We are climbing the steepest hill I know. This isn’t a running hill. This is barely a walking hill. It’s almost exactly a half mile long, almost entirely bare, and always windy. The sparse vegetation is the hardiest plant life in the world. In my opinion. The wind today is hard, hot and dry. The top of the hill is so steep that I put my hands on the ground, afraid of getting my center of gravity off kilter. You might not die if you fell, but there is nothing to stop your tumble until you get all the way to the bottom. You would definitely leave some skin behind. And you’d have to start over.
My husband B reaches the top a few minutes before me and vanishes. Not that I’m looking too hard for him; I’m concentrating on keeping all of me, including my eyes, close to the ground. I use some straggly weeds for additional safety. If they’re strong enough to survive on this hill, they’re surely strong enough to hold my weight.
I reach the top. The view is panoramic. I point out a couple of familiar trails.
“See that trail, that’s the one I thought we were on but we were really on that one over there and we got lost and ran out of water and I fell in cactus… remember?”
B nods as if that made sense. I think he does this to avoid a more detailed, yet equally senseless, explanation.
Then we drop to the ground and do burpees.
Burpees? Yes. Burpees. Because the hill from hell wasn’t hard enough.
Summer is always the height of training season. In spite of the heat, summer is just easier. Planning is easier. You wear the legal minimum of clothing, carry as much water as you possibly can, and don’t forget the sunscreen. But this summer has been a little bit different.
Don’t forget the gloves. Don’t forget the dust mask.
B did his first Spartan race in June. It was the Boise Sprint and I was a spectator. It’s not easy being a spectator. I wanted to DO IT! But I was very aware of my insufficient upper body strength. I was, however, hooked.
The Sprint distance in a Spartan race is 3+ miles and 20+ obstacles. If you can’t complete an obstacle, you drop and do thirty burpees. The “chest to the ground, feet off the ground” kind of burpees. The obstacles include walls of varying heights and angles, heavy things to pull and hoist and carry, climbing ropes, monkey bars, jumping over fire, climbing in and out of waist deep mud bogs… and other things that I don’t want to think about right now.
Because I’m doing my first Spartan race in about a week.
Since B is crazy (which I have already established, with incontrovertible evidence, in previous posts) he did his next Spartan race two weeks later. This was the Salt Lake City Super. The Super distance is 8+ miles and 24+ obstacles. One really cool thing that Spartan races provide is a free race entry if you volunteer. Which means you’re not really volunteering, and you feel pretty guilty when all the racers thank you for volunteering.
So I “volunteered” at the Salt Lake City Super. I was at the finish line for about eight hours, cutting timing chips from muddy wrists and ankles with little safety scissors like you used in kindergarten. I guess so I wouldn’t cut everyone. It was fantastic. It was inspiring. You should all do it.
A friend of mine unexpectedly crossed the line. I had no idea she was running, she had no idea I was volunteering. After a muddy hug, she said, “My leg came off four times! But it was awesome!!”
Oh, yeah. She has a prosthetic leg.
Like I said. Inspiring.
So I earned my race entry and set out to remedy that whole weak upper body thing.
I substantially increased my workouts. From three runs a week to three runs a week and four or five widely varied strength sessions.
Twice a week, we started going to a gym called Trainer Zone Fitness.
Not your usual gym.
No showers. Few mirrors. No posers. Camaraderie AND trash talking.
The focus is on functional strength, which means building muscles that are useful, not just pretty; but also pretty.
Monkey bars, climbing ropes. Giant flippin’ tires.
Cheerfully sadistic trainers.
Weights made of inner tubes filled with sand. PVC tubes filled with awkwardly sloshing water.
An hour of nothing but squats and lunges (sob)!
Half mile bear crawl??? Half a mile?!? WTF???
Also, cheerfully sadistic trainers.
Workouts that no human being could possibly do. But then you do.
I have said before that I’m not naturally strong. If I’m completely honest, I’d have to say that I’m naturally weak. You should see me throw a ball. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
But I recently climbed a climbing rope for the first time and rang the bell at the top! Since then I’ve done it a bunch of times. Will I be able to do it from a waist deep mud bog? I will find out soon.
In my backyard, I now have a spear-throwing target, complete with a home-made Spartan spear. The side of my barn is now a climbing wall. The old rusted metal wheelbarrow is now a tractor pull. We have concrete blocks that we drag around the yard (it’s okay, the dogs had already destroyed the lawn). We have sandbags and weighted buckets that we carry around. In the garage, we have pullup bars made from old mountain bike tires and fence posts. Everything is re-purposed and recycled.
And of course every workout has to be in the heat of the day. It’s called acclimating, which is a long word meaning hell.
One weekly trail run now includes burpees every half mile, even if we have to drop in the middle of the trail, even if there are people around… We add in pullups on tree limbs, cross streams on rocks and branches, and climb up rock faces. We’re always looking for obstacles. The actual running is the restful part.
My first Spartan race will be the Socal Sprint #2 in Temecula, California. It’s #2 because they also do one in January. There is also a Socal Beast #2. That’s what B is doing. The Beast is 12+ miles and 30+ obstacles. If you complete a Sprint, Super and Beast in one year, you have completed a Trifecta and you are super cool and stuff. So B is going to be super cool. Maybe he won’t even talk to me anymore, I’m not sure.
I’ve done a lot of events over the years. Tons, maybe millions. The starting line nerves used to be really horrible, but now I don’t even feel like puking at marathon start lines. Judging by my feelings so far, however, I think this start line is going to be like the old days. You have to climb an effing wall before you even get to the start line, for hell’s sake! What is with these people?!?
So pray for me, if that’s your thing. Burn some herbs for me, if that’s your thing (not that kind of herb!). Send some good mojo my way. I’ll need all the help I can get.
And as I tell my family members when we part at a starting line…