Buckets, Bricks and Sandbags
Let’s just say that 5-gallon buckets and 50lb sandbags are my least favorite items when they come in duplicate. That’s 100lbs, kids, in case your math is lacking. Or, as I like to think of it, that is two-thirds of my body weight. And carrying a sandbag-loaded bucket in each hand for miles or going uphill with a 50lb pill for 3-4 miles is a bit of a challenge to say the least. If I never see another orange Home Depot bucket or a sandbag it will be too soon. Alas, I plan on making friends with a lot more sandbags and bricks as I carry them in my ruck, in buckets or over my shoulder up and down mountains and across many miles.
The SUCK – An Introduction…to pain and suffering
The second week of January brought me to San Diego’s Torrey Pines Neighborhood Park (and surrounding canyons, ravines, hills and trails) for The SUCK – Phase 1. If you read the previous post you already know The SUCK comes courtesy of Joe Decker’s twisted mind. I won’t go in to all the details…the pain and suffering we endured came from the same can of ass-kicking as last week. We carried 50lb sandbags in our rucks and/or in a bucket(s) for over 20 miles over the course of 14 hours. We scrambled and bushwhacked our way up and down the sides of mountains, carried rocks at various points, pumped out endless reps of push-ups, sit-ups, presses, and squats. We also took three military physical fitness tests at various points throughout the night and we ended the whole affair with a 90-minute Gut Check Fitness Boot Camp class. And let me tell you…these classes are not of the suburban soccer mom variety. Did I mention we carried more buckets and sandbags? Yup. They haunt my dreams.
My feet were sore and blistered, my legs ached, and my lower back was a mess thanks to the completely inappropriate backpack I brought to the party (I brought a much better pack to last weekend’s SUCK). I was exhausted and still had a three-hour drive back to Los Angeles but I was happy! I had finished. I had kept at it.
During the course of the night I often repeated the mantra “one step at a time” over and over again to myself. Sounds silly but it actually kept me focus and on task. While in the Himalaya in December 2010 our Sherpa guide once told us that however difficult the trail, however steep the mountain, or however tired we might be we just had to put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, one breath followed by another. It didn’t matter how long it took. The journey was more important than the destination. And if we actually just concentrated on the next step then we might possible experience something beautiful or spectacular around us and within us. This I know to be true. Difficult…yes, especially when I am carrying 100lbs or more and I am cold, tired and miserable. But never unhappy because in focusing on the next step and the next breath, I actually begin to smile and laugh at the absurdity of my task and the knowledge that it could be worse. And, really, I AM having fun…sick, twisted fun to be sure, but fun nonetheless! I do hate those damn buckets, though…
King of the Hill
And, guess what? I came back for MORE the following weekend! Gut Check Fitness was holding the first event in the King of the Hill trail race series. These are monthly races up and down some of San Diego’s toughest peaks, each racing increasing in length and difficulty. Each race has surprise fitness tests at various points along the course (you know…the usual…burpee ladders, thrusters, push-ups, etc.). Racers can participate in one of two divisions: Fleet of Foot or Bad Ass. Fleet of Footer runners race without weight and are fully supported with water throughout the course. Bad Ass runners…well, Bad Ass racers run with 50lb (men) or 30lb (women) sandbags in their backpacks and must also carry their own water.
The first race was a 7.5 mile circuit up and down Mount Woodson – an elevation gain of ——feet. I chose to race in the Bad Ass division. In my case, it should just be called the Dumb Ass division. Apparently, I hadn’t spent enough time with my sandbags the previous week and needed to get better acquainted with them.
The morning was cold and rainy as I arrived at 6:30am for a 7:30am start. There were only about 15 men and women in the Bad Ass Division. We would be setting off before the Fleet of Foot Racers although the head start made no difference to my final standing. Everyone eventually passed me as I made my way up and down the rocky trail with the 50lb beast in my ruck. I decided to use a Goruck GR2 bag that my friends Mel and Kyle let me borrow (they shipped it from Iowa and I had the pleasure of popping the cherry on that ruck!). Now, I LOVE my Goruck bags! Goruck puts out an excellent American-made product and I own and use the smaller GR1 everywhere I go. However, my smaller frame really needs a solid hip belt to spread the load down to my hips when carrying really heavy loads and the GR bags don’t come with a hip belt. On someone bigger, taller, and heavier this might not be a key factor but for me it is crucial. Although the GR2 was a vast improvement over the Osprey Talon 44 I used at the first SUCK, it still was not ideal. All the weight hung from my shoulders and I struggled with a 50lb load that rested entirely on my shoulders for 7.5 miles. Ah well, that is what all the training and racing is for, right? Make the mistakes now so I minimize the impact of mistakes at the Death Race.
The race itself was pretty straight forward…run to the top then run to the bottom. Along the way there were stations at which we did various forms of PT: burpees (ohhh, those burpees!), push-ups, squats, etc. The upper third of the mountain was under cloud cover and it was cold and drizzly. I rather enjoyed that part of it and was secretly hoping that it would pour down cats and dogs just to make it even more interesting but, alas, no such luck. By the time I made it to the top almost every racer had passed me up. Some excellent GRTs (Goruck Toughs…awesome dudes and chicks who have completed a Goruck Challenge and endeavor to carry awkward and heavy shit whenever possible) kept me company, however. Big shout-outs to Gentry, who ran with me near the top, and Brad (also running in the Bad Ass division) who ran with me all the way to the finish line. We were last but we were happy to finish…only 100 burpees separated us from the end! Brad and I finished our reps and crossed the finish line together! We were handed or beers and given our finisher’s medals! Another hunk of metal to add to the collection!
I think my final time was over 3 hours but, again, that was not as important as what I learned about my gear, my body, and my mental and physical endurance. It was three hours. A drop in the bucket of what we will endure at the Death Race but I will finish do everything possible to finish. I may be the last person to drag my body across the finish line but I will do it. I won’t be the fastest or the strongest. But my heart, determination and desire will certainly be amongst the biggest at the Death Race.