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Experience Spartan World Championships With a 14 Year-Old

Posted by on Monday, October 21, 2013 @ 2:18 pm | Leave a reply

I sat on the steep hillside with a 5-gallon bucket of gravel between my legs, protecting it from spilling. This was just a temporary stop to collect my strength as I climbed up the Killington, Vermont ski run. It was a brutal reminder that ski slopes are for skiing down and that is it! This same obstacle was my biggest challenge at my first Spartan Beast several months ago in Utah. The sight of a bucket now makes me cringe. Descending the hillside, with my bucket in my arms, I thought I might actually cry. As I dumped my gravel into the bin at the end, successfully completing the obstacle, I said to myself, “Pull yourself together, you still have a long way to go.”

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-start line

Show Time

I had no idea this race would be so hard. Standing at the start line, I felt welcomed amongst my new Spartan family. I appreciated the cheers and well wishes from my fellow racers as my name was called to the start line of the Spartan World Championships. I found myself standing amongst some of the world’s greatest athletes. There were Olympians from around the globe as well as Xterra, USTAF and Trail World Champions, Professional Obstacle Course Racers, Adventure Racers, triathletes and marathon winners. This talented group of athletes, including the Spartan Pro Team, will be featured in the NBC Sports Network TV special about the World Championships on October 19th.

Given Spartan’s history and the presence of NBC TV, most of us assumed we were about to embark on the toughest, most grueling 13-mile course ever designed by Spartan. Little did we know how humbling the day would be—the steep climbs, cold water and grueling course would sideline even some of the world’s most fit athletes.

Climbing & Descending

The first part of the course was mainly a steep never-ending trail climb up the hills of Killington Ski Resort. I was happy with my selection of running this course in my Newton Distance. I knew there would be a lot of serious climbing so I chose to stay on the lighter side with my shoes. I had done my last Spartan Beast in my Newton All-weathers. The unique lug design of Newton shoes is not only great for forefoot running but also provides great traction on these difficult courses. Spartans were once again falling, slipping and sliding on the steep descents and I was able to keep my footing. There were a few walls and round hay bails to climb on our way up, which is always fun.

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-wall traverse

Living and training at 7,000 feet in Park City, UT, as well as only carrying 98 pounds on my small frame, was a great advantage on the first part of the course. I was surprised to find myself hanging with many of the elite females for the first six to seven miles. It was only when we encountered the heavy obstacles, that their more adult bodies became a huge advantage for them.

Two-thirds My Weight

Upon reaching one of the few black diamond ski runs at Killington, I peered up the steep slope.  As far up the mountain as I could see, it was just a stream of racers carrying something. As I approached a pile of sandbags, I quickly realized there was only one size. Many of the weighted obstacles at Spartan Races have female and male sized weights. This was the World Championships, though, what was I thinking. There was no time to stop and think. This was a race!

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-60#sandbag carry

As a competitive athlete, you learn to improvise as you go. I wasn’t sure how I would handle this heavy obstacle but knew I just had to get moving with it. I grabbed my sandbag, tossed it up onto my back and began the long trek. I would alternate carrying the weight on one shoulder, then the other. When both shoulders got fatigued, I would place it evenly across my upper back and neck.  The one thought I had the entire time was, “Why is a 14-year-old girl carrying what a grown man is carrying?” At the time, I had no idea I was carrying 60 pounds, literally two-thirds my body weight. All I knew was, “It was heavy”.  It was only after the race, that I had learned the actual weight we were all carrying.

Burpees & Perseverence

The Hercules Hoist gave me my first set of burpees. A cement bucket is hooked to a pulley system.  You must use a rope to pull the bucket up to the top. As I started to hoist the bucket up, I would quickly find myself being pulled up in the air as the bucket returned to the ground. “You got to be kidding me! I’ve done this before. This cement bucket must be heavier than my last race.” After being lifted off the ground several times and only getting the weight half way up, I realized Hercules would win today. I immediately started doing my 30 burpees.

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-rope climb

During the entire race I was reminded, “I had it easy.” I was not carrying a tumor, like my new friend, Iram Leon. He is 32 years old and living with an inoperable brain tumor, yet not letting it slow him down. I had two healthy legs unlike the amputee that crawled up the entire Killington ski slope on his hands and knees or like the female amputee who stood at the start line with me. I was able to just be at the event, unlike my dad and many others that left this world too soon. It wasn’t hard to put my pain aside and persevere.

Having previewed the course the day before, I knew the water obstacles would come at miles seven and ten. Seeing all the water on this course, I also knew I wanted a shoe that had great drainage, not one that would hold water. I had poured water in my Newton trainers prior to the race to see how quickly it would drain out. Unlike many Spartans, I was not intimidated by the water, but rather excited. As a two-time triathlon national champion, I had been battling it out in the water since I was five years old. I didn’t take into account, however, how much wearing shoes affected your ability to swim. I was especially glad I didn’t wear a hydration pack like so many did. It would have been yet another thing to weigh me down as I swam across the frigid water and climbed up the rope climbs.

Tarzan & The Tyrolean Traverse

The Tarzan Swing was nearly impossible! I heard of only one female who made it successfully across. This obstacle consisted of ladders and ropes suspended from a bridge in the middle of a lake. After swimming out and climbing up to the top of the bridge, there were about five or six little ropes. One had to swing across these ropes to get to the bell. I made it across two ropes then fell about ten feet into the lake.  As I swam to shore, my only thought was, “I think I’m turning into an ice cube.” As I crawled onto shore, it was burpee time again.

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-barb wire

Next up, the Tyrolean Traverse. Imagine a rope suspended across water; a kids dream, an adult’s nightmare! I may have moved slower than Sid, the two-toed sloth, but I made it! I hung below the rope with just my knees and elbows draped over the long rope that spanned the freezing cold, irrigation pond for the ski resort. There was no way I was going to fall off that rope, swim to shore, do 30 burpees and then have to reattempt it again. It was pretty intimidating seeing Elite men wrapped in a foil blanket at the edge of the water, hypothermic and unable to continue on. Today, the Tyrolean Rope would separate the winners from the losers. All I could think was, “Just hang on!” I have some great rope burns on my arms to show for my effort.

Tyrolean Traverse- Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013

Pushing Beyond

The Spartan World Championships pushed me farther, mentally and physically, than I have ever been pushed before. However, with this being said, I know I have not reached my limit. There is always a take home lesson I learn from every race; whether it is a triathlon, a marathon, an aerial skiing competition or a Spartan Race. Spartan reminded me how crucial the mental component of a sport can be. Even if your body wants to give up, you can usually mentally keep pushing on and many times your body will recover. If you give up mentally though, it is over immediately.

Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013-fire jump

For many, crossing the finish line on Saturday was the end of their race weekend. Placing first in the world in the 19 & under open division and 28th amongst the elite females was perhaps my greatest accomplishment ever. However, the most important race to me was actually the next day. For the first time, Spartan offered a charity race. Beat up and exhausted but willing to do it all again, my team of five athletes, Team Winter, set out Sunday morning to try to capture the Spartan Charity Race Title. Our team raced for the 1 in 6 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancer that took my 40 year-old-dad from me when I was only 9-years-old.

We were expected to navigate a two- to three-mile course, with the fastest three times from each team counting. Seeing some of Spartan’s best obstacle course racers smiling at the start line Sunday and getting their “Spartan On” for something bigger than themselves was a great sight. These guys and gals went out with revenge and were ready to give everything they had left for their cause. Although Team Winter took 2nd place by only a few seconds, we were proud to stand on the podium as one of the top five teams in the world. Each team took prize money home for their charity and most importantly raised awareness for their cause.

Finish Line Spartan Vermont Beast World Championships 2013

Spartan World Championships was great training as I headed into my sixth marathon on October 12th on New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island—my second to last continent on my world marathon tour for prostate cancer awareness. Keep following Newton for my next race report!

Never Give In!

Sig

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Never Give In: Running the Inca Trail Marathon

Posted by on Monday, July 29, 2013 @ 9:16 am | Leave a reply

Never Give In: Running the Inca Trail Marathon

How tough could running the Inca Trail be? Getting to the Inca Trail was much easier than Antarctica. No boats, no hurricane, just a 5-mile hike into the start line the day before the marathon. We arrived on a Saturday, a few days before the race, in a cute, little, town called Cusco, Peru. Here, we would spend several days acclimating to 12,000 feet and drinking lots of coca tea. The locals consider coca tea leaves to be the miracle plant for acclimatizing. Everywhere you go in Cusco, there are coca tea leaves, which you either chew or use to make tea.

Peru Marathon

I didn’t experience any significant issues going from 7,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Some people get nauseated, headaches, decreased appetite and even fatigue. We did several 4-5 mile downhill runs over the next couple days to get used to running in the altitude. Tuesday we hiked into our race camp near the start of the Inca Trail. We slept in tents and prepared for a 4 a.m. race start time. The park entrance into Machu Picchu closes at 3:30 p.m. every day. An early morning race start would give us 11.5 hours to reach this gate, which lies 2 miles from the actual finish line inside Machu Picchu. Those runners who don’t make the cutoff either camp out for the night on the Inca Trail at make shift camps set up by the race organizers, Andes Adventures, or take a path down to a different finish line below Machu Picchu.

Race night was short and not the most ideal preparation for a long running day. A 2 a.m. breakfast cooked by the Peruvian porters consisting of porridge, pancakes and bananas was definitely a good start though! There would be over 30 porters that would assist us on race day. They would carry our 22kg ration of gear we used for camping and assist us along the race course with water stops as well as encouragement and any other issues that might arise.

In the 18-year history of this race, only once had it rained!  We can now make that twice! Within the first hundred yards of starting the marathon, raindrops began to fall, turning the trail into a rocky, muddy mess. The biggest obstacle to navigate in the first couple hours of darkness was the huge “cow pies” on the trail left by the farm animals that inhabited and roamed the first mountain pass. What a slippery mess they were! Once again it was the Newton trainers that served me well. I chose a lighter trainer shoe on the trails over the Newton trail shoe, but that is just my preference.

Peru Marathon 3

The toughest challenge may not have been the climate or the elevation. We would climb about 10,400 feet and descend 11,000 feet over the course of the day. I experienced some swelling in my fingers that was very noticeable as I reached Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,799 feet. After the race, I realized I wasn’t the only one experiencing this. It is common at these elevations to experience swelling in your extremities. My fingers looked like little sausages, but quickly went away after I descended to lower altitudes. The high altitude affected my normal race appetite also. I found myself not drinking and taking in the energy gels as planned.

Each of these marathons has been a great learning experience. I have become much better at listening to my body and adapting to the different challenges I face during these runs. Instead of only consuming my normal nutrition that had served me well in training runs, I had to switch it up and grab a cup of chicken broth. That seemed to work very well for me. My body was probably craving a little more sodium than usual. Despite my lack of thirst, I knew I was behind in my water intake and had to keep up on my hydration. My hydration pack made that much easier, since there was little effort needed to just take sips frequently along the way. Your hydration pack is crucial in these races. I had mine under my running jacket during the race so I didn’t have to remove my hydration pack each time I needed to put my jacket on or off. A hydration pack should just feel like a part of your body. The last thing you need to worry about is something bouncing on your back or chaffing you.

So what was the toughest challenge? The rocks and stone steps that lined the 26.2 miles of the Inca Trail were probably the biggest challenge of the day. Climbing the two-foot steps, which never seemed to end, provided a huge challenge to the hamstrings. I can’t even tell you how many false summits there are on that course. You think you are at the top and you get there and realize, “You’re not!” After all the long climbs, there would then be a long rocky descent, which entailed never-ending pounding to your feet on uneven stones. The descents were a true test of how well you had trained your quads. This was the first marathon that I wore my 110% Play Harder Compression Soxs during the race and not just for recovery after. I think it made a huge difference in how fresh my legs felt at the end of this grueling 9-hour run. You can bet you will see me running the longer distances in them in the future as well.

I never set out to win the Inca Trail Marathon. I just wanted to have the best possible race for me that day. The number “3” has been following me for a while, 3rd place overall female in Kenya and Antarctica Marathon! I am always thinking to myself, “Is today going to be the perfect race?” We must admit, we all dream of that perfect race or perfect competition. My training is always purposeful; I fuel my body nutritionally and prepare mentally for success as an athlete, especially as an endurance runner. The Inca Trail Marathon wasn’t the perfect race for me, but I was the best female runner given the circumstances on that course, on that given day. That race proved age is not a barrier and certainly, as the 4th place finisher overall that day, gender is not a barrier.

Peru Marathon 2

What do I remember most about that day? It probably isn’t standing on the finish line with my first overall female marathon win. It is the memories of me trying to race the porters on the descents and still not being able to keep up with them as they descended the stone paths with a 100-pound pack on their back. It was the reality that all the hikers I would pass on the Inca Trail that day would take 4-5 days to complete the Inca Trail, something I would complete in just 9 hours and 18 minutes. It was sharing my iphone the night before the race with two young Peruvian girls so they could play games and escape their isolated reality for a while. It was donating my clothing, as well as my brothers’ clothing, to the nearly 40 porters that would assist us on race day so that their families would have clothing. Or maybe it was waiting at the finish to not only see my mom run an 11 hour 20 minute marathon, but also to be on the podium with me as the 3rd place overall female.

The victory on the Inca Trail was not only a personal victory, but more importantly, a victory for prostate cancer awareness! Next stop is the Sunrise to Sunset Marathon in remote Mongolia at the end of this month. Following Mongolia is New Zealand and Athens, Greece later this year. In the end, I hope that I inspire others and teach the world to Never Give In. Never Give In despite the odds, despite your circumstances, despite your age, despite your gender, despite what others might say.

NEVER GIVE IN!

Sig

 

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Just say “Yes”: Winter’s World Marathon Tour for prostate cancer

Posted by on Friday, July 19, 2013 @ 9:14 am | Leave a reply

Very few can truly say they grew up in Newtons. In 2007, the year that Newton Running Company launched, my foot was too small for them. I was just 8 years old and already a seasoned runner, competing in 5K’s and 10K’s. My foot swam inside a size 5. I was left to stare in envy at my mom’s pink Newtons.

I remember my mom coming home from the 2007 Ironman World Championships, where she volunteered in the medical tent as a physician. She had a shiny, new pair of pink running shoes. Little did my mom know that when she bought one of the very first pair of Newtons, she would be supporting research of the cancer that would steal her husband and take my dad. A portion of the proceeds from that shoe benefited prostate cancer, a cancer unfortunately all too well known to the co-founder of Newton Running, Jerry Lee.

Jerry and Winter

In 2008, I attended Ironman Lake Placid — my first Ironman! I was just 9 years old, overlooking the Olympic Oval full of bikes. I crossed the finish line with my idol, my mom (when kids were still allowed to cross the line with parents). I was dressed just like her, pink Newtons and all. I knew then, Ironman Lake Placid would be on my bucket list! It was there that I remember meeting a man who slipped that first pink pair of size 5 Newtons on my feet. Newtons have never left my feet since. I now call Jerry Lee and his company “family” and I race for him as well as my dad and the 1 in 6 men affected by prostate cancer around the world.

IM LP

The following year, 2009, would redefine my life. I would now have to live without my dad physically by my side. I made a vow with my brothers, that we would chase prostate cancer to the end of the world and stomp it out like it stomped our dad out! It was the birth of Team Winter. I had completed an Olympic Distance Triathlon just months before my dad’s passing. It was the last race he would hug me at the finish line. It was a race many said I couldn’t finish and that I was too young. Little did the critics know, that was just the beginning for me.

Memorial

Now, at age 14, I have four marathons, on four continents, under my race belt. It hasn’t been easy though. The journey to the start line of these marathons is the real story. Running the marathons has become the easy part! “You’re too young,” “You can’t run our marathon, but you can run our 5K,” “Wait until you get older,” “You must be 18 years old,” “NO!” Over and over, these are the responses that I got when I set out to become the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents.

It is all part of my dream that I began planning at 10 years of age, a World Marathon Tour for Prostate Cancer Awareness. I wanted to achieve this world record in memory of my dad and the men and their families affected by prostate cancer. I guess it’s a good thing my mom taught me “Never take ‘No’ for an answer,” never accept, “You can’t,” “You won’t”, “You shouldn’t”. If I had let these thoughts enter my mind, my marathon tour probably would not have got very far. I honestly can’t even tell you how many “No’s” my mom and I got from race directors around the world. I lost count, but never lost faith and hope.

Eugene Marathon, in April 2012, would kick off my World Marathon Tour. The Newton trainer has always been my favorite distance running shoe. This shoe would help me run my first marathon at age 13 in 3:45:04, just 5 minutes shy of a Boston Marathon qualifying time. Next stop was Kenya, the Amazing Maasai. It was my first trail marathon and despite a strong field of Kenyans, I placed 3rd overall female. I took over 20 pairs of my old Newton running shoes that I had worn over the years and donated them to the young Kenyan runners, many of whom ran in sandals made from tires. It was incredible to run against the Kenyans who have become some of the fastest runners in the world.

Winter Running

 

Winter in Africa

My next two marathons would challenge even the seasoned runners. After consulting Newton, we decided to bring out the retired Newton all-weather trainer. This proved extremely beneficial as I headed to the “End of the World”. My 3rd marathon would take place on the rugged, frozen tundra of Antarctica. What could possibly top that marathon? Well, the cancellation of my original South America marathon, Galapagos, had me now facing the “toughest marathon in the world”, Peru’s Inca Trail Marathon.

Winter in Antartica

How does anyone even train for such a race on the Inca Trail at nearly 14,000 feet? My run coach, Mark Hadley, was not even fazed by the change in races. He quickly put together a running plan filled with hill runs and more hill runs. Never once did he doubt or question my ability to tackle such an extreme marathon.

As an Olympic hopeful for the 2018 Winter Olympics in aerial skiing, I fortunately live in Park City, Utah, where I’m consistently training and running at 7,000 plus feet of elevation. I did as my run coach said and faithfully put in all the long runs. Not to forget, recovering with ice baths and foam rolling! I threw in a lot of cross training with swimming, mountain biking, aerial ski training and lots of weight training to maintain a really strong core. I had just come back from setting a world record for the youngest person to run 26.2 miles in Antarctica in March. How tough could the Inca Trail be?

Sig

Check back here next week to find out!

 

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