Monday, November 19, 2012

Little Spartans @ Fenway Park

Mom always says....
It is 5:30AM on Sunday, November 19 when the alarm sounds at our bedside in a hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Immediately, I remember that I have to wrangle two sleepyhead children out of their slumber, get them dressed and fed and be out the door in less than 30 minutes. Let the shenanigans begin. I open my eyes to find every light in the hotel room is already on and my 6 year old daughter is peering under my nice warm blankets waiting. "You awake mommy?" Our 8 year old son Noah is already dressed and having breakfast.

Fenway Park all to ourselves? Woah.
This is a morning my kids have been looking forward to for quite a long time: the morning of their first Spartan Jr. Race. For weeks, they have insisted that I provide them with WOD's consisting of burpees, rope climbs, squats, lunges, pushups and whatever I can think of to occupy them. The morning has finally arrived and they are ready to go. Now.

While the kids' race is not scheduled until noon, I have signed myself up for the 8:30 time trial so we hit the road and search what seems like all of Boston for an attended lot where we can safely leave our dog in the car with the windows cracked. My husband Dave has somehow agreed to play gear and snack sherpa for the day while the kids and I indulge in a morning of play. Arriving at Fenway is immediately like a high school reunion of friends from earlier races colliding with memories of Red Sox games. An eclectic mix of emotions and memories. Realizing that I don't have the privilege to chat and soak up the moment as we are already running late for my heat, I quickly move through the 4 different registration lines we need to get us all set up. Waiting until the last minute to do this stuff = bad call. Bibs, numbers, t-shirts, snacks, photos, water, more photos...check... finally we head into the park, chatting and catching up wherever I can (and probably driving my husband nuts).

A stow away child in the starting corral.

And back over the barriers you go, kid.
The kids are warmed up and ready to race. But it is my turn first, so Dave psyches them up as my personal cheering squad, which seems to be a welcome distraction. Daddy= 1. Kids = 0. As I line up for my 8:30 heat, the kids are beside themselves with excitement. Charlie even decides to try to stow away into the adult heat multiple times while I continually lift her back over the barriers back to the spectator viewing area. Was I supposed to be doing something? Oh yeah, I never warmed up. At all. Crap.
Do child raises count?

My time trial begins and I am off for a Fenway adventure of burpees, stairs, walls, ball and spear throws, burpees, carrying heavy things up and down bleachers, box jumps, etc.

View of Fenway from the pavilion.
Being New England Red Sox fans, Dave and the kids had little trouble entertaining themselves climbing into and on top of the dugouts (did someone say they couldn't do that??), taking in the sun behind home plate and making friends with other Little Spartan families getting ready for their turn. As I snake through the stadium I periodically get kisses and hugs from the kids while they jump up and down wildly cheering. Yeah, I am that important. I brought my own fan club.

Having way too much fun while mommy runs. Mom didn't say we couldn't stand on the dugout.

Somehow I always seem to take a good gladiator pit.
Notable moments on my Fenway race: spear toss failed. Row 500m in 2 minutes. Good one Spartan. With just 15m to go, the darn computer sent me for burpees. Fail. And the sandbag carry up and down bleachers 5X: nice touch Spartan.

My fan club was waiting for me at the finish with snacks and warm hugs. We snacked on our Simple Granola and Fuel bars (like the kids needed MORE energy?) and enjoyed the warm November sun.
Snacking on some healthy Simple Brandz snacks between races.

Dave quickly recognized that I hadn't had enough and offered to hold down the troops while I played another round. I am so grateful that he embraces (tolerates) me and my idiosyncrasies. Within 10 minutes I had secured another timing chip (thank you season's pass) and slipped into the last grouping of the 10:30AM heat with plenty of time to change before the kids' race.

And then it was time. Within minutes, the infield was filled with over 150 miniature Spartans, mostly decked out with their signature orange Spartan t shirts. The parent's were spread out throughout a half mile course that weaved in and out of the field and over and under the adult course that the bigger kids would conquer twice. There were little kids. There were big kids. As the kids charged toward us, it was like the running of the bulls with a single rabbit out front in orange running for his life. There were giggles. There were smiles. There were crashes. Charlie stopped as she passed me, rolled up her pants and said "look mom, I have scratches on my legs like you". Spartan scratches. Charlie and Noah fearlessly mantled up and sailed over 3 1/2 foot walls, crawled through tunnels and raced the bleachers in a blur of little bodies and ponytails.
Charlie racing through the bleachers in the kids' race.

Noah with the characteristic tongue-out-of-the-mouth look.

After our own round at cheering, lifting the really small kids over the walls, and directing traffic, we realized that the only action photos we have of our kids were a blur. I guess this is a good analogy to raising kids anyway.

Koenig kids proudly displaying the fruits of their labor.

Upon crossing the finish line, the kids each received their finisher medals from Wally the Green Monster. Sadly, at that point I was nearly a quarter of a mile back and missed it. It was impossible, however, to miss the smiles on their faces since they are still there. We bid Fenway adieu and headed back to the car for annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Pennsylvania. As the kids snoozed in the back, we could hear the occasional clang of their medals that hung around their necks.

As for me, I finished both of my races within 30 seconds of one other and earned a 7th place overall finish for women (out of 1,124 women). Being the first female finisher over 30, I am happy to say us old moms still have a little fight in us too.

Next time, the whole Koenig family takes on the adult race.
Another one in the books- this time family style.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Waiting For Winter

This week marks the beginning of another transition up here in Maine: the ski season is finally under way. For those of us who work in the ski industry, this comes after weeks or months of preparation and waiting for the first snowflakes to fly (or in our case, high volume snowguns). I had the privilege of sitting down with the folks at Sugarloaf to talk a little about our community of skiers and snowboarders here in Carrabassett. It was a little scary, but mostly fun. For a change, here is something geared not to obstacle racing, but to life in the Valley.

Thanks for Sugarloaf's True Blue series for this one. This is episode #3 of 4.

Link to Sugarloaf mountain True Blue- Shelley Koenig

Happy trails. May they soon be snow covered.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Marketing, dignity and all things EPIC

A few weeks ago I decided to throw my hat in the ring for another ridiculously fun racing adventure called EPIC Racing Arena. Epic is an event that will take place in December 2013 that will put competitors in a large stadium and have them face off in front of a large audience. The obstacles will be huge and will require strength, agility, speed and problem solving and the winner’s purse will be enormous. There will be bands. There will be festivities. The competition will no doubt include the best obstacle racers in the world rendering the event unlike any other that has yet to be organized. I have met many of the founders and coordinators of this event and I genuinely believe it will be EPIC like no other.

After submitting my application, I received notice that applicants were encouraged to have a facebook athlete page as well as a blog to help market themselves for sponsorship. Working with Simple Brandz already, I understood how important it is for sponsors to gain visibility through their athletes’ blogs and athlete pages. They are, after all, businesses willing to give us athletes product and funding in exchange for some additional exposure. I enjoy sharing my racing experiences with fellow racers post-mortem as well as giving my family and non-racing friends a glimpse into my motivation for being part of a culture that they might otherwise think is crazy. This made creating the blog easy. I might even go so far as to say that the blog has given me an outlet I have been looking for.

The facebook “athlete” page, on the other hand, has been a little more painful for me. Promoting myself as an “athlete” hardly seems right. I am not a professional athlete: I am a mom and high school teacher. I do not ooze talent, strength or other athleticism that can justify such a title. I am determined, a little stubborn, OK at lots of different things, and I have found a niche out there for people who just simply aren’t good at quitting. Hardly worthy of a facebook “athlete” page, if you ask me. I did, however, set one up last week with the idea that this would be a way that I could separate my regular life from my obstacle/adventure running life. I hate blog-spamming my friends and family trying to determine who is genuinely interested in this crap and who isn’t. So I set up the page, invited my friends and from here on out I will phase out the inundation of all things muddy on my regular facebook page (unless it is really awesome, that is).

So this leads me back to EPIC. Shortly after starting my blog, I received my first challenge. The challenge was in the form of a short workout which was to be posted and shared on the EPIC website. The winner of this challenge will be the first athlete selected for the EPIC racing area event. The catch: you have to promote your own video to gain votes to win the challenge through shameless self-promotion.

Since the challenge was released, my inbox, notifications and facebook newsfeed have been slammed with “vote for me” pleas from my friends also aiming to be part of EPIC history. From a marketing perspective, this is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Aspiring competitors are providing free advertising for an event that they haven’t even been selected for. I get it. Business is business and these guys have found their way into the obstacle racing private groups, onto the personal pages of well-decorated athletes, and in places they have never imagined. Unfortunately, for me, this is where I have to draw the line. Self-promotion is something I have never been fond of and allowing a marketing plan to dominate my personal facebook page, my “athlete” page, or even a casual conversation with a friend for a vote is unimaginable. I want to gain entry to an elite event based on my abilities, my race resume and my accomplishments, not my ability to promote and plead for votes. To me, applying for entry to a race should not make me feel like I am running for prom queen.

So, I sit this one out. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to do this event. I know I can be a fierce competitor, and I have no doubts that this will be EPIC. However, I don’t feel that it should be up to me to convince anyone of that. If you see me at this event, it is because I am qualified to participate. Period. If I don’t make it, then I never deserved to be there in the first place.

I mean no disrespect to the founders of this new event. In truth, your marketing plan is genius. I also want my friends who are going head to head in this challenge (and future ones) the best of luck. You are all brave to put yourselves out there and I respect every one of you for taking the risks that you have. Please understand that I couldn’t choose between you, as I have never met another athlete at one of these races who wasn’t EPIC in their own way.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why people think they can't train for an obstacle course race

Howdy folks, I have heard this question many times, how do you train for an obstacle course race?  Many people say you can't, but I'm saying you can.

First of all, an obstacle course race takes many physical attributes, from balance, agility, power, and endurance, as well as mental attributes in confidence and sheer will and determination.  So how do you train for the mental aspect?  That is simple, train the body and the confidence will follow.

But most people want that magic workout which will give them success on the course.  But there is no 'magic workout.'  Confused?  I think many people are, but here are a couple of observations I have made about people's training habits.

You can get fit to look good, or you can get fit to be good.  An obstacle course race is a true test of how good your fitness program is working if you want to 'be good.'   The problem I see with most training programs is that the endurance athlete does not lift weights and the weight lifting crowd doesn't do any endurance training.   I know, I know, I've heard it.  The gym rat says they run on the treadmill for a mile three times a week, or even does a little interval work on the elliptical.  Or, the runner, cyclist, or even triathlete talks about going to the local boot camp.  This may seem like an oversimplification, but it's true, in order to do well at an obstacle course race, you have to train just as hard at both.  This means lifting real weights AND doing real endurance work such as running, biking, swimming, and hiking.

The next observation is fear of the unknown.  You are good at what you do, but don't want to jump in the weight room and look inexperienced, or be the guy who looks fit, but can't jog 5k without walking. You just have to get over it, and JUST DO IT, as the popular slogan says.  As quick as I say that, I want to emphasize jumping into a new training program increases the likelihood you will get hurt tremendously.  Seek professional help with a personal trainer or fitness coach.  Don't just assume they know what they are doing, interview them to make sure they understand human performance.  Many trainers specialize in weight loss and bodybuilding type 'look good' fitness.  It is imperative to find a good trainer or you will waste your time and money.

The next way you can learn to train for an obstacle course race is to continue to read Filthy Clean Living.  Over the winter months I will be posting more specific articles on training, including video of workouts and exercises.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to Train for the Death Race

The only thing that can be said for sure is that the Death Race will be tough.
"Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is the greatest shortcut to uncommon success in life."- a friend of a friend

 The Spartan Death race. Many seasoned endurance athletes have described it as the most challenging event they have ever attempted. On the event website,, the event is described as the ultimate physical and mental challenge with typically only a 10% completion rate. However you may describe it, the Death Race is hard. Really hard. There doesn't seem to be much question about that.

Clean and fresh at the beginning...
It has been several months since the 2012 summer Death Race, yet this is the first time I have written publicly about it. For me, this event was my first true ultra endurance event that has transformed into a personal journey to understand of my own spirituality, motivations, and to gain my own understanding of the human condition itself. The Death Race, unlike many other races, is not about competing against other participants. In most races I have been a part of, competitors rob one another of energy looking to seize an opportunity to surpass their accomplishments and make it to the finish line first.  Death Racers are a different breed of athlete who use their energy to fuel the energy of other Death Racers allowing each to go further than what would otherwise seem possible. It doesn't matter who beats who, who makes it to the end, or who finds their own finish line somewhere along the way. 
In this journey I have made many discoveries about myself, my own spirituality, and have begun to seek meaning in the interconnectedness of many different aspects of my life. I have learned that these connections are still beyond my comprehension but am nontheless blown away by their gravity.  The Death Race provides an opportunity for us to all see ourselves in a different light not easily glimpsed and to be a part of the journeys of others on their own quests. For these reasons, I will be back for another round in 2013 to address unfinished business and lingering questions.

Since my participation in this summer's Death Race, lots of people have asked me how I trained for it or how I plan to train for it in 2013. Many are Death Race hopefuls, either for 2013 or some year beyond. Some are just curious as to how one would prepare themselves for such an event. Either way, generally most people get a deer-in-the-headlights look from me, or if they are lucky they might get a stammer of uh, er, or hmmm...  This isn't an attempt on my part to avoid the question, create mystery, or protect my clandestine training secrets.

The truth is, I didn't.

This is not to say that I didn't do my best to become fit before the Death Race. I did. This isn't to say that I didn't run to the Home Depot to buy an axe and beg my friends to teach me how to swing it without chopping my foot off. I did that too. This isn't to say that I didn't make a gear list, change it, change it again and then start all over on three different occasions. I did that (I should point out, however, that this was a result of an ever changing gear list- not by my own choice). I lifted things, I carried things, I squatted things, and I ran like Forrest Gump.

The realization that everything will NOT fit in your pack is a memorable one.
What I mean to say is that I didn't do any training that is any different than what I would do to prepare for any obstacle race because you CAN'T train FOR it. This is, I believe, what separates the Death Race from other events. All you can do is try to be fit, both mentally and physically, and show up and hope that this is your day to do something really special.

So, if you can't train for it, what CAN you do to increase your chances of being successful? Certainly this is going to vary for each of us, but here are a few suggestions that might help.

1) Get an axe and make it yours. I drew flowers on mine. I thought this might mean the boys wouldn't want to use it. Turns out, that idea was wrong. Swinging it at logs a few times helps too.

2) Workout. Yeah, that sounds obvious. Mix it up- it is useless to be strong without endurance and vise versa. You don't need to be great at anything, but you don't want to have a weakness not tended to.

3) Train to your weaknesses. You know what they are. Don't hide from them, take them head on. Andy and Joe will find them anyway.

4) Have a positive attitude. If you go into the Death Race thinking that you probably won't finish, you won't.

5) Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Period.

 So, that is it. I know it is probably a little too simplistic and doesn't provide the concrete training secrets that you can write down in your workout notebook. Probably the biggest mistake you can make is believing that finishing this one race defines your success or failure as an athlete. What works one year might result in total failure the next.

This is not a Death Race at all. It is a Life Race and it has no finish line.
After 57.5 hours, not so clean and fresh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Filthy Clean Eating

In the last couple of weeks I have received some great questions, many around the topic of food. Proper nutrition is such an important part of every aspect of our lives: athletics, brain function, mood and even facilitating proper sleep patterns. While I do not claim to be any where near an expert on the topic, I'd love to dedicate this post to addressing some of the questions people have been asking about daily nutrition.

1) I understand what good foods and bad foods are, but I always backslide from my diet. How can I avoid this cheating pattern?

For me, this is pretty simple: I never diet. Dieting is temporary and when the diet is over old habits always return. Restricting calories or certain foods always seems to lead to injury from training without proper nutritional support. Bacon? Sure. Chocolate? Absolutely. What works for me is to eat foods in moderation- and this can be more sustainable over the long run. Total deprivation of anything is always temporary and good health should be long term. With that said, the less processed your food is, the better off you are. If it comes in a package, it probably isn't all that great for you and will do little to help you perform your best. If it doesn't look like it did when it grew in the garden, it has been processed. Choose whole raw foods including grains, fruits and veggies as well as local meats and dairy raised without hormones, steroids and antibiotics whenever possible.
Hand picking and freezing fruits and veggies is the way to go.

I also subscribe to the idea that even sweets can be part of a good diet- some are better for you than others. For me, no artificial sweeteners.  Ice cream with real sugar and cream, real butter, quality dark chocolate (sorry milk chocolate, no offense) and homemade desserts (made with a little less sugar than called for in the recipe) are all in the diet. Maybe I am just rationalizing my sweet tooth?
Homemade blueberry pie with hand picked berries. OK, so maybe not healthy, but it sure tastes good.


2) I also have young kids and can't get them to eat the healthy foods that I like. I just don't have time to make two meals so I end up eating kid food that I know is not great for me. How can I make time to eat healthy foods with kids and a job?

The kids love having choices when it comes to their salad
I used to try to make two meals- one for my husband and me and one for the kids. Inevitably, I would run out of time and just make mac-and-cheese for everyone or wind up "momposting" whatever scraps the kids didn't eat. A couple of years ago I decided that it was time that the kids started eating OUR food instead of us eating kid food. At first, the kids did protest but they are resilient creatures and they adjust.
The kids love beets, grapes, peppers and cukes, pomegranite, nuts, and carrots.
 One thing seems to work well is creating a salad plate that offers the kids a choice. Try assembling veggies, nuts, fruits, cheese, and whatever we have in the fridge into small piles and let everyone choose from each pile what to put in their "salad". The kids each have to choose a minimum of 3 options- although they usually choose more than 3 now. I get a little of everything for myself and everyone is happy! Sometimes kids just want to be empowered with choices.
Voila, yummy salad with all of my favorite things.
The same can be done with sauces and other toppings for other dishes. For example, marinate or  grill chicken plain for everyone and then make a sauce that can be added separately for adults or adventurous children.
Once in a while, there is always a place for a little Annie's mac-n-cheese... with a little sweet potato hidden in it of course.

3) What nutritional supplements should I use?
Ideally, it is best to try to get nutrients from real food rather than relying on vitamins or supplements. There are a few exceptions, however. The first is vitamin D. Several studies have indicated that in northern latitudes (ie. north of Atlanta) it is impossible for the body to make sufficient vitamin D from sunlight during the winter. If you have ever wondered about the importance of Vit D, check out this article- it is pretty compelling.

For most of us, 1,500 IU per day is appropriate but it is best to ask your doctor what amount is best for you.

Aside from that, I don't have a regular supplement regime. This summer, I began working with an amazing company that makes Simple Fuel and started using their products, which I have really enjoyed. If you are interested in an all natural real food-based supplement, I absolutely recommend trying this stuff. It has Omega's, fibers and antioxidants to help keep you naturally energized all day. On days when time is short and you are not able to eat all the healthy foods that you'd like, try the following shake using Simple Fuel:

 2 Tbsp Simple Fuel
1 small banana
1Tbsp natural peanut butter
a handful of frozen blueberries
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
handful ice cubes

Put everything in a blender and it is ready!

4) I am really good about making healthy choices for meals, but in the middle of the afternoon I get really hungry and I have trouble eating healthy. Life can be so busy, I get caught off guard and make last minute bad choices.

As someone who eats constantly, I can relate. Sometimes when the hunger button lights up and there is no decent food in sight, we resort to desperate measures. Whole, fresh food isn't always available. Let's face it, sometimes an apple doesn't do the trick anyway. I used to fill this void with bars. Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Powerbars, Builder Bars, etc. which are okay, but a little more processed than I'd like.

Here are a few quick pre-packaged options that are a little less processed and provide great mid-day energy. All are great alternatives to junky snacks.

1) Garuka bars (formerly Gorilla Bars). Garuka Bars are all natural and made with only 8 ingredients: Vermont raw honey, peanut butter, 7 whole-grain flakes, dried cranberries, brown rice puffs, light brown sugar, whole peanuts, and a teeny tiny bit of Vermont’s own Cabot butter.

2) Simple granola. I may be a little biased but this stuff is really great. Gluten free, all natural and raw granola. When you can't make you own, this is the next best stuff. I keep a bag of this in my backpack most days for emergency snacking. The snickerdoodle, original and crunchy are all great, I have yet to try the mocha chip and chocolate chip so those are next on my list.

3) Hammer Bars- In my opinion, Hammer nutrition makes the best of the prepackaged energy bars. Guten free, no refined sugars, and free of soy. The taste is good and it provides good clean energy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Organic Periodization

Every one has heard the term "Train Smart, Not Hard."  But what is this?  In a nutshell the basic premise is based on periodization, which is planning your training.  Tudor Bompa, the "father of periodization" developed this technique many years ago, becoming the foundation for most modern training programs across many sports.

Macro cycles are generally yearly, or longer training plans, mapping out training and competition periods.   Macro cycles are then divided into two or more meso cycles, lasting weeks or months. And lastly, micro cycles are generally weekly schedules.  The three periods of a yearly macro cycle are the preparation phase, the competition phase, and the transition phase.

This post will deal with the transition phase, and how it helps the endurance athlete recover and integrate back into society.  Most endurance athletes spend long hours training and competing over much of the season.  This takes it's toll on the body and mind.  From a physical and scientific view point, the body needs recovery BIG TIME.  Bumps, bruises, nagging injuries, and busy schedules need attention.  The transition period is a time when volume and intensity of training backs off.  For many motivated athletes, this is very difficult to do.
Post UltraBeast legs

For many athletes, especially endurance athletes, the Fall is the end of the competition season.  Late Fall and early Winter are a great time for the athlete to naturally assimilate to the transition phase.  Shorter days, Fall clean ups, and eventually the Holiday season take a lot of time.  Workouts can be cut down to as few as a two or three a week.  This leaves time for family, chores, and reflection.  I believe it is very important to embrace this time away from heavy training loads, not only for recovery, but to enjoy life, spend more time with loved ones and relaxing activities, rejuvenating the mind and body for the next preparatory period.

Light workouts should work on base-cardio, joint stability, balance, and light strength endurance.  Any one who participates in sports with a lot of running, or contact sport athletes should minimize any impact or contact for this period.  This is a great time to practice yoga, as it can be relaxing and helps with flexibility and balance.  A good massage therapist can help restore joint mobility, release fascia, increase muscle blood flow, and break down scar tissue.

Dealing with, even the smallest injuries are important at this time.  While many nagging injuries seem to go away quickly, I highly recommend seeing a good physical therapist if they don't disappear quickly.  Even if the pain recedes, the body can be forced to compensate, often leading to imbalances.  While these are hardly noticeable to the untrained, a good PT will get you back on track quickly.

In conclusion, many people organically fall into the transition period during the Fall, others can't stop training hard.  While the prepatory period may seem like the beginning of next season, it actually starts here.  If the body is not recovered, once training starts back up, injuries and low energy will severely hamper performance.  The Fall and Holiday season are fun times to enjoy life, friends, family, food, and spirituality.  I say relax, embrace it, and come back the guns blazing next season.

Take a little time to enjoy loved ones in the off season

Ultra Beast?

Saturday morning on Killington Mtn. Photo courtesy of Spartan Race.

“People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about. " - Joseph Campbell

Third barbed wire crawl at about mile 17 (lap 2). Rolling over the camelback = a little awkward.
Going forward preparing for the Spartan Ultra Beast, I was asked several times by my friends and family why I choose to take part in what appears to be an incredibly masochistic hobby- obstacle and adventure racing. It is not unusual for one of these self-inflicted sufferfests to take on 10, 15, 24 or even up to 58 hours leaving me in a dehydrated, bruised, sore, marginally functioning haze for the better part of a week.Truthfully, until being directly confronted with the question, I have never really felt a need to come up with an answer. It has always just seemed like the thing to do. In the last few months, however, the answer to the question has alluded me and a lack of cognizant awareness of my own inner motives has eaten at me. While I continue to be a work in progress, I have begun to find clarity on the matter through some insightful conversations and a little old-fashioned introspection.

This past weekend offered me some unique insight. At Killington Mtn. I competed in the Spartan Ultra Beast. The Ultra has been heavily hyped as it was to be the inaugural marathon-distance (actually 28 miles) military-style obstacle course competition covering 70+ legit obstacles and 12,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of one day. The best of the endurance obstacle racers from all over the country applied months ago to be selected to face off against each other and see where everyone stacked up. As I normally do, I signed up without thinking twice about it. I mean, what could be more fun?

Maybe I am simply enticed by all the mud? Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

It would be easy to say that I am enticed by the competitive spirit of it all. It is true, in fact, that there is a part of me that is a competitor; however, competition alone is not enough to motivate me through long, grueling workouts day after day, month after month, year after year. Worrying about how others are training or preparing for the next event would be utterly exhausting. Unbearable.

It would be easy to say that I seek to find my own limits; however, I am still not entirely sure that I want to define them. Limits are, well, limits. Who wants those?

Still smiling and chatting at mile 9 at the first sandbag carry.

What I seek is something far more personal: something far more powerful than the celebration of a win or the devastation of a loss. As the hours wear on and my body enters the red zone I begin to find these answers. In these moments, all of the clutter disappears forcing me to focus on the moment. Not the next moment, not the moment before. There is no energy for that. Every twig snapping underneath my feet is there for a reason- to remind me that I am alive and that every moment is here for the taking. I just need to take it.

As the mountain takes my strength, it empowers me to find strength in new places. Places I normally don’t need to tap into that force me to dig deep into myself. It is then that I realize that the human body is stronger than I have imagined. Physical strength eventually fades to emotional strength forcing me to focus in a way that is so difficult to seize on a daily basis. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Limits are only self-imposed.

Mile 23 with my Spartan sandbag friend. We hugged a lot.
In these moments time stands still. Perhaps crazy hallucinations and endorphins are responsible for this euphoria? I don’t know. But I know that I am not the only one to experience it. The connections that exist between once-competitors and the mountain are lifelong. Each interaction carries with it new connections that embed themselves somewhere in your soul, only to be revealed in time.

This is what I seek. To those of you who shared this one with me, thank you. Finisher or not, we all came to learn a little something to take with us into the next one. There is no finish line.
Happily representing Simple Brandz and coaching my CVA athletes at the Teen Challenge on Sunday. Photo courtesy of CVA.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feet, feet, feet!

"Slow feet. Quick feet. Well feet. Sick feet. Up feet. Down feet. Here come clown feet."- Dr. Seuss

While a post on feet might seem entirely unnecessary, in my opinion Dr. Seuss was on to something when he dedicated an entire book to the subject. With the UltraBeast coming up this weekend, I have been thinking about feet. Feet can make or break even the most prepared athlete in an endurance event. If your feet quit, you are done. Here are a few things I have learned along the way that might be helpful to those venturing out for their first endurance event on their feet.

Preventing foot problems before they happen is by far the easiest way to deal with foot issues. Once you have blisters, swelling and/or bleeding, treatment is going to be only temporary and will only help so much. Protect your feet, especially if they are going to be wet with a few strategies:
When the course goes this way, you need to think about how you are going to prevent swamp foot a little differently

1) No cotton. Never. Synthetics and wool are both good options. Save the stylish knee high socks for another day. Enough said.

2) I like to wear two layers on my feet. Friction is going to be your enemy, particularly when your feet are wet. A second layer can prevent the skin on your feet from being peeled away-  even the slightest amount of sliding friction between you foot, grit, and footwear can do significant damage. I often use either a thin synthetic liner sock or double layer socks like Wright socks.

3) Add lube under the socks to further prevent chafe from rubbing. Vaseline, Body glide (or other similar products) all work well. In addition, both of these products will also add a hydrophobic layer to keep wet feet from getting punky as fast.

4) Never wear brand new shoes for a long race or long run even if they are the same shoe model and maker that you had before. Sometimes, even the slightest variation in the individual shoe can lead to your unanticipated demise if you don't put some miles on them first.

5) I personally don't think there is one shoe that is the magical answer to all foot ailments. Some people love Vibrams. Some love lightweight shoes similar to racing flats. Personally, I wear old fashioned sneakers. Wear what makes your feet most comfortable is what is best. Skip the fads.

6) If at any point during the event you have the opportunity to dry out your feet- do it. Even if it costs you time, it will be well worth it in the end. A change of shoes and socks at a drop bag or even a quick stop at an aid station to wring out socks that have been wet for hours- your feet will thank you. Don't subscribe to the mentality "they will just get wet again, why bother?" In 15 dry minutes, lots of healing and damage prevention can happen.


You tried to be proactive and it just didn't work out for you. Don't despair, things can still get better. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1) Once you have identified that there is a problem, deal with it now. Don't hobble along telling yourself you will deal with it when it is convenient. It is never convenient. Again, if you can get your feet dry (drier) do it. Change your socks. Wring out your socks. Take off the shoes and socks and air dry your feet.

A change into dry shoes at Jay Peak.
2) Once your feet are dry, if you have blisters, pop them. Yep, pop them. I know- just what mom told you never to do. This is not going to feel great tomorrow- but tomorrow is another day, right? I actually use a sterilized needle to do it (alcohol pads, a match, etc.) or the tip of a pocket knife. Barbaric measures don't have to lead to infection. Once the blister is popped, you want to cover it to protect yourself from any infection. Cover it with a small amount of gauze, Band-aid, etc. with a dollop of Neosporin. On top of this I recommend adding a piece of tape that will hold the cover in place. While I shouldn't recommend Duct Tape because there are nasty chemicals in it that you shouldn't apply directly to your skin- it is what I use. You could also cover it with a more medically approved tape if you can find one that stays on when wet.

3) Before you put socks on, you should add another layer of protection. If you are developing other hot spots or trouble spots that aren't quite in need of popping and taping then a mixture of Gold Bond powder and Vaseline is a great option. I shake a little of the powder in my hand and then smear in the Vaseline to make a paste. Apply the paste liberally. It won't last super long, so you will need to repeat every few hours or so.

As soon as you can get your shoes off and dry your feet, the better off you will be. Also remove any tape (especially if you used Duct tape) as soon as you can. After thorough drying, I find that soaking my feet in an ice bath for a couple of minutes helps with pain, although I know some don't subscribe to this idea. A soak in Epsom salts for 5-10 minutes also can help with swelling, bruising and pain.  Be sure to let your feet dry out between treatments. I also find that getting up and on my feet as soon as possible helps get the healing process going.

If you give your feet the attention they need, they will reward you with lots of extra miles. Happy trails.