Last year, I did a Warrior Dash, and it was fun. A 5K with a few fun and dirty obstacles. It was over pretty quickly, enough time to hang out with some friends from High School and have a few beers, and I was happily sore afterwards.
So it didn’t seem like a big deal to sign up for a Spartan Sprint. I signed up last February, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
My girlfriend mentioned it to me a couple of weeks ago; she had started running to prep for it. I wasn’t particularly concerned. I ride my bike all the time and I’m in great shape–really, this is NBD, right?
So, so, wrong.
We left early and arrived at Mohegan Sun about 2 hours before out start time. PLENTY of time to register, pin numbers, check our bag. And better–a clutch parking spot in the garage, attached to the casino–which means access to REAL bathrooms (no port-o-pottie!). We ventured into the casino in search of sunscreen, and benefited from the shade of a dark, air conditioned, oxygen rich environment. Outside the sun was bright and shining hot–temps quickly ramping into the upper 80’s and lower 90’s. We prepped to start, staying cool as long as possible.
The start should have been the first clue. To simply load into the starting area, you had to get over a 4 foot wall. 250 people in our heat hopping over a 4 foot wall in a 10 minute period.
What’s a Burpee?
We started with a chest thumping Arooo! and were off. The first obstacle after the start was a 6 foot wall. Um, yeah. I gave my gf a hoist but then was left alone on the other side without a team member. The penalty for not completing a challenge was 30 burprees, which was the 1st thing I didn’t know about this event. Not to mention, until then I had never DONE a burpee. I asked a impossibly good looking, mostly naked, I just walked off the cover of Men’s Health Magazine dude for a lift over the 6 foot wall. Young man, could you help your mom over this wall? It worked. Half a second later, I was over–no burpees this time.
The next obstacles were pretty easy. Hay bales, over a few 4 foot walls, under some barriers with netting, and through some trenches of muddy water. The heat and sun were worse than the course so far. This was going well. Then we hit the barbed wire. About 50 feet of it. Some of it was electrified. I’ve crawled under barbed wire before but never this low, never this much. The ground was grassy, but that was too gentle, so sharp landscaping stones were sprinkled throughout the course to drag your body across. The sun beat down hard. Sweat poured, grass stuck to our clothes. Pinned numbers were scattered on the ground, ripped off people’s shirts. Now the fun was really beginning.
An elevation change, a woods run, then the sandbag carry. I don’t know how many pounds it was, but we carried it up a steep grade and loose dirt hill, then back down that same hill. Hot, slow, punishing. The climb was slower than you intended your legs to move. Between the weight of the bag and the intense heat, gravity felt twice as heavy. Finally, we dumped the bags at the bottom and pressed on.
More woods, more hiking. We entered the Mohegan Reservation which as a child I would have imagined Native Americans hunting and running through the woods, silent as a deer. Nothing like the slow steady, sometimes clumsy march we were on. Almost everyone was walking now, and eventually we came to the cargo net climb. This was about 12 or 15 feet high, I’m not good with distances. The net was only so big and with so many people on it, it bounced and stretched in every direction, making climbing and coming over the top extra challenging. Several people who had made it over pulled a turn at the bottom, pulling it taut by sitting on the ground, bracing the net with arms and legs to keep the tension on and assist other climbers get over with out getting literally bounced off. When I got over, I took a turn at the bottom, while a guy who weighed in at approximately 240 lbs. nearly came crashing down on me. He didn’t, thankfully. We advanced to the next challenge.
How long is this race?
What was the next challenge? I’m not even sure. There was a spear throw, and inverted wall climb, a rope climb over 4 feet of freezing cold water, more walls, more barriers to scootch under and over and through. I failed the spear throw (had to make it stick in a hay target), which meant 30 burpees, and I failed the rope climb over the cold water, which was another 30 burpees. The heat was insane. I was about 20 burpees in after the rope climb when I felt a shrill pain from the back of both my thighs simultaneously. I froze mid-burpee and crawled into an upright pose. I had really pulled something–two somethings, equally, and I didn’t feel bad about NOT doing the additional 10 burpees. I took a break and strolled to the next obstacle, which was lifting a 60 lb. round cannonball off the ground, carry it across to another station, drop it, do 5 burpees, then pick it up and carry it back. Asinine. There was a real back up at this challenge for the women, because many women struggled lifting the 60 round pounds. We were allowed to help each other on this, it was really the only way to keep things moving. I was happy I was able to left it on my own, but passed the round cement ball to another woman waiting on the other side when I was finishing the challenge.
We were now 4 miles into the race, and I thought it all along it was a 5K. We went back into the woods and up a steep rocky path, a rock garden, more switch backs. 90% of the people were walking. We could see the casino now. We flipped a few humongous tires, then climbed a few stories up a wooden ladder, across a massive platform that bridged a street, and back down. This was the last bunch of challenges and all at the finale. The herculean hoist, the traverse wall, the rope walk up a slanted wall, and finally–the fire jump. We were done! Medals and bananas and a free t-shirt awaited us.
We didn’t stay for the free beer–my coupon was ripped off my bib a left to be found somewhere on the course. We had left the house at 6:45AM and didn’t get home until 5:30PM. I was out cold by 8PM. Two days later and I’m still moving like a geriatric. I won’t underestimate a Spartan Sprint again.
The first races of the 2014 NECX season have been posted to Bikereg. Like a freak, I’ve been obsessively checking the site a few times a week. Finally a few days ago, The first races of the season were posted: Monson and Blunt Park.
A lot of people feel August is too early for CX. I’m not such a purist. With my schedule–I am quite happy for an opportunity for the season to start early.
August 23, 2014 CompEdge Cyclocross Race in
Monson, MA pretty tough–eating tires and spitting them out. Last year it was a hot, dry dust bowl. I felt like there was a film of dirt in my mouth by the third lap. Very technical race, very fun. still being built. Complaints abut last year’s course has prompted organizers to move the venue to Forest Park in Springfield. It’s still supposed to be a rough and tumble course, just not as tire – eating as Monson.
August 24, 2014 Blunt Park Cyclocross Race in Springfield, MA I didn’t do this race last year. I hear it’s fast, fast, fast–a course that doesn’t really favor me. I’ll take the technical stuff over the flat and fast any day. I doubt I’ll do this one.
September 6, 2014 Big Elm Brewing Cyclocross Challenge in Great Barrington, MA This race had the great misfortunate of being scheduled last year during the same weekend as the Gloucester Gran Prix. The turnout was less than 100 racers. This year it’s been moved up so the turnout should be much improved.
September 7, 2014 Quad CX in Maynard, MA This isn’t posted yet but I’m 99% sure this is the date. This race was SO FUN last year. Fast spots, twisty, turny, technical, and loads of fun. Turnouts are strong being in Metrowest of Boston. I’d really like to do this one again.
September 13, 2014 Aetna Silk City Cyclocross in Manchester, CT The first race I ever did! In 2012 it was pretty technical. In 2013, it was a freaking mountain bike course with all the gnar it had. Not for the faint of heart! But a great race. Unfortunately I don’t think my schedule will allow me to race it, but I might drive down and watch Heather if she signs up.
The rest isn’t scheduled yet, but we already know Gloucester is happening the last weekend of September (27-28), Followed by Providence CX Festival my birthday weekend October 4-5. Northampton CSIcx will likely fall on it’s regular weekend too, November 1-2.
With cyclocross season starting up at the end of August, that means by mid July I’ll be switching to the Kona almost exclusively. I still need to invest in some file treads, and then there’s a the singlespeed cx bike–which still needs parts and to be built.
It’ll be a busy summer….
After the start….
I stole these from the organizer’s Facebook Page–hope he doesn’t mind–it was a great race! I’m #3677 in the black BIKE CAFE kit.
The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.
Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.
The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.
Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.” Yeah. It was that unpleasant.
But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.
THAT NEVER HAPPENS.
And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.
On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.
As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race. Fan-girl moment of the day. She was very gracious and friendly. It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.
All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time. I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.
PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race. My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191. Discuss.
Tonight I learned a friend from high school passed away. We we not close, but she was on Facebook, I was on Facebook, and she actively shared her life with that community.
This sad event has given me some pause, as I read the outpouring of kind words of remembrance on her page. She always seemed overwhelmingly positive, openly expressing her joy with her fiancée, her small dog, and they life they had carved out together. I had gathered from her posts that she was dealing with a long term illness as she mentioned several times through the years about going to Mass General for procedures or treatments. She frequently dealt with migraines and fatigue as well. Beyond that, I do not know what she was fighting, but today she passed away in her sleep.
We all make plans and have dreams, and by this point in life we realize that the plans we once had might not work out the way we hoped. Some off us get distracted, are led astray, get wrapped up in careers and marriages that don’t always go the way we wanted. Some of us think that if we had just a little more money we’d be happier, or if we had a different job, or more time, we’d do those things we always wanted to. We’d see our family more. We’d reach out to our own communities. We’d give back more. We’d serve these people in our lives they way we want to, if we had the time.
I feel this way constantly, and this death has snapped these feelings into the front of my mind to deal with. They have been lingering in the background, growing larger as I advance into my forties, but the death of a peer really pushes them forward for me. I feel like a wait a lot. I don’t like waiting. I feel confined by my situation often. That’s a shitty way to feel about a relatively awesome life.
One thing I feel I’ve gotten right, with regard to living this life, is cycling. Pursuing this passion has made me a happier person. It’s been a companion through hard times, and happy times. Cycling helps me, heals me, makes me stronger, and invigorates my spirit. I think I’m proud to be a cyclist because I wasn’t always one. I decided to be one.
But even more important than the bike, I have an AMAZING son who I’m immeasurably grateful for. He is a sweet, generous, bright kid and I’m so very proud of him. I have a modest home in a fine neighborhood in a decent town. I have a job. I have a cat, and although he wakes me up to be feed and let out at 4am every day, I love him too. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t constantly, and I mean constantly, whirl my brain around the things that I want to change but don’t feel I can. The passing of this classmate really illustrates that life needs to be lived. Things don’t matter, people do. People and experiences, kindness, learning, and love. Love matters most of all.
If you follow this blog at all, you’ve probably heard me talk about the chronic problem I have with post-ride migraines and general sickness. The more intense the ride, the worse it is. This experience seems inconsistent, but I’m sure it isn’t. I’ve tinkered with hydration, pre and post….and that seems to help, but isn’t bulletproof.
Then I came across this article about how post workout nutrition on the bike is different for woman compared to men. The article leads with the popular notion of chocolate milk as a “perfect” recovery drink (an idea I was totally on board with) as being “not enough” for women.
Disappointing, because I freaking love chocolate milk.
But this was good information. The biggest take away I got was this tidbit:
“Women have a much smaller window than men—30 minutes versus 2-plus hours—in which to optimize recovery through nutrition.”
This week I’m on a stay-cation from work and riding a ton. The perfect time to tweak my pre, during, and post fueling habits. Here’s the rundown:
Friday Rode 3 x (partial commute to and from work and then MTB in evening) Headache by 9PM
Saturday Rode 21.6 miles hard in heavy headwinds. Headache by 7PM
Sunday day off
Monday Mountain biked HARD in extreme terrain for 6.7 miles or 1.5 hrs. Headache and muscle fatigue by 8PM
At this point, I made some changes. Water bottle filled with 70% Gatorade, 30% water. Sip every 20 minutes. Eat every hour while biking. Eat immediately after ride is done. Things changed for the better after that.
Tuesday Rode 36 miles on the road and then did a 2nd ride– 5 miles mountain biking on moderately difficult trails. NO HEADACHE, NO ILL EFFECTS
Wednesday Rode same 5 miles mountain biking on moderately difficult trails. Went home, had lunch. Rode an easy 15 miles after lunch on the road. NO HEADACHE, NO ILL EFFECTS.
Eating and the timing of eating, combined with some beverage that assists in keeping my sodium and electrolytes in balance seem key. The timing is just as important as the ingredients. I’ve visualized it as keeping this balanced nutrition in the pipeline, preloaded, and post-loaded.
Today I’m taking a rest and recovery day. I’ve done 67 miles this week and my legs, hips, and back are hurting. The mountain biking (on my new Giant) has been super intense and awesome. My legs are literally twitching from the effort over the last week. Tomorrow I plan on mountain biking again, in the rain no less. I need to check out a race course about 25 miles from here in the middle of nowhere. I’m going alone and a little worried about it, and wanted fresh legs for the adventure.