The Gearwhore Edition: Cold-Weather Racing

It’s that time of year again. The time when I dig out my boxed up hats, gloves, snow boots, and full-length down coat. The time when I mournfully put away my bikinis and sundresses. The time when the box is freezing for the 6am WOD. And the time when racing becomes a whole lot more…painful.

Gone are the days of racing in spandex shorts and a sports bra. The days of beanies, smart wool, compression gear, and yes–wetsuits, have arrived.

F*ck.

Nothing reminded me of this more than the Midwest Super Spartan this past week. The weather was eerily reminscent of World’s Toughest Mudder weather last year, and bite of the wind at 7am brought back vivid memories. I brought option after option of what to wear, and in the end, ended up OVERdressing. I was dying of heat 2 miles in, and looked forward to that last water obstacle solely to cool myself off.

But as I prepare for the rapidly approaching WTM (assuming I’m going), I remember that, most of the time, being overly warm is NOT the problem. And oddly enough, I’ve done more cold-weather races than I have warm weather races. Several races/challenges spring to mind that I can classify as “cold as f*ck”: WTM 2011, Indiana Tough Mudder, SERE D.C., Winter Death Race, etc.

I’d like to say that I have a system figured out–that I KNOW how to dress and prepare myself for the cold weather. I’ve fumbled my way through trial and error, I’ve underdressed, I’ve occasionally overdressed, but I’m still learning. So I bring to you, in NFL-style, my Matt Ryans and Tony Romos/Mark Sanchezes/Michael Vicks. (Is Matt Ryan the most underrated? I used to think it was Flacco, but not so sure anymore)

Overrated: UA Cold-Weather Compression Gear
Don’t get me wrong, I love Under Armour. Hell, my workout wardrobe is about 90% UA. But while everyone speaks of UA ColdGear like the holy grail of cold weather obstacle racing, it’s been pretty much a disappointment for me. While the compression is nice for movement, once it gets wet, there’s no warmth left. And it doesn’t dry as quickly as I’d like.

Underrated: Wool

S.E.R.E. Urban: Chicago
Specifically, smart wool and bio-merino wool. I have an I/O Bio-Merino wool top that I swear by–super light, quick-drying, and EXTREMELY warm. It made me die of heat at the Ultrabeast (til I went sportsbra style), and again at the Super Spartan. However, it’s easily packable so if you need to take it off, storing it in a pack isn’t a problem. It’s not tight-fitting like compression (as you can see from the pics), but I’ve never found it to be inhibiting while racing.

Overrated: Neoprene Socks
When I was preparing for WTM last year, everyone spoke of neoprene socks like they were the holy grail. I dunno–I wore neoprene socks for the entire race, and I still narrowly avoided frostbite on several toes. While they do insulate, they also keep your feet wet, which spells T-R-E-N-C-H-F-O-O-T. And blisters. Horrifying blisters. Not to mention how much room they take up in your shoes (so make sure to size up your racing shoes if you are wearing them).

Underrated: Injinji Toe Socks & Smartwool socks
After WTM, I traded the neoprene socks for a base of injinji with smart wool over. While toesocks are a pain in the royal ass to get on, they are the best blister prevention I’ve found. However, they are not warm enough for cold weather races on their own–hence, the smartwool topper. Both quick drying, but let’s be honest–your feet are never going to be completely dry in one of these races.

Overrated: Gloves
If you can find me a pair of gloves that works to keep your hands warm while wet, I will be forever indebted. I’ve tried pretty much everything: neoprene, sealskinz, wool, ski gloves, waterproof, Seirus All-weather, etc. When wet, NOTHING keeps the heat in (though Seirus is the best of the worst). On the other hand, if you aren’t going to have wet hands (think Winter Death Race), down-filled ski gloves are EXCELLENT. I stayed pretty toasty at the WDR with some cheapo ski gloves.

Underrated: Beanies
Everyone knows you lose some ridiculous percentage of your body heat through your head. So keep that noggin covered, all. I may look like a man (and have been mistaken for a man on the course while wearing a beanie), but at least it prevents THAT HAIR from letting loose (see, e.g., Ultrabeast pics)

Overrated: Waterproof boots/shoes
As many before me have said, shitty at keeping the water out, EXCELLENT at keeping it in. The only exception to this would be the Winter DR–since most of the water is frozen and you are only in the snow, waterproof boots are an excellent choice (especially with the snowshoe component this upcoming year). That being said, don’t wear them if you have to go take a dip in the pond under the ice 😉

Underrated: Snowboard/ski pants with vents

This one is unique to the Winter DR as well–I would laugh if I saw some of you all out at WTM in a pair of ski pants. But for the snow, uninsulated ski pants do the trick well. And the vents are fantastic if, say, you have to do 3,000 burpees (and everyone wondered why I was in a sports bra…). As I think I’ve said before, I was pretty toasty (and downright hot) at the WDR.

Overrated: Handwarmers
They get wet, they stop working. End of story. That being said, shake a couple before the race (if it’s only a few hours long), and they’ll be nice and toasty by the time you are done.

Underrated: Windbreakers
This one I owe to the indubitable Joel Gat. While I was freezing my ass off last year at WTM, he was toasty in a Gore-tex windbreaker. Yes, even through the water. And when I thought I was going to go the way of Steiner at S.E.R.E. D.C. in January and Joel gave me that windbreaker, I was toasty to no end. It’s simple: wind + wet = death. So while it may feel weird (and super-unflattering) to swim and crawl through mud in a windbreaker, I’m a believer.

Overrated: Putting on an extra layer of fat
Ok, ok, this may work. But vanity would get the best of me.

Underrated: Neoprene vest/hood combo
Yes, wetsuits are great, and I sure as hell will be wearing one at WTM this year. But the key is keeping your core warm, so if you are going to have a layer of neoprene, concentrate it mostly around your core, neck and head. And that neoprene hood serves as great insulation when you get zapped by the Arctic Enema (is that what they are calling it now? It’s been forever)

Overrated: Dry Suits
Sure, I imagine they work. But they are also incredibly expensive and you risk puncturing a hole in that spendy investment.

Underrated: Aquaphor
Every list I make always comes back to Aquaphor. This time, it’s not about chafing–it’s about windburn. I suffered from slight windburn this past weekend at the Super Spartan, but I’ll never forget the “face on fire I’m going to die” feeling after WTM last year. So lube up the face and the lips with regularity, or prepare to bathe in a vat of aloe gel.

Overrated: Booze
Unfortunately, “beer blanket” does not work here.

Underrated: Hot liquids
I kept a thermos of hot water in my tent during WTM. It was a godsend. As was the hot chicken broth at the aid stations, but that’s another story.

Overrated: Cleaning up post-race
That shower hose on-site is only going to make you colder. Bring clean towels, wipe yourself down, and save the shower for when you can sit in it for over a half hour.

Underrated: Down coats
For after the race. After WTM last year I threw on my full-length sleeping bag coat and felt my body temperature slowly come back to normal. Bring lots of dry, warm clothes for after any cold weather race.

And, for the record, no one is paying me off here for these views. I wish I was that important. So UA, don’t come after me, mmmmkay?

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How World’s Toughest Mudder Ruined My Life

The second ever World’s Toughest Mudder is rapidly approaching on November 17th. It’s not technically a perfect one-year anniversary, since TMHQ moved the race up a month this year, but on that day, it will be 11 months since the beginning.

The beginning, you say? Ah yes, the beginning of the descent into the world of obstacle racing, adventure racing, endurance racing, and all kinds of idiocy.

And while the jury is still out on whether or not I’m going to be able to make an appearance at WTM (to perhaps once again continue my second-place winning/losing streak), I look back and realize how dramatically different my life has become over the past year. As an ode to WTM, let’s take a step back to remember exactly the ways in which it has ruined my life:

(1) Running on the road bores me to death. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to do another road race. You mean, you just…run? In a straight line? On pavement? That’s cool, but where are the walls and bars and mud pits?

(2) It introduced me to the Death Race. The DR is a race that really has no point. No start, no finish. No real…point. But it’s the hardest, most fun, and most mentally/physically/emotionally tasking (and rewarding!) thing I’ve ever done. And now my life revolves around making it out to Pittsfield Vermont twice or three times a year to spend 48+ hours out in the woods. For no money. For no glory. For a plastic skull. And unless you’ve done one, you won’t get it. And you shouldn’t do one. ‘Cause like I said, it has no point.

(3) My co-workers treat me with caution. Though, that could be because I have a Death Race finishers skull and a WTM sign sitting on my desk.

(4) I’ve had to buy all new shoes. My feet have grown from an already large size 10 to a 10.5 or sometimes 11 in the past year. And at WTM last year, I gouged massive holes in my heels (making it impossible to wear any type of shoe for 3 weeks), that are now knobs of scar tissue. And they’ve widened out. My cute narrow feet are now ugly and sausage-like.

(5) My definition of a “long” race is completely skewed. Case in point: when describing the UltraBeast to my mom a few months ago, I told her “don’t worry, it will start when it’s light out and end when it’s light out.” Before WTM, I thought 24 hours was ridiculous. Now anything less seems…pedestrian. (In related news, I’ve become an endurance snob)

(6) It introduced me to Crossfit. It’s way too expensive, my hands are always ripped or covered in blood blisters, my collarbone is always covered in clean bruises, and I talk in strange acronyms and code that annoys the shit out of everyone.

(7) It made me think that running around a city a night with a backpack full of bricks was totally normal. At WTM, I meet my first GRT’s (they were EXCELLENT at shaking handwarmers for me), and immediately signed up for my first GoRuck Challenge. I’ve never met a more batshit-crazy cult in my life.

(8) I can’t wear dresses to work. Well, I can (and I do, everyday), but it’s not pretty. Obstacle racing has permanently mottled my legs, and as soon as one set of scabs/scrapes/bruises heals, the next race is up. I attended several weddings this summer where people gasped in horror. And thanks to the scars, I suppose I’ll never be able to live out my childhood dream of becoming a Nair model.

(9) My balcony will never be clean again. Currently, it’s covered in bricks, rucks, sand pills, muddy shoes, Camelbaks, an axe, and stuff from the UltraBeast that I still haven’t washed out. I need a hose. Those don’t work very well in a high-rise condo.

(10) Facebook has owned my life. I think I doubled my number of friends (and I stopped taking requests from people I’ve never met). All obstacle racing discussions, planning and strategy take place in Facebook groups, which grow by the day. I get probably close to 100 notifications a day. But if I tune out, I miss important stuff–I couldn’t quit if I tried. Damn you, Facebook.

(11) I started blogging. And we all know that blogging is a completely narcissistic exercise. It’s “me me me” and “look how awesome I am at something that no one cares about” and “listen to my deep thoughts and validate my emotional worth.” So yes, I suck. And I contribute nothing useful…why are you reading? Word.

(12) It introduced me to Joel Gat. He bites nipples. Enough said.

(13) Mint.com sends me angry reminders that I’ve constantly “exceeded my budget for travel.” Living in Chicago, very few of these races are within driving distance. I’ve flown more than I ever have in my entire life, and my savings account hates me for it. Along those lines, my gearwhore-ness has no bounds. Rucks are expensive, winter clothes and wetsuits are expensive. So instead, I’ve just increased my budget–take that, mint.com.

(14) I’ve met enough weirdos to fill a psych ward. Seriously, I love you fellow racers, but most of you are just plain nuts. Some of you are annoying, going around talking about how “badass” you are all the time. That’s cool. I just roll my eyes. Most of you are the good crazy. But still, crazy–I don’t think I’d take you home to meet my mom or anything.

(15) I’ll never look at a wetsuit the same way again. Wearing 2.5 of them for the better part of 24 hours and still nearly getting hypothermia will skew your perception of any innocuous object.

(16) My hair may never grow again. (and no, it’s not from the hair dye, assholes) Keeping it pulled back in tight ponytails for hours on end and then getting that wet, muddy, in knots, and ripped my barb wire will cause some very attractive breakage.

(17) My competitive side came back to life. I avoid races/competition for several years before WTM because I knew how innately competitive I am, and how that can become ugly. And now it seems like everything I do is a competition. Hell, even my daily workouts are competitions. Or walking faster than everyone else on my morning commute.

(18) Certain foods have weird associations. Sharkies. Peanut M&Ms. Mint Oreos. Ice Cream Sundae Poptarts. Hot Jello. Bananas. YoGo. Nutella. Cashews.

(19) I can’t wear sandals. Well, once again, I SHOULDN’T wear sandals. But I do. But I’m down to 6 toenails, and the ones that are there fall off post-race at a regular interval. Yes, it’s ugly. But I’ve gotten really good at painting the skin. So deal with it, people.

(20) Though it’s faint, my apartment will always slightly smell of Jersey. At times, I’ll get a whiff. And then I’ll either smile or want to cry.

Let’s be honest. I smile. I love this shit.

It’s ruined my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The Trouble with R&R

It’s “Active Recovery Week” here at my Crossfit box, and I am irrationally angry about it.

All I want to do is throw heavy shit around. I wake up cranky. I go to bed cranky. I’m pissy-pants at every turn. Just give me a barbell and a hero WOD and no one gets hurt.

Perhaps it’s this mental/emotional breakdown relating to a bit of rest and recovery is showing me that, of anyone, I need it the most.

But beyond Crossfit, it’s a growing phenomenon that I’ve witnessed over the past year in the world of obstacle racing/adventure racing: the utter inability of anyone to take time off, even ONE day. To rest. To recover. To treat our body well and nourish it. And I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders.

We take pride in our pain, in our sore shoulders and tight hammies. In our inability to walk after races and our gashes and infected wounds. We race for 24, 48, and occasionally 60+ hours, and are back in the gym within the next day or two.

We post with pride on Facebook and other sites about racing while injured, about one’s body being crippled by pain and DOMS. We wear our wounds like a badge of honor, with a sense of self-righteousness that defies all logic.

We refuse to taper, and bitch like little schoolgirls when we are forced to before a race. We laugh at workouts that don’t span multiple hours or involve massive amounts of weight.

We don’t feel like we’ve worked hard enough unless we are laying in a pool of our own sweat, utterly exhausted and dizzy. We take pride in others calling our workouts “crazy,” and we try to one-up each other on the “ridiculousness” of our workouts. We don’t “right” if we aren’t sore, or our hands aren’t torn up, or if are legs aren’t like jello.

Listen up folks: it makes no sense. And while I hate to admit it, in the long run, it’s going to catch up.

When I started endurance racing, my parents obviously worried about me (beyond just getting lost in the woods or chopping my foot off with an axe). As my mom once asked me: “Do you want to be able to walk when you’re 60?” And I laugh it off, because I feel so strong right now. But day after day, and week after week of just brutalizing my body (and taking pride in it), has me wondering if it’s a legitimate question.

Last week, for once in my life, I made a smart decision: I DNS’ed the Chicago Marathon. It’d be the second year in a row: last year with a tibial stress fracture and in a boot, this year with the flare up of pain in the same spot and some anterior sheath tendonitis as a result of the Vermont Ultrabeast. And I was angry, so angry. I COULD have run. Other people that ran the Ultrabeast were able to run, so I was angry that I wasn’t as “tough” as them, or that I was more prone to injury. But, given my history, I knew that if I did run through the pain, the likelihood of lasting injury was very high, and not worth the risk.

And one week later, I ran this morning for the first time since Vermont, pain free. So, perhaps, rest was the right decision.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t hate it. It’s only been in the past few months where I’ve scheduled in a complete rest day once a week (like, “laying on the couch, watching football and not moving all day” rest day), and I still struggle with that. But right now it’s a mental battle, it’s the task of reframing how I think about exercise, racing, and the relationship with my body.

In the words of the well-used AA mantra: “Fake it ’til you make it.”

The barbell will still be there next week.

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Spartan Ultrabeast: The Happiest Place on Earth

The winners have been declared, the legs have become mobil-ish again, and the bruises and scrapes have begun to heal.

And all I can think is “Woo, let’s do it again!”

That was fun. No, seriously: SO much fun. Let’s run up and down mountains every weekend.

Depending on who you ask or whose Garmin you go by, the Ultrabeast ranged from 28-32 miles, and somewhere between 15,000-20,000 feet of elevation change. My chip time read 8 hours, 35 minutes: 2nd place female for both the Beast and Ultrabeast.* A little under 4 hours for the first lap, and a bit slower on the second (ha–go figure. Negative splits here would be damn near impossible). Here are some interesting stats on the course, btw.

And for the entire 8.5 hours, I couldn’t have been happier–I’m fairly certain the smile never left my face. And it’s not because I did well in the race. Hell, I didn’t even know that I had come in 2nd in women until after I crossed the finish line in the first lap. When Carrie and Todd told me, I must have looked at them like they had 4 heads. This race was, from start to finish, just EVERYTHING I loved.

The awesome things

(1) The terrain: Alright, let’s talk about those hills. I live in Chicago. I hate how flat it is (see here). But I grew up in Oregon, and climbing mountains is my first love. So while it’s been 2+ years since I’ve had any type of hill to run up, I get no greater joy than hauling my ass up really steep inclines. Call it muscle memory. Or something (aka, “thank you giant stepmill of death at the gym”)

(2) Seeing old friends: Running, literally, into familiar faces on the course. The starting line area where hugs and laughs were exchanged. Trading jokes with Mr. Norm Koch at the tyrolean traverse. Hugging WTM winner Juliana. High-fiving Andy and giving Joe shit for not having his 100lb sandbag at the top of the mountain. These races are like demented family reunions, and there’s no other place where I feel more at home.

(3) Making new friends: Towards the end of lap one and throughout lap two, you start to realize that you are pacing with similar people around you. And especially during that third and final climb, you have a lot of time to bullshit with your fellow racers as you stare up that hill of death. Here, I met, among others Chris G. from Boston, who helped push me (though he kicked my ass on the second lap) to keep pace with the female leader, and many others whose names I never got or have lost in the haze.

(4) The Death Racers: awww, guys!!! With the inaugural Team Death Race taking place at the same time as the Ultrabeast, I had to choose. The Death Racers had the fun of completing our same course at one point, but with fully loaded packs, shovels, and, of course–axes. Seeing Johnny Waite on top of the mountain with a huge smile on top of the mountain, or shouting “Yeah Death Racers” as I flew by–it’s the family feeling that just never goes away. Congrats, guys. I’ll see you all this Winter.

(5) The obstacles: As I’ve said before, I’ve never run a Spartan Race, so I had NO idea what to expect in terms of the obstacles. This caused me quite a bit of consternation prior to the race, but once I got moving, I realized how fantastic these things were. Rope climbs? Atlas stones? Traverse walls? I’m like a kid in gym class! Sans spear throw. Apparently I need to work on that. My softball background proves to be no help there.

(6) The beauty: No, not me silly (ha). Did you racers stop to take a look around at the top of the mountain in Killington? The fall in Vermont is absolutely breathtaking. I may have fallen in love.

(7) The courtesy of other racers: As I sat in the pit area changing socks and Gold Bonding it up, the one big question in my mind was how the second lap was going to go given that all the other Beast runners were now up on the mountain. I was apprehensive about long lines, single-track trails, and the general condition of the course. What I couldn’t imagine was how awesome all the other racers were out there: graciously letting me past, and giving us Ultra runners huge cheers and kudos as we came by. You guys were the best out there.

(8) The volunteers: Now, I know there is some controversy about a group going off-course, getting lost, and saying a volunteer led them astray. That sucks, but I have nothing but fantastic things to say about the volunteers out there. They were cheerful, encouraging, and really just the coolest.

(8) My roomies: Alyssa and Carrie are two of my favorite people on the planet. I love you girls.

(9) Penguin duct tape: My bin was so easy to find in the pit area.

Wow. That’s certainly a cheeriness overload coming from me. I’m not a gusher, so I feel like I should be a bit negative just to temper that “rainbows and ponies and life is wonderful” bullshit.

So some obligatory not-so-awesome things:

(1) The effin downhills: I am not a mountain goat. If you’ve read at all about my other races, I fall. A lot. Sometimes down mountains to the point where I get lost and wandering around in the snow for hours. (see, e.g., Winter Death Race). So while I loved the ascents, that final descent nearly killed me. Multiple times. I’m slow down the hills so I don’t break myself, and that’s where people make up time against me. Next goal: channel the inner mountain goat.

(2) Scrubbing the wounds free of dirt the next day: So. much. pain. And I have a wedding tomorrow. Sorry guys for the knees.

(3) The tibialis anterior sheath inflammation I’ve developed post-race: According to the interwebs, caused by “running up lots of hills and on uneven terrain.” Got it. No running for a bit. So the Chicago marathon next weekend looks like a no-go. Eh, road races blow goats anyway.

(4) The fact that I can’t do the Ultrabeast and the Team Death Race at the same time: wah-wah-wah.

(5) Packing muddy and wet clothes in a suitcase on a plane: The stank never leaves. And I almost went over the weight limit on my suitcase due to the water and mud.

(5) Post-race blues: sigh. I want to do it again.

And finally, will someone PLEASE tell me next time to wash my face and fix my hair before I cross the finish line. This is just embarrassing. Yikes.

*NB: I seem to excel at getting second place. World’s Toughest Mudder, the Death Race, now the Beast and Ultrabeast. I’ve been told second place is the first loser. Meh, I’ll take it.

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UltraBeast Eve Eve Non-Sequiturs

As I sit in an Epsom salt bath, the random musings of a brain on overdrive:

Grape Pedialyte is the bomb.
Ironic that this is my first “real” Spartan Race. (Death Race not included) Most people work up from a Sprint, I work down from the Death Race.
shorts, capris, or full length tights? Injinjis or smart wool?
Sesame Street band-aids make me so happy.
I should have taken tapering more seriously.
Tapering blows. I’m probably missing a great WOD tomorrow.
Why is my flight to Manchester so ungodly full tomorrow? Is all of Chicago going to the Beast?
How many times will I fall down the mountain?
Will Killington actually have any open restaurants by the time I finish?
Ford Focus or Chevy Impala tomorrow?
I should have done the Team Death Race.
It’ll be really weird to be in the Pittsfield area for something other than the Death Race.
I want beer. No, vodka.
My shower caddy is about to fall on me.
Do I have enough Gold Bond?
How do Epsom salt work, if they even do? This bath is making me hot.
I overpack like whoa
Where do you buy booze in New Hampshire? Can you buy it in grocery stores?
I should have tested my Camelbak before this. Whoops.
Where is my axe?
I’m back on the Sharkie wagon. Mmm Sharkies.
Large quantities of overhead squats yesterday were not a smart idea.
Burpees suck
Are these phantom pains, or is my right calf really not doing well?
must. pack. Benadryl.
Living in Chicago has trained me perfectly for 20,000+ ft of elevation change. (love you step mill?)
No kayaks, please.
If anyone is still reading this, I’m severely judging you.
Candy corn-check. Milk Duds-check.
It’s like a family reunion, bitches!!

See all you crazies tomorrow night.

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How far we’ve come

I’m not big on anniversaries. They always seem to forced, so artificial, to me. Then again, I’m also a sentimental person. I enjoy milestones. I enjoy reflecting on progress that has been made in a defined period of time. So, by that reasoning, maybe I should like anniversaries.

I’m overthinking it again.

I suppose I have an imperfect anniversary coming up this weekend: the Wisconsin Tough Mudder–the obstacle race that started it all for me. Imperfect, because it took place in July last year. So call it my “one-year and two month” anniversary into obstacle racing.

[Aside: holy hell, has it only been that long?! Perhaps it’s because multiple 24+ hour races have taken years off my life, but I feel like I’ve been at it for much longer than a little over a year. Perhaps I should cool it on the 5-hr energy and N.O.-Xplode.]

Ran my first TM with co-workers. “Team-building”?
I feel like “racing” is a misnomer. I never got into this to “race.” In fact, I avoided Spartan Races at first because I hated the idea of being chip timed. I didn’t want a winner. I wanted a team. I wanted camaraderie. I wanted to go out there and roll around in the mud. But I’ve watched over the past year as this fledgling “sport”* has grown into a competition, with people deeming themselves “elite” or “professional” because they’ve run a lot of races. With people saying they are now “certified” to coach obstacle racers. Argue over that all you want, it makes no difference to me. I find it silly, unjustifiably arrogant, and a waste of precious resources.

Because I’m still out there for the same reasons. To push myself. To meet interesting people. To have a hell of a time. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines these past few months, away from the obstacle racing world, while I’ve focused on my job, my friends, and (obviously) bettering myself at the sport of fitness. I’ve largely disengaged from the Facebook groups and the obstacle racing world, but I can’t completely block the chatter. I’m not sure I’m too keen on the direction that everything seems to be heading, the elitism that is creeping in, but we all know [the overused cliche] that change is inevitable. However, I do realize that external forces do not always have to dictate internal change.

With a race coming up in a few weeks that I didn’t plan on running, that I didn’t expect to be able to run, I have no expectations aside from going out and having a blast with all of these people that I’ve come to know so well and respect so much in the past year. (And beer. Lots of beer post-race–looking at you, Alyssa and Carrie). So I’ll set my dial to “kick ass” and see what happens. It’s what I did the first time I raced, and it’s what I’ll continue to do each and every time I go out there.

Perhaps I should like anniversaries, if only to show me that nothing has changed.

*We can also have an argument over whether obstacle course racing can be called a “sport.” I suppose curling is a sport. And golf is a sport. So, alright, I suppose we can call it a sport.

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DR Recovery: At Sea

A funny thing happened over the past few weeks. I’ve had post after post started concerning the Death Race, yet I couldn’t finish any of them. There were things I wanted to talk about: the concrete bag, the ravine (dear God, the ravine), yet it all seemed too forced, too fake. And I had no desire to write a book recapping the entire 60 hours.

In other words, I’m on Death Race burn out. And I’m over talking about it, or thinking about. Or even worse, thinking about the 2013 Death Race. There are already over 200 people signed up for it (what. the. hell.), and the chatter about the “Year of the Gambler” has already started with a vengeance on the Death Race FB group.

Meh. mehmehmehmehmeh.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Death Race. I do. And perhaps I’m grieving the year long wait until the next one, but these past few weeks I’ve been all out of sorts. I feel like I’m spinning without a purpose. And readjusting back to “normal” life (sans DR-prep) has been tedious.

Physically, I’m fine. I got back into the Crossfit box two days after the race, the feet are healed (aside from an unrelated toe injury suffered while intoxicated this past weekend), and I’m feeling as strong as ever. The DR failed to beat me physically (eat it, Andy & Joe). But mentally, I’m still not all there.

I suppose I’m in a different situation than a lot of my fellow obstacle racers that have a summer chock full of races. For me, the DR was the “end” of my season: the culmination of a busy winter/spring that started with World’s Toughest Mudder in December and hit SERE(x2), the WDR, GoRuck, Tough Mudder, and Civilian Military Combine along the way. Granted, it’s been a hell of a ride: 2nd female at WTM, 1st female and 3rd overall at WDR, 1st female and 1st overall at CMC, and 2nd female at the Death Race. And now I face down the summer without any races scheduled in the foreseeable future. In place of races are a string of weddings.

And I hate it. I mean, post-DR I said I was relieved, and excited to get back to “normalcy”: a life without a race every other weekend, without constant gear-whoring, without constant chatter about race prep, without a crazy training schedule hauling packs of bricks up 40 flights of stairs.

I lied. I totally lied. Because I’m lost as hell, and looking for the next thing.

Yes, I know there are plenty of races out there this summer/fall. Unfortunately, friends aren’t too keen on me skipping their weddings to go run through mud. Conflicts abound, and I hate it. Every race I want to attend (including the glorious Ultra Beast that I get depressed thinking about missing) has a dear friend pledging their eternal love to some poor schmuck (kidding! love you guys) on that same weekend.*

So yes, it’s a contradiction: I’m burnt out on DR-stuff, but I’m yearning to jump back into that world at the same time (acknowledging, of course, that standard Spartan Races and Tough Mudders are apples and oranges to the DR).

So what do I do? I wake up, I go to Crossfit, I go to work, I hang out, I play volleyball at the beach. But I’m trying to find that passion that drove me all winter/spring long. Without something to train for, I’m spinning my wheels.

Perhaps it will become clear in time. Perhaps I need this break. Perhaps I will drive myself loony. But for the time being, I suppose I should try to be “normal.”

*Weddings are blessed events, I swear. To my friends getting married, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than getting wasted at your wedding, inappropriately hitting on your younger brother/cousin/sister in law/priest, and making a fool of myself on the dance floor. It’s just shitty luck in terms of scheduling.

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DR 2012: Cheaters (and Brats) Never Prosper

As we began the 6hr drive back to Philly from Vermont, I broke out my legal pad and a pen and began to list all the tasks we completed in the 2012 Death Race. Despite having just spent 60 hours out in the woods of Pittsfield, VT, even then I had trouble recalling the sequence of events. And these past few days, my mind has been constantly churning over things that I think happened, things that I wish had happened, and things that I wish I had changed. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to come to terms with how I FEEL about my Death Race experience, and what it is that I’m taking away from it. This will probably end up being several posts as I distill the events over the next few days and weeks.

After the Winter Death Race, I wrote a post about how its easy and fun to be in the lead at the Death Race; the real test of strength and self, however, is when you have fallen (or feel like you’ve fallen) helplessly behind the leaders. Given my success at the WDR and CMC and other recent races, it’s a feeling that was foreign to me, and one that I could only talk about in the abstract.

Until now.

For the first time, late Saturday night and the wee hours of Sunday morning, I experienced what it felt like to be at the bottom of the pack. In last place. And in that position where you start to question whether you are going to make it through because there is SO MUCH ahead, and people are SO FAR ahead of you.

It’s crushing, yet incredibly humbling. The funny thing is, for the first 24, 26, 28 hours of the race, it wasn’t that way. I had the fortune of randomly getting a kick ass team (holler #7s!!) that carried that kayak and slosh pipe with such speed and grace that we took a nice rest with Andy up on Bloodroot waiting for the other teams, made it first down to Chittenden Reservoir for our leisurely swim, and arrived first back at Roger’s for our exam. Things were going swimmingly. I was strong, I was quick, and I knew as long as I stayed out ahead and kept a quick pace, there was nothing that was going to hold me back.

But as all Death Racers know (and I learned), things turn on a dime. And for me, it was the unfortunate choice to play into the Betrayal theme when it came to the stake task. Our team of 3 searched for an hour on that mountain to find our #13 stake, and it was nowhere to be found. What we did find, however, was a different stake. After calling around for that hour looking for the owners of the stake, we made the decision (as did 90% of the other teams), to change the number on the stake and call it our own. We were convinced that Joe and Andy had intentionally screwed us that there were no stakes with our numbers on it. Granted, a few teams (perhaps 2 or 3) actually found their stake, but everyone else was frustrated and at wits end.*

So we turned in our stake with no problems, and set out to chop our wood, still in the lead. My wood was split and I was ready to haul it over the mountain back over to Amee, when Peter Borden, a race director, called out all the cheaters and asked for us to fess up if we had done so. As many of you know, I race with Bryan Selm, who is perhaps the most honest and stand-up Death Racer I know. So we looked at each other and knew immediately that we needed to confess.

Told to leave our packs and our wood, we were forced to trek back over the mountain and get in the duck pond at Amee as a punishment. And there we stayed for over an hour while others made up precious time. Once released, we had to make the trek back over to Tweed to get our wood and then head back over to Amee.**

Back at Tweed, the reality of how much time I had lost started to set in. Bryan and I made the strategic decision to carry all 12 logs in one trip back over the mountain to try and make up time. This meant, however, extreme slow going. So as the sun rose on the third day, we passed by racer after racer coming the opposite direction, already done with their wood and heading onto the next task (or the task after that). Inside, the feeling of defeat started to build. I was hours and hours behind. In fact, I believe Bryan and I were dead last.

It was a position I’m not used to being in, and one that I brought on myself. I suppose I had set expectations for myself: I’m a competitive girl, and I was in it to win it. As I sat there on the mountain crying, I was reminded that I was being a stupid brat. No, seriously, a stupid brat and a crybaby. And I was. I was pouting, I was whining, and I was self-righteous for no good reason. I was disgusted with myself. And I was told that I could quit, or I could nut up, change my attitude, and move on. I couldn’t change what happened, but I could control how I behaved the rest of the race. And at that moment, I let go. As soon as I let go of the idea that I HAD to win this thing, and accepted the fact that all I could hope for is to finish it, the proverbial weight lifted off my shoulders. Hours behind, and with nothing to lose, I decided that finishing was the only goal, even if it meant finishing in last place. (still a finish, eh?)

From there on out, I hauled ass as much as possible, making time up where I could, but generally focused on moving through the tasks and ignoring the laundry list of things that lay ahead of me. It killed me to see other racers so far ahead of me, to pass by them and figure out what they were on to next, and how many more tasks I had to go. But in that battered emotional state, I learned how strong I could be. It would be easy to give up at that point, to throw in the towel, to say eff it and go have a beer, given the long road that stretched ahead. The thought never crossed my mind. I stepped forward with a new humility, and a new outlook on the race.

So when I finished the roll at 60 hours and some change, and Joe told me I took 2nd place in women, I must have looked at him like he had 3 heads. “Impossible,” I thought, “I was SO far behind.” But, as I said earlier, things in this race change on the drop of a dime, and in the end, perseverance will pay off. So I could care less about the kettlebell and the place — what I am proud of is finishing despite feeling like the odds were stacked against me.*** Finishing despite creating a hole so deep I felt like I couldn’t dig out of it. And finishing despite that voice inside my head yelling at me for being so far behind for so long.

It’s a lesson I needed to learn. And a humility that I needed to experience. And I’ll carry it with me to the next race and beyond.

*Side note: as we were changing the stake number, another racer came up and threatened to rat us out unless we gave him half the stake. Call it hunger and exhaustion, but at that point, the race had turned nasty and I didn’t like it. Perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to blows with someone, but we gave him half. Unclean hands all around, I suppose
**Other cheaters had hauled their wood back over the mountain BEFORE confessing to cheating. So while they had to endure the duck pond, they already had their wood back at the farm and didn’t lose that much time. So, let’s be honest, there was no incentive to confess as early as we did. It’s something that I’m still mulling over in my head, but something that I do not regret.
***Self-created, I suppose.

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Death Race by the Numbers

Total time to finish: 60 hours, 23 minutes
Place: 2nd female

Total approximate distance covered: 50-70 miles (depending on who you talk to)
Clif bars consumed: 8
Trees cut down to make a splint and stretcher: 3
Burpees completed: 575
Fires built: 1
Times we caught Andy sleeping on the trail: 2
Elapsed time spent in duck pond for cheating punishment: 54 minutes
Episodes of South Park watched: 1 (while in duck pond)
PB&J sandwiches consumed: 3
Pounds of concrete carried to top of mountain: 60
Times up and down the ravine: 3
Trips between Amee & Tweed over the mountain: 7
Minutes spent figuring out an origami crane: 45
Kanye songs sung: 3
Kayaks carried: 4
Times hit in head with slosh pipe: 5
Ping pong team number: 7
Times I threatened to quit: 3
Times I actually meant it: 1
Questions on the exam: 250
Exam questions that actually had legitimate answers: nowhere close to 250
5hr energy consumed: 5
Crying fits: 6? 7?
Bales of hay stacked: 15
Times I almost punched a child: 2
Hallucinations: 5
Laps rolled: 6
Logs carried: 23
Buckets of gravel carried: 13
Poptarts consumed: 5
Sock changes: 7
Bottles of Gold Bond used: 3
Times I uttered “this is the most retarded thing I’ve ever done”: 100+
Swear words used: ad infinitum
Death Race finishes: 2

[NOTE: My mind is still spinning and I’m trying to get a handle on everything that happened this past weekend, so a full post is forthcoming once I make sense of things]

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The Betrayal Has Begun

When I signed up for the Death Race back in December, I remember talking to a previous Death Race finisher and asking about the race.

“What is it?” I inquired.

“A complete mindfuck,” he said.

Fast forward to today. Death Race 2012: The Year of Betrayal, is barreling towards us with a Friday start time of…noon? 9am? 10am? 6pm? Oh RIGHT. WE DON’T KNOW WHEN IT STARTS.

We also don’t know when it finishes, but that’s a given. (hence why my flight back to Chicago isn’t until Tuesday. I’m gearing up for 60 hours of goodness–anything less will be extra post-race nap and beer time)

As of now, we don’t even know the gear list. Pink bathing cap? Bonsai tree clipping? Axe? Knitting needles? Or is it chopsticks and just a regular needle and thread? I believe there’s a life jacket and maybe dress shoes in there as well.

My apartment currently looks like a war zone: covered with packs and clothes and gear and food and tools. 5 pairs of shoes/boots. Clothes ranging from heat gear tanks to winter gloves to various levels of compression tights for various temperatures. A smattering of wetsuits. Neoprene socks and gloves. Vaseline. Paracord. Gold bond. Waterproof matches. Cases of handwarmers, cases of Clif bars, and enough 5-hr energy to give Jabba the Hut a heart attack. Varying sizes of Camelbaks and bladders. A leatherman that I’m still figuring out how to use. Swim goggles. And a very confused Amelia trying to fit this all into suitcases to fly halfway across the country.

And in the back of your mind, you ask yourself the question over and over again “why am I paying to do this?” In fact, it’s a question that we asked repeatedly during the Winter Death Race, and I’m sure I’ll utter dozens of times this upcoming weekend.

But, when it comes down to it, we do it because it’s “fun.” As one of my favs, M. Petrizzo has on his Twitter handle, “my idea of fun is not your idea of fun.” Right on, sir. Our idea of fun is pushing ourselves to the limits: mentally, physically and emotionally. And it’s everything I expect the Death Race to do.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae. In the mind games and the drama and the rumors leading up the race. Will we be carrying logs up a mountain? or rocks? Do we have to swim with our rucks? Does “Sunday at midnight” mean Sunday night or Monday night? The more you agonize over these things, the more Joe and Andy (hi guys!!) are already winning the game.

It’s a race: there are winners. And I’m a competitive (as I’ve been not-so-gently reminded before, sometimes way TOO competitive-to-a-fault) person. But I need to remind myself that when you lose the fun from the Death Race, there’s really no point in doing it. We aren’t professional athletes: we are a bunch of idiots with a warped idea of fun going out to Vermont to climb some mountains, chop some wood, and have a good time with our fellow crazies. I need to remind myself to ignore the bullshit, stay out of my head, and run my race.

So bring the cryptic emails, ciphered codes, changing gears lists and all the mind games you want. It’s game time, and things are about to get REALLY fun. Can’t wait to see you soon, Pittsfield. xoxo

Et tu, Brute?

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