Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Amesbury Sprint- Triumph and Camaraderie

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Carrabassett Valley Academy kids representing at the Amesbury Spartan sprint.
This weekend's Amesbury Spartan Sprint was more than just another race for me. It was a memorable event filled with challenges, surprises and great people. I came with hopes of a little more practice on Spartan obstacles for some of the upcoming endurance challenges and left with a new sense of renewed energy for the sport of obstacle racing.

My day started at 5 am with a wakeup on an amazingly comfortable featherbed couch at my aunt and uncle's  house in Gorham, Maine, about 1 1/2 hours from the venue in Amesbury (I should add that the featherbed couch is worthy of an entirely separate post). I shook off the urge to stay in bed and made my way south while sun made it's way over the horizon as a thick layer of fog hung on to the lowlands and rivers. As the sun's rays blanketed the August landscape, I began to feel the energy of what would be an exciting day.

I arrived at Amesbury just in time for a quick warm up and visit with some of my Spartan friends. My first heat of the day, the elite heat, went off at 8 am as planned. While I enjoy the shorter obstacle racing distances, my long distance training has certainly taken its toll on my short game. My personal goal for the day was simply to focus on being uncomfortable. The idea of a sprint distance, after all, isn't to feel like I can maintain the effort all day. This would not be easy for me.

For the most part, mission accomplished. Despite the temptation to ease into my familiar comfortable pace, I made a deliberate effort to push my pace harder with the knowledge that the effort would likely last less than an hour. Where I continue to struggle is slowing my heart rate quickly for focus on the obstacles. This is responsible for the vast majority of my spear throw misses, and delivered as usual on this day. Part poor technique, part failure to bring myself down fast enough to focus, I have missed this obstacle on all efforts save one. This was no exception, but thankfully, the only obstacle that would give me any trouble.
Me, emerging from the mud at the end of the elite heat.

In the end, the result was my best sprint distance yet. I was greeted at the finish line with hugs from the amazing Chris Davis and Andi Hardy, which made the finish just a little more special. With an age group win and 6th overall female finish, I am thrilled to see my shorter distance effort pay off. While I can't say that I finished feeling like dropping to the ground, I am happy to say that I was grateful that my next heat wouldn't begin until noon.

Maria, Me, Sam, Sean, Briggs, Matt and Max before the race.

The second heat of the day was the one I that would prove to transform the day from great to amazing. Six of my students from Carrabassett Valley Academy had decided to join in the fun for a day of Spartan racing. For today's race, the kids would compete in the Open event, meaning that they would compete against the field of over 4,600 finishers and 821 teams. We started the morning with some fun in the Air National Guard pull up challenge a little warm up on the turf. My original plan was to run with the kids in their heat and provide assistance and support along the way. It was evident early on, however, that I was gassed enough from round 1 of the day that I would be rendered useless to our kids, as they are all talented athletes. As the gun went off and all six kids disappeared over the first hill, I decided that my adventure would be a little different than the one I had planned.

Although I have done a half-dozen or so Spartan style obstacle races, this was the first time I had run with no plan: no companion, no agenda, and with no regard to time or placement. I was free to cover the course on a whim, take my time when I wanted to, and stop to chat or help as I pleased. Always having some kind of distraction or focus, I never before realized what I have missed in all of these races:  a chance to glimpse the worlds of the thousands of other people on the course, each on their own journey on that day. Along the way, I made new friends. I had the privilege of helping others when they needed a hand and heard the stories of what brought them out to a Spartan Race. I pulled two people out of waist deep, black mud. I got to help Steve-o Opie Bones (whom I had met at a Death Race) encourage one of his teammates who had taken several nasty falls on the slippery wally to give it one more shot after she had decided to quit: she made it with two more attempts. I came across Nele
Nele and Reload Fitness getting ready for their heat.
Schulz, a fellow Death Racer, with her team Reload Fitness. Despite a suspected stress fracture, Nele was part of a team showing an unwavering commitment to help a disabled friend and teammate complete the entire course. The group dynamic was powerful and made me proud to be amongst the family of Spartans who don't leave people behind. I helped a dozen people complete the inclined wall obstacle and waited with an injured athlete for EMS to arrive. I watched a fellow Spartan fall from the top of the rope climb and emerge from the swampy water with a smile on his face. I convinced two guys to let a woman help them over the 8-foot wall after they had made several unsuccessful attempts on their own. On this lap, I witnessed courage, leadership, fear, composure, triumph and humility. Some of these people I know, some were strangers. All were part of making this day remarkable. I am pleased to say that I finally slowed down to take in all that I have missed.

I arrived in the festival area to the sight of 6 mud caked smiling familiar faces, all of whom blew my
Matt and Briggs celebrating a great race.
socks off with an effort of true Spartans. Each of them had their own stories of success on the course (2   of them hit the spear throw that continues to plague me), failures and burpees, and stories of how they
were empowered by others around them on the course. The final results revealed that all of the kids finished in the top 10% of the entire field of Open competitors and the Carrabassett Valley Academy team represented with a finish of 18th out of 821 teams. I couldn't be more proud of these guys and look forward to doing it all over again when given the chance.

So for this one, I say thanks to everyone for giving me the privilege of sharing your day and stories. Next time, I'll be sure to pay more attention.

Happy trails.

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