The Dallas Beast Team Race: don’t mess with Texas

I ran the first year of the Whistler Tough Mudder… the one where we ran in knee deep snow and had to swim through slush.

I ran the Spartan World Championship… the race that notoriously takes athletes to their knees with cramps.

And I never really got cold.

I’m from Northern Alberta for goodness sake.

In Dallas, I was so cold. SO cold. So cold, I cramped all over cold.

Looking at the weather, I knew it would be chilly. However, after having overdressed for Sun Peaks and spent seven hours roasting in the sun on a mountainside… I vowed not to make that mistake again.

New mistake: hypothermia.

On the upside, racing on Team Platinum Rig Canada was awesome fun. I almost forgot how unpleasant the cold was in the company of such amazing athletes and people.

The race started with a typical dash to the over-unders, but led quickly into an eat-up-your-legs creek wade. It wasn’t quite deep enough to swim through but was definitely deep enough to make walking through the muck difficult.

The course had detours for teams on obstacles that needed to be completed together, which was a great way to keep us all as one unit. The first was a big wall with no toe kicks that you had to climb Tough Mudder style but without touching the braces. We had one person hoist the climbers leg while they stepped on another’s shoulder. The last person helped “push the butt” to help with hip extension.

The next team obstacle was flipping a telephone pole four times. One person deadlifted it up, the next grabbed further down and cleaned it to shoulder height and the last two got under it and walked their hands down until it went over.

There were a bunch of latter obstacles big and small along the course, which kept it interesting for us but apparently caused a bunch of congestion for the open racers.

Next was the giant tractor tire flips as a group of two.

I was hoping to warm-up by this point – but every footstrike was jarring and worrisome. I was concerned that if I did hit the ground wrong, my ankle wouldn’t bend, it would snap. It made bushwacking around in a lumpy cow field a bit unnerving… and I felt like I was becoming more and more uncoordinated and clumsy as the race progressed.

As if my lumbering stiff legs weren’t enough added challenge, at this time, my hands decided to join their rebellion. The transverse wall was where my forearms first started misbehaving. I fell off on the last hold, right near the bell. Luckily another teammate slipped off too, so we did our burpees together.

I was more careful than usual on the log hop. Come on body, just do what I tell ya’.

Somehow I made the rope climb. The two ladies that made the traverse wall missed the bell and had a burpee penalty. So now we got a little rest before we jogged up to the memorization test.

All chatter stopped after that. We just trotted along in our little pack reciting numbers to ourselves in our heads.

Big cargo net.

The team Atlas carry was cool. You chained yourself together and each picked up a stone: one heavy, one light. After 5 burpees on the other side, we switched rocks and returned.

Stairway to heaven was a new obstacle to me but I’ve seen a version of it at Tough Mudder. Basically, it’s a wall to a wooden latter and not too tricky unless you aren’t a fan of heights.

Another big wall. More teamwork.

The swim section was long, I’d say nearly 300m. For teams, we put on mandatory PFDs and swam diagonally across the lake to meet our other team members and switch off. Solo racers swam straight across. The PFD was probably the worst part. I haven’t ever tried swimming with one and it really gets in the way. It took about 100m but I finally settled into a surf board type stroke with the PFD around my waist.

Oddly the water was so much warmer than the air (and the wind) that we wanted to climb back in while we waited.

The Herc hoist was super light compared to the beast I had to wrestle with in Sacramento last week. When I through my body weight on it, expecting a fight, I hit the deck.

The team mud pit was cool: it was deep enough that we helped each other out. First by pushing the leader out by the butt (get comfortable with having your bum handled and handling the bums of others if you ever do a team race) and then by grabbing each other’s wrists.

The barb wire crawl was long and filled with people and some manner of spiky Texan plant that was way more terrible than the barbed wire. Oh yes, and cacti. A volunteer warned me about it as I was dragging my torso along one.

Helene, the team leader, was shouting helpful suggestions and encouragement to us throughout the race. One such suggestion was to change rolling sides periodically so as to not get too dizzy with a few crawl steps. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?

The sun was slowly coming out and I may actually have warned up had it not been for the dunk wall that came up next. Back to shiverville.

Next we did a team tire drag, which was tough until we coordinated our pulls with counts and had someone on the other side to push rather than crowd the one side with everyone pulling.

And the bucket brigade. I’m pretty accustomed to bucket induced back cramps, but it took everything I had not to put that bucket down today. My back was seizing right up. I’m glad the carry wasn’t an extra couple feet.

The pancake sand bags were only made challenging by a rocky slippery slope, other racers to navigate around, and being tied by the arm to one of your teammates.

I always go under and “crawl” across the Tyrollean traverse. Today would have been a good day to go on top. My forearms completely went on me about 4″ from the bell. I was hanging there trying to figure out how I was going to ring the bell without letting go with one hand. I ended up having to hook my arms over the top of the rope. I wasn’t sure it was going to work but the sound of that bell sure was glorious.

I missed my spear. I did my burpees. We all did.

The rules stated that three of our four lady team had to cross the finish line within 30 seconds of each other, so we all hoofed it in from there. I was feeling so stiff and uncoordinated, I kept on kicking myself as I ran. Weird.

I took on the inverted wall as usual… but somehow I landed flat on my back. Dang hands wouldn’t close. I had to go over with my upper arms, all army style.

The first three of us reunited on the other side of the slip wall and did the fire jump together.

John wrapped me in every jacket he had. It was like my flesh was frozen for hours and I was sick the rest of the day.

I was super glad to have raced with the team and learned a lot from the stellar athletes I had the opportunity to compete beside… but… biggest lesson learned:

Don’t mess with Texas.

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Spartan World Championship Race Report

The first and most nerve wracking obstacle was the crazy car cue up the hill to the race. I finally made it out of the car with 15 minutes to spare… which gave me just enough time to get my package and hoof it up the hill to the start line. I could hear them doing the PreRace speech so I was thinking I hadn’t a minute to spare: and of course they put the start halfway up a hill.

Turns out it was the male elite striking off late. Phew.

Holy gosh was it freezing. The wind blew right through your soul. This was going to be a long, cold day.

The race started off with a big steep gnarly climb. In fact, the entire race was made up of big steep gnarly climbs, followed by big steep gnarly descents. The ground looked so soft and grassy. Looks sure can deceive. It’s hard, lumpy, rooty and rocky. Perfect conditions for rolled ankles and twisted knees. Go carefully.

The course was punctuated with nearly impossible obstacles and heavy carries to dull the monotony of climbing up, and going down a ski hill on terrible footing for hours on end.

A bucket brigade was the first major obstacle, just to get your back ready for a few hours of cramping.

A bunch more mucky climbing.

Which meant I was careful on the traverse wall since I had no desire to start my penalty burpees so early on.

The next obstacle was the infamous Tarzan swing. Swim through ice cold water to a rope latter, climb it to hit the first bell – and then swing across several short hanging ropes to hit a second bell before plunging in. At last years race, you continued across the water to the grassy side. I thought I’d be smart and pick the very last rope – about 50m out – and then have a shorter swim to shore after the big plunge.

Turns out, I’m not all that smart. Which might not surprise you if you’ve read any other of my race reports. The exit this year was back by the first rope. Duh. That’s a lot of unnecessary ugly swimming/hyperventilating.

Most major races have the male elites take off before the females elites. This works because male elites are generally much faster than female elites. At Spartan though, this is not the case. Which is fine… but then televised or not, it makes way more sense to start all the elites together in a Spartan race.

We had to run along the side of the trail on a skinny little rock path and I got stuck behind some male elites who were walking. Almost every male elite I passed would stop and move to the side (and give me some encouragement while they were at it) but there were a few very frustrating times where I was just stuck behind guys that couldn’t or didn’t get out of the way.

Of course, this isn’t their fault in the least. It’s just poor planning. You’re giving hundreds of guys a 15 minute head start on a course almost entirely comprised of technical single track and then releasing people who are going to start running into them two miles in. It must be super annoying on their part too, having to constantly jump off the trail.

A bunch more climbing.

Pretty tame tractor pull for the ladies, women elite pulled one, men pulled two. Hardest part was dodging the poor dudes pulling two.

A bunch more climbing.

My two new least favourite obstacles came next: the memorization and spear throw on a rope. Especially in that order.

I have number dyslexia. I can almost always remember numbers… but they almost always come out backwards (which apparently is loads of fun if you’re my husband). People were writing down their numbers with sharpies. I felt like I should stay true to the concept (ok, I didn’t bring a pen) so I did my best to memorize my number and hoofed off to the spear throw. There was some blow-you-over type wind there, so I waited for a somewhat less gusty moment and went for it. And then I realized that the rope was caught on my foot.

So burpees… ok… no problem.

Counting burpees and trying to remember a number sequence… that is a problem.

They were quite strict on burpee form, making sure that you’re right in front of the camera and hearing you count out loud if you’re in the top 25. I didn’t want to get penalized so I’m pretty sure I did a bunch of bonus ones. I love that they are working hard to standardize the burpees. That was a real issue and they’ve done a great job solving it.

A bunch more climbing… an inverted wall and another bucket brigade.

After a bunch more climbing, came the tire drag. Pulling a tractor tire on a rope up a bumpy slick hill is ridiculous. In the rare case that I didn’t pull myself down heaving on the rope, I had to throw my entire body at the ground to budge it. And I mean budge it. Every vigorous slam to the ground would net me about a foot. I finally got it to the top and then drug it back down. Two elite women had failed and done their burpees in the time it took me to finish that sucker -but I was mad at it and glad to have hauled it up the hill to show it who’s boss. Even though I still hated it. And was still mad. And would be mad for a while.

I’m not sure of the order of obstacles but there was also a pole hopping obstacle to a decently easy tree as balance beam over water bit that I failed. The posts were so far apart I’d have to had jumped with all my might and landed on a pole smaller than my foot. Yikes.

There was also the rig obstacle in there somewhere to emulate the American Ninja Warrior. It was rings to bars to square bar to ropes to rings that hung just off of the floor. The only direction we got was not to let our feet touch… which confused me greatly since the last set of rings were about two feet off of the floor. I later watched a video: you put your feet into the rings. That makes a lot of sense. Sense, I’m afraid I have very little of when I’m racing. So I bailed.

A bunch more climbing.

Oh the sandbag carry I was so looking forward to.

The women elite got off easy: we had to carry one heavy bag, the male elite had to drag two of those bad boys up. This is where the real carnage started. The last bucket carry had a bunch of people hunched over buckets, backs a spasming. The trail from there was littered with bodies writhing on the hard ground. I had to jump over a few. Although to make my callus act feel a little less inhumane, I would always ask if they were ok. And I’d make sure their pupils were still showing. Anyway, right, the horror show of a sandbag carry.

The hardest part was again probably dodging the guys who were dragging the two bags up – or worse, who had given up on the steepest nastiest slickest part and were just lying there sobbing with their bodies and bags covering the narrow trail. I had to put mine on my back and crawl over some of them. I felt bad for them. I did. But I also felt bad for me. I’m not sure then, and I’m not sure now, if my back hurt and I felt like I was going to barf or my back hurt so much that I felt like I was going to barf.

I fell on the way down and kinked my shoulder a bit. But, it also gave me the opportunity to change shoulders which was nice.

A bunch more climbing… and then a bunch more climbing. On the second bunch more climbing, you could hear the yelps and screams of people cramping on the last climb, and the desperate hollers of people at the sandbags. It was either funny, sad or unnerving. If I had any emotions left, I’m sure I’d have felt something like that.

The Tyrolean traverse was slicker, longer and bouncier than the one I have at home. I tried the over top method, which was super uncomfortable on my tummy, and then swung under and crawled the rest of the way like I usually do. I did find that I had to hook the back of my knee instead of my ankle when it started really bouncing so as to not risk a fall – although I can imagine that may cause some nasty hamstring cramps for some.

I had almost forgotten my numbers by the time I got to the memorization test. They started off coming out backwards but I was able to reroute them. Phew.

Always late in the game: the rope climb. I took a few seconds to find a somewhat dry rope and collect myself and nailed it. I then decided to let go early and landed on my bum in the mud. Awesome. Looking cool as always.

Another spear throw, 30 more burpees.

The eight foot wall was up a hill and I was growing tired but I managed to heave my sorry butt over it.

An extra rocky barbed wire pit came next. I remarked that they seem to get longer, rockier and sharper every race. I then took some barbed wire to the forehead. Yup, definitely sharper.

Some rolling mud with a dunk tank came before a pole traverse complete with an extra thick, extra long, extra muddy pole. And with ensured wet hands! Uck.

Joe Desena was there telling us, “just a little over 2 miles!”

That would have been nice.

But the last volunteer at the barb wire had told us that we had less than a mile. I guess the problem was not in how far we had gone but the fact that the course was actually 15 miles, not 13.

We all had a good “laugh” about that.

I came into the Herculean hoist ready to crush it and ended up crashing it. Somehow I thought they’d make it as heavy as that darn tire pull (I was still angry at it’s existence). It was so light in comparison that I ended up heaving myself at the floor. And that my friends, is why we love to do very hard things: perspective.

The monkey bars were insane. Thick bars, really far apart – and they went up.

“Less than half a mile left!” – several people yelled. I almost believed them. I wanted to believe them. But I took another gel. The other issue is always: 800m of what?

Oh – surprise! Another hill climb!

I stumbled up, like a dirty drunk in torn spandex.

Some guy tore past me on the downhill. I kept on plodding, hoping my knees and ankles wouldn’t snap. It took me until I was sure there was no barriers between me and the fire to open up my stride. Spartan, I think you and I have trust issues.

I was pretty darn impressed with the course marking though. Clear as day.

I’m hoping the Sun Peaks UltraBeast next weekend is a little less insane but I do feel like I could have kept going out there today.

It was nice to get out there with athletes at the top of this sport from so many different countries. For that, 17th place ain’t half bad. I can do better though. And I hope to.

* the order of obstacles are only a guesstimate and I may have forgotten half. But it went down something like that.ments

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Pacific NW Spartan Race report – running with wolves

In my last race, the Seattle Warrior Dash, I was so calm it was freaky… but this race just freaked me out.

Climbing into the same starting pen as Amelia Boone and Rose Wetzel-Sinnett is scary. Although I’m not sure why. Both are lovely people.

The men’s elite heat took longer than they imagined and consequently, the ladies elite heat was stalled 7 long 7-minute-plank kind of minutes.

I am glad they announced as such so that I could run to the porta-potty for about 5 extra last minute pees. Copious amounts of pre-race piddles are nothing new to me. So much so, that I incorporate them into my warmup. Jog there, dynamic stretches in the cue, drills back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

On the way back I hear one of the elite males complaining about a snag on course, to which Joe Desena (yes THE Joe Desena) replies, “you have two legs and are still alive. You were a beast out there. Never mind anything else.”

I plan to test this response in a variety of perhaps otherwise uncomfortable situations. Fender bender? Hey buddy, “you have two legs and are still alive. Plus, you’re a beast behind the wheel. Never mind this.”

Late on a work proposal? Surgery didn’t go quite like you wanted? This might work for you too. I already tried it no less than five times on my husband John.

Anyways…

I was stoked to finally climb into the starting pen with a whole bunch of air-brushed looking lady beasts with unreal looking muscles and perfect skin.

I managed to not have a heart attack and groaned to a start on one of many very long very steep hills that I would be climbing today. I managed to stay within touching distance of Rose and Amelia – which was what dreams are made of.

At the very top of the big hill were some well-placed hurdles. Normally no big thing and more of a warmup obstacle, they hurt a little in my soul since I was currently hunched over and entirely out of air.

I’m pretty sure the same evil genius placed the tire flip – halfway up a steep hill on a plateau. Four tire flips. NBC was there filming and later told me they loved that I made such a hearty tire flipping grunt. Apparently, I will not be on TV for my athletic prowess, but perhaps instead for my embellishment of work effort.

The inverted wall was welcome respite from the battering hills. As was the lattice bridge (a plank latter and bridge across the top of the rope climb).

Having lodged myself in a pit several weeks back at Warrior Dash, I was happy to be chasing people who successful ran through the rolling mud pits. OK, good, we run.

I decided not to fly recklessly across the traverse wall today and did no burpees. I also only hit every second foothold (and only the flat ones). It took longer but not as long as 30 burpees would. It did cause me to fall back from the little pack battling for the last podium spot but top ten was my goal and I thought I’d better not get too ahead of myself.

I was feeling fine until I hit a very large, very limp cargo net. Joe Desena was there with some people he was torturing, along with a bunch of volunteers. It was super hard getting over the top with the looseness. I’m certainly glad there were no NBC guys there…. but I think I saw Joe Desena shake his head. And I’m pretty sure the detainees were laughing inside somewhere behind their teary bewildered eyes.

Awesome Vancouver based OCR star, Michelle Ford, well aware of my inabililty to make tactical obstacle based race decisions, gave me a fantastic bit of advice that stayed with me throughout the race.

”If you come across a choose-your-own-adventure style obstacle, chose the shortest option.”

The 8 foot wall was easier than most… they let the elite ladies use the foot boards… normally I’d have just muscled over it… but today was all about choosing the path of least resistance. Footboards it is.

This was the first time I’ve done the Herculeus Hoist in a race. I knew to throw my hips down and lean back into it, but in the first few pulls I was still using only my back and arms. I soon got into a rhythm of driving my hips up and down to make it easier.

Next came the bucket carry. Coming back down the hill, I peered into my bucket of rocks to see my ID card. Evidentially, it fell out of my top where I shoved it after registration. I found a pocket on my shorts to keep it safe. That was lucky.

I passed the great Tiffanie Novokavich on a flat section and led our two lady pack into the technical trail. I was feeling pretty awesome flying along – even on the rocky cliffy bit. Until, that is, I realized that I had led us off course. Tiffanie and I did some way finding (OK she found the trail and I followed her).

The next obstacle was officially my new least favourite thing ever. You drag a big concrete block attached to a chain up and down a trail with ruts dug out just big enough to grab a hold of the block, forcing you to heave it out in slippery uphill muck.

Tiffanie was just ahead of me on the slip n’ slide. I was hoping this would be mud and not slide when I saw the course map. It was indeed slide. I manned up and threw myself down shortly after she launched off. At some point I realized that I no longer wanted to be on the slide. However, this was on the slide. Probably at the same point when Tiffanie seemed to realize that this was a super-sonic slide and that she was going way too fast. She plummeted into the water on her back, legs and arms up and skidded across like a rock. I made a half ass attempt to pitch myself off the side of the slide and then spent the rest of my terror filled ride trying to slow myself with my feet or dig my nails in. Neither worked but I did peal back two of my nails so it was not for lack of trying.

Flash back to age ten or so when my father finally got fed up of my fear of waterslides and forcefully threw me into a tube slide. When I plunged into the pool below, my mom, waiting at the bottom, waved the lifeguards off, “she’s a great swimmer.”

However, there was no swim in my lifeless body – so my mom let the lifeguards drag me out.

Today, thankfully, I managed to swim across to the shore – only then realizing that I could have walked. I was also making some sort of woofing sound that may have been a panic attack.

Still barking like a Saint Bernard, I jogged off. I was pretty resolve to enjoy the rest of the race at this point and let any illusions of a strong finish slip away in the mud. Tiffanie was heading up the sandbag carry and 8th place was just plunging into the pool of horrors somewhere back. Why not slow down a little and take in the scenes?

I hauled a sandbag onto my shoulder and heaved up the hill, TV camera in my face the whole time. Thankfully by the time the camera caught up, the barking had stopped and I had settled into a reasonable pace.

The barbed wire crawl was the longest I have ever seen. It was also up a very steep hill. I stayed on my knees, digging my fingers and shoes in with each stride until I had to push-pull crawl underneath the wire. My shirt and shorts kept on snagging and I actually thought to myself, “I wish I wasn’t wearing a shirt because skin would not get caught in the wire.” My goodness. The things athletes feel to be reasonable thoughts. Later, I saw the war wounds of my fellow Spartans as they compared patterns at the finish line. Maybe the shirt can stay.

The higher you got up the hill, the more slippery things got. Just as I thought I might slide all the way back down, a rope appeared. I wanted to kiss it but it was really gross.

Onwards.

I was stoked to have no problems with any sliding at the top of the rope climb – and to finally see the finish.

Of course, in between me and the finish was the spear throw, and most probably 30 burpees.

Yep, 30 burpees.

Nothing gets more heated than a discussion about Spartan burpees. And nothing makes me crazier than obsessing over the rules in terms of how they should be done. In the elite heat at bigger races like this, they film you and have a guy just standing there analyzing them. You need to touch your chest to the ground and your feet need to leave the floor. As far as I can tell, you do not need to do full hip extension or bring your arms up. If you watch the Spartan burpee demo video, they talk about hip extension, but the rules in a race are a different story though.

So I asked the guy and he said it was chest down, feet leave. I do feel like we as an OCR community we need clarity that… how much hip extension and how do we measure it?

The slip wall led to a muddy bank and into deep water. There was a high wall placed about half way. I was trying to figure out how one makes it over said wall when the officiator pointed out that I might want to go under it instead. OK, “let’s go with that.”

No wonder I never got into “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I probably always ended up dead in a ditch somewhere in the first 20 pages.

I had a lot more to give at the finish line – I kind of wanted to put it down today. Still, I feel OK with the direction the race took. And I learned a lot.

Oddly the big win of the day for me was at my favourite salad bar post-race. I was in the washroom with my two girls when an older lady came up to me (I was still covered in mud and Seren was wearing a mud stained shirt and no pants). “You’re a good mom”, she said. “You don’t see many moms these days that take the time, are happy and really treat their kids well.”

Now, I’m not always a good mom. My baby was not wearing pants. But I am happy and I try to take time for my girls. I owe that to fitness. We don’t train to make ourselves better athletes necessarily, we train to make ourselves better people. A big part of that inner happiness for me comes from movement and the freedom, health and competence that it brings.

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