Domestic Abuse

What I’ve Learned About Failure From Diana Nyad

“I wanted to teach myself some life lessons at the age of 60,

and one of them was that you don’t give up.”

-Diana Nyad

 inspire

I think you are all aware by now that I have a rather substantial lady crush on Diana Nyad.  In fact, I am pretty sure I wrote a whole post about it at one point.  This post, however, is not simply about how much I am in total awe and inspired by her (which I totally still am), but rather what I have learned from her about life and specifically failure.

When Diana made her #EPIC journey from Cuba to Florida, I was glued to the CNN app on my phone (I’m talking Boston Marathon levels of stalking).  For me, it was the equivalent of Man’s First Steps on the Moon.  Here was this woman in her sixties taking on the ocean, Gulf Stream, dehydration, hypothermia, sharks, jelly fish, and exhaustion in the hopes of finally chasing down her dream.  She wasn’t deterred by her age, all her failed previous attempts, or even the fact that her most recent attempt had nearly killed her, TWICE!  She was all in, Cuba or Bust.

It happened at a time in my life when I was struggling to learn to swim.  I couldn’t even wrap my mind around swimming the amount of time or distance she was attempting, forget all the other hazards… or the currents… or salt water… or restrictive gear (because we all know how much I love my wetsuit… NOT!)  To me, she was the epitome of the indomitable human spirit.  I would think about her during my swims just in awe on so many levels.

The more I learned about her, the deeper my admiration grew.  This is not a woman who has had an easy life.  In fact, she’s had very much the opposite.  She was abused by her father and assaulted by her swim coach for years in silence.  Being abused by my ex husband as an adult almost broke me.  I can’t even imagine what kind of strength it took to survive and endure being injured in that way by the men she was supposed to be able to trust at such a young age without ever reaching out to someone for support.  Beyond that, that fact that she has the courage to speak about it openly (especially in a culture with such prevalent victim shaming) speaks volumes to her personal fortitude and character.

I don’t know whether it was inherent strength that got her through or developed out of necessity, but I doubt it is a coincidence that a woman who was able to endure and thrive after that kind of childhood abuse is the same one who was able to shut down her critics and swim from Cuba to Florida.  Coming from a place of having survived and overcome the betrayal of physical and emotional abuse, I can speak first hand to the type of perspective it can give on life and specifically on pain.

Everyone has a scale for pain.  When something hurts, your brain is programmed to compare it to past hurt.  There is NOTHING in this life that I have ever encountered in the way of physical pain that even comes close to the psychological pain associated with abuse.  No sport, race, or distance to date, and I doubt any ever will.  It may be a reach, but somehow I think swimming 50+ hours across the ocean probably doesn’t compare for Diana either.

However, the reason I admire Diana is not the fact that she is an open survivor of abuse, so much as who she is as a person.  She had a crummy past, but it doesn’t define her.  Instead, it has made her tough as nails.  She is utterly unwilling to accept defeat, and that is my kind of lady.  If Diana has taught me anything in life, it’s that there is no such thing as failure unless you quit.  You may have failed attempts, but until you throw in the towel and give up- it’s not over.

Prior to hearing about Diana and learning about her, I used to worry about the big D-N-F.  I was afraid of failing.  However, now I realize it’s not a failure unless I give up on my goal.  As long as my desire and dream are still alive, I’m not defeated; and the story isn’t over.

When you look at her journey from Cuba to Florida, Diana didn’t fail on those previous attempts.  They were all important steps on her journey to get there.  In the end, I’m sure the fact that she had to fight so hard for so long made it that much more meaningful and rewarding.  So now, every time I have a goal (like 70.3) that I just can’t seem to get to, that is what I think of.  It’s not a failure, it’s just going to take a little longer than planned.  Eventually I will get there, and the victory that much sweeter.

PS. If you haven’t seen Ms. Nyad’s documentary The Other Shore yet, you should probably watch it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a swimmer or even remotely interested in swimming. You should still watch it. Because the truth is, it’s not about swimming. It’s about living.

Trust In Yourself and Your Training

“Never give up.

And most importantly, be true to yourself.

Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in.”

-Louise Brown

itsyou

Hello My Lovelies!

I meant to update you all sooner, but I had an unexpected detour.  Before I get into the details of my recent #EPIC adventures, let me update you on the preceding events.

The weekend prior to my BIG RACE, I decided to go for a ride with my tri club peeps.  I had originally hoped to do the Rev3 Olympic course for practice, but instead we did the local Griskus Olympic course.  I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I figured any time on the bike would be good for me.  Plus, I typically enjoy riding in groups more than riding on my own, so I thought it might be a good confidence boost.  Turns out, it was not my greatest ride.  In fact, it was my most disastrous in some time.  I think this was partly due my nerves about the upcoming race and partly because I was super intimated by the group of individuals who came out.

Normally when I meet up with people from the club, there tend to be one or two people at my skill level.   However, these people were all far more experienced than me not only with cycling, but triathlon in general.  A few of them seemed surprised that I had signed up for the Rev3 Olympic as my first tri, especially given my obvious lack of confidence (and skill) with the bike.  I did not even bother to mention to them that I had actually downgraded to Olympic and had originally planned on the half.  Given that they were already questioning my sanity, I didn’t want to go ahead and confirm their suspicions for them.

Needless to say, before we even started our ride I was feeling out of my league.  It only went downhill from there (cycling pun).  Despite my best efforts to relax and have fun, I just couldn’t find my groove.  I was fumbling with my pedals and even tipped over upclipping at the top of a hill.  Then, because I had dirt in my cleat (I HATE you Speedplays), I couldn’t get back in my pedals to get down the hill.  Everyone else was light-years ahead of me.  And just because that wasn’t bad enough, I managed to get my chain completely stuck between two gears during a steep climb.  For those of you unfamiliar with cycling, that means I had to dismount and fix it (not such a big deal)… and then try to get started again… uphill… on a steep incline… yea not so fun…

I can’t actually remember if I did anything else to embarrass myself on that ride.  The whole experience was rather mortifying.  I was frustrated because it was the mechanical stuff I was struggling with, not the actual riding.  I knew I could do better, but everyone assumed I was just struggling because I was new.  I did manage to run a few miles as part of a brick, but I still couldn’t relax.  I felt like I was being silently judged (and unfavorably judged at that!)…  I am sure that most of this angst was just my nerves and in my head; however, it was the little comments here and there I had trouble tuning out.  Things like how the Olympic Rev3 bike course was very similar to the half, how hard open water swimming is, and how I should be doing my bricks in order (instead of swimming last which I still stand by as more efficient in terms of showering and making me a stronger swimmer… I mean if I am statistically most likely to die on the swim then doesn’t it make sense to make sure I am comfortable swimming tired?  just saying…) kept working their way up into conversation.

So here’s the thing, I am just not a subscriber of the cookie cutter training method.  I truly fail to believe that one training noeasyregimen can work for everyone.  For example, what if I don’t feel up to a 10 mile run on the day it’s scheduled?  Am I supposed to just push through and do it anyway?  Where is the allowance for listening to your body?  Plus, I find a lot of those plans require significantly more mileage than I would do on my own.  Now that is not to say that they don’t work great for some people, but I just would rather do my own thing.  I feel like I have trained for enough endurance events to know what I need to do to be prepared.  Apparently, that makes other people a little nervous… especially Type A people.

The thing is, those people aren’t with me when I’m at the YMCA every Saturday morning doing 24-30 miles of spin, followed by a 7+ mile incline run, and a 1 to 2 mile swim.  They aren’t there for the other countless miles I swim, bike and run.  They aren’t with me when I’m running half marathons or ultras, and they have no idea that I’ve been cross training with a personal trainer twice a week.  Beyond that they aren’t aware of what kind of background or mental conditioning I have had up to this point in my life, and they don’t know me.

All that being said, it’d be silly of me to take it personally.  It’s not that I’m incapable in their eyes; it’s that they don’t understand where I’m coming from.  There are some people who would just never sign up for a race they weren’t sure they would do well at, let alone finish.  The way I train and challenge myself is scary to them, and that’s ok.  I don’t need them to believe in me.  I believe in myself.

Perhaps when those same people see me crossing those finish lines and chasing my dreams it might inspire them to break out of their comfort zones and do the same.

 

Life as a Whirlwind

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder.

We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

-Frederick Douglass

Image

Holy Chaos!  It has been a SUPER busy week over here!  I thought it was about time to update you on all the exciting things this very busy Chik has been up to!  FYI: You may want to grab a snack before you start reading.  This is going to be a looong post… but don’t worry, I added lots of pictures to keep you entertained.  You’re welcome!

I figured last week would be EPIC given that I ended the previous one with an Ultra, and it started with the Boston Marathon!  I also expected it to be busy, but I never could have guessed how much I’d get accomplished.

For starters, I only worked two shifts because I have been working like a slave helping my parents move.  My brother and I loaded and unloaded THREE moving trucks of furniture, boxes, tools, and household items.  It took a full two days (of working almost 18 hours a day) to get the trucks filled and unloaded.  Then another whole day to get the house unpacked enough to be livable… Plus, that’s not even mentioning how many car loads I have brought over and by car I actually mean my Subaru Crosstrek and my husband’s truck.  Why yes, I do have other siblings.  Um no, they didn’t help.  My younger sister is a teenager, so her idea of helping consisted of inviting a friend over and throwing her stuff all over her new room… mostly on the floor.  My older sister is contending with my niece who just learned to walk… and by walk I mean run (her daughter takes after me more than her… she is in sooo much trouble…)  So it was basically my brother and I with some help from the hubs when he wasn’t working.

iloveyou

That being said, my mom is super thrilled with their new place, and that is all that matters!

So obviously given that I had just done a 50K and spent three days hauling boxes and moving furniture, it seemed like a really good idea to sign up for a half marathon.  Okay, it actually seemed like a really bad idea, even to me, but I have run the Cheshire Half it’s first two years.  I really love that race!  I want to be one of those 80 year old ladies who they announce has run it every year since it started.  Besides, I figured if I didn’t run it, I would just be super cranky when all my friends were posting pictures about what a great day they had.  So really, I did it for the hubs so he wouldn’t have a crabby wife.  I’m selfless like that.

I went into the race not really expecting much of myself.  I knew I had logged some serious mileage at the Ultra and my IT bands were still wound up tight.  Plus, it was super windy, so I expected that to really slow me down.  Much to my pleasure, I found my friend Lu, who had also ducked inside to escape the cold, before the start. We both considered this a stroke of luck given the number of runners and took it as a positive sign for the day.  We chatted a bit, mostly about running- big surprise there!  He said his goal was a sub 1:50, and I told him I would be happy to break 2 hours.  We both agreed that given the conditions, we didn’t have high expectations.  Like me, though, Lu loves the Cheshire Half and didn’t want to miss it.  Also like me, Lu runs for the joy of running.  He’s not out there to compete with anyone but himself.  He is really just a kind soul and a joy to be around.

Not long after running into each other, we found the rest of the boot camp crew.  Seeing all of them made me seriously consider rejoining!  They are such a great bunch of people.  They were also super excited about the Half, and many of them were doing it for the first time.  I felt very blessed to have found all my friends before the race!  It was a definite boost because they are all so positive and inspiring.

In another stroke of luck, the sun came out and warmed us up a little at the start.  The weather actually turned out to be PERFECT.  It was overcast, cool, and there was a nice breeze instead of the strong winds when we arrived.  Lu and I began together after losing the rest of the group walking to the start, and he left me in the dust in no time!  My first few miles were a little rocky.  I mentally prepared myself for a grueling 2 hours.  However, after the first 5K I started settling in and felt okay.  By mile 6, I was even feeling strong!  Strangely, the longer the race went on, the better I felt.

The course, for the most part, is a flat one; and most of it runs through a tree lined bike path (part of the reason I like it, I am all about the trees).  For the first several miles of the race I had to fight the urge to push myself harder as everyone passed me.  Instead, I spent the entire race focusing on my form and zoning out with my ipod.  The hubs had picked and loaded all the music for my first Ultra, so it made me smile to listen to his selections.  He even put our wedding song on it!  Who knew he could be so romantic?

Conserving my energy paid off because the few hills on the course came up between miles 8 and 10.  All those people who passed me on the flats started to drop behind me when we hit them.  My legs were tired, but they still felt good.  I figured my pace was steady because the miles were still going by quickly, and I was passing people instead of getting passed.  I also knew where the worst hill on the course was, and once I was over it I told myself I was in the home stretch.  I was excited because I knew I would have a strong finish.  I had also been running at a good pace the whole way and felt so good that I thought I might PR.

I hadn’t looked at my watch once.  I didn’t want to psych myself out or get over confident.  Instead I wanted to focus on running at a comfortable pace.  I didn’t want to push my body to the point of feeling sick.  I also didn’t want to push too hard after having just done an ultra.  Mostly, I was just in awe of how strong I felt after what I had put my body through last weekend.  I silently thanked my body and reveled in how far it exceeded my wildest expectations.

I ran those last few miles hard because I knew I could.  I felt great!  Yes I was tired, but I also knew deep down that this was the best I had ever done running a Half Marathon.  I wasn’t sick or hurting or hating life.  I enjoyed almost the entire thing!  When I hit mile 12, the clock read 1:45!!!  My first thought was that if I was at this time at mile 12, then Lu must be finished.  He absolutely must have met his goal!  I did a little happy dance for him in my head.  Then I realized “HOLY $HIT! I AM GOING TO PR!”  I knew there was a possibility that the clock was wrong, but I just felt too good for that to be the case.

Despite the fact that it was still cold out, I stripped off my long sleeve shirt, so I could sport my Team Tough Chik jersey that last mile. I wanted to represent my fellow Toughies out there!  They are all so inspiring, and I am beyond proud (and BLESSED!) to be one of them.  I wanted to have that shirt visible when I crossed the line.  It was a magical moment.  I almost cried.  The clock read 1:55.  It was the fastest Half Marathon I have ever run, and I did it one week after running an Ultra (and two weeks after my first #1 in my age group).  Holy-Freaking-Epic!   I still can’t believe it!

photo-21

The funny thing is, my last PR for a half was at the Hartford Half Marathon 2 weeks after my DNF at the Ultra Beast.  Apparently Ultras agree with me.  Perhaps I should do one before every half…

Oh and as if that were not enough #EPIC news, I also got this email:

Image-3

That’s right!  I am now an official Sweat Pink Ambassador!!!!  Take that Fitfuential!  At least someone appreciates my awesomeness.  Just wait until I’m famous and the AWESOME-train has left the station without you.  lol

photo-20

 

But wait!  There’s more!  I also had a CT-ALIVE board meeting, and our program director Susan Omilian (the woman who changed my life after the abuse)  has asked me whether I would be willing to become co-vice president of the board.  Pretty exciting stuff!  Either she appreciates all my enthusiasm, or she has not actually read this blog and doesn’t realize what a raving lunatic I am.

Anyway, I was telling her about my mad graphic designing skillz (that is an intentional typo btw, because I’m all ghetto with my mad skillzzzz) now that I have discovered picmonkey.com.  She was so impressed that she gave me my first job as a graphic designer… minus the getting paid and it actually being a job part.  Actually, I’m just doing her a favor and making uber cool graphics with some of her quotes.  I already sent her a bunch, and she was pretty pleased.  I consider this high praise because Susan is an even bigger perfectionist than I am.  Here is one of my favorites:

 

livingwell

If you are interested at all in the concept of thriving, you should totally check out her website.  I cannot say enough about how wonderful and helpful her workshops were!   Plus, if you don’t live in the area, she has a Thriver Workbook that you can do on your own at home.  I know it sounds a little cheesy to do a self help workbook as an adult, but I have bought one for my mom, and she loves it.  In fact, I have actually bought a few for other women as well, because I really believe not only in her book, but in empowering other women to live happy, fulfilling lives.

That is all for now my lovelies!  I hope you are all off to a great week!  What did you all accomplish this weekend?  I would love to hear about it!

I Believe

“I believe in pink.

I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner.

I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.

believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong.

I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.

I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.” 

― Audrey Hepburn

1382867_10151653824162397_856840005_n

Anyone who has seen my wedding dress (or my Netflix instant queue) knows I love me some Audrey Hepburn.  I also love her quote above, which got me to thinking about what exactly I believe in.  After some careful deliberation, I am here to write it down.

I believe in a world where women are not viewed as the weaker sex.   I believe in a nation where equality for women is guaranteed in the constitution. I believe in an economy where women are awarded equal pay for equal work.  I believe in a culture where women are valued for their character rather than devalued as sex objects.

I believe in a world free of abuse.  I believe that women deserve to be cherished and not beaten by their husbands.  I believe that every woman, young and old, has the right to feel safe and beautiful.

I believe it’s time for society to stop blaming victims and start holding perpetrators accountable.  I believe it’s time to stop bombarding young men and women with media that says it’s ok to disrespect and objectify women.  I believe in empowering young women to fulfill their potential rather than shrink into gender roles; because I believe that every person, regardless of gender, has a right to chase her dreams.

 I believe it is not just mine, but every persons responsibility to make it happen.

I believe in women empowering women.  I believe it is about time we stand together as a community.  I believe that we, as women, have the power to make a change.

I believe in a world where anything is possible. I believe that every victim of violence has an opportunity to see her day in the sun.  I believe that every survivor of abuse has more strength and deep resolve than most people could ever understand, and I believe it’s time for each to stop viewing herself as damaged but rather as the resilient and lovely survivor she is.  I believe that hardship breeds compassion.  I believe that struggle builds resolve.  I believe that the most beautiful people are often the ones who have had the most difficult lives.  I believe that every survivor of abuse has the strength within her to live her dreams.  I believe each of these women has the power to touch the world and make a positive impact.  I believe that survivors of abuse are beautiful people with gifts to share with this world.

Where others see weakness, I can see the truth.  Low self esteem does not lead to abuse, abuse leads to low self esteem.  People who seek out victims to abuse are masterful manipulators who distort the truth in their own minds to justify their behavior.  They are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions and blame all their problems on other people. When they are in the midst of berating their victims, they do so with absolute conviction.  They believe what they are saying to their very core.  How many people in this world can tune out and ignore that kind of verbal assault?  Not any that I can think of.  How about if the person saying it is someone you love, someone you have invested years of a relationship with, someone you were convinced would do anything for you, someone who loved you?

If people who were abusive started the abuse on day 1, how many women do you think would stay?  None? That’s because it doesn’t.  In my case, it was years before the real assault on my self esteem started, and the physical violence didn’t happen until after we were married. By the time my abuser started needling my self worth, I had a good relationship with him for long enough that I had no reason not to believe him.  When he told me I was depressed and bringing him down, I thought he was right.  It never occurred to me that the place it was coming from was him resenting me for going to grad school.  Over time he took more and more ground until one day I realized that this man I thought we do anything for me, really didn’t care about my feelings at all.  Unfortunately for me, that day was my wedding day.

Yes he still loved me, but his love came with conditions: conditions and standards no person could live up to.  How do you please someone who is hell bent on making you a scape goat for every problem in his life?

No woman, man, or child deserves that.  No one deserves to be another person’s punching bag.  Victims of abuse don’t actively seek out the abuse, and they aren’t the problem.  The problem stems from individuals to weak to take responsibility for their own issues.  Society needs to understand that women don’t choose to be with abusers, and they don’t choose to stay.  Instead, they are systematically cut off from their families, friends, jobs, and finances.  They are blocked from any possible means of escape or ties to their identity.  So before any member of society picks up another finger to point at a victim of abuse and say she deserved it, I would challenge him or her to go ahead and spend years isolated from their loved ones with someone regularly telling them how worthless they and then see if they have the same strength and conviction to leave when things get violent.

Domestic Violence Awareness is something I am passionate about.  So passionate in fact, that I have run a half marathon, full marathon, the Spartan Ultra Beast, and now the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K all in an effort to raise money and awareness… not to mention inspire other survivors of abuse to go chase their dreams!  However I didn’t choose this cause.  Abuse is something that happened to me, and while it dramatically affected the person I am today, it does not define me.  It’s also something I refuse to be ashamed of.  If anyone should be ashamed it’s my abuser, and perhaps the officer who took it upon himself to attempt to publicly ridicule me for reporting the abuse… and all the people who pointed out to me that I must be at least partially responsible “because it takes two” after all.

If one in four women are abused in their lifetime, someone please explain to me how so many of us are getting it wrong?  Better yet, explain to me why we are all so ashamed of it?  Perhaps, because society thinks we should be.  However, I am here to point my finger back at society and say SHAME ON YOU!  Shame on you for telling my abuser and people like him that it’s ok to beat your wife.  Shame on you for turning a blind eye when so many people, including children, are dying at the hands of domestic violence.  One in five teenagers has been threatened or beaten by a boyfriend- TEENAGEERS!  Those are your daughters people!   While I’m sure it’s easier to blame people like me for what’s happened to us, it’s about time you start caring because the statistics show someone you love has already been affected.

So while you are being drowned in Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness this month, maybe you can take a minute or two to reflect on how you can help put an end to domestic violence.  After all, what does it say about us as a society really when we make a huge fuss about women dying from breast cancer, but are indifferent when they die at the hands of their husbands?  How can we care about one and not the other and still say we care about women?  Yes, breast cancer is awful, disfiguring, and life threatening, and raising awareness is important; but domestic violence is also awful, disfiguring, and life threatening, and it affects twice as many women.  Why are we not as focused on educating young women on the early signs of abuse as we are on mammograms?

I don’t expect the rest of the world to care as much about domestic violence as I do.  Nor do I expect them to understand where I’m coming from or what it’s like to be abused.  However it is my sincere hope that I can get some people to at least change the way the think about abuse and maybe, just maybe, open some dialogue.  Domestic Violence is no less preventable than late stage breast cancer.  What we need is to educate our society and children.  We need to value women as equal members of society, and we need to support victims of violence.  It’s time to end the stigma.

Bimbler’s Bluff Recap

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
-Colin Powell 

1378475_10151653823987397_1134264064_n

I am a firm believer that with persistence, anything is possible.  That might have been what lead me to sign up for the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K in the first place.  It seemed to be one of those things where the planets are in alignment and everything just falls into place… although I never could have anticipated upon signing up just how true that would be.

I needed a race to run as a fundraiser for CT-ALIVE this year, and having done attempted the Ultra Beast last year, it had to be something that would test my limits.  Ever since the Ultra Beast, I had considered doing an ultra.  I had already done a marathon, so it seemed like the next logical step.  Plus, the Bimbler’s Bluff was a bargain at $50!

BLQ-tommy-lasordaDetermination-Quotes-for-Blog-300x300Since I was not super successful with my fundraising last year, this year I redoubled my efforts.  I made an event page, sent emails, and continuously begged for money on Facebook.  The fact that I had selected a race roughly 33 miles in length worked to my favor as I had people who offered to make donations in my memory just in case I didn’t survive.  (Thanks for the vote of confidence guys)  My goal was for this year $500, but I well exceeded it making for my most lucrative fundraising year yet!  That only made me more pumped for the race.

The other exciting thing about my big run this year was that a friend of mine (Vanessa from The Purple Song Project) put me in touch with Lana Ives from Ives International Film.  It turned out that Lana is working on a documentary involving stories of inspiring people.  She had read my blog and thought I fit the bill.  She asked if she could meet me at the race and interview me before the start.  She also said I could have copies of the film and images for my own personal use (i.e. for my blog- so stay tuned!).  Beyond the shock that someone would be inspired enough by my blog to want to involve me in a documentary, I realized that this was an AMAZING opportunity.  If my mission with this blog is to inspire people to go out and live their dreams, especially after abuse, then there was no way I could not accept.

Upon arriving at the race, I found Lana and her assistant at the check in.  I was beyond stoked to find not only that the race shirts were fluorescent orange, but that the race bibs were orange as well! I took this as a good sign because, as we all know, orange is my favorite color. Even better, the bib had my name on it- which meant the runners and volunteers would be cheering for me by name!  Anyone who has run a race with your name on the bib knows exactly what I am talking about here.  Plus, it made for better conversation on the course given we all had name tags.

As far as the actual race, I don’t even know where to start.  Trail runners are such a special breed.   When you sign up and arrive at a trail run, you sign up for more than a race.  Rather, you have signed up to be a part of a community, and it’s clear from the moment you arrive.  Bimbler’s Bluff was no exception.  There was a palpable sense of good will.  When the national anthem wouldn’t play, two runners stepped forward and sang it beautifully.  However, they didn’t sing it alone because almost immediately the whole field joined in.  It was a perfect way to start, and then we were off.

The early part of the course consisted of rolling hills, which are my favorite to run.  I picked a comfortable pace and stuck with it the whole way.  I only stopped to walk if a hill was particularly steep.  I plugged along while everyone else passed me, and before long I was convinced there was no one left to go by.  I didn’t particularly mind.  After all, it was nice to see another person occasionally, and I figured most of them had far more experience with ultras than me anyhow.

The first real challenge of the race was that markers were not that easy to spot.  The red and white tape blended with the foliage in some places and required a lot of attention not to miss them… which many people (myself included!) did… repeatedly.   (Might I offer a humble suggestion of lime green or fluorescent pink next year?)  This was good in the sense that it gave me something to concentrate on; however it made it difficult to watch my footing resulting in several good tumbles.  I caught my toe on and tripped over more rocks than I could count!  I was thrilled when I arrived at the first aid station and plowed through it on to the next one.

The second section of the course had areas that were so steep and treacherous that they were really more conducive to 1394469_10151653824057397_1418743311_nhiking climbing than running… unless you’re part mountain goat.  I did my best to run whatever I could safely and was still feeling good when I hit aid station #2.  I called out my number to the volunteers and headed up a near vertical ascent.  I found Lana on the way up, and she asked how I was feeling.  I told her I was still doing ok and scaled upwards.  My reward was a magnificent view from the top!  The rest of that section seemed to span on forever, and I was sincerely doubting my ability to finish before the cutoff… or finish at all… when I arrived at station #3.  Lana, again, was there waiting for me and she even jogged down the street with me asking me questions as I crossed back onto the course.  I asked the staff at the station how much longer to the next one (which I mistakingly thought was the last one) and they said another 6 miles.  Elated by this news, I blasted past them and they called after me that they had cookies and didn’t I want something to eat.

The next section, again, seemed to stretch on forever.  This was at least in part due to the fact that I hadn’t realized I was out of water until after I started it.  My legs were no longer cooperating and the down hills were worse than up.  At some point I ran a whole extra hill because I had missed a marker.  I thought about taking the ibuprofen I brought with me, but I didn’t want to risk injuring myself by blocking out the pain.  Then I rolled my ankle and landed on it. I was relieved to find at least that it wasn’t badly sprained, and I could still walk on it.  I figured I should enjoy what was left of the race because it could be a good amount of time before I’d be running on it again.  When I did finally arrive at the 4th aid station I found Adam.  He had ridden his bike from home to greet me.  I asked if would make it back in time to see me finish, and he said it would be no problem because I still had 11 miles to go.  The volunteer confirmed this information by telling me I did a great job and was 22 miles in.  I was crushed because I had thought that there were only 4 aid stations with 8 miles left after the last one.  I truly thought that extra 3 miles was going to kill me.  Then Adam filled my hydration pack more than I needed despite my protests.

In spite of the fact that the volunteers were wonderful and supportive, I left that aid station feeling totally defeated.  My pack was the heavier now than it ha been when I started, and I had 3 extra miles to go on top of the eight mile section ahead of me.  Judging by the amount of time it had taken me to complete the last section, I thought for sure that I would never make it past the next cutoff.  It was definitely my lowest point in the race.  The one thing that worked in my favor was that there were not a lot of uphills on that segment. In fact, it was primarily downhill; and I was able to push through 8 miles in 2 hours.  I saw Lana shortly before the last aid station and called out to her “I’m smiling because if you’re here then I’m almost done!”  I stopped briefly at that last aid station- just long enough to say thank you and grab some gummy bears.  They were the most delicious I have ever tasted in my life!  I headed into my last 3 miles on a high.  It was only 4:30 PM, and I knew I could walk the rest of the way and still make it.

However, having run everything but the worst hills up to this point, I was determined to keep going.  Besides, if I was running to inspire and raise money for victims of domestic violence, I was certainly not going to give them anything less than my best.  Plus, I wanted nothing more than to be finished as soon as possible!  So I kept running, despite the fact that my running resembled stumbling more than actual running.  I was emotional on the last section because it was the first time I knew that I could do it: the finish was within my grasp.  I thought of all the hard work and 6 long months of training I had put in to get to this point; and I thought of all the women I was doing this for.  This was not a victory just for me, this was a victory for us.  All those women who were told over and over that they couldn’t accomplish or handle anything, who 564089_10151653823952397_1516264909_nhad their self worth stripped from them the way I did- it was a victory for them.

When I did finally see the finish, I sprinted to it as fast as my legs would carry me.  The people who were there erupted in cheers (not just for me, but for every runner).  Lana was there at the finish, and I told her I couldn’t believe it was over.  She asked if she could give me a hug and I was more than happy to accept it, though I did warn her that I was pretty sweaty.  She asked asked me some additional questions, and then we waited or Adam to arrive (because he underestimated how quickly I would get through my last 11 miles!).  When the race director offered me my glass (and it’s a pretty nifty glass too!) for finishing, I had actually forgotten we were supposed to get anything.  To me, the reward was just in the experience.  I spent the whole day doing something I absolutely love, in good company, with great volunteers, and raised money and awareness for domestic violence in the process.  What more could a girl ask for?

Now that it’s all over, I’m still in disbelief that I did it.  Even more than that, I can’t even begin to process how much love and support I have had for this race.  I don’t think I could have pushed through the pain for as long as I did had I not had so many people rooting for me.  Being someone as independent as I am, I am not used to asking for help… or for anything for that matter.  However, when it came to my fundraising race this year, the response was more than I could have ever imagined.  I am so blessed to have the people I do in my life, from my amazing husband who sacrificed his sleep yesterday to drive me to and from the race and cheer me on, to my awesome family and mom who left me cupcakes for when I got home, to my trainer who kicked my butt for 6 months and helped me become the strongest physically that I have ever been, to all my friends, coworkers, and fellow CT-ALIVE board members, and Arch Angels who offered words of encouragement and made donations.  I dont’ know what I did to deserve to have so many wonderful people in my life, but I am truly grateful for each and every one of them!

Taking the Leap

“Don’t marry the person you think you can live with;

marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.”

-James C. Dobson 

Image

In case you hadn’t guessed it by the quote and photo, I took a giant leap with Adam and got married last week!  That is last Tuesday to be exact.  If it were up to me, we would have snuck away and eloped on a beach somewhere.  However, because I love him, and I know how much he wanted his parents there, I suggested we elope when they came to visit for July 4th.

We picked a local beach that just happened to have a carousel and then shared the good news with our families.  That is when things began to snow ball out of control (and the nightmares of my previous wedding came back to haunt me with a vengeance!).  It started with a stream of uninvited guests.  I’m not sure whether Adam’s mom invited people out of pure unbridled enthusiasm or whether they just decided to come on their own, but I found myself, again, in the midst of planning a full blown wedding that I never wanted.

Foreseeing the meltdown that was about to ensue, Adam actually offered to elope before they got here; but seeing how excited he was about all the extra guests I could never bring myself to do it.  I had originally planned on having only our closest friends and family present.  I figured how could anything go wrong when I’ll be surrounded by love and support.  Now, I was planning a wedding with people I had never even met.  This was not my safe, comfort zone, elopement ceremony.  This was a full on, no-where-near-my-comfort-zone wedding.

We were engaged all of 2 days when this happened.  I felt like his family had ripped any carefree happiness away from me, and I resented it tremendously.  I could not imagine how these people could think it was okay to just invite themselves without ever even talking to me or Adam.  I was terrified that I was going to be bullied into another wedding to please another bunch of rude people who didn’t respect my feelings.

Then when Adam offered to sneak off and elope before they got here, I realized that even if his family behaved as badly as my ex’s (which would be an achievement to equal) he was nothing like my ex.  He was going to have my back, and he was willing to disappointment his entire family if that’s what it took to get me down the aisle with him.  What Adam wanted more than anything was just to be married, not the wedding or the frills.

So, for this man, I was willing to go through all of it again- the planning, the cost, the stress, the drama.  I gave him a wedding that was everything he wanted because he is worth it.  He is worth taking the risk for.  He never pressured me to marry him and didn’t ask for a wedding.  He was willing to elope despite how much having his family (even the self invited family) meant to him.  There is no one else I could imagine reliving and digging up my past trauma for; and just maybe now that we have dug it up we can bury it somewhere for good!

So once the dust settled and everything was sorted out, Adam and I exchanged vows in a small ceremony at Light House Point in New Haven.  We had our reception at the carousel with less than 20 guests, and everything went smoothly.  As if the heavens themselves were giving us their blessing, the torrential rain, flooding, and thunderstorms that raged on our way there stopped just as we arrived and held off the rest of the evening.  The storms even helped break some of the humidity and make the temperature significantly more pleasant for our guests.

Our photographer, who is the one and only, Super Fabulous, Sassy Mouth, was pleased with the post storm sky/lighting and did an AMAZING job!  I also splurged this time around and had my hair and makeup done professionally- by Krystalized Designs.  She did an absolutely fantastic job as well- which was evidenced by my makeup not only holding up all day until the wedding, but also through the ceremony, pictures, carousel rides, and playing on a playscape (obstacle racer style)… including a swing set.  In fact, both my hair and make up still looked great the next morning, so props to Krsytal!  The fact that she and Marisa (Sassy Mouth) have awesome personalities is just a bonus in my book.  They definitely both helped me feel completely glamorous on our special day which shows in the photos…and although I didn’t get a “wow” out of Adam, he did well up with tears 😉

So that is the story of my fairytale wedding, which was supposed to be an elopement.  I can’t help but think a week later that this is what “wedded bliss” is supposed to feel like.

995414_10152365694496091_1280611013_n

1000193_10152365691106091_907727280_n

1045071_10152365692921091_2048058039_n

1006200_10152366276031091_1354468093_n

 

Ultra Beast Recap: DNF Never Felt So Good!

 

“It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life.

The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated…

it is finished when it surrenders.”

-Ben Stein

On Friday Sept. 21st, I embarked on a journey that I knew would change my life.  I was on my way to the Spartan Ultra Beastthe first event of it’s kind– and about to “be a part of obstacle racing history.”  I was well aware the course would be extreme and expected to be pushed to (and even past) the point of breaking.  There had been numerous setbacks related to injury and family crisis that interfered with my training, but I was determined to give it my absolute best effort regardless.  I had put in the work, now it was time to see if it was enough.  I had promised myself that anytime the course seemed too much, I would simply remind myself why I was there and just how far I had come.

I went into the race feeling like an underdog.  I’m not an impressive athlete.  I don’t have tremendous strength or speed.  In fact, I’m not even remotely coordinated.  What I do have in my favor is the ability to endure suffering and grind on through it– a trait that served me better than I could have hoped in this race.

Right from the start I felt like I was struggling.  It was cold (consider this a gross understatement) and- as expected- the water on the course was FREEZING.   There were several early obstacles that involved getting wet, including one that required swimming across a pond.  Needless to say, by the time I reached that obstacle I was too frozen to feel any part of my body let alone grip and swing on ropes.  It was more swimming and burpees for me.

To make matters worse, the entire first loop I battled painful muscle spasms in my quads, calves, and toes. In fact, my left quad was spasming so badly I couldn’t bend my knee at all.  As a result, I was fighting my body through almost every obstacle and did more burpees (FULL BURPEES!!!!) than I could count… many of them one legged thanks to my ever uncooperative left leg.  As you can imagine, this was completely disheartening.  Given how badly I was struggling, and the fact that the spasms continued regardless of anything I ate or drank, it was hard for me to imagine completing that first loop let alone taking on a second.  I tried to think of anything other than pain I was experiencing.  I thought about Team X-T.R.E.M.E., about all the people in this world who would give anything to walk or run, about all the women I was running for, and all the years I spent in an abusive relationship.  This pain was only temporary, and it was nothing compared to the pain of quitting.

Adam had been running with me and could tell I was hurting. I told him I just needed to keep moving and walk it off.  He hung back with me, helped me over the walls, and gave me advice on completing the obstacles I had trouble with.  I was IMMENSELY grateful for his help and company.  Any concerns I had previously about running together (as friends- for the first time after not really having contact for over a month) had completely evaporated.

So too did any negative thoughts of my ability to complete obstacles when I hauled the men’s sandbag up and down a steep hill and made it up my first successful rope climb (before unceremoniously falling from the top straight down onto a bale of hay… much to the horror of the on looking racers nearby).  I’m proud to say that I did manage to ring that bell before I fell off AND I did it full military style without the aid of the knots!  I also managed to remember Papa 433-7137 (my assigned memorization task) after reciting it in my head for a good section of the course.

For as much as I sucked at many of the obstacles (I think my worst performance, by far, was the spear throw… unless you were supposed aim for your neighbor’s target), I found I excelled at the barbed wire crawl- which conveniently was the most prevalent obstacle on the course! I think my tiny size really worked to my advantage as I was able to roll under even the lowest wire with no issue whatsoever.  It was probably the only time I was light years ahead of Adam (on the first loop at least… I totally could have whooped him, but instead helped him get through on the second loop, even carrying his heavier pack for the last 4-5 miles when he was really hurting… I definitely owed him and was glad I was able to repay him for getting me through the first half. He said he wouldn’t have even attempted the second lap if I hadn’t dragged him with me; I’m glad he hasn’t held it against me!). I did also have him beat on the traverse wall, which was obviously owed to my superior climbing skills. Of course, he said it was only because mywall “was leaning”…

When we FINALLY finished the first loop- which I heard on good authority was 15 ish miles and included a glorious ascent in the last few (with an equally steep and treacherous descent!)– we were informed by the race official that they instituted a 7:30 pm time cut off at the tyrolean traverse roughly 10 miles into the second lap.  It was already after 3:30 pm, and we knew we had little hope of making it in time.  Instead of feeling discouraged, I enjoyed the opportunity to demolish the peanut m&m’s I had stashed in my gear bin (I actually did share several with other racers and was even called a “goddess” which is the farthest thing from what I felt like… lol)  I only took just enough time to inhale some calories, change out of my damp shirt into a dry one, and (after a quick mental debate)  slip on my rain jacket.  I fellow racer questioned me looking slightly confused.  I explained that the jacket is completely unbreathable and always makes me too warm when I run in it.  I figured if anything was going to keep me toasty, this was it.  In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

As if someone had waved a magic wand, every problem that had plagued me on that first loop disappeared.  My spasms were barely noticeable and really only bothered me during burpees.  With my rain jacket on, I was no longer fighting the cold, and I was riding the high of my second wind.  Since we knew we were unlikely to make the time cutoff, and Adam was visibly hurting, we decided to slow our pace and simply do the second loop for fun instead of trying to run for time.  Aside from the torture of the terrain and obstacles, the Beast course was one of the most breathtakingly scenic races I’ve ever done.  The views from the top of the mountain spanned for miles and encompassed some vibrant fall foliage. If that wasn’t enough to make you grateful for being there, the weather was sunny and beautiful to boot!  If we had been there for any other purpose it might have been the perfect fall day.  Instead, it served as consolation for the pain we were suffering- but was greatly enjoyed none the less!

Slowing our pace down was an excellent opportunity to not only enjoy the majestic views, but also to chat with fellow racers and make some new friends.  We spent some time with a Death Race finisher named Pete whose gift for conversation was greatly appreciated- as was his insight on the Death Race.  He carried merrily along his way, clearly enjoying the whole experience and talking to anyone who crossed his path.  A short while later we ran back into Carmen, who had been near us for much of the first loop.  She was running with an ultra runner and death racer named Tammy, and it turned out that Tammy did not have a usable headlamp.  The officials agreed to let her continue on the course as long as she was with a group, so we all decided to stick together the rest of the way and an awesome team was forged. 🙂

I had an absolute blast spending time with these ladies! Carmen had worked for Spartan Races for the previous year and had even helped build the course.  Her interactions with the volunteers and staff were entertaining to say the least.  Her and Tammy’s company was sincerely appreciated.  The fact that we had each other for camaraderie made walking in the dark for hours on end with only our headlamps for light not only bearable, but completely enjoyable- even in the pouring rain!

We chatted, helped each other through obstacles, got excited and then disappointed each and every time we saw a light in the distance and then watched it disappear.  We soldiered onward while patiently waiting for someone to pull us from the course.  We were well past the time cutoff, wandering in the dark, soaked, frozen, and starving (at some point cliff bloks, almonds, and peanut butter sandwiches just don’t cut it anymore).  We knew getting pulled was inevitable, but we hoped to make it to the traverse before it happened.

I couldn’t help but laugh when (well past the cut off) a volunteer asked Carmen if she made it through an obstacle, and she yelled “F$$K YOU’RE BURPEES!” and kept walking.  At that point we were already delirious and highly amused by the entire situation.  The idea of even completing obstacles was laughable given we were already technically disqualified anyway… that being said, I still did them (with the exception of the tractor pull because I didn’t want to be left by myself when my team stormed past it! lol  In truth I think they only actually skipped maybe two)

When we did finally reach the traverse it was a jumble of mixed emotions.  First and foremost, we were ELATED to see headlights and then the truck.  We had not seen another person on that mountain in hours, and if it wasn’t for the white markers showing us we were on track it, would have been easy to believe we were lost in the middle of nowhere one wrong move away from a dire situation.  At the same time there was some disappoint that we were being pulled before the course cut off at 10 pm AND that the course had been significantly longer than the length of a marathon.  The official who picked us up said we were close to 26 miles in and that the race organizers had not expected many racers to finish.

By the time we arrived back at the start almost everything had been shut down other than the finish line.  I collected my gear bin and then thought it might be worth seeing if we could at least get t-shirts.  We took the Ultra Beast Shirts not realizing they said finisher on the back (we didn’t keep them once we noticed) and gladly accepted the regular Beast medal instead of the Ultra one.  Regardless of whether I covered a marathon worth of obstacles, I didn’t finish the entire course within the allotted time. I didn’t earn it.  Normally, if you sign up for a marathon and only finish half you get nothing- just a DNF.  Therefore, I was grateful to get a medal at all and have something to show for all the effort other than just head to toe bruises. 😉

When people ask me how I did at the race, I tell them I accomplished the goal I set for myself- to cover a marathon(ish) worth of obstacle racing and that I was pulled from the course around mile 26.  I have no shame about it.  Why should I?  I was on that mountain for 12 + hrs, and that course was BRUTAL. I hauled ass through mud, obstacles, up hill, down hill, across ponds, in the dark, in the cold, and in the rain AND I DIDN’T QUIT!  I  started the second loop knowing I would get pulled, but wanted to at least see how far I could make it.  When the officials at mile 6 told us we weren’t going to make the time cutoff and could stop, we told them we would rather continue for the hour we had left.  We continued full knowing the hell that was in store for us.  We would have continued until 10 pm if they hadn’t shut the course down.

Ultimately, I would have stayed on that course as long as I needed to in order to finish given the opportunity; but I don’t feel badly that I didn’t.  Instead, I feel like what I did was enough.  I pushed myself further than I ever have, and I’m pretty satisfied with that.

 In fact, I’m kind of impressed with myself because I felt better on that second loop than I did on the first- well enough to even have continued.  At one point during our escapades I told Tammy how much better I was doing on lap 2 and how it usually takes me a good 6 miles to get warmed up and find my groove.  She said (with total conviction and not at all in a joking manner) that I was built to be an ultra runner- a HUGE compliment coming from a 100 miler.

Maybe she’s right.  Maybe there’s an ultra in my future… and this time possibly even with an official finish.  In fact, I may just have one picked out. 😉 In the meantime it’s back to regular workouts.