There’s something to be said for a solid subplot.
At the end of 2019 I decided I really wanted to see how far I could take my racing. Racing makes me feel alive, and so many facets of training echo in other parts of my life. I think that’s why it has become so special to me since I began this craziness in 2017. And why I’ve trained so hard in the last year.
Today is my first OCR (obstacle course race) of 2021. Savage Race, Maryland. I feel, for the first time ever, that I deserve to be in the pro wave. I’ve been training hard and consistently for this. I’m fresh off a 5K PR, and feeling unstoppable. I’ve been watching Savage Races broadcasts on Obstacle Racing Media, and imagine the commentators talking about me. I picture their surprise as they try to figure out my name. “The girl with the purple hair looks strong,” they’ll say. “I’ve never seen her before, but she’s running smooth.”
I’m at the start line and in an act of confidence I’m not sure I actually believe (but hey, gotta start somewhere) I insert myself in the second row of 5 women across, just behind a racer who’s name I know from previous broadcasts. I’m convinced I’ll keep up with the lead pack. And I smile and do a little dance/stretch combo. I can be the main event.
We get the savage race pro pep intro: “You may attempt any obstacle multiple times. If you can not complete the obstacle, you’ll take your second velcro time chip and drop it in the bucket” says the race director- “You may continue the race and finish as a ‘non complete’ but you will not be eligible for top 3 overall or cash prizes.”
I’m going to complete every obstacle. I honestly believe it.
As we tear out of the gate, I notice we settle into a pace early that feels sustainable. I’m off to an amazing start and try to keep the front girls within eyesight. It actually freaks me out a little, because previous races have felt like a punch in the gut right out of the gate. I expect to go out hot.
As we hit SCORN HOLE (the first obstacle) I pick up my medicine ball to throw it into a corn-hole-like rig but it’s SO HEAVY… I don’t even get it halfway to the hole as I realize I’ve picked up the men’s ball (Insert 12-year-old humor here). The top females have all left. So much for being the main attraction. Though I’m convinced I can still make this a show.
I grab the medicine ball meant for females and proceed to miss two more shots, settling the ball into the hole on the 3rd. What a stupid thing to mess up, the negative self-talk show’s its ugly face.
No sooner have I settled back into running, talking myself up after noticing my own heavy breathing when Suzanne (the girl with the red hair from 2 years ago) all but SPRINTS by me. My legs are suddenly heavy. But as she and I have become great friends in the past two years, I feel the spark of camaraderie between us and double down on my effort.
I desperately want to keep up with both Suzanne and another girl that’s in our pack. They’re running fast, but I am determined not to be outdone. The other girl is wearing a pink shirt. Suzanne is in black.
In my head, we become the main event. People are grabbing popcorn at home and settling in to watch how our saga plays out.
It’s then that the three of us literally run down into a bog, falling into mud up to our waists…
The girl with the pink shirt wriggles free first, and I follow suit. At some point, I look down and notice the blood on my knee. I don’t see Suzanne.
We get through a couple of small obstacles where I manage to squeak out ahead of the girl in the pink shirt, but I can’t shake her. As we approach LUMBERJACK LANE (carrying a large Jenga-like piece of wood through the woods) I hoist my wood aloft (insert more 12-year-old humor here) and start jogging into the woods. I can hear the girl in the pink shirt right behind me, which lights a fire under my butt. I REALLY want to slow down but I step on the gas.
The trouble with this is that the carry goes on FOREVER. I knew it would be long, but not ¾ of a mile long! I keep switching the plank to the opposite shoulder and eventually make it back to the loop entry point to put it down.
After this, we have an open stretch of field to run so I gun it. There’s a breeze and it feels amazing. The sun is shining, and suddenly I think to smile and remember how happy I am to have the privilege of being out here running. The sun and glorious breeze take my mind to a beautiful place for all of 2 minutes.
An obstacle called MUD N’ GUTS quickly brings back some suffering as I crawl through a muddy pool that’s thick and freezing. When I get out and continue running, I put my hands in my armpits like in that movie Superstar. How dare that mud crawl try to steal my finger dexterity!
The wind is crazy out here in the flat by the cornfields and there’s a lake with rippling waves. It’s really beautiful but the wind is knocking me sideways. I run as hard as I can seeing there’s a fun but tricky obstacle within eyeshot.
WHEEL WORLD is up next. It’s a series of wheels parallel to the ground that act as spinning monkey bars. The trick is to grab one, use bodyweight to make your way around in a carousel-like fashion in which you are the horse, grab the next one, and propel yourself forward through a series of 5 wheels until you reach the end.
As if we are in the tornado belt of Kansas, the wind howls and actually blows my body back so I can’t propel myself far enough to reach the next wheel. It’s incredibly frustrating but also an exhilarating challenge because for once, I don’t feel panicked. I feel strong. Using a sort of pull-up-and-kip move, I manage to painstakingly make my way to the last wheel and kick the bell.
The girl in the pink shirt out-obstacles me and is now 100 yards ahead, and I know I must hold off Suzanne - I can feel her not far behind.
I make my way down through another obstacle and running section when I see the girl with the pink shirt knocking out an obstacle called PEDAL FOR THE MEDAL. Imagine a giant wooden spool. There is a thick rope with a tire attached to the end, and the point is to lay in the grass and use your feet to spin the spool to bring the tire close. Once you get the tire close, you must grab it and run it back.
The plot thickens.
I’ve made up time and am feeling sassy. I pick the spool right beside the girl in the pink shirt, lay down and put my hands behind my head like I’m about to have a nap. These old stumps have served me well over the years and something about this totally leg-based obstacle just makes me feel good. I complete it at a quick pace and find myself just seconds behind Pink Shirt, proceeding back into the woods to run through a stream and some mud banks.
The girl in the pink shirt starts slipping away but every time I get discouraged I think of Suzanne, who I know must be less than 30 seconds behind me (the only reason I later find out is because she took the brunt of the mud pit earlier… and got sucked in for 2 minutes).
It becomes somewhat of a blur by this point. Run, obstacle, run, obstacle. I knock the wind out of myself trying to get up and over some hurdles as tall as me. My story is winding to a non-dramatic ending as I imagine myself passing out right there in the field after one more failed attempt to throw myself over.
I am at SAWTOOTH now: a ladder-like monkey bar on an incline, a few bars to connect it, and then another ladder on a decline. Like monkey bars at an angle with a dip in between. I’m TIRED and super out of breath. But I step up like I’m on camera anyway and start my traverse. In my head, I’ve done a sideways technique.
Trouble is, my arms refuse to respond to the 90 degree lockoff happening in my mind. Strangely, for the first time in any race, I don’t panic. I turn backward and go up that way for a couple of bars. Something doesn’t feel right. I change my technique again and just gymnastic swing myself up this monkey bar ladder. I make my way down, back up, and breathe a sigh of relief as I reach the other side and traverse down the other half. I’ve lost Pink Shirt, but I’m happy I made it past this challenging obstacle.
At this point, I’m still running away from Suzanne. I haven’t seen her because I refuse to look behind me, but something’s telling me she’s ready to strike. This is the point of the race where it starts to hurt. Every obstacle has dealt damage to my muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system. I’m starting to feel race pain in earnest.
That’s when the girl in the pink shirt emerges from behind me.
I am kind of dumbfounded. I have no idea what happened, maybe she missed a course marking and had to double back, or maybe my race brain didn’t realize she had to re-do an obstacle, but now she’s here. And she is NOT slowing down.
F*ck. Ok it’s BACK ON.
I hang on to her for a couple of obstacles and another half-mile, when suddenly, the gauntlet is laid out in front of us. I Imagine what the commentators are predicting. This is an EPIC battle and it’s coming down to the last series of obstacles.
The girl in the pink shirt gracefully sails through an obstacle called BATTERING BIRD. It’s a battering ram handle you have to shimmy about 12 feet to a series of mop-like rope holds.
I take a couple of breaths and step up. I jump, grab the pipe, and shimmy myself to the middle, grab the mop hold, swing my legs and propel myself to the next one. To which my hand comically slides to the bottom, and when I go to grab it with both hands, I merely fall down into the grass. Just a pile of limbs slipping off of a wet mop.
I try again. And again. And again. Nothing I try works. I’ve all but forgotten my competition. Even Suzanne has come and gone, giving up her band, as per her carefully thought out race plan. But I really don’t want to. In the saga in my mind, I get past this obstacle. I am formidable. I’m the up-and-comer who challenges the leaders.
I’m not some forgettable subplot.
But as I continue to contemplate it and the seconds go by, I decide something else. I am self-aware. I’m not someone who gets stuck at a rig for extended periods of time to try to prove to myself that I am physically stronger than I really am. I know in my heart I just can't complete this rig. For now.
So, with my pride screaming at me, I un-velcro my band and chuck it into the bucket to continue my quest.
The last couple of obstacles involve a giant slide into freezing water, followed by high winds and trying to rewarm my hands before I attempt a rig that there is a massive crowd in front of. By the time I get to the SAVAGE RIG, it’s absolute carnage. I later learn that only 9 women in total get past it. And the girl in the pink shirt is one of them.
I give the part with the cheese board a good-faith attempt, fall off, and then Suzanne and I proceed to the last obstacle. When we both complete it, she tells me to go ahead. But, she stuck to her race plan and made a better choice, she should finish first. I think “fuck it we’re in different age groups” grabbing her hand. We prance across the finish line like a couple of school girls.
Suzanne takes 3rd in her age group (both women ahead of her completed all obstacles) and I take 2nd in mine (only one woman finished all obstacles in my AG).
It also turns out that the girl in the pink shirt’s name is Sarah. She’s a beast of a racer and a ninja with a ton of accolades. She comes in 6th overall, keeping her band, and it goes without saying I am now a fan. It’s cool to make friends and chat about what races we will see one another at this year.
I come away from the race feeling excited and proud with lots of new things to work on.
I may not have been the main storyline. But with how everything played out, I feel like we gave the folks at home one hell of a subplot.