Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ultra Beast 2013 - Killington, VT

Going for a crazed pre-start happy picture

2013 Ultra Beast. We came back. I can talk for hours about the prep and planning for this weekend. Not only the physical training, but the 'get the kids situated, Tim's work schedule situated, mom situated' work that goes into a weekend away from home. We all have issues, mine are no better or worse than anyone else.  On to Vermont!

Killington is known as the Beast of the East. Last year the UB (Ultra Beast) was 2 laps of the Beast course. The Beast is a hard, long (13+ miles) course. Doing it twice was even longer and harder. We don't need to go over in detail last year (made it to the final cutoff PAST the cutoff time, so we were pulled from the course, DNF, read what I wrote last year). This year, we heard that the course would follow the first 6 miles or so of the Beast course, then branch off for it's own 13 miles (or so), then re-connect with the Beast course for the final 7 miles (or so). How did we 'hear' this? Sitting at lunch on Saturday talking with a few guys who were going to do it TWICE, starting that night. I'm not so crazy when you meet the hundreds of people who do tons and tons more than I can ever dream of attempting!

Saturday was a really nice fall day - nice temps, sunny sky, just a pretty day. (My race was Sunday. The UB had a 6am start time). And then the rain came in. And the cold. I woke up at 1am or so to the sounds of pouring rain. Knowing I had a few hours to the start, I tried to get some sleep. Didn't really happen, but that's normal. Walking to the start, it was cold but not as bad as I expected. It was wet, but not raining. I'll take it!

We meet up with Brent and Shannon and just get to it. Off to the start (in the dark), and have to jump a 5ft wall to get there. For some reason - the crowds, the dark where I didn't even realize there was a wall, moving slowly, I could not get over it. I had a moment of panic but then was ok. For the record, that was the only wall I had an issue with all day. Which was good, because there were a lot of walls to get over!

How to describe the race itself. I can't talk about every mile, every obstacle, because it is almost a blur.... someone after the fact said the Beast course had 42 obstacles and the UB 24 - so that would give us 66 total. That includes walls, sandbag carries, balance beams, spear throws, tire drags, log flips, log carries, atlas carries, Hercules hoists, vertical cargo nets, monkey bars, and 50 some-odd others. It was also straight up at every possible chance. A double black diamond ski trail? We went up it. Needed to go down? Well then  bush-whacking through the woods was the way to go. Or down on your butt on another ski trail because it was so steep. The best recap I have seen yet (a week after the race) was this by Morgan:

(Love the scribble that represents a s#it ton of obstacles. Also notice how every mile is marked "Mile 11" That's because there was total confusion as to how far along we were at every point)
This was a map given to spectators. This is just the Beast course.

The first huge hurdle? After a few miles of climbing, we ended up here, to the 60lb sandbag carry. 60 lbs no matter what your size, your gender. Just pick it up and go. Some have said it was a half mile up, and then another 1/2 mile back down. Some said 2/3 of a mile, some said 1/3 or a mile each way. It's one of those no one knows for sure, but it was longer than anyone expected. One of those, oh we've crested the we haven't. Still climbing. Crazy hard. Hard to find your footing sometimes, you'd slip and the bag would crash on your head. Pick it back up (hard on an incline) and keep going. Downhill was rough too. Small steps, don't slip, don't fall. Rocks were becoming dislodged and were FLYING down the hill. Yells of "ROCK!!!!" were heard every few minutes. Sandbags were dropped. Some people tried dragging them. I just carried and took my small steps, and tried to go. Got to the bottom, caught up to Brent and started yelling "What time is it???" because at some point of the carry my watch  stopped. I wanted to keep track of the hours, because we had cutoffs. Tim and Shannon were there watching and cheering, and finally Tim told me it was like 9:10. My watch was about 40 minutes off. Ok, I would be doing math for the rest of the day but that was ok. I needed to be at Skyship base at 3pm, the water at the festival area by 6pm, and the final rope traverse by 7pm. We also had mile markers associated with those locations, but we were soon to learn that Spartan miles are different than Garmin miles, and to disregard the watch for anything other than time.

Getting the sandbag (not me in picture)

That's me in the green socks headed up w/Brent

Up. And up. 
This was Saturday - much sunnier than Sunday!

Coming back down

Smiling (look at those clouds behind us. When we got above the clouds - ugh)

We headed back up, once again. The climbs were constant and difficult. It was wet and muddy and slippery and rocky, but my shoes held up well and I didn't slip and slide much. I probably wasn't as fast  as I could/should have been either, but that's something else entirely. I was slow going up. I wasn't being passed, but I wasn't passing anyone either going up.

We climbed. We had to memorize a code associated with our bib number (Romeo 226-1917). We had to drag a tire downhill, then back uphill. That was harder than it should have been.

This was hard. Add a little water inside the tire from the rain just to make them heavier, why not!!

The view was gorgeous. I tried to remind myself to take it in, to enjoy the moment. Sometimes that was hard because you had to watch your footing carefully, or you'd be falling down a mountain.

Obstacles, climbing, through the trees, on it went. We'd be headed down a treacherous trail (well, not really a trail, we were just following tape in the woods) and say "Hang on little tree!" as we grabbed it to steady ourselves and not fall.  Up Bear's Ass (that's the stretch from last year that's basically a mile straight up, through the woods where you have to grab branches and roots to get you up - torture). This year the rope climb at the top had no knots. Shoot, I never learned to climb a rope with no knots. Damn. Burpees for me.

Down a trail, and at some point we were at Bear Mtn base, where the spear throw was. Missed that, burpees. Then we had to jump in the retention pond and swim across it. Holy cow that was cold. Ran across to the log flip. Then we had a choice - 30 burpees and you could access your bin (this was the bin drop area) , or keep going on a 6 mile loop before you came back to the area to access the bin again. It looked ot me like everyone was doing burpees and stopping. Mostly to refill water, grab something to eat, change socks. I caught up to Brent here. We both thought we were doing really well on timing. He took off, and I quickly filled my water and headed out again.

Thinking back on the next few miles is hard right now. AT the time, I thought I was well ahead of the first cutoff time (I was). I actually had a moment of euphoria. I was flooded with endorphins,  something. I filled up. All I could think was "I'm doing it. We're going to make it." and I could see myself crossing the finish line. I could see it! I didn't slow down, I didn't relax -  I think it actually kicked me into another gear. That was a wonderful moment. Now a sad moment because well, you know, I didn't actually get to cross the finish line. 

There was a beautiful stretch of running (and now I'm not really sure if it was before or after the 1st bin stop. It's kind of a blur). We were on a trail that slopped down, then switched left, then right, but I could run. So run I did! This was also my first 'step off the trail and find a big rock/tree to take a bathroom break' (no judging if you don't run these kind of events - try to stay active and hydrated for 12+ hours and tell me you won't need a bathroom break!). Then came the greatest gift of the entire day. A barbed wire crawl. Over soft moss and grass. I kept saying "What is this! This is a gift people!! I could lay here and take a nap it's so soft and comfy!!!" I don't think I was dreaming, I really think it was as soft as I remember. Thank you Norm Koch for that moment of delight!

Down down to the next ski lift area - where we would do the Hobie Hop up stairs, across a bridge, down stairs, hop around and come back up the other side. The Hobie Hop is where they put a rubber band around your ankles and you have to hop to move forward. As I'm starting to hop I am told "Give your name to the next staff - you're top 20 female". I'm stunned. I just want to finish. Obviously not a ton of women are ahead of me, so once again I'm thinking that I'm in a great position to finish. Just finish, that's all I want. I have no delusions that I am anything spectacular, I am slow on the uphills and here come a few obstacles that I will fail (the monkey bars) but I CAN finish.

This is where we Hobie Hopped. Up, over, around, and back.

This was new. Bars going horizontal, then they switched to the other direction - most people used their feet to help get across but this guy was hard core!

Hobie Hop, new monkey bar-hybrid thingy (see picture above) then the ladder wall, then back up the ski slope and into the woods.
Can you see the tiny ant like people trudging up (under the lift chairs)?

At this point I met up with Ivana, and we spent the rest of the day together. Talking, encouraging, laughing, getting each other through the difficult spots. She was a gift that day, and will be forever thankful for her companionship and friendship that day! The people you meet on this course - man, they are just the best. You'd run into the same people back and forth, new people, and everyone is encouraging and having sun while working hard. There were a lot of "Oh shit" comments too, don't get me wrong. A lot of comments much worse than that, but it's all good. A lot of those comments came from me. But that's ok!! 

Up, up, through the woods, obstacles, up a climb where they had ropes anchored at  the top because it was so steep. Crazy fun. Or not, I'm still deciding.

Back to the bin drop area. We still feel good, we still think we are doing great with time. Top 20 female and all that, remember. Brent is there (we could always see him above us on the climbs, below us on the descents. We'd all yell and wave and check on each other. He was rocking the climbs!). We chat a bit as we change, eat a banana, change shoes. Then the three of us head out once again. Next up, log carry up the hill (and push the log through a barbed wire crawl as well. That was fun).

See the people at the bottom climbing up? The tiny ant people? Yes it was a decent climb. Also not the grass - slippery, hard to get footing sometimes. That was our day. Easy day, all day.

Bin area was at the bottom left. Just another hill.

Trails, woods, off we go again. Barbed wire crawl time.

That's me. Gloves saved me on the climbs (I bear crawled a lot), neoprene jacket kept my body temp pretty steady. Ripped my pants but that was to be expected. Nice butt holes now!

Now this s a VT barbed wire crawl. In FL we get a boxed off container filled with muck . Nothing NOTHING like a trail with huge rocks (look what he is leaning on!!).  This crawl was 300 yds long, the staff told us. Awesome!

At some point (after more climbs, walls, know the drill) we connect back with the Beast course. Since the bin drop (both), the Hobie Hop area, and now, we are all becoming confused at the mileage. "My Garmin says 11 - how can this be mile 8?" became a refrain I heard by many. We saw the Beast sign that said Mile 6 and thought, "ok - we must have 6 miles or so to go, but we're at mile 23 according to the Garmin, so......" it was confusing. At this point math was hard and I couldn't figure out how long I was on the course, and what time it was. We heard at a water stop "You guys are doing good - just hurry up". We saw Brent at the bottom of a decline here, and gave a wave - still thinking "ok, we must be ok...right?" Starting to panic a bit. We head back down to the festival area where we have rope climbs, crawls, barbed wire, cargo net climbs, more rope climbs, tarzan swing, horizontal wall, memorization (finally), before we headed back into the woods. We saw Tim there (and here are his pictures) and STILL thought that we were ok for time - maybe not as confident as we were earlier, but we hit the 6pm cutoff, and headed strong and hard back into the woods.

My pal Ivana

Looking mighty happy here

Up and over

Tim is yelling "Smile!" and I try

Off into the woods - now we are a group of three (Tonya? I think joined us). We ran as hard as we could through the woods, while I kept up a constant refrain of "We are doing this ladies! No giving up. We are making the cutoff! We have got this. We can do this. They are not stopping us. We will yell and scream and keep going. We've got this!!!!" Then this - which was scary for me.

Straight up

Not me but wanted you to get the idea . Did I mention this was hard?

More trails, lots of mud and muck that we tried hard to navigate around. We hit the atlas carry (pick up a big boulder, carry it across, do 5 burpees, carry it back) and are headed to the barbed wire crawl when we are stopped. A medic (?) was telling us (now 4 gals) that we were missing the final cutoff, that it was getting dark and temps were going into the 30's so we would be pulled. Then it was confusing. Spontaneous tears (from me) lots of arguing and talking (from me and others). More tears (me again, but I was not alone crying anymore). 4 guys join us and they bring us into a room/storage area to wait for transportation to the finish. More tears, total exhaustion was coming out now. I kept going on and on about how hard this all was - not the race, but getting it all together. How everybody in my life had to sacrifice for me to get to come here - EVERYBODY. And I couldn't get it done. AGAIN. My poor kids, my mom, my mother-in-law, Tim...everybody had sacrificed for ME and I was so upset at myself.   26.6 miles according to the Garmin. The 4 guys piled into the trunk of this SUV, the 4 of us girls sat in the front, and all we headed down the mountain. They brought us to the medical tent to warm up, and after standing there for a few minutes I just left to go find Tim.

I knew Tim would be waiting by the rope traverse - the final cutoff area. As I was walking toward it (hundreds of people still milling about in the dark, wrapped up in foil blankets, laughing, crying, you saw it all) Tim walked out of the lodge ares. Perfect timing. I saw his face, and saw his immediate concern. I lost it and cried once again. Just seeing his face and knowing how sad and worried he was for me - you could see it clearly on his face - broke my heart. I'm sure his heart broke a bit looking at me. Disappointment, sadness, regret, anger, I had it all. All at myself though - this was no one's fault but mine.

So, I am 2 for 2 at Killington VT. Am I too slow, too old, just plain old not good enough for this kind of event? The cold affects me way too much. My hands and arms don't work well. Obstacles I can do, I could not on this day. Burpees did keep me warm though. I just don't know. I will never regret the experience. How lucky am I that I even get the opportunity to go? To be in VT? To climb mountains? To make such good friends and meet some really incredible people? It's the experience that you go for. I got that. I had a great experience. But it's hard. Hard to hold on to ANOTHER DNF. Hard to train and not finish. Hard to climb ski slopes (damn you flat S.FL). I'm smiling though, thinking about it, and that's a good sign. Top 20 female? Only 15 women finished. 15. 15 incredible athletes!!!! And I'm jealous! :)

(That's it, there are a ton of details I could add, that I'll remember daily, but you get the idea. No one will really understand unless you were there. Hope this gives a little clue about what the day was like!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

GORUCK Miami 2013

Where to begin. GORUCK was one of those events that seemed fun, hard, exciting, and definitely outside my comfort zone. 8-10 hours (ours ended up being almost 12) 10 miles or so (I have no idea how much ground we ended up covering) of crawling, carrying, lifting, dragging, walking, hustling, and did I mention carrying rucks, sandbags, and each other all around South Beach Miami.

GORUCK website describes it as - Teamwork, leadership, camaraderie, smiles, and a gut-check worthy of Special Operations training. But the beauty of the Challenge is that it’s not about you, it’s about the people by your side, the individuals that become your team. 

I enjoyed the Hurricane Heat at the Miami Spartan Race so much that this challenge seemed like a reasonable second step. My friend Brent described the HH as 'a GORUCK light', so I thought I could handle it. A fellow Spartan friend Amy said she was doing it, so I felt I would not be totally alone and decided to do it. 

The challenge started at 1am, but it's suggested that you meet your team prior to say hi, get to know each other a bit, etc, before the challenge officially begins. Plans were made to meet up at a local bar in the hours before the challenge started. Amy and I met and drove down to Miami together - and after a long search for overnight parking, made it to the bar to say hi and head to our start point with the group.

Cadre Ben
Standing at the beach, waiting for our Cadre (military personnel able to establish and train a new unit) was a bit nerve-wracking for us first timers. Cadre, ruck...these were all new terms for me. Another quote from the GORUCK website explains that "the foundation of all GORUCK events is the wartime experience of our Cadre. They have all served in special operations. And they are all decorated combat veterans. Now their task is to teach others lessons learned on teamwork, leadership and survival." The word on the street was that Cadre Ben - also known as the Death Dealer - was our Cadre. That was a bit scary. I had no idea what was going to happen, what this person was going to be like, make us do, etc. I had no idea about the 19 other people standing around me. Would they smile, would it be competitive, would I want to was so strange standing there in the dark, waiting. 

Too much detail will spoil the mystery and unknown factor for anyone who is thinking about doing a challenge, so I won't go into too much detail. We spent the next 12 hours, (after our 'welcome party' of time in the surf, flutter kicks, crawling, back in the water, rucks over our head, etc etc etc) completing missions - do something wrong (picking up milk jugs filled with sand instead of the sandbag IED's we were supposed to find), put too much space between you and your teammates (stay arms distance apart at all times or someone would become a casualty and need to be carried), be too slow....then we'd stop, hold our rucks over our heads, flutter kicks and more again, and basically be punished.Then get right back to the mission. Keep moving down the beach, up and down the streets, etc.

In and out when we were not low enough. 

I started the challenge thinking that my ruck was heavy (about 30 lbs), and by the time we were finished, carrying only my ruck was a relief. We had more and more casualties - so everyone was rotating carrying, carrying each other's rucks, while carrying the American flag and our team weight (a 25 lb dive belt). When I was pouring over the website (I know, no original thoughts from me but the words are just so perfect) I read this  - Too much effort is spent to make it easy and not enough effort is spent to just suck it up. That's exactly what happens. You spend the first few hours thinking everything is so hard, there's no way, I can't carry more, how can I adjust this to make it easy, but by the last few hours you are saying "Give me your pack! I can carry it! I'll take her!" Everyone was capable of so much more than they thought. 
I think we were in trouble for picking up random milk jugs here

Add caption

Do not let your ruck or sandbag touch the ground. 

Can I also just say bless the bigger guys who just carried everyone constantly and never complained or gave up. I apparently was hard to carry because I was crushing some ribs when I was being carried on their backs (I still have no idea what I was doing wrong, or if my legs are just weird...or it's my hip issues once again!)

When we finished (after walking down Ocean Drive in the middle of an art show - so lots of spectators wondering what the heck was going on with this wet, sweaty, smiling, group carrying each other on their backs; with others carrying 2 or 3 rucks led by a flag carrying member) it was a mixture of relief and "Oh shoot, that's it." When I heard "You are now GORUCK Tough" I could not stop the tears. Crazy. I composed myself quickly and got my patch. Some pictures, goodbye's, and it was time to get back on the clock and get home to the family.  I will never forget this day.
No way - really? Mission complete?

I have only 2 regrets. #1, I would have talked more and gotten to know my teammates more. We had a few breaks - short, find a bathroom spot, get the sand out of your shoes, gulp down some food 5 minute breaks. I got to know people better as the hours passed, and now I wished I had done even more. There were 20 of us, and I really liked everyone. #2 would be asking Cadre Ben more questions. When he introduced himself, he talked a bit about his background (very impressive) and said to ask him anything we wanted. I will admit I was a bit nervous to run up and start pounding him with questions, but now I wish I had. He was great, and I know I could have learned a lot in those short 5 minute increments we had to talk a bit. It really stuck with me when we were crawling out of the surf and he was yelling at us to keep our bellies on the ground, to keep low. We're crawling and all of a sudden I hear "Keep your f*&^ing head down or it'll get shot off!" and I had a moment of clarity. I realized that wow, at this exact moment somewhere, some soldier was doing this exact same thing, but for REAL. Not for fun, not to push himself, not for a challenge, but for REAL, to stay alive. It really struck me and I appreciated the reminder. Thank you to my teammates, Cadre Ben, and GORUCK for the experience!