Monday, June 11, 2012

"You must do the thing you think you can not do..."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 325 & 326:

It was an International Spartan Weekend, Blogland, as I packed up the car and headed to Canada (eh!) for a weekend of racing. It had been a bumpy week in my life-outside-of-training and I won't lie, I was really looking forward to a Spartan excursion. To add to the awesomeness, I was taking with me my Up-the-hill running buddy, Stacey (who would be completing her first Spartan Sprint) and Yvette, a Spartan Chick I hadn't met yet!

We rolled into our hotel about 11:30pm and headed to bed. Saturday, the plan was that we'd be volunteering all day, Yvette would be running the Super, and on Sunday, we'd all be tackling the Sprint. It had crossed my mind to do a Super here in Canada (eh!), but I wasn't planning on it, because I didn't want to do my first Super alone (and I didn't know Yvette was joining us until the night before we left!). However, because I'm a prepared sort of Spartan, I had packed extra race clothes, etc. as you just never know...

Yvette had spent most of the drive up informing me that I should do the Super with her. I was worried. I wasn't entirely sure I was Super-ready, but maaaaybe... when asked what his thought was on me doing the Super on Saturday, the GT simply responded: "Yep. There was no question." Hmm. It appeared I (or my fear) was being outvoted.

We headed to the race site for our volunteer morning. It was a warm day (75+?) but absolutely gorgeous. I dutifully nodded through the volunteer briefing in French and got the Cliff Notes version later on in English (it is always humbling to go somewhere where you don't understand the language!), to learn that my little trio (as well as Tracy, another Vermonter we found!) would be manning the Spear throw that morning.

Anyone who's ever raced a Spartan knows just exactly how much people love the Spear Throw. In other words, they don't. At all. Why? Well, in general, it is a 1 in 10 success rate to throw that (not always straight or aerodynamic) "spear" and make it stick in the target. If not, the penalty is 30 burpees... and everyone LOVES burpees. So, as you can imagine, I spent the morning doing a lot of encouraging cheering, issuing of burpees and generally baking in the sun.

... When suddenly it was 1pm and the relief crew came around and asked if we wanted to race. Did I want to race?! a Super?! AHH!! I don't Knooowww.... (*insert Inner Fat Chick Freak Out*)

... and then next thing I knew, I was standing in the Starting Gate, timing chip attached to my shoe, geared out in my "extra" race stuff. You know, the ones I brought "just in case."

Canadian Spartans (eh!), like any other Spartan, start their race by getting the racers pumped up and ready to charge. Epic music and three Aroo!'s, and we were released onto the course, streaming out over the immediate fire jump like crazed ants.

Yvette and I settled into an easy run, letting the particularly exuberant racers careen ahead of us, as we were cognizant of the fact that we had a solid 8-10ish miles ahead of us. Pacing was going to be particularly important. I briefly thought about the fact that we hadn't had a chance to fuel and prep for this, like I would've liked to. We had eaten a decent breakfast, but from standing in the sun all morning, we certainly weren't as hydrated as I would've chosen, and "lunch" had been a Clif bar about 20 minutes before our heat went off. Ah well. Nothing to do about it now except go forward!

We turned off the pleasant gravel trail and into the wooded single-track trail... and Canada (eh!) showed us how they do it differently than the American Spartans. We went straight up the mountain. Down the mountain. Around the mountain. Back up the mountain. More up the mountain. Running was really limited, as much of the "flat" or "down" parts were crazy dangerous mud slicks... Or they were lose-your-shoe mud pits that you had to pick your way slowly through or around with the aid of mossy patches and fallen trees. We spent a lot of time in the "determined march" pace, passing those less accustomed to hills (Yay living in VT!), or with less endurance, who had succombed to the "Death Trudge" (The "Death Trudge" is that slow, but still moving forward gait where you're panting, you want to die, but know you need to keep moving...).

There were no "obstacles". Just you and the mountain for MILES.

It went on forever. It was frustrating to get to be able to half-run for 10 steps, then have to navigate a slick rock slope, then half trot up an incline, then completely stop to figure out a safe (ish) way down a mud slick... I will not lie, there are points where I doubted if taking my butt through a Super at this point in my training was an excellent plan.

Finally, drenched in sweat and totally parched, we emerged from the mountain to see our first official obstacle: the "Weight Wheel". This was a big dowel that you had to hold up between your two hands, and using your hand/forearm/arm strength, roll up a rope that had a (light) sandbag at the bottom. Yvette and I made short work of this, hopped over a 5ft wall, and headed over to the sandbag carry (where an amazing volunteer found us some water!). We loaded up our sandbags and zig zagged through a flat, twisty path. A pretty short one. It seems that every sandbag carry I've seen in the US involves a large hill, or a great distance. We blew through this obstacle and.... *sigh*... headed back into the woods for some more single-track slippery trail blazing.

Every once and a while we'd see daylight through the trees and pop back out on the wide gravel trail where we tackled maybe three more well-spaced obstacles (a light log overhead press - only 10 times, a tire hop through and a short rock carry), then BACK into the woods and up the muddy mountain.

Finally, after completing the majority of our distance that way, (MILES people, MILES of this!) we came out to the last 3/4 of a mile or so, where 90% of the obstacles were located. (My guess is, based on the fact that this seemed to be a wildlife/hiking area, SR was restricted on where they could locate obstacles...) It was 20 burpees for me at the narrow rope ladder (the female version of the rope climb), 30 more for me at the spear throw (which was pretty hard task, after 8 ish miles of mountain running!), then I was home free, burpee wise.

I was pretty damn tired at this point though, as we approached the obstacles. I was acutely aware of how much fueling and appropriate nutrition can play into your success over these greater distances (I would've sold my soul for a cheeseburger at this point, not that that would be "appropriate" fueling...). Nonetheless, we were ALMOST at the finish line of my first Super and tired or not, I *would* be earning my blue medal.

We owned a few of the usual Spartan obstacles - cargo nets, vertical wall, tunnel crawls. With a primal scream of exertion I got myself over the crest of the slippery wall (dry and not soaped like the US Spartans - just covered in plastic), with one final solid arm pull and 10 seconds of determination (never underestimate the primal scream. It CAN get you there.). After that, just a quick sprint to the finish line, before getting my (well-earned!) blue medal bestowed upon me.

I do need to touch upon one particular obstacle. Or genre of obstacle. Apparently, Canadian (eh!) Spartans are extremely fond of their barbed wire crawls. First, we did one real long muddy one in the middle of the woods (my elbows and knees still aren't happy with me from the NY Sprint... they were not impressed with this), where you could not roll. Then, there was Barbed Wire Part 2, where you were able to roll a little bit. Finally (oh yes, there's more!), we hit the zappy barbed wire. Just when I was beginning to underestimate the Canadians (eh!), they pulled this one out at the end of the course: a short crawl (maybe...20 feet?), but through a thick layer of those round ice cubes, under barbed wire. OH, and some of the barbed wire was electrified. This was not tall enough or wide enough to roll under. This was a straight up low crawl from Hell. Why from Hell? Well, after 8.5 miles of craziness, I was tired. Slithering through the ice wasn't bad on a hot day, but staying that low, trying to gingerly use my elbows was a little tricky. ALSO, there was that guy, who's sole job seemed to be to throw a shovel full of ice cubes on your back/butt if you stopped moving. Niiice. Oh yeah, and occasionally, if you weren't careful, you got a little zap (but, FYI, these were nothing major. Like a cow/horse fence. I actually held onto one of the wires that got stuck in my overly perky pony tail, getting zapped while I got it out, and am alive to tell the tale!).

My favorite obstacle of the day was the "Wobbly Bridge." This was a series of floating barrels for you to traverse as you saw fit, but that ended halfway through a small pond. Either way (barrel traverse or not), you were going for a swim. I have never been so excited to get unceremoniously dumped into brisk water. It was, again, toward the end of the course and we had been running and traversing the mountain, etc. for over 7 miles at this point, I'm guessing. You're hot. Muddy. Tired. Getting submerged into cool water works absolute MIRACLES, as far as refreshing your body and getting you through your last push. (I experienced a similar sensation at the Colorado Military Sprint, when we crawl/swam through the deep covered trenches!).

Overall, Canadian (eh!) Spartans, you did not fail to challenge me on this Super course, despite the fact it was much different than I anticipated. I was not a huge fan of the fact that virtually all the obstacles were clustered at the end (we ran miles and miles without hitting an obstacle), and the official obstacles were a little less challenging than I anticipated. They certainly had their moments (those barbed wire crawls got ugly and the ever-present rope climb remains my nemesis), but it felt a little simpler than even some of the obstacles I had encountered at previous Sprints. There was only one short wall (not a series to go over), and likewise only one tall wall. The weights on a lot of them (Hercules hoist and weight wheel) seemed light, or the reps low (we only had to do the weight wheel one time, and only 10 log presses?). Also, there was no standard 30 burpee penalty. Sometimes it was thirty... sometimes it was 20. There was not a single mud pit (I came out of this race relatively clean, other than the barbed wire crawls).

However, I'm willing to concede that perhaps the obstacles had to be a little different due to the site restrictions, etc. Where I may have felt that the Canadians (eh!) may have lacked a little bit in the obstacles, they certainly made up for it in one BIG obstacle: The damn Mountain (maybe that was the intent!). Going for miles upon miles on this treacherous, slippery trail was as much a mental obstacle as anything. It seemed like it would never end. I questioned whether my calves would seize up completely from the hill climbing. I wasn't sure I'd ever been so thirsty in my life. This obstacle (and long stretches of it!) forced you to SPARTAN UP more than any other I encountered.

As I trotted through the finish line of the Super, though, I was surprised at one thing: No sponsored beverages (I swear to you, other than a cheeseburger, all I wanted at this point was the stupid half of a banana and a cold coconut water) in tiny cups. Nothing. There was water, but you had to wait in line at these big barrels. No free banana. No coconut water. Hmm. Honestly, this is where I found the weak spot in the Canadian (eh!) races; it seems that they are a newer, "young" offshoot of SR and may not entirely have the organization down. It was TORTURE to have to run by several abandoned (noted only by the 4 million empty water bottles) aid stations, while we were thirsty like crazy. It was a bit frustrating to know that they did not plan accordingly and offer the same aid to the racers running later in the day. Handing water bottles to people seemed inefficient on the course, in my opinion. They don't go as far as a big jug of water and often they are left half full and abandoned on the side of the course.

Back of shirt;
 Front is usual SR graphic
However, Yvette and I had prevailed against the lack of hydration and the mountain and crossed the finish line to earn our medals - as well as our free t-shirt. Dear Canadian (eh!) Spartans, you won me back on this one! While I adore getting the race shirts, commemorating what I've done, it would be great to get ones that are non-cotton, so they could be more functional in an active lifestyle. The Canadians (eh!) apparently jumped on board this train and passed out some great tech t-shirts, with a front and back design. Extra points for Canada (eh!).

Canada (eh!) also didn't seem to have "showers", but they did provide a pleasantly cold lake to submerge yourself in. While it may not have gotten you as "clean" as the usual hose power-wash, it was a really nice feature. Your muscles will thank you for those few moments of cold weightlessness.... ahhhhh....

After clocking in around 9 rugged miles, Yvette and I spent the afternoon eating and rehydrating (Subway never tasted so good). Followed by the best hot shower ever, and an evening of stretching. I found that all sorts of weird muscles in my hips/legs were stiff from all the weird sideways sliding and uneven stability work. I stretched. I stretched some more. I groaned.

While Stacey puttered around our room, working out some night-before race energy, I found myself falling asleep quite easily (imagine that.).
Race Morning #2 dawned on another beautiful day. I rolled over and stretched, assessing the damage of yesterday's crazy good time. Overall, feeling pretty good. Standing up, something in my left leg (hamstring? Calf?) was causing a little bit of a troublesome pulling behind my knee, but nothing I didn't think I could work out and get through.

Today, we were well fueled, well rested and well hydrated as we drove up Mont Tremblant to tackle their Sprint course. Stacey was stoked to attack her first Spartan and the enthusiasm was catchy. How could it NOT be a raging good time (even if I did have a little bit of a ouchy situation in my leg)? In the few minutes penned in the starting gate before the race, we exchanged some tips to our first timer (do NOT let the fast people rush you!!!), and I stretched out my leg tightness as much as possible and hoped for the best.

And we were off! Not too far down the first stretch of gravel path, I was jogging through the masses of people, trying to find a decent pace with Stacey in tow, when suddenly I heard my name from behind. Whipping around (confused!) I saw none other than the infamous Spartan Chick, Leyla! She waved me on, as she was walking with her (incredible!) Mother, but it was really nice to know that the Chicks are looking out for you, even if you've never met!

The Sprint course was almost identical to the Super course, except shorter. Basically, it seemed like they just cut out some of the longer, grueling mountain loops. We still had the majority of the beginning of our race through the slippy mountain paths of death, only popping out to do obstacles (mostly) at the very end of the race.

I have to take this moment to comment on my badass friend, Stacey. Her first race, and she attacked this one like it was her job. Despite the fact that she's relatively new to running, she marched herself up and down that mountain with a face of determination. Without hesitation she dived under that long, muddy barbed wire crawl, never looking back. She did her burpee penalties (eff you spear throw!!) diligently without complaints.  SO proud of her.

My favorite moment of the day, after we crossed the finish, in epic gladiator-beating style (I am happy to say that the Canadian (eh!) Gladiators actually took some shots at me, rather than just tapping me gently, like the US ones have!), Stacey had a moment of epiphany while we lined up for water. She said simply, "You DO know at the finish know all sorts of things." I couldn't have said it better myself!

Two medals in one weekend.
14+ miles. BADASS FACE.
While I have been at that light bulb moment, it is never isolated to your first Spartan Race, I'm finding. Each and every single race will teach you something new about yourself. I learned, this weekend, after 14+ total miles of mountainous, muddy terrain and obstacles that I am a lot tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. I also learned that even when it seems impossible (My calf is cramped, and we're still going uphill! Now what?!), you can always go a little further. I was still running (albeit slowly...) at the end of BOTH my races this weekend. VICTORY.
Victory Pose, with Mount Tremblant
in the background!
As we crossed the boarder back from our International Soiree, the boarder guard was quizzing us about where we'd been. When I told him a Spartan Race, he asked me (in a very unemotional border-guard tone) if I intended to be at The Beast in Killington. Stiff and sore, but happy and accomplished, I replied, "Yep! Are you?!" Only to learn that apparently even Border Patrol is coming down to challenge themselves at The Beast! Something like 100 days left and counting... (Trifecta, I'm coming for you!)