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Let’s get summer started

1 Jul

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It’s been a while, I know. Rather than rehash my entire winter and why I didn’t blog from March until now, I’ll get to the point about what’s been up.

I had an amazing winter in my first year with FasterSkier. I went to an incredibly diverse set of places, including British Columbia, Quebec, Wisconsin and Park City. I caught some fresh tracks and sunburns, met nice people, made new friends and interviewed some of the world’s best athletes. I need to write about some of my experiences later in the season (including a week in Craftsbury, Vt), so stay turned to my FasterSkier blog for that.

On the home front, I got engaged nearly the second I came home — Brian surprised me in early April while we were on vacation in Florida. The wedding’s planned for next September so that gives a stress-case like me some time to relax.

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And that’s the life I’m leading now. Lady of Leisure II (following my cousin Lindsey, who called herself that when she was pregnant with her first child and not working. Two years later, she’s got a beautiful little girl and another baby on the way … I think my life is way more laid-back than hers!)

I’m still full time with FasterSkier in the summer, but this job rocks — to give it that ’80s enthusiasm. I work from home and generally on a self-driven schedule. If I get the work done, I can go out and play. I’ve been trying to improve my time management and productiveness, and the summer’s already shaping up to be a fun one.

Yesterday, I participated, err, competed in my first triathlon of the season. I’m hesitant to say which I did at the North Country Triathlon in Hague, N.Y., whether I took part or really raced, because it was a mix of both. For starters, my mom and I teamed up in the Olympic-distance race: she did the 1-mile swim, and I did the 25-mile bike and 6-mile run.

Charlie’s Angels

That was our team name and we came in 11th of about 20 teams. Not bad considering we were nearly dead last of the relays last year. My biking improved — I would say I raced that part. It’s a challenging course with about a three-mile climb that’s the toughest I’ve ever done. But it went better this year. I ended up averaging nearly 16 mph over the entire course, up from around 13 last year.

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My mom, Wendy, did outstanding. Pretty sure she was the sixth woman out of the water and fourth of all the relays — which are coed. I was in decent position for a top-10 finish after the bike, but things fell apart in the run. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever experienced, but around the turnaround point at 3.1 miles, I was toast. My body started to shiver in the 85-degree heat, my fingers swelled so much they hurt and my stomach turned upside down with each step. I had to walk several times on the way back because I was struggling to keep it together. About a quarter mile from the finish, I saw my mom, dad, cousin and parent’s dog, Archie, smiling and cheering. That got me to the finish.

And that was the day. I went for it in the bike and suffered in the run. I need to learn how to hurt more, how to keep my head straight and body moving when I feel that bad, but I have no regrets. It was a great experience with family, a beautiful day on Lake George and a good way to start summer.

I’m not sure how many triathlons I’ll do this year, but my mom and I already decided to each do the entire race — all three legs — next year. Something to look forward to, for sure.

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This summer, I’m excited for a few events. After surviving the Spartan Beast race last year, my brother and I signed up for another obstacle-course trail run — this time a 10- to 12-mile Tough Mudder at Mount Snow, Vt. The race is July 15, so the countdown begins now! We’re raising money for The Wounded Warrior Project in the process, so please consider donating to this important cause.

Two days after that, my father and I are doing our somewhat annual hike-to-the-huts trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We try to go somewhere different in the AMC’s trail system every year.

After that, I’ll keep trail running in preparation for the Jay Peak 50 k in September. (I did my first trail half marathon in Paul Smiths last month, which went well, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed up for anything longer!) I’ve written before about the importance of goals, especially in training. I don’t always follow my own preachings, but this summer, I’m making a point to.

I’d like to get back on the running wagon after having too much fun (and workouts spent) on the bike. Trails are a great place to lose your mind and get in some jog time. Sometimes, I just feel happier in the woods. You forget you’re running, you forget your to-do list (or figure out how to tackle it later), and occasionally you get lost. Or at least I do.

That’s why I’m going to leave you with an important message from experience: if you’re going to go to an unfamiliar trail system, or one you’re not 100-percent comfortable with, bring a trail map. Many are online so just print it out, fold it up and stick it in your shorts. Especially in places like Moreau State Park with intersections marked by a letter (usually S) and a number (1-17), it’s good to know where you are and how to get out. Oh, and bring water. My dog peed in a brook today; I’d hate for you to be downstream of that.

Surviving the Spartan Race

8 Aug

Two days after the Spartan Beast Race, a 13-mile trail and obstacle course challenge in Killington, Vt., I think I have the brainpower to reflect on the 6 hours and 15 minutes my younger brother, Will, and I spent out on the mountain.

Before the start, we watched a couple hundred in the elite crew head out at 9 a.m. We were in the 10 a.m. wave and happy to have them go first, break the trail and show us what we were in for. Just before 10, the leaders were back near the base after scaling 1.5 miles up a ski trail and 1.5 down to what we thought was their first obstacle. In all, I think there were 26 out there, and the rock-climbing-like wall and barricade near the bottom ended up being No. 4 or 5 on the list.

As Will and I planned to run up to and over the raging fire at the start, we did a little fist pump. No idea how this is going to go, but we’re going to do it, we thought.

Alex and Will Matthews, center, embark on the beginning of the 13-mile Spartan Beast challenge at Killington Mountain on Saturday, August 6.

The first 3 miles were tough, as expected. Up and down one of Killington’s steeper trails (Superstar, I think), we caught a whiff of the beating sun and the high humidity. When we weren’t on the ski trail hiking amid chest-high grass (the first guys packed it down), we were in the woods ascending steeper routes with rocks and trees to aid us.

The numbers we had been told to write on our heads (for photography purposes) had by now sweat off, and later in the day, our paper bibs would tear off and be lost in the abyss. (Will’s fell off earlier, I think after the mud mounds — think big hills of dirt and hay with waist-high puddles of muddy/hay water between. Mine came off in the final swim — yeah, there were two.)

Either way, we were anonymous out there, like everyone else. We soon found that no matter how fast we completed an obstacle (Will and I were champions at not failing the tasks, the punishment for each was 30 burpees) or how slow we moved up each seemingly endless trail, we were usually with the same people. There was comradery among the suffering and friends that had no names, just funny outbursts or mantras. One guy said it best with each step: “Hard work, dedication. Hard work, dedication.”

There were points of soreness, acid reflux, nausea, cramping (some for me, others for Will), but we moved forward. Will hit a breaking point around mile 8 (we only knew the distance because someone asked an official). He had a severe quad cramp, but kept on keeping on. You couldn’t sit down to work it out; you’d never get back up.

He helped me over 15-foot walls, which he muscled over, and we each carried a 50-pound sandbag for a 1/2-mile hike up annoyingly technical terrain. My neck hurt with the weight bearing down on it, but I pretended the bag was something too valuable to drop: Charlie, my 50-pound bulldog. At that point, some kid looked at me and told me I was a champion. Not exactly, but at mile 9, I took the compliment.

Not knowing when the race would end was a little grueling. We were told it would be 10-12 miles, but in the end, it was longer. Why wouldn’t it be? As we neared what I thought was the finish, Will and I picked up the pace. We could hear the announcer and taste the end of the self-inflicted pain.

We emerged from the woods, and I saw my mom. She looked relieved, and we were too, for a moment, until she said, “Throw me your packs!” We had another swim.

Alex tosses her water pack before the final swim.

This one was longer than the previous pond and in about as murky water as I could stomach, but we jumped in.

Will, center, and Alex, right, keep their heads above water during the final swim of the Spartan Beast Race at Killington.

About 10 minutes later we were still in the water, treading below a bridge and dreading the cable obstacle some 25 feet above. We had to get upside down on a rope strung across the water and inch ourselves across.

One Spartan competitor hangs from the rope cable before attempting to cross the pond at Killington Mountain.

Will and I both tried (he had much more success in getting halfway there before the rope burn and cramping got the best of him), and we both dropped like boulders to the water below. We backstroked to the far side to complete our punishment on a rocky beach, a sad display of pushup-jumps that are burpees, and we walked on.

With three obstacles to go, Will almost completely ceased. The volunteers at the javelin throw told him not to throw it — they could see his muscle spasming. I knew I’d be terrible at tossing the makeshift spear into a hay bale, so I chucked it and got on with the penalty.

Finally, Will threw it. His broomstick hit the bale but didn’t stick, and he moved to the side for his 30 jumps. There was no one counting but yourself at this point, but after everything else we put ourselves through — including a low-lying barbed wire crawl over rocks and muddy water — we weren’t going to cheat ourselves.

Will finished his burpees, we hightailed it over the final wall and darted through the gladiator pit (the two stick-wielding men went after Will and accidentally hit me on the follow-through).

Will waited for me before the finish, and we crossed the line together. A storybook ending to one hell of a day.

As we reflected on the strangeness of the race, the highs and lows, and the accomplishment of it all, we left proud of ourselves and each other. If you can do one of these things (and I recommend nothing longer than the 10-12 mile race), do it with somebody else. Not only can they help you, physically and emotionally out there, but you’ll have the memory to share. No one is going to be able to picture what you went through, no matter how good the photos or videos are.

Alex smiles with her Long Trail Ale after completing Killington's Spartan Beast Race with her brother.

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Will, a 21-year-old rugby player at UNH, called me up yesterday.

“Want to go for a hike sometime this week?” he asked.

With scraped and bruised legs and soreness just about everywhere, I didn’t think twice.

“Sure, whenever you want,” I said.

It’s pretty neat when something like that makes you want to keep going.

Three days ’til Beast Race

3 Aug

As if I hadn’t learned my lesson after struggling in the West Mountain Warrior Run, I’m about to get my you-know-what handed to me in the Spartan Beast Race on Saturday at Killington.

T.J. Hooker -- The Post-Star: Still a little spring in Alex Matthews' step as she leaps over a tiny fire at the finish of the Warrior Run at West Mountain in Queensbury in June.

For starters, it’s a 10-12 mile mountain and obstacle race. The Warrior Run was 3, maybe. There in June, my biggest problem was that I never looked at an updated course map. It was straight up hill then down, an absolute killer.

This race at Killington, the third tier of the Spartan franchise races (the fourth being the ultimate Death Race), has no definite length, no outline of obstacles and therefore, no course map. I am SCREWED.

At least I’ve been training … a little. Dehydration and poor preparation made the Warrior Run my toughest race yet (and I’ve run a marathon). I’ve never felt so sick or walked so much during a race.

For this event, I’ve recruited my brother, a burly yet fit and mentally tough rugby player. I knew I needed to do this race with someone, and I was hoping it would be someone bigger than me. Main reason: so he can help me with the heavy lifting and be there to hide behind when we run through the gladiator pit.

The gladiator pit? Yeah, that’s one thing I know is coming. Apparently, we have to run by a couple of men swinging long sticks, aiming for any and all body parts.

That sounds bad, but to me, the promised pond-swim is worse. I have a hard time getting into a lake where I know fish await. I think it’s only a 100 yards across, but still.

And then there’s the time. The fastest go-getters should finish in 3 hours. I guess Will and I will shoot for 4-4 1/2, but it’s hard to say. I’m going to get hungry out there.

So as I enjoy my “taper” over the next few days (fattening up and enjoying being pain-free), I likely won’t get much sleep. Has anyone done one of these? The stories about the Death Race were unbelievable, and from what I’ve heard about the Tough Mudder (another type of extreme race), these things are pretty intimidating.

For more info on the race, check out Killington’s Spartan Race website. And the example video on spartanrace.com is definitely worth watching.

I’ll try to get pictures, but am not sure I want this documented.

Run for a cause

25 Jul

I’m all about running for the heck of it. And racing, yeah, you’ll do that too just because. But when you can do both for a purpose, for a really good cause, it should be an extra incentive.

Last year, I attended the Miles With A Message 5K run/walk behind Queensbury Elementary School. It was organized by Katie Mannix and a group of classmates in memory of Mannix’s departed cousin. The idea was to get the word out about teen suicide and proceeds went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

This year, the second annual event is scheduled for Saturday at the Queensbury school trails.

Here are the details:  http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.eventDetails&eventID=1550

And the basics: 9 a.m. start on Saturday, July 30. Pre-registration $15 (click the link above) until July 26, then $20.

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