Wednesday, May 22, 2013


This weekend in Texas I learned more about drive, dedication, determination, support, and strength than I have learned at any race thus far.  I had the opportunity to run and film the "sweeper heat" Saturday and Sunday night.  To date this was the most rewarding thing I have ever done with Spartan race.  

Saturday afternoon Tony, Joe and I set off just a little after the last heat and began to walk the course picking up trash and releasing volunteers from their stations.  We walked for two miles before we came to our first participant still on course.  It was there at the tire flip that we met Chris Reedy.  A man who forever changed my perception of what is possible when you believe in yourself and push your limits.  

Chris Reedy was not your typical Spartan racer.  Tipping the scales at 460 pounds and with a heart of gold Chris Reedy was in the middle of his first Reebok Spartan Race.  He was joined by his brother's who had flown out to complete the race with him and support his adventure.  

Over the next four hours we stayed with Chris as he conquered the tire flip, nailed the spear throw, beat his brothers at the Hercules hoist, rocked the tire pull, made a valiant effort at the slippery wall, rolled like a beast under the barbwire and finally jumped the flames to the finish line.  

It was not an easy journey for Chris but he never gave up.  He put one foot in front of the other and step by step completed the course.  He never complained or said "this sucks", he even smiled a lot!  Parts of his journey were painful to watch...the look on his face when he saw the uphill section after exiting the pipe crawl, the concern when we discussed the possibility of him being pulled if he didn't finish in daylight. But through the concern and pain Chris pushed forward.  He attempted obstacles I never thought he would even consider... the pipe crawl, the cargo net, the slippery wall... and he dominated them.  He told me about his struggles with weight and how he was trying to get back on track to be healthier for himself and to inspire others.  He inspired me with every inch of terrain he covered and as he crossed the finish line my eyes filled with tears of happiness.  

Chris is what Spartan Race is about.  He signed up for what even the healthiest individuals consider insane, difficult, and crazy.  He showed up with determination, a great family to support him, and the biggest heart I have ever seen.  He completed the course and never gave up.  He proved no matter where you are in life, no matter what size you are, no matter who believes in you or who doesn't... if you believe in yourself and if you set goals... anything is possible.  Thank you Chris for reminding me of this.  I reach out to anyone considering signing up for a Spartan Race and say - DO IT.... there are no excuses.  Give up the self doubt and put yourself out there.  If Chris can do it, YOU can do it.  

Sign Up. Show Up. Never Give Up.

Look forward to photos, interview, and video footage of Chris completing his 1st Spartan Race on the Spartan website in the future. 

Corinne, Ang, and Andi. 

Photo Credit: Anthony Matesi, and The Painted Warrior - thank you!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Let me make mistakes so you don't have to - Obstacle racing in contact lenses

A few weeks ago I made an appointment to get some new glasses.  As I explained to the eye doc how I lost my old pair of glasses in lake Nicaragua during Fuego y Agua a blank look came over her face.  "You were doing what when you lost your glasses!??"  Yes, I was wading in a lake and the lake was more like an ocean and a wave knocked them off my face.  I couldn't see long distance for the rest of the race and subsequently got lost on a volcano....

Last known photo of my glasses!  LOL!  Fuego y Agua race just before the lake.

As the doc stares at me like I'm crazy a smile begins to crack... "you need contacts" 
I had never wanted contacts before because I have really sensitive eyes and was worried about putting them in and taking them out. My eye doctor convinced me otherwise and also convinced me that they would be the perfect solution to me not being able to see at my races.  I told her about the mud, the water, the smoke and the dust involved in my races and she still seemed to believe contacts would be great so I gave them a try.

Since then my contacts have completed two Spartan Sprints, and one GoRuck.

The first day I wore my contacts I was thrilled.  I could see the entire race course,  I could wear cheap sunglasses over them and not care if they got muddy, I could recognise my friends in the crowd!  This was awesome!  Saturday went by flawlessly and while my eyes were a little dry from the long day I was very happy with my contacts. 

Saturday pre-race.  Thank you Navy Federal Credit Union for this cheap pair of sunglasses! They were a perfect way to protect my contacts and eyes :)

Sunday started out the same until I hit my spear throw!  I was so excited that I hit my spear I flew through the traverse wall and literally dove head first into the underground mud tunnels!  I emerged covered in mud and totally blind.  I could not see ANYTHING and my eyes were on fire!  I stood up and stumbled forward until I ran straight into the camoflauge netting seperating the next half of the tunnel.   " I cant see!!"  I yelled.  "I'm blind!"  somehow I made it out of the tunnels and continued to stumble forward, literally wobbling as the mud was thick and I couldn't see my foot placement!  Was this going to end my race??? I was horrified as with my spear I had moved into first place!!  "Help!!"  Somehow from the sidelines someone yelled for me to walk over.  I slowly made my way right and someone placed a water bottle in my hand.  I dumped it over my eyes and my right eye began to open up again.  Light... i can see light!.  Out of my left I could see only darkness but my right was good enough to make out shapes.  I approached the slippery wall and began to grab for a rope.  "Go to the right,  go up the right"  people yelled at me from the sidelines.  I moved right a few feet and began climbing.  I made it over the wall. 
The rest of the race was a muddy, painful, and amazing blur!  I ran with my left eye closed and my right eye squinted, feeling pretty stupid. 
As a first time contact user I forgot to bring any solution or eye drops for after the race, I didn't even have a mirror so I could take them out.  Big mistake.  My eyes were gooy and red for days after the race. 

Mud face :)

So with Texas this weekend i am going to attempt the contacts again with some things in mind.  This may sound like common sense for long time contact lens wearers but it was a big lesson for me. 
I recommend the following things:

1.  No matter how excited or pumped you are about the race, DO NOT jump face first into the mud pit!
2. Bring an after race contact cleanup/recovery kit: water, contact solution, eye drops, and a mirror to take them out.
3. If you have prescription glasses or sunglasses to wear in case your contacts fail - BRING THEM
4. If you are wearing contacts, get some cheap dollar store or gas station sunglasses to wear over them.  Saturday I feel this helped protect my eyes.  Sunday I didn't have them. 
5.  Ask you eye doc which lenses might work best for races.  Mine recommended disposable in case I lost or damaged them... and I have done all of the above.  I lost one about 5 hours into GoRuck friday night :)
6.  Have fun!

O.K. Good luck racers.  See you in Texas :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Race Review -Spartan Racers Dominate Alpha Warrior!!! - Written by guest blogger Jeff Bent

As the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR) evolves, new & unique races continue to emerge. Each new race brings a great excitement to those of us who are fueled by this extreme sport.

This past weekend, an inaugural race took place in San Antonio, Texas. The "Alpha Warrior" was assembled in the parking lot at Retama Park Racetrack.  Unlike any OCR to date, "Alpha Warrior" is an extremely obstacle heavy course with twenty challenging & unique obstacles spread evenly throughout a half mile course.

I caught up with Spartan racing friends Corrine Kohlen & Marko Vennerholm. We arrived early, had a few minutes to view the course, and were in awe of it & its obstacles. With a childlike excitement we began assembling for the 8am elite heat. Approximately 75 in all signed up to toe the line for the elite heat. With some brief instructions we were off -  released every 60 seconds in heats of 3 with Corinne in the 2nd heat and Marko & I in the 3rd.

Obstacles included:  3 consecutive giant carpeted rollers, a side-ways traverse of a cargo net, a long ring traverse, several horizontal bar traverses, a hanging vertical bars traverse, a vertical ropes traverse, a low ladder traverse, slack line traverses, trampolines, and the home stretch included a large structure referred to as "Alcatraz". Alcatraz included cargo crawls, 2 different & unique forms of monkey bars, long jumps to carpeted boxes, a long descent of a loose cargo net, then a high jump down to a padded landing. Several obstacles are difficult to explain without going into great detail but all-in-all an über fun & challenging course! 19 minutes total for me, placing almost 6 minutes behind the winner :( Corinne took home the ladies title by more than 10 minutes with a 22 minute course domination!

Corinne, Marko & myself spent the morning in the race area which was well laid out to be extremely spectator friendly! Being with the ladies winner we were given "special" treatment. Lol. We shared time with the owners, co owners, Alpha Warrior staff & their ambassador "American Ninja Warrior" finalist Brent Steffensen which O-btw are all super cool people. And all whom have the same OCR thought process as us, more obstacles-less running :)

The festival area had a pull-up bar with some unique hand grips & several barbells for doing clean & jerks or presses I suppose. The meal tent had a good menu including several half way healthy chooses such as fruit bowls and quinao salad. They also had various sponsors assembled with tables/tents as well.

The finishers medal is as cool a medal I've received at any OCR, the shirt although solid black is made of nicer material & the "No Mud, no miles, no mercy" motto on the back is über cool! They also gave us a energy bar, I believe they are selling, as well when we crossed the finish that was yummy!

If it didn't come across thus far, I loved this race! I can't wait to do it again! I feel the experience I have from my first race gives me a chance to make top 3 at my next. I plan to do as many of these as possible the remained of this year. Hope to have ya-all join me :) Namaste.

- Jeff Bent

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gear Review - Solomon Speed Cross Shoes

Its been a while since I have done a gear review and it is much overdue.  Since I have started Obstacle Racing in May 2011 I have been through 3 brands/styles of shoes and I have finally found one that works really well for me: The Solomon Speed Cross (non gortex version). I have worn them at my last 3 ReebokSpartan Races, for  70K Fuego y Agua race, and the San Luis Obispo Marathon last weekend.

What I like about this shoe:

  • It is lightweight but not as light as a minimalist shoe so offers additional support.
  • It is made of fabric and not mesh - this helps a lot with preventing dust and small rocks from getting in.  The "body" of the shoe is really solid and doesn't have many seams for brush or stickers to get stuck in.
  • This shoe has non traditional - draw string type laces.  I really like this.  After triple or quadruple tying my shoes in many races I have found they still come un-done.  With the draw string lace I have never had this problem and they are easy to put on and take off.  I have had to use my teeth to untie traditional knots after a weekend of mud and racing.
  • The tread is really good for mud, rocks, and trail running.
  • They dry relatively quickly and are not horribly heavy when wet.
  • They come in many bright colors.
Downfalls to this shoe
  • The shoe is relatively expensive - I got my first pair on sale at running warehouse. Also looking for last years model can save a bit of money.
  • The tread (rubber) is soft and wears down easily - especially if you use them to run on the road.  
If you get a chance to try a pair out I highly recommend them (I am not endorsed by Solomon in any way, just love their shoes)


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Will you still like me if I’m 22nd place?

Will you still like me if I’m 22nd place?

With Vegas just around the corner and the publication of the Vegas race preview I have to admit my skin is boiling…..

I won’t say I’m nervous because I really do know the outcome.  I will go, I will race my ass off, I will finish, I will see friends, I will have fun, I will get muddy, and I will drive home.    Simple. 
But complicated.  This race has become a tiny bit emotional for me.  I am now two years into this sport and it has really taken over my life.  I love it.  I miss it when it’s gone.  I crave it.  I’m decent at it….but I’m not the best.  As the sport has evolved and become more and more popular the competition has gotten stiffer.  There is now money and titles on the line.  There is sponsorship, magazines, radio, and television coverage….all things unknown to obstacle racing in May of 2011. 
The surge in popularity and media attention has attracted money and talent to obstacle racing.  Great you say.....But where do I fit in???
This question has been playing over in my mind as I have entered the 2013 racing season and get ready for Vegas.  The best of the best ladies are going to be in Vegas.  Woman who are not only strong at the obstacles but run miles 2-4 minutes faster than me.  Woman who are personal trainers, or “professional athletes”, woman who do this for a living and are truly gifted.
How can I compete with them??? Knowing what I know about who is going to be there, should I even show up?  If I race against only my “known” competition I will be lucky to get a top 15 finish.  When you throw in the wild cards…I’d honestly be happy with a top 25 finish.  If I end up 25th place it will be my worst (placing) at a race ever.  But will I be ashamed or will I be proud?  I am struggling with this dilemma. 
I know to be the best you have to compete against the best.  In 2012 I was fortunate to place 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th at different races.  I felt like a contender.  I felt like competition.  I was one of the best… but only since so many had not discovered the sport.

Since South Carolina in December I have placed 19th, 16th, 15th, 14th, 6th, and 4th .   I have to be honest but with the races I have run this year I have not felt like a contender for the podium.  It’s just not realistic with these fast girls out there. 
So what do I do?  I write to get my feelings out.  I write to let you know that getting 16th place doesn’t give me the same feeling as getting 1st or 2nd or 4th.  I write to let you know that I DO care but I DON’T care!!!!!
I write because I still love this sport!  I love every mud pit, every wall, every rope, every barbwire scar, every ripped shirt, every Spartan.  I love my friends I have met through this sport.  I love my new love of running and training and trying new things.  I love traveling across the US and spending my life savings to roll in the mud or run 3 miles.  I love the relationships I have made and the people who have inspired me.  I love that this race challenges me physically and mentally.  It is a challenge to no longer be a contender.  It is a challenge to come in 16th place and be proud…. But in a way it’s not. 

Winning is great yes.  I love to win.  BUT….. THERE IS NO LOOSING IN THIS SPORT!!!.  Whether you come in 1st, or 16th, or 190th or 1000th… did you have fun – yes, did you get a workout – yes, did you meet cool beautiful people – yes, did you inspire others – yes, were others inspired by you- yes, will you do it again – YES! 
For better or for worse I am married to you Spartan race.  I will keep coming back no matter what place I get.  I will keep coming back no matter how much my knees bleed or my muscles ache.  I will show up to a race that I cannot podium at.  I will walk away with my 4th or 15th or 25th place and be proud.  I will give you 100% of what I have every time.  That is all I can give.  I will try to measure myself against myself and not against others.  I will race a good race for me.  Vegas here I come….let me have it J

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BB4B Chicks Sign with Spartan Race

We are excited to announce that we have signed with Spartan! The Barb Wire 4 Breakfast chicks are now officially a part of the organization that brought us together.

Thank you Reebok Spartan Race. We look forward to seeing each one of you at races. :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Miami Super Spartan


                                                            The Miami Super Weekend
By Guest Blogger, Jeffrey Bent

I just want to start by saying how honored I am to be a "guest blogger" for the "Barb Wire for Breakfast" ladies. Their blogs are epic & I inspire to live up to their standards!

This Miami epic weekend started off like so many others, with a long road trip! Road-trips are many times just as fun as the weekend itself & this one did not disappoint! With beginning to end dancing, yoga, tree climbing & great friends, the slightly over 9 hour road trip was over as soon as it began. Andi Hardy, Amy Sadd, Dominic Lewis, Chris Davis & I began the adventure in Atlanta late Thursday evening. A new "Barb Wire for Breakfast" bumper sticker installed & we were off. Before the sun was up we were closing in on our destination & Andi & I had already been entertaining the local folk at the interstate side Waffle House. A few headstands on the tables & we were on the road again. A quick early morning nap in the car/under a tree & we pressed further to the final destination. Even a "quick" bathroom break always provides ample entertainment when Andi & I team up! A few Yoga poses & there is never a safe tree around either. Yet again entertaining the locals with our antics we provided memories for a lifetime for all in attendance.
An early morning check in at the hotel in Miami & we were off to meet close friends & great people, Dan & Gretchen Kruger, at the beach for some epic Yoga poses, photo ops, and pre-race grappling for Dan & I. I learned quickly the big man is outta my weight class.  Epic sunburn was on the list of things to do for me this weekend in Florida. As I soaked in more rays I shared more Yoga with anyone I who would listen and try. Then Andi and I challenged each other to climb & retrieve coconuts from trees along the beach. Yoga, coconuts, and sunburn all accomplished!

Packet pickup that evening was a time consuming adventure due to local traffic but it's always fun to see Miami race manager Geishel Valverde! An attempt at an early bedtime was an epic fail but adrenaline always fuels the pre-race mornings.


It's always exciting to arrive at the race site morning of a race & this was no different. Well, maybe a little different. The fact that I hadn't run a single mile since my last Spartan race in Gulf Coast on Nov. 10th left me slightly more than a little nervous. I wondered if all the rehab that I had implemented had paid off. Unsure if my tendon issue was really healed I also wondered if this would be not only my first, but also my last race of the season. All the preparation that had gone into the last three months was about to be tested. For me these races are never about just finishing, I expect to compete at a high level, I expect to do well. I always know that there is going to be a very talented field of athletes that show up for the 8am elite heat, this being the fact that drives me to train hard.


A few quick hellos with close friends at the start line & we are sent off. Within a 1/2 mile we hit the first obstacle an "Over, under, through."  A short distance later a 100 plus yard waist deep dash across a lake. Another mile plus and we came to the monkey bars. I passed a few racers doing burpees at this point, then some 6 foot and  7 foot walls followed by rolling mud before we hit mile 4 & I was still hanging onto a the top 25 spot. Just after mile 4 is where the "problem spot" began. A 2 plus mile single track with epic switchbacks thru the woods. This type of terrain is difficult in the fact that it is vital to remain focused on the ground that we are navigating. And at the same time we must be focused on the tape & other marking of the course. This is a challenging task for new & seasoned OC racers alike.


So the drama began. The woods were smoldering. It was surly possible that sections of it were on fire. This is a Spartan race! We are always jumping fire & at the Vermont "Beast" they set fire to hay bales to choke us out. For sure this was a Spartan prop. Well apparently not! Some of the first racers had told Spartan race officials that a section of the woods were on fire. When I exited the wooded switchbacks at mile 6 for the tractor pull there were at least 50-60 people including a bunch of ladies in the general vicinity of this obstacle. My thoughts & words became "R" rated at this point. I was very confident I had stayed on course, and had not been passed by all those people.


I completed the tractor pull then the sandbag carry & pressed on as I continued to pass more & more people that I knew should not have been ahead of me. At the atlas carry a bottleneck occurred. I never have had to wait for an obstacle. UGH!!! Over the 8 foot walls then onto the tire flip I continued where traffic was again bottlenecked! The race that I so love was now a loss. I found myself doing the Hercules Hoist with people that were not at all at the competitive level! The wind had been taken from my sails! I pressed on, but without the drive that pushes me to compete at the level I am accustomed to! A mile of road running left & just a bucket hoist before the festival area, but this whole last mile was scattered with way more runners than I was used to seeing during a race.


At this point I had no idea what had happened but pushed on regardless. It's always great to arrive at the festival area & hear the roaring of the crowd. I know my rope climb always gets ooos & aahhs, with my arms only technique & the kick of the bell is always good for a scattering of cheers. Next to scale the traverse wall and then into the barbed wire where I had decided to give the last of what I had in the tank to "Put on a clinic". Scrambling hands & knees like I was being chased by the police, Ii passed a group of racers. I am uber excited as thru it I added an epic "barbed wire" scrap that I'm sure will turn into an epic scar! I love the barbed wire scars! Over the slippery wall & then down, I recognized the first Gladiator. Dan Krueger! As fun as it was to see him there I was surly confused how he arrived before me since I never saw him pass me. 1 hour 40 minutes was my official time.


This was my first race of the year, right? I hadn't run in 3 months, right? I've been injured, right? All this but 84th place is not an acceptable finish for me! Ever!


So the investigation of what happened began. It didn't take long to find out that race directors had diverted all but the first 30 or so racers away from the fire in the woods, thus shorting the course by almost 2 full miles for most. I verified with the course director that the course I ran on Saturday was indeed the same as what was run on Sunday. With less than 100% effort on Saturday my time would have put me inside the top 20 on Sunday. Knowing that made me feel a little better.


Apparently there is no way to know which racers completed which sections & thus the entire race & its results have been trashed as if it never happened! Epic fail! This is Spartan! Are we afraid of a little smoke & fire? I don't understand!


Luckily the race is only a small part of why I come on these weekend ventures. It had been 3 months & it was really great to see everyone that was there. I surly try to spend time & socialize with everyone I know & many that I don't!  This is why I come! I am a "Social Butterfly." Here I can spread my wings! I always try to spend extra time with those special friends that I have made during my Spartan time. Dan & Gretchen, Shawn & Sue, and Keith & Nele & Leah were on the list of favorites at this event. Pull up challenges, Traverse wall challenges, Slosh pipe challenges & Yoga fills up the few short hours that we have together very quickly! I arrived late at the "Traverse Wall" challenge. Elliott was 2nd with 12.4 seconds to an unknown who had 12.1 seconds. I'm typically finish around 10 seconds & was excited to have another "Elite" in the challenge. I was on pace for the win & for my 10 second time, but slipped off the last foot hold.


I was Über excited to be the "Rabbit" for the kid’s race on Saturday. There was a lot of pressure to not get passed by a motivated group of young athletes! I had a good head start & pressed hard to stay ahead of the pack. Down the slide & under the kid’s "barbed” wire we went. I allowed the leader to pull in tight & he was more than excited to pass me! One Epic event after another happened this "Super" weekend.


The venue event came to a close but the night had just begun. I spent an hour or so at JayTea’s famous Asian Armor get together. It was fun to see JayTea again & have the pleasure to meet the 'Weeple Army" captain Dave Huckle. The "Panda" guy was there as well. Then off we went to the “after” party. I had a strong suspicion I would be too sore to race the next day, so as soon as we arrived at the "Unofficial Spartan after party" I began to indulge in the 2 for 1 drink specials! Boo-ya!! Yoga poses & pictures began immediately. It was great to have some time with Keith Glass & Nele Schulze. The 2 time "World’s Toughest Mudder" winner Junyong Pak also joined our group. Pak & I have had time together on several different occasions & seem to share a kindred friendship. I was allowed a rematch from a failed "Traverse Wall" competition in Vermont at the "Super" earlier that day. I was victorious in my attempt but he was less than impressed with my technique & other techniques I use at several obstacles. He began to share with me his opinions & I became aggravated with his less than tactful description of my techniques. Our party spot had a pool in the patio area. It was at this point I decided it was going to be necessary to take my friend Pak for a dip. We were both in jeans but I was hot from my sunburn & had enough to drink to not care. I asked him thoughtfully if he had a wallet or phone in his pocket & recommended he remove them for their own safety! I was sure he would be very difficult to get into the pool as he is agile & strong. I was also confident that he didn't think I would be able to accomplish this. My secret weapon was the fact that I wasn't trying to throw him in, I was content with taking him in with me. Mission accomplished! An Epic event for all in attendance!


A few hours of sleep & we were off to the venue again. I was, as suspected, very sore & was happy to not race but to spend the day at the venue. It's always fun to see close friends come through the course at festival area. Because I didn't run I was able to catch a few pictures. Two guys I didn't know were the first to come through, then Shawn Feiock, David Magida, Chris Rutz, & Kevin LaPlatney was close behind. It is so fun to cheer for friends!! I also happened to be on the course when the famous "Cornfeed Spartan," Candie Bobick came through. More Yoga, dancing & socializing! A "Traverse Wall" challenge win today with 10.8 seconds & a "Slosh Pipe" victory with 16 & it was winding up to be another epic day! I spent a few hours as I did the prior day welcoming finishers to the finish line as a gladiator & handing out medals too. I am good friends with many Spartan staff & was asked to help with different challenges & with the kid’s races again. I found "Rabbits" for the kids to chase in the form of top racer David Magida & the current women's "Death race" winner Nele Schulze. Both had an incredible time participating! One last challenge had been on my radar for the weekend & I had a man to run the camera. I had wanted to climb a rope at one end of the set of ropes, ring the bell & then traverse from rope to rope kicking each bell all the way across to the other side. I found an opening during the race & it was my chance. It was so much fun & the crowd was impressed. And of course I got a video of it. Epic!


It's always hard to say goodbye to everyone but we always know we'll see each other soon. We had one last stop to fill our bellies & the return road trips began with one less traveler and a whole lot more quietness. Everyone who road trips with me knows there is a handful of songs that come on the radio that will be cranked & Jeffrey will be dancing! It's just how I roll! It's my version of making time fly like "Maverick" does in Top Gun! Before you know it we were home.


This was another slightly tiring weekend for sure, but I wouldn't change a thing! See you all at the next race. Namaste


~Jeffrey Bent

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fuego y Agua - Part Two (Final Chapter)

Post tree chop ;)
After chopping down the tree we were given a bag of coffee beans and told we needed to keep it dry, and that it had the third piece of the medal in it.  We were then led to what became the third aid station which primarily consisted of coconuts.  I drank the milk from two coconuts and scooped some of the meat out.  One of the volunteers refilled my camelbak with electrolyte drink and I wanted to take off back up the volcano.  It was now Jeff, Jason, Dennis and I and just before 5pm.  Out of nowhere Shannon came running towards us toward the final obstacle.  He was literally racing the clock and had been fortunate to come down the right trail.  As he flew towards the tree chop I put on my Camelbak and started back up the volcano.  Although Jason said he would hike with me  I wanted to get a head start because I knew I would be slow.  Hills are not my strength and I was actually really dreading the second ascent of the volcano.  In obstacle races the known is often a lot more difficult than the unknown, and knowing what I already did about the volcano did not fill me with confidence.  Within about a minute Jason had already caught up to me and we hiked up the hill chanting out the colors from the last memorization task: "Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue, Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue, Black - Green - Yellow, Purple - Red - Blue"
Shannon post tree chop
My hiking buddies Jason and Jeff loading up their bags.
It was easy to see that Jason was a much faster hiker than me and I urged him to go ahead.  We were both trying to make a time cutoff and I didn't want to hold him back.  Jason wanted to keep his word to my mom that he would stay with me but I begged him to go ahead.   Eventually Jeff came up the trail and passed me, and a little later Shannon.  I was just really slow. 
Not me but an example of the steep trail. Imagine this in the dark!
When the guys took breaks I was sometimes able to catch them for a minute or two but after about an hour was hiking alone.  It was now totally dark and although I had a good headlamp it was hard to see.  The trail was covered in rocks, vines, and squishy mud sink holes and to say it was slippery and steep would be a complete understatement. 
Finally about 8:30pm?? I came to the intersection I had seen when I had run up the volcano previously.  One way led to the top, and one way led down but this time there were no volunteers to point you in the right direction.  I thought I should take the route to the very top as previously I was directed to take the route I had just ascended but I really didn't know.  The goal was to get to the top of the volcano where we would swim across the lagoon in the middle of the volcano to retrieve an egg which we would then carry on our heads (without breaking it) back down the volcano.  We had been told at the coconut aid station that at the top of the volcano we would also find our final aid station.  
This is none of us but gives a good idea of "the trail"
The "trail leading to the top" was an interesting one as it seemed to take me down 30 or so feet, then send me back up, then send me down another 30 or so feet, then up over and over again.  It felt like I was making no progress towards the top and it felt like I was walking in circles.  Like previous sections of the trail, blue or orange ribbon markers were rarely seen. Finally after about 20 minutes on this roller coaster of a trail I saw two headlamps ahead and was so happy to find Jeff and Jason.  They had paused for a minute and were second guessing that we were on the right trail and I was so happy to be able to catch up.  We decided together that we were on the "right" trail and that there weren't really any other options.  At this point I believe it was at least 9pm and we had been ascending the volcano for 4 hours.  I think they thought it was earlier but I'm pretty sure it was getting late.  We continued on and eventually the trail began heading straight up hill.  At this point I could no longer keep up with the boys and I began to get tired, nervous, and frustrated.  I know they could hear the struggle in my voice and they yelled encouraging words for me and shined their lamps down at me but I just couldn't keep the pace and told them to go ahead.   They asked if I had water and I did and they yelled for me to take a left when I got to the top.  I yelled back for them to send someone after me when they got to the aid station and they said they would.  At this point in my game I wasn't really thinking straight about finishing within the time cutoffs anymore, I think I had been racing for 18 hours, exhaustion and fear were getting the best of me and I just wanted off the mountain. 
Again, not us but pics of the trail.  It was too dark to see us.
As I had been ascending the volcano the wind had been picking up and it had really turned into a true rain forest.  The wind was so loud that the only thing you could hear was the sound of tree branches cracking and I worried one would fall.  There was a thick fog and the rain drops grew larger and larger.  With my headlamp I could only see about 4 feet ahead of me and I actually began to get cold.  I had stayed soaking wet from the combination of swimming and sweat and I now began to understand why we had brought an emergency blanket.  This was a different world up here.  The volcano was pissed! 
I pulled out my emergency blanket and tied it around my shoulders and began to climb in the direction I had last seen the guys.  It was impossible to see anything and I really had no idea where I was going.  I feared taking a wrong step and falling into ? or slipping and sliding down.  I got more scared, colder, and more frustrated and wondered how long it would take for someone to find me if I just stayed put.  Afraid to move I leaned against the side of the hill, shivering, and whimpering.   I began yelling to see if anyone could hear me.  From below came a voice and I swore it was my echo.  I yelled "hello!!!???"  It yelled back "HELLLLLLLLLLOOOO"  I felt the mountain was playing tricks on me.  I finally yelled "This is Corinne, who is there" to test my echo theory and I was surprised to hear Dennis answer back "Where are you???"  "I'm up here!!!!"  I screamed and shined my headlamp down the slope.  I used my hand to make SOS flashes.  I yelled at him to shine his headlamp up at me.   For a few minutes I tried shining my light in all directions in hope we would find each other.  Nothing.  We could hear each other but not see a thing.  Frustration!
This picture was taken during the day but this is a good "jungle" pic.  Walking through this at night in the fog and rain was quite a challenge.
Eventually his voice faded, I continued to shiver, it continued to rain, and I knew I had to move.  I knew if I at least moved down the volcano, whether on a trail or not, I would get warmer.  The fog must have parted for a split second and to my right I saw what looked like a trail going horizontal across the slope. I followed it and within about 10 minutes saw a blue ribbon!   OK, this is good.  I figured this was the 100K trail down the mountain and it might not have been what I was supposed to be on but at least it would get me somewhere.  The "trail" was one of the roughest trails I have ever been on.  Branches leaned across the trail, the base was covered in mud, and there were many times where I had to scoot on my butt or crawl to get under fallen trees.  Surprisingly this section of the trail had more blue ribbons than I had seen on the entire rest of the race.  Every time I began to get worried I would see a blue ribbon.  Had it not been for the blue ribbons I would have never recognised this as a trail and would have never followed its twisting dangerous path down the volcano.  I would later find out this section was nicknamed "The Jungle Gym"!  At one point I found a whistle in the mud and began blowing furiously on it hoping someone would hear me but there was no one to hear. 
Eventually the air became less thick, the rain stopped, and I began to warm up with each step down the mountain.  I knew as long as I was warm and heading down I would be OK.  I hadn't seen the guys for hours now and I continued down the trail alone blowing my whistle every few minutes just in case.  On the steep sections my legs were like Jello and I sat on my feet and slid, grabbing vines to slow me down.  At this point I was tired but my spirits were good.  I was warm again, I was descending from the volcano and I was following blue ribbons.  I had never found the aid station at the top of the mountain, never seen into the volcano where the egg swim obstacle would have been and because of these things as well as the approaching midnight hour the competitive part of my race was completely over. 

At this point I kinda lost track of time and I can't remember exact details but I'm guessing sometime after midnight I saw lights!  House lights!  I felt saved!  I knew my mother must be worrying about me but at this point I knew I would be 100% OK.  I could get to one of the houses and ask for help.  I continued down the trail and it cooperated with me becoming less and less steep and then I saw more lights!  Head lights!  I yelled "Hello,  Its Corinne"  and I heard a familiar voice!  Adam yelled back at me.  Adam and Bryce (sorry if I messed up your name my mind was fuzzy) had headed up the trail to look for me!  I was so happy and jumped at both of them giving them huge hugs and thanking them for coming to get me!   This was now the second time Adam had come to my rescue and to him I will be forever thankful.  He first helped me at World's Toughest Mudder 2011 after my wetsuit had frozen into a solid pancake and now he had completed the race himself and hiked back up to get me.
Adam - the most selfliss, caring person I have ever met.
Completed his 70K of the race, drank Tona's and had the energy
to do at least another 10K between looking for me and coming
back down :)
I had been "found" and the word was radio'd in.  I told them to let my mom know I was OK and that she didn't have to wait, I imagined she too must be exhausted.  Dennis was still missing and I was the last person who had heard from him so I tried as best I could to describe where that had been.  Bryce continued up the mountain to look for Dennis and Adam and I headed down.  
Although I had seen the lights and met with Adam and Bryce the race "end" was still so much farther away than I had imagined.  Adam assured me that it was close but I think he was just being nice.  We hiked for at least another hour and a half down hill until we finally came to a road where we met up with a guide (sorry my mind isn't working), waited about 15 minutes and were picked up and taken to "monkey island". 
There I saw my mom for the first time in about 23 hours!  She was so happy to see me and I was so happy to be done.  I re-united with Shannon and Jason, sat my butt down, and drank a cold coca cola.  The search for Dennis was still on and rumors came in that he may have turned around and headed down the mountain after I saw him, and eventually he was found at a cafe.

By the time my mom and I got back to the hotel it was 5:15am and we were pooped but I was happy.  The next morning came too quick with an 8am knock on the door followed by a 9am ferry ride.  Walking out of the hotel I was so tired I couldn't even speak and when I tried only tears came.  They were not tears of fear or embarrassment or shame this time though.  They were happy tired tears. 
Finishers Pak and Johnson
Only two people finished the race in the 20 hour cutoff and I wasn't one of them.  I eventually learned that there was not an aid station at the top of the volcano and that the volunteers who had been up there were told no one else was coming and had left much before I got there.  In the night I had been searching for a top that wasn't there, for a lagoon I couldn't see, for a mystery egg obstacle and for aid that had shut down hours before.  In the end it was frustrating but really didn't matter.  Although I only received three pieces of my medal which spelled out "I - DID - FAIL" I do not feel I failed.  I was on my feet for nearly 24 hours.  I had moments of meltdown but never gave up.  Counting all my "lost" mileage I probably had covered 50 miles and ascended and descended the volcano twice.  In the end my only injuries were scrapes and bruises.  I had carried a chicken, chopped down a tree, swam across the lake.  I was proud of what I had done.
  "I - DID - NOT -FAIL"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fuego Y Agua....Part 1

The Fuego Y Agua "Survival Race" is the hardest, most dangerous, most unforgettable race I have done to date.  This race is hard to write about because some of the moments were so unreal I feel I don't have adequate words to describe them.  The thing is I can't stop reliving the moments in my head, I have to get it out, and people want to know the stories.  I know every athlete out there had a different experience.  Some got lost a lot, some got lost a little, some never gave up, some pushed their bodies to exhaustion, many were pulled and missed cut offs, most did not finish, only 2 did.  This is how the race went for me. 

Our hotel was pretty lovely :) 

My alarm went off at 3am and almost immediately the race day adrenaline started.  I dressed, assembled my camelback, pinned on my number, ate a couple plantains and headed to the starting line.  I stood and talked to others as the pre race jitters and excitement grew.  We took pictures, looking so clean and unbroken, with no idea of what would come.  The survival runners were called to the start before the other runners and we were given a puzzle to memorize.  We had to memorize the colors of the blocks (not the name of the color that was written) in order to get aid at the next aid station. 

Once each of us had a chance to look at the puzzle we were told to get in line to get a chicken.  What???? A chicken!!  My mind started working and I pulled out two of my buffs and used them to wrap my chicken in.  I have actually never carried a chicken before but thought if you kept them covered they seemed to stay calmer (and at least that way she couldn't peck at me).  38 of us lined up at the start, chickens in hand, and we were off.  Off on a dark road which led to a dusty trail and seemed to wind through the backyards of some houses.  I held my little chicken like a football and seemed to be making good time.  The chicken was hot and we both seemed to be sweating. 

After about 4 miles we came to some police standing near a truck which I thought must be the first aid station....Nope!  The police took my chicken and handcuffed me with zip tie handcuffs then sent me off for another 4ish miles.  Running with the handcuffs was not extremely difficult but was a tiny bit impractical and scary.  I couldn't grab any of my food or items in my bag, and I dreaded the possibility of tripping on one of the many rocks on the trail. 

It was now near 6am and the sun was coming up.  I ran down a trail and came to the "third obstacle" and saw some of the other racers for the first time since the start.  They stood next to a gigantic pile of sticks and each was assembling their own pile.  My handcuffs were clipped and I was told to make a 40lb pile of sticks.  Some of the sticks were very light and it took me 3 attempts to get my weight to 40.  My first pile was 15 (so off!!), next pile was 24, and my final weight was 40.9lbs.  I'm guessing my pile consisted of about 15-20 sticks that I had each tied individually then wrapped the entire pile with my paracord.  I tied the knots very securely and took great care to make a tight bundle.  I then took my thicker piece of cord and threaded it through the paracord wrap, leaving two ends out which acted as backpack straps.  I leaned back on my pile, strapped it to my back and started down the trail. 
This is Johson - The eventual winner of the Fuego y Agua race carrying his pile of logs. 

I hiked with my pile of sticks for at least an hour and what I later found out was 5 miles.  The trail wound through a creek bed and dirt road, through banana farms, and peoples backyards.  I tucked my buff's under each "backpack strap" for some extra padding and found a child's sweater on the side of the road that I jammed between my back and the pile.  Despite these "comforts", this was no easy task.  Pieces of the pile dug into my kidneys, shoulders, and back.  The sun blazed.  Each mile seemed like the longest mile ever until I came to a familiar site - the oasis!

Morgan has a flawless climb up the tree!
I rounded a turn and came to the oasis that just yesterday my mother, Leslie, and her mother had swam at.  I had seen something suspicious in the trees when we were there previously but I didn't know what it was.  Leslie said... "your going to like this one... its right up your ally!"  A tree climb!  I was excited!  As I refilled my water and ate a few snacks I heard people cheer as Morgan McKay made it up the tree and then Pak.  I walked down and there was the same things I had seen the day before.  About 30 feet up were green bands wrapped around a piece of wood and dangling from the trees.  I was told we had to climb up the tree and grab a green band which was a bracelet.  I thought I could do this but to be honest had never climbed up a coconut tree before and this wasn't just a simple climb.  The trees did not lean over the beautiful crystal clear water of the oasis, or over soft brush... instead they leaned over a concrete slab with two wooden spiked posts and many wooden chairs.  A fall would mean at best a broken bone, if you landed wrong you could snap your back, impale yourself on the posts, crack your head... any number of these things WOULD have happened if someone fell.  For my climber friends who know me they know I am extremely afraid of climbing without spotters/ropes/and crash pads and have never solo'd this high in my life.  I was scared but had a plan.  I knew I had to move fast as Morgan had just completed the climb and we were girls 1 and 2.  I grabbed my 1/2 inch cord and made a semi prusic hitch around one of the trees.  I tried to use it to inch my way but but it was so hard, and I literally just inched my way up.  I had no grip on my feet and everything was so slippery.  I might have made it about 6 feet up when I knew it wasn't going to happen and I slid down.  My feet and inner thighs were now bleeding and chaffed.  The frustration began!  The volunteer recommended I try a different tree with a branch about 15 feet up so I did.  Again, sheer terror and frustration.  I did make it up to the branch but was so exhausted and terrified when I grabbed it I couldn't pull myself up.  I started hyperventilating and totally freaking out.  All I could see was the concrete below me and I was so scared.  I slid down the tree and had worked myself into tears.  Tears of pain, frustration, fear, embarrassment, shame.  More and more people came to the obstacle and the clock ticked.  I lost any lead or advantage I had had.  Many people climbed up the tree successfully and I became more and more frustrated why I couldn't.  Dan asked me if this was going to end my race.  "No!" I whimpered.  I apologize for anyone who saw me this way, for anyone I was rude to or yelled at, for not being able to pull it together at this moment but I was BROKEN.  Finally someone climbed a "different" tree that did not have any bracelets on it but was near enough to reach the bracelets.  This tree was half the diameter of the other trees and leaned backwards and I knew I could climb it.  I composed myself and climbed up the tree with relative ease.  Finally!  after a one hour panic and complete meltdown I had my confidence back.  I grabbed my bag and raced down a mile or two till the next obstacle.

Adam (HERO!!!) carries his log down the beach

Our next obstacle was a log carry.  Three of us reached the logs together and the volunteer picked out which logs we would carry.  The carry was on the beach and we were given the option to carry, roll, or float the log in the water until the next check point.  I had a 4 foot by 1 foot log and chose to carry it on my shoulders.  This seemed to be a good strategy and I made quick time down the beach. (2 miles?)
I dumped the log and was told to start digging under a blue flag.  I was looking for a bucket that was supposedly 5 feet down and had a medal in it to grab.  I dug for what seemed like 20 minutes and was never ending.  With each scoop of sand I pulled out of my hole the wind blew in what seemed like tons more.  The sides of my hole started collapsing and It was frustrating and physically difficult.  I flung sand everywhere and used my long saw/knife to poke down and find the bucket.  Finally the white edge was revealed and I reached in and grabbed my medal.  I covered the bucket back up and looked up for my next task, accidentally leaving my knife in the sand in the excitement.
Survival runners Morgan and Dennis Dig for their buckets

The next task was a swim/walk along the island carrying a white sack full of plastic bottles.  The sack wasn't heavy and did float so was relatively helpful.  The final destination for this portion was about 1.5 miles away.  The lake was very rough and the wind was making waves and white caps. I am not a great swimmer so I decided to walk along the rocky shore.  The rocky shore was slippery and I bashed my knees and shins many times.  At a few points the brush got too thick to walk on the shore and I headed out to the water.  The water was murky and hidden below were large volcanic rocks.  The waves tumbled me against the rocks, bashing my knees more and throwing off my prescription glasses.  The water was refreshing but exhausting and treacherous.  I feared the rumored fresh water bull sharks seeking out my bloody knees and visions of "jaws" ran through my mind.  This part of the race was very isolated.  I could no longer see any other competitors or volunteers.  There were no boats watching for safety, no one watching at all.  Finally I reached the dock point and climbed out.  I believe I ran about a half a mile until where I came across the second aid station.  I could barely remember the colors I had seen hours before and almost didn't choose the right combo.  Thank goodness I did as I was able to enjoy watermelon, pretzels and refill my water.  A nice Nicaraguan woman rubbed some lotion on my battered legs and the next part was explained to me.  I was told we were going to start the first ascent of the volcano and that I would need to be careful and not "bonk" so I ate a salt tab.  Oh, and before I left I had to take a bamboo pole up the mountain with me.  Great I thought!  A walking pole will really be helpful.  NOT exactly a walking pole.  I was led to the pile of poles and chose one of the smaller diameter ones - probably 4 inches diameter, 20 feet long, and at least 35lbs.  Well then....I'll just hike my pole up a few miles of the volcano.  No problem...except that the front kept bumping into rocks, getting stuck in branches, the back was dragging on the ground, and my shoulders were now pretty raw and sore from the logs and sticks I had carried earlier. 

I carried my pole up the mountain for about 30-45 minutes until I came to one of the largest groups of spectators I had seen all day.  Someone yelled at me "Your mom is up there"  and I was so happy.  She had trekked to Nicaragua to see me do this crazy thing and I hadn't been fast enough to catch up to her tour group yet.  She came down the mountain with her trekking poles and her "Barbwire 4 Breakfast" shirt and gave me a big hug!  It was instant energy!  I was so happy and amazed she had trekked miles up the trail just to see me.  I was then told to use my bamboo pole to climb into a rather large tree and retrieve a bracelet.  Jeff and Jason helped hold my pole steady and I easily got to the bracelet!  It felt so good to finally show what my climbing skills were!  I wasn't done with my pole yet though and lugged it another 1/8th mile up the mountain to the next tree obstacle.  This one was more difficult.  Here I would have to lean the pole up into a tree, climb up, get a bracelet, then pull the pole up with me and balance it across to another tree about 8 feet away, climb across the pole and get a second bracelet.  It took me a few tries to get my pole up the first tree but after that this was relatively easy for me.  The descent was the hardest part and sliding down the tree further chaffed my inner legs but I had completed two obstacles with relative ease and was done with my bamboo pole. 

With good spirits from seeing my mom and completing the obstacles I continued the trek up the mountain.  It was long, and grew steeper and more slippery with each step.  About 1 hour in I ran out of water and began to worry.  I began asking anyone I saw for water.  One local gave me a half an orange which I very graciously accepted and a couple tourists gave me about a liter of water.  An hour later I was still hiking and out of water again. 
This climb was insane and never ending.  It was the Vermont beast on steroids.   Finally I came to an intersection of sorts between the 100K race course and the survival run and I was told to head down the hill!  There was no water or aid at this check point and I had now been hiking uphill for at least 3 hours (alone) but I was still happy to be heading downhill.  The downhill was just as slippery as the uphill and I grabbed branches, sticks and rocks and I tried to make up some time.  I moved relatively fast but the downhill took a different route than the one I had came up and seemed to take forever.  The clock was ticking and the 5pm hour was drawing closer.  I knew I had to make it off the mountain and find the next obstacle before 5pm in order to continue with my race.  I saw Johnson and Pak heading up the mountain and Pak told me I was about 2 miles from the bottom.  I soon caught up to Jason and Jeff and we continued to head down together.  Pak had told me our next obstacle (and the last before the cutoff) would be to cut down a tree.  I cringed at the fact that I had left my saw at the sand dig!  Ugggghhh!  Jason and Jeff and I continued on for what seemed much much longer than 2 miles and we came to a village.  At this point we had not seen any other runners come up the way we had come down but we knew there were about 8 more unaccounted for.  I assumed that the tree chop was so difficult that they were all stuck there cutting down trees with pocket knives and I made a plan.  Since I had lost my saw I would buy a knife.  Jeff and Jason ran ahead and I stopped in someones backyard and explained to them in my not perfect Spanish that I needed to buy their large kitchen knife to cut down a tree.  I offered them 200 cordobas which is about the equivalent of $8.  I heard them talking that it would cost them 80 cordobas to buy a new one but they didn't want to sell it to me.  They understood my Spanish perfectly but must have NOT known about the survival run and the obstacles and thought this pale white chick was totally insane!  I begged, begged, begged them to sell if for at least 10 minutes and finally at 300 cordobas a deal was made!  I told them I would return the knife because I assumed the trial came back that way as we had seen Pak and Johnson an hour or so up.  I was so stoked on my purchase and ran down the street after Jason and Jeff with my shiny long knife in my hands. I must have looked like a total maniac as now Jeff and Jason were way ahead of me and I ran alone.  I hit a road and saw them up ahead but the clock now said 4:30 and we had been running for at least 5 miles since we had seen Pak. We began asking anyone we saw where the people were cutting down trees and which way to turn.  The hot afternoon sun burnt us as we were all out of water and we began to get really frustrated and worried that we couldn't make the time cut off.  I ran into Dennis who was also lost and we started walking with 3 tourists who had seen other racers cutting down trees and they led me in the right path.  Jeff and Jason were too far ahead to yell for them but they soon caught up.  At about 4:45 I came to the last obstacle - the tree chop.  I walked proud with the knife I had bought only to be told that we could use an ax!  People weren't stuck cutting down trees with pocket knives as I had thought.  Jason, Jeff, and I were just so off trail that we didn't see anyone going the right way.  Morgan appeared from the trail just as I got there and although she had had a good lead on me she had gotten lost too and we were now there together at the last cut off at the same time!   During the race she had set a blistering pace and I had tried hard to catch up to her after my epic fail on the tree climb.  With this twist of fate, I caught her... but only for a minute.

I was led to a tree with a blue ribbon tied around it and started hacking away at it.  I had never cut down a tree before so my strategy was horrible but the volunteer directed me to make diagonal chops to the trunk.  I was totally exhausted.  My mom and Leslie's Mom Mary were there watching and I wanted to make them proud. I chopped with all my might, taking many breaks in between.  At about 8 minutes before the 5pm cutuff my tree fell and I held up the ax in the air with so much pride!  I had made the cutoff and would be going back up the volcano.........

Exaustion as the clock ticked towards 5pm

Jason and I after we had cut our trees and just slid in before 5pm.

Using my knife I bought to cut open a coconut after we made the cutoff.
I had now been racing for 13 hours but hat happened next was where the true "Survial" part of the run began.....