Saturday, September 29, 2012

Finishing the UltraBeast, Helpful decisions and strategies

Following this weekend’s Spartan Ultrabeast a slew of posts about the race came out.  The Ultrabeast turned out to be harder and more unforgiving than anyone had anticipated and many of the posts have been about or from those who “DNF” or did not finish the race.  Without reliving all the painful details, the incredible gains in elevation, the sticky mud, the unforgiving barbed wire climb, and the limited signage……..this post will be different.  On Saturday evening, just after 6pm, I crossed the finish line!

While many factors helped me cover those 30 miles, I made a few decisions that really helped out.  I don’t always make great decisions on race day (example:Utah), but this weekend my brain and body seemed to be in sinc!

1.        Positive attitude.  This is simple and I don’t really even want to talk about it but it makes a difference.  I went into this race excited about the mountain, excited to race with some of the best competition, and excited for the challenge Spartan would throw at me.

2.       Realistic expectations.  My only real goals for this race were to race well for me.  I planned that if I felt I gave the race 100% I would be happy.  I didn’t put a ranking on the outcome I wanted, I gave myself what I thought was a generous estimated finish time.  In the beginning when I ended up walking the single track section for over 1 mile, I told myself it was for the better, I was conserving my energy on a section I likely couldn’t have run anyways, and I stayed calm.  While I always hope to come out on top, I didn’t put stress on myself to pass any certain people, or place any certain way.  When I was able to pass certain people, it served as a nice surprise and confidence booster.

3.       Quick transitions.  I learned this from my experience at World’s Toughest Mudder last year.  Transition times can make or break a competitor and significantly affect finishing times in a multi lap course.   For the second lap of the UltraBeast I had packed a second Camelbak almost identical to my first lap bag.  Like my 1st lap bag, the 2nd bag had a mini med kit, food, water, and electrolytes.  The 2nd lap pack also had my headlamp, strobes, and a windbreaker just in case. When I got to the “pit” area I dropped my 1st camelback, grabbed a banana and my 2nd Camelbak and almost immediately started my 2nd lap.  The only thing to slow down this transition was the fact that my “bin” had been moved from my original spot and I spent a few minutes cursing trying to find it.  Although some of my friends were in the pit I didn’t spend much time chatting, I focused on what I came to Vermont to do, and that was race.   While I had considered changing my shoes and socks after lap 1 I decided against it and my feet faired pretty well. 

4.       I used my voice.  The UltraBeast had rules like no other Spartan Race.  Woman were not allowed to use the “steps” that are put on the 7 and 8 foot walls specifically for us, and we were not allowed to use the sides of the walls.  This made getting over an 8 foot wall very difficult, especially on lap 2 when exhaustion really set in.  Near the end of my first lap I was lucky to have a friend who I literally stepped on to get over the walls (thanks Jeff!).  For my second lap I knew that the help over the walls would not be a luxury but a necessity and I put my sometimes shy, polite, introverted self away.  Loud, and assertive Corinne came out.  I approached the walls with a voice and my bright green arm band waiving proudly in the air.  “Can you help me over the walls, I’m on my second lap…. I’m in the ultrabeast, I’m racing…..Can you BOTH help me over the wall?”  I not only seeked out help from 1 gentleman over the walls but was quick to recruit 2 men per wall! Asking for help may seem like a no brainer but I am traditionally a “do it myself” kind of woman and pride myself on being able to do all the obstacles unassisted…. This just wasn’t going to happen on lap 2.  I am very, very, very grateful to each man who helped me over the walls on that second lap!  I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

I also used my voice running through the single track and every time I passed someone.  I would say I was coming by them, or ask to pass, explain I was on my second lap and racing and give them encouragement to keep pushing on.  It was fun to congratulate others on their progress on the course, and give them insight to what was coming next.

5.       I was afraid of the dark (for the better).  I knew it would be dark around 7 o clock and I used this to motivate me through the last 4 miles of the course.  Going into the “last uphill” section I knew I would be climbing and ascending for at least an hour up the mountain with only 2 hours of total daylight left.  I knew I couldn’t slack off on this section no matter how much I wanted to and I knew I couldn’t stop and rest.  I knew to make it off the mountain by nightfall I had to fly.  I was afraid to be stuck in the single track trees at night.  I was afraid of the literal effects of the darkness such as more difficulty navigating, and avoiding potentially dangerous terrain; and I was afraid of the emotional effects of the darkness.  If it got dark I knew I would have been on the mountain for over 11 hours, I would not be eligible for the season pass, and I might start to doubt my ability to finish.  I let this fear drive me and moved faster in those last two hours than any time in the last loop of the race.  At one point a fellow competitor yelled at me to “relax” and not move so fast through the single track section.  I see their point that I was hurried and flying sometimes uncontrollably down the mountain, but ….at that point relaxing wasn’t an option.  I was running from the night, and I wanted to run as fast as I could for me.

6.       I ate all my food.  I ate when I was hungry and I ate when I wasn’t hungry.  I packed about 600kcal per lap.  I do admit that this was a little less than I actually needed but it was OK.  On my second lap people began offering gels and bars to me and I took them with much gratitude.  I started eating after only 1 hour into the race.  I wasn’t hungry yet but knew my body probably needed it and knew it would be a long day.  I mostly used the uphill sections of the race to eat because I wasn’t moving very fast and it gave me time to chew/digest/unpack snacks/drink water.  I am pretty sure these calories helped prevent me from mentally and physically bonking and provided a little yumminess during the day.  I ate what I usually eat:clif blocks and mini clif bars. 

I hope by sharing my experience I can help someone.  I know I learn something new at every single race…usually something deep about myself, and usually something not deep but practical about blisters, or socks, or balance, or nutrition…  every experience helps.  Like I said earlier, I don’t always make great decisions on race day, but once in a while I do and try to remember those and use them again and again.  I know some of these things “I did right” are simple but sometimes on race day its easy to get excited and forget the little things.  Happy racing and thanks for reading! 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bruises for Breakfast...a photo gallery

After this weekend in Vermont I have colors on my skin I have never seen before.  Aqua greens, deep purples, blue, bright red, pink, brown.  I have new "Spartan Tattoos" all over my body, new scrapes, new Camelbak chafing marks, new ink.  While to be honest the pics don't do my ink even 10% of the justice it deserves, this is a sneak peak at what 35+ miles, 10,000 feet elevation gain, and two left feet will get you.
One mistake I made this weekend was to bring only one pair of pants.  I knew I was going to be going to New York and planned a bunch of cute outfits to wear; my little black dress, a cute black skirt, lots of tank tops.... not such a good idea.  I ended up wearing my 1 pair of jeans the entire weekend.

One of my public appearances was at my first hot yoga class.  The instructor had heard I ran the spartan race and asked if I was healed and ready for yoga (this was wed).  I told her... "not too much" and she came to take a closer look!  She almost died when she saw me.

My arms look and feel like I got beat with a 2x4.  I got these bruises going over the 8 foot walls.  I'm not strong enough or dont have enough balance to push up with my palms on them so I end up doing this chicken wing thing to belly flop myself over the top.  Result... 8 plus walls per lap = major bruising!

These I'm pretty sure are from the tirolean traverse.  My technique is to wrap my legs/ankles/knees over the rope and "walk" under it.  It is fast and efficient but leaves a mark!

This is Corinne!  Just in case you can't rednecognize the sexy bod! :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Wrench in my Plan

For those of you that know me, you know that I run. I run in the rain, I run in the heat, last year I was so very thrilled to run in the snow even! (It only snows once every 10 or so years in Valencia, CA when I saw that it was snowing, I sprinted outside in my running gear for a very cold 6 miler.) I run when I am tired, I run when I am sore, I run to be free and to think. I often stumble out of bed before the sun comes up to run to prepare for my day. With 3 kids, 2 part time jobs, a full time class schedule, and the like, running is often my only time alone.

In all of this running, I have been fairly lucky. I have yet to find myself plagued with a major injury or pain that does not go away. I have been lucky, until now. In training for the Ultra Beast in Killington, VT over the past few months, I have developed a nagging pain in my left foot. This pain is a pain unlike any other that I have ever experienced. Though unwilling to stop running, I roam the trails with a limp in my step. My days are spent with my foot taped to the hilt. My nights are spent with my foot in a tub of ice. I am not sure what this means for the rest of my racing season, or for my race in Killington in 9 days. I guess I am not invincible. I guess that every once in a while every runner needs to be humbled. I am left to fight. I will head to Vermont fighting with every ounce of strength that I have, fighting to stay on top of my racing season, excited to run with the friends that have become so dear to me over the last year. -Ang

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Making Tough Decisions: The Spartan Ultra Beast

As some of you may know I recently committed to being on a team for the upcoming UltraBeast Race.  The race will be at least 26 miles, 60 obstacles, very steep terrain, and as a team – one member of the team must carry a weight of 26 pounds.  The weight cannot be split among the members of the team, only one person can carry it at a time.

When I was asked to be on this team I was thrilled!  I was asked by one of the most awesome, strong, resilient women in obstacle racing and this year’s death race winner – Shelley Bishop Koening!  Honored doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.  I knew she would be the best team member anyone could ask for and I immediately got excited. 

We picked our third team member – Sue Luck – a  woman who has pushed me since my very first Spartan Race, always has a great attitude, and is a strong competitor – currently the 4th place Spartan Lady and usually placing in the top 10 at all her races – if not better.  Sue and I shared the podium in Colorado, and she has been a great motivator to me.  I knew as a teammate she would cheer us on, keep our attitudes positive, and never give up.

I felt golden.  I felt like I had the most awesome women’s team around, and I even thought our team would be a lot stronger than many of the men’s teams.  We had planned to be stealth – and hoped to have a chance at the win.

Going into the team I knew it would be a “sacrifice” of my Spartan points and at the time I was the number 2 position, and Sue number 3.  I knew carrying the weight we would be a lot slower than without the weight but I didn’t care and was actually excited for it.  I was happy to be in a position where I wouldn’t be stressed out about how many points I got, or which girls were competition.  I was happy to be in a position with no expectations except that we would train hard, give it 100%, and finish the race. 

Reality hit when training begin to ramp up.   I have always trained with some weight.  I always wear my camelback which starts about 5 lbs.  As I tried to gear up for the UltraBeast I began adding more and more weight to it.  Usually 2lbs at a time and averaging about 12-15 lbs.  I am OK at 12-15 lbs.  I am not fast but still feel I can push myself and most importantly – my joints and muscles feel OK.  With only a month left I knew I needed to ramp up training and ramp up the weights.  I added more and more weights and a few weeks ago  ran  with about 20lbs.  The backpack shook, chaffed my back, hit my hips.  My hamstrings started to hurt, my calves burned.  My “jog” looked like a walk.  I suffered.  My body couldn’t handle how fast my mind wanted it to go. 

This was a setback both mentally and physically.  I was discouraged but didn’t want to give up.  I thought perhaps I just had an off day.  I have had old hamstring injuries that prevent me from really sprinting and never really feel awesome but obviously I can get by in races by making up time in the obstacles.  In the past my hamstring injuries have prevented me from walking/running/climbing or anything fun.  My left hamstring injury – although occurred 10 years ago was so severe when the muscle pulled – it ripped a small chunk of bone out of my hip which still shows up on x-rays.   I didn’t want to go back to that state.  Nevertheless I gave the weight another day.  Again, I loaded my pack up and went out.  I wanted my last experience to be a fluke.   I wanted my hamstrings to cooperate, to not get tight, to feel great.  They didn’t.  Frustration.  I knew that if I couldn’t move at a pace that matched my expectations I would feel let down.  I would also be risking injury.  My training runs were short and my weight was less than 26 lbs.  I knew that although I could finish the ultrabeast with my team, to complete it competitively and at a pace that I was satisfied with would be nearly impossible without risking injury.  Yes, I can walk up a hill carrying 26lbs as I’m sure most people can, but I didn’t sign up to walk, and I didn’t want to let my teammates down.  I didn’t want to get up on that hill, push myself beyond my limits and collapse – whether by frustration, or by injury. 

I was afraid for my girls too.  I’m pretty sure at 130 lbs I am the Clydesdale of the group.  Between Sue, Shelley and I its likely we are less than 350lbs.  Sue would be carrying over 25 percent of her body weight during the race and this is scary.  Sue and I have committed to other races during the year and we want to be in good shape to do them. 

So… I was afraid of what might and could happen, I was afraid of letting my team down whether with my performance or lack thereof, I was afraid of my competitive side dominating and pushing my body towards injury.  I was just afraid.  Sue seemed to be in the same boat as me – for both of us our biggest fear was injury, and we let Shelley know that we didn’t think we should do the team.

This was hard, really hard.  I don’t like to quit things I commit myself to.  I usually don’t make commitments without thinking hard about them.  But I quit this team.   I am hoping that I am doing the right thing for my body, my hamstrings, joints, and calves.  I am hoping I am doing the right thing for my racing future.  But I am sad.  Shelley has been very understanding about the situation but I will always feel I have let her down.  I will feel that I am missing out on what could have been a really neat opportunity for three girls to push themselves beyond their limits.  But at the end of the day… I have to think I did the right thing.

Shelly, Sue, and I will meet at the starting line, will cheer each other on during the race and help each other as much as we can.  I know we will be comrades for many years and races to come and am blessed to have these ladies in my life. 

Sometimes in life and racing we are faced with some tricky decisions but at the end of the day we have to remember what these races are about.  For me that is fun, friends, competition, health, activity, challenge, but also safety.  Looking out for ourselves and looking out for others must and will always be part of my racing experience. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Never Underestimate a Course because it's Flat

How hard could it be to race on a flat course in Virginia? After all I’d been training on steep inclines with sandbags and racing ridiculously challenging races on ski slopes. Spartan Race course designers never cease to amaze me with their ingenious ways of making a course from hell out of nothing but tall grass and a few boulders in the woods.  The race site in Leesburg, VA was at a horse park, which meant we got to jump like horses for the day. I felt like a flailing horse through those jumping obstacles. I wished I had 4 long legs; my two short ones were burning so badly.

There were two hills on course, course designers figured out how to utilize those two bad boys the best they could, and both caused me to hike instead of run. There was obstacle after obstacle after obstacle, 75 in all. I cannot say there was a lot of running between obstacles because it seemed there was always an obstacle in sight. Don’t get me wrong, this was a running race.  11 miles long, I believe. That’s a lot of running for a Super! But before boredom could possibly set in, another obstacle or sets of obstacles would emerge on the horizon.

All of my favorites were there: incline wall with rope, rope climb, cargo nets, monkey bars, log hop, sandbag carry, and of course the barb wire crawl. And my least favorite of all time had to also show up, the spear throw. There were many unique obstacles for this unique course. The sandbag carry was intense.  We drug that pancake up and over huge boulders and high logs. I sometimes had to set it on the boulder so I could first climb up myself. The “Hobie Hop” was interesting. Step into the large rubber band with feet, hop, hop over logs, and get low to go under ropes, hop more. But the actual horse obstacles were the highlight.  Up and over logs and other curious structures we went. Some racers could hurdle right over; some could leap and land on top. Many of these obstacles were a little too high for me to cruise right over. Regardless, they were challenging and a whole lot of fun.  The overnight rain really added challenge to the obstacles. Now they were not only caked with mud, but wet and slick, too. The monkey bars, which were usually quite natural for me, were a huge struggle to just stay on.  I fell off the traverse wall, something that my rock climbing experience had never let me down on before.

But for me, on both days, the running on the flat, grassy terrain was my most difficult obstacle. My legs cramped, muscles spasming.  My mind told my legs to go, run faster. But my legs just wouldn’t go. It was all they could do to keep moving. Somehow, someway I finished the VA Super two days in a row.  The flat course beat me down and got the best of me.

What did I take from this race? Never underestimate the difficulty of a flat course. Although you may train for what may seem harder courses, the hardest ones might be the ones least suspected.