BYO Gym on Vacation

Christmas this year was spent in a small resort on a Philippine island with extended my family.

When I called beforehand they informed me that they had a short running track (500m) but no gym.
So I packed my own.

Here’s what I came up with…

I brought an empty sandbag, a TRX and a skip rope.

I figured that every resort has at least one tree and a whole pile of sand. And my “mobile gym” took up only a small corner of my suitcase.

Turns out the resort neglected to mention their onsite obstacle course… yes, really. So it turned out to be an awesome training ground for the week.

I usually rely a lot on body weight exercise, running and using towels as gliders when I travel. I’ve also tried to cram a door frame pull-up bar into my suitcase… and then ended up using a collection of doors, stair cases and playgrounds.

And I always have a variety of mobility tools like a baseball ball, travel sized roller and bouncy ball in my carry on. On this occasion, security confiscated by baseball stating it was a “blunt force object.” Evidentially they have not seen me throw a baseball. I’d be lucky to hit someone hard enough for them to notice. My husband though made it on the plane with two lacrosse balls in a sock. Seriously.


I’m curious as to what fitness equipment people would pack on their three item list? Leave yours in the comments below.

My First OCR DNF at WTM

My first OCR DNF happened, last night, at my favourite event, the World’s Toughest Mudder.

But it was far from a surprise.

I barely made it carrying my 1-year-old from the car park to the library last week and just did my first nearly pain free shallow pool run three days ago.

We considered cancelling the trip but then decided to give it a go.

Hey, my foot might loosen or numb up or something right?

I was actually surprised to make it through the first lap. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fast and it didn’t feel good… but I was hobbling at a decent clip. If I could just hobble through like this for 24 hours, 75 miles would be no problem. Every step hurt but the pain was manageable. I was happy.

This year you had one free hour to run before the obstacles opened. I should have been over the moon, trotting around the dessert, running like I love to do. Instead, I could hardly wait until the obstacles opened so I could stop limping along through the sand.

The bell rang as I was attempting to pass Operation. This obstacle was a  giant replication of the classic game where you get hit with 10,000 volts instead of a earful of soul jarring buzzer. I took the penalty that first lap, which involved dragging a sandbag up and down a hill and through tunnels. On the next ones though, I opted to go slowly and carefully – not wanting to find out what happens when that kind of voltage runs through my titanium arm. I must have looked like I was defusing a bomb.

Tight Fit was next. They changed the name just to screw with us I’m sure. It was the same large hole cargo net pulled tight over tractor tires. Perfect for tangling exhausted racers up.

Grease Monkey was a set of ascending monkey bars to a descending tube. They got a little harder as they got a little muddier but they were always a welcome break for my leg.

Statue of Liberty again this year! Float across a lake holding a lit torch. So much calm and beauty admist a challenging course.

And then came Gut Buster. It requires you to traverse across a pool of water sideways in the plank position with your feet on a board, walking your hands across a set of fixed vertical beams each about two feet or so apart. Really tough for short people. I noticed the people that fell early did the cinder block carry penalty in the same time that it took me to get across. From then on, I took the penalty.

Hump Chuck is pretty much a giant slanted whiteboard in the water.

Upper Decker was a rope climb out of water where you had to drag yourself into a tube at the top and then crawl through a great deal of mud under barb wire. Easy enough the first few laps but one that would tire people quickly. I guess they made it tube to rope later for safety.

I suck at Swingers. You’re supposed to jump off a tower about 12 feet over a pool of water, grab a T-bar, swing across, let go, hit the bell  with your hand and then drop into the water below. For me it’s always jump off a tower over a pool of water, grab a T-bar, swing across, let go, hit the water with my face. Every time. Bend my arms, face plant. Straighten my arms, face plant. Kip my hips, face plant with added enthusiasm.

Kiss of Mud. Is there glass in here? Are we rolling in glass? These pieces are shiny. And sharp.

I could have happily done Roll the Dice for all 24 hours. Consisting of long pyramids on skewers in the water that you need to grab and quickly throw yourself over to spin, they worked best as a group effort although I was able to get across one time on my own. Fun.

I never got the hang of Tramp Stamp, where you jumped off a platform to bounce off a trampoline to grab a T bar and then zip line across a pool of water. I just couldn’t generate enough bounce. This is also where Ama shot me a thumbs up and yelled, “Good job anyway on the trampoline” – which left a dorky smile on my face for a few miles.

Royal Flush was just unpleasant. Wade across pond and pull yourself up semi submerged incline tube that sprayed water in your face. Just stop. But you couldn’t actually say that because there’s water being sprayed right in your face.

The Mud Mile was always a welcome  sight since it meant the pit was just around the corner.

Everest (the run up the skate pipe) was the first obstacle on the course so I missed it on the second lap since we were still on obstacle free time. There was the regular 1.0 that you do and complete a penalty – or a 2.0 with a higher rounded lip to choose from. Before my leg entirely went and I couldn’t even run to the base, I managed 2.0 easily since some strong dudes were there to haul me up.

Whale’s Turd consisted of a giant inflatable post swim covered in netting. The first few pulls were hard to get over the first jump and then it was up and over. There is just something fun about inflatables.

Hydroplane was what you see kids doing at the pool: running across a bunch of floaty mats over water. And there’s a reason the kids love it.

They made some little knotches on   Liberator (the peg board ramp) to stick your toes into so it was heaps easier. I think this speaks volumes about TM balancing the course out.

For Abseil, you repel down a rock wall by a rope. Simple. But a little freaky the first time.

The Gamble. This year you rolled a dice which determined which variety of wall you got. Vegas baby! I rolled an incline wall, an incline wall with a vertical rail and a huge wall. Thankfully another person also rolled a big wall at the same time and so he hoisted me up and then I pulled him over.

Next was Vertigo, a latter with very slippery boards that led to a balance beam over a cargo net. Easy enough but treacherous. I saw a guy bail face first into it and then fall back into the net. And then get up.

In terms of my DNF, I bounced from high points where I shuffled along in elation under the happy illusion I could make this dream a reality to low points where taking another step was simply too agonizing.

On the run section at end of mile twenty, the pain crawled into my IT band and quad. I was holding my breath just to jog a few steps. Even walking hurt and running downhill was no longer a joyous reunion with nearly pain free running.

John fixed the IT band pain with his magical Chinese RMT powers, suited me up in extra warm clothes and sent me trotting off like a spritly little pony. And then after about 100 feet of pure bliss, things digressed quickly and drastically. It was a hard decision but I officially pulled out.

It’s a funny thing, this is the race that I trained all year for. I was sad and lost. Of course. But having the chance to be with such amazing people doing such cool and challenging stuff still filled my heart with joy.

And of course, surprising the girls back at hotel was all I needed to heal my heart right up.

My body of course, was another matter. I spent a long night writhing in pain and cramping like crazy. Well, at least I won’t be forever wondering if I called it too early.

My husband is yet again the real star. He spent the last month rehabbing my foot while building a giant rig for the canfitpro show next week, working, and being an equally exceptional dad.

And then taking care of everything this weekend. Including his wife’s mental and physical health.

Here’s hoping I can hobble down to bask in the glory of my fellow mudders who fought hard to overcome a challenging course this weekend.

The Spartan World Championship

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

That right there pretty much sums up everything that went through my head during the Spartan World Championship Beast.

Somehow our whole house has been down with some flu/cold/plague for weeks. I was glad when it hit last week since I thought it would be long gone. It got better and then it got worse. Such is living in a house with two little germ sponges that wipe their adorable little noses on you and stick things in their mouths that are still dripping with other kids drool.

I know from experience that altitude does not good for me. I developed sleep apnea, gasped for air through slurred speech and pretty much was dizzy, sick and tired for the duration of our trip to Peru and Bolivia. On one hike up a glacier, I remarked about how terrible another hiker looked. He was literally blue and totally incoherent. John just stared back blankly at me, clearly at a loss for words. Apparently dude looked far better than I did. At this point, our tiny but sturdy guide was yanking me up the hill by a chain affixed to both our waists nonchalantly as he stuffed handfuls of cocoa leaves into his mouth and cracked jokes like this was something he did every day. Because he probably did. We had to turn around not 400m from the top since I couldn’t muster another step.

I tried to put that out of my head. “My the air is fresh” became my mantra. It would carry me to the top like a zippy little mountain goat. That worked for about a minute. Until a familiar feeling clutched my entire being. My ribs all of a sudden became two sizes too small and all the muscles in my torso contracted in unison. Everything got heavy.

Now I don’t run uncomfortably fast often, which is probably why altitude crushes my body and soul as it does. That, along with grip strength gives me plenty of homework for next year. You want to define your weaknesses? Do an OCR. I think that’s what makes them so addictive. You can always become a better person and athelete. Not that I didn’t recognize my short comings before but this race certainly highlighted them with a big fat red pen for me.

Back to the buzzy, cramps sensation.

It was the bell lap on a mile. The bell lap, although I was hardly even jogging.

I slowed to a power hike. On everything… I suck at technical stuff and am if anything a switchback runner. But every time I tried to pick up a jog my whole body stiffened.

I was pretty ok power hiking, although occasionally someone would talk to me and I could hardly respond back. I usually stay cheery through races by chatting it up with the volunteers and other racers. For me that’s when I know I’m having a bad day. No bad jokes.

As for obstacles, they had the fat up and down monkey bars with a big gap – only they spun. When the person next to you came off, it spun the whole bar all the way around. You’ve gotta move fast – something I definitely need to work on. So many people came off it was hard to find space to do burpees but after knocking a set out, it was right back up the mountain.

This was an unusual course for Spartan, 7 miles up, 7 miles down.

I don’t know that the carries were that heavy but they sure felt nearly impossible to me. Even the sandbell carry slowed me to a waver. Two steps sideways, one step up.

I regretted wearing thick pants. The sun was hot.

Until the swim.

The water was probably just a few degrees away from being ice. It was so cold I couldn’t stop gasping.

I was relieved to be out of the water and the wind hit me. Thank goodness for my windbreaker!

And pants. Thank you pants. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

I would not however carry a pack next time. There were more than enough well spaced water stations.

Some time after this there was a crazy series of barb wire crawls to walls. I can’t remember how many because there were too many to count.

Roll through sharp rocks, stammer up to wall, pull self over, attempt to land on feet. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Repeat.

Contemplate re-entering icy water, dunk wall, slip wall, rope climb.

The other signature obstacle that laid waste was the double long rig with traverse poles, Tarzan ropes and rings right at the finish. Almost no one made it across… even the athletes that make this stuff look easy. I made it about halfway and missed the transition from the Tarzan ropes to the traverse pole. So the race ended with 30 burpees and a sprint to the finish.

I was momentarily disappointed with myself. Spartan had put on a great course and I had failed to do it justice.

Then I saw my family leaning over the fence. John smiling. Ama looking through binoculars at me, not twenty feet away. Seren yelling “banana” above the noise of the crowd, and motioning me to the food table.

It was the greatest morning, but it was about to be a great day. My team mate Faye had come in top ten. There were two Canadians on the female podium and one on the men’s.

The next day I decided to head out and do the sprint. I was prepared for it to suck and it didn’t. It was actually fun.

I still had to powerhike the hills but we cut off and went back down the mountain before things got real ugly. Yesterday’s double long bucket carry was almost a snap in comparison. I was able to catch up to Rose, the American Ninja Warrior and Spartan dominator (who was taking it pretty easy the day after the beast), on the traverse wall just before the crazy rig.

I did burpees as she flew across like Spider-Man and I stumbled over the finish 30 seconds later.

Thankfully the staff let me head right back out and try the rig. And thankfully Rose was there cheering and guiding me through right to the bell.

The world championship weekend is about racing. Of course it is. But more than that it is about celebrating this amazing community of crazy people who are living life to the fullest. The hard, the easy, the highs, the lows.

I feel like some of the people closest to my heart I have hardly shared a word with outside of a grunt of encouragement here or there on the side of a mountain, covered in mud, and chalk full of bruises and life.

tuition

Sun Peaks UltraBeast 2015

  
Nothing like being on the tail end of a flu and the starting line of an UltraBeast. 
With the Spartan World Championship coming up in Tahoe next weekend and after having taken a few sick days with zero training, I thought getting back to normal with a long run in the mountains would do me good. 

If I took it easy…

Although, I’m not sure taking it easy was an option out there.

They had the usual obstacles: a couple balances, a few walls (including one halfway up a steep slope), an O-U-T, three very cold crawls, a long hobie hop, mud mounds, traverse wall, cargo net, rope and spear.

I think the big change this year was the relentlessness of the climbs combined with the heavy stuff. There was a tractor tire drag, double sandbell carry, herc hoist, two log carries, tire carry, light bucket carry, tractor pull, and the longest atlas carry I’ve ever done. 

The extra UltraBeast loop also had a heavy sandbag carry up a good vertical with no ladies option followed by a steep hike up a gnarly ski run.

It was a grinder for sure.

Mother Nature also added her own touch: blazing sun to blizzard and back again. I don’t normally change that much in a week… never mind a day.

I almost came off the traverse wall on the first lap since my hands were so frozen I couldn’t close my fingers.

I ended up changing arm warmers and gloves and then putting a long compression on at the drop bag tent halfway. I decided to cook myself in the sun on the climb in order to get my core temperature back up.

The big storm hit as I was just about to make the climb to The Top of the World. I put on my sunglasses to block the snow from my eyes but the wind was freezing me to my bones. A volunteer named Cheryl from the Herc Hoist gave me her almost brand new shell to block the wind. It was glorious… like stepping inside a sauna. I’ve never been so happy or so grateful. 

My nose also eventually stopped bleeding. I had jammed a branch up it early on while doing burpees and it was like turning on a slow faucet.

I was still nauseous and dizzy. I was still tired. But I always try to focus on what’s going right and how I can make things even better. The flu isn’t going to magically evaporate but I can hydrate and fuel well and keep the pace and effort even.

The volunteers were outstanding. I’ve yet to see more engaged, more enthusiastic, more amazing ones anywhere. 

Outside of obviously making more realistic cut offs (since technically only 24 people finished under the 6pm cutoff), I think they need an elite vs open UB heat.

It would clear up things like assisting one another at obstacles, taking burpees instead of doing carries and all that. Stuff you do in an open heat but not as an elite.

I do love the camaraderie aspect of people helping each other through to finish. It’s what makes these long races so special. 

There was one guy on course on his second lap, with his knees blown out, looking for ways in which he could better everyone he passed. Just incredible – and a big part of what this community is about.

But I do feel things get tricky if you’re running for a podium spot. Then it’s got to be elite rules as far as I figure.

The hardest part of the day for me was watching the people who were pulled off course or just missed the cutoff. You know they poured their hearts and souls onto the course and they never got their moment to celebrate its completion.

Still, they ran the same course, conquered the same obstacles and fought the same fight that the official finishers did. Geez, some even went out onto their second lap determined to get as far as they could before they got pulled knowing that they probably wouldn’t make it to the finish line. These are the people I want my children growing up to be.

The Red Deer Hurricane Heat, Super and Sprint

Who knew that packing for one weekend could be so involved?

Three events, two kiddos, one kid’s race and a special Hurricane Heat pack list will certainly do that.

mud pit strapped

The Hurricane Heat

For those of you who don’t know, the addition of the Hurricane Heat started in 2011 when Hurricane Irene threatened the cancellation of the race so Spartan founder, Joe Desena, decided to bring the group out for a military inspired workout complete with team challenges and exercises. Failure meant burpees. As per usual.

Each Hurricane Heat is different and usually lasts 3-4 hours, although they do have 12 and 24 hour ones for sadists who are interested in extended the torture to an inconceivable duration.

Our theme was hockey. We had to bring a toque with our favourite team logo (I fashioned mine out of a toque, a poorly hand drawn logo on the back of a business card and a couple safety pins) and a “regulation length hockey stick.”

A friend-of-a-friend actually lent me his stick despite my failure to promise it’s safe return.

We broke up into teams and started into the challenges. Our team was led by an adorable teenager named Max who is a natural born leader. He kept us all in-line and in good spirits.

The challenges varied between everyone working together to fashion a raft out of hockey sticks and zap straps to float the cadre across the lake (which did not work); to our small seven person team getting one of our own upside down up a slip wall; to working in partners with our hands zap strapped together to get over an eight foot wall. There was even the solo challenge of going through the mud pit with our hands cinched behind our backs.

The big challenge for me as the night went on became the cold. I was ill prepared for night fall and the soggy arm warmers I had to warm myself just weren’t doing the trick.

At the end of the night we huddled in a circle, trying to absorb the heat radiating off the still-warm concrete as three people read the essays they had written about why they race.

All three were phenomenal but I know the third one struck a cord with so many. You can read it here.

The Super

I made the mistake of starting too far back and getting caught behind on the first few miles of single track – which was fun in that it meant I had some work to do to catch up. Like I need to feel any more like a cougar.

They had some interesting twists on the old favourites, like a lighter bucket carry that wove it’s way through mud pits. Mother nature also put her own twist on things. The monkey bars and balance beams were slick. By the last rung I was holding on by my pinkies.

The course was flat and fast and I was happy to get a burpee free round for the win.

The Sprint

The course was even flatter and faster than the day before – and perhaps even more slick. The penalty box was full of elite men doing burpees when Faye and I arrived lockstep at the balance beam. I ended up doing the splits at each junction but both Faye and I made it over unscathed and got to battle it out for the remainder of the race. It all came down to the spear throw at the top of a set of stairs just three short obstacles to the finish. And thankfully mine stuck.

Two burpee free races in one weekend.

The Kid’s Race

Ama, my oldest decided to do her first kid’s race since her cousins were doing theirs. Not one for mud, she chose to wear a pink tutu and was absolutely horrified when it got splashed. That and she wouldn’t touch the obstacles after they became dirty. Not exactly the perfect first mud run but… she finished. As did my two nieces and my nephew in the adult race. It’s beyond describable to see your family enjoy the sport you love. Or at least, make it through with most of a clean tutu.

red deer

Recovering between Races

If you’re looking for some double race weekend strategies for recovering, I have the blog post for you here.

How to Recover Fast Between Races

On the last two Spartan Race weekends I managed back-to-back wins (Ottawa Super and UltraBeast and Red Deer Super and Sprint). And I have been getting a lot of questions as to how I recover.

couch

Here’s my Top Five List:

  1. Training – I train hard and long days back to back so my body is pretty used to getting a beat down a couple days in a row. Usually I try to vary the stress if my body feels off like a long run followed by day of power hiking in the mountains or pulling the kids around in a bike carrier on a hilly route.
  2. Nutrition Window – Almost the first thing I try to do is get something into me. You have about thirty minutes to get some fuel in. Basically your muscles are like sponges during that time and primed to soak it up. You also want some protein to start muscle repair. Experts say 3 or 4 grams of carb to each gram of protein but really, just get a little protein in there and you’re good. You also need water to break those carbs down so drink up. Depending on the race I usually head straight to the Thirsty Buddha or chocolate milk tent. I also have a handful of bars and a bottle of water in my drop bag just in case.
  3. Active Recovery – Honestly, I’m too lazy for cool-down jogs but I do try to walk it out a bit before I hose down. I also spend a much longer time warming up and start off way slower on day two to give my body more time to get race ready. Plus, my kids love pools and we’re usually travelling race weekends so I end up spending the afternoon floating around in water shaking things out.
  4. Body Work – I a huge believer in doing your own mobility work. I have a pre-race and post-race routine. I’m also fortunate to pack around a registered massage therapist with me (my husband) who understands the sport. But if you didn’t marry into mobility, that’s fine. Just carry a portable foam roller and some balls with you.
  5. Relax – It’s not only your body that just took a huge hit, racing is also mentally and emotionally taxing. With two little bitty kids we don’t get to watch movies as often as I’d like so between races I look forever to curling up and watching one. It’s also important to remember not to take it too seriously if you have a double race weekend. Have fun out there and take the pressure down a notch. It may be normal in our sport, but being able to finish two races back-to-back is pretty darn amazing!

That Which her Body and Mind is Capable


We were huddling on the still warm pavement, shivering and sopping wet, at the end of the Red Deer Hurricane Heat. We were cold, tired and hungry.

Three people pulled out the 500 word essay on “why we race” as we were asked to bring.

The first two essays were amazing.

The third warmed me the goose bumps right off of me.

It was written by a determined girl who struggled a bit but fought through with a smile and got it done.

And here’s what it said.

Why I Race by Olivia Greenham

My son Noah suffered a severe brain injury at birth. When he was 4 days old we found out that he was essentially “brain dead”. On Christmas Eve 2010, at 5 days old, we took him off life support and prepared to say goodbye.

He ended up pulling through and we took him home 5 days later.

He is now 4.5 years old, has severe cerebral palsy, and is wheelchair-bound and non-verbal.

After Noah was born I suffered from PPD and PTSD. I gained back all of the weight that I had lost from giving birth, plus 20 more pounds. I was a total of 60lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight by Noah’s second birthday. I was severely depressed and actively planning my suicide when I finally got the help that I needed. In 2013 I got a hold of my mental health and grew to accept myself and my body.

In January 2014 I weighed 250lbs. I decided that I was finally ready to do something about it, and Noah was my inspiration and motivation. He will never be able to walk, run, or do anything that a typical child would be able to do. I already have to be his voice… I have to be his arms and legs too. He is only going to get bigger and heavier, so I needed to get smaller and stronger.

I found Crossfit and that ignited a fire in me that led me to signing up for my first Spartan on a complete whim… the 2014 Edmonton Sprint. By all accounts I didn’t do very well, but I did something for ME, and the sense of accomplishment I felt jumping over that fire led me to setting a goal of doing 25 races by the time I turn 25.

Finding a love for fitness and racing has allowed me to deal with my depression in a positive and healthy way.

Throughout the last year and a half I’ve learned that I need to be “selfish” and do things that don’t revolve around being a mom. Noah helps me push harder when I want to give up, and he gives me the strength and purpose to even be alive today. When I struggle I think about seeing my baby in the NICU and all of the emotional pain I went through when we were told we would lose him. I know that I’ve already been through the absolute worst and most painful experience that I could go through…. Any physical pain is nothing in comparison. Noah has taught me to be thankful for the fact that I have a fully functioning body and mind.

The biggest reason why I race is because I deserve to treat myself and my health as the number one priority. I race for the sense of pride I have in myself when I cross that finish line, knowing that I can push my body to limits that I never thought possible.

“It’s a shame for a woman to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which her body is capable”

The Ottawa Super and UltraBeast

  

I was really hoping to get a double win this weekend in Ottawa: the Super and the UltraBeast. 

The Super started out up the side of the mountain on single track. Jostling for position was tricky and it ended up being a nice warm up. The obstacles and course were awesome with some fun combos like a herc hoist to rope climb. This is where I finally caught up to the lead, Judith, who runs like a gazelle.

After the rope, there was a series of switchbacks up the mountain at my favourite grade. Back at the bottom of the mountain was a heavy jerry can carry followed by a tractor pull (cement on a chain). 

The jerry can was unpleasant. It was the kind of weight you usually see in the states. 

I missed my spear but I had enough of a lead that it didn’t factor in. 

One down.

I had a lot more confidence going into the UltraBeast with my endurance background and felt almost no nerves Sunday. Plus, we had no kids. What a relaxed race morning that makes for.
When we showed up the registration line spanned across the parking lot and was not moving.

A few staffers informed us that there was a problem with the system and that no one would start until we were all through.

Well we waited, the announcer started, the tape was cut and the racers took off.

Crackerjacks.

No problem, the race was based on chip time today. We started in the next wave, 15 minutes back.

I reframed the late start as a bonus: if I caught anyone, I’d have them, unless they dropped me by more than 15 minutes. 

It made things confusing until I caught the last lady on the bonus “carry section” of the UB course. I checked my watch when she passed and again when I passed that same point. I was eight minutes “ahead.” 

After the carries and drags, and once I start to love life again (boy were they tough in the heat), someone yelled that I was two minutes behind the leader. 

Two minutes gun time or chip time? He was looking at a phone so I wasn’t sure.

We were running up a stream for the next obstacle (which was cold and devine) and I asked the cameraman how far she was. 30-45 seconds.

Gotcha.

She came off the monkey bars and was doing burpees when I passed her.

I loved the course. It was fun, had a lot of challenge and variety and was well marked. At the Super there was a fuzzy area but they rectified that 100% by the next morning. I love that about Spartan Eastern Canada. Problems solved. The one area I found confusing was the tire carry. We followed it just fine but weren’t certain we were hiking the right way until the end.

My favourite obstacle was the infinity bar combo. It was basically a swingy turning monkey bar spool to pipe alternating. Fun. 

They also had little change ups like a weaver pole and a double and then single sand bag carry from lap to lap. And only one carry lap. Thank heavens.

Just kept it fresh…

Part of distance racing is knowing yourself, and I know that I don’t like stopping. So my drop kit was a sandwich bag filled with various forms of sugar. 

I grabbed it and headed back out of the drop bag tent. A friend who is faster but has less experience at these crazy long races, finished his stop and hiked along side me for a bit. 

He had a long pit and saw no other females so it was nice to hear it confirmed that I moved into first. I was well hydrated and well fed.
I saw the girl who was originally in the lead coming up the mountain as I was coming down and was relieved to see that I had opened such a gap. We exchanged cheers and I picked up the pace.

From here it was a lot more easy running. I felt so good on the switchbacks… I was certain I was running sub 5 minute kilometers… although my GPS didn’t last the 8 hours until this point. 

At every obstacle I did they confirmed I was in the lead. Most people I passed said the same.

Not one person said I was in anything but first – until the finish line. 

I missed my spear and one of the media guys congratulated me on second. 

No first. 

No second. 

As it went…

Sorry to tell you but first place just passed through the finish line.

Most somber looking fire jump ever. I’m sure I looked like Eyore after watching Bambi’s mother die.

I thought I was having a stroke until person after person came up to either congratulate me on the win or tell me they saw me in the lead the whole final lap.

The next few ladies stumbled over the line with the same confusion and disbelief.

As it turned out, the girl who was originally in the lead on the first lap went off course and Rosie Ruiz’d it.

It was a bit of a crazy blow on an otherwise amazing race. I did more burpees than I should have. But the last lap particularly was so much fun. 

Thanks in no small part to the Mudd Queens and all the support and encouragement from various east coasters along the route. 
You guys are awesome and I’m going to miss you something fierce.

Who will yell, “Allison Tai, you f**king suck at running downhill!” as they blow past me… as the guy who once carried my arm warmers for an entire race when I dropped them does… every time. 

Who will make me love this sport for the sport itself and for the people drawn to it?

I have absolutely loved racing Nancy and Judith – and number one OCR athlete in the universe Claude. It’s like racing family.
And I will miss Milligan and the CMQ group dearly. Thanks for making me feel at home. 

I’m one lucky girl.

BattleFrog New England

 

 
It’s been a while since I’ve been afraid to not finish a race.

But when you’re racing as an elite at BattleFrog, it’s entirely plausible. And it’s kind of exciting.

At the start, they give you an elite band, which is taken away should you fail to complete any obstacle. And the obstacles are designed by navy seals to collect those bands.

What’s great about BattleFrog is that even though the obstacles are challenging for elites when completed solo, recreational athletes can still complete them with the help of others. Or they can take the 8-count-bodybuilder penalty.

On that note, sorry I yelled at you for touching my butt nice-guy-who-was-just-trying-to-help-me-over-the-wall. I’m fine with you touching my butt if I don’t get disqualified for it. Seriously.

Most of the obstacles were typical outside of being very well made and having little twists… like a slippery wall without the customary rope. They had walls of all heights and inclines, ropes, nets, latters, a crawl, a sternum checker, and a sandbag carry.

What really set the race off was a double jerry can early on that was long enough to blow your forearms just the right amount. On the second lap I was pleasantly surprised to find out we only had to carry one, so you could switch it back and forth.

For some, the second lap was surprising, in that elites had to do a second lap. 

On that note, sorry guy-who-thought-we-were-at-the-finish-when-we-were-only-halfway. Seriously. Damn. That is not a good kind of surprise. 

The rig (cage with stuff you had to swing across) was the real deal breaker for a good chunk of the elites.

The female’s side was a rope, low ring, two more ropes, a high ring, a fat square bar, two monkey bars with a large gap, a pipe, a low ring and two high rings.

The men’s was a fireman pole, two pipes, side traverse, ring, rope, fat square bar, two monkey bars with a wide gap, pipe and three high rings.

I came off the first two times but there wasn’t much of a line and thankfully I hopped back on quickly. The third time I skipped the pipe and grabbed the low ring at the end with my feet and made it through.

Fist pump.

At the rig on my next lap there was a small crowd of elites still on their first lap, determined to make it through. Now that my friends is true grit. Man, to be there when they finally nailed it…

My least favourite obstacle was the Tsunami. From the ground, it looked like a slide. From up top, it looked like a free fall. 

I dropped off the side, hanging from one set of finger tips. At that point I felt my free fall suspicion had been confirmed, but there was only one option outside of a one arm muscle up on my finger tips. I let go and before I knew it I had launched off the end and was skidding across the ground, shorts at once transformed into a thong and yet somehow ballooned up with mud.

The race had top notch obstacles, a great atmosphere and was well marked.

But the most striking part of my experience was the people. 
My dad had to fly home unexpectedly and as such, we had no one to watch the kids. When we got to the race, we were swiftly and happily sorted out. 

The volunteers were also extra amazing. They would instruct you clearly when you came up to an obstacle and then cheer you through. Even the photographers were cheering.

I can’t wait to race another BattleFrog, and to hopefully make it across that finish line with an elite band still strapped to my wrist again… mud wedgie and all.

Toronto Spartan Sprint and Super

  

After a sleepless red eye and several attempts at nighttime sleeping with a baby who is cutting molars (and who is not very good at sleeping in the best of occasions)… we knew this weekend was going to be one of those “pull-up-your-boots” and STFU kinda scenarios.

The Toronto Spartan courses are on a relatively small mountain. It is truly impressive how they deliver such a beat down – the climbing feels relentless at times. 

On Saturday I ran the Sprint event burpee free – after working out a new spear throw technique that has yet to fail me and getting a handle on the slack line (I call it running like hell for the bell). 

I was feeling kinda flat until I saw first place just around the lake… and a flat trail to get there. I opened up my stride and as soon as our shoulders aligned, it was on. 

There was a super mucky barb wire pit, where I failed to keep my hands dry (despite knowing the rig was around the corner). 

As soon as we stood up, we started pulling clumps of thick muck of our hands. The next major obstacle was drying our hands off: grass, shirt, head, bra, anything.

We ran up the final grass hill with our hands on the ground like dogs scooting their bums on the carpet.

April, first onto the final real obstacle – the rig, is a killer fit, talented and a local favourite. Guys from her team were gathering and yelling at her to drop me. Sadly, she rushed the rig and came off.

Hitting the bell at the end of the series of ropes, rings and square bars was awesome. A slippery wall and a fire jump and I had this thing in the bag.

Sometimes it’s just your day.

And other times, it’s not.

The next day was the Super, which is more than double the distance of a Sprint… so far more my thing.

I began the race at the back and started working my way through the pack, as I always hope to do. 

A few kilometers in there was a bottleneck at the super long monkey bar set. 

There was only one lane for ladies, with one racer hanging off the first rung and her feet still on the platform and another almost across but struggling.

“You’re up” – I pointed out.

No go.

She didn’t want to move until the woman in front had cleared them. Which was fair since it sucks hanging there waiting for the person in front to keep moving. But I figured since was most of the way across it would have taken a long enough time to get to her and by that time she would have come off or hit the bell.

So I asked if I could go and promised that I’d be off long before I could be in her way. But that didn’t work since then I’d be on the bars. 

I tried to do the males side but I couldn’t reach the bars. 

It was agony. I’ve never waited in line at a Spartan Race before. 

It was probably only a couple of minutes but it felt like hours. Days. An eternity.

Maybe I could have just touched the bars and taken burpees, maybe I could have jumped in front and side traversed on the pole to get past her. Both seemed like the wrong thing to do.

So I waited. 

And finally I went.

I spent a while trying to close the gap until I got lazy and focused on holding third.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I could have done to make the outcome of that situation better. You just do what you can with what you can control. It’s just how this sport goes.

I let myself have a few minutes of disappointment until I hosed off. And then I decided to let it wash away with the mud.

How to Run Better without Running

As a running and strength and conditioning coach, I often run into problems with poor lateral alignment and the profound effect that has on power, efficiency and injury.

I wanted to do a quick post elaborating on this rampant runner problem.

And I would know, because every photo of me post accident looks like I’m melting under my own body.

Worse that most, as I damaged the nerve that supplies my glute medius muscle (shown below) on the right side of my pelvis (along with snapping the inner thigh muscles off the pelvis on the same side to make things extra flimsy).

It was like kicking a leg out and expecting the table to stand upright when pounding on it with a sack of hammers.

glute med

Thankfully, I am looking a lot straighter now. And I feel like I owe a big debt of gratitude to strength and conditioning.

good hip

I’ve done my fair share of monster walks, clamshells and lateral leg raises – exercises that traditionally target the glute med. But really, I feel the biggest leap forward was made using the humble squat.

A great many people start out squatting with their knees collapsing in. If you look closely you can see her knees crying. You can also see her feet collapsing inward or “over-pronating”. Any of you runners feeling a little “ah-ha”?

suqat

This pattern is even more pronounced in the one-leg squat patterned, AKA running. And with half the unstable support missing, the pelvis drops noticeably on the unsupported side, causing shear forces on the lower back and pelvis. Gross.

If you’re one that suffers from IT band issues, you might have this going on. Just imagine how much pressure gets put on the outside of your leg (including the wee TFL muscle that holds down part of the top of the band on the outside of your hip).

hip drop

I think in order to learn to fire this small but indispensable little muscle, you need to do the isolated exercises.

But then you need to take it into your big movement patterns: squats, stairs, hiking, running. Pelvis straight, knees over toes. It just might make all the difference in your running efficiency and freedom from injury.

Every movement in your day contributes to your movement pattern and how your muscles need to support your structure and activities. Make em count.

The Vancouver Spartan Sprint 

 

There are many good things about a hometown race. 

 First off, you know the terrain… so you can fly on in. Second, people know you and cheer using your name. Some people: some people yell “Go Ellie” but whatever… good enough. Third, you just might have a babysitter and be able to race your significant other for the first time ever.

I had the flu Thursday so ended up spending the day in bed… which may have actually helped. Resting is not easy for me. But I guess I showed up rested care of feeling intensely dizzy every time I stood up.

My husband has also been sleeping with the baby – and I’ve been sleeping with ear plugs. Which is an awesome arrangement for me.

I showed up ready to run the downhills fast and it was perfect having my husband and #1 training partner to chase on the decents. The course was hilly, rocky and a bit technical but nothing like the frightening leg breakers often featured in Spartan races. I’m looking at you Mont Tremblant. 

Perspective right?

I think running the drops quick really helped me out since I ended up doing 60 burpees (balance and spear).

The spear led the final cluster of obstacles and I was just finishing my burpees when the mighty Faye Stenning and Michelle Ford rolled in. Good news for me, they both missed too and I was able to make my way to the finish without being hunted down in the final few hundred meters.

These are not ladies you want chasing you into the finish area.

I was a little worried about my choice of wardrobe: capris. But my outfit was a new line I tried from Virus Athletics that cools your skin. It felt instantly cool when I put it on but I wasn’t sure how it would respond on the side of a mountain in the sun. It was awesome. Like wearing a wet towel and yet nothing at all – and especially cool when it gets wet (hello, mud pit of wet). It also feels seamless and like silk. I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to end up wearing this stuff.