So last Saturday I did a Spartan Race... well, not just a Spartan Race, but the World Championship Spartan Beast on Killington in Vermont. (trust me... there's a distinction there)
I warn you now that this post is going to be long and will probably contain a little too much "realness" and emotion at the beginning that you might not care about. If you just want to know more about the race, then skim down and you'll see it. But I must preface the race with what has brought me here.
"Why so glum, chum?"
The past 2-3 years have been a rollercoaster ride for me. Emotionally, physically... it's all tied together. I'm a stress/emotional eater and always have been. I also don't have nearly the amount of self-esteem that some of you think I do... I just put up a good front. Of everything in my whole life, the past couple years have tested me and broke me down so much. The things that did the breaking were just the proverbial "last straw" of much bigger things. Here's a quick timeline:
- In fall of 2011, I found myself unexpectedly (and excitedly) part of the Lady Red Claws Dance Team for our local NBA D-League team. This amazing experience made my confidence soar! I was dancing in front of all these people and loving life. I was also in the best shape of my life and felt great. In December I got engaged to my amazingly supportive boyfriend and a month later (happy New Year!) we found out we'd be having a baby. Really, life was good, but suddenly there was a lot of added stress in my life. I also stopped working out as it became uncomfortable and I was concerend about how much was too much for the baby. And I ate... oh did I eat...
- Our wedding happened in May of 2012 and was great, but that same week my grandmother passed away. Within another 2 months, I lost a close family friend to a horrible cancer. Too many tears for one year, but it was juxtaposed with so much joy. In September, my new husband and I welcomed an amazing baby boy... and my depression after just made me pull away. The first few months were really hard and every time I looked in a mirror, it got that much worse. I'd gained so much weight and just didn't know where to start.
- In 2013, the same week as my first anniversary, I lost my dad. There is so much I could write about that, but that's a different post. Let's just say that it got my butt in gear. I made the effort to take my life and my body back. I started running again and working out and had three main goals for the year (all happening late summer/early fall). (1) I wanted to reaudition for the Red Claws and get back on the team, (2) I was running the Reach the Beach 200 mile relay race with a team of ladies and (3) I was training for my first half marathon in October. I worked my butt off all summer and felt AMAZING and (I thought) confident for the first time in ages. I will try to make a long story shorter and sum up what happened with these goals and how it made me feel. (1) I was cut from Red Claws, not because of my weight, but because of my dance skills (or lack thereof). This was a blow that I never saw coming. Hurt like hell. I would have rather been told I was too fat to be honest. This knocked me off my horse, but after about a week of my own pity party for one, I got back into my training. (2) I got food poisoning two nights before the Reach the Beach. I still completed the race, but was not able to stay at my anticipated pace and had to walk A LOT. My team was amazingly supportive (love you, gals!) but at the time I felt I had failed them. We did finish and got our medals, but I felt really crappy about it and that I'd let them down. (3) After RTB, my training was non-existant. I went back into hibernation mode and didn't care anymore. I attempted the half anyway... and ended up finishing about 30 min longer than I had originally hoped and could barely walk (hurt my knee and possibly IT band pretty badly). At the time, I just chalked it up as yet another failure on my part.
Now I know my thoughts are irrational and I can see that when I step outside and look in, but this is how I was feeling, thus it's how I'll report it.
- Now, 2014 I make another stab at things. I sign up for a race series from January to June and (even though I have to skip some races due to injury) I do finish the series. But again, I didn't do exactly what I'd hoped to... so I still felt like I'd failed on some level. I needed something to make me feel like I could do "it" (whatever "it" was). I chose to focus on trying to get back onto Red Claws one last time. (ah... most of you didn't know that huh?? ;)) One more try... one more rejection... great... thanks...
So basically, this past few months I've been in the "F this... I don't really want to do anything except eat junk food and watch TV" camp. I had lost ALL my baby weight, and now I've gained a bunch
back. And all I want to do is say :-P ppppppppppppffffffffffffftttttttt
My self esteem has been in the toilet. I have all this emotion still about everyone I've lost recently. I'm just a big ball of tears waiting to break at any moment. And that's where I've been for a few months now.
"Hey, you should do a mud run!"
This year, the hubs has REALLY gotten into obstacle course racing. He's crazy. Two Tough Mudders, a couple Spartan Sprints, signed up for a Spartan Super and the Spartan Beast in VT. "You should do one, hun! It's fun!" Suuuuuuuuure... sounds it. I informed him that I don't like mud and will stick to my little Spartan Fenway Sprint (thank you very much).
Then, his partner in crime for these races had to back out... of the Beast... less than a month before the race. Now, I might not want to do these things, but I also don't want my hubby to be all alone for a 13+ mile race. I know him... he would have happily chatted with complete strangers the entire time, but it's not the same as being with someone you know and care about. I started Googling "can I prepare for a spartan beast in 4 weeks". Then I realized... crap... it's only 3 weeks away. One would think this is just ASKING for another failure... but this time I sort of expected that going into it :)
We got me registered. I didn't train. I knew I was in for hell and was really relying on hubby's research and experience to help me through. I knew we'd do the course together, so that helped. Over 12 miles? Sounds like a challenge! Obstacles? I watched 'em on YouTube! We bought me new gear (compression shirt, capris, sleeves, hydration pack, Gu, more nutrition, rock tape, salt capsules, pedialyte)... LET'S DO THIS!!!
So, with my only ever obstacle course race having been the Fenway Spartan Sprint in 2013, off we were to the World Championship Spartan Beast. What could go wrong?? :)
"YOU'VE GOT TO BE F***ING KIDDING ME!"
That seemed to be my mantra most of the race :) Prior to the race, I'd seen a GPS of last year's race. It was approximately 13.5 miles long and had three large ascents up the mountain (all in the first 5 miles). When we arrived at the venue, one of the first sights I saw was of the sandbag carry (one of two) that looked like it went a mile up the mountain! So, when we exited the starting gate in our 11:00am wave and almost immediately were faced with going straight up a ski slope, I was bummed, but not surprised. Luckily I took hub's advice to heart and just started taking the smallest quickest steps I could. I felt like a weight was on my chest and it hurt to breathe. Great way to start.
That feeling subsided and about half a mile into the race we came to our first two obstacles: Under-Over-Under (crawl under a saw horse basically, over a small wall and under again) and Over-Under- Through (a Spartan Race standard... over a wall, under a wall, through a hole in the wall). Mile 1 done! Easy peasy :) Another half mile or so later, we came to the first sandbag carry (mine was about 25 pounds, no big deal)... onward (and downward)! We passed the three mile mark and finally came to the next obstacle (3 miles and only 3 obstacles?? I hadn't yet figured out exactly what that might mean, but knew that the terrain had, so far, been an obstacle in itself!). Obstacle #4 was the Bucket Brigade. If this one sounds easy to you, then I want you to actually try it... looks easy... is not. You have to fill up a 5 gallon bucket (men almost completely full, women about 3/4 full) with crushed rock up to some drilled holes. Then you have to carry the bucket uphill and down around a course and at the end, if they can see daylight through those holes due to "settling" (or you dumping rocks out), then you fail (BURPEES!! 30 of 'em!). Needless to say, I overfilled a bit. I had to stop almost every 10-20 feet going up that hill, but I did it and moved on. Obstacle 5 was right after... the Traverse Wall. Hey, you just killed your arms carrying gravel?? See how well they will hold you up on this wall!! (Luckily I had my handy dandy husband with me to keep me from falling off the wall or I would have burpee'd this one...)
Over a 5k finished and I was still feeling pretty good. We weren't running a lot (I couldn't on the up-hills if I was going to last the whole race and the downhills were just too darn steep for running), but we did pick up to a jog on any flat areas. We came around to where obstacle #6 would have been and I got my first disappointment of the day. We were supposed to swim out in this pond
to the Tarzan Swing, but it had been shut down. We found out later that there had been a (false) scare that someone had drown. They reopened after we had passed only to shut down again later because it was deemed too cold and there was concern of hypothermia. I didn't get to do my water obstacle and felt a little cheated by that, but with 10+ miles to go I wasn't really going to complain.
We didn't get to the next obstacle until close to the 5 mile marker (I said "marker" and not "mark" as this distinction becomes really important by the end of the race). Now, having done Fenway...
I was expecting obstacles every quarter mile or so. By the time we saw "Mile 5" we'd only done 9 obstacles (and three of those had JUST happened):
#7 Atlas Lift: I was really proud of myself on this one. We had to pick up a heavy concrete sphere (rumor had it that the women's was about 90lbs) that was in a hole, carry it about 10 yards, put it in another hole, do 5 proper chest-to-the-ground burpees, pick up the sphere and bring it back to the original hole. I rocked this.
#8 Barbed Wire crawl: Easy peasy. The wires got lower and lower and the mud was wet, cold, and oozy, but I had no problems here. Having short arms helps :) I was able to crawl and barely got my shirt dirty.
#9 Log Carry: Those things were HEAVY! Had to stop a lot on the way up the hill. Got a second wind going down as a few of us started a chorus of "It's LOG! LOG! It's big, it's heavy, it's wood!"
Now, at this point I want to stop to point out that, in between these obstacles, we are HIKING... like a lot. There wasn't a whole lot of "oh look, hun! A flat section! Let's run!" No. We were in the woods and going up or on black diamond (and double diamond) ski slopes and headed straight down. The obstacles may have been scarce, but the difficulty was not. Every corner we turned was like "oh hey look... more uphill... that's new and different". We were handling it really well though. Both our water packs had Pedialyte in them (constant electrolytes... it's what Spartans want!) and we were grabbing either a Gu or Clif shots or something to that effect every mile marker. At 5 miles in I was feeling surprisingly good.
The next three obstacles came quickly and were not bad:
#10 Log Hop: (another "would have failed if hubs didn't help me" one) have to jump from post to post (4 of them) onto a log balance beam (over knee-deep water) and back onto four more posts to
#11 7-foot wall: up and over... thanks for the boost, hubby!
#12 Vertical Cargo net: Easy... guys were great and held the bottom of the net to help everyone out. No big deal on this one.
So far, no burpees for me and I'm still feeling good. At this point though, we had our first glimpse into "The Unprepared" as I'll call them collectively. There were a bunch of kids (yup... I'm old enough to call them that) that had no hydration or nutrition with them. I heard them claim they were only supposed to do the Sprint and "missed the turn" (????)... not sure what happened to them in the long run (pun very much intended) but being out there without calories and water is really dumb... they would have no idea what was ahead.
We had another really long hike with a lot of ups and downs and summitted in the clouds to a windy and cold cargo net climb (BIG cargo net... about 20' up) for obstacle #13. I had no issues with
this either and didn't even notice the cold at the time. I did notice the cloud that we were in because you could see it swirling under the frame for the net. Crazy and cool.
Another really long stretch and we passed the 7-mile marker, got to the water station (they were at every odd mile) and stretched out a bit. Then we were off! Again...
Three quick obstacles:
#14 Tractor pull: concrete block on a huge chain that you have to pull down hill, around a course, and back up hill. The log carry at this point seeemed like a distant memory. It had been a long time since we'd had any real strength tests (not just hills and walls and nets). We got advice from "bulb guy" (we should have gotten his name... we'd seen him on and off since the barbed wire crawl... he'd lost his pump bulb for his hydration pack. He became a friendly face for a good portion of the race.) that we should put the chain across our hips and use our body weight to move it and not just pull the chain. GREAT ADVICE!
#15 Memorization test: memorize a code tied to your bib number (ECHO 515-2943!!) This will be asked of you later in the course. If you can't remember, it's burpees... so I had it memorized in about 20 seconds.
#16 Spear throw: Fail... burpees. The only obstacle I actually failed (more on that later). I did all 30 of those #*$&#^$! burpees, chest to ground. AROO!
Then we had another mile plus hike down the mountain. The down hills were the worst... slippery and steep. I did a lot of it on my butt and wasn't the only one. At the bottom of the hill we hit
the 9-mile marker and two more obstacles:
#17 Inverted wall: Once again, success only with the boost from my husband.
#18 Bucket Brigade (the sequel): Yup... I almost lost my sh*t when I realized that we'd be doing another one of these. I looked up at the extreme uphill course that we had to carry the bucket around this time and had no idea how I was going to do it. I completed the uphill part while sticking with "guy in red shirt" who was having a similarly hard time. Then I got my first pleasant surprise of the day... the people I saw going waaaaaaay up the hill weren't part of this obstacle!! I was already to the turn-around point!! The joy I felt at that point was so real. Made the bucket feel at least half a pound lighter ;) On the way down I met up with a woman who introduced herself as Carrie and said to me "You and me! We're finishing this thing together!" I loved it. We picked up
those darn buckets and got it done. BAM! Thanks, Carrie!! (I never saw her again unfortunately.)
Tired but feeling amazed with myself and my strength to do this much so far... I continued.
"This is the hill that doesn't end... it just goes on and on my friends..."
So, yeah... the joy I had at realizing the people going far up the hill weren't carrying buckets was short-lived. This is the point at which this race takes a turn mentally for me. Somewhere between the second bucket brigade and everything else we went through what we are affectionately referring to as "The Death March". We started going uphill (and "uphill" isn't even a fair assessment... this was STEEP... really steep) following the gondola track. I have no idea how long we were going up (timewise nor mileage) but it was difficult and I had to stop more often than I would have liked. We made a lot of fast friends on this ascent as we kept leap-frogging one another and complaining.
Comraderie in complaints is a good thing sometimes. We also helped our first fellow Spartan with a salt capsule as he was sitting trying to massage out a leg cramp. I may have been tired and sore,
but at least I was still going and hadn't cramped. I'd made a mental pledge to myself that I wouldn't sit down no matter how tired I was... because I knew I wouldn't get back up. I just kept putting
"one foot in front of the other..." (yes, that song was in my head more than once)
We got to the crest... I could see it and hubs was encouraging me to just get over and we could rest for a minute. I did. For a split second I felt like I'd conquered something. Then I looked
ahead... and up... so very far up... We literally were only half-way up that *&#$^@%!$* mountain. This was the one point in the race that I cried. It was a quick mental release for me. I said to
hubs, "I'm ok. I'm physically fine. But that is so damn mentally demoralizing." I had done so much and knew we were only about half way done and here was the race designer with a big "haha... you
thought you could do this???" to my face. I will never be able to truly describe what I felt like at this point. I just had to put my head down and keep on keeping on. I'm not sure how exactly I
made it up, but I did and that felt amazing (inside... outside it felt like crap. haha)
At the top of this climb we had to stop for a bit. It was getting late (no watch, but I think it was after 6pm if I remember correctly). The sun was starting to set (not that we'd seen it all day... it was very overcast... a blessing really) and we were about to enter the woods for a long descent. Spartan Race rules stated that we had to have a working headlamp and two glowsticks (and a way to attach them to you) per person and that these items would be checked by staff at 5pm and required from 7pm on. We had brought all of this with us. Folks around us were talking about how they didn't
have the lights... "I never saw that in the rules"... "I thought we'd be done by now". Yay us for being prepared... well, mostly. I forgot the extra batteries for the headlamps back in my purse in
the car (so very very far away) and my headlamp was really dim (darn you Reach the Beach 2013!! haha). Also, we bought four camping glowsticks at Dick's before we left... found out at the top of
this mountain that three of them (THREE!) had already been activated in the store when we bought them. So I put one on and hubs had none. We started into the woods...
The woods were interesting in the dark, but I didn't feel that it was too difficult. Some slippery spots, but very doable at a pretty good pace. About 3/4 way down the mountain we came to obstacle #19, the Tire Drag. This one was rough. The heavy tire was on a slope attached to a thick rope. You had to pull it up toward you and then drag it back down the hill. I had to have hubs help me drag it up because I couldn't even budge it a bit (he claimed mine seemed heavier than his was), but I had no problems dragging it back down the hill. We continued down the hill and finally came to the obstacle I'd been dreading all day. The second sandbag carry. This one was LONG... and STEEP. It looked to me that the women's bags originally weighed somewhere around 40lbs. By the time we got there, a lot of the sand had been dumped and the bags were not full. The volunteer offered me a light one and I did not protest... it was probably only about 10-15lbs. I would have felt like a cheat had I not seen people skipping the obstacle all together or just walking up it carrying nothing at all. There was even a path that had been cut that avoided the steepest part of the ascent. Had a funny conversation with a woman at that point about how our stupid integrity kept us from using it. I just wonder why people come out here at all if not to do the course... but I digress. I made it around the hardest part, not too far behind hubby (first time for everything... but his sandbag was easily 60lb) and back down.
From here on out, things get a little disappointing. We were about 11.5 miles into the 14.5 mile race and about to head back into a long dark trip through the woods. A wonderful volunteer gave us each a Twizzler (best thing I'd had all day) and we were off. We encountered one more obstacle called the Platinum Rig that I like to call the "Monkey Bars from Hell". Hubs put me on his shoulders and just walked me through it. There were 4 rings to hang from, then monkey bars interspersed with thick square bars, then higher trapeze-like bars, a vertical rope and 4 rings that you were supposed to step in. Yeah. I need to work on my grip strength and pull ups... big time. After that we were on this single track trail through the woods in what seemed like bumper-to-bumper traffic FOREVER. There was no good way to pass anyone and even if you did, you'd just be right behind someone else. Huge bottle-neck. We realized that it was because there were people mixed in that didn't have headlamps and were relying on those around them who did. They were slowing the whole group down...a lot.
Obstacle 22 had been closed (it was a traverse on a rope above water) so we didn't get to do that and we finally busted out of the woods to run toward the final mile and a half when our group was stopped by a race staff member. We were told that we couldn't continue and were being pulled off the course because we didn't have time to finish. A mile and a half from the finish... with 40 min left in the race. This was the second time that day that I cried. There were 11 more obstacles ahead because they'd packed them all in a convenient area for the NBC cameras. Also, according to many people's GPS trackers, the course was over 16 miles long and not the advertised 14.5.
We hopped a shuttle bus back to the finish/start to get our bags. In the team tent we were sharing, a woman realized that we'd been pulled off and said that if we hopped the fence and hurried, we could jump the fire and get our medals. Judge me all you want, but that's what we did. I'm not 100% proud of it, but I needed to walk away from this with something tangible and not just a head full of confusion, jumbled memories, and (at the time) anger and frustration.
My gripe... and lessons.
I realize that in theory, I didn't even belong in this race. I hadn't trained and had never previously been excited about doing a "mud run". I do not consider myself a "Spartan Beast Finisher"... I have a medal, but will never tell people I finished. I own my DNF and will until I can change it into an official finishing time at a future race (yup... now I've got the bug). My frustration was that we didn't cheat and helped out others and got held up because there were people on the course who shouldn't have been according to Spartan's own rules. We had a good pace going before that bottle-neck and could have had time to finish. Now the irony here is that, if they HAD been pulling people out who didn't have proper light equipment, then we probably would have been pulled, too because of the glowsticks, but I was prepared for that. The moment we left the mountain top withonly one glowstick between the two of us I figured we were done the next time we saw a volunteer. But at least that would have been my own fault for not being prepared as the rules required. I feel that I was told I couldn't finish through no fault of my own and that is frustrating.
I took almost a full week to write this report to take some of the immediate emotion out of it. I'm glad I did. I'm much less angry now and have a pretty clear head about the whole thing. I am going to do this race again someday. I will train for it. I will pay for an early start time (just in case). I will bring 20 glowsticks and extra batteries. Otherwise, I wouldn't change much. The race wasn't "fun" while it was happening and I didn't "enjoy" it. But it was an amazing experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
But here's the great thing... I failed... technically. I have a big fat DNF on this race, but you know what? For the first time in two years at attempting things, I don't feel like a failure. I didn't train for this thing and never stopped and never gave up. I didn't get hurt and I proved myself to be stronger than I had imagined I was. I PICKED THINGS UP AND PUT THEM DOWN! (a lot!!) I felt so ridiculously good about myself right up to the point that they pulled us off that course. For about 30 min, I let that one moment bring me down from the other 10 hours we were on that course. Now I can realize how stupid that is. I will not let that one part take away everything I accomplished that day. I'm damn proud of myself still and will focus on that as I move onward to new challenges.