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. 

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