Why I Race…

At a time where I am preparing to run the biggest race of my life in, I am asked the question often why do I race? The answer to this question can vary from person to person. For some, it is a bucket list item. For some it is a team building event. For some it is a way to test your limits. For some it is to have fun with friends. For me, it is all of these thing as well as because I want to inspire others and show them that they can achieve results if you work hard enough and if you equip yourself with the right tools. I want to help others achieve their goals as well, so I am a firm believer that you need to practice what you preach and have knowledge and experience before you try to help others. For example, I wouldn’t go to a doctor or dentist with someone that wasn’t trained, certified and/or properly educated in their profession, would you?

599873_10150980992258416_701946735_nWhen I signed up for my very first race, the 2012 Tough Mudder, I did it as sort of a “bucket list” item. I had lost a considerable amount of weight and had been kickboxing for a few years and felt like I wanted to challenge myself. A friend of mine did it and said that I would be able to do it, but deep inside I really wasn’t sure I believed her but I felt like why not step up to the challenge.  After signing up, I decided it would probably be a good idea to try a smaller venue first, so I signed up for the Pennsylvania Warrior Dash and we created a team at the CKO gym I work at. We created circuits and special training classes to help our team get prepared for the big race. I was in a boot for tendinitis for weeks before the big race, but I decided to do it anyway and fell in love with OCR’s immediately, even though I couldn’t see the finish line because I had mud in my eyes.

Looking back I had no idea what I should wear and definitely missed the mark on that. I wore a cotton tank top that when wet stretched down to my knees and was so heavy. I wore running shorts with the built in underwear that was a great mud storage compartment. I wore low cut socks and my legs were so scraped. I wore old sneakers with not much tread so I didn’t ruin my good sneakers.  However, my training that I had put had me feeling great on that course and as nervous as I was, there were friends and members looking to me to help them so I never once showed fear on the course, like when I was covered in slippery mud on the top of pipes sliding as I was helping other come over the top trying not to fall off myself. At that moment, helping them meant more to me than my time finishing strong.

564597_283313035114626_716775323_nAfter that, I heard of this new race that was coming to town, it was a Spartan Super. I never heard of them before, so I looked up the race and saw there was a 30 burpee penalty for failing obstacles. I didn’t even know what a burpee was, so of course I had to look it up and start incorporating them in my workouts. Boy did they suck…and 30??? UGH! The day came and that race was called the mini-beast because it was almost as long as a Beast and we even had tornado warnings so the end of the race was pretty scary. With such a big team, we broke up into smaller groups as it was so hard to keep everyone together. Because of the tornado warnings, some of us crossed the finish line while others were pulled off or taken to nearby sheds for shelter.

I crossed the finish line, but the timing mats were off, however, my timing chip was recovered at the finish line corral so I was granted my medal and shirt as a finisher and they offered a free race to do it again the next day, only I could barely walk after this race so there was no way I was going to be able to do it the next day too!! To make things right, we were given free entry to the VT Beast.  At the VT Beast my knee blew out and I couldn’t bend it from about mile 7 (this is a 12+ mile race). The pain at times was unbearable and my team all ended up running ahead of me, but I learned something very valuable that day about me. Then it clicked…I was so much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I wanted to quit and the pain was becoming unbearable, but I didn’t.  And I finished that race!!!

tm-2012I went on to do Tough Mudder, which was so cold and muddy and painful as I could still barely walk on it and jogging was excruciating! But I kept on that course as cold and miserable as I was. After the race people would ask me, why do I keep doing these if I am hurt? Why don’t I rest? Why don’t I quit? At the time I really didn’t know, but looking back my heart knew all along. Racing wasn’t about the race. It wasn’t about the obstacles. It was about finding me. It was about learning my limits and pushing past them. It was about fighting through something that was so tough and not giving up. It was about helping others, regardless of how much pain I was in. It was about learning how to create yourself in a way that gives you confidence inside you didn’t know you had after being broken down by life.

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That year I ended up heading to Fenway Park and participated in the first ever Spartan Stadium race and it was such a great experience for me in many ways. That race earned me my very first Trifecta, a special medal that signified that you were one of only a few hundred to achieve 3 different level races in a year. Races were not easy to come by back then so not too many people had that medal so it was very special to achieve that. The obstacles were not exactly the safest back then and I was totally freaking out at the end if the gladiators were going to beat me to a pulp, but I can’t even describe how amazing it felt to be one of those few hundred to achieve this goal.

After my knee healed, I decided the following year, I would try to improve. I still raced most of my races as a team, but often we would break up in to smaller “buddies” as there were so many varying fitness levels out there. I was not fast. I was not good at obstacles. I was not a quitter and if I failed and obstacle at a Spartan Race, you bet I did ALL 30 burpees! To me if I cheated on my burpees, the medal didn’t mean the same.  I focused more on running and even started planning to run my very first half marathon, which a few years earlier I would have never even imagined doing as 5K’s were a huge goal for me to actually not walk most of them.

Over the years I have increased my mileage, speed, and learned how to not only succeed at many obstacles I once failed repeatedly, but I learned how to break what I learned down to train others how to do them successfully as well.  When I ran my very first race on my own on June 7th 2014 in open heat I finished 15th in my age out of 302 and for the first time I started to feel more like an athlete and wanted to push myself even harder.  I focused on training for more obstacle course related goals, like pull ups and better techniques. I invested in equipment and gear. I became a true OCR junkie!

rugged-maniac2This season I divided my races. Some were done as competitive/elite and others were done as a team because another reason I love to race is not just to push myself and improve my time and my performance, but to witness people I help train achieve their goals. I do love racing as a team. I enjoy the camaraderie and helping them push beyond their limits and they help me push mine out there too! There are times, such as the Palmerton Super, that all I could focus on even though I was exhaustedwd-19 and in pain was finishing the races so I could at least see my team off at the start, which I did. At races like Warrior Dash I ran one lap of the race competitive and then a second lap with the team. Races like Savage Race and Rugged Maniac our team stayed together the entire time.  This season I even completed a race with my daughter, the NJ Terrain Race 5K course, after running the 10K course solo first. Each race experience is different and rewarding in a different way.

For me racing is so much more than just my time or how I performed, it is about the people out on that course. If you are afraid to run a race and be “left alone” my advice…do it anyway! There are so many people on that course that will help you if you do find yourself on your own. Strangers can actually become friends that you bond with. I know I have met some amazing people out on those courses over the years as well as strengthened friendships. When you are tired, in pain, and want to give up you start to see people’s true colors. Some are beautiful and sadly some are ugly, but no matter what I promise you that if you do an OCR, you will feel such a sense of accomplishment.  I race because it reminds me who I am, a strong woman that will not quit!terrain-race

Comments: 3

  1. Cynthia VanLuvender October 12, 2016 at 5:43 am Reply

    What an Amazing story Melissa, you are truly an inspiration!! Good Luck with your upcoming Event!!

    • Melissa October 12, 2016 at 6:51 am Reply

      Thank you so much!

  2. Ronna Marchello October 12, 2016 at 7:48 am Reply

    And this is why I let you train me!!!! You’re true inspiration. I told your story to my staff. They’re amazed as well. Good luck this weekend!!!!’ You got this. I hope to do a race with you in the future when I’m done getting fit.


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