Hawaii Spartan Trifecta Weekend 2017 Race Report

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As a little girl, I daydreamed. A lot. Instead of paying attention in school, I would stare out a window, or at a wall, or at Mrs. Farmer’s gray hair, and dream. In my dreams, I could leap like a deer. I could clear a fence and hit the ground running. I could climb a tree like a squirrel and leap to a rooftop.

Now I do Spartan races. Coincidence? I think not.

 

The road to Hawaii was a long one.

And there was also that plane ride.

But I’m talking about the other road… the metaphorical road. Or symbolic or figurative, whatever you call it. I’m talking about the training, the planning, the financing, and the training. The major family events (two babies!!) that postponed the trip for a whole year. And the training.

In case you don’t know about Spartan races, or confuse them with the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge that you may have seen on television (same organization, totally different race) let me explain:

Spartan races come in four distances: Sprint (3-5 miles, 20-23 obstacles), Super (8-10 miles, 24-29 obstacles), Beast (12-14 miles, 30-35 obstacles), and Ultra Beast (run the Beast course twice). One of the goals of Spartan racers, after #1-not dying, and #2-finishing, is to complete the three distances in a calendar year, earning your Spartan Trifecta. The Beast and/or Ultra Beast both count as a Beast for Trifecta purposes.

Some athletes complete several Trifectas every year, but my husband B and I have made it our goal to complete at least one Trifecta each year. The necessity of travel to races puts some constraints on us, plus we don’t want to lose the childlike joy that the races give us. No, that was not sarcasm.

Last year, we planned to go to Oahu for the Spartan Trifecta weekend. This was a convenient, and certainly beautiful,  opportunity to get our Trifecta in a single weekend! Our younger daughter was expecting her first child in June, so the August race date would be about right for our mutual comfort levels.

So, let’s do this!

As my cursor hovered over the airline “PURCHASE” button, someone knocked at our front door.

We are generally anti-social and don’t get many visitors, so we gave each other “that” look. The look that says, “I don’t want to get it, YOU get it.”

B got it. As soon as he saw our daughter and son-in-law, he knew they were coming to announce their pregnancy. I’m a little slower, but I got it eventually, after it was clearly explained.

Their baby was due in August.

 

So. One year and two granddaughters later (TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!!!) we start planning again. We irritate both daughters by making them confirm repeatedly that they are not pregnant before we book every little thing.

I suspect that completing all three race distances in two days will be the most challenging physical feat of my life. I’ve done some difficult things. I’ve run through rain and snow and ice and limb-sucking mud. I’ve fallen hard on my ribs and made it two miles back to my car while my ribs clicked with each step. I’ve made it ten miles with an open gash bleeding from my elbow.

The previous year we completed the Seattle Beast on Saturday and the Seattle Sprint on Sunday. I recalled the full body pain on Saturday night. I couldn’t sleep because of the aches. And I couldn’t sleep because in the morning I had to get up and do it again.

This will be the same, except the courses are said to be much harder, and we are running the Super distance on Sunday morning, and the Sprint on Sunday afternoon. That is, if we complete the Super on time…

 

Spartan races begin with a rousing starting chute speech. As if we need to be pumped up any more. My heart is already pounding long before our final “AROO” fades away. Almost immediately, I’m plunged into a slippery, cooling stream. Then the climbing begins. The climbing is broken by a few walls, a five foot, a couple of six foot, then a seven. I’m relieved to start running again, with no other walls in sight. Next are some Spartan standards, the Atlas Carry and the Bucket Brigade. As I start up the outrageously steep hill with my bucket full of rocks, I see B just reaching the end. We are running separately today, and together tomorrow. I holler and wave like a fool until he sees me. That’s the last I see of him for many hours.

The uphill continues. I pass Jurassic Park Gate and across the valley I see King Kong’s skeleton littering the hillside. Yes, this place has been the star of several movies.

After the monkey bars and the beginning of the memory test (remember a word and a series of numbers for many miles and seven obstacles) I reach the jungle. Really. Real jungle, with vines and water, slimy mud, and heavy foliage that completely blocks out the sun. My pace slows to a literal crawl in many places. Some of the slopes are so slippery that ropes have been strung from trees uphill, but the ropes are so covered with mud that they slide from your hands. Groups of people are trying to get up, struggling for every step. I finally go around, using the trees and vines to pull myself up through the jungle alongside the trail and pass the slimy groups. It’s thick and scratchy, but at least I make progress.

In this jungly, slow and slimy section, which lasts about five miles, the obstacles come as welcome breaks. There are some heavy carries, two with logs and one with tires. There is a very muddy Z-wall where I am convinced that only my bouldering training at the climbing gym saved me. Both feet slipped off but I held on with my fingertips until I could get my feet secure again. After I ring the bell, I realize I’ve torn the palm of my hand, which presents a challenge for the rest of race.

There is the hardest Tyrolean Traverse I’ve done so far. That’s a rope strung horizontally across the ground. As you move along the rope, it sags under your weight so that you must climb in order to reach the bell. There is the first of two barbed wire crawls and an eight foot wall. I pass my memory test and start to run downhill. Downhill!! Not for too long, but the jungle seems to be slipping behind me now and the going is much easier, even if it is still mostly uphill. I start running with some Ultra Beast racers. I’m able to keep up only since it’s their second loop. A lot of people are walking now, blocking the singletrack, but they’re letting the Ultra racers pass, so I just tuck in behind them.

Next I face a couple of obstacles I’ve never tried before, The Bender and The Twister. The Bender is made of pipes starting about six feet off the ground and slanting overhead so that you have to climb awkwardly over the top while you’re pretty far off the ground. Then The Twister. I’ve watched videos of this one, mostly of people falling off before reaching halfway, and that’s what most people are doing now.

“Go backwards,” someone yells. I go backwards. Nope, that is not working. I swing around and go forward, grabbing the pipe as it twists downward. I hear a voice, “you’ve got it! All day! All day!” I don’t know what that means, but it is very motivating. I make the halfway transition and I start to slow down. I’ve been skipping a section each time (watch a video of it, it’s really hard to explain) and now I slow to a stop. The voice is still yelling. I start going, not skipping anymore, just going, until there is suddenly a bell in front of me. I slam it with unnecessary force and drop to the ground, celebrating like I just won the lottery. I yell a ‘thank you’ to the voice, and start running. I was worried about that one. So far I’ve run clean, completing every obstacle without the dreaded thirty burpee penalty.

There are some more Spartan staples, the second barbed wire crawl, the Hercules Hoist, and the most brutal sandbag carry I’ve every done. The sandbag carry is usually pretty easy, but I know I’ve just been lucky and that some are even harder than this one. This sandbag is heavier than I’m used to, and the course goes up and down three hills. The course is littered with bodies and sandbags. I put my sandbag on one shoulder, then the other shoulder, then I carry it with both arms like I carry the bucket. I put it down, gasp for air for a minute, pick it up. Ugh. Finishing is such a relief. I try to ignore that horrible voice in my head that reminds me I have to do this twice tomorrow.

Next is the Plate Drag. Then the Spear Throw. I approach the Spear Throw with a sinking feeling. Funeral music is playing in my head. No, it’s fine! I practice all the time!!

Okay, I miss ninety percent of the time. Even at home. Key the funeral music.

This Spear Throw looks longer than usual. B later agrees that it is. Maybe that’s why my throw is about five feet short. I walk to the burpee area after a small, inappropriate outburst which is being echoed all around me. There’s a reason they call it the burpee maker. I can hear the festival area as I do my burpees. The festival area is obstacle heavy, since that’s the easiest place for spectators to watch. The burpees are wearing me out and I’m thinking of the Olympus and the multi-rig and the rope climb. Then I give myself a mental slap and remember my training. I’ve worked SO HARD. Burpees are nothing, I do them all the time. I finish up and start running. I’m almost done and I’m going to run clean the rest of the way!!!

I hope.

As I run down into the festival area, I hear someone yelling my name. I see B standing at the fence and I run over to give him a high five and say some incoherent, adrenaline-filled words.

Then I run to the dreaded Olympus. The Olympus is also hard to explain, it’s basically a slanted board with varied grips for your hands, including chains and climbing grips and holes cut in the board. To get through, you have to keep your feet off the ground and traverse the board, using your choice of hand grips, to the bell. The one I pick is muddy already, but I climb up, trusting my Salomon’s to give me some grip. In Seattle, this thing about killed me. I failed it on the Beast and barely made it through on the Sprint by smacking the bell as I was falling, hitting it just before my feet touched the ground.

So, yeah, I’ve been worried about it. I start moving. I’ve been climbing, these grips are familiar. I can hear B shouting. I’m moving at a steady pace, OMG I’M MOVING AT A STEADY PACE. B is shouting, his voice is echoing my own excitement. I finish easily, slamming the bell so hard I’m surprised it stays put.

Again, lottery-winning-style celebration.

There is a high bridge thing that I climb next, it’s not hard but I’m tired, so I go pretty slow. Next is the multi-rig, but it’s not really a multi-rig because instead of a variety of rings and pipes and ropes, it’s only rings. It seems easy, but I’ve learned to never underestimate an obstacle, plus a lot more people are falling off than are completing it.

Huh. It IS easy.

Next up, rope climb. The ropes are new and they seem pretty slippery. They ARE pretty slippery. I struggle up the rope. It seems to take about a hundred pulls, since I’m making very little progress. Only my severe burpee-aversion is keeping me going. I inch up, looking at that far-away bell. One more pull. I reach for the bell… nope. Just one more… got it!!

Now the Inverted Wall and the Fire Jump, that’s it!

The Inverted Wall has always been easy for me, but it’s never been at the very end of a grueling Beast. I struggle over it, every muscle saying noooooo! Video of me going over the top would probably be very amusing and embarrassing, but I don’t think any exists, so I don’t care. Then I run. Run!!! Jump over the fire and run over the finish line. I forget every bit of exhaustion and pain, at least for a moment, as a medal is hung on my neck.

B finished more than an hour before me, running entirely clean!

The Beast was 34 obstacles and 13 miles. Tomorrow will be even more. Plans for grilling a steak quickly dissolve into ordering a pizza. We shower and wash our clothes. I take inventory of my bruises and try to clean up the cut on my palm. Then we sleep. I notice, as I drift off, that I don’t feel that horrible pain that I remember from Seattle.

Good. That’s good.

 

In the morning, we get an early start. Our Super start time is 8:30 a.m. and we need to complete it to make our Sprint start at 1:15 p.m.

We run together, which makes it fun. We’re pretty fatigued at the start, but we start feeling better as we go. B slips in the stream near the beginning and slams his shin pretty hard, but after walking for a bit he seems to be okay. We climb all the walls and get to the bucket brigade. I’m not too excited about doing this again, and it dawns on me that my training didn’t include enough heavy carries. I make a mental note to fix that. I struggle up the steep hill, resting several times. I struggle down the steep hill, resting once. B is waiting at the bottom. We run for a bit until we reach the Monkey Bars, then continue for a while before we realize we are approaching The Bender already.

“We bypassed the whole jungle!” I tell B.

“No, really?”

“Yes!”

We are thrilled about this. It was fun and challenging, but exhausting. We knew this course was shorter, but it didn’t occur to us that we weren’t going to struggle through the jungle at all.

So we are feeling good. We complete The Bender and The Twister, crawl through barbed wire and do the Hercules Hoist and that nasty sandbag carry again.

I’m feeling good about the Spear Throw. I think I can make it. I’m feeling positive. This time I hit the bales of straw, but not hard enough to stick. I don’t even bother swearing. Then B misses his throw.

We do our burpees and head to the festival area. The Super is almost nine miles long, but after completing the longer course yesterday, it seems really short. We’re still feeling good when we complete the Olympus and climb over the bridge. We complete the rig and the rope. Even the inverted wall doesn’t seem too bad today. We jump over the fire together.

We have plenty of time before the Sprint. We have a shaved ice and change our clothes.

My adrenaline is severely depleted in the Sprint starting chute. We’ve completed almost nine miles and twenty-five obstacles so far today, with four miles and twenty obstacles to go. At this point we figure we should finish. That was definitely not guaranteed when we started this thing yesterday, so I try to get excited about this last race.

One challenge with Sprint races is that a lot of people do them. A lot. A lot of people are here because a family member is running the Trifecta, and they’ve decided to do the Sprint. A lot of people do the Sprint that haven’t trained at all. Nothing against them, it’s very brave to sign up for something like this, but it does tend to clog the course up a bit.

We spend a lot of time waiting on singletrack where NOBODY is moving. The trail has become slippery, and without good trail technique, probably pretty scary. Eventually the course widens and everybody is able to run at their own pace. And we do run, surprisingly, for most of the race. This course is much shorter, but many of the difficult obstacles are still here, including the bucket and sandbag carries. The spear throw comes up quickly, and I miss.

I haven’t missed any obstacles, except THREE SPEAR THROWS!!!!

B makes his spear throw and waits while I do burpees.

“How many do you have left?” he asks at one point.

“Eighteen.”

“I got ten of them,” he says.

“No, I got it.”

“For your birthday. It’s a birthday present.”

Did I mention that today is my birthday? His argument seems valid.

“Okay.”

Then we head to the festival area and complete the Olympus, rig and rope climb.

The inverted wall seems impossible. I’m struggling and struggling and just can’t get over it. Finally I get a foot hooked over the top and drag my suddenly very heavy body over. The other side has been baking in the sun and is shockingly hot, so I slide off quickly.

I grab Bs hand and we run for the fire jump, leaping over in unison.

Unlike yesterday, the exhaustion doesn’t slip away, but it doesn’t matter. We did it. Twenty-five miles and 79 obstacles, 5300 feet of elevation gain. B failed one obstacle all weekend. I failed one obstacle each race. It was as difficult as we expected, but our training got us through.

That’s my advice, if you want it. Do the training. Work as hard as you can. Do a wide variety of things so no part of your body gets left behind and your mind doesn’t get bored. Use your body weight and buckets and sandbags and swing from everything you can find. Have fun and pretend you’re a wild kid that can leap over anything.

That’s what we do.

But now we have to find something even harder to do next year.

Aloha!

Timp Trail Marathon 2016 – Redemption

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2016-05-21 13.50.59We’ve been wet for hours. Hours. It takes a while to get really cold, but eventually we do. My hands no longer work the zippers on my pack. My thighs feel strangely numb. Not just the skin, but the muscles. Now and then I just stop, my muscles quivering in a strange way, my legs deciding that we are now done. I encourage them, without much enthusiasm, and we get going again. Why didn’t I wear tights? Why?!?

The view is opening up ahead, steep peaks covered with snow. I can see a meadow, with little tents and smoke. What a cold place to camp! Then I realize… this is the Indian Springs aid station! These hard-core volunteers packed up here last night. Just to give me a peanut butter sandwich.

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2015

We stand next to the dying fire for a few minutes. It snowed very recently and the trailside grass is covered with wet slush. It’s not easy to leave the fire, but we do, climbing again to a high meadow. And high winds. And the assumption that we will never be warm again.

The Timp Trail Marathon is run on an incredibly beautiful course. The first half brings deep green meadows and panoramic views of Utah Valley. At the Gun Range (first) aid station, we get coke and cowbell. Yes, cowbell! Thank you charming couple! Then the rain starts, so light it doesn’t even count. The temperature is perfect.

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2015

Because of my last attempt at this marathon Timp Trail Marathon Race Report: Comedy or Tragedy?, my husband B has joined me. He promises me that I will take the correct turn at the Dry Canyon parking lot. He promises a finish line. I also noticed him packing some first aid equipment the night before. I almost feel obligated to take a nice fall so he can use it.

So we take the correct turn at the Dry Canyon parking lot. When we reach the Grove Creek (second) aid station, we get more cowbell! But the rain has picked up. We stand under a canopy and put on our jackets and gloves. I put a Buff around my neck and a warm headband across my ears. I wish for a rain jacket, but the one I have is mainly for wind. We step out from under the canopy and are drenched in minutes.

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2015

Heading away from the valley, the course climbs until we reach a deep canyon. Steep, rocky cliffs rise above us, the peaks disappearing into cloud. We continue along the steep side of the canyon on a sometimes precarious trail. A stream rushes through the bottom of the canyon, swollen with spring runoff and steady rain. The trail crosses rockslides and rock shelves. As a runner with a falling habit, I use a lot of caution in some spots. Eventually, the stream becomes louder, much louder. We turn a corner and find that we are looking down on a waterfall. At this point we just stop and enjoy the view. And at this point in my story, I must apologize. No pictures. It’s raining too hard for my camera to come out. I’m sorry.

Next year I promise multitudes of pictures.

We cross above the top of the waterfall and climb through forests to the Indian Springs (third) aid station. Then a little more climbing, across the high meadow… and then down! Fortunately the first few sections of downhill aren’t too technical, since my muscles are still frozen. The rain stops. After a long stretch of downhill, we start to climb again. The trail has degenerated to stretches of slimy, sticky mud. Somehow I stay upright, slipping backwards as I climb upwards. The mud lasts almost to the Dry Canyon (fourth and final) aid station. On the last downhill to the aid station, I finally hit the ground. It had to happen.

2016-05-21 13.51.04I get another peanut butter sandwich. I’ve been thinking about another peanut butter sandwich ever since the last aid station. Then we begin the last climb. As we reach the top, Utah Valley once again opens up below us. The sun comes out at last. I take off my gloves, buff and headband. I’m warm. I can’t believe I’m warm. I could lose a layer, but I don’t bother. It’s so nice to be warm.

The course finishes with fast downhills, on singletrack crossing through scrub oak and green meadows. The high desert is in its brief spring glory, the hills covered in green. I call it the Irish phase. In another month, these hills will be yellow and crisp.

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2015

Finish line! A man points out a picnic area where we can get some chili. He obviously has a good idea of the course conditions, because he says, “after this, you know you can do anything.”

It’s true. We do feel that way. We just ran 26 miles, with 5,292 feet of climb, through mud and winds and rain, flirting with hypothermia and potentially deadly dropoffs. B did it with a nasty head cold that becomes bronchitis within days. I did it (as usual) with my weak legs and lungs. We did it. WE DID IT!

I have a runner specific, recurring nightmare where I don’t make a start line. I struggle to find my shoes, my running clothes, my watch, all fighting through that unique dream fog that you know will NEVER allow you to make the start line! Over the past year, this nightmare took a twist. I make the start line all right, but then I realize I’m off course, I took a wrong turn somewhere, I don’t know where I am, I can’t find any flagging, I will NEVER find the finish line! Everyone who knows me knows the source of this nightmare.

2016-05-21 13.45.55For a year, the Timp Trail Marathon has haunted me like the white whale in Moby Dick. As badly as I wanted the finish a year ago, this finish means so much more after last year’s failure. The taste of redemption is sweeter than honey. My finisher’s medal is worth more to me than gold.

Yep, a cliche-packed paragraph that is nevertheless SO TRUE!

B informed me at the finish line that he was taking full credit for my finish. My legs and feet gave some argument, but I can’t deny that I finished, unlike the minor disaster of the previous year.

So I’ll give him some credit, but I’m not about to give him my incredibly valuable medal. 2016-05-26 11.54.53

The Trail Snail turns Trail Cheetah

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20150925_155037-1-1The hill is steep. Not the steepest of the day, but everybody has slowed to a walk. They don’t look down, like one often does when the hill is too steep, they look up, at the looming obstacle perched on top of the hill.

I trot past them and stop at the base of a wall. The wall is about six feet of solid wood topped with maybe twelve feet of scaffolding. I stare. I try to plan something, but I don’t have a height advantage, I don’t have the advantage of experience, and I don’t have a plan. I stare some more. Staring doesn’t help, so I decide to fall back on my training and hope for the best.

I run to the wall, grab the top of the solid section with my fingertips and start pulling. It’s working! I almost have my right foot hooked at the top of the wall when I feel a hand under my left foot, giving me just enough of a boost that I’m up.

“Thanks!” I shout to the unknown friend below me. As me and a bunch of other competitors climb the scaffolding section, the whole thing starts to move. A guy next to me swears.

“It’s moving!”

“It’s safe though, right?” I reassure him, “Isn’t that what it said in the waiver?”

“Yep! Safety third!”

Actually, the waiver states very clearly that you might die. You could fall, drown, get a nasty infection from barbed wire, and who knows what stew of bacteria/parasite/piranha are living in the mud bogs.

As far as downright dangerous, this scaffolding/wall thing is probably the worst obstacle. Climbing over the top, the ground is very far down. My lack of fear surprises me. I hold on tight and swing a leg over, climb down the other side and run.

Spartan races, if you don’t already know, are races where grownups get to act like a bunch of rowdy, dirty children.20150925_153659-1

My first Spartan race is the Socal Sprint in Temecula, California at beautiful Vail Lake Resort. Wave starts continue into the afternoon, but I was lucky to get a morning start time. Even so, the temperatures reach the upper 90s before I finish.

The race starts with a fast-talking local DJ reading the legal fine print (about the many ways we might die) so quickly that I miss it all. To his point, nobody listens anyway. Then he gets all our blood pumped up by shouting, “WHO AM I?”

To which we all respond, “I AM SPARTAN!!”

Then, with a final “AROO! AROO! AROO!” we are off.

About one minute in (they don’t waste time) we reach a mud bog. Just a little one, although I didn’t know it was a little one at the time. Then uphill. In most trail events, I gradually lose ground to stronger runners on the uphills. But in this case, I’m gaining, passing! It’s wonderful! Apparently most Spartan competitors don’t run a lot. At the top of this hill are some chest-high hurdle-type walls to go over. Then a lot more running.

The Plate Drag isn’t bad. Then I reach the Sandbag Carry. I grab my sandbag and think, “Yay, this is pretty light!”

20150926_145606The Sandbag Carry course is steep and loose, and people struggle to keep moving, sliding backwards and resting on rocks. A group of men are on the hill, taking time from their race to shout encouragement to those struggling. But I’m in my element and I run up the hill, hugging the sandbag in front of me, then tear back down the hill.

Most of the trail is loose and difficult, so trail technique is very helpful. One section is a long downhill of finely powdered dirt. It brings a lot of competitors to a desperate crawl, but a few of us (probably all from cold climates) treat it like a snow run, bounding down through the shin-high powder.

Mud bogs!!! Not one, but three or four in a row. Deep, slimy, no getting out without help. My Salomon Fellraisers, purchased just for their mudding abilities, aren’t much better than any other shoe once they’re coated in muddy slime. This is where the camaraderie really kicks in, you get a boost out of the mire, then you give a hand up from the top. The last mud bog has a wall at water level that you must go under, just to make sure you get a good dunking. The feel of mud heavy on my eyelashes is a feeling I won’t soon forget.

Sometime after the mud bogs (the obstacles are all muddled together in my mind) comes the barbed wire crawl. The wire is pretty low to the ground. A lot of people just roll, but I do a sideways crab crawl. I get caught once, but free myself before I do any damage. The second half of the crawl is downhill, so I just slide down on my belly. Like an otter. Or a penguin.

11215737_10206954126467259_4569908873367547424_nThen downhill! Racers screech to a halt at the tops of hills and move gingerly down. I tear past them, running at top speed, fancy-footing it down the loose spots, thanking the Spartan gods that I am a trail runner.

Cliff Climb, Inverted Wall, Spear Throw… I’d practiced the spear at home with very limited success. But I almost make it. The tip of the spear sticks in the bale of straw, but the handle hits the ground.

Agh! Burpees… 30 burpees for a failed obstacle. Oh well, it’s not a Spartan without burpees, and they do call the Spear Throw “the burpee maker”.12038493_10206954126987272_8518301053494878911_n

The next obstacle is the Bucket Brigade. I’ve done this a million times at home. No problem.

In my perfect world, excessive cockiness would never go unpunished. It would always be swiftly followed by some humbling experience. I don’t see this happen much in life, but it happens to me on this day.

Remember the light sandbag? Remember me running like a gazelle up the hill carrying my light little sandbag?

The bucket brigade is not like that. The bucket I carried at home was waaaaayyyyy lighter than the one I have to carry in the race.

I do it. I carry it up the hill. I carry it down the hill. I don’t even put it down. But it is heavy. It is very heavy. I feel like my arms might come right off.

20150926_125649Next is the Hercules Hoist. Again, waaaaayyyyy harder than I imagined. I do it. Barely. The only cost is blisters on my hands and some angry words from my back muscles.

Next is an a-frame cargo net. Compared to the last two obstacles, this is a breeze. You climb up it, you climb down it.

Then the Z-Wall. Okay, I practice the Z-Wall at home. I have blocks of wood nailed to my barn and I practice it a lot. I never  fall off the wall at home. Ever. Piece of cake. I’ve got this! (Please refer to previous comments about cockiness.)

I make it around the corner of the wall, which should be the hardest part, and then on the straight section my hand slips and I find myself standing on the ground. Stunned. What?!? I have to do burpees on the Z-Wall obstacle? No. Way.

Okay. I start doing burpees. By this time the temperature has climbed, and although I’ve only gone four miles, I have gone through the entire 70 ounces of water I started with. My husband and daughter are nearby, and they throw me a bottle of water while I do burpees.

20150927_120653Next is the Multi-Rig. This is like monkey bars, except there are knotted ropes, rings, one long bar and more ropes. I’d watched this the day before (during the Beast length event) and I know there is a long stretch from the last ring to the long bar. If I can make that transition I have a good chance of making it. I miss, but I refuse to let go. I try to get my body swinging, but somebody bumps me and now I’m swinging the wrong way. I hold on. I hold on as long as I can.

Then I let go.

Damn. More burpees.

20150927_121935Side note: Nobody polices the number of burpees you do. But if you sign up for a Spartan race, and you fail at an obstacle, DO 30 BURPEES! That’s all I have to say about that.

Next is a lake swim! It’s shallow enough to walk, and almost everyone is walking, but it feels so good to swim! The water is cool and clean and refreshing. When the water gets so shallow that I beach myself, I stand up and walk.

Next up, Slip Wall. This is a slanted wall that would normally come out of a mud bog, but there is a drought in the West and many obstacles that would normally be wet are not. They are counting on the fact that we just came out of the swampy end of the lake and ran through mud to make the Slip Wall live up to its name. It does. I watch a woman climb almost to the top, her husband reaching for her, when she slides all the way back down and lands pretty hard.

Oh boy.

My Fellraisers do justice on the Slip Wall. The only scary part is right at the top where I’m expecting something to grab hold of. There isn’t anything. I hook my elbow on the top and manage to drag my leg over before I fall.

20150926_150223Rope Climb! Like the Slip Wall, the Rope Climb is normally done out of muddy water. Not this one. There are bales of straw. Looking at it the day before, I was a little disappointed that they made it so easy. I can easily climb a dry rope.

Except, the thing is, the ropes aren’t dry. Over the last two days, hundreds and hundreds of muddy, slimy people have climbed, or attempted to climb, these ropes. Also, refer again to “cockiness” above.

I take my time. I rub dirt on my hands and the top of my shoes in an attempt to dry some of the slime. I pick my rope. I start up, my hands slipping from the start, my feet not holding in spite of my magical rope climbing shoes. I won’t give up. I won’t give up. I… slide back down the rope.

Burpees on the Rope Climb? The Rope Climb is one of my “sure things”.

After the Rope Climb is only the Fire Jump and then the finish line, so I try to burpee really fast. But I’m soooo tired. I make my breaks short, I start again before I’m ready.

20150927_124217Holy crap it’s hot.

I finish my burpees and run. I jump over the fire, I run across the finish line. Somebody puts a medal around my neck even though I’m covered in mud and protozoa and previously undiscovered lifeforms.

I can’t stop smiling. I’m smiling so hard my face hurts.

My carefully selected bright blue socks and shirt (so my family could spot me) are the same color as my black capris and shoes, a grayish brown hue that matches every other person at the finish line.

After 5.1 miles,120 burpees and 20 obstacles, I finish in 2 hours and 27 minutes, 3 minutes under my goal time.

Spartan races are dirty, dangerous and painful. I have bruised knees and elbows, cut and blistered hands, and a rash on my arms. I don’t know why.

I am too old for this.

But I’m registered for another one, so I gotta go. I’ve got burpees to do.FB_IMG_1443488660169

The Trail Snail Attempts to Spartan the F$%K Up

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20150825_121904It’s hot. It’s one of those days where the heat is visible, rising from the ground in waves. The heat is audible, taunting us with faint, evil laughter.

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.

20150621_101911My 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.

20150823_112512-1-1

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.

The start line

The start line

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.

One of many walls, this one has ropes!

One of many walls, this one has ropes!

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.

Bs contribution to the Spartan inspirational wall

B leaves an “inspirational” message on the WHY I RACE wall

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.

Burpee Zone!

Burpee Zone!

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.

20150718_123132My non-burpee runs are so pleasant.

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…

See you on the other side!safe_image