Race: Warrior Dash (3-mi trail)
City: Mountain City, GA Date: 5/14/2011
Distance: 3.02 mi
Weather: overcast, humid, warm at start, but cooler at end
Course: Hilly, muddy trail run with obstacles!
Summary: My biggest fear throughout the entire event was falling… that happened, but not as many times – or as badly – as I thought it might. I’m sore as hell, but I’m proud of myself… Oh, and I’ve developed a crush on trail runs.
This all started about six months ago when a co-worker (not one of my usual run buddies) and I got to talking in the break room. It is widely known in my office that I’m a runner – people often joke about my running 100 miles a week (so far, I still have never had a 100 mile month, let alone a week) or how many marathons I’ve done (zero – I’ve done 3 half marathons, 1-10 miler, 4-10ks, 1-8k, 2-4 milers and 15-5ks), followed either by a shaking head and “I don’t know how you do it” or “I’d only run if something was chasin me” (hence the title of this blog). So, it is refreshing to run into someone in the break room that seems genuinely interested in (and realistic about) my achievements. There are a handful that either seek advice from me about running or seem to be interested in and ask about my goals and how I’m doing to reach them – this co-worker is one of those. He’s currently going through the P90-x program and, at some point, did the Insanity program and we’d trade notes about how things were going with each of our tasks. One day, he mentioned The Warrior Dash and my eyes got wide and I said “oh, me too! I’ve been wanting to do that for a while!” so… he invited me to a group on Facebook where a set of people were doing all kinds of activities ranging from p90x to Bootcamp to running. We decided to do the Warrior Dash together, a group endeavor, for support and friendship, so, as a group, we all signed up (about 10 of us, I think).
As the months pass and, as my co-worker and I saw each other in the break room or in the hallway, we’d stop to chat about the upcoming Warrior Dash – we were both really excited about it and looking forward to it. We’d talk about our training a bit and move on to the next meeting. Occasionally, we’d hear the story of one of our teammates who, for one reason or another, couldn’t make it to the race. And another one down… and another one down… until it was just the two of us. No matter, we were still going to do it. We were still looking forward to it! He was bringing his family and making a mini-vacation out of it. Me, I was just there for the race.
He goes hiking a lot and he and his brother had stayed at a place called the Carolina Motel in a small town in south western North Carolina called Franklin, just north of the GA border. The Warrior Dash was held in a small town on the GA side of the NC/GA border called Mountain City, and this place was only about 20 miles from Mountain City. It was clean and looked well maintained, but, judging from the interior and the little things in the room, it seemed like time just stopped at this one place around 1985. They even had an actual KEY for the door (which doesn’t auto lock, I found out) instead of a key “card” entry into the room. Behind the building was a slab patio with a few scatterings of resin furniture, a bird bath, and some cabins. In the front of the property, which was located directly on Highway 441, there was a pool (in the front of the property, next to the highway, which I thought was a little weird) and a kids playground (which was also in the front, next to the highway, also a little weird) and more sets of resin patio furniture – two chairs and a small table for each room – lined the covered front collective porch of the rooms.
Once they arrived and were settled, my co-worker called me and invited me over for a beer. I don’t usually drink, but I thought this was an occasion to have “a beer” (I only drank about 2/3 of it). My co-worker, his wife and I sat out on the porch, sipping our beers, watching the kids play, talking about kids (their youngest is the same age as my oldest), running, work, and Wisconsin (they’re from WI, as was my grandmother). At about 9 PM, I went back to my room expecting a call from my kids (I had missed it, unfortunately) and tried to settle down to go to sleep. Although I was tired, I had a hard time falling asleep, probably because I was anxious about the next morning. I finally got to sleep around 11.
My son loves to monkey around with my iPhone, which I use as my alarm clock. His favorite thing, next to the Kid Paint app, is to mess with the clocks. I did check that the time was set correctly the night before, but I didn’t check the sound and, at 5:45, I was awoken to the sound of a doorbell. It must have been a great, deep sleep because I don’t remember waking up during the night and, at the sound of the doorbell, actually thought I was at home. Once I opened my eyes and woke up enough to realize I wasn’t at home, I got out of bed and hit snooze… I thought it too early to get out of bed, especially without any coffee for a couple of hours (no in-room makers: grrrr). After a few more snoozes, I got up around 6 and got dressed. I ate my almond butter bread, drank some water and then spent the remaining time until 7:30 stretching. I was annoyed that I didn’t have coffee in the room and thought I’d go check the lobby of the hotel to see if they had some earlier than 7:30. They did, but it was horrible and the cups were tiny (like 4 oz tiny). I was desperate for coffee so I took two tiny cups and filled them to the brim and headed to the car. As I was putting my things into the car, I ran into my co-worker and joked about the terrible coffee… Luckily, my co-worker and his wife brought their own coffee maker and offered me some Starbucks – that made my morning!
We each piled into our cars and drove the site – about 20 miles away – and parked. The website instructed us to park in a lot by the Chick-Fil-A a few miles past the site, pay $10 to park, and then ride a bus to (and from) the site – a prospect that didn’t bother us much about riding to the site, but the thought of the ride back from the site wasn’t so exciting (even more so now that I know what I looked and smelled like). Luckily, there were a couple of spots right across the street from the site instead of down the road as we thought, and at the same price to park, so we parked there and walked to the site. As we walked to the site, we were watching the first wave as they started and paused just a minute to watch. They were all fresh and excited – a few costumes, but not as many as we expected (most of the costumes were in the later waves). We were able to tear ourselves away from watching the first wave to get our packets, finish our waters and eat our power bars, but we felt compelled to watched the first wave as they finished – assessing the obstacles, making notes of our own strategy, based on what we thought were mistakes being made by some of the folks in this wave.
Red Frog Events had this thing set up well – The route was an out and back loop and there was a hub-like centralized area with a packet pickup, the band, the food, the merchandise, etc, in the middle of the loop. On the border were tents and gates with walls of port-a-johns between. To the right of the band, there is a rolling video of the race so you can see parts of it that are not easily visible from the spectators’ vantage point. They had clearly marked spectator areas so they could see the muddiest of the obstacles, but not all the more dangerous or less exciting ones (more on those in a minute) – mostly at the start and finish of the route. We took full advantage of going around to the rest of the spectator areas, adding to our notes and getting more and more excited about our turn coming up. We ran into some former neighbors of my co-worker and his wife who were also doing the same wave we were – we chatted a bit more about our excitement and wished each other luck.
Finally, it was our turn… We were wished luck, had a our ‘before’ photo snapped in our Warrior hats and discussed where we wanted to line up in the corral. I suggested we line up “kinda toward the front, but not on the front” and he agreed – we weren’t going to be the 20-minute finishers, but we wanted to do it in under 30, if possible, and didn’t want to get behind the people who were doing this for beer instead of for fitness. The emcee got the crowd warmed up, took photos of the costumes and then lit the fire. It was time to go. The first part of the trail – about 1/3 of a mile or so – was paved, but very narrow – so there wasn’t much room to pass people, so we ran to the left and passed as many as we could. The paved path eventually gave way to a slightly wider gravel path. I hate running on gravel paths, especially when the rocks are huge – and they were huge today – because I have a tendency to trip and fall on them a lot. Luckily, I was able to keep my balance and made it through to the first obstacle: the “swamp”. Now, according to the website, they’ll never have a pond deeper than 4 feet. Not true here. I’m 5’7″, so 4′ should come up to my chest or so – at any rate, I should have been able to always feel ground beneath my feet. I did not at points so I ended up having to swim… and I’m not a strong swimmer (yet). This is where my co-worker and I got separated… He’s tall (over 6′) and a better swimmer than me so he got ahead of me as I was finishing up the swamp.
I got out of the swamp and felt twice as heavy because I was wet, but I was still able to run to the next obstacle, which was only feet away: the cars. There were old tires in a pattern leading up to and between 3 rows of junkyard cars. The idea is you had to hop into the tires and climb over the cars. Tricky enough when you’re dry, scary as hell when you’re soaked and the ground under the tires is already muddy from the 3 waves before yours. I made it through the first set of tires and, because of the crowd, ended up going through the first car – which was easy. The next two rows of cars, however, did not have a car you could easily go through, so I had to climb over them. It was easier than I thought it was going to be, and, although I slipped a few times, I managed to find some footing to keep going to my next obstacle, which I’ll call the short walls. These were wood walls that were actually about 4 feet tall (this is how I know how deep the water should have been). I have long ago accepted a few things about my body – the main thing is: my height is disproportionately in my legs, as is my weight, as is my strength. I’m not that heavy, but I’m not accustomed to holding my own weight in my arms. A lot of people at the short wall were pulling themselves up by their arms and then swinging their legs over the wall. I couldn’t do that. I tried, and I failed at it several times (there were about 5 of these walls) before I gave up and just got over them the only way I could – with my legs. While I don’t claim to be all that flexible, I have started adding yoga into my routines, mainly to work on stretching and to avoid injury. I’m so glad I did because that was the only way I got over those shorter walls – I was able to kick my left leg (stronger of the 2) up to the top of the wall and pull my body over it using the strength of that leg. I couldn’t do that with my right leg or my arms. I now have scratches all over my left leg from doing it that way, but I got over them and ran head down until I got to the next obstacle: the big wall.
It looked so much smaller in the pictures on the website, and you can’t see it (at least not from what I could tell) from the spectator area. On the website, I thought this wall would be maybe 10 feet… it was about 20. I was beyond terrified. Firstly because of a little known fact about me: I’m terrified of heights. Secondly: I am already scared as hell that I’m going to fall and wipe out or break something – this could be life taking if I wasn’t careful. I stopped running as I approached it because I was trying so hard to muster the courage to actually do it. I could notice my pulse racing and that I was kind of hyperventilating – I was having a panic attack! I chose the longest of the lines and quickly looked around to see if there was a way out – I could just run around this thing. I’d be disqualified from winning an award, but I figured I wasn’t going to win one anyway because I’m not fast enough – no big deal, right? no. No. NO! I can’t wimp out on this. I signed up for the challenge, and, if I quit, I’d feel about this event the way I felt about the Tarheel 10-miler last year: like a quitter who had to do it again to prove I could. I changed lines to another long line to psych myself into it and watch the other girls doing it – I had to do it like they did – I couldn’t watch the men – they did it differently. I picked out this one girl who looked to be built like me and I got into her line – 3rd change. The wall had a series of slats on it with knotted ropes going to the top. She scaled the wall using the slats as though they were stairs and the rope as support. I decided that’s what I would do. She got to the top and disappeared behind the wall, so I grabbed onto the rope and looked up at the top of the wall. My God, it seemed even bigger from right here. I could feel myself freaking out, so I didn’t give myself a chance to freak out again – I just went. Honest to God, I don’t remember actually going up it… just that I made it to the top, just like the girl before me, using my legs as my strength and my arms as stability. I got to the top, kicked my left leg over it and straddled the wall and sat there a second to catch up with what I had just done. I fully expected ropes on the other side that would allow me to rappel down – my hands would heal, but I’d be alive and in one piece. I discovered, however, there were only the same slats as the other side and no ropes. Damn. I felt myself starting to panic – and maybe even starting to cry a little as I sat, straddled – one leg on either side – of this wall, terrified out of my ever loving mind… “how the (efff) am I going to get down now” I thought… Then something came over me – not sure what – but I heard myself saying “why are you crying? there’s no crying in the Warrior Dash!” (thank you Hollywood for that line). I grabbed on to the top of the wall, slung my other leg over to the back side and made my way down. I jumped off the damn thing 2nd from the last rung and ran as fast as I could away from it – equally proud and freaked out. The realization of this moment didn’t hit me until the drive home several hours later – and I was pretty emotional about it. I think there were a couple more obstacles, but I sincerely don’t remember much about them.
Up to this point, I hadn’t realized my fear of falling, thankfully. I had a few close calls, but hadn’t actually hit the ground yet. At the half-way point, they had a water station and I thought it wise to stop and get some water since I was coming down from a panic attack. I stopped, grabbed a cup and, because I can’t run and drink from a cup, slowed to a jog as I brought the cup to my mouth to drink… then, boom – down I went. ha! splashed all the water in my face – that must have been a hilarious sight! Everyone around me asked me if I was ok (embarrassed, but ok) I got another cup – stopped to drink it this time – and went on my way.
At this point, although I didn’t know it at the time, the hardest part of this race was behind me. I went on to more obstacles, unable to remember the details of them now, other than they seemed easy after that large wall (they weren’t but it was all relative at this point). Then I got to the heart of the part I loved the most about this race: the trail run. To look at me, I don’t really seem like an outdoorsey-trail run kind of a girl. I have long hair I usually wear in a braid or some twisted bun, I like nail polish which I wear constantly, and my favorite piece of clothing is a cute skirts, made only better with a really cute pair of high heeled shoes. Some may even call that prissy. I can’t say I felt of out of my element with trail running, but it is counter to my usual behavior, yet something I’ve always wanted to do. I have done it before, but it has been years since I did any trail running – right after college, and when I lived over there, I did short trails on my way to the paved path of Lake Johnson, but these trails were not more than 1/2 mile at best. So, this was, effectively, my first true trail run. It was really, really hard, but I loved it. The hills exceeded the one I prattled on about in the Tarheel 10-Miler and made the ones I deal with regularly in downtown Raleigh seem pancake flat. The course was muddy, slippery, and full of rocks, sticks, downed logs and all kinds of stuff that I had to jump over or around. It was very narrow, too, so when someone in front of you was walking, you were too, until there was a spot wide enough to pass them. There were a few more of the man-made obstacles in this section, but they were pretty unimpressive, comparatively speaking, to the trail run itself. All I could think about during this part of the race was “I totally have to do this again”. I was paying attention to my gait, to each step I took, because I had to. I did end up falling a couple more times back there, but they were minor falls with a couple of scrapes and bruises that will heal in a couple of days.
As I came out of the woods, I saw the water slide and knew I was getting close to the end of the race. I took one more tumble just before I got on the slide, but with all the strength I had left, I climbed to the top of the slide and went down it fast, which was actually a LOT of fun. I actually said ‘wooooo’ as I slide down it – unsure if it was a matter of habit with the kids or something I actually felt at the moment – maybe a little of both. I heard someone shout my name – which is unusual (both my name as well as someone shouting it) and it was my co-worker and his wife cheering me on 🙂 I then got the barbed wire mud pit – the men were all practically swimming in it, while most of the women (myself included) were gingerly walking through on all fours, careful not to get our hair stuck in the barbs. Getting out of the pit was a bit of a challenge but once out, I went into the next mud pit with floating barrels and logs that I had to climb over. Finally, I had to jump over fire (which was higher than I thought it was going to be) and on to the finish. I collected my meal, tiny cup of water and mini banana and met up with my friends to congratulate him on his time. We took our muddy ‘after’ photos and walked around for about an hour, and then tired and coming down from the endorphin high, decided to leave.
They still haven’t published my time, so I’m not sure officially how I did, but it was about 30 minutes or so. My coworker did it in around 27!! I’m so proud of him!!
In running, we often talk about ‘hitting a wall’ as a negative: “I planned to run 6 miles today, but I hit the wall at 4 and had to stop”. Walls usually aren’t something we can climb over or go around – they are, as in this race, an obstacle. Usually, you have to either go a different direction or bust through the thing. In life, as in running, you have walls all the time – all kinds of fears and challenges. Busting those walls and changing direction is never, ever easy, but often you have no choice. I have long had a fear of heights that I don’t really talk about because I feel silly for it, but that wall taught me to face it. This time, however, I had a choice: I could have walked around it. But I didn’t. I went over it (the equivalent of busting through, perhaps). I can’t say that I’m over that fear of heights now because I’m not, but climbing that wall and getting down safely was more than just accomplishing the task at hand, it was symbolic to me of how to face fears and challenges in my life. From now on, when faced with a challenge or a fear, I’ll always remember that feeling of running away from that wall after getting down safely – and I’m still kind of emotional about it today. I’m sore today. My legs hurt, my scrapes and cuts hurt. My bruises hurt. My muscles hurt. I’m feeling every second of my years today, but I also feel a sense of renewal – like I have a new attitude today.