Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Catamount Games

The Crew!
(All photos here are by Darrin Ingram unless noted otherwise)

Oh my, I AM TIRED.

A week after I made a mad dash between driving, flight, driving and then competing in a 2.5 day event, then driving, flight, driving, all in 4.5 days, I AM TOAST. Mostly emotionally. 

More so than my other events. Why? 

It has nothing to do with this amazing event and it's well thought out design and logistics and leadership but everything to do with where I am at in wanting to do multi day events.

Time to process what that means. And, I did a TON of processing while out in the wilderness of Kentucky, being challenged to the core. But first....

Summary of the Games:

The Catamount Games were so friggin' amazing. Hosted in the Red River Gorge area of the Daniel Boone National Forest of Kentucky and led by my friend, Darrin Ingram and Brett Barron, thirteen of us were treated to gorgeous caves, cliffs, rivers, huge rhododendron and wild magnolia that blanketed the forest, and steep and rolling, delicious climbs. The leaves were starting to change color and huge "elephant ear" shaped magnolia leaves were all over the trails. I was kind of obsessed with them. I was in awe of the way Darrin and Brett worked together. Always keeping their eye on the flow of the group, how people were doing, taking in the mileage that needed to be covered and mixing in the workouts as opportunities arose. "Alright, drop your packs and get ready for the next workout!" *gasp*!

The format of the Games was simple: The top male and female with most points wins. Points were given for each WOD, written test and the arrival at a certain points during the 50 miles of hiking. In theory, this format could even out the the playing field a bit. Some folks were better at the workouts, some better at heavy rucking and hiking and we were all stupid with the paper tests. Ha! Sixth grade math was not happening when sleep deprived and tired!

I won't get into the specifics of each WOD (too many to recall it seems! And, many of the workouts contained the words "devil", "blaster", etc) but here are a few of the highlights of my experience.

After a warm up WOD and passing the first test of figuring out where we were on the map (and our ticket to breakfast!), we hiked down the road and eventually came to the trail head of the wilderness. Here we took a test about cats (huh?) then another workout...and THEN we were treated to atlas stones. For those who don't know what atlas stones are, they are spheres of cement and are hard to manage. Women had 45 pound stones and the mens' weighed in at 65 pounds. Hellllo!!! I had never picked up an atlas stone in my life and now I was being handed a 45 pound one. We were told to haul this to where ever we were going. We had no idea how far or where we were going. So, some participants were getting very, very frustrated ALREADY and we were only one hour into the games. I heard lots of "fuck!" and the deep sound that an atlas stone makes when hitting the ground as we trudged along. WOOHOO! Let the mental game begin!

She was not at Catamount Games but she is strong and beautiful (you're welcome!)
and a good example of what an atlas stone is for those that don't know ;)

Cat test #1!
Games about to begin

3.5 miles with full pack and stone.

I tried carrying it in my arms while also shouldering my 35-40 pound pack. This shorty was carrying 80-85 pounds. Eventually, I was dropping the stone every few feet and having to pick it back up again and again and getting behind so Brett said I needed to figure out another way, so I put it on the top of my pack and he helped me hoist my pack back onto my shoulders. From that point, I was golden! I was able to cruise on at a good pace and made it to the river (the distance was 3.5 miles...a delicious 5k with 80-85 pounds) where we dropped the stones for the next two days. BUT. In the back of our minds, we knew we would be hauling those bitches out again. Which would be slightly uphill. I had to push that into the back of my mind. We had two full days (12 hours+! each) of WODs and hiking ahead of us. Oh, we had to do 30 ground to overhead presses with that damn stone when we arrived at the river. Took me forever.

30 ground to overhead presses with 45 pound stone.

Hold pack over ahead until fail.
Just one of the challenges of the weekend!

We spent our first night out in the wilderness after miles of hiking, many workouts, and bushwhacking that included a set up of the climbing rope. So gorgeous. We got caught in a thunderstorm up on the ridge we had just bushwhacked up so we arrived wet and soggy to the campsite. The rain stopped for a few hours which allowed us to set up a camp in the woods and start a fire. The rain started up again that night but it was fine. I was cozy in my new bivy (even though it completely  my money back!) and happy to have a solid nights sleep. I guess a big tree fell nearby and I never heard it. I was out like a light (and snoring...sorry Dave!)

bushwhacking through rhododendron!

our wilderness campsite

The next day we took a side trip to see some natural arches. So thankful for the bit of sight seeing as well. Of course, we were handed a soul crushing WOD at the view points but that's all part of the Games.

Gorgeous arch! Cold up there that morning.
We were all yelling at Darrin to take a selfie with us in it!

Just about to get our asses kicked by the Devil's WOD or whatever it was called!
Looking at arches here...
(photo: Doug Strobel)

Eventually, we hiked to a suspension bridge, filled up our empty sandbags with river muck, hauled it uphill, and took a math test (I felt so was 6th grade level fractions). Then, we were treated to a rope traverse across a river! Darrin and Brett and couple folks set up the rope for us. We learned how to make a harness with the rope we brought, clipped in to the rope (I cried in fear as I was clipping in but I was fine once I let go and hung over the river). It was super hard as you needed really strong grip strength/forearm strength. Only three people actually made it totally across.

Filled up the sandbag with river muck then up the
hill we went to take a math test!

Harness demonstration!
I'm hanging over the river!
(photo: Dave French)
Justin keeping my feet dry for me!
Justin won the games for men!
Amazing young man and so helpful all weekend.
(photo: Dave French)

From there, we hiked and hiked our way back to base camp. We knew the whole time we would be carrying those atlas stones back to the trail head. I was completely distracted by that and our bodies were becoming increasingly more calorie deficient as food was running out for some of us. I was running low and trying to spread out what I had left. We climbed a steep approach to Indian Staircase (I bonked HARD here....needed quick sugar which Brett gave me and got me along for a few miles) and then down we went, rolling and flat miles back to the atlas stones at the river we left 36+ hours earlier.

It was starting to get dark...about 7pm. We rested and ate what we had and hydrated, packed that atlas stone into our backpacks, turned our headlamps on and started the 3.5 mile march back to the trail head. We were told we could drop the stones there and that getting back to general store would be a race and points awarded. And, in order to get the pizza we were dying for we had to pass in another test about cats!! I marched out with my friends, Dave and Sarah. Dave kept the pace and Sarah and I just moved. We were hurting but we really wanted to just get the hell out of there and drop those stones. We stopped a few times to sit down on a log and let the weight of the pack be lifted off of us for a few moments. We never once took the pack off in that 2+ hour trek. Sarah and I moaned and groaned and the three of us coaxed us to keep moving. Such relief to drop that stone!! Justin, Sarah, Holly and myself were the first to arrive with those stones. Sarah and I then took off and completed the test in the dark as we were walking back to the store. That sub-par pizza was so delicious!!!! That 3.5 mile trek out in the dark with that weight and stone was definitely my proudest effort of the entire weekend. I just kept one foot in front of the other and hammered in mentally. The night is my most favorite time to be out doing something like this.

Sarah and Dave!
We worked hard to get those atlas stones out!
One foot in front of the other!

That night, I slept by the fire. We were told to wake up at 6am and be ready. Darrin then presented us with infamous Leg Blaster workout:

5 Rounds for time:
20x air squats
20x in-place lunges (10x each leg) +
20x jumping lunges (10x each leg) +
20x squat jumps

There in the dark of the morning, I wept. I totally cried during this. My legs were tired. I was not sore but I was worked. I did not have the umph to do the jumping lunges so I did not do them. I had to scale almost every WOD that weekend. I was in the presence of very strong men and women and in awe of the speed and strength they had to perform the workouts!

After the workout, we had breakfast and were told that we were now on our own for the rest of the day, not required to move as a group to finish the final task. We had until 3pm. We were told to pack light with food and water and the map. The goal was to get to two spots along the trail that we had hiked the day before...11 miles one way back to the suspension bridge! At the bridge and at Cloudsplitter (a beautiful rock formation) there would be a hole puncher and we had to hole punch the map. Along the way, we also had to memorize a poem and recite it to Darrin. And, there was also a Sudoku-esq math puzzle to complete....all before 3pm.

The poem that brought  me to my knees.
More so than any mile hiked or WOD that weekend.

Justin and Mike taking the final test.
I'm drinking cup after cup of crappy coffee in the background!
It was the first coffee I had in three days and I did not care how bad it was! :)

map of our trek!

This is when I broke down. I took a look at the poem and started crying. I was tired physically and mentally. The poem hit me so clearly spoke to my path over the past 10 years since Faye's death. I was exhausted. At this point in an event, I can usually take that pain and grief and use it to power me. "I've been through the worst. I can do these next 10 miles or so." Thing is, this was the first time I just did not want to do that. I was done. I had cried for that 1.5 hours to the river and did not have the mental energy to keep going on with that small group I was with. I just needed to go back to the base camp. Being out there for 4 more hours bushwhacking was not want I wanted. I was done. It was clear to me that I wanted to be done. More clear than anything else. I told folks to keep going and I was fine to head back alone. I cried the 3.5 miles back and felt relieved. I was walking up the road and I saw Darrin and started crying again. He came up to me and hugged me and I told him how his poem opened me up raw emotionally and that I just wanted to be done...that I appreciated the entire weekend and what I learned about myself. He told me that many folks had broken down during his events just a I had. And to be proud of what I did. I took a load off and waited for the other folks to slowly return over the next few hours.

Top finishers!
Justin and Holly!
So impressive out there all weekend.
Final goodbye pic!

Women of Catamount Games Fall 2015!!!
I witnessed some crazy impressive physical strength that weekend, both women and men. I witnessed folks dipping their toes into backpacking for the first time in their lives...something I have done for 20+ years. I think folks learned so much about what they are capable of in those 2.5 days, just as I have over the past 3 years of participating in multi day events.

And, this is what brings me to my "epiphany" of the weekend.

I went into this event testing myself...wondering if this could be the end of my interest/participation in multi day events.

And, I think I am done for a while. I need a break. When you can't mentally rise up to finish, then you need a break. I participated in 3 multi day events this year and ran logistics for one other. That's FOUR EVENTS THIS YEAR! That's too much for me. I've decided to volunteer and crew others at these type of events. The training is intense. The time taken to train is intense. The balance of it all. The time away from family and friends. I have been cruising at this pace for 3 years. I need to slow down for a bit.

On that note, you HAVE to join in on one of the Catamount Games. They are wonderfully executed. You learn about the area of the country you are competing in, you learn about yourself, you get to go many miles out into the wilderness and see what many don't! That for me is witness new wilderness.

The Winter Catamount Games are set for February 2016 in Frozenhead State Park in Tennessee and the sign up is open now! Here is the link!

Do it.

Thank you, Darrin and Brett, for an amazing experience! Much love to you both!!!

Dave French, thank you for the invitation to this event and for all the damn driving you did!!!

Anyone need a bomber crew member?Talk to me. 😘


The shirt I wore the entire weekend! I put that up with my
other multi day endurance race bibs!
Lots of hours and miles and sweat and tears in those bibs!