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Local woman trains for Tough Mudder competition

Karen Rhodes will be participating in the Tough Mudder event Aug. 16 in Lake Tahoe.
Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Karen Rhodes has spent the past year preparing to face her fears and along the way has sculpted her body, challenged her mind and bonded with her daughter.

The 46-year-old grandmother of two is training for Tough Mudder, a grueling 12-mile obstacle course that one-fourth of participants cannot complete.

Last August the Quincy resident watched from the sidelines as her 26-year-old daughter endured ice cold water, mud and electric shocks while running and performing feats of strength to cross obstacles.

Her daughter, Shawna Greer, a nurse and mother of two, had asked Karen to join her. She sent an email containing a video clip of the event.

“Heck no,” was Karen’s initial response. “I looked at the video and it scared me. I thought ‘I’m out of shape and I’m old.’”

But standing on the finish line, Karen thought, “Well, maybe.”

“It only showed real fit people in the video,” she said. “But I was standing there in awe. There was every shape, size and age group — basically anybody who wants to be crazy.”

She watched as an older couple tackled the second-to-last obstacle, “Mount Everest,” a steep half-pike with a rope ladder on the other side. They scaled the mountain, climbed down the ladder and maneuvered through the electrical shocks.

Moments later her daughter crossed the finish line, accepted her red headband and cold beer, and said, “I’ll do it one more year if you do it.”

Despite “being afraid of everything on the course” Karen accepted the challenge and began getting in shape.

Training plan

While Karen had always been moderately active, she knew that she didn’t have the stamina or the strength to complete a Tough Mudder.

Fortunately, she could call on her daughter for advice. Shawna is a nurse and works out daily in a Reno gym under the guidance of a personal trainer. Both women are small in stature — Shawna is 5 feet, and Karen just 2 inches taller — but that didn’t deter them from participating in an event alongside men who are more than a foot taller and twice their weight.

Karen began her preparations by adjusting her diet and adopting what she describes as a “clean eating plan.”

“I tried to get rid of all processed foods,” she said. “We try to make everything and don’t do a lot of prepackaged food.”

The “we” she is referring to includes boyfriend Richard Stockton.

“He has been an amazing support system,” Karen said. “He eats what I do and works out with me every day. When I get overwhelmed, he says, ‘Remember your motto,’ which is ‘I am; I will; I got this.’”

Though her daughter recommended an eating plan, Karen discovered through trial and error that her body worked better with more protein. “I modify and eat in the way that makes me feel best,” she said.

Karen has adopted a basic meal plan that she follows almost every day. After her morning workout, she drinks a smoothie and eats a homemade protein muffin. (See adjacent recipe.)

Between 10 and 10:30 a.m. she eats a snack of cottage cheese and fresh fruit.

Lunch is tuna or egg salad on rice crackers with fresh vegetables.

An afternoon snack consists of an apple with peanut butter or a handful of mixed nuts.

Dinner during the summer usually features chicken in a wrap or salad, or fish tacos (her favorite) with fresh mango salsa.

While Karen doesn’t eat entirely gluten free, she prefers oat bran and quinoa to wheat products.

Desserts are infrequent, and she usually opts for popsicles made of 100 percent fruit.

But she admits to having the occasional treat. “I still like ice cream,” she said.

Karen said she consumes between 1,290 and 1,350 calories every day. Because the foods she eats contain fewer calories, she said she eats enough to feel satisfied.

During the past year, Karen has shed 13 pounds and 11 inches. The healthy eating combined with her exercise plan has reshaped her body.

The workout

Karen hits the gym five days a week at 5:30 a.m. The weekends are reserved for hikes and swims.

At the gym she combines cardio work with strength training.

“I hate running,” she admits, “but I love the hill climber and the Stairmaster. I can pump out five miles in 30 minutes on the Stairmaster.”

Karen favors body resistance work to develop her core and upper body strength, but she also uses some weights. She develops her own circuits depending on what she wants to focus on for that day and how she is feeling.

A typical circuit could include jumping rope, stair climbing and pushups.

When she first began training, Karen couldn’t complete one pushup. Now she does three sets of 10 on a bosu ball, an unstable surface that makes the exercise more challenging.

“I have noticed a ton of difference,” Karen said both of her strength and her body.

So have others, who have asked her what she has been doing to get in such great shape.

Does she worry that she will revert to old habits, once she completes the Tough Mudder?

“It turns into a lifestyle,” Karen said, but admits that she won’t continue working out in quite the same way. “I’m ready to change things up,” she said, adding that she hopes to incorporate yoga into her routine.

“My daughter’s not going to let me stop doing this,” Karen said of remaining fit. “She wants me to be around for a long time.”

The two will be together Aug. 16 when Tough Mudder comes to Lake Tahoe. The mother-daughter duo will compete on a team of seven. Karen will be the oldest member and while she is nervous and doesn’t want to hold the team back, she is proud of what she has accomplished.

“This has been an amazing journey of self-discovery — pushing myself farther than I thought I could go; challenging myself to do things I never thought I would be able to,” she said.

And for her efforts, she hopes to don a red headband and accept a cold beer after crossing the finish line of an event that can take up to six hours to complete.

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