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.


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.


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.


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]


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?


Crossfit + Obstacles = Combine Love

When you take three of my current obsessions (Crossfit, obstacles, and hills) and roll them up into one race, I may start foaming at the mouth out of excitement. And as we surveyed the PIT early last Saturday morning at Civilian Military Combine up in Camelbak Mountain, PA, I could feel the buzz in the air.

Ironically enough, when I signed up for CMC at the behest of a friend this past winter, I did not feel the same way. A Crossfit WOD followed by an obstacle race up a mountain? I knew I could hold my own on the obstacle part, but I had never stepped foot into a Crossfit box, let alone even know what “WOD” and “AMRAP” stood for. Thruster, huh?

[Side note: As many people know, I resisted Crossfit for over a year, hemming and hawing at the perceived cult-like nature and exorbitant membership fees. I finally caved about two and a half months ago, and haven’t looked back since. The Kool-Aid is excellent and mighty tasty.]

So I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical with the race format. 6 mins, and then only a 5 and a half mile course? How hard can that really be? (says the “too big for my britches Death Racer”) A workout followed by…a workout? With your score being weighted evenly between your number of reps in the pit and your time on the course? Intriguing format, though quite unknown. The concept, when you think of it, is ingenious: it’s a way to even out the field, and find the best of both the strength and the endurance worlds. To win, you have to dominate both.

“The PIT”

The first time I looked at the 4 90-second AMRAP’s that made up the PIT — kb swings, box jumps, burpees, and thrusters — I was less than enthused. I mean, how hard can 6 minutes of work really be?

Fucking hard. Seriously.

Many of the hardcore Crossfitters I told about the PIT in the weeks leading up to the event scoffed at the weights and the exercises. Too easy. Too weenie. Meh. And I’ll admit, I happened to agree with them. I mean, I had done 3000 burpees a few months ago, what’s 90 seconds of them?

Many of my friends competing at CMC ran through the pit dozens and dozens of times leading up to the event, trying to increase their reps each time. I did not. I had no idea the number of reps I would get going in, and no idea how those 9 minutes (30 seconds rest and transition bewteen each of the AMRAPs) would feel.

Smart move. Because I definitely wouldn’t have wanted that feeling again. I was a bit intimidated before the PIT watching the other racers–there were some serious hardcore Crossfitters here. Super strong women, ripped men, and tons of boxes that all came out as teams. So it made me feel mildly less like a weenie when they were all wrecked post PIT as well.

Lesson: the PIT’s no joke. As Crossfitters know, some of the most brutal WOD’s are the shortest (e.g., Fran, Grace). And while the PIT was all body weight exercises, 6 minutes will smoke you when you are under the gun. But if it was just a WOD, life wouldn’t have been too bad.

Oh wait–I have to go run up a mountain now? Shit.

The Course

Post PIT, you have 3 minutes of recovery and transition time to the starting line for the course. I frantically threw off my F-lites and threw on my Speedcross, grabbed a drink of water, and headed for the start. All I knew was that my calves and quads were burning. And that double-black diamond ahead of me didn’t look so awesome.

But I’m a runner and endurance athlete by nature, and the one advantage I have is quick recovery time (well, and also that most Crossfitters can’t run worth shit). So I shook it off, and set out at a clip ahead of the pack. The course was sprinkled with military style obstacles. These aren’t your Tough Mudder or Spartan gimmicky obstacles: you won’t find electric wires, spear throws, or ice baths. What you will find are walls, ladders, ropes, sandbags, and low crawls. Nothing “hard,” but taxing, especially when you consider the terrain.

The terrain. I’ve blogged before about how I love hills. I LOVE RUNNING HILLS. It’s the biggest thing I miss about the Northwest, and the thing about Chicago that kills me slowly inside. But I train creativity, and was pretty confident I’d be able to run them all. And I did mostly…until we met “The Asp.”

The course had us running up two double black diamonds, the first of which was steep, but still manageable at a slow jog. The Asp, or the second, was manageable at…a crawl. Yup, people crawling up on their hands and knees. I broke down and bear crawled for a few, and then actually walked up sideways for a bit as well. Apparently I do need to work on my hills still…

I was told post-race that the official mileage was 5.4 miles and close to 2000 feet of elevation change. Alright, CMC course, I’m sorry I prejudged you. For 5.4 miles, you destroyed me. As I mentioned to others post-race, I ran a Tough Mudder in PA a few weeks earlier that measured 13 miles, and that was a BREEZE compared to this course.*

The Booze

Booze was not *technically* part of the race, but I ran out of heading ideas. So when the dust settled, I came away victorious. That’s obviously a great feeling, but it’s not why I do these races. And whether I had won or came in last place, the fact doesn’t change that the point of these races for me is to go balls to the wall on every race, dominate the day, but most importantly–have a blast doing it.** In sports we always talked about “leaving everything on the field.” CMC definitely brought that out, not only in me, but in my fellow racers: the amazing energy in the PIT, the looks of pain and determination up on the mountain, and the camaraderie and buzz post-race.

CMC, you made a believer out of me. I never knew a race that lasted less than 2 hours could prove to be one of the hardest I’ve run in recent memory. And just ridiculously fun.

The People

But of course, I don’t race with strangers. In the past year, these people have become my friends and my surrogate family. Many of you know that I have a mild love affair with the amazing Carrie Adams (as you all should). But what you probably don’t know is that CMC was the first time Carrie and I actually ever met in person. Odd for two friends that talk on the phone almost daily, sometimes for hours. CMC also introduced me to team Hybrid Athlete, who so graciously took me on as a teammate at the last minute (nice 2nd place team finish, guys!) And of course, Simple Fuel brings us all together.

Til next time (meaning: CMC, get your ass to Chicago! I’ve got teams lined up!)

*In fact, the TM bored the hell out of me. Are they making them easier to appeal to the masses? Do I really want to subject myself to another WTM when it’s going to be a snooze fest? More on that in another post.
**Let’s be honest: if it’s not fun, why are you doing it?


S.E.R.E. Urban: Chicago is a Dangerous Place

I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out practical uses for my shiny new KA-Bar,* spoils of being crowned “Top Team” at S.E.R.E. Chicago this past weekend. I typically display my race schwag on my desk at work, but somehow I think that a 7-inch knife wouldn’t go over too well and may result in losing my job even more quickly than I’m probably on track to lose it. So far, I’ve discovered that the KA-Bar is excellent for eating apples and opening the numerous Amazon boxes I get every week (GEARWHORE), and is just so-so serving as a steak knife. It does make for a great rendition of Psycho in the shower, though I wouldn’t recommend it for getting out splinters. But enough about knife uses.

This past Friday at 2200hours, we set out S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge Class 006 in Chicago: the first of its kind. But wait wait wait, you say. Didn’t you complete a S.E.R.E. Challenge back in January in DC and almost die of a cashew allergy at the same time? Why yes, yes I did. I was part of S.E.R.E. Beta: once again, the first and only of its class. But the challenge has morphed over the past few months, so I came into Class 006 not having the foggiest idea of what to expect, except that we would be divided into teams within our class and one team would come out victorious as “Top Team.”

Any challenge that starts out with (1) low crawling along the pavement in front of Buckingham Fountain; and (2) “neck drags” around a baseball field, is certain to be a good time. At least in my book. But while we started with some standard PT and physical challenges, we quickly learned that S.E.R.E Urban is a different ballgame altogether. For it’s not about carrying heavy rucks** and stopping to do push-ups and monkey fuckers every few miles. It’s about leadership, building a strong team, learning survival skills, and completing missions in a quick and efficient manner.

Class 006 had three S.E.R.E veterans: myself, Todd, and Kimmie from the Beta class. As such, we were assigned to be team leaders. Teams were semi-randomly selected through the scientific art of sugar cookie-ing T-shirts and then duking it out against the other leaders in a low crawl, lunge, and push-up challenge. Needless to say, I lucked out with a rock star team, which set the tone for the rest of the challenge.

Throughout the night, we (as team leaders) were given intel and missions with information and objectives to relay to our teams, all centering around a potential terrorist attack on Chicago. Hmm…playing war games, you say? Perhaps, but fucking AWESOME games. For example, after a nice dip in Lake Michigan followed by a recon mission at Northerly Island, team leaders were told to call a specific number and relay a message to await further intel. The only catch was that all cell towers were destroyed so we had to use a landline.

3am. Chicago. No cell phones. And who the hell has payphones anymore? To make things even more fun, I, as team leader, suffered chemical burns to the eyes and needed to be blindfolded.

If you have never run 6+ miles at a decent clip (8min mile pace?) completely blindfolded, it’s an exercise I highly recommend. Especially if you have 4 dudes leading you blindfolded through downtown Chicago in the middle of the night. NOTHING TO SEE HERE OFFICER, MOVE ALONG.

And so the night continued. Missions interlaced with dips in Lake Michigan (death to rockingchairs!!), covering considerable distance (from Northerly Island up to Wrigley Field and back, and various zig zags between), and, perhaps most unique and important, survival and skills lessons. Let’s recap. I learned, among other things:

how to safely carry a person with a gaping stomach wounded. It’s called a neck drag and I highly do NOT recommend it.
that while it may be fun to kick boys in the nuts and poke them in the eyes, the art of muay thai is way more practical if you are ever going to get in a street fight. Watch out, boys.
that flailing your arms frantically at a helicopter isn’t the best means of communication. And that a large “LL” will prevent an awkward “no, I’m fine but thanks for stopping.”
that sand tables are NOT just big kid sandcastles, though they are certainly fun to build like one.
that if someone throws a black tag on me, I’m fucked.
Points were awarded to teams for winning certain missions throughout the 13+ hours, right down to the final, frantic buddy carry run from Millenium Park to the big black anchor at Navy Pier. And while it was an accomplishment to be crowned Top Team, it was an incredibly tight race. Each team overcame adversity and potential drops, and we worked together as a class at several points during the night. While Team “Random Tom Cruise Movie” (at certain points it was more “Vanilla Sky” than “Cocktail,” but it was always “Risky Business”) was light and fast on our feet (we may have ran from North Ave Beach to Wrigley in record time), other teams were perhaps more cunning and wise in their execution of missions.

With NATO coming up this weekend in Chicago, I’m crossing my fingers I’ll be able to pull some muay thai moves out on a few protestors as I head into the office. Let’s just hope I don’t have to neck drag any of their asses.

*A few months ago, I had no idea what a KA-Bar was. It’s a knife. A big, fatty, 7-inch knife with a sheath. Technically, its a combat knife used by the Marines (hat tip to Wikipedia for my minimal knowledge).
**because, really, in an urban environment, no one is going to be carrying a 40+lb pack


Used and Abused: The Essentials

My body hates me. There isn’t a day where I’m not nursing some type of sore muscle, blister, injury, or rash of some sort (yum). If you know me, you are quite familiar with the fact that I am a certifiable gearwhore. So it makes sense that I’m also a certifiable product-whore as well: if it could potentially make the pain go away, speed recovery, or prevent the pain in the first place, I’m on it. So when I pack my bag for, say, the Death Race, these are the essentials:*

Blister Pads: The nemesis of all ultra/endurance athletes. After 24 hours slugging through the Jersey mud at World’s Toughest Mudder, I had gouged holes in the backs of my heels deep enough to look like gunshot wounds. It was weeks before I could put on anything but flip-flops and backless shoes, and now, over 4 months later, I still have hot spots on the back of my heels prone to blistering and ripping. In terms of healing open wounds, Hydroarmor’s Pedinol Heel Dressings are magical. They contain silver to help speed healing, and they stay on for days (you can even wash them and restick them). Spenco 2nd skin is a pretty good sub and works well during races. I’ve been unimpressed with any other blister pad brands in terms of staying power throughout races.

Gold Bond & Vaseline: I have the man, the myth, and the legend, Johnny Waite, to thank for this tip. At about 22 hours into the Winter Death Race, my feet were toast. Incredibly waterlogged, and looking like prime candidates for some nasty maceration. As I stripped my wet boots and socks off in the hoop house to inspect the damage, Johnny tossed me his jumbo sized Gold Bond and Vaseline, told me to make a paste, and smear it all over my feet. No joke, I felt like a new woman, and they felt great for the next 10 hours. I totally get why men put this shit down their pants. It’s amazing. You could probably use Aquaphor + Vaseline as well, but Aquaphor tends to be harder to spread than Vaseline (and more expensive). This combo kept me so fresh and so clean for GRC Chicago, and I’m a firm believer now in doing this before every race.

Aquaphor: I have often been made fun of for my devotion to Aquaphor. I keep several tubes of it–at work, in my purse, in my gym bag, and a huge tub by my bed. I just must have severely chapped lips, because it’s the only thing that works where I don’t have to keep reapplying. But for races, it’s a god send. Not only is it the best thing I’ve found to fight chafing (even you, Bodyglide), it’s excellent protection against windburn. Windburn on the face SUCKS (a lesson Joel and I learned quite painfully after World’s Toughest Mudder). So while it may feel weird to lube up your face, it’s essential for the cold weather racing.

Diaper Cream: Same idea as the gold bond/vaseline/Aquaphor uses, but this stuff is great for chafing from the sports bra area and other more delicate places when you know you are going to be wet during a race. Also works well on the feet. And leaves you smelling like a baby’s bottom.

Athletic Tape: People sing the praises of KT Tape. I am not one of them. While it feels awesome and looks badass for the two seconds before the race, it’s only good for those two seconds it stays on until you sweat it off. I’ve tried everything to keep it on (rubbing alcohol, vigorous rubbing) and nothing seems to work. And it’s expensive as shit. Regular athletic tape, on the other hand, always seems to do the trick (while painful sometimes to get off). If you double it over, it’s a great way to protect open blisters on the hands, and as I learned at the Winter Death Race this year, it also makes an excellent makeshift splint for your very weak wrists (saved me a broken wrist coming down the mountain the last time)

Band-Aid Tough Strips: Hands down, the best sticky shit around. I carry some with me at all times during races.

Arnica Gel: Bengay/Icy Hot FEELS great for two seconds, but is totally worthless. Arnica, on the other hand, is some natural mumbo-jumbo stuff that is supposed to reduce swelling and ease pain. Well, I know it makes my fingers go a bit numb after I put it on, so I’m a fan. BioFreeze is also a godsend, but a bit more of a pain on the wallet.

Pepto/Immodium: When you are racing for 12, 16, 24+ hours, nature is going to call (despite boys believe that girls don’t ever go to the bathroom). Peeing is perfectly acceptable anywhere (and glorious in a wetsuit), but, sparing any details, it’s best not to have to stop for other business. A combo of Pepto/Immodium pre-race and during the race can save you embarrassing stops, precious time, and sore butts from using poison ivy to wipe. (just be careful–it dehydrates)

Contact solution/extra contacts: For those of us that are blind. No one wants me to chop wood with only one contact in. I’m dangerous enough as it is with 20/20 vision.

Epsom Salts: Name something that Epsom salts can’t fix. I dare you. Heel blisters? Sore muscles? Rough calluses? Shin splints? Constipation? (Never tried that last one, but it says on the box it can…ew). I buy it in bulk and use it on the regular.

Vodka: The ultimate multi-tasker. Not only is it great to numb the pain after 24+ hours on your feet carrying heavy shit, it doubles as an antiseptic. If someone is beating you during a race, throw it in their eyes (Kidding. Kind of). Always keep a flask, despite what the naysayers say.

Let’s be honest, though: I am a horrible packer. I will forget half of this crap at home for my next race and then lose the other half somewhere out on the course. Points to whoever returns my flask.

*I suppose I should probably say that I am in no way affiliated with any of these brands, nor was I paid for any of this crap. Totally unnecessary, given that like 5 people read my blog on a good day, but the attorney in me requires me to cover my own ass.


Everyday I’m Shufflin’

I posed the question this past weekend: “Which is harder to describe, the Death Race or a GoRuck Challenge?”

Obviously, to the average person, both seem certifiably insane:
The Death Race: you basically do whatever they tell you to do for 48ish hours, which likely involves chopping wood, running up and down a mountain, and carrying heavy and awkward shit.
GoRuck: you run through a city at night for 12ish hours with a backpack full of bricks and stop and do push-ups, bear crawls, crab walks, and any other stupid exercise you can possibly think of (see, e.g., monkeyfuckers; little man in the woods)

After giving it some thought (ok, WAY too much thought), I think I’m going to go with GoRuck being harder to explain. Why?

It’s not a race.

And people don’t get that. I couldn’t tell them “yeah, so I was the only female to finish,” or “I placed 5th” or “the finish rate was 1%.” It simply was running around the city with a team of 30 people for 12+ hours, doing PT and completing missions. The goal was finishing, and finishing as a team.

And for Chicago GoRuck Class 129, we finished as a team: 28 in, 28 out.

But therein lies the rub for me. It’s no secret that I’m a competitive person. And the hardest part of the GRC was shelving this competitiveness, and reminding myself constantly “it’s not a race.” It’s working hard for the good of the team. Not for my finish time, not for my own glory, but for the camaraderie and the mission at hand.

And dammit, I suck at it. I really, really do. There was a reason that I hated group projects in school. A reason that I chose (and still choose) to work alone at any opportunity I can get. There, I was only accountable to myself. There, every decision I made was the right decision. There, I chose the speed, I chose the course, and I chose how I got it done.

So over the course of Class 129, one of my major flaws came to light: I have the patience of a 2-year old. And sometimes empathy that would rival a 2-year old’s as well. For example, I probably said out loud about a dozen times during the night “can’t we run any faster? This isn’t even a shuffle. I walk faster than this.”* In other words, my utter lack of patience and my inability to go at my own pace and make my own decisions catapulted me into complete inner bitch mode (though you wouldn’t know that considering I was consistently singing LMFAO with a bit of Kanye thrown in for good measure).

And that’s not what GoRuck is about. It’s about team-building, problem-solving, and camaraderie. And laughing while doing some ridiculous things. Oh, and carrying heavy shit. But slowly, as the hours progressed, I began to put aside my inner impatient 2-year-old self and instead focused on enjoying the company of my fellow classmates, our hilarious and awesome cadre Dave (“ass as hard as a woodpecker’s lips”), and the fantastic Death Race training that carrying an awkward sandbag or shamrock on my shoulders provided. And beers. I began to enjoy beers, which made all the difference.

Because, for me, it was the mental, not the physical, that made GoRuck challenging. I had to get over myself, and start playing nice with others. I had to realize that my finishing time didn’t matter, because we were all finishing together. And I had to drill it into my head, over and over, that this is not a competition, and this is not a race.

So why is GoRuck harder to explain? Because there’s no concrete victory, and there’s no idea of winning. You don’t do a GoRuck to beat the living hell out of your fellow competitors: you do it to learn about yourself. So smile, enjoy the company of your classmates, and grab a couple beers.

*Because the goal of GRC is to get everyone to finish, it unfortunately (or fortunately?) means that you are only as fast as your slowest person, and only as strong as your weakest person. I suppose this is a metaphor for teams and for life, but it sometimes means carrying people or crossloading weights, and can sometimes result in excess frustration.


Winter Death Race: FAQ’s

Post-Winter Death Race, I’ve received tons of questions about the race, my experience, and life in general. I do not claim any special DR knowledge–hell, I’m still a rookie myself. However, I love a good FAQ section, so I thought I’d recreate that here, Death Race-style.

(1) Did you really do 3000 burpees? God, that’s dumb.

Yes, all finishers were required to do 3000 burpees. And yes, it’s totally dumb. But that’s the point. Their goal was to break you mentally (well, and physically). 3000 burpees is utterly stupid, but you do them and you move on. That’s the Death Race for you–some things are going to suck. Or all.

(2) Can you give a play-by-play of the race?

Nope. Not my blog style, and I find it rather boring to tell it like that. But at the end of the race, the finishers had done 3000 burpees, 3 mountain loops (25+miles with some other running), chopped and stacked wood, completed two bikram yoga classes, carried and rolled logs, carried snow, carried buckets of river water, and done a water submersion in a frozen pond. The rest you can figure out–it’s part of the Death Race mystique.

(3) Why are you in just a sports bra in all the pictures?

Those pics were taken in a 10 minute period of time, and I was really hot from doing thousands of burpees. For 99% of the 33 hours, I was fully clothed. I’m not a whore nor am I trying to draw attention to myself. And yes, I do have some pit hair showing. That happens when you are 30 hours into a race and sweaty and unshowered. Deal with it.

(4) Which was harder, World’s Toughest Mudder or the Winter Death Race?

Lawyer answer: it depends. They are two entirely different races so it’s impossible to compare. Both were hard in their own ways, but I found the Winter Death Race way more physically and mentally challenging (and satisfying).

(5) Did girls have different standards in the WDR than boys?

Nope. I did the same exact tasks as all the men. Technically, I think women only had to split 50 pieces of wood instead of 70, but I didn’t know which piles had how many, so I grabbed any of them. And with the bucket carry, I could lose up to 4 inches of water instead of 2 inches. But I only lost an inch, so it didn’t matter anyway.

(6) How was Joe D. as a bikram instructor?

Motivating, though he could work on his zen-like presence. I believe his phrase for hands-to-feet pose was “Grab your heels. Now pull–pull like a motherf*cker!!” And we did awkward pose for 60+ seconds. That’s got to be a new record.

(7) Did you sleep?

Well, we had forced “naptime” for an hour or so where we were told to lie down in the hoop house on the dirt floor and make no noise. That’s a Death Race first, apparently. I was too petrified (and too amped and ready to go) to sleep during that time, but there was definitely some snoring going on.

(8) I thought the race was only supposed to be 24 hours.

First lesson of the Death Race: there are no rules. There are no expectations, and you can never count on anything. I’m fully expecting the Summer Death Race, which says “up to 48 hours” to go 60-72+. I’m definitely not booking my flight back to Chicago the day after I think it should be done (lessons learned).

(9) So you finished in 32 hours, 21 minutes. How did you know when you were done?

Joe and Andy said “congratulations, you finished.”

Well, I came down off the mountain from my third loop, fully expecting to have to get back in the frozen pond and move on to the next task. So it was a nice little surprise to hear that I was done. I suppose I was quite sure how to react–in fact, I offered to do more burpees. Whee!

(10) How did you know how to train for this?

I didn’t. That’s the beauty of these races.

(11) Did you get tired?

To be honest, not really. The lack of sleep didn’t really affect me considering we were moving and engaged at all times. Well, except for that last climb up the mountain in the dark. I thought I saw a witch and screamed. Turned out it was a tree stump. So apparently hallucinations do kick in at about 30 hours.

(11) Was the water submersion cold?

Well, it was March 3rd and the pond was frozen over. You do the math. There’s some great video of some of the submersions–I can’t watch it’s so painful.

(12) How did you keep up your spirits?

There were actually very few moments when I WASN’T having fun. I had a blast. Perhaps that’s because I was singing to myself for a good portion of it (Kanye was the artist of choice, though Jay-Z & Swizz Beats “On to the Next One” was my personal anthem), which hopefully didn’t annoy my fellow racers too much (though most rebuked my attempts to get them to join in a singalong).

In all honesty, my fellow racers kept my spirit up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the adventure/obstacle racing world is a crew of stand-up, incredible people. We even managed to have fun during burpees (See Exhibit A, though Bryan didn’t look like he was having too much fun).

(13) So should I do a lot of burpees to prepare for the Summer Death Race?

Do what you want, but it will do you no good. You could also get really good at pig wrestling. Or Pogo-sticking. That might also do you no good.

(14) That looks awesome. Should I do the Death Race?

Absolutely not.

(15) Any tips for finishing?

Yes. Don’t stop until they tell you that you are finished.