Saturday, June 2, 2012

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 318:

3:23 am. My alarm would go off in another 20 minutes or so and I certainly wasn't sleeping. All night, I had tossed and turned, dozing here and there and listening to the sounds of the pouring rain, while my thoughts ran circles about what was to come... It was Race Weekend, BlogLand... but also another notch in the belt of "Firsts" that I've been experiencing in the last 318 days...

I was headed to my first-ever Spartan Race Hurricane Heat this weekend. It was to have an O'Dark Thirty (5am) start time, had mandatory gear (headlamp) and was billed as a tough team-centered event, and the chance to meet/run with some of the Spartan Race Founders. I was... worried. While I have heard nothing but wonderful things about these HH's, seen the friendships built on them, I was concerned about the physicality of it. While I have made a lot of progress, I knew that the HH's were notoriously extra-challenging, as they are the creation of the Spartan Race founders, as they pull it out of their brain, at 5am. My Inner Fat chick had some serious reservations. Much like with the Marathon Relay I did last week, I was concerned at being part of a team and being able to pull my own weight - I did not want to be the person that the team had to babysit or carry through the challenges.

With a deep breath, Sara (one of my partners in crime for the weekend) and I got in the car, forcing down some breakfast along the way. During our 30 minute drive to the site, I watched the pouring rain, panicked about my clothing choices (it's really hard to know what to wear when you're going to get soaked in 3 minutes.) and reminded myself that I could do anything, if I decided I could.

A bleary-eyed volunteer directed us to the furthest reaches of the giant parking lot. A small group of Spartans were amassing, lit only by their headlamps. Time: 4:48 am. I had to jump in. Within seconds, a large, dark truck pulled up along side the group, rolled down the window and with a simple, inarguable direction, told us to  "follow my lights" and drove off. It began. Joe Desena had issued our first challenge. There was some quiet chatter as the group sloshed through giant puddles, and trekked up to the race site.

After expressing disappointment that more Spartans had not braved the rain to join us, Joe set us at Burpees. Then more Burpees. Oh, wait... there were also some Burpees. Your best continued effort was the ONLY option, as Joe was not afraid to call you out (...or issue the group more burpees, on your behalf.). A few more stretches (we weren't cold any more, I assure you), and we were tasked at making teams. Our nine-person, Team No Quit, circled up, picked a captain and steeled ourselves for the unknown that was to come.

I can't detail for you the experience that was the Hurricane Heat, BlogLand, as it is truly something you need to do for yourself, and your time on the course with your new Spartan Family will be unique, but I will try and give you a few of the memorable highlights.

After a bit of a jog, my stomach dropped. Joe had pointed the teams at our first challenge: Rope Climb. Guess what I historically am generally really unsuccessful at? I looked around at my team - all guys (Yep, I was representing the Chicks on Team No Quit!), all looking relatively in shape, and like they'd eat this rope climb for breakfast. I kinda wanted to throw up my breakfast. However, never once did I feel like a handicap to this team; I got a boost out of the water (oh yeah, why would you rope climb a dry rope, if you could climb a wet one, out of a waist-high mud puddle?), cheered on from the bottom, and helpful hints given to me along the way. My nerves were calming themselves, after this display of unity in the face of adversity.

We hit tall vertical walls that all the teams helped each other over (carrying tires...), I walked across my teammates backs (literally) to complete the monkey bars (my nemesis) and was able to return the favor as I banded with another HH'er to carry 5 sandbags (2 each, plus one between us) down a giant hill.

Hurricane Heat 013 traversed up down and around the Tuxedo Ridge ski mountain. We rolled, bear crawled and burpee'd through, around and by many of the obstacles. As the sun lit overhead and the 7am first race heat of the day was amassing, Joe called us out of the Barbed Wire crawl (which we'd done 2x, already). We got a nod of acknowledgement and were lined up facing the 7am race heat, the Start line between us. The Hurricane Heat'ers stood with their teams, muddy and wet, but smiling and ready for more. The final direction was given: The entire 7am race heat was to hug a Hurricane Heat'er (for surviving?) on their way through them, to begin their race. We laughed and cheered and dispensed muddy hugs and high fives with the First Wave. The energy in that space was so intense, you could practically feel it - adrenaline from the first wave's anticipation (for many of them, apparently, their first Spartan Race), and the happiness and triumph from the HH'ers conquering the group and personal challenges that were set before us that morning. THIS was Spartan Race. This moment of metaphorical before and afters, strong mindsets, and unconquerable determination.

Hurricane Heat 013, you'll always be my first... and certainly not my last. Team No Quit! Aroo!


Spartan Sprint, Tuxedo, NY:

After hosing off and running back to the car refuel (2+ hours of unique challenges, up and down the ski mountain leaves you a bit hungry...), I returned to the race site to meet up with the rest of my crazy friends and figure out when I would be running my regular race for the day. Along the way, I had the pleasure of meeting another of the Spartan Chicks, Lavonah (Hi!), and exchange some tips and encouragement for her first Spartan Race.

Feeling a bit more energetic after some water and food (don't underestimate fueling, BlogLand.), I met up with the GT and the rest of the posse to plan our assault on this formidable course. Apparently, 9:30am was the plan. I was still cruising on the post-HH high, feeling re-energized by the appearance of sunshine, and ready to tackle anything in front of me.

The race itself no longer makes me nervous. Now that I've gotten one out of the way, I know what to expect in a sense, and I know that if I need help - even if I'm alone - there will always be a Spartan ready to help. With that, I found myself free to mill in the starting gate, let the waves of excitement wash over me, lose myself in the driving motivational music, accompanied by the words of an enthusiastic emcee and prepare myself for battle.

As we bellowed our third "Aroo!" we were out of the starting gates and straight up the hill. I thought a silent prayer that I live in VT and trained on hills often. Our crew slowly broke up into their different paces, and I watched Kym and Jeff (who officially have the most-fantastic barbed wire picture of this race, thus far) steadily attack the terrain and fade off into the distance. This couple are strong Spartans through and through... either that or they're bionic. I look forward to the race where I find myself keeping up with them; for now, they are one of the many inspirations that keeps me pushing forward when the hills feel long, or the walls too high.

For the remainder of the race, I found myself battling the mountain with Mies and my GT. Up and over walls, bouldering through "trails" and slip-sliding everywhere (there's nothing like torrential rains the previous day to really loosen up a course...), we pressed on at a steady pace. Personally, I found it really challenging to find my stride on this course. Admittedly, I had already been out on the course for 2 hours that morning with the HH, but I couldn't settle into a pace I was happy with. I wanted to run more, and did at times, but sliding down the hills, traversing narrow paths, or suddenly hitting a crazy steep one would interrupt the flow. I found myself doing a lot more walking in this Sprint than I anticipated... mostly because it seemed to be the only way to successfully navigate the terrain that the feet of a million Spartans before me had torn up.

We kept moving forward, encountering interesting obstacles - rabbit run style tunnel crawls, tire carries, Hercules Hoist (this is my favorite. hehe), cargo nets... you name it, we climbed it, rolled under it, moved it or otherwise completed it. The awesome thing I noted in particular about this race was the regular appearance of spectator areas. Sara (my cheering section and chauffeur for the day, due to a knee injury) kept popping up around a random corner, with other friends and family, happy to be able to see the Spartans conquering the course, rather than just seeing the finish line. Well done, Spartan Race.

There are two particular obstacles of note, for me, this time (aside from The Mountain itself!):

While winding through a narrow muddy path in the woods, my triad and I suddenly found ourselves staring at a vertical cargo net, spanning several trees. From a few feet away, it didn't look so bad. Climb up, go over, climb down the other side. No problem. As I stepped up to the net and began to climb, I suddenly noted the difficulty. The net was not affixed to anything at the bottom. That meant it moved. A lot. You'd be climbing and suddenly your feet were out in front of your body. This, BlogLand, is not a comfortable position, particularly when you're doing your best Spider Man impression and dangling from a net 12 feet off the ground.

I got to the top with no issue, then suddenly had a flash back of the moment in Colorado (on that evil log obstacle!) where I didn't know how to go forward and felt "stuck".  I was at the top of a shaky net, worsened by the fact there were other Spartans climbing on it and moving it, and it felt like there was nothing to hold on to, as I would try and get over the top. Deep breaths. Stop and think, I told myself. This was not a matter of strength, just a matter of doing. I was reminded of a quote I just recently read, "All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come out of it." I was afraid, but I had not come this far to be conquered by a little fear. I looked toward the ground to see my GT at the bottom, waiting for Mies and I to descend. He looked calm and unworried as he looked up and me and nodded. Okay, there was clearly no need for panic, I told myself. Right leg over. 20 seconds of insane courage, and I found myself on the other side of the net, coming down. With great relief I put my feet on solid ground and shook out the anxiety from my arms and legs. These are the moments for which I do Spartan Race. Hitting the ground on the other side of that net meant that I had, again, done something I was not sure I could do, while staring my fears right in the face and beating them back into the sea of doubt from whence they came. With each race, I prove to myself that I'm stronger than I realize and capable of more than I can imagine.

After a few more challenges, I really started to feel my energy fading. I realized, after a quick time-check, that with the HH, I'd been out on the course for 4+ hours... it was a good thing we were closing in on the end. After an almost successful go at the traverse wall (so aggravating! I could've had this one, but I rushed and fell off! Next time...), we found ourselves face to face with the barbed wire crawl. The pictures reflect my lack of enthusiasm for this one. You can read it on my face. After going down and back through it in the HH, I knew what I was getting into and I was not excited - this barbed wire crawl, in particular, was extremely rocky. Low crawling was hard, because you could feel your knees and elbows digging into the rocky terrain. Rolling seemed to be the slightly more comfortable, sustainable option, but then their were obstacles to prevent you from rolling the whole length. It was an ugly crawl, BlogLand. This obstacle, for me, was simply and exercise in determination. I knew physically I could do it, it was merely a matter of dismissing the increasing discomfort of the rocks pressing into my body (and the already-forming scrapes and bruises from the HH!). I have bruises on the palms of my hands, and up and down the length of my body. But I didn't stop. Not an option. Bruises heal, scrapes only hurt for a minute or two... but quitting on an obstacle, and I'd remember that forever.

The end of (my third time through!) that crawl was the sweetest moment of the least that's what my torn up elbows thought!

Regrouping the rest of my triad, we jumped the flames together (Nuvision, can we go 2-2 on Epic Fire Jump pictures, I hope?!), and ran/slid/tumbled/rolled to the finish. Momentum carrying us forward down the mountain, both the GT and I slid off our feet, but managed some ninja-like recoveries and were up and going again to tackle the gladiators and cross the finish.

After 4.5 total hours on the course that morning, I was admittedly relieved to find that finish line. I knocked back several little cups of coconut water (soooo thirsty!), and noshed on an excellent banana while collecting my t-shirt and medal.

I'd done it. I was tired, thirsty, hungry and a bit banged up... but I'd found another finish line. I began planning my "next time..." goals: complete the traverse wall without falling, make it a little farther on the monkey bars without falling... fuel a little differently, so help keep the energy a little steadier.

Having said that, I definitely thoroughly enjoyed the cheeseburger, fries and hot coffee that I devoured not too long after. I know, I know... nutritionally, not the best... but let me tell you, I was ready to eat an entire cow after that morning's energy demands.

Total Burpee Count for the race: 150 (rope climb, monkey bars, log steps, traverse wall, spear throw).

After getting home and washing the race clothes, and treating the superficial wounds, I find myself in a little bit of Race Withdrawl. At these races, you feel a little bit super human - you're leaping fire, climbing walls, smashing your limits to pieces and gaining a confidence in yourself that you can't describe. You're surrounded by the energy of people having the same experience. You're Super Man, conquering the course.

... and then, you hide your cape, wear sleeves over your bruises, and find yourself back in your office chair on Monday morning. There's no fire, no finish line... just people that raise an eyebrow when you try to describe what you've done, or in inbox full of email that doesn't care if you dominated the sandbag carry.

But never forget, BlogLand... Life can be one big Spartan Race. Take the lessons you learn on the course and apply them forward. Remember the exercises in pushing your boundaries, owning your fears and pushing on, even when you're tired. The next time that project at work feeling overwhelming - think of that 12 foot wall you got over. When you are waffling on a difficult decision, remember those 20 seconds of insane courage at the top of the cargo net.

You'll never be the same. You'll know at the Finish Line. :-)

1 comment:

  1. Love that some of my photos made it onto your blog :)