Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance. - Virgil

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 315:

"Life is an exercise in endurance. It will beat you to the ground. Your money will fly away when you need it most. Some friends will, too.  How you react when this happens will define you."

 Somehow, Spartan Race always knows the exact thing I need to hear, when they send out their newsletter.

I'm having a real bad day today, BlogLand. It was the first time, in a really long time, that my old brain started to kick in and turn me to food again, as a coping mechanism. Major FCS flare-up.

Work is going crazy. I'm sure I don't need to spell this out for you. It's just one of those weeks where it feels like there's not enough of you - you need more hands, more time, more brains to think with, more energy, more, more, more. Pretty much every day in the last week or so, I've come out of work feeling beat up and mentally exhausted. It's temporary, due to some changes we've been dealing with... but still. It's been taking it's toll.

That has overflowed into my already-bad sleep habits. I'm not sleeping enough, and when I am sleeping, I'm dreaming like crazy. Not restful.

Then, I've got a race coming up this weekend. I'm Headed down to the Spartan Sprint in Tuxedo, NY and I'm doing my first Hurricane Heat. I'm excited out of my mind. Or I'm trying to be. I was excited out of my mind, then suddenly there were 400 little complications. I had to work out a registration snafu. I was back and forth with the (awesome!) volunteer coordinator, trying to get some stuff worked out. Coordinating with other people I know, to try and get there together became an impossibility. To add insult to injury, the one buddy I had to drive down with had a work crisis, and can't leave when I need to (to make the Hurricane Heat at 5am on Saturday!). Now I find myself in a tough spot. I'll either have to drive down by myself, or try and hunt down another group that might be going from the area, and try and hitch a ride... of which I know nobody.

*sigh*... as much as I do these races for *me*, there is a large social component. Once I get to the race, it will be fine... but I guess I always consider traveling part of the whole "experience" and it sucks to have to do that alone. I'm not an alone person. However. I suppose it will be a time for reflection. And if I have my car, perhaps, I will avoid the ride complications I had in Colorado.

Argh. I just hate dealing with this stuff 3 days before a race.

And I didn't run today. I did take my two additional prescribed walks today, but it should've been Sprint night, take 2. Last night, Sprints were cancelled on account of the Tornado Warning and raging T-storms we had here. I should've done it tonight, instead. But, I was in a crappy mood and I fell down on the job.

Not as an excuse, but I am experiencing some major DOMS (2nd day soreness!) from the Murph WOD this weekend. My hips/quads/legs in general are angry. Real angry.

So, by the time I got home at 7:30pm, knew I wasn't Sprinting, but feeling a little guilty about that, was frustrated with myself and several situations beyond my control... and just pretty ugly.

I wanted Pizza. And Hot Wings. That's what my brain said. That's what my inner Fat Chick said. Pizza and Hot Wings would make me feel better.

It is the first time in close to a year that I've really had that thought train. I even started negatively justifying it - What would it matter, I'm not losing weight right now anyway! If I'm not WOD'ing, I might as well really screw up the day!
... and so on and so forth.

It was just a really bad night. We all have them.

Thankfully, my house is pretty food "safe", and I sat on my couch with a glass of water, cried out some frustration and reflected on what would really help me. Pizza and Wings were not it. I made a list of the things I needed to do. I drank some water and went to the kitchen and found some appropriate left overs.

I've spent the evening just trying to breathe in and breathe out and remind myself that all will be fine. I just need to let go and accept the things I can not change.

What I can change is how I think about them. Pizza and Wings are NOT a solution to the feelings I was feeling, or the obstacles before me.

Now, I'm going to bed, Blogland to sleep off this ugliness. I will wake up tomorrow and take my walk, eat breakfast and get off to work.

"If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking. " - Proverb

Monday, May 28, 2012

Confidence comes from hours and days and weeks and years of constant work and dedication. - Roger Staubach

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 313:

I spent some time on my floor this evening, in the infamous "starfish" pose, in a puddle of my own sweat, with ice packs on both knees, pondering all the things I wanted to tell you about tonight, BlogLand. It is a glamorous life I lead, I know.

I rolled out of bed this morning, ready to feel hit-by-truck syndrome, but thanks to some well placed Tiger Balm (seriously, I should buy stock in this company) and a few Ibuprofen, my feet hit the floor and I was in minimal discomfort. My ankles (old injuries) were a wee bit stiff from yesterday's time road-running, but loosened up after wandering around my house for 10-15 minutes or so. I think I've figured out how to best "recover" my body from unusual exertions.

Being Memorial Day, there was a lot on my list of things to do. Not the least of which was CrossFit's Infamous Memorial Day Murph WOD. I didn't make it to the class this morning (I genuinely needed the sleep), but promised myself I would get it done before the day was out. Memorial Day is about something much bigger than a BBQ, and I intended to honor that, at least in this small way, by committing to this WOD of remembrance.

However, being such a beautiful day, FIRST I decided to set forth on my inaugural kayak voyage for the season!
Not my most photogenic moment, but hey, you get the idea. I made a couple of interesting observations during this experience. First, learning how to do a Clean & Press in CrossFit does, in fact, have a real world application: ever gotten your kayak from the ground, to the rack over your head? Yep! Let's just say it was significantly easier this year, than it has been before. ALSO, with 50+ less pounds than I had the last time I went kayaking, it was really interesting to see how much easier it was. Getting in and out of the kayak I had more mobility, I didn't feel squeezed in when I was in the kayak, and the whole experience was just more pleasurable - not riddled with little discomforts. Yay for unforeseen benefits!

A lovely meandering paddle upstream (against the current!), then a jaunt back downstream clocked my buddy and I in at around 2.5 hours. I admit, I was grateful to see the shoreline at this point - my rusty kayak muscles (which seem to be my traps), were getting pretty fatigued at this point. It had gotten to the point, in the last 10 minutes, where I employed the same mindset I do with running sometimes - just getting lost in the mindless rhythm of left, right, left, right... to get through it.

Back to my Paternal Unit's house to drop of the kayak for storage, snag a 20 minute before-dinner nap and have some food. Finishing dinner, I remembered that I had promised myself I would Murph before the day was out. I better get a move on.

Getting home and preparing to Murph, I noticed I had made a stellar accomplishment today. While I had sunscreened my face and arms, etc. I apparently did not sunscreen my legs. For any of your veteran kayakers, you'll understand when I say that it can leave you with the weirdest sunburn known to man. My crowning accomplishment looks like this:
What that is, is a raging sunburn covering my inner knee/thigh, and making a very dramatic line down the middle of my knee and down the side of my calf. I have a matching one on the right leg. Here's the best part: if you look closely at that picture, you can also see the ridiculous results of wearing the same pair of capri pants for two sunny races in a row.

I think I have already won the contest for most outrageous tan lines. Stop trying people; my inability to do anything but burn in weird ways over the summer makes me a clear shoe-in victory.

However, it was starting to get that stingy-ouchy feeling. Slathering on some Aloe, I ignored it as best as I could and got to work on the Murph.

The Memorial Day Murph WOD:
1 mile run
100 Pull Ups
200 Push Ups
300 Squats
1 mile run

It's a doozy and one of the longer WODs in CrossFit. The movements are relatively simple, and you're allowed to break up the maneuvers however you want, as long as you complete them all and start/end with a one mile run. Simple, right? SO WRONG.

I was determined to get through this one, this year, because last year at this time, CrossFit had just popped on my radar. I had taken a tour of the gym on memorial day and seen all the crazies getting after this WOD. I was horribly intimidated and 100% sure I could never do it. Today, I would do it.

My game plan was to rotate through them in sets of 20, until the pull ups (my weakest link) were done, then get through the push ups and squats as best as possible. I know, it was a highly technical plan.

I was doing pull ups at home, with the aid of a stool (I only put one leg on it to make it a little harder on myself...). I got busy. 10 with help from my right leg, 10 with help from my left. Down for the push ups. Up for the squats. So far, so good. Round 2. Round 3.

Then, it got hard. BlogLand, my upper body is crappy. There is a reason several people jokingly post T-Rex pictures to my FB Wall. I struggled hard through the last set of pull ups. 100 Pull ups. Done.

... but I was still left with something in the neighborhood of 100 push ups, and a 160+ squats.

I got back down to my knees for push ups. The sunburn on my knees felt like battery acid when I knelt on it, and a creeping burn with every squat. I plodded forward. 2/3 of the way through, I was not stopping now, but I sure as hell was no longer having any fun.

At pushup #124, my arms failed. I got to the bottom of my push up and Up wasn't happening at that moment.

I will be honest here, BlogLand, I cried a little bit. I know this is a particularly hard WOD that exploits a lot of my weak areas. However, it is even more difficult for me for my mind to be strong, but my body to *still* not be willing. I have spent the last year making a lot of changes and overcoming a lot of challenges, and committing to a new lifestyle. To be part way through a WOD and seriously have to consider whether you are legitimately physically able to do it, is the most frustrating thing in the world, after you've spent 6 days a week for the last year training your body so that it can. Hence, I was face down in my ugly brown carpet, sweat dripping into my eyes, while tears poured out of them.

With that frustration, I rotated through some more squats (which I can do, even those they were getting sore), and back to the push ups. I was bound and determined that even if it took me all night, I was finishing this WOD.

Angry tears trickled down my face during the last 20 push ups, as I was doing them in sets of 2. Literally. Down, Up. Down, Up. Rest. Repeat. It hurt. My muscles were protesting, my arms were wobbling. It was like trying to use jello to push my gigantic self off the floor. But finally, I was done. 200 push ups.

With only 30 squats left, I stood up, and went to work.

Counting out that last squat was the most beautiful moment of the day. I promptly marked it in my book, then grabbed two ice packs and starfished on the floor, as it was the coolest place in my apartment.

The ice packs were for the sun burn on my knees. Who knew that would be the ouchiest part, immediately following Murphing?!

Nonetheless, I was done. I finished it. 58 minutes and 30 seconds. Complete with crying breaks. LOL. (Sometimes, it is challenging being an emotionally centered human.)

I am also happy to report that while I detested every last second of it, I also completed my food log for the weekend - accounting for the post-race beer and pizza, as well as the cookies I ate today. I hated it. I hate detailing that. But I WANT to lose the rest of this weight, and I will. If I need to detail my food in order to figure out how to make that happen, so be it.

It was a day full of angry successes, I suppose.

Now, I'm off to slather on some more aloe and get some sleep....
Happy Memorial Day, All... and remember as you go to sleep, safe and sound in your comfortable beds, all those who have given their lives to allow you that privilege.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." ~Will Rogers

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 312:

I rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning, BlogLand... (mostly) willingly. The things we won't do for hobbies/passions... but it was RACE DAY!

While I'm right in the midst of a stretch of race weekends, this one had me particularly nerved up. Road races, at this point, do not make me nervous; I know what I need to do, I know how they work, the experience is really just a battle against myself, my body, and the clock. However, today's race (The Key Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay) was a little different than the usual fare. I was running as part of a relay TEAM... meaning there were other people counting on me to perform. While my team was super awesome and very low key, as a competitive personality you can't help but put a little pressure on yourself - nobody wants to be the weakest link that brings the whole team's time down (Particularly recovering Fat Chicks who already have a complex about this anyway...). Added to which, the whole "relay" concept in such a ginormous race was a little daunting - how would I find my person to hand off to? What if I missed the relay? What if I couldn't find them?! (and so on, and so forth...)

Nonetheless, I said I was going to do it, so I Spartan'd Up, donned my traffic cone orange shirt (My Team Captain's brilliant idea - making our team easier to spot in the relays/crowds), and got myself to the race at the crack of dawn this morning, fueled, hydrated and ready to run. My team met up, and I pondered the morning, as we made our way from our great parking (it pays to be there early!); as the morning sun burned off the clouds, it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day - not blazing hot, but maybe 70 and mostly sunny. Perfect weather for a race!

Then we began the process every racer is familiar with - Hurry Up and Wait. We had to get there early to group up, set the game plan, and get our first runner to the start line for 8:03am. However, running the 15ish - 20ish mile leg of the race meant I had a solid couple of hours before I was on deck to run. The plan: take in the experience, forget my nerves and focus on the moments unfolding around me.

It is an awesome thing to take in the start of a marathon like this, BlogLand. The first wave of people that run down past you look like effortless, efficient machines. Their "warm up" pace is something I can't even begin to dream about. My team and I watched the whole start of the race and it was inspiring and motivational to say the least. There was a marine carrying a full ruck (doing the full 26.2), a man carrying a full sized american flag, cancer survivors celebrating their life, hand bike guys showing the world that not having limbs to run didn't mean they couldn't race, and the throngs of determined faces - be it 3 mile segment relay-ers or full distance marathoners - pounding their own special stories and reasons to run into the pavement.

Thanks to the ingenious design of this course through and around Burlington, if you (as a spectator) station yourself at Command Central (Battery Park), you get to see the race pass by you three times. I'm not going to lie, BlogLand, each and every time I saw the leading marathoners breeze by me - still looking efficient and powerful - I was impressed. I kept hoping that at my mile 5, I would look as put together as those leaders looked, still, at mile 17.

I also enjoyed just watching the different running styles. I've come to a determination. You run funny. But so do I. As you watch thousands of runners, you figure out that everyone has a bit of a running twitch; some people have t-rex arms, some do a weird upright shuffle thing, some are crazy bouncy. The real question is, what IS mine? Hmm. (I pondered this later, while I was running...)

Then, based on our teammate's time projections, it was time for me to hit up my relay spot. I have to give major props to the volunteers and coordinators of this race, here. While this could have been EXTREME chaos, it was organized in the best way possible, with stern human-traffic directors keeping the process running efficiently. As I milled in my relay corral, I did find this a little more reassuring. While I stood around, shifting foot to foot with antsy nervousness (I needed to just settle down and RUN already!), I took some comfort in watching the course volunteers direct the relays like they'd done it 100 times before - it seemed simple enough that even a newbie like me wouldn't get lost, miss it or otherwise screw it up. Ahhhh.... I took a deep breath.

Before I knew it, I saw my teammate (easily, in Traffic Cone Orange shirts!) coming down the stretch. I stepped out of the on-deck crown and readied myself for the bracelet exchange. Game Face: On. I always find it funny that once I can get that game face on and get my head into the task at hand, the nerves go away. It's all about getting the job done. An easy meet up and a few encouraging words and I was off.

I took off strong out of the gate, but remembering my tendency to over pace myself in the beginning of these races, I notched it back ever so slightly and let myself fall into a more natural rhythm, while just trying to focus on getting my breathing in order. I was surprised at how little time this took. Honestly, I think it was the distraction of all the crowds and spectators to either side that helped a lot. I was so focused on what was going on around me, that my body regulated itself, better than me over thinking it. While laughing at some of the roadside populous (My Favorite: the sign that said, "Don't worry. We're drinking for you!" next to the 5 dudes with coolers and lawn chairs...), I found my stride easily and my breathing slow and steady. I took this as an early WIN!

The next 5.4 miles were a blur of AWESOME. I felt really strong in this race and was more than powered by the crowd's collective energy. My leg of the race got to pass through a lot of the little neighborhoods of the city, and it was like running through a block party. I tell ya, these people knew how to make the most of Marathon Sunday. I honestly, have never had such a pleasant race experience. People had their hoses and sprinklers turned on, had set up unofficial water stations, passed out orange and watermelon slices, ice pops, and had countless words of motivation and positivity. I confess, my favorite thing was turning each corner and seeing what the next musical wave would be. I ran by everything from 8 year olds banging on pots and pans to a garage rock band set up at the end of their driveway, to Top 40 hits blaring out of the back of someone's jeep, to the bagpipe guys keeping it celtic and lively (just for the record, I passed the guy running in the purple kilt).

It was a little like being a rockstar, I have to say. Many, MANY thanks go out to the denizens of the North End Neighborhoods that welcomed us with such open arms. I can not TELL you how much that orange slice was welcomed as you passed it to me at my mile 4.

As for the actually running portion of this, I settled into my stride and focused on just maintaining that. Right, Left, Right, Left. I saw the sign that encapsulated my plan, "Don't Stop. People are Watching!" I was passing people, and I wasn't tired. Just Keep Running, Embrace the Suck, Don't Quit.

At one point, toward the end of my leg, we hit the sun. We had a long stretch on the side of a roadway, and the 11am sun was beating down. I was sweating. I was no longer comfortable. I also had developed a bit of a side stitch. "Walk" whispered through my subconscious.... With an emphatic EFF THAT, as I reminded myself of my time goals (and the goal not to walk at all), I put my arm over my head (that must've been entertaining for the spectators), and remembered a piece of advice my GT had given me for a recent race, that seemed to apply here: "When it hurts, suck it up." This seemed to be the moment. I took some deep breaths and reminded myself of things that hurt more than this moment - like not fitting into the seat on an airplane, or not being able to try and activity because you were over the weight limit, or being told that you have 'such a pretty face.' This side stitch, the stinging sweat that I was wiping from my eyelashes, the dry cotton mouth - these were merely inconveniences to be tolerated. Just. Keep. Running.

The miles passed faster than I anticipated (Thank you KBVCM for very clearly labeling them!) and before I realized it, I heard my relay point was less than half a mile away. Now was the time to leave it all out on the road. I did a quick internal prayer of thanks to my regular Sprint WODs and pulled the power from my legs. It felt wonderful to run hard at the end, knowing I'd already done 5 miles and was still feeling good enough to run like that. If you had told me that a year ago, I would've laughed and thought you must be talking about someone else.

I veered into the relay corridor "coming in hot!" at a solid fast clip - easily spotting my traffic cone buddy, smiling and poised for the hand off. Without missing a step, he fell in beside me, retrieved the team bracelet and was off to continue our crusade to the finish line.

Downshifting slowly into a walk, I grabbed a cup of gatorade and one of water and meandered over to the shade (I have good sense sometimes!) to take stock of my body. Oddly... I felt good. I could've kept running, no problem. Nothing hurt, I pretty much had my breath back already, and although it was hot out, it seemed that my body was not horribly overheated.

WOW. It was like I was prepared for this or something.

To be honest, BlogLand, every time that that happens - I have a moment where I realize I AM prepared - I have a moment of disbelief. *I* was prepared for a 5.5 mile run at a sub 10 min/mi pace (YEP!! SUB 10 min!!)? Wow. Tell that to the person I used to be, who couldn't even manage a long flight of stairs. BOOM. Owned.

In short, I have to say this was one of my favorite races thus far. I'm not just saying that because they gave me a free beer, pizza and a tiny container of Ben and Jerry's, but because it was extremely well run. Even with the masses of people and runners, all went smoothly, irregardless of the fact that many people like me, had no idea what to do or expect. On top of that, the city of Burlington really embraces this race. Seeing the community pour our of their houses to give of their own resources - be it time and motivating words, or water or ice pops - was really amazing. I'm not sure those people even realize how helpful the smallest kindnesses can be. To the guy that set up his hose as a shower around mile 19, after we'd just come off a long hot stretch, I thank you; without you, the heat would've faded my Oomph.

As I sit here tonight, the Tiger Balm fumes drifting up from my knees and my tired brain reminding me we need sleep BADLY, I ponder how to answer when my mother asks me tomorrow, what I was up to today.

Well, I spent a beautiful day in Burlington, surrounded by the sparkling lake and the mountains, reaping the rewards of reclaiming my life. I beat the crap out of a 5.4 mile relay leg, achieved a new pace PR and beamed with my accomplishment ALL DAY.

What'd YOU do?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word "succeed," you find that it simply means to follow through. ~F. W. Nichol

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 310:

It seems that summer is finally upon us, here in VT, BlogLand. It was something like 72ish degrees when I suited up to go running this evening. First off, I would like to note that doing races is a fascinating way to increase your workout outfit choices. For instance, today I was running in a fabulous tech shirt I acquired at the Hoppin' Mad 10k Mud Run. It's an entertaining shirt with a story behind it AND practical! Win! I've got another one from the Tortoise and Hare 10K, a handy (cotton. sad.) long sleeve from the Frosty Knuckle 5K+ (that makes up for it's cotton status by having a snowflake design made out of beer bottles), and a couple other 5K t-shirts. Seriously, they're going to need their own drawer soon. (However, I must confess, my *favorite* swag - other than my prized Spartan Finisher Medal! - is the custom Pint Glass that says "I survived" with the mud run logo... lol)

Alright, I digress. It was a lovely, warm evening. I was feeling a bit sluggish thanks to a long week at work and the warm weather, but my Up The Hill running buddy was up for a run, and I needed to go. This would be my last chance at a run before my part in the marathon relay this weekend (!!!!).

We drove out to investigate a new spot. Supposedly, our town had put in "recreation path" and off of it ( a sub-path, if you will) there is a short path with a few "stations" to play on. We decided to investigate. Could there be a perfect Spartan-Training worthy trail that we had not yet discovered?!

Off we trotted and found the path easily, although the "stations" were a little less than well-maintained, sadly. I must confess, our first obstacle, we had no idea what it's purpose was. Next time, we'll need photographic evidence, because even my Google-fu could not turn up an explanation.

Next, after rounding the corner of a perfectly lovely wooded running trail, we happened upon my arch enemy: The Pull Up Bars. However, some enterprising soul with foresight at least had the good plan to cut a stump and include it near by for those of us of the T-Rex persuasion who needed a little help. I resigned myself to my fate and hopped up to do my damnest. It was at this point I figured out that the bar actually spun in its' sockets. Geesh. Because modified pull ups weren't hard enough already!? I whined. I eeked out 10 (the number of the day).

Passing a few more dead end stations and subbing in our own moves (10 squats!), we came across an incline bench. Oh yes, folks, there was an incline bench in the middle of the woods. Hilarity ensued (ever try to get yourself ON to a smooth incline bench in the woods? Trickier than one might seem, as the wood has worn down to a lovely slip and slide...).
For posterity, my Running Buddy even decided to capture my torture on video. I find her commentary immensely entertaining:

I think what I may enjoy the most is my primal grunting. I'm sure you all can relate... this was trickier than initially anticipated! Still, I'm thinking next time, I'll need to do a longer set and possibly find a rock to hang on to. Spartan up!

The rest of our run was relatively uneventful, except that we decided to Spartan-ize our otherwise docile rec-path run. What does that mean, you say? Well, you run down the path with an eye out for potential obstacles. For instance - the quaint granite benches became an ideal venue for box jumps! Further on down the path, we found a bridge than triggered some incline push ups. Over the course of our evening soiree, we also worked in some high knees, and rounded out our mission with a set of burpees. Because really, no "Spartan" WOD is complete without Burpees.

Interestingly, I found that I can bust out a greater number (like more than 10!) at a consistent pace, *without dying* now!!! For those of you familiar with Death by Burpee, I'm sure you understand where I'm coming from. It's that feeling when you start to reach your Burpee Limit, as you try to jump up there are invisible concrete pillars tied to your ankles holding you down, and every time you drop down to the first position, you're pretty sure your arms have just collapsed for good and you will just have to lay there and die.

Just to prove how crazy warm it was, I had my buddy photo document my post-run self:

Yeah, that's a huge sweat ring. You should've seen my back. EEeeWWWww... haha... But we're all about realism and truth in this blog! I'm human, I get sweaty. It was dripping like a crazy salty river into my eyeballs this whole run, but it no longer stops me. Instead, I laugh and remind myself that it is "my fat cells weeping."

I've also been doing my best lately to add in some pull ups here and there as I walk around my house. I leave the pull up bar set up and the tiny stool next to it, so there's nooo excuses. I walk by, I curse my way through a set of 10 as best as I can, and then I go about my business. I'm SO hoping that this helps with the upper body in the long run.

With that, I take my leave, BlogLand. I'm tired and tomorrow I must brave the craziness that will be Burlington, VT on Marathon weekend. I have to go meet my team mates up at the Health and Fitness Expo to check that out and get my bib and everything. EXCITING. I should probably try and look well rested...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit– It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.” ~ Edgar A. Guest

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 309:

“When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–
You may succeed with another blow,
Success is failure turned inside out–
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
~ Edgar A. Guest

So, today was a day of realizations, BlogLand. Under direction from my GT, I put my feet on the floor when I got out of bed this morning and clipped on my pedometer. We were about to establish a baseline activity level, to help gauge some areas that might need improvement. 

It is amazing how clipping a little thing to your belt can make you suddenly very cognizant of every day activities. Or lack there of. I got up at 8:30am this morning (it was a sleep-in day!), got ready for work, drove to work and did work... when my first break of the day rolled around at noon time, I eagerly flipped up my pedometer to check out my raging numbers...... 589... not even 600 steps. HOLY, WHAT?! That's all?

Yep. That's all. Somehow, in my head, I seem a lot more active. When I'm not at work, I am - I'm going running or going to CrossFit, or hiking or something... but then suddenly, it was becoming acutely obvious what some of the plateau problem might be: The 40 hours a week that I am tied to my desk. Literally (I work in a call center situation, where I am literally leashed to my desk by a headset cord...).  

After reporting in to the GT mid-day, we reached the conclusion that my super sedentary day job (as opposed to when I'm moonlighting as a muddy badass) is probably a big contributor to the plateau I've been experiencing, and that I would have to make some adjustments. Enter my newest assignment (to start): become more active during the week. To do this, I have been assigned pre-breakfast (30 min) walks (on days I don't CrossFit), and all the lunchtime walks I can stand. Basically, get moving. Squeeze in activity whenever possible. 

Here's where the Cosmos decided to send me a sign of approval (I believe in signs.). Literally, after just reaching these new directives via text with the GT, I got an email on my screen. It announced the new Walking Challenge! that my work would be hosting, starting June 4. Everyone would get free pedometers and would be challenged to get to 10K steps a day. For every day that you did reach 10K steps, you will get to put your name in a drawing for gift certificates, cash, etc. 

If that is not an added bonus to following the GT's new directive, I don't know what is. Seriously, it was eerily creepy how we'd JUST finished discussing it and in popped that email. I swear, sometimes, the all-knowing GT has connections with the Cosmos. 

Either way, I feel that we're on to something. When I checked my step count as I was leaving work at 7pm, I was only at like 3500. To put it in perspective, to be considered "active" or at a healthy active level, you're supposed to get to those 10K steps. Clearly, I've not been getting there. No wonder my poor body is boycotting me. 

Now, the question is... how to make the 8 hours I'm chained to my desk more active? (Google will have the answers!)

With that, I leave you BlogLand... bed is calling, and I'm up early to go for a walk, tomorrow! 
We officially start week 45 of Spartan Shape-Up training... Wow. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The beginning is the most important part of the work. - Plato

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 308:

So, today became a Rest Day, BlogLand. I couldn't sleep to save my life last night and when I did, nightmares abound. I've pretty much spent my entire life trying to find non-chemical solutions to this sleeping disorder of mine, but pretty much, when the stress comes down, the sleep gets screwed up.

I woke up this morning feeling just beat up. (I've been averaging 4-5 hours of "sleep" a night for the last couple of days...) I was supposed to go to CrossFit this morning, but when the alarm went off, there was no way. I could've willed my self there for 6am, but to be honest, it wouldn't have been good for anyone, or my body. I went back to sleep.

However, today, I've got some new things to think about and focus on. After posing my current concerns, doubts and questions to the GT yesterday, he came back to me today with his usual, rational perspective.

As I told you yesterday, BlogLand, I lost my mind a little bit about not losing any weight, not progressing in my training, and every little thing in between. The stress made some little concerns into giant impossible mountains to be scaled. I'm sure many of you, who have embarked upon long journey's can relate here... when you start looking at how far you still have to go - particularly when it's negative light - it becomes overwhelming.

Thankfully, I have a GT who can read between the lines of my freak outs and inject a little calm, sanity. In response to my comments about not losing weight, he reminded me that according to my measurement tracking, I'd lost a total of 2 inches over all in the last month. So, maybe no weight loss, but perhaps I was gaining muscle (which would account for the INCREASE in the size of my calves. Greeaaat. Lol.).  Okay. 2 inches lost. That does sound a lot better than "OMGIhaven'tlostanyweightWAAAaa...." and the other things I was throwing at him and the rest of the universe. He reminded me to think about the way things were fitting. And if this was a plateau, we'd just keep plugging away until we got it moving again. Complete lack of panic, complete confidence in the process. It is difficult to not believe someone addressing you like that.

I shut up, listened and got ready to follow directions. It sounds like we're getting ready to change up my program a little to accommodate for the season's crazy race schedule, and target some new goals. However, in order to do this, apparently, we need a little more hard and fast data to analyze. In light of this, I was given a couple new tasks:

1) Wear a pedometer for the rest of the week (to acquire a baseline activity level... which ought to be awesome, considering I'm literally attached to my desk 8 hours a day by a cord.).

2) When completing my food log, which I've been doing already, we need more specific data. Anything with a label, I am to record Protein, Fat and Carbs. Also, I busted out my food scale, to help in the accuracy of portion measurement.

Argh. BlogLand, I HATE the nutrition piece of things. My inner Fat Chick stomps around inside me like a two year old with a broken toy, at the mere mention of having to track my food intake like that. It makes it feel like Weight Watchers or something like that all over again. Like a "Diet." Although, this would be a good time to remind myself that I was pretty successful when I was tracking appropriately on WW. So... starting tomorrow, I track. Protein, Fat, Carbs on anything with a label. I kind of want to die, but I'm trying to keep a positive spin on things. What's harder - tracking some additional data and being mindful of what I eat, or living continually frustrated with the spare tire around my middle?

As I always come back to, BlogLand, your success is a CHOICE. If you decide that you want it bad enough, you will stick to that decision and make the changes that need to happen. I decided long ago that I didn't want to keep living my life on that same track, and I intended to change it and chase down a new goal. Once you commit to a decision, it is simpler to follow through. Right now, to reach my goals, I *need* to track my food appropriately. It's not for the rest of my life, or until the end of time, but for a finite period of time, while we establish what I could be doing better. Hell, who knows, maybe I'm not eating ENOUGH (a girl can dream!).

With that, I'm off to hit the pillow and try to log more than 5 hours of shut-eye tonight. Tomorrow is a day for refocus and getting my head back in the game. Even if that means spinning around all the boxes and jars to note all the labels.

Spartan Up, and get it done.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Spartan Shape Up, Day 307:

It has been a difficult day, BlogLand. You know those days when it just seems like everyone is saying the wrong thing to you, your thought train is spiraling down the wrong track of negativity, and you're having trouble dragging yourself out? Yeah. One of those days.

Long story short, I started my day feeling pretty discouraged. We are perhaps our own worst critic, and I know I am a hearty example of that. As a competitive, overachiever type, what I'm doing is never "good enough" and I'm always seeking the next thing. In my old age and experience, I am learning to see, note, and take joy in the little victories... although, today, thanks to the dark grey mental cloud, I could not see them.

I know part of this is because I'm nervous about an upcoming race... I'm running a 6 mile leg in the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon & Relay this weekend... Road running, while I can and do, do it, is mentally really difficult for me. This will be a long trek. And I'm nervous because I'm part of a team. Usually, when I run these races, if I'm slow, or need to walk or something like that, it's not a big deal and it only effects me... but here, there will be a "team" to think about. Which will be good, I'm sure that will motivate me to push harder... but among other things, it caused a flare up of my FCS (Fat Chick Syndrome). My FCS, taking my bad mental day as an opportunity, reminded me that I'll be the slowest one on the team, probably, ruin their time, etc. I fought it.

But then I thought about how I've been struggling with my weight, quite a bit. And I'm up again, and I can't feel like it's muscle. And how I still can't do a pull up (this really nags at me). And how I feel like I don't stack up as a runner and I'm not moving forward, and the only thing I saw in recent race pictures was spare tires around my middle... and on and on and on.

It's been a hard day. I let the negative thoughts and toxic sentiments that were thrown at me today in my inbox and careless comments, really effect me. That is what I find most frustrating.

Nonetheless, I tried to be proactive and I put in a distress message to the GT. It sounds like I've got a new running program coming to me imminently, as well as some other revamped plans. I have faith that between the two of us (and with the insane support I have found in all of you out there!), we can get me on the right track again.

In the meantime, it was time to stay focused and get to business. I REALLY did not want to do Sprints tonight. I tried to make excuses on my way home. My legs were shot from the weekend. Surely they were sore. They definitely needed an extra day off.... I was feeding myself all sorts of crap, just because I was having a bad day, and I didn't want to run. Thankfully, I knew my buddies would be expecting me. No excuses.

My Sprints tonight were not my best, but I got them done. Times looked like this:
(200m Sprint, 200m Rest x 4):
Sprint 1: 38.67
Sprint 2: 41.27
Sprint 3: 41.53
Sprint 4: 44.75

Compared to my more recent times, these were not so great. My first one was pretty awesome (I think one of my fastest), but after that, it was a quick down hill. My legs just didn't feel like they had it today. Argh. I tried, and overall, I guess these times were not bad, in the scheme of things.

My buddies pushed me on and we got after our usual tire flips. There is something very gratifying about being able to flip a very large tire on your own. The "Thud" it makes when it lands can be very satisfying.

Now, I confess, BlogLand... my head is still not back to where it should be. But the difference between Aja 2.0 and the Old Me, is that despite the grey negative cloud in my thoughts today, I still got the WOD done. No excuses. Old Me would've been on the couch and full of reasons that I couldn't have done it today.

I guess I've at least got that one small victory for today. Unyielding Perseverance.

With that, I'm going to bed. I need to clear away the negativity and wake up tomorrow refreshed and with a better outlook. I'm going to CrossFit tomorrow, hoping for a heavy WOD. There is something about "lifting things up and putting them down" that I find very zen.  Some people have their yoga.... I dead lift.

In the wise words of Dori, from Finding Nemo, "... Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I had to spend countless hours, above and beyond the basic time, to try and perfect the fundamentals. -Julius Erving

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 304 & 305:

Race Season seems to be entering full swing, BlogLand. It was another crazy-tastic weekend. I'm sitting here drinking water (c'mon rehydration!) and wrapped in a blanket (just got out of the ice bath...), and ready to tell you all about it! Wee!

Day 304:
A lovely Saturday morning at CrossFit. The weather was great (75 and sunny!), and the WOD was evil. First, a little strength activity by doing some team round-robin Prowler Sled Pushes. Nothing like AMRAP in 10 minutes. Go go Gadget, Legs!
The WOD that followed was no cupcake either: "Power Helen," which turned out to be:
(3 Rounds of:)
200m run
21 pull ups
15 overhead kettlebell swings
15 box jumps
15 burpees 
Waaaa! This one kicked my butt. One, my pull ups still suck. Still using big black helper band, and had to cut the last two rounds to 15 each. GRR. However, KB was at 22# (could've been heavier) and box was 20". Burpees. Suck. Oh, incidentally, apparently tomorrow (Monday!) is Buck Furpees Day, as declared by Spartan Race.....

Day 305:

So, first I would like to extend my apologies to Heat Event Management and the town of Amesbury, MA. I RAGINGLY underestimated your "little local mud run," that I decided to do for fun, when I couldn't attend CMC this weekend. Mad Props to you all... I'm tired!

The fun began when I arrived at fellow Spartan Chick, Peyton's house on Saturday night for a pre-race sleepover. She'd picked up our packets/numbers and we discovered that not only did we get ANOTHER fabulous shirt (seriously. Heat Event Management races always have great shirts. For reals.), but we would be receiving an equally as fabulous pint glass. What I really got a chuckle over, was the giggle someone must've had when writing our team name on the envelopes, etc.:

As race morning dawned, we ate our oatmeal and bananas and gulped down our coffee (essential!), and headed out to the race site (Woodsom Farm, Amesbury). First, I noted how incredibly beautiful it was. It was going to be an absolute pleasure running all over the rolling grassy fields on a beautiful sunny day....... Then, I did have a momentary check of realism when the "beautiful sunny day" turned out to really be 80+ and baking sun... and those "rolling grassy hills" turned out to be really tall grass on some really big hills... LOL. Nothing like having a bit of a pollen allergy and running through a field!

BUT. It was beautiful. We were lucky to have two legs to run on and some great friends to go out and play with. Bring it on!
We drank some coconut water to help hydrate our (already-sweating) bodies, and prepped for battle with the unknown course:

After scoping the costumed groups (they won a key to the city for best costume!!! Had I known THAT....), and watching the Elite Heat gather and head off down the road, it was time for the Red Dot Heat...
Oddly, I found myself pretty calm for this run. No nerves. I think there is some confidence in knowing that if you can survive a Spartan Race, you're probably decently equipped to handle whatever any other mud run was going to throw at you. I was pretty sure there was no 8/10 of a mile barbed wire crawl, or muddy rope climb. There also were no penalty burpees... (Hallelujah!)

Our starting line sent us off down the scenic paved road, and off out of sight. Marketed as a 10K length with 15 obstacles, I figured the road was our lead in to the first of our obstacles, so off I happily trotted. I was so thankful that 20 feet out of the starting gate, the Amesbury Fire Department was taking extreme joy just spraying down the racers as they began their day. It felt amazing to cool off. Ahh... and I would also like to submit the above photo evidence as proof that I do, in fact, have T-rex tendencies. Just picture me "rawr-ing" here!

And we ran. On the hot pavement. In the sun.

And ran some more.

As we hit the Mile 1 marker, I began to question this decision. We'd already run a mile on a blazing hot road and we were continuing down the road as far as the eye could see. While running. Welcome to my idea of hell. Straight road running, in the heat. Bleeeehhh!!
Although, I knew there had to be obstacles in there somewhere... so I chose to view this as the first of them.

Road running becomes very mental for me. Particularly when my calves decide to be uncooperative and cramp up, or it's 4 trillion degrees, or there is a big hill (remember those scenic rolling hills....?). I had two fabulous supportive and motivating ladies with me, Peyton and Hawli, so I ran through the battery acid in my calves, ran through the salty sweat running into my eyes, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. We'd HAVE to get to the trails soon...

As we ran the first 5K (yes, the first HALF) on the road, we did stop for a couple of walk breaks, as it seemed pertinent. When it's 80 degrees and you're running on pavement and exerting up hills, etc. it is just plain *smart* to walk a little bit every once and a while to let your body rest a minute. As we crested the top of a particularly large hill, still smiling and joking (even the heat can't put a damper on our awesomeness!), I mustered a little cheer for the fact that we were finally hitting the grassy trails - AND there was our first water station in view (ohthankgod!). Nothing like running a 5K road race, then knowing you're in for another 5K trail/obstacle race! Yikes!

The first couple of obstacles were nothing serious... a few little hurdles (like knee height) and then more running. Up, down and around those "scenic" rolling hills.
We ran some more.
More running.
(sensing a trend?)

It was hot. (That seemed to be the extent of my complex brain thinking, by about mile 4. Hot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot... Water?!... Left foot, right food... hot. hot. left foot...)

Up ahead, I saw something I was familiar with - a set of vertical walls. Probably 4 feet tall? You know, a height you can theoretically manage without a boost from a burly man, but at an awkward enough height that you do have to get a good jump on it.
I am happy to say, I got over those bad boys ALL BY MYSELF. There is something about tackling a 12 foot-er at a Spartan (even though there was help and support), that makes you internally know that anything is going to be easier than that - mentally and physically. Anything. Tackling that 12 foot wall a couple of weeks ago (my biggest fear at the time) was an excellent metaphorical reference for many things in life. Today, I decided to translate it literally. Surely these wee little 4 footers wouldn't stop me! Up and over (with some semblance of coordination, thank you!).

Some more minor obstacles came and went, and we reached one of my favorites - the tire carry! Simple and evil: pick up tire. Carry tire to the top of the steep hill and back down again. However, thankfully, my training regularly includes trekking around weird objects like rocks, tires and sandbags, over various distances and terrain. I slung that (felt light!) tire over one shoulder and marched up that incline, passing a few dudes along the way. I am pretty sure that they thought this would be a "little local mud run," too. They had stopped on the hill, put their tires down and were panting. I am VERY proud to say that me and the rest of the Dirty Bitches just kept trucking. "Chicking" at it's finest.

After that, we ran. More. More running. Through the fields. Up the grassy hills. Around the pollen-filled corners. Running. (admittedly, with your occasional walk break, because damn it was hot).
We hit a few more relatively incidental obstacles (this may have been my only complaint. Some of the "obstacles" were very... simple?), but at least they broke up the running.

Somewhere along our trek, right about mile 5 I would guess, it happened. Junyong Pak (the Pak-Man!), who currently holds the title of World's Toughest Mudder and is of Spartan Race Royalty (Death Race, Beast, etc.), passed us. With his tiny adorable dog. Yes, BlogLand... The Pak-Man had already run the race, WON (with a ridiculous time of like 38 minutes or something), gotten his dog and re-run around and lapped us. The elite heat had only gone off 7 minutes before our heat. If THAT doesn't make you feel slow, I don't know what will. Then again, Mr. Pak is a beast (and I mean that as a compliment). We watched him start his run and it looks positively effortless. However, getting owned by his tiny (but apparently equally as beastly!) dog is another story. LOL.

We ran on. (Yep. More running.) A few more incidental obstacles.

In the last mile, things started to get a little more real. We were in view of the spectators, and clearly, this is where they put the big obstacles. As we crested a big grassy hill (they were no longer scenic), after going UP an inclined slip and slide, we saw our first big challenge of the day. The Wall. In many obstacle races, it seems that this same type of obstacle would be seen soaped up to make it harder... but here, they went for dry, but extra long and steep:
That's me at the top of the wall!

My girls and I tackled and beat this incline wall, with no hesitation. Take that Spectators. Incline Wall Rope Climb, Spartan Chicked style!

It was down and around and back out of the field and onto the road for the last run portion, before coming to the last series of close-set obstacles. First, an awkward PVC pipe up and over kind of thing. This, my friends, is MUCH harder than a wall, because you have nothing really to brace your feet against. They're just swinging. This is a lot of core and upper body control here, I found. I did this with a lot more coordination than I anticipated from myself, conveniently, right in front of the NuVision photographers. Here's hoping for a cool race pic! In the meantime, check the obstacle:
Yes, that is ME to the left, hanging over it. Ahhh yeah. Grace incarnate.

We were in the final push. We could practically taste the finish. In my head, I was picturing the biggest, coldest glass of water ever. My mouth (despite the more than adequate water stops!) felt like the Sahara.

Then here we came to the second to last obstacle. A cargo net/container up and over. I bet the empty-container business is booming these days, with the popularity of Obstacle Course races. It seems like they all do something with them! This was a relatively straight forward one, other than the fact that the cargo-net was loose-ish, making for some swinging, etc.
Here's the Focus Face... 

Here's the "HMM... WTF is the strategy here...?"
I call this the Beached Whale approach.

After that, all was well. The three of us had made it over, and were headed to the Grand Finale! A Mud Pit Crawl to the finish, in front of ALL the spectators. We attacked. And by WE, I mean our new recruit, Hawli, who supposedly had never run a race before in her life, lead the charge:

This mud was thin and grainy (why do I feel like by the end of this season, I'm going to be a mud expert?). And splashy. While not difficult to move through, I managed to use my giant flipper hands to make some intense splashes (the NuVision photographer caught that, too, I think), which resulted in an epic finisher photo like this:
(Yes, that is Mud in my teeth!)

And to think... when we started, we looked like this:

After our epic finish, we hit up the last obstacle of every mud run - the Icey Cold Hose-Off. Thanks to the Amesbury Fireman, this hose off was delivered at high-pressure and without mercy. I, for one, welcomed it though. After that run, cooling off with some cold water was MORE than awesome. Sometimes, all you really want in life is to rinse your face off. I was still battling the fact that there was something IN my eye from that last mud-splash. My contact was angry about it, too. 

Overall, it was a great day today, BlogLand. There was a nice little post-race festival to celebrate, and I was surrounded by wonderful people (shout-outs to Hawli and Lisa! You're officially adopted!) and great friends (Peyton, who makes me sign up for half marathons, and doesn't mind when I steal her dog, and Sara, who came solely to cheer, spectate and take pictures!!!).

What I will say, is that this Hoppin' Mad Mud Run 10K was slightly misleading. In my eyes, BlogLand, this was a pretty rugged 10K, multi-surface run...... that happened to have an obstacle here and there. That straight 5K run right out of the gate was certainly a tricky way to separate those of us who train, from those of us who wear costumes to races (don't even pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. NO one is happy about getting beaten by people in a costume!). 

About 2.5 hours into my 3 hour drive home from Massachusetts, I realized tonight might be ugly. My legs were shot and getting stiff, particularly in my hips. Uggh. This meant only one solution. 

Ice Bath. 

As always, once I got in, it was all good. Tonight, I even stayed in a little over 20 minutes, because it felt so nice. I think my body temperature was still really hot, and my muscles were hurting... yeah, ice bath! 

With that, I take my leave, BlogLand. I am exhausted. It has been a pretty damn busy weekend. Tomorrow has been officially crowned REST DAY, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to roll out of bed in the morning and question my ability to stand and walk. 

Ahhh... another wonderful weekend in the books!

After that,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. -William A. Ward

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 302:

After a much needed (and well-earned!) rest day, yesterday, today was a RACE DAY!

The Vermont Corporate Cup Challenge and State Agency Race (5K) is a statewide race put on by the Governor's Association for physical fitness. From what I gather, pretty much anyone can do it, but it is geared toward businesses and state agencies to form teams and encourage their employees to get moving. It's a pretty big event, in that it pretty much closes Montpelier (our state capitol) for several hours. It's such a "thing" that our work actually adjusted our work schedules for anyone that wanted to participate, to allow for us to make it there on time (which was still an adventure when traffic is backed up to the highway exit... but...).

I was really looking forward to this, not just because I'd know tons of people there, but because it would be my first 5K road race of the season. My last one was in December (remember the Santa Run?!) and a WHOLE LOT of my strengths, skills, etc. have changed since then. I was thinking that this would be an excellent sort of start to the season marker.

After braving the massing throngs, scoring my free t-shirt (seriously, this collection may start to get ridiculous...) and finding my co-workers, my brain started to settle in to Pre-Race Routine. For me, as a focusing tool, I mull over my goal for the day. It used to just be "run the whole race without walking"... now it was, "run the whole 5K in under 30 minutes." WOW, how things change. I also take this time to think about some recent races I've done, what I've learned and where I can improve. In this case, I know that I need to focus on running MY race, and not keeping up with the mass of people. That is how you burn yourself out. I learned this the hard way at the Tortoise and Hare 10K. Yikes. I also did remember my Spartan race and the most valuable lesson there: I can. I was a little unsure if under 30 would be a reasonable goal, but the GT seemed to think it was good, I thought I could work it out... and hell, I can if I think I can.

Per the GT's suggestion, I moved up toward the front of the horde at the starting line. I wanted to work for time, and didn't want to have to fight and elbow my way through the first mile, losing precious seconds. ... But... up towards the front is where the serious fast people go. People that run all the time. OH WAIT. It even says it on my bib, "Runner":
I guess I can't argue with that.

I paced a bit and shook out my arms to relax... the only downfall was that due to all the traffic, etc. I didn't have time to jog a bit of a warm up, before we had to get to the starting line. The next race, I'm going to make sure I try this, and see if that helps improve my time. I really think it will. There's no sense in spending your first 1/2 mile or so of a short race like this, "warming up."

The gun went off and the initial crush of enthusiasm pressed in around me. There were a lot of spandex-clad crazies all trying to get moving at once. I took a couple deep breaths, reminded myself to keep it in check and started running my race. The first half mile was pretty uneventful, as I spent it trying to steady out my stride, get into some even breathing and - most importantly - check out the outfits around me. Seriously, BlogLand, you have no idea how much neon was out there. The 80's called and wanted their glow-in-the-dark materials back.

Over a bridge and around a corner, the throng pressed ever onward... and I felt pretty good. I watched the leaders (seriously, there were people that finished in 18 minutes. WHAT?) pull away, tall people bound like gazelles next to this burly t-rex, and the crowd begin to stretch out a little bit more.

At this point, I did have a little chuckle. Two guys running behind me, one apparently not so much into running the 5K, but sucked into it by his friend. He went on to whine about getting bored with road running and saying something like, "...well, if we could just add in some mud or barbed wire or something..." I AGREE!!! I thought to him, in my head. Shortly thereafter, those Tough Mudders (sporting every piece of identifying gear possible) passed me, and all I could think was, "hmm... I wonder if they've tried a Spartan Race, yet?"

Just before mile marker 1, as always, my body is finishing up sorting itself out, but I'm never entirely convinced this is a great idea. As you are well aware, I do not "love" to run... thus, at this point in every run, I'm questioning whether I still need to keep running, why my body is protesting this (because it usually is, in some form), and why I subject myself to this... particularly when I could just stop, walk a block and hit up the coffee place.

Right then, like some fabulous messenger, sent by the Cosmos to keep me going, was Roy! I turn my head to see my (uber tall and easy to spot!) friend, yelling my name and encouragements AND..... (wait for it....).... Holding a sign! I'm pretty sure it had my name on it. Even if it didn't, that's what my mind decided at the time, so I'm running with it (no pun intended). I had no idea he would be there, and all I could do was smile and push on. You can't  do the Disgruntled Mile 1 stuff, if you'd just received a cheering section! This was a pretty big deal, to me. When someone you don't see regularly takes time out of their life, unprompted, to support you in your pursuits (particularly when so many others have not), you have nothing but gratitude (Thank you, so much, Roy.).

As a big cluster, we went up the first little incline, and hit some more flat, and around again. At Mile Marker 1, there was a guy calling out times. I heard 8 minutes and change... At this point, I smiled and was happy inside (Ooo!! 8 minute mile!!).... and then I had a little bit of a reality check. I had to slow my roll a little bit. If I had run a sub-9 minute mile out of the gate, chances are I was going to fizzle later on. I brought my pace down.

Right about this point, we started seeing the runners (who's way was cleared by Screaming Bike Guy) at the front of the pack come back at us. They were moving like nothing I'd ever seen before. I'm pretty sure none of them could've maintained that speed over 10K, but it was a beautifully impressive thing to watch. I gained some inspiration here, and tried to use it to fuel my own left-right-left march on.

The Hill Section kind of sucked, although it was nothing too major. Just a few relatively short, annoying climbs. I did find that this is where my training shows. Where people that are "ahead" of me start  up these hills then have to walk, I can maintain the steady up the hill, and recover on the fly at the top of it. No need to stop, walk and die, anymore.

As mile 2 wrapped up, I wasn't feeling awesome. I knew I had burned too much gas out of the gate. This was not as effortless (ha!) as it usually was. Nonetheless, as I hit the 2 mile mark, the official called out a time of 19:35.... Which means I was running right on target to get that sub-30 min goal. KEEP pushing, I reminded myself.

Shortly thereafter, I ran in to Roy again, who decided to play photographer. LOL:
One of these things is not like the others...
This may be my favorite race picture EVER. Everyone all serious... me popping up and slightly ridiculous in the middle. Story of my life. hehe
Camera! (dude. check the guns. lol)

The last mile was bad. Or at least not good. I was feeling tired, thinking I should've eaten dinner before this ( the race started at 6pm), and was really starting to fade. But left-right-left it was, and I was going to get the job done.

Back over the bridge and I knew we were almost done. Right after that hill. I leaned into it and kept my steady pace pumping up this hill. There was a guy behind me that was wheezing and breathing in such a way that I thought he was about to die...and trust me, I am familiar with "I want to die!" breathing. He was... not doing well.

As I reached the top of the hill, I heard irish jigs on strings. Yep, because this is Vermont and VT can be more than a little awesome, there was a string quartet sitting at the top of the last corner/hill, playing some tunes. Loved this.

Even with the fiddle music in my ear, I was really feeling done after that hill. I had started to really slow, I felt it. I knew I was thinking about walking. Thankfully, the Cosmos gave me a push. There was a runner who'd already finished (!!!??!??!) sitting in a lawn chair at the side of the road. As I glanced at him, he caught my eye and said, "Keep going. Dig deep and pick up the pace! You have it in you, you're almost there!" I knew he was right, as I could see the finish line crowd... but Lawn-Chair Runner Guy, you have NO idea what you did for me (if you're ever out there reading, Thank you!). I channeled a burst of speed that saw me around the corner and down the big hill. The announcer was sporadic names/numbers as you finished... I was in the home stretch. I thundered down the hill and rounded the bend.

Finish line, about 300 yards away. Time to leave it on the table. With the encouragement from the crowd, I hit the gas pedal on a great sprint ( Yay regular Sprint WODs!). Roy (who apparently was everywhere!) managed to capture the finish line focus:

I glanced at the clock, and barreled through the chute. Ahhh.... Stopping is always nice, after a race like this.

While clutching a water bottle and a half a bagel like my life depended on it (I am pretty sure it did, at this point), I ran into a coworker, who had just finished in something like 23 minutes. WTF? That's crazy time. That is all I can say about that.

As for me, 5K, 31:13 seconds, average pace: 10:03 min/miles. My initial reaction was not one of happiness. I was going for UNDER a 30 minute race. Goal not achieved. Inner competitive perfectionist, pissed off. I ran through the couldda wouldda shouldda's.

While recapping the race, in this tone, via text with the GT, I got the reality check that my brain needed to recalibrate: "Stop and rethink what you just did."

I ran a 10K race, I said. In my head, no big deal. Right, BlogLand, "No big deal."... yeah, would Aja of a year ago have said that? No... not at all. I'm not sure Aja of a year ago would've even gotten to the starting line.

When I did stop to rethink it, I also noted I ran almost exactly 10 minute miles. There was a time (actually, I noted it in December at the Santa Run) that I was praying to stay under 11 minute miles. Just finish in under 34 minutes. I guess things have improved. My best 5K race time to date was 32:23 and that was a nice, flat race with my GT at my side coaching me through it. This race, I managed 31.13 pretty easily and probably could've gone faster. Hell, I'll say that's an improvement.

Me, who less than a year ago could not run 20 seconds (literally), just ran 3.1 miles in 31.13 minutes - a very respectable 10 min/mile pace. I needed to STFU and claim my Victory.

So I did. With a couple of my training buddies, and a big 'ol Margarita:

While I will admit, I am slightly disappointed that I did not hit the goal that I wanted, I also have to continually remind myself where I have come from. These things are NOT going to happen overnight, no matter how much I want them to. The more I am able to do, though, the higher my expectations for myself. So, I will just keep pushing until I reach them. There WILL be a sub 30 minute 5K race this year. I promise.

In the meantime, I'm relishing the small victories. I didn't walk. My pace was steady. I ran 10 minute miles. I was consistent on the hills. I ran fast enough to be able to cross the finish line, then turn back to it to cheer on my Up-the-Hill running buddy, as well as my co-worker team mates - all of whom have been training like animals to hit their own personal goals. I'm happy to say I fought the good fight at this race, beside all these ladies, and new personal bests were established all around, and everyone wore satisfied smiles of accomplishment as we headed home. I'm SO proud of all my ladies!

Lesson of the Day: Sometimes it is easy to get down on yourself for the things you did not or could not do. But no excuses. There is more training and there is next time. You will get there. Instead, take a time out to readjust your brain and check out what you DID accomplish, however small.

So, with a new 5K PR under my belt, I'm headed to bed, BlogLand.  My knees are tired and a little sore. Due to an old injury and bunch of compressed cartilage, my knees are not so excited to see straight road races (particularly with down hills...). However, nothing a little Ibuprofen and a good night's sleep won't fix.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"... With your shield, or on it."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 300:

Day 300 of my "Spartanization" seemed like an appropriate day to deviate from the regular chronicles of my adventures, and reflect a little bit. (If you don't understand the implication here, check this out for a quick recap of the significance of 300 to Sparta...)

Today was a Tuesday like any other, Sprint WOD on the schedule, etc. but it was pouring rain, so the GT granted me a pass to do a nice longish run instead. There was a lot of time to ponder over those 5 miles. There was, in fact, 300 days of Life-Changing to ponder, while trying to figure out what I wanted to share with you, BlogLand.

To be honest, I'm still not sure, so we're going to wing it a bit here.

In the days before my quest toward Spartan status, a lot had happened. I'd lost my job, been unemployed a while, had some family drama, personal life crap... you know. Life.
Here's where I had let it drag me to:

That is me and my (now) step-mom, heading out on a trip. I remember that distinctly, because I remember not being particularly excited at getting on a plane. Why? Because at 284+ (I'd stopped counting...) pounds, it's really uncomfortable. You're squished into the person next to you, you're praying the lap belt will fit at it's biggest setting, and even if it does, it's pinching and tight. That is not the way vacations should start and end.

Shortly before this time, I had seen some really horrific pictures of myself from a New Year's Eve gathering with my family (and coincidentally, the first time I'd met my soon to be GT), and I decided something needed to be done. I was losing my life. I wasn't living it any more, I was just surviving it. I didn't "enjoy" doing a whole lot of things, because EVERYthing is challenging when your body is carrying around that much extra. Tying your shoes makes you breathe hard. Walking up two flights of stairs and I'd break a sweat. Life was running me down. The harder things got, the less I did, the harder things got..... and it went down hill.

One thing led to another and I made some little changes. You know, then ones that everyone "knows" they should do. Less hand-to-mouth snacking syndrome. More veggies, less desserts. The usual. I lost 10-15 pounds, but was then stuck. I tried to hit the gym a little bit, but it's hard when you don't know what the heck you're doing. Not to mention it's just plain HARD for obvious reasons. You're ashamed that you've let yourself get that far down the unhealthy rabbit hole, and you are embarrassing that you don't even know how to get yourself out.

Then, through harassing my friend (now, GT) into checking out the Spartan Races and such (for him, as he was into that sort of thing), I found myself volunteering at the Vermont Beast, in Killington, last July. I'd recently turned 29.

I spent the day at the water station, opposite the cargo net and the vertical wall, watching people attack these obstacles. People afraid of heights, screaming, but still moving over the top of the net. I saw vertically challenged people struggle and persevere (with the aid of the spartan next to them), over the impossible walls. All the while, they sweated, grimaced and kept pushing themselves up and down a ski mountain.

I realized what I had been missing. I'm not sure if I could've articulated it for you on that day, but I knew inside what I needed to do. Spartan Race lists part of the Spartan code as "Living each day like it is your last." These people, dirty, sweating, bleeding, tired but still moving, were doing just that. They were pushing their limits, crushing the boundaries that society had set for them (Who SAYS a 5 foot tall woman can't get over a 12 ft wall?!), and in general, refusing to settle for anything but total domination of the challenges set before them.

These were Spartans. And I wanted to be one.

That day, I took back the reins and made some decisions. That, BlogLand, is the key to all of this: Make a Decision, Stick to your Plan and Solidify your Resolve ("Sign up, Show Up, Never Give Up!" - Spartan Race). I decided that I no longer wanted to be trapped in my body. I made a plan, found some help when I needed it, educated myself and just kept chipping away at the pieces.

The last 300 days have been some of the most difficult ones of my life and yet, the best, all at the same time.

In the last three hundred days, I have lost a lot of toxic "friends" that couldn't allow me to change, gained a family of some of the most supportive people on the planet and surprised myself with what I have become capable of.

It's not just about the physical. In fact, if I have learned anything in the last 300 days, becoming "Spartan," getting in shape and changing your life is 99% mental. Sitting at dinner with my friends and choosing a no-carb dinner, while everyone else ate breadsticks: Mental exercise. Placing blind faith in my GT that I could learn to run, when I'd never run a day in my life: Mental. Walking in the door of a CrossFit gym, while still significantly overweight: Mental.

Here's where the decisions come in. I decided I wanted it bad enough. Getting healthy and taking charge of my life was more important to me than feeling stupid at the first few CrossFit workouts, because I couldn't do a box jump (seriously. I couldn't do it with 2 feet). Knowing that by the time I turned 30, I would be able to go on vacation and choose excursions that didn't say "limited activity" was more important to me than the chocolate cake.

Make a Decision. Change your Life. It is that simple.

At 284 pounds, horribly out of shape and still sitting on the couch, I made the decision to complete a Spartan Sprint by the time I was 30. I figured that if I had worked hard enough to be in shape to adequately complete one of those infamous races and *not die*, I would have made the changes that would get me on the road to a better, healthier, longer, less restricted life.

Almost two weeks ago, I hit that goal early, by completing the Spartan Military Sprint+ in Fort Carson, CO. Here is the quintessential picture:

Does that look like someone hampered by life? I'm framing this picture, by the way, as a constant reminder of that.

300 Days is a long time. As one Spartan Chick noted, 300 days is how long you would be gestating an overdue baby. Yes, BlogLand, I could've produced a new human in this time... and quite frankly, I feel like I have. Aja: 2.0.

The accomplishments I am most proud of in this time:
- That I never gave up. I read a statistic somewhere that most people stick with their new years resolutions for less than 2 weeks. I've stuck with this plan for 300 days. It's been extremely hard. I didn't want to run on rainy mornings. I didn't enjoy getting out of bed early to go to CrossFit. I didn't want to keep running the last mile of my first 10K. I wasn't happy about trying to justify my new lifestyle to skeptical friends and family.

- I have set goals and completed them. I completed a 5K road race. Then I completed one without walking. I lost 10 more pounds, then 10 more. I wanted to run a sub-11 minute mile. I added more weight to my bar. I followed The Plan for 300 days without falling off the wagon. I completed a Spartan Race.

This is not to say that is has not been the most difficult thing I have done in my life. It has been. There were days that I sat in my car, after being at the gym, and just cried at my perceived inadequacies. I cried at the mountain I still had yet to move, and the body I was stuck in, and that I had let myself get to this seemingly impossible state.

I still get angry, BlogLand. I get angry when I can't do pull ups, because I wish I'd never let myself get this weak. I feel frustration crawling under my skin when I try on clothes that still don't fit.

But my GT has taught me a valuable lesson: the importance of the word "yet". When I'd cry that I couldn't do pull ups... he would correct me and say that I couldn't do pull ups YET. I couldn't run a 10 minute mile YET. It was hard work, I'd put in the time, I'd get there, because I'd decided to.

The people of Sparta, historically, were famed to be some of the toughest, most courageous people, dedicated and loyal to the causes they believed in. At day 300 in my quest towards a Spartan Shape-Up, I feel like I'm getting there. I've done things in the last 300 days that I never, EVER thought I'd do.
I registered for a (my first) half marathon in November (this blows my mind).
I stood up to the negative influences in my life, fought them, and have come out victorious.
I went grocery shopping without buying potato chips, and haven't missed them in over 6 months.
I wore shorts. In Public. In photographs.

It's the little victories, every day, that keep you going. That, and the amazing community you will find yourself surrounded with. I fully believe that when you are truly serious, and you initiate changes, the Cosmos (in whatever form you believe in) will give you the tools you need to complete it. For me, the Cosmos had my GT unwittingly cross my path (little did he know...), it threw Spartan Race and subsequently the amazing people thereof, at me through a random Google Ad, and allowed an outstanding and affordable!) CrossFit gym to be minutes from my house. If that's not a set up for success, I don't know what is.

Day 300 finds me living the Spartan life, BlogLand. I am waking up each day on a mission, with a goal, and I'm beating it into submission when it doesn't cooperate (I'm looking at YOU, T-Rex arms!).

Therefore, I'd have to say the status of my Spartan Shape-Up journey is a raging success. I feel strong mentally and physically. I continue to move forward. I'm not done yet, Blogland. 300 days is only the beginning ("... every finish line is merely the starting line for the next race"). My goals are getting bigger and badder, my focus is getting sharper and my path is clear in front of me.

Through some tough moments, I learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of my life, over the last 300 days. I'm sure the Spartans would agree when I state it simply as:

I can. 

No doubts. No worries. The question is only How. I don't have to accept what I am handed. I don't have to acquiesce to sub-par living. I can change my life and choose otherwise.

300 days and feeling fabulous, I choose Spartan.

What do you choose?