MuckFest Recap and Lessons Learned

I have so many updates to share, but figured I’d start with a quick recap of the MS MuckFest 2014. As you may know, this event was the impetus for my running training program, and while the main reason we did it was to support my brother, an MS patient, and the MS Society, it was a very personal event and milestone for me.

While I love to exercise, I am not athletic. Growing up, I was either sick at home, in the hospital, or sporting a variety of casts, splints, and braces because I got injured easily and often. True story: I broke my finger typing once, that’s how brittle my bones were from steroids. Add to that my constant wheezing and coughing, and it’s easy to see why I was a bit…lacking in confidence in athletic endeavors.

I’d been feeling pretty good heading into the race—I’d run my longest stretches without stopping and maintained a decent speed all week, and the strength training I’d been doing had definitely made a difference. However, there is still so much I am learning about myself as a runner when it comes to pacing, strategy, and conditions, and let’s just say I learned a lot on April 26th.

We were part of a larger team but my husband and dear friend and I ran as a smaller pack…we certainly weren’t the fastest, but we did every obstacle, and that was one of my two major goals for the day (and I did it without breaking, straining, or spraining anything, even!) A couple of the obstacles were truly physically challenging, but most were mentally challenging, especially the ones that involved heights or extremely confined spaces. Most were things I had never done before, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event when I will have a better idea of what to expect and will run with the confidence of knowing I can do this because I have done this.

Honestly, the biggest challenge of all was the weather: It was beautiful the day before the race, but that morning it was 40 degrees and it was pouring (cold) rain the entire time. We were in the first wave and already the hilly course was so muddy and slippery that simply trying to run them to get to the next obstacle was an event. I now understand the power of the term “bone-chilling” because jumping into pools of mud in the freezing rain is pretty wretched. We could see our breath when we hosed ourselves off afterwards. Awesome.

Still, everyone there had a great attitude about it and no one complained. The way I see it, every year after this will be easy because our first year we did it in terrible conditions. Right?

Anyway, my other goal was to complete the 5K course without walking at all, and that totally didn’t happen. Most of my runs have been in fairly temperate weather, and I learned something important that day in the raw, freezing rain. I learned it again a few days later when I ran in 93-degree weather in Florida, with high humidity.

I don’t run well in extremes. Duh, right? But it’s actually more nuanced than that. Specifically, I do not start well in extreme weather.

Once we got into the meat of the race, I found my stride and was doing great, just like halfway into my run in Florida when my lungs settled down and I found a good rhythm. But within the first 20 seconds of the Muckfest, my lungs just closed right up and I was gasping before we made it to the second obstacle. I couldn’t believe it. It was like I hadn’t just spend eight weeks running 3-4 times a week and slowly building up my lung capacity. For a bleak moment I thought I was going to need to get off the course and dig up my inhaler, but I got some recovery time waiting in line for an obstacle and eventually my lungs calmed down.

I’ve since tested this a few more times, and if I start out fast, my lungs close up every time. If I start out fairly slow and stay steady with that, I have more speed and feel better later on. It takes my lungs a really long time to catch up to the work my body is doing, and unless I want to start burning, gasping, or cramping, I need to respect that is how my body works and roll with it. I’ve been reading a lot about negative splits, so this makes a lot of sense to me. I will never be fast but I’d like to be consistent and to build onto my distances—and I can only do that if I can breathe. So slower starts, especially in extreme weather, it is.

We’re already planning on next year’s MuckFest, and I have some 5K races in mind but know I need more training before I do them. My Couch-to-5K app disappeared from my phone (eight weeks of data gone!) so I’m starting over at Week 1 and focusing on adding in more speed (but not at the start!) and more hills this time around, coupled with longer treadmill runs. I still have a long way to go, but starting over with C25K has shown me that my lungs have started to adapt.

All in all, it was an awesome day. I never would seen me doing something like this, never mind enjoying it. I wasn’t fast, coordinated, or graceful, but I finished, and that’s enough for me.

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