The morning of the Monterey Super, the exterior the conditions were perfect. 56 degrees, overcast with a slight breeze. Perfect circumstances for any endurance endeavor, especially a Spartan race. Heat will make a race a lot harder and so will rain. Inside of me on the other hand, I was staving off a sickness the likes of which I had not experienced in many years. Great timing right! So ideal outside conditions, poor interior conditions.
For the past 6 months I have been training very hard for this race and the Spartan race season to come. Monday preceding the race, I woke up with a slightly sore throat. For me this is a major read flag because I very rarely get sick. With the majority of the week ahead of me I figured I would be fine by Saturday. Besides, I was tapering into the race so it wouldn’t effect my training in any way. Looming in the back of my mind was the fear that things would get worse and impact my performance on the course.
By Wednesday I wasn’t feeling great yet. I thought I would be a good idea to test my cardiorespiratory response with a short run. I went out for a 3 mile run. It felt slightly labored and a 6:30 mile felt pretty hard. In training I had been clipping off low 6:00s with relative ease. This encouraged me and made me a little concerned at the same time. I didn’t fall apart and cramp, rendered a useless mess on the side of the rode, but I also didn’t feel that great pep and lightness I should feel during a tune up run ahead of a race. Thursday and Friday were proscribed off days. The focus would be slamming this cold with whatever remedy I could think of. None of it worked well and Friday morning I felt the worst I have in a long time. I knew the race was going to be a struggle.
A withdraw from the race certainly was not an option. The thought of not putting my many hours of preparation to the test made me feel even more sick. I felt very strong in all aspects of training. The last race I competed in was Sacramento last November. How much better I could do with 7 very solid months of training under my belt? Last year I threw my self in the the fire. I had no clue what I was getting myself into with these races. In this sport, you can only learn what you need to work on through completing races. Only then do you see where the struggle lies. I had an extended period of time to address my weaknesses. I had been grinding hard to improve my shortcomings on the course: grip endurance, sustained climbs and general durability. I needed to know if all that training was working.
In the months preceding this race, I patiently waded through the monotony of base training. I spent many hours at maxed out grade on the treadmill with my 45lb weight vest. I pounded out long runs on the weekend. I blasted quality threshold runs. As the race approached, my race simulations where going very well. I was nailing all of my intermittent carries, hill intervals and grip work while fatigued. Indeed the stage was set for a breakthrough performance. My excitement had been mounting for weeks. At the end of the day, I just wanted to get back on the course. I missed the grind, the rush and the community of people as crazy or more crazy than I am.
300 shirtless maniacs toed the line excited to endure the pain to come. 300 separate journeys with different goals. Some lined up with aspirations to podium, while others where racing for the first time ever. My goal leading up to the race was to get out with the leaders and see what it was like to try to hang with those guys. At that moment that goal shifted slightly. Being sick I knew the biggest thing to overcome was my mind. Yes, the physiology of being sick hinders any aerobic endeavor, but the mind can slow you down even further. The major physical roadblocks to overcome where not being able to breath and have a really dry throat. For the latter I brought my hydration pack. For the former I had to get over it.
After the requisite “aroos” and senseless standing for 15 minutes in the coral, we were off! I Immediately felt a drag in performance. I felt like I weighed about 1 million pounds. I struggled to breath and keep up a decent pace. I labored through a flat 8 minute mile. I thought to myself, “what the hell is going on, I’m going to get crushed out here.”
Something happened after the initial ascent we faced. A sort of rage came over me and blocked out all the BS going through my mind leading up to the race and in those first 2 miles. Yes, I struggled through the steep uphills a little more than I may have if I were 100% healthy, and sure I didn’t go out quite as fast as I would have liked. But overall I felt strong. I felt way stronger on all the obstacles, including my nemesis the Hercules hoist. In past races, that has given me so much trouble, I contemplated going straight to burpees rather than waisting time and energy slogging through it. As I approached the hoist, I knew I had to give it a go. Nailed it. Even the bucket carry didn’t wreck me. I paused a few times, but the grip and core held up nicely. I can directly attribute that to extended time spent in training doing a fascinating advanced training technique…carrying a bucket a lot in my workouts.
I finished in 19th place. Just 16 minutes behind the race winners. For that I am proud. I narrowed the gap a little bit between me and my long term goal of winning a race. I know I have a long way to go before that will happen, but I’m encouraged to be a little bit closer. I am even more proud that I didn’t let my mind slow me down. I didn’t give in to the easy excuse of being less than 100%. That’s really what these races are about. Overcoming obstacles. It’s about not listening the that voice in your head that says “I can’t”. It’s about telling that voice to shut up and keep pushing through.
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