In a continuing quest to push my personal limits and prove that age is but a number, this past weekend I achieved yet another goal that I had set for myself, to run a Spartan Race in the elite heat. While technically anyone can pay the extra money and run in this heat, for me it symbolizes something else…it means you are competing as an athlete and not in the race to just finish it or a medal or complete it in a specific time frame. For me, as I am standing in the same starting corral as some of the most amazing athletes that continue to impress and inspire me, I feel determined to push myself more than ever.
Just a few inches away from me is the amazing Corinna Coffin that will go on to win this race with a very impressive time. As I am listening to them describe the amazing course that awaits us and they describe how this course has more elevation gain then last year (5,100’) and think to myself, “great, everyone said how hard Wintergreen was last year what have I gotten myself into?” I start to get just a little nervous about what I am in for and question if this was this race the one I should have picked to do as my first elite? YES!!! Time to Spartan Up! Now time for the Spartan chant and then we are off!
As we begin to race, my nerves disappear and I feel pumped! The top few females race out of the starting corral like lightning and shortly after we arrive at our first obstacle, the log hurdles, which some ladies in front of me were struggling with so I had to wait a little while to go over. After getting over them, I started running to gain some ground back. As I got to the first wall that I had to get over, this time there was a twist and they were spraying water on it. It was a little slippery so I fell on the way down (fall 1 of many) but got right up and kept on moving. After that it was up the mountain for the first steep climb. As I headed up, I decided to turn around and take a quick look of the breathtaking views that surround me. Then I turned around and kept heading up the mountain.
I was making pretty good time, that is until I slipped and fell and lost the group I was running with and ended up running off course. About 5 minutes later I realized I didn’t see the white Spartan tape and had no idea where I was, so I had no choice but to turn around, head back up the mountain I just ran down and try to find the marking tape. When I did, I could see the 8:00 wave in the trail heading up on my right through the trees. Frustrated I began to run faster down the hill and even caught back up to some of the ladies I had gotten separated from. In spite of this little detour and feeling mad at myself for that mistake, I just kept focusing on what was ahead of me and that what happened I couldn’t change.
As I am heading up the next mountain, I saw a few men that were in the men’s elite heat struggling up the mountain. They said to me “good job, keep it up” and I responded “keep going, you can do this!” And with that encouragement, I pushed myself a little harder up that mountain. The top was so steep that I did a few bear crawls to take the pressure off my legs a little bit. At this point I was feeling good, succeeding at the obstacles so far and then I came the z wall, which they were spraying with water to make it even more challenging. I made it to the very last peg but missed the bell as I slipped off so here would be my first set of 30 burpees. I was so frustrated that I missed the bell, a small mistake that would cost me precious time and energy.
It was back to running the trails and the rocks were very slippery. Here I would fall AGAIN and bashed my knee into a rock that made it difficult to run for a little while. As a few more males from the open wave pass me as I limp and slip on the rocks, I become more frustrated and the conversations that I am having with myself are ones where I take on the role of the trainer talking to a client and talk myself back into a positive mind frame. Then, there is the 7” wall, which I usually get over fairly easily, only this time I slip off of the red block for females and hit my shin. I take a step back and let others go, then try again, only to slip again. In elite you are not able to get help, so the volunteer can do nothing but stand there and encourage me, which he did a great job doing. After my 5th attempt, I finally get up to the top of the wall just to get a fierce cramp in my left calf so I have to take a few seconds at the top before coming down the other side. When I finally make it down, I realize that quite a few other racers have passed me and I fell back even further. No time to stop for long, so I stretch out my calf and continue on.
The next obstacle was the Atlas carry but there was another twist to this standard obstacle. You had to carry the heavy stone under a rope, which you were not allowed to use your hands to get under, to the other side, do your mandatory 5 burpees, then return with the stone and go back under the rope again while carrying it before you reach the other side where you can put it down. After that was the plate drag, which was relatively easy, and then there it stood, the dreaded 8’ wall which I have always struggled to reach the top and get over unassisted. Ironically, I just ran and got the step the right way on the first try and made it over! I couldn’t believe how I struggled so much on the 7’ but this one I just told myself I was not going to let this wall take me out and got over it! I felt like I got my second wind!
At this point and I asked a fellow Spartan for the time and I was happy with how I was doing even though I had a few setbacks. I was feeling good and then it happened… I was running the trails down the mountain and slipped on a rock so bad I would hit my knee (which immediately swelled up) and my back. This fall would be the worst of the previous ones and I was hurting pretty bad. As I slowly made my way down the slippery trail, a man ran past me then slipped and fell and actually started sliding down the mountain. It was a little scary watching that happen and between that and the pain I felt, I decided not to run on the trails for a while and just pace myself so I didn’t get hurt worse. After all, I still had 10 obstacles and about 3 miles of ground to cover.
Next up was the sandbag carry, which was a steep downhill then back up. On my way back up, there was a fellow racer sitting on the side in a lot of pain. As racer after racer just walked by him I got a little upset because that is not the Spartan race I am used to, perhaps because most of these racers were still a part of a more competitive heat? For whatever the reason, I stopped and gave him whatever fuel I had left and helped him stretch out his calf. There was no way that I was placing in the top, so why not stop to help a fellow racer that clearly needed it. As I was looking through the site for my pictures, I actually saw this one and realized that it was me that you can see helping this man. It reminded me what I love about racing, comradery. Yes, I want to push myself and do well, but to walk by someone hurting so bad I just couldn’t do it. I strapped my hydration pack back on and continued up the mountain with my sandbag.
And so began the “death march”, one mile of straight up the mountain, and shortly after would be the spear throw. I nailed it in Palmerton and have been practicing and making my target so I thought that I had it down, but instead I missed it…terribly! It was like I never threw a spear before. I stood there in disbelief how bad I just threw it as I look at the spear sticking out of the ground. Oh well, here goes 30 more burpees! During my burpees I feel the cramp in my calf coming back so I have to go a little slower than normal. The next few miles and 7 obstacles would be the most challenging because I felt my body start to cramp, I was out of fuel, I was feeling frustrated and there were some of the most difficult obstacles yet ahead.
Then came the bucket carry. About halfway up the mountain, my right hamstring began to cramp. Trying not to get discouraged, I took a few short brakes going up, which I typically don’t ever do. As the people on the gondolas were overhead, one little girl yelled out “don’t stop, you are almost there! You are strong and can do it!” With that, I remembered that my family, for the first time ever of all my races, would be at the finish line waiting for me. I then began to slowly run down the hill with the bucket and told my mind to just push through as my body fatigued. Next up was the uneven monkey bars that my small arm span literally had to swing like a monkey just to reach the next one! Then it was the barbed wire crawl and I went on the side that was more muddy and slippery and the wire must have only been 5” off the ground. It was so low that when I was on my back, it was almost touching my nose! It was so slippery and as I tried pushing my legs up to move forward up the muddy, barbed wire covered hill, here came more cramps. In my left calf, right hamstring and right inner thigh. Ugh, it was almost becoming unbearable!
As I headed to the slip wall, I was literally slipping all over and the cramping was not helping. My body felt like it was fading fast at this point, but I made it over. When I saw the rig, I thought, “Are you kidding me?” It was 2 rings followed by vertical metal poles before you could get to the later metal poles. My slippery hands slipped off the first vertical metal pole and off I go to do 30 more burpees! During these burpees, the cramping of my entire lower body was really kicking in. A nice guy came over and gave me a mustard packet to try to help me. I thanked him and then it was off to the rope climb.
As I came around into the festival area, I heard the voices of my children yelling, “go mommy” and I got all choked up. My body was failing me, but I had to climb this rope, which I have done successfully for the past year at every race. Only today, I would make it half way up as my kids cheered me on and my quad would cramp so bad that when I watch the video they took of me, I could actually see it cramping. I came down to find a knot and rest a minute before I tried to get back up, but my grip would give out and I would fall into the pit of muddy water below right in front of them. Honestly, that was the worst part because I felt like I failed in front of them. As my eyes filled up and I choked back tears as they told me they were proud of me even if I failed it and I would then head off to the side to do my last 30 burpees of the day. A few feet ahead would be the fire jump and the finish line and my family waiting for me. As I have the volunteer put the medal around my neck, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment, even though I wasn’t feeling very good physically, but I did it!
As I walked over to the results tent, I was a little disappointed that my time was more than the less than 4 hour goal that I had hoped for. I finished 4:21:32 and placed 12th in the masters division, 6th in my age, and 49th of all elite females. This was definitely not my best race and looking back I know exactly where I made a few costly mistakes both at the race and the weeks leading up to the race, which will help me prepare and train for the next one. This race was a tough course and probably one of my favorite and most challenging courses to date only second to the Vermont Beasts that I have done. Not only was this my first elite heat, but this race also was my first trifecta of the 2015 season and the first time my family was there to support me at the finish line. Overall it was a very emotional day and physically and mentally tested me, but it was one AMAZING experience that I will never forget!