Monday, July 30, 2012

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.” – Alexander the Great

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 374 & 375:

Ow, BlogLand, ow. My legs are so beyond done right now, I can't even begin to express it in coherent words.

So, today is Monday, and as part of my updated training regime until the Amesbury Spartan Race, it was Sprint Night, Part 2. Sprint Night Part 2 means I do my usual sort of sprints (200m or half track), but I do 6 of them... instead of the usual four. In my head that seemed like it was going to suck, but would be a manageable level of suckage. After all, it was only two additional sprints.

I felt a twinge of worry when I set out for our warm up jog with the ladies. As we commenced a bit of chatter, I trotted down the sidewalk, assessing the fact that my legs did not feel "fresh" in any way. I hadn't run or sprinted since Thursday (400m sprints)... I was really expecting my legs to be feeling a little more up to snuff. I convinced myself I just needed a warm up and continued along our path.

The first sprint wasn't too bad. While it wasn't pretty, I had enough power in my legs to get a respectable time, in keeping with my usual times at 200m; Lap One: 38.67

Then, BlogLand, the slight sense of doom kicked in. The feeling in my legs that I had after that first sprint was typically the feeling I have after the 2nd or 3rd sprint, usually. No matter, I thought, I was just a little stiff from working hard on Thursday night. I'd just need to power though. Power through I did, as best as I could, to a Lap Two: 40.61 Again, not my greatest time, but since I was sprinting on tired legs and the fact that 40 is still within my "consistent" time rage, I was satisfied with that.

My legs, on the other hand, were feeling like completely empty vessels. Like, I was trying to eek out more energy than was in there. While you can run on mental energy quite a long time, sometimes, your body does have physical limitations. I felt like I was finding mine, today. Lap Three 42.54. I was sensing a quick, downward spiral, so I did what any rational human would do to stave off a freak out: I texted the GT for some on-the-spot workout advice. After this lap, I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it to six sprints, without some crazy slow times. What to do?!

On the GT's advice, I tried one more... pushing as hard as I can, but checking the time at the end. Lap Four: 44.59. HORRIBLE in comparison with my usual 39-40 range. Clearly, my legs were blasted still from the other day, and something had to give here. New plan on the fly, before I got too caught up in the fact that there was no way I was going to make six of these sprints... The GT prescribed a longer recovery period for the next couple of minutes, to give my legs a little more time to get themselves together between bouts.  And then I attempted one more lap (Spartan up!).

Lap Five: 43.62. So, clearly the little extra recovery time helped, but BlogLand, my legs were spent. I wrung every last iota of energy out of those screaming quads and informed my hamstrings that there was no other option. Still, it was a fight to improve my time below 44 seconds. My body fought me the ENTIRE way on this one. I felt uncoordinated, ungraceful and not too powerful.

For a little bit of a bonus round (... did I have *any* more left?), I decided to try a 100m sprint with my Sprint Buddies. Yeah. I was powerful for the first 10 seconds, then I gracefully bowed out and trotted down to a barely-a-run. I had found the threshold of being able to push. As the three of us attempted to sprint that 100 (so short, right?), I saw them both pulling ahead of me and activated my competitive spirit. Even that couldn't save me. I had no afterburner, no secret stash of energy... nothing. Although, I guess I did it right, then... it means I left it all out there?

I was a little disheartened, BlogLand. Usually I can bang out 4 solid sprints at 200m with a consistent time. I certainly could not, today. Expressing the difficulty of this to the GT, I was told to remember what it was like when I was first running 3 miles, and how hard it was to stay running for the full 5K. I guess I certainly have graduated. While I should always be working at 110% for sprints, the GT advised I take a sense of accomplishment away from the fact that I CAN run a 200 and 400m sprint at all. There was a time that that wouldn't be possible. I remember when I jokingly tried a 400m sprint and thought I *would* just die. On Thursday when I did them, I just for real, *wanted* to die. haha

So, Lessons to be taken from this.... You are a work in progress. You'll never be "there" wherever that is, so it is good to appreciate what is smack in front of you. Like 5 completed 200m sprints (not 6.. but soon!), a regular workout night with friends, support through the most difficult workouts, accountability to get them done, regardless of how you think you are doing, and the fact that I'm healthy and strong and still progressing forward in my quest toward a healthier life.

Tonight's Sprint are not to be looked at as a "fail" because I couldn't do my WOD as prescribed, but merely feedback. What the GT and I discovered is that I will need a little more recovery time between sprints, when I am doing two sprint wods in a week. I have a new goal to reach (six sprints!). I have a new challenge to beat into the ground and overcome. Who doesn't like that kind of motivation, here and there?

Really, BlogLand, it's your perspective that ultimately determines if you succeed or fail. If I chose to stay in the negative mindset, where I look at tonight's sprints as too hard and a failure, where does that get me? The fast lane to quitting. If I choose to look at this as a "learning experience" or feedback as to the place I'm in with my training, it gives me a positive hold to stand on. Yeah, I'm not satisfied with my performance, but that means I have something to work towards.


Now that we got the serious WOD out of the way, I have to back up and tell you about my active recovery Sunday shenanigans. STILL on Sunday, my quads were stiff from sprinting the prev Thursday and in need of some movement to get the blood flowing again. PLUS, it was a really beautiful day out. New Me really likes to get out there and soak up every last bit of sunshine and outside that I can, whenever I can. (Never take this for granted!)

So, after a quick pow wow of options, the CG and I decided we would do some kayaking, snorkeling and swimming on the lovely Lake Champlain.

While I'm a pretty competent kayaker, I'd never been snorkeling before, which certainly put a new spin on things. Let me tell you, BlogLand... as graceful as divers and snorkelers look when you see them on TV, you do not magically turn into a dolphin or a graceful mermaid upon donning fins. I nearly drowned myself a couple times because my brain couldn't figure out how deep was too deep when swimming, before my air tube was underwater.... and maneuvering those fins definitely takes some muscle and practice. However, I will say that despite the fact I was flopping around underwater like a wounded whale, I had SO much fun. We got to poke at the zebra muscles that are rampant in our lake, as well as see all sorts of random stuff. Granted, where we were was a little cloudy thanks to a recent algae bloom, it was a great practice ground. Next time, I graduate to bigger fish and rocks and debris! Wee!
 I would also like to take this time to note how much I have found I like the sit-on-top style kayaks! I managed to get myself out of the water, and back into my floating kayak even, without flipping it over! AMAZING. (I'm not sure I'd say it was graceful to watch me, I'm sure, but... ehh... it worked!). The paddle around was nice, too... as it turns out, there were quite a few waves and a bit of a current at times that provided a bit of an arm workout (active recovery day, yay!).

Annd.... I won't lie. My Spartan was showing, at one point. We were swimming around in the waist-deep-ish water, and joking around pulling our boat anchor, which was only 5 pounds. Feeling unchallenged, one thing led to another, and this spartan chick was running around in the water, with the drag of two kayaks, one 5 pound anchor and one very good-humored partner-in-crime. Never miss a chance to get your mini-wod's in, BlogLand! Recovery days do not mean sit on your couch. JUST sayin'.

With that, I leave you with some happy-faces for the day. Nothing like some sunshine and wonderful company to refresh your mental state and prepare for the week ahead!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first. - William Shakespeare

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 370 & 371:

Well, BlogLand, it was time to face the inevitable. My knee has no longer been an issue (100% Woo!), so there was no more "good" excuses for procrastinating; it was time for my return to Sprint Night. I absolutely hate this WOD, but really, truly understand the benefits that I get from it. I've seen some drastic increases in my sprint times, which have directly correlated to some majorly increased mile times in my regular runs, among other things. Therefore one must, in true Spartan fashion, just "embrace the suck."

This week's Sprint Night was going to be a little different. With the passing of my 1-Year milestone and an upcoming race in a few weeks (Spartan Sprint, Amesbury, MA!), the GT has decided to mix up the routine a bit. Now (because he clearly loves me so much), I'll be doing TWO Sprint Nights a week. One will be the regular short sprints (200m) like I have been doing (just a few more of them than usual) and one will be long sprints (400m, full track). Tonight was slated to be 400m Sprints. While I had done a test run of these before, as in I've run a 400m sprint maybe twice, I'd never done a whole WOD centered around 400m sprints. Needless to say, I was a little bit apprehensive.

As usual for Sprint Night, I woke up that morning and while getting ready for work, I was thinking about what I had to do for the day...... and thus began my dreading of that evening's Sprints. They do just really suck. However, I am lucky to say that I haven't had to sprint alone since the very first sprint WOD I did. I have had some great companions each and every night to cheer me on and get me through the major uglyness. Stacey and April were on track (pun intended. hehe) to be there on the new night to keep me going and all would be as minimally sucky as possible.

Until it started raining. And then my buddies didn't look like they were going to be able to come, last minute. Let me tell you, BlogLand. These are the moments when your resolve and commitment is really tested: Will you do what needs to be done, even if it is not what you feel like doing, when you have no one to cheer you through it? Will you be your own motivation? Is your drive and commitment to succeed, no matter what, enough to get you through that ugly workout alone? To get your sneakers on when there is no one telling you that you need to? Will you Spartan Up?

Just about the time that I had steeled up my resolve to do my long sprints no matter what, I think I was rewarded by the Cosmos; Stacey would be able to come after all AND we would have a new victim. I mean... participant. My CG would be in town, was feeling up to a challenge, and agreed to check it out. Stacey and I chuckled a little to ourselves, as we knew what to expect from those short bursts of 110% exertion...... but we weren't sure the CG knew what he had just agree to.

We began with our usual half mile jog warm-up. I had to remind myself to take it down a notch and actually warm up - not just beast through a run pace like my legs wanted to. I've found that since I had several weeks off from running, when I go out now, my legs really want to GO. None of this hold back and warm up sort of stuff. We reached the track, continued our warm up by walking around the track one time, while reviewing what each of our goals were for the day. You see, BlogLand, there is nothing more important that having a goal to chase - even if it's a tiny one. My goal was simply to complete three 400m sprints, with my best effort. I had no time expectations or anything like that... simply finish them (puking and the patented CrossFit Starfish on the ground movement would be acceptable at the end, if it came to that.).

Lining up at our starting line, I felt the apprehension flip-flop my stomach. I wasn't entirely sure I was going to be able to do these 400m sprints, I haven't been running as consistently because of that knee thing.... the cavalcade of excuses started to flood my brain. Thankfully, crazy peeps were there with me and started our countdown.

So, the first 100m was AWESOME. Totally burned off the line, legs felt strong, and I was owning my run. The next 100m was the usual "Ehhhh.... can't breath, must. keep. running."...... and then we entered the distinct outer limits of my comfort zone. As I pushed past the 200m line, my body was all like, WTF?! THIS is where we stop! .... and I had to keep running. There was about 10 seconds, as I tried desperately to propel myself down the next second straightaway that I flashed through my brain every motivational saying, thought, word, face, picture that I could possibly think of. Still, my body was unconvinced. I felt that familiar slightly nauseous feeling of my body protesting, and tried to ignore the empty feeling that was growing in my legs. I knew I was slowing, but decided I would at least keep moving and finish the lap. Rounding the last curve, my CG was there (having not died through his shorter sprints!) shouting encouragement. I think, BlogLand, sometimes that is what you need - someone outside of your own head reminding you to get after it. From somewhere, I kicked on the afterburners and fought through the last few meters, to cross the finish line. 400m complete....... and hands on knees, sucking air and wanting to just lay down and starfish on the track. I am happy to report I did not do that. It seems to me that until you are completely done, it sets a bad state of mine to have a mini "quit". I stayed standing and paced (slowly) around, reminding my body that we were going to live, while checking the time I'd clocked in at:
Lap One: 00:01:35:881
Decidedly not a great time, but I'm looking that as the baseline 400m sprint, from which I will improve. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Lap two was just a long soul-suck, where I pushed hard and tried to not die. That is my basic operating mantra for any difficult workout... "Try not to die." ("Die" being an interpretive term... meaning don't throw up, get a raging muscle spasm, pass out, starfish, etc.)
Lap Two: 00:01:44:552 Definitely gained some time on that one, but I suppose that was to be expected.

Lap three had me really concerned. My legs were feeling pretty spent (sprinting causes this "empty" feeling - not fatigue - unlike any other WOD) and I wasn't sure I could do it. Like physically, I wasn't sure if I could actually sprint another whole lap. However, the challenge was THREE laps and I knew the GT would not accept anything less than a valiant attempt. I could pass out, throw up or starfish mid-lap, if that happened... but I better have at least gotten off the starting line. These are the moments that you are thankful that you have people that will push you to your limits. It is very easy to, at this point in the workout, to let yourself stop. "Clearly" you've worked enough, pushed hard enough, it was "enough." But here's the thing, you have more. There is always a little bit more than you think, and when you push hard enough to find that, not only is it empowering (Holy crap! I can do that?!), but that is when real growth in your training occurs.

Needless to say, I did my best with Lap three. As I completed my first straightaway, I remember gasping out to Stacy and the CG as I passed, "I've got nothing left in my legs! Nothing at all!" .....  but there was 3/4 of a lap to be finished. Finding that finish line that third time was awesome, BlogLand. AWESOME. Not only did it mean that I got to stop doing this, but that I had also completed the challenge set before me.
Time was Lap Three: 00:01:51:457 Another big gain on time, but I was so happy I was able to even DO the third lap that the time gain was okay. Next time, we shoot for some more consistent times.

While I put myself through this necessary evil, it was somewhat gratifying to see my Sprint buddies hitting it hard, too. It is always nice to know that you're not suffering alone, no matter how necessary the suffering is. In honor of my transition to 400m sprints, Stacey bumped her sprints up to 200m sprints, and Hans (my CG)  did some excellent 100m sprints to complete his first sprint wod. When you want to take on something as Herculean as Changing Your Life (yes, capital letters), these are the types of people that you need by your side - Spartans in Spirit and Mind, that are not afraid to disregard "limitations" and work hard.


Sprint night had me waking up on Friday morning a little bit stiff, but not too bad, considering I haven't been doing sprints for weeks. It was Climbing Friday, though! I must admit, I'm really starting to enjoy this new hobby. It feels great to workout my upper body in a taxing way that *isn't* pull ups or push ups. Also, the successes - much like what I like about weight-lifting - are very tangible. You can say, "yes, I went two moves beyond where I did before." or "I finished that route, that I couldn't do before."

Tonight's climbing was a little more challenging for me on my lower body, as my legs were feeling a little spent from the previous night's exertions, but not enough to stop me. We didn't do quite as many climbs as we might have usually, but still made some great progress.

I was able to climb under-over this overhanging route, which had previously thwarted me before. It involved a few just massive (for me) explosions - coupled with grunts of exertion - of arm power just to reach to the hold, without being able to support myself much at all with the tree trunks I call legs. Yeaaah!! T-Rex arms are being destroyed.

I also have been working the last few weeks on a project, which I'm told should be technically described as "A overhanging jug-haul, 5.6, which ended in a desperate dead point move." What this translates to for the rest of us humans as ... Hard. Hard (for me) and at the very last move, a moment where I had to dig deep and make a leap of faith and hope that my right hand still had enough oomph in it to hang on. Luckily, it did.... just barely. Project OWNED.

Having said that, it's on to the next project, that I can't quite get through.... the foot holds are a little smaller, the hand grips not quite as comfortable...... but just another challenge to be owned.


Today (Happy Saturday!), I'm really in Recovery mode. My quads have a massive case of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) from sprints and I'm pretty ouchy. I think I'm off to drag the CG to a swimming hole of some sort for a combination ice bath/aqua therapy moment. Ohhhh yeah. That's what my life has come to.... When super cold Vermont swimming holes sound like an excellent plan. Good times!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Action is the foundational key to all success. - Pablo Picasso

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 365:

It seems we have hit another major milestone, BlogLand. Today (July 21) officially marks the one-year anniversary of my decision to commit to changing my life and chase down some very real goals.

On this day, one year ago, the sun rose on a sunny morning (yeah, I actually do remember that), which I took as an excellent omen for this new road I was to be on. I laced up a pair of old sneakers - just a pair of WalMart specials - put on some old cotton "active wear" (because it was what I had), and I headed out to try Day 1 of the Couch to 5K running program. It was early in the morning, as it was the cooler part of the day, but I was sweating during just my brisk warm up walk. I remember thinking that day that I couldn't go on like this. I didn't want to live the rest of my life trapped in my own body. I felt horrid - out of breath, sweaty, tired - just walking that little mile on some flat sidewalk. I also felt apprehensive. I'd never been a "fit" person and looked at myself in the mirror and acknowledged the mountains that I was going to need to climb to make this a successful venture. And yet.... here I was. Pushing "play" on C25K app that I'd downloaded, and following along with rapt attention.

For anyone that'd done the C25K program, you know: Week 1 is very basic. You run maybe 30 seconds at a time with 3-5 minutes of recovery in between. I remember struggling with those 30 seconds. I remember screeching to a slow walk at the end of one of those 30 second intervals, chest heaving, thinking how insanely long 30 seconds was and wondering how in the HELL I thought I was going to get through this. But I pushed through. I had decided that in a year, I was going to run my first Spartan Race (I had given myself a long-range goal of running in Amesbury, this August.), so I had a lot of preparation to do. Just keep running and have faith in the process, I told myself.

That day that I came home from Day 1, I remember recording all my statistics (how long I'd run, how long I'd walked, mileage, etc.) in my workout log spreadsheet and sending a text to my GT; I'm not sure he knew, at the time, just what sort of undertaking he'd gotten himself into by taking me on, but his virtual applause and support of my basic Day 1 conquest (eight 30 second intervals!) were exactly what I needed to hear. I could do this, I would do this, and I'd done the hardest part: gotten off the couch, laced up my sneakers and made the decision to DO SOMETHING.

Here's a little flashback to who I was, just about a year ago:

In the last year, I've done some pretty amazing things, for a Fat Chick that'd never been athletic.
- I've gone from not being able to run a full minute, to running 8+ miles (over an hour at a time).
- I've progressed from little 5-10 pound hand weights and a yoga ball in my basement, to full Olympic Lifts with official barbells (sometimes with triple-digit weights...). 
- I have finished more than 10 official road races (5 and 10K lengths)
- I have finished 5 Spartan Races and 1 local mud run, at varying lengths (Spartan Sprints and Supers)
- I have adjusted my diet from The Typical American Crappy diet to something akin to the Paleo diet with minimal/no processed carbs, or grains (mostly lean proteins and veg), which means, yes, I pretty much gave up bread and potatoes...
- I have conquered my fear of walking into sports stores without feeling like an outsider.
- I've learned to enjoy wearing spandex and totally stopped giving a flying eff what other people thought (Yes. I've been known to grocery shop in my workout clothes, on my way home from the gym. What of it?!).
- I learned (thanks to the wise words of the GT) that my lungs will not explode, my legs will stop feeling like jelly, and my heart will slow down eventually, no matter how hard I push myself. So just keep pushing.
- I found that there are people in your life who love you for who you are inside, despite the fact that they don't understand why you need to crawl under muddy barbed wire. And there are those that don't. The ones that don't have no place in your life.
- I have completed hikes (with a Rock!) that I never would've otherwise thought possible.
- I didn't think twice about harnessing up and trying rock climbing for the first time.
- I've worn shorts and skirts *voluntarily*, proud to show off the "runners legs" complete with monster quads, that I've worked really hard to earn. 
- I'm entered into not one, but TWO Half-Marathons in the fall, and one half-marathon distance Spartan Race (The Beast!). 

.... and I'm no longer afraid.

BlogLand, the point of that list is half for you and half for me. I want you to know and really understand that You Can if you DECIDE You Can. On Day 1, I was a hot mess (or where my blog title comes from: A Beautiful Wreck) who had let the world run her over. Today, one year later, I find myself unafraid to tackle new challenges (rock climbing, what?!), embracing of my strength and power (YEP. I did just run with that sandbag!) and eager to find out what comes next. What happens in Spartan Shape-Up, Year 2.0? BIG THINGS. BIIIIIIG THINGS. 
Don't be afraid to try, BlogLand. That's where it all starts. No matter if you're 700 pounds or 300 pounds, or 150 and unhappy with where you are in your life, make a decision. Decide to grab life by the horns and beat your goals into submission. If I can, you can. I'm nothing special - I'm not a natural athlete, I wasn't a sports star in high school, I didn't have access to immersive camps or expensive weight loss programs. You make do with what you have and you will find a way. "It's not going to be easy, but it WILL be worth it."

The other half of the reason I made that list is for me, BlogLand. I started this blog initially just as a record-keeping journal for me. The GT requested that I log my workouts so we could monitor my progression, but as I started to fill them in, in a spreadsheet, I felt like that just wasn't enough. About 4 weeks in I was feeling how much of an emotional/mental journey this was going to be and a spreadsheet of numbers just wasn't going to capture that. I could feel in my bones the life-changing potential that was happening here, and felt like recording it was going to be the only option; born was 

It has served another purpose however, which is the one I find it serving tonight: Motivation. A Marker of how far I've come. 

I won't lie, BlogLand, after 365 days, I do still love the process and the goals I'm chasing down, but it never gets easier. There is always more/harder work to be done, limitation lines that need to crossed, boundaries that need to be stretched and finish lines that need to be chased down. It's WORK. Changing your life is WORK. And, like any other work, some days, you just don't want to. 

Those are the days when I come here, to BlogLand. I read my thoughts from months ago, see what triumph I'd taken in a seemingly small victory (the day I ran a full 30 minutes, for example), and re-energize my motivation and determination. I remember the "Old Me" and the reason I began this all in the first place and why I've kept it up for an entire year.

The greatest advice I can give to any of you on a similar journey is to record your progress. Whether it's writing it in a blog, taking regular pictures, or scrap booking your race bibs, do it. You will hit rough spots, and you will thank me. Personally, I've been having a little difficulty getting back into my regular, super consistent workout schedule, since I had to take all that forced time off for my knee issue. However, telling you all about the whirlwind year I've head, has refocused my brain on what this is all about. It has reminded me all the things I learned at the finish line, when I completed my first Spartan Race.

I'm still discovering who I am and what I'm capable of, but BlogLand, it's the best present I've ever given myself. With that, I must include a recent picture that I just adore, from the recent PA Spartan Sprint.
This picture was taken at the top of a brutal black-diamond ski slope (that we'd hiked from the bottom), with a great new-friend with an unparallelled positive attitude that I've met through the Spartan Race community (Hi Sam!), about halfway through the race 5 mile course:

Here's what I see in this picture, 1 year after beginning my quest to Spartan Up: I see a Spartan Chick. My Inner Fat Chick has pretty much gotten the picture that she needs to take a hike and is no longer welcome cluttering up my brain space, because THIS picture is the reality that I'm embracing. I'm never going to be a small person, but hey, I'll be damned if I'm not going to be the best, fittest version of me that I can be. In this picture I'm sweaty, hot, wet, covered in mud with a giant hill still to conquer in front of me.... but I'm smiling. Really, for real smiling and happy to be tackling that challenge. I'm hanging with some like minded people that keep me on the right road with a positive attitude, even when the couch looks tempting,.......and I'm lovin' Life.

What more could you ask for?

Happy One Year Spartan Shape-Up Anniversary to Me!

Before I conclude, I could not possibly celebrate this milestone without a special nod to the Guru Trainer (GT) who has orchestrated this all. From Day 1 he's handed me well-constructed training plans that would allow me to succeed but still push my physical and mental limitations. He's answered every "...but WHY?" question thoroughly, with patience and well-researched answers, talked me down off every training problem freak-out, adapted The Plan at a moments notice to accommodate my latest whim, race addition or schedule change, and kept believing - with rock solid certainty - that I could do more, even when I doubted.  Maybe more importantly, he's pushed me to do it and see for myself. BlogLand, find yourself a trainer and support system like Chris Irving... and never forget to remind them just how much they've helped change your world and your view of it. (Thank you. With Fiskars axes and homemade protein bars on top!)

.... having said that, my new plan for the next few weeks leading up to the Amesbury, MA Spartan race is looking a little rugged, thanks to that GT. Highlights include TWO sprint nights a week (one of longer sprints, one of shorter sprints), one regular run and a whole crazy lifting program that I don't have all the details of yet. OH MY (I better stock up on Tiger Balm...). Stay tuned......

This. is. Sparta!!!!!!!! AROOOO!

Friday, July 20, 2012

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

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 359-360:

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

Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint, Blue Mountain Ski Area:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work. - Booker T. Washington

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 355:

You want to know what I've been up to the last few days, BlogLand? I have been putting the exclamation point on the end of "I turned THIRTY in a BIG effing way!"

This was a year of changes, so it felt fitting to spend my birthday weekend celebrating those new abilities, interests and accomplishments.

Friday morning (my actual birthday) found me up early for work and with a deep breath, getting on the scale. You see, BlogLand, in the not so distant past, I weighed 284 pounds (probably more, but 284 was the last time I weighed myself). It was my goal to be under 200 pounds by my 30th birthday. All week long I was really careful about what I was eating, mindful of drinking my water, etc. because I *really* wanted this. Honestly, I'm not sure I was one-ninety-anything, even in high school. I stepped onto the scale, with slightly shaking legs and taking deep breaths. I was reminding myself that - really - the number didn't matter; I was leaps and bounds healthier than I ever have been, numbers were inconsequential. However, I can't help it... those numbers seemed significant.

*deep breath*

.............................................194 pounds.

That is a total 90 pound weight loss. Holy shit, BlogLand. I texted the GT and we virtually jumped up and down in text message. I hadn't just hit my goal, I'd "absolutely crushed it." I cried. For real. Tears streaming down my face. Happy tears, but a lot of them.
To put this in perspective, here's a picture of me from a couple summer's ago. I'm approximately 27 years old in this picture:

I'm somewhere around 280, I'm wearing a size 20-22, I can't run at all and I was letting life just carry me along.

Here's a picture from my 30th Birthday Party:

In this picture, I am 194 pounds, sitting in a pair of size 14 jeans, celebrating the fact that I had taken the reins of my life and was basking in my accomplishments. While most people turn 30 with trepidation, I was EXCITED. I have big plans for this year, including a Spartan Trifecta (Sprint, Super, Beast), a half marathon and breaking a few 5 and 10K time Personal Records. Take THAT, 30! I'm doing things at 30 years old that I couldn't have even fathomed at 24-25. 

So, Friday night was a little gathering at my Dad's house. Some great friends and family, having a relatively "healthy" dinner and party. There wasn't copious amounts of cake or anything like that. We had mini (whole wheat) personal pizzas on the grill (YUM. If you've never tried this, get on it. Crispy and awesome!) and dessert consisted of small slices of maple creemee (an epic VT soft serve ice cream, because c'mon, you gotta live a LITTLE) with fruit. Yes, there were a few margaritas (HEY. It was my birthday!)... 
It was interesting to see how different the gifts were this year, too. One of my staunch supporters and BFF's got me a Ninja Blender (BADASS!!!!) to keep me rolling with my protein smoothies, another gave me some money towards my desperate need for a new pair of Inov8's (mine now have matching holes and I think they're headed to their last race this weekend... :-( )... but my Dad's presents took the cake (pun intended). While I know this new lifestyle and change has been difficult for him to wrap his head around (and also me spending money to travel to these races to torture myself... lol), but it would seem maybe he's actually getting on board. I got a bunch of money to buy myself some new clothes in my new size (MUCH needed.), as well as a big, framed picture of my fire-jump picture from my first Spartan Race (see the above picture). It was a pretty defining moment and deserving of a frame. I think I need to find a wall in my house to put it, where I can surround it by some other "accomplishment" pictures - my first 5K, things like that. HMM.

Saturday found me up in Burlington, continuing the celebrations - I went out to a healthy lunch (no/low carbs) and then went to the Outdoor Gear Exchange, to check out what one needs to do a little rock climbing. Let me first say that I was not at all excited to walk in the door there... while I have made a lot of life changes, it is hard to get your own head around the fact that you are now *not* the fat chick who can't use any of this stuff. I was pretty sure, walking in there, that all the super fit, active people would look at me and KNOW I was out of place. ... only, I wasn't. WEIRD. We talked to people about doing Spartan Races, getting into climbing, and never once did I feel uncomfortable. Further (an amazing realization), there were actually clothes in this store that would FIT ME. While I didn't buy any (if there had been CW-X in stock, I make no promises...), it was just a shocking change of pace... I could buy active wear there, if I wanted to. As a former plus-size only chick, you are typically very very limited to the places you can shop, because no one carries clothes in your size. Specialty stores. Online. Not just a sports store that you walk into off the street. Wow. My things have changed. 

After that, it was off to Petra Cliffs, to learn about rock climbing. Thankfully, since it was a beautiful day out, my CG (Climbing Guru) and I found ourselves in a mostly-empty gym. Woot! There is no better way to suffer your first attempt embarrassments, than in front of a limited audience (I think!). After getting the low down on the basics, I suited up in my fabulous new harness, stuck my hands in my uber adorable chalk bag (apparently the place in climbing that you can chose pretty over functional), and was pointed at the wall. The climb I was to attempt was the easiest one in the gym. Follow the yellow flags on the holds until you get to the top. How hard could it be? I'm not afraid of heights, so all I had to do was hang on and keep moving, right?
This shit is hard, people! 
Initially, you think you've got this, because on these beginner climbs, the holds are pretty big and you've got well spaced places for your feet and hands. However, as a beginner, you're also clinging to them for dear life (ie, burning out your muscles, faster), where you don't need to. I climbed up, hit the top hold and then was suddenly confronted with... "Now what?!" I glanced down at my CG, only to note the major distance down, and the shaking that had suddenly began in my arms. Do I climb down!? This is the point that he informed me to just "Let go." Let GO?! WHAT?! Although, assessing the situation, I realized I had limited options... let go and trust that my gear would all hold me, I wouldn't plummet to my death and all would be well..... or cling to the wall for dear life, like a frozen spider, and then fall when my arms gave out. 
I chose to let go.
With a little nervous yelp as I let go and I was lowered down, I soon found myself with both feet on the floor, sweaty and smiling.
SO. Much. Fun.
I was ready to go again.
.... right after I shook out my burning T-Rex arms.
Next we tackled a slightly harder course, which found me 3/4 of the way up a couple times and dropping off the wall, trying to make the next move with tired hands and arms (guess who has to work on grip strength?). However, not one to give up (This. Is. Spartaaaa!), I would dangle for a second, shake out my arms, assess my mistake, and get myself back at it. I won't like, there were several grunts of effort and more than a few under the breath curses, but I got the job done.
I could see how people get hooked on this. Once I was back on the ground after making it up the first time, with some trouble, I immediately noted, "Again!". There was no way that that was the way I was going to leave that particular course for the day. I knew I could do it better. Back up again. Whew.
After a few more goes, CG and I hit up the bouldering cave for some strength, strategy and grip work. My burned out T-Rex arms were certainly the limiting factor here... although, I sense that that may not be the case for too much longer. The CG immediately went into taskmaster trainer mode (My GT is going to love him.), pushing me from the bouldering work to the weight bench for heavy wrist curls, then over to the pull up bars for hanging and pull up work. And again. And again, until I couldn't close my hands anymore.
As we sat in the car and I struggled to open my water bottle, I was asked what I thought of the day.
BlogLand, that was AWESOME. Climbing is just another of the sort of challenge that I like, I'm finding. It's you against... you. Can you push through the burning in your arms to make that next move. Can you think through the plan to get yourself into the best position? And, not for nothing, I see this as a great way to get my upper body into shape, without sitting through all the usual upper body WOD stuff that gets tedious.
New Goal: One unassisted pull up before the Vermont Spartan Beast in September.

Sunday found me at my Mom's house, for some more fabulous friends and family time, just chillin'. I realized that right then, despite turning 30 and suffering through all the "old" jokes and what not, I was really, really happy with my life. I had SO MANY wonderful people in my life that supported me through my adventures... and while I may not have seen it at the time, shedding the people in my life that didn't want to be involved, has been a blessing.

Monday rounded out my birthday weekend (hey, it's a 30th birthday, it can be a 4-day celebration, right?), with a return to running. My knee has been feeling pretty good, so it was time to get back into training and get out for a run. I called up one of my running buddies, Stacey, and we set out for a "easy 5K", as I was supposed to be easing back into things. I think Stacey may have said it best in her blog recap:
"So, I headed out for a run with Aja, who is suposed to be in recovery mode still.  Little did I know that when a beast is caged for weeks on end, their eventual release is a sight to behold.  We RAN.  Uphill, through neighborhoods, downhill, up some more, and around the city. "

I swear, Blogland, I had no intention of it happening quite like that... we started out at an easy 11 min/mi. and had to tackle a couple of hills, just because of where we live... but then my knee was feeling good, Stacey was having no problem keeping up, and I guess our speed just crept up. It wasn't until the last 1/2 mile of our blazing 5K that I felt my, 3-week with no runs, lungs protesting just a bit. They were like, uhm, WTF?! What happened about easing back in? But then I hearkened back to the times that my lungs would burn and I would pant just trying to run a mile and I reminded myself that my lungs would not explode... and since my knee felt okay, I just kept running. 

After all was said and done, Stacey and I completed our 5K at a blazing 9:45-9:55 min/mi pace. Maybe not exactly what I had in mind for "recovery"... but it felt GREAT. GREEEAAAT. BlogLand, hear me when I say, I had missed running. Now, just to be careful, I did make sure to walk about a mile of recovery, as well as do all my prescribed stretches when I got home... and I'm happy to say, the knee is doing just fine today.

Looks like I'm in good shape to hit up the Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint this weekend! YAY! Rumor has it is is going to be a hard, ugly one - worse than the Tuxedo, NY one my scars are just healing from... 

All joking aside, BlogLand. It's been an incredible year. At 30 years old, I find myself happy, healthy, focused and charging forward at my goals and ambitions without regret. What else could you ask for?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"It is always the simple that produces the marvelous..."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 351:

One of the most powerful Spartan Race motto's is: Sign Up, Show Up, Don't Give Up. In the last few weeks, I've had a lot of "give up" sort of thoughts, thanks to this injury. Not give up entirely, but I've definitely found my thought train a little less on track, thanks to the frustration and inability to stay on my training program.

HOWEVER. I am unwilling to fail, or regress back to the person I said goodbye to 351 days ago (It was a decision I made almost a year ago and with that decision came great power. That is the key, people: Decide.) . Therefore, BlogLand, the times required a bit of a thought adjustment. If I could not do the things that I was accustomed to to get results... but I still wanted results... well... I'd have to find other things.

As and ye shall receive.

There are times that I know I am on the right track, because the Cosmos not only make the journey free of impediments, but actually help it along. Lately, I've been bitching about my T-Rex arms. And also my inability to do a lot of things with my legs. Suddenly, the Universe graced me with a fabulous new friend - who just happens to be an avid and extremely knowledgeable rock climber. Well, hell.

Guess who got to try bouldering ("Bouldering": climbing outside on challenges ...boulders... that don't require ropes.)??????

So, this is my official badass picture of the day. (What you can't see here is that I'm like 18 in above the ground...) I would like to take this moment to also have a flash of positivity. Instead of focusing on the squishy bit around my middle there (NO!! don't loook!!!), I'm choosing to direct this positive moment at  that calf muscle there. Rawr. T-Rex is in the Hizzzousse, peeps.

 THIS is my Spider Monkey guide... I mean, Climbing Tutor for the day, easily dangling from ledges..... My arms are scared just thinking about that.
 Here is me enjoying one of the best moments.... taking the climbing shoes OFF. haha... Those suckers take a little getting used to.

I did this one for YOU, BlogLand. Post bouldering tired-face, but demonstrating the carrying-equipment look: the thing on my back is a foldable crash pad/mat for when you must bail off the boulders.... Not that I did that (lol)... but I thought you all had to see my best impression of a ninja-turtle look.

So, here's some things I learned about rock climbing through this experience. This, BlogLand, is way hard. Running with a sandbag is hard. Doing burpees is hard... but this is a very specific kind of hard.

My first task was to simply climb a few holds up on this easy rock, then jump down to the crash mats. So, after a few deep breaths - because I'm not sure why this challenge made me a little nervous - I started up the boulder. With my big toes.

Seriously, BlogLand. My big toes were like, what in the HELL is this plan?! Which was shortly followed by my fingers echoing their sentiments.

Then I got to the easy part: Just jump off.
.... or not.

So, in all reality, I had only climbed up like three feet. Maybe four. Jumping down onto hugely thick, squishy foam, complete with a spotter, should've been an non-issue. Yeah. Well. Tell that to my brain. Instead, I glanced down between my body and the rock and was instantly quite SURE that I had climbed the Empire State Building. That crash pad was the size of a postage stamp, my right leg had the nerve-shakes and my fingers dug into my tiny rock holds like the world was ending.

Just. Let. Go.

Sometimes, THAT is the big lesson, BlogLand. At some point, you just have to let go. Maybe that's what I'm learning as I spend tonight closing out my 20's and wondering what my 30's are going to be like. You can prepare all you want, protect yourself all you want, but at some point, your only option is just to surrender to a scary experience: The Unknown.

What's going to happen when I stop clawing at this rock? When I hit that mat, will someone be there to steady me? What if I hurt myself?

What you can not do is cling to the same holds, in a vice grip, for too long. You must just take a deep breath, throw caution to the wind, grow some wings on the way down (any other true cliches?) and just LET GO.

And who knows... you never know what you might learn! The ground is closer than you think, people will catch you, and the mats are pretty damn squishy. But you have to take that chance and do scary things.

Later, whilst making my 4-5th attempt at willing my arm to be 3 inches longer so I could more effectively grab a hold, I realized I am going to like this new sport (and upper body workout. and challenge. ). It has a very unique sort of challenge to it; you must have some creative vision to figure out how you're going to get from here to there, using only tiny natural irregularities in the rock. You must also posses the physicality (or ability to will your fingers into obedience!) to maintain your positioning, stand on your toes and hold yourself to the rock. But it's not a team effort. It's very much YOU vs. Yourself/The Rock. Just the kind of challenge I adore.

Dear Rock Climbing... I have a distinct feeling you may be seeing much, much more of me. (Get ready arms... Beast Mode, Activated!)

Monday, July 2, 2012

It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness. --Seneca

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 348:

Sitting here in a dry pair of my bionic pants (Yeah, CW-X!), my hair frizzed out and drying and some ice on my knee, I have some GREAT NEWS, BlogLand!

I ran a whole 2 miles tonight! WEEE!!!!! It's been 3 weeks since I've been able to run more than 10 steps. I've been grounded, stalled, ouchy, limping, whiny and SO. UNHAPPY. The physical therapist told me that I should try a run today, since he adjusted me on Thursday and I spent the weekend icing, stretching and healing.... but I was to go easy.

It was weird, though... I was scared to go attempt the run. What if I tried to go for the run and I was stopped after a quarter of a mile, or the pain came back? It would mean that I'd have more time off track (no pun intended) while I healed. I was not sure I was going to be able to handle anymore time "off". As much as I wanted to go run, facing the potential reality that I was not yet better, was a little bit nervewracking.

However, I've got a Spartan Race in two weeks that I am determined I'm going to be at, so I might as well get myself a progress report with this knee now.

I laced up my faithful Inov8's (... and noted that they have seen better days. I'm not sure they're going to make it through race season... I am SO SAD. I need to become independently wealthy to be able to afford this habit. ), donned my spandex and headed out the door.

Both my GT and the PT told me I should be very mindful of warming up and cooling down, so I took a 10 minute walk to get my muscles moving... and then lifted into a light, easy run. One block, two blocks..... no pain. My knee felt okay! I have to admit, I struggled keeping the pace easy at that point, because it felt okay... I just wanted to RUN. It's been really pent up in me for 3 weeks, because I've been so limited in my crossfit time even, in addition to my running.... and there was a LOT of run in me. I kept having to check back my pace, to make sure I wasn't going too hard on this initial time out (... no. 9 min miles are not "easy"...). That said, I decided I should try a little incline, as they had been a big instigator of pain in my knee.... I grit my teeth, rounded the corner to the hill and continued up..... no pain. YES!

Just as I had that joyous revelation, the sky opened up. Literally, it downpoured. Torrential epic rains from the sky.... So... stuffed my phone in my sports bra and kept running. I absolutely love running in the rain. It was like the Cosmos were giving me a little reward for hanging out, getting through this training obstacle and getting back to it. I was running without pain, through the rain, soaked to the skin and smiling. All was getting back to well in Aja-land.

I won't lie, BlogLand, the people in the cars must've pretty much thought I was nuts. I was running through my (well-lit) downtown, and there was a ton of traffic. Unless you're a crazy runner (I know most of you are!), you just don't appreciate what's happening when you see someone running at 8:30pm, running in the rain.... and yes, I was splashing through the big puddles! Spartans aren't afraid of a little water.... ;-)

As I trotted back to my house, after just that short 2 miles (it was a struggle to turn for home!), I reminded myself that I really needed to focus and not forget that I was still healing. I needed to cool down. So, another mile of walking to round out the evening. When I got home, I even donned my bionic (cw-x!) compression pants, stretched and stuck some ice on my knee to make sure I was doing everything right. There is no room for it to get more inflamed or keep hurting. I do not have the time nor the desire to continue to deal with this... so I'm trying to follow the directions of my experts.

This morning, I'm really happy to say that it feels like it's pulling, just a little bit.... so I need to keep up on my stretching and keeping the movement light... but it's definitely progress. It is definitely not hurting though, and no where near as stiff and uncomfortable as it has been previously. Deep Breaths, BlogLand, we're all going to be okay.

Having said that, this time has really forced me to have some weird revelations. (Are you ready for this?) I actually LIKE running.

Okay. Wait. That's a lie.

I don't actually like the process of running, necessarily (we're mostly at a happy neutral), but I do like the feeling I get when I finish and the sense of accomplishment from adding another mile, or shaving some more time off my mile times. I had MISSED it, even though I don't entirely love it. Who thought I'd ever say that? (My GT insists he knew that would happen.)

I have really, truly missed Crossfit though, and I'm thinking that maybe this weekend I'll be able to get a chance to go to a class and test out my knee. WEE.

The lesson here is simply, It's Going to Be Okay, BlogLand. And to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, "... if it's not okay, it's not over yet."  Just keep going forward.

Last night I was smiling and running. Tonight I'm going for a kayak. Tomorrow, I'm tackling my first attempt at rock climbing. It's been a pretty epic attitude/life changing year.

In three short days I'm going to turn 30..... and, I'm happy to say, It looks like it's going to be a good year. :-)