Official Race Recap: Warrior Dash Edition

Last Saturday, May 18, I took part in one of the most fun running events I've enjoyed so far: The Warrior Dash. The Saturday before that, I did a Color Run. I disliked that event so much that I don't even plan to write a recap. Let's just say that inhaling colored corn starch for 45 minutes and looking like I have gangrene by the end were SO not my thing. Mud, on the other hand, I can totally get behind that!

Our start times wasn't until 1:30, so I woke up at a reasonable time and bummed around the house until my running compatriot and her husband, Karin and Jeff, came to pick me up. What a nice change from waking up at 5:30 (or earlier!) to get to most of my recent races.

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast was calling for sun and temps in the 80s but it turned out to be sort of a dismal day with rain and clouds. That suited me just fine since I sunburn like nobody's business and I hate running in hot weather. Anyway, rain couldn't help but contribute to all that glorious mud!

We arrived at Budd's Creek around 11 and were checked in well before noon. The check-in/finish area was filled with people who'd already run and were coated in mud, people waiting to run, and a healthy number of people in strange, hilarious, and even scandalous costumes. My favorites were: 1) a group of women dressed as various super heroes, complete with capes, 2) a pair of guys dressed as Princess Leia and Lara Croft, and 3) a group of older women wearing flannel nightgowns and hairnets over their curlers. Least favorite: the insane number of men in nothing but Speedos.

Before - we were so clean
Karin, Jeff, and I had fun observing while we waited for Michelle and Cassie, the remainder of our posse, to arrive. They showed up around 12:30, we donned our black headbands with "I am a warrior!" printed on them and dyed pink, knee-high tube socks, took some before photos, and got into the start corral to wait our turn.

After about twenty minutes, the starting flames flared and we were all on our way.

I knew we were going to be running through the woods but I had no frickin' clue that we were going to be climbing and descending incredibly steep hills for the first two miles. As far as I'm concerned, this was my very first trail race. The running was difficult, to say the least, then there were giant mud pits, walls to climb over and under, and a little barbed wire thrown into the mix.

Karin set the precedent of waiting for "the team" so we all pretty much stuck together throughout the run.

The majority of the obstacles were in the last mile of the race, which followed a motocross track. Though the motocross surface was a lot smoother than the woodsy trail, the hills did not let up.

I skipped the wall you had to climb with just a rope and some tiny footrests and skinned my knee while descending another obstacle. I managed to climb over and slide down most things quickly and with some grace.

My favorite obstacle, by far, was the huge slip 'n' slide. I would have repeated it if doing so hadn't meant climbing a giant hill and waiting in line for 15 minutes. My least favorite came right after the slip 'n' slide and consisted of five back-to-back A-frames that seemed like a compound fracture waiting to happen. Karin didn't even attempt it. The rest of us skipped out after making it over the first A-frame.

I don't remember much between that and the end, where we ran over fire and then crawled through a mud pit. The mud seemed like straight up clay. It threatened to claim your shoes whether you tried to walk through or crawled on your belly. Like snow, the heavier a person was, the deeper she sank and the more difficult it was to move forward. Also, there were sharp rocks in the mud, which made me ever-so-grateful to get through it. By the time we were done, an hour and a half after we began*, Karin and I were so covered in mud, we looked like we had boots on. It was sort of amazing.

After - 'nuff said
After collecting our medals/bottle openers, we met back up with our entourage, got some muddy pictures with our fuzzy viking helmets, and headed to the hose-off area. I'm convinced that this part, though lovely for the runners, is also a perk for the spectators. Plenty of people were standing around watching dashers hose themselves and others off. There was mud everywhere. It reminded me of returning home from trips to the beach and discovering sand in crevices I didn't know I had. My toenails are still a little stained the same baby poo shade as the mud.

Though part of our race fee covered a complimentary beverage, we decided to head home rather than heading to the party. As we walked up the path to the parking area, some folks asked if we'd enjoyed our beer. They seemed scandalized that we would pass them up but all was right again in the world when we offered them our beer tokens for the low, low price of retrieving them from our mud-caked shoelaces.

Before we even thought about getting in the car we had to change into dry, clean clothes. We created a makeshift changing station with the car door for one wall and a towel for the other. Even with that, I'm pretty sure I flashed the couple "showering" with buckets of water they'd brought along for the purpose.

Some of the scrapes and bruises were evident right away. Others took a couple days to show. My legs have looked like someone beat me with a stick all week. The first day after the run, I felt pretty good. The day after that, though, I felt like someone had worked me over. My sides and arms, muscles that I don't use heavily, were particularly sore.

Despite the pain, I really enjoyed the Warrior Dash and would definitely consider doing a mud run again as long as I had partners in crime. It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without my running buddies. I loved the trails (I've already signed up for two more trail races this summer). The obstacles added some interest and being able to skip them made them less scary. Everyone there (except one woman who didn't seem to know beforehand that she was going to get dirty) was having a good time. The race shirt is awesome. And, like any seven-year-old, I love showing off my scabby knees and bruised legs.

*Before we began, they announced the fastest times so far. The fastest woman had completed the run in just over 27 minutes. One of the rules is that you can't win an award unless you've completed all of the obstacles. I call party foul on Warrior Dash in only this one respect: with the delays at various obstacles and the fact that there was no way to monitor whether people actually completed all of them, I find it almost impossible to believe that the male and female top finishers actually followed the rules to get the times they did. I could be wrong - there are really fast, agile people out there.


It doesn't matter that I'm currently wearing a size large shirt that's baggy on me (I was sporting tight XXL's last May).

It doesn't matter that the skirt I wore today used to barely zip around my waist and now hangs lazily on my hips.

It doesn't matter that pictures regularly prove that I'm slenderer (no, really, that's a word) and firmer than I used to be.

It doesn't matter that 90 percent of the time, when I see my reflection, I think, "Hey, looking gooood!"

There are still times that I feel like all of my efforts have been wasted and I look terrible.

In my head, I turn the tiny jiggle of my upper thighs into a ponderous, swelling wave of fat that is going to engulf the world. And the skin and fat the hangs from my upper arms reminds me of giant, awkward wings. And my over-sized calves make me think of Godzilla tromping through Tokyo. And the stretchmarks crossing my belly look like a road map of failure.

Fortunately, though these moments are discouraging, they are few.

To combat them, I have to remind myself of what I've accomplished with this body that I denigrate so freely. Also, I remember that having fat on my body does not make me a less valuable human being, just as losing fat cannot make me any more worthy of love and kindness than I always have been.

I have to choose daily not to buy into the idea that being skinnier will make ME happy. Been there, done that, it wasn't true. Perhaps it works for some but weight loss has never been a sustainable motivating factor for me. Finding something I love and going after it with passion, however, has made me happier AND healthier.

Also, watch this (FYI, Laci is very open about sexuality and uses a little bit of colorful language).

A Realization Is Dawning

I've been working on this health/fitness/weight loss thing for a little over a year now.

Watching what I ate helped me lose weight in the past, so I started there. I'd never tracked my calories before but I started last May.

Then, in July, I started exercising - a lot. That meant that my recommended daily intake (RDI) went up by several hundred calories. It was a good thing, too, because running makes me hungry.

At first, I was able to maintain my nutrition and exercise goals simultaneously but, as I ramped up my running, I became less and less concerned about what I was eating. In fact, like many people, I frequently used running as a justification for food splurges.

Though I've done a good job staying near my RDI, for the past several months I've been eating a lot of garbage. I'm probably single-handedly contributing a metric ton of fast food trash to whatever land our garbage fills.

I eat good stuff, too - fresh fruit, steamed veggies, whole grain bread, and other nutritious foods all make regular appearances - but it doesn't make up the majority of my diet.

My weight loss hasn't stopped but it's slowed and I can tell that I'm headed toward a plateau; the running will keep the weight I've lost off but, if my eating continues as it has, I'm unlikely to lose anymore. I have a decision to make: Will I be content where I am or do I recommit to my goals - making my overall health a priority?

It's an easy answer. Yes, of course, I want to commit to making my health a priority.

The problem is - I don't want to track calories anymore. It's becoming a discouraging obsession. And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I eat more food when I track because I think, "Hey, I still have 300 calories left." Then I eat whether I'm hungry or not. I also justify poorer food choices because I'm staying under the limit.

I've heard people say that weight loss is a simple calories in/calories out equation. That may be true. Health, which is what I'm going for, isn't so simple. Maybe I can lose weight eating X calories of junky food every day if I'm burning Y calories through activity but, if that X consists of Whoppers and fries and lots of processed junk, I might (do) end up feeling crappy, anyway.

My first step: No more food from restaurants with disposable utensils. Friday will be my cheat day but, even then, I'm going to try to avoid big chain fast food in favor of food trucks and local eateries.

On a side note:
Anyone want to become my personal healthy-cooking chef? You can live in my pantry (which is actually a better offer than you might think) and help me become a PaleoveganglutenfreenoMSG superstar. Apply within.

Scales Are the Devil

Did you know that it's common to gain weight after a really long run or hard race? I didn't... until about two weeks ago.

I don't weigh myself very often because the numbers on the scale never reflect the improvements I feel in the fit of my clothes, in my ability to work out longer and harder, or in my general outlook on life. My strategy since I started this journey last year has been to weigh myself only when I visit the Rowleys, every few months or so.

My most recent visit to their home included running the Flower City Half Marathon. When I mentioned that I was planning to weigh myself after we ran, Rebecca said, "I always gain 3 or 4 pounds from long runs." WHAT?! She went on to say that the gain would go away within a couple days but that *after* the race might not be the best time to check on it.

I believed her but, for some reason, I decided to weigh myself about 48 hours after we ran, anyway. Generally, I can estimate my weight within a couple of pounds but I always hope that the scale will prove me wrong. If I set the expectation that I've only lost 10 pounds, wouldn't it be great to see a 15 pound loss on the scale?!

That never happens. This time was no exception.

Adjusting for post-race weight gain, the scale said I'd lost about 8 pounds since New Year's. That's 8 pounds in 4 months. I'm going in the right direction at a healthy rate but I was a tad... underwhelmed.

In that time, I've lost a full t-shirt size, a pants size, run 36 miles in the course of seven days, run two half marathons in eight days, seen obvious changes in my body, and received compliments from others who have as well.

So, less than 48 hours after my first half marathon, after getting off that stupid scale, I put on my running shoes, walked to the track, and ran 3 miles - each one faster than the one before - and ended feeling like I still had another couple in me.

For some, this behavior could be a symptom of disordered thinking about fitness and weight but, for me, it was an act of resistance, a triumphant shout of "A number does not, cannot, and will not define me!" Two days after running 13.1 miles, my body felt good. Instead of eating my emotions or wallowing in self-pity at what could be perceived as tortoise-like progress, I took myself outside and did something that I love, something that makes me feel great, something AWESOME!

That is progress.

Official Race Recap: Frederick Half Marathon Edition

On April 19, I made a crazy decision. A friend from a virtual running group offered up an entry to any race at the Frederick Running Festival. She'd won a free entry code but was running a marathon the same weekend. Since Frederick, MD, is only a 45-minute drive from my home, I took her up on the offer and went whole hog by signing up for the half marathon. Given my training, this wouldn't have been a crazy decision at all, except that all that training was for the Flower City Half Marathon, which took place a week ago. I decided there was no harm in signing up and, if I needed to, I could always switch to the 5k.

After the Flower City Half, I was surprised by how quickly I recovered. By Tuesday morning, I was tearing up the track at Houghton, with a run that got faster with each passing mile. My legs felt tired but not leaden and definitely not sore. Nearly three miles the next day also felt good. I rested completely on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So, when I showed up at the start line this morning, I was feeling completely fresh and ready to go.

This was my fifth race since I started running. (You can read about the others here: 5K #1, 5K #2, 10-Miler, 13.1 #1.) It wasn't until I was leaving the house around 5 a.m. that I realized I'd never been to a race without a friend. Twice I've run with a friend pacing and twice I've run knowing that I'd meet up with someone at the beginning and end. This time, it was just me and the off chance that I would run into one of the two other people I knew who were running it. Oddly, this felt like another confirmation of my commitment to running. I didn't need a friend to keep me accountable to show up; I was going to be there because I wanted to run.

Lining up to start
The weather was perfect. After running into temperatures in the seventies like a brick wall last week, starting out with temps in the 40s, an overcast sky, and a light breeze was like heaven. By the time I was finished, it was still only in the low 50s.

I lined up behind the 2:40:00 pace group but, once we rounded the first corner and there was room to pass, I was keeping up with the 2:30:00 group and passing them. I used a 4/1 run/walk interval today, so I would pass folks while running only to be passed by them while walking. But, as I kept going, I realized that the 2:30'ers were getting further and further behind. It was easy to tell because they would shout triumphantly at every mile marker and the leaders frequently burst into song (my personal favorite was "We Will Rock You" at a volume I couldn't maintain while standing still, much less running).

Unlike last week, I didn't poop out after mile 6, I kept going with a pace between 10:58 and 11:18 for 11 out of 13.2 miles. There were hills in this race but none nearly as tall as those encountered in Rochester, so it was a lot easier to be consistent and fast (for me).

All the people!
My favorite encounters with people:
  1. Watching the race field spread out along the initial stretch of road - so colorful and impressive.
  2. There was a group of folks cheering that I saw about seven different times. One woman had a sign that said, "If you keep running, I'll keep cheering." The Frederick course is perfect for cheering squads because it winds around a lot. A spectator could stand at one corner and cheer for runners passing mile 2, walk a couple blocks and cheer them again at mile 4, and on throughout the race. Clever planning.
  3. There was a man wearing a shirt that said, "I'm slow. I know. Get over it." I enjoyed passing him several times and told him I enjoyed his shirt before I finally put him permanently in my rearview.
  4. Just before the 12-mile marker, a girl complimented my earrings. Hooray for blue, plastic, $2 earrings that get me compliments everywhere I go, including half marathons.
  5. I waited at the end of the race to meet one of my online running group friends. I'd never even seen a picture but, through the magic of bib numbers, I got to see that she'd finished, despite a back injury, and introduce myself.
In the last two miles, I was still feeling really strong. I'd slowed a bit but was sticking to my plan. I was even passing some people - people who *looked* fitter and stronger than I did. When I hit the 12-mile marker, I fully intended to run the rest of the way, just as I did last week, with Rebecca. I started out strong, passed some more people, turned a corner, and saw "Dreamcrusher Hill." Seriously, who plans a half marathon with the steepest hill in the last half mile? Anyway, since I was still on track to hit my goal, I gave myself permission to walk up the hill. (I won't do that again next year.)
The face I make when I've just PR'ed a half marathon!

I got to the top, started running again, then hit a gravel track. With my legs already tired, I felt like I was running in sand. Again, I took a little walk break, during which the 2:30 pacers passed me. But, with .2 miles to go, I picked it up again and "sprinted" across the finish line.

In Rochester, I forgot to stop my watch. This time, I stopped it as I was slowing to a walk. My Garmin read exactly 2:30:00. I later found that my official time was 2:29:53. It probably could have been a few minutes faster but 9 minutes and 25 seconds faster than the half marathon I ran LAST WEEK feels good to me.

I finished around 9:30 a.m. Races make days so strange. You finish a whole day's activity in the first few hours of the morning, then what do you do? I stretched, waited to see my online friend finish, skipped the beer tent, donned my compression socks, then drove home. On the way home, I got a giant bag of Taco Bell, which I ate after taking a shower and putting on warm clothes - I always freeze after a long run.

And, after all of that, I took a nap. It's been a very good day. Definitely want to do this one again next year. Thanks to Corrigan Sports for holding a terrific race and to all the runners and spectators and volunteers for making it a special morning!