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.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"This too shall pass." - King Soloman

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 469:

Happy to be climbing back in the saddle, I headed off to CrossFit to get my sweat on, while the lingering rains from Hurricane Sandy passed over Vermont.

Our small class of four settled into some foam rolling to warm up the muscles then a couple of sets of 200m rows and 5 "inchworm complexes." Yeah, I didn't know what an inchworm complex was until the other day, either, Blogland... but let me just tell you, it is a new kind of hell.
It goes like this, from a standing position.
- Bend at the waist, hands toward the floor.
- Walk your hands from your feet out forward, until your body is in a plank position
- Do a push-up (Oh, you bet I was dropping to my knees!)
- While still in plank position, bring right leg forward into a lunge/mountain climber position.
- Switch and bring left leg forward to lunge/mountain climber
- Back to plank position
- Side plank right
- Side plank left
- Do a push up
- Walk your feet up to meet your hands
- Stand up.

.... That's ONE. During this warm up, I couldn't help but think of that T-shirt that says, "My Warm-Up is your Workout."

Next, we were on to Handstand Practice. Not one of my strong suits, since I do have the tiny T-rex arms to contend with. Never the less, Stacey and I (the only two ladies in the class!), did our best and worked down from tall boxes to short ones, practicing positioning and getting our feet up. Not easy, at all, it seems. I have a very long way to go on this particular skill set!

Then it was on to the main event, today's WOD. Today's WOD was brought to us by the Tabata concept. For those of you not in the know, Tabata is a style of training that involves 20 seconds of (usually max effort) work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat 8 times.
Our task:
- Tabata Pull ups (me, using a huge thick band)
- Tabata Push ups
- Tabata Sit Ups
- Tabata Squats
(Count your total number of reps. Me: 230)

As soon as the clock started and we were off, I had on focus face. This particular WOD would work a lot of my really weak points, and after our inchworm warm up that had worked our core, I was thinking this was going to hurt.

Pull ups were a familiar ugly beast. Yes, I can kind of do them with the band, but about round 5 or so, I was down to 3 at a time, little break, 3 more. I'm determined that I will do ONE pull up before the new year, however. It's going to happen. I'm working my arms at climbing, getting back to crossfit.... I'm going to get there. Since I can't really work my legs right now (eff you hard, Shin Splints!), I have no excuse, right?

Tabata Push ups... right after pull ups... My arms were feeling like jelly, but I got into position (knee push ups) and just went to work, doing what I can. I think the thing to remember here, BlogLand, is that ONE push up is better than no push ups at all. If your arms give out mid-push up, at least you were trying to go forward. My arms burned, my back muscles were weeping and I was watching the clock for every long second, as I eeked out my push ups.

... You know your workout has gone wrong when your tabata butterfly sit ups feel like a relief.

On to something that is typically right up my alley - tabata body weight squats. Today, I approached them not with my usual zeal, but with caution and a tiny bit of dread. Last class, weighted squats made my shin splint flare up to crippling. I had to take it easy on these. I did my squats and put in some solid work... but no where near the speed and feeling of strength that I usually expect from myself here. Instead, I felt tentative and sore. *sigh*

Managed to get the WOD done with a respectable number of reps. Pull ups were definitely my limiting factor, despite how much I was careful at squats. Pull ups are the new focus move, going forward.


It's two days after Crossfit and I have to admit, my arms are useless. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is attacking my biceps like crazy. My co-workers have been laughing at me, because when I try and straighten my arms to my sides, it's accompanied by Ouchie-Face and groans. Try reaching for the salt with sore biceps. NO. GOOD. Owwwww.
Perhaps this is where I am supposed to learn a lesson. Maybe I have been focusing on the strength in my legs too much, because it comes more naturally. Maybe now is the time, forced on me by the great Shin Splint Saga, to concentrate on whipping this sad little upper body into shape. Getting that pull up. Getting some really not-on-knees push ups. (and abs, thank you for also making your presence known... I won't neglect my core-workouts either!).

I have been struggling, of late, with this limiting injury. It is hard to pull yourself out of races and put question marks on upcoming ones. It doesn't feel good at all. I'm supposed to be chasing down those finish lines, not backing away from them. However, I have a sense of reason and I know that some time "off" now is better than permanent injury with much bigger physical limitations later. Time off it is, until I'm healed and good to go.

As a former Fat Chick, though, I'm afraid. Being limited like this, has sort of derailed my usual patterns, and I'm afraid I'm going to backslide. I'm afraid I'll lose progress. I'm afraid of all those silly irrational things you think when you're unhappy with what's going on, and your brain has hit Worse Case Scenario mode.


Where there is a will, there is a way, and I'm a Spartan, Damnit. I have an appointment for X-rays on Monday, and Physical Therapy to go to the following Monday. It's cutting it a little close to Fenway... but I'm going to keep CrossFitting, stretching, foam rolling, icing, tiger balming and whatever else I can think of to help this along... and we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed.

Now, I'm off to slather some Ultra Tiger Balm on my biceps, do a little more foam rolling, and drag myself off for a loooooong sleep.