF, we can do this, I yelled in my head. It's not like I've never run 3-4 miles before. Geesh.

Somehow, I made it out the front door. It was brisk, but I assessed that I was probably dressed appropriately, because I wasn't freezing, but I wasn't immediately warm either (running hint: dress for weather 10 degrees warmer... so you'll start cold, but when you warm up running, you'll feel the right temperature!).

I left, deciding that I would do 4 miles. Two miles out and two miles back. It was pretty flat and that *should* be a good weekend distance for me. I trotted the first half mile slowly, to warm up. My legs felt heavy, and I tried to focus on a solid, but light, mid foot strikes. I am overly conscious of my legs, recently, because I don't want to anger them into shin-splints again. Yikes, that was ugly. So, after a slow trot for the first 1/2 mile, I walked a minute to stretch my calves out a little. My breathing felt fine, but my legs were not quite on board with this whole process yet. And I won't lie, it was a bit cold with the wind (I'd forgotten a 'wind' layer).

I jogged on, but I was definitely not feeling my usual energetic self. It felt like a repeat of that ugly 5K I just finished. My legs felt heavy, out of shape, unwilling. Still, I spartaned up and slowly jogged on (better slowly than not at all?). I paused again for a quick walk break to look at my GPS.

.... 1 mile.


... I was sure I was almost at my 2 mile turnaround point. I wanted to cry a little bit just then. I was fighting this whole run, and I wasn't even halfway through yet, and my legs felt like I'd never run before in my life. Still, I said 4 miles total... so, on I went.

From there, it got ugly. Truth be told, roughly every half to 3/4 of a mile afterward, I dropped to a walk for 15-20 seconds. Walked the length of a telephone pole, or to that driveway, or some other marker. I was so unhappy with that process, but I guess this is what being out of commission for a while does to you... takes you back down the training latter a little bit. Thankfully, I am familiar with this process: run until I feel like I can't run any more, run just a little bit further, walk for 15-20, get back to running. Repeat.

I was not a happy camper, but I manged to get to the two mile mark, at which point it was at least a relief to turn and know that "all" I had to do was run back home. Starting my run back, I did take some comfort in knowing that I had been running a slight up hill the whole way... but I was still disappointed at the place that I was finding my legs in. I was struggling to run a little over a 5K. I definitely couldn't run it straight through. But, I ran - with walk breaks - my 4 miles, even though it was a push to make it the whole time. I berated myself in my head for letting this slip happen, I tried to remind myself that I'd been injured and it was inevitable, I got angry that I hadn't been more proactive, I told myself it was only a little set back... let's just say, 4 slow miles is a long time to have an inner monologue that's less than sunshiney.

BUT, I think the Cosmos were on my side. Despite the disappointment in my run, I didn't turn around early and I didn't give up. I pushed the whole way through (SPARTAN UP.). When I arrive back at my starting point, sweaty, slushy from the sidewalks and trying to talk myself positive, it was like magic: the Garuka Bar fairy was standing at the door and handed me a bag of a whole bunch of tasty bars. Unexpected. Okay, this day was starting to turn around. THEN, the CG was buzzing around the kitchen, making a particularly uber-yummy egg drop soup - the PERFECT after-run lunch on a cold day. Clearly, I was being rewarded for my persistence (or, that is at least how I am choosing to view this turn of events).

After refueling and re-hydrating a bit, it was time for stretching, but instead of just doing it on my own, I was joined by my dear CG and we turned to Bob, on my new beginner-yoga DVD.

Yeah. I was voluntarily doing yoga, after my run. The Mayans were right, the world is ending.

Nonetheless, we Warrior 1'd and Down Dogged our way into some great stretching. My darn t-rex arms shook every time we were instructed to plank or Down Dog.... or quite frankly, just hold our arms up in the warrior poses, etc. for that ridiculous period of time.

I must stay, as I starfished on the I mean, "Corpse Pose"... at the end of the video, I felt good. It wasn't not my highest performing day, but in reflection, I felt like I was at least back on the right path, making good choices. I went for my run, even though it was cold and the run was hard. I came back and stretched - YOGA!! - to help prevent my injuries in the future. I ate a great paleo-friendly lunch. Good choices. Steps along the right path.

It's not always going to be easy, BlogLand. It sure as hell hasn't been for me. I've gained a little bit of my weight back, thanks to my Injury Lay-Off, running has gotten harder and I'm sore after CrossFit.... but that is by NO MEANS a sign that it's time to give up. It just means that that was a learning opportunity (more stretching!) and now I have a chance to come back stronger and more informed than I was before. I have a really well-rounded training program, a lot of qualified help, and I have determination and will-power. I will make it happen, and 2013 is going to be a GREAT year.

Use those little set backs like a bit of a slingshot....... a few steps back, only to propel yourself forward 10 steps!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It isn't the size of the gift that matters, but the size of the heart that gives it. ~Eileen Elias Freeman

Spartan Chicked Holiday Gift Swap!

When Carrie Adams, and the other founding members of the Spartan Chicks, created a FaceBook group, it was for the purposes of connecting women across the country who were all interested in Obstacle Course Racing. It was intended to give them a safe space to discuss training issues, racing tactics, share concerns, while supporting and motivating each other. In a short period of time, this group has grown from a tiny group of 100 ladies, to an 8000+ crowd of Chicks. More importantly, the group has identified itself as a real community of united women, running with each other at races, keeping tabs on each other via email, connecting via phone for workouts - a community of Chicks, always ready to chat and lend a hand at a moment's notice, and show Obstacle Racing that women are a force to be reckoned with.

In that vein, we're launching our Second Annual Spartan Chicked Holiday Gift Swap! It is open to women across the globe (yes, no matter where you do your Chicking, you can participate!) to sign up. You will be provided with the name and address of one other Chick, with whom you'll get to share some Holiday Season cheer. Gifts range from simple cards and baked goods, to fun and functional fitness gear, to handmade scarves, blankets or ornaments. The only limit is your creativity! We're not looking for you to spend billions, but help continue to unite our community of awesome ladies, by connecting with one specific Chick around the holidays.

To join in on the fun, fill out this form with your information. In a few days, you will be contacted with the name and address of your Giftee. From there, take matters into your own hands; friend your Giftee on FaceBook, check out what she's been posting about in the Chicks group, get to know her and let your creative juices flow!

Submissions will be accepted until MIDNIGHT (EST), DECEMBER 7th.

For your privacy, your name and address will only be shared with the one Chick who will be sending you a gift. If you do have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me (Even just to say Hi!).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing. —Thomas Jefferson

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 490-497:

Ah, Holiday Time, BlogLand... Traditionally, this is a time for stuffing my face full of carb-tastic awesomeness, lounging on the couch, drinking spirits and generally lazing about in a haze of "Holiday".

Not so this year. (Aja 2.0, remember?)

Tuesday, I had a surprise come in the mail: "Biggest Loser: The Workout, Weight Loss Yoga." ... yes, there was a yoga DVD in my mailbox, and yes, I did actually order it (and a second one, actually!). Here's the thing, I've had a few injuries here and there over the course of the last couple of years that the treatment was "more stretching". I have an ankle that I need to work on mobility, to ensure it's continued health. How do you do that? "More stretching". I always feel tight in my legs, which causes more problems down the line... the solution... you guessed it. MORE STRETCHING. My GT has told me this, my PT has told me this, my Dad is a huge fan of yoga, many of my Spartans recommend it... basically, it was time to stop ignoring the voice inside my head that knows better, but was avoiding yoga because it is hard, and I'm not good at it.

After much research, I settled on this DVD (and also one by Jillian Michaels), because 1) it was short, with a workout in the 30-35 minute range, 2) it was made for beginner, not-bendy people and 3) it was not shot on some beach, with a bunch of beautiful people in bikini's Ohm'ing into the sunset. I hate that. This DVD is actually REAL people, in a studio, struggling just like I struggle.... and the best part - Bob provides modifications for all the moves. My biggest problem with traditional yoga DVD's is that I legitimately just can't do the moves. I don't bend like that (yet) and I can't physically do it. But then, they don't seem to provide you any options, or progression on how to get there. Bob, in this DVD shows you how to scale any move. It reminded me of CrossFit - allowing you to be successful and complete each move, in a progression toward greater things in the future. Also, this DVD included several workouts - geared towards a progression every couple of weeks, to keep you challenged, as you got better at it.

I begrudgingly put it in and got ready to roll my eyes and whine about having to do yoga. However, we had a nice stretching warm up and I was feeling pretty good. Bob isn't obnoxious to listen to, and the music in the background was unobtrusive. So far, so good. On to the main part of the "workout". So, this part was an easy 20-25 minutes long, but had my warmed up and stretching in ways that I typically would not. Or not for the length of time that I should. Downward dog, Triangle, Warrior. I was warm, getting a little sweaty, but it was gentle enough that I didn't not have sweat dripping down my face. Honestly, before I knew it (I hadn't gotten to whiny!), we were done and on to the cool down. I had done all the moves (some with more success than others...), and - wonder of wonders!!! - my legs felt great. They were loose, stretched out and not stiff.

Well. Hell. Everyone was right.

When I texted the GT to inform him of this he simply replied with a picture that said:
"If at first you don't succeed, try doing what your trainer told you to do the first time." and a note, "How was yoga?"

.... touche, GT, touche.

So, BlogLand, it would seem that I do not *hate* yoga... I just hate feeling unsuccessful at things. SO, many the lesson is I hated P90X yoga, because it was an hour and a half long, I was sweating like a crazy, and I couldn't do half of the moves. This Biggest Loser Weight Loss yoga allowed me the benefits I was looking for - gentle stretching, mobility, flexibility - in a nice, half hour ish workout that I can fit into my schedule several times a week, and *gasp* actually intend to. I feel some success coming on!

Then, thanks to a little holiday scheduling, I managed to make a Wednesday night CrossFit class, with my favorite CF trainer, Shannon. Shannon, like my GT, just doesn't let me get away with half-assing it. He calls me out when the weight looks too light, or it appears that I am not nearly dying.

Stacey and I rolled into CF feeling pretty good and cheerful about the impending holiday... only to find one heck of a WOD. It sounds really simple in a way - Dumbbell snatches.  We did some skill work, and then on to the WOD...

5 rounds of:

  • 10 pull ups
  • 5 DB snatches (left hand)
  • 5 DB snatches (right hand)
  • 15 box jumps
Well, you know my thoughts on pull ups. I was using a huge band and struggle after the first 7-8, resigning myself to sets of 2-3 after that. By the last round, I was down to sets of... one. Yes. One. BUT, the key, BlogLand, is just to keep going. Even if it's slowly. 
I did the DB snatches *almost* at the prescribed weight. Prescribed was 35#, but I was pushing a 30# and made it through the WOD. My left arm in particular thought this was cruel and unusual punishment, but EFF you, Left Arm. 
The hardest part, actually, was the box jumps. Jumping is still a little weird on my post-shin-splint leg, so I'm more tenative. And box jumps are really just kind of a cardiovascular killer. Thankfully, as my jump was waning in the last couple of rounds, Shannon came around and threw some words of motivation at me, challenging me to push a little harder. WOD done. Pre-Turkey Day calorie burn, complete. 


As Thanksgiving dawned, unlike any other before, I was dragging myself out of bed early and pulling on Spandex. Yep. I've become a Turkey Trotter. I signed myself up for a little local "Wobble Gobble 5K" just to get some mileage and to give myself some incentive to MOVE on the holiday, not just stuff my face with mashed potatoes.

It was cold, but Stacey and I were suited up in our Under Armor and ready to go. We're Vermonters, cold means nothing (other than layersssss!) to us. 

With almost no warning ("Ready?" *GUN*), we were buzzing off the first leg of the course. Immediately, I knew I was in terrible trouble. My legs were.... tired. Probably an intense session at CrossFit, the night before, including lots of box jumps and snatches (which use your legs to lift!), were not my best plan. But still, I thought to myself, it's JUST a 5K. No problem. 

I pushed. My legs felt like nothing. Literally. They had no gas. No go. No oomph. Suddenly, there was a little hill. 

BlogLand, I tried. So hard. 

I had to walk. It felt horrible, like admitting defeat. I haven't WALKED in a 5K race in a year. It killed me. But my body had nothing. With some encouragement from Stacey (who somehow managed to still be shuffling along!), I got trotting again. I thought I would die. I just.... couldn't. I admit, for a split second, I pondered if this is the race I would have to quit. That's how bad it was. 

BUT ( I can't stress the importance of running buddies and training buddies enough!), Stacey was right with me, not letting me quit. As I trotted at the top of the hill, with a pained expression and empty legs, I recall admitting outloud, "Stacey, I need help. Motivation. I've got nothing."

What followed was nothing short of miraculous. She told me exactly why I wasn't quitting. As we trotted down a long downhill, she reminded me where I had started, how far I had come, why I do these things, and EXACTLY how we were going to finish (whether I liked it or not). We'd done harder things, and I wasn't going to be defeated by a 5K turkey trot. 

I wanted to die, or cut my legs off, but we pressed on, leap frogging past Red Tights Girl and her Dad, who were running together. Red Tights Girl (RTG) appeared to be about 15-16 and suffering like me. Her dad was sticking with her, but she was having a hard time, taking short walk breaks too. Nonetheless, after we passed the indication that we only had like a 1/4 mile left, she picked up the pace, determined to finish strong. 

Thank god I'm competitive. I summoned some sort of phantom energy and managed to get by her (my legs are longer!). However, when we could SEE the finish line, a ways down the sidewalk, RTG made a sprint for it. It would be a long sprint, but I couldn't let her beat me after all this. 

I pulled a sprint out of somewhere. I have never felt more like throwing up in all my life. I passed her, as she dropped to a walk, but I had to settle back to a slow trot, trying not to regurgitate my banana all over the enthusiastic spectators. I trotted through the finish, as Stacey whizzed in front of me - a sprint to the finish, like ever good race should end!

I have never been so happy to get to stop. Seriously. A local 5K, with an easy course, nearly was the death of me. Thank god for Stacey's motivation and RTG for me to chase. I tracked her down at the end of the race and thanked her for a great race, and that I had chased her/been motivated by her chasing me, the whole time. 

My time was an even 33 minutes... definitely not a PR, but still squeaking in under an 11 minute mile. It was no amazing feat, but for the day after a CF wod, on dead legs, I'll take it. What I'll also take away from this is the accomplishment that I was UP, sweaty and moving (with a calorie deficit!), all before 10am on Thanksgiving. 
I was (am.) Thankful that my life has changed so dramatically for the better. 


You would think I'd earned a little rest... and I sorta did...I ate and made merry, then slept late on Friday... but then it was off again, with the CG to a rock climbing competition in NH. We were bring some demo shoes for the climbers, and spectating... and as an added perk, we get to do some climbing. This particular gym in Manchester - Vertical Dreams - is a cool atmosphere. It's a laid back, community oriented sort of place. The competition announcements were made by a heavily pierced and tattooed guy sitting on a tall railing, while everyone sat around on couches. 'nough said. 

Since my series of recent injuries, I haven't been doing much climbing. At all. It hurt. Now that I'm recovered, I'm hoping to get back at it, to continue to help me build up my upper body (and I'm really enjoying the challenge of it!). Clipping in and getting back on the wall these first few times back were real ugly. I felt like I'd never climbed before, everything felt 4x as hard, and I felt uncoordinated. But, again, a speed bump in the road, and I'm back to training now. 

The highlight of the visit though was the converted elevator shaft, which made a 4 story - 75 FOOT - vertical climb. I won't lie, BlogLand, this was a bit intimidating. There was an "easy" route for me to try... but it was long and strictly vertical. I started up, got stumped a few places and had to rest, but over all, I had a good time. The CG egged me on from the bottom, projecting directions up the shaft, whenever I started to freeze up and get "stuck". But, thanks to a few previous climbs and some raging sore arms from the CrossFit workout a couple days prior, right around the 60ft mark, my arms were done and I had to quit. Still, 60 ft!!! How cool is that?! I know it's nothing like climbing outside or anything, but it was awesome to try a different wall and see what a significant height would feel like. It's a little nerve wrecking when you look down..... but maybe that should serve as a lesson - don't look back at the past... keep your eyes forward and up on where you're going!


Saturday found me a complete rest day. I mean complete rest. Sleeping in. Didn't do much more than cook some tasty healthy food and wander around in my jammies. I'm pretty sure I showered, so Ha! There's some motivation for you. 


The soreness in my arms had been building the last few days, and on Sunday, it really reached the height of unpleasant. My biceps and forearms were so tight that I just wanted to cut my arm off at the shoulder. I couldn't straighten my right arm - my bicep when hanging "relaxed" still kept my arm engaged and at an angle. When I reached for something, I had to make ouchy faces and whine, quite a lot. 

This indicated to me it was time for a lot of water, a ridiculous amount of Tiger Balm..... and more yoga. 

With The Soprano's on in the background, I cleared a spot and settled in for an easy 35 minutes of yoga with Bob. Again, I will say, it got me warmed up, stretched out and feeling 100% better, by the time I was done. It was an excellent active recovery to get my body moving, but nothing too taxing. 

I went to bed hydrated and stretched out and not quite ready to get back to work on Monday (oh, Holiday Weekends, why are you so short?). 

And finally, the holiday weekend had drawn to a close... and Monday found me running around like a crazy person trying to do all the errands and such that I hadn't done for the last 3-4 days. 
My Workout consisted of carrying laundry bags and walking back and forth in the office. But hey, sometimes, life happens. 


Thankfully, I crawled out of bed for Tuesday morning CrossFit today. SO. DAMN. EARLY. 

It's getting more challenging, as the winter gets darker and colder... but this winter, I've built in an accountability system - Stacey. Stacey (who's quite a bit better at getting up early than I) was at my house at 6:03 am, waiting for me to jump in her (semi-warm) car and be carried off to CrossFit. It's pretty hard to argue with that. All I had to do was get some sneakers on and fall into the car. 

Today's WOD looked like this:

We did some time doing skill work on Double Unders. I tied my previous PR of ...... ONE.... double under. Yes, Blogland, ONE. But, again, I suppose that one is better than none. I just can't seem to find the rhythm to get in that allows you to get past that first glorious one. And, the concussion of my over-exuberant not-light thumping on the floor (I can't think of jumping lightly and turning quickly, at that hour of the day), started to make my leg feel a little funny. I eased up on that and decided I better save that learning curve for another day. 

Moving on, the main part of our Wod was:
- 20 Chest to bar pull ups (with a big black band, for me!) as a buy in, then:
As many rounds as possible in 7 minutes, increasing reps:
- 1 dead lift
- 1 hang clean
- 1 Overhead press
(second round is 2, 2, 2, third round is 3, 3, 3... etc.)

Wielding a 65# bar, I managed a respectable 6 complete rounds, completing the 7 dead lifts. I was finding the limiting factor to be my arms first (unhappy that we started with pull ups!), and then my ability to continually hang clean that weight. Blargh. But, the fact that I can do it at all, with a decent weight, made me happy. 

After those 7 minutes, we did a minute of Burpees Over Bar. Here's how it goes: face your bar, do a burpee, jump over bar, turn and face bar, do burpee. Repeat.  I managed a decent 13 complete burpees with a bar jump. Not too bad. 

Here's the kicker... you know how CrossFit cools down, Green Mountain Style? Yeah, we play crab walk soccer. Ever seen 6 adults trying to crab walk (crab run?) around the gym, kicking multiple balls into goals? Yeah. It's a pretty awesome way to start your morning. 

... and all before 7:15 am!


So, I'm successfully still "on track" after holiday schedule interruptions, and I feel like I did a pretty good job of taking a different approach to an big Eating Holiday this year. My, how things have changed?

I guess when it comes down to it, it's all about making a decision to be different and keeping those goals just on your horizon - far enough away that you need to keep working to chase them, but close enough that they constantly remind you of their presence. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read. - David McCullough

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 487:

Unlike seemingly most of the world, I'm not a huge sports fan. I watch the Superbowl for the commericals and the halftime show, March Madness is just a time that the office can only talk about basketball, and the World Series doesn't mean much to me.

Having said that, I love history. When Spartan Race offered us the chance to run a different sort of race in Fenway Park, during it's 100 year anniversary, I had to be there. While the sporting significance didn't hold much sway for me, the chance to run around an iconic historical landmark that has been a huge part of New England history for that long was exciting. Not only that, but having an Obstacle Course Race in the middle of this stadium was unprecendented - we would me *making* history. I didn't hesitate to sign up for this experience (plus, I won't lie, we got a sneak preview of the special medals they would be passing out, and I certainly had to add one to my collection!).

Getting myself to the race was unwritten obstacle number one. Everything went was a bit of an issue. Traffic. Getting to my T-station to park, only to find out it was closed for maintenance, and I then had to park and take a shuttle to the next T-station, to get on a train, to ride into the city, to then walk to Fenway. OH. MY.

I would also like to note, at this time, I was doing this all in CW-X (Yay! Bionic legs!) and a spandex shirt and oversized hoodie. Yes. Public Transit in one of the largest cities in the nation, in SPANDEX. My, how things have changed. I won't lie, I did make sure to wear my Spartan Race hoodie, so hopefully people would make the connection... but ultimately, I wasn't caring. HA!

Nonetheless, by the grace of the public transit gods, I was clad in my number, had my shoe chip-timer on and had handed off my bag to my wee entourage of one (Hi Stacey!), 10 minutes before my starting time with the NE Spahtens. Joining us in the starting corral was Margaret, of Dirt in Your Skirt fame, for her second run of the day (she ended up making 2nd overall! Woot!). I got to chat with Margaret briefly, trying to garner a few tips about the course, before she flew off into the distance with the other speedy people.

I took a moment to look around... I was in the under belly of Fenway Stadium (my first trip to Fenway, ever!), getting ready to be turned loose on my last Spartan Race of the year. I had the privilege to be standing with some of the coolest people I know, helping to make history. I was feeling pretty damn lucky... if a wee bit cold (November in the Northeast can be brisk!). Rumor had it that 60% of the racers were first-time Spartans, purely for the experience of racing in Fenway.

Some of the Spahtens, getting ready to roll!
In no time, the Spahtens (Pronounce Spartan like you're from Southie, and you'll get it...) and I were lined up on our starting dots,  to ensure a wave of 10 was headed out. We had a timed countdown (which, in true SR fashion, consisted of a 10 burpee warmup!), before we were released to start crawling up all the ramps.

Now, as Spartan Race noted, this race was going to be a little different. No mud. No fire. But it would still be Spartan, and they certainly didn't fail to disappoint. We stooped and bear crawled through endless rampways of bungee-cord "barbed wire", stepped over the awkwardly spaced ones in our path and navigated the random waist high one that I pretty much missed and almost sling shotted myself into the people behind me. AWESOME.

I felt reassure that this race would still be Spartan Tough, when I noted that I was pretty sure I had sustained my first bruise and scraped knee, before we'd even been out on the course 10 minutes. In some ways, navigating the hard concrete (and pointy textured!) flooring was more tricky that mud pits... at least on the knees and elbows!

As the crowd thinned out to our "race pace" groups, I found myself trotting along beside Hilary (read her Fenway thoughts, here...), a great Spartan Chick that I've raced with before, who was happy to chat and stick with me - even though I was real whiny to start out, my injury-induced time off making it self known, as I tried to get my body going.

Hilary leads the way,
as we take our first pass at bleachers!
We zigzagged through a unique Fenway obstacle - endless bleachers. Many time throughout the race, we revisited them... sometimes up and down, sometimes horizontally through the aisles, sometimes both... Where Fenway may have lacked in natural mountainous terrain, Spartan was sure we made up in stairs.

Another frequent occurrence was, my favorite (dripping sarcasm), vertical walls. Really tall ones, mostly tall ones, mid height ones, short ones, more tall ones... they were EVERYWHERE. Spartan Race was making sure we earned every inch of the medal we were gunning for at the end. Climbing walls can really take it out of you, BlogLand. It's not particularly *hard*, as there are usually side supports you can climb up (even if you're ungraceful, like myself.), but you have to use a lot of muscles to do it. I have a few nice purple souvenirs on my arms and legs to prove that I did my fair share of walls!

Peculiar to this race were the "stop and workout" stations. Every now and again, you'd come across an "obstacle" that was simply a requirement that you tackle. For instance, stop and do 20 medicine ball slams. Stop and do 20 hand-release push ups. Oh hey, why don't you stop and do 15 burpees, carry this concrete lump and do 15 more burpees? The king of these unique challenges was the Concept2 rowers, that had been programmed specifically for the race. The task: row 500m in 2 minutes.

... it seems so simple, doesn't it?

Thankfully, Margaret had already warned us that 2 minutes goes a lot faster than you think on a rower and that she - an elite and professional racer - had not made her 500m under the 2 minutes, her first time around. I came in prepared and ready to push hard. I'd rather row my butt off until I can't breathe, than have to do 30 burpees.

Hilary and I hit the rowers and pushed off hard. Thanks to CrossFit, I've had some experience with good rowing technique and how to best utilize these tree-trunk legs of mine for maximum row-stroke efficiency. The first minute went smoothly... but I was in a row sprint, and my body was reminding me that it really did not think we could continue this pace for another whole minute. My brain reminded my screaming legs and exploding lungs that we Were. Not. Burpeeing... without a fight. I rowed on, trying to force myself through the last minute.

BlogLand, it was the most intense moment of the race. As I watched my last stroke successfully tick down the meters to zero, the sign flashed "Burpees for you!", and then back to zero. WAAA!! Definitely cut that one a little close, but the volunteer waved me on, and I triumphantly went to leave my rower.

... on legs that were now wobbly Jello. I'm sorry, did you say you wanted me to run more stairs, now!?!

Thankfully, Hilary and I commiserated over our wobbly rower-legs and her positive attitude dragged us forward into an easy jog, just to get the muscles in our legs working again.... on more stairs.

We started to hit some of the more classic Spartan Obstacles, with a little bit of a Fenway twist... a Hercules Hoist... but up and over a stadium beam, rumored to be 36 feet in the air. Some A-frame ladder walls to climb, but again, up and over a series of them, over some beams. We had a rope climb that.... *drumroll*... I HIT THE BELL!!!! (for the first time ever.)

Let me tell you the circumstances of that bell-hitting, though... The Fenway rope climb was significantly shorter than most race rope climbs, due to the rafter space that they could hook to. AND, I had my gal, Hilary's shoulder, supporting my foot, so I had the stabilization to go just that extra bit to the bell. However, nicking that bell (literally, with just the edge of my finger!) was AWESOME, and that little success made me want to work that much harder to make sure I can do the full sized climbs by myself, next season. Rope climb, I'm coming for you!

I'm not going to tell you all the obstacles, because 1) Race Brain prevents me from remembering and 2) you just have to sign up and see for yourself! However, I will tell you, we did get to my favorite obstacle of the day (I'm not sure what that says about me.). We had a heavy sandbag carry, up, down and around a section of bleachers. The sandbag was 60 solid pounds that I know many struggled to even get to their shoulders. Again, I had a moment to reflect on how lucky I felt that I'd had the opportunity to train on lifting, so I was able to get this big ass sandbag to my shoulders with relatively little trouble. Getting my body to truck it up the stairs was another story.

As I first started trudging forward, up the first flight, I was wavering a bit. Struggling to get the sandbag balanced just right and reminding my legs that they certainly did still have a lot left in them (even if they wanted me to think otherwise). Thanks again to Hilary and her Spartan attitude, reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get it done. On we went, past several abandoned sandbags, signaling a racer's quit moment. That wasn't us, not today.

Pic by Boston Globe famous photographer,
Stan Grossfeld
Finishing the sandbag carry brought us into the home stretch - a jog on the infamous warm up track, a 30 burpee station ("Just because!") and a cargo net in front of the Green Monster.
I won't lie, 4 weeks essentially "off" to heal from injuries and very little training left me with some slightly shakey legs at this point (thanks to all the stair work!), but up I climbed, looking out over the famous field and the stadium of racers, spectators and staff. This was a pretty damn awesome hobby I had here, I thought to myself.

With the gladiators in sight, Hilary and I worked through our last workout obstacle - box jumps. Throwing caution to the wind and hoping my healed (?) shin splint was on board, I jumped up onto a box for the first time in quite a while. One jump, then another... still no pain in the leg, so I picked up the pace. A bunch (10? 20? what was it?) of box jumps complete, no pain in my leg, and my Spartan buddy by my side, I was smiling and ready to tackle the Gladiators.

Again, BlogLand, let me tell you a story about how I should learn to keep my mouth shut. Every time that I finish a race, I whine about how the gladiators barely touch me, because I'm a girl. Do I look like I can't handle a few actual knocks with a padded pugil stick? Well, my great race buddy and fellow Spartan, Stacey, happened to be in the stands right behind the waiting gladiators. Having heard me whine about the weak shots each time, Stacey took it upon herself to fix this situation for me. When I came in sight, Stacey enthusiastically instructed all 3 gladiators that they needed to really go after me. Excellent.

At the same time, blissfully unaware that she's whispering instructions in their ear, I jokingly make the "I'm coming for you!" sign at them, and taunt them a bit from afar, as I'm jogging in - hoping to incite at least a slightly harder tap.

Well. It worked. For the first time in my Spartan Race career, those Gladiators showed no mercy and wailed on me from all sides. I was THRILLED. I actually had to shoulder through that last pugil stick a little bit. WELL DONE. Guys, if you're reading, remember, just because we're ladies, doesn't mean that we don't want to earn that last stretch of our race, too!
Shh.. those guns are purely decorative!
Overall, the Fenway Race was everything it promised to be - a historic, never before seen, Spartan Race, in Fenway Park. While there was no mud and no fire, I felt every bit as challenged as I ever have in a race - perhaps just in different ways.

For me, this race had been a question mark for several weeks, wondering if I'd be healed up in time, and in good enough condition to run. By the grace of the Shin Splint gods, with a little help from some ultra sound therapy, as of the week of the race, I was cleared by the Physical Therapist to run. I was worried I'd have fallen out of condition, but still wanted to give it my best shot, for the sake of the experience.

I was slower than usual and feeling stiff and not quite "on game", but I realized that's not why I do these races. Running along and chatting with Hilary and the other racers, trading motivation as we needed it, and lending a hand where we could, was my goal. I love the community I find at these races - old friends and strangers, frequent race buddies and new ones acquired over the course of a few miles. Spartan Race, and it's Spartans, never fail to disappoint. There were Chicks banding together to get up rope climbs, "You can do it!" shouts from the spectators and smiles from the staffers, when you finished an obstacle. I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend, than surrounded by such positivity.

After finishing the race, psyched to still be feeling no pain in my leg (a refreshing moment!), I finally managed to beat the last obstacle of my race season: Catch my elusive GT in some photographic evidence. It was time to document one of the most influential people in my transformation from Couch Sitting professional to full on Spartan Chick (and beyond!).

Pardon the picture quality, but without further ado, Blogland, I'd like to introduce you to my GT, Chris Irving. A round of applause, please.

Me and the GT in Fenway Park!
With a heavy Spartan hoodie on, preventing the post-race chill from kicking in, Stacey and I reluctantly departed the stadium. I'd hugged and waved and laughed and chatted with so many of my favorite Spartans, completed my last Spartan of the season pain-free and made history... all in one Saturday. I'd say it was a damn good day.
Clutching a Dunkin coffee in hand, I said a little goodbye to Fenway, as I headed off to the T.

A great day, an awesome race, and a promise of a bigger and better race through Fenway NEXT YEAR! (AROO!)


Hey! BlogLand, just an aside... it seems that the cargo net photo above, taken by Boston Globe Photographer Stan Grossfeld, will be featured in the "What were they thinking?" column of the Sports section of the Boston Globe this Sunday (complete with a caption, by yours truly!). Keep your eye out! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 482:

Well! It's a relatively optimistic day in Get-My-Spartan-Ass-Back-On-Track land. I went to physical therapy this morning to see what they had to say about the latest in the saga of ouchiness....

First, there was an intern. Poor guy. They assigned him to shadow with my PT for my case, because it sounded like it should be "simple" shin splints, typical presentation and then all would be well, giving me some standard exercises and sending me on my way. In true Aja-fashion, NOTHING is simple.

They poked. They prodded. They stretched, they manipulated, they twisted, turned and generally did all sorts of craziness to my legs. Only to figure out the "problem" is actually like a perfect storm of 20 problems in one. Poor, poor Intern.

The cool thing about this visit was that, because of the intern, the PT thought outloud and went through her reasoning trains and what not so that he could see how she was making conclusions, etc. Very cool, because with a pretty extensive anatomy/science background, etc. I was able to keep up and understand what was going on.

Funny Moment of the Day: As part of the testing/evaluation phase, the intern is having me move my leg this way and that, and push against his hand. "Don't let me push your leg down," he says, in one instance. "Okay....." I think to myself. This is where I should tell you that "Intern" was a 6'4" athletic looking dude, who despite hearing me say that I had finished 10+ Spartan Races, including the recent 14 mile Beast, and a half marathon, apparently wildly underestimated me. I held my leg up. He pushed down.

He leaned into his hands, to get his body weight over his shoulders and push down.
I held my leg up.

His arms began to shake (I couldn't make this up!) with the exertion, before HE gave up and told me to put my leg down.

His reaction: "Okay. Wow. So. There is no problem with leg strength.... HOW do you train!??!"

(... didn't I tell him I was a Spartan? ;-) )

Anyway, the conclusion is this... I'm going to live to race another day!

I have had many, many ankle rolls over the course of my life, and one particularly bad one around age 19, where I was pretty sure I knew better than the doctors and didn't follow directions on how to let it heal. I didn't stay off it, I didn't ice it, etc. and it healed.... but with a significant loss of mobility. Since then, I've rolled in once or twice more and most recently, at the Amesbury Spartan Race (resulting in my First DNF...). So, here we have very limited ankle mobility, a (relatively) recent injury that I was again compensating for in my gait (on top of the compensation I already did for a weaker, less mobile ankle), continued training, chronically tight leg/calf muscles that I don't stretch enough, and a recent half marathon... All was fine (my body is a beast, sometimes!) for a couple of weeks... But I did a lot of sitting at my desk at work, and not a lot of stretching and foam rolling and appropriate recovery. Then, we had the trigger: I needed a pair of shoes to wear, and dug an old, worn out pair out of the closet. Went shopping and running errands. 6-8 hours later, my shin threw up it's hands in despair and seized, giving into shooting shin splints for the next 4 weeks.

FOUR (four plus, actually) weeks of nothing lower body. As you may have been reading along, I haven't been in the most awesome frame of mind. But hey, set backs, cancelling races and feeling limited will do that to you.

That said, after some awesome deep-heating and inflammation reducing (and scar tissue breaking?) ultrasound therapy, a crazy awesome shin/calf massage and a hearty lecture about stretching more (yoga, what?), the PT cleared me to run.

Yes. Run. While my ankle mobility still needs a lot of work, I haven't been in pain the last few days and it's time to test it out a bit. More importantly, PT said that her determination on my ability to do Fenway is directly related to how my leg handles an easy 5k jog.

Wasting no time, I got my running buddy on the line and scheduled an "easy 5k" (man, everything I say that, I am suddenly reminded of the days that 5K was the Big Goal... not a wee test run. Perspective.) for this evening.

I'm not going to lie, BlogLand, I was scared. Yep, scared to go for a run. I was considering things like, What if it flares up again? What if I can't run more than a block? Will I have to cancel Fenway? If it's not better after 4 weeks, will it ever get better? Am I going to be out of activity for the winter? Will I need to cut my leg off? Learn to walk on my hands? ... you know, the absolutely nonsensical worse-case scenario stuff.

Suited up in my spandex, including some hot pink calf compression sleeves to remind my shins to keep themselves in check, I headed out the door like I've done a thousand times... after stretching (did I mention I'm supposed to be doing a crazy amount of stretching 1200 times a day? Hold on. I'll tell you about that, right after I finish stretching...).

I won't bore you with a play by play of tonight's 5K, but here's the important stuff:

There was no pain. 

Granted, my ankle/leg felt a little fatigued from all the manipulation they did today, but there were absolutely no shooting/stabbing pains in the shin. YES.

I pretty much wanted to die. While I was totally psyched I was running with no pain, being completely off for 4 weeks (despite your GT giving you LOTs of other options that you could be doing and not aggravating your shin, while you just choose to wallow in your self-pity...) really takes it toll. First, I'm pretty sure I've put on a chunk of weight in the last month or month and a half. More weight does not make running any easier. Second, I was huffing and puffing like an effing asthmatic. Seriously, it was ridiculous. Third, my legs were like lead, as if we'd never run before.

Where a 5K is usually a warm up for me, this one - my "triumphant" return to training - was anything but. This was ugly, heavy, hard and not a ton of fun (thank god for running buddies!). As I pushed through the last quarter mile, I tried to reflect on all the things I'd done this year.... this was certainly not the hardest, even though it felt like it, at that moment.

Sitting home and stretching (yep. stretching.), I got a little moody. Feeling the pulling in my legs as I forced my calves to stretch, reminded me of how much make-up work has to be done. My conditioning has suffered a back slide a bit. Running was hard. My breathing was all wrong. I gained weight.

I won't tell you I have a completely sunshiny outlook on this situation, but I think that's actually a good thing. Old Me might've accepted the status quo and become complacent again, satisfied with the "good enough." Aja 2.0 is pissed that I've lost ground and is refocused, having had a hard slap in the face with reality in a sweating, huffing and puffing evening run. Aja 2.0 is NOT satisfied with the good enough, because I have big goals to meet going forward, and I won't meet them standing still, here, where it is comfortable.

Time to get down to business and get back to doing work.

So, here I am BlogLand, drinking my water and doing the alphabet with my toes (great for ankle mobility!) while I type. I've stretched some more, soaked in a hot bath, then iced the leg. Tomorrow, I'll be walking on my breaks at work, eating like I should and logging whatever goes into my mouth.

No matter how tiny the steps, remember, just keep moving.

With that, and the ever so distinctive aroma of Tiger Balm filling my nose (and tingling on my leg!), I leave you with some words of wisdom, recently passed on by my Yoda-like GT:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available for it. —Lauryn Hill

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 474:

Today was the day of the All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, MA. I've been registered for like 6 months, had a countdown going, was training hard...... then, as you know if you've been reading along... life happened. Shin splints have me on a no-run path. ESPECIALLY not 13.1 on pavement. Yeah. Having to not run that "big" race that I'd been planning on for so long, having to be sidelined while so many of my friends were running races today, and generally feeling completely incapacitated without my legs, left me in something much less than a Good Mood.

In fact, in all honesty, I was downright mopey.

I was working on some projects around my house (because it was a beautiful day and I couldn't be out running or anything...), sighing and stomping around like a 5 year old. I was unsatisfied with everything. My breakfast didn't taste good. The floor was cold. I rearranged stuff I was organizing like 12 times. I was in a state of complete dissatisfaction, as a result of frustration factor that had taken over my brain.

It was a weird feeling, because on the opposite side of it, I was SO excited - particularly for my running buddy, Stacey, running her FIRST half mary - to keep up on how everyone was doing... and yet, wanted to tune it all out, pout and pretend I wasn't missing anything.

Now, yes, I know (intellectually) that not being able to use my legs for activities like I am accustomed to is not the end of the world. It just means I can't run, lunge, walk, etc. It does not mean this is not a GREAT time to focus on my nutrition, work on my upper body, strengthen my core... you get the drift. I KNOW this. Most days, this is my positive thought process more than anything; a problem solving outlook. But today, thanks to the face that it should've been an adrenaline charged "Race Weekend"... and it wasn't... I was not in the greatest head space.

So, I did what comes naturally - I reached out to my community of supporters and posted my whining on FaceBook. There, after a plethora of positive bitch-slaps and motivational words, a challenge rose to the surface from a fellow Spartan, Susan:
"I know... While ambling around your house WEAR ALL THE MEDALS YOU HAVE EARNED since you started your journey... That should add significantly to your workout and help you focus on all you have done and not what you are " missing" ! Okay, Super Woman? Go!"
Fine. Challenge Accepted.

... and it was exactly what I needed today. I donned ALL the bling I've earned this year and posted for a sassy pic with my pull up bar (I'd already instituted a rule for myself today; every negative thought train will be derailed by 10 pull ups.).

The exercise, while it made me laugh at the silliness of it (ever vacuumed wearing all your bling? It's noisy. hehe), really turned my mood around. Not only was it a REALLY tangible reminder of all the things I HAVE accomplished this year (and these were only the ones I have medals for!), but it took the focus off the fact there are things I can't do right now. To paraphrase another comment I got - I've had a very full season, I've earned this "down" time.

Also, I spent a little time wearing my medals and thinking about what each one represented. So here they all are, with my favorite stand-out memory:

  1. Zombie Run 5K: Spending an awesome Saturday morning getting my mud on, running from Zombies with my Best Friend Forever and Ever, at his FIRST mud run, which also happened to be his birthday!
  2. Spartan Race Trifecta: This one is a little more abstract, but represented this year, the best of all. While the Spartan Shape-Up rages ever on (did someone say Ultra Beast next year...?), putting this around my neck, at home alone, after receiving it in the mail, made me tear up, as I really felt like -just then- I had become a Spartan version of former self. 
  3. Spartan Race World Championships: The Beast: While there were MANY memorable moments in this 14 mile, multiple mountain crusade, nothing beats the last one. Coming down the last stretch, cold, muddy, sore, totally exhausted, with   a great friend, Spartan Chick Jess, and seeing a cheering mass of support for ME, was indescribable. My family and several friends had waited LONG after my expected arrival time, in the darkness, afraid to wander too far, lest they miss my arrival. 
  4. New Jersey (Tri-State) Super: Conquering this "mini-beast" with training buddy, Stacey, and sliding into the finish line to receive our medals (right after getting my favorite race picture to date, taken!), as the festival and race was shutting down around us, thanks to an imminent severe thunderstorm. (Also, no small awesome: I conquered the monkey bars, for the first time in a race, EVER.)
  5. Pennsylvania (Mid-Atlantic) Sprint: Getting to run this one with long-distance Spartan Chick Friend, Adriane. Thanks to the Spartan Chicked forum, we've been friends, at a similar point in our fitness progress, for about a year now. PA Sprint was the first time we got to meet, and we DOMINATED her first Spartan Race ever. 
  6. Mont-Tremblant ("Montreal") Super: This was my first "international" Spartan... which I ended up doing quite by accident. I wasn't planning on doing the Super, I had come up to volunteer and run the Sprint the next day (I wasn't ready for a SUPER?!.... was I?). But I got talked into running it 20 minutes before I hit the start line. Best Memory: Standing waist-deep in a cold lake, cooling off the legs, after traversing many miles of Canadian Mountains. 
  7. Mont-Tremblant ("Montreal") Sprint: Crossing the finish line of my second Spartan Race in ONE weekend (who knew I had it in me!?) and getting to turn around and watch my crazy-training buddy, Stacey, cross the line of her first Spartan Race, beaming and muddy. Also, Canada, your slightly electrified barbed-wire crawl, over ICE CUBES, was an inventive touch...
  8. Tuxedo, New York (Tri-State, NY) Sprint: I had a raging good time running this race with my Spartan "Guru Trainer" (GT), Chris. Highlights of this race? Who doesn't love the World's Longest and Rockiest Barbed-Wire crawl EVER? I STILL have scars on my elbows from those badges of honor. 
  9. Hurricane Heat 013 (Tuxedo, NY): An experience like no other (incidentally, where I met one of my favorite Spartans, on team No Quit!, Sam!), burpees at 6:30 in the morning in the pouring rain, hearing Tommy tell us to bear crawl DOWN the hill... then carry TWO sandbags up it... but basically, a Hurricane Heat can not be explained. You had to be there. I was. I earned my dog tags.
  10. Colorado Military Sprint: From this, my first ever Spartan Race, so many memories emerged. From the infamous epic Fire-Jump picture, where I think I officially left the old Aja behind and came out Aja 2.0, to getting hosed off in the middle of the steamy Colorado desert by a random lady with a garden hose, to sitting almost-paralyzed with fear at the top of an obstacle and getting talked down by Spartan Sara and a Marine.  Oh, and lest we forget, the most notorious Spartan barbed-wire crawl to date. Through clay mud. With an M-16. In three sections...totaling an incomprehensible distance. 
  11. Santa 5K: This is the first medal I ever earned. Although I do remember it as the first race I ever ran alone - no buddies, no cheering section - I had 5K to realize that I was doing it for ME. I didn't need buddies. I had my sneakers and a road in front of me. My favorite moment was, thanks to Spartan Training, chugging up the substantial hill - still running! - past most of the other runners, who'd dropped to a walk. And hey... I was mandated to run in a SANTA SUIT (which I recall being hot as HELL.), who doesn't love THAT. 
So there you have it BlogLand. My 11 medals and memories that picked me up from an ugly mindset today. There's been so many other races in between and in the future.... but there was something very solid and grounding about having all that hardware around my neck today. 

Tomorrow, we hit up the X-ray to check on these Shin Splints (say No to Stress Fractures?!), so I can be on to earning my next medal - and mountain of awesome memories - at Fenway Park!!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 472:

BIG NEWS today, BlogLand!

I've officially been accepted as the newest contributor to the world's first magazine dedicated solely to the sport of Obstacle Racing: Obstacle Racing Magazine !!
(Or find them on Facebook:

You can check out the official announcement HERE.

I am SO excited. What many of you don't know is that other than getting muddy, whining about trying to eat healthy, and sweating through crazy workouts, one of my greatest loves is writing. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to combine those two areas of my life into one big fabulous project.

Also, where I started this little 'ol Blog here at initially for my own accountability, it certainly has seemed to morph into something much bigger than that. So many of you have related to the struggles and triumphs that I've had and shared your own stories, speedbumps, victories and goals with me. I can't TELL you how invaluable this has been. I think would would all agree here when I say that it is extremely helpful to know that you are not alone in the journey that you're on, especially on those mornings when it seems to cold for a run, or your office potluck is threatening to completely derail your eating plan.

By joining Obstacle Racing Magazine, I'll be on hand to provide the perspective of a non-elite althlete in the Obstacle Racing World. You don't have to be able to run 50 miles, you don't need to be able to lift cars, you may still be carrying a spare tire around the middle, and yeah, many of us can't get up those damn rope climbs. HOWEVER, you can still get to that starting line, then bound across the finish line muddy and smiling to accept your medal. No excuses. I'll be on hand to provide that viewpoint and hopefully help inform the world that OCR's are for anybody that has the desire to attempt them and do a little work.

SO... BlogLand, here's what you do. Go to Obstacle Racing Magazine's FaceBook page: Like them. Hit up their website and sign up for the first, FREE, electronic issue (don't worry, they're looking into putting it in print, because we know you all like to read it that way, too). AND, if there's anything that you're dying to hear about, something you want discussed, or a piece you'd really like to see written, don't hesitate to send it on my way.