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.

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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.

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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.

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32 hours and 21 minutes

A stump almost broke me.

I was finished chopping my wood and stacking it, except for this bastard of a stump about 3 feet in diameter, knotted to hell, and frozen solid. The thought entered my mind “there’s no way I can chop this up. There is absolutely no way.”

And at that moment, I knew I had to snap out of it. Because that’s exactly what they want: once they have you mentally defeated, you are toast. Might as well throw in the towel and call it quits.

And snap out of it, I did. We were only 12ish hours into the race, and a piece of wood wasn’t going to break me. I would get it done. So on the advice of a wise DR veteran, I started hacking around the outside. Slowly, over the next half hour, the stump came apart.

From that point on, I knew that nothing would break me. Throw at me your worst, Andy & Joe, and I’ll do it. I will go until you tell me to stop. Because what I learned from the Winter Death Race, above all else, is that your attitude determines your success. But I had it easy.

Over the course of the 32+ hour race, I witnessed attitudes that ran the gamut from my fellow racers. While there were a few minor exceptions, I was continually impressed by the spirit and the resilience of my fellow racers, especially those racers that weren’t leading the pack, but continued to stick it out. Those racers are the true inspiration, and are the ones for whom I have the utmost respect.

Think about it. It’s “easy” being in the lead, or at least towards the front. You don’t really know what is ahead of you, so you do things as Joe & Andy tell you to do it. I hung towards the front of the pack for most of the race, but was never out in front. So while I knew certain things coming to me (say, another run up the mountain or another 1000 burpees), it was never an overwhelming amount.

For those racers that fell behind initially, the list of what is ahead of you grows…exponentially. And to know that, for instance, you have 2000 more burpees, 2 more mountain loops, a dip in the pond, and more wood to chop, can be mentally devastating. Moreover, knowing how hard it would be to catch the leaders, or even go fast enough to finish, is enough to make any sane person want to call it quits.

Take, for example, the lovely and badass Jessica Pineault. She had the unfortunate occurrence of having to roll a log that had split in two, which forced her way behind the pack. As several of us were working on our 3rd set of 1000 burpees about 24 hours into the race, she was working on her 2nd set, knowing that she still had an additional mountain loop and a dip in the pond before she even made it to her 3rd set. But she soldiered on, laughing and joking with us as we all did burpees together on the frozen ground. “Burpee drunk,” she said. And unwavering, with a smile on her face, she continued on.

It’s times like this that show your true character. And I’m honored to race with those that embody that spirit, and inspired to conduct myself in the same way. I only hope, that the day when I’m faced with that feeling of hopelessness, that I can carry myself with as much integrity and respect that I saw out there this weekend.

Everyone congratulates the winners and the finishers. I’m proud of what I accomplished by finishing in those 32+ hours, and I’m proud of how I got there. But we had it easy–the unknown gave us a mental advantage, one that wasn’t shared by all the racers.

So fellow Death Racers and future Death Racers: soldier on. Don’t let them break you. And realize that sometimes the greatest source of inspiration comes from those that may not finish at all.

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These races should be everything I hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adventures in Urban Training: Wood Chopping

The Winter Death Race is three weeks away.

I have never swung an axe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cashews, Leadership, and Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mission: Unknown

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

Repeat ad infinitum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Volenti non fit injuria

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

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

Let’s take inventory:

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

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

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

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

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

Rest.

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

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

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On Girl Crushes and the Interwebs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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