Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vacation , Horseback Archery , doggie camp and a few other random musings

Well not much riding has been going on for me.  Two weekends ago we went for a trail ride about, 2 hrs only because my knee  really started acting up.. (more on that in minute) but that has been it. 
My hubby and I traveled to Vancouver BC to spend a couple days doing the touristy thing prior to traveling northward  on to MT Currie ,BC for his Canadian  Horseback Archery competition . Getting there made for a long drive, about 13 hrs one way.  But it was worth it.. seeing the ocean again was the highlight for me,  even if it was the cold Pacific.
We got to see a lot of the Vancouver area since we stayed with friends just outside the city for a couple of night.   BC is similar to Montana and the Rocky Mountains but with the added feature of the ocean and a much more wet climate.  Lots of lush thick green forests. Rain is common in that part of the country,  but we  lucked out and had a couple of really beautiful days. 
Once we got to where the competition was held, Near Whistler ,B.C, and on a reservation, the true adventure began for me. As camping goes, I haven’t ever really mastered the art of it… not being really into the “roughing” it without access to a daily shower. Luckily, I stayed with our  friend in Vancouver one extra day and only had to camp out one night.  “T’ went up a day early to get a little extra training time and I met him up there early Sat morning to see the competition.
When I arrived, I was thankful for the decision to stay in  civilization for the extra day , especially when I saw the bathroom facilities. It was two outhouses, with a 6 foot hole in the ground.
This was the “bathroom” sink…
It was a two day competition so as soon as “T’  was done with his turn on Sunday morning,  we beat it out to hit the road  and head home. We made it the trip home by Monday mid day, having to stop for an overnight on Sunday.. too tired to continue…
So now I am going to go off track a bit only because it was a major part of the weekend.  Have I ever really talked about Xena?? I don’t think so, other than the photo of her on the sidebar of my blog and a few random photos on various  blog posts. I suppose since this is a random post about lots of things, it seems like an appropriate time.
This trip was the first time in over 5   years we have had to kennel  a dog. It was the first time ever since having Xena and Duncan .  There was alot of anxiety on my part about doing so.
My anxiety about kenneling them had more to do with Xena  specifically, given her history.  Sadly, little Xena  had been tossed away  two other times before she was even two years old  by previous owners, with a rescue operation being her foster care home twice in between those times … until we found her..  It has taken us a considerable amount of time and work to bring her out  of her shell and deal with her issues. We got more than we bargained for when we adopted her but by the time we figured out what kind of severe issues we were dealing with, I was not willing to send her back to the rescue… once again. I wasn’t sure I  even liked the dog yet , as I recall, wondering what I had signed up for,  but I could not put send her back again.. it wasn't fair to her. She deserved a chance.
Xena  is more fearful  than anything but it comes out as aggression, aka; fear aggression . it is common in dogs who have not been socialized or exposed correctly at those crucial times during puppy hood.  It’s also common in German Shepherds. Fortunately with the help of a understanding friends who we have used as guinea pigs to give her good experiences with strangers(ie, you don’t need to try to tear off the hands of strangers)  and a Schutzhund trainer, we have made some  great gains.  
My biggest fear  with this   kennel experience was that it was going to throw her into a tail spin if she thought she was getting abandoned once again and undo all the work over the last two years. In preparation, I took her  for two walk thru’s  at the kennel at the suggestion of the kennel owner. This is supposed to give the dogs a good experience and then they get to go right home. The hope is that they remember that when they go for the real thing.
Nonetheless, it still killed me knowing she would be so fearful going to a kennel  and there was nothing I could do to make her understand I was going to come back for her, that it was only temporary, that I was not leaving her like so many others had done in the past. All I could do was tell her I would be back for her and hope she sensed it????  
Long story short, she did survive her stay. The kennel owner said she spent two days hiding in her crate. which I expected since that  is  her safe zone .   After a couple of days however, she reportedly did start coming out and handling things better. Beyond that, the word was she did fine.  When we arrived to pick them up, and she first saw  us, she must have surely been thinking
“really, you came back for me??? “ 
She was very excited to see us and she promptly peed all over my feet in all of her excitement.  I thought that was a small price to pay.
They ran and played all afternoon and evening in the back yard once we got home and  we tried to tame the  jungle of what was previously a back yard.  The grass could almost be hayed.. When the evening came to an end  and we all headed to bed … Xena went and laid down in the bathroom . I got up to check on her and she appeared fine but I walked thru a wall of an awful smell emanating from her...
**warning- those that have a sensitive stomach may not want to read this next part..
Little Xena apparently relaxed , maybe just a little too much and blessed us  with the expression of her anals.. all over the  bathroom floor..(there could have been worse places this could have happened, like the living room rug, which would have ruined it beyond repair).
Let me tell you if you have never experienced this darker side of dog ownership… take my word for it… you don’t want to… It's not a smell  you will ever forget..
 I think since she was finally able to relax that it just , well, released.  She was utterly humiliated by this accident. The whole dark side of dog ownership isn’t new to me but I will say that I have never seen a dog leave a puddle of fluid behind like she did.. usually it’s just a moment of  “OMG , what is that smell???” but you don’t actually see anything…this time there was an actual puddle of clear fluid on the tile and then, if that was not bad enough she managed to get her tail and hip in it....
So as the clock struck midnight , we quietly (ok , gagged and dry heaved ) through getting her and the bathroom floor cleaned up, opened the windows, lit a few matches,  sprayed Lysol  all  in an attempt to clear the  odiferous remnants of her accident.
I sincerely hope this doesn’t ever happen quite like that again… I am not sure my stomach can handle it again.
So , vacation is over and now it’s time to try to get on some routine with riding again. Remember back at the beginning of the post I mentioned the knee?? 
So it seems I may have a lateral and medial l Meniscus tear (thank you Spartan race)I went this morning for an MRI for a positive diagnosis  and I should have results by Thursday afternoon . If it’s positive, meniscus  tears do not get better with therapy or rest. That means surgery.. which means a period of healing..which means no riding…  But I can’t keep on with the way it is.. It’s hurting to do any physical activity like biking, running, even walking. Worst of all.. it’s hurting when I ride.. a lot..
For years, this knee has occasionally given me trouble but nothing that has impeded my activities up until now. I suspect that I injured the knee years ago when I took a bad fall skiing. 
Several weeks ago, I did the Spartan race and about 2 miles from the finish, it really started hurting on any downhill.. By the time I made it across the finish line, I could barely bend it. I spent two days icing I and it got mostly better but ever since, it flares up with any physical activity. Squats , lunges.. out of the question , running or biking pretty much make me wince in pain. Even walking for more than a half hour   puts me in a fair amount of agony and riding?? That was painful. Stay tuned for results  and keep your fingers crossed it is not going to require any surgical treatment.

Shannon Falls

Mt Currie, BC, HBA course location scenery


Monday, May 13, 2013

Running Through the Woods -My Spartan Experience

 "Active, healthy, excited about change, and an opportunity to  return to our ancient roots where running through woods, getting dirty, and facing adversity was part of everyday life". That is the Spartan mission. Spartan events are all about challenging today’s perception of normal. Getting off the couch, getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself mentally, physically and emotionally. An opportunity to dig down to the very core of your being and see just what you are made of and proving yourself through actions, not words.

Sounds cool, right??

So here is how we ended up placing:
( no records set here but still.. )

Individually Overall- I finished 1866th overall in a group of around 4200 participants so essentially I ran mid pack..or slighty better.

Individually for Age Group- I finished 105th (not sure how many were in my age group)

Team Overall- We finished fifth !! What really helped here was the one guy who is a serious trail runner , is 6'6 and is an absolute endurance machine naturally.. he finished the course in 59 minutes.. he probably qualifies for Elite status..

It took me just under two hours to complete the race.

Details you say???

Here ya go.. I hope that I have tried to hit the highlights .. there were just so many!

I will start by answering  a couple of questions that  a lot of people have been asking me for months..

What made you decide to do something like this??

It started back last late fall when my husband put together a team to join the first Spartan race being held in our area. A Spartan Sprint, The smallest and most "attainable"  Spartan race for a first time Spartan goer. That would be us. It sounded like something I could use as a goal for better fitness. I work better when I have a specific goal in mind.

How did I go about training for this??

I spent the winter doing a lot of running ,  a lot of interval training , weights and practicing my burpee abilities(something I am still no expert at) in preparation for this race. I did some snow shoeing and a lot of walking up hills on my treadmill mostly because of the cold and snow.

As time went on and the date got closer, our team numbers dwindled. Media started doing their thing and hyping up this race.. Lots of elevation would be on this race.. we would be climbing over 2000 feet in elevation. Just days before the race, several team members started realizing they just hadn't trained hard enough or decided that while it sounded really cool , they just didn't believe they could do it  and bagged out. I wasn't far from joining that list. Oh, how badly I wanted to. I had been traveling for work and my workouts weren't as intense as I thought they should have been.  As rumors flew about how hard this course was, my confidence dwindled.  We were hearing that the terrain and trail course were so challenging that the Spartan Corporation was planning on making this location a championship race location.. 

I had not been able to get out and train hills hard enough on any actual trails.. I knew I would not have the upper body strength to pull myself up a rope climb (one of the obstacles) or get myself over an 8 foot wall....  but it is pretty hard to bag out when you spouse is the team organizer. No backing out for me.

Race morning arrived. Our team was down to 9 people. We had lost 5 members.There were over 4200 participants signed up for this race. They let out 200 racers at a time every fifteen minutes. Looking around the crowd and seeing that not everyone in the crowd planning to race looked "Spartan ripped like"  helped calm me a little. I found myself  thinking,  "well if he/she can do it, I can certainly get through this.".. atleast I had hoped so..

We had a half hour before our start time and watching some of the elite  racers come through a couple of the obstacles wasn't helping my nerves at all. They were the cream of the crop and they were 45 minutes into the race..and they were struggling.

Listen, you all have to realize here that I have never been blessed with any natural athletic ability. I don't have a past life of being actively involved in competitive sports to revert back to..  I knew  watching those elite athletes struggle, that I was probably way in over my head. By his time it had been confirmed that the rumors were true.The race course was longer than what the sprints typically are.. usually somewhere between 3 -4 miles,  this one was 5.2 miles roughly. Generally, there are 15-20 obstacles in that distance.. this race had 38 obstacles  and as far as elevation??
Well, that was the cherry on top.. we are in Montana.. elevation is  everywhere..can't avoid it..  we would in fact be climbing over 2000 feet in elevation. It was not good news... this would prove to be a bigger challenge than I realized.

15 minutes to start time.. I wanted to vomit and cry.. but there was no backing out now.. The only thing I had going for me right about then was sheer determination.  I would just go slow, and get as far as I could, one step at a time even if it took me all day.

We headed out and the first obstacle is a mud pit .. followed by climbing cliffs and rocks.. with muddy shoes..
Fantastic.. starting the day with muddy shoes...

We climbed and climbed and jumped over logs, heaved ourselves over some wooden structures and under other wooden structures. We climbed solid wooden walls and  managed to  safely pass by the  gigantic Scotty Highlander bull who lived on the property.  Thankfully he just looked on as if to say.. "what the hell is everyone running from?"

The pack started to split up by now and alot of my team members (who are in their 20's and  have a background in track or distance running) had gotten ahead of us. I walked on a lot of the uphills and ran on the down hills. If I have learned nothing from endurance racing, I knew that it was key to take it easy in the start.. set your pace and stick to it . DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN THE FRENZY!!
We climbed up rope ladders and shimmied down wooden ladders..My first issue came on the monkey bar obstacle when I was not able to get a good enough grip to make it across and thus began my first punishment of 30 burpees...

We carried on to climb  more rock wall faces,  and hike up very steep terrain.  So far, my pre race hydration and food plan was holding up and while I was getting tired, I was still feeling ok..The worst thing I was struggling with was a side stitch,  something that has plagued me with running for years.. regardless of my repeated attempts to avoid it (correct breathing, good hydration and not eating prior to running for atleast an 2 hours.) It was really slowing me down due to the pain. The trail footing was rocky and uneven and I really had to be careful not to take a bad step. My left knee started to complain a little on some of the downhill... an old skiing injury that occasionally gives me trouble..

We ran through a series of obstacles that required more waist high mud, some heavy lifting or dragging of cement blocks(in the Spartan time, these would have been boulders), flipping over humungous tractor tires,  and pulling a cement block up a pulley system.  Those all went pretty easily and quickly for me..I am not sure if it was pure adrenaline at this  point, but I was lifting , pulling and heaving more weight than I ever trained for yet  it never really seemed unmanageable. Adrenaline can be a good thing..The worst of the obstacles was  solid wooden walls that kept showing up with ever increasing height that I had to get over. The walls of hell was what I referred to them as. Thankfully  my husband stayed with me and helped heave me over them.  Had he not been there, I am not sure I would have made it over those and would have had to do a lot more burpees.

Around the halfway point, coming down a very steep downhill section , the tread on my shoes didn't hold up and I slipped and landed on my butt. Luckily, I  managed to bounce back up and keep going.. one foot in front of the other relatively unscathed minus the dirty that went down my shorts...

Hell I was already covered in mud.. what was a little more dirt??

We finally made it to the rope net climbing obstacle where you had to climb  wooden slats  where they had strung rope netting across to the other side and then climb down rope netting into  a mud bog..The obstacle is way up in the air and I am afraid of heights.. I was shaking as I made my way across that obstacle and down the other side but  I made it and went on to the next two obstacles; the   rope climb and then the sand bag carry. T
These were the obstacles I was spectating earlier as I waited for my time to run.  Announcers were bellering their cheers and encouragement as you made your way. You climb up steep section of trail only to come right back down and head to the rope climb. These ropes were about 12 feet high with knots in them that you had to climb up , ring the bell and climb back down. I took one look at those slimmey  muddy ropes and walked straight over to the burpee station and did my 30 burpees. I knew there was no way I had the strength to pull myself up that  slimey rope.  I also knew I had a ways to go yet and it was probably best to save my energy. This was a "work smarter, not harder" decision and it proved to be the right move.

The very next obstacle was the sand bag carry.. once again , up a very steep section of trail, only to turn around and come right back down. Not only was the trail steep but it was muddy and rocky.. I grabbed my sandbag (not sure how heavy these were but I would guess about 20 lbs) and started climbing..I was thankful for strong legs right about now but  I had to take the downhill slow because of the knee,  which was really starting to complain..I wasn't entirely sure it was going to hold up in fact.

The next section of trail was yet another steep climb.. only this one went on for what seemed like forever. It think this was probably the hardest part of the race for me. My heart rate was not recovering quickly and I was starting to  run out of gas.   I eventually made it to the top where my husband patiently waited for me.  We carried on through a nice open two track section of trail that had , for the first time.. nice footing. I painfully jogged alongside my husband through this section , hoping I wasn't doing permanent damage to my left knee. We came across the second water station, rehydrated and carried on to the final and highest wall to get over..a wrenching 8 + foot wall.  Even with help from my husband, this was no easy wall to get over.. but I made it .. and we slogged through another waist high mud bog which smelled as though it was probably an old elk wallow. Yours truly managed to find the only sink hole in it and almost fell .. but caught myself and kept on going..

Right about we could hear the crowd and the finish line was only moments away. Just a few more obstacles to go.. but that last part of the race was the longest...

We had to  belly crawl through,   yes,  you guessed it... more mud . Only this time there was also sand and rock mixed in for good measure...and  barbed wire just over our heads, all the while being sprayed with cold water . Sounds pleasant doesn't it?? We then  had to roll ourselves under a very low wooden bridge (maybe  2  feet high??) If you were claustrophobic.. this obstacle would have been terrorizing. We rolled through the mud, sand and rock, adding yet another layer of grime, just in  case we weren't muddy enough..I felt like a chicken wing dredged in egg and flour preparing for the fryer pan. The skin on my elbows and knees took a beating. 

I managed to pull myself up one more wall only this wall had a slant to it  instead of being straight up and down , along with a rope assist.. only the rope and wall were muddy and slippery. There were no foot holds to speak of. As I pulled myself up that wall and was  about to reach the top , my feet started slipping and the strength in my shoulders and arms were not going to hold me long.  There was no way I was going to let myself fall  so I flung my upper body across the top and pulled myself up the rest of the way. The only problem with my less than graceful technique  was that I landed on my rib cage  across the top edge of the wall, nearly knocking the wind out of myself.  I thought for a second I cracked ribs.. the pain  ripped through my rib cage and I couldn't  breathe. I got pretty light headed and feared for a split second I might just pass out .. then realized that if I did, I would fall of this damn wall and probably break my neck. My husband kept yelling to me to keep me going forward. (he said later that when I fell against that board at the top, I turned a shade of greyish white so he knew I was in a fair bit of pain) .  I just focused on his voice encouraging me to keep going and got down the ladder on the backside ... somehow...

 Alas, I  could see the finish line.. I jumped across the fire pit , pushed through the guys at the end with big foam blocking things and finished my race...  covered in mud , sweat and a huge sense of accomplishment..
It was over and I had made it.. I was never so happy to be done with something in a long long time...

Post Race Status

My knee injury may require some professional medical attention..I have been icing and using ibuprofen. It's getting better but I suspect maybe there has been some  damage to the meniscus. I will see how it goes over the next couple of days and reevaluate.

My knees and elbows are a fine mess of scrapes, scratches and bruises..They are well earned.. but they are not pretty.

Almost every part of my body aches on some level and going down stairs is pure hell on the quads and calves.

I am still trying to get all the mud out of my toes.. despite multiple scrubbings.. probably need a pedicure to remedy that mess...

I am bummed that our team didn't get team photos . We should have done before and after but we all arrived at different times ...By the time we finished, we were all too tired and a lot of team members finished a half hour before us. By the time we got across the finish line they were already cleaned up and having their complimentary beer. There were a lot of photographers along the trail that I believe work for Spartan corporation . I don't know if I got captured in any but I am hoping for atleast one.

What really struck me about this experience is how encouraging complete strangers were to each other. From what I saw, everyone helped everyone out . Offering a hand up a cliff wall, offering aleg up over the wooden walls of hell. When you were on the side of the trail trying to catch your breath, people came by  and encouraged you. Often times, you heard "good job.. or " you got this.. keep goin", "Go Spartan"... from complete strangers. More than once, these encouraging words from strangers quelled the doubt floating around in my head and made me keep going.. Sadly, I can't say the same about my favorite sport of endurance. I have not seen that level of camaraderie or willingness to help others. I know it does indeed exist in endurance but I have not witnessed it at this level.

This race taught me a lot about the unlikely athlete in me.. I am not an athlete but I got through it. It comes down to mental toughness, fortitude and not giving up.. Put one foot in front of another and keep on going.

I think that is a message that can have meaning in so many aspects of life.

Tevis doesn't seem to unattainable after all!