Hot chocolate saved my life.
I think many racers thought this very thing, when they discovered cups with warm (warm!) hot chocolate waiting for them at the aid station right after the memorization task.
Oh, the magical liquid. I downed one – the warmth spreading in my belly – so good. I take another and empty it into a third cup. For the next few minutes, I’m simply strolling through the trails of Vermont, sipping on a hot chocolate. Sigh. It was great, while it lasted. The trails await.
When we finally reach the next obstacle, it’s a vertical cargo net. Few kind racers are pulling the net tight, as I start to climb up.
Something happens at the top. The net is moving back and forth underneath me. I start freaking out. I’m at the top. The next task seems simple – get over to the other side, and climb down. I can’t hold myself still, as the net starts to rock even further. “Come on”, fellow racers encourage. “You got this!”.
As I drag my right foot over the edge, I lose my footing on the left side. The loose net jerks, and suddenly my right foot is caught tightly in the net, while my body is hanging over awkwardly, my ankle at a sharp angle. I scream out in pain. Loudly. Then, trying to breathe, I grab the edges of the net even more tightly. If I let go, if I let myself hang, the whole weight of my body will push onto my ankle, with my foot at an unnatural angle now. Holding on, I pull on the foot, which is now firmly entangled in the net. Nothing.
Finally, trying to hold the tears back, I start to slide my trail shoe off. Slowly, slowly, the Fellcross gives in, and my foot is free! I climb down slowly, pick up my shoe, which without my body weight falls to the ground, and sit down at the bottom of the net for a good cry.
Tears and snot running down my face, I palpate the ankle. It hurts, but it’s fine. I’m more freaked out than anything. Part of me notices bitterly that no one approaches to ask if I’m actually ok. A lanky blonde guy, manning the net continues to stare vacantly into space. I’m basically sitting at his feet.
Few minutes later, I get myself together. My shoe is back on, and the limp is barely noticeable. A tiny flicker in the Lanky’s eyes as I pass is a sign of recognition of a moving object. I pause. “Excuse me”, I start. He looks up. “Are you the volunteer here?”. I think he nods. “Thank you so much for asking if I’m ok”, I continue. “I’m ok”. My words are dripping with poison. I continue on the trail, contemplating how much better I would feel punching him out instead.
An occasional obstacle appears, as we hike up and down. Hike, hike, hike, hike. Atlas carry. Yay.
I spot a familiar color in front of me – I’ve been running into this team of guys in bright orange compression socks for many hours now. “How are you guys doing?”, I say weakly. “Oh, you know… Living the dream”, they shoot back.
Hike, hike, hike, hike. A barbed wire. Right. I blankly register that this is the third barbed wire that we now had to crawl. They seem to be strategically placed along the course, so you do not keep dry and comfortable for too long.
Hike. Log hop. I find myself wishing that the log hop was a mile long. At least it would keep things interesting. But then again, chances are it’d be cut in half by the time elites pass.
We are finally at the Tyrolean traverse. My nemesis. Last year I slid off and fell, trying to go on top of the rope. On my second attempt, going from the bottom, I ended up with some wicked calf cramps, and my arms simply gave out. Burpees for me.
This year I also remembered to take out my belly button piercing at the start line – just in case, if you decide to go on top and you have one of those – take it out. Mark my words. Even without the piercings, some racers are sporting burn scars on their chests that look like they have undergone a heart transplant surgery or something equally as invasive.
There is a line up, and I loiter a bit, still a little shaken by the cargo net incident. I am somewhat psychologically prepared to spend a good hour at this freaking obstacle. Elite start means I HAVE to complete 3 attempts with 30 burpees for each failed attempt. If I fail on the third attempt, a 15 minute penalty is added to my time.
When my turn finally comes, I start at the bottom, hanging off the rope, and start gripping the rope and pulling myself along, aiming to make each reach as long as possible. The long running tights make it possible for my legs to just slide along. Sweet.
Again, I realize how fresh my arms still are. This race has been terrain, terrain, and terrain. I reach the end, and drop into the water. Yet another arbitrary task, but it feels so good to conquer it. I deem this race to be a success after all.
Dripping wet, I pass by Traverse Burpeeville, and start climbing up the hill (surprised?). I’m trying to shut down the part of my brain that has been diligently tracking distance over the past seven hours. It’s been over 11 miles. We are done. We are done. We are almost done. Are we done yet?
We are finally heading downhill. Home stretch. We pick up the pace. We jog. No, we run. Couple of last obstacles. There is an inverted wall. I think I can see the finish line.
Yes, the finish is right there…
Another sandbag carry up the hill. WHAT?
This sandbag carry is nothing like that last (although THAT would be entertaining). This is a familiar Spartan pancake filled with sand. But oh, the placing is brilliant. The mindfucking is priceless. Bravo, Norm. Fucking B-R-A-V-O.
I hoist the bag onto my head, and start crawling up the hill. You know… Again. It is at this point that I officially meet Jonathan. I’ve been running into him again and again on course, and it looks like this one last obstacle we are doing together. It turns out he is a blog reader! I am few steps ahead, and the conversation keeps both of us occupied.
Then we are both silent for few moments. I am still carrying the bag on my head, and without turning around, I ask if he’s still behind me.
Cue the scene from “Die Hard”… “Jonathan, are you still there?”
We finally reach the top of the hill, turn around, and head towards the sandbag drop off. I think this is it. This has gotta be it.
I look over at Jonathan. “Are you ready to sprint?”. He seems surprised. “Sprint?” “You know,” I have a sly look on my face now. “Sprint. Always sprint to the finish. Always.”
I jog downhill as fast as I can and drop off my sandbag, then charge forward – at neck breaking speed now, passing one racer after another.
“You are insane!”, I heard the words behind me. I smile. I remember the words of a female racer, doing the Sprint earlier in the day: “Those are Beast people!”.
That we are.
Signing off, Solo