Saturday, November 17, 2012

No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read. - David McCullough

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 487:

Unlike seemingly most of the world, I'm not a huge sports fan. I watch the Superbowl for the commericals and the halftime show, March Madness is just a time that the office can only talk about basketball, and the World Series doesn't mean much to me.

Having said that, I love history. When Spartan Race offered us the chance to run a different sort of race in Fenway Park, during it's 100 year anniversary, I had to be there. While the sporting significance didn't hold much sway for me, the chance to run around an iconic historical landmark that has been a huge part of New England history for that long was exciting. Not only that, but having an Obstacle Course Race in the middle of this stadium was unprecendented - we would me *making* history. I didn't hesitate to sign up for this experience (plus, I won't lie, we got a sneak preview of the special medals they would be passing out, and I certainly had to add one to my collection!).

Getting myself to the race was unwritten obstacle number one. Everything went was a bit of an issue. Traffic. Getting to my T-station to park, only to find out it was closed for maintenance, and I then had to park and take a shuttle to the next T-station, to get on a train, to ride into the city, to then walk to Fenway. OH. MY.

I would also like to note, at this time, I was doing this all in CW-X (Yay! Bionic legs!) and a spandex shirt and oversized hoodie. Yes. Public Transit in one of the largest cities in the nation, in SPANDEX. My, how things have changed. I won't lie, I did make sure to wear my Spartan Race hoodie, so hopefully people would make the connection... but ultimately, I wasn't caring. HA!

Nonetheless, by the grace of the public transit gods, I was clad in my number, had my shoe chip-timer on and had handed off my bag to my wee entourage of one (Hi Stacey!), 10 minutes before my starting time with the NE Spahtens. Joining us in the starting corral was Margaret, of Dirt in Your Skirt fame, for her second run of the day (she ended up making 2nd overall! Woot!). I got to chat with Margaret briefly, trying to garner a few tips about the course, before she flew off into the distance with the other speedy people.

I took a moment to look around... I was in the under belly of Fenway Stadium (my first trip to Fenway, ever!), getting ready to be turned loose on my last Spartan Race of the year. I had the privilege to be standing with some of the coolest people I know, helping to make history. I was feeling pretty damn lucky... if a wee bit cold (November in the Northeast can be brisk!). Rumor had it that 60% of the racers were first-time Spartans, purely for the experience of racing in Fenway.

Some of the Spahtens, getting ready to roll!
In no time, the Spahtens (Pronounce Spartan like you're from Southie, and you'll get it...) and I were lined up on our starting dots,  to ensure a wave of 10 was headed out. We had a timed countdown (which, in true SR fashion, consisted of a 10 burpee warmup!), before we were released to start crawling up all the ramps.

Now, as Spartan Race noted, this race was going to be a little different. No mud. No fire. But it would still be Spartan, and they certainly didn't fail to disappoint. We stooped and bear crawled through endless rampways of bungee-cord "barbed wire", stepped over the awkwardly spaced ones in our path and navigated the random waist high one that I pretty much missed and almost sling shotted myself into the people behind me. AWESOME.

I felt reassure that this race would still be Spartan Tough, when I noted that I was pretty sure I had sustained my first bruise and scraped knee, before we'd even been out on the course 10 minutes. In some ways, navigating the hard concrete (and pointy textured!) flooring was more tricky that mud pits... at least on the knees and elbows!

As the crowd thinned out to our "race pace" groups, I found myself trotting along beside Hilary (read her Fenway thoughts, here...), a great Spartan Chick that I've raced with before, who was happy to chat and stick with me - even though I was real whiny to start out, my injury-induced time off making it self known, as I tried to get my body going.

Hilary leads the way,
as we take our first pass at bleachers!
We zigzagged through a unique Fenway obstacle - endless bleachers. Many time throughout the race, we revisited them... sometimes up and down, sometimes horizontally through the aisles, sometimes both... Where Fenway may have lacked in natural mountainous terrain, Spartan was sure we made up in stairs.

Another frequent occurrence was, my favorite (dripping sarcasm), vertical walls. Really tall ones, mostly tall ones, mid height ones, short ones, more tall ones... they were EVERYWHERE. Spartan Race was making sure we earned every inch of the medal we were gunning for at the end. Climbing walls can really take it out of you, BlogLand. It's not particularly *hard*, as there are usually side supports you can climb up (even if you're ungraceful, like myself.), but you have to use a lot of muscles to do it. I have a few nice purple souvenirs on my arms and legs to prove that I did my fair share of walls!

Peculiar to this race were the "stop and workout" stations. Every now and again, you'd come across an "obstacle" that was simply a requirement that you tackle. For instance, stop and do 20 medicine ball slams. Stop and do 20 hand-release push ups. Oh hey, why don't you stop and do 15 burpees, carry this concrete lump and do 15 more burpees? The king of these unique challenges was the Concept2 rowers, that had been programmed specifically for the race. The task: row 500m in 2 minutes.

... it seems so simple, doesn't it?

Thankfully, Margaret had already warned us that 2 minutes goes a lot faster than you think on a rower and that she - an elite and professional racer - had not made her 500m under the 2 minutes, her first time around. I came in prepared and ready to push hard. I'd rather row my butt off until I can't breathe, than have to do 30 burpees.

Hilary and I hit the rowers and pushed off hard. Thanks to CrossFit, I've had some experience with good rowing technique and how to best utilize these tree-trunk legs of mine for maximum row-stroke efficiency. The first minute went smoothly... but I was in a row sprint, and my body was reminding me that it really did not think we could continue this pace for another whole minute. My brain reminded my screaming legs and exploding lungs that we Were. Not. Burpeeing... without a fight. I rowed on, trying to force myself through the last minute.

BlogLand, it was the most intense moment of the race. As I watched my last stroke successfully tick down the meters to zero, the sign flashed "Burpees for you!", and then back to zero. WAAA!! Definitely cut that one a little close, but the volunteer waved me on, and I triumphantly went to leave my rower.

... on legs that were now wobbly Jello. I'm sorry, did you say you wanted me to run more stairs, now!?!

Thankfully, Hilary and I commiserated over our wobbly rower-legs and her positive attitude dragged us forward into an easy jog, just to get the muscles in our legs working again.... on more stairs.

We started to hit some of the more classic Spartan Obstacles, with a little bit of a Fenway twist... a Hercules Hoist... but up and over a stadium beam, rumored to be 36 feet in the air. Some A-frame ladder walls to climb, but again, up and over a series of them, over some beams. We had a rope climb that.... *drumroll*... I HIT THE BELL!!!! (for the first time ever.)

Let me tell you the circumstances of that bell-hitting, though... The Fenway rope climb was significantly shorter than most race rope climbs, due to the rafter space that they could hook to. AND, I had my gal, Hilary's shoulder, supporting my foot, so I had the stabilization to go just that extra bit to the bell. However, nicking that bell (literally, with just the edge of my finger!) was AWESOME, and that little success made me want to work that much harder to make sure I can do the full sized climbs by myself, next season. Rope climb, I'm coming for you!

I'm not going to tell you all the obstacles, because 1) Race Brain prevents me from remembering and 2) you just have to sign up and see for yourself! However, I will tell you, we did get to my favorite obstacle of the day (I'm not sure what that says about me.). We had a heavy sandbag carry, up, down and around a section of bleachers. The sandbag was 60 solid pounds that I know many struggled to even get to their shoulders. Again, I had a moment to reflect on how lucky I felt that I'd had the opportunity to train on lifting, so I was able to get this big ass sandbag to my shoulders with relatively little trouble. Getting my body to truck it up the stairs was another story.

As I first started trudging forward, up the first flight, I was wavering a bit. Struggling to get the sandbag balanced just right and reminding my legs that they certainly did still have a lot left in them (even if they wanted me to think otherwise). Thanks again to Hilary and her Spartan attitude, reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get it done. On we went, past several abandoned sandbags, signaling a racer's quit moment. That wasn't us, not today.

Pic by Boston Globe famous photographer,
Stan Grossfeld
Finishing the sandbag carry brought us into the home stretch - a jog on the infamous warm up track, a 30 burpee station ("Just because!") and a cargo net in front of the Green Monster.
I won't lie, 4 weeks essentially "off" to heal from injuries and very little training left me with some slightly shakey legs at this point (thanks to all the stair work!), but up I climbed, looking out over the famous field and the stadium of racers, spectators and staff. This was a pretty damn awesome hobby I had here, I thought to myself.

With the gladiators in sight, Hilary and I worked through our last workout obstacle - box jumps. Throwing caution to the wind and hoping my healed (?) shin splint was on board, I jumped up onto a box for the first time in quite a while. One jump, then another... still no pain in the leg, so I picked up the pace. A bunch (10? 20? what was it?) of box jumps complete, no pain in my leg, and my Spartan buddy by my side, I was smiling and ready to tackle the Gladiators.

Again, BlogLand, let me tell you a story about how I should learn to keep my mouth shut. Every time that I finish a race, I whine about how the gladiators barely touch me, because I'm a girl. Do I look like I can't handle a few actual knocks with a padded pugil stick? Well, my great race buddy and fellow Spartan, Stacey, happened to be in the stands right behind the waiting gladiators. Having heard me whine about the weak shots each time, Stacey took it upon herself to fix this situation for me. When I came in sight, Stacey enthusiastically instructed all 3 gladiators that they needed to really go after me. Excellent.

At the same time, blissfully unaware that she's whispering instructions in their ear, I jokingly make the "I'm coming for you!" sign at them, and taunt them a bit from afar, as I'm jogging in - hoping to incite at least a slightly harder tap.

Well. It worked. For the first time in my Spartan Race career, those Gladiators showed no mercy and wailed on me from all sides. I was THRILLED. I actually had to shoulder through that last pugil stick a little bit. WELL DONE. Guys, if you're reading, remember, just because we're ladies, doesn't mean that we don't want to earn that last stretch of our race, too!
Shh.. those guns are purely decorative!
Overall, the Fenway Race was everything it promised to be - a historic, never before seen, Spartan Race, in Fenway Park. While there was no mud and no fire, I felt every bit as challenged as I ever have in a race - perhaps just in different ways.

For me, this race had been a question mark for several weeks, wondering if I'd be healed up in time, and in good enough condition to run. By the grace of the Shin Splint gods, with a little help from some ultra sound therapy, as of the week of the race, I was cleared by the Physical Therapist to run. I was worried I'd have fallen out of condition, but still wanted to give it my best shot, for the sake of the experience.

I was slower than usual and feeling stiff and not quite "on game", but I realized that's not why I do these races. Running along and chatting with Hilary and the other racers, trading motivation as we needed it, and lending a hand where we could, was my goal. I love the community I find at these races - old friends and strangers, frequent race buddies and new ones acquired over the course of a few miles. Spartan Race, and it's Spartans, never fail to disappoint. There were Chicks banding together to get up rope climbs, "You can do it!" shouts from the spectators and smiles from the staffers, when you finished an obstacle. I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend, than surrounded by such positivity.

After finishing the race, psyched to still be feeling no pain in my leg (a refreshing moment!), I finally managed to beat the last obstacle of my race season: Catch my elusive GT in some photographic evidence. It was time to document one of the most influential people in my transformation from Couch Sitting professional to full on Spartan Chick (and beyond!).

Pardon the picture quality, but without further ado, Blogland, I'd like to introduce you to my GT, Chris Irving. A round of applause, please.

Me and the GT in Fenway Park!
With a heavy Spartan hoodie on, preventing the post-race chill from kicking in, Stacey and I reluctantly departed the stadium. I'd hugged and waved and laughed and chatted with so many of my favorite Spartans, completed my last Spartan of the season pain-free and made history... all in one Saturday. I'd say it was a damn good day.
Clutching a Dunkin coffee in hand, I said a little goodbye to Fenway, as I headed off to the T.

A great day, an awesome race, and a promise of a bigger and better race through Fenway NEXT YEAR! (AROO!)


Hey! BlogLand, just an aside... it seems that the cargo net photo above, taken by Boston Globe Photographer Stan Grossfeld, will be featured in the "What were they thinking?" column of the Sports section of the Boston Globe this Sunday (complete with a caption, by yours truly!). Keep your eye out! 

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