Friday, June 29, 2012

Deep experience is never peaceful. - Henry James

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 343:

Oh, BlogLand. I have gone back and forth about this post and trying to decide how and what to write, because I didn't want to sit here and rain on everyone's parade. Here's the post I started out with in my head today, after Physical Therapy:
"Knee still not better. Still can't Run. Still crazy frustrated." On one hand, that is the truth. But I was also reminded that there is much more to it... not to mention lessons to be learned from it.

So, thanks to a few gentle nudges back on a constructive (versus negative spiral...) emotional track by a few fabulous people, and the ever-steady and patient GT, with some concrete plans for me.... I find myself here to tell you some stories. Just remember, kids... It ain't always pretty, but here at WhataBeautifulWreck, it's always the Truth. ;-)

I went off to my Physical Therapy appointment, not feeling too positive about the outcome. If you've been following along, you'll remember I went to an evaluation appointment last week, he tweaked my pelvis a bit and told me to go home and rest, etc. to let my tendons (where the pain in my knee was coming from) chill out. Per his instructions, I went out on Monday to try a little bit of a jog/walk. I walked up a little hill and started to feel the familiar nagging pulling in the back of my knee. Tried a little bit of a jog and my knee said NO-GO. Thankfully, in my old age I've learned (sometimes the hard way...) that when your doctor/PT says take it easy, or don't do it if it hurts, you should probably listen. With a resigned sigh and a real frustrated mindset, I went back to my walk.

This was the attitude I was coming into my PT appointment with. My knee was pulling and ouchy like crazy again, I couldn't walk without limping and there was no way I could even walk uphill, much less go for a run or resume hardly any of the activities that I normally do. I'm pretty sure that I had a virtual blinking neon sign of Frustration and Disappointment broadcasting over my head.

After a further evaluation (versus the quick, squeezed in appointment I had last week), the PT determined that we hadn't quite gotten both sides of my pelvis back where it should be. Yes, we'd relieved some of the problem, which was why it felt "better", but we hadn't fixed it completely. We had to do some more prodding of my pelvis.

Greeaaaat. First, I get to lay on my back, while the PT Guy - mid to late 40's, grey hair and who thinks he's extremely funny - pokes around and pushes on my pelvis bones/hip area. Awkward, but I'm pretty good at disassociating from mildly awkward experiences like this. Then, I get to flip over on my stomach. Why? Oh, because now we have to check the alignment of my seat bones.

.... do you know where your seat bones are? They're in your butt. This means, I spend the next couple of minutes with some creepy 40 year old dude (who insists on making joking, pleasant conversation and not letting my brain wander off...), poking my butt. He has to find the bottom points of your seat bone (where you sit on) with his thumb, then find some top point of measurement with his index finger. Yeah. Just a big handful of my butt. AWKWARRRRDD.

Thankfully, I do a lot of squats. I would like to think that this is a little pleasenter experience for him than doing this same process on the withering parade of geriatric ladies that are always before me. LOL.

We discussed a 20 minute series of stretches I'm supposed to do twice a day to help this get better, and then he said the magic word: Massage.

When you've spent the last (almost) 3 weeks limping, with super tight tendons and what not, eventually your muscles just get angry. I had a raging aching in my hamstring and calf that certainly wasn't helping the situation. Creepy old PT guy assured me he could take care of this and it would be good to speed up the healing. Reluctantly, I rolled back over on my stomach and prepared for another awkward moment.

Lee (who I now decided should be referred to by name due to his now-proven awesomeness) started rubbing my calves, pushes his thumbs in and - I'm pretty sure - began peeling my muscles apart and off the bones. It hurt SO GOOD. There was a moment, as he agressively pushed his thumb through a particularly tight spot in my calf that I pondered proposing to this man, with one stipulation: He massage my legs on a daily basis.

Lee. I'm so sorry I ever called you a Creepy Old PT guy. You are Lee of the Miracle Fingers, henceforth.

The net-net of the situation is that I just need more time. My body is not fixed yet. I'm still limited to walking, while I do all of these stretches and icing and what not, so everything can heal and the inflammation can go down. However, if it keeps feeling good, next Monday I can try walking and running again - hopefully this time without pain.

I came out of this appointment ready to cry, BlogLand. I'm pretty sure I stomped out of that office like an angry 5 year old. I STILL couldn't run. I STILL couldn't train (squats and things that pull on my knee are realllly limited...) like I would.... and I was suddenly awash with failure and disappointment. Perhaps it was my inner Fat Chick that was freaking out that we might be back-sliding in our progress, as a result of this injury. I'm right in the middle of race season and I can't train... and there is STILL so much work to be done. How was I supposed to do it with this knee thing stopping 85% of my activities?!!?!?

As per usual, I sent the results (and my feelings about it) to the GT for consideration. As ever, he sent me his sage, calming words: "We will work through it. Your progress won't be lost. Keep at it." Which he followed up with suggestions for working my upper body (pushups and pull ups..... who doesn't love THAT? lol) and some constructive ideas on how to keep moving forward, when I'm feeling so stuck in the mud.

*deep breath*

So. It seems I need to work at changing my mindset, BlogLand. Injuries and set backs happen. When you train like a Beast, sooner or later, something's going to get a little wonky. Thankfully, I'm not seriously injured, just laid up a little bit.

Things I CAN DO:
- I can keep following my eating plan to help continue my weight loss, so I can be at my goal by the time the Spartan Beast rolls around.
- I can do some more focused work on my upper body, hopefully helping to eradicate my lingering T-rex arms.
- I can go swimming to help the healing of the leg, while helping to maintain some conditioning (my triathlete doc suggested running in the water!).
- I can try out some new activities - like Rock Climbing! It seems that I have aquired myself a knowledgeable climber, in my circle of friends, that's willing to teach me how to climb! That seems like a fun, new activity that will focus more on my upper body, while not inflamming my knee any more. I'm pretty excited about that.

It has been a long few weeks dealing with this setback, for sure. As any active person would tell you, when you suddenly go from super active (training intensely 5-6x a week) to real low activity (walking!! what?!), your mind goes a little crazy. I feel a little bit like a tiger in a cage, pacing back and forth. It is challenging to keep yourself out of the negative loop of thinking ("All my progress will be lost!" "I'm not going to make my goals!"), and rein yourself into the postive mindset again.

Here's the Lesson, Blogland. Use your resources. So yes, there are a lot of things I can't do right now, but I'm trying to look at it as an opportunity to try some things that I wouldn't have otherwise done (real consistant upper body only wods), or find new activities (running isn't the only thing out there... I can rock climb!). I'm not going to say it's easy all the time, because I grumble growls of frustration every time I see one of my friends has gone out for a run, but you have to do the best with what you've got.

Where there is a will, there is a way! I intend to use my indomitable will to beat this little speedbump into submission. RAWR.

Quitting is simply not an option.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect it’s successful outcome. - William James

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 340:

It's good to be back, BlogLand. It feels like forever since I sat down and told you about the adventures I've been having. Although, I suppose that's because instead of having adventures lately, I've been grounded, benched and caged in my own body. It'd been horrid.

Last weekend I ran that 5K race, despite the pulling sensation in my knee. Then I got in the car and sat for 1.5 hours to drive home. When I got out of the car at home, it hurt. A lot. It was so tight I couldn't straighten my knee hardly and I was "walking" with a pronounced limp (okay... so, maybe a 5K road race wasn't my best plan?). I did everything I was supposed to - Ibuprofen, Ice, stretching... but then I got up on Sunday morning and crawled out of bed like I was 80. It hurt any time the muscles in my left leg engaged at all... and let's not even discuss uphill or up stairs.

Sunday night I was at home, foam rolling my leg (which hurt like hell), until I finally just sat on my living room floor and cried. I spent a lot of time being trapped in my body because of my weight and fitness, and was so insanely frustrated that it was happening AGAIN. Plus, I admit, I was a little extra worried because of the kind of pain it was - this wasn't the muscle stiffness and soreness I was accustomed to. This was sharp and pulling. This was much different... and in my head (particularly since it hadn't gone away in an extended period of time), serious. This was my KNEE.

After sitting and crying out the pain, worries and frustration, I decided to Spartan up and figure out the way over this metaphorical wall. There is always a way.

I ran my worries past the GT and a couple of other friends that know stuff and it was a universal opinion: Go get it checked out.


Have I mentioned that I have an irrational fear of doctors/hospitals? I avoid them at all costs, but my mobility was more important to me than my fears. I made an appointment.

As it turns out, my regular doctor was out and I got to see someone else. This particularly woman happened to be a 50 ish year old Triathlete. I felt like this boded well for the situation - to be a triathlete you have to be a little crazy and into the extreme (in my opinion), so she might understand where I was coming from.

She was wonderful. I mentioned Spartan Race and she immediately asked me if I was planning on doing the Beast in Killington ("Of course!"), and asked me if I had any other races coming up before then. She was talking to me like an *athlete*. I almost didn't know how to handle it, I won't lie. A lot of days, I still feel like that Fat Chick (Hello, FCS!), playing at fitness and training. It takes a long time to make those internal adjustments to something else.... but this woman - a serious athlete - was talking to me like a peer. When was my next race? How was I training?
Her next few words were magic to me, though. She dispelled my worst fears: "Well, you definitely don't have any tears or ruptures."

*sigh of relief* It was apparently "just" some inflamed tendons in the back of my knee. She then made me love her just a little bit more, by informing me that she could tell me to recover the slow and easy way - ice and a lot of rest, and they'd eventually calm down. But then she went on to tell me that she wouldn't do that to me in the middle of race season, and there were other ways we could get this better, as she referred me immediately off to a sports-specializing Physical Therapist.

Feeling a little lighter and a lot less worried, I hobbled home and awaited the next day's appointment with the PT.

After a lot of poking, prodding and manipulating my legs and joints, the PT came to the same conclusion. There was nothing serious or unfixable. I absolutely would not be laid up for weeks on end. But then he told me what was actually wrong (the root of the inflamed tendons).

His hypothesis was that sometime during the race I had probably (PROBABLY. Ha!) slid sideways or at just the right angle that I had sort of "sprained" my pelvis (Your pelvis is actually 3 bones, that can get displaced like any other). By screwing up the alignment in my pelvis, my left leg was 1/2 in shorter than the right leg. So, the (left) short leg was reaching and straining to keep up, resulting in the ragingly inflamed tendons.

Oddly, this made a sort of sense. The good news was (according to my PT) that my general construction and bone alignment is really good, so he didn't anticipate this being a reoccurring issue - I had just managed a perfect storm of moments to get here.

Then it got awkward. LOL. Ever had someone realign your pelvis? It's a little strange. While some of it is done with your own muscles (putting your leg in certain positions and pushing, etc.), at some point, they have to put their hands on you. Quite frankly, it is a little strange to have some old dude you just met checking the alignment of your seat bones, etc.

But I disassociated enough to get through that, and he told me to get up and walk around. Let me tell you, BlogLand, those were the most wonderful steps I'd taken in a long time. I was 90% better already. He made me step up some steps and walk back and forth, and while I could still feel that my tendons had some healing to do, they weren't pulling like crazy, the pain was negligible and I could WALK without limping. YES. Weird, but simple solution.

So, to follow up, I have to go back for a check up this week, but I am supposed to not run at all or do anything that will pull on my knee through this weekend. Just ice and rest and swimming (apparently, between the doc and the PT, swimming is a miracle cure!). Starting on Monday, if it feels okay still, I can start trying some easy runs with walking in them. Basically, as soon as or if it starts hurting, I am to stop immediately. He, like my GT, told me to be smart about it and use some good judgement.

It is really challenging though, as the weather has been wonderful (if a little hot...). I haven't really been able to go out running in 2 weeks and I feel like a wild animal in a cage. I never, EVER thought I'd say this, but I really miss it. I WANT to go for a run. Rest assured, though, I'm following directions and taking care of this... it's got to heal in the best way possible. I'm not taking any chances. After all, it's Race Season!

On another note, the official countdown is on. Twelve Days until my 30th Birthday.


I have some goals I'm shooting for, that I'm hoping to hit on that day, so the GT and I have revamped the eating plan and the workouts for the next couple of weeks to (hopefully!) crush those goals into the ground.
It may be an ugly couple of weeks, but nothing I can't or won't handle.
In prep for this, I got on the scale and took my measurements today, for the last time until my birthday. I then took a deep breath, and refocused my mind. I have faith in the process and the journey. Now is the time to just let go and do some work.

Commence the officially titled,
"Experiment in Being More Awesome." 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Not failure, but low aim, is crime. - James Russell Lowell

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 332 & 333:

I've missed you, BlogLand! It's been almost a week!! What have I been up to? Well.... not a lot. Frustratingly so. Whatever leg muscle (I still can't establish if it's my calf or my hamstring) that I made angry last weekend, that is causing this pulling sensation in the back of my knee just will not chill out. Sprints on Tuesday night, even with a really long warm up, were a decided No-Go. I've been taking frequent/long walks to stretch it out, foam rolling, stretching, hydrating, Ibuprofen, ice... the whole works. It gets a little better... but I'm still not back 100%. W.T.F.

So, because I've been so frustrated, I won't lie, my thought processes have been a bit unpleasant. Usually, I would blog them out for you all to follow along with (and know that you're not the only one who gets ugly when the going gets tough!), but my head was getting so frazzled with it that I just didn't want to blog. Blogging makes me think about my experiences, which is generally good, but I didn't think spending the last 7 days blogging endlessly about how I still wasn't able to run/train back to 100% was going to be a good mental exercise.

Basically, I have some imminent goals for myself, like by my 30th birthday (19 days), get under 200#... which will be approximately 7-8 more pounds of weight loss. And I've been really struggling with losing the weight. Thus, not being able to WOD like I would usually had me in a panic. I freaked out about probably not meeting that goal... which then had me freak out about the fact that I probably wouldn't be doing my One Pullup on my birthday like I'd hoped, and then I started questioning every goal I had - completing the Beast, doing these half marathons.... maybe I was aiming too lofty... yadda yadda yadda.

Thankfully, during one of these freak outs one morning on my way to work, while my knee stiffened and ached in the car, I had texted my GT (who is the patient sounding board for many of these kinds of freak outs...), and lost my mind a little bit, as per usual. Worrying about not making my goals, not losing weight and getting stuck in this stagnant "place I was in."
His response: "This place you're in?? You just ran and Super and a Sprint in the same weekend!"

Ah. Hmm. Reality Check received.

Sometimes, BlogLand, I (like many of you, I'm sure), get so focused on the ONE TREE in front of me. The all consuming one tree (immediate goal, upcoming race, etc.), that I completely forget the forest of accomplishments and victories. I did just finish a Super and a Sprint in one weekend. That's 14+ miles of running, mud and obstacles. TWO medals. And I felt okay, minus a tight muscle. Well. Go figure. haha

So, in the meantime, the GT gave me a task. MORE WATER. My official goal was 100 oz/day. I won't lie, I Googled this amount to verify (I'm sorry. You're always right, GT. I don't know why I continue to question!), because it seemed like SO much water. But, even Google agreed. A person of my height and weight and activity level should be at 90-100 oz of water a day. 3 liters. 3 big Nalgene bottles. Ohhhhh my. And here I was thinking I was "hydrated" and drinking a lot of water.

Nonetheless, I've been doing it. I bought a bigger water bottle for work, and have told my self that I will drink two of them during the work day. Little, achievable goals.

However, I HAVE had some positive things happen in the last few days, despite the leg-stupid.

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 332:
The Chicken Farmer 5K!

So, one of my most favorite Spartan Chicks, Peyton (who can't love the person who gave you your first tire?) had invited me to come do this small, local 5K that a friend of hers was running.
It has a really entertaining legend around the name, and seemed like it would be a low-key good time. (Weird. When did running a 5K on a Saturday morning become a low key good time?)

My leg felt okay. A little stiff getting up in the morning, but it seemed to warm up during walks or exercise, so I was determined to give this 5K a go. I couldn't be benched forever, I'd just work through it slowly, if I needed to. Peyton and I lined up at the very "official" starting line (the race official pointing his toe at a spot on the road. lol), and waited for the gun to go off. We were in the first 2 rows of people, as we wanted the most accurate time (it was being timed from gun time, not a super-accurate chip time).

In previous races, I spend some time trying to keep up with Peyton, then struggling to at least keep her in my sights... then losing her completely. Damn fast bitch, that one. (hehe) This race, however, I was able to mark my progress a bit. I was right with Peyton for the first part of the race, and at mile 1 she informed me we were running an 8:30 mile. HOLY crapola, BlogLand. I feared that I was going to burn out at that pace, but I was still feeling okay, despite the blazing sun... so... I kept pushing. Don't. Lose. Peyton, I kept telling myself.

Then, we entered the portion of the race that it billed as "gentle rolling hills." BIG. LIE. What that means is yeah, you'll have a downhill, right after you blow out your legs running up the steep side of it. Alright, slight exaggeration, but these hills were nothing to be sneezed at, and they were the WHOLE course. Up, down. Up. Down. I was suddenly very grateful I run around in Vermont. I found myself passing a lot of people, and maintaining my time, on the hills. It's all about just keeping a steady rhythm. Left-right, left-right until you're at the top... at which point you remind yourself that your lungs will not explode, they just feel like they're going to, and your legs will not fall off, you just want them to. Keep running.

I was still with Peyton! (alright, slightly behind her... but only by a few feet!) Although, I was starting to feel the heat, after the first big  hill. This was a straight on-pavement road race, and there was not a cloud in the sky. I admit, I did have to take a couple of walk breaks - just for short intervals, just to catch my breath and regroup (the heat is challenging for me). But I wasn't giving up. This might be my shot at my sub-30 minute 5K. And I was right on Peyton's tail. I was ON TRACK.

I wanted to die on the last hill. It was hot. As I ran up the incline, I could feel my knee thing pulling uncomfortably. Sweat was running into my eye. Embrace the Suck, I told myself. This is where the victory would be decided. Up the hill I went, determined face on. Cresting the hill, I heard people shouting that we were almost to the end, so I poured out whatever energy I could find in my legs, and set my sight on catching Peyton - who had gained a bit of a lead, at this point.

I roared around the corner with the clock and glancing up I saw 31 min and change. In disbelief, I looked back at it. HOW could that BE? I was cruising this whole race!! I could feel it!!!

Well, long story short, several GPS trackers confirmed that our course was over a standard 5K length. By 2-3 tenths of a mile. Since I came in only one person behind Peyton, we're using her GPS as OUR official marker - which indicated that this would've been the first 5K that I've done in LESS than 30 minutes, with average mile times of well under 10 minute miles.

.... but there is No Official Record. *sigh*

But I know. I did it. I did something that I never thought I'd be able to do. I am not a runner. .... but I guess, since I run several times a week, own shoes designed for running that cost more than $30, and can actually run several miles (WITH HILLS!!) at less than 10 minute miles... perhaps I better start changing that thought process. I am not a born runner.... but maybe I've made myself one.

Incidentally. I have to comment. The Chicken Farmer 5K had the best mascot I've ever seen. The guy that was the giant chicken was having so effing much fun that it was impossible to not have a good time. He was high-fiving, smiling, pep-talking... the whole works - despite it probably being 50 million degrees in that suit. He even jumped in the lake at the end, with a trail of children behind him. Well done, Giant Chicken Guy.
Oo! And some pictures!

Peyton, Giant Chicken, Me!
The Giant Chicken Swims!

The t-shirts are the brightest things
I've ever seen. Seriously,
the picture doesn't do it justice.
I swear, it glows.

This may be my favorite picture of the summer, thus far. Post-race, my feet were hot and my knee was feeling angry, so I decided to wade into the beachy area with some of the kids. (and no, I didn't think twice about going in up past my pants. Thanks, Spartan Race! I have complete disregard for what I'm wearing now. LOL.) So, I'm icing my legs, and Sara decides that I should strike a pose. Joking around (sporting my Spartan Tee!), I strike this one, looking appropriately post-race badass, as anyone can be when they're standing in a like. Then along came the duck. Who really wanted to be in the picture. It made me laugh.... a lot. I'm not sure if the duck ADDs to the feeling of badassery, or detracts. I almost look like I'm standing there completely miffed that the duck is in my lake. LOL.

Anyway, Good Times were had by all, and you can bet your chicken feathers I'll be back next year. :-)

Today was Spartan Shape-Up, Day 333:

My knee was back to being weird again, so I took a swim early this afternoon for about 30-40 minutes to try and stretch it all out and make it feel better. It definitely helped, at least temporarily.

Stacey and I decided that since it was a lovely sunny Sunday, we should also go tackle a local park of ours that's full of beautiful trails and supposedly a "fitness trail" with stations to complete.

The stations left a lot to be desired, as did my complete lack of sense of direction while trying to follow the crudely-drawn maps... However, we had a fabulous time running all around trying to locate all the stations, and decipher what we were supposed to do. Nothing really fabulous, but I did discover that there IS a set of adult-sized monkey bars to practice on!! Woot! I got across them twice today, without falling... of course, theses are dry and not muddy, like they always are at the races. But I figure, if I can practice on them, I'll only get better! Before the season is out, I'm determined to conquer them at a race. AROO.
Also, the trail did have a set of parallel bars that was an interesting challenge. I was able to walk myself on my t-rex arms ALMOST halfway across them. I couldn't quite make my halfway goal and my arms were all done.... but, I see some practice in my future... HMm.

All in all, an hour or so running around in the woods, on a low-key Sunday, you can't go wrong. I think for future expeditions, I'll skip trying to follow the fitness trail and just run around the trails... but Monkey Bars, watch out. I'm coming back for you.

With that, I leave you all, it is well past my bedtime, and CrossFit always seems to come OH so early.............

Monday, June 11, 2012

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

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 325 & 326:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. - Jack London

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 322:

CrossFit Day, BlogLand! Yay! I am ready to officially admit that I may have drank (drunk?) the Kool-Aid... I love me some CrossFit. Not to mention, I consider myself extremely lucky to have access to a local CrossFit gym (Shout out to Green Mountain Crossfit at The Confluence!), because all the instructors there are knowledgeable and supportive, as well as creative (who doesn't love a crazy outside WOD on the weekends?!). I could never go back to a "normal" gym again. No pink dumbbells (... unless they're heavier than 20 pounds...) for this Chick.

Anyway, walking into the gym, greeted by Hello's from familiar faces, I squared up in front of the WOD board, and checked out the plan for today. HMmmm.... Seemed Do-able and not *too* terrifying.

First, we got our Warm Up on:

Today's warm up was 3 x (200m run/row/ski, 10 wall balls, 10 hanging shrugs). Everyone immediately jumped for the rowers and Ski-Ergs, which confused me a bit as it was a perfectly lovely day outside. Out the side door I went to get in my first 200m. I also discovered on my run back (out 100, back 100), I'd be running a slight uphill. Who doesn't love a little added difficulty. But HEY... I had just run up and down a ski mountain climbing obstacles this weekend... a 100m slight grade should be alright. Then, I knocked out the wall balls no problem, and on to the hanging shrugs. While shrugging away, my instructor came over and we laughed about the beat-up craziness that is my elbows right now. He says, "Road Rash?" I say, "No... Spartan Race."  He laughed, but knew exactly what I was talking about - he completed the Beast last year, and is coming back for more this year, with a team from my CF gym.

A couple more uneventful rounds, and we were on to the main part of our WOD:

... But first, there was a Buy In. In CrossFit land, a "Buy In" could be thought of as Warm-Up 2.0. Like you're already warmed up, but this could be a little skill work, or more difficult warm up, etc.
Today's Buy In was an 800m (1/2 mi) run. We have a single-track outside path to run on, so everyone was trying to figure out who the "speedy" people were going to be. Weirdly, I was elected to be towards the front - right behind the gazelle-legged ladies and the super-tall giraffe legged guys. I took this as a compliment, and to my surprise, kept up. Although, I will admit, I had some incentive. As we were 2/3 way done our run, I knew I was slowing down a little bit, and I could feel the lady behind me creeping up on me. She was working hard (I could hear her breathing!), but she seemed to be gaining ground (It was a little bit like a horror movie, as the breathing got closer...). From the top of the course I hear the CF Instructor yell, "AJA!!! You're not going to let her PASS you, ARE YOU?!".... well, if that doesn't light a fire under your ass. I ran and completed my 800m... in front of Heavy Breather Lady. WAHA. (In all seriousness, Thank you, lady running behind me. You brought a great challenge to me. Thanks for not letting me slack!)

With the clock running (did I mention this WOD was "for time"?), we trotted back into the gym to begin the main portion of the WOD:

100 Double Unders (or 300 Jump rope singles.)
20 Pull Ups
30 Thrusters
20 Pull Ups
100 Double Unders ( or 300 Jump rope singles.)

For me, I have not yet perfected the double under. I'm GETTING there... but for today's purposes, I was single jumping all the way. All the way to 300. Uuuugghhh.

Pull ups were the usual hell... I strapped my black band (the heavy duty one) to the bar, and got after it. I've found that the first 10 I can knock out consecutively with the assistance of a band.... but after that, I'm reduced to 3-4 at a time, and sometimes even 2-3 at a time. 20 pull ups that way can feel like a WHOLE lot.

I was thankful to move onto Thrusters. Something I can DO. I loaded up my bar - 55#. I almost went to 65#, which was the prescribed women's weight for this WOD, but I won't lie... I got a little scared. I underestimate my ability to do prescribed. For this WOD, it would've slowed me down marginally, but I probably should've gone for it. I managed the 55# very well at a steady pace, which indicates to me that perhaps I could've gone harder. Although, it is always my stupid upper body that gives out first. The squat part of the thruster, no problemo. Then you have to put that thing over your head. Ugh. Angry shoulders.

Nonetheless, I got it done (heaviest women's weight in the class, today. Aroo!), and went back to Pull Up Hell. SOMEDAY these will be easier. Someday. And by "easier" I just mean that I will be strong enough to handle them.
Finally, back to the jump rope and everything completed in just under 22 minutes. Yay!

Another successful WOD down, another day living a Spartan-Strong life.... and to bed I go.

Remember people... Sleeping is as important to your training as lifting heavy things or running (... she reminds you all, as she's still blogging at 1am... geesh.).

Quality is not an act, it is a habit. -Aristotle

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 321:

Back to work, after Race Weekend, and it was Sprint Night, BlogLand.

Blargh. You are all well familiar with how much I am not a fan of Sprints. I always try and dissect why this is, but I think it actually comes down to something very simple: They're REALLY hard. They seem like they shouldn't be (... it's only 40 seconds of effort at a time?), but more often than not - if you're doing it right - that 40 seconds leaves you panting, almost wanting to throw your life up, and pretty drained. Just in time to walk a recovery and do it again.

However, I have to say, I've been seeing actual progress in the last few weeks. My times are really getting faster! I will admit, I do seem to do better on the weeks that I have someone to race against/chase down. That little extra push does seem to help propel me along.

200 meter sprint times for this week:
Lap 1: 39.11, 
Lap 2: 40.47, 
Lap 3: 39.90, 
Lap 4: 42.02.

Yep, I actually got a wee bit faster.... right up until I hit the wall on that last one. However, that last one is something like 5+ seconds faster than some of my old "fast" times. SO. Progress. I fear what this may mean (GT, if you're reading, skip this part?)... I know the goal was to get me doing all sprints around the 40 second mark, before moving onto longer sprints/other torture. It seems the last few weeks that we've really been getting there. Uh Oh. Please Cosmos, don't let him assign me 400's??!

At the conclusion of Sprint Night, my partners in crime and I always mix it up by doing a little tire flipping. It would seem that the high school track we run on keeps a giant tire outside (perhaps for the football team?) that we put to good use every week (once we figure out which shed they've hidden it next to. hehe).

This is a big tire, BlogLand. I'm happy to say I can flip that bad boy (after sprints, no less!), all by myself. RAWR!

Whist completing my 4-5 flip, I paused in the middle of it - to take a breath and readjust my grip (plus, c'mon now, my legs were a little tired), when my Sprint Buddy yells out (and I quote!): "You don't need any HELP!!!!!" .... well if that didn't light a fire under my ass. I was tired, help would've been nice. It was like she read my mind. "You don't need any help!" yelled at me in a commanding tone was JUST the thing I needed to here. You're right. EFF this. I'll do it all by myself. RAWWRRRR.... and I completed the flip.

Case in point. Have friends/supporters that know you well. They are able to come out with the most motivating moments, because they know where all your buttons are. Stacey, for instance, knows my tendency towards independence, and how much I hate asking for help.

After a few tire flips, it was back home to protein smoothies, foam rolling and some chatter about shoes on sale...

My left leg is a little stiff... but it's just my stupid tight hamstring again - rolled the bejeezus out of that tonight, so I'm hopeful about tomorrow. I'm also applying Neosporin to my elbows like crazy, in hopes of getting those more healed up by this weekends racing activities. The rest of me, bumped, bruised and scratched, is just going to take time. I suppose I won't be wearing many skirts to nice occasions much in the next few months.......

With that, I leave you. The CrossFit WOD looks like a good time tomorrow.... even if it is at 6am. *dies inside*

Saturday, June 2, 2012

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

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 318:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spartan Sprint, Tuxedo, NY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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