Tag Archives: fitness

Effing Savage — A Holistic Race Report


Not that it’s any surprise to anybody around here, but I love running. So much so, that I keep doing it even when, perhaps, it were better for me to take a break — just look at my plantar fasciitis that’s plagued me for the last three years or so. Can’t help myself. If I have a drug addiction, that drug is running.

Still, there’s not all that much to it, is there? You put one foot in front of the other, a few thousand times, you crank up your heart rate, and aside from a few changes in scenery, that’s about the end of the show. You change it up now and then — try a new route, take it off-road, sign up for a race and run with a few hundred other masochistic souls — but the soul of the run doesn’t change.

As such, it’s been a while since I ran a race. One race is pretty much like another, and I’ve done them.

But lately, there’s been this critter scampering around like mad outside the gates, recruiting the unwashed masses into its ranks, howling at the moon and slathering themselves in mud.

Obstacle Course Racing.

Part distance running, part American Ninja Warrior, OCR is this weird, primal thing that fact-checks your fitness and puts you through the effington wringer for the pure, unadulterated hell of it. OCR feeds you into the maw of pain and ugliness and sweat and blood and even, sometimes, fear, chews you up and spits you out. Like Fight Club, it takes guys that are lumps of Jell-o and, after a run through the gauntlet, leaves them carved out of wood.

Savage Race Georgia is a 6-mile gauntlet of some of the nastiest hills you’ve ever seen; lunatic ascents and mad, breakneck zig-zagging descents across woods and pasture that had us — people who paid to be put through pain — shaking our heads wordlessly at each other. In the 90-degree heat, even without the obstacles, the course would be nasty; with 27 obstacles, it really becomes brutal.

I signed up for Savage Race some months ago, enchanted with the idea of this OCR thing and looking for a new test when it came to my running. I ran it this weekend — actually, “ran” isn’t the best word, because I found myself walking a fair portion of it –and learned a few things in the process.

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Surprisingly enough, my toe-bags held up for the race. I got more than a few weird looks for them along the way — but I saw a bunch of others rocking them, too.

First of all, I’m nowhere near as fit as I thought I was. I finished in the top 50% — both overall and within my age group — which I thought was pretty respectable! But as much as I pride myself on being a runner, I ended up walking almost all of the ascents and walking a hell of a lot of the gaps between obstacles. I was just that spent, and just that gassed by the obstacles. I knew Savage Race was going to be a test, but I didn’t know it was going to be that hard. Picture wrestling an angry seal while climbing a ladder slathered in muddy, oil-slick Georgia red clay, and you get a sense of the exhaustion and the tenuous hold you have on yourself during the event. I finished — in a humbling two and a half hours, when I thought and hoped I’d finish in under two — but not without some serious digging and introspection along the way.

Despite a lot of training — even training specifically tailored to this race — I came up short on some of the obstacles. A declined climbing wall dropped me at the halfway point. A diabolical, jagged up-and-down monkey bars tossed me in the drink just past halfway. And a seemingly simple gauntlet of ropes and rings threw me to the ground just shortly after the start. Failures notwithstanding, even succeeding on an obstacle isn’t the end of the road. On an unassuming series of what were basically telephone poles with tiny footholds calling for a climb-and-traverse, I completed the obstacle, but couldn’t find a safe dismount and fell right on my ass; an impact that still has me sore a few days later. Even the victories left me bruised.

That said, I did better than I hoped in a few areas, as well. I only failed to complete three obstacles, and those were the ones I knew would be the biggest challenge of the bunch. I overcame some of the obstacles that I thought would unhorse me, and I’m happy to say that I at least attempted every challenge that the course threw at me (and I saw a lot of folks — even folks who looked fitter than me — walking around some of the nastier obstacles), even knowing I was likely to fail. Even the failures were fun, no matter how humbling.

And finally, camaraderie. This is the biggest thing that wowed me about this event, and even expecting it, I was blown away. Because while the elites might be able to handle everything this event throws at them without assistance, the average Joe is going to need a little help. At the start of the race, we chanted to each other: “you got me, and I got you.” Well, I gave help where I could, and I got help when I needed it. And road races are great for putting you in the midst of other masochists like yourself, but it’s a totally different experience to literally give your fellow pain-chaser a hand up over mud-slick wall as you chase your finisher’s medals together. But you get what you give: on the last obstacle of the race (a towering quarter-pipe ramp called Colossus), I found myself dangling fifteen feet above the ground from a slippery, knotted rope, inches from the ledge I was trying to reach. My muscles burned, my hands screamed, and I felt the rope slipping away from me. Just above me, on the ledge, a guy whose face blends into the mud-coated masses knelt with his hand out. With my teeth gritted against the strain, I couldn’t speak, but my face must’ve done the talking. “I’ll help you, man,” he said, “but you better grab that ledge first. Grab it.” And somehow, I did.

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So here’s the thing. It’s three days later, and I’m still sore. My upper body feels like I was put on the rack and stretched by a man in a black mask. Below the waist, I’m covered in nicks, scratches, and bruises from throwing myself against all manner of walls, crawling through tunnels, slogging through mud patches. My hands took a beating like I haven’t seen: I’ve got ripped calluses, rope-burned fingertips, and mud shoved up under my fingernails almost to the cuticle. Savage Race beat me like a rented mule and left me in a quivering pile of raw nerves and burned-out muscle.

And I can’t wait to do it again.

If you’re on the fence about trying one of these races, stop hesitating and do it — if nothing else, you’ll learn some things about yourself, and you’ll have an unforgettable experience into the bargain.


Heeling / Healing


It’s no secret that my blarg is about as focused as a toddler with ADD. I write about what occurs to me, and while that’s usually writing, occasionally I stray into the muddier waters of product and television reviews, or sometimes into the less-muddy, more-poopy waters of parenting, and still other times into the not-so-muddy-at-all but rather likely totally uninteresting waters of my personal fitness.

I can’t help but wonder if my blog might garner more views if I chose a focus and stuck to it. Then again, I phrase a doubt like that and then the Ego-Writer chimes in and reminds me that on a personal and intellectual level, I don’t really give a sharknado about my views and follows and likes and all that other crap. So what if my drivel reaches ten people, or a hundred, or a thousand? (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t.) It’s all so many droplets in the ocean, so many swirling grains of silica in a desert sandstorm.

I don’t care about views really; I care about giving vent and voice to what’s on my mind, so LindaGHill’s stream-of-consciousness prompt for this weekend is timely. It’s heal/heel, which is funny, because this week I’ve been particularly concerned with the healing of my heel.

No, really. Back in the early days of this blarg, I tweaked something in my left heel, and since then I’ve had a long road of injuries culminating in a similar but entirely different and more treatment-resistant issue with my right heel. Maybe it was my Vibrams, maybe it was the fact that I pushed up too quickly after my injury, but my feet have been fargoed for a while, and I’ve had enough of it.

Now, when I’ve had enough of feeling unproductive on my book, I can force myself to sit down and work on it. When I’ve had enough of being behind at work, I can sit down and grade until my fingers curl up like burned spiders and get caught up. When I’m feeling too much like a sloth, I can haul my blubbery self out for a run or a workout. When I feel like I’ve had one too many chili dogs (okay, I don’t eat chili dogs, but feel free to insert slices of pizza or cheeseburgers or scoops of ice cream) I can starve myself the next day. I can fix most problems of excess by realizing the excess and shutting it down. Not so much this excess of pain.

I shouldn’t say excess, though. Since visiting the podiatrist back in October (I think) I’ve had varying levels of discomfort, but nothing that could really qualify as pain. I get tweaks and twinges and aches, but nothing that keeps me from walking around, nothing that keeps me from getting out for a run, nothing that I wouldn’t feel silly classifying as “pain.” That said, even on the best of days, I’m aware that all is not right with my heel; it’s always there, nagging at the edge of my consciousness like a burn on the roof of your mouth or that faint whiff of baby poop whenever I pass my hand in front of my face. (Seriously, I washed my hands MULTIPLE times, where is it COMING FROM??) It just won’t go away.

It’s so persistent, now — I’ve been dealing with some level of this ache in my foot for the past six months now — that I’m wondering if it’s not just something I have to live with. Like, I’m almost 35… well past the time when I could, for example, sprain the sharknado out of my ankle, then eat nothing but Cap’n Crunch and occasionally rub a piece of ice on the affected area and bounce back like the goldfingered rubber band man. I want to believe that I can shake this off, but I’m starting to wonder. I’ve been afflicted with this thing for quite a while… so long it’s just starting to feel normal, which frankly is not something I’m okay with.

I think it’s doubly frustrating because I’ve been redoubling my efforts at fitness in other areas and I’m making strides at a ridiculous rate. I’m pushing up my reps and my difficulties. I’m doing a ton of extra walking (my wife is partly to blame for that, since we compete now with our little step-tracking-gizmos. “Compete” is the wrong word. She stomps me in this “competition” every day). I’m losing weight again, faster than I have any right to. All of which is fantastic.

But I can’t shake this thing with my heel.

It’s troubling. Partly because I feel like my ability to run regularly and for long distances has kind of become part of my identity, even though I’ve only been doing it for three years. Partly because I feel like just about every challenge I set for myself lately, no matter how insurmountable it seems at first, feels like little more than a speedbump as I coast past it. I mean… in the past year alone, I decided to write a novel, and I finished a first draft in less than six months. I gave up sodas over the space of three or four weeks. But I can’t overcome this thing with my heel.

Tomorrow’s another long run. If form holds, the heel will feel shaky as hell for the first half mile, then loosen up and feel great for three or four or maybe five miles, then tighten up as I head into mile six and seven.

I really don’t know how to end this post. I usually like to end with some sort of turn toward optimism or at least some cheeky snide aside, but all I can muster on the issue is doubt. This issue is such a small issue in the scheme of things, but it’s still hanging over my head like a set of particularly heavy storm clouds after so many months.

Anyway… this post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


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