“You’re still caught somewhere between your plans and your dreams so that neither end up turning out right.” – Dawes
I hate to admit it, but I’ve been having a hard time lately. I’ve been in one of those moods where you question every thing; you question its validity and purpose in your life. You question if your hard work is worth it or if it will even make any difference. I’ve been sort of stuck lately, kind of in limbo between who I was and who I want to be.
I’ve had some success recently in a few of my races, but overall I’m not even close to where I want to be. I’m not even on track with the conservative schedule I had laid out for myself; I’m rapidly falling behind. When I get to go for a run it brings down my spirits that I have a hard time with it when just a few weeks ago I could do the same run faster and more effortlessly. I’m still having some issues with my old recurring injuries. My weight loss has pretty much stalled. The few workouts I’ve managed have been a struggle to finish when they were recently much easier. I haven’t been getting great sleep and the sleep I’m getting isn’t enough. I’m starting to wear out at work and my motivation to be productive is hanging on by a thread.
These are the times where someone’s life can fall apart. These are the moments that ruin even the best laid plans. When all of life’s stressors come bearing down on you at once some days it’s hard to even get out of bed. When you are in this situation how could you expect yourself to say no to that donut? How can you expect to give it your all in a high intensity workout?  Well, the answer is that you can’t. No matter how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are it can all fall apart in an instant. The alcoholic tells himself that it’s just one little drink; you quit before you’re strong enough to do it again, right? The gambler sits down for just a couple of hands at the card table, just a little distraction from everything that’s been going on, “I’ve earned this”, she thinks. This is where you have that one little cheat meal, or you skip that extra-hard workout. But it doesn’t stay as ‘just one cheat meal’, does it? One cheat meal turns into an extra snack the next day, which turns into another cheat meal and before you know it you’re not cheating anymore, you’re just right back where you started. Skipping the workouts results in the only reps you do that day are pressing the snooze button.
Even the strongest of us have days where no matter how hard you want something or how hard you try, you just won’t have the strength to make it through. That’s a discouraging thought for many people. Feelings of regrets begin to seep in. You feel disappointed in yourself. These feelings of self-loathing can lead to more cracks, until there are so many cracks that everything you’ve built comes tumbling down. Will power is a muscle. You can work it out by pushing yourself, and it’ll get stronger. So strong that you can feel invincible. But just like any other muscle a workout wears it down. If you keep pushing your physical muscles eventually they are going to start hurting. Your body is letting you know you’ve gone too far; it needs time to recover. But your mind tells you that you have to keep going, you can’t lose all that progress. You keep pushing until one day something breaks. You tear your muscle or connective tissue. Now your working out days are over for a long time. Your will power is no different. And when it crashes it crashes hard.
That’s where I am finding myself these days. I thought I could just keep hammering away, full steam, and I’d break through any walls that got in my way. Well, I was proven completely wrong. I’ve barely been managing a workout a week. Maybe one short, slow run. I’m eating all kinds of things I shouldn’t. I’m eating later and earlier than I should. Nothing seems to be going right lately. And here’s the important part: it’s all my fault. If I had spent a little more time taking care of myself and really giving myself the attention I deserved none of this would have happened. Rather than beat myself up about it I think it’s more important to use this lesson to better myself. And I think this is an important lesson to learn: You have to take care of your self. And when I say that, I mean your ‘self’ not yourself. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, if not more so. Take your time. Slow down once in awhile. Give yourself the break you deserve from all of that hard work.
So how can you do it? How can you survive getting in shape while eating right and balancing your work and family life? How can you go all out in life to get the most out of it without crashing and burning? If you take it too easy you fall off the wagon, too hard and you won’t be able to sustain it. Where is the middle-ground? The middle-ground is consistency. The key to making all of this work is being consistent. It sounds easier than it is, but if you can build consistency into your life then it is no longer a chore to meet your goals. Be consistent with your workouts. For me, that’s getting out of bed on time so that I can get my workout in before I start my day. Be consistent with your diet. For me, that would be staying in ketosis so I will have to pass on the free bagels in the break room. If you can be consistent it’s not a ‘diet’ anymore, It’s a way of life. You don’t question that you have to get dressed before you leave the house, do you? That’s just something you have to do. We are used to it, so it is what it is. You get dressed and you don’t spend any time fretting over the fact that you have to get dressed.
How does one become consistent without burning out? This is the part where you have to listen to yourself and know what’s right and what’s wrong for you at that moment. In the example above, some days you might feel great and you spend an hour in the mirror getting ready, and you look fabulous. Some days you just don’t have the energy and you throw on an old hoodie and some sweatpants (and you still look fabulous by the way!). The fact of the matter is you still got dressed. Some days will be better than others, but you still did it. The same mindset can be applied to anything. Not feeling like you can smash your marathon PR today? Don’t! Go for a nice slow jog around the neighborhood or even a long walk with a friend or loved one. Really having a hard day with food cravings? Get online and look up healthier alternatives to the foods you crave. Or better yet go out and get a healthy treat from the store or a restaurant. Just because it’s a hard day for you doesn’t give you an excuse to give up. Just like you have to get dressed you have to stay on track with what you want in life. You must be consistent.
You don’t have to be perfect everyday. You don’t have to be perfect any day. Just be your best and do your best. The fact of the matter is you are strong enough to overcome whatever it is you are fighting in your life. But it doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Level the battlefield and take the ‘work’ part out. Make your healthy, happy life a habit. Make it so that it’s second nature. Make it your life. It’ll take some time and energy to get there, but once you do you will be free to take on whatever the world tries to throw at you. It was a hard lesson learned for me recently, but it’s an invaluable one. Today is a great day to start. Tomorrow is a great day to keep going. Hold your head up, you’ve got this!!

Spartan Race: Charlotte Sprint 4/8/17

Spartan Race: Charlotte Sprint 4/8/17

My first OCR race and first Spartan of the year was the Spartan Sprint in Charlotte, NC. It’s a bit of driving for me to get there, but one must make sacrifices on the quest for glory! I’ll tell you upfront that I had a great time and why I loved this race, but first I’ll give you a breakdown of the race itself.

Just outside of the city the race is held at Porter Farms. It is privately owned, which is kind of nice. I think they were able to do some cool things since you weren’t confined to a specific “venue”. For example, this is the closest I’ve ever been able to park to a festival area; I literally parked a stone’s throw away from the finish line! The course itself was pretty interesting because there are a lot of open fields as well as wooded areas which helped make the course design simple, but still allowed them to send you through different terrain.

Charlotte Sprint 2017
A nice, simple course design. I found it interesting that they started included the carrys in the map. 

Overall the course was pretty flat and fast. Not a whole lot of technical terrain, but there was enough to keep it interesting. The first leg of the race was in the fields. While the ground was technically flat it was quite hard to run on. I think years of tire depressions, farm equipment, and animal hooves made the ground extremely uneven. Every step was different and if you went too fast you would be sure you’d roll an ankle. This uncertainty was compounded by the knee high grasses covering the course. I am sure the thousands of Spartans stomping through there helped resolve both of those issues as the day progressed, but I ran early and missed out on that advantage. The most fun part of the race was dodging all of the cow pies! I feel like every few steps you had to adjust left or right to avoid landing in one. I had more than a few near misses! There’s nothing like dropping down for a burpee to realize your face is mere inches from a big ol’ poo!
The obstacles started early and we’re really well spaced apart. It warmed you up with the hurdles followed by a couple short walls and the over-under-through walls. Despite the uneven terrain the first half of the course was very fast; No significant elevation changes and no burpees to slow you down. Once you got into the woods it got a little more interesting. It was here that you had the most elevation change, still not a lot, but there were a few good hills thrown in from time to time. There was a good amount of climbing/jumping over fallen trees and logs. This course wasn’t too rocky, which is a change from most of the races I’ve done, but it was nice because it allows you to go a little bit faster. I think the most notable terrain component for this race was definitely the amount of water! I was just thinking last year how Spartan Race has really been getting away from the mud lately and we didn’t really get that wet or dirty anymore. Well this race definitely changed that! There were a few really good sections of mud that you had to run through, even some of that deeper mud that tends to steal shoes. There were also a couple of parts where you had to run through a small creek. None of the water was above knee height, but there was enough of it that you couldn’t avoid getting wet and dirty.

Speaking of getting wet and dirty, this course had one of the longest barbwire crawls I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through. I don’t know for sure how long it was, but I heard someone in the festival area say it was the length of a football field (100 yards), and I believe it. Not only was it long but the wire was super low! (It looks like the raised it some for Sunday’s race). And if that weren’t enough almost the entire length of the barbwire crawl was very wet and muddy. And this isn’t that loose, watery mud; This was well churned, thick, clay mud. This is the kind of mud that sticks to you and you end up weighing a few extra pounds when you finally stand back up. This crawl was followed up right away by the atlas carry. The extra mud added a component to this obstacle I hadn’t faced before. Those cement balls are much harder to hold onto when they are covered in thick mud. Dealing with the mud was a trend for the rest of the race. Most of the obstacles after that were muddy and therefore harder to complete. Most notably the Herc hoist, rope climb and monkey bars. The monkey bars were actually the last obstacle and were maybe 100 feet from the finish line. It was heartbreaking seeing so many people having to do burpees right at the end like that. It was even more heartbreaking to join them! I was disappointed to fall off the moneky bars as I have completed them in the past, but on the fourth rung I hit a really slick spot I wasn’t expecting and just couldn’t hang on. I cranked out those burpees, but I know it added a couple of minutes to my time.

I can’t say enough about how fun this race was. It was nice to be able to go out and just run for a bit, enjoying the nature. It wasn’t nearly as punishing as some of the other Spartan races and it didn’t feel like something that needed to be conquered. It would be a great introductory race for anyone that might be interested in doing a Spartan Race but that might be intimidated by it. I think I’m going to go again next year, and I might bring some newbies along with me!

As for my performance in the race I have to say I am, overall, very pleased with it! I finished in a time of 1:40:49. My next fastest sprint was at Ft. Bragg last year and my time was 2:19:14. The Ft. Bragg race was really hot, but the course was super flat and easy. After that my next fastest sprint was my first DC Sprint. My time there was 2:32:14. My time for this race, as you can see, is significantly better than my previous races! I know it’s hard to compare any two races, even at the same venue, but the distances are close enough that a 40 minute improvement isn’t just something that ‘happens’. What’s more is that I know I could have done even better! I didn’t deliberately hold back during the event, but this was my first one, and I’ve had a few injuries, and since I’ve never run the course before I decided to take it cautiously. I spent most of the race pushing myself, but not too hard; most of the time I was out there I was comfortable. If I had really gone for it I think I could have easily shaved a few more minutes off that time. I’m trying not to get too big-headed by my improvements, but I am starting to feel really good about this race season.

I am very proud of myself that I was able to run most of the event. Being that I didn’t want to burn out and/or hurt anything I took the typical strategy of walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills. I was happy to find that I was actually able to stick to this for almost the entire races. I did very little walking at all. I also convinced myself that I needed to be quicker with obstacles. In the past I’d take breathers before and after some obstacles, sometimes even sitting on the ground. I didn’t sit at all this race and I was able to push through all of the obstacles with little delay. I think these two things probably account for my improved finishing time.

As far as the obstacles are concerned I did really well on *most* of them. I was happy that I was able to get over all of the walls without any assistance. I think the tallest was only 7 feet, but I’ve had trouble with those in the past. The bucket brigade and the sandbag carry were non-issues. This is actually the first time I haven’t had to stop to put down my bucket and take a breather, which makes me very happy! I did manage to complete the rig too, though it was only rings, and it was a little short. My left hand was giving out on this one and my foot did hit the ground twice during the transitions. I never let got and I didn’t stand on it, it was more of a graze. I felt like I probably should have done burpees for it, but I did get to the end and ring the bell, so I just kept on going.

An extra muddy Herc Hoist. 

I missed the spear throw and the rope climb. I had it in my mind I’d give the rope climb a solid try and I did, I just don’t have the coordination to use my feet on it (I need to get a rope and practice) and I don’t have the grip/upper body strength to just use my hands. Also, because of all the mud the ropes were very slippery. A lot of people were failing this one. The mud also made the herc hoist a lot tougher. At my first race I failed the herc hoist because the rope was so muddy. I was determined to not fail again, so I wrapped the rope two times around my arm and used my body weight to get the bag up. After that it was a cinch. I didn’t manage to get my first attempt at Mt. Olympus. That obstacle is a lot harder than it looks. I got maybe a quarter of the way before I slipped off. Our shoes were really wet from the dew on the grass which made the board really slick. Also, I feel like being taller hurts me on this obstacle as my center of gravity is much further away from my feet. No excuses though, I just need to figure out how to do it! As mentioned I failed the monkey bars. We were all pretty wet and muddy still and I was trying to move too quickly. I think if I had take my time on it and I had been more confident I could have finished it. Lesson learned.

I think this is a great start to my race season. I didn’t do so well in my 5k, but my 10k and my first Sprint have really given me a huge confidence boost. Now I just need to get back on and stay on my training so I don’t lose this progress. I also discovered some weaknesses that I need to work on during this Sprint, like my overall grip strength, but especially my left hand. I’ve got two weeks until my first Savage Race and I am really excited about it! It’s so difficult to go back to work after a race. I am a total addict and I can’t wait for my next race. When I think I have to wait two more weeks I get super bummed out. We will see if I still feel that way at the end of the race season!

Ukrop’s Monument Ave 10k – My Experience

Ukrop’s Monument Ave 10k – My Experience
I am pleased to report that this weekend I ran the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k. This was the 18th annual running of this event and it has become quite a phenomenon in our city. Despite it only being a 10k (instead of offering multiple race distances in one event) it tends to draw around 30,000 participants year after year. All sorts of runners from beginner to pro show up. People even travel from out of state to run this 10k.
I feel like such an iconic race demands my participation. I’ve lived here for over ten years but this is only the second time I’ve been brave enough to sign up. I was excited to run this one not only to see how I would do, but to also see how much of a difference I could make over my performance in the last race.
The race itself isn’t too demanding. It really only has three turns, otherwise it’s a straight shot up Monument Ave and back. Monument Ave, for those that aren’t aware is a very wide road here in Richmond that features several statues of historical figures relevant to the area. It’s a beautiful road, featuring a big median with a lot of open grass areas as well as pretty fall/ spring trees. A fun fact, a portion of the road itself is actually registered as a national historical landmark. The course is very flat with only a few feet of vertical change, and like I said it’s very straight. It’s an easy course and it’s a nice place to run, so it makes sense it draws such a big crowd. There is no shortage of live bands playing and spectators with funny signs cheering you on. For an uninitiated runner it’s a good race to run as it could really get someone excited about running more races!
The race had a few ups and downs for me. The start was really slow. With so many racers present it took a long time for my wave to start. Next year I need to select an earlier wave; we ended up standing around for almost an hour waiting to run the race. By that time most of my warm ups had worn off and I was jumping in place and doing mini-stretches to try to stay limber and warm. Once we finally got to the start I was trapped behind a bunch of other runners. I spent the first half mile trying to maneuver around them. It wasn’t until the first mile was done that the pack started to thin out. After that I didn’t have too many issues getting around the other runners.
Despite having to dance around a lot of people the first mile was surprisingly easy! Sure, it was a little slower than normal with all the foot traffic, but I barely even felt like I had been running by the first mile marker. The second mile came and went almost as easily. It wasn’t until around the end of the third mile that it really started hitting me. When I reached the halfway/5k mark I was breathing pretty heavily. I had made it into fatigue territory. I was really surprised and pleased to find that even though I was feeling tired I wasn’t having that much of a problem pushing forward. My pace hadn’t really slowed that much and despite me feeling tired I wasn’t getting a bunch of panic signals from my brain to stop running. It was just after mile 4 when things started to go downhill.
There was a water station shortly after the 4 mile mark. I took this opportunity to slow down quite a bit and drink some water. I think maybe I slowed down too much or for too long but once I started trying to run full force again my body started fighting me. My pace had slowed considerably and I felt bad for the first time during the race. Around mile 4.5 I started getting a pain in my right quad. Not really a cramp, but a tightness and a burning sensation. By this point I had got my pace going a little better and decided to try to fight through the pain. Luckily it was a good decision and in a few minutes the pain diminished and I was running at a pretty good pace again. The remainder of the race was pretty smooth. I was definitely breathing hard and I was hurting but my body kept up and didn’t let me down. Normally I shine at the end of a run and I can manage to dig deep and pull from some hidden reservoir of energy. Unfortunately, on this day that well was looking pretty dry. I wanted to beat my minimum time goal so around the 6 mile mark I checked my watch and found I was way too close for comfort. I scraped the bottom of the barrel that held my will power and demanded my legs move faster. I knew when I crossed the finish line if I didn’t make my time I’d spend days Beating myself up that I didn’t push hard enough at the end. I settled into a difficult, but sustainable pace. As I got closer to the finish line I tried to give it a little more gas, but I was pretty much giving it everything I had already. When I crossed the finish line I was quite tired but also very proud.
My total time was 59:25. No, it’s not the time I wanted but I told myself my minimum goal was under an hour and I did it. Not only did I beat my goal time, but this was also a PR for me. Running the same course previously my best time was 1:08. That’s almost 9 minutes off my PR! In addition to that, I am happy to report that I was able to run the entire race; I didn’t have to stop or walk even once. I wasn’t sure I was in shape enough to do that, but I did it! I am also thrilled that my pacing was amazing. I have always gone out too fast in the beginning and I die at the end. This is something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager. With the exception of mile 2 (which I ran in 9:03) all of my miles were between 9:23 and 9:49. For me to be able to maintain my pace like that is really exciting! So I ran the entire race, I PR’d, made my time due to good pacing, but maybe most importantly, I did all of that and ended the race injury free! I was terrified that running that much without proper distance training was going to make all of my weak spots flare up. I made a conscious effort during the race to focus on my form and to quit worrying about the clock so much. Proper form will increase speed naturally, so get the basics right first. I think making sure I was in good form was critical to the overall success of the race and the fact that I could walk away from the race uninjured. I do need to work on maintaining my form as I get tired. I got a couple of pictures near the end of the race and my shoulders are hunched and my left foot is severely crooked. Even so, I’m making progress and that is all that matters!
Overall the event was a huge success and I had a great time. I learned a lot out there about myself and about my running. I’m going to take those lessons and apply them to my life to make me a better and healthier person. I had a blast and am so excited for the rest of race season. I don’t care how fit you are, if you aren’t signed up for a race yet, go do it right now, before the next price increase!