The post I wanted to write about the OCRWC 2017 is very different than the one you are about to read. I decided to share a different side of the story, one that I often keep between myself & the mountains but realized that maybe by sharing what happened, I can help someone else avoid it from happening to them. It happened to me because I continuously push myself to be the best version of myself. I am big into practicing what I preach and that I can take anything I dish out to others. However, one thing that I often I stress to others the importance of recovery and listening to your body and unfortunately I did not follow my own advice and pushed myself to the point where my doctor advised me to go to the Emergency Room just two days after returning to the US from the OCRWC.
Let me begin by recapping what happened to me at the OCRWC in 2016. I went into that race feeling fantastic, other than a painful put of plantar fasciitis. During the first race, I tore my knee on the Samurai Rig which made for a painful race and lingered several months thereafter. During the 15K, I ripped not one, but both of my hands so bad that I required medical attention on course and they took weeks to heal. Losing my bands at both races, which you lose if you cannot complete an obstacle and receive a time penalty for that and every obstacle failed thereafter, I knew I had to work even harder for the upcoming racing season and set one of my goals for 2017 to try to finish not only stronger but with my bands, knee and hands intact!
I planned my races out and qualified early on in 2017 at the F.I.T. Challenge. I also planned a trip out to Ohio to do the Indian Mud run so I could face two of the obstacles that took out my hands and practice on them. I trained harder than ever before as I set a goal to keep my band, body and my hands intact when I crossed the finish line in 2017. As a fitness instructor I work out constantly and many of my classes I am very active in. Some days I find myself working out 5 hours before I even would get to my own personal training session. Some may ask, didn’t you work out enough after 5 hours? To me, the answer was no because those workouts were not going to help me with rigs, mountains, and running. I needed to focus on pull-ups, grip strength, weighted stair climbs, etc. So I created a plan and would incorporate 30-45 minute sessions focused on my goals and my quest to become a better OCR athlete.
Things were going great and I was feeling strong and getting much better at my weakness, the darn rigs (especially when there are multiple types in a row). Then one day late July I found a small bump under my arm. I ignored it. I thought it must be just an ingrown hair. I got bigger, but I still ignored it until one day while instructing class mid-August I felt so weak that lifting a 5 lb. weight seemed very heavy. My head was spinning and I had this weird feeling in my body, like it was burning. My mouth had a very funny taste, I felt short of breath and had chest pains, but I kept going. By the end of my last class, I felt very faint, like I was going to pass out so I decided to call the doctor and he had me come right in. A few amazing members offered to drive me, but I thought perhaps it was my blood sugar dropping so I went to get some food before driving to the doctor and was sure to text them that I made it safely.
When I finally saw the doctor he examined me and tested the bump and it turned out to be a staph infection. He put me on antibiotics and sent me off for a full blood workup. A few days later the test results came in and my Creatine Kinase levels were high, 655 to be exact. The normal range is 22-198. This elevated result along with the shortness of breath and chest pains had me on exercise restriction and I had to re-take the test a week later. When I did, my numbers were high, but in the normal range at 189. With my numbers back down, training ramped back up. Unfortunately so did my staph infection, the medicine just was not strong enough to knock it out but I would not realize this until a few weeks later.
I felt weak and my stomach was quite irritated from the antibiotics so I decided that instead of running the Spartan West Point race elite, I would drop to open and just have fun with the team. While out there, I needed to take it easy, but at times felt great and would run ahead and then wait at obstacles. I was finally starting to feel pretty good, and then a pretty nasty fall at the end of the obstacle Twister would really twist my ankle up. I got up and pushed through and finished the race but I didn’t ice it until I got home hours later and it was pretty swollen. Then next day we would leave for our family vacation so I put a brace on it & just took it easy. By the end of vacation I was feeling better and so was my ankle. I did a few short runs on the beach before we left and was starting to feel like myself again so when I came home, intense training resumed.
While training, I noticed my hands would swell up and become almost impossible to hold on. Frustrated, I pushed harder and every day I was now doing at least 50-100 pull-ups (many assisted on a machine or with a band), 100 push-ups, squats & lunges. I would run only 1-3 miles twice a week because my legs felt dead but I assumed it was from 5 weekly spin classes and all of the other workouts I was doing. By mid-September I started to feel very weak again and the bumps came back and this time brought a few friends. I went back to the doctor and was prescribed another round of antibiotics as the staph infection was still lingering in my body. These were a bit stronger and I took it a little easier for about two weeks hoping this time the infection would go away. In the beginning of October I had two races before the OCRWC that I set up to complete in one day. I had done this before so I wasn’t concerned about the physical implications, just wanted to have fun.
At the start line of my first race, City Challenge Hoboken, my stomach felt very weird, but I chalked it up to nerves as I was running with the elite females. As I was running, about a half mile in, my body started burning again. I assumed it was my lack of recent running from all of the taking it easy I had to do from the staph infection and high CK levels. I pushed through and kept focused until I jumped off of the Urban Balance beam and rolled that same ankle that was hurt on Twister in August. I felt it pop and it immediately swelled up and hurt so much to walk on, but there was no quitting here! As I was trying to run to the next obstacle, the burning became so much that I had to walk. Frustrated as a few female elites passed me, I just pressed on.
After finishing the race, we took some photos and headed out to our next race, the Tri-State Tough Mudder Half. I decided I really needed to get some pain medicine and a bandage to wrap my ankle as standing on it was extremely painful. We found a local CVS, I bought some Advil & bandages and we were on our way to Englishtown, NJ for the next race. During the race I tried to jog when I could, but I didn’t get very far before having to walk because of the pain. Then it seemed like the 3 ibuprofen kicked in and the pain became somewhat bearable, so I ran more that I probably should have. After the race, I did go home and ice and elevate it and have been keeping it wrapped. I have continued with taking Advil periodically as needed when the pain escalates, but I am not a fan of taking medication often so I would wait until the pain was pretty high.
After just a few days of rest, it was time to head to Canada and take on my biggest race of the year. This trip would consist of a pit stop at Niagara Falls for some sightseeing and then heading to Blue Mountain for the main event that would consist of three consecutive days of racing. In Niagara Falls we walked around and visited some new sights as well as a few favorites. I did have my ankle braced, but it would become sore and unfortunately while I did take the ibuprofen, I did not put ice on it like I should have. I woke up the next morning in pain. My race time for the 3K was not until 12:30 so we rested and walked around the village. Just before heading to the start line, I made the big mistake of taking 3 ibuprofen. While this would make my ankle feel better, it brought on a whole other level of hurt on my body.
Anxiety filled my body at the start. I assumed once again it was just nerves. This is not just a race, but quite the emotional experience. As Coach Pain came out to give us our amazing inspirational speech, for the first time in a very long time I thought to myself, can I pull this off today? This course is short but obstacle heavy. It is tough and you need speed and a lot of upper body strength to get through the 5 rig-type obstacles, speed to excel at this fast course and strength to deal with not one, but two steep heavy weighted climbs. I felt so weak before even starting the race. I took a deep breath and as Coach called out “Conduct Your Business” I ran up the hill, tears in my eyes and fear in my heart. I just knew I wasn’t myself that day.
As I approached obstacles that are typically easy for me like walls, I felt weak. I felt like I just didn’t have the strength to pull myself and fought to complete them. On the warped wall, I got up to the top, had my arms over the wall kicked my leg up, but no matter how hard I seemed to pull myself up, I just didn’t have the strength to get my arms to move. As I hear the crowd, including my children, chanting “come on girl, you got this” my eyes swelled with tears as I thought, “no, I don’t have this”. I allowed fear to enter my body. I allowed doubt to enter my head. But was it because I was just feeling emotional or was there something more to it? I let go and slid all the way down that wall and would not be able to reach the top again so there, at an obstacle normally easy for me, I lost my band.
Feeling defeated, I headed up the rock wall. After that point I would struggle with almost every single obstacle. I had no upper body strength. Some obstacles, like the monkey bars, I did manage to get through, but the rigs totally defeated me. As I approached the last few obstacles of this short course, I encountered the floating walls. These would be my favorite obstacle of 2016 and I loved the reconfiguration they did for this year. I tackled these at the Indian Mud Run earlier in the year and really wanted to make this obstacle as it was my favorite one this year too. I climbed up board by board, wall by wall and made it passed the first set of walls. Next as my body was shaking, I headed to the higher walls. I fought to hold on with everything I had and as I came off of the last wall to complete the obstacle, my body was completely exhausted and shaking, but I did it! All that was left was the ramp wall and the finish line and my first medal of the weekend would be around my neck.
I took this experience hard and it was very obvious I was not myself out there, even to my support crew. Later that day, we walked around and I just kept thinking how was I going to get through that long course the next day, in the predicted cold and rain? I decided to just wrap my foot and not take any pain meds. I wondered if that somehow affected me out there. I changed up my eating and tried drinking more water throughout the day. I loaded up on more electrolytes and planned to fuel better for the big race. I felt like the later start time had me off on how to fuel my body as thinking back I hadn’t eaten before heading out since breakfast so it had to be that and the ibuprofen affecting me.
The day of the 15K I had an even later start, this time at 1:45. I did not take any ibuprofen and I ate much more before heading out .I decided that based on my performance the day before, my goal was to just do better than I did. To give it my all and not to expect to keep my band, those rigs were very hard and so many failed them in top performance conditions. I decided to go out there and enjoy the race. That change in attitude compounded with the lack of anti-inflammatory meds in my body and extra fuel had me feeling much better out there .I kept my band for at least 4 miles and while I didn’t feel like my usual self, felt much better than the day before.
Then the rain came. The downpour would now make the course even more of a mess and obstacles even tougher. Everything was so slippery, just to get up to Dragon’s Back (another of my favorite obstacles) had grown almost impossible in these wet and muddy conditions. The Wreck Bag Carry was the hardest carry I have had to date, and I have experienced some very tough ones. It was not the weight of the soaked 50 pound wreck bag, it was the mudslide and super slick conditions just trying to get up the mountain on a course that was so warn down already. Looking for a small patch of grass to grip was almost impossible to find. I slipped forward and face planted into the mud and had the sandbag push my face into the mud. Standing back up was a challenge and now I had to get this heavy bag back on my back. People were sliding all around me and back down the mountain which added even more of a challenge. I was finally able to get my bag back on my back and head up, just to lose it again a few feet ahead of me. Getting to the top was the best feeling, but now to go down and not slip was the next challenge. Some were literally riding their bags down and while that looked fun, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting disqualified.
With the Wreck Bag behind me and pretty much nothing but rigs left in front of me I decided to give it the 2-3 shot rule since I didn’t have my band. I would attempt each obstacle twice, a third if I felt confident I had a good chance to actually finish it. I failed every soaking wet rig, but I tried them all at least twice before I did. Now I can make excuses that the rain made me fail, but the bottom line is that even if those rigs were dry, the lack of upper body strength I had on this weekend would have probably been a bigger reason for the failure. Skull Valley was impossible for me to get up this year, rain or no rain. I will work on these skills next season, but for now why after all of my hard work and training was I feeling this way? That is what concerned me more. I headed to Skyline where I would literally fly off of the wet bar and land hard on my back because it was soaking wet. I fell so hard, I turned the headlamp on that I was carrying in case I was caught in the darkness.
Unfortunately I failed the floating walls this round. No grip, muddy/wet/slick surfaces, shooting pain in my back from my fall, and a throbbing ankle had me only make it to the third floating wall before falling off. I did not try it again, the pain just became too much and I took my penalty and finished the race. When I crossed that finish line, although I was less than pleased with my performance, I took a deep breath and was grateful. I was grateful to have such wonderful support. Grateful my hands were intact, which was probably because I slid off of every rig. Grateful that I gave it my all, even if it was not the result I had hoped for. Grateful that I signed up for the strength portion of the team event the following day so I wouldn’t have to face those high walls and rigs again.
After cleaning up all of that mud and hay, we went out to celebrate. The village had fireworks that evening and we found a Greek restaurant that had a belly dancer, which I had never seen one up close and personal before. We laughed and I just let all of the frustration I was feeling go, but knew that there was something wrong with me and promised to go back to the doctor when I returned to the US. I was really looking forward to the team race as I did not do it the previous year. I decided later in the planning process to do it and my team consisted of two other guys that I had never met before this weekend when I met up with them to give them their team shirts we had made.
It was the day of the team race and again, we were given a late start, this time 10:30 which was the last heat for the team event since we were co-ed non-pro. The way the team relay worked was our “speed” leg started the race and would run about 4K of the race and would encounter obstacles like barbed wire crawls, warped walls and monkey bars. My other teammate and I would wait for him at the first transition point where he would hand off the timing chip to me and I would complete the first sandbag carry up and then back down the steep mountain. I would then run to the next transition area and hand it to my “technical” teammate to take on La Gaffe and then once completed he would hand it back to me for the Wreck Back carry. While it was still steep, they did move it over a bit so we had some grass to use so it was not as messy as the day before. After completing that I would hand off to my “technical” teammate again to complete the rigs, Skyline and floating walls. We would then all meetup at the final check point where we had to get our entire team over the reconfigured ramp wall.
I loved the teamwork and this was my favorite race of the weekend. One reason was because I felt much better but also because I had the opportunity to meet and race with some great people. The OCR community is so supportive, no matter what country you are from. My team consisted of two USA members and one from Canada. We worked together, supported each other and finished smiling. I was able to do what I do best at these races, carry heavy stuff up and down mountains. I was able to help others over the wall. I was able to relax and enjoy the entire experience, even if it did rain again. The only downer was when we crossed the finish line the batch of medals were defective so we were only allowed to take some photos with the ones there and ours will be mailed to us. Overall, I am so happy I added this race to my schedule.
Immediately follow some post-race pictures, I found a bathroom to change since we had already checked out and packed the car up. We then headed for some lunch and then would begin our long 9+ hour ride home back to New Jersey. We arrived home around midnight Sunday and had a full day of work and school ahead of us tomorrow.
Since I was not feeling right over the weekend, as promised I contacted my doctor Monday morning and he had me head over for some more blood work. Tuesday I would get a phone call from him saying my test results came back and my CK levels were now 3,320 which is about 145% of what they should be. Immediately he wanted me to go to the emergency room to be put on an I.V. but I had an appointment with a dermatologist to address these bumps under my arm that were getting worse and very painful. He advised me to drink a lot of water to help flush the broken down muscle in my body and help my kidneys. The next day I would have to see him for more tests, including another CK level and tests to check protein levels in my kidneys as high levels are dangerous and can ultimately lead to renal failure. I was also put on light duty and no strenuous exercise until further notice.
Later Tuesday when I went to the dermatologist, he informed me my staph infection was still in my body and I was put on a much stronger round of antibiotics, which is killing my stomach, and given a topical antibiotic. This time I really hope works. I am now resting and still on no strenuous exercise as I write this, which is very hard for me. The tests for my kidneys came back ok and my CK levels were now down to 1,800 so we are trending in the right direction. But why is this happening? Why are these levels getting so high? Why is my body breaking down so much? After 8 vials of blood, 4 different doctors, a boot on my foot, x-rays and some positive thoughts I await for hopefully the answer.