Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Beast Mode

Going to Killington for the Spartan Beast World Championships was unlike anything I've ever seen or experience, an incredibly awesome situation... It's tempting to leave that be the whole description because there's no way to catch it right. It started with attending a press conference where they were interviewing some of the athletes. They had some world class athletes from well... all over the world. There were there olympians who had won the New York Marathon, Olympic steeplechasers, a guy who had climbed the highest mountain in Alaska and trains in his garage when it's too cold by putting the machine on the highest grade and the highest speed, a guy from England who had climbed volcano's to take pictures, a 14 year old who had completed the ironman who had won a marathon in Peru in memory of her father who had passed from cancer when she was 9, guys who owned gyms and appeared to have more muscle in one arm than I have in my entire body... I am still new to this obstacle course racing and it's fascinating to see the variety of builds they have. There are guys there who have come in ahead of me that I would beat them on any road race. There are guys who come in behind me who could probably bench press me and what I can bench press but the guys who are at the very front have managed a combination of so many skills that it is incredibly impressive.

People have said when they see me running that I am in beast mode. I've never quite deciphered what that means but it was an opportunity to actually have a chance to earn the title of a beast. When I got to where the race was, only once in my life ever having gone skiing, I looked up at the mountain and just thought it was gorgeous until someone mentioned that we were going to be going up and down it at least 4 times in different ways. Then I realize I'd never seen an uglier mountain. I had tried to train on some of the steepest mountains in Austin Tx a few times and realize that was not nearly enough... I have been working on my upper body and doing some more hills up but didn't quite realize that a half marathon distance through that was possible but that didn't matter.

They announced a few people at the start including me as the last one. For the first time ever I was wearing a water backpack and they asked if I would wear a go pro camera on my chest for a while. Thinking it'd be kind of cool to capture your experience that way, I put it on. When you've never run with anything on at all and all of a sudden you're wearing both, it cramps both your style and your breathing but I figured it would be a way to help pace appropriately.

Then we were off... and it was about a half mile of running climbing over small walls and hale bays and rolling under them and then there was one hell of a hill. I'd ran heartbreak hill in Boston, I'd ran the hill of life in Austin and the steepest highway here from bottom to top, I'd ran some serious hills in college in Napa Valley, I'd placed in a race this year that went up 31 flights of stairs... let's just say there's a reason they save these for skiing (some a high difficulty) and there's a reason people take a machine up and slide down. There were times you could jog up, others were you picking up your legs higher than you did for stairs, crawling on all fours was faster on some parts. The Austin Spartan Sprint had less elevation on the entire course than that first half mile it felt like, the Chicago one in 8 miles had as much elevation change up and down as the Pocatello marathon had had over 26.2 and in Idaho those were mostly downhill. . This spartan beast course, in mileage about a half marathon, I would come to learn had over 5000 feet of elevation change and while at the end of the race I "would learn" that amount in my brain, my body learned it on the course a lot faster than that.

Some of the obstacles on the previous courses had been tough but they also were breaks at some levels in that they changed up the muscles. That would be true with some of the obstacles here but not often. I was proud that the obstacle I had practiced the most, the monkey bars was a breeze since I've finally gotten better at mostly from a cute 6 year old telling me I was too fat to do it well. I've done more pull ups and sits up and push ups and climbing on the playground in the last two months than I had in the previous two years combined and got the obstacles where it was just a matter of grip. But right around the halfway point there was a 60 lb bag carry all the way up a mountain in what felt like years though apparently it was close to half a mile up and half a mile down. Boy did the right song come up then, get rhythm when you get the blues. And in typical style some people smiled and others rolled their eyes when they heard me singing... I can understand both. While I still regularly carry my daughter since I figured the days are coming where she'll be too big physically or where she'll be too old to want to let me do it, Kiana's not quite up to 60 lbs. She's a lot more fun to carry and is a way better conversationalist than that sandbag was.

There were inverse walls, cargo nets, balance beams to climb over, tunnels to climb through. There were 6ft walls to climb, 7 foot walls to climb, 8 foot walls to climb. On the previous courses I had just thrown my legs up and used them to climb up the wall. On this one I had developed enough arm strength to where on one I hoisted myself enough and landed right on the wall between  my legs... let's just say that I sat up there for a bit absorbing the beautiful view at the top of the mountain realizing it was good I already had a kid because I was probably never having another one. But perhaps most comforting that on another obstacle I literally cleared and 8 foot wall without my legs ever landing on it.

There was a rope climb which was the least I'd ever struggled with it despite it being the latest I'd seen it on the course. I didn't get all the obstacles and so there were burpee interuptions. There was a water traverse that I have serious rope burns from. There was bucket full of rocks that you had to carry late in the game, tires and rocks you had to pull up on a rope. But somehow I am both proud to say that there has been exactly zero obstacles in the Spartan world that I've had more than one shot at that I've not gotten.  But perhaps my favorite/least favorite one was the one where at the top of a mountain they gave you a code 7 digit code that you had to remember and had no idea on the course when it would be asked. I've kept exercising because out there I don't have to think as much and now they were giving me a memory test. Boy do I wish I had the camera because over the next hour or two I said it two to three hundred times. But I'll tell you what when it came time for me to do that obstacle, I got it!!! The Spartan tested many of my weaknesses and memory was not one I was expecting but I was glad not to fail it that day. In case you're wonder it was Victor 053-8874 :)

On some of those hills, I fell on my ass (the toughest one was actually when I took a serious hit on a rock about mile 3 or 4, let's keep this PG but the tail bone is a rough place to feel bruised). There were obstacles over water like a Tarzan swing that I completely missed and landed in cold cold water on my ass. Under barbed wire and on certain hills, I rolled on my ass. At the end of the race, the guys with the batons knocked me on my ass. But what never ever happened was me staying on my ass. Each time I had to, I did keep going.

The Spartan races have a great logo on their shirt, established 431 BC. Out of curiosity I wondered if that was older than the marathon (it isn't, it's from 490 BC but the fact that my favorite events have been Spartan races and marathons, show that if I believed reincarnation was true, I had to be Greek in a previous lifetime) but I sat there and read about the Spartan race (pun intended), they definitely captured the spirit I fight for. While they fought with tenacity, they weren't fighting to conquer anything, they were just defending their homeland from a foreign invasion from the Persians. And the Spartan race of old and these Spartan races these days gave women more independence and freedom than anywhere near enough of the ancient or modern world does. Some of the fast girls put on these shirts for when they pass people that say "you just got chicked." I got chicked a lot.. And different battles and athletes have had different motivation, but mine has been the same as those ancient Greeks, to keep a foreign invasion away and to raise a girl who regularly chicks people.

Because there are points where moving fast is not possible (at least it wasn't for me) I chatted with more people on this race than every road race I've ever done combined (some before or after the race, some during, those during were mostly people who were taking a break to talk as they passed me)... there was a soldier who'd spent time in Afghanistan and was glad to be able to take on obstacles just for fun, a guy who had lost more weight than some of the most muscular guys out there weigh, a woman who was using this as her therapy for her mother's death, a kid with a cross country scholarship who ran with me a good chunk of it and we finished pretty close together. There was a dude who had ran a 50km trail race and said yeah this is seriously kicking my ass more.  There was a guy who had trained by hiking up and down a mountain with a bag pack. There were cross fitters who are more and enthuisiastic devout to their training than most people are about religion.

My life has had a lot of unpredictable obstacles over the last couple of years. It's had some serious hills with ups and downs.  There's been times where I just didn't hang the way I should have. There are obstacles like the barbed wire which scare the hell out of me because a seizure under there... But on these obstacle course races, it's somewhat comforting to know that I at least signed up for some of these, that I was running to them, through them instead of from them. If anyone goes out there and doesn't have their ass kicked they are beyond human to me. I'm in the best overall shape of my life right now and two days after the race I have more things hurting than anything else ever has.

There was a guy who we kept passing each other back and forth and he was like come on marathon man, you're falling behind. I don't know if he was trying to heckle me to get me to keep pushing but in the end it turned out he had dropped out. There was a point about mile 9 where I thought I could see the finish line and you could see it while you were climbing for quite a while... And I actually saw a guy that turned there and I don't know if he was deciding to drop out or was cheating to the finish line. And for just a second there, I thought about it. But then remembered going to Walden Pond after Boston and modified for myself...

"I came to these woods to move deliberately
I'll suck this water through this straw
And when it comes time for me to die,
I'll know that today, today I lived"

I don't know how much longer it was from there till the actual finish in time since I don't have a watch on but there were still more obstacles, more climbing, more pain. I had brought two packs of shot blocks but I had dropped the second pack somewhere and hadn't had any calories since the halfway point. I knew I had a charity race the next day (that will be covered in the next entry) I would actually make a slight wrong turn near the end and do two extra obstacles that were part of the sprint (a shorter race) finish but got back on and got the right finish because there was no way I wasn't earning the beast as an official title. It took me about six hours to do this beast, longer than brain surgery had taken, longer than a 100 mile bike ride had taken, longer than any marathon had taken... And Spartan has a challenge to do all three in a calendar year to get a trifecta which I did...While I am more sore, scratched, bruised and in pain in more places than I've ever been after anything but in the end, don't all beasts live like that as at least a part of their regular life? I don't know of anyone's life always clean and the path is sometimes where you can can't see much more than a few feet in front of you but in my book, the best, the beasts they keep going and I am grateful to have officially earned the title.  Arooo.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my this sounds SCARY! I have 2 friends that did this, I may take the plunge next year, though I fear I will need to train A LOT more!