Spartan Race World Championship Weekend & Ultra Beast
Going to Vermont is a homecoming every time I cross into the Green Mountain State. Going to Killington & Pittsfield brings that feeling to another level. Now sitting back on the couch in Utah with my bags still packed from the weekend I have had time to digest the Facebook posts, and more importantly reflect on the weekend. This time last year I was saying goodbye to Vermont to start a new adventure in Utah with a bright new glow in the dark medal hanging off the rearview mirror. This year I came home no medal in hand but full of a different success.
Vermont World Championships are simply, chaotic, in the best way possible. Vermont becomes the Mecca of OCR for one weekend a year. If you are serious about racing and finances allow you go to Vermont. Most of my time was spent split between Pittsfield and Killington, between Death Race Friends, VT Friends and OCR Friends. Only now I feel like I am coming up to breathe. Much of the first couple of days were consumed by catching up with old friends and setting up the Dirt in Your Skirt Headquarters at the Forerunner Ski Shop (they still have stuff there if you are in the east!). Saturday I took off my athlete hat and put on my media hat, following the elite races, running around, and tweeting about it the whole time. It was a blast hanging out with other athletes, cheering on friends, and watching Claude Godbout finish 3rd in a very competitive elite race.
It was early in the morning Sunday that it was my turn to head out and race. At the end of Saturday I made a decision and informed my boyfriend about my plan for Sunday. It’s been three months since my ankle sprain and not one to complain or beat a dead horse but my recovery has been much slower than I anticipated and still I am not 100%. After the day of running around covering the race Saturday my ankle was sore, and ached a bit as I headed to dinner with friends. This is when I promised my boyfriend during an evening phone call I would be smart the next day, race as much as I could and let the ankle guide my day. I went to bed expecting to finish, but knowing full well that my health was the most important thing.
Morning came early, I suited up and headed up to the race. My mind was the most calm it has been in a long time as I was on the starting line. As we took off many would pass me but this was my race and my chance to really test where I was in my recovery. As we ascended the first climb I found my speed was much slower than I remember climbing, I wasn’t out of breath but the incline and angle on my ankle was extreme. I powered up the best I could through the misty fog of the morning. I took a few little breaks to take in where I was and the true beauty of where I was. In my ears I listened to Zen Buddhist Philosopher, Alan Watts. Listening to Watts was something I started during Peak Ultra, philosophy and endurance events are inexplicably intertwined for me. I thank former training partner Jason Jacksetic for that one, as he often likened training to meditation and an exercise in existence.
As I ascended up at the first couple major climbs of the mountain I felt ok but was moving SLOW! But I chatted with a few friends as they passed me and wished them all the best in the race. Then came the wooded downhill sections, downhill running as always been a favorite of mine, especially when it is muddy. I felt like I floated down the mountain, visualizing Killian Jornet as I went down the spongy and slick double black diamond woods with mud that would have most worrying each foothold. Probably passing 20-30 people as I floated down, jumping often step to step. I was one with the mountain and any essence of the ankle issues melted away. I was experiencing flow in it’s purist form. With a few more climbs and downhills the same pattern repeated itself, as people passed me on the way up, then I would pass on the way down.
We exited the woods to one of the first major obstacles, the sandbag carry. This was not the typical sandbag carry but a 60+lb bag which we would ascend up Superstar for almost a half mile. As I picked up the bag I knew the race was about to change. The bag felt overly heavy and each step was painful. As I went further and further up the mountain I was forced to stop several times as the pain in my ankle was now radiating up into my shin and almost into my knee. I spent most of the climb choking back tears and many asked if I was ok. A few points I thought I would have to call it a day. But once I made it to the top I headed back down, most of the way down Irene Call had hiked up to find me fearing I had injured myself due to the time it was taking me. I was relieved to have her next to me for about a hundred feet. I dropped the bag and figured it would be about another 4ish miles until I got to Bear Mountain. I would try to run off the pain and reassess when I got there.
Unfortunately what I thought was going to be mile 8 was actually between mile 12-13. The course had been marked much longer than original race notes indicated. As we ran from the sandbag carry up the mountain and across, up and down some of my favorite trails on the mountain, the pain was not subsiding. I refocused my energy in the mountain and my surroundings, several times I during those 8-9 miles I found myself singing to the music in my ears (switched over from Watts during the sandbag carry) I felt like I was frolicking in the woods as I had done when I started running in 2011. During one point I was so at ease with myself and the surroundings I was almost dancing on the trails as Edward Sharpe’s “I don’t want to pray” radiated in my ears.
We headed over across Southridge and got into Juggernaut which is one of the longest trails which I would often bring my racers (when I coached skiing) to practice tucks. We even did Skiing Yoga as we skied down with a select group of girls one year. As we started down the trail I knew it was going to be much more than 4 miles to Bear. The pain was compounding but I still jogged down the trail spending a lot of time with one of my former lacrosse athletes (from my days of coaching college lacrosse) she had been talked into the race by her friend. We chatted, I chatted with a few other racers, I would hang with them for a few minutes then need to slow up as the pain shot back into my shins.
Just when I thought we were at the bottom of Bear Mountain the course redirected us to the top of Bear Mountain up Devil’s Den or Bear’s Ass. A steep one mile uphill climb. It was during this time I knew I was toast and I was just about done with my day. I climbed the rope at the top, saw my favorite view on the mountain, then descending Outer Limits to get to the base of Bear. It was here I saw fellow racer Sue Luck, who was watching for the day, and told her choking back a tear or two, I was out. My race day was done. I allowed myself about 5 minutes of emotional girlie time, then thought about the day, thought about all I had done in those 12-13 miles and was content. It was the longest run I had done since June and the toughest terrain. It’s always hard telling people you are out and you are DNF’ing yourself. But this one was for all the right reasons, I pulled the plug before I did major damage and put myself back 3 months of rehab. A DNF stings but this one wasn’t as bad.
I spent the rest of the day cheering on friends, giving them encouragement to finish the race, and was able to watch both Dirt in Your Skirt Ambassador’s Heather and Jackie kick some major ass. So although it was not my day to shine I was able in a small way help encourage others to have their day, returning home not broken but energized with what I need to do to continue recovery and prep for a month+ of ultra events coming up.
Vermont was a test, both physically, mentally, emotionally. It tested my ankle, it tested my mind, and most importantly it tested my ego. It showed me how far I have come as an athlete in the last couple of years, for I think a few years ago I would have continued to race and probably put myself back to where I was in June or even extended the injury worse. Congratulations to everyone who took on the race this past weekend whether it was a successful day or you missed the mark. Vermont is no joke and I will be back next year! For now it’s time to focus in on the fall racing season, with a big one in November!!