Sunday, November 17, 2013

Yoga: "Bullshit rainbow unicorn calisthenics"... or not...

I over actively recovered on Rest Day...

Typically, Sundays are a Rest Day for me, where I sleep in, recharge my batteries and prep for the craziness that will be my life the following week... this week, thanks to the new gym membership, I decided to mix it up a bit and try something different.

I got up early this morning and went to BodyFlow, lead by a high school friend of mine (and fitness inspiration!) Shelley. Supposedly, BodyFlow is supposed to be like Tai-Chi, Pilates and Yoga mushed together. That sounds relaxing and like a good stretch and stuff, doesn't it? Sounds like a great way to start an "active recovery day" right?


They  neglect to inform you that you will STILL get your ass handed to you.

When I got there, I was happy to learn that this was a no-shoes class. While I know many of you are grossed out at the thought of going shoe-less in your gym, I generally find shoes confining and was thrilled to "relax" in a yoga class with no shoesies. ahhhhh....

And that, friends, is where the "relaxation" ended.

Having never done this class before, I entered with an open mind, trotting merrily over to get my loaner yoga-mat. After adjusting myself out of the Front and Center spot (ooops!), I felt good about this. Looking around the room, there seemed to be ladies (and one dude!!) of all shapes and sizes, ready to get their BodyFlow on.

The music started, and I was glad to hear some current tunes, just remixed in a way to make them a little more soothing, or with an appropriate back-beat. We began with some tai-chi breathing and I tossed my energy ball (slightly less than gracefully, I think) around the room. I admit, I was envisioning a CrossFit wall ball while doing this... then, when I chastised myself for thinking of it that way, I moved on to a super villian, throwing energy balls..... also not exactly the relaxing image one is hoping for during the tai-chi session. Nonetheless, I hurdled super-powered energy balls around the mirrored room, avoided catching glances of myself in the floor to ceiling mirrors, and took some deep breaths, as we moved into some yoga.

Now, Blogland, I know Yoga is not my special talent. Even at my fittest phases of life, I just.don't.bend. that way. I want to. I try. I put my weight in my heels in my down dogs, and I try and open my chest in twisting triangles, but good lord.... it's just not a natural progression. I continue to try. Thankfully, BodyFlow didn't seem to have TOO many pretzel moves, instead focusing on more strength/balance yoga... which I do kind of like (... maybe because I'm better at it?).

I breathed into my baby cobras and up dogs, and rocked some steady, deep, Warrior 2's.... balance, though I like it, is not an aptitude of mine at the moment, due to some rehab I'm still doing on my ankle. My "tree" pose, looked more like the ever-serene "tree-in-hurricane" where you spend your 2 minutes (or 3 hours. It felt like three hours!), wobbling, re positioning, touching down, wobbling... However, the Physical Therapist recommended that I stand on one foot as much as possible, to help strengthen those ankle support muscles.... sooooo.... tree, star, eagle stuff, it is.

About 2/3 of the way into the class, I had worked up a little sweat from the exertion, and the close quarters of the group, but was feeling relatively strong. Then it happened. A seamless, unassuming, transition of instructors, where the announcement that we'd be doing some Pilates-style core work, happened.
I didn't even have time to think, "how bad could it be?" before I was down in a plank, alternating knee touches, and leaving a lake of sweat pooling directly beneath my brow - furrowed in burning muscles and concentration.
I attempted to power through, but I won't lie - I had breaks. Core is also another area that's not my favorite (thus, underpracticed...), and I definitely don't look graceful doing ab work.

However, I'd like to use this time to comment on people that "phone it in" during group classes. I don't get it. While I FULLY understand the need to modify, take a break, etc.  I do not understand just not trying at all.... why? Because it seemed to hard? You might break a sweat? what?! Isn't that why you're HERE? ..... Dear women that just laid on their bellies looking around all guilty, while the rest of the class (including the women 2x your size) were giving their best effort at "swimming" and working on our back muscles..... you KNOW you're only cheating yourselves, right? Anyway, rant over. Back to Me.

Just about the time I was convinced that my abs were going to go on strike (this would be right around the time I was doing some sort of planking or something, where I was shaking and sweating...), we moved on to the more relaxing stuff.

The room lights were shut off, the music was more calming and we were lead through a little guided relaxation and stretching.
True to what they say in the description, I felt relaxed and had no other thoughts in my mind...... It was nice. A couple minutes where I just chilled out and breathed.

Overall, I had a great time. I was afraid this was going to be a little on the touchy-feely-hippie side, but instead, I ended up getting a nice, calm workout. My (generally tight!) muscles feel stretched out, I was pleasantly tired, and I could see the potential for strength and mobility gains, if I kept coming to class.
Okay, BodyFlow, You Win, I'll be back.
.... I will still be sweaty, whiny and unbendy for a while, but I'll be back.

Following that, I ran home and ate some lunch, and had a little time to relax and rehydrate, before heading out on Sunday Adventures, Part 2.

A couple of my local Spartans (and Spahtens!) Stacey and Hannah had agreed to take on a 5 mile walk around a local scenic pond, with me. They both ran the Fenway Spartan Sprint yesterday, so it was going to be a lovely, relaxing Sunday stroll (it seems like that's how all my intentions *started* today...).
We did have a lovely time, walking around the pond, with my wee dog in tow - and Stacey's Sloshpipe (I think it needs a name). Clocking in around 25#, SloshPipey McPiperson (?) was rotated through us, every mile or so, or after steep hills. It was a nice way to just push our endurance a little more, without extremely upping the intensity. My FitBit clocked me in at 13K steps, at this point in the day! WIN!

Now I'm home, had a great dinner and am EXHAUSTED. Seriously. I don't feel like I did anything particularly "hard" today... but OMG I'm tired. I blame DayLight Savings Time.

With that, I leave you Blogland, for another cup of tea, and then - following shortly thereafter - my bed.

Rest - equally important in the fitness journey!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

Left foot, Right foot, left foot, right foot...

It's been a good few days, BlogLand, with a distinct theme: Just keep moving. Try something. Anything. Decide to change.

On Thursday morning, I found myself up EARLY and headed out to go walking with my Mom, step-Dad and my Man (and the dog!). My Mom has recently been motivated by a health scare and is taking some significant steps to improve her health, despite the fact that she's 63, a heavy smoker and hasn't been particularly active for the last few years. It wasn't a long walk, maybe a mile and a half, but we (She!) was outside, moving and making a decision to change. I couldn't have been happier to walk along beside - what a great, motivational way to start the day. If my mother, given the physical/mental obstacles she's working with, can get off her couch, I have ZERO excuses to not get my ass in gear and continue down my path towards my fitness goals. For the last few days, I've used this thought as inspiration to go up and down the stairs and extra time, or skip the honey in my tea, or whatever little thing I need to do to stay on track. Blogland, if you learn only one thing from my list of trials and tribulations on my way to success, it's to compile a long list of reasons "why" you're doing what you're doing - especially those that exist outside of yourself. Whether it's the quadruple amputee many people saw take on a Spartan Race earlier this year, or simply your Momma skipping her morning smoke and taking a walk, supplemental motivation and inspiration is all around you. Take note.

Today was another "Run" day for me (I currently still use that term loosely), so I laced up the sneaks, grabbed the dog's leash and off we went. (it's worth noting that it was November 15, in VERMONT, and I was comfortable in capris and a t-shirt.... WTF? Hellooooo Global Warming.).
The Zombie, Run! 5K app is really a saving grace right now. I'm intrigued with the story line, and the workouts are very approachable, while still moving along my run training, that I don't feel like I dread taking them on.
Today went like this:
5 Minute Warm Up Walk
5 Minute Free Form Run (Run/Walk at your discretion)
THEN (5x)
1 minute run
1 minute walk
10 sec of knee lifts/high knees
8 minute free form run
2 minutes of guided stretches
8 minute free form run
Walk/cooldown for remainder.

I am happy to report, BlogLand, that I successfully completed this workout as written. I ran every second of the run drills, and I ran a lot of the free form runs, in burst of run/walk. I'm really satisfied at how today went, because I feel like I'm making a bit of progress. A month ago, between rehab and pain and out-of-shapeness, running 1 whole minute (much less repetitively) would've been awful and just not doable. I'm also finding that with the small successes again, I feel motivated to keep going and keep pushing to the next thing. I was missing that for a while - without biting the bullet and getting over the initial unpleasantness, it's impossible to find your small successes. I'm glad I discovered this silly Zombie app, it's definitely easing the way.

Also today, I took another step to help hold myself accountable: I accepted a DietBet challenge. The basic idea of this DietBet is that each participants puts in $15, then has the following 4 weeks to lose 4% of their body weight (for me, this is just under 10 pounds...). If you do, then you go in the winners pool and split the pot of money. If you don't, you lose your cash. I like money and I don't like to lose at anything... SO... this seemed like a doable challenge to keep me moving.

UnHappy Scale Face. :-(
Subsequently, I got on the scale today, to determine my starting weight, etc. for this challenge. I pretty much wanted to die. I saw a number that I SWORE I would never go back to.... but thanks to Life in General and the fact that sometimes, Shit Happens, here I am.

While my initial reaction was one of shame, horror and OMFG ?!!?!?!?!!?!??!?!, I am happy to report that it has passed and I have come to a better place with my thought processes. Basically, it is what it is. It is where I am starting. That's it. It's no reflection on me as a human being, it's not a judgement of how awesome I am, or how much potential I have, it's just a number - one that I can, and will, change.

SO, BlogLand.... Starting today, I have 4 weeks (until December 15) to lose 9.9 pounds. It's on like Donkey Kong.

With that, I leave you all, in order to work on getting a better night's rest. Tomorrow, I'm up early to check out a BodyFlow (yoga/pilates/other?) class and then go take a stroll (5 miles...) around a pond with some Spahtens. It promises to be a good day.

One foot in front of the other.... slow progress is better than no progress!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Sic Parvis Magna" - Greatness from Small Beginnings

... And So It Begins... Again.

Dear Blogland, 

It's been far too long. After a long string of illness and injury (and subsequent rehab), I finally find myself back in a place where I'm "healthy" and really ready to get back at it. I've got no more pain, no more excuses....... and exactly no motivation. I have a metric ton of goals and plans and desires, but lately - although I was itching for months to get back on my feet - I'm having trouble getting started. 
I was cruising along with amazing momentum last year, making huge progress, really turning myself into who I wanted to be..... then Life happened. Now, too many months later, I'm back to recommit and gather that momentum all over again. 

Recently, I've found myself sitting around, unhappy, not feeling energetic, distinctly feeling the 35 pounds I've put BACK on (Yes. 35. I want to poke my own eye out. However. It is what it is, and where I'm starting over.), and at a loss at what to do. How do I pick myself up again and get back on the right path towards health, fitness and a Spartan-esque lifestyle? I sat with this question for weeks, as I dabbled in sporadic exercise, but just couldn't get back into the routine. 

Finally, it hit me...Do what worked the first time. Last year, I lost over 90 pounds, was crazy strong, ran up to a half marathon, a Spartan Beast and had all sorts of adventures. THAT is where I want to get back to... so it would stand to reason that a good place to go is back to the start. That's where you come in, BlogLand. I realized that in my slump of a pity-party, I didn't write. I didn't tell you what was going on, and I certainly wasn't holding myself accountable (or letting you help me with that) for all the crap I was shoving in my face, all the workouts I was missing and all the life that was passing me by. SO, for better or worse, BlogLand, you have me back. Buckle Up... I'm moody, cranky, and a little nuts... but I'm determined. 

Today Marked Week 2, Workout 3 of the Zombies Run! 5K training app that I'm currently following, to structure my running progress. It's literally been a year since I've been able to comfortably (no pain, etc.) run a solid 5K, so having a structured program, to help pace myself and prevent re-injury is essential. Plus, having something to "do," like listen to an interactive Zombie story, livens up the time. 

I won't lie to you... Today, it was 29 degrees and a bit windy here in Vermont. Going OUTside (I work from home, so I hadn't really had to go outside today) didn't seem like the most appealing plan. It seemed cold, unpleasant and a lot like WORK. With that, I suddenly was reminded of why I needed to do it. *Needed* to. Not wanted to, but needed to, to get to my goals. Donning my tried and true UnderArmour coldgear (good lord, what would I do with out that stuff?!), I grabbed my Puppers, Dobby (Dobby, because her ears look a lot like THIS, when she's being silly... ), and away we went. 

The workout starts out benign enough with a 10 minute warm up walk, while you intermittently listen to your playlist and hear some plot development from Zombie HQ. Then, we're on to walk/run drills. This workout was 30 second run, 5 heel lifts, 1 minute of walking.... Five times. After that, it was a 10 minute "free form" (run, walk, whatever) run. I'm happy to report that a 30 second run is no problem at all (finally!) and in my "free form" run, I'm once again able to start measuring my run time in MINUTES, rather than seconds. It's been a while. 

I will also admit that a little "saving face" and internal competition fuel me through these workouts. I went running on a busy running path today - so I was constantly confronted with other runners - all of whom (today) looked very fit and scenic as they trotted merrily along. A start contrast to my strong, but steady, thump thump thump (I sometimes hope that having my adorable dog along distracts people from the complete ungracefulness that is me right now.). When I see these other runners, I always push to run just a little more strongly, or a little further than I want ("Self, we're not going to stop until we PASS them..."). Competition, even if it's in your own head, can be a good time, sometimes. 

After the completion of my free form run, I had some time to walk and stretch it out, before returning to my car. I've been feeling good after my runs, lately. No cramping, no aches, no stiffness. I'm pretty proud of that, as it means I'm doing SOMEthing right. 
Overall, I rate today as a complete success. And the wee pup had a great time too, despite the weather. She's not ready for her sweater, just yet!

Further, I'm happy to report that I'm back eating pretty strictly Paleo (with the addition of dairy). The Man and I have been shopping based on a pre-planned menu for the week, leaving no room in the cart for "bad stuff" or random things that don't need to be in the house, lest I shove them in my face in a moment of weakness. 
We've also acquiesced and joined a local SnapFitness. It wasn't my first choice of gym (I REALLY wanted to get back to my membership at my CrossFit gym), but it was the cheapest price tag around, offered a month to month "contract" and would me more than sufficient to serve my workout needs for the foreseeable future. Also, it's 24 hours... that means I have even LESS excuses to not get to the gym. 

The Key Concept here: Setting oneself up for success.
It will be a long road. It will be a bumpy one.... but you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other........

Until Tomorrow, BlogLand! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead. ~ James Joyce

 Dear Blogland,

This is my Dad.
This is MY Dad, standing at the starting line of his very first Spartan Race, at 62 years young.
I couldn't be more proud.

Many of you are familiar with the crazy adventure I've been on the last few years, transforming my life, losing weight and trudging on the quest for Increased Awesomeness. In the process, I found a passion for Obstacle Racing and a real support family in Spartan Racers. Starting in May of 2012, I crossed my first Spartan Race finish line and "knew" as they say, that my life would never be the same. Finish line after finish line followed, and I had trouble expressing to my family - who was not athletic or competitive at all - WHY I would willingly do these things. Yet, they kept seeing the physical changes, as well as the mental changes, as I became healthier and happier. Finally, my Dad wanted to know what it was all about, and came to see my finish my greatest challenge yet - the 2012 Vermont Spartan Beast. He stood at the finish line into the darkness, waiting for me to cross - which I did, muddy, bloody, exhausted and most of all, accomplished (here's the whole story) .  After which, in a comment on my blog, he said: "If there is a prouder father anywhere in the world right now I'd like to meet him and tell him about MY daughter! And who knows... maybe these creaky old bones, now inspired, will "get off the couch" and do something too. You've set the bar high - I wonder if I can 'Spartan Up'?"

Dad shows a muddy wall what's up.
And so it began, Blogland. For the last eight months, I watched my Dad take a turn and change HIS life. A computer geek all his life, "light hiking" would be the extent of my Dad's athletic experience. He's never been in any sort of race that I know of, not a fan of competition, and never would've considered spending money on a gym membership. Weight came and went in spurts (due to an irrational love of Little Debbie and Coca-Cola).  After seeing my VT Beast Finish (which was symbolic of a lot of mental finish lines for me), that all changed.

One day, he wrote me and told me of his plans to attend a local boot camp to learn how to workout (it's a funny concept for most of my readers... but it is something you need to learn!). Twice a week he'd email me and regale me with his Adventures At Bootcamp from the previous night - how the chest fly machine nearly wrenched his arms out of their sockets, how he was improving on the treadmill, how he was actually enjoying the assisted pull up machine. My personal favorite, however, was the day he learned how to Burpee. They weren't comfortable or easy (when are they ever?), on injured 62 year old shoulders and knees that have seen a few bumps along the way, but he learned how to push through and modify - because nothing is more iconic of the Spartan Race, than the Burpees (of Death!!). He wanted to be "ready."

Dad takes on Canada's crazy Upper Body Killer!
Being an excellent student, my Dad started studying the races. What else would he need to prepare for? What clothing should he have? Where to get such footwear? I knew he was serious, when he informed me that he had mounted a regulation size rope-climb rope in the garage to practice with (which, to this day, remains the victor in every attempt my Dad and I have made to climb it. ONE day, Rope, the Varney's will get to the top!).

Suddenly, May was upon us. I'm sure my Dad had "The Final Countdown" playing in the back of his head. First-timer nerves (and questions) bubbled up as The Day drew closer.

Dad (afraid of heights) owns the Cargo Net!
Then, disaster struck, just a week and a half prior to the race. I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis (at 30!! ARGH.), and prescribed NO activity and decidedly no obstacle races for the foreseeable future. As I kissed my racing season goodbye, I was suddenly heartbroken - I was supposed to take my Dad through his first Spartan Race. Dad and I were supposed to cross that finish line TOGETHER.  Now what?

Ultimately, my Dad did the only thing a true Spartan would do - he decided that, even if he had to go it alone, he had trained, felt as ready as he was going to be, and he would find that finish line, whatever it took.

It seemed there was a Spartan Spirit in my desk-jockey Dad, after all.

Race Morning dawned over the Montreal Sprint, a brisk 45 degree high, cloudy, with periods of rain. This is where I should mention, there is nothing my Dad hates more than being cold. I was anxious FOR him, as I really wanted him to have the full awesome Spartan experience, so he could understand my passion, not just be cold and miserable the whole time.
... and does his penalty burpees!

Apparently, my fears for my Dad were completely unfounded. At 62 years old, without any "buddy" on course with him, my Dad took down one obstacle after another.

The heights didn't get him.

The temperature didn't get him.

The new challenges didn't get him.

The lack of experience didn't get him.

I am also very happy to say that three sets of 30 penalty burpees ALSO didn't get him. He followed my advice to take them slow and steady, and did every single one.

I can't attest to what may have happened out on that course, as only my Dad can say (Perhaps a Guest Blog coming on?), but I can say that my Dad, too, "Knew at the Finish Line."

Upon crossing the US border, where the cell phone would work again, I immediately received a call. I was worried he'd be hurt (we're all protective of our parents, right?), or that he'd be miserable, or that he would've not finished.... But instead, he told me that a) He was HANGRY (racers, you'll understand), and finally understood my need for immediate food consumption after races and b) He had returned from his international soiree VICTORIOUS.
Varney Determination.

The picture to the right, although not glamorous, is my second favorite picture of my Dad from that day. It's cloudy, it's super muddy, it just looks cold, and he's covered in mud. His face is showing that point that every Spartan hits at some point, EVERY race; it's the moment that you're tired, uncomfortable and wondering what you were thinking when you signed up for this. It is also the moment you Spartan Up, start really earning your eventual medal, and separate yourself from the masses that are still sitting on their couch, because YOU - spartan racer - keep putting one foot in front of the other. In this picture, my Dad doesn't necessarily look like he's having a good time. We all know what those muddy, wet clothes feel like. It doesn't look like the end is in sight. On his face, though, is Determination. What that says to me is: I. Will. Finish.

Welcome to Spartan Race, Dad.

However, I must conclude with the photo of the day, capturing the moment perfectly (yes, Varney's have all the luck, getting awesome fire jump pictures at their inaugural Spartan Races):

Forged from the flames, my Dad emerges SPARTAN.

Still Smilin' at the end!
For all of you that doubt yourselves, are afraid, unsure, feeling out of shape or non-athletic, or too old... My Dad disagrees. 62 years young, he got off the couch (or, more fittingly, out of the office chair), changed some habits, got moving more, ate a little less and took one step after another towards getting healthy. Why? Because he decided he could.

Decide you can. Regardless of your age, weight, fitness or perceived limitations. You'd be amazed at what you will find you are able to do.

As the cuts and scrapes heal from this crusade (Dad. Don't forget the Neosporin), my Dad and I are looking forward to tackling a race together, when the doctor says I'm good to go. I never thought I'd say this, but I am thrilled at the prospect of carrying sandbags side-by-side with my Dad, or (maybe?!?!) holding the rope, as my Dad climbs to the top and hits the bell. Mostly, I look forward to crossing a finish line - A Spartan Family, getting healthy, training and being triumphant, together.

Oh, and Dad... AROO! AROO! AROO! ... I'm so proud of you. I can't wait for the world (BlogLand is a big place!) to know about MY DAD.

Editors Note: A HUGE Thank you to veteran Spartan, Dave Huckle for the great photos!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

“One person's craziness is another person's reality.” ― Tim Burton

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 621:

Today, we're having a lesson in Perspective, BlogLand.

Simply put, it's all in how you look at things. Sometimes, I've learned, you may be looking so hard for what you are "supposed" to see, or wanting to see, that you miss all of the opportunities that are standing right in front of you.

Tonight, I find myself typing away in the living room of a very comfortable loft apartment, above the Pittsfield General Store. I'll be sharing my space with several other Spartans in need of housing in the temporary or semi-permanent sort of accommodations. While I was driving over here from the office, I was lamenting that I would start spending the majority of the work week away an hour and a half away from home, that I couldn't start up my gym membership again, that I was having trouble getting back on the workout train, that everything was not working out exactly as *I* had planned.

And then.... thanks to a few words from some friends, I had some realizations. Yes. I was spending the week away from home.... but I was here, in Pittsfield, VT, right above the General Store - the Birthplace of Spartan Race. There are Spartans all around me (I hear Joe, Spartan Race founder, is rattling around his land about a mile down the road, even...), that are living, eating and breathing the lifestyle. I am sitting at the apex of a huge amount of trails, that lead up, down and around mountains. Elite athletes train here - there is NO reason at all, that I can't. I don't NEED a gym membership. I have a Spartanized Pittsfield. One of my co-habiters just informed me that he does 300 burpees every morning, around 5am. Fitness is around me. Opportunity is around me.

Yes, I do miss *my* house and I miss my friends and family, when I am down here. However, maybe the time here is Life's way of forcing me to get back on the training wagon. What else am I going to do, when I am surrounded by it and not distracted by anything else? I do miss my Man, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can Skype.... and he travels too, so we're both living a crazy, mobile lifestyle.

So, what I'm trying to say here, BlogLand is when you're not feeling great about your station in life, try viewing it from someone else's eyes. You'd be surprised at what you might see.

In other news, I've been running. It's not pretty and it's not fast and it's not great.... but I'm still running. You have to start (back) some where. At least I'm lacing my sneakers and getting out the door. It's progress in the right direction.

Next week, I'll be racing my first Spartan Race of the season - Citifield. Interestingly, I'll have a little different perspective on this race, too, as I'll be racing... but also working as a Spartan Employee.

So, today's assignment, BlogLand is to reassess the difficulties in your life right now. How might you see them differently? How would someone else look at your life?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“If there are no heros to save you, then you be the hero.” – Denpa Kyoshi

Spartan Shape Up, Day 614:

I went running today.

...and every other day, for the last week or so. I'm 4 solid runs into "back on track." I've been eating 95% like I should, drinking water, stretching.... and really just doing what I know I should and need to be doing to feel healthy and get where I want to go.

Fueled by the fire of heading (back) in the right direction and the need to get out of my office chair and away from my laptop screen, I suited up and headed out for a run today.

Since gaining back a little weight, "suiting up" isn't as awesome, because I see all the bulges in the spandex again, and the extra tire where there wasn't one this summer. However, I turned away from the mirror with the knowledge that I was taking control of that vision of myself, going for a run, and moving myself 5K closer to where I wanted to be. My inner fat chick groaned because running has gotten to be a challenge again, but my outer badass informed her that it was too damn bad, and it was her fault we were here in the first place. Tie. The. Sneakers.

It was a beautiful day today. 40 degrees. Light breeze. A sure sign that spring is, indeed, headed our way. I almost enjoyed my mile long warm up, of walk-run-walk-run, to help my legs get back into the swing of things. I've been having difficulty with my calves turning to rocks early in my runs, which is just a sign that I haven't been doing this enough. Nonetheless, it was a lovely day out and I had given myself permission to "train" to my current ability level, rather than jog miserably and resent the place I was, because of injuries and winter and such.

I was training. I was working with what I had and I'd started to recognize that familiar feel of accomplishment. 2 miles in, checking the Garmin, not a great pace, but I was still under 12 minute miles; I accepted that as I re-trained my calves to keep going, despite their protestations. Serious protestations. Every couple blocks, they'd turn into concrete blocks, I'd wince and walk for 20 seconds and let them relax, start again.

This is a frustrating process for someone who, at one point last year, was training and running double digit numbers. However. We deal with what we have to work with, and I'm determined to get back to that. On I ran.

As I was in my last 3/4ths of a mile, I was going pretty slow. Still, I was pushing through with the rhythmic left, right, left, right in my head. I could look far down the street and see the stop lights that signaled my finish line for the day. I was in the homestretch.

For the most part, when I run alone, I'm in the zone. Left, right, left, right. One block of sidewalk at a time.

I was jarred out of this peaceful work time, by the harshly whispered, "...Thunder Thighs...." that hit my ear.

My latent Inner Fat Chick stopped short, suddenly feeling like the taunted 8th grader again, shrinking back to the far reaches of myself and fighting back rising tears. However, always one to subscribe to the "never let them see you cry," mentality, I forged on. I ran the remaining 3/4ths of a mile fueled on frustration, upset, sadness....... but then, I ran fueled on power. Power that came from the knowledge of the mountains I've climbed, literally and metaphorically, and the great leaps forward that I've made, from what I used to be.  I reflected on the drastic 180 I made in my life from depression, potato chip chowing, career in holding down the couch... to happy, confident, Spartan Race'ing, CrossFiting, Paleo-eating (...ish), career in whatever the HELL I want, because I can do ANYTHING.

MY "thunder thighs" are pillars of achievement.

They've crossed... 30+ finish lines, trudged about 260 muddy, obstacle course miles, walked beside and supported my friends that wanted to change their lives too, squatted my body weight and gave me the courage to stand confidently up and write my story for the world to read and help other people know that there is hope for the Inner Fat Kids.

My THUNDER THIGHS still touch ( I like to think the muscles are just too big...), they jiggle, they don't fit in "skinny" jeans.... but my thunder thighs will carry me to places that YOU - Mr.Idiot, stomping along, smoking a butt, muttering insults as I pass - could never HOPE to go.

May you get exactly what you deserve, my ignorant, weak, angry and projecting, passerby.

THANK YOU for fueling me though the end of my run and, through your ever so apt observation, remind me EXACTLY who I am.

I am a powerful being, BLESSED to have thighs big enough to help me hold up my massive hopes, dreams, goals and all around Awesomeness.

Respectfully yours, Blogland,

Love, Thunder Thighs.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"You just can't beat the person who never gives up." - Babe Ruth

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 608:

Here's our Words of Wisdom for today, BlogLand.

I stumbled across these words this morning, on my in-bed, waking-up, FaceBook skim. Some people read the paper with their coffee, I roll over, hit the alarm and cruise through FB. I'm lucky to have an inordinate amount of active friends, who are constantly posting about their adventures, workouts, trials and hurdles... which to me, helps keep me on track. Better than reading posts about cupcakes and TV shows, you know?

This one resonated with me, a lot today. It's no secret I've been struggling. I've been pretty up front with the fact that I haven't been training like I want to, and I've gained some of the weight back. BUT, thanks to some recent revelations (... last summers jeans are not comfortable, at the moment...) , a huge mental kick in the ass, and a promise to my CG that we're in it together (he's got to rehab from a back injury!!), I'm back at it. However, when I look at where I "should" be, or where I want to get to, it gets a little disheartening and overwhelming.

SO... the plan is "EFFORT...Every Single Day."

While I was mulling this over this morning, I also found that it would be another Work From Home day, thanks to the late spring Snowpocalypse here in VT. So, what could I do *TODAY* to put in the effort?

I had been meaning to get some activity in yesterday... but work has been pretty demanding. I recognized the excuse.

Thus, I sat down with my cup of coffee and a piece of blank paper. On it, I wrote the things I could do today, to put in the effort:
1) Eat carb-free, tasty, protein and veggie meals. Appropriately sized.
2) Get up and stretch for a few minutes, every hour.
3) Go for a mid-day run with my running buddy (who was enjoying a snow day, as a teacher!).
4) Have a concerted stretch session, post run.

All very doable and attainable today. Regardless of the missteps I've made in the last couple of months, the key was that these were very tangible, things that I could get done TODAY. To put in the effort TODAY towards progress tomorrow.

I am happy to say, at 8:42pm, that I have done all those things. And I have continued to hydrate all day. It's been a good day. Tomorrow, I hope to string on another good day.

I have to make mention of today's run, though. Setting out with my Running Buddy Extraordinaire, Stacey, we braved the snow accumulation. It was a heavy, wet snow, that resulted in about 3-4 messy, slidey inches on the sidewalk, and big, cold, wet puddles. Nonetheless, we are Spartans!

It was ugly, BlogLand, for me. 3.2 miles. The snow made it like we were running in beach sand. On top of the fact I haven't been running as much, this detail made this run particularly grueling. While the first couple of miles I handled okay, as mile 2 sailed by, my calves started tightening up, I was tired, and there had to be walk breaks. While I hate to say that I had to walk during "just" a 5K.... I was at least out DOING a 5K, even if there were 20 second walk breaks here and there (more than I wanted, but...).

Thankfully, I had a buddy! Stacey kept pushing forward, dragging me along in her enthusiastic wake, every time I'd groan and trot down to a walk for a few seconds. Positive encouragement just kept coming from her. It's absolutely invaluable, BlogLand, to have a training buddy, like this. Neither of you are perfect, but both of you can help push the other along when the hill gets a little steep.

Arriving at home, my calves were screaming, I was soaking wet from all the snow, but I felt good. I'd done what I'd set out to do, even if it wasn't particularly graceful. We set about a good 20-25 minute stretch session (fueled by recovery protein smoothies!), and commiserated about the bumps in the road we've been experiencing.

I will say that my hip flexor is angry. Tight, stiff and angry. But, after much thought and discussion with the GT, the consensus is that it's from WAY too much sitting, driving and sitting some more. Makes total sense. The body is not made to be so sedentary. More Tiger Balm, more stretches... more ... yoga. *sigh*

On that note, I leave you with this BlogLand. Not all days will be perfect. In fact, most of them won't be. You'll struggle, things hurt, the workout doesn't go as planned... but ask yourself, are you putting in the effort? That's what's important. What can you do TODAY that will help you get to where you want to be tomorrow?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"May the Road Rise Up to Meet You..."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 606:

There have been too many things out of my control lately (losing my apartment, not finding a new place right away, having no money, etc.), that I've been letting take over, that I finally stopped and reevaluated what was happening. Yes, there were things I could not force into being different.... but that was no reason that I needed to be unhappy and unable to continue my pursuit towards better health and fitness.

With much sadness, I had to cancel my CrossFit membership (hopefully, temporarily) recently, because of finances and living situations. However, while this was a real blow to my motivation, I also know that I have ALL the equipment I need at my disposal, and a huge network of inspiring friends and family, that are there to assist with my forward progression.

No more excuses. Just work.

Arriving home from my 1.5 hour drive from The Office, I felt stiff and tight. I've been spending FAR too much time in a car and at a desk, and no where near enough time being mobile and active. I was (am.) feeling it. The real kicker was when I bent over to pick up a sock on the floor and my damn chronically tight hamstrings were SO tight that I had to bend my knees to pick it up. This HAD to stop.

Half an hour later, I found myself in front of my TV, Yoga DVD in and ready to get bendy. My preferred "yoga"... DVD right now is currently the one with Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser (Biggest Loser, Weight Loss Yoga). It's easy, made for not bendy people, has a few different levels and leaves me feeling stretched out and good. Yeah, it's not P90X yoga, it's not Bikram.... but it's real yoga that I will DO (that's key!), that doesn't feel too frustrating.

Off I went. Downward Dog, Triangle, *twisting* triangle (ack!)... I did the best I could. My body was so locked up that it sounded like I was making popcorn, every time I'd move into a new position. My back was cracking, my knees were popping and my muscles were stretching. I admit, it felt AWESOME.

Oddly, I think you never realize how immobile or not flexible you are, until you restore that flexibility. After doing the light half hour of yoga, I felt like my hips could move again, my legs didn't feel stiff, and my body felt more relaxed. Clearly, I'd done the right thing.

The feeling of satisfaction for getting back on track really helps to propel me forward. So, yesterday, in the beautiful bright afternoon, my running buddy rallied from her lingering cold, and we headed out for a run.

BlogLand, it wasn't pretty. I've definitely taken a few steps backward, as far as my running abilities. However, here's a good time to remember that I was at least OUT THERE and doing it. Doing work is the only way to make more progress - not sitting on the couch lamenting how good you USED to be. Do. Work.

We were aiming for an easy 5K. I knew this was a distance I could fight through, but long enough to get in a solid 30 minutes of work. I didn't feel too bad for the first 2 miles. My brain was happy to be outside, my body felt good in motion and all was well with the world. Mile 2 brought some more work, though. I did have to take a couple of short walk breaks, but each time, I resolved to get back to running and keep going.

I have to acknowledge the fact that I'm heavier than I was this summer, haven't been running and need to respect the fact that my body needs to get back at it. Walk breaks were unavoidable.

Nonetheless, Stacey and I got it done and arrived back at my house, sweaty and accomplished. Not our best time, but right about 34 minutes (3.2 miles), averaging about an 11:20 pace - which, quite frankly, is better than when I first started running, so all is not lost!

Later, after looking at a great housing potential (thank you, Karma!!), The CG and I headed out to hit the climbing gym for a while. Got my run on in the morning, time to work out a lot of the upper body in the afternoon!

I fought with several tricky routes. I'm still learning technique, so while some should be "easy"... they're just not for me. I'm learning to climb with more finesse, to make the most of what I do have (powerful legs) and work around what is not an asset (t-rex arms). My forearms and back were crying by the end of one route in particular. I was metaphorically banging my head against the wall over and over, until suddenly, the moves clicked and my body rallied and got to the top.
To round out the day at the climbing gym, the CG and I did some grip work (dead hangs) and core stuff (knees to elbows, L-sits, etc.). If you're going to dead hang for grip purposes, you might as well make your body work in other places too.

It was a good day. I slept well, my body felt used and tired, and I had made good choices all day.

This morning, I rolled over with a groan and a sudden desire for a bunch of Ibuprofen and Tiger Balm. LOL. But, what are you going to do? STFU and keep at it. I know from experience that it GETS BETTER the more you do it. Yeah, you're going to be sore. You're going to feel stiff... but you recover faster, you get better and it's much more manageable. You just have to get over that initial ugly hump.

So, I'm working on my hydrating (don't forget it, BlogLand! Your body needs it to recover!), taking my daily Multi-vitamin, getting in some extra fish oil (decreasing inflammation and helping with weight loss), and eating correctly.

Also, tonight, to wind down and have a little light recovery, I'll be hitting up the Yoga again. Race season is upon us and I work for one of the coolest companies in the world - time to represent!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness. -- Les Brown

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 601:

Oh Blogland. I’ve been a horrid version of a Spartan, while my life has gone absolutely crazy and taken me with it.

To make a long story short, the holidays were hard and I never pulled up out of the Winter Blues nosedive. I have been trying and trying, but life doesn’t seem to want to cut me a break right now. Basically, I lost my lucrative but soul-sucking job, found my dream job but make no money. Find myself driving 1.5 hours (one way) several times a week and staying at an array of local places, wherever will be free.  In the midst of sorting that out (and some semi-permanent weekday accommodations), my landlord decided to reclaim my home-base and give me 60 days to find something else. And my darling boyfriend and his cat moved in.  Now, we all three are homeless… and torn in many directions by work family/friends and our activities.  Budget is tight and finding a living situation that fits most of our needs is… stressful. All in the last 2 months.
In the midst of all the stress, I have found myself reverting back to old behaviors. Mindless Stress eating. Lots of carbs (and stupid ones. Candy. Chips. Impulse buys.). I fell off the workout train and got horribly run over by it, and pretty much don’t even know what direction it went in, now. I’ve gained double digit weight back, everything (running, climbing, etc.) has gotten miserably difficult and frustrating again, and my jeans from this summer barely button.

I feel stressed out of my mind, stretched real thin and not feeling all that healthy.

My point being…… it happens to all of us.

Life happens and it’s time to regroup. There are things you can change and things you cannot. Sometimes you have to sit down and remind yourself of the difference. While I cannot change the balance in my bank account, I CAN control what I stuff in my face. I CAN control whether I squeeze in 30 minutes of yoga, or 30 minutes of bodyweight exercises. I can be mindful about drinking enough water.
It’s hard. Really hard. I think of the last big hill at the Vermont Beast, this year. I was, maybe, 11-12 out of 14 miles in, and it just kept going up. Through the forest. 45+ degree incline. There was no end in sight, everything hurt, I couldn’t breathe, and sweat was pouring off of me. I wanted to just sit down and  just be done, but I had to keep going, if I wanted to find the end. One foot in front of the other. Three steps then stop. Three more steps. Stop. Three more steps. Just keep moving. Slow, but forward.

After the longest hour (…? More? Less?) of my life, I saw the light breaking through the trees. I had climbed long enough and hard enough that I’d found the top. The hill leveled out, no more roots were grabbing at my ankles, my calves were no longer screaming at the incline. One step at a time, I’d made it. I took a deep breath and nearly cried with relief. I was far from the end, but I was definitely in a better place.
I think that’s where I am in my life right now. I’m at that dark point in a Spartan Race where you doubt. Where you wonder why you’re doing it. Whether you’re actually going to be able to finish. Whether you are, in fact, Spartan enough. How much longer you can keep going.

I've crossed many finish lines, muddy, beat up, bleeding and exhausted. But I’ve crossed them, when I wasn’t sure I should’ve even started. Each time, it was because I kept moving, no matter how slow. I’ve finished in the dark. I've finished in hurricanes. I've finished in pain.

But I’ve finished. Every. Single. Time.

I think it’s time to remind myself of that. I’ve proven myself stronger than I think, all my critics more wrong than they thought, done things I’ve thought were impossible, and kept going on Will alone, when all else failed.

There’s always a mountain. But I won’t let it win. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. —William Faulkner

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 567:

The Benson Polar Bear 8 Hour Obstacle Course Challenge 

The NE Spahtens!
It was 5:30 am and I found myself standing upright (barely) in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn in Rutland, Vermont, geared out in numerous layers of Under Armor and wool, deeply questioning what I was getting ready to do. I was about to head out, in 10 degree New England weather (not even counting the wind chill!), pre-dawn, to take on my first winter obstacle course race: The Benson Polar Bear.

Standing with me were a dozen of my teammates and extended Spartan family, found in the NE Spahtens. The hotel lobby was a buzz with mumbles about the weather, hello's to old friends who had arrived while we slept, and rumors of Bacon. Yes. Rob, Shale Hill Adventure's Mastermind, had promised us bacon if we dared to brave his course. And not just bacon... bacon for 8 hours. Spartans are, not-surprisingly, motivated by bacon and we were bringing the team spirit strong, as we mounted our caravan to the wilds of Benson, VT.

A short 25-30 minute drive to Shale Hill found us in the first few rows of cars, parking in the pre-dawn darkness. The moon was still up as my adventure buddy Stacey and I gathered our gear for the short trek up to registration. A sleepy quiet still over us, I pondered a few things, while carrying my gear box in the single digit temperature. First.... WHY? WHYYYY did I find myself out of my nice warm bed, clad in various layers of spandex, wool and microfiber, planning on jumping walls, climbing things and running, all day? Why, on anything that made sense, was I - 30 years old, not in super great shape (yet.) - setting my sights on 2-3 laps of this notorious 5 mile course?

With classic rock tunes broadcasting through the heated barn, inside and out, I stepped into the warm building and immediately had the first of my answers. Stacey and I were greeted almost immediately, by name, by Rob and his wife Jill and given a warm reception by all the volunteers and staff. Registration was a breeze and we were directed to an area to stow our gear boxes and informed that coffee - and BACON - were hot and ready, in the other room. The barn was filled with a steady buzz of conversation, easy exchanges between teammates, excited meetings of new friends and advice dispensed from veterans. Still not quite awake, but taking it all in, I shuffled over to the breakfast buffet to fuel my adventures, before gearing up. Rob bounced from group to group, checking in on everyone, with the excitement of a kid on Christmas Morning. The Polar Bear was his baby, and here it was, off to a grand start. A heaping plate of eggs, bacon, french toast and other tasty things later, I looked around. I adore this community. Smiles were everywhere, people were sharing gear, where gloves or hats were forgotten, and all was right with the world... even though we were all about to put ourselves through many miles of a grueling course. I was here, against the better judgement of my Old Self (who thought that a big comforter, a cup of cocoa and a pizza might be a better way to spend a cold Saturday morning), because the OCR community - particularly this little subset - is encouraging, welcoming, enthusiastic and powerful like no other.

A perky welcome and course overview from Rob and we were grouping up at the starting area before we knew it (I'm still not sure I was entirely awake. It was still dark.). At promptly 7:01am, we were all released onto the course to do our damnedest to battle the Polar Bear. I pulled my wool hat a little lower on my ears, an icy wind assaulting my face as Stacey and I began our warm-up trot, bringing up the rear of the pack through the first field. And so it began...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

You can't build your reputation on what you're going to do. —Henry Ford

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 561:

Well, training hasn't exactly been grand, of late, BlogLand. Through no fault of my GT or training program, and entirely the fault of my brain. We're in our usual winter slump, where the lack of light makes mornings impossible for me, and my body more lethargic than it should be (Hello, Seasonal Affective Disorder! Nice to see you again!). The funny thing is, exercise helps with this.... but you have to figure out a way to get yourself to the exercise. I've been... less than successful. It is mildly comforting to know that this is a usual, seasonal event for me (this is why you keep training records or blogs, people!), and it will pass if I just keep working at it. 

So, as Sunday rolled around, this week, it was time to do some work. On the schedule was my Long Run day. Right now, it's "only" 5 miles, as I get back into running regularly again. (Lesson of the Day: Do not ever fall off the wagon. Re-starting your training, as a result of injury, or laziness, whatever, is MUCH harder than when you first began.) It was cold, we had a high-wind advisory and I was really not particularly looking forward to it. However, as I said, it was long run day on the schedule, I live in Vermont and sometimes it gets cold, and if I waited for perfect conditions, I'd never do anything. No. Excuses. Get ass in gear.

In an effort to make this as least painful as possible, I called up Partner in Training, Stacey and suggested a change of scenery. We headed over to Shelburne Farms, which happens to be a bazillion, beautiful acres of museum, working farm and general awesomeness. We learned that they had a 5 mile trail loop that went around the property, so it seemed like a perfect way to get in the miles, while giving our brains a refreshing new view to look at. 

As I sat sideways in the car, lacing up my Oroc's, the wind was so hard, Stacey couldn't hear me talking to her, and I swear, the door of the car (open), almost blew off. Craziness. But yet, we were Spartans, and be damned if we weren't going running. *puts on more layers*

We got moving, and I admit, it feels good to get the body in motion. Outside of the crazy wind, it was a pretty and beautiful day out. We ran. I was pretty sure I was dying. Not cardiovascularly (as in, I could breathe okay), but my legs were crying. We weren't even a mile yet. They just need to warm up, I told myself. I was pushing. 

The ugly miles wore on. My legs, who just haven't been putting the run time in, felt like we'd never run before. This was HARD again. I had to ask Stacey to stop to take a couple of 20 second walk breaks here and there. My legs felt like lead. I was not happy. Frustration was building. 

I tried to remind myself that it only gets better, if you work through the hard stuff. So, I kept running.... albeit, very slowly (our average pace seemed to be just under a 12 min mile). But, it was either go slowly and complete the 5 mile task, or go faster and end up walking back to the car. I opted for slow and steady. 

However, slow gives you a lot of time to think. I was thinking about how much harder this has gotten since I gained about 20 pounds of "holiday/injury weight" back. I was thinking about how 5 miles was an "easy" run. I was thinking about how I was consistently running 10 min miles and gunning for a sub-30 5K. Now, I didn't feel like I could run a 5k without stopping to walk a few seconds. This is not where you want your head to be, during your workouts. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, if you're doing it, that's what's important; not the coulda-shoulda-woulda's... not the "before"s or frustrations.... just the fact that you are out there, getting down to business, working on the body that you have -at that moment. 

It's true. Staying in the routine of a Healthy, Active Lifestyle is not the easiest for me, because I grew up for almost 30 years in a carb-loving, not particularly active household. I'm retraining 30 years of programming. Yes. What I want to do is sit on the couch, drink hot cocoa and watch a movie... but NO, what I'm going to do is suit up and go for a run. THAT is not an easy transition, my friends. However, it is about making a choice. It is hard, but I'm choosing to fight forward, as I a) want to be healthy b) like how I feel when I'm healthy c) genuinely enjoy the activities I now pursue and d) feel better, less stressed and more positive when I'm on track. That seems like enough reasons to keep going. The hard part is reminding yourself of those things, when you're not feeling them so much....... or it's real cold out.

My tactic was this. Take in the wonderful scenery. To the left, you'll see one of the paths we ran down. That's a huge historic home (now an Inn) in the background, and  Lake Champlain busting over it's shores. LOOK at that. My legs may have felt like lead, but I am lucky to have places like that to run, lucky to be able to run, and lucky to have an excellent running buddy to push me through it. I have to make a note about this path we were running on; the wind was so hard that it was blowing the waves up and over the containment wall (see picture). This resulted in a cold spray that intermittently covered the path. Rather than run around, in true Spartan fashion, Stacey and I decided this meant we just needed to sprint it. We got sprayed. But we laughed and ran faster. Those moments make for a good run: when it doesn't seem like work, and you're playing again (maybe this is why I like Obstacle Races?).

I vowed I would run - non stop - the last 3/4 of a mile. Slow and steady I chugged along, and made sure not to lose Stacey, just ahead of me. Right, left, Right, left.... after a loop around the parking lot (couldn't stop until the GPS read at least 5.0 miles!), I trotted to a walk, and BOY did that feel good. My heart rate was coming down, my legs were warm and I had done it. Mostly against the will of my legs, but it was done, the miles were put in, and I was back on track. SUCCESS.

The week following, to date has not been great. I've been focusing on my eating to make sure I'm getting the weight down again. Vermont has been having a sub-zero cold snap (seriously, yesterday was -4 as a HIGH.), which means I'm not running outside. I draw the line at sub zero. But, I'm attempting to motivate myself to do home workouts. I have more than enough equipment and expertise to do so. No excuses. 

So. Yeah. That's kind of where I am right now BlogLand. Trying to overcome the season and get back to basics. Making real small goals so I can feel successful again, rather than frustrated. Pushing to get the number back down on the scale and up on the mileage.

One foot in front of the other....

Sunday, January 13, 2013

You only get out of life what you put into it. -Ethel Merman

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 543:

With the smell of Tiger Balm (Ultra!), wafting from my stiff, creaky shoulders, I had to take a moment, BlogLand, to tell you how I find myself this way. And by "this way" I mean, dotted all over in little purple bruises, feeling the need to stretch every few minutes, but awesome and energized. Wait... it sounds familiar, doesn't it? Much like what I have to say on a Sunday afternoon, after I've finished a race weekend.... Hmm. Well, BlogLand, that is because yesterday, I spent a few hours running the most interesting, challenging, 5 mile obstacle course I have run to date (including all the Spartan Sprints), over at ORTC Vermont. (One of my partners-in-crime, Stacey, writes about her experience here...)

The Obstacle Race Training Center (ORTC) at Shale Hill Adventure is the brain child of Rob Butler and the first public training center of it's kind. All you Obstacle Racers, it's time to sit up and take note: if you're in reasonable distance of Benson, VT - which happens to be just a hop, skip and a jump (or maybe a burpee?) away from Pittsfield, the home of Spartan Race - you no longer need to create makeshift vertical walls in your back yard, or try and figure out if you can suspend a climbing rope from that precarious tree branch. Rob has got you covered... and then some (honestly, the rumors of future projects that he's got rattling around in his brain have my T-Rex arms sore in anticipation!).

As we turned up the road to Shale Hill, we passed a few rolls of hay in a field, and could see some sort of tower, looming in the field, mostly hidden by the fog. "This doesn't seem so bad." I thought to myself, as we approached what I anticipated being an easy, home-grown, make-shift obstacle course.

BlogLand, I admit freely and publicly, I WAS SO WRONG.

Stepping out of the car, I found myself surrounded with an immediately sociable group of people, ready to get out on the course. I changed up my layering plan a bit (45 degrees, so said the weather channel, didn't feel so warm with the heavy fog and early morning...), donned my Inov-8 Orocs, and announced my readiness. Our group was the last to arrive, so after signing the inevitable "You May Die." sort of waivers, we set off down a farm trail at a light jog to warm up.

While the temperatures have warmed up, here in VT, making it a pleasant ambient temperature for outdoor activities, what that doesn't help is the snow. As we jogged down the path, trying to wake our legs up and get our bodies moving, it was challenging to control the slip-slide through the slushy, heavy snow. I'm convinced Rob somehow talked to the weather gods to make this happen, just to make sure we were challenged to the limits of our capacity. I drifted back and forth between following the footsteps of the Beastly troupe of regulars that went first, and making my own footsteps through the 6 inches of snow. Sometimes, breaking the snow seemed easier... sometimes, the preset footsteps seemed more solid. In 3 minutes, as my breathing started picking up, I suddenly was struck with a little concern - was I going to be able to hack it with this group? Rob had said we had mixed abilities among us, but so far, the troupe of regulars ahead of me seemed to be plowing ahead with good speed and no hesitation, despite the snow. What the HELL kind of 5 miles had I signed up for? But, with an open mind and a smile on my face, I continued to plow forward, listening to Rob describe some of the plans he had for the place, and the obstacles coming up in front of us.

In short order, I found myself up and over some log hurdles, a wall in the woods and up some small hills. So far, so good... I knew how to handle this kind of obstacle and I was starting to warm up a bit. I raised my eyebrow in a little concern as Rob explained that he had constructed the course with a lot of thought - this first part was meant to be "easy" and warm you up, the course getting progressively harder as you went on. A great concept, allowing you to get in the groove, get your confidence up.... hmm..... I trotted on.

The group chatted and laughed, trading OCR stories, training issues and jokes about Rob's ever-developing course, as we climbed our first real hill of the morning. At the top, we found ourselves in front of a huge pile of sandbags - 60 pounds for the men, and a variety of options for the ladies (choose what you're comfortable with). Rob warned us we would be married to this sandbag for about half a mile, through obstacles, so Stacey and I elected to press on empty handed, already feeling the burn in our legs from the snow traversing.

I'm not going to chronicle the Obstacles for you in their entirely, BlogLand, as I really feel like that ruins the experience. However, I will say they are jam-packed into that 5 mile run (totaling 35+, I understand). We never ran long before we were confronted with a challenge. Read on for the highlights...

So, Rob has designed a course that will challenge even the fittest, most seasoned OCR racer. I determined this as we came up to one of the first big obstacles, a rope climb tower. First, you must climb this particularly long rope climb (no knots, folks) and THEN, when you reach the top, get up and over the ledge, so that you can come down the steep ramp on the other side. Yeah. Picture that in your head. How good are your rope climbs? As I stood in awe of this obstacle, I watched several ORTC regulars get up and over, but with a hearty amount of effort. I was very happy to see that even the ladies we were running with made it up and over; in my experience, women tend to struggle with these kinds of obstacles and this one looked particularly ugly. Thanks to the ladies on our run for giving me hope that SOMEday, I'll be up the rope and over the ledge, too!

After some more snow-running (good god my legs were feeling the training hiatus I'm coming off of!), we entered a wooded section with some up hill runs, down hill slides (there was some talk of some sort of plastic molded butt protection, to navigate these slidy downhills in the future...) and then a whole bunch of climb-related obstacles.

One of the most unique, that I was anxious to try, was this telephone pole sized log, suspended from about 3-4 feet of rope. The log had some notches in it, and the task was to climb up the log/notches, onto the rope it swung from and touch the support beam at the top. How hard could that be? To my relief, I found it easier than a straight-up rope climb, because I had notches to grip (YAY Rock Climbing Training!), but challenging in a much different way: it was all mental. I got to a point in the log where I certainly could've kept going, I can say that now. I could've finished this obstacle and made it to the top and touched the beam. However, nerves got the better of me. You see, with my 200+ pound body clinging to one side of this log and climbing up it, you start to swing and sway and you're not really holding on to that much. I found my thunder thighs (term of endearment) hugging that log for all they were worth, while wondering to myself, "HOW AM I GOING TO GET DOWN?!" as down climbing looked to be a feat in and of itself. Always looking to push out of my comfort zone, I went up one more notch and declared that enough of a victory for today, electing to slide, shimmy, death-grip, down the pole to the ground. An awesome, but totally doable - even for those of us without the giant upper body - to get done. I do have to take this moment to note that as I, and my fellow newcomers attempted all these crazy contraptions, we were surrounded by a group of encouraging, cheering, helpful people; an exact representation of why I love OCR people. Everyone is there to help you overcome the Things You Think You Cannot Do, in a positive way.

More hills, more tired legs, more sweat dripping into my face (I totally over estimated the layers I'd need...damn. Live and learn!) and more obstacles, I found myself at the Traverse Wall. Now, sure, anyone who's done an OCR has probably encountered a Traverse Wall....but, I don't care who you are, you have NOT experienced a traverse wall like this. Take your typical Spartan Race sized traverse wall, multiply it by 5 and bend it into a zig zag shape. Crazy Rob's traverse wall is something like 130 ft, 90-130 holds (depending on what side you choose), and some of the sections are interesting transfer challenges. For instance, after you finish the first section of typical traversing, you must transfer to the next section by shimming across two beams, hanging from just your arms.... then, get onto another section of traditional traverse wall. I am not ashamed to say that I didn't make it the whole length, THIS TIME. I did attempt all the sections and did a reasonably good job, but man oh man, BlogLand, this is the stuff of Obstacle Race nightmares. If you could finish Rob's wall without incident, I feel that that should be a special prize in and of itself. Little did I know it was just a preview of the unique challenges I would find later on in the course.

This is not to say that Rob didn't provide us some of the traditional obstacles to tackle. At some point in the course, I found myself shlepping heavy stuff, doing a Hercules Hoist, climbing a rope ladder, navigating a modified vertical cargo net, jumping short walls and even flat on my belly, doing a barbed wire crawl in the snow. Interesting though, it was the most common of objects that was to be my Achilles heel of the day: a round hay bale.

At my first meeting with Round Hay Bale from Hell, I ran up confidently, jumped, scrambled and promptly slid to the ground unsuccessfully. A little more of a running start brought me closer to success, as I tried to stick the steel-studded shoes into the bale for grip, but still, I slid back down to start. 2-3 more times I tried, but over and over the damn bale kept forcing me back down to the ground. In short order, Rob, busting with helpful tips and positivity as ever, was by my side coaching me through some proven techniques in getting over these bales. After a few thousand more tries, I did manage to get myself to the top of Round Hay Bale from Hell, but it was not pretty, nor graceful, and I was certainly feeling the efforts of the day. With that tiny success, I elected out of the next two bales in the series, in favor of rejoining the group and pressing on (later, Stacey and I decided we might have to conquer these as a partner venture... one boosts, one pulls you up from the top... Perhaps a better solution for those of us who are vertical-jump challenged?). I thought for sure that this was probably the last we'd see of the round hay bales...... until later in the course when we rounded into a field that housed probably 8-10 of them, in a row. I died inside a little, but vowed that the NEXT time I tackled Shale Hill's Hay Bales of Death, I wouldn't be trotting around them, like I was today. You wait, Hay Bale. You just wait.

The next in the crazy train of obstacles that I need to tell you about is the Monkey Bars. I know that I can conquer a set of straight monkey bars - in fact, I've done this at a ton of races, in practice... I didn't anticipate any problems here. Until I saw Rob's version of monkey bars. The "straight" piece of monkey bars, that I was hoping I'd be able to handle was particularly long. And the bars rotated (Rob says this doesn't happen so much in the summer...). 3 rungs in was a drop down to the slush below, for me, sadly. However, I watched in absolute amazement as several of the group tackled the behemoth of the obstacles - Monkey Bars, Part Two: THE INCLINE. Yeah, so following Rob's straight section of Monkey Bars comes a long section of monkey bars that follows up a steep incline. Adding to the challenge, they aren't particularly level. Looking at them, I was sure they were impossible, but I was quickly proven wrong by Rob and a couple of our other run-mates, who (still with some effort, because damn that's hard!) busted up to the top, hand over hand. Subsequently, my arms were crying, just thinking about it. If you successfully navigate these bars, BlogLand, I promise to by you a beer for your sheer badassery.

Later in the course found us at a neat take on a Tarzan Swing. Rob's was, of course, a little longer than I'd seen prior, but a serious of ropes hung so that you were to swing from one, grab the next, swing on, grab the next, etc. There is clearly some technique to this too. For today, I was happy that I managed to even swing and grab the next rope a few times, even though my T-Rex arms had NO HOPE of making that transfer and continuing through the series of about 15 ropes.

BlogLand, I have to touch on The Tower. Remember how I told you I had seen it poking out of the fog, in our early-morning drive up? It is way more intimidating in person. If you were to navigate it, as intended, you would climb UP a fireman's pole to a deck above, climb over a horizontal cargo net (8 feet off the ground?) to another deck, where you would then make your way down a steep wooden ramp to the ground below. Let's think about what I just said. UP a fireman's pole. Rob would challenge you to shimmy-climb your way up a smooth metal pole. Somehow. That wasn't in my cards either, today (this is definitely one of those group-effort obstacles you'll find at a race, with a lot of helping hands and boosting going on, I think.), but Rob told me to do it backwards, so I could get the feel of the top of the structure.

Coming around to the other side of the obstacle - the steep ramp - I wasn't sure how he thought I was going to do that. There was no rope, only the side of the ramp to hold on to. However, not to be completely unsuccessful at The Tower, I set about giving it a go. Right foot, left foot, gripping the side with my left hand... I suddenly remembered something awesome. Remember when I told you that I thought I could walk up vertical walls in my new Inov-8 Orocs? Well, this proved to be a truer statement than I thought. As I put one foot in front of the other, and stabilized myself with one hand on the side of the ramp, I literally felt the studs dig into the wood. I was leaving tracks in the ramp, where the studs had dug in, but I could just walk right up the ramp. OH yeah, Inov-8 Orocs. I walked up a near vertical wall, with your help.

Finally, I feel that any obstacle with a name, particularly one like The Anaconda, deserves mention. Picture this, you're in the homestretch. You can see the barn at the end. Your legs are cooked, your arms are tired, you feel victorious for surviving these challenges, but suddenly, you are given one more. In full view of the END of your run the whole time, The Anaconda dares you to tackle it. It's a raised road (so, flat surface in the middle), but The Anaconda is the snaking running track that is a series of s-curves back and forth across it... with a few obstacles in the middle. To begin (remember, your legs are cooked), you run up the incline and meet a roll-under obstacle at the top. Now, run down the other side, turn back and run up the incline. Meet another small obstacle at the top on the flat. Run down the other side. Turn back, run up the incline.... are you seeing the evil? At ANY TIME, when you hit that flat top, you could quit, opt out, admit defeat and just run the flat "road" straight for the finish.... but the Anaconda bets that you can't complete it at mile almost-5, running up and down a countless number of little inclines to the finish. The question is, will you persevere, or will you quit in the jaws of The Anaconda?

After completing (slowly...) about 3/4 of The Anaconda, my legs made their emptiness known and I had to surrender, heading straight to the finish. However, with Rob in tow and my buddy-in-craziness, Stacey close behind, I declared a strong finish, and we all put in a good short actual run to the end.

Munching on refueling almonds and water, clad in fuzzy, warm dry clothes, I had to reflect a little on the day. It was everything that Rob had promised. 5 challenging miles, 35+ of interesting, varied obstacles and there was nothing amateurish about them. If anything, I found that Rob's course challenged my body in ways that many obstacle courses do not - it was extremely upper body heavy (although Rob says he's planning to add in some more leg-specific obstacles) and forced you to think beyond the "standard" obstacles and work out at plan of attack on his creative tasks. It did also lead you through a nice progression.. a little warm up on some "easy" obstacles, closing out your day with seemingly Herculean tasks.

Let me tell you, I can't WAIT to revisit Shale Hill in the summer; as Rob gave us the tour, he pointed out a lot of the obstacles that were closed for the winter season - water crossings, unique mud features, etc. There's some spectacular terrain and Rob is finding a way to challenge each runner by using every square inch of it.

Here's what you need to know, BlogLand: You NEED to get to the ORTC at Shale Hill. If you think you've challenged yourself before... you ain't seen nothing yet.

First, join me and SIGN UP for the Polar Bear Challenge. On January 26th, you have 8 hours to do as many laps of Rob's course as you can. Between each lap, you'll be given a once over by a medic, time to take your failed obstacle penalties (not just Burpees at Shale Hill!)  and the opportunity to warm up, change clothes and re-fuel in the barn - outfitted with a buffet (rumored to have Bacon!) for all your munching needs. Come for one lap, gun for 6... Whatever your speed, this event is not to be missed. Long sleeve T-shirts, a medal, a sticker... all the swag you could want, food, friendly people and most of all - a KILLER COURSE. So, I ask you, BlogLand.... who's going to come find me on the Polar Bear Challenge course?

Further, check out their Events Page for info on some great events coming up if winter is not your thing... Maybe the Grizzly Bear Triathalon (a different take, with a 5 mile Obstacle Course section!), or  -where you'll find me!- the Benson Bear, 4 race series of Obstacle Course Races, spread nicely through the warmer months. I'm thinking these might be EXCELLENT training progression indicators, as well as a chance for an overall prize.

Overall, for anyone in the Northeast (or those of you who don't mind travelling for adventure!), Shale Hill is a must for anyone that loves Obstacle Course Racing. You can come to race, train for the day, whatever you're in for. Personally, since my last OCR was Spartan Race's Beast in September,  it was great to have a place to go to get my OCR on, when there was no other relatively local way for me to do that.

Today, I'm doing a little active-recovery yoga (hello, climb-related arm muscles...) and assessing my strategies for the upcoming Polar Bear race. I'm shooting for 3 solid laps, planning some different layering strategies, and working out how I'm going to take on some of the obstacles that eluded me in this trial run (HAY BALE!!! I own you!!).

I have to give ORTC Vermont at Shale Hill 5 stars of awesome, for overall OCR badassness. There's no way around it. Rob's a cool guy, inviting, friendly and never made my non-rope climbing butt feel bad about what I couldn't do. Further, he's got big ideas (that said, someone should maybe be in charge of monitoring what he's working on in "The Shop"...) that I think could have a lot of cool features for us Mud Junkies in the future....

So, I STFU and got my winter obstacle training on this weekend.... what did YOU DO? (there's never a better time than today...!)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The will to win means nothing if you haven't the will to prepare. -Juma Ikangaa

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 539:

Well, life has simply been crazy. But then again, I suppose, when is it not, for one reason or another. I decided that the best course of action was to stop the (potentially very valid) excuses and instead sweat out the stress. I feel better when I'm working out regularly (well.... after I soak myself in Tiger Balm), I feel better knowing that I'm "on plan" and I sleep better at night when I'm all worn out. (First rule of insomnia: it's really hard to have insomnia, when your body is DONE at the end of the day.)

So. In light of that, I carved out some time, and got myself over to a CrossFit WOD. I admit, I peeked at the WOD ahead of time, groaned heartily, but still got myself in the car and drove over there. It helped to know that Stacey had stuck it out this morning and survived.... so, really, I had no excuse. 

Today's WOD went like this: 


5 Min Foam Roll
"Fire Starter"
30 Sit Ups
30 Double Unders (or 90 singles)
30 Burpees

(Yes. As the saying goes in CrossFit - "Your Workout is my Warm-Up!")

The burpees were kicking my butt, enthusiastically, as burpees always do. Further incentive to get rid of the weight (some of it...again. sigh.), is that things like burpees and running and such become exponentially harder with ever ounce of "extra" that you have to move. It is interesting to know what Burpees feel like 15 pounds lighter (pre-injury/holiday weight) and what they feel like now. It is a learning experience, people. 

Now, on to the main event, after some review of technique... 

(prescribed amounts in parenthesis)

20 Wall Balls (20/14)  - I did 14# here. WOOT. Starting Strong, feeling good.
20 Sit Ups - Still feeling good, busting through 20 situps (after 30 in the warm up). 
20 Box Jumps (24/20) - okay, 16" box for me, with step downs instead of jump downs. Still need to be a wee bit careful of the shin splints. Starting to breathe hard.
20 Push Ups - Annnd, my nemesis (one of them). I'm on my knees, doing them in sets of 5. But I'm not quitting. I'm PROUD to say that every set of 5 was five GOOD form pushups, elbows in, hands under shoulders. I think that is progress.
20 Power Cleans (135/95) - I anticipated the ugliness of this WOD so only loaded up 55# and did 2 sets of 10 with 20 sec in between, where I tried to convince my lungs to STFU and get with the program.
20 Double Unders - Ahh... the elusive double under. This is still 60 singles in Aja-Land. It was a nice "break". Oh Dear, I thought to myself. 
20 Thrusters (24/16) - okay, Dumbbell thrusters, with 10# dumbbells. Again, much lighter than I usually handle, but I recognized this as a cardio WOD, not a strength piece. And, honestly, 20 reps of 10# weights was not as challenging as it probably should've been, but my legs were starting to get tired (box jumps, what?!), and I knew my arms woudl get thoroughly trashed later. 
20 Pull Ups - *cry* Ah yes. My ARCH ENEMY. Still using a giant black band. Arms were tired. Did these in sets of 2-3, but did, in fact, suffer through ALL 20. It was at this point that I was really starting to feel my imminent death. I tried to stay positive and disregard everyone else and just DO WORK.
20 Overhead Squat (95/65) - This is typically  not a strong lift for me, so I pulled the weight on the bar to only 55#. But, when I went to put it overhead after the previous part of the WOD, I knew that that wasn't going to work 20 times. Pulled the weight plates off to leave me with a 35# bar, which I flipped over my head and got down to business. I DID notice that (because of climbing?) I was able to rotate my shoulders into a better position, for stronger OH lifts. YES. That was a huge struggle of mine last winter, I just didn't have the flexibility in my shoulders to do it. SO.... even though it was light, I concentrated on form, and had a win in my shoulders. Little victories. By this time, I admit, I did, almost completely, want to die. 
20 KB Swings (24/16) - Again, you know your WOD is bad when you get to KB swings and feel relief. Concentrated on my form, noted a slight quiver in my legs and pushed on ward. 2 sets of 10 got me through these.
20 SDHigh Pull (32/24) - Sumo Deadlift High Pull with a KB (I don't know what weight on that). Again, I felt myself slowing and "taking a break", but realized I was behind most of the class and my competitve spirit kicked in. I picked up the pace and before I knew it was huffing and puffing hard again.
20 Burpees - OH DEAR. Burpees I'm well-familiar with. But, at this point in the WOD, this felt like the The End of the World. For real. Burpees suck on a good day... but after this far in this WOD, I was not feeling so hot. Like literally, you know where you have that moment that you're like, 'hmm... I may actually throw up.' Nonetheless, I was not DONE, so there was no time for throwing up... a few (alright quite a few) deep breaths and I kept working on these. Slowly. They were not my prettiest burpees ever.... but they were burpees. 
20 Back Squats (135/95) - with relief I came to these back squats. Yes. I was relieved about back squats. I did this also with only #35 - which was entirely too light... but given the fact that I was really pushing through the end of this wod, I chose good form and completion of reps, rather than weight (again, the aim was to make this a cardio intensive wod, not a strength one.) Tiny Hercules (Trainer Lisa) came by to remind me to control my squat and not to just drop into it because I was tired. With a mindful eye on it, 2 sets of ten, and I was done back squats.I was feeling run over by a truck now. 
20 GHD Sit Up - So, since the GHD machine was occupied, this was just 20 more situps. What a relief (although, I have a suspicion I might feel these tomorrow...)
20 Walking Lunges - Good GOD, is there no mercy around here?! LUNGES??? I had a tiny millisecond tantrum in my head, because my legs were tired, my body was tired, I was feeling all my weight and panting. More deep breaths. I noted that much of the class was ahead of me. The temptation was there to cut the reps in half because I "needed" to. However, a self slap in the mental face reminded me that I DO NOT need to, I just wanted to. STFU and get to business. Slow and Steady, so what if I'm last? 20 good lunges is better than the lady who was cutting corners... You're only cheating yourself... 
20 Deadlift (135/95) -  AHhhhhhh Deadlift. I like you. I really do. You were to be my "rest" for the final push at the end of the WOD. Deadlifts come easy to me, even tired. I put all the convenient weights back on, totalling 75# (again, should've gone heavier) and pushed out 20 DL's in short order. That is not to say I didn't grunt and make noise through the last few... but, they were done.
20 Knees to Elbow - a hot, sweaty, panting mess, I climbed up on my box to reach the bar to do my K2Elbows.  I struggle with these on a good day. I was spent, today. I ended up doing these is tiny sets of 2-3 ( much like my pull ups), but kept going, with my eye on the ever persistent Dude that was also slow and steady like me. He was busting them out slowly... again, there was NO REASON for me to cut corners and cut the reps. 2 at a time,  with breaks for breathing... and on I went. 
20 Front Squats (135/95) - OH SWEET SWEET front squats! On a good day, I love you.... but today, at the END of this behemoth of a WOD? I just don't know. I got my 35# bar set again (toooooo light), and popped it up to rack position on my shoulders. Deep breath in as I squatted, breathe out with the up effort. My legs were done. My lungs were done. *I* was done. But I had 19 more to go. I was also last to finish. But, in order to get better, one must put in the work. Sets of 5, I decided, and front squat I did. 

....... YEAH. 

EPIC WOD. We touched on a ton of the major maneuvers, including the ones I really suck at, with the aim to do them quickly and efficiently for a cardio WOD. I think that was Mission Accomplished, because when I threw down my bar after the last of the Front Squats, I put my hands on my hips and pondered Star Fishing (Starfishing, v, when one sprawls, face up or down, in complete exhaustion, in their own sweat puddle, limbs out like a star fish). Instead, I stood up and tried to slow my pounding heart rate with deep breath in, deep breath out. 

I'm happy to say I lived. That was a total of 31 minutes of pure evil. But, I feel good knowing that I did it. And boy, does that kind of effort clear your mind. You can not be stressed, planning, worrying or ANYTHING when you're putting in an effort like that. Impossible. It was exactly what I needed. 

Now, approximately 3 hours post-wod, I'm a bit creaky. My back is noting that we haven't used it like that in a while, my legs are tired (but still moving), and I pretty much think by tomorrow morning, I'm going to want to soak in tiger balm. 

Instead, I think it's home to a hot Epsom Salt bath.... and some gentle 30 minute yoga in the morning. Tomorrow's training entails a 4 mile run, so I've got to stretch the legs back into working by then. Oh my. At least the temperatures have picked up a bit, so it's not so bitter cold. It was almost 40 here today! Yay!

As an aside, staying on The Eating Plan is going well. So far, so good. I've been On Program 100% for about a week an a half now and I feel much better. Just keep at it, one meal at a time. I'm actually looking forward to my newly-instituted formal, weekly check-in with the GT on Sunday. I'll get on the scale, see how I've done, and we'll discuss the week and the week ahead. I feel good this week. I'm following plan, I'm eating right and my head is in the right place. I GOT THIS. 

Now.... where's the ibuprofen....?