Friday, July 20, 2012

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other. - Abraham Lincoln

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 359-360:

BlogLand, I know. I've been horrible, I haven't been keeping up with posts... I blame this stupid knee thing, it feels like I haven't been doing anything productive enough to write about. THAT said, I'm back in FULL FORCE!! There's nothing like a Race Weekend to get your mind back in the game.....

Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint, Blue Mountain Ski Area:

As I ticked down the minutes left in my workday on Friday, my excitement grew... but so did my nerves. My workouts have been sporadic and less productive than I've wanted for the last few weeks, due to this knee pain thing I've had going on, and this would be my first race since it's been "healed." Coming into race weekend, I hadn't really been running much (like 5K, 1-2x in the week or so leading up to it) and I was a bit worried how the knee was going to hold up. However, you know me, BlogLand... I informed my knee that it better Spartan the eff up, and I dashed out the door at 5pm to meet my partner in crime for the weekend and hoped that I would make it through on sheer will alone, if need be.

The CG and I pulled out of central VT at 5pm, facing our (hopefully) 7 hour drive to PA. The miles passed effortlessly as conversation went back and forth about races (I think I've got the CG talked into his first Spartan in Amesbury!), nutrition, the craziness on the radio, how much I love Dunkin Donuts coffee and the interesting road signs. In preparation for what was supposed to be a heat wave of a weekend (with temps around 90 degrees), I was mindful of my hydration and was sipping my water jug all the way to PA. If I was going to give my knee a fighting chance, I couldn't risk having dehydration issues to battle, too! Drained from the drive, we rolled into our hotel around 12:30am and I was face-down-starfish out sleeping before I saw 1am. It was in this moment that I was just a little bit glad I had not tried to push the scheduling and sign up for Hurricane Heat 015 - slated to start at 6am sharp. There was no way I'd be able to make that happen, on top of a regular race, after that drive. I was mayor of Sleepsville and reaaaal happy about it.

I blinked and my alarm was going off, signaling the ceremonial Donning of the Spandex. As every racer/runner/etc. will tell you, they've got that favorite race outfit that just feels right. Wiggling mine into place that morning, I had a sudden realization - my pants were too big. Yep. My *spandex* were loose. Whhaaa?! Pretty excited about that, let me tell you. The progress towards fitness goals continues. Fueled by race day butterflies, I bounced around the room, noshed a few baby bananas, an extra protein cliff bar and some fruit and away we went.

Even though these events are not new to me, as we started seeing the Spartan logo signs directing us where to go, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I fidgeted. I tapped my foot. I wanted OUT of the car. It was fun to watch my CG's eyes go wide as we turned the corner and saw the seas of people and cars that had gathered for the event. "I had no idea it was this big..." he said in awe.

Registration was a breeze and we walked a quick tour around the grounds, getting the lay of the land and looking for familiar faces. I heard that all my usual Storm Chaser people were still out on the course with the Hurricane Heat (going on hour 3+ at that point...), so I had no idea who I'd be running at 10am with. After a some high fives with Sam, whose awesomeness I'd met in HH013 in Tuxedo, I finally found who I'd been scanning the crowd for - Adriane!

Adriane and I met months and months ago at the dawning of the Spartan Chicks Facebook page. We soon figured out that we were on similar weight-loss and fitness journeys, and loved keeping tabs on each other for inspiration. PA would be Adriane's first Spartan, so I was THRILLED I was going to be able to be there and watch her kick the ass of a race they were billing as a "mini-beast."

Rocking our Spartan Chicked Pink and Black, we gathered in the starting corral. The familiar Dropkick Murphy's music hit the loudspeakers while the emcee had us chanting, "I am SPARTAN!" The adrenaline in the crowd was impossible to separate from and I found myself constantly moving, swaying, stretching, just dying for  them to release us to the course. Right before I was about to jump out of my skin, with three solid "AROO!'s" we were off - directly up the mountain.

Yep. You gotta love Spartan Race. Any ego you may have thought you had about being in shape, or being ready, they really like to bitch slap out of you, immediately.
Dear Racer, you think you're badass? Fine. Right out of the gate, please run up this black diamond ski mountain. How do you like me now?!, Sincerely, Spartan Race.

We trudged. Because really, after you jog a bit, that's really all of the option that is left to you, when you hit a hill like that. Trudging. An interesting feature of this sprint was that they opened the ski lift, so during this crazy hill trek (and the up and down subsequent ones that were to follow), perky spectators shouted encouragement from overhead.

Adriane had us moving at a good pace, and we tackled the first few usual obstacles with ease - short walls, crawl under stuff... No problem.

... and then we climbed some hills.
Oh wait. I forgot, there were some hills.
Did I mention we went up and down and back up and sidewides and up and up and UP the HILLS!???

Yeah. So, effectively, BlogLand, the greatest obstacle of the PA sprint was simply the terrain. This mountain was no joke and I venture to say, longer, if not steeper, than the Tuxedo, NY mountain. I am pretty sure I spent the majority of the day telling myself (in my head), "...30 steps, then a break. Okay. 30 more steps. Break."

The first obstacle of note that we came to was the infamous Spartan Sandbag carry. As we approached the obstacle, I saw the smiling face of Sparta's own Chris Davis. Chris has been a model of determination and perseverance for the Spartan Race community, those committed to improving their health and fitness, and myself. In short, Chris has taken himself from couch potato, lost HUNDREDS (yes, plural) of pounds and has dedicated himself to the rigors of a Spartan Lifestyle, with his eye on his personal goals. For someone that knows first-hand how difficult that journey can be, following Chris's blog and updates have been really motivating for me. Sometimes, knowing your not alone in your battles is all you need. SO, when I saw Chris smiling and pointing our way to the "pancake" piles, I couldn't help but run up and give him a sweaty, muddy hug.

The sand bag carry was epic, here in PA. As I hefted my 20# pink Spartan Pancake over one shoulder, a volunteer pointed us down the "Nightmare" trail (...which was lose rocks and steep), telling us to come up the other side.
No problem, right? Wrong. As usual. Down wasn't too bad, as long as you were careful with your footing... but then there was up. The first 20 feet or so didn't seem that bad, but then the pitch of the mountain really hit you. People that looked crazy in shape were stopping, throwing their pancakes to the ground in frustration and hands-on-knees trying to recover their breath. It was a tough one. Here was my tactic. By mid incline, I was feeling the evilness of this obstacle, but refused to let it get to me. I took in the scenic view the top of the mountain afforded me, and made a plan: I could move my feet - left,right, left, right - for 30 steps. At thirty steps, I could stop and breathe and count to thirty. With that mantra, I pressed on to complete the obstacle, rejoicing with Adriane as we all found the top, and GLADLY moved on to another obstacle...

... which just so happened, happened to be one of my favorites of the day. The (dreaded) Monkey Bars. You see, BlogLand, I've been practicing. I approached these mountain top monkey bars with some confidence, hoping to at least do better than I have in the past - 3 rungs. Deep breath and I started to swing... only to note one fundamental difference. Spartan monkey bars were not even. As in, on rung was on top of the support side bars, one rung was underneath it. SO, if you were using the momentum-swing technique like I was (versus the burly-man, muscle through it, no swing technique), you would suddenly realize that for every other bar you had to reach just THAT much further (like... 2 inches higher). Doesn't seem like a big deal... but as I found myself 2/3 of the way through the obstacle (feeling good! Swinging strong!), I suddenly found only my fingertips on one of the high rungs, left arm desperately trying to hold steady while my right arm flailed around trying to reach and grab just a little bit further........... Yeah. The next thing I knew, I was face down on the mountain again in the Burpee Penalty box. DAMN. 2/3 of the way, however, is more than I've gotten through before and I KNOW that I could be successful at these. Monkey Bars in Amesbury... watch out. I'm coming for you.

I'm also proud of myself for making progress at the rope climb. By some miracle of wonders, I managed to climb a couple pulls (maybe half the rope?) out of waist high mud water, up the knotted rope.... Still haven't rung the bell at the top yet... but it's getting there.

The other obstacles that made my Obstacles of Note list for the day were the water features. OHHHH yeah. Thank the Spartan Gods for this one. As timid, height-fearing Spartans milled at the top of the 200ft slip and slide (which ended in a waist deep pond), I jumped to the front and dove down the slide, for my favorite "obstacle" of the day. Upon splash-down in the pond, a real welcome relief in the heat of the day, I found myself taking an easy swim (Ahhhhh to feel momentarily weightless!!) down the length of it, and diving under a series of floating barrels. It was a sad moment when I had to walk myself out of our little water oasis, I'll tell you. However, there is nothing more refreshing and more motivating to get you through the end of a race, than a nice swim.

From there we trotted over to drag a chained concrete block up and down a hill and through the pond (interesting, I found the concrete block easier to manage IN the water, as even it became slighty less heavy...), then over to the notorious barbed wire. I must admit, while this barbed wire was definitely challenging, it was a cake-walk after surviving the epic distance crawl in Colorado (with a muddy M16!), or the rocky hell that was Tuxedo.

A few more walls, heavy bucket carries, rocky slopes and tire flips later, we found ourselves in the home stretch. Spear Throw, Fire Jump and slippery wall were ALL that was left of the 25 obstacle challenge, before we were going to hit that finish line. Brave, but unsuccessful spear throws had Adriane and I on our final set of Burpees for the day (Total burpee count: 120 - rope climb, monkey bars, traverse wall, spear throw), before pressing on to the finish.

After surviving a few gentle love-taps by the gladiators (seriously, guys? I'm running AT you next time. What is this easy-tap bullshit?), I cross the finish line a hot sweaty, muddy mess... where some AMAZING, blessed volunteer handed me a banana that she PEELED FOR ME. As that was happening, I felt a little weird about it, but as anyone that's raced with me knows, the banana at the end is one of my favorite parts. And really, I can't say I've ever had someone peel it for me. I wonder, did I look THAT muddy, or like I was that spent? Or are the Spartan Race volunteers just the best EVER?!

My finish line awesome, after receiving my medal, just continued as I shuffled out of the finisher area, to - not one - but TWO waiting cups filled with tasty water, accompanied by muddy hugs from the CG, who got to watch the final few obstacles. As I'm sure many of you can relate, it is invaluable and fabulous to have an enthusiastic supporter who doesn't mind milling around in the heat all day, while you run around, get muddy and do your thing, who is STILL excited to see you and hand you ice cold recovery drinks from the trunk of the car and stand in line to get you a pint of tasty, carby (recovery!) french fries. Invaluable. BIG thanks go to the CG for being my irreplaceable crew for the day. I would've been dehydrated, lonely and majorly Hangry (n. to be so crazy hungry, particularly after a workout, that you turn into an angry beast.).

I stood in line to complete the final obstacle of any Spartan Race - the cold hose off... to which, today, I was actually looking forward to. Interestingly, you know you're at a Spartan Race when you've got a cold hose stuck down the front of your sports bra (yeah. there's mud there), you're doing some weird mud-evacuation shimmy, when you look up and lock eyes with a familiar face - even though you've never met in person. It was cool to exchange a few Hellos! with fellow spartan Paul (and his SO CUTE kids!) in passing. Next time, I aim to not make first impressions with cold hoses stuck in weird places. :-)

Finally, after finding some dry clothes and feeling a little more human (coconut water, a gatorade chocolate recovery shake and some french fries later...), the CG and I were able to catch up with the GT and fellow Storm Chasers and Spartan nuts. Hugs and commiseration about the course followed, and all was right with the world. It's interesting how these Spartan Races can be such a community - even if the people don't see each other more than every once and a while for a race.

As we left Blue Mountain in the rear view and headed off to our next adventure for the weekend, I did a little reflecting. I checked in on my knee and noted that there was NO pain. None. I felt 100%. THANK YOU, Cosmos. I'm not sure I could've taken any more "healing" time. I had a big smile on my face... How could you not, after you find yourself surrounded by people that you love, chasing down goals that you didn't even know were possible.

Random Highlight of the Day: Toward the beginning of my race, Adriane and I were passed by a band of Spartan Chicked Super Heros - I'm sure I saw Super Woman and Poison Ivy? - and they all turned around, knew me by name and introduced themselves. It is the coolest feeling in the world, BlogLand, when people you don't know recognize YOU and stop to say hello and offer words of encouragement. Chicks (I regrettably can't remember all of your names, I was too busy trying to get any oxygen to my lungs to lay down memory), THANK YOU! You made my day.

Since the CG had braved my Spartan Race territory all day Saturday, we were going to make a go of his domain - rock climbing - on Sunday. However, the blazing heat and doom-filled thunderclouds seemed to have other ideas about our outside bouldering adventure.

Not to be thwarted in our Weekend of Awesomeness, we just continued our drive home and hit up the climbing gym, nearby. With this trip to the climbing gym I got to learn to belay (handle the rope for your climbing buddy and control their falling/lowering). Let me just tell you, BlogLand... that is an initially nerve wracking process, when you figure out that your technique is solely responsible for preventing your buddy from NOT plummeting 50ft off the wall.

Having said that, it was really cool to get to belay for the CG and watch an experienced climber at work - it was particularly evident to me a) how much upper body strength can really help this persuit and b) how much more upper body strength (take that t-rex arms!) I will develop by pursuing this activity.

PLUS, I won't lie... this is a raging good time. I find it very satisfying to be turned at a physical sort of puzzle (hmm... where does my foot go next?) and defeat it, with a little effort. And by a little, I sometimes, mean, a lot. I tackled some of the routes I had done last time at the wall with not a lot of difficulty... but then met my match with the stupid blue flags, this time. By the time I got to that route, my arms were a little done, and I found myself (EVERY TIME.) desperately trying to hang onto this one hold while reaching for the next... but having my hand slide neatly off and send me backwards from the wall - complete with grunts of frustration and under the breath cursing. I'm going climbing tomorrow and I am coming to OWN that blue course.

After climbing until we were "tired" (or so I thought), the CG moved on to the next activity, as if he had channeled some of my GT's infamous task-master drive (... hmm... I had left them alone to chat at the race, at one point...); We set about doing set of wrist curls (take THAT forearms!), deadhangs for time, straight pull ups and other assorted upper body grip work. We hit one exercise until failure, then on the next.

T-Rex arms, be damned... the CG and his crazy climbing wods are definitely going to demolish you. By the time the Beast rolls around in Killington, I have zero doubt I'll be managing a pull up. OH yeah.


So, I'd say it's been a pretty damn good week, BlogLand. The race really got my head back in the game - particularly seeing that my knee was going to hold up and continue to feel okay. I nursed some sore/stiff muscles for a couple days, and worked on peeling off some torn hand-callouses, but I am feeling really focused and re-determined again. I had a 4.5 ish mile run tonight with the ladies that felt strong and wonderful; we tackled grueling hills, threw in some sprints, and laughed, talked and enjoyed our way through all our mileage. Win!

And so, I leave you with a quote that I've recently fallen in love with:

"One day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you've always wanted. Do it now."  - Coelho

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