FHITpro, Dara Theodore shares how doing an impromptu Spartan race ended up being one of the hardest things she has ever done and how getting her FHIX prepared her for it more than she thought possible.
Prior to July 17, 2016, my greatest physical challenge was giving birth. I won’t bore you with details of my birthing story (you’re welcome), nor will I be that mom who thinks that giving birth is the greatest accomplishment ever because while it is pretty awesome, there are plenty of non–mom women who conquer incredible feats of fortitude daily. But, I’m the author here, so I will say that for me, it was my greatest physical challenge before the aforementioned date.
The Wednesday before Sunday July 17, 2016, I received a text from my new friend Jenna Wolfe. Yes, that Jenna Wolfe, formerly of the Today Show and currently a frequent FHIXer herself. Jenna has taken my class several times, and we have bonded over many things – we are close in age, we share a passion for fitness, we are both mothers juggling work and child rearing. Jenna kinda blew me away during her first FHIX with me—she has an energy, drive and a competitive spirit that I felt when she was in my class. Jenna is a very generous person, loves to work hard and even more so loves to motivate those around her to work hard with her.
So while it wasn’t unusual for me to receive an occasional text from Jenna to check in about a class time or a workout, this text was most unexpected. “Hey Dara, how are you? I’m just going to cut to the chase here—I’m sure the answer will be no but I’m going to ask anyway. I’m running a Spartan Race this coming Sunday, July 17th. Steph [her wife] would normally run with me but she got called away on assignment [she’s an investigative reporter]. Would you ever consider running this race with me?”
Pre-Fhitting Room Dara would have immediately said, “I’m so sorry” followed by a bevy of excuses. Current day-Fhitting Room Dara wanted to say “I’m so sorry” followed by a bevy of excuses. Instead, I paused, thought about how we, as FHITpros, encourage our clients to push harder, step outside their comfort zone and embrace hard work. How could I say those words and not live them? So instead of a bevy of excuses, I texted back, “I’M IN!”
Ok, so it wasn’t THAT simple and direct – I had some small obstacles to overcome (how appropriate given it was an obstacle race I was signing up for) – convincing my husband it was a great idea and that he should watch the kids all day, convincing my mother that I wasn’t going to get hurt, convincing myself that I could actually do this and not embarrass myself in front of/disappoint Jenna who has run a couple of races before and is a stellar athlete.
Here’s the thing. I thought I was prepared for childbirth. I had 9 months (give or take) to read, study, obsess, talk to people and take a birthing class (it was my first kid, we all did that at the time). And of course nothing went as planned, so despite my best efforts at preparation, the actual experience of passing a human was completely unexpected, unanticipated and way out of my comfort zone.
And then there was Spartan. For the race, I had 4 days to prepare, and my work schedule is pretty packed from Wednesday (time of text) to Saturday (day before race). So aside from some mental prep, discussion and deliberation over what to wear taking into consideration the 90+ degree forecast and the obstacles involving barbed wire and ropes, I felt pretty unprepared to say the least. But I was doing it. 4:00 AM wake up and 2 hour drive included, I was doing this.
Yup, the race was on a Sunday and 2 hours away – oh, and did I mention we were signed up for the COMPETITIVE HEAT? Spartan Races are run in heats – Elite, Competitive and Open –designed to distinguish between those running for time, those for fun and also to keep a sort of even distribution of athletes so as not to bottleneck at the obstacles. The competitive heat started at 7:45am (Jenna told me I should thank her for NOT signing us up for the Elite heat). This meant leaving the city by 5am just to get there in time. Here’s my first shout out to Jenna – after years of being a morning anchor, 4 am wake ups are no big deal to her—to me, only 2 plus years into my career as a FHITpro, they are still a big deal. Needless to say, she drove the whole way.
We arrived with little time to spare, which was probably a good thing. Second shout out to Jenna – being JW comes with some well-earned perks, such as parking in the VIP lot and being greeted by the head of PR for Spartan who escorted us to the starting line. All the while I’m thinking, “are they all wondering who the heck is this average athlete running with Jenna?” I tried to look as fierce as possible while ignoring the flock of birds having a party in my stomach. Let me remind you that I had NO clue what was to come – short of a tiny bit of prep from Jenna as to an obstacle or 2 she had previously encountered, neither of us really had any idea what this race would hold.
Straight out of the gate was a 1-mile uphill jog/sprint/walk depending on who you are. Confession: I will attack any strength workout with gusto-I feel pretty comfortable in my weight lifting space. Stamina or endurance based workouts, not so much. I admire my marathon running friends because I’m in awe of their ability to sustain for that long. So as I walked (eventually we were all walking) straight up what seemed like a vertical wall, I was already thinking – what have I gotten myself into?? 90-degree heat, black diamond slope – it felt like my version of purgatory. But when I got to the top and Jenna said “turn around and look at what you just did", I have to admit, I was starting to feel like a Spartan—and it was only obstacle 1.
I will extend the same courtesy I did above with respect to my birthing story and not go into detail about every single obstacle (though I certainly could!). Of the 24, I missed 4, which amounts to a penalty of 120 burpees. The fact that to me doing 120 burpees is no big thing isn’t the only testament to how much my experience/history at The Fhitting Room actually did prepare me to run this race. As I pressed myself over walls and climbed unstable ladders and crawled under barbed wire and traversed monkey bars I realized that every interval, every swing, every press, every push, pull and jump I’ve done as a client and instructor at TFR over the last 3 years…it was all the perfect preparation for this race. I climbed a rope. I climbed a rope! I haven’t climbed a rope since I weighed 50 lbs. in grade school. Thank you kettlebell weighted rope pulls. And thank you burpees. Who would have thought that there would come a day when I thought 120 burpees were no big thing!
But it wasn’t just the physical challenge of the race that The Fhitting Room prepared me for. I wasn’t quite aware of the mental fortitude we FHIXers (and I’m one of you) acquire through tough workouts like ours. That feeling we’ve all had during a FHIX when we just want to quit because we can’t imagine working for 2 more minutes – but we don’t quit because we’ve learned how to push ourselves past our perceived limits and work until the clock stops—that is the feeling I summoned when carrying a 65 pound bucket of rocks up a hill. You better believe I wanted to drop that bucket and just run for the finish, but I didn’t, because I’ve learned over time that my mind is a hell of a lot stronger than my muscles.
The race took me 2.5 hours. I wasn’t first but I certainly wasn’t last. But that doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that I accomplished something I never ever thought I would, and I have The Fhitting Room (and Jenna Wolfe) to thank for that. Jenna was the perfect racing partner- she lies well when she says I didn’t hold her back-- but the truth is we were there for one another. And The Fhitting Room was the perfect preparation for Spartan. The race brings people together—we ran with first timers, old timers, competitive athletes and casual timers –but everyone is there to cheer each other on. As a mom of 2 in her 40s, I realize that anyone can do this, and I would encourage anyone to try. Just come take a class or 2 at The Fhitting Room with me first!
PS – I signed up for another race on September 18th.
Dara and Jenna recently did a Facebook Live of a workout they did to prepare for their Spartan Race this weekend, watch it here.