Monday, November 24, 2014

GORUCK All Girls FAD/WSFB/C/L/S (Firearms Day, War Stories and Free Beer, Challenge, Light, Scavenger)

GORUCK All Girls Firearms Day/Challenge/Light/Scavenger

            When I heard that GORUCK was having an All Girls event, and that it would take place in Miami, I was thrilled! There was some grumbling in the GORUCK community "Ew, I'd NEVER do an All Girls Event." "Um, all girls? No thank you." It was a little disappointing (these were other women knocking the event) but I get it. We all have our own reasons for doing these events, and for me, the excitement of the first ever all girls event was too good to pass up. I'm a very happily married mom of four daughters, I'm a loner, don't drink or party, so a unique event that would be physically challenging and bring together a huge group from all over the country, how could you NOT want to do it! I was going to put myself out there and go for it. This was going to be a positive experience, not a watered down 'let's make it easy on the girls' event. As long as my friend Amy was going to, I'd be ok. Amy and I met because of our mutual joy at doing Spartan Races. We connected and ended up meeting on the side of I-95 one night for our first GORUCK challenge. (You make fast friends with people who will basically meet a stranger on the side of the road and then do hard work for 12ish hours with them! She is beyond awesome and I am thankful for her friendship! One day we will do something together that doesn't involve hours of hard work and mud, sand, water and burpees. One day!)

          Day one of the weekend (Thursday) was Firearms Day. Think 9 hours with the best instructors around. GORUCK describes them ~  GORUCK Cadre are world class shooters and teachers, having honed their skills by firing millions of rounds and instructing hundreds of thousands of students in both training and in war. 
Cadre Machine led the class, along with Cadres Bert, Aaron and Bruce. We learned how to safely load a weapon. How to safely check that weapon. How to always hold it, where your fingers should be, stance, grip, everything. Shooting was terrifying. We slowly and safely worked through many many drills and situations. Working with parents, running back and forth yelling "THREAT!" to shoot under stress, times drills, everything. I was afraid of guns when I started my day, but ended still being wary, with a lot more confidence. A LOT.

We would form a 'classroom' around Cadre Machine to hear our next lesson.

Cadre Aaron told me to say to myself "I want to shoot right there" as I drew my weapon and aimed at a target. Say it to yourself slowly, enunciate every word - it's a very powerful statement. It's like any mantra  - it forces you to concentrate on that one thing, to clear your mind other than your one goal. I wrote that down on a piece of paper and have it taped above my computer. Your "I want to shoot right there" goal can be anything - I am going to use it with my running, hitting times, etc, and at taekwondo. I am often filled with self doubt about my abilities to do special kicks - but now I will focus, look at my target and say "I want to shoot right THERE" and go for it. This was a huge moment for me. Someone else might just breeze past this and not take it for anything special, but man oh man....this is my new mantra.

       After Firearms Day we headed straight to War Stories and Free Beer. Listening to stories about the Cadre's experiences - incredibly moving. In a weekend full of lessons and learning experiences, it's hard to say which was my favorite. I loved what I learned at FAD. I loved what I heard at War Stories. I loved what I experienced (and learned) at the Challenge and Light. I am so glad I got to hear their stories. There were serious moments, there were a ton of laughs, and my respect for them grew 100x after that night. Everyone should experience an evening like this!

   On to the Challenge. The actual Challenge is 12 is hours of work. We started at 8pm Friday night and finished a little before 9am Saturday morning. We gathered, lined up and our evening started.

    The first thing we had to do was empty our rucks. Our rucks that had been carefully packed and organized had to be dumped out on the ground in 60 seconds. Neatly though, so the Cadre could walk around and check everyone's rucks. Then we had 90 seconds to get EVERYTHING packed back up and hold our rucks over our heads. Needless to say, re-packing was a mad rush and things got shoved everywhere. So much for careful planning of ruck packing! We ended up having to do burps for every item that was NOT repacked. Someone left (dropped, didn't have time to pick up) zip ties. I think 15 or 17 of them. More burpees added on as punishment.  We did 100 burpees with our rucks on before we could start. Yay! We broke into three teams and I was on a team with Cadre Aaron and Cadre Bruce. There were 40 of us, and we were off.

Push ups. We did a lot of push ups. This was after we had to retrieve some items to start our challenge - a wine barrel, wood,  rope, ammo cans, buckets....

     We ended up doing a lot of work on the beach. Push ups in the water, toe touches in the water, crawling in the can't expect to do an event on South Beach and not spend a lot of time in the sand and water. We low crawled (faces in the sand, people!) ran, push ups, it's all a blur. We carried and dragged each other. We filled our ammo cans with sand by using spoons. We had to figure out how to do it fast, without crashing into each other, and not losing all our sand. That turned into a lesson about how soldiers enter buildings. The hows and whys of where you go, who follows who,  and where they go - it was fascinating. 

There I am carrying the wine barrel!

        We never stopped. No breaks. Until we sat as a group, introduced ourselves, and told a little about ourselves and what GORUCK meant to us. Such a wonderful part of the night. We moved into a playground area and worked through what was actually a pretty fun obstacle type course - made difficult by not being able to touch the ground and 30ish lb rucks on our backs. Going up a twisty slide was harder than it looked! We figured out how to help each other, and then moved on to our next mission. Moving a huge concrete slab. It seemed impossible. There were 40 of us, yet only 4-5 could stand on each side and lift at a time. The slab was on our wood beams, and Cadre Aaron helped us figure out how to use the rope to create extra carrying 'handles' to let more people help carry the weight.

    We spent hours moving this slab. A few feet, a few yards, then rest. We had to figure out a system to be more efficient. This becomes difficult at 4am, when you are exhausted and stressed from hours of what was already hard work. We were instructed to have our team leader count down from ten, and then we had to move. The ladies carrying decided that we would also call the shots a bit - when the TL counted down to one, we'd say "One...two...three!" and lift together. Then we'd move as far as we could until someone said "Down!" then we'd all say together "One...two...three" and put it down. As soon as it was down, the TL started counting down from 10 again. This let us have a say in how long we could carry, yet also just kept us moving. That was the key - to stop talking and debating and figuring, and just follow instructions. Just move forward. Just go. It worked and we did it.

Sometimes we needed to stop, do pushups, and reset to start listening again. Just once this happened (I think. It's a blur)

     When we finally placed our slab against a tree, we had the Ah-ha moment of the night. We listened to two obituaries of fallen soldiers. We cried. We were told "This is your memorial. There are not a lot of memorials we can take you to here in South Beach, but this here - this is your memorial". Another absolutely powerful moment. The hours of exhausting work had broken us down, but we were working together. We were a team, and that moment of hearing "this is your memorial" wow wow wow. Our hard work and exhaustion was nothing compared to what troops are going through right now, tomorrow, yesterday, every day. It's very sobering and it was a real moment of reflection.

     We headed back to the beach for more water fun. Going subsurface for ten seconds doesn't sound hard, but we had some difficulties getting it together in sync. One teammate started feeling off - breathing, heart rate, something was off. We gathered together, made sure she was ok to continue and I told her that I'd hold her hand and squeeze it every second so she'd know when we were done. We would do it together. I squeezed her had 12 times (two extra, for good measure) so we'd all be under together for the full 10 seconds. We did it. 

Tunnel of love, why not! (That's everyone holding push up position while the person at the end crawls through, for my non -GRT friends)

Team Bravo. Awesome women!!!!!

     We got about a two hour break(maybe close to an hour and half) and then started the Light. A 'Light' is basically a short Challenge - 5-6 hours of good living.  We started again with the ruck inspection, burpees, carrying eggs (luckily I caught one during the distribution, and had to do my 100 burpees holding on to an egg. Not easy. And YES, this was 100 burpees once again.)

     We started with a fun game. Four teams, two people would spin ten times, run (with rucks over their heads so they could not see) and try to stop on an egg (an IED) then two more people from their team would run to them and drag them back. Then the next two would put the rucks over their heads, spin, etc etc. Your team had to yell directions at you - Go straight! Two steps to the left! Etc. The only problem was that there were 80 women yelling at their teammates - no one could hear anything! We moved into the water to do push ups and get wet and sandy before heading down the beach. 

    A heavy log (fat slab of wood really) was found and had to be carried. This again took rotations, timing, teamwork. If you were not carrying Harvey the giant piece of wood you were carrying our team weights, paint buckets filled with sand, extra rucks, then each other (casualties). We had a little more fun (Operation and Jenga challenges) then more tunnel of love and reverse tunnel of love. Hard, wet, sandy work but we were all smiling. 

We had lots of friendly spectators!

Going subsurface again. Cadre Big Daddy showed us how it's done!

         When we finished, we got to hear some moving and touching final words from our Cadre. Telling us we were role models (we had a GRT showed the event (follow) with his 6 yr old daughter. Cadre Bert told us we were better role models for this sweet girl than the bikini beach babes were - we showed her what strong capable women really are), thanking us for letting them lead us and teach us things. How this was what they loved to do - bring people together, teach them (by letting them do the work) to become a team. Thanking US! Incredible when we were all standing there thinking "no, Thank YOU!" I was so very lucky to be part of this event. So very lucky.  The girls at FAD, chatting and meeting more ladies at WSFB, then our teams at the actual Challenge and Light  - such a wonderful group of strong, friendly beyond fabulous women. My teammates.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spartan Ultra Beast 2014. Third Time's the Charm?

Do you want race recaps that really tell the story of the actual race? Here you go. These will give you specifics, pictures, try to help you understand what the Ultra Beast really is.

My race recap is going to be a little different.

Spartan Ultra Beast, 2014, Killington VT. This is an event that is very very difficult to describe. It's hard to describe the difficulty, it's hard to describe the event itself, it's even harder to describe the mystique around this event if you've never done it. Or never done a Spartan race at Killington. Or never done a Spartan race at all. But if you do mud runs, you know how important this event was to me.  Yes, because everyone does mud runs, everyone does 5k marathons (ugh. Seriously, people say this). Everyone does this stuff, right? Everyone spends months and months, training and preparing. Thinking about one specific event every single time you hit the road to run. Every single time you get up at 5am to get your training in before life happens and you take second place to everything else. Honestly, there are very very few people who actually understand just what this race means. 

Three years ago I applied for the very first Ultra Beast. Stood on the line, ready for the hardest thing I had ever done. I was not fast enough, and there is no "Awww, you tried really hard, forget the strict cut offs, go ahead and finish the course!" None of that. Went back year 2. Struggled through some injury and taking on care of my mom. Failed again. Year 3 comes along. Life is tougher. Work hard, fit it all in. I could go on for hours about this, but who really cares. No one gets it, no one understands, except a very select few. And one very select person, my husband Tim. 

It's been a rough year. Actually, a shitty year. My mom has Alzheiner's. Dementia that has slowly eaten away at who she is, that has left a shell of my mom. Three and a half years I have been her sole caregiver. Taking her everywhere with me, cleaning her and her house, staying on top of her Dr's appt and medicines, etc etc. The last year it's been overwhelming. If you have not been the sole caretaker of a dementia patient, you simply have no idea what it's like. None. My mom could not turn the tv on without help. Would not change her clothes, bathe, eat properly, even know how to throw garbage in a can without me helping. I cried every single day. I could not sleep, I worried about her, my kids, how I was neglecting everyone. My husband would go help her in the evenings so I could take the kids to their TKD classes. Her neighbors would bring her home when she wandered or cried to them, needing help. I started keeping her at my house to help calm her (she always thought she was at work, or needed to go to work, or had to go home - home being the apartment she lived in 75 years ago in NY). It wouldn't calm her. She would stand at my front door crying and yelling to go home. She'd walk out at 1am and knock on neighbors doors. I cannot describe how it feels. I did not talk about it. What good would it do? Why burden everyone else, my sister, my aunts, etc? No one can do anything from a distance, except worry. It overwhelmed my life. 

But I had the Ultra Beast. I had a goal, I had a purpose to get out there at 5am. I had moments of sanity where it could be about ME. Yes I felt guilty no matter what I did. I felt guilty being tired at night from getting up at 5am, I felt guilty when mom cried, I felt guilty when I left my 11 yr old in the driveway because "Grandma is crying, I have to get to her!!" and drove off. I had a husband who, from Sept 22 2013 said "You 're going back". We planned out the 2014 trip, made all our arrangements way too early. It didn't matter. We were going back. It gave me something else to focus on, other than the complete despair of Alzheimer's. 

He built training walls for me. Ropes strung across part trees to practice on. Pushed me to get up and out early mornings and get running. Drove me to the hills and made me carry sandbags and buckets full of rocks (well, a 40lb bag of pool salt but whatever). 10 mile runs with 1000 lunges. Check marks on the calendar. He would not let me forget that I was important too, that the goals I had were important. He let me cry and scream and complain about my frustrating days with mom. He (and the kids) lived with a very stressed mom for too long. I could not wait to get back to Vermont for this event. I loved the people I see there, I love the mountains, I simply love everything about being there. Tim made sure it happened. I gave up on a lot of things this year, but Tim would not allow missing the Ultra Beast to be one of them. I will never ever forget how he stood by me. 

Mom is now living in a Memory Care facility. Like a nursing home, but only for Alzheimer's patients. She does not cry anymore. She has a few lady friends who she sticks close to. She plays bingo (who knew?) and loves the dining room (three meals, served to you with no clean up? She loves it). I know she's confused. She was confused no matter where she was. She does not know who I am anymore. I always say "Hi mom!" when I visit (at least twice a week) but she could not tell you my name. She doesn't know how many children she has, how old she is, what year it is, what happened 10 minutes ago.  But she's safe. She told me that she feels safe there. Does she really feel safe? Is she happier having a lot of people around her all the time? It's hard to really know. I think so. She's sleeping good, eating well, and always looks good when I get there. I'm sleeping better at night. It's the best option out of crappy options. There is nothing good about any of this, but it's the best I can do right now. Her Doctors have been telling em for a long time, that it was time. The nurses and social workers at my support group said it's time. It's just hard emotionally to get there. 
Mom checking on the flowers at her new home

No one understands this race. The importance I place on it. How huge it really is. To ME. How huge it is to ME. A few people understand. Tim does. That's all that matters. 

(Want to hear about the actual race? It was amazing. Ridiculously hard. The uphill climbs were torturous. Downhill sections were crazy - jumping over roots, rocks, bushes. The obstacles were long and hard and rough. Carrying sandbags, and buckets filled with rocks, and logs, multiple times. Always uphill. Yet we smiled. Tim waited for me when I fell off monkey bars (and the traverse wall, and the tarzan swings, and the log hop. Oh yes, and the 'Big Rig'. I waited for him a grand total of two times. The sandbag carry (he had to carry two 60ish lb sandbags, while gals only had to carry one) and the barbed wire crawl. I'm a good crawler/roller). We held hands and encouraged each other. I only yelled at him once, at the tire drag. The tires were hanging down a hill tied to long ropes, and you had to drag them up. Guys had longer ropes, but Tim got his up pretty quickly. Mine, I could not budge. Not one inch. I was sweating and yelling , popping veins in my neck straining so hard. I could not believe I couldn't move this tire! Tim comes over and starts trying to 'help' me, telling  me what to try, etc. I could not listen to him and I lost it, screaming away. The volunteer finally walks over, kicks my tire a bit and dislodges it from a rock it was caught on. Then I got it up in maybe 5 pulls. Ugh, soon frustrating! But I got it! We mage it through 17 miles and were back down at the bin drop (the half way point). We knew we could make the first few cutoffs. We were ok on time for those - but the final cutoffs.....there was no way. Simply no way we could be FASTER on lap 2 than we were on lap one. We were not going to make it. So we stopped. We decided to end the race on a good note - we were not injured, we did not get hurt, we were still smiling. We ran together for the first time in 20 plus years. It was a win. It was the greatest day. How could I be so happy, knowing that ONCE AGAIN, I was a big fat DNF? It just didn't matter. What mattered was showing up, trying my hardest, and being with Tim. Being there was the win. Enjoying the experience, instead of being disappointed by it was a win. Seeing friends was a win. My very first, and very last, Ultra Beast pictures truly say it all. I went to to it so happy and excited, and I finished it the same way.)
My first Ultra Beast 

2014 Ultra Beast

Want to see pictures? Here are a few. This was the crazy hanging bar that was directly after the barbed wire crawl, rolling hills (you went into hip deep water, climbed over a dirt mound, more water, another mound, then back to the barbed wire crawl)
Not Tim, not me. If I was in the picture, I would be in the corner on the left doing my 30 burpees.
Look how happy I am - this is right before I attempted that crazy hanging bar. 

Swim to the ladder, climb, go across the tarzan ropes hanging under the bridge, then swim to shore. In 59 degree water. 

Brrrr, you had to walk in the cold water (59 degrees). No walking on shore!
Arriving at the top of the mountain, through the mist. 
You can't do justice to how impossible this was. Not too bad for the gals, but the poor guys.....

I like carrying logs. Again, I'm pretty happy!

This one I made!! All the way across!!!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon 2013

Tim and I went back for our second MCM. We just love this race. The atmosphere is incredible. To sum it up quickly, the weather was good (no storm headed in this year), I ran a 4:01:15 (which I was very happy with - no sub 4, but I was steady and ran a 2:00 and a 2:01 which was a perfect split). Tim qualified for Boston AGAIn with a 3:14. He is incredibly fast!!

The fun (or not so fun) part of our story this year was our walk to the start. Last year we did the Runner's World Challenge - we paid a bit extra to get some seminars with the editors of Runner's World, special warm up tent (great when it's cold) with private bag check and bathrooms (that in itself is the best reason to do it) and a post race private party. It's sooooooo convenient and easy, and we loved it last year.

This year we stayed in the same hotel and headed bout to the start about 15 minutes later than we did last year. Last year we walked with the Runner's World crew - and it was perfect. You end up walking from the hotel about a 1/2 mile, then past the start line (we took pictures both years there) talking to Marines the whole way, and into the Runner's Village where the Runner's World tent is. THIS year, we left after the Runner's World crew ( we knew where we were going, so we gave ourselves a little more time to sleep). We head back out on the same path as lost year. Now, at the pre-race strategy session the day before, Rick Nealis (the Race Director) talked to us about the start, getting there, extra security, etc etc. It was confirmed that there were three checkpoints  - to get to the Runner's Village at the start you had to go through one of those checkpoints. Ok, no problem. As we headed toward Arlington National Cemetery, we passed through checkpoint A (I think). Marines were lining a group of tables, checking backs, etc. Then we walked through the start area (right under the big blow up starting line arch) and headed to the village, just like last year.

We went under an overpass to head into the parking area that was staging the Runner's Village. There we were stopped by two police officers. They told us that we could not go in that way, that we had to go through the checkpoint at the Pentagon. Umm, what? We had just gone through security up the road!! Arguing ensued. Then we headed up the street to try to go to the Pentagon entrance. We were about 200 yds down the road when someone was running toward up yelling "there's no tim! It's an hour to the Pentagon entrance on foot!" We turned around (by this time there were probably 20 or doe people with us) and went back to the police officers. More arguing. At this point, people were LEAVING the runner's village and heading toward the start line. We were all panicking. People were yelling and crying - we needed to get into the runner's village to drop our bags, use the restroom, etc. We could;t just drop our bags at the side of the road - we had room keys, ID, phones, clothes, etc. Tim remembered that last night we got an e-mail from Jen V. - someone had left something behind at the strategy session, and she wasted to return it - so we had her phone number. Tim called her and they arranged to have a Runner's World staff member come to the exit of the Runner's Village (where we were still standing and arguing) come and just take our bags, if we could not get in. Then the police officer heard us and said "There are NO bags getting through here! You have to go through security!" to which everyone started screaming "WE ALREADY DID!!!" There was talk of arresting people if anyone tried to breach security, etc etc - it was very tense and crazy. We had taken off our garbage bags (for warmth) and I took my hat off because the officers kept talking to us and pushing us away from the entrance. The yelling between Tim and the officers was getting bad and I was afraid that this was it, we were getting arrested. There was one very calm gentleman who kept saying to the police officer "Sir, you have been misinformed". He was calmly trying  to get him to call someone, anyone who could confirm that we HASD gone through security up the road!

By now, there had to be 100 runners desperate to get in. SO many people were headed out to the start - jot was getting confusing. The associate from Runner's World came out - we saw him and ran to him - and while he tried to take our bags, he just said "Let's go" and we just ran in. I was waiting for the police officer to grab my shoulder but we just ran. We met up with David Wiley (Runner's World editor) and he had walked all the way to the Pentagon entrance after being turned away 15 minutes before us!! He was angry and tired  but he said "Leave it here. Don't let this ruin the race." Good advice .

We made it to the tent, checked our bags, used the bathrooms and did our final prep, then headed right back tout to the start. Tim thought that ok, we had no time to stress about the race because of this, let's use that to our advantage. We get lined up, listen to the music, watched the parachutes come in, and off we went!

I really had no idea how this was going to go for me. My whole hip/IT band issues have made for a few months of not feeling great. I decided that 9 min pace would be good. The only issue I had was that around mile 3 I realized that I needed to find a bathroom. I couldn't decide if I should just stop (losing time) or just ignore it (losing time anyway, it's had to push a pace with a bursting bladder). I contemplated my options until mile 11, when I just forgot about it. I'll never know if that was a huge mistake or the right choice. Maybe that was the difference between a 3:59 and a 4:05, but I'll never know!

The course is great, constant encouragement and support. The people are always great. I never stopped, never walked, and help steady for the entire race. I saw Bart Yasso at mile 25 and waved - he was so encouraging, but I had nothing left at that point. I'm just happy that I was steady and never stopped. Once again I shook hangs with every single Marine after I crossed the line, and hugged the Marines that gave me my medal. Then I hobbled to find Tim.

The greatest marathon. I'm so happy and lucky to have the opportunity to do this one (twice!!)