My story doesn’t have any shocking before and after pictures, but my transformation is just as real.
In 2016, out of nowhere, my sister asked me to do the Sun Peaks Spartan Sprint with her, without even considering it I told her “I can’t.” I had a long list of seemingly reasonable excuses; it’s too expensive, it’s too far to travel, I can’t run, etc., but the truth was, I was too scared and lacked all confidence to even sign up.
A month later at Thanksgiving she tells me that 2017 is going to be her “big year” she wants to be the healthiest she’s ever been, this happened to also be the year she turned 40, and instead of a loud girls weekend in Vegas like I was hoping for she tells me she’s doing Tough Mudder and getting her Spartan Trifecta … Shit! She’s my closest friend and we do everything together, no one else is going to do this alongside her and I sure as hell won’t be letting her celebrate “40 and fit” on her own, so now I had to put my own insecurities aside and support her … maybe she’ll forget?
Fast forward to Christmas, we both get Tough Mudder tickets, no big deal, right? Tough Mudder is just a long muddy fun run, no timing chips no pressure, I can do this!
Here’s where my entire life changes – my cousin sends me a link for her friend’s Facebook/Instagram challenge group the “OCRGUYCHALLENGE.” (Editor’s Note: OCRGuyChallenge is done by one of ORM’s favorite contributors, Glenn Hole). January 1 is the start of the “10-day Ultra” Challenge, each participant is required to run 5km per day for 10 days. I get all psyched up and tell myself I hate running, therefore, I must run… I miss the first day! Alright, day 2 here we go, I get to the gym, I hop on the treadmill which I haven’t done in years and get going before I knew it, I had run 5K! It was awful and I tried to talk myself out of it more than once, but I finished. Day 3 – I had to make up for missing Day 1 still so I ended up doing 5K in the morning then another 5K on my lunch break, the thrill from these runs and the sense of accomplishment I felt still motivate me over a year later, I went from “I can’t run/I’m not a runner” to running 5K every day for 10 days. I was hooked, I followed everything the OCRGUY posted and all the members of the group, they were so incredibly inspiring and motivating and FIT. I felt silly posting my times, I was too embarrassed because it seemed like they were all elite athletes, but then I mustered up the courage and posted, and all I got was an outpouring of support and congrats, I felt like I was truly part of a community that cared.
Next came the “OCRApocalypse” challenge and the lovely 4 horsemen, this challenge had prizes! Second place was compression socks and I knew I was going to need those for Tough Mudder so I thought I would give it a go. I did the challenge, the workouts were intense and completely foreign to me but I had a bunch of personal bests and ventured far out of my comfort zone which got me a lot of weird looks at the gym. On the day of the prize draw I woke up and checked my phone, I was really excited about those compression socks! Sure enough, OCRGUYCHALLENGE had tagged me in the post! Then before I even read it panic sets in, my heart starts racing, I had completely forgotten about the first place prize, a ticket to X Warrior Challenge, what had I done?! I told myself, “there’s no way I could have won that prize, that prize would surely go to someone in better shape, an actual athlete!” I clicked the link and there it was “First place prize, Candice Llewellyn-McKnight!”
I put my phone down and tried not to throw up, now I’m thrown into one of the biggest panic attacks I have ever had, “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I’m too out of shape. What the heck is X Warrior Challenge?!” I put on a brave face and leave my obligatory “thanks so much” message on the Facebook feed and spend the next few hours trying to calm down.
Here’s where I tell you a bit about my past: I have spent the last 15 years battling a crippling anxiety disorder, I’ve tried different medications, read all the books and seen my fair share of counselors/therapists/psychiatrists. Over the years of re-training my way of thinking I discovered that exercise truly is the #1 medication for anxiety. I developed a pretty good routine. I would wake up at 4:30 am, head to the gym for my standard “3 reps of 12” workout and the occasional spin class then off to work. I loved this routine, it kept me “sane,” until now…
The thing with chronic anxiety is you live in a constant state of self-doubt, everyone is better than you at everything so there’s no point even trying. Why would I ever enter a race, I’m just going to embarrass myself! Well, now I had a race, and my sister wasn’t going to be there holding my hand and saying “it’s ok if we take it slow.” I had a ticket with my name on it, what was I going to do? I spent that day drafting my “thanks, but no thanks” email to the OCRGUY.
After some time I calmed my brain and thought rationally. Overcoming anxiety is about testing your limits, getting out of your comfort zone, and persevering. What better way to do that then to do this race? I told myself there are specialized gyms in the area, I had been to cor.fit with my sister before to check it out, I will just have to start going there more. I went online and registered for Sunday Bootcamp. I was so nervous that morning, I sat in my car in the parking lot convincing myself to get out and go to the class. I walked in the door and everywhere I looked were people completely shredded and climbing walls with holes in them using only sticks (pegboard).
Here comes the panic again, I note the nearest garbage can and check out the exit “I can’t do this, they’re all machines, this was a mistake” then it was time for class to begin, it was hard, one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever had, but in the end I couldn’t believe I had done it. I showed up to a class by myself, where we had to work as a team and I had to interact with these “people,” and as the class went on I realized that they were actually normal people and incredibly supportive at that! I kept apologizing for slowing my team down. I remember thinking “I thought I was in shape!” but I learned that day that yes, I was healthy but I was not in OCR shape! I went to a couple more classes and I remember getting to the top of the 12 foot inverted wall for the first time and having a full-blown panic attack. I was shaking and on the verge of crying; I took a deep breath and the coach talked me through how to swing my body around and lower myself to the ground. It was the most incredible feeling to overcome not only the attack but also the wall! This may sound cliché but it was this moment that I knew that by simply trying, I could do anything! That’s when I dropped “I can’t.”
In one of my first couple of boot camps, I remember standing, waiting for class to start and this girl walked in, it was obviously her first day, she looked like I did on my first day! I walked up and introduced myself to her and we’ve been workout buddies since. That day she signed up to run X Warrior with me! I had never met someone so spontaneous, she’s completely inspired me to take on new challenges with confidence. She’s encouraged, pushed, and supported me through every race this year. If I hadn’t shown up to those boot camps I would have missed out on this amazing friendship.
Since getting involved with obstacle course racing I have learned so many things about myself and my capabilities that I would never have experienced had I have not won that challenge. At the starting line for X Warrior Challenge, squatting and listening to Coach Pain basically wash my anxiety away and replace it with sheer adrenaline and excitement literally brought me to tears. Not only was this happening but I was going to crush it! I ran the race, nailed the rope climb (which was another panic-inducing obstacle for me in training), then was faced with the X Dragon. That’s when I had my first face to face with my grit, I ran up and fell, I kept running up that first incline and sliding down on my forearms over and over, the volunteers tried to direct me to the burpee zone, but I was relentless. I ran at it again and made it up, once up there the panic set in, I was going to have to literally take a leap of faith and trust my body to grab the bar on the other side, and guess what? I did it!
The 2017 race season has completely transformed my way of thinking, to anyone who suffers from anxiety I can’t recommend Obstacle Course Racing enough, the sense of accomplishment once you overcome physical obstacles makes the mental obstacles that much more manageable. My anxiety is all but gone, I slew Tough Mudder and finished my Trifecta, and cannot wait to see how much stronger I am in the 2018 race season.
This is my thank you to the sport of obstacle course racing and the Alberta OCR community. OCRGUYCHALLENGE was the first to push me out of my comfort zone, X Warrior Challenge forced me to face my fears, and the amazing coaches at cor.fit have taught me my true strength by throwing me at obstacles with no time to over think about what I’m actually doing.
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