Sarah Finding Fit

An unconventional look at fitness... my journey in reaching goals, laughing and having a bunch of outstanding adventures.

Posts tagged ragnar relay

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The Tough Love

I consider myself an average Jane, PR girl by day, workout warrior by night. I play rec hockey, I throw weight around in a gym, I’ve never finished a race at a record breaking pace or done something unthinkable like an iron man… Sure, I’ve run with bricks and participated in 24-hour fun runs, but let’s be honest, I am not going to be an Olympian or a professional athlete any time soon. I do this for kicks. I find power in the challenge… it gives me a sort of high.

Through CrossFit and food and yoga and racing… I’ve built from within. It isn’t always about looks or even health; I’d say that mirrored images of me in a sports bra and shorts don’t do my personal transformation justice. They don’t show how powerful I feel. Change can be scary… I know that first hand, but the rewards of testing unknown waters can be exhilarating– proving to be completely worth the bumpy ride it takes to get there. I’ve learned to sometimes throw caution to the wind and trust my gut, try new things, go against the grain. Measuring success not by how I look, but how I feel… benchmark accomplishments achieved over time.

Anyone can do a nutrition program like this, anyone. Much like how anyone can sign-up for a race or step into a yoga studio. You just have to be ready to do something different. Test your personal limits and venture out of your comfort zone. Open your mind; erase any prior conceptions about fat or calories or food in general. Flip your thinking… You have to be willing to put aside what you think you know about food and what traditional media and packaging and ‘diets’ parle as fact.

Life is a human experiment. I view it as continual home improvement – be it physical or mental. We are each striving to be better people day in and day out. The only way to achieve new levels is by trying new things. Sure it’s hard… but, quoting A League of Their Own: the hard is what makes it great. If you can get through the hard, then you’re bound to learn something new. You will be forced to grow.

Read this book. Absorb, learn new things… and then go big or go home. Don’t do it half way. You’ll miss the point. If you hate it (or find it doesn’t work) after 8 weeks, go back to the life you lived before… or find the middle ground that works for you – but not before you give this a fighting chance… push yourself through the tough parts. Don’t cheat yourself out of the opportunity to try something different by assuming the outcome before you even get started. It’s like talking yourself out of a race or any adventure before even walking to the starting line or jumping on the plane.

We all think that we have exceptions, but when you start adding them up, you’ll have a list a mile long… over the past 60 days I’ve heard them all… “I could do that, buuuuttttt I can’t live without mystery item X.” Here comes the tough love. Yes, yes you can. You can live without pizza or cheese or ice cream… you can live without beer or chocolate… or whatever it is that tops that list. Those things aren’t foods that are necessary for survival… If I was suggesting someone live without water… well, then maybe that’d be different. Sometimes in life, I find that we make things too easy. We immediately satisfy our every need. The reason why I’ve slept in a van overnight and carried bricks through the Potomac river was to do something tough… put myself through a mini-mental and physical battle to see if I could survive. This is nothing different: a test of will and accountability.

Anyone can do anything for 60 days. In the grand scheme of things, two months isn’t long. It isn’t a lifetime commitment. You aren’t signing in blood on a dotted line.

Track everything. How you feel, what you eat, when you sleep. Daily. It’s an important benchmark you can come back to and adjust time and time again.

Throw away the scale. Forget about weight. Remember that weight is just a number, it is not a reflection of self-worth.

Real food can’t hurt you – yup, the things that don’t come in boxes, or shakes, or bar format… the things without food labels – so there is no harm in trying this. You will learn how to cook. You will find time. Promise.

You may not see the benefits until week 8, but they will eventually happen. You may go through withdrawal and you may get frustrated, but if you follow through you may find that in the end, you feel more energized, stronger, less irritable… in control, powerful. You’ll be a survivor of sorts. You may conquer your addiction to hidden sugar. You may recover faster. You may start reading labels. You may jump on a soap box and start questioning what is wrong with our food system.

This isn’t a fad diet or a juice fast. It isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t easy. But getting what you want never happens overnight. There isn’t a magic pill. If there was, we’d all already have taken it. Rewards come to those who put in effort – success is the sum of small actions repeated day in and day out over time.

Stop making excuses. Test your willpower. Flip your thinking. Break routine. Challenge yourself. Step out of the box. Dive in head first.

60 days later… You may be surprised at what you find out about yourself.

Filed under tough love fitness fit fitblogs crossfit yoga races ragnar relay relay races food fresh food real food sugar weight challenge whole30 whole60 whole9 it starts with food paleo accountability tough cfsa nutrition Nutrition CFSA

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Bucket List Item #82: Trek, Paddle, Mt. Bike, Swim?

Open windows, back roads… there’s nothing as beautiful as stars in the country. Without the florescent glow of the city defusing them, they shine like little mag-lights in a deep black sky. Fresh cold air that’s easy to breath. You can hear yourself think. Just being in Rocky Gap State Park draws me back to Ragnar, the beginning of this blog adventure… but as we pulled into the empty parking lot, we lined up the jeeps almost right where my parents had watched me finish leg one a few years back. I had a feeling most of our trekking/mountain biking tomorrow would lead us on the very same trail out and around the lake. We rolled out sleeping bags in the back of the jeep… and caught just a few short hours shut eye.

By the time we rolled out of the backseat and towards check-in at 7:30AM, the parking lot had exploded, and was buzzing with SUVs and mountain bikes and open hatchbacks. We sleepily signed waivers and secured the map… the punch key hung on lanyard around my neck. Team 373. At the car we plotted points, filled camel backs and loaded the transition with bikes and Lara bars and apple sauce and water. Talking through checkpoints and colors, we came up with some sort of strategy. I honestly wasn’t exactly how the race would go or what to expect… friends who’d raced Rocky Gap before had shared some horror stories… but we were dodging the forecast and for now, it wasn’t raining! Walking to the race brief/start I realized how light my pack was without the bricks. Body felt good. I didn’t have the same butterflies I usually get before races – I only really feared the bike. I reminded the team that I hate going out fast as we lined up along the edge of the fence in effort to beat a few people out of the gate… 3.2.1. The crowd scattered and we were off in search of checkpoints.

As hard as I try, I can’t even begin to paint an accurate picture of a race recap and a detailed blow-by-blow of the entire race would take far too long… in all honesty, we were a very focused and fit comedy of sarcasm and errors. I mean what other team throws out “thats what she said” a dozen times during an adventure race? For now, here is my feeble attempt at the highlights of my first adventure race (more photos to come, promise!):

Almost everyone took off in the same direction, up the road and into the hills. Action plan: hit four colored checkpoints before checking in at CP1. Red and white had to be snagged in this order or they wouldn’t count. We’d decided to run more and rack up points early. After hitting two colors, we found ourselves on an empty trail and as we got closer to what should have been a white check point, there was a sharp drop. Sherpa Sean attempted to start climbing down the sheer rocky edge, but between the dry tree trunks and white stone there was a steep drop-off… we would have needed rope and harnesses. First lesson learned: Cliffs are bad. 30 minutes into the race, we abandoned the game plan – points later, CP1 first.

As we whipped around the back side of the lake, we crossed in and out of a wooded trail covered in a deep blanket of dry leaves and branches. Sean and Dave were leading, maybe 50 feet ahead of me. My mind was wondering; my legs were trying to keep up with the boys. I found myself forecasting my bike performance, positive thoughts… I kept looking up, scanning for the guys than glancing back to the ground. As I went to plant my foot in an effort to log hop what looked to be a very black branch, the log moved toward my ankle. SNAKE! I let out a blood curdling scream. I could feel the adrenaline surge, the hair on my arm stood at attention – fight or flight? I flew about 10ft into the air. The boys flipped around. For a second I just stopped… blahhahaaeaehhhahh. “Better you than me,” both of the teased. A quick shake out, then back to business.

After presenting our whistles, we checked in at the beach. While making wisecracks about who was going in the water first, we crossed to the canoes and grabbed some sexy PDFs. Sean in front, myself in the middle, Dave in back. Pulling through the water was a nice breather for the legs. You’d think we’d be rockstars considering we row at Crossfit, but it took time for us to get into the rhythm. The canoe had a few deep teeters… close calls with the water before we finally managed to set up some sort of “2-1-switch” system. While gliding past some of the other boats, we decided whether we should or shouldn’t snag the points to be grabbed via canoe, during the paddle switch, Sean somehow flung his oar and sent it splashing into the lake. We watched as it floated toward the back of the boat. SHIT! We had to put on the breaks and flip the boat around. Again, against our original plan, we skipped the colored checkpoint reachable by canoe and decided that’d we spend the last moments of the race swimming. As we pulled up onto the beach to run to transition, we fumbled the canoe… I fell backwards into the boat. The race paparazzi captured it all nicely on film. I’d say, awkward would be an understatement.

Pulling out of transition, I ran myself through my gears and breaks. Control. Breath. Going fast on bikes downhill is not my forte; I have some innate fear of crashing and getting terrible road rash. But what goes down must go up. At CP3, the race director commented, “Damn, you guys got here fast.” He’d seen us last on the beach before the paddle. I managed to keep the legs moving up the long crawl back up the hill of hell. Once we were back on the trail, we pulled the bikes up over the some cement steps… time to face my fear. I could feel my hands death gripping the handle bars and laser focusing on the path just ahead of the front tire. Every few minutes I’d lose site of the boys and they’d shout back, “Shank?” and I’d say “Coming!” As long as I kept pedaling, I knew I’d be fine. Rocks, roots, there were a few rough points… but I managed to hold my own in my personal battle with the bike. Besides throwing Dave into a tree… I’d say I fared better than expected.

Since we’d missed the first two colored checkpoints, we needed to cash in for 20 points at silver. We checked in at CP5, dropped the bikes and headed up the hill. After crossing an empty creek bed, the incline increased, quickly. Reading elevation lines is a good idea: From the map, we knew the check-in would be at the very top of the hill, we just didn’t really realize how steep of a climb it would be. Sean trekked up ahead and kept looking back shouting, “keep moving.” Oh, I was moving… but my calves were cramping with every step. The deep dead leaves and rotten trees made it hard to navigate. My legs were on fire… one foot in front of the other. When we finally reached the top, I scribbled our time, heard the key box beep and then we were headed back down. We all broke into a jog when we hit the grass and after a brief run in with a local and his shotgun telling us we were on private property, we crossed back to CP6. Back on the bikes for the last section of trail… and boom, it finally started to rain.

We were lucky that it had held off for most of the morning, but the drizzle quickly became a downpour and as we started onto the single track, I could see little pieces of hail bouncing off the number card attached to the handle bars. The trail was muddy and fast! I slid out in one of the corners landing sideways on the hill with the bike splayed out below, but quickly hopped back on and fell back in line with the rest of the chain of bikers. When we finally hit the beach, we ditched the bikes, our packs and helmets and took to the water.

Cold water + tired legs + giant PDF = slow swimming Sarah. Last checkpoint was buoy maybe 100 yards off-shore. The PFD I’d grabbed was probably about 4 sizes too big and in an effort to keep up with the boys I couldn’t synch it down fast enough. The water wasn’t as cold as it could have been, but still a shock to the system. It felt like my legs just weren’t working… and the giant PFD was making it almost impossible to pull with my arms. I probably looked like a little kid drowning. After hitting the buoy we checked in and then flipped around to get to the beach where we’d finish. I felt like I was swimming in slow motion. But when we could finally stand… We ran onto the beach, ditched the PFDS, grabbed our stuff and ran up to the final checkpoint.

When we buzzed in, the woman told us we were likely 3rd or 4th. First adventure race complete! Wet. Tired. We walked the bikes to the car. Hit the park showers. Then head to the tent in search of post-race nomnom. The sun had come back out and racers filled the grass waiting for the awards ceremony.

I was a tad nervous when they started announcing brackets, specifically the 3 person co-eds. They announced 5th, then 4th… I kinda sighed, maybe we didn’t place after all. My goal from the start had been to earn a pint glass. Then 3rd: 2 Bros and a Hoe! The crowd seemed to appreciate our name. Three of us shared the small podium space, holding onto our rightfully earned hardware.

As quickly as it started, it was over. We threw our packs and dirty cloths and winnings in the car. As we rolled out of the parking lot, I had that happy/tired/sore feeling. Anyone who’s done a longer race knows exactly what I’m talking about. The moment when you’re relieved to be done, but sad it’s all over… tired but accomplished… a sort of post-race glow and hangover all at once. Recounting it comes back in pieces… quick quips, comments from other teams, polo shirt for camping, snakes, paddle dropping, missing out on 2nd by 6 seconds, winning prizes for jumping in the lake with clean clothes on…

Cars with muddy mountain bikes dotted the highway on the way back to DC and passing each one made me smile.

Bucket list item #82: Adventure Race, check!

Filed under swim Adventure Race mountainbiking trails trailrunning team crossfit paddle ragnar relay winning

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Accountability, Inspiration, Motivation… Big Words for a Tuesday

I have a love/hate relationship with running… lately my desire to run and rock out seems to be weaning and it takes a good dose of determination for me to lace up my kicks, pop in my ear buds and take to the street. Even then miles tick slowly and I find myself distracted and headed back home before I’ve really gotten started. With an off-road half marathon on the horizon, it’s time to face my frienemy.


Tuesday nights seem to be the only night of the week when I’m not dashing from work to CrossFit to finding food, so in an effort to recharge my running, I assembled a team of experts! A crew of willing and able participants in my quest for accountability. I must admit that I selfishly organized the group, but in running with them, I’ve realized that in some way, our 5:30 PM metro meetup is welcomed as a dose of liability for putting up some mileage for everyone, not just me… while I begrudgingly toss socks, sneeks and a sports bra into my backpack to lug into the office, our group run makes part of me excitedly await the moment when I can take off through the city streets. Between dodging tourists and commuters we each try to forget that we are running… instead, we get lost among the monuments, soak in the city sites, pass time and strides with laughs, a re-mix of the day or a list of weekend plans. Surprisingly sarcasm, quick wit and butt slapping can fuel miles of running! I used to think that working out alone was better. It not only continually forced to prove something just to myself, but it also gave me clarity – time to think… but recently, I’ve found strength in numbers… pooled the motivation of others and harnessed it as my own.

Last week, four of us took off into the cool evening air in search of Cherry Blossoms… it was a quick warm-up down 18th before we landed in front of the Lincoln memorial then out and around FDR, stopping briefly to run up the stairs and say hi to TJ. Running downtown reminds of my intermittent love affair with DC… urges me to play tourist, adding a Washington Monument snapshot in the background of a now cherry blossom-less tidal basin to my collection of finding fit photos. Running doesn’t seem as hard when it’s mixed with conversations and measured in a quick, but un-pressed pace. Different from CrossFit. Different from racing. No real route. No white board. No expectations. A group that doesn’t pass judgment. As we looped back and strolled up to the metro the watch stopped around 4.8 miles. “That’s the furthest I’ve ever run,” noted one of our runners. “Really? That. Is. Awesome.” I lit up. In between a quick berate of “How do you feel? Whatcha think?” I exchanged a hug in return for miles of motivation.

As we took off for our second Tuesday session this week, we all felt the creeks from the prior days CrossFit workout… stiff calves, achy shins, popping knees. The scab from my box jump puncture wound had fallen off and the pain radiated up the front of my leg, I’d hoped that after a mile it’d melt away, or in all honesty, I just forget it was there. The pace started slow as three of us found our way back to the National Mall. We collected two more runners at WWII and then headed up to the Capitol, each taking turns paired in twos and threes in the lead. We kept each other moving… a sort of group think, maybe group will. The burgers and shakes that could be found on the back-side of the dome were a teasing temptation, but wallet-less; we instead rounded back and paused for a group photo in front of the big white building that we all had seen so many times before. On the way back up past the Smithsonians I carried the bag with the bricks (yes, bricks)… part of me was happy to see that lugging around weight plates was working, because I could still keep pace with the group… part of me had the sinking feeling that GoRuck in June was going to be the toughest test of survival to-date. I could feel the weight wearing on me… a heavy reminder to keep up the daily grind. As we approached the metro… we all fell into a walk as we crossed the street. Sweaty. Successful. Starving.

Relieved to be headed home… It seems we’d found some sort of groove in this weekly run. As rough as we’d all felt at the start, we’d surpassed the goal of an easy three. Between the weighted bag and overachiever sprint sessions, some of us had far exceeded our own expectations. If we could keep this up, maybe I’d be reminded of my reasons for running. Maybe fun and run would one day land in the same sentence (gasp!). The motivation of the group was fueling my own success and I was grateful for having my own personal collection of everyday super heroes at my side… each willing to sacrifice happy hour for pavement pounding.

I snapped a picture of the bag o’ bricks on the ground… a memento of day 91. It’s funny where you find inspiration, what drives you to make it to the gym after work, or show up to a race at 8 AM on a Sunday morning. I’ve found that the mere act of being accountable for taking a picture each day serves as a mini-motivation in itself. Knowing that maybe somewhere out there someone is expecting to see what I did today. What I found. Where I found it. How it added to the bigger picture of me. Little does everyone know that while I might motivate them, they in turn keep me moving. Seeing which of my friends like which photos, how each of them fits into the fitness I’ve found. It’s my floor hockey all-stars, CrossFit crew, weekend warriors and Ragnar running rebels that make every second of this adventure worth it.  They remind me that success isn’t always measured in winning or racing… instead, it’s found in the little moments of struggle and effort and optimism… friendships and fun… trying and doing… accomplishing something you’d never dreamed imaginable… pushing yourself out of your comfort zone… surviving… and never ever giving up that happen along the way.

Filed under ragnar relay running running group dc crossfit FindingFit 366

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60 Degrees in January, Laced up Kicks, and an iPod Full of Dreams

I had a pressing urge to lace up my kicks, an almost excited buzz. I was jonesing to enjoy the warm night air. I pulled on my reflective vest, clicked on the headlamp, popped one bud in my ear and turned up the tunes. The night air was cool and damp – it felt like spring in January. As I hit the road I immediately regret pressing “submit” earlier in the day. I urged my legs to stride forward, repeatedly dipping my toes into the dancing halo-like glow from the headlamp. Could I do this in 5 months? A half through the woods?

I tried to remind myself that the first mile was always the worst. I noticed that my breathing was calmer than other runs… but my ghosts felt rather un-ghostly! They didn’t glide along the pavement. Instead, my running shoes felt heavy and awkward… Nothing like my flat-sole wonders that have recently plowed me through many a 400s. My stride was foreign, yet familiar, and I eventually felt myself melt into the pumping pop. A playlist packed with memories… my mind wandered and my footfalls pounded like a heartbeat… the paved streets felt nothing like trails dusted with roots and rocks and leaves… But, I let the musty air draw me back to Ragnar… Where this whole adventure began… Alone. On back roads. Soul searching with the stars.

It’s been a while since I’ve run by myself… or in fact, worked out alone. I enjoyed the beauty in the simplicity of it. No superman-telephone-both quick change on the way from commute to car to class… no fear that I won’t make it into the room before the instruction begins or have to interrupt everyone who is already in Downdog. My own time table. My own thoughts. My own course of action. My own destiny with darkness.

Beyond making my legs fatigued from trusters and my chest ouchy from ring push ups… Come on crossfit, what have you done for me? Have you made me faster? I talked myself through the fatigue and I felt myself push… I was a tad tired… but while measuring up against the other weekend warriors that had come out to play, I tried to remind myself that this was my time to shake off the rust, not race. We dotted the streets… skipping between happy hour goers and commuters…runners of the night.

The miles passed… the agony of 1 quickly became a smooth 2 which turned to 3 then 5… It felt nice to fly.

As I crossed up to my apartment, I fell into a walk. My feet hurt and my knees popped… but my breath was still even… sweat drooled down my cheeks. While cooking dinner, I realized how much had changed since the half… from food choices to training decisions. I wondered if I could get back to the mileage I was boasting at this time last year… my mind toyed with the idea of crossfit endurance. These days the idea of fitness for two hours doesn’t faze me – honestly, nothing could be harder than a run in with Murph or a rough Survival Sunday…But the act of running posed a different (but in some ways equal) test of self… trading one type of pain for another… mix conquering miles of a repetitive activity I don’t absolutely love with a bit of boredom all while pushing the pace. When I’d registered earlier, I had to submit my pace and I planned to gun down my road half time… between now and then, there’d be the BYB trail race series, some new running shoes and nights where I promised to just get back to learning to run. And this time… there’d be no sun poisoning!

Filed under running ragnar relay shoes night running crossfit music

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Fearless Friday: Last Race in 2011

Do one thing every day that scares you.

It’s been a year chock full of racing… from a half marathon to celebrate my 30th to my first duathalon this summer… It seems that I’ve spend the last year collecting some pretty cool hardware including an orange headband, a nom de plume relay baton, a pretty cool bottle opener, a drawer of t-shirts, a pint glass and something that glitters gold.

Somewhere between burning through lots of sneakers and having some of the most interesting adventures, I learned two things. The first is that no matter how many times I walk to the start line, I get butterflies. I still have a brief moment of, “wait, can I make it?” full well knowing that the first mile is always a battle with myself more than anything else. The second is that I’m pretty busy.

This weekend I embark on my last race for 2011. One last run through the woods… one last attempt at winning a pint glass… one last escapade with my friends… one final proof of how far I’ve come: how many miles I’ve logged, how many weights I’ve lifted, how many hills I’ve climbed, how many circles I’ve made around a track. This weekend we head to Hemlock Overlook for the last race of the BYB Fall Series. Welcome Fearless Friday. Good to see you again.

Filed under half-marathon friends trailrunning mudrun toughmudder ragnar relay American Odyssey Relay rochester running track workouts swag Fearless Fridays

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Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving in Virginia, crammed into my small 1-bedroom apartment, for the first time, with my family, meaning that our tradition of the Webster Turkey Trot will end… but between the farm fresh turkey and dinner on served on a coffee table… a new one might begin.

Over the past year I’m thankful to have had to opportunity to share my adventures, personal wins and search for finding fit. It’s crazy to think of how far I’ve come… as I reflect, I find that I am most thankful for three things:

My family, who puts up with my antics, usually makes me laugh til I cry and loves me unconditionally. From attending races to signing me up to run in Rochester, they understand where I started this journey and in knowing the full story, they are my biggest champions. Not only do they smile at my successes, but they also pick me up when I feel like I’m at my lowest. I am grateful for each moment that I get to share with them, and after my mom’s transplant, truly appreciate them for who they are and what they mean to me.

My heath. Looking back, I’d never imaged I’d be here at 30… cracking open a sort of Pandora’s box. Re-thinking food and fitness, peeking inside myself and finding the power to achieve things that I never thought imaginable… If you’d asked my 20-something self where I’d be now, I’d never have thought I’d land in a hot yoga studio once a week, or have the ability to squat more than my own body weight. I’d never have imagined that between logging miles and soul searching under the stars, I’d define myself. I am thankful that over the past year, I’ve in some way, maybe inspired others by sharing in the voyage, but in a selfish way, I’m most thankful for the journey I’ve taken, because the path to getting here, has been the sweetest personal reward.

Lastly, I am honored and thankful to be surrounded by amazing people. People who run with me. People who laugh with (or at) me. People who also appreciated strong IPAs, SJFs from Lyon Hall, or introduce me to the wonder of Vodka sodas. People who tolerate or maybe even appreciate my sometimes off the wall beliefs. People who somehow drag me into crazy antics like Ragnar or Roller Derby or Mud Running. People who force me to step out of my comfort zone and encourage me to be the best me that I can be. People who I know would come to my rescue without question, at a moment’s notice, in the middle of the night, in the rain. Without each of you, life wouldn’t be full of so many great adventures!

This holiday weekend, I wish each and every person the best. May the healthiest and tastiest of foods dress your table… and whether you Crossfit your heart out to a long ass WOD on Thursday, or turkey trot across America, I hope that you are surrounded by the things that give you strength and happiness. Big or small, we each have so much to be thankful for this year.

Filed under paleo family thanksgiving Turning 30 turkeytrot crossfit transplant mudrun toughmudder roller derby ragnar relay food friends

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Surviving Tough Mudder

I pulled up the sleeve of my sweater at work and caught the remnants of number 9979. The permanent marker outline was faded, but still there. I swear I’ve tried to scrub it off in the shower, but in some ways it’s my reminder of the epic Tough Mudder weekend and holding onto it is a sort of badge of honor. Just like my Ragnar tattoo a few weeks back, it’s funny to see it juxtaposed against my business black. Out of place perhaps, but to me a hidden reminder of my other weekend life. Honestly, if it weren’t for it, or the bruises on my underarms and shins, the race feels like a distant memory faded into the florescent sun and conference calls. Much like my other weekend adventures, this was one that not many people would understand. A Sunday race through the woods, perhaps… but a diving into a dumpster of ice? climbing a black diamond? paying to get shocked? The questions would be too many to answer. Yes, I am crazy and yes, I do this for fun.

 I’ve done mud runs before, so I must admit the thought of falling into an icy lake in October while attempting monkey bars wasn’t super appealing at first – buuutttt turning down a hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle course? Me? Wasn’t going to happen. I’ve likened my willingness to get talked into races to how others get talked into drugs or drinking… the game plan is simple. Lay the peer pressure on thick, make it sound like a fun adventure, and usually… I fold. This course, designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie, included 10+ miles and 25 obstacles. Trust me, it lived up to its promise.

 The setting was perfect! Beautiful fall day in the mountains… changing leaves… brisk mountain air… limited cell phone service. In expectation of rocks and mud, I’d picked to don running tights and tight long sleeves. After a winding bus ride from the overflow parking field, we were consumed by a crowd of costumes and bare chested men with smatterings of body paint. Upon receiving my registration information, I was asked to pull up my hair and my race number was tattooed to my forehead in permanent marker, then my arm… oh it was going to be one of those types of races!! We met our team, “Health and Wholeness” to shake out a few last minute jitters (aka performance pees) and apply our war stripes. We split into groups of four – mine, which we appropriately named “Team Awesome” during the race, included Dan, TJ, Melina and myself. Since a 4 hour blow-by-blow would take pages… I’ve consolidated my race report into bullets. Here goes:

  •  I have a new appreciation for skiing DOWN black diamond mountains. The race started, ended and included approximately 3 mid-course steep climbs. One was appropriately named the “death march.” Yes, there were burning calves. Yes, there was heaving breathing. Yes, we passed people throwing up. Running was absolutely not an option.
  • The race was 70 percent men, most of whom fit the profile of: military, ripped, super fit. I must admit that I smirked when I passed a bunch of them on the uphill portion of the Lumberjack AKA “carry a log of wood up and down a mountain” obstacle. Thank you sand bag getups.
  • Being short may be great for some things, but… climbing over 12ft walls is not one of them. There is a major need for boosting up and over, and the drop back to the ground is SUPER far. I think my death grip at the top might be the culprit of my bruised arms.
  • There is a fun little thing called ASS RASH that you get at Crossfit when you do a zillion abs on an Ab Mat. What is Ass Rash you ask?: basically rug burn on the top of your butt crack. Sexy, right? Well… Crossfit makes people sexy in many ways, but that is a totally separate blog post. Sliding down a hill on a giant adult slip-and-slide and into a pool of icy mud is actually super fun, but it irritates the hell out of ass rash and burns like crazy. Aquafor and Neosporin were much needed post-race. Nuff said.
  • Sports bras are the perfect place to store race fuel. Thank god we did, because when what was supposed to be a 9 mile/2.5 hour race became an 11mile/4 hour test of survival, having fuel was key.
  • People should climb cargo nets more often. In fact, maybe it should be part of job interviews. Super fun.
  • Chapstick is a race necessity. Don’t leave the start without it.
  • The Shenandoah Mountains are beautiful in the fall – go see them! Taking a second to check out the fall foliage while running along the crest of a mountain, made being muddy, cold and wet almost enjoyable. It proved that trails rather than roads is where I belong.
  • Jumping into a giant trash dumpster of icy, food-colored water can kill you, or wait, at least make you feel like you’re dying. Team Awesome “manned up” and in pairs, jumped into the Chernobyl Jacuzzi that was filled with the most ice – literally the two other bins looked almost empty. Hand-in-hand on the count of 3, Dan pulled me into the water. He went immediately under to the other side of the barbed wire board. I, on the other hand, popped up before the crossing under the board and I believe stammered, “I. can’t. breath.” To which Dan responded, “I’m not getting out without you. GO!” I managed to catch enough air to go under water and swim to the other side. We then climbed up and over the piles of ice and out of the bin with the help of our teammates. I mean, at this point I felt like we were in a war, not running a race. Worst obstacle by far! Early race ice bath equals frozen wet clothes for the rest of the race.
  • Back to the beauty of being short. “Shallow” water, is actually pretty darn deep. Places where others can stand comfortably, usually means that I am under water. When the water is icy, not so awesome. I’d say I was fully submerged during at least 5 obstacles.
  • Monkey bars are only easy when you are 5. The threat of falling into an icy pond has absolutely no impact on your ability to hang on to spinning metal bars.
  • Being sprayed by high pressure fire-hoses doesn’t only happen when you are protesting. Apparently people, like myself, pay to get sprayed by them. They are both cold and ouchy, promise.
  • Hurling yourself over obstacles, running through the woods in wet and heavy clothing/sneekers, and prancing up and down a ski resort without much water or food for 4 hours is utterly exhausting – much more difficult than running any road race.
  • Thank god for dudes – seriously! Normally I’d attribute my success to training (which no doubt played part), but this serves as a huge public thank you to both my guy teammates and fellow-mudders who let me stand on their shoulders/hoisted me over the giant “Everest” quarter pipe, held my hand when I jumped into a bath of ice, and lended their knee to boost me up over 4 walls. In all honesty, the race may have been an epic failure without you guys.
  • Running around golf courses is boring.
  • Realizing that you can barely run because your muscles are cramping, but feeling like you have to run to get warm is a very bizarre experience.
  • If you have a team, stick together.
  • Watching your teammates lips start to match your blue team t-shirt is frightening.
  • The thought of getting zapped by a car battery at the end of a 4 hour race seems easy enough when compared with the thought of getting wet by a freezing fire hose again (especially when you finally feel semi-dry). Yes, we were watered up and then trust through a framework of hanging wires. All I remember is holding my breath and running with my hands in front of me. The zap to my arm felt a little like sticking your finger in a light socket, but the joy in being at the finish more than made up for it.
  •  Headbands are good swag! Especially when they are orange and come as the reward for living through one hell of an adventure.

With our headbands on, we each got a beer as we passed through the finish. Some people got tattoos, others peeled off layers of wet clothes in exchange for a t-shirt… I eventually called my mom, and blurted out, “well, we’re alive.” Somewhere between trying to explain the ice bath and the 12ft walls, I realized that as much as it was a rough race, something about it was super awesome. The toughest event on the planet? Debatable, but definitely one for the record books. Each of us that forged our way to the finish were officially Tough Mudders and those of us that survived have a common bond – a secret hand-shake if you will, maybe a nod, an understanding of the battle it took to get there.

For me, the joy in racing is pushing myself to a new place, stepping out of my comfort zone. On the ride home I realized a few things:

  • It is possible to inhale a loaded Five Guys Double Cheese Burger in a matter of minutes.
  • Babywipes are an amazing invention.
  • Warm sweat pants are now officially my favorite item of clothing.
  • Even though, I’d initially vowed to just throw out my clothes upon race finish, they had somehow landed in a giant trash bag in the trunk, ready to be washed and saved.
  • Being surrounded by a bunch of crazy adrenaline- seeking, fitness junky friends is priceless. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Exhausted, muddy and cold, we finally made it back home. For now, I’ll settle for rocking my orange headband. But I can’t imagine that Mudder 2012 will take too much convincing.

Filed under crossfit mud mudrun obstacle course races ragnar relay running team toughmudder

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Soul Searching with the Stars: Ragnar Relay Recap 1

My mind flashed back to Odyssey and my run in with a ghost in Antietam… as I mumbled turn by turn directions to Cali while sitting shot gun, I flipped ahead in the RagMag to my upcoming leg two in the dark – figuring I should check the directions before jumping on the road.

Leg Description: Rolling hills continue! To the north of you is Fort Ritchie Military Reservation and to the south, the famed Antietam Battlefield. Leg wraps up in Keedysville.

SERIOUSLY!? Looks like it was back to the battlefield, a re-match if you will with some unfinished business. Half glad I didn’t know until 15 minutes before my run… my stomach dropped. I tried not to think, just focus. I shot off a quick text to @onthebusrunning, “Thanks Brad, thanks!” As we pulled to the exchange, I tied the laces in my sneakers and stretched the shins. A quick trip to the port of potty… and as I made my way up to the exchange… a scratchy voice called “249!” and Sarah appeared from the fog.

As I moved into the night, it took a moment for my legs to warm-up, start working again… filter through the stiffness from being cramped in a van… run straight. I fumbled with my iPod and landed on some brassy soulful blues, it seemed to appropriately match the moment. The air was chilly at the start, but the humidity clung like a heavy blanket, making my long sleeve lulu pull over feel like a bad decision…  Sweat drooled from under the red headband at my temples. The mist floated into the glow of the headlamp creating a halo effect on my vision that made the world look fuzzy and I kept shaking my head to see if there was something wrong with my eyes… was I seeing straight?

I settled in and found a rhythm in my footfalls… 1. 2… 1. 2… my heartbeat echoed through my temples. This was nothing like running through crowded streets with traffic signals and blaring horns… or pushing through people on sidewalks. This is the type of running I love… Flying. Freedom. Fearlessness.

The small lighted circle danced along the grass and the edge of the street, picking out crickets and illuminating dewdrops… turning them into oily rainbow colored dots in the brush. My mind wandered… reading mail box numbers and looking into warm windows of farm houses…  wondering what they thought of us crazies out here, in our reflective vests, running all night. When the slight breeze caught, it prickled my skin into goosebumps, pulling me back to the battlefield. But the occasional whizz of oncoming headlights and honking vans were a welcomed reminder that, while I hadn’t seen another runner, I wasn’t alone… squelching the building panic in my chest. This time, I was sure that my van would be up ahead, ready to check on me in a few miles.

The stars were beautiful… nothing like the dull faded flickers that blanket the city sky. I scanned for the Belt of Orion – in college I always looked up and his belt was a connection with home, reminding me that my family could see the same stars and making them feel closer. Tonight was the same. Last year they were with me at Ragnar, but tonight they still felt nearby and I could hear my mom and dad cheering me on in my head.  The air was still… just the sound of bugs and rustling branches. The world was asleep and here I was again, running… soul searching… back to finding myself… pushing through exhaustion, re-playing how far I’d come since last year.

Everyone should run once at night. It’s a mixed emotion of pure peace and steady anxiety – similar to the slow ache that you experience in your legs when you climb a long hill with a slight incline. There is always the thought, in the dark corner of your mind, that someone could jump out of the cornfield you’re running past and scare the living daylights out of you… but dually there is an overwhelming feeling of a fantastic, beautiful silence.  

Dusty back roads, cornfields and old barns quickly turned into corner stores and rowed houses with front porches. Like the set of a movie scene… cracked paint and rocking chairs and old Coke signs. I’d escaped the battlefield and landed back in some sort of civilization. What I initially thought to be another runner, turned into a blinking red “One Mile To Go” marker. I hadn’t seen any runners in the dark… something I sort of loved… just myself and stars. Then, “Great job runner, half mile to go!” called into the now dimly-lit night… from a set of lawn chairs in a front yard on my left. “Thank you! Thank you for letting us run through your town,” I managed to huff out between heavy breaths… I could see my words turn into cloudy puffs in the dense air.

I pushed the pace, but somehow got leap-frogged by a runner who’d come from out of nowhere behind me at the handoff. I was happy to pass the baton and let Adam blink into the darkness… my legs fatigued, my eyes fuzzy needing sleep or Visine… but part of me was disappointed that it was over. For this race it was my one running rendezvous with the stars… the run that I long for… the run that you only fully understand after you do it… my favorite part of Ragnar.

Filed under ragnar relay running night running relay races antietam

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Fearless Friday: Time for an All Night Mustache Ride!

Ragnar: If you haven’t run a relay, you should try it, just once.

It’s the one weekend when… it’s okay to pull an all-nighter under the stars and running in the dark doesn’t just happen just because you didn’t have time to squeeze it in during the day… when headlamps and butt blinkies are cool and reflective vests are sexy… when friends become family, and farting in mixed company is permitted… wait, that is NOT happening in my van! When eating beef jerky and brushing your teeth is better than sex and bathing in baby wipes is considered an effective roadside shower… when “dinner” comes on a plastic tray in a high school cafeteria at 1AM and sleep happens in cat naps on a soccer field full of sleeping bags… when dressing up in costumes on a day that isn’t Halloween is perfectly normal and camaraderie with other teams means collecting flair in the form of magnets… when running becomes a detailed dance of coordinating van rentals and road maps and hotel rooms and coolers full of salami… when “vacation” is crammed seating and sweating along back country roads. When mustaches are a motto echoing Prefontaine…

It’s the one weekend when we embark on a mini-road trip filled with decorated vans and runners and cheers and moments of mayhem… where almost nothing is actually inappropriate… and you learn quickly that necessary items include multiple pairs of underwear, Visine, chapstick and sunscreen.  It’s the one weekend when slap bracelets make a comeback and serve as a baton passed from wrist to wrist… when adults wear glow sticks and soul searching happens at 4AM on a lonely road under the stars… when there really aren’t winners or losers, just high-fives and finishers… and a rush of accomplishment that is indescribable.

It’s the one weekend when it’s almost impossible not to lose yourself in a sea of good runners and amazing people who are just as crazy as you… when bars of body glide flow like wine and blisters are seen as a badge of honor. When the race is about survival rather than performance and personal triumph takes second place to crossing the finish line as a team. It’s the one weekend when I can’t even begin explain why I take a day off of work in order to subject myself to “fun” that includes vans and sneakers and running back home…

It’s the one weekend when 12 people come together and manage to canvas more than 200 miles, on foot, in 24 hours (well… maybe 32 hours)… hopefully not in the rain. It’s where I learned that I was a runner.

It’s hard to believe that just one year ago this crazy adventure began with a silly idea to run a relay… and now it’s sort of a tradition. I get goosebumps thinking about how far I’ve come (or run) since last September… and now, tonight, we return to the road.  Let the All-Night Mustache Ride begin!

Join the adventure! Van 1: @sarahfindingfit Van 2: @onthebusrunning

Filed under ragnar relay running races Fearless Fridays