Saturday, October 10, 2015

2015 Spartan Race World Championship

Back in December 2012, I slipped-and-slid my way through my first Spartan Race in Malibu. That race gave me something to focus on—redemption. Training for Spartan Races has been my primary therapy ever since. I got my first trifecta in 2013, and two more in 2014. In January of 2015, I bit the bullet and bought a season pass for 2015 with the intent of going out with bang, as I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I was perhaps too old to continue putting my body through the training it requires to get through some of these grueling obstacles. My elbows are starting to hurt me all the time (dx golfers elbow) and despite my constant training, I am not seeing speed gains with my running or swimming--although my endurance is getting better. Perhaps endurance racing without obstacles, or triathlons is the direction I should be headed. So with this in mind, I signed up for my bucket list races: running in Montana, which coincidently was the founder race (double bonus), going to the Spartan Race World Championship (SRWC) and racing as an elite in the Masters Class once. By my calculations, I could do twelve races. That would be four trifectas.
I knew the SRWC would be hard. The terrain of the Sierra Nevada is jagged, steep granite and the water is frigid cold, even in the dead of summer.  I planned on using Montana as litmus test for Tahoe. Montana was hard. It made me realize that Norm was out to kill the elite male racers, dragging the rest of us along for the ride. I came back from Montana with an Eff Norm patch and my first runner’s injury: the back of my right knee was killing me from the steep downhills. I knew I needed more training in both elevation and in steep uphills, as well as a wetsuit to survive a swim, which I knew Norm would put us through.

Between Montana and Tahoe I ran two races: the Monterey Super in early June and the Temecula Beast in late September (actually the week before Tahoe). I ran, swam and biked from May to October in preparation for Tahoe. I barely lifted weights, hoping to spare my elbows, knee and back (which I hurt in July digging a drainage ditch on my property).

September 30th, bibs were posted. Ready or not, Tahoe was only days away. I had done the training, I was as ready as I was ever going to be, I only needed to buy the wetsuit and pack. Two days later, I woke before my alarm clock went off, threw everything into three backpacks and took off in the dark.

The drive was 476 miles, or about 7 hours. A person I love very much was getting married the same day as the race and not far from the venue, so I stopped by to see everyone on the way. This also gave me a gauge as to how far they were from the venue so I had an idea about how much time to give myself to get back there (about 90minutes). 

I arrived in Squaw Valley about an hour before sunset. I don't know why I hadn't realized the that the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley was the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The energy in this resort is unbelievable. The world’s best athletes have competed here for Olympic Gold. It hit me like a ton of bricks: What was I thinking?!?! This place is epic. These mountains are epic. We are running up and down Olympic ski slopes. This race is going to be epic. This race was designed for the elite racers, by Norm. I am 52-years old with aching elbows, a back that barely feels better, a knee that makes its presence known as soon as I wake up and look, there is Joe, being followed by a cameraman. OMG. Time to freak the fuck out.

And then I couldn’t find the condo. I drove all this way and I am lost, and now I am overwhelmed! I knew the condo was walking distance from the venue, but my GPS would not recognize the name of the street. I would love to say I found the condo, but in reality I found another Spartan Racer who was lost and asking me for directions and Amber heard me talking to this other woman and saved the day! Thank you Amber!!! I was hungry and needed to calm my nerves. Amber, Krisha, CJ and I (the Motley Crew from Montana, minus Nacho) decided to head back to the village for dinner. The village was crawling with Spartan racers, so the excitement was only building. We decided on pizza and chose to sit outside as the sun was setting—and got our firsty taste of how cold it was going to be and how underdressed we were. Our fabulous waiter brought a blanket for Amber and Krisha to huddle in. After visiting with other racers, we headed back to the condo to get ready for our early morning alarms.
Getting our packets. With Krisha. 7:06 AM

We were up at 5:30 and out the door by 7 am. The registration lines were long. It was COLD. Even under my wetsuit I was cold. The elite male racers were just getting ready to start their race. I headed to the start corral. I wanted to see the elite women take off. Rosie was there, but rumored hurt from Battle Frog the week before. Amelia was there, darling as ever. They are always my picks for winning. The race was running late. The female elite did not leave until 8:30, which was my start time. I did not actually take off until 9 AM. I didn't think 30 minutes would affect me much. I had run Montana in 6:13:03 and had just pretty much walked the Temecula Beast in 5:20:01. I should be off this course by 3:30 at the latest, I had plenty of time to get to the 6:00 wedding.
Amazing how wrong I can be.

In the start corral, I did all my pre-run rituals: turned on my 6-hour Beast playlist, dumped my iPhone in the back of my hydration pack, put the pack on, tighten the straps, shove earbuds into my ears, pulled my hand-warmers out of the pocket of my pack, yelled AROO a few times with my heat and turned on my Garmin as I crossed over the timing mat. The race is on!
9:25 AM 1.2 miles 6,240 feet

The first half-mile was tame. The first obstacle was a few 4 ft walls and three moats. Sliding into the water a big grin came across my face as I heard others moan about how cold it was and only feeling it on my feet. My legs and hips felt nothing. Sweet! We meandered up a bit and my watch beeped. One mile. I had climbed 259 feet, descended 82 feet in 16:48. I can do this! The next obstacle was the Vertical Cargo Climb... easy and then the Monkey Bars—the staggered Monkey Bars. I made it three rungs with my frozen hands and lost my grip. 30 burpees. All of a sudden the race got real—and this was only the beginning of the second mile—which turned out to be the beginning of the 3,048 ft ascent that we would make over the next 7 miles.

At one point I pulled my phone out of my pack and was zooming in on
picture trying to figure out where on this mountain I was.

10:50 AM 4.2 miles 7,634 ft

Adding injury to insult, the dirt turned to granite rocks and I was second guessing wearing my Inov8s. Maybe I should have worn the Cascadia's, they have rock-plates. Too late now. How did the elite runners run over this? I may have to break down and watch the NBC coverage of this race just to see for myself, lol.
11:13 AM  5.0 miles 7,949 ft

I think I had unzipped and dropped the top part of my wetsuit by the end of the 2nd mile.  I was too warm and starting to wonder if I really had needed to spend $140 on this thing. Along the route to the top of the mountain we climbed walls, the infamous O-U-T (over, under, through), which at this point for me is just annoying, then a log carry, which I had also encountered in Montana. Amazing how heavy a log can be. I would take 50 steps and put the thing down, hoist it back up and continue. Once I hit the top of the hill I did not dare stop. I hit the 5 mile mark at 2 hours, 17 minutes. I was thinking, Cool! I should hit the 10 mile mark about 1:40 - 1:45 PM.

11:30:19 AM 5.57 miles 8,018 ft
I was still feeling ok as I was jogging along here at 11:30AM (I saw the camera, so I smiled), although I was starting to notice that my heart rate wasn't very high but my chest was heaving. It was getting harder and hard to get a lung full of air. I was trying hard not to think about what I knew was at the 9 mile mark—the swim. Numbers. I count. all.the.time. Twenty breaths. Thirty. One song. Two songs. Six miles double that and add two more. I was hoping the course was about 14 miles. I knew I had to be near the top of the mountain.

11:44 AM 6 miles 8,124 ft

Getting to mile 7 was hell. Legs on fire. Calves burning so I walked backwards until the quads burned. Forward - backward - forward - backward. I was not the only person walking like this. People were sitting on the side of the trail. Breathing was getting harder and harder and the mountain was getting steeper and steeper. My heart rate was at 154, no where near my max, but I could not keep moving forward. I toggled through my watch. I had been walking that same mile for nearly 40 minutes. The ascent was 784 feet. The wind was kicking up, hint of some pretty cold air. 

12:28:49 PM 7.02 miles 8,868 ft
The last time I smiled

My watch finally beeped. Fuck! I exclaimed.  Mile 7 was done just as we crested a ridge, and there sat a photographer. He laughed. I am sure that wasn't the first time he had heard that, or the last. Just past him, the mountain plateaued. Thank goddess. This must be the half way mark. But I was wrong. The mountain continued going up—very steeply. I turned to walk backwards and froze. There in the distance was Lake Tahoe. It was enormous. Magnificent. I pulled out my phone to take a picture using the pause to rub my quads and catch my breath. When I had control of my legs again, I turned and faced the mountain and continued climbing. The climb finally maxed out at 8,873 feet.
Down. Sweet! The trail went down. It felt good to be able to run again. I looked at my watch. I was making up time—an 11 minute pace. I was hopeful I could do this for a mile or two, even though the bottoms of my feet felt bruised and my legs were feeling shaky. I could do this. I would be victorious! But the downhill was short-lived. At 7.7 miles we came to an abrupt u-turn. The sandbag carry. Seriously? 120 feet back up a hill carrying a 20lb sandbag. It wasn't the sandbag that was the issue, it was the hill. Really, Norm? We can't even have a one mile reprieve? And then, down below, I saw it. I think it was it. I wasn't sure. But it looked like a pond with orange things. Were those buoys? Were those the PFD's that the announcer had told the elites they had to wear on the swim? Were those people?

Note: This is the Inverted Wall but this pic
was not taken in Tahoe
The only obstacle I remember between the sandbag carry and the water is the inverted wall. I love this obstacle. It's probably my favorite. I hurried over to it, put my foot where it needed to go, lunged for the top and with one fluid movement, like I had done many, many times, hoisted myself up and over the top. Except this time, I pushed myself too far away from the wall and was falling backwards, and luckily for me, right into the hands of a very quick man. Shaken, slightly whiplashed and suddenly weak with exhaustion I remember saying I can't! when he told me to pull myself over. But somehow I ended up sliding down the other side face first. I stood there feeling utterly stunned. How was I ever going to finish this race? I was already exhausted. The guy who helped me was coming over the top, down onto his feet, high-fived me, yelled You got this! and ran off. I followed.

Yes, those orange things were the PDF's and yes, there was a buoy in the water and people in orange canoes who were hauling people out of the water with ropes and paddles. And there was an area for burpees, which seemed strangely empty to me. There weren't a lot of people in the water, and there weren't a lot of people doing burpees. Where had everyone gone? There was a big pile of PDF's. I stood terrified for a minute. I had never worn a wetsuit before. Would this save me? I took off my hydration pack, set it down and I pulled the wetsuit up over my shoulders and zipped it up. I fumbled a second with the PDF.

Once ready, I quickly walked down to the water. There were only a few people ahead of me. The woman to the right of me slipped down the hill and into the water. She jumped up and yelled Hell No! and scrambled back up the bank. People were just standing there, hesitant to get in. I looked at the water. There were people in the water. They were all on their backs flinging their arms behind them like a reverse butterfly moving to the center of the pond and making a right.  I knew if I stood there a moment longer I would panic, so without much more thought I moved into the water as quickly as I could and flung myself in, praying that all the hours and laps and miles I had put into the pool would not fail me now.
Love you TJ

Not sure what shocked me first. How cold the water was on my feet, hands and face, or the fact that I was immediately rotated onto my back with the stupid PDF? The water was so I instinctively pulled my head up. I looked over at a guy who had also just plunged in. He said, “KICK! and don't stop moving!!!” Which I obediently obeyed. I kicked and kicked and kicked and flung my arms behind me over and over again and turned onto my belly to see where I was. OMG! I had hardly gone anywhere. I rolled over and started counting. One, two, three...... to twenty, and rolled over again. Halfway to the buoy. Over and over I repeated this. Counting, kicking, checking. I wanted to cry. Someone was being pulled out of the water. I finally made it to the buoy. Now turn to the left, towards the bank, to the ladder and get the hell out of this water. You can do this. Keep kicking. OMG, how could this take so long? I overshot the ladder. I had to turn onto my belly to realign myself . TJ built this fucking ramp? Mental note: punch him in the face for this. Norm sucks! Why am I doing this? With the absolute last ounce of energy I had, I pulled myself up the ladder and crawled back onto the granite mountain. It was too much energy to cry. It was too cold to cry. Time was frozen. There was a girl wrapped in a space blanket. She must not have had on a wetsuit. How could anyone have done this without a wetsuit? And then the wind hit me and I realized if I didn't start moving my race would end right here at mile 9. As I ran on, I saw medics pull the woman from the course.

The only thing I remember between the medics pulling the woman at the pond and the sled drag is the biting, freezing wind and my blue, swollen fingers. At some point I had taken my beanie out of my hydration pack and pulled it over my head. I was stumbling. My feet were frozen. I was passing people on the ground cramping. I was struck by the amount of men in their usual Spartan gear running apparel: shorts and shoes shivering uncontrollably. I could only imagine. That beanie and my wetsuit saved my ass. 

My Garmin says the plate (sled) drag was at 10.25 miles. I sat down, grabbed the rope, put my feet on the steel post and pulled with everything I had. Not sure if I had nothing to give, or if the plate was just stuck, but the volunteers were telling us we could get up and lift the front end of the plate, which I did, about three different times, to get the thing moving. When I finished, I asked the volunteer which direction to head. She pointed. And I saw. And I nearly cried.
Barbed wire, a wall, the dunk wall, followed immediately by the slip wall, then more barbed wire and walls, followed by even more barbed wire and walls. I couldn’t will myself to walk in that direction. I seriously thought about sitting down and calling it quits. There was just no way I could willfully walk into that water pit, and dunk my head under that wall. My head raced. I could not even have a coherent thought. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.
And then, as always happens, my mind went to Taylor. If only she hadn’t given up. If only I had foreseen what was going to happen. If only I hadn’t gone to Utah for New Years. If only I had… or if only I hadn’t. Or, if only she had… or if only she hadn’t. My throat began to swell. Swallowing became impossible. My knees became weak, my head was heavy, my body numb. I was defeated. I could not move forward. I was over this race. My first DNF.  Oh well, it was the World Championships, and I am not a world champion. Hell, I am not even an elite racer. WTF? I am 52 years old. What was I even thinking in the first place?
And then I became aware that I was moving—in the direction of the barbed wire—I could feel my child pulling me onto the course. Pushing, pulling, prodding. I was not alone. I could not give up.
The barbed wire was low. I actually had to roll. The walls were not high, but I struggled to get over them. People were burpeeing out of the dunk wall, others were blatantly walking around it. I pulled the beanie off my head, took off my hydration pack and stuffed the beanie into it. I tossed the pack towards the barbed wire that I would have to go through again and without stopping, slid into the water. Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone all spiritual on anyone. I am sure I yelled FUCK! as the frigid water, once again, sucked my breath away. I grabbed the underside of the wall and 1-2-3 pulled myself under the wall onto the other side and scrambled out of the water and quickly as possible.  The bank was muddy and cold and took some effort, and once out of the water, the wind reminded me immediately that it was not my friend. I looked at the slant wall and in my head, loud and clear, was defiance: I will own you. You will not defeat me! and marched up the wall and over the top. 
02:08:36 PM
The remaining barbed wire crawl and walls were brutal. I was cold and on autopilot and Norm was not done yet. As I staggered over the last wall, a few feet away the rope climb waited. I know my shoulders drooped when I fully took that in. I staggered over to the rope and sized the situation up. I  walked onto the hay (at least there was hay and not water there) and wrapped my swollen fingers around the rope but knew that was not a chance in hell that I had the strength to get up it. I walked away and joined the few others who were in the burpee area and fell to the ground, stood back up and tried to jump. 30 times.
It took me 30 minutes to do that four-tenths of a mile.  I have never been so glad to leave a series of obstacles as I was at mile 10.65. I retrieved my hydration pack, pulled my beanie down over as much as my face and neck as possible and started the descent down that fucking mountain. Again I passed people cramping on the trail. And again, I saw the quads racing up and down the course retrieving injured and/or defeated runners. More than one of the drivers shouted out to us that we would soon be off the ridge and the wind would die down. I am not sure I have ever been to a race where there was genuine concerned mixed with honest encouragement being offered by SR employees (usually, it is the evil, smirking, you are almost done comments that you learn to scoff at).
Wind-whipping the flag at the Atlas Carry
At mile 11.25 there was another series of obstacles. The A-frame cargo net, which is a very easy obstacle for me, was not so easy. My body felt like it weighed hundreds of pounds and my muscles were having none of it and my coordination was not exactly nimble. Let’s just say, the cargo net took far too much effort. After that was the Atlas Carry. Again, not a hard obstacle for me.  However, today I could not even stand up with that fucking ball of concrete. The best I could do was lift it about a foot off the ground, rest it on my right quad and limp the thing to the whipping flags (still not out of the wind). I let it roll off my leg, dropped to the ground and did 5 things that could never have passed as burpees. All I can say is I did lay flat on the ground and I did get back up, five times. I picked the concrete ball up and got it back to the other side—barely.
Feet away was the Tyrolean Traverse. I didn’t even bother to think about doing this. I walked straight to the burpee area and sat down. I looked at my watch. Oh wow. I was 5 hours and 38 minutes into this race and only at mile 11.32. I was never going to get off this mountain! Long gone was my hope of doing this race in under six-and-a-half hours and oh snap! The wedding!!! I got up and started doing my burpees—in sets of 5. It took forever. Five steps later was another obstacle—the spear.
I don’t miss the spear much these days. But today was not one of those days. I was so weak. I was in near complete muscle failure. I could not even grip the spear well, but I tried. And missed. And one more time I was struck by the absences of runners. There were maybe 10 sets of bales and only 3 of us there. We all missed. On my way to the burpee area, I grabbed another spear and tried again. Missed. In defeat I continued towards the burpee area and stopped at the last haystack and grabbed a third spear. Missed again. Suckola. This race is never going to end. I did 30 more burpees with maybe two people.
The trail went down from here. Down. Thank the fucking goddess. I could trot, maybe get my legs working a bit and get off this ridge and out of the wind. Down, down, down. Hope returning. Insert the music from Rocky here... gonna fly now, getting high now... I may actually make it to the wedding after all. Somewhere about mile 13 was the Stairway to Sparta. Again, not a hard obstacle for me—kinda like the inverted wall—I like this obstacle. However, today I could not get myself up initial wall. Every time I tried to jump, my feet only left the ground an inch or two. I gladly accepted a boost up from someone, grabbed the top of the wall and then yelped as a good-sized splinter went into and through the underside of my index finger. Three people pushed me to the top and once I could straddle the thing I had to grasp the piece of wood that was pierced through my skin and pull it out. Like a paper cut, it fucking hurt like hell. I looked up at what I had to climb and just did it. I couldn’t sit there and cry, that would take too much energy.
Back on the ground, I resumed running. Well actually, let me clarify that. I shuffled my feet. Or rather, trotted like Taylor’s horse (who drags her back feet leaving gouges in the sand). Every footfall hurt, but I knew I was nearing the end.
Mile 14. Elevation 6,771. The wind was gone. I must have left it somewhere, not sure where, and didn’t really care. It was good and this race would certainly have to end soon. 6:49.43. Wait. What time was it? If I left at 9 and added 6 hours and 49 minutes to that, it must be close to 4.  I rounded a switchback and right before me was one of the longest, steepest Bucket Brigade I swear I had ever seen. And what is this? We are filling the buckets with wet dirt, not rocks? Are you fucking kidding me? Let me just say that it took me thirty minutes, twenty steps at a time, to carry that bucket up that two-tenths of a mile and back down. Here, I was not alone. The hill was packed with racers. Everyone proceeded the same—a  few steps at a time, stop. 20 steps, stop. Everyone commiserated together. People seemed to move in groups like leap frog. Three or four people would pass you, set down their buckets and then you picked up yours, with your group, and passed the people who had just passed you, and you stopped. Back and forth, over and over. Slowly. Very.very.slowly.
8 foot wall
Walls, walls, walls
When I dumped the dirt back in the dirt pile and tossed my empty bucket I knew the finish line could not be far. Except for the damn walls. A gizallion of them. High walls. I went over every damn one of them. And then I ran. Free. Like the wind. It could only be short distance between me and the end, right? I have overcome. I have done it. I am………. falling through the air—all limbs in every direction and BAM! I hit the ground. I had tripped, and I had fallen. Too tired to lift my legs anymore, my right foot did not clear a buried rock and I had come down hard on my left knee. Before I could think about much, I heard, “omg, are you ok?” I couldn’t move. Hands grasped me under my armpits and pulled me to my feet. There was a man steadying me. “Are you ok?” He asked again. I could only nod. I had nothing left in me. He looked me over. Thank god I had on my wetsuit, it saved me. I was not bleeding anywhere. I brushed off my hands—my palms were bright red and swollen from the cold I could hardly feel them. He said, “ok, let’s go” and I trotted after him. When I looked up (now my eyes were plastered to the ground beneath my feet), he was gone. Thank you, whoever you were, for putting me back on my feet. Thank you. (note: the last of the granite dirt worked it’s way out of my hands a few days ago [written 10.25.2015]).
The next few obstacles were stupid. I was so over this race. There were hurdles, which usually annoy the hell out of me, as they are so high. However, I was pissed enough at this point, and wanted this race to be over so badly, I just flung myself over them. There was a stupid obstacle called the Pit of Despair. Puleeze. At this point, only water, wind or buckets could bring on despair. And finally, finally, as we ran down the last hill, you could see the end of the race. Only the Traverse Wall and the Multi-rig was between me and the finish line.

Traverse wall
There was no line at the Traverse Wall. This thing is usually my nemesis, but not today. I did the whole damn wall without falling off. I hit that bell far harder than I should have, jumped off and walked straight to the burpee area. There was no point in even trying the Mulit-Rig. I have never gotten 5 feet into that burpee maker without help and I could hear the volunteers yelling, “No helping!” And seriously, I didn’t see one woman even attempting this. My burpees had no count to them. I squatted down, fell down, moved my feet under me and very ungracefully climbed back upright, 29 times. On the 30th one, I staggered over the finish line. 
My legs are bowed in. I am still holding the banana
and recovery drink. It was too much effort to put them down
only to have to pick them up again. Real life problems.
Someone put a medal around my neck. Someone else handed me a banana, and then a second one. Someone else put a recovery drink in my hand. I kept moving forward, away from the crowd.  I had to pull the wet suit off of my shoulders. I suddenly felt suffocated. I sat on the first thing I saw that was empty and just sat. Stunned. I could not believe I had just completed that course. I needed to digest the fact that it was over, that I hadn't quit. That it is important that I never quit, and that Taylor has never really left me. This is why I run alone. It is my time with myself and my child. This is my therapy, and I am grateful.
plural noun: obstacles
  1. a thing that blocks one's way or prevents or hinders progress.

I was brought back to reality by a woman who asked about the stats on my watch. She had also just finished the race. She had a very heavy accent. I asked her where she was from. She told me Russia. Wow. I had also met a man from Norway earlier. I had just completed a race that people from all over the world had come to run. Still boggles my mind. Here were my stats:

I missed the wedding.

Obstacle Course Racing.

Final results

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