There is a Real Possibility that You May Die…

…or be catastrophically injured.

The warning in bright red, bolded and all caps.

My second Spartan race. The week leading up to the race, I was more nervous than I had been for the first. My first race was care free and FUN. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t do an obstacle, I had never even attempted any before. It didn’t matter what my time was, I had no expectation of how long it would take me to get through something like this. So I just enjoyed myself all the muddy way.

But this time. I had already done it. I had faced all but one of the obstacles that would be on this course. I had failed obstacles, and I had passed obstacles. I had a time to compare a new time to. All of these things drove my competitive nature into high gear the days leading up to the race. The night before the race, the weather turned and we had thunder and lighting and the rain fell heavily from the sky. I knew the course would be muddy and more difficult to maneuver. The idea that I could lower any expectation of doing better than before flitted through my mind, but those thoughts are not the type that I allow to keep around. It was gone, and my determination remained.

The morning of the race came, wet and cool. A constant drizzle fell as we drove toward the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center. The closer we got, the more my stomach knotted. We eased through packet pick up, spectator sign in, put on my body glide and cheered the female elite start. I hopped over the wall into the starting chute and my nerves made me wonder, ‘Why did I sign up for another one of these races. When I am done with this one, I don’t have to do it again.’

Then the announcer sent us through with an “I am SPARTAN” and all of those nervous feelings were left behind at the start line. It took mere seconds from the race starting to remind myself that I love this shit. I love running. I love challenges. Why would I say I don’t want to do this again? I remembered that I was there to prove to myself that I could work hard and get a little better every time.

So I set off, at an easy pace. Running along the gravel road, listening to the crunch of my footsteps and the breathing of those around me. The first obstacle approached – an overwall – without hesitation this time, without having to think about how, this shorty just up and overed it. Same with the next and then the hurdles. No faltering my pace or my mindset. I was delighted to feel smooth, strong and more capable than before. The obstacles continued in this fashion. This time around, instead of concentrating on what in the world was going on, I could focus on enjoying myself. Smiling, soaking in the perfect race temperature, the beautiful surroundings, and the sweat starting to bead on my forehead.

This race course was so great in the way that it had obstacles grouped together, which made the running portions longer. I felt like I could get into a groove and stay in my element. Bounding up and down the rocky, uneven path. The first mile was mostly uphill and through moss covered trees. We came out of the thicket and encountered the next group of obstacles, lead by the bucket carry. The rocks inside the red bucket rattled as I hoisted it up onto my shoulder and took off, trying to keep a brisk pace. The winding path up and down the gradual incline of the side of the hill seemed to take forever and go by quickly all at the same time. I carefully placed the bucket back onto the stack and jogged to the inverted wall, where my first hesitancy was – ‘are my arms too tired to pull myself over this?’ But my body didn’t hesitate as my mind did – up and over I went.

My muscles were warmed up, I was determined and ready to begin to tackle some of the more tough obstacles. We ran back to the forested hill, and began to climb again. The climbing excited me for the potential of more downhill running, but the downhill did not come as I assumed it would. As the opening in the trees came, the barbed wire was there in front of me. A long mass of scary, pokey metal waiting to scrape me up as I crawled under it. Instead of focusing on the scary factor, I focused on the fun factor. Remember when you were little and you saw a grassy hill? How you would lay down and just roll down it? That was me, and after I got over sticking my hand into a bramble, I laughed. A lot. And got dizzy a lot. And felt like a little kid a lot.

Stumbling past the camera man I worked to shake off the dizziness. I laughed with another Spartan and agreed that it was a great thing neither of us drank the night before. Jogging over the hoof printed and divoted ground we made our way to the rolling mud hills. They were slick with the storm the previous night and I chose a lane created by the elite racers who went before us. Somehow, being mid race, erases the toe testing feeling of getting into cold water. Without pausing, I plunged in, trying my best not to slip and fully submerge. Gripping at slick mud with my hands, I climbed and slipped my way out of the first mud pool and then over the second rolling mud hill plunging into the second mud pool. Taking a deep breath, I lowered my entire body into the muddy water, squeezing through the small gap between the marshy ground and the dunk wall, then pushed myself up on the other side. Now completely slick, it was time to tackle the slip wall, balancing my weight, I gripped the rope and pulled myself up and tossed my legs over.

Another set of obstacles I had completed. My body felt even better. More powerful. I zipped through the Z wall and moved on to the monkey bars.

Approaching the monkey bars, I had to get my mind right. An obstacle I know I can get through, not a difficult one that I have practiced. But one that I did not complete at the Portland Sprint. Without too much thinking, I jumped up and thought ‘Just go for it!’ So I did. I reached out ahead of me and grabbed onto the second bar, the momentum of my body began to carry me forward, letting go of the first bar I allowed my body to transfer my weight to the slick, wet metal, and unexpectedly dropped. The wet bars defeated me again. Hustling to the burpee zone, I gave my headband to the volunteer to record my number and began my 30 burpee penalty. My soaring mood and strong body both instantly felt heavier. I wanted to make this obstacle, but it was not the time to dwell on the failure. Shrugging it off. I moved on to the spear throw.

I adjusted the spear in my hand. Took too many seconds to prepare and threw. To no success. Another 30 burpees in the burpee zone.

60 burpees. Back to back. It didn’t feel good. My lungs were working hard. My body felt more like lead than muscle. Mentally, I knew I had to shake it off. During those last 30 burpees I cleared my mind. I hit the target, on my second ever spear attempt. Soon it would stick. I am ok. There is more to come in this race.

At the Portland Sprint, the obstacle that was most difficult for me, was the rope climb. Three failed attempts to get up, and I still had to do 30 burpees. I was tired – physically and even more so, mentally – after that. With the little form I had been able to acquire and practice time I had in the four weeks since the race, I was determined to hit the fucking cow bell at the top. I walked to loosen up and get my mind right as I approached the rope climb. Jon and Pierre, knowing it was my focus for this race, cheered me on and encouraged me.

“Which rope has been the luckiest?” I asked in jest to the volunteer.

“Today, not one racer has yet missed the rope climb. And neither will you.” The volunteer replied to me. This gave me so much courage.

It felt like it took forever. Swinging the rope around my feet to figure out the grip, pushing up with my legs and pulling with my arms. Each effort seemed to barely move me forward, only inches. But what mattered was – that I was moving forward. I kept moving forward, until the cow bell was within my reach. I barely remember the sound of the cowbell because I was distracted in my mind with the feeling of accomplishment. Hearing Jon cheer, knowing how much we both wanted me to succeed at this obstacle made my pride soar. ‘Remember, you CAN do hard things!’ I told myself.

As I jumped off the rope, I waved to Jon feeling ready to take on everything else this course had. I passed a Spartan who sounded nervous for her attempt up the rope. I gave her words of encouragement, knowing inside that she could do it, and headed on to the Helix. The new obstacle I had no idea how to attempt. Swiftly finding my footing and scooting across I realized that it was more fun than difficult, rang the cowbell and was ready for some more running.

Back up in the misty woodland, through more incredibly uneven terrain, up a steep hill, I realized I was on the last third of the race. I carefully maneuvered the cargo nets, watching as Spartans starting their open waves ran underneath the A frame. The sandbag felt heavier being rain soaked and carrying it up the hill and back down made me feel strong. The atlas carry was great without the burpee break. My energy was continually being boosted by each completed obstacle and the finish line music. There were only a few obstacles left – I was going to do it! Complete my second Spartan. I felt stronger than my first time and more sure! I had also done only 60 burpees, which was less than before. My pride grew with every step that I took.

I approached the Rig and knew that it was something I could do. I swung myself onto the first ring, and reached out for the second. Surprise took me over when my body started to fall to the gravel. ‘How? I can do this!?’ I had forgotten about the slick state of the equipment because of the constant drizzle that morning. The rings were so slick. My heart fell. 30 more burpees in wet, muddy gravel. Pushing my body off of the gravel as it slid around and tried to keep my feet in the mud was more and more difficult with each burpee I had to complete. But complete them I did.

I hustled to the Herc Hoist and hand over hand pulled the rain soaked bag up to the knot, slowly lowering it back down. Then I was done! A huge grin spreading across my face, I ran toward the fire jump, my grin get larger hearing Jon and Pierre cheer for me through the finish!

I had done it. Finished my second Spartan Sprint feeling elated, despite my failed obstacles and burpees, despite the briar poking my finger, despite the times it was hard. Jon ran to the finishers chute to high five and hug me over the barrier. Judging by the time of day, he knew that I had PRed at this race. We went to the results booth to see what my time was – 1:00:35. A massive PR of 7 minutes for this race! So close to breaking an hour. The bigger surprise? Reading that I had placed 3rd in my age group! I could hardly believe that it was true! My second race and a podium finish.

Hard work. Truly putting in the work. Not just the physical and nutritional work, but the mental work. Of pushing past what you think you can do. Pushing past when you feel disappointed. Letting yourself truly believe that you can accomplish something. That you can do hard things. That hard work gets you the rewards.

I am so excited to continue this hard work and continue running Spartan races. They are organized and efficient. Obviously fun and challenging, and the volunteers are stellar both with information and encouragement!

Now it is time to get stronger and faster and come back to a new shiny PR in 2020. Who wants to come with me?

The Mother of All Relays

Hood to Coast. 199 miles. 12 runners. 2 vans.
One of my most favorite running events of all time.

This was my 5th HTC and it seems to only get better each time! An event that is less about athletic ability and more about perseverance and mental grit. There is so much to tell, and I think that chronologically through this adventure is probably the best way to go! So sit back and relax for this read.

This year I was in Van #1 as runner #3 of our team of 12 runners – Cool Runnings was our name! The first van always starts at Timberline Lodge at the top of Mt. Hood and we begin the relay all the way to Seaside on the Coast! Our team didn’t start until 1pm on Friday (the first day of the relay), which is relatively late as teams start as early as 5am. You would think starting at 1pm would give you a ton of time to get up to Mt. Hood early and enjoy the sites and start line… but somehow, even with good intention to be there an hour early, our team showed up with only 12 minutes to spare to check in and get our runner #1 on the start line. Oops. BUT we started regardless, and your Type A/OCD efficiency girl, stayed pretty damn calm. Go me.

Lucky for us, our lack of timeliness and rush to the start line was not predictive of how our time across the 199 miles to Seaside would be spent. We kissed our lucky egg, and started our journey forward!

Van #1 at the start: Wale, Phil, Katey, Me, Carlo & Kathleen

I could barely contain my excitement through the entire race. We sent Katey off and I immediately was cheering for any and every person I saw. “Go Runners!” “Way to go Girl!” “Thank you for volunteering!!” I shouted to every living being between bites of my pre run waffle. Everyone is out there working hard and I wanted them all to know that they were supported. I cheered louder than necessary when Katey ran into the exchange chute and sent Phil off on his very first ever HTC leg! My stomach was filled with jittery butterflies as I waited for my turn to run. It had been so long since I have run HTC, and I look back on my performances with pride. I really desired to make myself proud again with my first year back in 4 years! I knew that my body was not ready to hit the paces I had in the past, but I wanted to be decent. My goals for all three of my legs were to:

A. SOAK IT ALL IN. The sweat, the soreness, the cheering, the team spirit.
B. Don’t give up, keep a powerful and positive mindset.
C. Keep an 8’30” average pace or better.

It was my first time running leg 3 and I fell in love from my first three steps. Phil came screaming in and passed off the slap bracelet to me and I was off (carrying a baton in a 199 miles relay is not as easy as on a track, so we use a 90s style slap bracelet that we can just wear while we run). Heart hammering, the route immediately turned off of the road and onto a wooded trail. It was after 2 in the afternoon and the sun was beating down on all of us, so stepping onto this shaded trail was such a relief. There were few other runners, so my first leg was so peaceful. I soaked up the birds chirping and the crunching of the pine needles under my feet. I cruised along the downhill trail, working on losing 1000 feet of elevation, hopping over rocks and watching out for trip hazards.

After about 3 miles of running through the trees I reached highway 30 and turned onto the shoulder with all of the cars flying by. Gusts of head wind made it feel as though I wasn’t going downhill anymore. They eventually went away as I curved to the right and with their decrease my excitement rose knowing that the exchange was getting closer and closer! I worked on keeping an even effort until, in the distance, I saw the exchange. I willed my legs to move faster and kicked it up a notch! I made it to the exchange covering my 4.66 miles with a 6’58” pace and passed of the slap bracelet to Kathleen our runner #4! This was way fast for my current running ability, beyond my goal pace for sure, and definitely given to me by the downhill nature of the leg. Because of our later start time, I encountered few runners and only had 6 ‘roadkills’ (people you pass, it is tradition to keep track).

My first leg was done. I felt like a thirsty champion. I drank water, refueled with my turkey sandwich, and continued cheering for every person who had anything to do with Hood to Coast with my mouth full. “Keep it up!” “You are killing it!” “Thank you for volunteering!”

Van 1 handed off to Van 2 in Sandy at the highschool. It is what we call a MAJOR exchange because both vans are there for each of the teams, which creates a lot of people and a lot of traffic, and a lot of possible confusion. We somehow, found our team easily and we were there to cheer our Captain and runner 6 Wale in, and celebrate all of our first legs being done.

We then had about a 5 hour break while Van 2 went to carry on the relay and went to Katey’s apartment downtown to rest, recover and refuel. I personally don’t believe in showering because I think it lowers your level of badassery in HTC. It also makes me feel like it is over and that I can relax, which is not the feeling that I want at all. So I did my sponge bath, changed into my outfit for leg 2, went through my stretches, and welcomed a hot meal of chicken and rice delivered to me by the universe’s best husband. There were some bandaids used, lots of Tiger Balm applied, roller sticks and balls being rolled on, and so much use of the beloved Hyperice gun.

We made it to the next major exchange under the Hawthorne bridge around 10pm to await runner 12 and the start of our second round of legs. The energy was electric! There were runners everywhere, music playing from many different devices, shouting, cheering and glowing lights.

Van 1 and 2 waiting on Runner 12!

Katey took the slap bracelet from Deanna and was off! Our legs had started again!

I looked forward to my second leg, both with excitement and nerves. Through all of my HTC experiences, my night runs have been some of my most favorite! The coolness, the dark, the stars, hearing more than you see. It is an experience that so many people do not get to have! My hesitant feelings were coming from my lack of confidence in my ability to cover 7.25 miles on rolling hills. I had been working on easing up on my mileage safely as not to injure my hip again. But I was determined to hit my A,B & C goals. To run positive, and strong, to soak up everything around me, and to hit my decent goal pace!

I applied my Body Glide, adjusted my reflective vest, tested the light on my headlamp, high fived Katey and lined up in the exchange with my stomach rolling and peered into the dark for Phil’s approach.

If there was anything to squash my nerves for this run, it was Phil’s arrival. He barreled into the exchange with literal shouts of triumph that sent me soaring with energy and power! I took off into the night and told myself to just cruise. And cruise I did. Over inclines and down the backsides, spotting flashers of runners ahead and tracking them down. Pushing through a soreness and tiredness creeping into my quads. I avoided looking at my paces on my watch after the first couple of miles because I just wanted to feel. Feel the ache. Feel the strength. Feel the sweat drip. Feel the elation at each road kill. Feel the camaraderie when I cheered on each person I passed. “Way to go!” “Nice Work!” “Good Job!” Anytime I felt tired, I looked at the stars and reminded myself of the adventure I was on. The team that I was running to. And all that I was a part of and what we were accomplishing together.

The glowing lights of the exchange came into view and again I willed my legs to give me a little more. To run just a bit faster. To pass the last guy on my way in. I finished my 7.25 miles with a surprising to myself 7’50” pace and 24 roadkills. Our speedy team was now catching up with the other teams who had started before us! I was 2/3 of the way done – soon our entire van would be – we were doing it – we were heading to the beach!

Each runner in our van exceeded their expectations for themselves. It doesn’t take long to realize that with support, encouragement and a brave soul – you can really accomplish anything you want to. I loved welcoming in each runner at each exchange and cheering hard as each new runner set off. Knowing how I feel about making my team proud, I wanted them to know that I was proud of their efforts, too!

Van 1 passed off to Van 2 after 3 in the morning. It was time to try to figure out how to get to a exchange 24 in the dark and without cell service. With half of the team asleep already and other’s eyes starting to droop, I was determined to stay awake with Carlo, who had taken the wheel, to get our team to our resting spot. With very little idea and guidance Carlo and I took hunches on forks in the road and intersections, and somehow, possibly with our great Karma, got ourselves behind one other van that ended up to also be going to the designated sleeping exchange, ‘Tent City.’ Immediately after parking at 4 am Carlo leaned back and fell into a recovery slumber, I was ready as well. But Wale still needed to change out of his running clothes and Phil and I had to pee.

The search to find the honey buckets was an adventure not one of us expected. In the chill of the very early morning air we walked through rows and rows of vans all decorated with names, roadkills, and funny running puns. It took an hour to find the bathrooms and our way back in the dark. Finally at 5 am we were all piled into the van and I was ready for my first bit of shut eye. I tossed, and flipped, scrunched up and attempted to stretch out accomplishing about 45 minutes to maybe an hour of rest before the sun was too bright to really allow me to sleep.

Regardless of sleep, I was ready for another day filled with laughing and running with my new found family. The morning dawned stunningly! A bright blue sky, the sun beginning to warm the air – we had ample time to soak up all the beauty while we waited in line for the bathrooms. Though, we did find them much faster this time around.

With my legs feeling tired but my heart absolutely full and the support of my team, I was ready to take on Leg 3 of the race!

With the relay in full swing, and us catching up to teams that had started before us, traffic was increasing. We sent Phil off onto his final leg and headed to the exchange so that I could get ready for my third run. As we approached the exchange, our speed slowed, the vans in front of us piled up, we began to worry that we would be late to drop me to meet Phil. We were wondering how far we were from the exchange, if it was only a short way – a quarter or half of a mile, I would just go ahead of the van and walk or jog there. Then… “You guys, we’ve got a problem.” Phil showed up in our rear view mirror. He was going to beat us to the exchange and have to wait! As he got next to our van he told us that the pile up had started far from from the exchange. There was no way I could add 1.6 miles to my third leg of 6.36 rolling miles. It took over 20 minutes for us to reach the exchange, leaving Phil waiting for us for 8-10 minutes.

I jumped out of the van in the middle of the road to the dismay of the exchange volunteers, apologized to Phil, and set out to just roll through and enjoy my third leg. No expectations, just soaking in all of the pleasures the road had to offer. Like in the night, the hills rolled up and then down. But this time, the road curved left and right, in and out of trees, through farm lands, passed creeks, and under a blue, cloud spotted sky. There was so much to love about this leg, and so much to distract me from the feeling of my quads wanting to give in. I didn’t look at my watch or my pace because it was irrelevant to me. The feeling was all that I wanted. The vans all cheered for me as they passed which pushed me forward.

All of the vans might have brought with them a clogged exchange, but they also put more runners on the road. I was able to spot many runners on my path and push my legs to keep pace and track each of them down. Ticking off more and more roadkills as I went, keeping count silently in my head, while respecting their grind with a cheer of encouragement out loud!

As I got closer to the end, knowing that I had less than a mile left, I went to pass a man who, for the first time through the entire HTC, cheered me, before I could cheer him! I thanked him and pressed ahead. A few minutes later he arrive back on my side, “You have inspired me. I know I can keep this pace ’til the end.” He said to me. So for the last half a mile we ran together. Introducing ourselves through our rough breathing and speaking in quick sentences about HTC. As we got closer to the exchange we decided to put on a little heat and passed a group of runners, a girl in the group suggested a race to the finish. I mean, I’m not one to turn down a little friendly competition, I dusted the group as I pushed to the finish. I passed of the slap bracelet and high fived my new running partners congratulating them on finishing this leg, their last leg, telling them that they are champions. 6.36 miles accomplished with a pace of 7’53”, 43 roadkills, and winning a race to the finish could not have been a better way to finish my legs at Hood to Coast.

If you know me, you know that now, it was time to POP some champagne! After Captain Wale finished his final leg, our van was done! We cranked up some Drake and popped a couple of bottles. Congratulated each other and soaked in our self made glory.

We had about an hours drive to Seaside where we were able to get together and enjoy the Nike party on the beach. The weather was more than ideal for the Oregon Coast, the sun shining brightly, a light cool breeze, no needs for pants or jackets. Our bodies functioning on endorphins only, we waited for Van 2 to roll in so that we could run through the finish together.

199 miles completed. 28 hours. 14/130 in our mixed corporate open. 190th of the 1160 teams who participated. All shared between 12 runners who were now friends.

All that was left was to soak up the feeling of accomplishment. To give ourselves the time recognize that we did something hard, and we did it well! That we grew in mental and physical strength.

Running really, truly is an amazing sport. There is so much to be said for an activity that pushes you individually to be your best. It’s always you vs you to grow, get stronger and improve. Then an event like Hood to Coast brings you and other runners together. A place where you can push yourself with the full support of a team of people that become your family for the weekend. What you learn about yourself and your abilities as well as the memories you’ve made with your team are things that will fuel your body and soul forever!

Theres a million more things that I could tell you all about this two day adventure. From the conversations that taught us more about each other, to what we ate to fuel our bodies, the logistics of exchanges, the post race champagne picnic on the beach and all of the inside jokes. But truthfully, you just need to do it all yourself. There were also 11 other views of this same adventure – you can find details about it on all of their IG pages!

Runner #1: Katey @KateyBlaire
Runner #2: Phil @Philiecheezsteak
Runner #3: Me @jk__fit
Runner #4: Kathleen @kathleensino
Runner #5: Carlo @OnlineCarlo
Runner #6: Wale @wheres_wale
Runner #7: Kevin @kevinjbastien
Runner #8: Scott @scottavy
Runner #9: Cristhian @cristhianjesuse
Runner #10: Emaly @emaly_m
Runner #11: Lauren @croissant_face
Runner #12: Deanna @stand.resilient

Would you every run Hood to Coast? Drop a comment and tell me what you think about this crazy, endurance adventure!

Thank you for reading!