I recently called him my “secret weapon.”
Not everyone has access to one. I get it. I’m super lucky. My husband was nearly born for the thankless and exhausting task of being pit crew.
With a background in racing, a diploma in Massage Therapy, a tendency to extreme preparedness and an uncanny ability to control nearly any situation – John is the guy you want on your crew.
But I feel like a lot of the things we have learned as a team over these years can be learned… and I thought I’d do my best to get them out there in this top five list.
1 – Give your Spouse a Pass
One of these rounds, your spouse is going to come in – and you won’t even recognize the person they’ve become. One or two hours and they’ll transform into some heinous combination of Sophie from the Golden Girls and a teething baby. In the molar stage. That’s ok. You’ve got this. They’ll find their way back to themselves again. Just give them time, space and a hall pass to act like the Creature from the Blue Lagoon. And whatever you do, don’t take it personally. They just cursed out a wall made entirely of wood.
2 – Know your Athlete
You may know your spouse… but your athlete might be a very different person from them. Some athletes need gentle guidance, some might need a very firm enforcer. Once you figure this out, it’ll be a whole lot easier driving them to their goal and staying in the control seat.
3 – Listen Carefully but Take Control
If you run long enough, your brain starts becoming deficient in carbohydrates. And intelligent thought.
They may be overheating because they jumped into their 4 mil wetsuit prematurely and the temperate never dropped. They feel fluish and lethargic. They’re sweating and their skin is beet red. And yet, they still can’t put their finger on it. More neoprene maybe?
You’re dealing with Ralph Wiggum here. Deep breaths. They’ll thank you once they start feeling better.
4 – Prepare and Anticipate
OK so Ralph comes in 30 minutes before sun-down, and is probably thinking headlamps and strobes, but hopefully you are. Best case scenario, you have a rough chart in terms of what your athlete needs and at what approximate times. If not, get them to make you one.
Of course, it always helps to look a little farther down the pipe when your athlete is just focused on that very next step. It’ll everything a whole lot smoother for everyone.
I like to have things ready for my pit crew for situations I can see arising. Sand storm? Hand me these goggles. Colder than anticipated? Start with the items in this bag and then move to this bag if I start turning blue. Encourage your spouse to go over all the “if’s and when’s” in advance, write it down and go over it with you in detail before the gun goes off.
5- Take Care of Yourself
It’s cliche but… put your own oxygen mask on first. Make sure you’re fuelling, hydrating and moving around when your athlete is out on course. You may even be able to catch a quick cat nap if laps are long enough or you have a pitting partner. Just like knowing your athletes needs, you need to consider your own. If you’re a voracious reader, bring some books… if you’re a social butterfly, pit with a group. The better mood you’re in, the better care you’ll be able to take of your spouse.
Lastly, have fun and celebrate in the success of your spouse. There’s nothing quite as magical as completing a challenging race with the full support of your partner. It’s pretty cool to get to share adventures with the person you love most.
Why on earth am I here?
I had honestly forgotten the answer.
It was cold, it was rainy, and I was about to run through slick mud… traversing slippery obstacles and going under a “dunk wall” in what was definitely going to be very cold water.
This being my first race of the year, I had totally lost touch with the joy of romping through the mud, swinging through obstacles and gliding under barbed wire.
All I could remember was cold. And pain. And misery.
In fact, I couldn’t really tell if I wanted to be here in this moment. Or maybe I just didn’t. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why on earth anyone would want to be here. All sense of this moment, and any following it was lost.
I peeled myself from my snuggly bed before the sun came up, donned some short shorts and a tank top and stood in a shivering mass of spandex and tight muscles waiting for the third AROO.
Surprisingly… barely one second after GO, it all came flooding back.
The rush of charging up a muddy hill with a bunch of fierce ladies throwing down was palpable. I run on my own. A lot. It’s fun. But this. This was AWESOME.
Every obstacle I tackled left me feeling more ready for the next.
Even the ones I failed.
I could have run a lot faster. I could have ran a clean race. I could have pushed harder.
But I didn’t. And it didn’t matter. I was loving every second. Even after my fingers froze and my hands stopped closing.
I think that’s the magic. I don’t know why we freak out. Being out there shuts all that off and you just are. You just do.
Almost as if you’re connected back to a deep sense of challenge, of nature and the elements, of community. We all become one moving mass… jockeying for position and yet advancing together like an ancient tribe chasing down an antelope.
I’m hoping this first race of the year reminds me that my mind might dominate the pre and post race, but my heart always takes over the during. And that’s what matters.
The next day at the Sprint, the plan was just to work hard and see where it got me. It was a huge change from the general sense of dread that hung over me like a cloud Saturday morning.
Nearing the finish line and the final obstacle gauntlet, I was able to move into second. Running a clean race always makes for a good day… especially on a slippery wet course. This of course was in no small part to my awesome coach Yancy and his love of grip and pull training.
If you haven’t got a chance to check out his training, you should. PM me and I’ll see if I can get you a trial code. It’s literally made a world of difference in my obstacle proficiency and general strength.
I was stunned when I first saw the report. Rice: lit up in red on my food sensitivity test. Rice. The only food you can eat on the elimination diet because it’s so universally digestible. Beside it were the words gluten, eggs, dairy and cashews. All the foods.
All the foods that supply the calories in my diet. All the foods I eat before afternoon runs. All the foods I love to eat. Well, now what?
One thing about me is that I easily fall into routine. I could live my whole life eating the exact same thing. I drink out of one coffee mug, prefer one spoon and one bowl. I get that my preschooler wants the pink bowl. I get it.
Thankfully after the initial turmoil of changing my diet entirely, I’ve gotten into a groove. And I’m better for it. Really, all of the foods on my red list are staples in processed food.
In fact, my life is probably a whole lot easier now… since the decision of what to eat never looms over me. I have limited choices since I rely on the pre-made meals in my fridge. It’s the whole “Steve Jobs” turtleneck thing.
Here are the top five things sitting in my fridge right now that have made my cleaning-eating, whole-food powered, plant-strong diet easy peasy:
I have become a huge fan of overnight oats. After crawling off the treadmill in the morning after a crusher workout I can literally just grab a spoon and dig in. Here’s how I make them:
1. Oats: 1/2 cup steel cut oats. They are crunchy, chewy and satisfying.
2. Milk: 1 cup. I use coconut or almond but you can also use dairy or plain yogurt. You could also use protein powder mixed with water.
3. Healthy Fat: I use 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds or 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds and 1 tablespoon of chia. I tried 2 tablespoons of chia one time but it soaked up all the liquid.
4. The Good Stuff: I add 2 tablespoons of sugar-free peanut butter powder and fill the rest with frozen berries. From time to time I also add organic raisins, shredded unsweetened coconut, poppy seeds or whatever I might be craving. If you’re adding nuts or seeds, do so in the morning so they don’t get soft.
I make a bunch of these for the week. You could heat them, but quite frankly, I’m usually too lazy. This is how I roll:
1. Grain or Root Vegetable: Quinoa, amaranth, sorghum or sweet potato. You could also do brown rice or pretty much any other grain or grain-like starch.
2. Vegetables: My go-to’s are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beets, celery (all cooked) and raw kale and peppers. I pretty much just put whatever I have on-hand in there.
3. Protein: Organic tofu, chicken breast, black beans… the possibilities are endless.
4. Sauce and Seasoning: I almost always put an organic teriyaki sauce on and then sprinkle my favourite thing ever, nutritional yeast (not to be confused with bakers yeast) all over because it makes it tasty cheesy and delicious.
SAUCES, ROASTED NUTS, SALAD DRESSING
These are awesome on salads and Buddha bowls. I often make the Tumeric Pumpkin Seeds from Run Fast, Eat Slow and just put them on everything I eat until they’re gone. Other hits are toasted almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts and pecans. They aren’t as healthy as the raw variety but man are they tasty.
I also put Glory Bowl sauce on everything until its used up. It makes everything taste AMAZING.
And of course, almost everything I eat eventually gets covered in nutritional yeast. It’s packed with B-vits and protein and well, yum.
PREPPED GRAINS / ROOT VEGETABLES
I always have cooked grains on-hand. It makes it super easy to just swap out whole-food grains for whatever the rest of the family is eating like pasta or hamburger buns. If you don’t have them cooked and in the fridge you probably won’t spend the 45 minutes cooking them, so always have them at the ready.
CHOPPED VEGETABLES / FRUIT
This is another huge time saver. When I get back from the grocery store, I chop everything up and put them into their own containers so healthy plant foods are the quickest, easiest snack in my fridge.
I’d love to hear more tips for going clean! Please feel free to add yours in the comments below 🙂
What really made THIS RACE was the people there. Not just being immersed in all things Sparta, and repping Canada. The many languages heard when not a single word was needed to express the most complex of emotions, the coming together of people all over the world to battle the mountain and the obstacles. The lives changed, no matter how diverse.
I finally got chilled after the race when the snow hit (and did it ever hit) and was struggling to untie laces that had over-tightened in the mud and by my own pre-race jitters. A man came over and knelt beside me, explaining he didn’t speak much english… then he proceeded to claw his way through the knot. This is SPARTA.
It’s ok to for things to not be ok. It’s also ok to not be ok that things are not ok.
Performance wise, I had a terrible race weekend.
I did get to run with some of the best in the sport, and spend time with some of my favourite people, doing what I love best.
So really, it was a phenomenal weekend. But am I totally ok?
Nope. No I’m not. And I cannot convince myself otherwise.
The Super on Saturday morning featured some added frosty-dewy challenge. I slid off the balance beam and then rig. Then I missed my spear. At the rope climb, I grabbed a rope that was coated with thick gooey mud and shot right to the bottom. 30 burpees at the finish line and my first failed rope climb. I dropped from second to fourth. Sunday in the Sprint Race, I choked on the balance beam and then missed my spear.
So many burpees.
The awesome thing about obstacle racing is that you always go home with homework. Something to improve. A way to make yourself a better athlete.
In that sense it’s these races that teach us the most. These ugly times where we cross the finish line with burnt-out triceps and stains on our chests, that offer us the most.
But they still suck. And I’m ok with that too.
If we jumped the fire 120 burpees down and with any sort of indifference, we wouldn’t go home with the same lessons: the same drive to fix the chinks in our armour.
We need both the sting of loss – and the appreciation for it’s honesty to drive us on.
My oldest daughter starts kindergarten this week. And to be perfectly honest, I have trouble embracing it. But a good friend pointed out how much one-on-one time I’ll have with my youngest and how many great times lie ahead with my growing munchkin.
In the mud, and in life, I guess it’s ok to not be ok… so long as you keep moving forward.
So it’s your first Spartan Race and you’re not sure what to expect? Read on for two top ten lists that will help you get to the start line easy.
A well packed bag is worth it’s weight when you’re dealing with the elements. Here’s a few of the items that have earned their way into my nap sack the hard way:
It can be a scary experience showing up for the first time. I figured I’d condense the experience so that you can fully know what to expect before the gun goes off. After that third AROO, you’re on your own. You’ll know at the finish line as they say.
Last but not least have fun and relax. If you need help, ask. Spartans are more than happy to help.
The subject line in my email box read, “Oh my gosh, look how much fun we had.”
And attached was this video:
The line pretty much summed up the Woman 2 Warrior for me and the other two ladies in our little team.
The first, a runner and tennis player, is far more accustomed to pounding asphalt than scaling walls. The second has been training for obstacles, and is one of those super capable athletic types. I rounded the team off as the OCR veteran: although I warned them they might need to carry me to the finish at some point.
I had literally finished running a marathon in Langley and hustled hard to get there less than ten minutes before the gun went off.
And they did indeed carry me through… but thankfully for them, strictly metaphorically speaking.
The flat but well treed course was punctuated with various obstacles.
There were a few water obstacles including a crawl (on super soft tarps – which I could get used to), a cold water submersion, and of course, the slip and slide in the video above.
They had several sets of wall vaults to slanted walls. All within the grasp of a beginner.
There were even some more intermediate obstacles out there: a traverse wall with blocks, valleys where you had to cat traverse and switch to another leaning wall on the opposite side, a super long balance beam lined with tires, an A-frame cargo net and a couple plank ladders.
The monkey bars were the fat tube type… but spaced close enough that they stayed inline with the style of event being achievable.
One of the coolest parts was finishing on the track in the Swanguard Statium. And when we got there… hearing our team mate, who had just finished her first OCR swoon:
I feel like a new woman.
No… you feel like a warrior.
I wasn’t sure if it was fear, excitement, or both all-rolled-into-one when I woke up Saturday morning. Let’s call it the fearcitement of my first day back on a Spartan course in what felt like an eternity.
To make things more interesting, I slept funny and tweaked my neck… which had me in hotdog mode for the days leading up. Thanks to the magic (and hard work) of my husband who is an RMT, I could pretty much turn my head come race day. Pretty much.
The course was awesome. It had a fun mix of obstacles: a mini version of the Tahoe rig (it had more rings and was half as long: like the half marathon is half as long as the full), staggered monkey bars, a barb wire crawl you had to roll a log through, and a bunch of steep and muddy banks you had to climb with a rope.
And it was but muddy. When running through the mud every step was a surprise. Shin, knee or waist height? Thankfully I was almost always behind someone who had to find out the hard way.
The only time I really felt my neck was on the bucket carry – since my back muscles were all jacked before carrying a bucket of rocks around. Basically it took way less time for my back to seize and way more time to do the carry which was not a winning combo. I was freaked out about anything with my arms overhead but that was all fine. The body is pretty amazing.
I spent the race getting reacquainted with things I once knew… like the importance of getting low enough to actually clear the barb wire (and backing up to detangle your back skin)… like the challenge of running through hard lumpy pasture without losing an ankle… like the delicate balance of running hard but always leaving a little in the tank to explode over an 8′ wall.
I also unfortunately got reacquainted with the sting of the burpee penalty. I was finally moving up and feeling good when I face planted on the final peg of the log hop. 30 burpees.
I trotted into seventh place knowing there was a big gap both behind and in front of me. Which was nice. I do like trotting.
All in all, I’m glad to be back in the rodeo and I can’t wait to get back out there again.
See you in Montana.
You may have noticed that you probably need something a little more than just a swig of water to make it through the longer workouts. Although there is no real hard and fast rules about fuelling and hydration, there are some good general rules of thumb I’ll share with you here.
If the workout lasts less than 60 minutes, water alone should get you through it. However, you should have had a pre-workout snack beforehand if your last meals was more than three hours earlier. But in the case of pre-workout snacks, less is almost always more. When you exercise, blood is diverted away from your digestive tract and too much food doesn’t break down properly… usually trying to claw it’s way out mid burpee. 100 calories less than an hour out or 200 calories 2 hours out generally works.
If the workout lasts 60 – 90 minutes, you might add a little something to your water or have a wee bit of calories. You can make your own energy drink or have a handful of raisins. I advise against most packaged drinks as they are a terrifying mix of chemicals. Seriously, what in nature is that colour? Once in a while in a race situation, OK… but in training it should be reserved to trials to ensure it’s works for you. We are doing this to be healthy right? I personally use NorthStar Organic Sportdrink because it’s made of food yet it’s still convenient. Although, I’d still say that most people don’t need anything but water.
If the workout lasts 90 minutes or more, you’ll want to at least bring something to eat or a drink high in calories. You should aim to take in 150 – 250 calories per hour of easily digested carbohydrate. That becomes increasingly important for efforts longer than three hours, like a Spartan Beast or Tough Mudder for most folks. In this case, you want to start 30 minutes in (even if you’re not hungry) to keep your blood sugar level. I advise you break your caloric intake up into 2/3 times per hour. I literally will “sip” on a gel.
I’m a big dude. Should I eat more?
Unfortunately for big dudes, the limits of human digestion are as such no matter your size. Although, since you expend heaps more calories than us small folk, you have to be way more on top of your fuelling and hydration…. perhaps adding a pre-race gel or energy drink. Your fluid needs and capacity will likely also be higher as you have less skin area for heat to dissipate and a bigger body to power.
What are some ideas for easy pre-workout snacks?
It’s almost always a matter of personal preference combined with general rules. No excessive fibres, spice, fat or protein. Easily digested but healthy sources of carbohydrate include oatmeal, bananas, oranges, rice and the like. Keep in mind again that you should still be eating healthy food since pre-workout snacks still comprise a big portion of your diet.
Is there any value in trying my race day fuelling and hydration strategy before race day?
Yes. Never eat or drink anything that you have not tested in training. Long days make the perfect laboratory to test how your body reacts to everything you plan to race with from gear to nutrition. Keep in mind that weather (and a boat load of other things) also effect your hydration needs so with fluid intake, get to know your body… instead of creating a set in stone drinking schedule.
What should I eat and drink after I run?
On an easy day, you can probably just get away with fuelling and hydrating normally depending on weather. However, if the session was particularly long or taxing, you need to start reloading your muscles right away… both to reap the most benefit from that workout and to ensure the success of the next one. It doesn’t have to be complicated… an apple with almond butter and a big glass of water would suffice. You don’t need to chug 2 litres of chocolate milk after every easy 5k run… but if you’re spent, it’s crucial to recovery (which is where you actually grow stronger).
Does your nutrition strategy change for a two race weekend?
Yes. You need to be extra diligent on taking in a solid carbohydrate based snack with some protein and lots of water. Water is necessary to help you digest the carbs. I also started taking in a gel on the second day regardless of distance since glycogen stores are so depleted, and felt it made a huge difference.
I’m not remotely thirsty, should I drink?
Probably not. The research is pretty clear at this point that thirst is actually a good indicator if you pay attention to it. Your performance will drop dramatically though if you are thirsty. So I like to have athletes check-in with their thirst and get familiar with their fluid needs rather than get used to drinking on a schedule. What is key is that you have access to water and sip at it before you get thirsty enough to chug it (at which point it will slosh around in your tummy instead of quench your thirst). During really hot long duration races, you’ll likely want to add some electrolytes.
I’m not hungry, should I eat?
It depends. Do you plan to be out for more than three hours or is this your longest run to date? I’d say yes. Especially if you are racing. You will be running on the limits of your energetic capacities and your digestive system is very limited in terms of processing power so you really don’t want to go down that hole. If, however, you can run easily for two hours without getting hungry or seeing a decline in your mood or performance, why the heck not? I have seen people who have routinely taken one or two gels over the course of a marathon and see unimaginable leaps in performance once they took in the required amount of fuel. I have also seen people run very well on very little.
OK so this is going to be a bit cheese balls.
But I just have to say it: lately I’ve felt like there has been a shift in female sport towards more fierce fitness.
And I mean fierce and fast at any speed.
A couple weeks ago at run club, I ran 400s with the fast ladies at the track. That’s right… ladIES. For so long, it’s been the other lady – or just me. But now. Now we had a wolf pack. A lady wolf pack. Right in there. Running hard and loving it.
We were all having a great time pumping out 400s … and I didn’t even fully realize our combined estrogen output until someone yelled, “girl power!” as we huffed past.
Ten years ago, before GU existed and when I owned a discman waist belt, I ran college cross country with the guys. Not because there weren’t females on the team… but because most of them weren’t interested in vomiting on themselves to shave 30 seconds off their 5k. There is pretty much nothing I wouldn’t have done to shave 10 seconds off… so I’d set my claws into the back of the men’s pack and hang on for dear life like Zellers.
That’s probably where I’ve spent most of my time running… in my bubble, just behind the boys.
I like it there. Don’t get me wrong. You can spit and snot rocket and talk trash freely. It’s probably also been super good training to always be in chase mode (and way more fun.)
But I feel like I see more ladies running in what was once a weird little void… just a few meters off the guys. And with those ladies come community, healthy rivalry: comrades in sport.
I ran a 5k race that Saturday.
There was a strong female pack and I ended up feeling good and pushing off about one mile in. Three of us broke the course record (19:04) and another two just barely missed it.
Would anyone have broken the course record if we weren’t there pushing each other? Probably not. Was anyone thinking about thigh gap or visible abs? Not a chance.
As we approached the finish line I overheard someone from the crowd say, “Wow… the women are coming through already.”
Yeah. You betcha. We’re coming through.
OK, so being a part of a major ad campaign for a major fitness apparel company is pretty darn cool in and of itself.
The fact that this brand represents my sport makes it doubly cool. But the message behind the campaign itself is truly the coolest part.
The Express your Strong campaign is based on the idea that people are born with innate strength that is fed in the wake of the challenges and rigours of training. The message obviously resonated profoundly with me since I overcame a serious accident with the same attributes I had forged in training after many years of being sedentary.
Strength is expressed in many areas of our lives: illness, injury, career, family. Hence, training your body really does change you, inside and out.
The kicker for me is that the campaign focuses on women… which I feel is especially important. Those who know me, know I have an inner feminist drilling away at my core values.
Years ago, I fought my way into a dead-end, only to be publicly ridiculed for suggesting that women race the same distances as men in collegiate cross country. How absurd that women be made to run as far as men… even though they are clearly biologically better-suited to longer distance events.
I cringe at the campaigns that suggest fit women are just as sexy at any weight. It’s not that I disagree with the message. And a part of me loves the premise. Every one of those women are sexy. I just feel like we missed the point. Every one of those women are capable and strong. Their bodies and minds are able to express that in different and yet equally amazing ways. I want “sexy” to loose it’s place as the central issue for us ladies so that we can truly transcend the barriers of valuing a body for it’s ascetics alone.
Fitness is just so much more than that.
Part way into my fitness journey, I realized that I was really discovering that I was strong. I wasn’t fast, I couldn’t lift heavy things, I couldn’t throw or catch. I couldn’t express my strong on Track and Field day. But it was there… as soon as I had an outlet, I found it and it made me who I am today.
Many of us women put ourselves last. We let others lead us, make our choices. We lead others down their own paths. We do it all for the ones we love. But in so, we lose ourselves.
I’ve seen it happen. The eyes that flash, “Oh my god. I can do this.” There is no feeling like it. That strength that surges through your body at the top of a rope climb or at the peak of a mountain. That strength that surges through you just the same when you follow your own heart, overcome your demons or come sliding through the other side of a tragedy.
Sure, there’s room for every fit body to feel sexy. But there’s room for every fit body to feel accomplished, powerful… strong. Isn’t that so much more amazing?
In case you missed the ad…
It’s easy to lose track of that, to quell the cycles that were once such prominent drivers in every aspect of our existence, with our technologically flattened routines. Artificial light, sendentary lifestyles, food-like products, uppers, downers, central heat, air conditioning…
I used to work with horses. I actually lived in a barn. I saw the fields go from barren to lush to barren. I watched the farmers work tirelessly through planting and harvesting seasons. And then nothing. The bright lights that once lit a path late into the dark night for their tractors, now illuminated warm little homes, quiet and still against a backdrop of white snow. They slept, they ate, they recharged.
As it was with us. The training wound down as the ground became frosty and inevitably hardened against the crisp air. Lean muscles pulled taught over bulging ribs hid themselves under blankets of thick fur and a few extra buckets of oats.
A lot of what draws endurance athletes to the sports we live for is a return to simpler, more primal times. To reconnect with nature… it’s cycles… it’s pulse.
We know the warmth of sinking into a soft bed, exhausted. The satisfaction of a full meal into an empty belly. We live these primal cycles every day. We overcome the struggle and find the most profound pleasure in striking balance.
And so it should be.
I’m feeling the full effect of winter. After a long and taxing season of hard training and racing efforts, I’m ok with a few extra bowls of oats and some extra padding on my ribs.
Planting season is after all, right around the corner.