I was constant as a northern star
I had a fire burning in my heart
I never gave up fighting in the dark
I came, I saw, I conquered
The Ohio Spartan Beast was exactly what it sounds like – a Beast of a race. Thirteen-plus miles of suck-your-shoes-off-your-foot mud, hills climbs, dramatic descents, tree roots begging to trip you, and knee-high grass. Add in 26 obstacles to test your grip strength, balance, endurance, and power. In many ways, I needed this race. I needed to be reminded of my abilities as a runner. I needed to be reminded of my grit to follow through with a challenge. I needed to be reminded to never give up – even when your mind tells you to stop.
As the follow up to my race at the Austin Super a few weekends ago, I was nervous as hell to be on the start line. I knew I was prepared and trained. I knew the course was more running than most, both of which gave me slight confidence. But as I mentioned before, my obstacle proficiency needs work. After doing 150 burpees in Austin, my fear of obstacles was huge and I walked away with a healthy dose of respect for several of the upper-body oriented obstacles. Despite my spending lots of time in the burpee bit thus far this season, my obstacle proficiency is slowly improving. I can now easily get up and over 8-9 foot walls, reliably land the spear throw (in practice!), and power through carries.
In Ohio, the first 2 miles included a trilogy of obstacles back-to-back-to-back that I knew would dictate how this race would go. First came the Monkey Bars (of varying heights and distance), next came the Z Wall (wall in the shape of a Z with small blocks for hands and feet of varying heights, distance and angles) and finally the Multi-Rig (structure of rings, bars and ropes). I arrived leading the first pack of women and then my nightmare came true. I missed all three obstacles on the very last bar/block/ring. And there, my friends, I lost the lead with a 90 burpee penalty. My best guess is that these burpees cost me about 6-7 minutes.
Coming out of burpees into running is a challenge. Burpees are taxing on your entire body and get your heart rate skyrocketing. They inhibit your ability to shoot out of the pit at a fast speed. But learning from both Austin and past road races where I allowed my negative brain to overtake my will to push, I began the slow grind of catching the women ahead of me.
The middle of the course was a beautifully rugged 7-mile section full of technical trails – where I knew I could use to the miles for my benefit. I had a plan to knock out the miles close to marathon pace until I realized that the trails made that nearly impossible. I had to watch my feet and head so I wouldn’t get knocked out or down by tree roots, hanging branches, and rocks. In the midst of my hunting and regaining the lead, I failed another obstacle – Balance Logs (logs in the ground of varying diameter and distance apart)– because I forgot to go fast over them and fell. Thirty more burpees. I left the burpee pit in second place.
Cue in the Spear Throw. I’ll make this short – 30 more burpees.
Again, I had to force the pace to regain the lead. My legs were burning with every climb. I wanted to throw up from the pain. But I refused to let up. I was wearing the Oiselle kit – the same colors from the Olympic Marathon Trials. In some way, I knew I wanted that outfit to get redemption (or was it revenge?) from that hot-ass day in Los Angeles. I kept grinding. I got passed by one runner with just a few miles left, leaving me and another competitor (Amanda Wagner, an amazingly strong runner too) to play catch up.
Then I was saved. I train at home with a 50lb Hyperwear sandbell by walking up a half mile incline. I do this a lot. This is the heavier than the men’s sandbag carry in these races. So when I arrived at the Sandbag Carry and picked up a 20lb sandbag I was relieved at how light it felt. I took it and ran downhill and it was on the uphill where I passed the leader. My heart was pumping so fast from running hard, pushing on this carry, and also from the excitement of knowing that I was in the lead with just a mile or so to go. I almost cried. I never gave up. I knew in that moment that I found redemption. I got my revenge against my doubting self. I ran out of the woods into the wide-open field at the Finish Area over hearing “First Elite Female Coming!”
And then I arrived at the Rope Climb. I grabbed the rope … and then my mind went blank. I forgot my technique. OH SHIT NOOOOOOO!
I banged out my 30 burpees as fast as I could and watched a woman complete the rope climb and run ahead of me. I was in second place. Again.
I hauled ass from the burpee pit to the last three obstacles. I sailed through two of them and arrived at the Herc Hoist (pulling a full sandbag to the top of a pulley, then slowly lowering it to the ground) With a mixture of anger and excitement, I cranked through that obstacle as if my life depended on it. Lowering that sucker down – I immediately looked over to my man Jason who was cheering me on, and gave him a smile and an air kiss because I knew I was on the podium.
One-Hundred-And-Eighty-Burpess and I still managed to earn second place.
I have an engine in my chest and it saved me. I have a drive in my legs and it saved me. All those miles of training for marathons saved me. That said, in any other race where women like Amelia Boone and Lindsay Webster are on the start line (arguably the best female racers in long-distance, mountainous races), there’s not a woman on the planet who is fast enough to mitigate the setbacks that 180 burpees creates. I wouldn’t have gotten on the podium with that faulty of an obstacle performance. But here’s the thing, I nail my spear throws in practice and I easily completed the Monkey bars the next day on a fun run. So many of those burpees are more mental for me than physical. And that is fixable. It’s all fixable. Ohio taught me something – my running is my gift and I can still tap into that place where my confidence and inner strength allow me to be uncomfortably comfortable.
In order to hang with the big girls, I need to continue to work on my obstacle proficiency. I’m doing just that. Despite failing six obstacles, I have come a long way compared to where I was just months ago. As I improve, I feel confident that I can run with the best of them. It’s a slow process and I need to expect peaks and valleys. I’m getting there, and Ohio added more bricks along the pathway. One brick at a time. One mile at a time. One obstacle at a time.