Spartacus Matris

I don’t know how to conjugate Latin. If anyone does, please correct my stupidity above. Do I keep it Spartacus Mater? Nominative? Genitive? Mommy brain? I used to know this stuff.

Anyway, perhaps a linguistics exam will be part of my Spartan Sprint this Saturday in Blue Mountain, PA. I wish there were academic portions of most road races and mud warrior events. I would win things! Someone please invent a Mud-Jeopardy-SAT Question-5K.

So a funny thing happened on the way to the Spartan Forum: We accidentally signed up for the hardest of all the Spartan Sprints, the one dubbed “Mini Beast,” and a race that although advertised as a 5K is actually a five-miler. Did someone over at Sparta HQ mix up their measurement systems? Do they not know about the wacky metric systems those Frenchies are using in Commie Land?

Doing this was meant to be a fun family fluke. I convinced my sister, husband and my sister’s boyfriend to sign up. If we expire in mud, they will most likely blame me in their final throes. They are 25 years old and are P90X enthusiasts and although they only started running to train for this race last week (good job, guys) they are young and spritely and innately athletic so I’m sure they will do fine. Me and my husband on the other hand are of advanced age, which has been accelerated by the process of nine months of slow death by sleep deprivation torture (my hair is turning white as we speak. Oh wait, that’s the dry shampoo I don’t have time to brush out.)

Well, really, I’m mostly affected by the baby’s 1,500 night nursings. But my husband is 12 years older than me and only suffers from couch sleep. He is one year away from the Sexy 45-49 year old age bracket (seriously, that’s a sexy damn age group. Check ’em out at your next Firecracker run) and he is worried he’s too old and crotchety and fragile-of-lower-back-vertebrae to make it through all the obstacles. But with my sleep torture, I figure that ages me a decade so we are roughly on par. Also, there are no Instagram or Tweeting or Googling obstacles because then he would be doing burpees for the next year. The man is 44 going on 104 when it comes to the Social Medias.

We did track work in the heat once. We’re ready! RAHHHHHHH

I also had the brilliance to not change my training at all in preparation for this race since it’s just for fun! Oh so fun! and now I’m not really sure we are ready. It’s kind of like gym class redemption except I don’t know if I can climb a rope any better than I could in 1993 (hint: not well!). But in 1993 my only exercise was eating Pecan Sandies and drinking Schwepps Dry Grape Ginger Ale inside while reading Jane Eyre for the fifteenth time on 75 degree sunny days (hey, that book was not going to read itself for the fifteenth time). I’d like to insert a shout out to my mom for buying my favorite snacks in the dwindling twilight of our unhealthy grocery years. That was before we had whole wheat bread even.

Now I can do three chin ups and 75% of one overhand pull up! I’m good at brute suffering (carrying things, slogging up hills). I am not sure I am bad at aiming javelins but I suspect I am.

I’m going to run in a sports bra so all the 22 year old Spartans will swear off childbearing and the world’s population will stop increasing. I’m running for a cause. Please donate.

Luckily enough we will be traversing our ski slope gauntlet as a team, and my husband is six feet tall so I’m planning to be boosted over walls like a small child. Walls=check. I’m kidding, I’m sadly and misguidedly competitive, so of course I am going to try to do every obstacle by myself, and my goal is not do any burpees.

We have a three hour drive to where we are staying so that’s sure to encourage excessive daytime napping in the children, which means excessive wake-ups the night before, and along with my daughter hating to sleep anywhere besides her own bed (“I miss my dog!” she wails, as soon as we are going to sleep away from home despite not having noticed his existence for weeks before) I will be adding my own personal, highly advanced, add-on obstacle for my Spartan Sprint test of mettle and looking good in mud test:

Racing up a mountain in 90 degree humid heat after being woken up every twenty minute the night before and every couple of hours for the last two thirds of a year.

Beat that, Spartans.

Speaking of nine months, Henry has been taking his first steps. He started with one the day before he turned nine months old and now is doing three or four. He is nine months and four days old. I’m applying for his Junior Spartan race now.

Spartan Race Recap

This post is not sponsored, and I entered the race the plebian way (I paid) but I will be offering a free race entry to a Spartan Sprint later this week in an upcoming post. Check back and be cool and muddy like me.

If you don’t like to read (you should probably find another blog if that’s true then, maybe one with rainbow text and more chocolate Chobani) I offer you the upfront, immediate, Cliff’s Notes upshot of it all:

As expected, I am good at brute suffering, and bad at gym class.

The long version starts with the most challenging of all obstacles faced over our weekend: Traveling with my baby who hates the car.

That was 1,000 times more difficult than the race. Obviously. I guess I should start with an overall recap though.

The Stats

The race: Spartan Sprint, Blue Mountain, PA. Five mile obstacle race.

The team: Me, sister Jess, husband Walt, sister’s boyfriend Alex

The time: 2:23. So at some point it became clear we didn’t care about our time any longer. I tried to do the monkey bars three times for instance. Other times we watched people try to do things like the javelin before we tried, hoping to benefit from hive mind. My good Samaritan husband held the net climb for like ten people after us. Stuff like that. At one point, Walt and Jess spent five minutes trying to open a packet of electrolyte thingies. I yelled “What is this, brunch at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side?!” to the amusement of people who probably didn’t know what I was talking about, as we were in the middle of BumbleCowMountain, Pennsylvania. Maybe they were politely laughing at the crazy lady in the muddy sports bra who was breastfeeding her baby at the starting line earlier.

I figured I could make up for agility and coordination with jokes. A crowd favorite was my quip that the cement pull was like being married (well the one person in the vicinity who was over the age of thirty laughed). I thought Take My Wife Please jokes were apropos as were in the Poconos in some deranged summer camp for the slow. Moving. Slow moving people.

The burpees: Alex was the no burpee champ. He didn’t do a single burpee the whole race. Go 25-year-old good at sports guy! You rock. This was made for you. And also you’re a good athlete. I hate you. Except for the part with the hills (we will get to that).

I did the most burpees: monkey bars (this really disappointed me), the rope climb, the javelin, the transverse rock climb wall, and the stumps. Yes, that’s right, I couldn’t do five obstacles. Not impressive.

Jess missed the rope climb, the javelin and the transverse rock climb. Walt also missed the javelin, the stumps, and the transverse walls. So they did 30 x 30 burpees and I did 5 x 30 burpees. That’s 150. 150% suckage.

The training: We just did whatever we normally did. My husband was inspired to do some monkeying around at the playground a few times and was following some silly man Navy Seals YouTube workout with pushups, pullups, burpees and squats but since I’m giving him the award for the Best All Around Spartan Sprint Performance, it must have paid off. Alex and Jess ran once or twice. I just ran and did my normal stuff. I thought I was golden because I can do a pullup now again! Wooo! Shouldn’t I be strong enough to do any obstacle? (No.)

The hard: The hardest part of the race in terms of exertion was definitely the first half hour or so, as we ascended the double black bunny star death star diamond rattleback snake hill or ski slope thing.

You can see it kind of in the photo above. It’s where the ski lifts end. So first we hike up a steep hill and it’s a decent hill. No one can run. We were behind some guys who were kind of huffing it already and they thought they had jokes. They need to take it to the Catskills, buddy, because you ain’t got jokes. Also, they were blocking me. Because, you see, I was ONLY good at the hill part. I needed to keep booking it. My husband called up, slow down, pace yourself, since we didn’t know what we were in for. Now that we did the whole thing, we know we should have went WAY WAY WAY FASTER. Nothing after the top of the hill was aerobically very taxing. Yes, it taxed my embarrassment muscles, as I had to do burpees like a little nerd girl that I am, since I couldn’t even do the damn monkey bars, but no, I did not end the race feeling exerted like I sprinted a 5K or something. Walt did 50 pushups at the end to make it a workout. I see why people did it twice. Once you knew what it all was, you knew where to go fast and how to pace it.

We theoretically could have ran down the hill for the second half but I was slipping and sliding just trotting. My Saucony Mirages were kind of slippery. Maybe trail sneakers would help me run? I also tittered like a lady when I started slipping and my sister and I refused to run down the steep slopes, turn an ankle, only to stop at the next obstacle and wait in line. It made no sense. During the little mud lake we all swam instead of walked to try to pick up the pace.

But back to the first hill. I was kind of passing people on the hill part and feeling good. It was heart pounding in a good way. Then we picked up our sandbags for the final ascent. Men had 40 pounds and women 20 although some of the women were doing MAN BAGS BABY. I considered doing a man bag but I figured I only weigh 125 or so, it’s only fair for me to hoist a delicate ladybag. I stuck that sucker on my belly like a baby and leaned forward so I wouldn’t fall down the slippery grass and gravel. People were falling and stuff so it was legitimately dangerous. So here comes my moment of glory. Don’t worry, it was all downhill after this, literally and figuratively. I was kicking ass on the sandbags. 250-pound muscle dudes were stopping and resting, Alex was dying somewhere halfway down the hill and I just kept going. My strategy was not to stop and it worked. Little clumps of guy teams were like Okay, now let’s rest for ten seconds and then take three steps! Only three steps and then we rest again! And so on. And they weren’t muddy so it’s not like they did it already. Maybe the 40 pounds for guys was exceptionally harder even if you were 200 pounds than my 20 pounds of baby stand-in? Or MAYBE I JUST HOLD A TWENTY POUND BABY EVERY DAY FOR A YEAR? AND BEFORE THAT ROCKED A BIG ASS BABY IN MY BODY? Yay for being good at something.

So I got to the top and generously waited for my husband who did great. Then waited. And waited for the rest of our team. We were all team-like and yelling you can do it! If I was alone I would have been way down the hill by that point and then karma would have come kicked my ass when I needed help on the one hard wall climb and no one would have been there. So it all evened out in the end, but it’s interesting that my favorite part was the part everyone hated? I could have done that like three times in a row. It was awesome.

But the bad thing was that we thought there was MORE stuff like that later in the race, like a bucket carry I had heard about, but there wasn’t and so we were pacing ourselves for no reason.

Other hard things were sports.

I don’t know how anyone did the transverse wall rock climb. This was post mud-pits, post-lake swim, post everything wet and slimy and muddy. I couldn’t even grip one foot on the first nub. Some bearded mountain man appeared (I think he lived there and emerged once a year for the Spartan race) and wisely advised us to pull a clump of grass out of the ground and use it as a glove grip. This helped Alex get across, but none of the rest of us could manage. This seemed to be the hardest of all the obstacles, as 85% of men and women couldn’t do it.

The javelin was also hard…maybe 35% of the people got it? It was kind of a crap shoot. I mean, it’s a target. You either get it or not.

I was really, really bummed I couldn’t do the monkey bars. All the guys could and probably half the women. I just could not for the life of me reach the third bar. It was so far away. I think it was in Pittsburgh. My sister is shorter than me and she did it. She is a monkey-like hominid though, so she had an advantage. Just kidding, she’s just really strong, like if we are in a dark alley and strangers accost us she will flex her biceps and they will run screaming. But I still didn’t GET why I couldn’t do it. I made my team wait as I tried again and again and then did my first burpees of the day. It was a bad moment because I kind of realized once I did the first set of burpees, I wasn’t going to conquer the rope climb, and who knows what else.

The easy: The tires were way too easy. Maybe I accidentally picked a way too light one? There were several of different weights but no way to tell what was what.

The barbed wire crawls were easy. I could have done that all day. I developed a (patent to come) half drag, half crawl method, similar to that weird-crawling baby you know, and it worked well. I didn’t get scratched up badly.

The walls weren’t as bad as I thought. I did the girl versions (used the notches) and the one hard wall was tilted toward us, above a semi-deep mud pit. So you had to scramble over it, leaning sort of backwards, with wet hands. Some girls were falling off and landing underwater in the mud. Jess and I did it the girl way, using the brackets holding it up and a boost to the butt from our significant others. That’s the real world in action, folks. Do you think in a real zombie apocalypse I’m not attaching myself to a capable man and eating his underground bunker baked beans?

The ugly: I ate mud. Yup, I bit it on the rope climb. Made it a few notches and slipped right down, no way to break my fall, face under mudwater. Mud on the teeth, and a mouth full of grit. I think my sports bra may have even migrated. I hope there are no race action shots of that moment. Hopefully someone at Sparta HQ will take mercy on me if so.

After my spectacular rope climb attempt, my sister tried it, made it pretty high (halfway maybe?) and then…yup, slid down, huge splash, face under water. I think I jinxed her. We both thought we could have done it strength wise and yet our skillz were a fail. If we ever do this again, I am training on ropes and monkey bars while it’s raining. It’s the only way.

The deep thoughts:

Okay, so from what I understand, the Spartan is the only timed obstacle race. It seems more serious, and I think it is, and it’s definitely a fun, well-made race. It’s challenging, it’s varied in the fitness demands it makes on runners, and I like that there are penalties for obstacles.

But. I don’t think it 100% makes sense for it to be timed, the way it’s set up now. The only way timing makes sense is for there to be a time penalty for obstacles. Otherwise, there’s really no way to know if running to obstacles and doing 30 burpees is faster than waiting in line and doing the obstacle. If you’re running for time, it might make sense to do the former, but then what the heck is the point of that? The 30 burpees were faster than many of the bottlenecks. Besides the elite racers I’m not sure timing means anything. People stay and help people get over the rope climb, there are lines, there are places you can’t pass people, there is no real monitoring of burpees. People could totally cheat and just not do burpees (why one would do that escapes me, but still).

The sleeping: Henry wasn’t horrible. He slept decently (woke up three times or so between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.) out of apparent solidarity with our team. So I didn’t feel extremely tired or anything.

Other obstacles: The cement pull was pretty easy. The net climb scared me at first but was easy. The other walls weren’t bad. Oh, the stumps. Those stupid, stupid stumps.

They were slippery. I have pretty good balance. But slipping was almost like the luck of the draw (or sneaker). The pulley weight was pretty easy but I was so paranoid about being such a spaz that I went really slow so it wouldn’t slide out of my grip. The gloves we wore were so helpful for this one.

One part of the uphill was so vertical that we had to use a rope to climb up. That was fun, especially because the bigger people below me holding it were making me sway side to side. I was riding it instead of climbing it. The lake swim was no big deal, and felt really good. There were two or three water stations and one had electrolyte packs. The slip and slide down the mountain into the lake was fun but Alex got a little hurt on a rock under the slide. The mud pits were fun, getting muddy overall was fun. Our weather was really great. 70s and overcast, no rain. Free beer.

Overall, I liked it, and doing a race as a team was a new experience for me. I don’t truly feel like I raced though. I didn’t feel like I pushed myself to really see what I could do. Now that I have one of these under my sports bra, I think it would be easier to know how to push it. I would practice the skills a lot more before the next one. Rope climbing (while wearing Crisco) and monkey bars.

Me and the monkey bars have a grudge match. And I’m glad to know if push came to shove, I can cart my children up mountains, while the frat boys play their paintball games. Just kidding. It wasn’t like a bunch of guys playing games in the woods. Well, it kind of was. I’m making my team do a straight race next time. One of those pump and runs. Bench press and then run.

I’m a crotchety old racer. I will even demand we run in 1970s running sneakers and cotton. Give me an old fashioned foot race, and perhaps a fisticuffs showdown. It was a great day, and I would do another one, but doing the triathlon I did felt much harder. Much harder to sustain a true effort across three sports and the mental challenge of the open water swim felt like I truly accomplished something difficult and comprehensive fitness-oriented. Take this with the concession that we went really slowly and should have probably pushed it more, but we didn’t particularly know what the hell we were doing. And also, I would have broke a leg going downhill any faster. I need my legs to carry my real life sandbags.

Nap Nonsense

When my oldest was a baby, I rocked her, gave her a bottle, laid her in her crib and then she slept for 45 minutes or an hour and a half, in the morning around 10 and the afternoon around 3 p.m. Then when she was around eight, nine months old she started taking one nap around noon for two or three hours in her crib. If she fell asleep in the car, I unbuckled her, carried her droopy warm sleeping body (I love this tactile memory, the smell of her matted hair, her sugary skin) up the stairs, laid her down, closed her door, success…I ran down the stairs and began the race. How much could I do in two hours? Three????

The answer was: a lot. I even briefly held down a full-time work at home job. Naps and play times. I work fast.

Little did I know how lucky and spoiled I was. Fast forward to now.

Henry has acted like his crib is made of hot coals (Damn, shouldn’t have bought the Nest of Rattlesnakes Pattern) since he was first born. He never would nap in there, or go there at night, so I never was able to get him used to it. He wouldn’t go in there awake, he wouldn’t go in there asleep. Almost nine months later the most I’ve gotten out of him was twenty minutes sleeping in there, after something like four hours of putting him down and picking him up. Swaddled, white noise, voodoo chanting, it didn’t matter.

My daughter was plaintively keening for me outside the door, like Mommy? Are you EVER coming back?

You just go run off into the fields and play, ya hear?

So I couldn’t keep doing that. So you might be wondering how does he nap? And oh boy, do I have some fun answers for you.

He used to nap in the swing, approximately 40% of the time. The other 60% of the time he acted like it was a Spanish Inquisition device. Strangely enough, he almost always napped in there for my husband with little to no fussing.
He naps while I hold him. I can walk around, make one-handed peanut butter sandwiches for my daughter, type on the computer with the finger peck method, and read my phone and he will sleep for 30-45 minutes. This is mostly what I do at home because it’s better than him not napping at all and being a cranky mess. This is a terrible option though because well, it’s terrible.

Also, almost-four-year-old girls are bad at being quiet, and if I go sit in another room to read, she invariably follows me (I think it’s like a Don’t Think of a Purple Elephant thing with her and her developmental stage is no match for the temptation) and the tone and pitch of her voice ranges from Minnie Mouse on helium to a sped-up Gummy Bear song vocal to Alvin the Chipmunk doing an exaggerated falsetto in a bad cross-dressing episode. It’s the only sound that can cut through his in-arms-sleeping fog and wake him up. Also, I think he’s only getting a single nap cycle and so he’s cranky anyway.

That brings us to the less worse option: He naps when I drive him in the car.

This is annoying because I can’t be home and doing certain things (housework, exercise) but I can do work because I BOUGHT A LAPTOP FOR THIS EXPRESS PURPOSE. I drive him to a deep sleep, then park at the docks or somewhere scenic (at least give me some scenery in this drudgery of a day) and as long as I leave the car on he usually sleeps. If he stirs, I drive somewhere and repeat. My town has free Wi-Fi, Starbucks has delicious caffeinated beverages, this is not so bad. It’s bad for the environment (sorry) but if I turn the car off, or try to transfer him to a walk (he’s in the Snap N Go) he wakes up. No bringing him into a store or friend’s house and having him stay asleep.

The other problem is my daughter. She’s a good sport, but it’s not really fair for her to sit in a car and unless she’s in preschool, this is a problem. If we are just driving, she might fall asleep and I don’t want HER to fall asleep because then she goes to bed late, wakes up early and is cranky (and she can’t just wake up POOF when we get where we are going, she has wicked big kid pot-nap stupor) and often my best-laid plans go awry and I have a sleeping four year old who can’t be woken up to go run an errand and a crying, not sleeping eight month old. But if Henry does fall asleep, he generally sleeps a FULL nap with several sleep cycles and is good for the day or whatever.

Forget that guy who walked across the Grand Canyon. This is advanced balancing.

I could theoretically give my daughter the iPad to play, but that’s like bottom of the barrel parenting. I try to avoid that. It happens anyway occasionally.

Another place he naps is the jogging stroller. This is fine with me, I run, he sleeps, BUT I have an older child and no double stroller. Shoulda bought the double Bob I guess. This works when she is in preschool only.
The final option is laying down with him and as long as my boob is in his mouth he naps on the bed. I can’t get up at any point or he wakes up. This is good if I want to nap but since I hate napping, can rarely do it no matter how tired I am, and I have the other kid and all, I’ve only done this once or twice. I have to give her a movie and then try really, really hard to fall asleep. (Cut the caffeine drip a few hours beforehand). This also has the drawbacks of all the other methods (I don’t get to do anything or get the psychological break I crave).

Isn’t this ridiculous? I wish there was a magic way to fix this. I guess sleep training is in the cards and maybe it will fix napping. But if there was an easy or only mildly hard way to get him to nap in the house it would have happened by now (see: evidence that once I wrangled a normal baby into normal sleeping). It’s not me, it’s him.

So only hard methods are left and there will be a lot of crying and vomiting (his and mine and his only, hopefully). I’m not looking forward to it, but then again I’m not looking forward to any particular day because…I have to do all these machinations to get a nine month old to take a single, damn nap.

Where’s My Speed Again?

So now that I’ve been running consistently for a few months (in April I was greenlit by physical therapy to go forth and run) I’ve come to realize: I’m not getting any faster.

I am only running three times a week and sometimes only twice. Other days are Spin or indoor bike trainer or strength classes or weight room. I have always struggled with getting more run days in, but I have a weird body that responds to more running with like dead weight legs and injuries. Pre-baby I was able to get faster with this three times a week business and my go-to routine (one day speed work, one day long slow and one tempo day, and other days kill myself in Spin and weights) served me decently enough for a couple of years. I didn’t get injured and I got faster.

the little culprit himself

But now this isn’t working out as well. I have a lot of culprits I’m blaming this on. Breastfeeding hormones, lingering extra weight, lack of sleep. I mean nine months on of never having slept through the night once has to be affecting me somehow even if I don’t feel like death every day (only most days). But I’ve seen other bloggers who are also nursing get right back to their old speed or better. Maybe this is all a big excuse.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never a speed demon. But if I do a race effort 5k right now, like give it pretty much all I have, I’m just breaking 27 minutes. I used to run 23 minutes. And it gets worse with more distance of course. Maybe I should try some speed work? Or try to lose weight (ugh)? I think I will give it more time. But it’s kind of discouraging to be at this plateau now for a few months.

Part of me believes this is my body’s particular idiosyncracy. Breastfeeding means weight and slowness. I guess I will find out in October because I’m committed to 100% weaning at first birthday. I just don’t want to do it any more. I want my body back and hopefully even my bed. I’m looking forward to it.

And maybe even my old paces.