trail running

The Good You Do

“The good you do matters”

Hello Friends!

It’s been a while!  Life has been chaotic, and crazy, and wonderful!   My trip to Zion was AMAZING!  I will need to devote a post to it at some point, but today I have more important things to discuss- things that pertain to why I started this blog in the first place.

Yesterday was a big day for me on a lot of levels.  I spent it both volunteering and running at the Lavery/McDermott 5 K Race to End Domestic Violence in Newington CT. I never could have imagined how much one small race could impact my life!  

I’m not normally big into 5ks.  Oddly, I feel far more comfortable running a half marathon than a 3 mile race…  Possibly, because if my time sucks at least I can still feel good about having covered that amount of distance… jk  My original plan was just to go to help staff our table for CT-ALIVE; however, after watching the video above I knew I had to run. Did you watch it yet?  No seriously, go back and watch it before you read the rest… I’ll wait.

I wish I had the talent to put together a youtube video and convey to the world what it’s likeImage to endure and subsequently overcome the trauma of abuse; however, now I don’t need to because this girl (Tasha) does it in a perfectly eloquent, touching, and sincere way. Her message rings loud and clear: The Good You Do Matters!  It matters whether it’s big or small. There is no wrong way to make a difference, and it may just be that you are making one without ever realizing it.

Running was (and still is) such a huge part of my healing, it seemed only fitting to lace up my shoes and run that race.  I wanted to honor people like Tasha who have the courage to make a stand, as well as all the victims who never had the chance to speak up.

I went into the day with a solid sense of purpose.  I wasn’t worried about my time or how fatigued my legs would be after punishing them all week (especially after the 10 miles of trail running at a brisk pace Thursday and max incline sprints on the treadmill Friday)… okay maybe I was a little worried, but I figured even if it was awful I could handle roughly 30 minutes of misery for a good cause… and obviously I would love every second of it regardless!

I have to just take a moment and say how wonderful all the staff and volunteers were at that race.  They were organized, warm, and genuinely appreciative of every person who came out to show their support.  I have done MANY races with fabulous organization and staff, but this race was special.  There was a palpable sense of purpose. People were there to celebrate the lives of two important members of their community and to make a difference in the fight to end domestic violence.  There was a great sense of commaradery from the time we arrived to set up, to the warm up (which by the way was SO MUCH FUN!!!!), through the race, and even after the finish.

Image

So pumped to be there!

The course itself was a very wet, hilly, trail run through lots of slushy grass fields and occasionally through calf deep water (more like waste deep on me… and oh yes I loved that too!).  My legs were like lead from the start, but my race mantra was “You don’t have to have a great time to have a great time.”  Instead of focusing on how uncooperative my body was being, I paid attention to the scenery and people around me.  Everyone had such a great positive vibe.

That being said I was thrilled to see the finish and completely hauled ass to get through it.  I was pretty pleased with my time of 28 minutes, especially given the course was tough, my legs were shot, and I had to stop and tie my shoe at one point. lol  Mostly, I was just happy to be there and present in the moment.  

Image

My “I can’t believe that just happened!” face.

Then something completely unexpected happened (well, unexpected by me at least!)  I was totally and utterly shocked when they announced my name for second in my age group!  It was my first medal for placing in a race EVER.  The only medals I’ve ever earned up to this point were for finishing.  I had just been joking with the other CT-ALIVE members that my age group was to fast to have placed, and that I needed to get older to place better in races.  In fact, I specifically told them that if I continued to run into my 80s I might have a chance at qualifying for Boston… or winning in my age group. lol  Of course, their belief in me was not deterred, and I think they were almost more excited than I was when my name was called.  Actually, I think it took several minutes for it to sink in I was in such disbelief.

The thing is, I couldn’t care less that it wasn’t my best race performance, or that it was a tiny race without a bunch of elite athletes.  I LOVED that race.  I loved everything about it (aside from maybe the steep hill that went on forever in the beginning.. jk).  Furthermore, if that is the only medal I ever earn for placing in my age group then I will still be a happy girl because it meant that much for it to happen at that race on that day.  

Image

The moral of my story is that Tasha is right. The good you do matters, even if you don’t think it’s enough or even realize it helps.  So, maybe just maybe this blog matters too.  Maybe it’s making a difference for someone somewhere who just needs that little nudge to get out and live life to the fullest.  Maybe there’s someone who needs to hear that I’ve been there too, and it’s going to be ok… In fact, it’s going to be better than okay.  It’s going to be as AMAZING AS YOU WANT IT TO BE, as long as you’re willing to work for it.

My deepest thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and organizers of the Lavery/McDermott 5K for a truly amazing experience.  Thank you to Tasha for your indescribably wonderful video.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I watched it, cried through it, or forced encouraged someone else to watch it. Thank you all for making a difference in my life, and reminding that I can make a difference in other peoples’ lives too.  I will carry that day with me always and treasure the memories (and the medal) forever. 

Until next year,

Jenny

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.

Ultra Beast on My Mind

“It takes a little courage, and a little self-control… and some grim determination,

If you want to reach the goal.

It takes a deal of striving, and a firm and stern-set chin.

No matter what the battle, If you really want to win.

There’s no easy path to glory, There’s no road to fame.

Life, however we may view it, Is no simple parlor game;

But it’s prizes call for fighting, For endurance and for grit;

For a rugged disposition and don’t know when to quit.”

With the Spartan Ultra Beast only a few weeks away at this point, it’s safe to say it’s on my mind almost 24/7.  I know myself well enough to realize that no matter how much I train, it will never feel like enough.  I mean how are you ever supposed to feel prepared for something you’ve never done before?  Isn’t the whole point of doing an event like this to GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE?  (Mission Accomplished!!! I am SO OUT of my comfort zone lol)

I’ve never done a Spartan Race, so I only have an idea of what to expect. I considered signing up for the Super Spartan next weekend, and even running it twice back to back as training- but it’s almost $150.  That is a lot of money, especially when you’re paying a mortgage and student loans.  Furthermore, realistically, I don’t think running next weekend (or even doing the course twice) is going to dramatically effect whether or not I finish Sept 22nd.  At this point, most of my training is already behind me; and there’s not going to be much I could pull of in the next week or two that is going to alter my chances… other than getting injured!  Plus, I think I would rather not know what I’m getting myself into…

I keep reminding myself that Spartan Headquarters selected me for a reason.  I earned my spot in that race.  Up until completing the Ascent, I wasn’t sure how well I believed I could finish; and it bothered me to read comments about how there were too many unqualified people getting in.

However, now I don’t care if other people think I’m un or under-qualified.  They clearly don’t know me, what I’ve been through, or what I’m capable of accomplishing when my mind is set.  The truth is I don’t need anyone else’s approval to succeed.  The fact that I have never done a Spartan Race has absolutely nothing to do with my worthiness to compete or my ability to finish.  I don’t need to rattle off my credentials or prove myself to anyone.  I am one tough chick, and if they don’t want to see or acknowledge it that’s their problem- not mine.

I didn’t sign up for this race to demonstrate to the world what a badass I am; I signed up to challenge myself.  I wanted to push myself to do something I didn’t think I could.  I figured I’d send in my application and see what happened.  If I got in, I’d take it as a sign from the universe that I could do it and was ready for the challenge.  Never in a million years did I imagine what a (pardon the expression) “pissing contest” it would become.  I guess I was accustomed to the Spartan Chicked group where everyone is encouraging and supportive of each other without the need for competition.

 Maybe it’s the addition of the testosterone, but the Ultra Beast group is constant stream of who is the most awesome, who is going to annihilate the race because “some of us eat courses like this for breakfast”, complaints that there are too many people getting in (I’m sorry, I missed the part about our applications being accepted early on making us superior to everyone else) , and how there are so many unqualified people getting accepted (not sure what credentials are required to be the judge of who is actually qualified, but apparently Spartan Headquarters doesn’t seem to have them). Seriously? Grow up people and worry about yourselves!

I’m not saying that is what every post is like, or even how most of the people in the group are.  In reality, it’s probably only a few people (with a constant need to run their mouths), but the comments are a fairly regular occurrence.  I just don’t understand the concept of needing to trash other people (people you don’t even know in this case!) to make yourself feel good.  Sure, maybe you’re naturally athletic- but did you ever stop and think that maybe that’s your disadvantage?  Do you even know what it’s like to really dig deep and work for something?  Have you ever pushed yourself to your mental or physical limit?  Have you trained through chronic injuries and pain?  Have you ever even attempted anything you didn’t already know you would succeed at?

I’d like to think that if you did, you would be supportive of other people trying to do the same instead of looking down your nose at them as if they’re beneath you in some way.  I know people who have been accepted in the Ultra Beast with fewer races and  less distance covered than me… several, in fact, who have never even covered the distance of a full marathon.   That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the chance to compete; and it certainly doesn’t make them less deserving than me or anyone else to be there.  Running is supposed to be about competing with yourself and having fun in the process.  If you’ve lost sight of that then I sincerely feel sorry for you.

Conquering the Ascent

“You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself.”
-James Whittaker

I remember back when Adam first suggested I do the Pikes Peak Ascent,  I told him running straight up for over 13 miles at altitude pretty much sounded like my definition of hell.  I couldn’t imagine it being enjoyable in any sense of the word, but it did sound like a challenge!  I figured if I qualified, I would sign up and didn’t give it much thought.  Then I qualified at my first half… and the marathon, and every half after.  I was officially committed.

Once the injuries and setbacks started, and I began to seriously question whether I would get through the Ascent within the allotted time (let alone the Ultra Beast!).  I didn’t feel like my training had been adequate, and I had serious doubts about making it all the way to the summit without succumbing to altitude sickness… especially when Adam (the superstar) had barely made the time 6.5 hour cutoff last year and didn’t finish due to altitude sickness the year before.  I had been sensitive to the altitude on my previous trip to Colorado and at the NorCal Tough Mudder and that was much lower elevation.

However, I pleased to find when we arrived in Colorado that I tolerated the elevation change much better this time around… mostly owing I’m sure to the massive quantities of water I was drinking. lol We went hiking everyday to help acclimate and I found my body surprisingly cooperative.  My allergies, which normally plague me and interfere with breathing, had dramatically improved thanks to the mountain air.  My legs felt great, and the views were absolutely amazing.

Despite how good I felt on the trails though, I was still terrified about the race.  Surviving the Incline trail felt amazing, but still left me with lingering fears about the altitude.  I was pretty much counting on being miserable the entire race.  I was so nervous about not finishing that I didn’t want to buy anything with the Ascent logo at the race expo for fear of jinxing myself! (I did finally break down and purchase an awesome bright pink jacket- reasoning that if I didn’t finish it would be all the more reason I earned it) The night before the Ascent, I got next to no sleep.  I tossed and turned the entire night, and knew the sleep deprivation wouldn’t bode well during the run.

Arriving at the start, I was somewhat relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the worry or anticipation for much longer.  I had done everything I could to prepare (given the circumstances dealt), and now it was up to the universe to take its course.  All I could do is try my best and have faith that things would be okay.

The first mile of the race stretched through the streets of Manitou Springs with spectators lining the way.  It was immediately an uphill climb and only became steeper as we approached the trail.  Before we even reached the trail head, people were already stopping to rest and walking.  That altitude is no joke and neither was the first steep hill!

When we did hit the trail, things seemed to grind to a hault.  EVERYONE was walking and there wasn’t much room to pass.  People around me were already griping, but I took it as an opportunity to catch my breath.  I didn’t have any laufty time goals; I just wanted to finish.  I figured if I kept pace with the pack (many of whom were veterans) then I should stay on track to reach the peak in time… even if it meant walking.

Eventually the traffic did pick up, particularly whenever a photographer was spotted.  I tried to at least jog any stretches that were even remotely flat (or at least not completely vertical!).  I would use the steeper sections to slow down and control my breathing.  Slowly, the miles ticked away.  Within a couple hours, we reached Bar Camp just past the halfway mark. The people there were SO NICE and ENCOURAGING.  You could tell that they genuinely wanted to help and support the racers.  The snack array was nothing short of impressive… anything you could imagine: pretzels, m&ms, skittles, cheese its, grapes, oranges, bananas, pickles, potato chips… it looked like a snack table for a party.  The volunteers would literally put the food in your hands and help refill water containers.  I tried to eat some skittles (purely out of the excitement of finding them there) but found it was too much work to try to eat and breath at the same time.  I only stayed long enough to refill my water and headed back on my way.

The mile or two of the trail leading into Bar camp had been close to flat with some gentle ups and downs (the downhills, despite being small and very few in number, confirmed the existence of a benevolent higher power in my mind, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for every one).  It also had widened and was much softer with fewer rocks.  I had taken full advantage and burst through most of it (having a tremendous amount of fun in the process!), arriving in Bar Camp on a bit of a high from the whole experience.  I left still in high spirits only to find the 3 miles spanning between Bar Camp and A Frame (the next camp) to be absolute HELL.

The problem: intense sun with no shade, dizziness from the altitude, and nausea- making drinking difficult and eating near impossible.  I became so dizzy and uncoordinated that there were times I thought I was going to fall off the side of the mountain.  I knew I needed to eat, but couldn’t get anything down.  Chewing meant not being able to take controlled breaths, and by that point eating while still moving was out of the question.  I tried my best to keep drinking and kept pushing forward, focusing on every step to keep from losing balance or falling over.  I knew if I stopped and ate I wold feel better, but I was afraid to rest before A Frame.  I wanted to make sure I got there within the 4 hour cutoff and knew if I could just make it there I could eat and take a rest.

That stretch seemed to last FOREVER.  I’m sure my pace suffered dramatically because I was so sleepy I truly could have curled up and slept right on the side of the trail.  I had to work hard at staying focused and tried to concentrate solely on putting one foot in front of the other.  It was painstakingly slow progress.  Every mile seemed to take longer than the last.  I couldn’t imagine how I would ever make it to the summit feeling the way I did.  I was overheated, starving, nauseated, exhausted, and likely hypoxic.  Then finally in the distance I could hear cheering and cowbells.  I had no concept of how far away they were given how far sound can travel when you’re up that high, but I clung to the hope it was close!

After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at A Frame.  Again the staff were wonderful beyond words.  They congratulated us on making it ahead of the cut off and offered another spread of every snack you could imagine.  For the first time since the race started, I took a seat on some grass and stuffed some cliff bloks down.  I rested only long enough to eat and check my time and then headed back out.  On my phone I had a text from Adam that he had arrived at A Frame 30 min ahead of me,  He also texted “I love you”, which cheesy as it sounds was exactly what I need to hear (or read).

I knew if I was only 30 min behind Adam that I was actually making good time; and while I didn’t feel terrific, I did feel better than prior to arriving at camp.  Shortly passed A frame, we traveled above the tree line and the view became SPECTACULAR.  I took a moment to enjoy it and take a picture (luckily I had just enough battery left on my phone… which only lasted to mile 11, likely from searching for signal the whole way).  I couldn’t help but think of what an amazing experience it was.  I could understand now why Adam came back year after year to endure the torture.  I can’t explain in words what it feels like to run/hike that high, push your body beyond your perceived limit, and then come across a view like that.  It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced.

The last few miles consisted of narrow, steep, rocky switchbacks.  By this point I really needed to pee and the cold air didn’t help.  As spectacular as the view was, all I could focus on was being finished!  I knew we were getting close, but the end still seemed like it would never come.

Before long, we were up so high I couldn’t look out at the view anymore without getting dizzy (especially being so close to the edge on a narrow trail).  There was one more aid station before the finish, but there were also race supporters scattered throughout cheering us on and letting us know how little there was left to go.  At one point I looked down and noticed my hands were blue and realized just how cold it had become.  I had trouble getting my gloves on because they were sore and swollen.  Then, what felt like immediately after, the sun came back out and it got hot again.  We weaved back and forth, higher and higher until we could hear the cheers at the finish.

Once I could see the finish line, I tried to sprint as much as possible, but it was difficult with the crowding and terrain.  As I hurled myself up the last switchback a guy at the summit yelled “You’re like a cheetah! A MOUNTAIN CHEETAH!”  I was so focused on finishing, I didn’t even see my time when I crossed.  I had hoping to finish within 6 hours, which is the qualifying time for the marathon.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out my time was 5:09.  I think I surprised Adam, who expected me to take longer.  I told him my Ultra Beast Training most have been paying off after all.

Once at the summit I quickly retrieved my sweats (it was FREEZING up there!) and was happy to finally enjoy some the variety of snacks.  For the record, they were the most delicious pretzels and skittles of my life!  I even got to enjoy a hot cup of hot chocolate Adam’s dad purchased  for me while we waited for Adam’s roommate… and I have to say it was pretty delicious too.  It was definitely well appreciated, as was the huge hug he gave me when he found me at the summit.  As it turns out, Adam’s parents had arrived after we finished expecting it to take us longer.  They were pleasantly surprised to find us already waiting at the top.

Overall, I would say that the Ascent was both the most challenging and rewarding racing experience of my life.  I was surprised at how much of it I actually enjoyed and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who loves trail running.  I couldn’t imagine a better way  to train both physically and mentally for the Ultra Beast.  If I could “run” over 13 miles, up a mountain while barely being able to breath, I think I can handle the Ultra Beast course… finishing before the time cut off may be another story 😉

Surviving The Manitou Incline

First you feel like you’re about to die. Then you feel reborn.”

As part of my preparation for the Pikes Peak Ascent, Adam (yes, Adam and I did the Ascent together along with his roommate) and I decided to take on the Manitou Incline trail.  The trail boasts 2,700 ft in elevation gain ( starting at 6530 ft and at ending 8550 ft) over it’s one mile span… in other words it’s one steep B!t@H of a climb!  It’s a bit of an intimidating sight, even from a distance.  To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement.  All I could think about was the altitude sickness I had during the Norcal Tough Mudder, and that wasn’t even that high!

When we arrived at the trail head- complete with no trespassing sign (yup! that’s right, it’s illegal… but still one of the most popular trails) the route only looked more fightening.  Standing at the bottom, the trail extends straight up with no end in sight… literally.  It’s hard to believe it’s only less than a mile long when you can’t even see the finish at the start!

Once we started the climb, it became quickly apparent why it’s still illegal, namely it’s anything but safe!  The Cog Railway that used to run there was shut down in 1990 due to damage from frequent rockslides, and it doesn’t appear much has changed.  The old railway ties are still there, but at many points they are heaved in odd directions with gaping holes in between- making it pretty clear why traffic only moves in the upward direction.

“Am I supposed to feel like I’m about to die?”

The trail started with a moderate incline, but before we even hit the halfway mark, it turned nearly vertical requiring both hands and feet to climb it “safely”- no small task when your lungs are already screaming for air!  To complete the torture, it started to rain.  I was only slightly comforted by the misery on the faces of the people around us, and let me tell you- it was crowded in spite of the rain!  Even the people who passed us appeared to be heaving for their next breath.  I didn’t spot a single person running or even jogging.  Instead, it looked like a slow death march with several people not even moving at any given time.

At first I tried not to stop at all, but I was so dizzy from the attitude I was becoming terribly uncoordinated.  I started resting whenever I felt palpitations or my head started spinning, and that seemed to help.  I was SO MISERABLE!!! It is truly uncomfortable to feel like you can’t breath and then not have enough oxygen in your system.  It makes you dizzy, nauseated, and extremely uncoordinated… not to mention anxious!  Every second at spent at altitude gave me a real appreciation of what asthmatics everywhere struggle with on a daily basis.  I wanted so badly for it to be over and had to work EXTREMELY hard to keep my nerves in check.  At one point I asked Adam “Am I supposed to feel like I’m about to die?” (I think my chest felt like it was about to literally explode at that moment..)  He said “Yea, pretty much”;  and that was all I needed to hear.  I kept telling myself “this is normal” and the only way to make it stop was to reach the top.  Quitting was NOT AN OPTION.

When we reached the halfway point (also called the “bailout point” where hikers can catch the Bar trail and head back down), Adam gave me the option of heading back.  I told him I refused to quit and kept pushing onward and upward.

“who says coming down is the hardest part?”

Then, eventually, we FINALLY reached the top of the “false summit”, and I could see the top.  I was so elated!!!  It seemed like it had taken FOREVER, and for a while I had thought it would never end!  Now I was just feet away from the summit!  If I had been able to sprint the last of it I would have, but my lungs were so starved for oxygen I had to pause another 2 or 3 times to keep my heart rate in check.  I made it though; and I think Adam was surprised (he clearly doesn’t know me very well!).  He said he thought I might turn around because of the rain… I think he just underestimated how unwilling I am to give up!

 Conquering that trail made me equally confident and terrified of taking on the Ascent.  I was excited that I was able to push through the MOST UNCOMFORTABLE “RUNNING” EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE; but also scared to death that the Ascent would be even worse.

 Regardless, I still basked in the glory of the moment.  It was the first physical accomplishment I had achieved in a long while.  Accomplishing it after all the injuries and setbacks made it that much sweeter.  My legs didn’t even feel tired at the top (probably because I was too busy struggling for air), and that made me feel like all my Ultra BEast Training might actually be paying off.  The icing on the cake was without a doubt the run back down!  I had SO MUCH FUN bouncing from side to side, from rock to rock, and back and forth across the trail in my awesome new Inov8’s!!!

I felt like I was flying… at least until Adam passed me and left me in the dust.  Maybe I wasn’t going so fast afterall… lol  I did still accomplish something pretty awesome though.  Not too shabby for a sea level girl. 🙂

Not Quite Love at First Sight…

“Happiness is pushing your limits and watching them back down.” 
-New Balance

Dear New Trail Shoes,

I am not so in love with you at the moment. You lured me in with your super comfiness in the store and promises of fewer blisters (I believe the direct quote was “you won’t even feel the rocks”); however our maiden voyage left much to be desired.  We have a LONG way to go before you will even come close to holding the esteem of my vibrams…

SOOOO I took the new trail shoes out for a test run.  In retrospect I may have had some delusions of grandeur….  They were SOOOOO COMFY in the store, but that didn’t exactly translate on the trails.  Of course, I’m sure it didn’t help that I wore my cushioned running socks (which did not work well with the shoes because the fit was so snug).

It probably also didn’t help that my legs were so fatigued they felt like lead… possibly related to all the training I’ve done in the past few days and a regimen that morning consisting of P90X Biceps, Back, and Ab Ripper X followed by a 40 min session of running laps and swimming in my mom’s pool (even pulling my sister around at times).  Of course, I didn’t feel fatigued until I tried to get up the first hill (which was steep, rocky, and monstrous for anyone wondering).  I was trying REALLY hard to get my body to cooperate but every time I willed it to move faster, my legs screamed “NO!!!!” and refused to cooperate.

When we finally made it to the top of the endless series of climbs and hit some more level (not exactly flat, but at least not vertical!) ground, I tripped and completely face planted.  It turned out my legs really were fatigued and I was not simply being a whiny wuss. Aside from some skinned knees, I appeared to be in one piece; so a bounced up and headed back down the trail.

I had to stop numerous times to adjust my laces because they kept loosening up why I was running.  Speed laces are a new concept to me, and I suppose it will take some time to adjust.  The problem is, every time the laces would get loose, my feet would slide around in the shoes leading to some serious blisters early in the run.  The arch of my right foot was burning BADLY, but Ikept telling myself it was “just pain.”  I managed over 5 miles in total with a mix of hiking and running. In retrospect, 5 miles was probably a little much for breaking in new shoes, however I was feeling the time crunch with Pike’s Peak just around the corner.

Overall, the route was definitely significantly more technical than the trails closer to home that I usually run on (lots of steep rocks and loose footing…. AND RIDICULOUSLY STEEP,  ENDLESS HILLS!!!)- just the type of training grounds that will help me get prepped for the Ultra Beast!

Prior to running in the new trail shoes, I hadn’t realized just how accustomed I had become to the vibrams.  It was like I had to learn to run all over again!  I was constantly twisting and rolling my ankles because I wasn’t used to having a sole wider than my foot.  I have been assured that they will get significantly more comfortable as I get used to them.  I guess I shouldn’t find that surprising given what torture it was to learn to run in the vibrams!!!  Once I get them broken in I will probably alternate between the two depending on where I’m running, just so I don’t loose the benefits of “barefoot running” (plus they’re so comfy now… aside from all the rocks at Sleeping Giant anyway)

Hopefully the shoe situation will be under control by Pike’s Peak.  🙂  For now, it’s blister treatment and cross training for me!

Hiking, It’s Like Heaven but with More Effort

“A key factor is to do training that is fun.”
Bill Toomey

Planking with a weighted pack? Sure, I got that!

I decided to kick my Ultra Beast training up a notch by doing some hiking with a weighted pack.  I love being outside, and anything that adds getting sweaty or dirty (or even better- MUDDY!) is just a bonus.  In other words: hiking + added difficulty= good times.

Getting out on the trail with the pack was actually the first time that I felt like I was actually training for the Ultra Beast.  Caring the extra weight was definitely an added effort in the beginning, but I adjusted pretty quickly.  Once my legs were warmed up, I was ready to go!!!

Instead of going to the trails around my house, we headed over to Sleeping Giant in Hamden (a few towns over) for some more difficult climbs and terrain.  It definitely didn’t disappoint!  Some of the more technical parts were a little tedious with the pack and extra weight, but they were still doable.  My first time out we hiked for about 40 min because I was on a time crunch.  I felt pretty good when we finished and didn’t feel too tired at all.  The second time we went for over two and a half hours and I was DEFINITELY feeling it.  (The pushups and planking during the breaks may have helped…) My shoulders felt life the were being pulling down toward my feet, and my back got pretty sore.  Next time I’ll have to adjust the weight so it stays more centered in the pack to spare my muscles a little.

Overall, I’m looking forward to spending more time out on the trails getting my butt kick by my awesome new day pack!

Dropped off the Face of the Earth?

“You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you gotta suit up for them all. “
– J. Askenberg

Just in case any one has been wondering (or worried), no I have not dropped off the face of the earth… or stopped training.  Life has simply gotten chaotic, and given the choice between getting in a blog post and getting in a workout- I’m going to pick the workout every time.  Don’t be offended! I still love you all. 🙂

SOOOO here’s a quick summary of life post Tough Mudder:

  • Went to the chiropractor who, instead of scolding me for running, asked how it was and told me how he’s always wanted to do one.  Unlike me, he hasn’t because he’s afraid of getting injured and missing work.  I think he should stick with that plan until my shoulder is all healed.
  • Did some light training so as not to further aggravate my shoulder in the week after the Tough Mudder.  This included some running and [stationary] biking (love pedaling around in circles!!!! not really… but at least it gives me time to read) because that’s pretty much all that I’m allowed to do.
  • Celebrated Mother’s Day, and found out my sister was pregnant- SUPER EXCITING
  • Got a message from my sister the following day after her doctor’s appointment that it was twins and they were expecting a miscarriage.
  • Spent time off from work with my sister who was understandably devastated. I brought her important grieving tools- Ben & Jerry’s, chocolate candy and cookies, and tissues with aloe.  She told me thanks for making sure she would still look pregnant even if she wasn’t any longer.
  • Found out my Ultra Beast training/lifting buddy had ditched me for my cooler boot camp friends (who he met after I invited him to do the Tough Mudder with us).  This is likely partly do to him feeling responsible for injuring my shoulder and partly because they are shiny and new (plus I can’t compete with single women).  After initially being hurt about the fact our friendship has pretty much fallen to the wayside now that he is over his break up and in better shape- I’ve decided that I will just use this as further motivation to train harder and kick his ass in September…. jk…maybe
  • Worked some crazy off shifts at work
  • Attended my brother’s graduation for his master’s degree- SUPER PROUD OF HIM!!!
  • Started some light weight lifting because my shoulder felt “normal” for several days, and I can’t help but push it… I used really light weight to be on the safe side.
  • Spent several days putting together a graduation party for my brother
  • Did a little more light lifting and some trail running (where my legs felt like lead… maybe from the 20 miles on the bike and lifting the day before…)
  • Felt elated that my shoulder is still behaving despite the fact that I haven’t exactly been 😉
  • Spent an afternoon on the boat with Adam and some friends- including my girl Kelly.  I was a very good girl and didn’t attempt any skiing or knee boarding… even though it was killing me not to!  Still managed to have a good time anyway. 🙂
  • Finally had my family over to celebrate my brother’s graduation yesterday and ate WAY too much.

That pretty much brings us up to the present.

I also went to Home Depot this past week and picked up some sand bags for a very exciting home craft project.  All I need to do now is pick up some colorful duct tape…. more on that to come.

Today my plan is to maybe get a run in and hit the gym later depending on how my shoulder is feeling.  I am REALLY trying not to over due it.  I don’t want any further setbacks!  However, now that it is feeling better it’s really hard not to want to push it- especially with the Spartan Ultra Beast coming up!  For now I am trying to sit tight as best as possible and remind myself that I still have plenty of time to train (even if I don’t completely believe it).

PR-ing Despite Injury and Having a “WOOHOOO” Moment

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” 
– Steve Prefontaine

Having a "WOOHOO!!!!" moment

I signed up for the Cheshire Half Marathon before my shoulder “injury” and without much expectation.  I figured I would use it as a training run to keep myself on track with running.  With this in mind, I hardly did any training (a couple short runs and a hilly, 10 mile trail run last weekend).  I also didn’t taper my exercise and blasted out of ton of mileage on the bike this week.  To top things off I worked three long shifts in a row at the end of the week and got stuck working late 2 of the 3.  I know… recipe for disaster! lol  The one thing I did do was HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE!  I also took it super easy yesterday and tried to rest as much as possible.

All that being said, I was not surprised that my legs felt like hell.  I was more feeling fatigued and tight than anything else.  My calves were STILL sore from my trail run, but I was hoping that it would ease up throughout the run.  I wasn’t feeling awesome, but I didn’t feel as terrible as some other previous races either.  I was hoping to get under 2 hrs and tried to maintain pace in the 9-9:30 range.  The course was flat and there were plenty of aid stations.  I made sure to ask ahead of time and had brought my hydration pack just in case (luckily I didn’t need it).  I was definitely pushing, but wanted to keep my pace light enough that I wasn’t getting winded.  Whenever I found myself really feeling sore or tired I tried to relax and focus on my form until the feeling passed.

Luckily it worked pretty well. 🙂 By the time I got through the whole race though, I was definitely shot.  The finish could not come fast enough!  There were a couple times when I honestly thought I might not make it, but instead  I not only managed to finish, but also PR’d!!!!!  My time crossing the line was 2:00:40.  It wasn’t under 2, but it was still several minutes faster than my previous PR; AND with all the issues I’ve had with training and injuries recently it felt like a MAJOR victory!  In reality, Adam and I started WAAAAYYYYY in the back of the pack and the official finish times did not reflect the actual start times (slight bummer, but I’ll still take it!).   Adam said the start clock was at 1:30 when we started and I definitely made it under 2 hrs, but I’ll save that “official” victory for another day.  I was just happy to have done my best- with what I had, in that moment.

I celebrated my victory with some homemade ice cream at a local farm, and it was worth every drop of sweat!

I hope everyone had a great weekend!!!!!

Good bye Modesty

“Exercise is nothing short of a miracle.”
Cher

I love to exercise!!!! It is like instant Prozac that makes you look better sexier as a side effect. 🙂  Today I not only did a core work out with Adam in the morning, over 6.5 miles of trail running/hiking (some areas had footing not safe for running), but also a TOUGH boot camp workout (all the “break” time consisted of holding a low plank while your partner did their reps- yikes is right)!  I am so high on endorphins right now. lol  Or maybe I’m just buzzing from all the sugar in my chocolate peanut butter protein shake.  Just for the record, I don’t normally pull this many workouts in one day, BUT I worked the last 3 days in a row with no time for exercise (other than the stairs at the hospital) so I was withdrawing BIG TIME.

As excited as I was to get 3 workouts in this morning, I have to admit that I have created a monster… In what is clearly a direct response to my kicking his butt at boot camp last weekend, Adam has started working out on a daily basis.  He is on a mission to redeem himself and get into better shape than me. (GAME ON!)  Instead of me dragging him to boot camp or begging him to run with me, he is reminding me to go.  Before, I would try to nudge him into working out in an effort to get him out of his funk, but now he’s taking it a little to the extreme. lol (I know, “hello pot, meet kettle” right?)
Anyway, our run today was not my most stellar, but there were a lot of great hills.  As an added bonus, the scenery was nice with views of the reservoir from the trail.  As luck would have it, the second we got there I was painfully aware that my bladder was full.  Of course there were no restrooms!  I didn’t want to call off the run, but there wasn’t anyplace close by to stop.  I don’t camp, and I’ve never relieved myself in the woods.  I’m the type of person who wears pants over my running tights to cover up, so the whole idea of exposing myself in public wasn’t exactly appealing. Adam offered to give me a lesson on how it’s done, and I’m pretty sure I shot him a dirty look in response.  However, as desperate times call for desperate measures, (and I realized I couldn’t run with all the pressure in my bladder on the bumpy, rocky trail)- I finally gave in and took Adam’s advice (once I was sure that he wasn’t looking and no one else was in view- not even a squirrel!).  I have to admit that it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be; and I instantly felt better!  It was almost liberating. lol I told Adam that maybe I could handle camping after all. haha
Of course, that wasn’t the end of my running discomfort.  My homemade guacamole from lunch was working on leaving my system for most of the run.  Plus, it turned out to be much warmer than I expected; so I was peeling layers as we went.  It was so hot in the sun, that at one point I considered stripping down completely just to get a break from overheating. lol  I’m sure it would have been a sight!  Luckily, I managed to continue with what modesty I had left. 😉
Overall, it was a great day.  I was SO THRILLED about the the warm weather and sunshine!  Plus, it was nice to finish things out with a boot camp session with our awesome crew.  I feel so lucky to be a part of their group!  It has definitely changed the way I work out, and my life in general!  Tomorrow will probably be a low key day, maybe just a light run- if I can still move. lol
BTW anyone interested in tips on getting fit, some motivational reading, or great recipes for healthier cookies, try checking out my trainer/boot camp instructor’s blog. 🙂
Have a great night everyone!!!!