Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sigh of Relief, and Alternately Deep Breath of Preparation

Well, suckas, I did it. I was terrible, but I did it - I completed the Ultimate Fitness Challenge and even managed to leave with some of my dignity intact.

For those of you new to this blog, a recap - I set out a while ago to test and challenge myself in a completely new way by competing in a 160-yard obstacle course and fitness skills event. Surrounded by women who were obviously former cheerleaders, gymnasts, dancers, and life-long athletes, it wasn't hard to pick out which one had spent most of her childhood dreaming of being an athlete instead of actually being one. Not only was I the sole glasses-wearer, I was solidly at the bottom of the pack in skill, athleticism, and overall abs asthetics. I'm active, I workout a lot, and I compete in endurance events, but this was a different kind of sport. This was like some kind of diabolical cult that believed the true path to redemption was through a combination of plyometric training and brute strength. I was intrigued. I was thirsty for Kool-Aid. In short, I wanted to see if I could hang with the big kids.

So back in March, I attended a training camp as a benchmark to determine what kind of training I needed to focus on. It was a pretty revealing trip - while I was a big fish in a small pond in my little gym, here my ability was laughable. It was pretty clear that I had a lot of work ahead of me. But instead of feeling discouraged, I was energized and couldn't wait to get to work. I returned home with a list of skills to master and a deadline looming, and since then I have alternated between working my butt off, having temper tantrums about training in a new way, and fending off nervous breakdowns as I realized the enormity of what I had obligated myself to. More than once I wanted to back out; more than once I contemplated changing my identity and denying any knowledge of myself or tri-fitness. Heather who? I'm sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. Someone crazy.

But I didn't do any of those things. I sucked it up and drove to Tampa. Eight months later, it was time to see what all of that sweat had gotten me. I showed up, reunited with friends made at camp, and braced for impact. If you've been reading this blog, you know that there were some definite doubts in my mind - box jumps and hurdles being the standouts. But I figured I was there to have fun, chart my progress, and challenge myself. Luckily, I managed to do all three, as well as make some new friends and have a perfectly wonderful weekend. Awwww.

Fitness Skills was Friday night. When I walked into the training facility, the first surprise was realizing there would be an audience. The second was that the audience was positioned very close to the action. Like, close enough to read my mind, which made me feel a little guilty since most of what was going on up there was profanity-laced. Since I don't make a habit of putting myself into situations where I am the underdog, I was self-conscious and nervous. And when I noticed that the girl next to me, all 4 feet 11 inches of her, had abs that looked like they were made of plastic, I was surly. It turns out she used to be in the circus. THE CIRCUS. Luckily, the focus of tri-fitness is to improve on your personal best, not beat anyone else. Thank the freaking Lord for small blessings. (By the way, she won Grace and Physique and is just the cutest thing ever.)

We started with the killer - 50 jumps on and off of a 21-inch box as fast as you can. As you know from previous entries, this was my weakest event. Al Rosen, the angel of a man who runs Women's Tri-Fitness, asked if I wanted to run them instead of jump. I meekly answered yes, ashamed that I was not better prepared but grateful for the pass. I ran the 50 steps without trouble; as an endurance athlete I was in my element and confident. And I wasn't the only one - several of us struggled and everyone cheered everyone else on as if we were carrying the Olympic torch.

Next was the bench press - maximum reps at 60% of your body weight. I had completely flaked on the strategy of making it to the early weigh-in, and by the time I recorded my weight at 4:00 in the afternoon at check-in, I had eaten enough food and had enough water to bump me into the next weight range: 80 lbs. I had been training with 70 lbs, so I didn't know what to expect. I was not at all happy with my performance considering what I am usually able to do. But, I recorded it and moved on. Next time.

The final event was the shuttle run. Back in March, I had never done this before and had terrible technique. Since then, I have improved tremendously. I still have some work to do before I become really good at it, but I was pleased that I didn't drop any bean bags and I never missed a target. I left feeling somewhat redeemed even if still a rookie.

Saturday morning was the big day: the obstacle course. The 160-yard course consists of a 10-foot wall (scaled by rope), a running grid, incline/decline monkey bars, a balance beam, a 15-foot cargo net, quick shuttle run, then three low hurdles, a steeple-chase jump, an under bar, and an overbar, complete with a 10-yard sprint to the finish line. It is a timed event. Back in March, I was pitiful. It took two grown men to get me over the wall and I merely stepped over the hurdles because they scared the bejezzus out of me. This time, I still didn't make it over the wall but completed the other obstacles, although I did hook the second hurdle and fall, twisting my ankle and forcing me to step over the third. When I got to the finish line, I was sad that what had taken me 8 months to train for was over in just over a minute (the best time was 47 or so seconds). But I also knew it wouldn't be my last time.

I sucked - let's get that straight. I was not good. But from the reactions of the women around me of support, encouragement, enthusiasm, and genuine friendliness you would think I had won first place. Tri-fitness truly is one of the most supportive athletic environments I have experienced, and I am so glad to have found it.

After the rest of the competitors were done, we had a few hours break before the final portion of the challenge - Grace and Physique. I chose to spend that time watching football, since I was not competing in this event, choosing to undergo the physical challenge and not the emotional. Grace and Physique consists of a pageant-style demonstration of your physique, complete with bedazzled bikinis, stripper heels, and false eyelashes. There is also a Fitness Routine portion in which competitors complete a 2-minute gymnastic-style routine and are judged on their ability to demonstate different strength and agility moves. Three of my friends were competing in Grace and Physique and one also in Fitness Routine, so after helping out backstage adhering bikinis to butts and confirming that one's spray tan was even, I moved to the audience to observe. I have to admit, I have scorned this event in the past as petty and sexist. And yes, it was because I was jealous. As I watched, I saw women who were proud of their work (and it is work) to reach their body's maximum genetic potential, and I started to bedazzle my own bikini in my mind. I just may compete next year, and let me just tell you now, my suit is going to knock your socks off. Eye of the Tiger. That's all I'm going to say.

To say that the Ultimate Fitness Challenge was a worthwhile experience could not be more of an understatement. It changed my entire outlook on fitness. Not only did I see the very evident payoff from my training, I truly challenged myself in a way that had intimidated me before. And as cheesy as it may seem, as I drove to Tampa and thought about the path that I have been on for the past year, I felt like just by training differently and overhauling my nutrition, I had already won. I had moved beyond simply going to the gym and working out. I had a sport. Cue the inspirational music!

It feels really, really good to show up at the gym now and just work out without a deadline looming over my head. I'm glad to have a break from plyometrics and shuttle runs and thinking about boxes and how much I hate them. I'm looking forward to some 10ks and a sprint triathlon and P90X, which cranked up in my DVD player yesterday morning. And, come next summer, I'll get out that damn box and start getting ready for November 2010. I'm hooked.

I owe a crapload of thanks to Al Rosen, Bernadette Schimnowski, and everyone at Women's Tri-Fitness,; my trainer Brice Lockhart ("Captain Awesome" to you blog readers); Mike, Jenny, Tracy, Tamara, Jamie, Erika, Dee, and everyone else at BodyTrac Fitness in the 5:00 and 5:30 morning crews; Laurel Blackburn at Boot Camps to Go; Coach Gary Droze at Maclay High School; Kari Bosse, Vivian DeLuca, Karen Moore-Caton, and Cara Ingram: my own personal cheering squad; and all of my family and friends who were kind enough to not laugh when I told them I was doing this until I was safely out of earshot.

And in case you're wondering, this blog is not over. Stay with me as I tackle P90X, a sprint triathlon, and return to the Ultimate Fitness Challenge next year. Hell, come along with me. I'm tired of being the rookie. :)


Anonymous said...

I love it!

You are awesome Heather, way to go!


Debra Bonson said...


EDP said...

You. Are. Awesome. That is all.

KMC said...

Love the blog Heather! You were fantastic! I look forward to seeing you at some training camps and next year struting your "Eye of the Tiger" :-)

Teresa Evans said...

Loved this! :)

Michael said...

It is a pleasure to work out alongside of you and I am proud of your accomplishments-do not denigrate your efforts-very few can do what you have accomplished.

Jamie said...

Congratulations Heather! I am so amazed by you, your accomplishments and your "never quit" attitude.

Kim said...

Heather, I have watching Tri Fit for 5 years and finally took the plunge and did it in Vegas is the July. What a rush. I can't wait to hit again. I hope to see you in Vegas.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Heather! I was there and I thought you did very well. Finishing the course in just over a minute on your first time downtown is an incredible accomplishment. Do not sell yourself short. You looked marvelous, darling!
Mary P.