Every now and then, I have small existential crises about my running, usually after reading articles or watching documentaries about other, better known athletes.
Essentially, it boils down to negative body issues. I look at someone like Killian Jornet, or Rob Krar, and I just think "Who the fuck do I think I'm fooling? I'm never gonna be those guys. I'm 5' 7", I'm creeping up on 50, and on my absolute BEST day I might hit 160 lbs."
Honestly, it makes me want to curl up into a ball and give up on running or any other kind of athleticism. And sometimes I do. I give in to the depression of not being some kind of physical ideal.
And the worst part? I know I'm not alone. There are thousands of other people who go through what I do, and much, much worse.
So, for me, I've decided that it comes down to perceptions. Everything I wrote three paragraphs back? 100% true. I am all those things. I am short, old and built like a fireplug. There's no denying it.
But that doesn't mean I have to look at it as a detriment. Yeah, I'm all those things, and despite all that, I'm STILL putting in the miles,STILL lifting heavy shit and STILL getting the job done.
The best part, though? I know that everyone of you reading this is in my corner, and I want you all to know I'm in yours.
And I promise you, as long as we hold onto that, there's no mile too long, weight too heavy, or crisis too dire, that we can't beat it.
Thank you all. You make my life amazing.
There's a poem that speaks of "the best laid schemes of mice and men". Honestly though, other the Steinbeck novel that references it and the occasional Looney Tunes joke that in turn pays homage to the book (is "6 Degrees of Robert Burns" a thing, and if not, why not?) I'd never really put too much thought into what that one line was really saying. This year's event changed that .
The 2015 Grinder was a completely different beast than last years's slap dash affair. Instead of two months to plan, I had an entire year. I was able to bring in Death Race Points Champion Amie "Live Wire" Booth as co-director and More Heart Than Scar's Zackary Paben signed on to provide crew/medical/pack mule/comedic support. The course, while in the same location, made much better use of the terrain. And most importantly, thanks to the hard work of some friends, we finally were creating a small but definite buzz in the endurance community. Our schemes were laid as well as they could be and we were anticipating an event that would truly put Boo Hag Races on the map.
Instead, we nearly got wiped off of it.
A week before The Grinder, weather reports were predicting rain up to and including race day, and I couldn't have been happier. Despite being a cypress swamp, the Congaree River basin had been unusually dry on my scouting runs and I figured that a good couple of inches of rain would do wonders for increasing the difficulty of the trails.
I hit the camp at 9:00 a.m., set up base, laid out the first challenge and set to work doing a final walk through. All the challenge areas were nicely muddied and The King Snake Trail, a rarely used riverside 12 mile out and back and the centerpiece of our first time trial had bloomed nicely over the two weeks since I'd seen it last, turning the single track effectively into an overgrown, thorn covered game trail. In other words, it' was perfect.
That is, until about 3 hours into the official start (some competitors had made the mistake of checking in early and were immediately put to work. Two time men's winner, Mitchell Wallace, started nearly 8 hours early, and despite my best efforts, beat The Grinder again. I'm still looking for someone who can take him down. Get up with me if you think that you have what it takes). While it had been raining on and off all day long, the sky completely opened up in the middle of the night swim and all hell broke loose. Cutting the next challenge short, challengers had to hightail it back to cover, all the while carrying a 12 and 8 foot kayak over water logged trails, across slippery, uneven bridges and through hanging branches that all seemed determined to pitch someone into the river. The muddy basin I saw earlier that day had become a full on flood plain, with over 12 inches of rain falling by daybreak.
The next several hours were a blur of hastily altered plans, medical checks, gear changes and many, many drop outs. By daylight, 70% of the original competitors that signed up were either officially out, DQ'd and competing unofficially, or on the fence. By 10:00 a.m., there were only two people left, our eventual winners: Mitchell, and Grinder newcomer, Wendy Paben.
In the end, nothing turned out as originally intended. Like the mouse whose home was plowed up by the farmer in Sir Robert's poem, our plans were completely uprooted and had to be rerouted, altered or scrapped completely in the name of safety.
But thruthfully? Being challenged at a race I created made the whole thing a much richer and rewarding experience. The event crew wasn't allowed to idly sit by and watch the proceedings. When the rain came and the river plowed across our course, we had to scrabble to make something new from "That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble" which would still honor the original plan and give our racers the experience they came for.
And from the responses so far, it looks like we succeeded. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this year's success; I can't wait to see you again next time!
03/02/15, 2:33 pm
I've attempted to start my review of The Endurance Society's snow shoe/ski/sled race, Frigus about a dozen times now. In fact, I've already rewritten this paragraph three times now. Nothing seems to be clicking and what should be a simple write up about an exciting new event by the masterminds behind The Death Race has become an exercise in frustration. I don't get it. Maybe I'll try again later.
03/02/15 7:47 pm
Okay, here's the thing. I've been looking at this all wrong. As I mentioned in my last post, this was the first event that I'd entered completely unprepared for. Skis and snowshoes might as well have been alien artifacts, and while I'm familiar with that fluffy cold white stuff, it tended to be something that happened to other people.
So, while there were a couple of hundred people with me in the snowy mountains around Blueberry Hill Ski Center this weekend, I wasn't at a race.
Let me explain. The people who came to Frigus are like a family to me. Some of them I talk to all the time, while others I only know in passing, like the proverbial mother's sister's aunt's grandma whose name always escapes you.
But every now and then, we all end up in the same location. We meet new cousins and reminisce about missing members. We share in each other's triumphs and commiserate over our failures. We share hugs and tears, drink too much and laugh even more. In the end, we promise to visit more often, even though we know it probably won't happen.
And somehow, in the middle of it all, we (at least in a metaphorical sense) push ourselves away from the grown up's table and go run around like a bunch of wild ass kids.
So yeah, Frigus wasn't a race.
It was a reunion. One that I sorely needed. I've missed and love you all.
Let's do it again soon.
Well, here I am, less than a week out from Frigus, the new winter race by The Endurance Society. Being that I'm a native South Carolinian with minimal snow race experience (ie, none), I was planning on just shooting for the 10k snowshoe option, but somehow I was unable to resist Endurance Society co-founder Andy Weinberg's slick and persuasive sales pitch:
Andy - "Hey Mark. you should really do the Winter Triathlon"
Me - "Um, okay!"
So, one Jedi Mind Trick later, I was signed up to race 30k on snowshoes, 30k on skis, on 5k on a sled*. Now, here's the fun part. I've never been on skis, I've never even SEEN snowshoes in the wild, and the extent of my sledding experience is shooting down the stairs of my wife's old elementary school, a death defying run of about 5 feet.
Seriously, what the hell was I thinking? I'm going to look like a complete ass out there. There's no way I'm going to place, and there's long odds on me even finishing.
But that's why I'm looking forward to it so much. With lack of experience comes lack of expectations. No one, myself included, is expecting me to be an actual competitor. So for the first time in a long, long time, I'm going into a race with zero stress. And let me tell you, It's an amazing feeling. All I have to do is show up, try something new and exciting, have fun and most importantly, hang out with some of the most inspiring, adventurous and and all around decent people I've ever met.
This is going to be the best race ever.
* About that sled. I was able to rent snowshoes and skis (thank you Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Center!) but I figured buying a sled that I'm going to use maybe once would be a sucker's game. So using 1/4 inch sheets of pvc and under the watchful eye of aspiring engineer/world's greatest inventor/my 9 year old son Eamon Wood, we fashioned the Snowpacolypse Express, a sleek, tragic beauty of a toboggan, guaranteed to send me hurtling to my doom before probably exploding into a fire ball like Steve Austin's rocket in the opening sequence from "The Six Million Dollar Man".
About the Author
Mark Wood ( the confused looking fellow above) is a personal trainer, endurance athlete and founder of Boo Hag Races. And now, because of his uncontrollable need for attention, he's giving blogging a try.