Wednesday, May 28, 2014

purple hair, running in mud and other mid-life crises

I knew something had changed within me when I stepped to the side of the track, fearing I would vomit. I could feel my body responding to the synapses in my brain being redirected. From a long held belief of I'm not one of those people who can climb to the top of ropes, to a new pathway:

I climbed that rope.

We did our first Raw Challenge in March this year. We started training in October of last year. And I don't mean training for obstacle racing, I mean training for the most basic of reasons: sleeping, surviving, staying married. Our amazing trainer has become very much a part of our lives in that time. We owe that guy our lives, or at least some extra years of them. He is a bit of an obstacle race fan, it seemed a perfectly sane thing to sign up to do with some of our training buddies. A couple of mates joined us for the fun.

That first challenge was really something. It exposed me, literally, raw. I cried on the way home at the exhilaration of it all. The awesome feeling of having a go and achieving stuff I never thought possible. The absolute humility and gratitude of having team-mates pull me over the top of obstacles when my mind had given in. The disappointment at having given up a couple of times. I discovered my deep fear of heights in this first challenge. Specifically, the edge of heights. You can imagine how well that goes when climbing over walls, and cargo nets. I freaked out near the top of a tyre wall, and climbed back down. I froze atop a cargo net spanning shipping containers. For about five minutes I just kind of lay there. I hesitated pulling myself up the rope climb pyramid, lost my nerve so very close to the top, and slid back down the rope, my beautiful team-mate holding my feet so I didn't get burned. Self-defeat is very exposing. Experiencing the pride of finishing in the same event is a little crazy!

Our little team gathered at our place, grilled copious meats and merriment ensued. We really, really had fun. And booked the next one. A longer, hillier, chillier Raw Challenge this time. We continued on with training and eating well. I set the goal of achieving pull-ups, with a tattoo reward. I bought new, smaller pants. We counted down to May 24th. I dyed my hair purple.

Finally our camping/sans kids/ running in mud weekend arrived. We travelled north in a vaaaan and found our gorgeous destination: Barrington Tops. The whole event- challenge and camping- was held at Riverwood Downs Resort. Such a beautiful spot for our first go at vanmping. And the weather was perfection.

On our way to register for the challenge, we bumped into our training mate who would be running with her teenage son. She waved a map in the air, warned us that the course was rumoured to be closer to ten kilometres that the eight we signed up for, and that the kick-off was a (and I quote) "a two-k fuck-off hill". My nerves jangled and I worried about the run. I don't love to run. It isn't my favourite. I love to lift heavy things over and over, but running just makes me feel a weird panic. I eyeballed that rope climb pyramid, sitting smugly there in its prime position of last obstacle. Called it a bastard and vowed to get over it. We cheered on the super-fit guys and girls taking off for the competitive wave. We saw the Aussie Mudder guys come in from their 11th lap in their 24-hour challenge. Yup. They kept going round and round the course for 24 hours.

Before long, it was our turn to queue up with fellow challengers. People dressed up as Where's Wally, gladiators, guys in full green bodysuits. We were all pretty stoked with our special new shoes.

Off we went, and it was true. The hill run was really something. I did it. I hopped over sticks and rocks, walked some of the bits when I felt too fatigued, ran down hills with soft knees like a pony, followed advice to look up, look around and remember that you don't get to do stuff like this every day. I loved it! Have I found a kind of running that I can be in a relationship with?

Onto the more obstacle-focused part of the race, we stomped through rocky creeks, jumped over big giant cotton reels, splashed through muddy water pits. The shoes I got for mother's day really made so much of the race easier. So much energy was saved by not having to be dragged out of mud for lack of shoe grip. My new babies dug into that slippery terrain and made me so happy to attack each obstacle.

Somehow, I got to the top of a rope climb. Having never attempted one, the knots in the rope were welcome. I got myself up to the second knot hold, with my hubby wrapping the rope around the bottom of my foot. I'm really unsure how, but my hands made it to the uppermost knot. I shimmied my feet up another knot, and reached my hand out to ring that bell. My fingertips just reached about a centimetre away from the thing. No ding! At this point I made the mistake of looking around and realising how bloody high I was. With my hubby and team-mates gently encouraging me to reach again, I politely requested that they assist me in getting off the rope (by which I mean, I screamed Let me get down!). Next time, bell. You wait.

Next up was a major sticking obstacle for me in the first challenge: the tyre wall. Up and over just isn't my thing. Especially on things that are really high. Again, my team-mates coached me over the top, in all my uncoordinated glory (What do you mean hold that and turn my foot in there? That doesn't make sense!) and I felt such a wave of pride and gratitude as my feet touched the ground on the other side.

Waiting for my turn on the high cargo net, a guy behind me made a joke about a nine-foot fall not being that damaging. So I walked around the thing. Next time, cargo net. Look out.

The wobbly balance beam was a bit of a moment of glory for me to be honest. It felt great stepping off the end and cheering with my mates.

Approaching the cargo net spanned over shipping containers, I was stoked to see that the wall to get onto the thing had been adapted to suit a range of ability levels. You could still rock out the flat, high wall, or you could have a crack at the same wall with a bar about two-thirds of the way up, or you could go the ladder climb up the wall. No prizes for guessing which one I took. I was so proud to make it across that cargo net span with only a brief pause to change my feet direction. So proud.

As exhaustion started to set in, and the finish line came into view, I realised all obstacle left involved up and over heights. Some rock-climbing pyramids that looked like such fun, the graded walls to jump over and the rope climb ramp. I was really struggling to keep myself together just looking at these things. I'm a bit disappointed in not having had a go. Next time, high things. Next time.

The thing that I have loved about these challenges is the empowerment. I really like competing with myself, each time doing a little better. I was grateful to feel the increased strength and fitness in my body the second time around. I like being challenged to do things that make me so frightened I can barely move. I love being part of a team that cares about each other and supports one another over the obstacles.

Cannot wait for the next one.

*not a sponsored post at all- links are for your checking out purposes only!


  1. Sarah, this is amazing!!!! It sounds bloody hard, but i can see how it would suck you in. It's been years since I excercised properly, but this is sparking something in me. I hope you get that tattoo soon ( and can't wait to see it)
    Go girl!
    Rhi xxx



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