Meels on Wheels

During P.E. class in fifth grade, we timed our 100m dash in the parking lot of good ol’ Palisades School.

I finished last in my class of 30.

Dead last.

Which I couldn’t understand. I was an athletic kid. I played club level traveling soccer and ASA softball. I ran the hell out of the soccer field for 90 minutes at a time; I was the all-star pitcher on our champion little league team.

But for the life of me, I could not sprint. I was sloooooooow.*

And it continued. My high school softball coach nicknamed me “Meels on Wheels” simply because it took me SO. DAMN. LONG. to get around the bases. [note: “Meels” is not misspelled. “Amelia” doesn’t lend itself to pretty nicknames] I would manage to reach full speed between third and home. My inability to sprint the bases led to incredible headfirst sliding abilities, which was the only thing that saved my ass half the time, but frightened my parents and my coaches that were depending on me to be standing to pitch.

And despite years of speedwork, of agility drills, and of sprints, I’m still going to lose every time when it comes to sheer sprints. And even 400ms, 1600ms, hell – even 5ks. My legs do not want to turn over that fast, and my body and my mind hate the maximal effort and quick bursts. I’d rather run a 100-miler than do 400m or 800m repeats. Watching me sprint is comical, or so I’ve been told.

Of course, I tried to blame it on genetics: “all slow twitch, no fast twitch” muscles. I’d curse my distance-running Dad and my awkwardly long legs that took a long time to get going.

You see it in my strengths in Crossfit. It’s why my “Grace” time is mediocre, but I will smoke everyone in long hero WOD’s. It’s why I’ll never be a real competitor in the Open or Regionals – those WODs are required to be short (well, that, and I can’t move weight like those beasts).

Fitness experts (of which I am not) generally talk about 10 (give or take) components of fitness: Endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy. See, e.g., here

Let’s take these one by one:

Endurance: check. easy one.
Stamina: on that
Strength: improving, though my squats are still miserable
Flexibility: Pretty sure I failed the “sit and reach” test at every school physical.
Power: noooope. Sprinting ability is as much about power as it is about speed. And I have no hops, either. Max broad jump is laughable. Box jumps are treacherous. White girls can’t…
Speed: Once I get there, ok. But the problem is getting there.
Coordination: I split my shin open and had to get stitches doing box jumps the other weekend. Enough said. Surprised that I can make it relatively unscathed through an obstacle race.
Agility: not like a cat. Again, surprising that I made such a good softball player…
Balance: I’ve never fallen off Twinkle Toes? But I trip over myself walking down the street at least once a day.
Accuracy: Still don’t really understand this, but I do have a wicked arm. Except when it comes to the spear throw. Damn you, spear throw. Why can’t you be a softball toss?

So, from all of this, I’ve realized:

I’ll might not outrun you. But I’ll outlast you.
(ok, I’ll try at least)

Nowhere did this become more evident to me than at the Vegas Super Spartan the other weekend. The women’s “elite” heat set out at a blistering 6minute pace – a pace that I can marginally maintain, but one that is incredibly uncomfortable for me. And I died the first few miles. I couldn’t get into a groove, and I simply couldn’t get my legs moving quick enough.

But as the race progressed, I started chipping away at the lead. I was racing 5th-7th for the first 5 or 6 miles, but then slowly started to catch up. I gained time on obstacles involving upper body strength, and as our paced slow, I began to run my race. Besides – chasing is more fun than being chased, no?

Too little, too late for a race that length, but that’s fine. That’s why I gear myself towards the long races, towards the multi-day, towards the incredibly stupid feats of endurance. I’m not going to beat road racers. But I will endure more. And I will ignore the pain. And I will continue when my body says no (unless, of course, it involves cold water submersions. We all know the WDR found my kryptonite).

I’m running the Indiana Sprint next weekend, and I’ve never run a race this short. If I thought the pace of

I did show every what’s up with that
cargo net, though. Roll, baby, roll.
Vegas was uncomfortable, then I anticipate that this is going to be incredibly unpleasant.

But I wouldn’t ask for anything else. I know my strengths; it’s time to work on my weaknesses. It’s time to get out of the comfort zone. It’s time to run like hell.

*Caveat: I imagine the 4 of you that read my blog are like “really? you win races, stop saying that you are slow.” Fair point. But of the fitness components, speed/power are my weak links. By far.

Walking a Tightrope

A conversation that happened with a couple in my apartment building the other day:

Man: “Excuse me, but I have to ask, are you a trainer? My wife and I always see you in work out gear, and you are in great shape.”

Me: “ha, no – I’m an attorney.”

Man [unnecessarily flummoxed]: “Really? Oh, we were going to ask you to train us.”

My reaction to this was initially to be flattered, but then I though, HOLD UP – does that mean that I always look like a slob in warm ups and headbands? This thought was then followed by “shit, maybe I missed my calling.”

I mean, the man has a point: I spend 95% of my waking hours at either of two places: work, or the gym. I get a lot of questions about my training schedule, and I always kind of dismiss it. So FINE, I’ll dish:

I’m up M-F by 4:30am, and heading into the Crossfit box and/or regular gym (where I will hike away on the big rotating stepmill or run in the winter). (And yes, you Crossfit fanatics can judge me and preach to me all you want – I simply need the cardio for training, I enjoy the cardio, and I don’t see how anyone just does Crossfit and can stay in any type of shape for endurance events. There, I said it.)

And then I do my attorney stuff all day, where my life plays out something like this

A few times a week I’ll hit a two a day: post-work, grab a run outside or at the office gym, or head to the box to work on skills. And around 10-10:30pm, I’ll crash, and get up and do it over again. Sundays I try to reserve for couch, rest, eating, and football (please come back soon, football – I miss you).

Yes, very little sleep. Yes, very little room for a social life.

And over the past few months as I’ve been laying low, away from racing, one thing has become crystal clear to me: as obstacle races expands and grows as a sport, more and more athletes will emerge that are doing this “professionally,” without the obligations of a day job, and with the luxury of training for several hours at a day, multiple sessions. And, obviously, those are the people that will excel (hell, I hope they would).

Perhaps what has crystallized this for me is participating in the Crossfit Open. I am, at best, a mediocre Crossfitter. While I perform decent enough for my box, compared to athletes around the world, I don’t hold a candle. But at our box, we all are recreational Crossfitters – we have careers, day jobs, other obligations. The Crossfitters that go to the Games (and more and more, even just Regionals), are those that somehow survive doing it for a living. And when there is money at stake, this makes sense.

At the root of it, perhaps I’m jealous. That I’ll never be one of those people. Or that I’ll never be able to fully commit to a race until a few weeks (or, more typically, a few days) before the race date. My standard caveat when I tell people I’m going to a race is “assuming work allows.” I usually can’t leave my phone unattended for more than a few hours, let alone a whole day or two (I’m looking at you, WTM & Death Race). Because my obligations at work have to come first, and when the client/partner needs you on a weekend, the client/partner wins. I knew this going into this career (granted, obstacle racing wasn’t even around at that point)*

The lesson is this: in the grand scheme of life, my balance has to tip more towards the professional. My brain got me through school and my brain makes me money. And for that reason, I can’t commit to as many races as I’d like, and, more often than not, professional obligations have to come before racing (and personal – believe it or not, I do retain a sliver of a functioning personal life). And I’ll keep doing both of them at the race time to the best of my ability, but it’s changing landscape out there. For example, with money on the line in every Spartan Race this year, you can sense a shift in attitude, in priorities, in goals.

But I’ll keep racing regardless of whether there is money on the line, and do it solely for the competition, solely for the sport. For the thrill of being out there on the course, for the people you meet and the memories you make. Because that’s what got me into this, and that should be the only reason I keep doing it.

*To be fair, while they don’t understand why I do it, my work has been incredibly supportive of my exploits