Tag - Obstacle Racing

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To Conquer All Fears
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Everything is Bigger in Texas…including Hurricanes.

To Conquer All Fears

At the starting line! Photo credit to Tina Basinger

At the starting line!
Photo credit to Tina Basinger

When Tonya Stogsdill asked me to do a Spartan race with her I thought she was out of her mind. I’ve been a runner for 12 years now, but this insane new type of race did not interest me in the least. Or, that’s what I told myself to keep from signing up. I watched the videos of runners throwing themselves into mud and slithering under barbed wire and a twinge of jealousy hit me. I wasn’t that good. So, I convinced myself I’d never finish and that I should just stick to flat road races. Six months later I was standing on the starting line of my first Spartan race in Virginia. What changed? I didn’t want to be afraid anymore.

I raced in high school and college and the pressure and constant reality of never being quite good enough ruined it for me. I avoided improving as a runner because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to meet my own standards. But, when my running hit a plateau in improvement the disappointment I felt woke me up. Running means to

o much to me to be afraid of being the best I can. So, I started racing again. This time, I picked the races I wanted to do and I forced myself to relax, to actually enjoy it. Soon, staring me in the face was the challenge of a half marathon, and again I was terrified. I didn’t want to lose the freedom I had in running if I failed and couldn’t finish. I remembered how Tonya raved about her love for the Spartan race and I figured that if I could complete a Spartan I could do just about anything. I jumped on the website and much to my dismay found that in my state, just an hour away, was a Super Spartan. Now I was stuck.

I trained hard, ran hard, and found myself doing more miles than I’d ever imagined. I passed the mileage of a half marathon a week before the race. I didn’t want to admit yet that the Spartan Race had already pushed me past my limits and I hadn’t even made it to the course.

The day of the race was a gorgeous 75 degrees and sunny. I met up with the Corn Fed Spartans that morning and they told me how hard this course would be. All of the anxiety from every race I’d done flooded into my mind. I’d fail. I wouldn’t finish. My mind was stuck on repeat. I trudged to the starting line, shaking in my running shoes, surrounded by the Corn Fed Spartans who I’d joined to force me to finish. We took off and as I tackled the first obstacle I begrudgingly admitted I was having fun. I was actually laughing. The Virginia Super Spartan was just starting with me though, as I left the open fields and ducked into the muddy woods of Wintergreen Resort. The trails were treacherous and narrow with mud-covered rocks, hidden holes, and impossibly steep hills. In the first 2 miles, we went uphill four times. It was like déjà vu each time we stared up an endless slope.

I broke away from the group with Kevin, who would end up kept me on pace and sane for the first 5 miles. As we pulled ahead a bit, I realized that I’d conquered another fear: being last. Through racing in school, the word had become something of a curse to me. Coaches warned us just to never be the last runner. By the time I did finish, it occurred to me what a meaningless concept in running that is anyway. No one who finishes is ever last. Watching the Corn Fed Spartans never leave a man behind, and the Wounded Warrior Team carrying their own across the finish line, revolutionized the way I think about racing and winning.

The hills in the last 2 miles made the ones before seem like bunny hills. I hiked up the mountainside what felt like 10 times and I dragged my tired legs past other Spartans who had sat down to rest. I discovered I was not alone out there. I dared myself not to stop until the finish line. After destroying the first two walls, 6 then 7 feet high, the 8-foot wall loomed above me. The tallest men around me hesitated, and some missed the top. After nearly 4 miles of hills, I felt more like it was climbing over the Hoover Dam. I had a vision in my mind of jumping but just slamming my entire body into the wall and sliding down. Comical in hindsight, but a serious concern at the time! My jump barely got me off the ground and I caught the edge of the wall with just my right hand.  But, after 30 sadistic burpees at the spear throw, my mental determination lifted my left hand to the top of the wall… then my leg. I was over. At that point, I knew I would finish.

The brutal hills finally gave way to a cluster of obstacles at the end. I made it through each one until I found myself staring straight up at over 10 feet of rope to climb. Here, I faced another fear: heights. As a hiker, it’s my dirty little secret. But, this obstacle, out of all, would be the hardest. I pushed up with my legs, one knot at a time, coming closer to the bell. But, there wasn’t a knot in the 4 feet before the bell. I stood on that very last knot, shaking, pleading with myself not to look down. I closed my eyes and hit the bell. It was done.

Over one more wall, through the fire and I was across the finish line. I overheard runners saying they’d finished the Spartan Beast in less time than this Super. I’d finished in about 4 hours. I stumbled to find my husband and despite my bruised, battered, exhausted legs I felt light. I not only finished, I missed only one obstacle. Now, a marathon would seem the less challenging race this year, a half marathon would be dessert! Crossing the finish line wasn’t my victory- it was that I wasn’t afraid anymore. My time didn’t really matter and racing wasn’t to win. I met and passed my own standards and I found strength I didn’t know I had. I’m hooked now and I’ll definitely be at another race this year. The Spartan Race freed my running from expectations and pressure, and gave me back the joy I lost in racing. The next time I think I can’t finish a run, or anything else I face, it’s the absolutely brutal course of the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan and my Corn Fed teammates that will remind me: I can, I will, and I will only be better.

Corn Fed Family Photo Credit: Tina Basinger

Corn Fed Family
Photo Credit: Tina Basinger

Everything is Bigger in Texas…including Hurricanes.

DISCLAIMER: DETAILED POST AHEAD

After weeks of planning and communicating back and forth with the fantastic group of Spartans known as the Storm Chasers it was finally time to head out for my trip to Texas. I never would have thought my first trip to Texas would be for a race that I’d be doing on the weekend of my 26th Birthday, but there I was heading to the airport in a limo (it was cheaper than a taxi!) at 4AM Friday, December 2nd. Fast forward to Dallas, around 12:45PM I had finally met up with everyone that was flying into Love Field and we were on our way to Glen Rose, TX in our official Storm Chaser Ford Explorer. (Kudos to Todd for bringing the magnets with). Before we set out from our hotel in Glen Rose for the Rough Creek Lodge campsite for the Hurricane Heat we made a stop at the local Brookshire’s to pick up some last minute supplies that we thought we may need for the HH as well as after (gotta have a few brews for the campfire). Showing up all geared and ready to go we definitely got a lot of odd looks from the locals. Upon purchasing multiple packs of lighters we were questioned why so many people were buying lighters apparently we weren’t the first to raid their lighters. The employees wished us good luck and we were on our way to the site.

When we arrived at the campsite, which was a little ways away from the actual lodge, we immediately met a group of people gearing up for the excursion we were about to set out on. People were gathering supplies, apples, bananas, bandanas, lighters, bricks, bubblewrap, etc. It was madness. Everyone was to grab their own brick wrap it in bubblewrap and duct tape.  There was a group of people cutting short 8″ ropes and everyone was starting to get to know each other all while not really knowing what the purpose of these supplies truly would serve.  Soon enough everyone had arrived and prepared themselves for the trials that laid ahead.

At this point it was time to start getting placed into our groups. For each team there was a captain and co-captain. First we were to line up and count off how many people were present, this took a few tries given the 60 sec. time limit, if you know anything about Spartan Race…the burpees had begun. After we got a count, 124 if I recall correctly, it was time to break off into the teams.  Suddenly there was shouting coming from all directions, the captains had been directed to shout out email addresses in order to rally their team members.  Confusion and chaos had broken out…it didn’t take too long however to discover that the emails were handed out in alphabetical order.  Finally, we had our teams and our captains had the GPS programmed to direct us to our checkpoint (CP hereafter). The Hurricane Heat had officially begun!

Our journey into the dark of the 11,000 acre ranch had finally started with our headlamps lighting the way. Within minutes of leaving the campsite it became increasingly clear that something was not quite right, whether it was the coordinates we put in, or the actual GPS devices themselves I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but the groups were all headed in different directions.  It didn’t take long for 3 groups including the team I was on, Team 1, to end up together headed in what we all agreed had to be the right general direction of our CP. As we approached a barbed-wire fence (clearly not set up by Spartan Race) I knew something was off. I tried to reason that we should head down along the fence for a bit before we attempt climbing it…it was too late though I’m out here with Spartans after all. Rather than try to get the group that had started to climb to stop and come back on this side I reasoned with myself that this might be a shortcut so we might as well go with it. After going over that first fence we found ourselves on a gravel road, clearly in the wrong location. All three groups started to distance themselves while heading in the same direction down the road, my team leading the way. Soon enough we were following the GPS to head over the barbed wire fence on the other side of the road. Here we encountered our first journey up a tree and shrub infested hill which we then descended, climbed over yet another barbed wire fence and hiked up yet another hill. Nearing the peak of the hill we all decided enough was enough, two hours had passed since we initially left the campsite.  It was time to figure out a plan to make our way back. We began heading back down the hill in the direction we came from. At the bottom there was much disagreement about which direction to head.

I made the decision to break off with a few other people to find our way back. Our intentions were to scout ahead and hopefully the rest would follow. That didn’t happen, so here I found myself with three other spartans in the middle of an 11,000 acre ranch possibly lost. We began heading toward what we were hoping was the direction of a kennel of dogs barking that we had heard briefly at the beginning of our journey. We found a cross section of the barbed-wire fence, hopped over and began heading toward what turned out to be one of the water stations set up by Spartan Race. Finally we were on some sort of path that made sense. I spotted a few lights in the distance not too far from the water station. I took off in a sprint to investigate. At last we had found another group of Spartans. Unfortunately they had just recently been separated from their group, but there was hope they knew which way to go. As the other three Spartans caught up we were all relieved. Not too long after in the distance I could spot a trail of lights heading toward where we now stood…it was the rest of the groups that we were originally a part of. We were no longer lost and everyone was back together.

We regrouped quickly and set off to finally climb the steep hill that became my favorite worst enemy of this event. As we cleared the peak we were able to finally see the campfire they had blazing for us. We were given a brief pep talk to help make the forthcoming missions clearer and a bit more safe. We were given our instructions, accurate and double checked GPS coordinates, and set out on our mission to reclaim a rock with red spray paint on it.

As we neared the location I was itching to unleash some speed from my system. I recruited a fellow Spartan to join in scouting ahead to locate the paint splattered rock. We were nearing obstacles…the rule of completing any obstacle within 25 meters finally was able to be put to use. We found the rock sitting next to the rope climb obstacle sitting nicely above a cold pool of mud water, pure awesomesauce.  As the team approached I directed them to get to work on climbing the rope.  To my surprise I was greeted with a lot of grumbles, I quickly told them either that or the infamous 30 burpee punishment for not completing an obstacle. A few Spartans elected to do their burpees and stay dry, while the rest of us attacked the ropes with rage! Once we had all finished our obstacle we had to figure out how to bring this enormous rock back. Two Spartans attempted to lift it together, they were able to perform the task but it was clear that this was not a two man job and getting more hand on it would be quite difficult.  My brain was scrambling for a solution when it hit me, we were never told how big the rock was, nor were we told that it had to return as it was found. We broke that rock in half, it took some work but after a few strikes with other rocks we acquired a small piece that still had red paint and could easily be brought back to the CP.

We were about to depart back toward the CP when another group of Spartans carrying cases and cases of water…err…Bud Light. They appeared to be struggling, and quickly proclaimed to us that they were lost because their GPS had died and they didn’t know the route back to the CP.  We took them under our shields but before we set off to return to the CP with our rock and their beers, I, of course, had to suggest we crack open those cases and start chugging some beers…simple weight displacement – from our hands to our bellies :-).  I carried an empty box which I insisted we used to dispose of the empties. Gotta stay green, right? We made our way back and again had to ascend the steep hill that was home to our CP.

As I reached the top I took the box of empties and threw them down at Carrie (SpartanRace bad ass with the mic) and declared that we retrieved their rock and beer, well at least what was left of the beer. Carrie was quite enthusiastic about our ability to adapt out there and as I recall told me “that’s f@$%ing bad ass” after I dropped the empty case of empties at her feet. With the fire blazing strongly behind her it was quite the epic moment. We all gathered around the fire and began the reheating process. We had officially completed approx 6hrs of insanity and somehow only managed to set out one one official mission. Though it was a disaster…to an extent…it was a glorious evening of developing new bonds and learning more about myself. I wasn’t done learning yet though. After running back to the bottom of the hill to retrieve our medals and shirts with a couple other Spartans to hand out and conclude the event, we set back out for the campsite. It was time to head back to the hotel to prepare for the race the following morning.

On my way back I had to stray away from my group of Spartan Storm Chasers that I was traveling with so I could drain myself….damn beers. From behind me I could hear a few people shouting out “damn Chicago, he made us climb that rope and…” it got a little faint to hear as I yelled back at them “you got a problem with that? what did you sign up for?”  I don’t recall their response because I realized my fellow Storm Chasers had disappeared into the dark ahead. I ran off to catch up but it was too late, I followed a set of Spartan Race streamers that created a path in what seemed like the right direction….wrong again. The path started off going in the right direction but soon it went back away from the direction I wanted to go. I was going to have to try to get through a bunch of trees and brush to find the lights to the lodge so I can find the campsite. Once I found an opening I found myself in front of a creek, knee level, approx fifteen yards across. Not too big a deal so onward I went. I found myself at another path and it was leading in the direction of the lodge. I thought to myself perfect…I’m almost back.  I forgot to mention I was carrying a full case of Bud Light back for us to enjoy at the campsite.  The case was starting to fall apart from being wet but I wasn’t too concerned.  Then I realized the worst of my fears was coming true. The little creek I had crossed was opening up to become the lake that we were going to have to cross the following day during the race. I was smack dab in front of the path that was set up by Spartan Race. My goal of reaching the campsite was starting to come into sight and I had to make a decision go ALL the way back around OR Spartan the F Up and swim across the lake.

SPLASH! I was in the water, Bud Light case in one hand swimming with the other….and let me tell ya going swimming in a nasty lake on a ranch in sub 36 degree weather in December is a great way to wake yourself up if you weren’t fully awake! It was cold, it sucked, but I had a mission, cross this river, run a mile, and get fresh, warm clothes as well as the ability to crack open a beer in front of a nice camp fire. The case of beer completely disintegrated..beers were floating all around me… I didn’t want to leave behind this mess but I had to take care of myself at this point. I grabbed a hold of one of the yellow ropes that was strung across the lake and began pulling myself across the river with as much haste as I was physically capable of. I emerged from the cold water, and took off at a full sprint to the campsite. As soon as I arrived I was stripping down, grabbing my fresh clothes and savoring the moment of completing the most intense evening of my life. The feeling is one I could never explain no matter how hard I try. I guess it’s like the slogan on my Spartan Race shirt says….”You’ll Know at the Finish Line.”

Thank you for sticking through and reading, a post about the race the following morning will follow this… though likely in much less detail.

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