It’s Ok That it’s Not Ok.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Not Doing Burpees is Awesome

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After racing pretty hard yesterday, I wasn’t sure how things would go today.

I got ahead of Claude, Spartan World Champion x2 and Olympic biathlete, on the first climb by running as much as I could – and by narrowly escaping a heart attack.

Good start.

She took back the lead heading down the other side of the mountain, but the terrain was neither steep nor technical, so I was able to stay with her. I saw her cross the balance beam to slack line combo I had failed twice to this point. Instead of slowing and carefully balancing, I took my husband’s advice and ran for the bell with all I had and thumped it with a triumphant “donk”.

Then I danced. Then I kept running.

I set up and launched my spear as I always do. But something different happened.

It went in.

The only two obstacles I’ve failed on this course behind me. Might this be my first race without penalty burpees?

After the hand hold traverse to long monkey bar combo, the course ran through the crowd of spectators before the big cargo and another big climb.

The crowd was absolutely thundering.

And the announcer said I was in first place.

Me?

Whoah. Really? Where’s Claude?

I had no idea she missed the bell on the end of the slack line and was 30 burpees back.

The crawl uphill was horrendous on the open wounds on my knees and hand from the fall yesterday but I managed to get through it.
I swore a bit but not nearly as much as I did when I landed that spear. And I pretty much always swear. I’m from Alberta.

I managed to hold Claude off up the final climb by running as much as I could. She was coming into the atlas carry (carry large stone, 5 burpees, carry back) as I was heading back down the mountain.

It didn’t take her long to overtake me on the technical and steep downhill section under the chair lift into the finish area. That lady flies on the gnarly decents.

But man, who cares… that was the best race ever.

My Edmonton Spartan Sprint race recap

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I managed to hobble through a 5k trail race on Tuesday after almost two
long injured months off of running, so I was hopeful that I would be able to run between obstacles today.

I finished the Spartan Sprint in North Vancouver a couple weeks ago but it was a long way to hobble and running is so much make fun. I was just really ready to get back to running in the mud. Just maybe not that much mud. So much mud. So much man eating mud. But we’ll get to that.

The interesting part about Spartan Races are that you kind of know what’s coming after you’ve done a few. But you don’t really know. It’s not like a road or even trail race where you know the course, and thus, what you’re getting into. You really just have to let the race unfold. No expectations, no assumptions.

Spartan courses are typically held on a ski resort… and they typically make full use of the terrain with a run up the steepest possible part of the mountain. We were not on a ski hill, so it’d be easier right? Nothing but a bumpy muddy cow field. Easy.

Not so fast. Spartan never makes things easy. And neither does Mother Nature.

A huge rain storm raged out last night, filling the mud pits to capacity and making a whole whack of new ones.

The first obstacles were pretty typical: a crawl, a set of over unders.

The balance beam came next – earlier than usual – which was probably a good thing. I got across… but was a little over cautious. I ended up getting passed by a girl who looked (out of the corner of my very focused vision) to be running across. I was just happy I didn’t come off at the very end, as is my habit. I took a second to gather myself (and my nerves) at the last turn, and I think that helped.

On the tire flip I made sure to grab one already dislodged from the vacuum-like mud… still, each time I flipped I had to pry the tire up and wedge my fingers under.

Next came the wall. I turned a bit and grabbed with one hand which was much easier for me than doing two at once.

Not accidentally I’m sure, they stacked the tractor pull and the sandbag carry one after another. Especially challenging, since both were through large puddles.

Dragging the cement block through the water was the easy part – over the muck hills was not.

I swung wide on the sandbag carry through the deep mud puddle and got my first taste of real suck. At this point, I realized that I was up against mud that wanted to eat me and had a grip good enough to do so.

Glad to be out of there, I came up to a long mud puddle that some guy was crawling across. On the approach I wondered aloud to the guy beside me why the man ahead of us was crawling. “Do we HAVE to crawl here?”. There was no wire, no net. Why oh why was he crawling…?

I booted it, and braced for a patch so slippery that it would bring someone to crawl across it.

I didn’t slip, I went RIGHT in. Like to my shoulders in. Like, “fudge balls, this is how the dinosaurs died.”

I tried to wiggle my feet. No. Step. No. Crawl. Hell no. I was vacuum sealed into the muck. I wasn’t getting out of there without being extracted.

Thankfully, someone was kind enough to stop their race to pull me out. I’d probably still be there now if he wasn’t. Thanks guy in the plaid shorts!

From there on it was difficult. I was exhausted from the struggle and coated in heavy mud.

I fell off the traverse! Again! Outside of the spear throw (there are always burpees waiting for me at spear throw) these were the only burpees I had to do. And of course I waited until the last block to come off. It’s funny coming off the traverse wall because it’s almost as if you’re on the floor by the time it happens. No fight. You’re done. Burpees.

The incline wall was as it always is. Intimidating, but then you get there and realize there are slats to climb up so you stop crying and climb.

You then ran through a small lake and up a hill where a set of monkey bars greet you (which were lovely perched atop the hill from the start area). The first few bars were tough but the mud rubbed off a bit as I went so I managed to stay on.

The last five obstacles were all smooshed up at the end as they always are.

Exhausted muddy people (many shoeless to finish but not shoeless to start) trying to climb things are entertaining. But it’s also when you need support and good cheer the most: so it’s mutual. Laugh all you want so long as you’re clapping!

The mud pit was like any other… mostly just there so that you can get real mudded up before hitting the slippery wall. Ooowwwee was it slippery. We parked ourself to watch the race from a table on the other side of the fence and it certainly was entertaining. Note: I was also clapping.

The rope climb was the last physical obstacle. Funny thing, you can be great at climbing a rope but climbing a rope muddy and exhausted is an entirely different beast. I like to get to the top where I can almost extend my arm to get the bell and then slide down repeatedly. My plan is always just to man myself up there before I run out of steam but it always takes a few chugs more than I’d like.

I missed the spear. I-always-miss-the-spear. I’m lucky to be a natural vegetarian because I would never catch an animal in the wild with a spear. I’d be lucky to hit it hard enough to get it to notice me.

Apart from the only race I’ve ever been in with man eating quicksand (yeah I’m pretty sure it was only mud on top), it was also the first race where I jumped over a “real fire.” Normally it’s just a gas line – today it was real wood. I still thought of it more as a feature than an obstacle… although I was definitely a little more careful not to trip.

I was happy (once it was over and the urge to vomit and/or pass-out stopped) to be back running and be back on the podium.

The really awesome thing about racing OCRs is that they expose your weaknesses – and you always have things to bring back to your training… new and old.

Winning isn’t everything, even in Sparta

 

Joe Desena designed and built the Spartan Race as a mirror for challenges in life. Something like, we’ve gotten so used to being comfortable that any type of discomfort seems magnified. His thinking is that with enough exposure to discomfort, little things will be put back into their rightful place and become, well… little.

On Mother’s Day I somehow rolled my ankle running down a steep trail. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the next day while running hill reps, it didn’t feel right. But of course, I kept running on it. The next day, I couldn’t walk… or the next… or the next. In fact, I had to walk backwards down the stairs in our house for a few weeks.

I missed a marathon that I signed up for in May but was optimistic about my chances to heal before the Spartan Sprint in North Vancouver.

Not so. I jog very gingerly at Crossfit the two days ago – not 400m – and as I was being passed by a man built like a truck, I knew I had to throw the run towel in.

I was still kind of hoping through some awesome miracle of Sparta it would pop back into place or whatever at the start line. This is not entirely misplaced. I once hobbled to the start of an 8k only to blast off instinctively to the gun and somehow pop my sacrum back into place with too big a stride, finishing strong and injury free.

I “ran” about 25m in this case and settled into my peg leg hobble. Darn.

Being toward the back of the pack at the first obstacle wasn’t so bad, but… like in my old cross country days, get caught in the back at a hill and – you soon realize how having a strong run off the gate sets you up for a good race in OCR.

I was lucky to have my brother out there with me. He took the year off running and is not in top form so we ended up leap frogging a bit.

I did more burpees than I would have liked today. Not surprisingly at the wall… all elites had to take the side without the board and I couldn’t run up to it. The one legged hopping just wasn’t doing it. I also fell off the balance beam and missed the spear throw. I was surprised by my fall off the balance beam despite my wonky ankle but would have been more surprised had I actually made the spear throw. I never seem to get it on the first try even in training.

The rope climb at the end was hard. The knots really get me when the weather is cold and my grip fails. I kept trying to get around that top knot and kept slipping back down. I’m not quite in the shape I have been… but even last year I remember having used some not so ladylike language when I hit this one. Thank goodness the crowd rallied for me. I wanted to hug each and everyone of them after… but that would be weird… and I was REALLY muddy.

The crowd also loved my one leg fire hop (even though it was strategic for not all the way snapping my ankle tendons) – I might just keep it as a signature.

My goal for the day was to finish in one piece physically and mentally. I’m not going to lie, I do not like losing. I know, serious character flaw – but let’s face it – that’s what makes racers racers. We like to win and we hate to lose. Otherwise, we just wouldn’t push ourselves so hard we wanted to fall down, puke or die.

On the way up to the mountain my three-year-old asked if I was going to win. I told her that I probably wouldn’t but I would try my best to get to the finish line.

That really kept me going out there. Like my run was going to be some glorious lesson in taking life in stride… trying your best… being a good loser.

When I came in though she had only three questions for me. Did my leg hurt? Did I get my watch muddy? And, did I crawl in the mud?

She didn’t care if I won or lost. My four-month-old still cooed and made googley eyes at me while I pealed the mucky compression gear off. My three-year-old wanted pancakes. My husband said, “good job” – and I think he even meant it.

So there it was, my kids and husband teaching me a lesson yet again. It doesn’t matter. We’re all just lucky to be out there: crawling through the mud and getting our watches dirty – even if our leg hurts.

Whether intentional or not, Spartan Racing really does teach you how to be a better and happier person. You can’t change how high the wall is or if the weather cooperates, you have no control over your injuries come race day after you’ve done everything possible to heal them. You do your best anyways and you be grateful for the ability to confront yet another challenge.

Still, I’m looking forward to racing hard on two legs.

Race report from the Vancouver Spartan Sprint, 2013

Race Report from the Vancouver Spartan Sprint, 2013

This race was a last minute decision for me. When the race had to be moved to June 1st, I was heart broken. Same day as the Whistler Half. What to do.

I’ve hardly trained this year outside of running in races. My foot has been engaged in a nonstop cramp all the way up to my hip since March… which makes running difficult.

A bunch of friends were going, and I felt like 5k is a whole lot more manageable than 21.1 given my current shape. Plus, a guaranteed super fun time. Or something.

Spartan puts on a great race. You can tell they care more about the experience than the profits. They had shuttle buses to the top despite fairly ample parking, lots of washrooms, and a course that would be very difficult to get lost on. This is a big contrast to the competitor event that went on in the same location last year. I spent the whole time lost and frustrated. Obstacle races must be hard to mark, of course, but Spartan always does a bang up job. And the people who run it seem like a terrific bunch of people who love mud racing. If you do one mud race, I’d say do Spartan.

It’s definitely a little more nerve wracking not knowing what’s going to be out there. You know you’re in for 5k. But 5k of what? Turns out the “what” today was what bad dreams are made of. You know that one where you’re running up a mountain in knee deep snow. That was my morning.

The race director advised that we get out in front to the first obstacle. This is advice I often give. Although “get out front” and “sprint 200m uphill through slush to suffer the rest of the mountain climb gasping with the taste of blood in your mouth” probably wasn’t what he meant in hindsight. This was the only time in the race I lost my lead. And I told myself, “you will not loose the lead.”

The first real obstacle was pulling a “tractor” or cement block. Wow, way harder in snow. First off, you’re slipping. Second, the block isn’t. It plows up a little mound of snow in front of it. About halfway through I realized taking the rope over your shoulder helped immensely.

More uphill. Lots more snow.

I still haven’t decided if running through the deep slush was better or running along the crusty sides with the surprise fall throughs. I’m thinking as the day went on, after the trail had been broken it may have gotten easier. But that depends on the answer to my earlier consideration.

Bombing down the hill on the backside of the mountain was fun… being a kid fun. I didn’t realize until after I hit flat, snowless ground that my feet were in fact, frozen solid. That and I was very tired.

Their were also two girls hot on my heels. The typical runability of the Spartan course was buried under two-feet of snow. I usually can loose runners on the run portion to give myself a little extra time in the final obstacles. Not today. Better keep moving and avoid burpees at all costs.

The monkey bars were slick. I had to wrap my thumb around to stay on, and switch from doubles to singles near the end. I dropped one girl here. She was right on me so at least I could breathe a little now.

The board wall is made a whole lot easier with my New Balance Minimus. And by now my feet had been pounded back into flexing a little.

The last few climbs would have been fairly easy obstacles had I any feeling in my body. Normally I love a final rope climb but this one was tough. The knots in the rope kept on catching my feet (ok maybe my feet kept on catching them.)

The mud pit before the climb was also extra cold, extra long and contained extra sharp bits.

I missed my spear throw. Like always. This is where I did my first and only set of burpees. Good thing I’m a vegetarian, lest I ever need to catch dinner in the woods.

I finished in 44:31. My slowest 10k time ever… and it was only 5k! But I took the win and a nice little cheque home with me. And I have to say, I feel like I earned every cent.