Well every year I I have said this is the year I am doing it, and every year something gets in the way. Last year my marathon was the weekend before the Challenge, leaving me unable to walk without pain for 2-3 weeks following. Not exactly ideal going into the hardest triathlon known to man. . . and in past years I was running track all the way into June, not leaving me with any time to train for the beast. Somehow, I always chickened out. But this year was the year. The day I committed to the race (1 1/2 weeks before the event) they cut out all of the biking (the easy part) and added a weighted hike. I went from excited to terrified. . . but since I had committed, I had to try.
The race consists of the following:
1 Mile Swim (33 laps)
Run to the Y trailhead (2 miles)
Hike the steep trail to the Y carrying a weight according to your weight class (Lighter people carry more, I carried a 45lb plate) (Another 2 miles)
Run back to the football practice field (another 2 miles)
Complete a StrongMan Obstacle course (Tire Flips, Altas stone carries, sled pushes and pulls, rope pulls, and farmer carries)
Run to the Football Stadium
Run up and down EVERY stair in the stadium
Complete and Obstacle course down on the field
Collapse in Exhaustion
So I showed up bright and early Friday morning for a 5am start at the RB pool. Naturally I was the only women competing amongst the group of bulged muscle bound men. Football players and coaches along with a few other crazies. Not your typical crowd at a triathlon, then again, this is not your typical triathlon either. I almost missed the start because I was locked out of the SFH where I had left some of my gear the night before. But after sprinting to the RB and just making it in time to shed my sweats and slide into an empty lane before Coach Omer started the race.
I grew up swimming on a swim team, so I felt pretty confident in the mile swim, and figured it would be the easiest part of the challenge for me. With 3 laps to go, I noticed the first swimmer get out of the pool, it was Coach Bronco Mendenhall, naturally, I had been hearing about his legendary swimming skills for years. I was the second swimmer out of the pool, finishing the swim in 28 min. I took my sweet time changing and going to the bathroom before starting the run but then started to the Y determined to catch Bronco. I never saw him, but one other runner caught me right at the steep hills right before the trailhead. It was Nick, the Dbacks coach, who would go on to win the whole challenge. We went the rest of the way to the Y together.
We grabbed our 45 lb. weights and started up, Erik had fashioned some handles out of climbing webbing to make it easier to carry my weight up the Y, it helped alot, I kept a steady pace behind Nick the whole way. Right at the top, I passed Bronco coming down, he teased me that I should at least pretend that this was hard and put a fake grimace on my face. Erik was at the trailhead, and later told me that when Bronco came down he told everyone there, "Man, that Nicole is a BEAST!" I was so proud that my coaching idol knew my name, and was on cloud 9 knowing he called me a beast.
One guy passed me going down the Y, those big strong guys could run down with the weight, but it was too much for me and I had to walk. I was now in 4th place running back to campus, but quickly passed one person getting back into 3rd going into the strongman competition. Strongman was probably the hardest part of the challenge for me. They had it set up where the lighted people had to lift less, but it was still set up for football playing thors! Luckily I had Brandon J there to help me flip the tires, and he lightened the farmer carry for me, but I did everything else on my own, took forever though. When I finally left, I had been passed by a few more people and was now in 6th going to the stadium.
For those of you who have never attempted to run the stadium, IT IS A BEAST! Back in my days running track, we would have to run 6-8x up the stadium, and that was SO HARD. Now we are talking the entire stadium (30 + times to the top). Needless to say, I was terrified for this portion. But I settled into the grind, stair after stair after stair after stair. I passed Bronco first, and ran a few stairs with him. He is so motivational and I loved every second of that. Next I passed Brandon Domain, who did not like being passed, he fought very hard to stay with me for several stairs, but couldn't hang. I stayed one stairway back behind someone named Jason the entire way around the stadium. I just couldn't make any ground on him, but we pushed each other, it was a great motivation.
Finally I made it to the obstacle course on the field. which was really just a bunch of fun, there were blow up slides and walls to climb and stuff like that. My total time was 3 hours, 27 min. I finished in 4th place. Three and a half hours of pure pain, and I truly loved every second! It was so physically challenging, but I am most proud of the emotional downs that I was able to pull myself out of to keep going. It was a blast. After I finished Bronco came up to me to tell me that I had the performance of the day, and that out of everyone he was most impressed with my performance. I was so nervous all I could stutter out was, "Uh, thanks so much. . . you did great too. . ." so lame. . . Jen G also told me that she head him say, "That Nicole is a competitor!" after the strongman. Wow, there aren't word that describe how that makes me feel that my sports/coaching idol had such great things to say to me and about me. And he doesn't even know that Erik and I are naming our firstborn after him regardless if its a boy or girl!
All in all, one of the best days of my life! I am probably more proud of my performance in the Cougar Challenge than I was in any marathon/race/workout I have ever run. It felt amazing to finish such treacherous race and to feel strong to the end. Coach Omer said for my prize I get to see the equipment manager to pick out any pair of shoes I want! He must know me well, I can't think of a better prize than athletic gear!!!
Erik was at the Y trailhead and snapped a few photos before he had to run catch a flight to Oregon for the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, sorry they aren't that great, but I am glad we at least had a few. Enjoy.