Athlete Profile: Wendy Paben
Many of you know Zackary “Nubs” Paben, of More Heart Than Scars, and Spartan’s “Why I Race.” He is this guy that wears the kilt and armor while carrying a shield through many obstacle races. Now, how many of you know his wife, Wendy?
Wendy Paben is also co-founder of their charity, MHTS, which focuses on helping people with physical and emotional scars feel a sense of accomplishment and community through group activity. Wendy is a wife, mother, mental health professional, an athlete, and an inspirational woman who sets an example for what it means to be strong.
Funny thing, Wendy did not see herself as strong or inspirational. She often told me that she wished she could do some of the things I have done, mainly races like Death Race, Fuego y Agua, etc. Wendy just said she would never be that strong or “badass.” Over the past year, she has trained hard and lost 35 pounds in her fitness quest. However, the weekend of September 26, 2015, changed all that for her, and she finally learned that “badass” is a state of mind, a mental game. You see, Wendy participated in “The Grinder,” directed by fellow DR veteran, Mark Wood, and me. This race was designed to be both physically grueling and mentally challenging. Though Wendy is a veteran OCR athlete, she had never competed in a 24-hour endurance event, and the most mileage she had covered was 20 miles the weekend before at the Killington Beast. She won first place female and 2nd overall.
I had the opportunity to interview Wendy the morning after the event, where she answers some questions about herself and her performance in “The Grinder”:
Q: What was your first obstacle race?
W: My first OCR was Carolina’s Tough Mudder back in 2011.
Q: What is the farthest distance you have run, prior to competing in “The Grinder”?
W: Killington, VT. We did 20.5 miles at the Spartan Beast.
Q: How did you come to do “The Grinder”?
W: Well, my husband told me he had been asked to do this event, by Amie Booth. I didn’t think anything about it, and he put it as Amie had asked him to do this thing on the weekend and was he busy. I told him to go. The more he talked about it, the more I felt like it was something I wanted to do to, and didn’t understand why he had been invited when he has not been doing anything, and why I had not been invited when I had been working my ass off, so I invited myself.
Q: What did you find out about your participation later?
W: I found out it was all part of a grand scheme to get me to come, but to put me in the right mental frame of mind to do it. It was to make me feel like they didn’t think I was ready to do it, to make sure I not only wanted to do it, but I finished it.
Q: What were your thoughts the day of the race, prior to the start?
W: I felt like I was going to DNF, and I was okay with that. I haven’t had a DNF yet in any of the events I’ve done, so I was thinking it was going to be the one. I just really wanted the experience of what was out there. I watched you (Amie) do lots of endurance races over the past year and a half, and it always sounded like she got something out of it every time, and I wanted that. I needed a new challenge to push myself; now I can climb walls, ropes and all the things I set out to do for myself. I wanted to see what this felt like, and find new things to work on.
Q: Did you think you would win?
W: No, absolutely not. Well, again I thought I was going to DNF. I didn’t think I would meet the time trials because I am not very fast, or I didn’t feel I was going to hang for the duration, simply because I like to sleep. The thought of staying up for 24 hours for anything seemed ridiculous for me.
Q: Did you feel like you would finish above all but one of the men? You not only finished first female, but second overall.
W: No. I didn’t. There were a couple of guys I felt like me, were just there for the experience. I didn’t expect them all to fall victim to the rain and the cold.
Q: What was the hardest part of the race?
W: The time on my feet, the time and the distance. The races we do with More Heart Than Scars, it isn’t the 8, 10, 12 miles that hurt, it is the number of hours that we are going. I felt pretty good after 18 miles, up to the point of the half marathon time trial. When I was done with that, I just wanted to crawl, cry, stop, I wanted to sit down and be done. I also felt like it was just me and the male finisher, Mitchell.
Q: Your pace was pretty fast, did you think you would have that in your favor?
W: No, and my last and only half marathon prior was done in 3 hours 24 minutes, and I had trained hard for that with a run/walk plan. It was in Florida on flat ground, and with no backpack. This weekend I had a full pack (20lbs or more), and the terrain was dangerous, and I walked the entire thing, finishing 3 hours, 10 minutes. It showed me how far I had come, and I had done 18 miles before this time trial.
Q: What was the easiest part of the race?
W: Anything that involved teamwork. I love working with teams, and this is where I thrive and excel. So carrying the kayaks together, doing jumping jacks in unison, wall sits, anything, where I could interact with the other group members, was easiest.
Q: A lot of people say they “exercise their demons” in these events, would you find that to be true?
W: That run, hold on, I am going to cry. That run was breathtaking. I remember a time when I couldn’t run without headphones because I couldn’t stand to be in my head. I don’t think I could have done this a year ago, not without the amount of growth I have made with myself personally. I could not have stood myself that long. I thanked God and thanked him for my daughter, Snowlilly. I prayed for parents that have kids that are sick. I was grateful for the beauty around me, I was full of gratitude, and I did not mind that time at all.
Q: Would you consider doing more events like this in the future?
W: Absolutely. I can endure and suffer with the best of anybody. So, yes.
Q: At what point did you want to quit, or did you?
W: There were two times, that was after the time trial when my feet were done. Then there were the wreck bags, and we had to carry them back and forth multiple times, with our packs. The last one, Mark told us there was a mistake, and we had to carry them another time, at that point I knew the time and the cutoff. I thought I would just have to be done, but when I got to the parking lot and set it down, I thought what if I just try again, I am the only chick left, one of only two people. I thought it was a test to see if I would quit, and I just kept going.
Q: What was the total mileage you did this weekend? What was the farthest you had gone before?
W: 52 and change in 17 hours, and prior to that the 20.5 in Killington the weekend before with a ton of elevation and obstacles in 11.5 hours.
Q: Can you describe some of the tasks you did during this event?
W: Patience with Zack, part of my punishment for being late was to endure him packing and repacking. We had to carry kayaks (over our heads) 11 miles over technical terrain and slick bridges in the rain, swamp lake swim, sleep test laying 30 minutes on the ground, wreck bag carries, half marathon time trial, and PT in the rain, leap frog, wheel barrow, buddy carries.
Q: Do you think you can train for an event like this, specifically?
W: I think you can. Now that I know what this is like, and know the distance. More time on my feet, with longer distances, getting my feet and body used to it. Sleep deprivation, I guess, if you are going to be serious about this type of endurance stuff. Then, just playing smarter, not harder. How can you do that with costing the least amount on your body.
Q: Who are your role models?
W: My husband, my biggest supporter, and encourager. My trainer, Kevin, and friends from 828 hybrid, they keep me going. You (Amie Booth), makes me want to be a better athlete. I have not met many women who have been through the things she has been through who persevere and continue to come out on top. Michael Mills, I always wanted to be a part of his team and not a hindrance so that I can chase after him. All of our adaptive athletes have inspired me to be a better person. (Wendy names more people than I can list, so if I left people out, I apologize for the oversight).
Keep your eye out for Wendy on the courses, and look for her to do more endurance events. She will continue to work with the charity and better herself as an athlete. Wendy does not take a significant public role in MHTS, that is not who she is, but she is the backbone of the organization. Her next individual race will be the Nashville Spartan Sprint. I think she will just keep getting better, and we have not seen the last of her on the podiums. For more information on her story, and that of More Heart Than Scars, please visit www.moreheartthanscars.org. I will leave you with her favorite quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., which embodies who she is in all aspects of life: “If you cannot fly then run, if you cannot run then walk, if you cannot walk than crawl, but whatever you do just keep moving forward.”