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....?

Monday, January 7, 2013

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. -Epictetus

Spartan Shape Up, Day 538:

Alright, BlogLand. I'm back. Hardcore, in the game. It's been a crazy stressful and chaotic few months, I've been feeling really down on myself and my progress, and I've just felt crappy. I've felt crappy because I wasn't eating like I should, I felt crappy because I was not exercising like I should, and I felt crappier, because I KNEW it was my own fault that all this was happening; I got discouraged and off track because of the injuries, and just never got back on.

No longer! No more excuses, no more skipping workouts, no more "it's cold" bullshit (pardon me)... It's on. I watched Biggest Loser last night and saw the Old Me in many of those people. People used to no prioritizing themselves, to accepting the status quo, to not feeling good enough, not pushing themselves... and as a result, were on the Biggest Loser. It was an excellent reminder of where I started.

SO. Today, me, my new Garmin (ooo!) and my faithful running buddy, Stacey, set forth on the road. It was 11 degrees and all kinds of wintery, so I laced up my new Inov-8 Orocs (review on those here!), donned my UA extreme cold gear and set the excuses aside.

It was cold. There's no getting around that. BUT... I was properly geared (this is key), and today's schedule was at least bust out an "easy 3".

I won't lie, I can feel with every step, how much I need to get back to consistent training. An "easy 3" is no where NEAR as easy as it was, or should be. But. It is merely what it is, not a sign that I have failed (reminder to self).

We trudged through the snowy sidewalks (it's a bit like running through sand at some points!), down the streets, and its true, after a couple of miles, I started to have fun again. I remembered that I DO , in fact, (mostly) enjoy this, I have a great running buddy, and running training helps me to do all the things that I REALLY like doing.
So, while the last half a mile was a bit of a push (my body was all like WTF?!), it was mind over matter, with the classic words of my GT in my head: Your lungs will not explode, your heart will slow down, your legs will not fall off....

He has assured me that my conditioning will come back faster this time, as I haven't been "off" that long, and I had built up a really good base. So, I'm reassured and following directions. I have a training program, reset by the GT and I'm doing it. Following Directions of your Trainer = Success. Why don't we all learn that the first time?

On another note, I'm also getting my eating in check. I found a website that provides a Paleo dinner menu, complete with shopping list. My current plan, to provide myself a lot more structure with my eating, is to follow said dinner plan like it is the law. Breakfast is pretty easy for me to keep in check and lunch will be leftovers, etc. I CAN (and WILL) do this. One of my big goals for this year is to get down to my goal weight (maybe 40-50 more pounds?) and I'm not going to do it if I don't seriously think about what I'm putting in my face. By taking some of the thinking off for a while, I'm hoping to a) cut my food bill a bit by having a concerted plan and b) eat healthy, portioned things, that someone else has already had the pain in the butt of thinking of.

Subsequently, I made a lovely dinner, post-run, from said "plan." I made a tasty crustless quiche, with fresh chive, thyme and parsley, with a bit of Feta, and accompanied it with a fresh tomato salad with ripped up basil leaves and a homemade red-wine vinaigrette. Too bad I didn't save any of the Paleo brownie from last night (literally: 1 whole avocado, 1/3 cup honey, 1/2 cup cocoa power, 3 eggs. Bake. Decidedly not bad!)

It appears, BlogLand, that I've got 2013 handled. It's all about consistency as the road to success........ One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. I can do this.

Product Review: Inov-8 Oroc 340 GTX

BlogLand, meet the Inov-8 Oroc 340 GTX.

I am in love.

I'd say I was completely head over heels in love... but there's no way you could be, if you've got these bad boys on your feet.

Since this is my first winter as a "serious" runner, I struggled - like most people - with what I should put on my feet during those ugly, cold, slushy, snowy, icy runs (that here in my lovely home state of Vermont could be from November-late March). Could there possibly be a shoe that could a) keep me from slipping, b) keep my feet dry, c) stay with my preferred minimalist feel and d) be comfortable??

Rest assured, BlogLand... THERE IS! As a huge fan of Inov-8 already, having sported their f-lite 230s to Crossfit classes, as well as countless road races, and something like close to 70 miles of Obstacle Races, I turned to them to provide me the answer. I won't lie, I shopped around - I checked out all the major brands for their comparable model, but no one seemed to come close. The only other major contender was the IceBug running shoes who also produce a shoe with a carbide studded sole. With the winter as long and harsh as it typically is here in VT, I decided this was going to be a key feature for me - sure, I could get some sort of grippers that I could put on a shoe, etc. but why would I try to make a shoe into what I needed, when clearly, there were shoes out there SOLELY designed for this purpose. I'm a winter runner, I need winter running shoes. End of Story.

Ultimately, I went with the Inov-8 Orocs, because I know that the Inov-8s fit my feet comfortably and have always demonstrated superior quality and durability.

Oh MAN am I glad I did. Lacing up my bright orange Orocs tonight, I not only felt super-cool (seriously, did you LOOK at those shoes?!), but immediately felt the studs stick into my linoleum. (note to self: put shoes on on CARPET and make sure you're headed right out, so as not to tear up linoleum. Are YOUR shoes bad ass enough to tear up your floor? I think not!) I felt like this boded well for the imminent run.

I chose a potentially risky way to test these shoes: I ran exactly as I would run if it was 75 and sunny with clear paths. I did not change my stride for ice, I did not sidestep puddles and I plowed right through the snow banks.

Let me just give a round of applause to Inov-8 right now. I'm pretty sure I could scale vertical walls of ice in these Orocs. Not ONCE did I slip, slide or feel unsure of my footing. Remember I said I ran as I normally would? Yes, that included straight across several large ice patches... with no slippage. Go go Tungsten Carbide Studs!

Also, I ran through the not-quite-solid ice puddles, side of the road slush, and every other unpleasantness.... and returned home with absolutely dry feet and socks. Gore-Tex construction for the win.

Overall, I absolutely couldn't be happier with this product. While winter running is always a little bit of a chore, Inov-8 has given me ZERO ways to use the "it's icy/slippery/etc." out there excuse. With the Orocs on my feet, winter runs are made possible with confidence.

As a side note, because I live in the city, sometimes (occasionally...) I come across a cleared sidewalk. I was concerned that if I had to run on a cleared sidewalk on the lugs and studs, it would feel strange. However, I found no disruption to my run here, either; the shoe feels light on your feet and though you make an awesome clippy-cloppy sounds (like horses trotting down the street with shoes on!), it is not uncomfortable to run on the solid ground either, as the situations arise.

While the Oroc will set you back about $180, it is WELL worth the investment in a quality shoe, not to mention your safety. I am happy to pay the $180 for a shoe that allows me to continue my training (and not have to run indoors on a treadmill!), as well as gives me the piece of mind that I'm not going to slip and fall and get injured training.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: Redefining Epic Awesome

At the close of last year, I predicted of 2012 that it would be "... epic, BlogLand. Epic of Biblical proportions, I tell you."

(Check out last year's Farewell to 2011 and Hello to 2012)

I am proud to say that not only did my wildest dreams of that statement come true, but more incredible, unbelievable Epic Awesomeness just piled right on top. I think I finally understand what it means when they say that if you are open and ready for people/things/experiences, the right ones will come to you. 

I was reading back what my goals and hopes were for 2012, may of which I'm closer to, but still pursuing (Damn You! Elusive Pull Up!); but many, I have not just accomplished, but smashed to oblivion. For instance, on New Years Day 2012, I set my own distance record, by running 6 miles. My goal for the year was to run a non-stop 10K. 2012 would have me run several 10K - road and mud races - tackle 10 mile distances in weekend "long runs", and complete my first half marathon. Why complete "just" a 10K, when you can keep raising the bar a bit to see just how far you can go? I am amazed. I think that sometimes you just get so caught up in the immediate days around you, or the current problem in your face that you forget just how much you have accomplished. 

So, for the sake of reflection, refocusing and remotivating in the year to come, here are some of the highlights of 2012:

- finishing (albeit an ugly finish, but still a finish!) my first half marathon
- completing the Vermont Spartan Beast - a half marathon distance, with a 5000ft elevation change and 35+ obstacles
- double-digit weight loss (more to come in 2013!) and feeling "healthy" for the first time in my life
- being comfortable enough with myself to attempt things I never would've thought of - like Rock Climbing and legitimately attempting a 1/2 marathon
- Owning ME and not being afraid to be that - giant, muscular and Amazonian as that may be - and wear a dress in public, or hit the grocery store in my post-Workout Spandex.
- making my life a positive space. I am proud to say that the people in my life right now are all those who are bring something positive to it; I refuse to allow a negative drain to drag me under. I've had to stand up for me, for my "weird" eating habits, defend the workouts I do and prioritize my races, much to the dismay and confusion of many people.... but I remind myself that I do these things for ME and not anyone else. So what if they think that me asking for "no rice" with my Chinese takeout is weird?

On a less tangible note, I've seen the ripple effect of my changes. 2013 will see my 62 year old Dad train for and take on a Spartan Sprint, having never been "athletic". I've watched my great running and crazy adventure buddy, Stacey, take the first steps towards fitness and now kick my ass into the car for early morning Crossfit WODs, or to pick up the pace at our runs around town. THESE are the things I'm most proud of. These people are now my inspiration, when the going gets tough. 

Similarly, 2012 was the year I really realized my dream of allowing my writing voice to be heard in a more professional sense. I've always loved to write and had some small successes at it.... but 2012 was the year that I let it lose - and this time, I had something to say. started out just as a chronicle for myself, to hold me accountable for the changes I needed to make. Little did I know that so many of you would find glimpses of your self and your situation and your struggles and triumphs in the ones I have faithfully written for you, BlogLand. Honestly, with every positive compliment I receive, I am forever baffled that anyone wants to reach the battles of a 30 year old women just trying to be a better version of herself. But Thank You. From the bottom of my  heart, Thank You. Because you read, you commented, you shared yourselves with me, continuing to push me forward, egg me on and hold me accountable, I've been given opportunities to share my story and hopefully help to move many other people off their couches. My writing has appeared in the Spartan Race official Blog, in a caption of a great Fenway Park Spartan Race photo in the Boston Globe, and most recently, I've been asked to be a regular contributor to the ground-breaking Obstacle Racing Magazine. When I opened up that first issue to page 38, saw myself leaping flames and crawling through mud, and saw my name - MY NAME! - in the byline, I cried a little bit. I've always wanted to actually "be" a writer, and now I can say that I feel like this has really come true. 

.... all because one day I decided I wanted to play in the mud.

Speaking of which, in 2012, I realized that that - remembering how to play - was really the secret of it all. I started having fun in my life again - running without a particular time or distance in mind, climbing rocks because it was fun, crawling through the mud with a smile on my face, getting sweaty at CrossFit, because picking up Heavy Things can be fun too, particularly when done in the company of a great group of people. release your inner kid again!

Anyway, in the spirit of looking forward to the awesomeness that will be 2013, here's a few goals I've set for myself:
- ONE unassisted pull up (yep. Just ONE would make me exceedingly happy)
- Complete a half marathon in 2:30 or less.
- Spartan Race Trifecta 
- Reach and maintain a weight under 200 pounds
- Continue to pursue healthy eating habits, leaving out things that don't "fuel" my body
- Try at least 3 things that I have never done before

So, with that, BlogLand, I'm off to start tackling the 2013. Tell me, what have been your successes for the year, or what are you planning on owning in 2013?