Challenge Races: Athletic Gear + Backpack Tips

I have been asked many times for advice on how to dress for challenge races and what to bring, so I figured why not share the info in a post. Enjoy Spartans, Tough Mudders, Trail Ragnarians and others!

CLOTHING:

Note: I am basing this on average race weather, not winter conditions.

  • Dress in sportswear that is made from quality fabrics, has some compression and is comfortable, BUT not so expensive that you will be upset if your clothes are torn up from obstacles and getting down and dirty on a race course.
  • Breathable, lightweight fabric is the best so that if you become soaked by water features or Mother Nature you will not be weighed down.
  • Coverage is a key factor often overlooked. If you are going through several water features or it’s raining I would stay away from long-sleeve tops, ankle-length leggings, and loose fabrics that could weigh you down or get caught on objects. To that same point, I wouldn’t recommend wearing tiny shorts that offer little to no protection. I have found that Capri leggings are the best length because they offer mid-range coverage and protect your knees during crawling maneuvers.

GLOVES:

Bring fitness gloves you can wear to help protect your hands and provide you with a good grip on the obstacles. Again, I wouldn’t recommend buying expensive ones because they may get torn up. When I reach water obstacles I typically remove my gloves and stash them in my waistband to try and keep them dry.

SNEAKERS:

The importance of your feet being comfortable is commonly taken for granted and can make a huge difference in your race experience. I strongly advise not waiting until race day to break in new sneakers. Your sneakers should have good tread and ankle support to handle slippery surfaces, wooded and rocky terrain, especially for races that last more than three hours. Wearing lightweight sneakers and tying them securely is also a benefit if they become wet or heavy covered in mud. I cannot tell you how many random sneaker casualties I see along race courses. Be prepared to have to spray down (or power-wash ūüėČ) your sneakers at the end of a race. If they are old and/or destroyed at the end, many races offer you the option to throw your sneakers in a donation pile.

BACKPACK ESSENTIALS:

Note: I like items that aren’t bulky and serve multiple purposes.

  1. Emergency Phone Charger
  2. Phone – place in a waterproof pouch if you use it during a race, I usually leave my phone in my backpack for fear it will get broken
  3. Photo ID + Insurance Card + $20 Cash (in small bills) – place together inside a small ziplock baggie or a waterproof pouch
  4. Keys
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Hand Sanitizer Gel – can be used for your hands or first-aid
  7. Small Bar Soap – like the kind from a hotel
  8. Lip Sunscreen
  9. Body Sunscreen
  10. Bug Spray
  11. Q-Tips
  12. Nail Clippers – can double as scissors if needed
  13. Standard Garbage Bag – can be used for garbage or as a rain poncho
  14. Pack of Mini Tissues
  15. Small Travel First-Aid Kit
  16. Flashlight or Two Glow Sticks
  17. Spare Pair of Socks
  18. Spare Pair of Underwear
  19. Light Packable Jacket or Sweatshirt shout-out for GORE-TEX¬ģ SHAKEDRY‚ĄĘ Jackets – breathable, lightweight, waterproof and reflective, totally worth the money, #GOREWear
  20. Black Sharpie for writing your race number on the body part of your choice, filling out forms and more
  21. Duct Tape – rip and roll up a small section from a large role; useful for covering blisters, patching holes and more
  22. Water Bottle + Carabiner Clip
  23. Electrolyte‚ÄĮTablets #nuun tablets are great because they come in a small waterproof container (based on a lake incident I had) and they are versatile; you can pop a tablet in your water bottle or the mini paper cups of water
  24. Protein‚ÄĮBars
  25. Energy Gels
  26. Microfiber Towel – perfect for use at the end of a race on your body or to protect your car seat

Now go out and crush your race goals!!!!!

If you have any tips you would like to share, write them in the Comments section or send an email to galotgo@gmail.com and I will add them to this post.

Bonded by Mud

Tough Mudder Full, Whistler Olympic Park
12+ Miles
19 Obstacles
12,300 Participants From Around the World
Bib #374707

I eagerly entered the corral at the starting line. The MC gave the crowd a pep talk about how the mentality of Tough Mudder isn’t how fast you can cross the finish line, but rather about pushing yourself and accomplishing something extraordinary. “It’s not about medals,” he said, “it’s about camaraderie.” That’s why IF you complete a Tough Mudder challenge, you receive a coveted finisher headband and T-shirt, not a medal.

I was at the Tough Mudder solo, but I hoped to come across a kind comrade or two for help at obstacles I physically couldn’t do by myself. I never expected it to happen at the second obstacle! The Hero Carry requires a teammate to carry you for a set distance; switch and then have you carry them. A guy with a wild mohawk said he didn’t have a partner. He instantly scooped me up in his arms and carried me, then at the switching point, we linked arms to the end of the obstacle. As we ran to the next obstacle, he introduced himself as Randy. It turned out that he was doing the Tough Mudder as part of a trio with his best friends Trevor and Kelsey. Our teamwork continued and by the third obstacle, Kelsey turned to me and said, “welcome to our team!” That’s how I ended up being adopted as the fourth member of their group.

I was sweating from the physical exertion, but oddly, I also had goosebumps and my teeth were chattering. I’m not sure why I was surprised that a challenge I was doing on Whistler Mountain in Canada was cold!?! It was a mental trip seeing snow on the ground at various points of the course. As Kelsey and I rounded one of the corners Randy pelted us with a snowball!

When we approached¬†the first water obstacle Kelsey advised me to take off my shirt so I would have something fairly dry to put back¬†on. I thought it’s a short sleeve shirt, it can’t possibly make a difference, but I took her advice. She said “hand your shirt to him” and pointed to a man on the side. I was like OOOK, here’s my shirt stranger. We successfully completed the obstacle, got our shirts, and put them back on (it did in fact help and make a difference). Kelsey said, “Oh, by the way, that’s my dad.” I said, “well, this is the most interesting way I have ever met someone’s parent!” Her parents were along the course at certain points as spectators to support her.

The temperature became cooler as time passed and the frigid water obstacles proved to be the most challenging I had ever faced. Unfortunately, I failed three of the water obstacles, which bummed me out. They didn’t count against me in the challenge, but I was very disappointed in myself. I never trudged through so much mud in my life. During one of the stretches of running, I came across a sneaker casualty. Apparently, someone had lost their sneaker in the mud and kept going! There’s definitely a reason why the word mud is part of the name. I ripped my leggings and collected several brush burns and bruises. Randy positively referred to them as our “accomplishment tattoos”.

In Spartan races, it’s a tradition to jump over a fire pit of flames as the last obstacle. Equally scary, Tough Mudder tradition ends with maneuvering through live electrical wires over water pits. It’s called Electroshock Therapy. I proudly made it to the end and earned a coveted orange finisher headband and shirt. Kelsey’s parents were there to congratulate us. Her mom came to my rescue and handed Kelsey a foil-like wrap to put around me. I never thought a thin silver sheet could feel so warm. I looked like a giant baked potato, but I didn’t care.

Just like the MC said, the challenge was indeed about camaraderie. I am grateful that I made three new friends who literally lent me a hand several times along the way, and cheered me on as one of their own. Thank you, Kelsey, Randy and Trevor!   

The Tough Mudder Full was my second big healthy comeback goal for 2017 and my first Tough Mudder event ever. My aim was to finish the challenge in under four hours. I am proud to share that my trio and I completed it in a little over 3 hours and I am now an official Tough Mudder Legionnaire!

The third big healthy comeback goal I set for the year is six weeks away. I hope you will continue to follow my adventures as I attempt my first triathlon, the VA Momentum SUPTri in Bridgewater, VA, on July 29! 

Since the age of eight, I have continuously been presented with challenges in which I needed to be fearless to overcome. That’s how I came up with the theme of living a fearless life for my adventure blog. Each time I felt like I couldn’t make it through yet another life test, I learned that I am stronger than I thought, especially with the loyal support of others.

THANK YOU to my family, friends, community and business sponsors OrthoVirginia, Westfields Dental and Flyte Fitness for continuing to believe in me!

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‘Burst’ing With Talent

My friend Jaxon made a bold move to follow his passion and change careers from working in a cube to working behind a camera. I participated in the fitness section of his portfolio. It was a blast! Photos by Kelohimography

“Don’t let a win go to your head, or a loss go to your heart. Keep the faith and trust in the process, put the work in and your time will come.” – Brooks Laich (my fav athlete because of his talent as a hockey player and his life values)

Thank You for Rooting for Me

I am sad to share that the Spartan organization contacted me to say that Spartan Race Cuba for March is canceled.

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I have been training hard for months, even on days when I was in pain recovering from my surgeries and felt like I physically couldn’t do it. Every time I am out training I do my best to give 110%, drawing motivation from the incredible people who have been supporting me along the way.

I am not sure I believe the reason their government gave Spartan, especially given the current state of our nation. Politics aside, I did what I know best when faced with things out of my control, and adjusted my goals … again.

Here is my new race schedule for 2017… (Note to My Financial Donors: The registration and travel are booked for these races, so they are a definite go!)

40th Anniversary TD Five Boro Bike Tour
May 7, NYC

  • On the first Sunday in May, 32,000 cyclists from around the world come together to ride 40 miles through every borough of NYC on streets closed off to cars. It is the largest charitable bike ride in the US, with proceeds funding New York‚Äôs free bike education programs.

Tough Mudder Whistler
June 17, Whistler, BC

  • Whistler, BC, is very special to me because it is where I worked in 2010 for the Paralympic Winter Games. It was a life-changing experience, and I cannot wait to return to the area!

VA Momentun SUPTri
July 29, Bridgewater, VA

  • A unique multi-sport event that replaces the traditional swim portion of a Tri race with Stand Up Paddleboarding! The Tri starts with a one-mile paddleboard section in the North River in Bridgewater, followed by a 19-mile bike through the countryside, and finishes with a technical four-mile run on hilly terrain at the Valley Pike Farm Market.

I will continue to train and keep you updated along the way as I tackle these goals!

I am VERY GRATEFUL to my financial sponsors like OrthoVirginia, Rita Rich, Jenny Hogan, Alicia Kenney, Robert Brown, Gina Galli, Linda Barefoot, Marisa Palumbo, Beverly Marsters, Gigi Guzman, Tonya Harris, Angela Manning and Lito Velandria; and my product sponsor Flyte Fitness. I am also thankful to those who reached out to me in written support. ALL OF YOU ROCK! My GoFundMe account is open for anyone who would still like to make a donation to me toward the other two races.

Determination and Gratitude

2016, to say the least, was a year filled with medical drama for me. I underwent major surgery in February and was looking forward to recovery so that I could stay on track with my goal to participate in the Spartan Hawaii Trifecta in August. Six months later I was nearing recovery and got into a bicycle accident. I broke my wrist, along with major road rash and bruises. My years of training for and participating in the Spartan Hawaii Trifecta in August were officially dashed.

Through my bicycle accident, I was connected with Dr. Laino, an accomplished hand surgeon at OrthoVirginia. He implanted a permanent titanium plate and five screws in my wrist. Then, like the passing of an Olympic baton, Karen Popovich, an amazing physical therapist, took over my care in thrice-weekly PT sessions. She provided me with consistent mental and physical support that resulted in me thriving at a positive rate.

Recovering from two significant surgeries within months of each other can take an emotional toll on a person. I went through a brief period of self-pity until my friend Jenny gave me some tough love reminding me that my situation wasn’t permanent, and for that reason, I should feel lucky. I quickly adjusted my defeatism mentality and set new goals for 2017. I became fueled with a desire to reasonably beat the recovery periods for the surgeries and come out on the other end equally strong, if not, stronger. I read an email that Spartan was holding a once-in-a-lifetime race event in Cuba on March 18, 2017, open to only 1,000 participants. The opportunity intrigued me for many reasons. The March date seemed like a reasonable amount of time for me to prepare and aim to get back in challenge race mode. I submitted my application for the sprint and I am happy to share that I made the cut as one of the 1,000 racers! I shared my good news with Dr. Laino and Karen and asked for their medical approval, which they provided.

Next, I have to secure benefactors to cover the more than $3,500 in race expenses (race registration, airfare, hotel, etc.). I started a GoFundMe account and my friends have been very supportive (special shout-outs to Rita, Jenny and Alicia). I also need the help of business-level sponsors. I thought about how OrthoVirginia had a key role in building me back up after my accident and what a great sponsor they would make, so I reached out to them for support. Their director of marketing just notified me that they will be making a contribution! I am very grateful to OrthoVirginia and I look forward to them being part of my race experience in Cuba.

I have reached about $1,000 of my fundraising goal so far. If you or a business you know of are willing to join OrthoVirginia in sponsoring me, please contact me at galOTgo or you can make a direct donation through my GoFundMe account https://www.gofundme.com/galotgo.

I hope to make my friends and sponsors proud in March. More importantly, I am determined to show that when life presents you with challenge after challenge, you may need to keep readjusting your goals, BUT never give up on them!

SPONSORS: Contact me to have your company’s name and logo added!

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Beast Officially Conquered … and Aptly Named

My original fitness goal for 2015 was to train for the Virginia Spartan Super and improve my previous year’s time. However, all that changed when I met and interviewed Desir√©e Rinc√≥n (see my article about her on the Last Word on Sports¬†website). Her story inspired me to pursue a trifecta and become a member of the Spartan TRIFECTA Tribe! A trifecta is the successful completion of all three Spartan distances: Sprint, Super and Beast within the same calendar year. The Virginia Super took place at the end of August, so I had to devise a plan quickly for fitting in the additional two races in order to achieve my revised goal. I read on the Spartan website that the Vermont Beast was coming up, and since it’s known as the most difficult Spartan course in the country I figured why not do it — go big or go home mentality.

The morning of the race I was nervous and shaky. I was by myself and the terrain and level of competitors were intimidating. Right before I had to enter the starting gate my boyfriend Chad sent me a text telling me to view the race as ONE obstacle. I repeated that mentality several times as I waited in the stale with fellow racers for my 8:30 a.m. heat to start. The 13+ miles and 39+ obstacles I tackled throughout the day tested my endurance. You never know exactly how your body will perform on a given day — an obstacle that’s easy one day, may be more difficult another day. For instance, I had never come close to being able to do a rope climb challenge, but I completed my first one during the Beast! It’s wild how when you’re mentally spent you’re sometimes able to tackle and excel at something because you’re not overthinking.

There were about two and a half miles left to go in the race when I was doing a barbed wire obstacle. Due to exhaustion I miss judged the height of one of the wires and was impaled with a barb in my head. (Shout-out to the awesome Spartan Medical team who took great care of me after the race!) Right before the barbed wire challenge, a man walked past me and commented how he had done 40 of these races over the years and that he was impressed how consistently hard I had been working throughout the race. His positive words gave me a mental push that I needed at that point to channel what little energy I had left and power through to the end. I finished the race with a time of 7:10:59. I am very proud of my performance time given the fact that it was my first Spartan Beast, on the Vermont course, a male dominated sport, AND a Founders’ Race edition (which meant the course was made to be extra challenging).

I learned that people compete in the Spartan Races for a variety of personal reasons — some with a goal of just being able to finish a race, some hoping to beat their previous time(s), and others trying their best to make it to the end without having to do a single burpee penalty. All equally commendable. I was supposed to do the Pittsburgh Sprint as my next and final race to achieving a trifecta, but other racers told me that I HAD to do a stadium race because they’re unique and a blast. So I modified my plan and registered for the¬†Fenway¬†Park Sprint set to take place on Nov. 7. I’m very excited for the Sprint in Boston¬†and for being close to reaching my end goal!

Visit Last Word on Sports to read my interview with Joe De Sena, co-founder of Spartan.