here is the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win."
-Tyrtaeus, Spartan poet and military man, whose poems were sung to inspire his men
February 23 marked the peak of my race season-- the Florida Super Spartan. It was Spartan's third Super at Oleta River Park in Miami. It was also my third Spartan Race. If you are unfamiliar with Spartan Race, check out their website. I have incredibly mixed emotions about the race this year and my performance. I'll do my best to recap the course itself, my performance and give some final thoughts.
This year's course was virtually the same route as 2012's (8.3 miles seems to be the consensus), a longer route than 2011's course. The first year I ran it, I found it challenging; last year, considerably more challenging. This year there were some differences in obstacles. I won't say, as many have said on Facebook, that the course was easy. There were several 8 foot walls, 2 separate "over/under" and one "through" wall. There were monkey bars, a section of muddy trenches, a short swim/pull yourself through the water by rope, a long wade hip deep in water, sand bag carry, drag a concrete block through sand, tire flip, 5 burpees, cargo net climb, hoist 3 buckets full of water up @ 10 feet and into a trash barrel and dump, Herculean hoist, knotted rope climb, traverse wall, mud crawl under barbed wire, incline wall climb and jousting Spartans. At least, those were the obstacles to the best of my memory and in no particular order. I did not at all miss the balance beam thingy, the stump jump, spear throw, nor mountains nor hills that many Spartan races feature.
My Performance and Experience:
Although I ran the competitive heat last year, the 2013 race provided a much different experience. The elite women's heat began 20 minutes after the men's elite heat. I must say, the split heats were a little intimidating. I knew exactly who were the women to beat. There was no guessing. This year there seemed to be no slow females to pick off. The competitors came to win (duh). I also came to the race alone. No running buddy to encourage me along the way.
We went out fast. I'm Garmin-less, so my best guess is that I started at about a 7:30 minute mile pace. Really fast for an 8 mile run for me. I would say that the front runners were running even faster than that. I found that I was playing leap frog for the first half of the race with a few women-- they would pass me on the run, and I would catch them at the obstacles. By about mile 6, I felt the first twinge in my calf. While I had already slowed my running pace, I knew at that point I needed to back down a little more, or risk not finishing at all-- last year on the last obstacle I went to jump and my calf locked up completely, and I was forced to the ground, waiting until the cramp subsided. My legs were really spent at that point anyway. I felt that they had nothing left to give. I walked between and after the last few obstacles-- NOT in my plans, but again, my legs just were not responding. Really, my competition had ended at mile 7. (English teacher side note-- it was an Old Man and the Sea moment: darn you, legs! Why must you cramp?! "Come on [legs]. Please come on.")
It is heartbreaking to know that my body had given all it had to give, but that was simply not good enough to place in the top 10. However, I am very pleased to have successfully completed every obstacle-- no penalty burpees for me. My mile pace was 2 minutes faster than last year's race pace-- I finished in 1:37. Still the "what if's" haunt me... was it really that my body was spent or was my mind playing protector and limiting my body? Should I have rested more the week leading up to the race? Should I have run more and lifted less? Did the extra few pounds of muscle I've put on in the last months slow me? And on and on.
That seemingly blank look on my face? I'm looking through the jousters to the finish line.
I've seen many Facebook comments about a detour in Saturday's race, elite men who were DQ'd, elite men who got lost, and the ease of the course. I only know the course that was in front of me, the race that I ran. Spartan Races have the reputation of being among the toughest, if not THE toughest of obstacle course races. From my experience, I believe they are the best OCR company out there; they've helped OCR's begin the transformation into a professional sport. But each event is different and each event has its unique challenges. I'm not sure why people are surprised that the Florida course was flat. It's South Florida. Spartan Race is good, but they can't manufacture a mountain out of sand.
Finally! The finish was just steps away.
I will say that I wish Spartan had made use of all the water around the park to create a rowing or paddle board obstacle. That would've made the race really stand out and given it a unique twist. Maybe next year.
My big take away from this race: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. I just can't seem to learn this. When I compare this year's me to last year's me, I'm really happy with how strong I've become and how far I've progressed. When I compare this year's me to the 17 women who placed in front of me, I want to throw myself the most pathetic pity party ever.
And another big take away: the importance of team. Ugh! I am ferociously independent. However, it's very hard to do an event like the Spartan Race without the benefit of a team or a friend out on the course. I'm very thankful to the woman who high-fived me on the course in celebration of our victories over the monkey bars, as well as the woman who both encouraged me by complimenting my pace on the trail and then gave me advice on how best to drag that big stone. But the festival was not very festive without someone to debrief with.
This post would be utterly inadequate without an enormous THANK YOU! to my husband and trainer Craig Lawson. While I admit that I equally loathe and love his workouts, he has encouraged and endured me. He has helped hone my strengths and strengthened my weakness. He pushes and puts up with me; never quits on me and never lets me quit. I could not be who I am today without him.
* This post is more personal, a reflection on my faith and how it intersects my training. A post for remembrance.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." -Romans 12:2
Today was my last long run before the 2013 Florida Super Spartan. I had my doubts about running a little over 9 miles this morning. I planned to go 6, but my trainer/husband insisted I should go 9. Plenty of time for my legs to recover, he said.
At about the 6 mile mark, as I was thinking ahead to next weekend's race, I began to pray. I often use my run time as a time to pray, but less common do I have today's experience. I prayed for my race performance-- that no matter how fast or how slow I race that I will honor God with my effort. I thanked Him for my healthy body, for the training it has endured, for the life I have. And peace began to flood into my mind, spreading its warmth through my body. Suddenly, the run felt effortless; I was nearly euphoric. Call it the runner's high-- it felt amazing. I felt the pleasure of my Father, my Daddy. I felt a reassurance that no matter the end result, as long as my performance is done as an act of worship, then my Daddy is pleased, and I will be successful.
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."
Here I am again. Ten days out from the race that has been my focus for the past 356 days. I've trained harder than ever. I've done more race specific training than ever. My body is more ready for this than for any other event I've ever done. And I'm still plagued by fear and doubt. They tear at my mind, clawing into my peace. Fighting to make great workouts, good. If I'm not careful, I could lose everything I've worked so hard to gain before I even step up to the starting line.
Why does my mind always navigate to the "What if's?" My vivid imagination creates various elaborate scenarios that all involve me falling or failing in some form or another.
As I've said before, training is a reflection of life. All the time we face challenges that loom bigger than we are. In training and in life, if we want to become better, we've got to overcome fear and doubt. My faith plays a great role in helping me-- there's a verse that says "We walk by faith and not by sight," (2 Corinthians 5:7) which is so very true. We must continue to step forward, even when the path is unclear. Practically, here are a few strategies that have been helping me shake the fear and doubt:
Replace those bad mental images with good. As soon as thoughts began to spiral down and the mental picture is one of failure, change the channel-- watch yourself succeeding instead.
When doubt starts creeping in, ("I'm not fast or strong or smart or _____ enough") begin to focus on all of the preparation that you've put in for this moment. Trust your training.
Find a quote, verse, or phrase ("mantra") that you can repeat to yourself that will instill confidence in you. Some of my favorites are in this post.
Finally, enjoy every moment. Chances are, this one thing you are facing is not the end. There will be another opportunity after this one to prove yourself. Each failure is an opportunity to become a better you.
*I actually stopped and started this post many times. I'm very much a work in progress. So, tell me, how do you overcome fear and doubt?
"No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try." --YODA, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
I've said before that one of the most important aspects of training and racing is the mind. Well, this week, I've been eyeballs deep in some serious mind training. For months I've been begging my husband/trainer to write out my workouts-- I like to go by a weekly plan, knowing exactly what I'll be doing which days of the week. Well, on Monday he handed me a sheet of paper with the week's work on it. Gulp.
Exactly what I wanted, right? I should be happy, right? Except for a giant unexpected problem: I can no longer fool myself into thinking that today's workout is the hardest one of the week and the rest are light. No. Now I have the full scope of pain placed before me. I arrive at the gym knowing the full extent of the plan. Before I showed up and training was one day at a time, one little morsel at a time, like this: "Warm up with some double unders and snatches." Then later, "Your workout's on the board." And now the entire week is on one sheet of paper, and I see the scope of work I'm doing all at once. And it feels like too much. But really it's no more than I've been doing, it's just a trick of the mind that I have to overcome.
Then Thursday morning, the instructions were: 4 miles at competitive 5k race pace. Huh?! Clearly, no one has ever told Craig Lawson that there's a reason it's called a "5k pace." (Because it's for 3.1 miles, not for FOUR!) At least I was distracted during the run-- my thoughts flew between trying to figure out how in the world he thinks it's feasible for me to run my 5k pace for longer than a 5k; planning my, uhm, educational speech to him when I returned; and trying as hard as I could to hit my 5k pace (I'm still a pleaser).
Thursday afternoon's workout:
A heavy day. I couldn't even look at the numbers. Or the weight on the bar. So, I didn't-- one of the perks of having a trainer. For this workout, he loaded the weight on the bar for each lift. I didn't allow myself to look at the bar as I approached the bench. Instead, for the bench I told myself, "This one will be easier-- I'm doing less than last time." Ok, I lied-- I was doing fewer reps, more weight. But the lie worked. I successfully hit my max. I told myself the same for the deadlifts-- I was nearly crushed by looking at the plates on the first lift. But for those lifts, I watched the number of plates decrease, and it felt easier.
Lesson learned: the mind may be mightier than the body. Much of training and eating clean is a mind game. Learn what works for you, but be ready to adapt for each situation.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
On January 30, 2013, registration for the CrossFit Open began. I registered. *gulp* This past week has been a roller coaster ride of WOD (Workout Of the Day) highs and lows. At times I feel like I'm going to crush the open workouts, and other times I feel certain that I will be crushed by them.
I became interested in the CrossFit Games two years ago. As a family, we sat around the t.v. fascinated by the demonstration of strength and ability. It was about that same time that my husband/trainer began teaching me some Olympic lifts (cleans and dead lifts). Back in August, I tried a week of CrossFit and blogged about my experience here. With my husband's encouragement, I began seriously considering entering the Games myself. And not with a small amount of trepidation, I did.
So, here I am. For the past month or so, I've been practicing CrossFit specific moves. It's been tiring and frustrating. And rewarding. The snatch, which was once my nemesis has become a friend. I wish I could say the same for the clean. I still can't seem to conquer the technique. Double unders... ugh. Every time I practice them, my mind flashes back to the women in the Games who do them with the ease and grace of antelope, bounding across a field-- completely effortless. Me, I feel more like an elephant trying to jumprope-- yikes.
I've gotten angry, frustrated, devastated, and I've felt like quitting. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of a WOD this week I quit. It was a common benchmark WOD "Fran." This was my first time. I made the mistake of listening as a friend told me Fran had been done in 2:26. After doing only 7 thrusters in 1 minute, I quit. (It doesn't take a math genius to see that my time was going to be catastrophically far off.) Mad and frustrated, I resumed the workout because quitting is unacceptable. And I finished it.