MedalOh the things we get ourselves in to…

Yesterday I found myself in Charlotte, North Carolina at the US National Whitewater Center to participate in a Spartan Race.  What is a Spartan Race you might ask?  You might.  Google it.

Last year a friend participated in the Spartan Run at the same location and after she regaled me with her exploits, I thought, “hey, I can do that”.  Apparently I also said it out loud.  I really need to be more careful.

The forecast for the day was rainy and in the mid to high 30’s.  Why did the weather forecasters pick yesterday to be right?

I had a start time of 9am and we arrived at the USNWC well before 8 to check in and get suited up.  We collected our race bibs and timing chips and got marked.  This last part was new to me.  It simply involved having your bib number written on your body with Sharpie so your body could be identified in the event your bib fell off.  Mine did.  I choose the back of my left calf and my face.  Sharpie ink is hard to wash off, I still have the numbers on my leg.

I joined my wave at the starting line about 15 minutes prior to the start.  It was interesting to see the choices my fellow runners made regarding their kits.  We had everything from soldiers in full BDUs and gas masks to a couple of idiots in just running shorts.  More on them later.  I choose shorts with base layer long sleeve under my Rush running jersey along with my trusty Adidas trail shoes.  I also had on my cotton beanie, the one I bought for the Inauguration Day parade but didn’t wear.

The first mile was really fun, a nice trail run through the woods – I could’ve done that for many miles.  Many.

Near the end of mile one was the big “OUT” sign, right before the first obstacle.  If you wanted out, now was your last chance.  Well, that or on a stretcher…

Obstacle number one was a mud pit.  Well, a big hole filled with muddy water.  Did I mention that it was cold?  One of the other runners just about lost his shoes to the mud’s suction.  I decided a dog paddle was the easier way.

From there they put us in the river.  Really. The Catawba river runs adjacent to the facility.  The water was actually a bit warmer than the mud pit.  This was the last time I would feel clean until my post race shower.

Upon exiting the river we came upon a couple of the aforementioned shirtless idiots being rescued by the EMTs.  From the looks of things it was for hypothermia.  They were wrapped up in space blankets, shivering in the back of an all-terrain vehicle.

The next obstacles were walls that had to be scaled.  7 and 8 feet.  Have I ever mentioned that I have no vertical leaping ability?  I hit the wall running and jumped to get ahold of the top.  I felt like a fly hitting a windshield.

One of the great things about this race was the instant camaraderie among the runners.  I got a boost over the 7 foot wall and worked with a team of Aussies to get all of us over the 8 footer.  I joked with a fellow male runner about how “shrinkage” caused by the cold water was very helpful when straddling these walls .

The rain was unrelenting.  Many of the Spartan Race obstacles always involve mud.  Yesterday they all did.  Thanks to my trusty trail shoes, I never lost my footing or traction.   That meant that every time I hit the deck, it was on purpose.  Many of my fellow runners could not say the same thing.  How’d that tree feel, dude?

Burpees?  Really?  30 burpees?  What’s a burpee, you might ask.  It’s a form of torture that should be banned under the Geneva Convention.  Seriously.  It was also the penalty for failing to complete an obstacle.  30. We used to call them squat thrusts in PE class.  They suck.  I did 120 of them, give or take.  In the mud. With rocks.  It really sucked and my knees bare the evidence.  I was, however, never alone.  Misery truly does love company.

I did great on the “feats of strength” obstacles.  These included pulling a rain soaked rope attached to a weight, dragging a concrete block up a muddy hill and back down, flipping a tractor tire over four times, and carrying a rain soaked – did I mention it was raining? – sand bag down a hill and back up again.

The obstacles that involved balance and/or climbing gave me the most trouble.  The rain certainly didnt help, but neither did not having the proper upper body strength to body weight ratio.  I knew this would be an issue going in, so I was prepared to struggle.

The final hurdle was a fire pit.  I thought every stop should have had fire.  Man, it was miserably cold.  I didn’t stop shivering until I was in the car and well on my way back to Salisbury.  That’s with a bowl of chili, two cups of coffee and a milk stout!

Why?  Why, you might ask, would I – do people, do these events.  I can’t speak for others.  I did this because I was afraid I couldn’t and I needed to prove to myself that I could.  I have found that at every race there is always someone older than me, fatter than me and slower than me.  This tells me two things.  One, that I have no excuses and two, that others hear the same voice that I hear.  Get up, don’t die sorry.

Oh, and I did it for the medal – it’s pretty bad ass!

P.S.  “Spartan the F*ck Up!”

P.P.S. Thanks to Beth and Cecilia for being our cheering section.


Road to Marathon – Day Fortythree

Wow, this sucks.  I have ended my gym membership as of the end of August, so no more treadmilling for me.

As a result, I’m running on the neighborhood streets.  I’m actually running the same circuit that I was walking back in 2009 when I started on this journey.  It’s a 3 mile loop.  It’s all hill.  BOTH WAYS!

I feel like I’m back at square one.  It’s been a struggle and I’m hating it.  I’m hoping to go out to Bull Run Battlefield National Park on Sunday and do some trail running.  I’m sure it’s not flat, but…

I’m running a 5k in October and the Turkey Trot in Springfield, MO on Thanksgiving.

These hills are kicking my ass.  Apparently I need it.

It’s a good thing I gave myself two years, I felt old, slow and fat today.

I will not stop.

Road to Marathon – Then and Now

August 2012
June 2006 (maybe)

I know this probably gets tedious for some folks.  Hell, it gets tedious for me.

In preparation for our office move, one of my co-workers was clearing out some old files and came across this picture from an office picnic.  At first I told her to destroy it, no one wants to see that fat bastard.

I then had her dig it out of the trash, because I need a daily reminder of, to use an over-used business term, the price of non-conformance.  Daily.  Every damn day.

310 + to 13.1 and on to 26.2.

This is why I run, and why I won’t stop.

What I’ve Learned Along The Way

A few years ago I found myself spending the night in the hospital.  You see, I thought I was having chest pains, so off I went to the ER and of course they admitted me for tests.  This in spite of the fact that all of the initial results came back negative.  Sounds like bill padding you say?  Maybe, but I’m sure they saw a ticking time bomb and wanted to be sure.

I was tipping the scales at over 310 pounds, was on meds for high BP, cholesterol  and anxiety.  I was fully living a death-style, if you will, that was sure to end me earlier rather than later.

So, you’d think that I left the hospital resolved to do something about my weight and my health, right?  You’d be so wrong!  Since all of the tests came back negative, I guess I thought I still had time to destroy my body before it caught up with me.  Turns out, I was right, after a fashion.

In 2008 I discovered Facebook.  My friend from High School, Jeff Strohaver, convinced me to sign up.  Soon, I was reconnecting with old classmates at a rapid clip.  Having attended HS in Germany, this was quite a big deal to me.

There was one connection that has made the biggest difference, however.  We weren’t particularly close in school, but have become great friends in the last three years.  That will happen when someone saves your life, I reckon.

As it turns out, she’s a fitness professional.

One day, I made a half-assed post on FB about making an excuse to not hit the fitness center at work.  I got a response of something to the affect of “no excuses”.  This was the beginning of the end of that deathly spiral.

We chatted online and off and she agreed to help me get started, if I would commit to following her guidance.  I agreed.  This was big for me, I’m not one to follow along, but I knew I couldn’t do this solo.

So we started.

She gave me a meal plan that reduced my calories and replaced bad ones with good ones.  It was tough at first, but I got used to it.

I began by walking, just walking.  I had a 3 mile circuit in my neighborhood that I would walk six days a week.  Soon, she had me add cardio and weight training in the fitness center at the office.

The pounds literally began to melt away.  I was averaging about 10 pounds a month in lost weight for that first six months or so.

At the beginning of 2010 I had a physical with my new HMO.  My BP was close enough to normal that the doctor took me off of the meds.  The same for the cholesterol and anxiety meds.  I was free from prescription medications for the first time in over a decade!

I still had a long way to go.

That same month I joined a proper gym.  I was in the gym six days a week.  Doing cardio and weights and group exercise classes.  I even flirted with yoga for a while.

In October of 2010 I ran my first 5k and in April of last year, my first long race – the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  I followed that up with a half marathon in New Jersey in October.  Apparently I’ve turned into a runner.  I went from 310+ to 13.1 miles in less than three years.  I commemorated my accomplishment with a tattoo on my right calf.

I have gone from wearing XXL sized shirts (XXXL in some cases) to now buying Larges. My waist has shrunk from 50 inches to 36.  Sadly, I haven’t gotten any taller or smarter.

I’m only just getting started.  I still have weight to lose and miles to run.  Another friend has got me interested in trail running and yet another, cycling again.  The spectre of a full marathon lurks out there somewhere.  I want to shave 20 minutes off of my 10 mile time for next year’s Cherry Blossom Ten.

I will turn 50 in two years and 4 months and I plan on hitting that number at a sprint!

So, why do I tell you this?  Who cares, right?  Maybe someone.

I’ve learned some things, maybe they’ll help you.

  • You will start slow, and it will hurt and it will suck. That’s ok.  I spent the better part of that first year in a state of constant pain.  Sore muscles, sore joints and the occasional abrasion from a face plant or three.  Lost a really nice water bottle on one of those trips!
  • You need support.  It’s key to have some one who will call you on your bullshit and not brook any excuses.  It’s real easy to talk yourself into staying in bed or coming home and tucking into that pizza instead of hitting the gym or the road.  I got talked out of many pizzas and burgers in the early days via text message.
  • Weight is a number and your scale is evil!  I think a better measure is how your clothes fit.  Pun intended! Seriously, it’s complicated.  Muscle weighs more than fat, etc… blah, blah, blah – math is hard.  If you are downsizing your clothes, you’re on the right track.
  • Did I mention it will suck?
  • It will take time to feel comfortable in your new skin. I still don’t always recognize myself in the mirror.
  • It might get expensive at times.  Gym membership, protein powders, workout clothes, energy bars… but I think I’m still spending less for than I was for HMO co-pays.
  • On the plus side, you get to buy new shoes!  Frequently, if you take up running.
  • It’s for a good cause!  I’ve given probably 10 large green garbage bags of clothes to the AMVETS in the last couple of years.
  • On the down side, my collection of concert shirts all are now too big.  They’ll be a quilt some day.
  • People will be watching you for inspiration.  Your success will inspire them to begin and carry on.  Trust me, this is the truest truth.

So anyway… that’s the story so far.

Watch this space.

Sunday Playlist for the Hills

Sometimes randomness is a beautiful thing… my iPod spit out a great playlist for my session at the gym this morning. For a 30 minute “run” I got the following, with a bit of prompting…

Heaven And Hell by Black Sabbath – perfect warm-up tune, at about the 2:30 mark the tempo picks up just enough to really get the heart rate pumping.
Spoonman by Soundgarden – continuing the fast tempo with a bit of syncopation just to keep it interesting
I’m Not Afraid by Lacuna Coil – more high energy for the first hill, still pumping hard and fast enough to sprint it!
Keep Yourself Alive by Queen – a good motto for working out! approaching the second hill segment…
Sometimes by King’s X – a downshift in tempo for the second grueling hill!
Dani California by Red Hot Chili Peppers – coming off of the second hill and then picking up the pace on the way into hill number three
Where’s My Thing?, Pt. 4: Gangster of Boats Trilogy by Rush – a nice mid-tempo instrumental that allows for the intense concentration the final hill requires
Lost Highway by Jason & The Scorchers – a good fast finishing sprint
Dear God 2.0 by The Roots – a nice slow R&B number for a cool down