My First Race
The anticipation of the unknown drove me insane last week.
I had committed to a 10k, but not any 10k, a 10k that was through wooded trails, and included CrossFit WoDs along the way. Talking to anyone who had done it the previous year, the general consensus was, it’s like experiencing death. You are miserable while it’s happening, and find yourself asking how you ended up there, ultimately deciding that you feel awesome having experienced it.
Friday night I tried to get a couple of people I know from PCF to go see Jim Jefferies, but apparently I’m not cool enough to hang out with, so Kevin and Mickey you can kiss my ass.
This caused me to have an early night, which was probably in my best interest. When I woke up on Saturday I was as ready as I was ever going to be, physically I felt great, yet the initiation of starting the race caused me to feel like crap.
I drove down with Kevin to the race, and we talked about a bunch of random stuff, which kept my mind off the race. When we finally arrived, I was ready for this shit to start.
After warming up with the PCF Endurance Crew, which included a few people from PCF who are not doing CFE, we waited for about 30 minutes to get the race briefing. Listening to Adam the owner of Rare CrossFit and the host of the race, explain the course, and the goodies he had waiting for us, I wasn’t feeling much better about the race.
He told us about the course and provided little in the means of what laid ahead for us during the race; he basically gave us an overview of the whole course, but gave us little on the actual WoDs that were a part of the race. After the briefing they had us walk down to the actual entrance of the trailhead about 400 meters back.
As I stood at the start of the race, I could feel my heart pumping rapidly, I was nervous. I imagined the night before that I would write about this moment, how I felt this incredible feeling at the starting gate, how the building of communal adrenalin, and anticipation, was causing the stirring of some symbiotic collective energy which would help me burst through the first part of the race, I pictured a moment of slow motion where the participants prepare for the starter to pull the trigger, and where you can see and feel the muscles building tension right before the sound of the gun which is released by a single act of trigger pull.
That’s not what happened. It was more like my stomach sinking to my asshole, and as the people prepared to start I was losing my mind, and then it was nothing, Adam said 3-2-1 go, and that was it.
Running down the first stretch of the roadway, I could feel that my legs had quite a bit more bounce in them, I don’t recall the last time my legs felt that good. Clearly the tapering paid off, but it was a long enough race to find out if this statement rang true or not.
The first obstacle we encountered were a series of eight 24’ boxes. Adam described this part to us during the briefing, and pointed out that if you haven’t done them before, be careful because you can hurt yourself… who the fuck do you have tell? (Insert smart ass remarks here).
So when I got to the boxes the fear and anticipation I had been feeling was still present, I was able to leap up to each box using one leg, and then jumping off of them. Once I cleared all of the boxes Colby was directly in front of me, and I made a decision that I would just keep up with him until we got to the next WoD.
At this point the field had started to spread out, and the ¾ of a mile from the trailhead to the next obstacle passed by in a blur. You could here the sound of barbells rubbing against the plates as they were being brought down, the sound carried and you could hear it well before you actually saw what people were doing.
When I pulled around the corner, there were two lanes of people doing dead lifts, and two lines of people waiting. One line for men, and the other line for women, we had to do 25 dead lifts at 185 lbs, then I looked just beyond the dead lift area and there were people doing plated walking lunges, 50 of those would follow.
As a group people from PCF reached this point together, and there is great picture of Colby, Tom, Simon, and Tes doing dead lifts, and I think someone else from PCF finishing.
I waited, and happened to use the barbell that Tom had just finished on, when I picked it up, I was surprised at how light it felt, I blew through 15, then thought about pacing myself for the whole race and dropped it for 2 seconds to regrip, then blew through 10 more.
After the dead lifts, I could feel that my hamstrings were nice and warm, if not on the verge of burning. I picked up my 25 lbs plate and started my lunges. Regular lunges are tough for me, but for some reason when holding a plate over my head I have an easier time. I touched the ground on the first 25, and decided the rocks felt like shit, so the next 25 I got my knee almost to the ground; I went as deep as I could until I felt the ground beneath me, then moved back up.
After the lunges, my legs were on fire. The course went from being relatively flat; to relatively “I hate my life” steep. From this point it was mostly uphill for what felt like eternity.
I have no idea how long this first part took, or any idea of the distance, I still had Colby in front of me, and my only goal was to stay with him. We were packed into a small group of 5-6 people, and Colby and I would pass for a little, then they would pass for a little. At this point in the race we were still jogging the uphill, and running the downhill.
Tes made a great comment this weekend that this had to have been the only trail race, where even the downhill portions had inclines. This wasn’t like a simple ascent of a mountain peak where when you start out going up you just go up; it was a series of switchbacks, and transitions in the topography. The trail had clearly been built following the path of least resistance. Just because you were going up didn’t mean you wouldn’t go down a bit to go back up an even steeper route.
During this relative upward ascent of this ridgeline, I kept thinking, thank god I listened to Tes, thank god I listened to Tes, and I thought don’t let Colby get too far ahead. He had put some distance between me, but I could still see the back of his head.
At some point after my thanking of Tes, and chasing Colby’s head, we reached a point where the terrain seemed to flatten a bit, and then we started to descend. I was impressed with how much speed I was able to gain on the downhill, and how sure footed I was; this was probably the only part of the race that felt like “fun”.
I felt like a kid skipping down a hill, what was great was that the momentum I was building on the downhill would propel me over the next hills crest.
As the race continued we reached a point of steep decline, and I could see a fire road, at this point Colby was starting to get further and further away, to the point when I got to the bottom of the hill he was at least 300 meters ahead of me.
I ran down this gravel road trying to get my breathing under control, and to not think about, my hamstrings which were throbbing, I could also feel that my feet had taken a beating on all the roots, and rock edges on the downhill runs, this feeling was compounded by the big rocks on this gravel road.
We were running along what I think was the Rappahannock, and I could see that I was nearing an overpass for I-95. It was here were we had to start ascending. It was relatively steep, and I jogged up for about a minute, and then realized this was a bad plan. I’m not sure if I was doing this towards the end of the last section of the course, but from this point I know for a fact I was walking the uphill, and running the flats and downhill.
When I reached the top of this new ridge, there was a guy standing there directing me to take a left, I was for the most part alone, one person well behind me, and another guy who I didn’t know would come in and out of my sightline.
The terrain of the course changed from mud, rock and dirt, to sand. It also started to open up a bit, and there were very few trees. After a few more minutes of running the sand it transitioned back to compacted dirt, with clear tire tracks, it was some type of service or access road, I started to run downhill, and I could see a mass of people, including many of the PCF group who were well ahead of me.
“Pitstop” number three was 3 rounds of 50 double unders, and 20 kettle bell swings with a 53 lbs kettle bell. The rope they were using was significantly heavier than the speed ropes we use at PCF. I had to scale and did 100 single unders in lieu of double unders.
I did the singles in sets of 20-30. The first round of work was a bitch, partially because my calves were tight, but also because I think my equilibrium was in a different place, we had just transitioned bodily forward movement into a bodily upward motion. The kettlebell swings were easy, and I didn’t exert much energy, in fact at the 20th swing each round I felt like I had just started.
This WoD allowed me to pass a lot of the people from PCF. I know that the guys, who were doing double unders, had a hard time adjusting to the rope, because of its weight.
Ah well, sucked for them, I was moving onto the next part of the race.
Colby finished his third round a few moments before I did, so when I finished I grabbed a drink of water, and tried to catch him. He was far enough ahead, that I didn’t see him until the next station.
The next station was only about 400 meters from the previous one, and the place was awesome, and by awesome, I mean sucked. It was completely exposed, was full of dirt and crabgrass, which sticks into your skin like a shiv…of course that could only mean whatever was next meant rolling in the shit, we had to do 50 burpees.
I saw Colby there working through his 50, I got right behind him, and started to flop down, finishing my first 15 relatively quickly, then I told myself, hey fuck nuts there still more race to do so pace yourself. I set out on a pattern of doing sets of five, and finished my burpees well before Colby, Tom, and some others who had gotten there before me.
The next part of the race was a 2 mile loop, going downhill again to the Rappahannock, and then back up to the burpee station. As I continued downhill, I could feel my quads starting to throb. During this part I was still running fast downhill, and I could here Tes’s instruction about making sure to keep my feet under me, the more I would hollow out my core, the more I could feel my body weight pulling me down the hill, and the less I felt like I was running, I was actually jumping from point to point.
At the bottom of the hill, it flattened out again, and the course weaved in and out of the trees. I had two new people who I would use to pace, a guy in a white shirt, and this other person who passed me. I started to hear footsteps, and a younger woman passed by me, all I saw was nice tan legs, blond head, and a black t-shirt with a skull and two lacrosse sticks crossed, she also had a small tattoo just behind her right ear, it looked like a Maori symbol…
What? Men are motivated by food and sex…it’s proven.
Well the reality of it was that from looking at her I knew she was a runner, and that if I could keep up with her I would be in good company, and have a good pace going…you decide which one is the truth.
The funny thing was before she passed me, I had two thoughts in my head, one that I was surprised at how good I feel, and two that a year previous to this race, and I would not have been able to walk this course in 5 hours, and here I was now running it.
After she passed me she got about 50 meters ahead of me, and I tried to just keep her in my sightline. Between us another woman had passed me, and she was clearly a Cross Fitter, with her physique, and “uniform” it was unmistakable that this woman liked to WoD, and behind me was a guy who was older, but was keeping pace with us.
Okay he was a lot older, and probably could still fuck me up, if I angered him.
Our group of four stayed together for most of this part of the race. The course changed and it was an ascent back up the ridge towards the billboard and the place where we rolled in the ground doing burpees. This part of the course clearly was more remote than the first part of the race the trail didn’t show as much wear, and the dirt was less compacted, and the general inclines were steeper, and longer.
Somewhere along this ascent, Tom caught up to me, and passed by me. For a good 15 minutes my motivating factor was to not allow Tom to catch me, I heard him a few times yell at me “COME ON LOUIS”, which would propel me uphill for a moment, then I decided he was going to catch me at some point because he was still jogging the uphill parts, so I decided just following the blonde was easier than running from the redhead.
I also at this point started to prepare my mind for that possibility that I still hadn’t reached the halfway point. Having no concept of time or distance, I was trying to gauge myself based on how I felt, and I felt like the halfway point was somewhere close.
It was at this point that I tripped over a root, and scared the shit out of the woman in front of me, and the guy behind me, as I got up I yelled I’m fine, go! They obliged quickly, and I used their sudden panic which turned into a faster run as a way to move my large ass faster.
I could see the billboard getting closer, so I knew we were close to finishing the loop. I don’t remember where, but I lost the group as the hill got steeper.
At the burpee station, we had to do 25 jumping air squats, which normally aren’t very hard, but with the lactic acid building from the trails kicking the crap out of my legs, it felt like death.
The blonde was already there when I started, and she was struggling a bit, and one of the course marshals, kept yelling “Get Deeper”, and “Come on Blondie”. I chuckled at that because my thought for much of the race was follow the blonde rabbit.
She didn’t think it was funny, and gave me a look like, “you’re an asshole”. Why is that all women have this look preprogrammed in them?
She finished the air squats a few moments before me, and the CrossFitter and her started back up the trail. I chased after them, and stayed with them. I was mentally preparing to back track the entire first section of the course, which was hard enough the first time, but the thought of doing it again scared me a little.
We didn’t have to take the short loop back to the kettle bell swing and rope station; we just head back down the steep ridge down to the fire road. We moved together for a while, then when we started to run downhill again, I started to pass the two women in front of me, I had a bounce back in my step, and as tired as my muscles were, and as bad my feet felt I wanted to try and pick it up a bit.
At the bottom of the hill we had reached the fire road again. My calf muscles were throbbing, and I started to cramp. It hurt enough that I walked a for a minute to try and stretch it as I moved, I was again mentally preparing to go back up and down the first ridge to get back to the dead lift station.
But when I got to the turning point to go uphill again, I was directed left back towards the trailhead. I realized then, that the end of the course was within a mile. After running a bit more, I reached the dead lift station, where this time I had to do 25 squats with a 25 lbs plate.
My face in the picture below says it all…
After the squats I had to then carry the 25 lbs plate back the first ¾ of a mile to the trailhead. I could smell the finish line.
Tes had us carry the plate a couple of times during CFE WoDs the week leading up to the event, so when I had the weight I felt comfortable throwing it back and forth between my left and right hand. I started to break the trail down bit by bit, I would tell myself ok we (me and the plate) are going to run with the plate in the left hand up to the that stump, then in my right hand up to the next bush.
As I did this I passed a couple of people, and I could see the trail starting to widen, and I kept looking for the blue tents. When I finally saw the tents, I didn’t care about anything other than running to the tents with the plate.
When I got to the tents, I threw down my plate, and had to run 30 meters to a point where 9 sleds were stacked with weights. I could see Tom pulling his weight back from the turn around point. His expression told me that it wasn’t fun.
I but on both straps, and started to pull, it was 95 plus pounds, and I think the distance was about 150 meters total. There was a young girl who was elementary school age, and she was pulling 45 lbs, I passed her, and in hindsight, I felt bad that I wasn’t coherent enough to encourage her…really I was thinking get the fuck out of my way…but I wanted to encourage her.
When I got back to the sled pull finish, I ran as fast I could which at this point probably looked like a slow motion jog, to the finish line, and I finished the race in 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 44 seconds.
Mutha fucka was dead tired.
I was in an almost a catatonic state, and could not function for a long while. I went to eat with our group, but had nothing clever or witty to say. My brain had reached that point where it was in such a state of shock, it shut down all other functions other than breathing. I’m pretty sure useless organs like my gallbladder were deprived of any blood flow for the rest of the day.
The one moment of clarity occurred when I got my strawberry milkshake at Cheeseburger in Paradise, I was like an adolescent boy who discovers his penis is for more than just peeing for the first time, I was in a complete state of bliss.
When I got home I sat on my couch, and didn’t move for five hours, I actually texted Antwone to help me, that he needed to text me that I was a lazy sack of shit, who smelled so I would get off the couch and take a shower. He wouldn’t helped, he said I earned it, so I watched 5 hours of movies and shows that I’ve already seen, and it was glorious.
After having done this race, I talked Erika into doing it next year, so I’m committed to the Rare 10k again, I know who does that?
It is exactly as others have described, you are miserable while doing it, but love the fact that you did it.
Just the single thought that a year ago today, I would not have been able to even attempt this race, tells me that I’ve made some type of progress, so I got that going for me.
I want to thank Tom, Tes, and Erika, especially Tes for giving us the strategy on how to run this race, and the confidence to do it.