There were so many things running in and out of my head before, during, and after. In no particular order:
- If you are racing with a team, have a plan for where and when to meet. Preferably off-site, so you go in together. It was chaos! Supposedly 3500+ people raced yesterday in Kitchener; officially 2030 finished, in the recreational category. As it turned out, we never did find two of the girls that we were supposed to be doing the race with. It was only the 3 of us who got dropped off together who ended up staying together. Sounds like it was more chaotic and less organized than last year, and I'm glad that we all picked up our timing chips and t-shirts in the days before, rather than the day of. Made life smoother on an already crazy day. Especially when data and wireless connections seemed to crash from overuse. If you didn't have a plan for meeting people, you were out of luck.
- No matter how prepared you think you are, there is no way to be prepared for the first time. The chaos. How long 7 km really is, even when it's broken up by obstacles. That pictures are hard to get when you check your bag and lock your purse, camera, phone in a locker (and then have to go get your bag again because you don't have a pocket for the locker key). That changing in a washroom seems like a good idea until you realize how many others had the same idea.
- Did I mention that there are 30 obstacles? Yeah. Some are easy, some are hard, some are really really really hard. Which, by the way, it's impossible to keep count of. You know you're doing about 30 obstacles, but after about 5 you lose track and you just go. Take them one at a time.
- Things I hadn't thought about in advance: racing with glasses. I never take them off. I work out in them. I don't have contacts. So, at the last minute, I shoved my glasses into my checked bag, which left me feeling disoriented from blurry vision. Not the best feeling when it's also raining, adrenaline is high, and you're doing hills. Probably not what is meant by "the runner's high."
- The very first obstacle was to run up a ski hill, across the top, and back down. It had poured all morning, so everything was slick and wet. I was terrified of that descent down. As we waited at the starting gate for our heat, we watched two firefighters load up an ATV and head up the hill to rescue an injured person. It was the second-last obstacle, but they had to immobilize her (no idea what happened; rumour was a collision with another person). The cool thing was that they carried her through the Finish line. The uncool thing was that I watched it all as I waited to start, and it shifted some nerves and anxiety into full-blown terror.
- The waiting and anticipation was the worst. Once we got started, there was nothing else to do but just go. One obstacle at a time. Just go.
- Whose idea was this, again? Why did we think this was a good idea? WHO DOES THIS SORT OF THING? I mean, honestly. Oh, and are we signing up for next year, 'cuz we get a big discount if we do it by the end of this week... (Robyn asked me this question in the middle of the race. I looked at her. "Uh, let's finish this race first, before I commit to doing it again.") At one point I looked at people passing me and thought, "why are you taking this SO seriously?" But, now I wonder, why wasn't I? Clearly, I had much lower goals and expectations.
- Having people at the Finish line was amazing. Jamie and Jenny had said they'd come, but I hadn't seen them when we started, and with the rain I figured they might stay home. Robyn had told her family the same thing, but when she saw her husband and girls in the spectator area, when we were just about near the end, at the two-and-a-half-hour mark, she got emotional. We happened to be at the monkey bars, and knowing her kids were watching her, I was like "Get on my shoulders. We're doing this!" At the finish line, when I climbed up and over the top of the school bus, hearing Jamie shout my name and take a picture made me happier than I expected. As it turns out, this is the kind of thing that is better shared. You want cheerleaders. You want friends and team mates. Which is also why it was special that Mary was waiting for Robyn and I to finish the last obstacle. "We're crossing this Finish line together," she said, as we all grabbed hands. Our timing chips show, to the second, that we started and ended together.
- In addition to cheering and taking pictures at the end, Jamie made me stretch. You can take the personal trainer out of the gym (even if they're not YOUR trainer), but they'll still make sure you drink plenty of water and stretch your muscles. Mat had prepared me the day before, and given me pre-race instructions, and between both reminders, I am *only* stiff and sore today. At least I can still walk!
- Also? Voltaren is my friend. I don't care if it's basically old-people achy-muscle gel. My knees are loving the person who invented it! On the shopping list for tomorrow are Epsom salts.
- Having oatmeal for breakfast was the best choice I made all day. I didn't want anything that I'd puke up later, but I didn't want to get famished through the race. Good thing, too, because we were told it would take on average 1 hr and 30 to 45 minutes to complete the race. It took us just under 3 hours! This was partly due to a water obstacle which had a lineup so backed up, we stood there waiting for an hour.
- About that obstacle: it took us through a pond. Ponds are gross. Weedy. Smelly. We could have bypassed it, and saved a lot of time. But, because we were not racing for speed or time, we decided we'd rather at least attempt all the obstacles. This one had a bunch of floating barrels strapped together to try and run across. Nobody completed it while I was there, or watching. It was easier to try and when you felt yourself start to fall, to just jump in the water and swim for shore. But it was at that point, early in the race, that you realized you were going to be WET and not just a little bit.
- Thank GOD that I did this race with friends. It was their help and support that got me through. I would not have done the balance beam had Robyn not walked beside me, just letting me know she was there to lean on if I started to fall. In some cases, the support was mental or emotional. In others, it was a literal hand up to boost this short body over a wall, or seeing that someone was tangled on some netting and straightening it out for them. But no way would this BadAss have made it alone. Friends are just ... super awesome, y'know? <emotional sniff>
- Gloves were a good idea, even though it was super wet. Note to self: don't use the cheap imitation-leather gloves that bleed black dye on your hands when they get wet. D'oh!
- It was so much harder than I thought. I mean, I don't know what I thought it would be, but I was not prepared. As "fun" as it is meant to be, it was still really challenging physically and mentally. For me, at least. I was out of my element and for some parts, I can honestly say that I had no business being there. I assumed there would be more people like me. I wasn't ready for it this year, truly, but I was ready enough to get through it, and know what I might need to do for next year in order to treat it as a race and not as ... a fun-fair kind of carnival event.
- I didn't know how to mentally prepare. I'm not an athlete. I've never BEEN an athlete. So, I never learned how to think like an athlete. Mary and Robyn had been athletes in high school, and it showed. It wasn't just in their physical strength and ability, it was in their drive during the race. I grossly underestimated the value of learning to prepare for a competition, hence the freaking out in advance.
- In my head, I knew that the race was 7 km. They marked the race by miles, though, so I had a hard time knowing how much longer we had. Also, so much of it was uphill, over and over and over again. If we do it again next year, I will have a better sense of how much of the Chicopee Ski area they use, including all the mountain bike trails and recreational areas. I'll practice hills, and I'll walk the race area to familiarize myself with it. Because my calves were pretty unused to that burning sensation!
- Obstacles I feared in advance included the monkey bars, the slip and slide, the tunnel tubes you crawl through, and pretty much anything that had a steep downward slope. I DID THE TUBES! Tore the hell out of my elbows doing it, but I made it through. Obstacles that induced fear: the balance beam (because it was muddy and slippery), the rope climb, and the somersault. I have not somersaulted since I was a wee kid, and I started to tuck and roll, envisioned breaking my neck, and went "nah. Not worth THAT risk." With Robyn's help, I walked the balance beam. On her shoulders, I did the monkey bars (and she sat on mine to get across).
- Our chant was "win or lose, booze booze booze!" Yeah, I was definitely racing with the right friends. That motivated us towards the end on a few occasions.
- Things to train for if I do it next year: running is the biggest one. Gotta be able to run in between at least a few obstacles, even just to stay out of people's way. I think I put more pressure on my knees from trying to step off the narrow mountain bike path to let dozens of runners pass than if I'd just let them feel the impact of hurrying the hell up. It is, after all a race, and I focused on finishing, not on speed (at all). Also to train for: pull ups (yeah, those were included!), monkey bars, and climbing things with less fear and without getting stuck.
- The biggest hurdle (and there were several little hurdles, which I mostly stepped over or crawled over), was this plywood A-frame wall with a rope on it. Ah. The dreaded rope climb. "Mount Wedge-more." The reason I had worn gloves. I wanted it. I needed to get up that wall. Holy crap, I did it! I had the arm and grip strength to get my feet on to the ledge mid-way up the wall and my hands could reach the top part of the A-frame and then ... and then ... Oh. Shit. And then, I looked down over the other side, at how short the rope was, at how far down the fall was, and I couldn't get myself up and over, nevermind conquer my fear of dropping. Robyn was able to do it, to get her leg over the ledge and then the Dash attendant held his hand for her to step on to get down. Mary, too, got over with his and Robyn's help. And there I was, stuck, holding up everyone else behind me. My worst fear. "I need to come down, on this side" I said. The guy came around. "Are you sure?" "Oh, yeah," I replied. I think I more or less fell on him as I slid down the rope, trying to belay myself but having very little grip left. He kept asking if I was alright. I asked if HE was! It's the only obstacle that I truly failed, but I'm happy that I tried. The opt-out was 25 pushups and I thought "psh, I can do THAT!" but I feel better that I tried the hard thing, the scary thing, and then failed it than having chosen the easier been-there-done-that choice. Next year. Next year, I will figure out how to get these short legs over high things!
- It's worth wearing actual light-weight, workout clothes - even if they get ruined - because old cotton sweat pants and t-shirt feel like a loaded diaper after swimming in a pond and sliding down muddy hills! Plus, they look rather terrible in photos...
- At some point, Robyn asked "are you having fun?" I didn't have an answer. Was I enjoying it, really? Uh. No. Did I hate it? Was I angry? Nope. Neither. I was just ... doing it. I don't know how much I'd enjoy all those obstacles in a relaxed, fun context. In a race, with crowds, "fun" might be relative. Was it worth it, though? Hell, yeah. If nothing else, it reinforced the value of long-time friendships, teamwork, and goal setting.
- Most of all, it's something that nobody ever expected I would do. Least of all, me.
I was glad to see him, and surprised. I'd deliberately downplayed the race to my parents. I think my sister tipped them off to the fact that it was a bit of a bigger deal than I'd let on. Besides, once I found out you had to pay to get in, I knew Mr. Cheap wouldn't do it. I hadn't counted on the fact that he's shameless about getting photos he wants, and is particularly good at climbing hills and knows Chicopee like the back of his hand. Of course, we had no way to communicate during the race, with anyone, so he had no way of finding us. It was just dumb luck that he spotted me at all.
It was also fortunate that he'd spent time watching some of the obstacles, and could give advice. When it came to the cargo net, (the Australian back crawl), I listened the first time he said, "it's about the feet, you got to push with your legs, get your feet in the net and push, don't try to pull yourself up." The problem was that I was struggling with getting my feet ON to the net, so the more he repeated himself, the more frustrated I got until I yelled "STOP. TALKING! STOP." And, I love photos and wanted proof that we'd done this thing, so when he'd make us stop and pose, or smile, I obliged. Until he wanted a do-over. "Dad! This is a race, you know! I have to keep going!"
His advice for the slip and slide was the best, though. He'd watched enough people wipe out to know that if you tried to slow down or stop yourself, at that momentum, you'd tumble or get injured. There were a lot of pile ups. I watched as Mary hit some sand instead of mud and stopped dead in her tracks. I watched Robyn go flying and then hit the ground and roll. (You can hear the thud and Mary's shrieks of laughter on the video). So, I didn't try to stop. I stayed flat and kept going. And going. And going.
I am still finding sand and mud in places I didn't know existed.
For your amusement, I give you the evidence:
1) Finish the race. Cross the finish line.
2) Don't get injured. "Stiff and Sore on Sunday is okay; unable to work Monday is not."
3) At least TRY every obstacle. There were a few that I did half-way, by cheating a little, but every one of them was attempted. Even if the somersault was a rather weak attempt.
I think, perhaps, the best compliment my dad could have made was when he looked around, after calling my name and snapping my photo, and said incredulously, "THIS IS HARD!" From the man who doesn't give compliments readily, and who scoffed at my Megathon challenge ("I should do it with you; looks easy"), admitting that it was hard and I was doing it was high praise indeed.
I hadn't been feeling very BadAss up until then. I wasn't racing it. I was kind of playing it. But it WAS hard. It WAS a long race. It WAS significant that we finished.
We didn't just do it. We did it together. We crossed that finish line holding hands, as a team. It was a team made up of the former fat girl, a self-proclaimed diva whose husband couldn't stop laughing at the fact that she'd be getting dirty, and a brain surgery survivor. We all had something to prove, in our own way, and I think we all did.
And then we popped some champagne in celebration and said, "So. We're registering again for the next one?"