Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013: A Year in Review and Looking Ahead

Another year, gone. As tradition dictates since 2009 it is once again time to reflect on the previous year; to stop and take stock for both the purpose of remembering, and for the purpose of planning.

2013 was a tough, tough year. Of course, it had some very high notes, for which I am tremendously grateful! But as a whole, it was stressful and emotional to an alarming degree. I fear that perhaps maybe I did take on a bit too much this year (although I vehemently denied it all year). Or perhaps the constant effort of quitting smoking affected my moods and chemical make-up coupled with what were maybe normal stresses? Perhaps this year I have been suffering from depression...? I honestly and truly don't know. But considering I gained 20 pounds this past year even though I worked out more than ever and didn't change my eating habits (that much - I have been quitting smoking and probably stress eating) I can't help but believe that my body was in a fairly constant state of fight or flight and storing fat and energy as if it were under attack. I have been stressed all year, from beginning to end and for various reasons, and coming off of a stressful 2012 as well.

I think it was just too much (two promotions at work, weddings, school, responsibilities to my writing group) and I'm only realizing this all now. Now that the semester is over and the holidays are over and I'm finding myself with a wee break (with the exception of one more deadline), I'm noticing that I've just been constantly adjusting to everything I "had" to do, and really hanging on by a thread. I accomplished everything (and to my usual high standard), but I fear that I did so at the expense of my well being. There was just nothing left at the end of the day.

I am seriously hoping that is why I have been crying and feeling depressed nearly every single day. For some reason, especially the past few months, I am feeling too much and thinking too much. So much so that I started talking to someone about it in September. Something isn't right. And I don't like the person I was this past year.

I can't keep living like this. It would be impossible to look back on 2013 without acknowledging all of this, as it was the near-constant shadow cast over the year, and without planning some sort of defense for the coming year. I can only hope that everything I have been feeling is some basket weave of stress and quitting smoking that will loosen its grip on my mind and body.

Which is why I am acknowledging that here now and practicing identifying these feelings, sending them love and gratitude, and then sending them on their way.

I quit smoking, finally, in 2013. As of today, I am cigarette free 30 days! For whatever weight I've gained and whatever emotional turbulence I have put myself through as a result of quitting and failing over and over and withdrawal from cigarettes, I am grateful because I feel free. Year after year after year I have tried and failed to quit smoking and finally, FINALLY, I don't have to quit smoking today or write those words on the top of my resolutions list. For all of this, I am so grateful.

Later this month I will begin my final semester at Saint Joseph's University! It has NOT been easy, but in May I will don a cap and gown and FINALLY get my elusive Bachelors Degree with all manner of pomp and circumstance and I will have achieved a major accomplishment. For all the stress, late nights, early mornings and deadlines, I am so grateful. I am a smarter, more confident woman because of my education and I am proud of myself for my stellar grades.

I had the honor, as Matron of Honor, to stand beside my best friend Jess on her wedding day this past June. The Bridal Shower was wonderful, if I do say so myself, the bachelorette party an absolute blast and the wedding was beautiful. Most beautiful of all was the Bride. I was so happy to be a part of it all.

The Bride and Matron of Honor at the Shower

As for travel and leisure, our annual week-long vacation with the Cape May Crew became a long weekend instead. It was super fun, as always, however we did not take our annual photo in front of Kelly's Pub unfortunately. As best as we try to keep traditions, sometimes they're just not possible... the photo that should be here below this paragraph is missed.

Speaking of traditions, we did maintain our Oktoberfest tradition and breathed some fresh life into it adding a new game and some new faces (but more on that in a moment). It was a great time, or so I'm told since I blacked out pretty early (woops). I'm told I was a hoot and a great host so thank goodness for that.

In August I went out to Washington (the second time in 8 months) for a 3rd big brother/little sister adventure (the last before Doug sets out with Kristin on their round the world bicycle tour). We headed out to Doug's favorite part of Washington, the Cascade Mountains, Methow Valley and Winthrop. We spent a couple days just hanging out, hiking, and riding bikes in Stehekin, a community nestled in the North Cascades only accessible by boat, plane, or foot. It was a wonderful experience for a city gal like me and one I will never forget. Not only did I get to experience nature and the beautiful views and a few days of unplugged living, but the time spent with my brother was so wonderful. Drinking coffee and talking for hours in the lodge after a morning of hiking, reading together at the bakery, playing a game at night enjoying a few beers, reading each other's stories... all with the most amazing backdrop imaginable. It was a wonderful trip.

Hanging out near Agnes Gorge

Crossing off item #59 on my bucket list, I finally saw Pearl Jam. It was a great show and wonderful to see them after being a fan for twenty years.

For all that we gained, we also suffered some losses. Mike lost his job in the fall and was unemployed for four weeks. He's back to work now, but not happy so we'll see what the New Year brings. We also lost two very special people, Mike's Grandma Stephanie and our good friend's dad, Mr. Kobryn. They will both be missed.

But when God closes doors, he opens windows and he opened a big one, one that let in a tremendous amount of light, in August when I met April, and Mike and I gained an entire family into our lives who live just a few doors down.

I was out walking one day when a woman I had waved to countless times since we moved here said that if I ever wanted someone to go walking with that she would like to go. I said sure and right then we set up a date and time to walk. I didn't even know her name. I met her in front of her house a few days later and we introduced ourselves and that was it - we were very fast friends. We started walking regularly then a few weeks later we had the family over and Mike and April's husband Joe hit it off splendidly and their kids, Joey and Angelina, are so wonderful and sweet. It's been amazing and we are so happy to have made such wonderful friends.

We took in the New Year with our new friends and it was great. It's funny how sometimes you have no idea what's missing until you find it and then you have no idea how you got by all this time without it. I guess everything happens for a reason. The universe works... and somehow always knows the perfect time to step in.

So that's 2013 in a nutshell. One last highlight; I wrote more in 2013 than I have in years (and I don't mean for school). That's something I really want to continue focusing on in 2014. I am realizing just how good it is for me, mentally, to get things out of me. I may even get to see two of my stories in print... but more on that in a later post.

My number one first and foremost goal for 2014 is quite simple but very hard: I want to be kinder to myself (and by extension to Mike and my Mom). I was not kind to myself in 2013. Maybe that's another reason I have been so sad... But that is going to change.

There are so many other more specific goals I could write about, but I realize now that they all fall under being kinder to myself. Allowing myself to do the things I have been wanting to do (like taking surfing lessons this summer), taking my weight off in a loving way, rather than starving myself and winding up being resentful, giving myself permission to say no more often, making meditation more of a priority as a gift to myself, being a better wife, a better daughter... all these things will come if I can just be kinder to myself. And I started today. After taking several hours to write all of this down for myself, I already feel better. I'm learning what works for me. A lot of people say it's best to keep your eyes forward, but as the name of this blog indicates, I think reflection is critical in order to move ahead. We need to know where we've been in order to plan for where we're going...

...and I'm moving forward in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review

And yet another year, Gone.

Keeping with tradition, it is time to reflect back on the closing year in order to remind myself of all that's happened and what I have done and achieved. I love New Year's. I have no use for rubbing shoulders with strangers anymore or fighting for a drink. In fact, this year Mike and I will again stay home with a wonderful spread of snacks and a lovely seafood and risotto dinner, as well as some good beer and wine.

What I truly love about the new year is the fresh start. For the first time in three months I feel rested and refreshed. The social calendar has slowed and it's the perfect time to refocus my energy on the goals I was not able to achieve this past year, and really focus on what I want 2013 to be like.

After reviewing 2011's Year in Review post I see that 2011 and 2012 were very different, whereas 2011 was a year of planning and new challenges and ventures, and 2012 was largely a year of execution and settling in and adjusting to those new ventures.

I started school in January at Saint Joseph's University. I would say that the majority of my stress this past year has stemmed from school in one form or another. But I am extremely proud of wrapping up my first year with a 4.0, which will surely only add increased pressure and stress this coming year. Yet I have decided I like the ring 4.0 has to it so I will continue to try my very best to maintain it.

I managed to start the year out right with a five-mile race on New Year's Day. Although I did not achieve a single one of my 2012 resolutions, I have achieved, finally, consistent exercise. After years of practice, I consistently kept active throughout the year with only brief and sporadic periods of inactivity. That's a huge accomplishment, and now simply part of the routine. I also ran Broad Street again, a 10-mile race in Philly, this past May in honor of my 30th birthday. I finished in 1:55:37, shaving a whopping 17 minutes off my time from 2010.

Speaking of my birthday, I turned 30 in style with a Big Birthday BBQ Bash that Mike and I threw at home. It was a blast and I avoided feeling all of the 'boo-hoo I'm 30' nonsense. I reflected on turning the big 3-0 here.

In August, I decided to do something I have always wanted to and signed up for private one-on-one swim lessons. I love swimming so much and I certainly have a knack for it, I've discovered. It is now one of my favorite things to do and I look forward to building up my endurance in 2013.

As for travel and leisure, this year I was fortunate enough to take three vacations, which is totally awesome! In July, Mike and I went to Cape May again with our usual crew for our 4th Annual week in Cape May. The house we rented was huge and had decks and porches everywhere, the weather was great and we had an awesome pool again conducive to hours of pool volleyball. Overall, it was extremely relaxing and we had a great time.

Labor Day Weekend, I took my Mom out to Colorado to see my brother, Joey. I had never been out there so that was really cool. It was great getting to see Joe and where he lives. We hung out in Louisville, Boulder, and Longmont hitting up five breweries (Lililkoi Kepolo at Avery is still the best beer I have ever had) and countless bars. We went hiking and also drove up the highest paved road in N. America, Mount Evans Road, to 14,240 feet. The temperature was in the 80's when we set out and in the 20's at the summit. It was freezing and the drive up was terrifying thanks to my fear of heights and lack of shoulder and guard rails.

Lastly, Mike and I got to spend Christmas in Washington state with my brother, Doug, and sister-in-law, Kristin. What an incredible way to wrap up the year! We truly had an awesome time and made so many memories and got to have so many new experiences. We went to a Seahawks game (it really is as loud as they say it is), ate Moroccan food on Christmas Eve, went snow tubing on Christmas, spent time in Seattle and just laughed our heads off and got to catch up and talk. A lot. I always take away so much more than memories from my visits with Doug and Kristin and my trips out to the Pacific Northwest.

The only major change we experienced this year was an incredible blessing. Mike started a new job after eight years of being with the same company and becoming increasingly unhappy. For the first time since I have known Mike, he is off weekends. This is a total game-changer and the entire quality of our marriage has improved and best of all, he is a happier man, which makes everyone around him happier.

This past year we also maintained our Oktoberfest tradition despite an extremely busy fall. As we and our friends all get older I think it is increasingly important that we maintain these traditions because it would be all too easy not to see one another without events that bring us all together. We are happy to do our part and provide another reason to come together.

This past November we saw two of our dearest friends, Roman and Danielle, tie the knot. Mike was overjoyed to be named Best Man and I was thrilled to be a bridesmaid. The wedding provided many festivities including a fabulous bridal shower in July, bachelor and bachelorette parties in the fall, all leading up to truly fantastic wedding, which included a weekend in a beautiful hotel with many great friends. Overall, their nuptials were great cause for celebration; a whole lot of it, and we are thrilled for them.

Also this past November, Mike and I hosted our very first Thanksgiving and I loved every second of it, particularly the planning and prep. It was a huge success - the house looked gorgeous, the tablescape was stunning and the food was delicious. I very much hope to do it again next year. Thanksgiving, a holiday I didn't care much for, is now possibly my favorite. I guess as long as I can do it my way. ;-)

Overall, 2012 was great. After all, we had one another, a roof over our heads, pillows under them, food in our bellies, and our family, friends and Cooper. Life has been good to us and we are fortunate enough to do many things.

I wish all of my friends and loved ones a wonderful 2013 free from pain and full of love, accomplishments, and good fortune. Cheers.

And now for those resolutions...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Turning 30.......

Today is the eve of my 30th birthday and I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what this means to me, and how I am feeling as I achieve this milestone. The past several years have been really excellent, my 29th year being no exception as I hit the trifecta of new home, job and school. I’ve been running a lot more races and weigh less today than I have throughout the past 3-4 years. I am faster and more active than I have ever been in my adult life and although I have been thinner, I don’t think I’ve ever been healthier. I feel good and I am quite pleased with where I am at this point in my life.

This week I have been burdened by homework and have had little time for self-reflection, yet fortunately my work has necessitated reflection. I have been learning Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; what he believes happiness is and what it takes to achieve it. One of my tasks was to write about what I believe happiness is. This lead me to contemplate how I define happiness, whether or not I am happy, and how I may be happier in my 30th year.

I am pleased to say that my happiness has increased consistently over the past several years. I believe this comes with age and experience and having an understanding of what makes us happy. I pro-actively seek pleasure, work to improve myself, and my life, to be happier, and to avoid that which does not bring me happiness. Aristotle believes happiness comes with maturity and I agree. I have learned so much about others, life, and most importantly, myself. With this knowledge I feel armed to make better choices and to ultimately live a better life, resulting in a level of happiness.

I often question what the point of living is if you’re not working toward something. I believe it is important we strive for self-actualization although there is no way of ever achieving it. There are a great many things I will continue to work toward this year (my degree, running faster, losing more weight, being a more patient person, improving my home and finances) and there are many improvements to be made (you’re 30 now – STOP SMOKING FOR GOOD ALREADY!). But it is so much easier to do these things feeling that I am not “behind”. I am not overwhelmed by what I want to do because I am always aware of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I am headed.

Ten years ago I felt hopeless, depressed; I was a failure and only valued myself as others valued, or didn’t, value me. I was lost; not good for anything.

Today I am a strong, intelligent, independent woman. I am a good wife to a wonderful man, a great mom (to the most perfect dog in the world), a good daughter and sister, good friend, and a contributing member to society.

In the future I seek to be great.

I am excited about beginning the next chapter of my life. There is a little trepidation in the big 3-0 though, I must admit. Although I have been an adult for several years, now it just seems so much more “official”. Don’t get me wrong - I still plan to call my mother in tears when I’m upset, but there’s something about “30” that says we need to get our retirement plans in order, and get annual physicals and start being really vigilant about our health. The biological clock is also out of the closet. It’s not on the nightstand yet, but it’s in the room. And although this brings me great sadness to think and write, it is also time to really stop taking people for granted, like my Mom for example, because you just never know how much time you have.

But enough of that. 30 is also just another number. This Saturday I will celebrate 30 right with a big bash amongst my parents and friends. I will kick things off with awesome over-indulgence and memory-making. The scene of the first page of the next chapter will be my backyard and the main character of the story will be 30 and drunk. I couldn’t ask for a better beginning and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Wide Open

This is not a post about football. But this afternoon the NY Giants advanced to the second round of the Playoffs and this post is being carefully typed letter by painfully slow letter because I am beyond drunk. But I have something to say, despite all the back spacing.

This afternoon I met a genuinely kind man. I am a skeptical girl from New Jersey so I was not surprised to hear he was from Indianapolis. Hate me or not, kind people are few and far between in New Jersey. After he walked away another guy picked up on the conversation and initiated football chat. I say with full confidence I knew what I was talking about. As he walked away he commented to his friend that talking to me wanted to make him blow his brains out.

He was an incognito Falcons fan. I wanted to start some shit.

It took all my energy to not tell him it was time to blow his brains out after the humiliating blow we gave the Falcons.

This post is not about football. Seriously. I told my husband, Mike, about the awesome Indianapolis fan, and our friend Beater (Jay) visiting from PA. We bumped into him again and he invited us to a party for the Steelers game happening a mere 30 minutes later. We got his name, a vague address, somewhat familiar, and that was it.

I asked my husband if we could please go to the party and not surprisingly, he said no. So naturally, I started fighting for what I wanted, thinking that I know what is best for us.

For example, In Aruba, on our honeymoon I knew we should we leave the resort and see the country. Mike hmmmed and hawwwed and we had one argument on our honeymoon. He didn't want to leave the comforts of our resort and I didn't fly all that way to not leave the comforts of our resort. I was determined to go with or without him and eventually he gave in and thanked me for the best day of our honeymoon; adventure day.

Today was adventure day. In a bar less than a half mile from our house I convinced Mike that today is an impromptu adventure day. How often in New Jersey, of ALL PLACES, will you meet someone that obviously felt some sort of connection and welcomed you into their personal world, by inviting you to a party.

I want to travel. Reading more and more books about travel and humanity I realize you need to accept the kindness of strangers and believe there is good in this world. We are raised to be skeptics; I hate it. I so desperately want to break this barrier down and what better way than to do it with a man from Indianapolis, Peyton country for crying out loud! I fought for what I wanted. I wanted to prove a point that strangers can be kind and welcoming.

Drunkenly, I petitioned Mike and Beater to trust me. I swore no sicko could take all three of us on and that if the party was a bust we could leave. Immediately.

As we looked for the house we could not find the cross street and my heart sank. Was I really given a fake address? I refused to accept it so we went back again and when I saw the cross street I had a renewed faith in humanity.

Long story short, we had a spectacular time! We made new friends a mere mile from home, had a hundred laughs, and experienced trust in strangers. Numbers were exchanged, friends were made, and most importantly I haven't lost faith in strangers. I showed Mike that strangers aren't necessarily bad. We were welcomed into the home of a friend of a guy we met a bar mere hours earlier. We proved the stereotypes wrong - we had a blast and laughed until we cried.

This is the heart of being wide open.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Another year, gone.

As I reflect back on 2011, I am forced to put my humility aside and declare that yes, 2011 was truly a banner year; one to be immensely proud of.

The year started slow and stressful with Mike and I immersed in the housing market coming off our wedding in late 2010. In the Spring I applied to school and began searching for a new job, ready to move on from my current position after 7 years. We found a house and began making preparations then things moved at lightning speed and feel as if they have only slowed down now, just in time for the start of a new year.

A quick and lovely birthday trip to North Carolina to visit with my brother in May kicked things off. Then we were consumed by moving preparations and finances until June when we closed on our house. Then it was two weeks of living in two places and working around the clock to prepare the new house for moving into. Once we moved in the work continued for two weeks until we went on our annual vacation to Cape May with great friends. Somewhere in there we braved a BBQ, which was just lunacy in hindsight, but hey, people wanted to see the house.

We worked hard through August and I participated in the race of my life early September, my biggest accomplishment to date, which you can read about here.

I started a new job three days later, September 14, and got accepted to Saint Joseph's University within the week. Of course by now I was begging Mike to be careful every time he stepped out of the house and calling my Mother just to tell her I love her certain that the shoe would drop at any second. This run of good fortune was leaving me skeptical and nervous.

We picked up the pace on the house again so that it would be ready for our "Annual Oktoberfest Party in Honor of Mike's Birthday". It came down to the wire. We finished painting the dining room hours before the table was delivered, exactly one week before the party. Our first big party in our own home went off without a hitch, if you exclude my having possibly been "over-excited". Nearly every one of our greatest friends plus many more were there and after that the house felt properly christened.

Another race in November and a quick two and a half day trip to Cape May with my Mom to cross something off her bucket list and an extremely busy social life brings us to the present. Mike and I went to New York, together, for the first time in our relationship. We got to see the Giants destroy the Jets live on Christmas Eve.

In summary, 2011 was the year we bought a house, I switched jobs, got accepted to University, and ran the race of my life, which I am happy to say I will be participating in again this July. It's the year I joined a writing group, my Mom's knees were replaced, my best friend got engaged, and I went to my very last Harry Potter film.

Now we're feeling tired and eager to bring in the new year alone in our house playing a new video game. I'll wake up January 1, 2012 and participate in a five mile race to start things off strong. 2012 will be a healthy and fun year now that there's no wedding to plan, house to buy or career move to work toward. This year will really be about Mike, myself, and the two of us together (with Cooper). We both have big plans for ourselves that have had to take a back seat and now we're eager to spend more energy focusing on ourselves.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spartan Race Report - 9/10/11

A few months ago my good friend, Rudy really stepped up his work outs and started working hard to lose weight and get fit. He picked a goal several months out, sort of a culmination of his training if you will, and that is the super challenging 12 mile Tough Mudder obstacle course race in November. His ambition quickly became contagious and others around him began working out and eating better, myself included.

Because I have raced a whopping two races I considered myself more experienced and suggested to Rudy he do a race in advance as sort of a dress rehearsal. He had already planned to and found something called the Spartan Sprint, a 3.5 mile obstacle course. Although I have no desire whatsoever to take on the Mudder, this Spartan thing sounded reasonable so I decided to sign on to show Rudy my support and have something to train for in the meantime.

We didn't have much to go on. The Spartan is a touring obstacle course style race. There are three levels, each varying distances, culminating with the Spartan Death Race which boasts a 10% completion rate. We were told the Sprint was around 3.5 miles, hilly, muddy and that there would be about a dozen obstacles. There was no course map, no description of the obstacles - pretty much nothing but a location and a date.

Two days prior to the event we received an email with some crucial information like our bib numbers, etc. Also included was a note from the Race Director saying that the course was shaping up nicely and is 4.5 miles, 2.5 of which is up the mountain. We then found out the the PA Spartan Sprint is the longest and hardest of the lowest tier of Spartans. And that was only the beginning.

We arrived yesterday at the race and were immediately intimidated. We said it several times yesterday and I will say it again; thank God we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, because we most likely would not have shown up.

We talked to some folks, including a women who quit a quarter way through, and watched the top five finishers cross the finishing line. All we knew at this point was that no one was actually running up this mountain, and that as we approached the finish we had to jump over fire, climb a wall, throw a spear into a target and do burpees as punishment if we missed (think jump, squat into a push-up then stand back up thirty times). Lastly, we had to face three incredibly fit people dressed as Spartans with jousts who hit you as you passed. Fun.

Ironically, at the peak of the mountain we could see some movement. The people up there were as big as ants to us at the base and we wondered what was going on up there. Little did we know this would be our toughest obstacle or that I would collapse up there in a few hours.

We queued up at the Roman style pillars for our 12:00 heat start and did our best to amp ourselves up. Our Spartan host informed us we would be facing "dozens" of obstacles. Rudy and I looked at each other with wide eyes at the word "dozens". What the hell happened to a dozen? We were about to jog into the unknown.

Before we knew it we were off jogging into what would be 2+ hours of torture we would often exclaim we actually paid $100 for (including the mandatory insurance of course). I was in way over my head.

The incline kicked my ass five minutes in and I was hoofing it gasping in air. Most people were. And oh look, a wall. I hoisted myself up and over the first wall then crawled under a second then up and over again and under. By the third wall (about fifteen minutes in) I failed two attempts and a man asked if I needed help and yes, I asked him to "shove my ass over this thing".

The incline was torture. The obstacles were just uncalled for and mean. Rudy and I mostly stuck together 2/3 up the mountain (about 1/3 of the race). As if walking straight up a mountain isn't enough they threw in some tunnels for us to crawl through for fun, I'm sure. If that wasn't fun enough at least Rudy threw grass at me and I tried to knock him unsuccessfully into the side of the tunnel. When everyone is suffering it's best to make your own fun.

To emphasize how steep the incline was - two parts of our course upmountain (uphill does this no justice) were so steep that there were ropes to help us hoist ourselves up. Rocks we used as foot holds gave out and trees we used to grab on to bent. This was no hike in the woods. There were other obstacles on the uphill that my brain blocked out.

I wanted to quit fifteen minutes in to this hell and caught up to Rudy as he was resting a moment and told him so. I also told him we can no longer be friends. (This was his idea after all). He admitted the thought of quitting was crossing his mind as well and he would if I did. I don't recall this but Rudy said after this exchange I took off running so he did as well so I wouldn't get a lead on him. We didn't speak of quitting again out loud (although I know I thought it).

We parted ways about 2/3 up the mountain. I just couldn't keep up. The last third of the uphill was excruciating. People were dropping off to the sides every where and some were even vomiting. I developed the chills and began to shake. Every hair on my body stood. But I could still see Rudy up ahead and I knew I had to keep going. But I grew increasingly nervous over my current physical state and finally told a man suffering beside me how I felt. He said I wasn't getting enough oxygen and that I should put my hands over my head and take deep breaths. We stuck together a few more yards (which took minutes) and I finally sat. The view was incredible. I was so high up the mountain that I knew I was far beyond the point of quitting. The top of the mountain (and I knew water would be up there) was within sight. I continued onward taking baby steps leaning forward. It felt like hours, but I made it.

I expected a water station, but I faced a hell far worse. Immediately to our left was the double diamond ski slope. I was told I had to fill a five-gallon paint bucket half way (men had to fill theirs 3/4) with gravel and walk 50 yards down the incredibly steep double diamond slope then back up with my bucket. I exclaimed "where's the water!?!" and was told it was after I completed this obstacle.

The slope was so steep that our buckets prevented us from tumbling forward to our deaths (if we were lucky maybe the finish line). All we could do was lean sideways and take a few baby steps and drag our bucket to catch up. If you spilled your gravel you had to scoop it back in. As I started my journey down I saw Rudy on his way up. He was a sight for sore eyes to say the least and I managed one "Yeah Rudy!". I didn't see him again until the finish line.

I collapsed on the upside. I had already walked up a mountain. I couldn't walk 50 yards up a double diamond slope while carrying a 30 lb. bucket. People were dropping like flies, apologizing to the people behind them only for them to say "it's okay, I can't move anyway". Finally, like an angel sent from above, a girl beside me said, "on the count of three we walk 10 steps." She counted the ten steps aloud and then we dropped. We rested and started again while she counted aloud. We did this at least ten times and together we made it to the top. I have no idea who she is but I may not have made it without her.

To add insult to injury there was a massive wall between us and the water. I was physically incapable of getting over the wall so I went around it. A volunteer told me to drop and do 30 burpees. I uttered a simple "no" and I guess by the look on my face he knew to leave it alone.

Finally. Water. And back down. I was half way there. I knew at this point that Rudy faced whatever I was about to face and he did it so I could too. I didn't want to see him. I knew the only way I would see him was if he got hurt.

After the water I had to lift a cinder block on a pulley up 25 feet and let it down slowly. This was surprisingly easy and I completed the task without incident. Now for the downhill and more surprises.

The downhill was incredibly technical single track. I trained on trails so I could navigate fairly quickly so I managed to pass many people who stepped aside as they heard me coming. But there was no running. This was far too steep and far too muddy. Many, many times I got too much momentum and had to grab a tree to stop myself from crashing. We spent a lot of time on our asses sliding far too fast down rocky mud using our sneakers as a steering wheel. I was constantly brushing my ass to make sure my pants didn't rip open. (Rudy mentioned he saw his fair share of girl butt LOL!)

I slid my way down a trail and saw a sort of opening. I rised, and my heart sank. Another godforsaken obstacle. This one a 20 foot cargo net to climb up and over. I have a fear of heights, but even a greater fear of faulty manufacturing. But I knew I had to do it. I made it to the top and straddled the top bar and froze a little. It took me a minute or two to swing my other leg over but the volunteer on the ground was very encouraging and told me to take my time. When I finally swung my other leg over I felt like a winner. I conquered a fear. (Later on Rudy will say that he was concerned for me as he tackled the net knowing my fear of heights. And I will smile and say I made it up and over and conquered my fear.) Rudy actually climbed the net so damn fast that the same volunteer yelled at him to slow down!

More incredibly technical single track lay ahead and it became abundantly clear that we weren't navigating actual "trails" but ways down a mountain that were created just for this race. We had to push trees and branches aside and do our best not to break our ankles (or our necks). (Many ankles were actually broken.)

I once again emerged to a clearing and saw a series of three foot tall totem poles to hop across. I made my way up onto the first one and froze. The next one was pretty far away and I did not trust my muddy sneakers. I could not step across. I had to jump across. Instead I hopped down and again refused to do the penalty 30 burpees. Fuck that shit was my attitude at the time.

After this the trail went uphill again and I was again cursing the sadistic person who developed the course. Again I passed people taking breaks off to the side. I heard running water and continued ahead to the sound of "head first folks!". A MAKESHIFT WATERSLIDE!! I didn't go head first but I jumped down onto the massive make shift plastic tarp water slide and plunged into an icy cold mountain lake and it was incredibly refreshing! I swam 100 yards to the exit making small talk with a fellow Spartan about how this was by far the best obstacle. (Yes, they put a row of barrels in our path so that we'd have to go under water.)

Little did we know we weren't finished with water. We emerged again to some sort of lake (mountain drainage hole?). We were told to grab a rope that was tied to a cinder block. We had to drag it down a hill, through waist high water and back up. By this point I have no shame in admitting I was looking for female advantages. I asked if they were all the same and was told they were. I grabbed a rope and heard "Hey dude, give that to her!" Apparently the guy a few feet ahead grabbed a broken cinder block so it was a "6" instead of a complete figure "8", He sheepishly handed it off and I was grateful for the slight advantage. The uphill was, again, a bitch to say the least.

After that more trails and then a "lovely" series of three hills (think motocross) all with waist high muddy water in between. I ran all three nearly plunging face first as I hit the water in between. This was also a little fun in retrospect. Little did I know that the second hardest obstacle lay around the bend.

I was greeted by nasty, wet thick MUD and two foot high barbed wire; VERY REAL barbed wire that my tired ass had to army crawl under. I stepped up into the mud and nearly broke my knee because my foot sank about a foot and prying it out took great effort and great suction noises. It was all hands and knees and then strictly elbows and feet FOR OVER THIRTY YARDS!! We discovered as a group about half way through after our elbows and forearms were bloodied that rolling was far easier. We turned on our sides and rolled slowly, being very careful not to snag the barbed wire. (The wire was so low that Rudy had to ball his empty camelback up in his first.)

I rised, dizzy, to face another massive wall. This was the same height I was physically incapable of getting over the first time so proceeded around it and exclaimed, "are you fucking kidding me!" because I faced another thirty plus yards of barbed wire. I made my way slowly rolling under the wire trying not to kick anyone in the head and fighting the urge to vomit. The mud had rocks in it and smelled like fertilizer. I couldn't help but think of the scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy climbed through the sewage pipe to freedom.

I made it through, and rised dizzy, but thankful not to see any obstacles. The mud was so thick that when I shaked my arms out I head a loud "SPLAT!" as the mud hit the ground. The mud definitely added several pounds and I was completely encased. But for the first time I heard life other than complaints or heavy breathing; I heard the finish. I knew only fire, a wall, a spear and Spartans with jousts lay ahead.

I rounded the corner and I was right. There lay the spear toss. Of course I missed the target and by now I knew Rudy was waiting for me at the finish and may have spotted me even encased shoulder to toes in mud. I did the freaking burpees. Well, ten of the thirty. (We knew most people missed the target because we had watched so many heats finish. Rudy, AMAZINGLY, hit the target and applause erupted around him. I'm fairly certain this felt almost as good as finishing.)

I ran toward the U-shaped fire blaze and the heat hit me like a ton of bricks. I froze right before I was supposed to jump. Before the flames was thick mud and the black smoke was so thick and I couldn't decipher the width. I backed up for another running start and took off again and damnit, I froze again. The simple truth is that I didn't trust my legs at this point.

I ran around the blaze and got hit with a high pressure fire hose as punishment. I welcomed it at this point because it took off some of the mud. The final wall lay ahead; a slanted 8 foot pyramid with a rope to hoist yourself up and over. I ran and jumped, grabbed the rope and pulled myself to the top. Before I could get a leg over I slipped and slided down. I took another running start, grabbed the rope like my life depended on it and this time I got a leg over. I slipped down hard and crashed into a pile of hay and took off for the finish praying the Spartans took mercy on me.

By this point I was near tears from a mixture of exhaustion and accomplishment and the Spartans must have seen it in my face because one ever so gently tapped me in the belly and one tapped me in the back and they both whispered, "good job, honey". I crossed the finish to the sound of Rudy's cheers. Someone put my medal around my neck and I made my way to the water, shaking; shaking from fear I didn't have time to experience, adrenaline, accomplishment, muscle exhaustion, so many things. I did it.

I am Spartan. Rudy is Spartan. We are both incredibly proud.

*I ran the course in 2 hours, 15 minutes. Rudy ran the course in 2 hours, 3 minutes. I placed 36th out of 76 women in my heat and beat 58 men in my heat. Rudy placed 75th out of 156 men in our heat and 99th out of 232 overall in our heat. We both placed in the upper 50th percentile of our sexes. Will we do it again? I think we could convince one another of that.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rainy Sunday Gratitude

I awoke this morning with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the steady rain, gratitude for the eleven hours of sleep I so desperately needed, and gratitude toward the snoozing little black dog pressed against my thigh for letting me have it.

Rainy Sundays are few and far between. They are also one of my favorite things. Blessedly, we have no plans today so therefore no obligation; a full day of anything we please with no pressure to do anything at all. Rainy Sundays induce in me a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection with a hint of creativity. My mind feels peaceful, a feeling I am sad to say is long overdue. I am absolutely relishing in the peace of my mind.

My mom asked me yesterday if our new house felt like home to me yet and I answered her, "no, not yet". I explained I wasn't sleeping well and hadn't settled in to doing all the things I enjoy yet. Ironically of course, this morning I feel more at home. It was nice to wake up to the silence of the house, knowing I could be alone for maybe an hour or two. I cleaned up the last remnants of my parents visit yesterday, made my latte with cinnamon sugar and now here I sit; almost dead center between the two massive windows that overlook our front yard on the left and our back yard on the right. The rain flicks the leaves of our dogwood tree and puddles on our porch. I can do anything I want.

Posted to 9:32 am 8/14