#MYTAR17 Leg 7. Why is there mud in my cooter?

Leg 7 already.  June and July had basically been my own #FastForward, with the #MYTAR17 challenges coming in hard and fast, basically all one weekend after another with a busy week at my day job in between.  It was totally insane and completely fucking awesome.

This route info found four of us piled into Rhonda Schmidt, our little Honda Fit, and driving out to somewhere past Joliette, QC (if it’s not in the city, my Quebec geography knowledge is basically nonexistent) to commune with nature and a field full of like-minded crazy people.  It was time for the second race in my mud run/obstacle course race/body positivity trifecta, the Dead End Race http://www.deadendraceseries.com/index.php


It didn’t take long to see that this was a different animal than the Rugged Maniac had been.  More than just that this one was 1km longer and had 19 more obstacles.  In hindsight, the fact that this race was a qualifier for the OCR World Championships and the other wasn’t should have been a clue to this, but so it goes.  Whereas the Rugged Maniac had been a big party atmosphere with lots of inflatable obstacles visable from the start line, this one was more industrial, with the hardcore Platinum Rigs and dirt crawls being the first things that catch your eye. This was an obstacle course race, that had been a mud run. And the number of “totally ripped people wearing minimal clothes” on the course was much higher.  Like waaaay higher.  All these carved from marble tanned Adonises (or whatever the plural of Adonis is.  Adonii?) were tearing up the course in their glorified boxer briefs covered in just enough dirt and sweat to make them glorious. And they were really fucking good at this.

But we were game.  Bring it, we got this.  After the pre-race hype speech, during which I wasn’t paying attention to the French being spoken and indicated I was a man, much to my friends’ delight, the hammer dropped and we were off.  This course was much flatter than the first race’s, so at least we didn’t have to start with a sprint up a freaking ski run, and the run over logs and down rocky roads to the first obstacle was much more comfortable.

The obstacles definitely started off basic, with climbs up rock hills and butt slides down cargo-net covered rock chutes and the like.  About 5 or 6 in we reached the more classic OCR challenges we were expecting – pull a water-laden tire up a three storey platform, climb into a waist-deep river and carry a 40lb sandbag around a course on the uneven riverbed.  It was hot and sunny today, so after like what had to have been about 1km of running, it felt amazing to be in the cool water.  However, because I’m still an idiot, I was once again racing without my glasses on.  This meant that I just simply couldn’t see the large rocks under the water as I carried my sandbag, so I had to go ridiculously slow and go entirely by feel.  I’m like 3/4 of the way around when I hear one of my friends telling the others “wait, hold up, Holly can’t see!”  But I muddled through without falling on my ass, which, if you know me at all, know this is nothing short of a miracle.

It had been only 5 weeks since my other race, and while I had done 2 City Chases, most of my free time had been tied up moving from Toronto to Montreal, so I hadn’t really improved on my jogging ability.  I was getting through just fine, we all were, but it was a slower go than we all wanted it to be, and it was hard knowing that most of this was my fault.  And aside from that one water challenge, I can’t even blame this on my vision, because it was never an issue for the rest of the race. PS – I have been practicing more since.  I’m never going to be a runner, those peeps be cray cray, but I want to at least be able to shuffle along a bit faster.  I’m a big girl, and I’ve always trained as such, being far more comfortable with the power moves than the speed, so I did make up time on the obstacles.

From there we hauled a giant truck tire through a sand bed, hopped over some fire, climbed up, over and under a 15 foot metal structure, and shot some targets with paint balls.  For the first time in a month it was a giant fucking relief to finally not be the target of those, let me tell you.  Then we hopped over a few more 5 foot walls, crawled through sand under log bridges (where I hit my head so hard my vision was wobbly for a good 5 seconds while my brain settled back into place), successfully **cough cough** climbed a rope (I have since youtubed how to do this like 100 times) and used some pretty freaking awesome teamwork to hoist us up a 12 foot wall.  And then injury struck.

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Somehow it wasn’t me, but Sophie who managed to wrench her ankle while jumping from one platform to another about 10 feet up.  She was a trooper, and she plugged on.  Ride or die as a team, Ohana means no one gets left behind and all that, it meant that we were now moving at a strong walk.  Not gonna lie, there was part of me that was happy not to be facing the pressure to run from obstacle to obstacle.  Also, I was glad she was ok to continue.  In hindsight she probably should have called it a day there, but we were having too much fun for her to stop.

In my mind I refer to the next part of the course as the forest section.  We were up, down and a round a wooded section with hills and lakes, and here was where the water really began.  We jumped over a wall, attempted to climb from one tree trunk to another like squirrels and slid down a mega waterslide that went so fast it apparently blew my friend’s shirt up.  I couldn’t tell, as I was under water.  Then we were tight rope walking across a lake.  This was awesome.  At this middle section of the course, I had hit my groove, as the focus was more on climbing and muscles and balance than running.  Next came a tyrolean traverse back across the same lake.

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A climb up a muddy path left Tracy stuck nearly up to her knee – all there was was a sucking sound and then she had stopped moving.  She had to dig herself out of that one, and it could not have been a pleasant experience.  Then on to a second sandbag carry, this one over an uneven woodland course, and a rope climb.  Now that we were extra muddy and wet, the rope climb was not gonna happen.  The superhumans who can do this get all of my mad props.

Curving back towards the sandy area that held the start/finish – oh, we weren’t close to done, this was just a tease – we got to crawl under a beer truck, hoist a keg 20 feet in the air with nothing but our epic brute strength, and climb a 20 foot wall with nothing but a thick chain to hold on to.  This was the killer on the hands.  I had the upper body strength to get myself all the way to the top, I just couldn’t manage to hook my foot over… I struggled up there for what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably closer to 1, until my grip gave out completely and I slid down.  Sliding down that rough wood was dramatically worse than getting up there, as the majority of my cuts and scrapes the next day were from that drop.

The last third of the course I refer to as the “country club” portion, as we were in an area that may have been a golf course once long ago.  There were lots of water hazards, the grass was better manicured and adorable little white bridges crossed streams here and there.  So, naturally, we tracked mud all over it.  We also spent a good amount of our time from here on out in and out of these brown lakes, basically alternating between a land challenge and a water one.  It felt good to be in the water, as we hauled ourselves up onto a floating platform and walked the plank, threw javelins, swam under submerged fencing, traversed a horizontal rock wall, climbed a wet platinum rig and did a spot of archery.  My inner Katniss is a rock star.

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Love this pic.  It totally looks like Tracy is telling me about some drama while I’m just trying to not fall, while Karine looks super focused beside us.

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Sophie gives good face.  Also, shirtless guy.

Right next to that rig you had to sit on on a bit of a swing and pull your own body up and out of the water about 15 feet.  The first tug sends that rope right up main street, and ended up with Tracy reflexively yelling “Vagina!”, which the guys in charge of the obstacle found incredibly entertaining.

By now our grip had gone to shit, so of course they give you a 10 foot bar to hang off as work your way from one end to another.  The shirtless guy running this one offered to help us out, and we totally thought he was kidding until I felt warm arms wrap around my dangling thighs and give me a slight boost across.  I honestly thought I had been doing pretty well crossing the bar up until that point, but I am not going to say no to handsome shirtless pressing his face basically right into my butt.

Home stretch.  We were getting so close we could taste it, just a few more obstacles and we woud be sipping our free beers.  Here we encountered the first real MUD of the day, a 50-foot pit that seemed unasumming, only about 2 feet deep in most places, but we were warned that it had a few random holes in it.  Of the 4 of us, I was the only one lucky enough to find one – we were all walking in a line, and suddenly the ground was gone and I started to sink.  They were not kidding about holes, I’m 5’10 and I had to swim my way out, as I couldn’t touch the soggy bottom.  Apparently I also made a “being murdered in a horror movie” screaming sound as I sank.

Once we had survived that, all we had to do was hop over a row of tall concrete barriers, which Karine was the total BOSS of,  climb the fabled warped wall (or slide down it, as was this experience), crawl through some sand trenches, do one last dry platinum rig, and climb up and over a 2-story tower with nothing but a wide cargo net keeping you up there.  This was where the dancing began, we had done it, and it was freaking fantastic.  It was time to party.  As we reached the ground, we hit the finish line and received our medals.

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Phew!  My hair dye survived!  High five!

There is nothing better than that feeling of “I did it!”  And honestly, it wasn’t bad. Exhausting and empowering and fabulous.  There are a lot of things about OCR racing that have a learning curve – it’s not necessarily sheer power, but a lot of technique and footwork – and compared to the first one I saw definite improvement.  There’s also a brand new list of things I need to work on before the next race in August.  But that’s what brings you back for more.  If it was easy you would do it once, get bored and move on.  With the wide variety of skills and obstacles, there’s always something there that you’re going to struggle with and then feel like a freaking superhero when you conquer it.  All four of us will be reassembling in a few weeks to take on another one, and to put our newfound super powers to good use.

We totally earned our free beers, which we enjoyed while watching hot guys try to master the giant warped wall.  Come on, buddy, shirts are pointless.  Take it off, take it off!

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#SuperTeam   And fun random camera guy!

Pit stop:  Third.  There was room for improvement, and certain tasks took longer than needed, but it was so much freaking fun, it didn’t matter.  We felt accomplished when we checked in at the mat, and that made the day worth it.

Eliminated: The whiny sibling team who kept giving up on obstacles when they got too hard.  Whine all you want, but don’t freaking stop moving at any time or you’re toast.

The Amazing Race Pit Stop Poster





#MyTAR17 Leg 6 2.0 – Chasing (and CRUSHING) Ottawa

The second half of leg 6 was epic.  Two City Chases, this one in the Nation’s Capitol, and this was the one we had been planning for for months.  Go time.

Eric and I started this 6 years ago, back when we first lived in Montreal, where we would take our annual pilgrimage to Ottawa, stay in a hotel, and really make a weekend of it.  When we moved to Kitchener, we decided to keep making the 6 hour drive to Ottawa – we were getting to know the city, we both really like it there, we’re good at long-distance driving together and this made it feel like a mini-vacation.  Plus, this is the one day a year I can get him to workout without too much complaining.  He’s an awesome teammate and a pretty epic husband, but we know each other well enough to know that he will race once a year without hesitation, but when I decided on a whim to do the Toronto race as well, there was no point in asking him because that shit was not gonna happen. Especially this year, as, during the one weekend off between Chases, we moved back to Montreal, so it had been a pretty hectic time.

As long term teammates and veteran City Chasers, we had developed a strategy for this year.  Traditionally I had taken the lead on the navigation – I always sort of assumed that since I was the one who really was excited to be here, I would do the brunt of the work as a sort of thank you for doing this with me every year.  That’s not to say my navigation or game plans were the best.  My excitement normally got the best of me, and after determining where the farthest away Chasepoint was we would hop on the bus and try to figure out the rest of our route as we traveled.  However, as Eric is a video game level designer in his real life, he’s a bit more tuned in to layouts and efficiency than I am.  As we drove home from last year’s chase, he asked to take the lead on planning and navigation this year, and I was happy to hand over the map.

His plan:  take the extra time at the start line, solve the clues for every Chasepoint, map them all out, and then take the shortest route possible between all of them.  The concept of “take the extra time” does not come naturally to me – I’m definitely a rush in, ask questions later kinda girl.  Ask my boss.  Sorry Tom.  But Eric was calling the shots this year, and I had to swallow my impatience and let him go about it his way.  We had tried it my way for so long that we knew how well it worked (or didn’t work, which has happened), so we had nothing to loose.  And don’t you know it, the second we had all the points on the map, they laid down a perfect 9-point loop – we had donated to charity to get our “free” Chasepoint, so we already had 1/10 by the time the starting gun fired.  I’m going to say this in writing for all the world to see, he was right.  Very right.

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But that wasn’t to say I didn’t have a few tricks up my sleeves, too.  A big advocate for technology, the City Chase often posts clues on Facebook and Twitter during the race, so I’ve been following them for years.  Through that, and my previous race in Toronto, I had noticed that they always had a ridiculously difficult scavenger hunt Chasepoint clue.  Above is the clue from the Ottawa race.  The ones in Calgary and Edmonton had been similar, but all slightly different.  While you’re racing, when you see this immediately your brain goes (or at least it should) “NOPE.  That will take waaaay too much time to complete” so you skip it and move on.  That clue is basically a direct route to not finishing with a good time.  However, there is no rule stating that you can’t being these items with you before you start.  I wrote down a list of all the items that had appeared on at least 2 of the scavenger hunt clues from previous cities and thanks to my computer printer and dollar stores, had a backpack full of crap just ready to go.  At least some of these were guaranteed to be on today’s list.  As soon as we finished mapping our route, we quickly bought an umbrella and a bottle of sparkling wine from the souvenir shops on Sparks St. and went to turn in our completed scavenger hunt chase point.  We had: stuffed beaver, flip flops, bottle of wine, movie stub ticket (Spiderman Homecoming had come out the night before #nerds), sunglasses, activity schedule from a senior’s home, bar of soap from a motel and an umbrella.  Plus some other unneeded crap, like a Jurassic Park T-shirt, a toy skateboard, a penny and a water gun.  We had walked about 4 blocks total, and we had two Chasepoints under our belt already.  This was going to be a good day.

As to not make it too easy, the Chasepoints closest to the start/finish line always open an hour after the race start, when most of the teams have scattered to far corners of the city. Luck was on our side, though, and since we had to turn in our scavenger hunt near the start/finish, we were already in the right place right at 11am and we were the first team to get to do the animal challenge.  One teammate had to draw a coloured marble from inside a box of mealworms, and whatever colour you drew corresponded to what creature the other teammate had to hold for 60 seconds.  Guess, what we got:

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Seriously, is this man not the most adorable ever? Also, he got to live out his Spiderman fantasy.  It was good times.

Three points down.  Four came half a block later at the second Chasepoint that opened at 11am, the Goodlife fitness on Queen St.  There was a board with all sorts of exercises, like 30 burpees and 50 lunges, each assigned a point value from 250-1000 and you had to complete enough of them to earn 2500 points.  This is also when I learned my techie hubby didn’t know what a mountain climber was.

Conveniently, this put us right at the bus stop to get us to Byward Market.  The market wasn’t super far away on foot, but when given the option to take the faster mode of transportation, you take it.  I’m hyper competitive, he’s admittedly lazy, this is how we roll.  Here we had to search and find someone dressed as Where’s Waldo and answer a riddle.  We’re brilliant hyper geniuses (my blog, my lies), so it was no problem.

A jog brought us to the yacht club, where one teammate needed to hold a plank for up to three minutes while the other had to flip a bottle partially filled with water until it landed perfectly on it’s end.  I got stuck planking, while he put his video-game-honed hand eye co-ordination to the test.  I was thinking we were screwed, because my max plank time was something around 45 seconds on a good day, but Eric saved me by nailing it first try, and we were out of there shortly after I got into position.

We were then headed to a park on the far side of the embassy district.  We knew we were going the right way, but we saw another team coming the opposite way from down a side street and figured that must be a short cut, so we headed down there.  This was another stroke of luck, as it brought us to a gymnastics Chasepoint that we didn’t know existed. One of our answers on the clue sheet must have been wrong.  So we rolled, flipped and balanced around a nicely padded course (yay, when you’re klutzy and bruise easily **cough cough me cough cough **), got our point and continued on.

Finally we arrived at the park we had been looking for previously, only to find it was a dunk tank.  One teammate had to be dunked in a tank of cold water for a full minute while the other threw the balls to dunk them and had to eat a big handful of hot chilies.  Now there is nothing difficult about this, but one of us would have to complete the rest of the race in wet underwear because amongst all the random shit in our backpack, a change of clothes wasn’t one of them.  Out of all the years I’ve raced, I think I’ve done the water challenges maybe twice.  It’s really just for the sake of comfort.  Here neither of us wanted to get wet, and after a short debate, we figured that since we had already picked up the unexpected Chasepoint before this, that we’d just skip this and continue to our next point as planned.  We were still making remarkably good time with a strangely low amount of physical exertion, so what the hell.

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Zorbs, giant inflatable hamster balls, greeted us at the next Chasepoint.  You dive in and run your ball around a course.  This is something Eric and his unexpectedly good sense of balance is awesome at.  Me, well, let’s just say the last time I did this I slipped and fell right out the hole and ended up being pooped out while the ball rolled away.  Only one of us needed to do this, so Captain Awesome got his time to shine.

From there we took the longest possible route to Strathcona Park, but at least we got to see the impressive, fortified Russian Embassy on the way.  Now it was time to solve a puzzle while being shot by paintballs.  Great.  I still had the bruises from my ass being pounded 2 weeks ago.  A lot of the racers thought it would be an effective way to not get shot by lying as flat as possible, but this just led to a lot of them being painfully hit in the back of their heads as that was the only thing that was still sticking up.  Fatties for the win.  Naturally padded butts up, we dove into the puzzle.  My previous experience with this puzzle was a huge advantage, as I already knew the tricks and was able to get us out of that having barely been hit.

One Chasepoint left, and it was barely after noon.  We had a really good time going, and we knew it.  Apparently, this turns both the hubby and I into epic cocky assholes.  As we waited for the bus we were saying things like “look at those ‘fit’ people running.  They probably only have two Chasepoints.” and “they’re looking at us chubbers like we’re not even competition and I bet we have completed double what they have”.  It got bad.  But damnit, it felt soooooo good!  Being catty bitches every once in a while is everyone’s prerogative in life.
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A bus ride all the way across town brought us to some fancy-ass university that looked like a castle, where we had to pull a U-haul truck.  NBD.  The sheer power of our cockiness pulled that over the line.  From there our genius route planning had left us just a short bus ride right to the finish line back on Sparks Street.  One hard sprint, you know, just to make it look like we had been running that fast all day, and we broke the tape in 86th place.  Out of over 350 teams.  Booyeah, Bitches!

Pit Stop: First place.  We freaking crushed this.  Out of all the races we’ve done, this was only our second sub-100 placing, and we did it without Eric doing his annual cursing of my immortal soul for making him do something so exhausting for a full day.  And no injuries!  It was like we had hit our groove all day.

Eliminated: Let’s just keep the shade going because I’m enjoying it and call it the overly-confidant superfit team who assumed their superior running skills would power them to first, but their lack of good route planning and brain smarts took them out.  Bye, Felicia.

The Amazing Race Pit Stop Poster