Tag Archives: fitness


Our team turned out to be awesome, even though we had never practiced together and were about to take on the biggest physical challenge of our lives.  We each knew this experience would take teamwork to be successful.  In fact, the event stated with pride the challenge was so great as to require participants to work together.

The two men on our team, Myron and Bruce, were in top shape, ready to run long distances or leap up, catch the narrow edge of an eight foot wall with their fingers and pull themselves over using only upper body strength.  We three women, myself, Monica, and Allison, were willing to belly crawl under twenty yards of criss-crossed barbed wire, jump from fifteen foot high walls into muddy water, and creep through pitch-dark narrow tunnels, but we were woefully unprepared for upper body challenges – and we knew it.  Without a hefty boost we women wouldn’t scale the eight foot wall, never mind the twelve foot ones.

For one series of mud and water filled trenches, we had seen videos of participants propelling up and out with a push of hands against muddy embankment.  My plan was to find mud ledges low enough to crawl out of each one.   Each of us had anticipated this day for months.  Our goal was to make it through the course, trying to overcome as many obstacles as we felt able to try.  For Monica and I, that meant skipping the two electrified obstacles, since the voltage has a nasty way of causing people to pass out face down in the mud.  (Yep, we had seen enough photos to decide against that one.)

Each wanted to test our determination, perseverance, and ability to tackle the twelve mile twenty-two obstacle Tough Mudder course.  The guys were far better able to take on the course without the girls, and since they had prepared better for the challenge, I thought they would go ahead and we would see them when we finished.  After all, we women knew all along what we needed to do to develop upper body strength – we just hadn’t done much about it.  As we walked over to the starting area, I said something to Myron about catching up with him at the end.  He looked at me surprised and said, “We’re sticking together.  We’re a team.”    “You’re going to stay back with us?” I asked, as gratefulness and possibility began to unfold in my mind.  “Yeah, we’re in this together,” he said.  And just like that, I knew we truly were a team.

Myron’s words brought a new excitement into the day.  He and Bruce weren’t concerned with how fast they could make it through the course!  Their goal was to make sure we all made it to the finish, with support and encouragement along the way.  My tempered expectations for the big day were released into full-scale excitement, as a smile spread across my face.  I knew we could clear many more obstacles with the guys determined to stay with the women as a team of five.  It was like I’d been given a second chance to do well and I couldn’t wait to start!

Off we went, finding ourselves required to climb over a five foot wall before we could line up in the starting corral.  Monica, Allison and I were boosted up, while the guys practically jumped over.  The starting announcer intensified our excitement with group shouts and promises, and reminded us it was not a race.  When he stated there had been many sprains and a few broken bones the day before, Monica said twenty percent of those who start do not finish.  “Twenty percent?” I asked, “That’s a lot of people in a race this size.”

“I know,” Monica answered as the countdown began and we turned forward to start.  The first belly crawl under barbed wire went smoothly.  It was a fun and muddy way to jump right into the adventure of it all.  Jogging along in mud and muck we quickly came to the second obstacle, an ice-filled giant tank of water with a wall rising out of it about half way across.  Barbed razor wire curled along the top of the wall and arrows pointed down indicating you must go under water to pass beneath the wall.

I love cold water and sit in cold plunges longer than hot tubs at my favorite spa.  In other events, ice scattered across water actually felt good after building body heat along the course.  This was not like other events.  First of all it was about fifty-two degrees.  Second, we had been running a short time and had not built up internal heat, and third, the water was absolutely crammed full of ice.  I ran into frigid water up to my waist.  I could feel ice cubes rubbing my shins, but kept moving until I reached the wall and ran my hand down it to feel how far under I would have to go.  It was pretty far.  Scary far, and the extreme cold made it hard for me to breathe.  Seriously, I was close to hyperventilating and needed to catch my breath.  Allison had a similar experience and jumped up on the wall, clinging to it in a way she never knew she was able.  The guys had gone first and could see Allison’s head above the wall, just beneath the razor wire.  “Go down!!” they shouted.  “You can do it.  Swim under!”  Monica came up from behind.  “We can’t stay in here y’all.  It’s too cold.  Go under!!”

“I just have to catch my breath,” I said.  “Go ahead,” I told Monica, “I’ll go in just a second.”  Then I joined in trying to convince Allison to drop off the wall.  “Come on Allison – we can do it!” I shouted as she dropped back in the water and we both went underneath swimming as fast as we could to the other side.  Bruce leaned across the steep embankment and put out his hand.  “Watch your feet,” he said, “there are boards to help your footing, but they’re tricky.” I found my footing and he pulled me up and out of the water in a flash.  Myron was pulling Allison out at the same time and then both he and Monica shouted at us to start moving.  “We have to warm up, we can stop in a few minutes.”


I am so glad we had a team.  Right there, at obstacle two, it was clear each of us was looking out for the other and no one would be left behind.  If we needed a shout, a word of encouragement, or even a commonsense reminder of what to do next, our team was ready.  If we needed to be physically pushed, pulled, or untangled, our team would stick it out until we all were ready to move forward.  It felt good to be part of this team.

All five of us slowly and carefully started along the muddy and uneven terrain, waiting for the numbness to leave and our breathing to return to normal.  A few minutes later, a tingling sensation began and warmth returned to our bodies.  “That was a lot worse than I expected,” one of us said, and we all agreed.  I tried not to think about how much worse some of the other obstacles might be.

Soon enough we passed a sign for the two mile point, which was good news.  The running was going well, although footing was tricky, sometimes slippery, always uneven, and often on a slant.  We kept the pace slow and I was happy not to have to work hard to maintain the group pace.  An obstacle resembling giant Lincoln logs came next and we climbed and ducked under and over until clear.  I was the slowest, but it didn’t matter.  The dark tunnel went well too, and those muddy water troughs could have been really tough, but Myron and Bruce made sure we had a hand or a boost out of every trench.

Being on a team was amazingly different from practicing on my own.  We had covered seven obstacles and were having a good time.  “We’re doing it!” I shouted, excited I was able to compete in this challenge after all.  The day before, I had seriously imagined skipping most obstacles and walking much of the constant up and down trail we traversed.  Yet here we were one-third of the way through, and we had made every obstacle and kept up a good running pace .

And then, on a relatively smooth, dry and hard-packed part of the trail, I took a step wrong and heard a pop as I went down.  It must have been my lack of training that felled me, because there was no reason other than “tired feet” to miss my step right there.  The trail was plenty dicey in areas, but not where I went down.  The team came back and rallied around me.  Both guys are EMT’s so they had my shoe and sock off in seconds.  As far as sprains go, this wasn’t bad, but I was not going to be able to finish the course.  I was very disappointed.

Another team called The Bearded Men came upon us and blessed my injury, praying for a speedy and complete recovery.  Shortly after, the pain went completely away and I could stand and walk.  (Thank you Bearded Men.)  We made our way through the next hurdle, a muddy, steeply banked pond about waist deep, with the team staying close enough to me I could hold on for support, then walked to the ninth obstacle where event staff had been notified by passing runners to bring the medic jeep to pick me up.

It was then I knew what my role in the team needed to be.  I wanted to finish the course, even by walking around obstacles, and my ankle wasn’t so swollen I couldn’t put my shoe back on.  Leaving the course in a medic jeep meant I could neither claim the title Tough Mudder nor receive the headband given to finishers, but I worried the team might insist on staying with me if I tried to finish, and how my selfishness might hold all of them back.  I had to let go of what I wanted for myself to allow the team to finish strong.

Once assured by staff the medic jeep was on its way, my team waved to me and started climbing up and over large round hay bales stacked five high.  I watched and cheered them on, then waited for my ride.  Thirty minutes later, my husband, Marc, greeted me in the medic tent, where my ankle had been wrapped and iced, and silver thermal blanket draped around me.

A change to dry clothes and picnic lunch made our waiting time quick and pleasant.  When we spotted our team in the far distance near the next to last obstacle, Marc jogged over to take photos of them coming over a fifteen foot tall quarter pipe.  The greased surface and outwardly curving shape made it impossible to surmount without being pulled up and over by other participants at the top.  My team soon was over and jogging toward the last obstacle where I was waiting to cheer them to the finish.  They looked great – determined, tired, and very glad to see the finish line.

No one really wanted to complete the last obstacle.  You were guaranteed to be zapped by up to 10,000 volts of live electrical current if you ran through it, but Allison took a long hard look and decided she was going to run it.  As the other teammates walked around the obstacle, she geared herself up to dash through the dangling wires.  Myron realized Allison had stopped, and true to the team spirit encompassing us the entire day, he went back to join her. Together they ran over at least a fifty foot expanse of muddy berms while being randomly shocked in the crossing.  Dazed, but still upright, they joined Monica and Bruce to cross the finish line as a team. 

Wistfully, I watched them don orange Tough Mudder headbands, though my smile held pride and satisfaction, too.  Our team had finished well, completing more obstacles than expected and in less time than I estimated we would take – even with extra time out to take care of me.  Although their bodies were cold and sore, I saw in each tired muddy smile how good their achievement felt.  Tough Mudder is over and our team may never form again, but it was a great team and I had a blast being part of it.



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All or Nothing

Have you ever been given a perspective that changed your life?  I have, and it’s time to share it with you.  In the past, I often started a new habit with enthusiasm and determination, only to have it fall apart after a few days.  Usually the new habit is two-fold:  lose weight and exercise more.  About three and a half years ago, I tried going for it one more time, and once again found myself off the exercise track within four days.  

In the past, I would have recommitted the next day, and quickly found myself in a pattern of doing well, then missing a day or two of exercise, trying again, then missing even more days until I was right back where I started.  Luckily, it all changed for me in November 2008 when my perspective shifted and a new strategy developed.  The result was a new habit, the habit of exercising every day for at least 30 minutes.  Today is my 772nd day in a row of exercising every day, and it’s all because of one small, powerful piece of insight gained while reading an article on the free fitness website www.sparkpeople.com.  The insight I gained can be applied to a lot more than exercise.   You can apply it to nearly any new behavior you want to put into your life.  It’s simple, reasonable, and most of all effective. 

Here is how it went for me:  I hadn’t really defined “regularly exercising”, but if I had it would be something more than once or twice a week and lasting at least thirty minutes a session.  In my zest to begin exercising regularly, I fell into an All or Nothing attitude of defining exercise by being at least moderately vigorous and for thirty minutes or longer.  I thought exercise and duration were what mattered, when really it was a new lifestyle I sought.   It’s easy to make that mistake, especially since we automatically look for ways to measure progress.  We measure the amount of money saved instead of the habit of saving, the intensity of the workout instead of the daily practice of exercise, or time spent in another’s presence instead of the attention we give that person.  I had made up rules about exercise that weren’t going to work for me, but I didn’t realize it at the time – even though I had experience failing with these rules before.  “All I need,” I thought, “is more discipline and determination.”

I was unmindfully missing the point in my new endeavor, but at least I started on my new path and all was well and good for four days.  Then I was busy and missed a day.  The following day I was perusing the SparkPeople website to stall a bit before deciding what type of sweat inducing, physically demanding and slightly painful exercise I could do that day to make up for missing the day before.  I had set up my SparkPeople account (My account is under user name Skoogygirl if you are on the site.) the week before, and been using the default tracker to keep a record of how often I exercised thirty minutes or more a day.  I saw a tab labeled SparkStreaks, and clicked on it.

It listed my current exercise streak as being “zero” days, with my longest streak ever as four days.  Four days!  Suddenly I felt challenged.  Four days was ridiculous.  I was annoyed and embarrassed by my statistics, even though it had been less than a week since I set up my account.  I immediately went out for a walk, then came back in and entered the time on my tracker.  My SparkStreak statistic now showed a current streak of one day, but the longest streak was still four days.  This gave me an impetus for change, but not the insight or new perspective I needed for making change.  The tip I needed came a few minutes later when I read an article on the website about the “All or Nothing” concept.  The tips and perspective of this article completely changed my ability to stick with an exercise habit. 

I learned that holding onto an All or Nothing belief is a great way to ruin a new habit.  For me, it meant failing to exercise if you don’t have time for a really good workout (whatever that means) or skipping exercise if  there is not enough time to shower afterwards.  It means not bothering on the nights when you’re very busy and just too tired.  All or Nothing means it is a task that must be surmounted, not away of living.

All or Nothing is a limiting belief often resulting in nothing– no new habit, no exercise, no lifestyle change.

What SparkPeople pointed out is exercise is good for you even in smaller, less strenuous doses.  Exercise can be done in ten minute increments instead of a continuous thirty.  Once you rid yourself of the All or Nothing idea, you are free to exercise any way you like.  You can walk fifteen minutes at lunch and weed your garden fifteen minutes after dinner.  You can play ping-pong with your kids.  You can walk ten minutes at each stop on a very long car drive.  You can take a twenty minute bike ride while waiting for your daughter’s soccer practice to finish.  You can walk from the hotel to the convention center instead of taking the shuttle.  You can develop the habit of looking for ways to be more fit.

After I lifted my self-imposed rule that exercise had to be at least thirty strenuous minutes, I found lots of ways to exercise.  Guess what happened?  I began exercising every day, building the habit of fitness into my every day routine.  That’s what made the difference.  It wasn’t how hard I pushed or how long I worked out at one time, but the habit of exercise.

It works with money too.  Instead of thinking there is no point in saving if you can’t put much aside, think of developing the habit of saving, no matter how little at first.  It isn’t how much more you can put against a debt, but how consistently you look for ways to pay it down.   It’s the habit that will take you where you want to go.  Windfalls and emergencies come and go, but habits lay the foundation for everything you want to build.  Exercise and money habits are easy ways to apply this strategy, and there are many more.  Think about the changes you are trying to make, or have tried and failed to make in the past.  How can discarding the All or Nothing belief work for you?

Who can you be through a daily habit of living the change you seek?

My SparkStreak keeps me motivated to continue exercising every day, but it’s the habit of incorporating fitness into my everyday routine that made me successful at changing my lifestyle.  I cannot tell you I’ve lost weight, but I am more fit.  Since putting exercise into my life every day, I built up a fitness habit averaging well over an hour per day – and I never miss having at least thirty total minutes of exercise in my day.  My new habit changed my life for the better and allowed me to set and reach goals I never had considered before.  

It has taken me on trail runs, mountain hikes, and weekend tennis tournaments.  It allowed me to coach my daughter and her friend on our first half-marathon together, took me up Mount Fuji with my son on his 18th birthday, and into the Grand Canyon and back with my husband on our first ever vacation with just the two of us. 

The last three plus years have been full of adventure I wouldn’t have had without a habit of exercise and fitness.  Dropping the All or Nothing belief took nothing and changed everything.  If you are struggling with a new habit, maybe it’s time to change your rules in order to change your life.  You might check out the free site www.sparkpeople.com while you are at it. 

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Monkey Bars

The monkey bars are not so easy anymore.  Do you remember the last time you tried crossing a ten foot gap by swinging from bar to bar?  I’m pretty sure my two kids have been raised since my last attempt.  In fact, the closest I’ve been to swinging on monkey bars in a few decades has been to hold those kids up to the bars as they worked their way across the first time.

The good news is I don’t have far to fall since my grown height leaves me only a few inches off the ground.  That’s a relief, because it turns out swinging from rung to rung stops after the first swing.  Here is how it went tonight:  Two hands on a bar as far out from me as I could reach followed by a push off with my feet, then grabbing the next bar with my right hand, taking hold and simultaneously letting go with my left hand, reaching for the bar – and immediately wrenching my left hand from its grip as my full weight pulled me to the ground.

I think part of it has to do with the “full weight” being hauled across space, but the other part has something to do with my pathetically underworked arm muscles.  It hurt my hands too, and I was wearing sports gloves!  Blisters I remember, but not the pinching of skin as it bunches up in a desperate grasp.  Golly, this monkey business is going to take some work.

Why am I embarrassing myself (and my teenage daughter if she knew) on this simple childhood feat?  Do I imagine it will bring back pleasant memories of days gone by, youth, and carefree playground adventure?  Am I simply deranged and masochistic?  Maybe the latter has some validity, but my attempt at monkey bars has nothing to do with childhood.  Instead it’s a quest for fitness adventure that led to me signing up for an obstacle course combined with a long-distance run.  Many of the obstacles involve monkey bar style feats, crossing water on ropes, or otherwise hauling myself up and over something primarily using arms and hands. 

Unfortunately, my upper body isn’t as strong as it was years ago.  It isn’t nearly as strong as my determination either.  Crazy or not, signing up for this event will make me take charge of my physical fitness in a new way.  The running isn’t a problem; I spent the last few years becoming a better runner, but no longer will I be able to ignore my extra weight or lack of muscle tone in my arms.  This obstacle course is one way to step into my own challenge to be fit.

Others choose personal trainers, counting calories, and aerobic classes.  I signed up for the Tough Mudder being held in Austin, Texas in October to add some adventure and fun back into my fitness goals.  It’s also my way of setting accountability for me, because the fear of a long painful day and recovery is enough to spur me forward in developing a program that will have me swinging across the monkey bars with ease.

 How can a crazy or risky challenge re-engage you in your goals?

What can you do to set up accountability for yourself?

 There are five months to prepare and now I know my starting point (which is further back than I thought).  Better to know the truth, and be glad there is plenty of time to set up a program for success.  In the meantime, I am going to check out voice activated software.  It may be handy when my hands are blistered and arms are throbbing too much to type.

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