Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lap 10

"Would you do it again?"
"Because it makes me better.."

My Fabulous Pit Crew and I at the Starting Line
Imagine doing the most intense, grueling and challenging five-mile race you can think of, complete with 21 obstacles designed to test your limits and push every boundary. We must not forget to include the varied desert temperatures, 865' elevation, 2.58 miles in penalties for incomplete obstacles, being in and out of water multiple times, and everyone's favorite, the 35' cliff jump.

Now imagine running that course on a loop for 24 straight hours. 

That, my friends, is World's Toughest Mudder. 

I'm a self proclaimed tough girl. I live boldly and seek out extreme challenges, I choose to face fears and I intentionally poke at risk and view possibilities as open and endless. I've never questioned myself, my ability or my mental toughness. I just do. Unbeknownst to me, however, this race would create a whole new perspective and definition of what's possible for me. 

Course Map and Details
We were warned that the 2017 course was built to be the hardest to date. No matter the difficulty of the course, my goal was 50 miles (10 laps), and I was dead set on accomplishing it. Through all of the community posts leading up to the registration and pit set up day, the excitement, anticipation, nerves and all of the feelings that might come with this crazy race we were about to embark on, I carried a sense of peace. I had two amazing pit crew members by my side, watching out for my best interest, driving me toward that mileage goal, ready to feed me tough love when I needed it and standing by with words of motivation when I didn't. Meeting so many faces for the first time that I'd only known through social media exchanges was fun! These people are family. A support system of like minded individuals, each with their own personal goal or purpose for stepping foot on that course. There is one thing we all have in common, though, we are rooting for each other and there to assist and help through any obstacle that comes our way, together.
Let the Race Begin!
It's race day. Feeling present, but nervous, surrounded by the energy of 1654 other racers, hearing the inspiring final words from Sean Corvelle before our noon start time. Lap one, a sprint lap with no open obstacles. Lap two, obstacles will slowly be rolled out over the next few hours. My lap time was faster than my first! Lap three, headed in for a gear change before sundown, full wetsuit, gloves, headlamp, safety blinker, and dry shoes. Already, blisters had formed underneath 3 of my toe nails. Mistake number one, my shoes were too tight. Dammit, I knew better. Nothing a needle and athletic tape can't fix. That aside, I felt strong through my next few laps. The racers start thinning out as the night goes on, and with only headlamps lighting the way, making small talk with the next racer you see keeps you engaged and moving forward. By lap six, it was midnight and my foot was throbbing. I had to break. Four laps left to meet my goal, doing the math in my head and weighing my options. Breaking now risks exhaustion into the finish, but pushing through risks injury sooner than later. .. Break now.

Mental toughness is when you, your body, the competition, or the environment has the best of you so that you’re physically tapped out and need to determine how to pull more from yourself… in a way that’s mentally aware and engaged. It’s not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that’s engaged and competitive in the environment you’re in, whether that’s competing against the clock or other human beings. It’s easy when you feel good physically. It’s when that physicality leaves you.

Need I Say More?
Lap 7, the 35' cliff jump was open (midnight through the finish at noon), this would be my first jump. Through the entire lap I role played exactly how this was going to go down. I would walk off the edge, just jump, don't even think about it. I mean, no big deal, right? Pumping myself up with motivational talk all the way to the platform. I was feeling good.. until I looked down. Fear of heights or not, it's a doozy. I could hear my pit crew cheering for me on the other side. To the edge then back I would walk, a few times of this before the volunteer turns and says, "You are on Facebook live!". Well, that's all the motivation I needed! With thousands of eyes on me, off the cliff I go!

The final laps proved most challenging. But it was lap 10 that truly defined me; not just in those moments, but it defined who I am in my every day life as a friend, a competitor, a coach, and as a wife. We are faced with challenges every single day, testing our courage and willingness to change or fight for what we desire. So what do you do? Do you quit, or do you fight until the bitter end?

I started lap 10 at 11:00 a.m. on the dot, exactly 2 1/2 hours until the course closed and I knew it would take every moment of it to finish. Mistake number two, I took my wetsuit off. Gravel in areas classified as PG-13 drove me to shed this layer and replace with athletic attire. The sun never shined through the clouds, the wind picked up and the water obstacles grew colder. Most of the athletes were finishing and off the course shortly after noon, luckily there were a few racers on the obstacles requiring teamwork and we were able to pull through together. Team USA  came through at the Pyramid Scheme obstacle, it was refreshing to witness their camaraderie to ensure myself and another racer got up behind them before they went on. The volunteers at each obstacle welcomed me with open arms and warm hugs, as they did many others, THIS meant the world to me. Where I was emotionally and physically in those moments, it was that human connection and human touch, that made everything seem alright.

At Blockness Monster, another team oriented obstacle, I met a man whom I ended up walking with through the rest of the last lap. I can't recall his name, so we'll call him London. We made small talk for a short while. I was shivering cold, hurt to the touch, blisters under my toes and a possible stress fracture on my foot, the exhaustion in my body was becoming very apparent, but I was committed to the finish line. After a while we exchanged no words at all. And even through my grunts and groans he stuck with me side by side until the end. The course was scarce (nearing the 1p hour Sunday). But it was his presence alone, knowing someone was there, that made it better. To you, sir, I thank you.

I had a dramatic finish. That last lap, lap 10, was pivotal, it was a significant flashpoint in my life. What I did next would determine who I am in the moments that matter most. It wasn't about the could have's or should have's, everyone has a plan until they cross the start line. So much is out of your control and something is bound to happen in an endurance races like this. It is what you choose to do and how you react to it that determines your success. If you are on the course at the noon finish time, you have to complete your lap in order to receive your finishers band. The course closes at 1:30 p.m., which also means you must complete your lap by that time in order to receive your finishers band as well. While many athletes had already completed, I was on course pushing to make that last lap and hit 50 miles. My goal.

On the back side of the course, London and I were heading through yet another penalty (all penalties had mileage attached that did not count toward our lap miles) when two more runners came from behind shouting "15 minutes! We only have 15 minutes to finish!". As much as my feet hurt, I started to run. I glanced back to make sure London was following close behind. The cliff jump was closed for elite racers only and I wasn't about to complain. I didn't have it in me to jump in the state I was in. Emotional, holding back tears as I pushed my body beyond known limits, I watched London take the jump and I followed another racer to the bypass obstacle. Feeling a bit confused I hesitated, questioning if we were going the right way, but continued to follow him, rappelling down the mountainside into the water. He kept looking back, telling me to keep going and that we didn't have much time. We turn the corner to find ourselves in the same water where the cliff jumpers land, having to then swim across, climb up a cargo net on the side of the rocks and run to the finish. I could hear the announcer at the cliff yelling 5 minutes left! I'm swimming as fast as I can and it doesn't seem fast enough. I grab the rope in the water and start to pull myself, but there is so much slack it it's only holding me back. I've got this. YES. I. CAN. This was unknown territory, I'd never pushed my body this far, disoriented, cold, I was almost there.. and quitting was never once a thought in my mind. He yells, 4 minutes! 3, 2.. I saw a camera on me as I climbed up the cargo net, but I had no smiles. So many thoughts flashing through my mind at that point, I didn't come this far to end like this. I can do this, let's go, come on body, we are almost there! I started to run with my pit crew beside me, I was going as fast as my body would carry me. I turned the corner to the finish line and went straight to my hands and knees. Tears. The last finisher with only 90 seconds remaining. 

The Finish Line 
My emotions were running high. I was shivering and in pain. Taken to the medic tent, with a body temperature under 95 degrees. Slightly hypothermic. I completed my 50 mile goal, but I also completed almost 25 miles in penalties, too. 75 miles, on my feet, that kind of intensity and trauma to the body, the cold, exhaustion, stress fracture, pain, loss of toe nails.. for a moment I felt broken. All of that will heal in time. But the experience, the personal growth and the life lessons.. will be with me forever.

I FUCKING DID IT. I feel proud and accomplished. 

Meeting Sean Corvelle at the Finish Line
What I was physically capable of in those final miles was determined solely by my mental strength, not my physical capability. Your body can go beyond what your physical perceptions of tiredness or fatigue are. I gave myself no choice but to push past the resistance and dig deeper. You must never, even for a second, let yourself think that you can fail. 

So many thanks to share! Jon Copper, for your beautiful bagpiping through the night and following behind me to close out the finish. Much thanks to you, Sean Corvelle, for your words and acknowledgment. And to Tough Mudder Live and Matt B. Davis, for capturing these final moments. If only one picture, and one moment could sum up my entire race, this would be it. Finally, to my pit crew (Grace and Dayna), the WTM community, friends, family and my husband, who continuously offer support, love and encouragement in all I do, thank you. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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