Friday, September 24, 2010

The Archivers

Our Tough Mudder team name is the Archivers. At first read, it’s rather confusing. What does an archiver have anything to do with a group of idiots planning to meet a fate worse than death on a mountain that is 8,000 feet in elevation? Is “archiver” even a word? According to Wikipedia, a sound and trustworthy source of information on the Internet, a “file archiver” is a computer program that combines a number of files together into one archive file. According to Webster’s, there’s no such word. Archive, yes. But Archivers?

Many brave souls on our team are accepting this identity in blind faith; most have never even asked where that name came from or who came up with it. Most are probably more preoccupied about whether they will make it through the “Ball Shrinker” obstacle course, which entails traversing across a river in waste deep ice water while holding on to a rope. They have little time to ponder the origins of such a… well, stupid team name.

The Archivers originated circa 2000 when I was fortunate enough to win a fitness magazine contest where I was shipped to a fat farm in Utah for a week to endure the pain of eating flax seed pancakes and performing circus routines which are now commonly known as Pilates. They picked me because I penned a sob story about my club foot (true, I have one), my horrible eating habits (kind of true) and the fact that I run, but have never lifted a weight or taken a yoga class in my life (not true).

I didn’t consume alcohol during the entire week at the fat farm – complete torture on its own – and learned to eat slowly and breathe deeply. I came home refreshed and five pounds lighter. At the time I was dating an ER resident who picked me up at the airport upon my return. Said boyfriend had no interest in listening to my enlightened sense of self, but his father did, who was also in the car.

So, the boyfriend's father, “Bob” and I headed back to our house for a little wine and debriefing while tired and overworked and uninterested boyfriend headed back home for “an early shift” at the hospital.

My roommate at the time joined in the conversation and the three of us talked about my magazine trip and how inspired I was upon my return. The conversation turned to our goals and dreams for the coming year. We put together an implementation plan and found that our fate was sealed. Bob wanted to learn to stain glass. Litha wanted to take a pottery class. I wanted to keep up with my new way of eating and also learn to be nicer to people.

I suggested that we meet once a month to check in on how we are doing with our goals and came up with a name, just to inspire ourselves. We were to offer constructive feedback, assistance and encouragement.”

I also suggested naming our group the Willow Tree. In the material that I brought home from the hippie fat farm, there was an old Chinese story about how a Willow tree that does not bend in the wind, will not last in the storm. I don’t remember where it originated, but it sounded good at the time.

We finalized our next meeting and departed for the evening.

The next day I received the following email from Bob:

Amy – I am very excited about our motivational group. We should expand it to others. I have to say, I don’t like our name. It sounds too girly, and as you know, I am not a girl. How about the Archivers?


I read the email twice, not really understanding what he meant so I called him and asked for an explanation, as I didn’t really agree with his assessment of the term Willow Tree and what the new team name meant.

“What do you mean, Achievers seems to be a perfect name. We are attempting to ‘achieve’ our goals.”

Bob should have added “improve spelling” to his goal list.

I forwarded the email to as many people as I know as making fun of people’s mistakes and shortcomings is a satanic pastime of mine. I incorporated an epilogue to detail intent, and background.

After reading my email, my buddy Vince, the crazed friend who got us involved in the Tough Mudders race and (still) friends with my ex, facilitated a meeting of the Archivers immediately. It was held at a brewpub. I was the self proclaimed President. We were to grade the difficulty of our goals and progress.

After two meetings, I was overturned in what could only be described as a secret coup. Apparently, I was “too hard” on my fellow Archivers, using terms like “lethargic” and “lame” to describe reasons behind the F’s I gave across the board. For example, Vince’s goal was to learn to swing dance before our next meeting – a laudable goal in my opinion. He not only neglected to practice one time, he didn’t even take the “How to Swing in Five Easy Steps” video tape out of its plastic cover. His fellow Archivers gave him an A for effort for actually buying the video. This was a clear illustration of what is wrong with Generation X – pure laziness is rewarded.

After I was overthrown as President, a new “softer” President was elected. She happened to be my old roommate who helped to originate the group back in the day. This seemed like an appropriate replacement for a couple of reasons: first, she had the institutional knowledge of the origins of the group, and secondly, she was so soft on effort and didn’t want to offend anyone, that it appeared as though people ceased to feel pressure. Note: an Archivers meeting has yet to be convened since my departure. That was 7 years ago.

So here we are, the Archivers back in action attempting the feat of our lifetime. I imagine that if history is the dictator of our success, we will likely form a group of pathetic quitters at mile point five, and archive ourselves in the “first team to need an oxygen mask” or “Most frequenters of the First Aid stations” categories.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Counterintuitive Advantages to Hurting Myself

I was strolling down the street heading back to my office after running a few errands on a regular workday when I was stopped by two acquaintances, two separate times who happened to compliment me on my hair. One even went so far as to say, “what are you doing differently? It looks so healthy.” Now, normally I wouldn’t blog about something so superficial and vain, (yes I would), but I thought it a bit satirical as to why my hair was so “different” lately.

Had I garnered the nerve, this is the way I would have answered that woman’s question:

“Oh, this bouncy tress (hair toss, giggle). Well, lean in because this here is a beauty secret that landed in my lap about two months ago. I plan to market it somehow and make millions, so keep it between the two of us for now, okay? (hand on woman’s shoulder, wink).

“You see, I go to this gym called Midtown Strength and Conditioning right there off of T and 3rd Street. You could walk from here but I drive. I go to their “Puking is Okay, Quitting is Not” noon class. It’s an hour and it involves a whole host of exercises that muscles you never knew you had start screaming profanities at you. (begin to whisper, make eye contact with said woman).

“By the time the hour is up, I am usually late for a meeting or a fundraiser or some conference call, so even though Midtown has showers, I figure that a little baby powder, water splashed on the face and a towel will suit me just fine. I then head for my car with crackberry in hand, and I know that I have a handful of “crisis” emails from my staff who I have left in a lurch because the workout always comes first these days. (making my hair the focus, I give it one more toss).

“When I get in my car, I blast the air conditioning to the highest level, which is number four in my Ford Escape 2005, and I tilt the air vents so they are aimed at my face and hair. And I sit there for a minute, responding to the email crises as I tap tap away at the crackberry. Then, I tilt the rearview mirror so my reflection is looking back at me and I fix the blurred eyeliner, the sagging mascara, add a little lipstick.”

“And here’s the big secret (now the woman and I would be nose to nose): I begin styling my hair with my hands – it’s like I have built in hair gel so it will pretty much stay in the shape that my hands demand. It’s like art. I become a sculptor. Obviously, today I chose the wind swept look, but tomorrow I might go for the slicked back sides. And perhaps next week, I may do a little 80’s action and poof up the bangs. You never know, but it doesn’t matter, because I can do anything with this mop under those circumstances. Anything.”

I will then wait to see if the woman has any other questions regarding my beauty tip. Likely not. I imagine she would do an about face and run away from me as fast as she can for obvious reasons. And I would probably regret ever having told this woman about my beauty secret. But I am on to something here. I know an entrepreneurial opportunity when I see one.

Don’t be too surprised when you see my product on shelves in hair salons across the country.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where's the Air?

I may be smiling on the outside, but I am crumbling with fear on the inside. Last weekend, the brood and I decided to scope out the terrain and the course of the dreaded Tough Mudder run. This turned out to be a very bad idea. It sounded good at the time, though.

We had two friends up at our cabin for a little hiking, a lot of food and some libations. During our wine soaked discussion on Saturday night, our committed friends decided that they were going to come up to the mountain that weekend and help cheer us on, and assist with watching Yack as he would surely want to follow his parents through the mud and tunnel courses. Being two, this race would probably appear to him to be nothing but preschool on crack. We needed some dedicated souls to hold him back as mommy and daddy plunged into oblivion.

Since our cabin is exactly 18 miles from the ski resort, (or death march as it were), we decided to hike it the next day. Having downed a couple of bottles of wine between us, it sounded like a good idea at the time, but when we woke up, it was the last thing we wanted to do.

The base of the mountain is at about 7,000 feet. Simply getting out of the car gave me a nose bleed. I realized at this moment as I struggled to pick Yack up out of the car seat that this was going to be ugly. And as of that moment, I had 42 days to psyche myself up for the hell that will become my reality.

As I hoisted my little man into his backpack (this child’s back breaker is typically made for a 2 year old who doesn’t weigh 100 pounds), I peered up into the sun and atop the mountain where heaven was shining brightly whispering to me, “return to the car and get the heck out of dodge”. Alas, I have been known to ignore the whispers from Heaven.

Our group approached the base of the mountain and noticed that the Tough Mudder staff had already begun assembling the various torture contraptions throughout the course. There were several narrow PVC pipes – likely for sewer lines – that were lying together side by side. My guess on width would be about 2 and a half feet wide which would be an overstatement. I put Yack down and climbed through, just to see. Just to test the waters. As I army crawled my way through the tube and over the pipe’s divots (ouch, they hurt my forearms, not to mention my knees, shins, and tops of my toes), I began to feel a sense of claustrophobia. Crawling backwards would prove my weakness. I put my head down, closed my eyes and crawled to the light.

Yack was right behind me, making a mockery of my Achilles heal. “Mommy, that was fun. Let’s do it again.”

No thanks. I’ll wait until there are 50 people behind me with mud caked on to their bodies, yelling at me to go faster.

Next, we decided to climb to the top of the mountain as we followed the map we pulled off the Internet. According to the description, we were supposed to be running up the mountain. I, however, walked. Let me rephrase. I stumbled, digging at any hole or sturdy terrain that I could find with my climbing boots to reach the top. (According to the Tough Mudder preparation manual, one should wear tennis shoes). I had to stop about five times to catch my breath and curse the clouds above for more air. I figured we were now at about 8,000 feet – not enough air in the world to help my dizzying state of affairs.

Reaching to the top was euphoric until Pants showed me the map. “During the race, we have to crawl up that face,” pointing to a mountain that looked to be at a 90 degree angle from where I was standing, “and we have to do that four times. The last time includes us carrying a tree log on our shoulder.”

That’s when the air left my head, my heart, my lungs and my feet. The air was on to something. The air was right. “Get out now!”

As we plunged down the side of the mountain back to our car, my thighs, knees and lower half of my body screamed in pain. My dear friends giggled in delight as they knew what we were headed for – watching me panic is something that brings them pure joy. What great friends.

And to make matters all the better, as we put Yack back into the car and headed for the brewery for a nice liquid lunch, Pants proclaimed in earnest, “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Straight Up Bad Decision Leads to More Bad Decisions

I am back in action, as it were. Work has become a little less hectic and in turn, my new little mission is taking over my life. Let me be clear about something: my number one priority is my family, but because of my overly efficient and controlling ways, my sweet family members are running on autopilot. (Thank sweet Jesus for Jack’s preschool and Pant’s willingness to join me in this physically daunting crusade). I now have time to abandon all other duties and put myself through physical and mental torture in a weak attempt to survive the feat that is Tough Mudder. I have come to the pathetic conclusion that the only reason why I have committed myself to this task is due to the pride factor plain and simple. My ego is too big to back down.

I began working out at a new gym about five weeks before I actually signed up for the Tough Mudder event – set for October 9th. It was early August and I was panicking about verbally committing to compete, but not physically committing to survive. I was complaining to a friend about my utter stupidity when she suggested I try the torture chamber that is Midtown Strength and Conditioning. I had only heard of it a few times -once during a rubdown from my sweet masseur (“you know, if you just use a kettle ball every once in awhile, this shoulder knot will disappear, in fact, I belong to this gym where you push tractor tires down a long path”). Not quite the relaxing massage I had paid for – the workout sounded dreadful. The second time this gym was brought up was by a friend who said that she attends the 6 a.m. morning anguish class where they throw sandbags and do Russian twists with medicine balls. No thanks.

Once something is brought up twice by two different people who don’t know each other, it’s destiny. I had to join. So when this friend, sick of listening to me complain, said that joining this gym is the only chance that I had of surviving the race, I arrived, checkbook in hand that very same day.

To describe that I was intimidated would be a huge understatement. Try petrified. I heard the gym before I walked in the front door. Grunts, yells and huffs were heard through the rollup garage door before I entered. I hadn’t heard sounds like this since.. well, let’s move on.

The place smells of metal and steal and sweat. It’s wrought with gymnastic rings, sandbags, kettleballs, football sleds and a hell of a lot of jump ropes, which I hate with a passion. It’s also crammed with burly men, and some kick ass women. I tiptoed in, looking for the manager.

“You must be Amy. We have been waiting for you.” A message from God, or Goddess in this case. Her name was Tara. Her smile was inviting. My fear dissipated but only a little. I explained what I was doing there. She knew the story. Jeez, this town of 400,000 people is sure small.

“Tough Mudders’, huh? Well go change, we have work to do.”

I was immediately relieved to know that a woman would be training me. Who else knows my body but a woman, and maybe my husband but that’s not appropriate blogging etiquette. I changed into my spin bike outfit – so not conducive to what I was about to do – and was greeted by a muscle of a man named Camilo. Wait, where’s Tara? Apparently, she ran the morning classes and tricked me with her sweet inviting ways.

Camilo was on me in seconds, even before I headed for the door. Just as we started our routine, my buddy Vince joined us. I use the term buddy lightly because he is the one who got me into this blasted race in the first place. I was happy to have misery join me in what would undoubtedly be the most painful experience of recent history. The following is our first day’s workout. (It has since increased in reps, weight and pain as I hit week #6):

Scrawled across the dry erase board at the mechanics garage turned torture chamber:

Tough Mudders Do Three Sets of Each:
Russian Twists – 20x
Jump rope – 100x
Burpees – 20x (for those who don’t know what these are, ask a retired high school football player)
Mountain climbers – 30x
S Street Run – this is where you run, not jog, two blocks down the street
Alligators – this is where you hold ten pound dumb bells in your hands in the push up position while your toes are in the curves of a twelve pound plate. You must drag the plate while moving your weights across the floor. These are the epitome of hell.

Don’t forget to rest for 30 seconds in between reps.

When Camilo is feeling nice, he will have us also do dead lifts, pull ups with rubber bands, and sled pushes with 50 pound weights on them. What a sweet guy.

I started off going to this gym twice a week. I now go four. You must be wondering what I look like after working out like I am competing in a body building championship. I am about to tell you: I have gained six pounds – yeah yeah yeah, muscle weighs more than fat. Put a cork in it. I eat twice as much. That’s why I have gained weight.

And, as icing on that delicious cake, my mother told me this weekend that if my arms get any bigger, she is going to start getting the hots for me because I will cease to look like the woman that I am and cross over into dude land.