Letting go of my ego has been kind of hard.
Last weekend in Palmerton, PA I planned to run both super and sprint races. The Palmerton course is notorious for being hot, steep, and exhausting. So I signed up with my age group season pass hoping to podium. But honestly, I wasn’t totally sure. There are some dang fast ladies and they’re not just racing elite. And for the beginning of the season, I’ve sometimes questioned my speed and ability to hold onto a race when it starts to hurt.
After going back and forth about it, I decided that since I made the AG podium on Saturday running the Super (10K), I’d earned some sort of right to jump back to elite for the shorter race on Sunday. (For context, I came in 12/12 elite at The Bethel Sunday Sprint, which bummed me out but hey - you have to start somewhere!)
The Sprint (5K) is my most competitive distance right now, and if anyone is going to excel in the mountains and in the rain, it’s me. At least that’s what I told myself.
Sunday morning I got there extra early to sing the national anthem, which was a huge honor. It was drizzling but I was just so happy it wasn’t 90 degrees, I welcomed the 65 degrees with cloud cover. The men took off, and I jogged down for my last porta potty stop before the race. The gated elite heat intimidates me, because I know every single woman at the start line is out for blood.
“Just put it all out there” I reminded myself. No holding back today. No strategy other than get out hot and try to survive.
And we did. But I hung in. The front ladies broke off into their own pack but I was firmly planted in the chase pack. I was surprised and delighted to find myself hanging in there. At about the halfway point of the first climb, a few ladies put down some serious anti-gravity and broke into another pack just ahead of me.
I climbed as fast as I could. Lungs working hard, just on the edge of blowing up. But I trusted my strength and kept the effort all the way through the top.
At the top of the climb, I jogged as soon as the grade allowed. The Z wall came into view then and to my absolute surprise there were a few ladies from the front pack doing burpees. Which signaled to me I needed to be careful. I made sure to pay attention to every move I made on the wall. Hitting the bell at the end felt cathartic. I was still in the mix… a mile into an elite spartan race and I was far from alone. It gave me the adrenaline hit I needed.
A small stint through the woods where I ran my a** off and I came out to the atlas stone carry, followed by rope climb and spear throw. With a few races under my belt, I know I can knock out Atlas and rope at higher heart rates, so I managed to get through them at a threshold effort. One of the elites I’ve been watching must have been doing burpees because she handily out-rope-climbed me. I moved on to the spear, and couldn’t get the spear out of the first pad I chose, so I moved to the lane next to it. A few deep breaths and positive thoughts, and the spear was buried in the pad. I clapped once and felt like I’d been suddenly inflated. I passed someone doing burpees. I made my way up the vertical cargo and did my flip over the top. Which landed me some oooohs and ahhhs from the volunteers. The performer in me enjoyed showing off.
I ran like a bat out of hell. If there’s something in this race that has a chance of evening the playing field, it’s the skill of a downhill descent. I LOVE technical downhills. I feel like a kid, like I’m just running as hard as I can through the woods in a game of tag, and the other girls are IT. And I am NOT getting caught.
I kept feeling like I heard someone behind me. Whenever I felt like slowing down, I’d imagine the other elites trying to catch me. Every sound in the woods had me thinking someone was getting close, so I’d double down on the effort. My quads were on FIRE from the beating I took the day before. But I trusted they would carry me.
At the wide open downhill I laid on the gas even harder. I could barely keep my legs in front of me and I was sucking wind like there was no tomorrow. But now we were approaching the back half of the race and I knew this was the speediest part, so I just kind of let go and went for it.
As I came out of the last rolling mud pit, a little frog lept toward me from the mud bank into the water, nearly landing on my leg. I let out a squeal in surprise and then felt extremely silly. Even though there wasn’t anyone in my immediate sight I felt compelled to shout “It’s ok, it’s just a frog!”
At the bucket carry, I thought I was hot sh*t. Until the elite girl I really admire (who had missed her spear it turns out) passed me what appeared to be effortlessly. I tried to hang on to her for a bit, but got dropped pretty quickly. Though she did unknowingly help me pick up my own pace. Looking behind me I saw a couple of girls less than a minute behind. I ran the bucket in, smiling. The volunteers clapped in appreciation and I practically sprinted to the water crossing, knowing my heart rate would come way down as I made my way through the water.
When I got out, what seemed like a million years later, I felt refreshed, and tried to hit my fastest effort all the way to the rings.
I saw a different girl I’d been chasing doing burpees, signalling that the obstacle was wet and precarious.
Since my race at Hildervat where I tried chicken winging for the first time (and failed), I’ve successfully traversed the rings in that style once, and not actually during a race.
But - what if I go the way I’ve always gone, fall off, and end up with the same fate as the woman doing burpees now?
Will it be worth it to try something new, and fail, than to play it safe?
I made the decision then and looped my arm into the ring up to the elbow. With a small jump, I looped my arm through the next ring, let go of the first one, swung, and looped the next one. I repeated the motion and almost got my arm into the next ring...
I pulled up on the ring and managed to get my arm through it.
Don’t lose momentum.
Through the next five rings, I breathed and aimed my arm through each ring. I swung through kicking with my leading leg for momentum.
Don’t think about dropping. SHUT UP ARMS. YOU’RE FINE.
And I hit the bell. The other girl finished her burpees.
Now it was the two of us, me giving chase down a giant hill to the festival area. I was confident I’d close the gap between us on the sandbag carry. But the thing about these elite girls … they’re strong and fast as hell. And when you chase them, they just get stronger and run faster!
She gapped me by a good 30 seconds by the end of the sandbag carry, and I clawed my way up the barbed wire crawl and the last ascent before the last couple of obstacles.
At the inverted wall, my lungs were screaming, but I didn’t stop. On my descent toward the monkey bars, (the final obstacle and one I fell off of in the rain at Bethel last month) I slowed to a walk to get my heartrate down. I knew they’d be wet, and that if I was to have any chance of beating the pack I was leading, it was here.
The girl I was chasing slipped off.
I stepped up to the rig and dried my gloved hands on the canvas covering the scaffolding. I could see the water droplets hanging from the bottom of each bar, waiting to fall. I knew the other women were closing fast.
I breathed and reached for the first bar, reversing my grip to go sideways.
The woman I was chasing must have been about 10 burpees in.
I flexed my leading arm to keep some of my weight from pulling down on the bar and clasped both hands on the same bar as I kicked out with my left leg and reached for the second bar.
It felt unstable but doable. I repeated the same motion. Flex the arms. Reach. Swing. Throw the arm. People I didn’t know were cheering for me.
On the second to last bar, I didn’t have the wherewithal to throw the reverse grip, so I grabbed the bar frontward and fell to a dead hang.
“I’ve got this,” I reminded myself as I pumped my legs and reached for the last bar, swung through, matched hands and smacked the bell.
Strangers erupted in applause. I’ve never run so fast in my life. I jumped over the fire pit pointing at the sky, thanking God, and the rain, for my advantage.
The finish line feels were real. It was strange, but having the other women still there at the finish line, congratulating me, and getting to congratulate the other ladies as they made their way across the finish line, it felt like I belonged there for the first time.
Finding out I’d finished 9/14 in a field of remarkable women gave me a ton of perspective and a lot of hope for future races.
I’m sure 9th to a lot of people doesn’t seem like much. But I was completely over the moon, knowing the talent and gutsiness of the women I was up against, and also knowing I’d given it everything and raced at my best.
So yeah, putting my ego aside to step into a ring with people who are better than me is pretty uncomfortable, but on this day at this race, it was worth it.