It's funny. I am certainly not a newbie to writing long blog posts in the least. After all, I've been blurbing in diaries for as long as I can remember and on social media since the glorious days of MySpace back in 2003. Even with the experience of letting my thoughts hit the paper (or computer screen), some things are harder to talk about than others. This is one of those "journal entries" for me. Day two taught me a lot about myself once I hit the course.
Sunday morning was beautiful and warm. Bracha woke up a little bit before I did. I decided for once in my life, I would sleep through the alarm despite it being race day. I was pleasantly surprised that I had very little muscle pain and felt pretty relaxed about the day ahead of us. We decided early on that we would hit the Waffle House again, use the bathroom for sanity's sake, check out of the hotel and head to the South Carolina race course. Following the plan, we headed there around 11ish.
Once we reached Carolina Adventure World, we went from being exceptionally grounded and calm to being shaken. Bracha pulled out our identification and told the desk attendant our names and their faces were puzzled. Turns out we were about to encounter a problem. I saw two of the volunteers talking to each other, then moving on to talk to another administrator and only holding onto one bib. My anxiety started to grow by the minute as I glanced at my FitBit. The female volunteer that we spoke to held onto one of our bibs, not locating the other and then asked us to wait until the Spartan director comes over to speak to us. Minutes later, I saw the face of a kind woman who gave us the look that you get before you're terminated from your job of six years and tell the you the positives of having a severance package.
"I'm sorry but you will not be able to participate in this race today." It was the last thing that I heard her say before my anxiety started to have a civil war in my head. My thoughts clashed like dangerous waves, hands started sweating and I could feel my mouth moving without real purpose. Bracha turned to me and the only thing I heard her say was "Let me do all of the talking." I know she said other words after this but I would be doing all of us an injustice to try to figure out what dialogue that we exchanged. I heard white noise. My anxiety was still at a low to moderate level of tolerance as long as I didn't say much. I didn't even notice that the lady that came over to us left. Usually I'm filled with quotes or positive, bubbly and insane shit to say to brighten people's spirits at times like these but I had nothing. Another person came over and before I know it, we were allowed on the course but with a stipulation that we would need to move quickly. We didn't know that Sunday races started earlier than the Saturday events.
There was no infectiously happy pre race video done on day two. No time to stretch or use the bathroom as I needed to 30 minutes before. Not even enough time to go over the game plan with Bracha so we can psych each other up for another day on the course. We just got out there. No countdown. No crowd. No Aroo. Just move your ass and don't fuck up your golden opportunity. So, with all of this said, we moved.
My anxiety meter went from a controllable 3 to 5 trying to move its way up to a 6th grade graduation striving to be the valedictorian of its class. It is kind of hard to have a nervous breakdown but worse when you know that you're not alone. Bracha was here with me. This is not the time to panic and shut down. In turn, I remained quiet. In hindsight, I cannot apologize enough to her. I went from being the Donkey character in Shrek to being this very mundane stranger on the course from NYC.
Thankfully, Bracha and I talk about EVERYTHING. She is more than just a long distance friend but almost like one of my living, walking and breathing journals. We used to talk for hours on end about how our lives was either crashing and burning or doing incredible loops on a rollercoaster ride. Even with us only meeting each other twice in person, she completely understood that we swapped places. I felt similar things that she felt on day one on our day two.
Anxiety has a strange way of breaking and building you. Often, I describe myself as an onion because of the layers and versatility of how it may offend or compliment a dish depending on its cooking technique. I was poached on day two. My kick back flavor drained into the deep waters of my brain, flavor trickling into thoughts that I suppressed for years and I became soft but still potent if touched the wrong way. Every piece of hate mail entered my brain. I thought about being 265 lbs. again, where there were days that I could not smile past the pain of being obese at a 5'3 frame. I thought about every half assed compliment of being pretty for a big girl or not amounting to anything because I'm a black woman who was a high school dropout that didn't complete college. In those moments, I thought about my father and questioned what would he think of me. People love saying how "strong" that they perceive me to be but there are days that I am broken. It would be so bad ass to say that negative comments never phase me but they do. Stressful times like this is when I think about it.
Have you ever heard folks who tell you cute shit like "Running is the only therapist you'll ever need?" Or did you read in some article about how your endorphins can sometimes stimulate happiness? Well how about this tidbit for running: Sometimes, that is NOT going to be the solution. Sometimes, you just have to let it all out and find your strength through crying or screaming. Sometimes, your strength is in the breakdown. And so, I cried at mile three. I allowed tears and these overwhelming emotions to perform a kamikaze mission onto the terrain. Bracha asked me if I was okay and I asked her to let me be. She respected it. From allowing myself to do it, I was able to find my voice again. Finally, I was able to let out of the negative thoughts clouting my brain and the ability to check back in.
At mile 4, Bracha and I talked lightly about it. Just as I thought, she told me she remembered our conversations, particularly ones that we had back in Atlanta during our initial meeting, on how I cope with anxiety. I apologized to her for the episode and she assured me that she understood. Finally we were starting to get some form of normalcy on the course.
Obviously, anxiety makes me speed walk because we were in great timing. Despite being swift on our feet, we were approached by a course sweeper who checked in on us to see how we were doing. In case you're not familiar with the term, a course sweeper is typically a person who is assigned to make sure that everyone makes it off the course. The sweeper's job can vary from being a bit of a moral support to someone who is in the back of the pack who needs to keep up pace according to the event's guidelines to calling over for medical attention or essentially being that mental Grim Reaper because they can call in to tell you that you're not going to be able to finish a race in time. This course sweeper was exceptionally nice. I am exceptionally shitty with names so we're going to call him Joe for the sake of the blog.
"Joe Smoe" is a father and a service man, who participates in his fair share of Spartan races and running events. He was super mellow and although his presence did make us a bit nervous, he was really cool to chat it up with on the course. Joe and Bracha talked a good amount of time, as I moved ahead of them to make sure that my nervous energy was still in check and we left him after we completed a sand bag carry loop. I think he stayed behind because there were a few people that was further back than us on the course. We breathed a sigh of relief. A bit more normalcy started to kick in.
While the course was essentially the same set up as Day One of the Spartan Race, I found that day two gave us more of a better understanding of the Spartan races in general. While going through the course, we came across a group of inspiring Spartans called More Heart Than Scars who were truly inspiring to watch on the course. Essentially, they're a 501(c)3 not for profit group who provide assistance to individuals who want to accomplish something that holds a huge significance in their lives despite going through personal traumas and unfortunate circumstances. Their organization means the world to me, as I have a son who has an auto immune disease and I try to lead by example that he is much more than just his disability. Sometimes, people take advantage of things that we see as small factors until they're taken away from us. Each time I go onto the course, I don't take it for granted because I know that there's a chance that my own personal physical imbalances might play out on the course. All you have control over, like in life, are the actions that you choose to make when placed in a certain position.
We had the opportunity to talk with the course designer Dan, while going through day two and that conversation was truly humbling to hear. If there was a word that I could associate with Dan, I would have say passionate. When he speaks about the heart of the Spartan races, you can feel that he actually cares about the experience and the people who take on this crazy adventure. I heard so many things over the last year about the politics surrounding obstacle course racing and marathon events becoming some "new craze" to people to a point where people are being exploited and their safety compromised. You do not get that sense from him at all. Dan radiates so much positivity when he speaks about the Spartan experience. I didn't know much about what separated the Elite experience versus the Open competitive course and I learned through him that the Elites get a chance to talk to people who help design the course, as well as getting a personalized understanding of the event that they are taking on. Most folks like me typically just go to the race, check in our bags and jet on the course never meeting the people behind the scenes. It's refreshing to hear someone of his prestige express that while he enjoys meeting the elites who are able to conquer through the course with such precision, it's great to meet people in the back of the pack.
There's so many times where we see newspaper articles or videos on the Internet about people who do amazing things with extraordinary times to match but we tend to neglect that every day folks are taking on this same course. Common folks like you and me are just as exceptional, inspiring and taking on the journey to remember, as they do. Dan taught me something about myself on the course that day: Stop belittling my own personal accomplishments. At that moment, he removed a layer of my security blanket of being scared of my own personal success. It doesn't matter how many times I do these events, I am always scared. I prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Often I question why do I have such a self defeatist attitude about myself but love pushing others. It's as if I'm scared to be happy with my own success in fear of being viewed as vain. Dan's words permeated through me and although he spoke to a group of us going on the trail, I felt like I was supposed to be there at that very moment.
Day one went by, Bracha and I went through the course pretty smoothly despite us going through the normal body aches. Her leg and knee started acting funny and my leg and lower back started to ache a bit from basic movements on the course. Unlike the first day, I attempted to do the Z-Wall and thanks to Bracha, I learned that I was actually doing it the wrong way back in the NJ's Spartan race. I had no idea that I was supposed to only hold onto the wooden pegs on the wall.
When we reached the Hercules Hoist, we learned a great deal from a really mellow Spartan volunteer who was stationed to watch over this section of the course. Despite my thoughts, women are actually lifting 85 lbs. at this section versus what I guessed was no more than 35 to 40 lbs. Men actually lift closer to 115 lbs. for this section. As I read on the Internet, people claim that the women's section can go up to 100 lbs. and men can lift as much as 150 lbs. in this area. I find it helpful to not completely rely on your upper body strength to get through this obstacle. In my personal experience, I find that if you apply my feet firmly to the ground, grip the rope tightly and use my entire body to pull it up 20 feet into the air, this is the easiest way to conquer this obstacle. I have watched plenty of people struggle in this area but this is one of my favorites, if not favorite obstacles, on the course.
When we passed this section, we skipped by the barbed wire and a mud pit. While I declined to do the dunk wall, I was especially proud to see that Bracha did it with ease. She attempted the inverted wall but we were both in a moderate amount of pain and was anxiously looking forward to getting to the finish line safely.
We reached the infamous mile 14 again and I couldn't help but be curious of what I couldn't see on the first day. To briefly summarize my last blog entry about the Carolina Beast, I went temporarily blind at Mile 14 for two hours due to my severe astigmatism. I eagerly followed Bracha back into the woods and immediately got pissed off. I completely understood her frustration on Saturday evening in the course. It's painful to explain how close we were to the finish line, knowing that we repeated this section twice. I could feel a part of me wanting to hysterically laugh and punch air as if I was channeling my inner Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a Boyz in the Hood Scene. Wait, are you too young to understand this reference? Perhaps this video will help you...
After getting out of the small section that we notoriously got lost in on the day before, we passed the 10 foot wall and the rope climb, which we graciously skipped by on the course. I have to admit that I was tickled to watch a man put his female Spartan on his back as they attempted the rope climb. Bracha and I love each other dearly but neither one of us was up for giving the other a piggy back ride. We did have a fun time attempting to do the spear throw, heckling each other as we miserably failed. Less than a quarter of a mile, we approached the slip wall. Despite being tired, we both absolutely love this obstacle. The wall was pretty slippery once you get to the top and we both took turns climbing and throwing our legs over to go down the ladder. Once over, we saw the not so whimsical flames that I thought were vibrant hues of oranges and red. We were excited that it was going to be over in less than 30 seconds. We jumped over the flames and claimed our victory. Another Spartan beast medal to add to the collection.
A few feet over, Bracha noticed a gentleman sporting what looked to me like the Spartan race's spinoff of Flava Flav's clock necklace. Turns out this guy completed 30 races in a year. Seeing this entertained a part of my crazy but the way that my lint stroked my fingers, perhaps this will not be in the very near future. Nearby the finisher photo booth, we saw a notorious Elite wave Spartan racer name Sivilay, who told us about the Hurricane Heat. From listening to him vibrantly talk about this insane sector, I almost want to try it. I guess we will see if this is truly on my agenda for next year.
Bracha ran over to grab our bags while I checked our race results. Upon her return, we took photos showcasing all of our Spartan medals for 2016 thus far. I finally earned my double trifecta. Bracha will be getting her double trifecta fairly soon. We wobbled back over to the car with our sore nubs and decided that the perfect place to shower would be at a nearby Planet Fitness. So what if we looked like a bunch of filthy animals? Our black card memberships should serve a great purpose. We allowed the hot water to whisk away all of the mud that we collected from the terrain. I remember making a sigh of relief while feeling a bit sad that it was all over. After getting ourselves together, we headed over to the Buffalo Wild Wings once again. Our poor server had several looks of concern as I was struggling to eat my food and attempting to stay awake. My adrenaline was rapidly leaving but my stomach was a vicious bear waiting to ravage everything in sight. After admitting my defeat, we took our food to go and somewhere along the ride, I passed out once again. The South Carolina air lovingly caressed my face as if it told me that we did a great job. Another race is complete. We approached our AirBnB and then everything was a blur. Day two was complete and I felt accomplished. I closed my eyes knowing that tomorrow, I would be able to give my body a much needed rest and enjoying my time off the playground with a woman who I deeply admire. See you next year Spartan.