These races should be everything I hate

T-minus one week til Winter Death Race. And I feel like I’m missing something. It’s this weird nagging feeling, that something isn’t exactly right.

So as I’ve been fighting that, I’ve realized that it’s a theme that I’ve come back to time and time again: preparation.

Confession: I’m about as Type-A as they come.
Ha–that didn’t surprise any of you, did it? So I plan everything down to the last details: my workouts, my grocery lists, my social functions. And while I’ve fought it most of my life, I’m a certifiable control freak. WHAT YOU DO YOU MEAN I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM GOING TO DO FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

My closest friends and family are well aware that is my worst nightmare. I test, I plan, I do trial runs, I plot my running of tangents on the course map, I pack and repack. I NEVER “wing it.” And if you throw off my routine (especially my 4am gym time), you better be prepared to incur my wrath. So it’s rather odd that I have been drawn so magnetically to adventure races, and especially races like the Death Race, where anything goes. I’m not an “anything goes” type of gal.

You think I would be more suited to, say, marathons or triathlons, where you put in the mileage, you follow the regimented program, and you know exactly what you are getting.*

But (A) I’m petrified of going fast on bicycles (that will be a subject of another post sometime); and (B) running on concrete gives me stress fractures.**

More importantly than (A) and (B), road races are a snooze fest. Training looks like this: run in a straight line. Run faster in a straight line. Run slow for a bit and then run really fast in a straight line. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I also have an adverse reaction to timing myself. I’ve never owned a Garmin. I only learned last year what a “negative split” is. I’m still rather mystified as to what a “tempo” run is, and I giggle at the word “fartlek.” Don’t get me wrong–I love to run. In my mind, there is nothing better (ok, maybe a few things) than a pre-dawn 20-miler along Lake Michigan. But the pacing, timing, and pressure to finish in under “x” time takes all the fun out of the sport.

Enter obstacle/adventure races (can someone come up with a catch-all term?! please?!). Way more laid back, and way less stress. People go out there, kick ass, but also enjoy fun things like booze and red meat. I remember the first time someone asked whether anyone was using their Garmin for World’s Toughest Mudder. I just about fell over laughing (as did everyone else I believe). Seriously, dude? (1) You are going to destroy it; (2) what are you going to track? Negative splits between obstacles? Yes, there are winners for (some of) these races. But finishing is a big enough honor on its own.

Perhaps adventure racing has brought out another side of me. Perhaps I’m not as type-A, control freak as I thought. Or perhaps adventure racing is teaching me how NOT to be like that. I’m growing–growing as an athlete, growing as a professional***, and growing as a person.

So maybe what is really bothering me lately is that the unknown and lack of preparation…isn’t bothering me at all.

Pittsfield, I look forward to meeting you in a week. Let’s do this.

*”Yay, I got a 26.2 sticker. So has everyone else, including my 300-lb neighbor
**Yes, I AM doing the Chicago Marathon this year just to check it off the bucket list. I don’t really plan on “training.” Training is when injury happens.
***And by growing as a professional, I mean trying not to get fired for taking so many Fridays off and telling people I’ll be out of pocket and not able to answer my email for 24+ hours.

Adventures in Urban Training: Wood Chopping

The Winter Death Race is three weeks away.

I have never swung an axe.

Now would be about the time to panic, no? There is one thing, and only one thing, that you know you will be doing going into the Death Race or Winter Death Race: chopping wood. For a race where virtually EVERYTHING is unknown, you would think it would behoove me to train for the one thing that is. Yet I have fully neglected this critical skill, mostly because I live in the middle of freakin’ downtown Chicago where carrying an axe and chopping down the park trees is, I imagine, some type of crime.

This doesn’t sit well with me. You see, I am a planner–an overpreparer by nature. I make my lists, I triple-check them, and I come as trained and ready as I can be. I’m not comfortable with winging it (unlike some freaks of nature that I know). But work lately hasn’t allowed me to start preparations. Life lately hasn’t allowed me to either. So here I am, rather unprepared and it’s killing me.

But there are logistical problems with wood chopping. First, I don’t have a yard. I have a balcony 15 stories up in the air. Even if it was big enough to swing an axe, I’m quite positive neither the neighbors nor the pedestrians on the sidewalk below me would not appreciate any attempts to split wood on the balcony.

I do not have a sledgehammer nor do I have a tire (what you may think would the closest thing to chopping wood). I still mustering up the balls to pony up for closest Crossfit box ($250 a month? yeesh. But I want to be cool and WOD with y’all so badly!), but even there, they don’t have a sledgehammer and/or tire. I suppose I could buy a tire and a sledgehammer and bang away in my apartment. Again, neighbor problems.

I’m a klutz. A certified klutz. For example, I suck at running down mountains because, most of the time, I trip and go ass over teakettle and break things. Now imagine me with a very very sharp axe in my hands.

Most importantly, the city of Chicago doesn’t really like people chopping down their trees in, say, Lincoln Park. I haven’t attempted, but I’m fairly sure that it would be frowned upon. Otherwise, where do I get wood to chop? I mean, I can go BUY firewood, but it’s already chopped, and that kinda defeats the purpose. I feel like this is basic knowledge that I should have learned somewhere along the way, but I’m starting to realize this is where being a city girl for the past several years is starting to bite me in the ass.

So I suppose the only feasible option is to pack my shit up and drive out to a state park somewhere. Maybe I’ll start with the shrubbery. Again, I’m fairly certain state parks don’t want you chopping their trees, but at least there’s a smaller chance of being caught.

3 weeks. Let’s do this. (and Winter Death Racers–give me my room when I’m chopping. For your own safety)

Cashews, Leadership, and Lessons Learned

[Fair warning: this post may be full of typos and grammatical errors. I’m tired. I’m freakin’ tired. 15+ hour work days, pre- and post-S.E.R.E., have left me running on empty. So bear with me.]

When I arrived this past Friday in D.C. to for the inaugural S.E.R.E Challenge, I really had no idea what to expect. And I was excited by that. As the members of Class 001B gathered at our RP next to the Washington Monument at 10pm (or 2200, if I want to go all military on you), I was ready for unknown. But what I didn’t realize was that, before all was said and done, the most important thing that I would take away from S.E.R.E. were the lessons that I would learn–about myself, about others, and about life in general.

But because I hate being too serious, I’ll give you the “fun” lessons first:

Never underestimate an allergy (a.k.a. “Don’t be a freakin’ idiot”) I have a tree nut allergy. So the fact that unknowingly packed a bar whose first ingredient was CASHEWS makes me retard #1. When our rations were returned to us several hours into the challenge, I tore into the first available thing. And I immediately knew I was in deep shit.

Let’s be clear: I’ve never suffered a SEVERE reaction to cashews; typically, my throat swells and I get nauseous and need to puke it all up, but it clears up after awhile. But for whatever reason, this reaction was worse than the others. But the throat was swelling, and the vomiting began. Leave it to trusty Joel to realize that there was something seriously wrong for me (more than just the “I puke when I’m awake for too long syndrome.”)

No, I don’t have an EpiPen and I didn’t have liquid Benadryl. And neither did anyone else. So at 4am in the middle of Georgetown, I sat on the curb, puking my guts out through a swollen throat. Joel, Cory, and Jon sprinted to the closest 24-hour CVS, and brought me back some liquid Benadryl. (Note to self: biting into LiquiGel Benadryl will immediately stop the reaction. But it also tastes like absolute ass. Or what I imagine ass would taste like.) So Class 001B, thank you. I apologize for the 20-minute delay. And I apologize for the chunky rainbow show. Lessons learned: take your allergies seriously. Come prepared. And for the love of God, read labels.

A pelican case is an awkward thing to snatch. Tee-hee, I said snatch. After leading the team low-crawling through sewage and rocks, I was told to start squatting the pelican case while I waited for my class to finish. Brilliant me decided that the best way would be to snatch the pelican case and dropped it on my pack. With some poor form, the case ended up on my head. Pelican case 1; Amelia 0

I cannot chest to deck with a 40lb ruck on. Well, I can do one minus a half. Time to work on that upper body strength. I can, however, do Hello Dollies ALL. NIGHT. LONG.

If I had to low crawl over rocks to save my life, I would be dead. JHE, with his sniper skills, would have picked me off in a minute from a mile away. Or less than a minute. The bright teal hat also probably would have given me away.

The occupy D.C. people were not occupying their tents at 4am. As we ran through, nary a soul stirred despite the loud heckling, swearing, whistling, and shouts of “occupy my ruck!” They must go home to sleep at their mommy and daddy’s house.

Always carry ketchup. It would have made those raw eggs taste waaaaaaay better. During our first mission, we were given an egg to carry with us. The only rule: the egg can’t break no matter what. Obviously eggs got broken. But even during our low crawls, I managed to keep my egg intact. So when we were told to get rid of our eggs, but that we couldn’t throw them on the ground, some dsparkle had the brilliant idea to eat them, shell and all.

So let me get this straight–my reward for not breaking the egg was to pop a whole raw egg into my mouth and eat it, shell and all? Excellent. Yum. So down went the egg, shell and all. At least it tasted a hell of a lot better than liquid Benadryl.

But S.E.R.E. wasn’t all fun and games. I learned a few important lessons, and ones that shouldn’t be taken lightly…

Trust in my leadership ability. I’ve always considered myself a leader, and a pretty competent leader at that. I prefer the leadership role, and have been one in multiple capacities: sports, school, work, etc. But when Todd was fired as our leader at 2am (WTF–who fires Todd?!), and I was told to take over, panic set in. I had to fill the shoes of a trained Army staff sergeant? And gain the respect of my 37 member class, a sizeable number of whom were active and former Marines and Army? Intimidated didn’t begin to describe it.

And I failed at first. I failed to mobilize my class, and I failed to lead effectively, due to that voice of doubt in the back of my mind. And that insecurity that crept in: why would any of them respect and/or listen to me, a civilian city-girl that sits in an office for 14 hours day? I believed I was wholly underqualified, and I choked.

But, entering the WWII memorial, and starting our second mission, I was handed a puzzle. No, not a figurative puzzle. A legit 1000-piece puzzle that the team needed to solve to find our next rally point. And something clicked. This was where I excel–I lead with my mind. And, as we made up 2 hours of time through quick-puzzle solving, I began to find my groove.

Nut up. Bad pun? Not really. Nut up, as in “grow some balls and do the unpopular thing.” I was told by the operators to peer people out. (As an aside, I did not know what “peering” someone out meant until last week). Our class was moving too slowly, and we were suffering dearly for it. People were cold, packs were heavy, and I tried to get people to run. But despite my efforts to pick up the pace, I kept being yelled at from the ranks to slow down. Others told me to put the slowest and the injured at the front of the class, and let them set the pace. So I did.

And because of that, much to my frustration, the pace slowed. Class 001B, I love you guys, but I should have grown some balls and peered people out. And because I didn’t, our entire class suffered. It’s not a popular thing to do, and one that isn’t common in other challenges. But S.E.R.E. was a different kind of challenge. And despite being told to drop the dead weight, I chose the path of least resistance.

It’s the people around you that make a difference. In a team challenge such as this, you live and die by your fellow classmembers. So thank you, Class 001B. Thanks for listening to me, thanks for supporting me, and thanks for teaching me a lot about myself. I look forward to seeing all you crazies out there again soon.