One of the things that I like most about my company, is that they care as much for you as a person, as they do for you as an employee. They have a very large program that promotes inclusion and diversity in the work place. The company recently launched an initiative called “50 in 25”, which commits the company to employing a workforce that contains 50% women by 2025. They promote having the right work/life balance, and they really mean it by encouraging people to take vacation, as well as manage their schedules to make sure they can participate in personal activities that are important to them.
The company also promotes living a healthy lifestyle. One of the ways they do this, is by giving employees an opportunity to participate in various races (particularly when a charity is involved) including marathons, bike races, and others.
While I regularly exercise, I am not into doing races. So, when the e-mail came through about entering the Tribal Challenge Obstacle Race sponsored by the Hatboro Rotary Club (and benefiting the Hatboro Area YMCA’s Financial Assistance Program), I deleted the e-mail without even thinking about it or considering it. Little did I know that the race would actually become my first just a few months later!
How in the World Did I Get Myself Into This?
So, it all started innocently enough. One of my employees, Natalie, sent me a ping one day when I was working from home. “Hey! Did you see that e-mail about doing the Tribal Challenge? Amy (one of her co-workers) and I thought it would be fun to enter, but we need a team of four.” She went on to tell me that they were asking me and Janice (my boss) to be part of their team. “What do you think?”, she asked.
Hmmm…. This was definitely not my cup of tea, but I hated to look like a wimp to one of my employees. I knew Janice was a former athlete in school, and still kept in really good shape. But, I also knew that Janice travels a lot for work, has a house in North Carolina that she goes back and forth to a lot, and works a lot of hours. I didn’t picture Janice coming up with time in her busy schedule to train for this. Perfect! I responded to Natalie – “Tell you what. I’ll do it if Janice does it.” That was the perfect way out of this! Janice would never do it, and I could back out as well without seeming like I was scared to do it.
To my utter surprise, I got a note from Natalie and Amy a few days later saying “We’re in!” Turns out that they used the same strategy on Janice that they used on me, and convinced her to do it as well. Clearly, Janice and I should have checked with each other, but now we were both stuck. YIKES!!!! I actually have to do this!
Step 1: Training
There was about three months before race day, so I started training immediately. There wasn’t a lot of information about what the race would entail, other than the fact that the length of the course was 3 miles and there would be obstacles that each team would have to complete. I knew this wouldn’t be as physically challenging as a Tough Mudder or a Spartan race, but it was still more than I had ever attempted before.
For those of you that don’t know me personally, I am a dedicated gym person. I get up at 5:15 a.m. every morning and go to the gym. My gym workouts consist of some weight training three times per week, walking/light jogging on the treadmill, and the elliptical machine. I used to run on the treadmill more, but due to a minor knee injury a few years back, I cut way back on the amount of running I do. In the evenings and on the weekends, I like to take a 30-45 minute power walk in the neighborhood. I have never run outside.
So, my first concern was building up my endurance to be able to run most of a 3-mile outdoor course in the heat (the race was held in July). I decided to change my 30-45 minute evening power walk into a 30-45 minute run/jog/walk, thinking I could slowly build up the endurance I needed to extend my distances. I also started incorporating more running into my treadmill workouts in the gym.
The second concern was the strength and athleticism required for the obstacles. Climbing a wall and doing a combat crawl through mud are definitely not my thing. In fact, the idea of doing either of those things terrified me. How do I train for that?
Step 2: Boot Camp
Our company ended up with three teams of four entering the race. Luckily (or unluckily) for me, the company arranged to have a personal trainer put all of us through weekly boot camps leading up to the race. Every Wednesday, most of us left the office early to drive over to the Anytime Fitness in Norristown to have Heather put us through various training exercises.
I showed up to the first week, hoping it wouldn’t be too bad. Actually, I just hoped that I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my co-workers. The facility has a small lawn area on the side set up with tires, walls, and ropes. For our first session, Heather started us with some jumping jacks and toe touches. Great, I thought, I’ve made it through the warm-up! Actually, nope. Heather informed us that our “warm-up” was to run 4 laps around the shopping complex, which would equal to about a mile. It had been a long time since I had run a mile on the treadmill, and I had never run one outdoors. This was not going to end well!
After running, we took turns at various stations that included flipping tires, combat crawls up and down a hill, climbing the wall, and various other exercises designed to build our strength and endurance. I’ll be honest. I wanted to throw up in the car on the way home. I was sore. I was tired. I was debating whether or not I was going back the next week.
But, I am not a quitter and I kept going back week after week. It slowly started getting easier. I was able to make it through boot camp without being too tired. I was able to run faster and longer distances. Maybe I can actually do this!
Step 3: Mental Prep Leading Up to the Race
As the day of the race approached, the idea of doing it really started to weigh on me. We were driving home from vacation in Boston the Monday before the race, and I spent most of the car ride home worrying about it. Would I be able to do all the obstacles? Would I fall off a wall and get hurt? Would I be able to keep up? Since it was a team event, my biggest concern was dragging the rest of my team down. Will I be the weak link????
By Monday evening, the organizers of the race posted a map of the course and announced the list of obstacles. There were 22 obstacles! I was thinking there would be 10 – maybe 15. The map and list certainly did not calm my nerves. Now, I had specific obstacles to worry about! In addition, the weather forecast was calling for one of the warmest and most humid days of the year (close to 100 deg F “feels like” temperature), with a chance of a thunderstorm. Thoughts of dehydration and heat stroke were now adding to my fear of the obstacles.
I am a very determined person. When I put my mind to a goal, I figure out how to get it done. I kept telling myself that this would be the same, but that voice inside me was saying “what have you done?????”
Step 4: The Race
The day finally arrived. We had our team uniforms (our team was called Procurement Wonder Women).
My husband was there to support me and to throw a little tailgate party for all of the racers after we were done. I was hoping the adrenaline was going to kick in and get me through. People kept telling me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought, and I would probably even have fun during the race and want to do another one. On the drive over, I told my husband that no matter what I said after, he had to promise that he would never let me do this again!
We were in the first wave of racers, so we took off right at 6:00 p.m. The first obstacle was a relay sprint – each team member sprints across a football field (width wise) and back. Piece of cake! I’m off to a good start.
Then we get to obstacle #2. One of the team members sit in a tire, and the other three members grab a rope and pull them across a field and back (almost like pulling a sled). For the co-ed teams, they stuck the smallest female in the tire, and the stronger men pulled. For our all-female team, 3 of the 4 of us weighed almost exactly the same, with me being the heaviest in the group. Trying to pull a 125 lb person in a tire is not easy. We were in the top 5 teams when we got to that obstacle, and ended up dead last by the time it was over.
But, we eventually started making up time. Other obstacles included carrying a 5 gallon water bottle about a ½ mile, climbing over hurdles, flipping a truck tire, and carrying/rolling a beer keg up and down a hill.
Then… what I was dreading… the combat crawl through the mud pit. This was immediately followed by wading through a pond (that I would describe more as a swamp), and then crossing a creek. If you know me, you know I am not an “outdoorsy” kind of girl. I don’t like dirt. I don’t like mud. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like swimming (even when the water is clean) with fish. I like a hotel room and a pool. The idea of voluntarily getting on my stomach and crawling through mud was repulsive to me. So, I got in a zone and climbed through that mud pit as quick as I could. After climbing through the mud, I figured wading through a pond wouldn’t be too bad. However, I took one step and sunk into a foot of mud. OMG!!!!!! But once again, I survived.
It was tough, but we were on the home stretch now. Only a few more obstacles! The last thing we had to do was run a lap in the stadium to cross the finish line. I knew that I wanted to save something in my reserves so I could actually run the whole lap while everyone (including my husband) would be watching. Only two more obstacles to go – go down a slip and slide, and then climb through a drainage pipe. I got this!
I was a little worried about the slip and slide, as I’m not one to throw caution to the wind and dive head first down a big tarp. But, I saw that people were just sitting on their butts and sliding down that way, so it seemed like no problem. The volunteers where spraying water on the tarp with a hose, and had it soaped up to make it easier to slide. Great plan, until you climb inside a drainage pipe and have to crawl through with your body covered in soap! To say it was slippery was an understatement. I had no grip. I was crawling and clawing my way through the pipe and getting nowhere. That plan to save my energy was ruined. I exited that drainage pipe completely exhausted and feeling like I peeled all the skin off my knees in the process.
But, I made the grand entry into the stadium and I used every last bit of physical energy and mental willpower to run that last lap. I crossed the finish line! To my surprise, we ended up being the fastest all-female team finishers in our heat. Not bad for my first race!
Post-Race Thoughts: Would I Do It Again?
First, let me say that I had a huge smile on my face when the race was over. I was really proud of myself for doing something that I never imagined I could do. I was on a high from finishing, and finishing well.
Second, it was hard (probably the hardest thing I have ever done physically), but not as hard as I had built it up in my head. There was only one obstacle that I didn’t do, and that was climbing the wall. I had a mental block about that in my head, and when I ran up to it, I just made the decision to run around.
Having said all of that, I can’t say that running the race was fun. There were several points during the race, when I just wanted it to be over. I enjoyed the team building, and the comradery after the race, but I didn’t enjoy the race itself.
I wasn’t a runner when I started, and I’m not a runner now. I will continue to run from time to time, because it keeps me in good shape and challenges me. But, I’d much rather get my exercise by taking a dance class or talking a brisk walk through the neighborhood.
When my team finished, the rest of the team members were already talking about what to do differently to make us better next year. Will I be there with them running the race, or will I just be there to cheer them on? It’s a cliffhanger! Stay tuned!
Share your race experience. I would love to hear you stories of personal successes and accomplishing something you didn’t think you could. Comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com.
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