15 Miles of Hell, Fire (& Ice) Included

This past December, Ryan and I took on the Spartan Beast for a second time. For those not familiar, it’s easily the toughest obstacle course race available in today’s over-saturated market of OCRs. Advertised as 12+ miles, you might think to yourself, “Well, at least it’s not a complete half-marathon.” Wrong.

This particular Spartan was longer than normal. With freezing temperatures & the very likely chance of participants coming down with pneumonia, Spartan race officials opted to nix the 130+ yard lake swim. In its place, was a trek around the lake perimeter – still in the freezing water, mind you – and extra miles on the course. (How nice of them.) It was roughly 15 miles of hell. Fire (& ice) included.

Spoiler! We survived.

Spoiler! We survived.

Spartan Beast Breakdown.

In a typical Spartan Beast you encounter sandbag carries, concrete block pulls, multiple 8-10 foot wall climbs & what they like to call “over, under, throughs” (more walls). You also have the pleasure of at least 2 rope climbs, several hundred feet of barbed wire crawls, monkey bars, a rope traverse, a wall traverse, concrete hauls & hoists, a spear throw (which, after 4 Spartans I’ve yet to conquer), a 100+ yard swim, tire flips, wooden post traverse (usually 2 versions of this baby), a whole lot of mud and even more running. Oh & let’s not forget carrying those 5 gallon buckets of pea gravel. The worst. And, as if once isn’t enough, sometimes they make you do it twice.

To top it off, there’s no opting out of a Spartan obstacle. Go around? Nope. How about doing 30 burpees instead. Oh, and this is if you fail too. It’s not like they say, “Oh, good try. You can be on your merry way now.” Negative. In Spartan, failure is not an option. (Which, I actually kind of like.) For those unfamiliar with burpees, watch this. Feel free to skip to the 2 minute mark.

So yea, that’s the gist of a Spartan Beast. Sounds rough, right? Rest assured, it’s worse….& I’m probably forgetting something.

Sandbag carry.

Sandbag carry.

Let There Be…..Snow (?!)

Our day started out at the hotel where we scarfed down our carb-loaded breakfast and bundled up as much as humanly possible. Well, as much as was logical considering the forthcoming mud and miles.

With our trusty Camelbak’s in tow and our bodies full of anticipation, we walked out of the hotel. Instant regret came over me. What did we get ourselves into?! It was about 25 degrees. Walking to the car, I noticed snow on the ground. SNOW. And we were supposed to happily run through miles of mud and water in this? I’ve done this before. The fire doesn’t usually come ’til the end. And I was already freezing. It was going to be a long day.

Snow on the ground outside our hotel. (Not a good sign.)

Snow on the ground outside our hotel. (Not a good sign.)

The Hills of Death & that Stupid Bucket Carry.

In our usual way, Ryan & I loaded ourselves up with all the appropriate pre-race supplements and charged headfirst into the smoke along with hundreds of other crazies willing to put themselves through hell. Four miles in, I was hurting. Bad. You see, the first few miles was pure running – up and down, up and down, up and down.

Holy. Hell.

My legs were on fire and my lungs were lacking serious oxygen. I began to wonder how I was ever going to finish. But we trudged along and I managed to get past the hills of death. Shortly after was the sandbag carry, followed immediately by the first pea gravel haul. Both back up and down the hills of death. (Of course.) I thought I might die. This was also about the point I realized my Garmin wasn’t tracking my progress. Apparently, I had managed to turn it off during an obstacle. I was so upset. I was going to die with zero proof of what had killed me.

Fortunately for me, Ryan hadn’t updated his insurance policy on me yet so he wasn’t willing to let me die that day. He pushed me along and told me all the things a good husband should. “You got this. Let’s just get to that next flat spot and we’ll rest.” We finally managed to finish that obstacle & for the first time in my life, I was thrilled to be running.

Ryan carrying his 5 gallon bucket of pea gravel.

Ryan carrying his 5 gallon bucket of pea gravel.

Not a Ninja. Almost a Pity Party.

We ran along the course. The first wooden post traverse I failed. This version was tree stumps of varying heights, unequal distances apart & placed somewhat lop-sided into the ground. I’ve come to the conclusion that only ninjas are able to do that obstacle. (For real.) Yay burpees! (Said no one ever.)

We went over, under and through a bunch of walls. Climbed a rope. Hoisted the largest block of concrete ever. Did some burpees. Ran some more. Went over more walls. Went under what felt like a million miles of barbed wire. The day was wearing on forever it seemed. My hips were killing me from all the running and my bones felt like they were grinding together. I was tired and began to feel defeated. And with that, came self pity. I was disappointed in myself that I had let something physical get the best of me mentally. You know that saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”? Well, that’s me. Usually. I’ve never had a problem with mental grit. Until then.

Just when I was genuinely considering sitting down & having a good cry, Ryan turned to me & pointed out a group of girls who had taken off in the heat before us. We had caught up with them! Instantly, I felt a sense of renewal come over me. I wasn’t done just yet.

We charged on.

My favorite obstacle, rope climbs!

My favorite obstacle, rope climbs!

Antarctica in Texas? Not Cool.

Each time I began to feel myself struggling, we would come to an obstacle I had conquered at a previous Spartan Race. We’d knock them out & keep moving, each time renewing my sense of badass-ness. And then came the water.

What. The. Hell.

Remember the snow? Yea, it was now keeping the lake water nice & freezing cold. Time to trek through it for a good 300 yards? No thanks. Wait, burpees? Ok, the Antarctic water trek doesn’t sound so bad…. Needles. That’s what it felt like. Piercing my feet with every step. You would think they would go numb at some point. Nope. I wasn’t that lucky. Regardless, we finally managed to get around the damn lake & back to running. Remember what I said earlier about never being so thrilled to be running? I lied. It was definitely after the ice bath.

“Just keep running. Just keep running.” This was my new favorite song.

Let there be Fire.

Usually towards the end of a Spartan, there’s another rope climb as well as a slanted wall climb. After miles of running & obstacles, tackling either of these is hard enough. But, Spartan Race organizers have a sick sense of humor. They like to make you go throw more mud and water before trying to climb either. Can you say slippery? But, if you can get your technique just right, you’ll survive.

Then came the fun part. FIRE! I had never been so happy to see fire in all my life. Fire! Fire! Fire! I was doing the happy dance. If my entire body would have caught on fire jumping over the flames, I can guarantee you, I would not have cared. We were done. We had survived. Again.

Conquering the Spartan fire together. (This was actually from the 2012 Beast.)

Conquering the Spartan fire together. (This was actually from the 2012 Beast.)

At this point you’re probably asking yourselves, “Why? Why would normal people put themselves through all that?” Good question. And, I have a good answer.

We’re not normal. AROO!

10 Things All CrossFitters Should Know

When it comes to forging elite fitness, I don’t quite measure up. (Yet.) But, I’ve been attending our local box religiously for about a year and a half. During that time, I’ve overcome plenty of obstacles and put in a lot of hours to achieve the level of fitness I currently possess.

Along the way, I’ve met all walks of life – both inside and outside the box. Those for and against CrossFit. My favorite haters are the ones who say, “Oh don’t do that CrossFit stuff. You’ll hurt yourself.” Do you have any idea how often I hurt myself simply walking through my house? No lie. I’ll be on a mom mission, likely putting away clean clothes & toys and then I’m like, “Oh hey wall. Where did you come from?!” Seriously.

The thing is, CrossFit can be for everyone. But in truth, it’s not for everyone. Sure, it’s scale-able. I’ve seen all ages, weights, heights and everything in between (pregos included) do CrossFit. I highly encourage any one who’s never done it to at least give it a try before casting their judgement. That being said, there are a few things you need to be prepared for. And, for all you adventurous people who are new to the CrossFit trenches, here are 10 Things All CrossFitters Should Know.

1) CrossFit is tough. You’re tougher.

Without a doubt, CrossFit is the hardest work out regimen I’ve ever done. It will break you down physically and mentally if you let it. There WILL be times when your mind says no more and somehow your body manages to go through the motions and finish the WOD. On the other hand, there will also be times your body says, I’ve had enough & your mind says, “I didn’t come all this way for nothing. We’re finishing this thing.” You will have good days, bad days and even some great days when you manage to hit that personal record you’ve been working for. That being said, learn to love every minute of it. Know that your bad days are getting you one step closer to your good days. And those, to your great days.

2) Slow & steady wins the race. 

Sure, there’s a clock. And, you can bet your last dollar we’re pushing through every rep with hopes of setting a new PR and being faster than our last FRAN time. We’re counting reps and knocking out thrusters or pull-ups as fast as we can. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that slow and steady wins the race. And I’m not talking tortoise & the hare slow guys (remember the clock?). I’m talking don’t forget to breathe because otherwise you might pass out slow. We’ve all been there. Struggling to get through that last set of 9 thrusters that seemed so easy 5 minutes ago before the WOD started and we were just practicing. There’s something about that clock that makes our brains stop working. For some reason, we tend to forget the important things – like breathing & technique. For me, it’s wall ball shots. In my mind, they’re the devil. But, like one of my coaches said, you have no control over how long it takes that ball to fall back down to you. So breathe damn it. Relax. Revel in that split second of air you will be longing for in .2 seconds. Get your mind right and remember your technique. And do it again, consistently, every time you pick up a wall ball, bar bell or kettle bell.

3) You make progress. 

Period. The cool thing about CrossFit is that one day you may suck at something & the next, the heavens open up, angels sing & BAM! you’re knocking out toes to bar like a boss…..or three at a time. Bottom line: go into with the mindset that while yes, it is hard, every time you step in the box you are making progress. Some days that progress is simply managing to finish the WOD. Some days it’s RX’ing the WOD or just a portion of it. Success and progress is different for everyone. Learn to be okay with that. Runners are good at running. Weight lifters are good at lifting weights. CrossFitters are good at both – and they all take practice. Novel, right? (Thanks to my coach for this piece of genius.)

Here's me finally doing toes to bar in a competition.

Here’s me finally doing toes to bar in a competition.

4) CrossFitters need accountability.

You’ve seen the daily Facebook check-ins. You’re probably guilty of them yourself. The “I’m at the box! Look at how awesome I am.” posts. (And let’s not forget those CrossFit terms we love to use that no one outside of the box can ever hope to understand.) Oh yes, we know what people think of us. And you know what? That’s okay. You see, those posts are just an accountability measuring tool. It’s our moment to say, “Hey, I managed to make it to the box today,” & give a little shout-out to our fellow CrossFitters who did the same. Notice I didn’t say RX’d or any other badass term. You could have managed to show up with your shorts on inside out and your shirt on backwards at 5am. (True story.) But hey, you were there and you did work. You’re one step closer to that progress we’ve been talking about. The flip side to our social check-ins is that others will totally call us out for not making it to the box. (But we secretly love this.) A) They’re keeping us accountable. B) They must have missed our smiling face, right? And finally, as CrossFitters, we obsess about reps, weights, time and every other measuring tool associated with CrossFit. If we happen to put it on Facebook, we might just remember what our time was on a particular WOD because we forgot to write it in our books. (It may not seem like it to “normal” people, but there is a method to our madness.)

5) CrossFit doesn’t cause injuries. People do. 

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing that CrossFit is bad for you and causes injuries. CrossFit is still a relatively new sport. It’s easy for people to raise flags when it comes to new things. And even easier for them to place blame on a particular sport instead of the athletes themselves. And truthfully, I could write an entire rant about people and their lack of accountability in today’s society. Instead, I’ll just say this: It’s your body. Take care of it. Let’s face it, no one is going to look out for you the way you can look out for you. If your body hurts, listen. If something doesn’t feel right, talk to a coach. There are movement standards for a reason. Learn them. Live them. Love them. Ultimately, it’s up to you to do the movements safely and correctly. With the abundance of CrossFit resources available online or from a coach at a local box, there’s really no excuse for you to be doing things wrong. That being said, rest assured that the only way you’re going to eventually get it right is practice. Don’t expect that because someone showed you the right way, you’re mind and body just accept that input and produce the right output. Be willing to put in the work to get it right – every time you step into the box.

6) It’s addictive. 

Okay, maybe someone did warn me of this. I just didn’t listen. I mean, how can punishment be addictive? But ask any of us, and we’ll all tell you the same. Nothing quite compares to that feeling when you finally hit that PR you’ve been working so hard for – be it double unders, RX’ing a named WOD or conquering your snatch. It’s what keeps us going back for more.

My first time doing clean and jerk in a competition.

My first time doing clean and jerk in a competition.

7) Technique is everything.

This ties into the whole CrossFit not causing injuries thing. When your coach is going over technique, listen. A good coach will break it down for you step by step. If you’re still not getting what you need, look online or ask around. It’s a close community. I can guarantee you’re going to find that one coach who’s passionate about you learning it right because he or she cares about your safety and success. The safety aspect aside, technique exists to make your life easier. Ask anyone that has ever done a clean incorrectly and then turned around and done it correctly. The weight feels lighter, right? There’s a reason! When it comes to technique, don’t forget that little jewel called breathing. Simple though it may be, this is a big one for me personally. With each movement, learn the proper time to breathe. For example, when doing squats, we’re taught to exhale on the way up. When it comes to technique, the bottom line is that small things are a big deal.

8) CrossFit is an evil mix of punishment and reward. 

You just killed the last three WODs and have proven yourself worthy of the top 5 teams? Good for you! As a reward, here’s more punishment. Check out this hellacious 4th finals WOD you have to do now. (Disclaimer: I haven’t made it to the top 5 teams of a competition – yet.) The thing is, CrossFitters get that punishment = reward. We don’t bust our asses at the box everyday with hopes of “maybe” making it onto the podium. We do it because we know that the only way to get to that reward is through punishment. Lots and lots of punishment.

I'm still working on conquering the peg wall, but I'm getting there.

I’m still working on conquering the peg wall, but I’m getting there.

9) CrossFitters aren’t vain. We’re excited. 

What may sound like bragging to someone else, is just excitement to us. Let’s face it, we never think we can do as much as we really can. So when we do, hell yes we are going to celebrate! We’ve been working for months on pull-ups or double unders and one day, we can magically do them? You can bet we’re going to shout it from the rooftops. Or when you lift 2-3 times your body weight because you’re a beast? Yep, if you don’t tell someone first, you can bet we’re going to do it for you. Because we’re proud of you dang it.

10) We’re family. 

I can’t think of any other sport where athletes are genuinely rooting for their competition to hit their goal. That max deadlift you’re working on pulling? We’re here with you every step of the way, cheering you on & ready to congratulate you when you lift it – even if it means you knocked us down a rank in the competition. Can you imagine if opposing football teams applauded when the other team caught the winning touchdown? Blasphemy! But that’s how the CrossFit family works. You’re struggling? We’re here and you got this.