Can you believe I couldn't see a thing in this picture? Sigh.
Pre Race Day
Well, I was only been packed up for two and a half weeks. Okay, so I lied. I have been packed up for almost a month because I'm slightly neurotic, a worry wart and excited to go on this trip. To be honest, prior to going to South Carolina, this place screamed nothing but nature, boredom and Confederate flags but my long time friend Bracha Williams strongly suggested that I should take a chance and utilize my deferred Spartan race with her in the Carolinas.
Originally, I was supposed to do the Spartan Beast race in Vernon, NJ. Might sound familiar since I literally did the Spartan Super Weekend just a week ago at the Mountain Creek Resort and Waterpark. Last week, I had the pleasure of brushing across moments of wanting to kill my best friend Rayne, on the obstacle race course despite our great ability to push each other mentally and physically (read day two here). I was nervous about tackling the terrain in Winnsboro, SC since Bracha has a decent amount of experience with obstacle course racing under her belt. Despite my loads of cross training and running, the Spartan races scare the shit out of me in an exceptional way. The adrenaline junkie in me made me want to attempt getting a trifecta for this very reason.
Friday morning, I checked my house to make sure that my family would not starve while I was gone. I threatened them ample times to feed my goldfishes Black Rob, Jr. (Blackie), Goldine and John Wayne III. NOTE: These are their real names. Unfortunately, Biggie, Jr. passed away about two weeks ago and I had to send him down the toilet bowl. In my mind, I feel like you might be questioning my sanity but meh, your condolences are appreciated. Nevertheless, I checked over the essentials and took public transportation to the airport.
My flight was supposed to leave for 10:15AM but thanks to an airplane skidding with Mike Pence in it at LaGuardia airport, my flight was postponed several times. To make a long story short, I didn't make it to South Carolina until 5:30 that afternoon. Bracha, my head strong, take no shit friend from the social networking platform MySpace, thought it would be great to pick up my bags and capture me looking stupid, confused and in my best angry New Yorker face. After we greeted, grabbed some grub and checked in, we pulled out all of our essentials for the first race day. I made us two deadly 8 oz. Vodka cocktails that tasted like pure hell before going to bed. This is probably not a good idea for most people to do but you only live once, at least that's what I hear the young people say.
Saturday morning's warmth danced throughout my NYC bones. It was a beautiful 82 degrees outside and whilst many runners and obstacle course racers would prefer colder weather, I was enjoying the notion of basking in the sun since my counterparts back home were experiencing 30 degrees less weather with their coats. Bracha and I went to the local Waffle House that wasn't too far from our hotel. She ate a pretty light meal: Two eggs with toast. Unfortunately, her delicate meal left me looking like I was pre gaming for twins. I ordered the All Star Special which included grits, eggs, a waffle and sausage. It didn't help that I asked them to add in a hash brown on the side, double the amount of eggs, load them with cheese and provide coffee. I wouldn't suggest following my happy bliss of mid life crisis unless you know what works for your body. If you have been following my blog long enough, you are fully aware that this is not much different than my typical eating habits for my marathon regimen. After wobbling out with food babies, she drove us to Carolina Adventure World, the venue where we would embark on a 14.29 (or 14.79 depending on who you talked to) mile journey on the obstacle course. Since we had two different start times, we decided to sneak in a hour nap before the latter start time. My large breakfast with two cups of coffee surely had a nice way of dancing out of my system three times before heading to the check in area.
Hey Dara!!!! We saw her volunteering on the course.
At 12:15, we jumped over the five foot wall, standing around an anxious and excited ant farm of Spartans who shouted Aroo! Aroo! Aroo! At 12:19, we were off into the dusty trails of the South Carolina course. Prior to the Spartan race, Bracha and I agreed that we would not do each other's obstacles. It was something that we both respected because we wanted to feel like we would earn our medals. We also agreed that we would assist each other only if requested and not pressure the other to accept help. I think that things like this is necessary to discuss prior to race day, as we watched a series of mini arguments trickle out onto the course between other Spartans when it came to decision making for someone else's good. Here's the thing: Most of us who elect to do obstacle course racing have something drives us to be on the course. If you're someone like me, you might be there because you're an adrenaline junkie who is an unapologetic medal whore. There's others who utilize their experiences to condition their bodies and push it to great limits to see how far they can truly go. I ran across a few folks who do it because it's just a part of life for them and others who are very similar to me in an aspect of looking at the race as a way to make sense of their everyday lives. Whatever drives people to put their feet onto the pavement is their choice. Who are we to judge them and honestly, most of us could care less about your negative opinion unless you're out there. Our personal goal was to make it through the course safely, limbs intact and to not have one of us being escorted off the course in handcuffs because of homicide.
During the first mile, Bracha and I talked lightly but I noticed that she was a bit quieter than usual. I immediately noticed the change in mannerisms and then we were filled with gaps of silence. Her breathing was a bit labored around mile 2 and I grew a bit concerned. At times, I asked if she was okay and although she told me she was fine, her face said otherwise. Eventually, she caved in and told me that her anxiety was up. I put my ADHD behavior into my fanny pack and kept my mouth shut for a decent amount of the beginning of the trail. Sometimes, you have to learn how to respect people's desire for silence and calm. In turn, I did. I slowed down my pace of talking, only providing comforting and encouraging words, mixed in very few jokes that were outside of Spartan race talk. As a person with high functioning anxiety living in a big city, I value my silence more than a paycheck some days. If someone needs that peace and quiet to gather their thoughts, don't push them into a corner, pestering them on how you can help them. You're probably helping them just by being there and shutting your mouth for a bit. Let us sort through the tiny Lego pieces that we painfully step on at 2am in our minds so we can think clearly on the next great thing that we can build. Most times, it's nothing personal towards you and just an internal battle that we need to process.
We encountered the hurdles, a 5 foot wall, monkey bars and the sandbag carry before we hit the two mile marker. Personally, I love balancing the Sandbag Pancakes on my head, as they are around 25 pounds for women but most people carry them on their shoulder. Others carry the sandbag directly in front of them, which I feel exhausts me. We went up a short dirt hill and came back down. A water station greeted our dry lungs and we proceeded on with the trail.
When we reached the fourth mile, she was a lot lighter in her step and head space. Conveniently, I was talking to her about foot patterns. Although I have been friends with this incredible woman for 11 years, I only met her twice. She's been there virtually for me through my marriage, birth of my child to the passing of my father in 2009. One of the areas that I discussed with her over the trail was about how steps sound to me, which was why I rarely ever checked behind me unless it was to see if she was okay. When I think about Bracha's steps, they are pretty steady in movement on the course. Her feet only get heavy when she was stressed and then they dramatically changed. Unfortunately, some years back, my vision was so impaired that I was on the road to blindness. Losing parts of your vision can increase your other senses. I learned how to make my ears be my sight through an ex coworker at a temp position that I took years ago. He taught me how to listen to the sounds of taps, counting steps and finding my way when my vision was terrible. On the course, I found myself occupying my mind with counting steps or practicing to see how many people were behind me strictly by sounds.
Our conversation shifted a bit into discussions about family, friendships and how some African Americans perceive such intense sports as obstacle course racing. Despite seeing people of color on the course, I couldn't help but express to her my woes of the slightly negative feedback that I received from folks about doing this. People already thought I was nuts in general to do marathons but when telling them about the world of Spartan races, I would get comments or questions from loved ones on why would I be interested in a "white man's sport." Whilst I'm not here to change anyone's position on obstacle course racing, it does make me a bit happier to see more diversity on the course. Sometimes people project their own insecurities onto others and they tend to come in the forms of people who are closer to you. As I do these events, sharing candids of pulling heavy bags and covered in mud, it's amazing to listen to opinions change. Once in a blue, I have a petty moment where I might relish in them having to eat their words but most times, I shower in their refreshed views of such extreme sports.
As time passed, my hamstrings and glutes started to get tight. I can see that Bracha has a limp on her left side and she started to get quiet again. At one point, our conversation got a bit heavy and I could feel that the obstacle course was starting to weigh in a bit on her. She expressed that she was cramping up bad, particularly in her quads and she felt fatigued. At some point, she told me that she needed more sleep. A part of me felt like she needed more food. Although I'm not a nutritionist, doing marathons and engulfing myself in so many events taught me that I needed a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. I honestly don't think the two eggs and toast were enough. I urged her to take one of the Gatorade chews that I was carrying and pulled her in for a hug. I could see the peak of pain and fatigue wearing in on her face but I know her spirit is strong. When you're on the course, most people want to give it their absolute all before throwing in the towel. I surely wasn't going to suggest her to leave the course incomplete. We stood still for a few minutes, regained our thoughts and kept moving.
Somewhere around mile 6 or 7, we both popped another energy chew because we were both starting to cramp up a bit. We stopped near this tree and I gave her this quad massage that feels like pure crap. A tall gentleman (well, everyone is tall to you when you're 5'3 and a half) who we heard making light jokes a mile or so back came over to Bracha and asks us if everything was okay. We told him about her quad pain. He leans in, tells her to perform a basic standing quad stretch where you balance on one foot and flexing the other foot back into your glutes, holding it for around 30 seconds. Around this time, I immediately started chuckling seeing the back of his tech tee that read "Sexy Beast." I think he might have caught me laughing around this point like a kid in class making fun of the teacher. When we started walking again, we picked up a conversation with this light hearted stranger who appeared to be helping another guy on the course. For some reason, I got this nostalgic vibe from this gentleman that reminded me a bit of my father without the potty mouth. My dad used exceptionally profane language as mine can be once in a blue but he always wanted to make sure folks around him were okay. Perhaps, I got this from him when I noticed him helping out another guy on the course who looked like he was injured. Although he left an impression on me, I'm shitty with names. As quickly as he told me his name, it felt like a ninja swooped into my thoughts and took it away.
Bracha and I kept moving at a steady pace and started to feel a bit better. After the seventh or eighth mile, the trail gets slightly easier. Around this point, you start to see more declines on the course and certainly not too many obstacles. Before you know it, you just find yourself zooming through miles wondering when are you going to do the next thing. I know one of the obstacles that did bother me a bit was the memory test because it appeared somewhere in mile 2 or 3. For those who aren't aware of this obstacle, it is literally a board that is flipped upside down. Using the last two digits of your bib number, you need to remember a word and number sequence. For instance, if your bib number was 12345, you would look at number 45 on this wall and there may be something written like "Sierra 857-4309." This was the first time that I ever encountered anything like this on a Spartan Race course. I studied YouTube videos of the Spartan Beast for a bit before registering for one and for some reason, some smart creature with a GoPro named this section as the "Memorial Test." Now that I think about it, I wonder if this was a genuine typo or a real asshole. So here I am, sitting here on Mile 2 or 3, wondering when did they swap out the "Memorial Test" with an actual "MEMORY TEST!" Thanks to my diarrhea mouth, I actually said this out loud to Bracha and of course, she gave me the side eye that must have been passed down from six generations to bless upon me and called me a goddamn dummy. In hindsight, I might have looked at me quite strange too. The memory test didn't surface again until somewhere around mile 10, in which some people completely forgot their respective sequences, suffering the ultimate fate of 30 gut wrenching burpees.
Miles 9 - 12 were a bit tranquil for me. Although we spoke a bit on the course, I started thinking about a series of things. This blog started to resonate in my brain for a mile on the course and I wondered what direction would I go with this. I never try to be clever or funny when blurbing my experiences with you guys but I guess the asshole gene didn't skip me. When you write long excerpts of insanity as frequently as I do, you wonder if your reader will start to grow bored. I constantly remind myself to not fabricate or censor the feelings, making a mental note of each section in my head and just write organically. By mile 10, I shifted my thoughts into my breath. I could feel myself going through a form of active meditation. Sometimes, I zone out for miles on end on the course because I can purge all of my insecurities here. I got so good about emptying my brain that I had to frequently interrupt it to remind myself that I didn't come out here alone.
Before I knew it, we were approaching mile 13. Might have been slightly after 6pm at this point. I stalked the weather forecast for a month through Weather.com to see the sunrise and sunset patterns in Winnsboro. I knew we had no more than a few minutes after 7 until darkness covered us on the course. We picked up our pace a bit and was happy that it was about to end. My darling Bracha kept up a great pace, still positive but I couldn't help but notice her slight limp from muscle fatigue. Around 630, I turned on my head lamp, not willing to take chances and started moving throughout the course and before I knew it, we could hear the music from the course. Just because you're excited about participating in these events, doesn't mean that you're not looking forward to resting your feet or even questioning the hundreds of dollars that evicted itself from your bank account to be here. All I could think to myself is that hours from now, this will all be a memory.
A few steps into mile 13.5, I looked up and saw the high beam lights of the course that illuminated the area. My eyes instantly started to twitch but I brushed it off. We were both excited about the Hercules Hoist, an area where you pull a rope with a bag attached to the very top and you slowly lower it down. Flop it down if you desire 30 life altering burpees. We skipped the dunk wall at this point because frankly, we were over it and decided to dance on past the barbed wire crawl. Her knees weren't having it and I started going through problems in my vision. I didn't want to mention this to her, although she's aware of parts of my condition. I knew we had less than a mile left. I just needed to find a way to push through the issues, or at least that's what I thought.
A glorious mile 14 greeted us back into the woods and I made a few steps going down hill. My hearing became acute and immediately verbalized my "Oh Shit" moment. I looked behind me and her face wasn't clear anymore. I could smell different layers of the area and everything looked like broken chards of glass with peeks of light. I had a mini argument inside of my brain for a second and chuckled. Only this type of stuff happens to me. Someone whipped out the Alanis Morissette Ironic song on me and tada, I'm officially the Ray Charles of the Carolina Spartan Beast. Infamous F bombs dropped onto the frontal lobe of my brain. It was time to give her the bad news. I called out to her, feeling my tone searching for one of broken branches on the course to carve into my eye sockets and nervously said:
"So uhhh, remember when I told you about my vision going wonky?" "Yeah. What's wrong?" "It decided to go AWOL right now. I can't see."
Source: Daria Wikipedia Page
Bracha walked a few steps ahead, calmly assuring me that we were going to get through this. She took my flashing orange arm band, placed it somewhere on her and asked if I could see it. Thankfully, I could see the shimmers of orange haze reflecting off of her. I placed my hand on her shoulders, sometimes being a jerk and placing it around her waist with the creepiest joke that I could throw in conveniently to lighten up the mood. Our movements were a bit slower thanks to my untimely impairment but we had a good stride. She gave me instructions on when to lift my legs for branches, moving rocks or when we were walking on an uneven plane. We chuckled that it was like the blind leading the blind, as she left her glasses back at the hotel room and I, doing my best rendition of every blind musician who walked the earth.
I would be telling you a lie that it was not a bit disheartening at times when you have so many health issues, particularly your vision. We take so much for granted until something is removed from your life. For a few years, I forgot that I had major eye surgery and I forget quickly but this course gave me a heavy reminder of what severe astigmatism felt like. Perhaps this is the best description that I could give you: Imagine you are looking through a pair of binoculars and you can see everything clearly and then someone covers it with one layer of plastic wrap. You know there's something on it but you can still see. This is mild to moderate levels of astigmatism. Imagine two more layers of plastic wrap crinkled up and being placed on top and a bird shits on it. That's severe astigmatism. It was already enough to have the infamous and beloved Mr. Demartino's eye from Daria but to be in the middle of the goddamn woods, embracing your foot fetishes in the dirt and on the course with your partner being your human seeing eye dog can kill anyone's spirits.
Somehow, we made it through what felt like a U turn of a partial course. We made a few steps too many, which felt like we shifted to the right and next thing I know, Bracha encounters her own "Oh Shit" moment.
"I think I just saw this path already." "...what? You're kidding." "Yeah, this looks too familiar. Let me look around and see if I find our way back."
So we're standing around like two blind dirty hookers near the end of this course, wondering what the hell did we do wrong and we decided to navigate our way through the woods. I heard a group of people behind us and couldn't figure out what side I should stand on. A familiar voice emerged from my left side and said, "Hey, are you guys okay?" I passively chuckled and said, "Oh we're good. I just went blind and we think we might be lost." The male voice laughs pretty hearty and he offers to help us. We insisted that we were okay but he told us that it was no big deal and he was helping a few others get to the finish line.
Still cupping tightly to Bracha, I leaned over to her and said "Hey, sorry I went all blind on you and shit." She told me not to worry but I could tell that she was still confused about the course. Bracha inches ahead of me and tells me that we met this familiar gentleman on the course. On my left side, a gentleman with long fingers held my hand. He leans in a bit closer and says, "Hey I'm Matt." On my right hand side, I hear scurry movement of feet patterns who sounded like to me, navigated pretty well, introduces himself as Cliff. In my head, mile 7 kept playing over. I met these guys already. Cliff grabs my right hand and I can hear Bracha in front of us muttering something a few times reminiscent of "I remember this log" and "...this looks familiar." Her irritation grew and although these gentlemen kept me incredibly entertained with my best form of potty mouth perversion, as we exchanged stories of terrible shit we have heard people say in our crude professions, Bracha is now silent. I just knew she was pissed off. Even Stevie Wonder could see that shit. Her footsteps got heavier and we made the SAME familiar U turn, touching the same oversized tree branch strategically laying across a path. She was right. We did this damn path.
Behind me, there was a woman who was pretty quiet that my new not so stranger friends checked in on and then I saw something green sparkling on my left side with a warm, pleasant voice talking with us on the trail. Although I never verbalized this to her, I told myself that her name was Tinkerbell before she identified herself on the course. For my non Disney fans, it's the shimmering green that made me call her this in my head. We walk a few steps ahead and now I can hear a silently fuming Bracha confirm that we got lost here. I guess we were supposed to go to the left rather than the right. As a collective, we climb up a small incline and I could hear Cliff, Matt and my new friend Tinkerbell attempt the Spear Throw. From there, we all walked around the 10 foot wall because meh, I'm not sure how humorous it would be to see my 200+ ass trying to sing I Believe I Can Fly while going face first into the dirt.
Minutes later, I can see breaks of light again. We're back on the course. Music is blaring and we must have walked past a mud pit because the ground is wet, feet getting heavier and I can hear weird ripples. Cliff and Matt instructed me to raise my left foot up 8 inches and less than five minutes later, I can see dancing colors of orange, red and yellows. A dancing trail of green came into my peripherial vision and I assumed it was my darling Tinkerbell. I felt Bracha on side of me and then the gentleman asked if we would like to jump together or separate. To me, I felt like we should all jump together. After all, we held hands for over a half mile and essentially became our guardian angels of the course. We all did a countdown and this helped cue for me to jump. One...two...three...and over the fire pit. 21 steps later, we crossed the finish line. We all made it. I touched their arms to find them and give each of them a hug. I felt the medal go around all of my locks and felt relieved. It was done. We stood around and talked for a bit after I graciously thanked them for helping our very blind asses through the last mile of the course.
From talking with Matt and Cliff, we quickly found out that they're a part of one of the biggest Spartan Race group communities called Corn Fed Spartans. Can I tell you how much I love this group? The Corn Fed Spartans is comprised of 4,000 + members from all different walks of life with an initiative to get people off of their sofas and into a healthy lifestyle. Groups like this speak to my soul because after all, this is HOW I became a runner. Yes, I got into running thanks to my MySpace buddy Rob, who I haven't met yet, signing up for a half marathon but my structure, breathing techniques and better understanding of the running community didn't come along until I joined Black Girls Run. Quite frankly, prior to running, I would have thought that groups this large couldn't function well because of different personalities but they make this work. Going temporarily blind was probably the best thing that could have happened on the course because Bracha and I had the opportunity to befriend people who left a heavy impression on us.
Losing your vision is a gift and a curse. Although things change and stay the same, we are under some incredibly tense times where race and gender inequalities are a roaring high again and we've become hardened individuals. When your vision is impaired, it takes away a part of your ability to be judgmental. Sure, I can hear what sounded like a Mid West/Southern flair to his voice but if I didn't remember what these gentlemen looked like on the course, I wouldn't have known a thing about them. One major layer and beauty of the Spartan race is that it connects people from all over the world into one chaotic playground and almost forces you to get to know someone else on the field. In my opinion, even if you was the biggest introvert that ever walked this earth, you could easily find someone to connect with out there. To find out the Corn Fed Spartans motto is all about being the guardians of the course and to make sure nobody gets left behind is the essence of why I do these races. I am always nervous or weirded out when I get a random inbox on Facebook, Instagram or while jogging that I inspire people. Honestly, I just haven't adjusted as of yet to accepting compliments or knowing how to process that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. But what I do know is that I love watching people bloom. There's an art to watching people struggle on the course for their multitude of reasons, shedding layers of their personalities on the course and then watching that overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride at the end. Things like this cannot be purchased: It's only earned. When you have the ability to help others, it's almost like purchasing a slot of hope into one another, hoping that it will spread like a wild fire. The Corn Fed Spartans give me hope, not only for this sport, but in life. Screw the politics and insanity of this sport. The things that we do on a daily basis affect us for a lifetime. For this, I cannot thank them enough.
Our new family stood on the picture line and I reintroduced myself to Gabrielle, my darling Tinkerbell of the course and met her daughter who probably stood up as high as my shoulders. As we stood on line, Bracha had her head lamp on and coincidentally found 20.00.
"Thank you Korean Jesus!"
"You legit couldn't see (ol Ray Charles/ Stevie Wonder/ Donna Goudeau legally blind ass, lol). It was amazing doing this with my good friend of ELEVENTY (or eleven) YEARS! <3 <3 <3 " -Blurb from Bracha's Facebook Page
I always chuckle when Bracha says shit like this. I always think to myself, why Korean Jesus though. We inched into the picture booth and still blind, I questioned how horrific was I going to appear in these photos. I unleashed the same story to the photographer who sounded like he thought I was full of shit for about a full minute until Bracha kept telling me where to look. We took a duo picture together and then we jumped into a group picture with the Corn Fed Spartans. We departed a few minutes after the pictures, inching slowly to the car. I imagined that we looked like an elderly lesbian couple who just came from Ike and Tina Turner's bootcamp, so much so that we were picked up somewhere along the route and drove back to her vehicle. Bracha helped me take off my funky, filthy sneakers and slid on my flip flops. Part of my vision wanted to play nice and my right eye came back. We used the space blanket given out at the end to cover her seats, plopped our bodies into the car and drove back to the hotel.
When I got into the shower, I could feel the ring of bruises that surrounded my breasts. Oh, this left a pretty scar on my body. Under boob scars are the absolute best because they burn like Satan's baby mother who didn't receive three years of child support. I must have showered for 30 minutes and after four washes, I was STILL dirty. I attempted to get off as much as possible and give Bracha a chance to rinse off her body.
Most of the food spots were closed in our area because this is not New York City, where places were open 24/7 and we didn't want the Waffle House for dinner. We jumped back into the car, headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings and were exceptionally hangry. Hungry was a pipe dream from four hours prior on the course. I couldn't tell you everything that I ate because we were exhausted. The football game was on and zealous patrons were screaming and chanting. I was over it all. We saw two male Spartans walk in with their clean beast tee-shirts. At this point, I may have touched all of three wings after murdering some cheese fries and back pain shot up my left side. Fifteen minutes later, pain started traveling up my right side and I tried to drown my spine into the chair. Without words needing to be exchanged, Bracha signaled for the check and we took the rest of the food to go. I don't remember much on going to the car, nor falling asleep. I rubbed my body down with tiger's balm as a precaution for potentially aching leg pains in the morning. I glanced at my Facebook account for a minute, too exhausted to like anyone's status and shot Bracha a light smile. I couldn't have asked for a better Spartan Beast partner. I saw her standing up near the door of the hotel room and before I knew it, I went to sleep. Exhaustion did its job. We would need our recovery because not dropping any names that start with a B suggested that we do this race two days in a row. I may heckle her for it but I knew we would have the Sunday Spartan race in the bag. We just needed some sleep. South Carolina isn't so bad after all.