Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Spartan Race Relay Experience

A Spartan Race Relay Experience
New to Spartan Race is the Spartan Race Relay. The first relay of this sort was offered at the Carolina Beast in October of 2012. Injured and sore, I had to refrain from the temptation to earn the yellow medal. A few of my friends gave it a try and had a blast. I was going to make sure I didn’t miss out on the next opportunity.
That opportunity came when I made the difficult decision to run the Sacramento Beast instead of the Fenway Park Time Trials. I was going to Sac to improve my beast score as well as spend time with some of my dearest Spartan friends. Before I even signed up for my individual elite racing heat at 8 AM, I contacted Ang Reynolds and Shane McKay to see it they were up for a relay event together.  It didn’t take long for both of them to reply, “I’m in.” Okay so that was easy.
Now for a name.  Ang and I tossed around a few things, she insisted we have the word “green” in our name in honor of my electrifying favorite color (and the fact that I raced in a color non-other than that.) Ha, that was it Electrifying Green. We just really needed a noun to complete the phrase. In honor of a term my friend Joe had given to me, “Queen of Green,” I had the name figured out. A quick text to Ang, “How about Electrifying Green Royalty?” “That’s it, awesome,” was her reply.  We agreed that we would wear electrifying green clothing and crowns on our heads. We informed Shane of the name and mandatory gear. He was fine with the name and the green gear, but a bit skeptical of the crown.
 I reassured him that these two chicks, particularly Barb Wire 4 Breakfast chicks, don’t go for the usual tiaras with bling. Why we were going to race in none other than Barb Wire Crowns, yes, real barb wire crowns. Shane asked where we would get these and how would we wear them to not bleed our heads. We’d make them of course and we’d wear my signature lime green bandanas underneath them.
We were in for an adventure for sure. Our good friend Joe Kauder was working on putting together a three-person team of his own. However, he decided that he would rather join the Electrifying Green Royalty Team and run the whole three legs supporting, helping, and encouraging us. So, even though this beast offered a three-person relay team, we formed the first four-person relay team.
For two weeks prior to the Sacramento Beast the four of us planned, bent barb wire, and gathered our green. We measured our heads and snipped and tucked barbs. Finally the night before the race, the crowns were revealed. Proudly we each set a shiny silvery, lime ribbon clad halo on our heads admiring the ingenious creative fun which would symbolize our friendship and commitment to our passion of OCR the next day.
All four of us raced our hearts out in the 8 AM elite heat. We finished with pride and full of mud, shivering and soaked we headed to our vehicles to rest and recover for our 1 PM relay calling.  We changed into dry, green clothes and put on our crowns and were off with the smoke bombs. Joe and I started the relay for the first leg. I was ready and biting at the chomp for the heavy obstacles of the first section of the course. We weren’t the fastest runners of the heat, but we sure looked the best, and were probably the happiest because not only were we racing this awesome course in beautiful California again, but we were racing with the dearest of friends. My knees ached; my calves and hips were stiff. I was cold to the core, and the course was nothing but slop, but this was a highlight of the 20 or so races I had competed in this year. Joe encouraged me and stayed with me each step of the way. He didn’t complain about a thing. He held up the tarp of the first obstacle we had to crawl under so our crowns wouldn’t catch. We aroo-d together through the awesome muddy barb wire crawl. He scampered up the rope right with me kicking the bell as I did. How awesome to have a best friend by your side. 
Our teammates, Ang and Shane were yelling encouraging words to us at the top of the mound as we crawled out of the murky water and approached the relay exchange. Ang was ready to go out for her leg of the course. Joe and I traded crowns and made a quick adjustment to head gear and he was off with her. What a great sight. Electrifying green dots made their way through the muck and out of our sight.  Shane and I hung together stretching and keeping warm while we waited for the other half of our team to come back into vision. After about 45 minutes here they were, hopping down a very slick, no longer grassy decline into the traverse wall area. Both Joe and Ang quickly jumped onto the now soaking wet, mud topped wood blocks.
Unfortunately neither could hang on. In fact, I cannot recall one person who could at this point. Burpees for our team. I held the dry clothes and camera while Shane so kindly jumped in on the 30-count. Cold and wet, Ang and Joe faithfully pounded out their penalties. Once number 30 was hit, Shane and Joe were off for the final leg, the longest leg, of the relay.  They helped many a racer on that last leg, stopping when they were needed.
Ang threw on warm dry clothes and we hung out discussing how awesome the course was a second time. We headed to the sandbag hill as I was going to jump in and help either teammate, if need be, to finish the race. The sun finally appeared although the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped. What a gorgeous place to be on this November day!
We watched racers grab sandbags and gruelingly lug them to the top of the steep hill that no longer supported long golden grasses. Racers in costumes, racers in groups, racers with faces of misery, and even a few racers with half-hearted smiles came and left the area. We yelled and encouraged as we knew how incredibly difficult this last insane incline was while carrying that heavy, wet pancake.  Finally, there they were, our Electrifying Green Royalty princes. Ang grabbed my warm clothes and gear as I stripped down to my racing greens. I nabbed a pancake and joined my teammates for one last climb of glory. The sky was an amazing shade of blue, the clouds hung so heavy, our barb wire crowns sported muck and stray clumps of grass, but each one of us had a huge smile upon our
faces. Even Joe, who was about to complete his 28th mile of the day, cracked a smile. Up and then down that monster of a hill we went with our pancakes. We were quite happy to toss them into the pile at the bottom of the descent as we turned the left hand corner toward the final obstacles.
The three of us finished together with Ang waiting enthusiastically at the finishing mat with our warm clothes. We all hugged in joy and happiness right there in the pig-sty of a finishing corral.
Perhaps for each of us this relay meant different things. For me it was not about winning, or about an insignificant yellow medal to add to my collection but much, more importantly this relay experience meant what Spartan Race has symbolized to me all season: honest, sincere, giving friendships with people who live their lives with true passion, care, and unselfishness for others and this incredible sport.
Thank you Ang, Shane, and Joe for helping me once again live and enjoy my life to the fullest. (And a special thank you to Scott Gregory for being our hidden cheerleader and photographer the whole damn cold, wet, muddy day.)

Sacramento Beast

Which Spartan Race to attend??

Saturday, November 17

I was registered for Spartan Race’s first ever Fenway Park Time Trials in Boston. I had been training on stadium steps, and working hard on upper body strength. I had been preparing for this short, but heavy obstacle race for months. It was MY kind of race, I felt confident that I had a great chance of finishing on the podium. I had my accommodations prepared and plane ticket almost bought. Many of my Spartan friends & family were going to be at Fenway, in fact most of them. But something pulled me to California instead. Beasts aren’t my favorite distance; in fact, I don’t like to run long distances at all. California was a long way from my home in Atlanta, twice the time on a plane, and twice the price for a ticket. It certainly was not driving distance.

What exactly was calling my name? Well…yes, some very special Spartan friends were going to be in Sacramento, Ang Reynolds, Shane McKay, Joe Kauder, Juliana Sproles, and Rosie Jarry to name a few were all going to Sac.  I needed a good performance in a beast for the SR point standings; perhaps this could be my chance. The biggest pull of all was that Thanksgiving holidays fell the following week and I had an opportunity to spend the week with Spartans rather than go back home and spend the week alone.  So one day just a few weeks before the races I found myself with a one way ticket to California.  I was committed to the Beast. I changed my training a bit, although there wasn’t much time to prepare. I would have to count on my previous months of training and racing to pull me through. My previous two beast performances were not exactly to my satisfaction.

I couldn’t take much time off work, most of my vacation and sick days had already been taken for Spartan Races. So my flight was booked for late Friday afternoon. I had the three hour time zone difference in my favor. I’d land in Sacramento at 9 PM, just in time to get to the hotel, get my racing gear lined up, and myself into bed. 

Saturday morning came all too quickly. I was a nervous ball of butterflies and I hadn’t even seen the Spartan flags yet. I managed to swallow a few bites of oatmeal and fruit. I couldn’t decide what gear to wear given the cool morning temperatures and the pouring rain. I threw on several layers and my leaky hydration pack stuffed full of nutrition bars and GU chews. I don’t like to eat while running, but you never know.  I even had a dry shirt packed in a zip-lock bag just in case.

I was thankful that Shane was driving to the venue. I stretched and massaged my tight calves and legs on the way. In my last race and training runs my calves had cramped up. This was just one of my worries about today’s race.

The rain had let up to a sprinkle by the time we arrived at the venue. However the grassy ranch was now one big mucky, mushy mud pit. There wasn’t a dry spot to stretch. Our shoes had an inch of muck caked on the bottom just walking to the start line.  The wind came up and the chill of the overcast day set in. I was already shivering.  I looked at the time, ten minutes to eight.  The first several heats of Fenway would have been over, “Why didn’t I just stick to my original plan?” I asked myself. I would have been finished and changed into warm clothes by now if I had gone to Boston. It was so windy in Sac that a
speaker blew off the stand (and hit me in the head, knocking me off my feet.) The entire sound system went down and therefore our pre-race hype was cut to a minimal shout, “Aroo, Aroo, Aroo, GOOOO.” And we were off, mud splattering and feet slipping everywhere. 14 long miles lay ahead of me. I decided to settle into a comfortable pace that I could maintain throughout, but yet not fall too far behind some of the top women racers. Splat, squish, plop went the muck. I had to stop several times to peel inches of mud from the bottoms of my shoes. I found the heavy clumps to be weighing me down as if I had weights on my ankles. The obstacles were spread out nicely; there was a good mix of steep inclines, muddy declines, and well-marked trails. Most of the race was through grassy ranch land, we were either dodging cow pies or holes in the clay-like terrain. Rain came and stopped, but the wind continued.  It was awesome to race with my best friend, Ang. She encouraged me the whole race. She’d outrun me to an obstacle, where I’d catch her, then she was off out ahead again. As hard as I tried I just couldn’t keep up to her running pace. There is nothing like having a built in cheerleader right on the course with you, though. Ang was so awesome at picking me up when I had thought I’d had enough.
By mile twelve the volunteers began saying, “Almost done, not much left.” Yeah, right. It seemed like forever, like the running would never end. Where was that sandbag carry that I so much looked forward to? Not only was I ready to kill the huge hill, but it was very near the finish line.
As I approached the final turn of the race, I saw Ang doing burpees. She screamed out to me to nail my spear throw and finish strong. The pain of burpees at the end of a race on her face was all I needed to make my spear throw count and jump into the last barb wire mud pit to the slippery wall and gladiators. Only seconds after I finished Ang was right there too. We embraced in one very long happy hug of success! One more race where we had helped each other through the pain and misery. Also waiting at the finish line was Shane, all cleaned up, but ready for a muddy embrace of congratulations and kind words.  Joe and Rosie were there, too, giving us support and showing their loyalty of friendship.  There was no doubt in my mind that I had chosen the right race, I had accomplished my goal to finish a beast in the top five. And there is nothing like finishing one tough physical and mental challenge and having some of your very best friends waiting at the end for you just because they care. What a great Thanksgiving week this was going to be.

~ Andi

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gulf Coast Spartan Race

Andi and I are currently sitting on the couch. I am lucky to have her in L.A. with me for Thanksgiving. We are tired, but several blogs behind, so I am willing my eyes open to write one. My bedroom looks like Kermit the frog exploded in it and I am happy. :) Andi and I spent last weekend in Sacramento racing and the weekend before that in Mississippi. You can read all about the first part of our road trip at: Chris kindly came along to experience all the action and excitement of what we like to call "Ang & Andi's Adventure."

The Gulf Coast was a really amazing race. It was the first time I had ever experienced the culture of the deep south, the first time I ever had a chance to meet my friend Janice in person, and the first time we had ever burned an 8 ft. wall after a race. :) The people of Mississippi were incredibly welcoming. Amazingly, it was also the first time I had an entire weekend with Andi. Something that I had been looking forward to since we met. It was so exciting to go to a "no pressure" race and have fun with no expectations or "need" to win.

This was a Founder's Race which meant "back to Spartan basics" as far as the course: a ton of hay bales, some water, a lot of sand, forest, and swamp. I really loved the course and found that it was incredibly runner friendly. In my training recently I have lost a bit of my endurance base but gained quite a bit of speed. This helped me immensely in the running sections of the course.

I was lucky enough to win G.C. Lucky, because it could have gone either way and probably should have gone to Janice. She is a FIERCE competitor and was in her hometown killing the course. Though I really love all the gear that I won, I am still chasing a Spartan win for a helmet.

Thanksgiving is a "rest" weekend for Andi, Corinne, and myself. Next weekend we'll head to Malibu and then Glen Rose for the season closer. It's been a busy couple of months for all of us and Mississippi was no exception. We're excited to head into the end of the year and look forward to meeting many of you at races in 2013. Until then! -Ang