Mission: Unknown

If you looked up the definition of “creature of habit,” I would be highly surprised if there wasn’t a picture of me sitting there. My alarm goes off at 4:22 a.m. every morning, I hit the gym, I go to work, I come home, I eat, I sleep.

Repeat ad infinitum.

If you asked my parents how I handled change or the unknown growing up, they would answer: “Simple. She doesn’t.” I admit–you threw me off my routine, and I would kick and scream. But at some point, during some strange event of maturation, I began to crave the unknown. I began to want to take risks. Perhaps years of routine have finally pushed me over the edge…

Enter my next event, the inaugural S.E.R.E Challenge. Next weekend, I will fly to D.C. with 39 others to partake in the first challenge, Class 001B. And while there has been much speculation among our ranks, very few of us, if any, know what to expect.

This makes it difficult to explain to, for example, my co-workers why I will be out-of-pocket next week. The convo goes a bit like this:

Co-worker: “So why are you flying to D.C. next weekend? A race?”
Me: “Ehh, it’s really not a race. More of a challenge.”
Co-worker: “A challenge? What does it involve?”
Me: “Um, not sure. Starts at 10pm Friday night and lasts until mid-day Saturday. All I know is that we have to carry 20% of our body weight in sand in a ruck, bring the required items on the packing list, and that there will be some type of swimming/water involved.”*

[Co-worker slowly backs away. This seems to be a reoccurring pattern in my life]

I mean, I suppose I can elaborate a little. It’s a 12+ hour urban mission-based adventure to test you physically and mentally, with emphasis on survival, team-building, and evasion. (Evasion? Please tell me this involves chasing me through the streets of D.C. at 3am. I can’t wait to get someone arrested) While this sounds AWESOME to me, I apparently am so batshit crazy that I decided to participate in the extended mission: S.E.R.E. OPCON. According to the S.E.R.E founder, Keith Jolly, OPCON is

“Where hand picked athletes selected from a the 12-18 hour grueling Basic Challenge, also the first of its kind, will be put through a mental challenge that will push most seasoned war fighters to their brink. Playing off the already physically fatiqued athletes, S.E.R.E. will compromise them in ways unimaginable to most. These athletes will push through the continued sleep deprivation and learn who they are or are not!”

Soo…let’s make that 12+ hour mission into a 40+ hour mission in which we REALLY don’t know what the eff is going on. Sound like fun? For sure.

So, in no particular order, here are the things running through my head one week until 40+ hours of massive suck:

(1) While I’ve done 24-hour races, and worked for 30+ hours straight, 40+ hours is going to be the longest that I’ve ever been awake. And, really, it’s more than 40 hours. I’ll be awake starting 6am Friday morning (to fly to DC) until at least 2pm Sunday (assuming I can sleep on my flight), but more likely 7 or 8ish Sunday evening. So we are looking at 50-60 hours of no sleep. And work Monday morning. Wheeee!
(2) My stomach does not like sleep deprivation. At about 24 hours awake, I’ve learned I start getting quite nauseous. Hence, me puking on Joel during World’s Toughest Mudder, or me puking in the bathrooms at work on a 30 hour stint. So watch out, fellow OPCON’ers–it’s boot and rally time. I’ll try to puke solely on Joel again.
(3) The team packing list includes a “16-18inch bike with pink streamers” and an inflatable boat. Enough said.
(4) I’ve met a lot of crazies through adventure racing, but my fellow SERE Basic and OPCON’ers might be the cream of the crop. I’m looking forward to reuniting with some of my favorite crazies: Joel, Todd, MCCABE, Webb + Deavilla (the “Handwarmer Duo”), Petrizzo, and Ms. Sherry Post and Simple Fuel-goddess herself (partnering with S.E.R.E!), and, of course, meeting dozens more. Special douchesparkles, you all are.
(5) It goes without saying, but I have no military experience. I am the furthest thing from a “seasoned war fighter.” It took me about 15 minutes to realize that “RP” meant “Rendezvous Point,” and I had to google “MOLLE” before I realized that we weren’t talking about a girl. Thankfully, I do know how to read a topo map. So I can get us off a mountain. But that’s about it. I can also scream real loud for help.

The unknown awaits me. Letsdothis: I couldn’t be more excited.**

*Current temperature of the Potomac: 35.4 degrees Fahrenheit
**Unless it involves ketchup and bacon. Then I could be more excited.

Volenti non fit injuria

To the consenting [willing], no injury is done. In the law, the Latin maxim of “volenti non fit injuria” is typically used as a defense in a tort action–voluntary assumption of the risk. To most of us, it’s what we so lovingly know as the Death Waiver.

Lately, however, I’ve realized that this maxim applies with equal weight to the abuse I inflict upon my body: when I injure myself doing stupid things, I have no one to blame but myself. I have only become painfully aware of this in the last year, and especially in the few months leading up to, and post, World’s Toughest Mudder.

Let’s take inventory:

Issue: After WTM, I was left with gaping blister holes on my heels. It’s painful to put on any enclosed shoe, including any type of running shoes.
Smart Decision: Wear some supportive clog with an open heel, and take some time off.
Amelia’s Decision: Walk around and workout in Injinjis and flip-flops for a few days, and then suck it up and deal with the pain and put on running shoes anyway.
Result: Blisters, that could have healed within two weeks, are now just starting to heal. Running shoes are now virtually pain-free. I may have permanent holes there, however.

Issue: As a result of the 24-race and wearing unsupportive flip-flops post race, I have a loose bone chip in my first metatarsal. This chip is digging into my tendon, causing extensor tendonitis.
Smart Decision: Per podiatrist instructions, chalk up $$ for laser therapy on the tendon, and rest.
Amelia’s Decision: Chalk up $$ for the laser therapy, and train for S.E.R.E. by climbing stairs for an hour a day with a ruck on my back containing 20% of my body weight in sand. Lie to my podiatrist about this.
Result: Laser therapy was a waste of money, and I still have tendonitis. Anything in a plank position, including push-ups, is painful. Running is manageable, but not great. Again, I can’t wear heels for work (hell, it’s been months since I can wear heels) and had to go to court the other day in some marginally-acceptable flats. Hide feet to pray judge doesn’t see.

Not only are Amelia’s Decisions a current problem, but it seems to be a pattern. For example:

Issue: Shin splint in the right tibia while running, jumping, and training all last year.
Smart Decision: Take some time off from training and do physical therapy.
Amelia’s Decision: Do physical therapy, but continue training. Eat Advil like it’s candy. Buy KT tape in bulk. Run several races and continue to train for the marathon.
Result: Tibial stress fracture. 6 weeks in a boot. Missed marathon. WTM almost put in jeopardy. Rage ensues.

So yes, it’s my own damn fault. The sad thing is, there is a simple solution, and it’s one that very few of us athletes are willing to do.

Rest.

Like many of you, I am the world’s worst rester. I cringe at recovery days. I get antsy sitting around on the couch watching TV, and I crave the endorphins. Let’s face it: we are a group that gets our kicks by abusing our bodies. We wear our war wounds proudly: our missing toenails, our frostbitten fingers, our dislocated shoulders. But to ever admit that we are hurt is a sign of weakness. A sign of being, excuse my French, a pussy.

So it’s time for me to admit that I need to start taking rest days seriously. I took three days off after WTM (which is a record for me), but was not nearly enough to let my body heal. In an unfathomable turn of events, I’m taking the next few days off. Sometimes it’s the strongest thing that we can do.

On Girl Crushes and the Interwebs

A tangential conversation that took place between my girlfriend and I a few weeks before WTM:

GF: “So how are you getting out there?”
Me: “We’re driving. 12 hours or so.”
GF: “We? Who are you driving with?
Me: “Two guys also racing.”
GF: “Have you met this guys?”
Me: “um, I met one at TM Wisconsin.” (lie. I haven’t met either.)
GF: “So you are driving to New Jersey with two strange men? Please don’t tell me you met them on Facebook. Where are you staying?”
Me: “In a house on the Jersey shore with like 15 other racers.”
GF: “Have you met this people?”
Me: “Some” (also a lie)
GF: “You are going to end up raped and murdered in a ditch.”

(Little did she know that I carried a switchblade in my bra the entire way there. Smart girls always come prepared.)

I’m happy to report that I didn’t. Nonetheless, I understand what was going through my friend’s head at that point. It’s odd, really. Thanks to the amazing rockstar Margaret Schlachter, a group of about 100 of us prepping for WTM came together back in July in, yes, a Facebook group. And over the next few months, a strange thing happened: I began to feel connected to people that I had only ever met online. I began to consider them “friends.” And I began to respect and admire people despite never having met them in person.

Creepy? I suppose.* But, I mean, if online dating is no longer creepy, then staying in a rental house with 15 people you’ve only ever met online is totally legit, right?

But a funny thing happened. When we finally all met in person, it felt like we were meeting long-lost friends or family. There was no awkwardness. There was only the excitement of coming together with like-minded crazy mother-effers that made you look sane in comparison.

And while everyone I have met has touched me in a different way,** it’s been the women that have continually impressed me. Boys, I love you, but it’s time to talk girl crushes.

Let’s take, for example, Margaret, whose blog Dirt in Your Skirt I began following several months ago. I was stoked to find a strong female blogging about her racing experiences. (and, not going to lie, a bit intimidated). Not only was she a badass athlete, but she was smart and successful in her career as well. After so many months, I had the pleasure of meeting her and racing with her at World’s Toughest Mudder. And let me tell you, she is every bit as awesome as she seems on her blog, and incredibly down to earth and humble as well.

Or let’s take the lovely Miss Carrie Adams. Fact: I have never met Carrie. Yet we spent a Friday night, her with a bottle of merlot in Omaha, me with a bottle of cab in Chicago, sending either other modern day versions of junior high mixed tapes. If that’s not love, I don’t know what it is*** (note that she shares my same unadulterated love of ketchup, and is known to put ketchup on her bacon).

Jokes aside, however, I have never met such a strong group of women. Carrie and I discussed this at length: in our society today, it seems impossible to find strong female role models, healthy both in body and mind. Let me tell you, I’ve found them. They are here, embodied in the form of a female adventure athletes. While we are a minority in races such as the Death Race or World’s Toughest Mudder, the contingent is growing.

So tonight, dear interwebs, I raise my glass and salute you. You are apparently good for things other than stalking old high school sweethearts and looking up porn (not that I do either of those things).

*Before the WTM group, I vowed to never be “friends” with someone on FB that you had never met in real life. As you can tell by my addition of 200+ friends since WTM, this vow has gone out the window.
**NB: Mostly figuratively, some literally.
***While she and Ms. Definition of Hot Badass herself, Katy McCabe, already have committed themselves to a commune in Colorado, they’ve graciously offered for me to tag along as the third wife.

Adventures in Urban Training: Hills

I live in the middle of a concrete jungle. Picture downtown Chicago, and insert me right there. I live on the 15th floor of a 24-story condo building, and I walk a mile to work to my office on the 32nd floor of a 46-story building.

I am, by definition, a city girl.

Which totally and utterly sucks for training for these types of races.

I became painfully aware of this in my preparations to compete at World’s Toughest Mudder. While other racers were sharing their workouts of jumping into local rivers or lakes to test out their wetsuits, or running sprints up the nearby mountain, I tried to figure out how to run through downtown Chicago in a wetsuit without getting mistaken for an escaped mental patient, and how to jump into Lake Michigan in said wetsuit without getting arrested for “Unauthorized Activity in Water” (Chicago Municipal Code 10-36-185 and Chicago Park District Code Ch.VII B.4 B.1-2).

It wasn’t always this way. I’m a born and raised Oregonian (GO DUCKS), and grew up with the mountains an hour away and the beach an hour away. While I’ve been in Chicago for the past year and a half, I spent the previous four years in Seattle. City living, yes. But with stellar hikes and backpacking ventures within an hour or two drive. Weekends consisted of hiking or trail running, and lots and lots of dirt. And the mountains–I love running hills.

I miss the mountains. So I have to improvise. Part of my training and blogging experience is going to be an experiment in urban adventure/obstacle race training, and all the idiosyncrasies that go with it.

Part I: Hills

The closest thing I have to a hill in Chicago is: (a) the incline on a treadmill; (b) overpasses and parking garage ramps; or (c) stairs. Let it be known that I HATE the treadmill. I think the treadmill is the world’s worst torture device (and it seems to aggravate injuries). And overpasses and parking garage ramps can be, well, a death wish given the drivers in Chicago. But I do love stairs.*

I’ve learned that you do get funny looks on the giant stepmill at the gym with a 50lb pack on. Whatever. They just can’t handle my awesomeness. (Yeah, that’s right Mr. “I can’t touch my elbows” arms and chicken legs. I see you over there doing your bicep curls and flexing in the mirror, checking me out. Don’t hate me ’cause your undeveloped legs can’t handle this).

But even the stepmill bores me after awhile. So I’ve taken to running the stairs up to my 15th floor apartment. And carrying my groceries up from the parking garage. And doing sets of the 24-floors with my pack on. Walk to the top. Take the elevator down. Repeat. My doorman thinks I’m certifiably insane. I tell them I’m training for Everest. Next up, assuming I can get past security, the Sears Tower.

Dear Chicago: Can’t you have a hill? Just one hill that doesn’t consist of an overpass or a parking garage. I understand that I voluntarily moved to urban wasteland, but you’re killing me, smalls.

Part II will likely consist of adventures in urban wood chopping. I imagine carrying an axe around downtown Chicago chopping down park trees isn’t going to to go over too well.

*NB: I have been informed by my dear buddy Joel that stairs are not exactly the best substitute for hills because you aren’t working your calves consistently like you would on a hill. That’s why you see me go all ballerina and shit on those stepmills. Adapt and overcome.