Monday, October 29, 2012

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 464:

After a really full racing season, a few set backs, detours and Life in General, it is time to get back to a schedule. I plateaued a little bit in the last few months, because my schedule was all crazy and I was trying to do too many things... so, I recognize, it's time to get back to basics.
1) I'm tracking my food intake again (GROAN). This time, I'm attempting to use My Fitness Pal, to take a better look at the calories. I've cleaned out my diet to a mostly-paleo state, but now it's time to work on EXACTLY what is going into my face. I've got about 30 more pounds to go and I'm on a mission, BlogLand.
2) Back to a strict training schedule. Crossfit at least 2x a week, Climbing at least 1x a week, and (as soon as my leg is good to go!) running again. 5-6 days a week of concerted movement. This is the goal.

In light of that, Thursday was my first day back to the CrossFit routine. I was a little worried about how this stupid shin splint was going to respond, but I figured I'd be careful and take it easy, as needed. I couldn't stand just sitting around and waiting for it to fix itself any more (who thought I'd ever say THAT!?).

My Beast-in-Training buddy, Stacey came to pick me up at the crack of dawn (just before 6am) so we could make it to the 6:15am class. BlogLand, my soul was crying at this time of day, but thankfully, my brain wasn't awake enough to know what was going on, so in the car I went.

After a few creaking minutes of foam rolling, filled with the snap-crackle-popping of not-awake joints, we moved onto our warm up:
inchworms, bear crawls, high knees, butt kicks, high skips - all down the length of the gym and back (which results in like 10 inch worms, for reference). I felt nicely warmed up, shin wasn't hurting, though I was aware it was there, and on we moved into the strength piece of the WOD:

  • Back Squats: 4 rounds of 5 reps to get to about 70% of your 1 rep maximum.
It's been a while since I've been squatting, and the doc told me to take it easy on squats with the leg all angry, so I started low and kept it easy. My progression looked like this: 45#, 65#, 85# and 100#. At 100# I was annoyed; back squats are a strong lift for me (YAY Clydesdale legs!), but the tiny-gnomes stabbing knives into my shins had started again. My ration side kicked in and informed me that we didn't want to make this injury worse, so I stopped at 100# and continued onto the main part of the WOD for the day. 

Today's WOD was short and sweet, taking me exactly 5 minutes to complete. 
  • 3 rounds, for time, of:
    • 5 Back squats (55# for me)
    • 10 burpees

That doesn't seem so bad, does it? It's not.... but let me tell you what IS really exciting. After hitting the deck for your first burpee - a move that you are practically a professional at - you feel an uncomfortable twinge in your shin. Down for the second burpee and it becomes all too clear that using your right leg for burpees is not going to be a do-able plan. However, I didn't feel like NOT completing this WOD was a doable plan either.

Well. One-legged burpees it was. Stand on both feet, down and kick out and land only on one (touching down the right toe only for a little balance), one footed jump back to center, gentle two-footed hop up. You know, because burpees didn't suck enough to begin with.

Having to modify my burpees like this definitely slowed me down and by the end, even doing the back squats with that 55# was painful on the leg. My frustration level was running high as I headed home to ice it and get my compression sleeve on to continue the day.

After a day of rest, where my leg decided it felt okay again, I found myself at a fun rock gym in Worcester, MA with the CG. After taking care of his actual business there, we got to sneak in some climbing. I was stoked - these walls were twice the height (some more than that!) of the ones I've been practicing on. Leg taped and feeling good, I harnessed up and away we went.

I'm not afraid of heights, but I won't lie, the first time I got halfway up the wall, I had a bit of nervous moment. I had to take a second to remind myself that I was securely harnessed in and it was just the same as I was used to.

Here's yet another instance where part of this life transformation thing, where I'm trying new activities and stretching my limits, is actually more mental than physical. Stacey gave me a great quote the other day that is perfect here:
"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."

Just after I'd quickly rallied and pushed on another couple of moves, I had to bail and get lowered down. The leg made itself known, again. I came down, stretched out some more, rested and resolved to try again.

After a couple more attempts (resulting in one, long, steeper than usual, successful climb), I had to quit. By the end of the last climb I was gritting my teeth to finish, because the knife-stabs in my shin had taken over, every time I put any pressure on my right leg. ARGH! I also discovered that walking on soft surfaces (like the padded floor of a climbing gym) are decidedly not awesome once the shin splint gets angry. *sigh* Total climbing for the day? Maybe about 20 minutes, versus the usual 2+ hours.

I can't explain to you the tantrum my inner 5 year old had/is having over this injury. I'm doing all the right things to get it to heal, but the waiting is killing me. I can't run. I can't squat, I can't climb... what's left? Just weeks and weeks of pull ups?? (For the love of God, NOOOOO!!)

My T-Rex arms are quaking in fear and wishing my leg a really speedy recovery.

It is hard not to feel discouraged at a time like this, BlogLand. I'm back to being limited in the things I can do - something I haven't really felt since I was 284# and struggling to walk up the stairs. I've had some minor delays along the way, but nothing like this stupid Shin Splint. This one has me down for the count and really wracking my brain to try to find ways to keep up the training without making it worse.

However, my GT is keeping me in line and reminding me of the things to focus on. Maybe this is a REALLY excellent time to refine my nutrition. My CG has been reminding me that there are other things to work on - like my t-rex arms - in the interim.

All is not lost. Yes, I had to pull out of the half marathon... but there's always next year. Yes, Fenway is in a little over 2 weeks... but 2 weeks is a long time. One day at a time, and I'm going to get better.

SO. Chin up, BlogLand... whatever your stumbling block right now - money, a plateau, an injury, whatever - there's a way around if you think hard enough.

Now... I'm off to do some more stretching and foam rolling before bed.....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” ― Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 459:

You may have noticed, Blogland, how quiet I've been over here... Here's the thing: SHIN SPLINT. Holy Pain in the Leg, Batman. Long story short, I wore a crappy pair of old sneakers one day and BAM. Set of an inflammation that every runner dreads - shin splints. I'm pretty sure there was/is a tiny gnome stabbing a knife into my shin every time I try to flex my foot, run, squat or otherwise engage the front of my leg (you'd be suprised at how often you do this). Admittedly, I had quite an internal temper-tantrum about being "benched" again and not able to run for (possibly) WEEKS. Thanks to this injury, I've had to back out of the half marathon I was schedule to run in a week or so, and I'm just crossing my fingers that I'm going to be okay to run by the time the Fenway Spartan comes up. Ugh. BUT, I'm following doctor's orders and treatments and I've got my head back in line so I'll be doing what I CAN do, not focusing on all the things I can't.

SO, per the Doc's clearance and the fact that the pain in my leg had receded, I decided to try a local Zombie 5K with my long-time (and upcoming Spartan!) friend, Tim in honor of his birthday. Because really, who doesn't want to get chases by Zombies on their birthday?

My inital impression of this run was that it was definitely the first-time attempt at organizing and event like this. Having experienced many of the more established organizations that put on mud runs and races, the Zombie Run group has a little ways left to go; BUT, as I said, I hear it was their first year, so I'm happy to cut them some slack on the little things (like getting your t-shirt prior the the race, not having a bag check, and having to go find the waiver table, when you are automatically directed to registration FIRST, but can't register without a waiver....).

We were funneled into our 11:30 wave and provided our belts and flags. Our flags were our "lives" and the goal was not to lose them to the Zombie hordes (seems easy enough, right?). Our group was given a briefing at this time at the rules (No. Please do not punch the Zombie if he pops out and scares you...) and then corralled to await our start time.

When it was time to go, we were walked as a group by all the Spectators, which felt a little bit like Gladiators parading to the arena. We were here to do battle with Zombies, who knows if we'd come out alive. Releasing us to the race, we ran through some empty pathways on the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds (which, Zombie Run made a good point, is a little creepy when it's not filled with people and rides, etc.).

Before we saw any Zombies, we did see a crab-apple tree, that many people were picking up apples from. You see, we were told that an Apple was the "secret botanical" that could bring us across the finish line "Alive" even if we had lost all our flags. However, I'm pretty sure that this incidental crab-apple tree was not exactly what the organizers had intended (we later learned that there was actual big pretty apples to be had later on...). I did grab my crab apple and off Tim and I went, with our tiny apple safety nets tucked away in our spandex - just in case.

At this point, I have to admit, I was feeling the fact that I hadn't been able to run for 2 weeks prior to this. I had gotten over this god awful respiratory cold and what not, and I still wasn't feeling 100% on the running, but I was keeping up with the masses and all seemed to be well.

Our course took us on a cool detour through a big empty building, where the Zombie make up was being applied. Incidentally, Zombie Run, you get a HUGE A+, gold star on the presentation of the Zombies. Nightmare VT (who did the make up), did an exceptional job, in my opinion.

Warm up over... it was down to business, all of a sudden. We were funneled through a flat field, littered with zombies and big barrels to further obstruct our path. Further, the only way out was through a reallllllllyyyy small opening, gaurded by not one, but TWO zombies.

It is worth noting, as we dived into the fray, that there are actually two kinds of Zombies to be encountered.... slow zombies, who are basically stationary, or slow shuffling, reaching obstacles and Fast Zombies (think Zombie Land!), who are running you down.

Losing my first flag in the bottleneck gate, I encountered my first Fast Moving Zombie (FMZ), who seemed to come out of no where and set his undead gaze on me, only. And FMZ lived up to his name and was a SPEEDY mo' fo. We Zigged, we Zagged and I ran my little tail off, trying to not only out run and out maneuver him, but to avoid the Slow Moving Zombies (SMZ) that swayed and reached like seaweed in an ocean current.

Finally out running FMZ, suddenly thankful for all that Sprint work that the GT had assigned me, I walked in the empty grassy area and attempted to catch my breath. It seems that I had VASTLY underestimated the psychological response to being concertedly chased. Not only do you run faster than you thought, motivated by crazy adrenaline and a desire to save yourself, but you go completely tunnel vision on moving forward and getting away. I may have forgotten about my team-mate, Tim, in the craziness and spun around to make sure he'd come out the other side. Tim jogged over, smiling and energized and hopped up on adrenaline and on we trotted.

Right about here... maybe 1/2 mile into the roughly 5K race, the pain in my leg started to make itself known as a bit of a dull ache. Nothing I couldn't power through. Slow jog and on the lookout for the undead, we pressed on.

While this wasn't billed as an "obstacle" race per se, we did encounter a couple along our way. There was a series of three hay bale pyramids to get up and over, each time a little higher and with many zombies waiting to snatch your precious flags on the other side. Thankfully the majority of them were SMZ. I made it out of these alive (thanks to my Spartan perspective on attacking obstacles)... but lost my second flag to a FMZ masquerading as a SMZ until my unsuspecting self passed a little to close. It was interesting, the hay bales were not a hard obstacle, but the anticipation of the Zombie chase on either side of them definitely provided an additional level of heart-pumping action to keep them interesting.

Here's the point that I had a few complaints with Zombie Run... this first stage of the race was pretty good: more challenging than I'd expected and packed together at good distances (close enough to stay engaged, but far enough apart to be able to catch your breath). Once we got by that initial segment, though, things got a little thin. We had some long stretches (flat, thankfully), where there was nothing - no obstacle, no zombie - that were then followed by areas that funneled you into a TON of zombies that were impossible to get out of alive. Much to our dismay, Tim and I were out of flags by about the halfway point of the race.

At this point, I was frustrated at my body. The leg was really painful and I was speed-walking with a pronounced limp. After what - a mile and a half?! ARGH. We hit a out and back on a paved road, where we were promised water at the end of it. As I attempted to trot along it, I brought up short in my tracks, as the hard surface really exaggerated the shooting pain in my leg. No jogging. Just walking. Noted, Body. I would like to note, this was a decent distance out and back on this paved road that literally had zero point (no obstacles, no zombies), other than to add distance to the race. Where this was an untimed race, I'm not sure what the point of this was, Zombie Run? (again, you're forgiven, as this is your first organized race. A minor infraction.)

Power-Limping (I'll be damned if I would have a DNF on a tiny, flat 3K course!) on, we got to a cool point in the race - a station where you could earn a life back! All you had to do was take that paintball gun there and nail one of those zombies taunting you over there. With my three shots I racked up three epic misses, but Tim (an experienced paintballer) tagged one of those zombies right in the forehead, to win himself another flag.

As we went on, now with renewed purpose (the zombies TRY to get you if you have a flag... without a flag, you're not of much interest to them...), we hatched a game plan. I would run interference and we would do whatever possible to keep Tim "alive" with his flag. I ran at zombies, ducking and weaving and using my body as a block, trying to give Tim (who proved to be speedy and nimble!) any possible opening to get out of the groups unscathed. Having said that, it became clear to me that in these Zombie races, the bigger your team, the better. With me as the only blocker, it was near impossible to be everywhere that was needed to protect the flag-carrier. Next year, we need to roll into this race with an entourage at least 4-5 deep.

Meeting with some success, we were funneled into a corral, where we met the only other actual "obstacles" of the day: a large circle of downed farm gates, in various configurations, that required you to low-crawl through the mud to get through them. Here's my critique... I wasn't sure of the point. Basically, you came off the path, crawled (or rolled! Thank you Spartan Race for teaching me that!) under at least 15 of these things in a big circle, then went on your merry way. Without any officials to moderate this, we saw many racers just skip the extra effort and continue on the path. Not one to skip an obstacle, Tim and I did every single one and braved the Zombie again to push back out onto the course.

With our one precious flag still remaining, we hit the biggest challenge of the day: the Barn. Picture this: a U-shaped barn that you had to go through, infested with SMZ that wanted your flag. Bad. Here's where the big-team would've come in handy. Tim and I turned into our Ninja Alter-Ego's, and ducked and weaved and spun, but their numbers were just too many. In a valiant display of effort, we were ultimately thwarted - the LAST (!!!) Zombie managed to snag Tim's flag on the way out.

As we Limp-walk/trotted the rest of the uneventful course, we were comforted by the fact that we did still at least have our secret saviors: apples tucked away in our spandex! We'd be bringing ourselves home muddy and limping, but ALIVE!

Finish line in sight, I rallied and we ran over a tiny little Fire Jump, where I chose the Spartan Route - jumping over and landing square into the puddle on the side. SADLY, it appears the camera man was not there to capture that moment, as I'm thinking it would've made a cool picture. (As a side note - again, a product of it being their inaugural year - there definitely weren't enough photographers. The pictures that were taken seem to be very limited, compounded by a very expensive price tag. Eh.... C- on this part, Zombie Run.)

As we finished and pulled out our apples triumphantly, we were greeted with water and a pretty cool finish medal. To me, as a complete bling-'ho, I LOVE it when I get another medal to add to my collection. A muddy number and a T-shirt are nice... but a medal, that's some hardware (even if it's not of the highest quality). A+ in this area, Zombie Run... many other races of this level would've just stuck to the T-shirts. Good choice.

Tackling the last obstacle of every mud run, Tim and I laughed and joked while enduring the cold hose-off (which feels much colder at the end of October! Whoa!).

At the end of the day, there were WAY worse ways to spend a Saturday morning than having a fun little challenge with your BFF and earning a t-shirt and some race bling.

My official review of the race? Well, I'm going to give them another chance, and probably try it again next year, but there are definitely some areas that need improvement. Long stretches with nothing to do are not all that fun, when you're running a "Zombie Run". Conversely, having the Zombies grouped SO heavily at other areas that there is no WAY you can come out alive, also not so fun. Next year, I think spreading them out a little, and having more random areas for them to surprise attack, etc. might be a better strategy. Also, having a few more areas where you could earn/win back a flag would be cool, as the race turns into just a plain 5K pretty quickly when the Zombies are no longer interested in a runner without a flag! The pricing was a little steep for this years product.... but there was major potential here - a great location, AWESOME zombies, they got the t-shirts and medals right - so I think a similar price next year, with some adjustments to the strategy, would be reasonable for this kind of event. I think maybe I'd give this Zombie Run an overall grade of like a B-.

Personally, I had a pretty damn good time and am glad I checked it out. Ultimately, I must admit, I'm glad it turned out a bit easier than expected, as my leg was NOT at ALL happy with my efforts and I was in a whole lot of pain by the time we got in the car to head out.

But Zombies beware... Tim and I took notes this year, and will be tackling the next one with a strategy!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"You're running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You're delirious. But you keep running because there's no way out of this hell you're in, because there's no way you're not crossing the finish line. It's a misery that non-runners don't understand." -Martine Costello

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 446:

Another check mark in my Bucket List of new, awesome, active things to do... I finished a Half Marathon.

13.1 miles.


A lovely Columbus Day Long weekend brought the Leaf Peepers Half Marathon to my race schedule. It was supposed to be a great race - 70% not on pavement - and right at peak foliage. The weather was brisk and overcast, just the way I like it to run. Low 50's had me comfortable in a long sleeve running top and a fall breeze promised that I wouldn't be too hot.

I would, however, be a snotty mess.

A couple days leading up to the race, I wasn't feeling so hot. Allergies, I tried to assure myself... but then, it became inevitable: I had a cold. As the simple head cold morphed into a monster of a coughing, sneezing mess, I sat on Saturday night before the race in great conflict. I really wanted to do this race - it was a "big" race, I had a lot of people coming to spectate, a lot of support of other people I knew running, the course was good.... but I felt awful. I wanted to cry in frustration. I didn't know what to do, what the smart decision was, and on top of that I was, in no small part, worried about my ability to actually run 13.1 miles.

I've trained for this, I've done longer, more brutal Spartan Races... but that's not a 13.1 mile road race. In a road race, it's you, the road and your body... there's no obstacles to break it up, no varying challenge. The challenge stays constantly between you and your brain and your body. And I'd never tested this particular limit before. I also didn't really want to test it out the first time while sporting a doozy of a head cold. Argh. What to do.

Like many of my generation, I threw my frustration to FaceBook, where my Spartan's answered and gave me the kick in the ass that I needed; so what if I needed to walk, theoretically, I've done much harder things (I finished the grueling VT Spartan Beast, which had a finish rate of like 38%!), and so what if I'd be a snotty, spitting mess. Get it done... "With my shield, or on it." as one reminded me.

So, with a new determination, I ate some handcrafted, goodness filled chicken soup that my CG made me, drank inordinate amounts of tea and honey, continued hydrating and dosed up on some NyQuil for a solid night's sleep.

I woke up feeling... less bad. Took my DayQuil (figured I'd need all the help I could get to keep this cold at bay), ate a good breakfast, drank a small Dunkin' Donuts coffee (om nom nom!), and wriggled into my CW-X (if ever bionic legs were going to be needed...).

The crew from my work,
(l-r), Me, Kim and PJ
Registering for this race was interesting. We got our nice long-sleeve t-shirts and pasta sauce. Yep. Pasta sauce. Now, I've gotten medals from races, energy bars, t-shirts, pint glasses... but never pasta sauce (as it turns out, one of the sponsors was a local Italian restaurant that makes their own).

Then, I began the nervous process. I definitely was not feeling anywhere close to 100%. My muscles felt okay, which was the only thing keeping me at that starting line. I was just praying that my breathing would be cooperative.

In no time, the gun was going off and my race-pace buddy April and I trotted off. The plan was to start easy, as we did have 13+ miles, and then we'd separate as our abilities diverged. I was seriously not sure how this was going to go and I knew that April was strong over this distance, despite this being her first Half.

The first 3-4 miles were no problem at all. Our easy pace allowed my body to warm up, all my sinus' to open (the cold air helped too!), and after a ridiculous amount of spitting out the nastiness (I'm sorry fellow runners! I stayed to the side and spit in the grass!), I was feeling pretty good. 4-5 miles is a comfortable distance for me these days and the dirt road that we had hit was not too bad on the joints. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

Leaf Peepers had great organization and wonderfully positive volunteers at each water stop, at every 2 miles. I resolved that would be the way I'd run the race - from water stop to water stop, without thinking too far ahead. April and I reached the halfway (6 mile) water stop in pretty good shape, having not walked for more than 15-20 seconds at each previous water stop just to be able to swallow our water. We allowed ourselves a 30-45 second walk to chew down some energy chews (I'm loving the Clif Blox, Margarita flavor, with extra salt!) and were right back at it. All was looking pretty promising. I was still holding a steady, even pace, despite it not being breakneck, I estimated we were holding a solid 11 min/mi. I would be happy finishing that way.

Here's where I should mention that this course was not flat. It wasn't a Spartan Race by any means and I hadn't been struggling with the frequent short rolling hills, to this point. In fact, they had been strong point for me, often passing people on hills, as I was able to keep a steady pace, while they fell back. There were a few shining moments I was proud of, in that respect. Clydesdale Legs, for the win.

However, at the quick 15-20 second walk break at mile 8, April and I both remarked that it was becoming more of an effort to start back up. I noted I was struggling more than usual and my legs weren't feeling quite as burly as I'm used to... but we were way more than half way. Finish was the option.

Mile 9ish, or 9.5 saw the first time that I really had to admit that I wasn't running at 100%. We were facing a decent hill and I didn't have the breath or oomph in my legs to run it. Telling April I needed to walk, I gave her the green light to go on with out me, as I  didn't want to slow her down. As I walked up the hill, I noticed that my breathing, where it had previously been pretty full and steady, had become more labored and I'd developed a wheeze. Either the cold meds had worn off, or the cold was catching up with me and reminding me that I was, in fact, human.

At the top of the hill, maybe 20-30 seconds later, I picked back up into a trot and pushed on until the mile 11 marker.

Then, my race got ugly. Real Ugly.

The whole time April was with me, I'd had a buddy to chatter on with, and keep my mind off my body. Also, someone to push me on and encourage in the moments when things are sucking (when you're running that distance, things sucking is inevitable). Now I was alone and very aware of my compromised state. My breathing was not doing well at all, and I was starting to feel some stiffness really set in my hips - not a problem I'd run across before. There was a dull ache in my ankles from the concussion of tired footfalls back on the pavement and I was running alone; which meant the war was just me and my brain, now.

Miles 11-13 were some of the longest of my life. I fought. I knew I was at the back of the pack of finishing, but I was determined not to be last. Around mile 12, as I pushed myself into a trot ("just until that sign"), I wanted to cry, at the discomfort that surged through my legs and the amount of argument my body threw back at me.

I trotted just past the sign. I feel back into a brisk walk, hoping to stretch out whatever the hell my hip was doing. I pushed back into a slow, labored trot for another sign, or telephone pole or two, and screamed inside with a feeling of defeat every time my body dragged me back down to a brisk walk. It was quitting on me.

That was something I'd never felt before. I've trekked 14+ miles of black diamond ski trails of over 5000 ft elevation gains and 35+ obstacles that challenged every part of my body, and I've never felt this feeling.

I wondered if my body COULD run to the finish. Apparently, sickness had taken more out of me than I'd allowed myself to feel. I wheezed. I felt my shoulders slump and my head hang a little lower, as my walk "breaks" became more like Walks, with run breaks.

I wanted to be done. I wanted it to be over. I was no longer having fun. But I had passed mile 12, which meant I was ALMOST there, and my head rallied around the fact that DAMNIT, I would earn the right to say I completed the half marathon this day, to the best of my ability.

There was a guy in a light blue shirt in front of me. Coughing and struggling, I hauled my legs into a slow, shuffling trot, that I intended to keep up - no matter how I felt - until I passed him. I got 10 feet by him, and back down to a walk. He was struggling and walking. But I was past him. I felt him creeping up on me. I closed my eyes, winced at the pain in my hip and demanded my muscles trot a little more. Just to the end of the bridge. Back to a walk.

Somewhere around this point, maybe just over a half mile from the end, my Stepmom and step sister came across me walking and wheezing. They gave me some much needed company and distraction from my body, as well as a few sips of cool water, as I power walked a bit more.

I saw the traffic lights that signaled the turn to the quarter mile-ish home stretch. With resolute determination I decided that, no matter what, I'd run from those lights across the finish line - regardless of the pain, or how slow I had to run.

I hit the corner and started trotting. It certainly wasn't pretty. My body was in full rebellion.

With not too much left to go, Light Blue Shirt Guy suddenly comes running out of nowhere, I glance to see him immediately on my left and coming in strong.
Running to the finish,
Chicking the Guy In Blue!

Oh. Hell. No.

I'd worked to beat him - if no one else - and he wasn't going to take it from me in the last 30 seconds.

My body got in gear, shoving the pain and discomfort into some deep dark well in my brain for later, and powered forward. I wouldn't say it was a sprint, but it was the fastest I'd moved for many miles, and it was at least a strong, brisk run.

My legs carried me at that pace across the finish line, allowing me to finish in 2:47.

Rear View of my finish, coming up
on my throng of amazing supporters!
I felt so many things, as I shuffled to a stop after my chip stopped the timer: Immediate relief that I was now "allowed" to just stop. Raging disappointment in my body and the time that it had forced me to settle with. Pride that I'd finished. Grateful for the mass of people that was gathering around me, after cheering me over the line, now passing me bananas and recovery shakes and congratulations.

Post-Race Banana BLISS!
2:47. 13.1 miles. The goal in my head had been under 2:30. I was nowhere NEAR that. But, I'd gotten to the start line, despite being under the weather, and I'd crossed the finish line, despite wanting to cry, rip my legs off, and just quit. Yeah, I'd pondered flagging down the bike medic and letting him take me off course.

My disappointment was pushed aside as I was brought back to reality as my legs screamed at me. I had done exactly what you should not do at the end of something like this - I'd crossed the line, and stopped moving. I'd stood still for a decent amount of time, talking to my friends, chewing down a banana and part of a bagel and generally not moving. My legs were seizing. I was coughing. Now I was getting cold.This was only getting uglier.

It was time to hobble back to the car and I refused to let the CG bring it closer to get me, as I knew - in some rational, sensible part of my brain - that I needed to walk this out a bit. I hobbled a really slow 3/4 of a mile back to the car, in the most searing pain I've ever been in, after or during a run/race. My hips were crying. Every time I tried to bend my knee or lift it over a curb, tiny invisible daggers shot into my leg. Ahh yes, my leg muscles had seized, after the exertion.

Tears welled into my eyes, but I made it back to the car and sat down for the first time in over 3 hours. I can't tell you how much I appreciated the following 20 minute car ride, just then. Just to not have to move of my own power.

Before we went out to a recovery-meal (I look forward to those. Never does food taste quite this good.), I stood in a blazing hot shower for a solid 20 minutes, coughing out all the cold air, breathing in the steam and trying to soothe and stretch my legs.

That hot shower finally allowed me to feel a little more human (and I think the Ibuprofen may have started kicking in), and let me evaluate what had happened, with a clearer thought process.

It hadn't gone well. Particularly the last two miles. However, I truly believe that was not for lack of training, or preparation, or fueling... simply that my body was already stressed fighting a sickness that was more serious than I thought.... and to run 13.1 miles, you're pushing your body to your limits (at least I am).

My time was horrid. But I did finish. I fought the urge to quit, I still ran over the finish line, and I didn't give up - even when I had every good reason to.

I need to pay more attention at the end of these hard races - don't. stop. moving. I know better than that. I was in raging pain, partially because I'd over taxed a body that was not at 100%, and partially because I'd stopped moving and dismissed warming down my muscles, in favor of what felt good at the moment: stopping.

I declared at the end of this Half Marathon that I hated it and didn't think I ever needed to do this again, now that I'd crossed it off my bucket list.

That assessment may have been a little severe and colored by the pain I was in at the time.

Granted, I am very sure, particularly after this race, that I am not in love with road races. Nor am I particularly in love with distance running. My strength is short bursts - 5-10K runs, sprints, lifting heavy weights... but not sustained endurance runs like this. That does not, however, mean I'm not going to do them. In fact, that may be why I continue to put them on my schedule - at least once a year. One must always push to improve their weaknesses.

This, too, was probably not the best way to evaluate my feeling about half marathons, because I'm thinking that being sick made this one a lot more grueling than it might have been under other circumstances. I know my body can usually handle much, much more than that.

Therefore, in about a month, I'll be keeping my registration to run the All Women and One Lucky Guy half marathon in Newburyport, MA, with two of my favorites - Peyton and Stacey. Peyton's a veteran, but it will be Stacey's first half, and I'd like to think, my first real solid effort at a half - I don't want this Leaf Peeper finish to count.

After that, I'll make a better evaluation about distance running. As of right now, I'm a firm believer that every distance over 5K should have a big mud puddle, something heavy to move and something to climb.

With that, BlogLand, I'll leave you to ponder this quote which encompasses the feelings I'm trying to solidify about my performance in this race:

"You also need to look back, not just at the people who are running behind you but especially at those who don't run and never will... those who run but don't race...those who started training for a race but didn't carry through...those who got to the starting line but didn't in the finish line...those who once raced better than you but no longer run at all. You're still here. Take pride in wherever you finish. Look at all the people you've outlasted."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"There are only two options regarding commitment: you're either in or you're out. There's no such thing as life in between."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 431:

On Thursday, July 21st, 2011, I did the hardest thing I've ever done in my life: I decided to change it. Completely, utterly, and dramatically. I got off the couch.

On Saturday, September 22nd, 2012, as darkness shrouded Killington Mountain, a cold early-autumn breeze cutting through my ever-damp and muddy clothes, I did the second most difficult thing I've ever done in my life: I crossed the finish line of the Spartan Beast.

The Beast was the race that started it all for me, as I stood filling up cups at the water station, on a whim, as volunteer. Now, it would serve as the shining capstone of accomplishment, in a year of physical and mental transformation.

In an awesome turn of events, I had been adopted by the MA/New England Spahtens and ended up running the race with the very first Spartan Chick I ever met in person, Jessica. Jess and I buddied up as the mountain gradually separated racers into their "comfortable" paces (Are you ever really "comfortable" when trekking a mountain like this?).

The next 8-9 hours were a blur, BlogLand. I can't describe to you the obstacles, the sights, the sounds... a week later and my brain can't even process the events of the day. In fact, I have written this post four times, this week, scrapping each attempt with disdain,  not feeling like I've done justice to the epic scope of the event.

With a little editorial help, a thought was given to me: I can't write it, because I'm afraid the result is not good enough. Fear. Fear was preventing me from writing about The Beast. With further reflection on this sudden profound thought, it occurred to me that that is what Spartan Race means when they tell you that You'll Know at the Finish Line. They can't tell you what you will have learned about your self, but they can tell you that you will cross that line a new person.


Because you spent the entire race - be it sprint, super, beast or ultra - fighting your demons, eluding your insecurities and looking your Fear right in the face.

As I stood at the base of Killington Mountain, goose-bumps rising in early fall breeze (or was that nerves and terror?), standing shoulder to shoulder with the 300 Spartans that I would begin my journey with, I worried. Had I packed enough fuel? Was my recently-injured ankle going to hold up? Had I trained enough? Skipped too many runs? How stupid did I look in my spandex, next to all these Beast-worthy Spartans?

Like the starting line of every Spartan Race, we were facing the mountain, knowing our first task would be to run up it. The purpose, I'm convinced, is so that as your adrenaline starts to surge through your body, you're left to ponder - with concern - that which lies ahead. At the very least, you start acknowledging the difficulty of what you are about to do. I stood staring up at Killington Mountain in quiet panic. THIS was a race for fit people. This was an event for real athletes. I knew, as much as anyone can know from scouring the rumors and FaceBook posts, how hard this was going to be - all part of the plan, Spartan Race?

And yet. I was standing there. Obstacle One, Get Off Couch, Get to Starting Line: Complete.

Jess and I had 8 hours of adventures that followed that first "Aroo!" and jog through the smoke and columns. With every minute the fears and challenges pressed in around us. Sometimes, they were external, as Spartan Race asked us to asses our fear of heights and swing from ropes suspended over frigid water; other times, they were internal, as your mind tried to convince your body it couldn't go on because the woods were too deep, the ascent too high, the wall too tall.

Initially, your little battles lead to easy victories... The race gets you over some short walls, a mud pit or two, a jog through the sun. Minor challenges, easily surmountable when your brain is focused and your body is fresh.

Then, you are tested. What will you do when your calves are shooting acid as you press up the hill? How will you answer when that Atlas Stone carry seems just a little too heavy? Will you step up when your bravado wears thin and your weaknesses start to show? As you cross the monkey bars with grit in your eye, rocks in your shoe and an internal assurance that your shoulders are pulling out of their sockets, do you reach forward again, or bow your head in deference to the obstacle that's beaten you? (Yes, every time I do a penalty-burpee, I internally curse the obstacle that is forcing me to bow before it.)

Here, where your fear is laid out neatly in front of you and your comfort thrown to the wind, Spartan Race - and it's participant - separates itself from every other race of it's kind: it dares you to go further.

Can you stand your mental monologue while climbing up, sometimes on your hands and knees, a goat path through the woods, where there is no end in sight... just more UP? When you get to mile 8 or 9, after working for hours, will you heft that sandbag and pull that sled on muscles long burned out of their reserves... will you drop into another cold bath to conquer the rope traverse with your already chilled to the core body? When you crest the last hill, only to find a 10 foot wall at the top, and all part(s) of your body screaming at you (some louder than others), do you eye it with resolve to get up an over some way some how, or defeat, because you fear your body has nothing left?

The Beast growled a greater challenge still to the Spartans that continued forth; it laid you bare to the bones of yourself.

In a constant state of wet, gritty and muddy, your body already pushed, bruised, strained and pulled to every extreme, your knees and ankles aching from the extreme ups and downs, hunger sets in, and for me, so did the darkness. Still on the mountain, as the sun set and the light mist started to sputter from the solid-dark sky, we were handed our most primal fear - darkness. Could you press forth, hearing the skittering animal feet in the leaves to your right? Will you move forward and don your Hobie-Band (a rough obstacle for 13+ miles of mountain worn legs) to finish the obstacle, with just the dim circle of light from your headlamp?

Finally, you hear it... the thumping music of the festival in the distance, signaling safety, sustenance and the right to stop. However, you emerge from the woods, hurting, wincing, sweating, but moving... only to find that The Beast is not done with you yet. You can see by fire light the comforts of The End, the arms of your supporters eager to hug their congratulations, the elusive green medals clinking in the distance, the thought of a warm sweatshirt at the forefront of your thoughts.

A Valiant Attempt...
.... and yet... you are sent down to your belly to crawl again, to fight past the throbbing in your knees and elbows as you roll them over rocks for the third time that day. You stand in front of the masses and hurl your spear with the desperation of a huntsman that hasn't brought down a catch in months, agonizingly burpeeing out the penalty of failure.

The last set of penalty burpees...
(Hey! Is that a bicep?!)
Rallying your muscles to throw yourself into one last feat, you drag yourself to the top of the slippery wall, momentarily sitting on top of your plywood mountain to survey the homestretch.

This is it.

This is the moment that the Spartan in you awakens. So far beyond the tolerances you thought you had, the pain threshold you thought you knew, the steps your legs could take, the fear you thought you had, you find yourself eyeing the final two obstacles.

At every Spartan Race, the last two obstacles are symbolic and integral to your Finish Line Realization.

In the darkness, with a sputter of energy I didn't know I had, I ran - because every racer runs, regardless of their state at the time - into the horseshoe of fire. Spurred on by the race, the mountain, the misconceptions, the doubts, the obstacles that I was leaving behind and now surrounded by fire, you leap - flinging your arms into the air in triumph. Why is every racer's fire-jump picture so inspirational? Because it is here that they are reforged - literally in the fire - and emerge on the other side.

Landing your jump, you have one last task before your Spartan realization is solidified: The Gladiator Pit. You - exhausted and depleted mentally and physically - are facing a gauntlet of formidable, armed opponents, focused only on delaying your crossing to the Finish Line.

You Run (they always run.), headlong, into the fray. Here, with every gladiator's jostle, every tap of the padded pugil stick, every evasive duck, you prevail against the forces that could've prevented you from finishing. A pugil stick for that seizing IT band, a dodge to the left for the thought process that told you you couldn't see the end, a shoulder check back to the gladiator for the moment a frustrated tear had welled up in your eye at mile 11.

No Spartan Left Behind. Chicks Starting together,
Conquering together, Finishing together.
Bolstered by your victory, you bound - injured, cold, hungry and tired alike - across the finish line, skidding to a muddy stop to receive your prize. A medal. A medal placed around your neck, symbolizing all you've been through, all the monsters you faced, the fears you looked square in the eye. A medal, representing things singular to you and that finish line, capturing the old version of yourself that you gave to the mountain, and reminding your new Spartan Self from whence it came.

You'll Know at the Finish Line, is the truth. What will you know? It depends on you, the day, the race, the mountain. Tilting my head to receive my blazing green Beast medal, I knew that my friends and fellow Spartans were more important than my finish time, this *was* the body of an athlete in the making (even if it didn't look like it, especially in muddy spandex...), that I was tougher and more determined than any fear, doubt or insecurity I had, if I decided to be, and that I have no limits - because I can redefine them at will.

With that, BlogLand, I will leave you with a quote to ponder:

"Nothing is impossible; there are ways that lead to everything, and if we had sufficient will we should always have sufficient means. It is often merely for an excuse that we say things are impossible." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

My Dad came to see his First Spartan
Race, and my 8th - and most monumental
Spartan Finish.
A little over a year ago, sitting on my couch, I'd grown complacent with letting life happen to me and thought the possibility of becoming anything other than what I was was never going to happen. Running was impossible. Losing 80+ Pounds were impossible. Obstacles were impossible. Fitness was impossible.

Now, I've completed the Spartan Beast (and with it, the cherished Trifecta) - 14 miles of the most difficult physical hell of my life, outlasted 70% of the racers that started, was still walking upright the next day, and began entertaining the thought of facing the Ultra Beast next year.

Nothing is impossible; I know The Beast uttered a snarl of approval, as I learned that at the Finish Line.