Supermom—I may not be fast, I may not podium, but I do finish.

I haven’t seen this supermom since we left Australia, but I’ll never forget her, she always amazed me and was the perfect client, the one that shows up, listens, does, and reaps the rewards. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain about the crazy workouts/challenges I put in front of her. Not only that, as tiny as she is, she performed better than most guys double her size and half her age.

I’ve been hassling her for a while now to get her story out there as I know it will help change lives, it will motivate people, it will even change some lives, so I’m glad she finally succumbed to my nagging and shared part of her story.

 

 


I’m incredibly honored to be nominated as Caveman Athlete of the Month. I have struggled to write this as I don’t consider myself an “athlete”. I’m a 48-year-old mother of two boys ages 8 and 12. I’m 5’4” tall and weigh 56kg. Not what I usually picture when people talk about athletes. I feel like anyone could do what I do if they put their minds to it, and it’s nothing special. Yet people keep telling me I’m an athlete. I guess I’m not your typical athlete. I don’t refer to myself as a racer, I call myself a “do-er”.

 

I may not be fast, I may not podium, but I do finish.

 

Athletic History:

I was never much of an athlete as a kid. I liked sports, I just never excelled. I’ve always been small and when I was a kid, I was also quiet and timid. I was always picked last for team sports when I was in school. I’d get the bummed-out look from the “captain” when I would get placed on their team because I was the only person left. From this, I don’t like doing team sports or events where you have to work as a team and everyone suffers if one person can’t do something.

I have also always hated running, so it’s kind of ironic that I’m now doing ultra marathons. As a kid, I was always too slow, last, way behind the second to last person. I just didn’t care. In high school, we had to complete one mile run in under 10 minutes to receive an “A” grade in PE class. I refused to run and so I walked around the track with the “smokers”. It was only until my last lap that people started to yell “Run, run! You’ve only got two minutes left!”. I ran that last little bit and made it under 10 minutes (by seconds as I recall).

I chose sports that were “different” as I didn’t really want to do what everyone else was doing. I also didn’t want to be able to compare my sporting abilities to my friend’s abilities and be disappointed that I wasn’t as good as them. If I did things that were different, no one could compare how they were doing to how I was doing. I avoided team sports as much as possible.
In high school, I played on the school golf team and I did fencing at a local club. At university, I was a coxswain (the person that steers the boat, helps relay what the coach wants, motivates (i.e. yells at everyone), and strategizes during races) for the men’s rowing team. At around age 28, I joined a sculling class at the local rowing club. Sculling is one person per boat, again avoiding the “team” aspect of sweep rowing where there are 4 or 8 rowers and a coxswain in a boat.

I ended up partnering up with my sculling coach and she and I competed in many events together and podiumed. We even did a 115-mile (185km) row over two days three years in a row. I found out a few years later that it was one of the longest rowing events in the world. I started rowing with others at the club as well and we podiumed at many races including US Masters Nationals and World Masters Games (where we competed against people from all over the world). I may not have had the typical rower’s body, I wasn’t the strongest, but I was good at matching people’s rowing styles, steering, and I was light and strong enough for my weight.

Sandra on the monkey bars

 

How I got started with obstacle course racing and trail running:

We moved to Brisbane Australia when my first child was one year old. Rowing in Brisbane started way too early in the morning for me, especially with a small child, so I gave that up. After kid number two (at the age of 40), I was really starting to miss competing in things and being active outside. I started exercising with a group of mothers at a local park after my second son was 7 weeks old. After a few months, one of the other mothers and I started talking about seeing a show on TV about “Tough Mudder” coming to Brisbane. We were discussing how it’d be crazy to try it….it’d be hard…it’d be scary…we could never do it….then we decided, what the hell, let’s try it.

I started running (jogging/plodding/with walking in between) so that I could get from one obstacle to the next. I still hated running. When I first started, I could only get to the end of the block before I needed to stop for a rest and walk. Each week I added 1km to my run. After about a month or a month and a half, I was able to jog 6km while pushing my baby in a pram/stroller. Not fast, but a consistent plod.

We figured we’d better try another obstacle course race before attempting Tough Mudder, so we entered the 10km “Stampede” event at the end of 2012. I had never done anything even remotely like this. I had no idea if I could do the obstacles or if I could run 10km with hills. I ended up enjoying the physical challenge and seeing what I could do. Although it wasn’t a competitive event, I enjoyed just getting out there and competing against myself and surprising myself many times. From there I continued doing obstacle course races and really enjoyed the new challenges, trying longer events, and trying harder courses and obstacles.
After a bit of apprehension and a lot of nervousness, I joined Cavemantraining (read the story here) at a local gym. I was so nervous that I was sick to my stomach and felt like I was going to vomit before the class even started. I was nervous about not fitting in with all of the hard-core athletes, not being able to do the exercises, and the trainer thinking I was an idiot for even thinking this 41-year-old, runty, mom-of-two could even hack the class. I never felt judged by Taco. He didn’t give me a lighter weight just because I was small or because he thought I was weak. He had me do what everyone else was doing, but if my form started to go, he’d simply switch out the weight to a lighter weight. This class gave me a lot more confidence in my physical abilities. I was doing things I never dreamed I would be able to do, like flip a big tractor tire or do strict pull-ups on rings. I increased my training to 3 times a week and ran once a week, increasing my distance to between 8 to 10km each week. At 42 years old, I was in the best overall shape and the strongest I had ever been.

I started entering trail running events at age 42 to get more running in, since I wasn’t very good at doing more than 10km on my own. I started doing longer and longer trail runs just to see if I could do them.

 

Mental Challenges and Mental Strengths:

My biggest mental blocker is fear. When I do obstacles or trail runs, I’m very cautious. I fear that I’m going to fall and hurt myself. I’m afraid of taking risks such as jumping from one obstacle to another or running fast down a steep trail. I see a lot of people who just go for it and don’t seem to have any fear. I tend to overthink things and these fears hold me back. For a lot of the obstacles, you just have to go for it. If you hesitate or hold back, you fail.
Over the years of doing longer and tougher events, I feel like I’ve been able to work through most of the negatives I think about during the events. When I feel like quitting, I think to myself I’m not injured, I’m just in a bit of pain or sore, I can keep going. If I don’t keep going, I will kick myself later that I quit.

There have been two times I’ve really, really struggled either mentally or physically during an event. The first time I mentally struggled was during the 82km day of the Big Red Run. At 42km there was a bus to pick people up that were doing the 42km event. My back was in pain, I was tired of walking, I was tired of being in the desert, I was over it. But I wasn’t injured and there wasn’t a reason to quit except that I just wanted to be done. I thought about all the people that said I could do it and I thought about all of their encouraging words. I knew if I quit for no reason, I would kick myself and be very disappointed. So, I forced myself to keep going.
After darkness set in, I started to get hungry and really wanted some real food (15+ hours of gels, pretzels, and protein balls just didn’t cut it). Every time I got to a checkpoint, I thought my drop bag was going to be there and I could get some real food. But each time I got to a checkpoint, it wasn’t the drop bag checkpoint and there wasn’t any food. This was very rough for me mentally. I finally found out that the checkpoint with the food was at about 65km. I sprained my ankle at one point and was limping and I got a bit lost a bunch of times because it was hard to see the course markings in the dark. As I was getting close to the 65km checkpoint, I knew that I’d be cutting it close with the cut-off time. I ended up missing the cut-off time by 3 minutes and had a bit of a break down because I thought they were going to pull me from the course. I told them that I had sprained my ankle and if I could get my ankle strapped, and be allowed to keep going, I knew I could make up the time and finish before the final cut-off. They let me continue and I finished in a little over 22 hours and within the cut-off time.

One of the times I’ve physically struggled was my last event, which was a 100km trail run. I got to about 57km, slipped going down a small hill, and fell, sitting on my foot and then hearing a pop. I assumed my ankle was just sprained so I kept going. Someone let me use his trekking poles to take some weight off my leg. I hobbled for another 3km or so and realized there was no way I was going to make it to the next checkpoint before the cut-off. Every time I stepped on a rock that made my ankle bend, or if I had to go up or down a hill, I had a lot of pain shoot through my ankle and leg and I’d have to stop to catch my breath. I decided to call it quits at about 60 km. Two days later, when my leg and foot were even sorer, I went to the doctor and got an x-ray. I found out I had fractured my leg, strained tendons in my leg and foot, and strained some foot ligaments.

I believe that my mental strength and self-reliance has increased by doing these events and by getting older and wiser. Since I’m usually out by myself, I am forced to rely on myself. Some people don’t want to do events on their own because they want the support to get through the event. I want to do it on my own because I can’t get complacent and just follow the crowd, I have to stay focused and keep my brain going. I don’t use a support crew for long events—I like that added challenge of trying to do it on my own, but that probably puts me at a disadvantage in completing the event.

 

Achievements:

I don’t really have many achievements in the way of podium placings for obstacle course racing or trail running. I feel kind of lame when people ask me how I did at an event. My response is “I finished”. I know they are expecting me to say what place I came in as that is usually what people focus on. The only times I’ve placed is because others have quit, gotten lost, or there were only four people in the event.

2015 Buckley’s Chance 50km Off-Trail Trail Run – 2rd place female.
2016 Buckley’s Chance 60km Off-Trail Trail Run – 2nd place female, 3rd overall. Of the 15 people that started, I was one of 3 that didn’t get lost and finished the correct course.

My goal is to just finish events. The events listed below are those that I’ve completed in the last few years where I feel that just completing the event is an achievement:

2015: Obstacles Gone Mad – 110 obstacles, all within 3km
2015: 8-hour Terrain Training Super Challenge. 1 of 7 people to enter and complete the 8 non-stop hours of physical challenges
2016: Back to back events on one weekend: Saturday Spartan Melbourne Ultra Beast – 42km, 60 obstacles, Sunday Brisbane Tough Mudder – 20km, 16 obstacles
2016: 250km Big Red Run – 5 days of running across the Simpson Desert: 42km, 42km, 33km, 84km (which was 22 hours of walking), 7km (one day was canceled due to excessive rain and flooding)
2016: 100km Taurus – obstacle course event (a week after Buckley’s Chance)
2016: Spartan Bright Trifecta Weekend – 1 of 14 women and 105 men to complete the 42km Ultra Beast event. Plus, I completed the 14km Super and 7km Sprint the day before
2017: Australian Fan Dance – 24km heavy load-bearing trek along steep terrain
2019: In May alone I completed an event every weekend: Spartan Super and Spartan Sprint in one day for a total of 25kms and obstacles, a 50km trail run, Full Tough Mudder 16km, and a 37km beach walk
2019: 60km Brisbane Trail Ultra – Took 17 hours to finish
2019: 60km (of 100km) The Guzzler (fractured my leg so I couldn’t complete it) – Took about 17 hours to get to 60km

 

What Keeps me Going:

Several things keep me going: It’s my “me” time, my time to rejuvenate, my quiet time. I enjoy the challenge. I feel rejuvenated when I push myself mentally and physically. I feel rejuvenated being outside in nature, mostly on my own. I like to be active and to try new challenges. I like to test myself and see what I can do.

Challenges:

My main challenges are finding the time to train and trying to get over the mom guilt to be able to go for long training runs on the weekend. A lot of times, the only training I get are the events that I’m doing.

 

Benefits it gives me, how others can benefit, and why I do these crazy events:

My boss jokingly commented recently that he is a middle-aged man. He is one or two years younger than me. I said “Hey now! I’ve still got a couple more years before I’m middle-aged” (thinking that middle-age starts at 50). He said middle-age is between 45 to 55 years old. Then it hit me, omg…I’m middle-aged and I didn’t even realize it! I think it helps that I’m active and I think that if I stopped being active, I’d start to feel lazy and old. I certainly don’t feel old now, except when I meet 20-year-olds and realize I’m probably the same age as their moms!
I hope to inspire other women, especially moms, to get out there, get active, take some time for themselves, try a short obstacle course event or trail run. I hope to inspire those that think they couldn’t do active things or those that feel they are too old to try something active. I feel like if I can do 50km (slowly) anyone could do 50km. Don’t worry about failing, just try it and they might surprise themselves.

I plan to keep doing these types of events until I physically can’t anymore. I enjoy these crazy challenges; they keep my brain from going idle, they give me something to look forward to, they get me outside and into nature, they challenge me mentally and physically, they give me quiet time, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and they rejuvenate me.
I may not be fast, I may not podium, but I do finish.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” – Confucius. One caveat to this quote is: As long as you finish before the cut-off time!

Instagram: @sandramcginnis

A friend talked me into trying Caveman Training at the Tough Spot MMA Centre. After looking at the website and reading…

Posted by Sandra McGinnis on Monday, 6 January 2014

 

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