10 Tried & True Mental Strategies for Long Distance Racing

fort mac

Let me preface this by admitting that I am generally terrible at everything.

Thank the heavens for long distance running.

It’s the only way I could ever call myself an athlete. My husband and I once saw a shirt that read, “All grit no talent,” and we both looked at me in lock step.

I once met an Olympic sprinter who waived her accomplishments off as simply born talent. She wanted to know how we did it. The long distance runners that is. Gritting it out is just how we do.

A friend asked me at a party a couple days ago what exactly goes through my mind when I’m racing… and how it is that I am able to endure so much unpleasantness mentally and physically. I think it comes down to  few things.

My childhood was awesome but it wasn’t easy. I was born in Northern Alberta. And yeah… that is a dog sled. It was miserably dark and inconceivably cold all winter. We didn’t have Gortex or “high loft” down. I had whatever jacket my sisters wore out five years ago – and maybe whatever Zellers boots were on sale. I had frostbite so often I thought that’s just what skin felt like when you came back inside. And if we whined, we got kicked back out. So we didn’t.

I got into horses and worked on farms and ranches for years. I even lived in a barn for a while. I woke up early, I mucked stalls and lifted heavy stuff all the time. Because I had to. No sense thinking about it. It just had to be done. So I did it. After years shovelling and lifting I got into training horses. I learned patience and probably the true meaning of grit. Eventually the horse does what you want it to – but it takes time – and usually a lot of getting bucked off. And it takes even more getting back on.

I definitely feel that my background shaped who I was when I finally started running in my 20s. Maybe even more than growing up an athlete would have. But what goes through my mind to keep me going…?

Here are the top ten things:

1. How do you want to remember this?

As was famously quoted of Muhammad Ali, “Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.” You’re going to finish it anyway, so why do it half-assed? In fact, I sometimes make myself a deal that this can be my last race if I do it well. And then I sign up for another one. Every. Damn. Time.

2. I leaked some torque on that last step.

More often than not when I’m chasing down a PB or willing my little slow twitch muscles to go fast I am focused inwardly, taking score of each step.

Did I tense anything unnecessarily? Did I achieve full hip extension? How long was my foot on the ground? Did my arm swing straight back? That sort of thing.

3. I love this.

I stay positive as much as possible and when I’m feeling yucky I remind myself that I am the one who signed up to be here and wanted to challenge myself. That I love both the good days and the bad days because it’s all part of this sport.

4. This is not easy.

Sometimes I poke fun at myself for thinking, “Wow, this ultra marathon is hard!” Yeah. Yeah, it is. And then I move on. Usually back to #3.

5. Go get ’em.

I sometimes start playing a cat and mouse game if I’m getting bored. Even just changing up the pace by adding a quick pick-up helps.

6. Swing those arms.

As you tire your cadence (speed of foot strike) slows dramatically. I focus on light quick arm swings to get my feet going. You also start slamming the ground, so I pretend I’m running through the forest at night which gives me slightly quicker, lighter, higher steps.

7. Wow, that feels great. 

Sometimes changing my mood requires little more than removing a pair of gloves or sunglasses. i then reinforce it by telling myself how great it feels to have the cold breeze on my hands. It’s not quite like starting the race anew but it’s rejuvenating if your tell yourself it is.

8. This is why you’re out here.

This one connects to #3. Embrace the suck. Most people are incapable of pushing themselves to that level of discomfort. But runners know it’s going to be a bit unpleasant and maybe even a little painful… and we’re cool with that. It’s why we strap that bib on.

9. Feeling good. Easy day.

After embracing the suck I usually cycle it back around to feeling easy. I focus on the little things like how comfortable my shirt is or how light my legs feel. I acknowledge the big things like rain as not being too hot and hilly courses as a chance to break up my stride. Basically, I just try to spin everything into a positive. It’s good practice for life!

10. I’m doing so well. 

I don’t even let myself get disappointed with a bad race out on course. I acknowledge who I am ahead of or behind. I applaud myself for fighting through a tough day and getting stronger physically and mentally. i find a way to be happy with my effort. I try to do this post race too… but it’s definitely harder.

So – it’s your turn now. What goes through your head to make you keep on running?

Another “No Excuses” Mom


To check out the full article on Women’s Health Magazine, just click the photo.

I don’t know if your Facebook feed has been swallowed up with this new “no excuses” mom photo, but mine certainly has.

Those are nice abs Abby. And I get where you’re coming from Maria.

You’re trying to encourage more moms to take control and get active. That is empowering. You might even be considered a feminist.

“Strong is the new skinny,” right?

“Real women have muscles”

“Squat now, selfie later,” am I right?


Is there even any weight on that bar?

The problem here is not that they are trying to recreate women’s ideas about how their body should look or how fitness can help them achieve “the new standard” if they only drop their excuses.

The problem is that they are reducing the amazing machine that is a woman’s body to a cheap made-in-china “for display purposes only” ideal.

Who cares what your abs look like? Mine aren’t great. I’ve had two children. But you know what, they weren’t all the great before the kids either. I make my living on being fit. Not having sweet abs.

One of my good friends sometimes gets her RDA of exercise by gardening and eats Nutella by the Costco sized jar. She has the nicest six-pack I have ever seen.

But you know what else? I don’t really care how my abs look. I care that they can stay solid while I carry both my kids up a mountain. I care that they are strong enough to help me traverse a set of monkey bars or pull my knees high enough to make the rope climb easier.

I agree that people, and mothers, have too many excuses and/or reasons (whatever you want to call them) in terms of prioritizing their own fitness. And I agree that we are at a crisis in terms of poor nutrition and more critically, low activity levels. I see moms all the time who simply give up after having a baby, or more often, two babies. And I’m a mom. I get why.

But a set of ripped abs doesn’t motivate me. The feeling of utter triumph when I make it over a 10′ wall does. The feeling of standing at the top of a mountain trying to catch my breath from the scenery, and the effort, does.

I have had the good fortune of racing with some of the best athletes (and best six-packs) in the sport of obstacle course racing. When I think impressive though, I have one image.

Waiting for my husband, who went into a later wave at the local Spartan Race, I saw a lady who must have been about 300 pounds hauling herself over the final wall on the course with some difficulty. I was amazed.

And then I saw the reason she was struggling. And it wasn’t the extra pounds.

She had her skinny, fit looking teenage daughter in her free hand.

Tears still come to my eyes every time I think about it.

We don’t need a reason not have excuses, we need a reason not to want excuses.

That reason for me is obstacle course racing.

BTW, if you haven’t read this article by Lauren Fleshman, you need to click the photo and read it now. It’s awesome – just like her.


And then sign up for the interactive online OCR training community http://www.mud-fu.com and never lift your shirt in front of a mirror again.

On coming second at the World’s Toughest Mudder



The course was beautiful. It was staged in a hilly patch of desert bordering a high-end golf resort.

On one side you have this pristine green turf with palm trees and man-made waterfalls. On the other, just a whole lot of sand. Gorgeous in it’s own right but barren and without comforts.

People on one side drive around in golf carts and wear pressed pants. People on the other…  well, let’s just say you probably don’t want to know what they do in their pants.

Humans are a funny creature funny: some driven to the limits of pain and discomfort… some to pleasure and security.

Anyway, I liked looking over at the extravagence on the other side of the hill when I could see it. It was like a mirage.



Tough Mudder is all about camaraderie and team work. And I could not have done this without my team. Everyone was so impressed by John taking such amazing care of the kids and I throughout the 26 hours… totally selflessly. What they didn’t see are the days leading up to and after of packing and setting up and down camp, cleaning equipment, fetching me food, giving me massages, taking photos, etc.

At a low point, 8 hours in when the night came upon us and I realized that I still had 16+ hours to keep running and Seren was crying, John said exactly what I needed him to. “We are going to finish this. I don’t care if you slow down or break, but we are not stopping.”

Those words resonated with me for a long time. This was just as much his race as mine. I needed to hear that.

And how good are my girls? Wow. We are very lucky parents to have kids that will cheer for mommy in the desert for 26 hours. Seren only cried twice when she saw me and quickly settled – and Ama spent most of the time patiently waiting in the stroller.

Not to even mention all the people who put their own goals aside to help me over obstacles on the course… and all the volunteers who freezed their butts off to cheer for us and keep us safe. The people in the med tent felt like family by the end of the night.

I also had huge support from friends, family and the OCR community (like the Canadian Mudd Queens) which really got me through.

Truly a team effort.



I loved the terrain. It was just hilly enough to give you some hike breaks but not so much as to really put the hurt on your legs. It was also just technical enough to keep your brain running.



Sean Corvelle started things off with his usual rousing speech asking when the first time you’ve done something for the first time. Turns out there were a lot of first times coming up.

He went into his stories of bigger things, tougher times, stronger people. Cancer survivors and people that struggled but didn’t make it. I was glad to be wearing the promotional spare sunglasses I found in my car. All I could do was keep it together enough not to start sobbing. A good friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and those words drove right through me.


The first obstacle was your basic mud pit… no soggy bottoms – just soggy feet.


Tight Fit is essentially a cargo net with big holes in it strung tightly over rows of tractor tires. It’s not hard but it does suck and it’s exhausting trying to untangle your way through.


There was a mud mile (where you run through mud pits and up over mounds) to a nice little run section into the walls. The first wall was probably 8 feet and the next 10. The last wall was probably 12′ with a rope. Like Everest, the first laps were a breeze but they got hard in a hurry as they got coated with mud and I got tired. My grip felt OK the whole way through… my arms weren’t crampy… I was just pooped.

I also put a pair of Hokas a size too big on (to accommodate both swollen feet and neoprene socks), which made the walls a big challenge.

On my last lap, I made the first wall solo and then was having trouble mustering up the oomph to make the second. Here I met a group of guys from Wisconsin who pulled me (literally and metaphorically) through the rest of the course.



You get a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with sand, gravel or water to a prescribed weight. You walk it around the track and they weigh it. Depending on how much you had to carry, you can be off by 3, 4 or lbs. If you’re wrong, you go again until you’re right.

I failed a total of twice in my 14 laps. On the first one… and then again from splashing too much water out as I walked later on.

It was neat because nearing the end of the event, people would weigh their buckets and show the people filling theirs what the correct amount should look like. Camaraderie sure feels good. It’s what humans are meant for: that and movement.


This was a long wooden channel, covered in a tarp that was filled with pink water (eww). You have to smush yourself into the side and pull yourself through using the support beams. It’s super tight where all the water collects in the middle. I don’t know how those big dudes made it through! For me, it went down something like this: not so bad, not so bad, not so bad, lodged into the middle, organs are crushed, not so bad, not so bad, not so bad. Wonder if that really is how babies feel in child birth.


They had three lines of barrels that you have to swim under. I found it worked best to tuck my chin in (to prevent water from getting in – people tend to want to look up but then they get a nose full of water) – and use both hands on the barrel to pull myself under.



I was loving Everest the first few laps and could easily do it alone. By the end of the night though, it was so hard to sprint like that and then muscle up. On one go, I missed and slid back down so I did the penalty of dragging a boulder on a pallet out and back. The friction and weigh of it was super tough so I was always glad when someone would help me.

It’s just so humbling and makes you so deeply grateful when someone helps haul your tired arse onto a platform. I wish I could better express that… but thanks mudders. I owe you one.

If someone doubts the nature of humankind, send them out on a Tough Mudder course and they will return a changed person. I swear it.


I should have taken those roping lessons. You had to throw a rope attached to a ball about 20′ up and then repell up to throw the rope back down. I was useless at this and took the penalty after three laps of hitting everything but the target: an over-under-through wall. Not so bad.



This was cool. It was also just after the 2.5 mile aid station so I was usually still choking down a bar when I got to it and I could finish eating while i descended. Basically you repelled down a cliff with a rope.


There were three sets of tubes including the Sewage Pipe that you had to pull yourself through with your arms along the course. That made 42 times I pulled myself through tubes yesterday. Funny, my abs were getting sore from lifting my head off of the ground. At the end, some of the ropes fell off so I would just plow through my forearms.


I loved this one at first… it was a wall with holes you climb with pegs. At first it wasn’t tough and I just scampered right up. It definitely got tougher with every lap! Plus some of the pegs were too skinny or too fat to get in properly and it got pretty slick.


There were two types: one where the floating cargo boxes were attached along the sides, and one where they were all attached by netting. I took little steps to recenter and then leapt from box to box. I think the trick is to go slow enough to stay in control but quick enough to be responsive and stay upright.


This one was almost relaxing but it was only open at night.

They gave you a torch that you had to carry across a body of water without letting it go out. The first time my torch lit on fire and the canister fell out but I still managed to keep the wicker lit.

I got two laps in before it closed when the wind charged in.


I enjoyed this one. You swam across a lake and then had to work with fellow mudders to get up and over a slippery wall.

This was one of those that got more tiring. After the sand storm, the course got very very lonely – and cold.  Still only a couple times I ended up alone and swam the penalty route.

It was cold though. At one point, I heard the diver quitting during the coldest part of the night, “Just give them PFDs or something!” Not sure if he actually left…

On that note, I couldn’t believe the volunteers stayed out there in those conditions. The true selfless heroes out there.



The Latter to Hell is a fairly easy obstacle but one that I realized could hurt A LOT if your grip gave on you at the top. After falling off the incline wall in Dallas with frozen crampy arms, it was definitely on my mind. They had you cut through the middle during the sandstorm so nobody would die I guess.

The volunteer there was amazing. She offered free hugs to cold, soaked people all night. I didn’t take one physically every lap but i always got an emotional hug from her.


You could actually get through the whole course with no shocks or penalty! You went to a table, rolled a dice and then either got a “walk-thru” (in the mud of course) or had to crawl through a pit of water and live wires or do the penalty. The penalty was a crawl uphill through sharp rocks and low hanging barbed wire. I did it twice… and both times it sucked.



Not my favourite (and kinda my favourite) obstacle. Basically you leap off of a platform like 15′ above water to a trapeze and swing across it to let go and ring a bell. This requires timing and bravery… two things that I have not got scads of. First off, the trapeze looked just a little too far. I was surprised each time when I made it easily.

Just when I got into the swing of kicking the bell before bombing into the water, they changed the rules to hands only on the bell. I never could get it hands only: my timing was always off.

For whatever reason it started off open during the night time rules but they closed it when the sand storm started. A girl and I high-fived when we heard the words “closed indefinitely”.

In the morning it reopened as Walk The Plank, where you just jump off  into the water. I hadn’t nursed Seren since I started getting hypothermic so that was an uncomfortable fall. That and the rolling over the top of walls was pretty ouchy.

Here’s a litte video of one of the TMHQ staffers trying it…



I guess last year they didn’t have penalties for all the obstacles so people were just skipping things like the monkey bars in which it’s faster or more efficient to swim across. This year they had penalties for everything you failed outside of the “must-do” obstacles. Usually the penalties were an extra swim/run, a run lap, or cinderblock carry. The worst by far was The Cliff penalty – which probably nailed on a good ten minutes, and I would know too, since I did it so many times. More on that later…



This one was super hard but super redeeming when I finally got it. You had to go across a set of monkey bars then grab a trapeze, swing across and traverse down a single hanging pole. My initial plan was to side traverse the pole but I was having trouble getting far enough via trapeze to grab the pole. I finally figured out that I could grab the side pole with my feet and traverse across that way. This got exhausting quick through and after a few laps I started just taking the penalty.

This is also the point where people started recognizing me (I guess from my name on the leader board) and a group of ladies really pumped me up as I jogged past.

Some time in the night, Ryan Atkins (who’s won WTM two years in a row and is now a legend) was coming up behind me. He asked if I was “Allison Tai”. I asked if he was “Ryan Atkins” on the sound of his voice alone (I’ve seen too many interviews I guess). That was pretty cool and kept me going strong for a couple laps.



This was the next combination obstacle: a barb wire crawl to tubes that dropped out into the water. When I got to the top, I rolled into a ball and flipped around to drop out feet first. I guess this was not how most people do it. Those poor guys who kept peeping out of their tunnels to see me sitting there feet first. Sometimes it pays to be small!

Here’s what it looks like during the sandstorm…





The night was really long: from 5pm to 6am. 13 hours of darkness, cold and sandstorms. I humoured myself by singing this song to myself for a couple hours. John wetsuited me up and tried to encourage me to keep as warm as possible, but they replaced the cliff jump with a big hill at beginning so I didn’t want to overheat. Apparently that would not be a problem.

Ama got cold so they headed back to the hotel and me for another lap.

I was fine in the beginning but after a few dunks in the lake and the wind exposure out of the water, I was frozen.

Halfway through the lap a volunteer gave me her emergency blanket. What an angel.

Even with the blanket, I was seriously considering calling it. I realized though that I just had to make it another mile or so (with a few more dunks in the way) to the med tent, where I could warm up and keep my 65 miles.

It was tough but I soldiered on.

By the time I got there I was an absolute mess. I could barely communicate and was convulsing. I guess the 3/4mm wetsuit top wasn’t such a good idea. I spent 29 minutes in the med tent by the heater (which didn’t feel hot) with the amazing med tent people. They kicked me out at 30 minutes or I would have DNF’d as per the rules.

i wandered around tent city, tried to find my jacket and then collapsed under two winter sleeping bags. The fly was down and the inside of the tent was coated with sand. Outside lay the wreckage that was tent city at 5am… like a tornado had been through it. I just layer there shivering using Ama’s etch-a-sketch as a pillow until the sun came up.

It took everything I had but I figured that the sun had to warm me up… and given my still convulsing violently state, the tent was not clearly not helping.


I walked the next lap clutching the now very torn tin foil blanket … swimming with it around my neck, dragging it behind me as I crawled, and climbing with it in my mouth. I felt like little Lionel from the Peanuts meets Gladiator.

I was ecstatic when I saw John pull up as you can clearly see in the following picture.

I spent another long time with John in the med tent before deciding on another lap (if you head out before 9:45am you can officially do another lap if it takes less than 2 hours). John was worried about sending me out in my current state and was adamant that I didn’t go back out. I was more adamant though… and off I went

This is where I met those lovely fellows from Wisconsin who were happy to death march it with me.


kill me now

OK, maybe I don’t look ecstatic.



There was a lot of water… which was super nice in the daytime. But as soon as it got cold (and it got really cold), the frequent and interspersed water dunks combined with the chilling wind were a fierce combination. To recap, I learned that…




Nobody asks, “How was the race?”

No… they want to know how The Cliff was. And I couldn’t tell you. I got up there, after nights of lost sleep over this bad boy and wussed out. I tried all the tapping and breathing and singing techniques. Nothing. I walk back and forth on the plank for about ten minutes and then decided that I wasn’t likely going to be conscious when I hit the water which would make the rest of the race difficult at best.

I’ve had the PTSD attacks under control for years now and I didn’t want them to come back. I took the penalty each lap… which was a run to two fairly long swims and then another run back up. I tried to enjoy them as much as possible and made peace with them being my “rest zone” to replace any extra pit rest.

I’m glad they made the penalty big for this one. I’m sure it drove more people to reach outside their comfort zone and take it on.


world's toughest mudder

I met Amelia Boone again! She’s so much larger than life for all us OCR fans. Plus, she’s a really amazing and humble person. I also had the pleasure to meet the killer 100 miler, Freyah Bartuska, who was probably my biggest competition but also one of my biggest cheer leaders.

Thanks Tough Mudder for an awesome event… and congratulations to everyone who took this crazy event on at my side. I love you all.

That crazy cliff Jump at World’s Toughest Mudder


It appears that this year at WTM, the biggest obstacle of fear and concern may be a 38′ cliff jump. This isn’t a tube that plays on fear of confinement or a slide that plays on fear of loss of control. The fear cliff jumping generates is rational. There is indeed real danger in throwing yourself off of such a high cliff.

You get a sense for that on Tough Mudder’s Walk the Plank – and it stands only 12-15′ high.

I thought I’d share with you the mental checklist that I put together for myself when approaching and executing the jump…

Stand tall, feet together, knees flexed and soft. Visualize the jump going perfectly and hitting the water absolutely perpendicular without over-thinking things.

Pull arms down and back – then up and overhead as you jump forward as in a standing broad jump.

Make sure you commit once you commit. Hesitation is bad news bears. On that note, even if you have a less than perfect take off, stay the course, there is absolutely no bailing and you’ll probably have enough time to readjust.

Leap out and make yourself as straight as possible from toes to head (like a sword into the water)… point your toes hard. Arms overhead, grasp one fist in the opposite hand or nail arms to sides and point fingers.

Do not fudge it up. A 20′ jump means hitting the water at 25 MPH / 40 KPH.

And the cliff at World’s Toughest looks significantly bigger than that.

Stay tight when you hit the water, but body is fully submerged: arch back and stretch arms and legs out like a parachute to prevent rocketing to the bottom. Blow air out of nose continuously. Do not try to plug nose, as your arm will only get ripped away from your face and probably hurt a lot.

Any there pointers or disputes on technique? Please feel free to leave them below. I am certainly no expert on this and would love any feedback.

Be Ready for a Beast, Tough Mudder or UltraBeast

You know there’s a big endurance event in town when you overhear super fit looking people discussing menu choices based on which have more white bread and less protein. I’m sure the locals wonder if a 1980s diet convention rolled in.

Apart from carb loading (which you can find an entire article on below), there are several things that I make sure to do in the days leading up to a big race.

1. Myofascial release. I carry a lacrosse ball (for my back, hips, chest and hamstrings), doubles ball (for my feet and calves), and a strap for PNF stretching. I pretty much have a ball in some terribly uncomfortable place every time I’m sitting, and am stretching every time I’m standing still. Sitting in the car/plane while traveling to a long race, gives me plenty of time to release tight areas. I feel like it does a pretty good job counteracting the tightness caused by sitting dormant in a little metal box.

My favourite new tool is the travel sized roller, it’s so small that it fits into my carry-on and it’s even high density foam. I can roll my T-spine and IT bands at the airport!

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a supple body and addressing any areas of tightness before heading out in obstacle course race.

2. Hydrate yourself (obviously). But start before breakfast and go light on the drink about three hours from bed – otherwise, race nerves and a full bladder will have you up all night.

3. Stay off your feet. Save explorations for postrace celebration.

4. Get pumped. Whatever movie, book, song or magazine that reminds you why you’re doing this. Get pumped up but don’t stress or go crazy. To paraphrase the mighty Prefontaine, unless you’re the previous years winner, you’re not good enough to be nervous.

5. Wear compression socks. Especially if you’re traveling, have bad feet or calves, or poor blood circulation.

6. Workout the day before. I always do a bunch of drills, jogging, sprinting and dynamic stretching. I have a pretty solid routine down but I usually mix it up a bit depending on what body parts need to be woken up. Taking the day totally off before a race leaves me feeling flat and stiff.

7. Bath and stretch. I like to have an ice bath, followed by an Epsom salt bath, followed by a long stretch and roll. Gentle stretching only. I’m old school – I know. Ice bathes are definitely falling out of vogue. Something about science and the fact the lymphatic system clears junk out of your pipes and ice water inhibits that, along with healthy inflammation. I like them though, they feel good after I do them. Or maybe, more likely, I just like to take on a poop-load of discomfort.

8. Set out all your race gear and nutrition the night before so you need to think of nothing in the morning. Preferably early: I do this right when I get to the hotel so I can relax the rest of the night. It’s also good practice in case you forgot something. Also, make sure your plans for the morning, waivers, etc. are all sorted out.

9. Don’t do anything you don’t always new. You’ve heard this in regards to race morning and racing itself, but this matters in the days leading up to an event almost as much. Never ridden a horse? Now’s not the time to learn.

10. Develop a routine. This follows the last point nicely. I have a day-before-race routine that I can just move through on autopilot. It really takes down the stress of a new place, new race and all that other unknown stuff that comes with OCR… especially the races themselves!

Remember: you can do whatever you want after you cross that finish line, and you’ll feel heaps better about doing it all with a successful race under your belt.


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.


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.


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.


Washington Warrior Dash race report


For some reason I wasn’t my usual pre-race nerve wreck of a self at the start line. My mood was more, “tea and snuggles” than it normally is – even before an easy run. Only the reality of the situation was that I was an overly-caffeinated and overly-competitive runner standing at the start line of the Warrior Dash with a bunch of spandex clad elite athletes foaming at the bit to run away from me with all manner of physical and mental challenge on route. So, no cuddles.

Usually when the gun goes off, I blast out of the gate as fast as my little legs can muster and sink into a pace that probably won’t blow my heart up. Today, I leisurely jogged out… and up the steep little hill to the sand track that separated the boys from the men so early on.

I entertained myself by trying to find some footing that didn’t sink when I stepped on it. Sometimes the hard pack was on the side of the path, sometimes in the middle on the tractor rut. But every time, the footing gave way to a deep enough sand that would not let you run with any sort of power or grace.

“Wait, is that guy wearing jean shorts?”

Time to get moving.

When the sand turned to grass on a long flat section, I made a strategic decision to get ahead of said guy in jean shorts (and whoever else I could) so I wouldn’t get stuck behind at the obstacles. It would have been interesting to see how tight wet jean shorts worked out for him but alas…

The obstacles were good and fast – not too technical: walls with ropes, cargo net climbs, trail running on a rooty little trail. Easy enough.

I had a solid enough lead, was comfortable and hadn’t even let one mom curse word out.

I did take the pyramid climb a little fast and sloppy. Being the “obstacle clutz” as my husband calls me, I slipped and nearly came off at the top. I’m pretty used to slipping and as such, normally just catch myself and move on… like it was all part of the plan. I’m pretty sure the poor man beside me was thoroughly terrified though… if I’m to judge by the primal noise that came out of him when he saw me nearly slip off head first.

I then ran into a series of dug outs with dirt piled up between. Maybe more accurately, I fell into a series of dug outs with dirt piled between. Having “done this one before”, I thought the water would be about knee deep, give or take. In reflection, this is usually where my OC races go very very wrong: when I think I’m stepping into a shallow pit.

As I swam across and started trying to claw my way up the slippery mud pile, a herd of people (including the two much smarter ladies behind me) leapt across and scampered up. See ya later sucka.

Slew of mommy curse words ensue. Well, fudge it all, so much for not cursing out Ned Flanders style for once.

That’s the thing about OCRs. Things can (and so often do) change fast. In road racing, it’s unlikely that you’ll fall into a giant hole of mud or water and get stuck.

That’s the best and worst part about OCRs. The unknown. Just about anything could happen out there. All you can control is how you react to what comes at you. And you can never be sure how you’ll place until you cross that finish line.

I finally managed to haul myself up the crumbly dirt bank after a number of unsuccessful strategies and one barely successful one.

There were more walls, climbs and crawls. There was more running. There was a neat circular tube net that you had to drag yourself through which was a lot of fun once I realized that one should be upside down and really propelling with their legs.

As soon as I saw the Warrior Roast (fire jump), I knew the end was near. They never just throw a random fire jump in midway. No, it’s near quittin’ time.

The barb wire crawl was really more water than mud… so more swim than crawl. It was hard up figure out exactly what was the fastest way. A lady behind me even got up to run since the barb wire was really spaced out. That definitely would have been the fastest way.

At this point I realized that she was really close, and that being passed would knock me off the podium and my shot at the World Championships.

The last obstacle was a net climb up and a plank walk over a large drop with ropes on either side. The plank was much wider than my foot and didn’t require much in the way of balance… but it was slippery (and more to the point) a really long way down. I ran the rope through my hands as I crossed – just in case.

The last part to that obstacle was flying down a giant slide. You wouldn’t have guessed that I have a childhood fear of slides the way I hurled myself down. Seeing the slide pre-race, John and I discussed various methods of desensitizing myself to slides. I think I may have found a new style of therapy that consists of being seconds from a finish line with fourth place seconds behind you. You man up pretty fast.

All this followed by a really ugly sprint out of the water from the slide pool to the finish. I’m not a good looking sprinter as it is – and through water with someone chasing me does not flatter my form. It may not have been pretty, but I got it done.

It was boat loads easier than the Edmonton Spartan I raced a few weeks ago and I think I might have actually been smiling after I crossed the finish line. Hey, who cares if you’re sprinting like the first ape that fell out of a tree if you’re smiling right?

I also earned that spot at the Warrior Dash World Championships – so now we get look forward to a road trip to California in the fall… and another battle in the mud.

My Edmonton Spartan Sprint race recap


I managed to hobble through a 5k trail race on Tuesday after almost two
long injured months off of running, so I was hopeful that I would be able to run between obstacles today.

I finished the Spartan Sprint in North Vancouver a couple weeks ago but it was a long way to hobble and running is so much make fun. I was just really ready to get back to running in the mud. Just maybe not that much mud. So much mud. So much man eating mud. But we’ll get to that.

The interesting part about Spartan Races are that you kind of know what’s coming after you’ve done a few. But you don’t really know. It’s not like a road or even trail race where you know the course, and thus, what you’re getting into. You really just have to let the race unfold. No expectations, no assumptions.

Spartan courses are typically held on a ski resort… and they typically make full use of the terrain with a run up the steepest possible part of the mountain. We were not on a ski hill, so it’d be easier right? Nothing but a bumpy muddy cow field. Easy.

Not so fast. Spartan never makes things easy. And neither does Mother Nature.

A huge rain storm raged out last night, filling the mud pits to capacity and making a whole whack of new ones.

The first obstacles were pretty typical: a crawl, a set of over unders.

The balance beam came next – earlier than usual – which was probably a good thing. I got across… but was a little over cautious. I ended up getting passed by a girl who looked (out of the corner of my very focused vision) to be running across. I was just happy I didn’t come off at the very end, as is my habit. I took a second to gather myself (and my nerves) at the last turn, and I think that helped.

On the tire flip I made sure to grab one already dislodged from the vacuum-like mud… still, each time I flipped I had to pry the tire up and wedge my fingers under.

Next came the wall. I turned a bit and grabbed with one hand which was much easier for me than doing two at once.

Not accidentally I’m sure, they stacked the tractor pull and the sandbag carry one after another. Especially challenging, since both were through large puddles.

Dragging the cement block through the water was the easy part – over the muck hills was not.

I swung wide on the sandbag carry through the deep mud puddle and got my first taste of real suck. At this point, I realized that I was up against mud that wanted to eat me and had a grip good enough to do so.

Glad to be out of there, I came up to a long mud puddle that some guy was crawling across. On the approach I wondered aloud to the guy beside me why the man ahead of us was crawling. “Do we HAVE to crawl here?”. There was no wire, no net. Why oh why was he crawling…?

I booted it, and braced for a patch so slippery that it would bring someone to crawl across it.

I didn’t slip, I went RIGHT in. Like to my shoulders in. Like, “fudge balls, this is how the dinosaurs died.”

I tried to wiggle my feet. No. Step. No. Crawl. Hell no. I was vacuum sealed into the muck. I wasn’t getting out of there without being extracted.

Thankfully, someone was kind enough to stop their race to pull me out. I’d probably still be there now if he wasn’t. Thanks guy in the plaid shorts!

From there on it was difficult. I was exhausted from the struggle and coated in heavy mud.

I fell off the traverse! Again! Outside of the spear throw (there are always burpees waiting for me at spear throw) these were the only burpees I had to do. And of course I waited until the last block to come off. It’s funny coming off the traverse wall because it’s almost as if you’re on the floor by the time it happens. No fight. You’re done. Burpees.

The incline wall was as it always is. Intimidating, but then you get there and realize there are slats to climb up so you stop crying and climb.

You then ran through a small lake and up a hill where a set of monkey bars greet you (which were lovely perched atop the hill from the start area). The first few bars were tough but the mud rubbed off a bit as I went so I managed to stay on.

The last five obstacles were all smooshed up at the end as they always are.

Exhausted muddy people (many shoeless to finish but not shoeless to start) trying to climb things are entertaining. But it’s also when you need support and good cheer the most: so it’s mutual. Laugh all you want so long as you’re clapping!

The mud pit was like any other… mostly just there so that you can get real mudded up before hitting the slippery wall. Ooowwwee was it slippery. We parked ourself to watch the race from a table on the other side of the fence and it certainly was entertaining. Note: I was also clapping.

The rope climb was the last physical obstacle. Funny thing, you can be great at climbing a rope but climbing a rope muddy and exhausted is an entirely different beast. I like to get to the top where I can almost extend my arm to get the bell and then slide down repeatedly. My plan is always just to man myself up there before I run out of steam but it always takes a few chugs more than I’d like.

I missed the spear. I-always-miss-the-spear. I’m lucky to be a natural vegetarian because I would never catch an animal in the wild with a spear. I’d be lucky to hit it hard enough to get it to notice me.

Apart from the only race I’ve ever been in with man eating quicksand (yeah I’m pretty sure it was only mud on top), it was also the first race where I jumped over a “real fire.” Normally it’s just a gas line – today it was real wood. I still thought of it more as a feature than an obstacle… although I was definitely a little more careful not to trip.

I was happy (once it was over and the urge to vomit and/or pass-out stopped) to be back running and be back on the podium.

The really awesome thing about racing OCRs is that they expose your weaknesses – and you always have things to bring back to your training… new and old.

Tough Mudder Whistler event recap

Tough Mudder Whistler Event Recap

I was fortunate enough to run with the “I want my Mudder” team in this years event. I had originally planned to do the first heat solo and fast and the next with the group, but my ankle injury was not part of that plan. I have to say, running relaxed with the team was even more fun than running fast.

Right off the gun our big noisy team broke off into a dozen quieter conversations. I happened to be talking with Justin, who is a very strong athlete but also injured. We started chatting and jogging along – and we spent the next few hours watching the miles and obstacles click by with a constant stream of (mostly my) chatter.

We both would have felt guilty not running harder on the flat runable terrain had we not been injured, so we were given full permission to take it easy and soak up the awesomeness, camaraderie and human spirit that is a Tough Mudder.

Here were the obstacles that gave Justin a moment of quiet:

Artic Enema: first obstacle, and time to man up. This involves jumping into a big tub of ice cold water and pulling yourself under a board in the middle. Our tank had less ice than last time I did it so it wasn’t as bad. But it was still very very unpleasant. Not “OMG, this is so friggin cold!” – more like “OMG, I think my heart just stopped and I’m have a seizure!”

Glory Blades: I found these to be a nice little warmup. The walls were about eight feet and tilted toward you. I was able to grab the top and sling my foot over using the side from a stand still.

Walk the Plank: this was my first time and I not ashamed to say that I was scared. Basically you climb up onto some rafters and jump off into deep water. It’s easy to judge the timid purple shirt wearing girl who clung to the platform for dear life while the crowd goaded her until the volunteer shoved her off. You know that if you climb up there, you’re going to fall a long way into very cold water. You will be thrown off. So jump with pride or get thrown off in shame. These are your only options on the plank. So as soon as I got up, I asked if it was safe to go. One deep breath and I went. Turns out that deep breath came a little late and my head was already under but the time it processed. Oops. Still, I threw my own self off that scaffold and there is something truly magical about throwing your stuff frightened self off of something very high. It’s almost like half your muscles are like, “noooo!” but somehow your self throwing muscles win and you are suddenly hurtling toward a deep cold pool below. I would suggest streamlining, pointing your toes, calmly swimming up to the surface and breathing in air instead of water. I would also suggest making sure that your self throwing muscles are well conditioned.

Hold Your Wood: another participant handed me a log. You never see that at other events. She had just decided to help other people get organized for their log carries. Awesome. Anyways my log looked big enough but was pretty light to be honest. If you want to look cool, grab the big dry ones. If you want to look like a loser, go for a soaking wet branch and struggle with it, preferably near someone small like me who has found a very dry stump.

Kiss of Mud: everyone’s favourite place for photos. You know the ones. Some pained but happy expression peaking through the barbed wire, splattered with dirt. The dirt is really the least of your worries. The barbed wire hurts and is strung low enough that you can’t make it through on your hands and knees, forcing you to drag as much skin as possible along the sharp rocks that line the pit. This one was the worst type: almost high enough that you could go up onto your hands and save your forearms but not quite. I can almost imagine the evil geniuses at Tough Mudder HQ comparing forearm lengths to post height to arcitect how they could get people to oscillate between ripping up their forearms and their backs. Well played TM. Well played.

Berlin Walls: a couple mudders behind me gave me a final push on the first 12′ wall but I was happy to scale the next on my own using the side without momentum. Someone came over in aid of course, but determined to go it alone I was all like, “don’t touch me!” – I know that’s not really the Mudder way. On the bright side, he backed off as soon as I started shouting like a crazy person so I didn’t need to kick him.

Mud Mile: ruts were dug into the muddy ground and filled with water. What sucked was that surprise deep holes were randomly added – what really sucked was falling in and under. Best advice for you is graciously allowing your teammate to go first and following them.

Lumber Jacked: ah over-unders. Not difficult but they make you feel as awkward as you did as a teenager at a high school dance. As the name implies, you crawl over, then you hop over. You can develop a rhythm and finess or you can just get them done.

Trench Warfare: narrow dark tube up a hill then down a hill. Not an overly physical obstacle but I’m glad I didn’t get my own dessert last night. Down was sloped enough you could almost slide down. But not quite. My tailbone felt every ripple in the tube.

Prairie Dog: there are situations in life that I’m glad I’m not claustrophobic. This is one of them. It’s probably abound 100m of crawling underground in a dug-out tunnel. For a moment it becomes black, and when it does, I’m sure not coincidentally, the ground drops from underneath you.

Ladder to Hell: a vertical structure with widely spaced rungs. It was easy enough but maybe not fun if you’re afraid of heights. The most unnerving part was the dude with the moustache and screw gun who was either taking screws out it putting them in. Not sure which I would be more worried about.

Warrior Carry: this one wasn’t hard at all – for me. Since my only teammate carried me double the distance. I just got a partway piggy back for free. Suckas!

Devil’s Beard: this one isn’t difficult – just annoying and time consuming. The guy in front of me was holding up the net which made it way easier. Thanks again guy.

Balls to the Wall: a wall with rungs plus rope combo. Not so hard. I just leant back and walked up using my arms to pull at the same time.

Log Jamming: over and under big fat tree logs. They were high enough that they were reasonably hard to get over. You could hop and press yourself up and over. I used the sides since jumping is a no go on a bum ankle.

Cliffhanger: two steep hills that we wouldn’t have known were an obstacle had there not been a sign to announce them as such. We just walked up. People sprinted past us like they were being chased by a bear. People that probably don’t know about lactate threshold. I’m sure the rest of their crawl to the finish line was nice.

Funky Monkey: monkey bars that incline up and down. Apparently some are greased and some spin but I’ve never noticed. As such, I make my way carefully across holding each bar twice and “testing” the bars coming up. A lot if people plunged here. Some just let go right away. You’d think a swim in freezing cold water would be enough but maybe they should add some lemon sharks (those harmless but scary kind people swim with).

Everest: the famous run up the half pipe. Find a dry patch (not muddy and not under the dude pouring oil), lock eyes with a helper at the top and go all in until your on the platform. It’s definitely harder to do it yourself but you can. Get good sprint, a grip on the top and pull-up. Note: even if you have a helper, try to get up yourself. It’ll be easier on everyone.

This is where the first time mudders broke off from the multi-mudders. Anyone who had completed at least one event would get to do a special “Legionaire Loop” where there was a surprise obstacle I suspected was called the “dingleberry” since my husband had yelled, “meet you at the dingleberry” a few miles back. When someone yells something like that to you when you’re running, it stays with you.

Dingleberry: this one was designed by a Whistler Zipline company. Basically it was a Tarzan swing of a “choose your own adventure” style. The first was pretty tame – swing from rope to rope with planks at the bottom. The next was without planks but with enough rope to catch your feet. Level black belt monkey ninja had no rope for your feet and relied on technique and/or upper body strength alone. Almost nobody made it across – team I Want My Mudder leader, Dai Manuel, was one of a few that did. The wait for the obstacle when we got to it was a Disney World style 25 minutes so it seemed like a good time to feed the baby. First time I’ve ever been high fived for breast feeding. A few people even snapped pictures. I wonder later if I’ll be a fixture in their Tough Mudder photo albums.

Legionnaire Special Edition Kiss of Mud: this one involved crawling through the rocks under what seemed to be extra sharp barbed wire with an overly trigger happy dude with a fire hose shooting you with a hard stream of freezing cold water. The couple in front of the line were really struggling – which left us faster crawling folk trapped in the line of fire for longer than anyone would have liked. At one point I took a shoe to the face and consequently whipped my head into the barbed wire above. At this point I had to wonder why we were paying for this but the dude with the fire hose was doing this for free. I tried to pause under the wooden supports when I heard the hose coming but I’m not sure it really helped. Complaining, sobbing or otherwise drawing attention to yourself does not help… I will tell you that.

Legionaire Special Edition of Electroshock Therapy: the sign said “100,000 volts” and slightly ahead was a cargo box filed with wires. People do crazy things. Like running through a box of live wires ready to hit them with 100,000 volts. Especially since these same people have likely been hit already by 10,000 and knocked on their asses. Thankfully for the wait times at the local hospital, this was a joke obstacle and not even powered.

Electroshock Therapy: this one is most commonly sited as a favourite obstacle – for the spectators. Live wires that hang down through a shoot that you need to sprint through in order to make the finish line. My fellow Mudder noticed that the bigger guys fall harder – maybe because they touch more wires. And they do indeed fall hard. I have never done this one since I have an arm implant and would apparently get “burnt flesh.” I can only live vicariously through the pain and fear on the faces of my fellow mudders as high voltage electricity surges through their bodies.

Thanks Tough Mudder and Tough Mudders for the awesome day. I’ve already signed up for next year!