The Men of the Mesa Tough Mudder

Apparently my preoccupied brain isn’t going to allow me to get any work done until I get my stories down in writing. This post began to take form weeks before the Mudder, months in fact before I planned to even sign up for a Mudder.

Almost exactly a year ago, I joined a little Facebook group (now almost 10K strong) called Single Dad Laughing Health Club. I had followed the Single Dad Laughing blog on and off, so when my friend Diane suggested I might be interested in the SDLHC, I readily checked it out. The short story is that it’s changed my life with its positive, solution-focused approach to getting healthy. More on that another time – time is short today.

One of the things I noticed almost immediately was how respectfully we treated each other as members of the group. It became especially apparent that the founder, Dan Pearce, had endeavored to set up a safe place for men and women to interact without the fear of the group turning into a meat market. In fact, he even wrote a little ditty about that, that has since become legend. Although a couple of men sent me private messages early on, looking to connect, they were very respectful and appropriate when I mentioned that I was in a relationship, and have gone on to become my friends. I have found this venue to be incredibly supportive of male/female friendships – something I’ve struggled with in my life for a variety of reasons.

When I signed up for the Mudder, and began to train, there were some rumblings of gender dissatisfaction, mostly around some of us females feeling the males were being, perhaps totally inadvertently, too hierarchical in their approach. This eventually resolved, however, and by the time it was time to go to Mesa, I was only looking forward to meeting my long-time buddies for the first time. And it was more than I ever imagined.

There is something so fundamentally vulnerable to me about leaning on two men’s shoulders, while stepping up into their hands for the needed boost to the top of the wall, where two other men are reaching for you to bring you to the top. Not to say women couldn’t and didn’t help me that day (the sisterhood of the Mudder is a whole ‘nother post!), but for me, someone who has always had a distant relationship with Dad, and complicated relationships with men…the uncomplicated, loving nature of the relationships both on and off the course was a revelation.

It was easy to trust them. Our fortunes were bound together. We joked on the course about inadvertent “inappropriate touch” – that boost to the butt to get you up to the top for example, but I don’t ever remember feeling compromised or uncomfortable. Now, maybe that’s because I’m 46 and not exactly a sex goddess. But I also didn’t feel diminished in any way, either. I just felt…camaraderie. And it was a beautiful thing. So, here’s to all the men on the course that day – plenty of men helped me out that I’ll never see again, and here’s to these unbelievably wonderful men that I’m so grateful to call my friends.

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Trevor. My Mud Buddy. My brotha from anotha motha. Why don’t we live closer?

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Rich, of Precious & Pumpkin fame. Someone who’s a positive force in the world, but who keeps it real. And has an unnatural attraction to Oreos.

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Kris. The guy I’ve needed to apologize to twice already thanks to my big mouth. Huge heart, so much love to share with the world.

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David (on the left), who was always there with a boost and a smile. Thank you!

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Dan. I was so star struck that I wasn’t sure how to even talk to him. He is, quite simply, an amazing human being.

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Brian. Love of my life, and future Mudder teammate. Braved 9 hours of the Arizona sun (without the benefit of the water obstacles!) just because he loves me.

And to the guys who aren’t pictured here – Rick and Dan, thank you for your tireless work on bringing this team together (it had to have been like herding cats sometimes) as well as all the help out there; Kenny, your quiet presence on the course was a beautiful thing – see you in October; DeWayne, who is a good guy all around and who makes my friend Veronica so happy; Kurt, whose strength of character (and body) on the course was amazing; Mark who barreled through those obstacles, then turned around to see who needed help; and Vanesa’s Brian, who overcame his initial reluctance to do the Mudder and became a fantastic teammate. Oh, and thank you too, to my Dad, who told me before the Mudder, for the first time ever, that I was beautiful.

Thank you to ALL of you. You are good men. ❤

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Tough Mudder: The Obstacles

Behold: The Obstacles.

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Before I forget the details, I want to provide a run down of the obstacles, in case you’re thinking about doing the course, or just curious about what kind of insanity went down this past Saturday. You can find the link to the map here.

15.03.14 Spectator Map PDF

I may write more about some of the obstacles, but for tonight, an overview.

Warmup/start wall: “Coach” (a Reno 911 transplant with a rad moustache) put us through some easy warmup exercises, calling us “Sol” Health Club (instead of SDL Health Club) by mistake. We agreed later that that was apropos, as we certainly had a lot of soul! My bud Jill was being silly to the extreme, and got pulled up on stage where she had us all laughing our heads off as we jumped around and did simple calisthenics. Then it was time to move toward the wall that you climb before the start line. This was it! This is where we actually left the ground. Some people had trouble with the wall – I chose the shorter wall on the right because I knew much harder obstacles were ahead. Our whole team cheered for everyone as they came over the wall. One of our team members, Daniel, is paraplegic, and we got our first experience of helping move through the obstacle. Success! We were pumped! More shenanigans at the start line, including reciting the Mudder Pledge (“We do not whine; kids whine!”) and then through the start line we went. We had agreed as a team to walk the course, and we set off, leaving our cheering support team behind, on into the desert. We had so much energy, laughing and talking and wondering about the course. After about a mile and a half, we encountered our first obstacle.

Arctic Enema 2.0: A lot of people said they were worried about this obstacle, but I was looking forward to it. It would be quick, not highly technical, and would be our first REAL challenge. I climbed the ladder with my friends Jill and Trevor, watched Vanesa and her husband Brian shoot down into the ice water, and then sat down, plugged my nose, looked at my friends to make sure they were ready, and shot down the slide into the water full of ice. We had gotten great advice from one of our leaders Rick to keep moving, moving, no matter what, and that’s what we did, coming up for air, climbing over the center wall, back into the ice, and then hauling ourselves out. There’s a video that shows my elated face as I high fived Trevor, who was wearing a Go Pro. Our bathroom break was hilarious fun – I couldn’t feel my legs so I wasn’t sure if my pants were up or down, and let me tell you, compression pants are hard to maneuver when they’re wet! One of our teammates twisted her ankle on the broken up concrete – the course was on the old GM proving grounds – but thankfully she ended up fine.

After a mile of walking through the dusty desert, the heat drying off as we made our way, we encountered our first mud obstacle.

Pitfall: This is a large pit filled with thick waist-deep muddy water  with pits dug out at random intervals. This wasn’t difficult, but it was fun as Trevor and I, holding hands, made our way through. When I emerged, I turned around to help out some teammates, and then the girls gave each other “mud butts and boobs” by um, laying on hands, while our support team looked on. I marveled at the teamwork that was displayed with helping Daniel through the mud, but knew there wasn’t much I could do to help. Then we were off again.

Skidmarked: After some time, we encountered a higher wall, perhaps 10 feet? I don’t have a good memory of the wall, but I was grateful to some of our male teammates for the boost up (they made foot cradles with their hands and shoved us skyward) and to other male teammates up top who grabbed our hands and pulled us to the point where we could assist ourselves over the wall. This was the first time I realized how much the upper body work I had done (tricep dips!) was going to pay off. I easily pushed myself up and over the wall, and used the tires on the other side as stepping stones down. We were all cheering for each other, and some of the people on the team showed amazing persistence given the difficulty of the task for them. On we went!

Cry Baby: At about the four-mile mark, it was time for Cry Baby. This was one of the obstacles that had initially worried me the most, as I wear contacts. I had brought swim goggles and felt a little silly putting them on, especially once we entered (sliding into more muddy water) and discovered that the fog machine was either malfunctioning or in the process of being refilled. The air was filled with vapors that smelled like eucalyptus. We joked that it was like being at the spa.

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After this obstacle, we took a group picture with the CEO and founder of Tough Mudder.  I remember thinking that the Mudder was much less intimidating than I thought, but I knew more difficult obstacles were ahead.

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Berlin Walls: More up and over action, with the incredibly helpful assistance of my male teammates. I had to laugh when I realized I had totally blocked the reality that there were TWO identical walls – when I climbed down from the first one, for a minute, I thought I was done, totally in denial about the other wall just a few feet in front of me. When I dropped down from each wall (which were maybe 12 feet tall), my legs couldn’t sustain me, and I dropped down into the dirt, landing on my butt. Nothing hurt, but it was an indicator of just how tired I was, despite not feeling it. Which made the next obstacle really difficult.

Warrior Carry: I had practiced carrying my 150-lb teenager piggy back style at home, so I didn’t anticipate this obstacle giving me too much trouble. Daniel chose me to be his carry, and I had a fun ride on his rugged obstacle course wheelchair.

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At the transfer point, he offered to carry me the rest of the way, but I wanted to have the experience of carrying a teammate myself, so I jogged back to the beginning. There I found Kimberly, and asked her if she wanted a ride. She asked if I was sure, because she outweighs me, but I told her I thought I could do it. From the beginning, I was worried I might have made a mistake. I was so tired. My legs immediately began to shake and for the first time, I felt truly physically challenged. I was breathing hard, and not enjoying myself at all, and also not wanting Kimberly to feel bad. I shifted position and (horrors!) actually dropped her. We both went sprawling into the dust. She was so very kind, and let me try again. Her encouragement for the rest of the arduous carry was amazing. I was so worried I was making her feel like a burden, something I’m painfully aware of feeling myself sometimes. I was so glad that a water obstacle was up next. I didn’t feel good about the warrior carry at all, and I have to laugh when I see pictures of people seeming to love it!

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Funky Monkey: At this point it seemed like we had been on the course forever. I was starting to get worried about our cheer/support team, who had been waiting for us for a very long time in the 87 degree heat. When we met up with them, they looked tired, but so happy to see us. I’m calling this obstacle a success, as I was able to complete the first half of the monkey bars, only falling after I had my hands on the trapeze. I couldn’t swing out to the vertical bar, and dropped into the water instead, and that was perfectly okay.

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One of our teammates was suffering from heat exhaustion, and after she couldn’t keep liquids down, she made the difficult decision to leave the course and be transported to the medical tent. I felt really sad for her, but I was glad she was keeping herself safe. As we were walking away from the obstacle, another teammate told me she was really upset with herself and the obstacle, because she had “failed.” I told her I was surprised as hell, because I felt like there was no good reason that she couldn’t complete it – she’s so strong. I then commenced to worrying that I had said the wrong thing, not been supportive enough. That worry would be carried with me, and expand, over the rest of the time on the course. I wanted to be a good friend to all, but my insecurities about “saying the right thing” began to interfere with my genuineness.

Birth Canal: This was the height (or depth) of the human-interaction weirdness I was about to display. I was unimpressed by the obstacle, and was vocal about how easy it looked, completely disregarding that this was a major fear for many people. Finally, when I joked that it was like being “smothered by Kool-Aid,” Rich and Trevor quietly said that “smother” could be a trigger word for some people, and gently joked that, jeez, I’m a therapist, right? I was simultaneously grateful for the redirection and totally embarrassed that I was caught out being an ass. Shannon made me laugh though, as she followed me into the obstacle, making comments about her mixed feelings about being so up close and personal to my vagina.

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Me after being kind of a dick.

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Yay, I still got a hug.

Mud Mile: I think this might just qualify as “everyone else’s favorite obstacle.” I enjoyed it too, but was pensive and far too much in my head at that point to have as much fun as I could have. I quickly rappelled down the side of a mini-cliff and then hopped into the extremely muddy water with my buddy Trevor. We made quick work of it, then turned around to help our teammates. I got out and tried to be of assistance, but I felt like no one was reaching out to take my hand. I put my arms around Rebecca’s waist to provide support as she hauled people out, but ended up pulling her over rather than being helpful. I just felt kind of sad, surrounded by people who were clearly loving the experience.

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Ironically my favorite picture of me at the Mudder.

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As we walked away, one of the women took out a tiny container and scooped up some mud for a Christmas ornament she was going to make at home. I thought that was a great idea.

Devil’s Beard: Completely no big deal – we walked single file under a mesh made of ropes, and we moved on.

King of the Swingers: Oh, my. Terribly imposing in appearance, it was everything I had been afraid of. I took swimming lessons for five weeks, mostly to prepare for this. And it was quite an upgrade from “Walk the Plank,” the 2014 obstacle that they upgraded for 2015. Now, instead of “just” jumping off a 14-foot platform into 12-foot water, the obstacle was to jump out over the water, catch the T-bar, and swing out, letting go, to try to ring a bell that was approximately two miles away, or maybe ten miles, I can’t be sure. This was where my bud Trevor’s advice to not hesitate came in handy. I quickly decided to jump off the platform closest to the edge (and the lifeguards) and made my way up the ladder. There’s a great video of my, as it turns out, extremely short experience, in which you can see I was basically out of my body. The staff began the countdown from 3, I shook myself awake, and made the leap out to the bar. Underestimating my ability to launch, I overshot the bar, and felt it hit my wrists, then my hands, as I dropped like a stone.

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I’m all the way to the right, crouched down just before my leap. This was, hands down, the scariest moment of the entire Mudder for me. It didn’t last long.

The water seemed endlessly deep. On my way back up I began to seriously question whether I’d reach the surface. I emerged, gasping, and the lifeguard tried to hand me their red floatie. I waved them off, saying I just needed to catch my breath for a second, and then I struck out for the fifty yards to the end of the pit. It was a long swim, and my sneakers were so heavy. Fortunately, my boyfriend was there to point me to the rope ladder. I would be proud in a minute; at that point, I was pretty traumatized. I watched, holding my breath and with tears in my eyes, as Daniel was helped to the edge of the platform, steeled himself, and then dropped into the water. One of my other teammates pulled herself out of the water, dropped to her knees and began to weep. I knelt down next to her to comfort her and ended up gulping back tears of my own. I can’t overstate the intensity of that obstacle. I shake even now writing about it.

After that, Rick and Dan (our leaders) had a quiet discussion about the time. We had been on the course for six or seven hours at that point, and still had many miles to go. They felt it wasn’t fair to the support team or the Mudder staff to continue as we had, because we would have been going until nightfall. They made the executive decision to cut out two obstacles (Quagmire and Balls to the Wall) and about three miles of walking time. I felt relief for the support squad mostly – I still felt like I could go for miles. I found out later that one of my teammates was especially upset about it because she was doing the Mudder in part to honor her husband who passed away. I don’t think I was as sensitive as I could have been to those of us who didn’t like the decision. The mood of the group definitely soured for a little while, until…Jill asked us if we wanted to see her ass tattoo. Naturally we said yes (I mean, duh!) and so she pulled her pants down, giving us the full moon, as she scampered away from us down the path. That completely changed the mood, and we were back to our badass, laughing selves again. At some point during this time, Jill turned to me and very matter of factly said, “This is my life now. This is what I do. I walk in the desert.” Which completely cracked me up. I love me some Jill. At several points during the course, I kept an eye out for my friend Nyki, wanting to be a support to her, but couldn’t figure out what she needed from me, if anything. Later she told me she needed solitude, so I’m glad I didn’t push too hard. I was a complete mix of emotions at that point – proud of myself and everyone, unsure about how the others felt about me (if they felt anything at all) and how I fit in, and both tired and exhilarated.

The Liberator: I’m not sure any of us were thrilled about this one. We were tired and it was yet another wall. With pegs in it. I took the easy route, up, down, whatever. As I was walking away from it, though, I looked back and thought, wow. That was really high.

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Kiss of Mud: Here I found my second (fourth? twentieth?) wind. It was the muddiest of all the obstacles which made it so fun, and involved army crawling through thick mud under barbed wire. I got snagged and had to yell for Trevor to unhook me, but other than that, it was a speedy trip through. We had been on the course so long that the parking lot, which was adjacent to the obstacle, was 2/3 empty. Some departing Mudders stopped to cheer for us. And we soldiered on.

Everest: I had to pee so badly by the time we got there (my third bathroom break) that I didn’t even care who watched – I tapped my boyfriend to be my guard and then squatted down behind some low bushes, hoping everyone’s attention would be on the obstacle, an enormous half pipe that extends skyward 22 feet. The pee break meant I missed the setup of the human ladder to help Daniel reach the top. I’m glad there were pictures, because I was only focused on getting myself up to the top. The advice given by Kris (I think) was to focus on the faces at the top, and it worked. I ran at the obstacle as fast as I could, leaped as high as I could, and was mercifully caught by the guys up top – Daniel and David. After some “fish on a hook” wiggling and straining up at the top, they were able to pull me up to safety and I gave my friend Rebecca a huge hug. The sense of accomplishment was huge.

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Electroshock Therapy: The last obstacle! Nyki and I had agreed long before the Mudder to run through holding hands, despite being warned that it would make the shocks so much worse. I don’t know if that’s true, but wow, we got all the shocks. Near the end of the obstacle, Nyki fell and, trying to help her up, I kept getting shocked over and over again. I dropped down next to her and sort of ineffectually tried to help her stand, not comprehending that there were blue wires around us (the extra electrified ones) which were continuing to shock us as we were trying to escape. Finally, our teammate Lisa rushed back in and helped Nyki to safety while I quickly followed. I was very glad to be done with the sadistic nature of that last obstacle.

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Finish Line: We gathered together as a team, helped Daniel out of his wheelchair, and walked across the finish line as a team.

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So many emotions that day, so many physical and mental hurdles confronted and completed, or at least attempted. More on the psychological stuff another day.

I’ll say for now: I couldn’t be prouder. Of myself and my team. ❤ The experience, truly, of a lifetime, but I can’t do it just once. I’ll be back at the Mudder in October and I already can’t wait.

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Am I being a good friend? Am I now? How ’bout now?

Reposted from my #mudsliderstory on the Single Dad Laughing Health Club Facebook page.

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If you’ve known me for ten minutes, you know my story – the one about how I went to 11 different elementary schools thanks to perpetually nomadic young parents. It was a long time ago (I’m, unbelievably to me, 46 now), but when it comes to new situations with lots of people and challenges, it’s still relevant.

I signed up for the Mudder in a fit of impulsiveness that led to half an hour of physical shaking and “what have I done,” and knew it was going to be a Very Big Deal. It was, in more ways than I would ever have anticipated. Training for it kind of took over my life. I was so glad that the week or so before, I found myself feeling nearly totally zen about it. The trick was to train to the point that I felt truly prepared, and then remember that all that was required is that I do my best.

What I was most worried about, and many people felt the same, was meeting my teammates. I declined to attend the pre-pre-get togethers, preferring to spend one-on-one time with my boyfriend instead (who gets a huge shout out here for being the most supportive guy ever – thank you, Brian​!!). Walking into the restaurant Friday night was really scary – and then to be greeted by 40 people cheering and calling my name and getting up to give me hugs? It definitely helped settle me down.

On the course, I sometimes felt like I was “acting.” I wanted to be a good friend to everyone, a helper, and a confidante, and sometimes (as in “real life”) I felt disconnected through my clumsy attempts to connect. I wondered if I was saying the right thing, not being helpful enough, or being “too” helpful, like when I was trying to support Shannon in helping others out of the mud, and ended up pulling her over. Now that the Mudder is done, I find myself wondering how I came across out there, and whether people like me, and finding myself in danger of focusing on that more than the accomplishments. The struggle continues.

But what I want to focus on is this…It all came together in ways that mostly worked. Every tricep dip I did, every trail run, every “like” or comment on a teammate’s post, every time I made the right food choices, it all came together out there. Every choice I made made a difference in helping me be stronger, lighter, more confident, and more connected, even if the end result was imperfect. I’m 46 and never been an athlete, and I completed a Tough Mudder! That’s pretty amazing!

Every little choice you make is leading you somewhere. Are you going in the right direction?

All the love, my friends!

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Spoiler Alert: We did it!

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I fully intend to write a lot about my experience at the Mesa Tough Mudder in the weeks to come, but for now, a big thank you to all my teammates, the support team, friends and family who were cheering me on from afar, and my (best) boyfriend (ever), who was there as moral support, pack mule, photographer and tireless cheerleader.

The Mudder was an experience that made me feel and think, in no particular order…

A deep solidarity with my female teammates.

That I could actually accomplish anything I decide is important.

That I have definite room for improvement in my body shape, size, and abilities, but that I love my body for what it can accomplish.

Unconditionally and truly supported by men, emotionally and physically.

That I have a much harder time than I thought in being a team player – I tend to be too independent, think I am a burden on others, and sometimes don’t know how to help people outside my defined role as a psychotherapist.

Each of those could be (and maybe will end up being) a blog post. But for now, I’m still needing to recover from Arizona…Besides the mudder, my boyfriend and I vacationed the hell out of that vacation!

Stay tuned, and good night, beautiful people!

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Ermagehrd, it’s Mudder Eve

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I wanted to document my Mudder journey, and am feeling disappointed in myself for my lack of discipline in updating my blog. But I think by not doing that, I’ve accidentally spared myself a ton of anxiety…until this morning. Since I’m feeling the anxiety anyway, as I lie here in my comfy, safe, clean, Air BnB room on the eve of the big event, it’s time to update my blog to let you know five things.

1. I’m still doing this thing.
2. I’m almost exactly as nervous about meeting my 40+ teammates as I am doing the course.
3. The desert smells *really good.* Did it always smell like orange blossoms and jasmine? And the smell of creosote takes me right back to my 8th grade science project, when I thought I might discover the heretofore unknown curative properties that creosote holds for cancer.
4. I have an absurdly supportive boyfriend. Anxiety is a funny thing, especially when it’s intense. When it’s underground, it manifests as a seething annoyance with the fact that he breathes. When it’s overt, it’s, well, the same. Thank you for being such a patient cheerleader and companion, honey. I hope somehow all this is worth it to you!

And finally…

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5. I’m still doing this thing.

Stay tuned!

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Astonishing Myself, and not Drowning in the Process

Swimming Class #1:

Wow, 8:30 is super late. I’m tired. Oh, right, I should take a towel. Swim cap, you say? Thanks, friends…I guess that and goggles would have been a good idea. On the bench: It’s cold in here. In the water: Are you SERIOUS?! Do they heat the pool with ICE CUBES? Hey, I love my instructor! Can I hold my nose when I go underwater? No? But why not? You know, I’m not so sure about this instructor. What will I do if I lose my contacts? I better get goggles. This isn’t so bad I guess. It’s a good thing I’m confronting this water thing before the Tough Mudder in a couple of months. I love my instructor!

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Me literally freezing my literal ass literally off after Class #1. It was like 3 degrees outside. Literally.

Swimming Class #8:

Hey, swim friends! Good to see you again! Bobs? Sure I can do ten of those, no problem! Hey look, that front to back to front float thing is coming along nicely. Front crawl? I only sometimes feel like I’m going to drown now. I wear a swim cap and goggles like a boss. Back crawl is my favorite. And look! I can go around in tight little circles. I do believe with some practice I’d make an excellent synchronized swimmer. Is that a thing anymore? On account of it not being the 30s anymore…

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Me with swim cap (way too small) and goggles (way too big). I’m still working out the kinks.

Adventures in swimming class…With only two classes left of ten, I can say it’s been a success. Things I can do reasonably well that I could decidedly not do a month ago: Ten bobs in a row without holding my nose. Turning from front float to back and then over to front again. A passable flutter kick. A halfway decent front crawl stroke (for a beginner, anyway), back crawl, tight turns, and jumping into the deep end of the pool without holding my nose!

The Mudder is right around the corner now, and as scary as the water obstacles still sound to me, I did myself a huge favor by getting into the water and learning some basics before the big event. My instructor, a jolly, super-positive force of nature/dolphin/mermaid/saint, knows I’ll be completing the Mudder and has pushed me a little harder because of it. Last night we were practicing jumping in and swimming to the shallow end, from about halfway down the pool, at about the five-foot depth. When it came to be my turn, the instructor cocked her head down to the far end of the pool.

“I think you can do it.”

Without hesitation, I said, “I think I can too. What’s the worst than can happen?”

Laughter from both of us and the two teenage lifeguards. Ha ha ha. The kids laughed a little too heartily, in my opinion. But I hefted myself out of the pool (no ladder for me! gotta work that upper body!) and walked down to the far end of the pool, trailing the lifeguards behind me, my classmates cheering me from the the shallow end. When I reached the end of the pool with the instructor treading water just below, we had a short discussion about which lane I would use to swim back to the shallow end (I voted for the one closest to the side) and then she gestured at the lane platform, poised about two feet above the edge of the pool and tilted precariously toward the water.

I shrugged, and said, all bravado, “Sure, why not.”

And I stepped up on that platform.

Let’s recap. I am now standing two feet above ten feet of water, looking at the length of the lane, and knowing it would be my job to jump in, find a way to breathe, and then swim from…here…to…there. I know toddlers probably do this all day long, but it was something I’d never done and hadn’t really contemplated my ability to ever do, having never taken a swimming lesson in my life. But last night was the night, and it was happening, despite any trepidation (or common sense?) on my part. I reviewed my plan – the stride jump, the surfacing, the taking of the deep breath. Then, as the drill required, the five-second front float, the flip to back float for five seconds, back to front-float for five seconds, big deep breath, and then…front crawl the approximate seventy hundred miles from one end of the pool to the other.

Oh, I second thought the whole thing. I thought about several possible outcomes, only one of them being that the experience would go according to the above plan. But then I reminded myself that in less than six weeks, I would be standing TWELVE feet in the air, above murky water, without a friendly swim instructor in the water below me, and if I couldn’t do this, then maybe it would be safer to skip the Mudder obstacle altogether. And that? That is not happening.

So, before I could give it much more thought, I nodded at my instructor, took a deep breath and walked off the platform, hitting the water with a splash. Oh, the water was deep. So deep. I let out way too much air at impact (I so hate that feeling of water in my nasal passages and lungs so I’m invested in blowing out hard) and wondered briefly if I had enough left to reach the surface. Of course I did (but it felt like barely) and upon surfacing I took in a huge gulp of air (yay! not water!) and glanced at my instructor to see if she was ready for my front float. She nodded and I lay myself gently down into the water. Some of my classmates find the floats so difficult. For someone with certifiable control issues, I’m surprised they’re so easy for me – perhaps they are a way to give myself over and let myself be held without having my cradling be a transaction I have to somehow repay. The water holds me without expectation. It’s lovely. The instructor lightly tapped my arm, and as planned, I gracefully flipped onto my back. She had taught us the magic technique of bending at the knees and slowly bringing our arms over our heads to shift the center of buoyancy. It works every time, and it worked that time too – I could feel the air on my belly. Another tap, a deep breath, and another graceful flip, and I was on my front again, gently blowing a bit of air out my nose, to discourage water flowing up into my nasal passages. I was face down for just long enough to have this thought. “I have to swim the entire length of the pool. What the-” before I felt the tap again, meaning it was time to take off.

Turning my head toward my instructor, meeting her kind eyes for a moment, and taking a big gulp of air, I then began to swim. Pull, reach, kick, head down, 12/6, roll, breathe…all the components came together in what felt like a messy but not-likely-to-kill-me front crawl. I knew I had a long way to go, so I tried for a sensible pace. As a runner who likes to sprint in intervals rather than do long slower runs, I’m always having to slow myself down in the water. I know this slowing down process is good for me on many levels, so I welcome it. I could hear my classmates cheering me on, and that of course, was incredibly motivating. It also strengthened my resolve to complete the length without stopping, and to try to do it with some semblance of grace.

About two-thirds of the way back to the shallow end, I began to “take on water,” as I call it. No matter the adjustments I tried to make, I was still breathing in water with my air when I turned my head to the right. I skipped a breath and concentrated on blowing the water out under water, and when I came up for my next breath, I was able to take in more air than water, but it still wasn’t pretty. I knew if I could just somehow keep clearing my breathing passages, I might just make it. I consciously connected my mind and my body and willed myself to slow down and not panic or begin to flail or give up and stand up. As I approached the end of the pool, my classmates began to cheer in earnest. The final couple of strokes were not things of beauty, but they got me to the side. If my classmates were nearby there would have been high fives and fist bumps all around, but in lieu of that, I briefly touched my forehead to the side of the pool, and gave a silent thanks for it being there. I turned around, fists in the air and a giant grin on my face.

Did you see what I just did!?!” Oh, they had, and there was much rejoicing.

I love my class, and I’m going to miss these folks when it ends.

After class, I thanked my instructor for making all the difference for me when it comes to facing the water at the Mudder. The confidence I have I think is realistic. Please don’t make me swim two whole lengths of a pool just yet (is that a lap? I don’t even know), but if I have to jump off a platform, or fall off the monkey bars, and swim to the side of a pool? I can do that without fear of drowning. And a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that.

What have you done to astonish yourself this week? There’s still time!

Stay warm, friends. xo

P.S. A huge thank you to my Internet friend Jenni from California for sending me a real swim cap (not pictured) just because she believes in me. ❤ ❤

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Five Other Things

Yesterday I posted about the nine behaviors that actually worked in aiding me to lose thirty pounds and keep it off, and turn me into an honest-to-goodness athlete at the age of 46. You can find that post here. Back to Basics: 9 Things That Worked.

Rededicating myself to those nine behaviors was clarifying for me, and gave me hope that I could stop my gears from slipping before it was too late and I tumbled down the mountain into the abyss of torpor and self-hatred and jalapeno poppers.

Day 1 report card so far?

No carbs other than maple syrup, and sugar in my coffee. Check. Thirty day meditation challenge in progress. Check. Post-shoveling PWS posted in the SDLHC. Check. One serving of the good stuff (banana) ingested, and a kale/tomato/sausage soup on the stove for later. Check (sort of).  Posting supportive messages on SDLHC. I’ve done a few. So…not too bad so far. It feels good to have a framework again rather than just milling about in my own self-doubt and frustration.

At the risk of tinkering with what works and breaking the machine, here are five additional ideas I’m implementing beginning this week. I’m a bit more apprehensive to list these, because they have no truly proven track record with me really, though I’ve tried many of them before, and because I want to avoid taking on too much and ending up doing too little…or nothing at all. But they seem important enough to at least make the effort. If they’re good for me, then wonderful, I’ll keep at it. If not, I’m okay with letting them go.

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Yes, you guessed it. Yoga.

1. Yoga. I’ve practiced yoga in the past – at a studio, using YouTube videos, and as part of an invigorating 30-day challenge that I recommend. I stopped the studio yoga after having a couple of episodes of pretty nasty vertigo which required me to leave class, but have always known it’s good for me and wanted to return to it. A friend of mine gave me a heads up that the studio I like in town is offering unlimited Yoga for 30-days for $40. Yes! Sign me up! I immediately bought the Groupon, then started the eyebrow-furrowing task of figuring out where to fit it in. The clock starts ticking when I go in for my first class, so I’m trying to be smart about scheduling. It’s good for my achy body, and for my attention-challenged mind. I’m doing it in February.

2. Meditation. This is a lovely kind of cheat, because it’s both a 30-day challenge I’m running and a new tactic I’m trying. In fact, I’m taking a break right now to do Day 2. Join me! It’s not too late. Back in ten minutes… Ahhh. What I’m noticing now is not the hamster in my head, but the quiet hum of the forced hot air, and the faint whine of the laptop motor. I hear distantly a plane overhead and send a little thought to anyone flying through the swirling blizzard that’s currently happening in my part of the world. The delicious aroma of the kale sausage soup I made fills my house with the promise of a dinner that will be nourishing, healthy, and delicious. Rather than feeling like my teeth are rattling from the crazy internal off-center steampunk engine in my head, I feel a sense of quiet gratitude for where I am exactly at this moment. After only ten minutes, my life feels different to me. Beginning a meditation practice was not optional. My soul cries out for it.

3. Swimming lessons and swimming for fitness. I kept trying to visualize myself at the Tough Mudder, poised to jump off a 12-foot platform into a pool of dirty water, and having to make my way to safety…and I couldn’t let that be the first time in years that I experienced deep water. I’ve had two legitimate panic attacks in my life – one was at Walmart (and since then, Walmart has been my joy to avoid/boycott for the past five years) and the other was in deep water when I was “swimming” at our local reservoir. I’ve never had a lesson, but figured out how to avoid drowning by doing a pseudoswim flail thing that would generally get me to the edge of whatever water I happened to find myself in. My goal for swimming lessons was to just familiarize myself with the feeling of being in water, but after a few weeks, I’ve grown to love how it feels to learn the skill of swimming – to feel strong and even sometimes sleek in the water, and to trust it to hold me while I figure out how to not breathe in a gallon of it. I have three lessons left, but will plan to sign up for more when I can make my schedule work.

4. Gratitude. I’ve “cultivated a gratitude practice” in the past (which for me meant writing down five things for which I’m grateful every day) and the practice can be transformative. I think the magic lies in training your brain to look for what makes you happy in order to be able to record it. My brain was pleasantly obedient. I’m not doing anything so formal this time, but am trying to remember to notice when I’m feeling grateful. Outside earlier, doing snow removal, I shook off a fearsome dark mood by noticing how grateful I was for my new electric snow thrower (my first ever!), my winter gear (warm snow pants, high tech boots and a ninja snow mask), the fact that my extension cord was long enough to do the whole job, and my neighbor, for bringing over a bolt that my machine was missing – making it so it stopped blowing snow into my face. Noticing what you notice, and turning toward joy. It’s so important.

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What’s a little snow to a snow ninja?

5. My business. This is very much a work in progress. I am turning my psychotherapy practice toward a focus on health and fitness, and am developing a vision that includes being active with my clients, rather than sitting stiffly in an office talking about being active. I also plan to make some changes in how I do the “work at home” part of my business, and just today realized that I could take my son’s room and convert it into an office, now that he’s out on his own. It’s astonishing to me that the thought had never crossed my mind. My creativity with my practice was like a wire that had become disconnected, and I didn’t even know it. I’m plugged back in, and the light bulb of my creative self is slowly building power, perceptibly brightening by degrees.

Tomorrow (or whenever I get to it!), I’ll be posting about some other possibilities I’m thinking of – not for now, but for a later time when I have this other stuff down. Just allowing the existence of possibilities is something I had forgotten to do. Feels good to be waking up again.

Feel free to tell me about your endeavors in the comments.

Stay warm, friends! xo

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Back to Basics: 9 Things That Worked (an argument against creativity)

I want it so bad. And I bet you know what I mean.

I want that feeling of effervescence. Of pleasure after pain. Of demanding to be given challenges, then overcoming them.

Like most addicts eventually do, I’ve slipped, and slipped hard. My days are spent hunched over my phone or staring into my computer screen, and shoving food into my face hole like we’re about to have some kind of food shortage beginning tomorrow.

And I get so mad! So mad at myself! I loved that feeling of looking a little slimmer and stronger today than yesterday, all due to impressing myself with extremely hard work and truly excellent food choices.

I find myself casting about for new ideas. What can I do? What can I dooooo?

For some reason tonight, a quiet voice spoke in my ear. It was probably my sanity, but I’m not totally sure I’d recognize her voice. Anyway, the voice said to me: You already know how to do this.

And she’s right.

I don’t need a new plan. No need to be creative or think outside the box. Just, for the love of Pete, remember what you did last time, Rebecca. And do that. So, for your consideration, and in case it helps anyone else,  here’s what worked.

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Selfies. Part of what worked.

1. No carbs except sweet potatoes and whatever are found in fruits and vegetables. Oh, except sugar in my coffee and maple syrup on stuff when it needs it. And mini chocolate chips in my yogurt sometimes. But seriously, that’s it.

2. Thirty day challenges. You can find them on the Internet if you search. What worked best for me was to create events and invite folks from the online health club I belong to, as well as my “civilian” friends. I’d usually not be content with doing one at a time – one month I participated in four. I’d often get more than 100 people to join me, and being the leader was incredibly motivating on a daily basis. By the last week or two, these challenges seriously kicked my ass.

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An example.

3. Extremely planned and well-justified cheats. I remember in particular a trip to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I put so much thought into that meal, and felt completely at peace with my choices. I didn’t eat healthy that night, but I ate well, and I can still recall that meal. It meant something in a way that the junk I ate tonight (I had a Super Bowl party for one – and didn’t even remotely plan to watch the Super Bowl) will not.

4. Religiously posting “#PWSs” (post-workout selfies) on the wall of my Facebook health club group. I’d often work harder during a workout, wanting to be able to post a truly sweaty, endorphin-eyed, grinning selfie. For whatever reasons, the psychology of PWSs works for me.

5. Like/comment challenges. In the health club, it’s become a tradition for people to put their fitness into the hands of others. Typically, a member will throw out a challenge for themselves that goes something like, “For every “like” this post gets, I’ll do a crunch, and for every comment, I’ll do a burpee,” or what have you. Only the brave or foolish don’t include a time limit, because, as I learned from my 6-1/2 minute plank, those folks (us!) are a little bit sadistic. And I love them (us!) for it! Like/comment challenges create accountability in an atmosphere of camaraderie. No wonder they work!

6. Eating five-plus (seven is better!) fruit and vegetable servings per day. This once took the form of a monthly challenge, with which I grew bored after a couple of weeks, but it was still helpful. ‘Nuff said.

7. Participating in “Transformation Tuesdays” in the health club – posting (usually full-length) pictures showing real progress on an occasional basis. Similarly, regular posting #NSVs (non-scale victories) such as fitting into a smaller size, running a personal best, etc was helpful. And participating in “Flex Fridays,” which are what they sound like. Selfies! Of new muscles!

8. Supporting others in the health club. Giving back what I got and creating connections in the process was extremely important. It kept my own energy up and made me an important part of a massive group of positive, health-conscious individuals. And frequently posting encouragement kept my own goals at the forefront of my mind.

9. Health club challenges. Most weeks, the organizers of the health club post challenges for the group. They may include recording yourself doing a silly dance, trying a new skill, or taking a funny picture. They are meant to push members out of their comfort zone in a fun way, again with the spirit of camaraderie and accountability – two of the aspects of the health club that have been the most life-changing for me.

So…That’s what’s worked, and you can bet I’m going back to basics.

Stay tuned for more too about the new actions I’m putting into play, as well as other ideas for a bit further down the road.

In the meantime, here’s to a healthy, back to basics kind of week!

Oh, and for more info on that kick-ass online health club, go here. Join us! I promise to “like” your PWSs!

http://www.sdlhc.org/

xoxo

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Posted in Fitness, Health, Tough Mudder, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Today was Not Leg Day

It was also not arm day or ab day. Or cardio day. Or much of anything day. Except maybe Facebook day. Again.

I keep making promises to myself (to work out, eat better, do yoga, read a book, switch my clothes from the washer to the dryer) with this Tough Mudder approaching, and this cartoon perfectly sums up my daily (non) progress, especially over the past week.

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I’ve gained four pounds, have a perpetu-tummyache, and don’t really recognize myself at the moment. When I compare pictures from today to pictures from a month ago, the shine is gone. My skin has lost its glow, my hair is unraveling, my eyes are flat. I’m tired, bored, and cynical. I, for the first time, GASP!, was seriously considering quitting the Mudder today. When one of my friends ribbed me about the uncoolness of letting down the team via selfie, I had to send her this.

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Not today.

But…what’s going on? Whatever it is seems to be striking many of my fellow female Mudder trainees in similar ways just now. Is it that we are burned out from training? Probably. Is it that we’re feeling some trepidation about our natural abilities or lack thereof? Yep. Nervousness about whether we’ve trained adequately? Oh, yeah. Desire to eat whatever we want, whenever we want it, dammit? Can I get an amen?

There’s also some backlash against the training methods that our Mudder guy friends are using for our teams – we’re a sassy bunch who don’t like to be told what to do, and we’re also busy single moms and professionals who don’t have time for what seems to be required. So we rail against The Man and then we laugh and remind each other to do the AA thing and use what works and leave the rest behind. We know these guys are here to help us, but training makes us cranky sometimes.

My own Epic Struggle, as so many epic struggles are, seems to be against myself…my black/white, yes/no, all/nothing, superstar/sloth mentality. I’ve written about being Awesome and what happens when I’m not adequately so. Namely: Whatever the precise opposite of Awesome is. I’m going with “emosewa,” or emo for short. See what I did there?

My life itself in some ways is an exercise in revolving doors. Look! The sun! Look, a dark room. Look! Fresh air! Look, depression. I blame a long distance relationship (Look! He’s here! Look, gone home again.), 50/50 custody (same thing), and a half-time work schedule (I really don’t want to look THAT gift horse in the choppers, but it contributes).

My struggle is in the smoothing out the edges, and leveling out the climbs and crashes. If I’m not Awesome, it doesn’t mean I have to be emo.

But damn, you know…I love the Awesome, and I don’t know that I’ll ever stop trying to fly.

Update: I did end up working out and I feel so much more alive – I was challenged to by my team, but the reward was to help another team. That was more motivating to me than anything else I could think of at the moment. Something to think about.

Stay warm, friends!

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Friendship: A prelude.

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I owe you a longer post, but for tonight, for this one beautiful night, I give you this, and my immense gratitude for my girlfriends. More very soon on the topic of friendship. In the meantime, just…thank you.

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