Spartan Race: Carolina Beast 11/4/17

Spartan Race: Carolina Beast 11/4/17

The Carolina Beast has been steadily growing in popularity over the past several years. The course itself isn’t iconic like Killington or Tahoe, I think that it’s more of the fact that it’s the only Beast available for miles and miles and the location has a lot of people who live within driving distance. That’s not to take away from the race at all, I’ve raced it the past 3 years and it’s always been a fun race. But with that popularity comes growing pains, and Spartan has struggled the past couple of years trying to accommodate all of the racers. They finally realized that they outgrew the venue and had to make a change. So, they said goodbye to the familiar Carolina Adventure World venue and found a new home in Spartanburg, SC. Personally, I don’t know why they wouldn’t have tried really hard to get the race in Spartanburg to being with, but I suppose they had their reasons.

New venues are always exciting, but they can also produce a little anxiety. Facing unknown challenges is a big part of the appeal of these races though, so I was pretty happy to try a new venue. I’m happy to report that the new venue did not disappoint! As always, the first obstacle of the day was parking. I got there pretty early and am used to not dealing with too much traffic, but I underestimated the popularity of this race. Even before 7 am there was a significant line for parking. Thankfully, it moved pretty quickly and wasn’t too much of a hassle. The ground of the parking area was pretty uneven and was causing some problems for people that didn’t arrive in a big truck. I hope that they adjust the parking area next year or at least try to fix the big ditches before next year’s race.

The festival area was a short walk from the parking area, which is always welcome; No long walks or shuttles to deal with. The lines at registration were pretty long though. Of course, I got stuck in the line with the person who didn’t understand how to use the barcode scanner properly and was having to type in everyone’s information. I wish the Spartan employee who was standing right behind her would have given her some help instead of talking on the walkie-talkie about lunch plans. I eventually made it through registration, but my pre-race time was cut short by the parking and registration wait times. I know better for next time. I hurried to get in my pre-race nutrition, get to the bathroom, to get my bag checked, and to get warmed up. I didn’t get as much of a warm-up in as I would have liked, and right away I felt my hamstrings tighten up. They ended up bothering me pretty much the entire race, but they didn’t cramp at all, so I can’t complain too much.

The race day weather was good. It was a little chilly starting off the morning, but it wasn’t so cold that it was a problem. The day started off very dark though and the sun was just beginning to show over the trees when the elites went off. As the day progressed the sun came out, but it never got above the mid-60s (18C) and it was a very good day to race. The chillier overnight temperatures did make some of the water obstacles a little more daunting, but it really wasn’t that bad once you got in. I raced in the 8 am heat and never found the air or water temps to be too low, and I am sure things were ever better for the afternoon racers.

The course itself was pretty fun, though not super challenging. There were a few decent climbs, but I would say the course was mostly flat. As I was running I was looking around and I think if they wanted to they could have punished us a lot more than they did. A lot of the trails appeared to be blazed specifically for this race so a lot of the course was very technical. Most of the course was in the woods or you were at least very near to the trees, so it was a lot of trail running. There were a few sections that were on service roads and there were a few creek crossings, but for the most part, it was really good trail running. When the race first started I was a little concerned as there were a couple narrow bottlenecks right off the bat. This isn’t the first race I’ve run where they send the waves straight into single trails, and it’s not just with Spartan Race. I wish that they would take more time to realize how annoying it is to get backed-up right at the start of the race. When the race starts I feel excited and I feed off the energy of the crowd and I just want to get out there and run. To get stuck behind 100 people trying to get through this one skinny trail is frustrating. I will admit that after the initial traffic jam the rest of the course was clear and most of the trails were wide enough to pass on.

All of the obstacles were pretty standard Spartan stuff. Didn’t see anything new like Monkey-In-The-Middle or the Ape Hanger. One new thing that happened was on Twister. Twister, for the whole of 2017 has been tearing the hands of countless racers, myself included. I suppose there was some pressure on Spartan to do something about this. Thier idea was to wrap the metal handle with a grip of some sort. This grip was held on with velcro and was even more difficult to grip than the metal bars. I already have a hard time fitting my hands in the Twister grips ( I feel like the openings are too narrow) and this thick grip made it that much harder. Not only that but they were secured loosely so the grips rotated in your hand around the handle. I agree that it would be easier on your hands, but that was impossible for someone like me to get across. I heard a lot of people who normally make it through Twister had a hard time with it. While it wasn’t impossible, I feel like the obstacle was tough enough without the grips. Hopefully, they don’t show back up in 2018 or they think of a different solution.

I am sad to say I broke my streak and missed the spear throw. Well, I stuck it, and it looked good but as I was starting to leave, it slipped out a little and the end just barely hit the ground. It broke my heart a little and I had to take a deep breath to get over seeing that happen. As I walked over to start my burpees a fellow racer decided to chime in. He was in the burpee area, hands on his knees, breathing heavily. He took a moment  between breaths to point out to me that my spear “fell out.” I responded with a curt “Yeah. I know.” and went about my burpees. Sir, if you are reading this please remember next time to mind your own business. You are not a referee, you have no influence over the rules and have no authority to enforce them. I am not an elite racer and I was in no danger of accidentally appearing on the podium. All of that aside, I was already heading to the burpee area, so I don’t know why you felt the need to say anything. The last thing anyone wants to hear at a time like that is someone rubbing their failures in their face. I will run my own race and you run yours.

Overall, I had a pretty good time with the obstacles, that is until the end. I am pretty sure I know what I need to do to get through Olympus, but I didn’t make it this time. Looking back I think it was a combination of being really tired and that I was trying to save some upper body strength for the rig that was about 20 feet away. Well, I wish I had tried harder on Olympus because I didn’t make the rig either. I’m not experienced in the rope/knot grips on the rig and while I gave it a good effort, I wasn’t able to hang on. At the end of a 13-mile race, those 60 burpees ended up adding about 15 minutes to my overall race time. I’m not too upset about it though as I still got my best Beast time to date: 3:43:32. Even though it wasn’t quite the result I was hoping for, it was a good race to end the season. Oh! And it finished out my third Trifecta of the year! It’s interesting to think back to where I was when I started racing, imagining then that I’d do three Trifectas in a year, but here I am, Proud owner of this medal!!

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What a pretty medal!!!

 

There is a part of me that is sad that I won’t have any more obstacle races for several months, but there is a big part of me that is relieved. It’s been a busy summer and I’m tired. I’m taking some much needed time off to rest and recover. I am excited to get back into training, but I want to start fresh so I can really maximize my time. I have learned a lot about myself this year. I’ve learned some things about my ability to perform athletically, about my biggest strengths and weaknesses (physically and mentally), and I learned a lot about performance and recovery. As much as this has been a transformative year for me physically I think it was also a huge year for me emotionally. I feel like I have grown considerably and there are a lot of things I see more clearly now. I am really excited for 2018, not just for racing, but in general. I really think if I put the work into I can make some good things happen.

 

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Pulse Check: Racing, Training, The Off Season, and a mile for time.

Pulse Check: Racing, Training, The Off Season, and a mile for time.

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a post about anything other than my experience racing the previous weekend. Well, I didn’t race last weekend and I don’t race this weekend. In fact, I don’t have another race until 11/2/17, which will be my last OCR for the year! The race season is ending and I am meeting it with mixed emotions. Part of me has loved traveling around seeing all these new races and venues – it’s been an incredible experience! But there is also part of me that is just tired. Not just physically, but mentally. I never really understood it when I would hear athletes talk about the difficulty in maintaining their training during their sport’s season. I have learned that trying to keep your personal/family life together, to keep training at a high intensity, and to race at least once every two weeks or so is extremely difficult. So, it will be nice to have some time off.

After my race in Fayetteville I decided to take the entire next week off. I didn’t run, I didn’t lift a weight, and I slept in everyday. It was amazing! But what was even more amazing was by Thursday my body was yelling at me to move. I know that I wasn’t 100% healed up as I still had (and have) some sore spots, but those few days of relaxation were enough for my body to catch up and it was ready to start working again. I resisted the urge and held out until that Monday to start working out again, just to be sure I was ready.

I am very surprised when I started doing my normal workouts again. It has been months since I was on any solid workout plan because I was trying to give my body the time it needed to heal in between events. I’d workout when I could and I would try to hit the things that felt the least tired, but it was more cardio and yoga, and less strength training. Now that I am strength training again my body is responding very well to it. It seems that it has been missing that aspect of my training and it feels great to be doing it again. The most interesting part is how much strength I’ve lost. I suppose the muscles that were involved in racing have been maintained, but I have lost a lot of strength and even endurance in a lot of exercises. I have even lost some of the progress I was making towards doing pull ups. I thought that the OCR events would have been enough to maintain that strength, but I was mistaken. The good news is that I can feel that strength returning pretty quickly and with each workout things are getting better.

I am pretty excited about training this Winter and to come in strong next year. I am in a much better and more fit place than I was this time last year, so if I can make the same improvements this Winter that I made last Winter I should be in a very good spot come Spring! In addition to getting stronger I, of course, want to be a much faster runner. I haven’t really done any running (outside of a race) since late Spring. The races were just too frequent and with my history of injuries I couldn’t risk pushing too hard. While most of my strength was  diminishing over the season, I felt that my running was doing ok. I wasn’t really getting much faster and I’ve been having a little more trouble in the longer events with endurance, but for the most part I think that aspect of my fitness has been holding up pretty well over the months.

I decided this week that it was a good time to try my legs out and to see where I am with my running. Again, I hadn’t done any training runs and I haven’t done a mile time trial for almost a year now, and I was really curious to see what my time would be. Remember, when I started I finished my mile in 9:45 and my second test was 8:44. I wasn’t really sure how this one would go, I was hopeful, but didn’t set my expectations too high.

Unfortunately, most of the schools around here have been locking their tracks a lot more often lately. I am not sure why, but it’s really disappointing. I don’t really have the time to drive all over the city trying to find a track that I can run on, and honestly that would be stressful than it’s worth. I have a few relatively flat roads in my neighborhood, so I decided, for simplicity’s sake, I would just go out and use my phone to track my distance as I ran on the road. I know it’s not quite as accurate and that the uneven road surfaces and elevation changes would affect my time, but it would probably be close enough that I could feel good about it. I also used 3 different run apps at the same time to be sure my results were as accurate as possible.

It was a hot and muggy morning, not ideal for running, but I did it in the early morning so at least the sun wasn’t up to make it more uncomfortable. As I was running I felt like I was definitely moving at a pretty good pace. It felt faster than I remember running in any other test or race. By the half mile mark I was getting pretty winded and I was a little worried about keeping up that pace until the end, but my legs were feeling pretty good, so I tried to just keep pushing it. I think somewhere around the 3/4 mile mark I started really hurting and I slowed down a bit, but knowing I was almost done gave me a little push at the end and I stepped it back up. I have to say when I hit that mile mark I was pretty impressed with my time!

I ended up running that mile in 7 minutes and 12 seconds! That is the fastest mile I have run in my entire adult life! I am amazed that I was able to run that as I haven’t really been doing much ‘running’ and I figured progress wouldn’t be so dramatic! Oddly, being so close to breaking 7 minutes made me a little sad. I’m not sure if everyone is like this but I feel like that 7 minute mile is sort of the bridge between a casual runner and someone who is a fast runner. I do realize there are a lot of people who can’t even run a 7  minute mile, but I was the most proud of my running when people would ask what my mile time was an I could start it off with a 6. Even though I am not there yet, I am so close! And I think that this really reinforces that I can reach my goal of breaking 5 minutes. I still have a good amount of weight to lose and I know that I am capable of so much more. Now that race season is just about over I am very excited to continue my training and to see where I am this time next year!

Spartan Super – Fayetteville, NC (9/23/17)

Spartan Super – Fayetteville, NC (9/23/17)

Another new race venue for me in Fayetteville, NC! Now, I did race the Fort Bragg Military Sprint last year, which was just down the road, but that is/was a different race. So, I’m not completely new to the area, but this is my first time at this race. It’s my second to last OCR race for this season and my second to last race needed to get my 3x Trifecta for the year!

The first thing I noticed about this venue was, of course, the course itself. As you drive in you drive past the festival area and finish line, including those last few obstacles. There is something exciting about seeing what you are about to get into before you actually get to it. This is one of the few races that I’ve been to where VIP parking was actually something I wish I had purchased. Us regular folk had to park close to a half mile away and walk back to the festival area we had just passed. That’s ok though, a few extra steps shouldn’t bother anyone that is about to tackle a Spartan Super! Parking was also quick and easy, so I won’t complain about that!

It was a pretty warm day to run, especially since it’s supposed to technically be fall now. The temperature very quickly rose above 80 degrees (27C). I think when I finished the race it was around 86. When I was driving home my car said it was at or above 90. Since I was running early the start wasn’t so bad though, and the grass (and obstacles!) were still wet with dew.  The sun came out during the race and it was very aggressive, and there were few clouds to protect us. Luckily, there wasn’t too much open running and most of the race had some tree coverage.

The race course was exceptionally flat! I’m having trouble making my mind up about this trend. The more races I do, the flatter they seem to become. I know there are still a few serious climbs at some of the races, but so many other races have flattened out. I think running a flat course once in awhile is pretty cool, it gives you a chance to really open up and run instead of just power hiking, but I prefer the courses to have some variation. Anyway,  this was a fast course! The winning time was exactly one hour, and the course was over 8.5 miles. The course had some technical terrain, but for the most part it was kind of standard trail running. I will say, this course had a lot more muddy spots than most races I’ve done recently, which I really liked! It was a real mud run!

The obstacles were really well placed too, none of them seemed too on top of each other, even the ones that were right next to each other. It seemed to have a good flow and everything made sense. They did some interesting things with obstacle placement in this race though, and I thought it was really cool. For example, the Multi-Rig lead directly into a really long Barbed Wire Crawl. This crawl was probably the longest one I’ve ever done. It was mostly flat or downhill, and there was some mud, but not too much, so you could roll most of it. As soon as you completed that you did the Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall, followed immediately by the Slip Wall. The end of the race too, which usually does have some back to back obstacles had Twister, then Olympus, the Spear Throw then it finished with the A-Frame Cargo Net leading into the fire jump. I hadn’t dont a race with the A-Frame as the last real obstacle. It was also cool to see the Spear Throw at the end again. It’s been along time since I’ve seen that.

My performance was both better than I was expecting and worse than I wanted. Though, I suppose until I am on  the 1st place podium I will find something to harass myself about. I have been feel super fatigued lately. I think the combination of frequent races, home workouts, and not enough sleep have just got me in a perpetual state of fatigue. My shoulders and parts of my arms haven’t stopped hurting since WV. My legs often feel like lead, even if I haven’t done anything. Most days I’m just tired and don’t have the energy to do much. Last weekend’s race had me really worried about this weekend. I did really poorly in that race, by my standards, and I didn’t know how I’d fair in this race.

I am happy to say that I took some rest days and upped my calorie intake and it seems to have made a difference and I was feeling pretty good most of the race. I was able to actually run a good portion of it and most of the obstacles didn’t give me much trouble at all. Around mile 6 I started feeling it and after mile 7 I had pretty much drained the tank. That last two miles of the race were easily the slowest of the whole race. I didn’t have much left to summon up and I needed that strength for the obstacles, so I didn’t run much in that last bit. I think that with my fatigue and the fact that I haven’t really been running at all, other than in my races, I was doomed to bonk at the end of this race. I’m not too upset about it though, as it was, on the whole, a very good race for me. I did set my Super PR by 9 minutes. I really wanted to break 2 hours, but I didn’t quite make it and come in at 2:09. Still, considering everything I think I did pretty great!

As for the obstacles I managed to climb the rope and nail the spear again in this race! That’s 4 races in a row that I have conquered those obstacles. Since those two were ones I could never complete before, it feels really good to finish them now, and save myself all that time and energy from doing those would-be 60 burpees. I also redeemed myself on the Monkey Bars from my race in DC two weeks ago! The bars were wet this time too, but not as quite as slippery. I did use my FitFour gloves, but I found that they actually almost made me slip off a couple of times, so I had to be careful, but I made it and that’s all that matters! I think I talked myself out of Twister before I even got there. Looking back on it I didn’t give it everything I had. Defeated, I did my burpees and marched over to Olympus. I have been thinking a lot about this obstacle and I had worked out some tactics to get me through it. I put those tactics to the test and I successfully got through it! Feeling pretty pumped about that it helped me land the spear throw a dig up a tiny bit of energy for a little push at the end. I also didn’t make the rig, I tried it with the gloves, as there were ropes on it, not just rings, and my hands are pretty torn up. I think If I had fresh hands and wasn’t wearing the gloves I would have had it. But still, 60 burpees ina race is a record low for me so I won’t complain! I’m getting that much close to a clean race!!

This was a fun course, even though I complained about how flat it was. I think if I were in a better physical state I would have loved it because I would have been flying around the course. For now I will tentatively be coming back here next year. I am tossing around the idea of getting an Endurance Trifecta and it will host both Hurricane Heats that I will need to do so. If I do come back for that I don’t know that I’ll be able to resist the urge to tackle this Super again, and if I’m feeling really daring I might sign up for the Sprint on Sunday as well!

 

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Terrain Racing – Richmond, VA (9/16/17)

Terrain Racing – Richmond, VA (9/16/17)

On 9/16/17 the Richmond International Speedway hosted its very first Terrain Racing event in Richmond, Virginia. The race was held on a beautiful day with clear skies and a day time temperature that did not exceed 74 degrees. It was a great day to race and I was very excited to see what this new event had to offer.

The course itself was extremely flat for an OCR event. The max elevation change was less than 200 feet, and most of which came from going down and back up the same long, gradual hill near the middle of the race. I had thought that since the name of the race has the word “Terrain” in it that the course would be a little more interesting than it was. Most of the race was running either on packed gravel roads or on asphalt. There was very little dirt and even less mud. This course was definitely a runner’s course and at times it didn’t even feel much like an OCR event, but rather a standard road race.

Terrain Racing gives you three race options: You can choose your standard 5k race, a 10k, or unlimited laps. The 5k option for this race was actually a little closer to 4 miles. Disappointingly, rather than having a separate and different course for the 10k you simply run the 5k course again to get your 10k distance.

It is always interesting to see what obstacles a new race will throw at you. If you’re familiar with some of the bigger races you get pretty used to seeing the same things repeatedly, and basically know what to expect. In order to stay competitive the smaller events have to get a little more creative. I liked seeing what they came up with for this event. There were a couple of obstacles that I thought were creative, like the Yoke Carry, which is a metal pole with tires suspended from the ends that you have to wear across your shoulders and carry a specific distance. Another is Tire Golf, which required you to use a sledgehammer to bash a tire down the road and back.

Some of the more traditional obstacles had some twists as well, like the Bucket Carry, which was actually more of a Farmer’s Carry with a bucket of water. And the options for the Monkey Rig and Tarzan Swing were a lot more varied than you see in some of the other races, so it was cool to get to experience those different elements. Some of the obstacles, however, were a little disappointing. The Rope climb was very short and it had knots at the bottom of the rope. I figure most people would still need to climb the rope a little to get to the bell, but after standing on the knot I could almost just reach up and touch the bell so it wasn’t much of a challenge. They also had a tube crawl that put you into some water followed by some mud mounds. This was the only muddy section of the course and the water was shallow and the hills small.

One interesting aspect of the race is that there weren’t any male/female obstacles. Everyone completed the same obstacles regardless of gender. That goes for the bucket carry, the tire flip, the Yoke Carry, Sandbag Carry, all of them. The only exception was that the 8′ wall; there was no step to get up to the top, so there was another, shorter wall next to it. None of the obstacles were so demanding that most people wouldn’t be able to complete them,  no 400 pound tire flips, so it is an event that pretty much anyone could finish.

I don’t think there were too many options for good photo ops here, maybe at the mud hills or the rigs, but there weren’t many good spots for photos. Perhaps this is the reason there weren’t any. Remarkably, the only photos taken on the course were at the finish line, when you were on the Monkey Bars and as you were crossing the finish. Two photo ops, both at the end of the race. I think most people come to expect to have really cool race photos to share to social media when they are done. That’s a big part of the way these races spread and grow. I don’t think too many great pictures are going to come out of this race.

I feel like this event came up a little short, but it has great potential. There are a few changes they could make that would really make the event stand out to people and make it more fun. I think redesigning the course to make it more interesting would go a long way; The scenery here didn’t change at all and the running portions were a little boring. The festival area completely lacked any sort of vendors. There was one tent for Terrain Racing merchandise, but otherwise no food or other vendors on site. I think that they could tweak some of the obstacles to give them a little more of a challenge or to make them more unique. With a little work I feel like this could be a very solid OCR offering. I’m not sure I’ll race this event again if it’s in the same location; I feel like I’ve seen all it has to offer. But the registration for these races is pretty affordable, so you might see me out there again after all.

 

Spartan Race: Washington D.C. Sprint Review (9/9/17)

Spartan Race: Washington D.C. Sprint Review (9/9/17)

This was my third time racing the D.C. Spartan Sprint. In 2014 this was actually my first OCR race ever, so it holds a special place in my heart. The venue and terrain have changed a little bit over the years, but I will always have a connection to this event and I was very happy to be back this year after missing it last year. I came back this year with something to prove. It’s the first time I’ve been here with any sort of real training under my belt and I really wanted to see what I could do!

The weather was pretty awesome, it was a partly cloudy day that stayed in the low 70s. The event was again held at the Maryland International Raceway. It’s always nice when event organizers pick a venue with something civilized nearby since it means you’ll have a real parking area to park in, and that usually makes parking much easier and faster. Well, it was easy to park this time, but it was not quick, at least not when I arrived. I waited in line to park for sometime, which was giving me some anxiety. The festival area is a short walk away and I hate arriving rushed. I feel like I always have a bad race if I’m anxious and worn out before I even get to the start.

The race itself was a little over 4.5 miles and was run over some very familiar terrain. Mostly trail running or dirt/mud road usually used by ATVs. I found it funny that I actually have started recognizing some of the hills from previous races. It’s a strangely comforting and nostalgic feeling! Other than the Rolling Mud/ Dunk Wall obstacles there wasn’t a whole lot of mud on the course. There were some spots in the trails, but most of the bad stuff was easily avoided. There was also a little bit of creek running. The cool water on your feet actually felt really good and helped clean you off a bit.

For the most part I would say this was a pretty standard Sprint. There wasn’t anything that really stuck out about it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great race though! I think that it was really well done. I think that it was just the right distance. The terrain was great and wasn’t stale. There were plenty of hills to wear you out, but not so many that it was agonizing. The obstacles were pretty well spaced out. I actually think it was almost a perfectly executed event! It is strange to say such a great race was ‘standard’, but I just mean that there wasn’t any special, defining moments on the course. But you know what, sometimes you just want to go out, run, and have a good time. And this course was perfect for that kind of day!

As for my performance I am pretty pleased! That’s not to say I had the race I was hoping for, but I came in that day with one goal: To do the best I could do. And I really think I came close to achieving that!! I realized recently that my first year of racing was really the only time I really raced. After my first year, once I realized what I was up against, I settled into this habit of ‘just finishing the race’. Which is fine, there is nothing wrong with that and I did have several valid reasons that I did it. First of all, I have a history of knee injuries and some problems with my Achilles tendons. Also, I was pretty overweight and hadn’t trained for the races. These combined was a good recipe for a serious injury. And while I wasn’t always happy with my times I am happy that I was smart enough to realize that so that I can continue to race.

I still had fun and enjoyed every race I’ve done, but I was never really racing. And that mindset carried over into this year. Even my strongest races of the year, looking back, I find that I am constantly trying to pace myself (read: slowing myself down or taking it easy). I’d approach everything carefully and wouldn’t take too many chances. “Oh, there’s a little hill here, better walk it so that I don’t wear myself out for the rest of the race!” or “Probably should walk this to protect your knee.” These are the thoughts that would hound me the entire event. And I would listen to them! They made a lot of sense! But, you’re never going to get anywhere by deliberately holding yourself back. So this race I really wanted to race!

I ran in the competitive wave at 8:00am and once the race started I saw a completely different race atmosphere. I normally hang out at the back of the pack when the race starts; I don’t want to be in anyone’s way when they are all running faster than me. But not this race! I started in the front part of the middle of the pack and I did my very best to keep up with everyone around me. I did surprisingly well, and actually it was kind of fun to surrounded by all these people running through the wilderness. Normally I don’t see so many people together at one time. I have to say, I like running with the big dogs! Of course, it did thin out after the first mile or so, but that first bit was kind of exhilarating.

I am most disappointed in myself for failing the obstacles that I failed. I have the hardest time with Olympus. I have completed it before, but I am very inconsistent with it, and I’m not certain as to why that is. I think part of it is mental, but I just can’t seem to conquer it. Twister is another one, I can complete it, but it depends on the day. My arms just didn’t feel up to it this day. Believe it or not, they still felt tired from WV two weeks before! I really did a number on my upper body and it has been taking its sweet time to heal. Those two I can come to terms with failing, but I am pretty proud of the fact that I can always take on the monkey bars these days, but I didn’t make this time! I don’t think I would have completed Twister either way, but as it was an early, cool morning both of these obstacles were very damp which made the grip difficult. I didn’t even make it to second rung on the monkey bars before I slipped off. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been dwelling on that since the race. In a way it’s a good thing because I think I know what I did wrong and I think I’ve come up with some strategies for these situations in the future. 90 burpees isn’t bad for me in a race, but I was mad because I wanted to do this one faster.

This whole season I have been silently thinking how amazing it would be if I could, in a year’s time, go from a fat, out-of-shape guy to an OCR World Championship qualifier. This race was really one of my last shots at qualifying. If you read my post about the stadium race, that was supposed to be my qualifying race. That’s the main reason I was so devastated by my poor performance at that race. I felt if I couldn’t do it there it wasn’t going to happen. I still have one Super and one Beast left in the season, so anything could happen, but I feel like it’ll be a little harder for me to qualify in those races. I felt like this was my last shot and I really wanted to give it everything I had, to see if I had enough to qualify.

Other than the failed obstacles I can’t really think of many instances where I could have run a better race. There were a couple of hills that maybe I could have hiked/jogged up a little more, but I ran almost every bit of flat or downhill part of that course. I am very happy with my consistency in this race. I wish I was going faster, of course, but I was steady. When I first ran this race it was shorter and it took me 2 hours and 36 minutes to finish. I definitely wanted to beat that time. I looked at last years results and the people who would have qualified for OCR WC ran it in about 1:20, so that was my goal for this year.

I was a bit mortified when I crossed the line at 1:27!! In a way, it was amazing! What a  PR! But I was worried it wasn’t enough to make the cut for qualifying. When I checked the results at the event it looked as though I *might* have qualified, but there were still people on the course who started after me that could have bumped me out of contention. I waited for a while to see how the results would come in. When I figured everyone had come in from the competitive wave that could have beaten me I checked the results and… I didn’t make it! I couldn’t see anyone else’s times, but based on the rankings I wasn’t qualifying for the championship. I was disappointed and angry at myself. I have since done a lot of thinking about it and realized that it doesn’t matter how I finished that it’s how I performed that mattered most. I had a great race and I am very proud of how I did, regardless of status symbol.

I should have also not even bothered to check those rankings because they are unofficial. Once the official rankings were posted on the site I checked them and was in shock! Unbelievably, I qualified!!! That’s right everyone, you’re looking at an official OCR World Championship qualifier!! I still can’t believe I actually pulled it off! I am the very last person in my age group to qualify from that race, but I still qualified! It really means so much to me that I accomplished this back at my home course, where it all started. It actually makes me happy that I missed it in my other races, because this makes it a little more meaningful to me!

Due to timing and other commitments I won’t be able to make it to the OCR World Championship race this year, but knowing that I can qualify next year means that I am definitely going to mark it up on my calendar! I have two more OCR races and one road race left for this race season. Then it’s back to training hardcore! At that point I’ll also be returning more to posts that are dedicated to running, diet, and training. Trying to keep it all up during race season seemed to be too much for me to handle. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my goal of a sub-five minute mile! Actually, I’ll have a post soon about where I am, so keep on the lookout for that!

 

 

 

 

Spartan Race U.S. Championship Race – West Virginia: The Ascent (8/25/17 – 8/27/17)

Spartan Race U.S. Championship Race – West Virginia: The Ascent (8/25/17 – 8/27/17)

To say that I pushed myself to the limit this weekend would be an understatement! This past weekend was the final race in the Spartan Race U.S. Championship series. It was the only Beast race in the series and it took place at The Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, WV. This sprawling and beautiful venue, as it’s name suggests , sits atop the majestic appalachian mountains and offers a wide variety of terrain and wildlife. It is the perfect place to host a Spartan Race, especially a race worthy of being in the Championship Series.

The race itself was aptly named: The Ascent. This race had a total of over 3600 feet of elevation change throughout the 14.6 mile course. In fact, almost the first half of the race was completely uphill. And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the ‘turn around’ point in the race where you start coming back down, was at the very summit itself. They put the Stairway to Sparta obstacle up there so when you climbed to the top of the obstacle you were high above everything else, looking out for miles in every direction at the breaktaking mountainscape. It was pretty awe-inspiring. It made you forget, even if for a brief moment, all of the suffering you had just endured. It was well worth the climb.

The race itself started on a cool, foggy mountain morning. They pushed the elite heats back a half an hour to let the fog clear some. I assume this had to do more with them wanting to be able to capture the event on camera and less to do with the race itself. Still, it was a very pleasant morning and it was a great weekend to race. The first few miles had some very steep ascents and descents on some very technical terrain. There were a few signature Spartan obstacles thrown in like a hurdle , the O-U-T walls, slip wall, barbed wire crawl and dunk wall. The barbed wire crawl was interesting this time as it was completely dry, no mud at all. It was all earth and rock. Also, it wasn’t flat at all, there were mounds and craters all over so you were crawling up and down over rocks while trying to not get snagged by the wire. Luckily it was a short crawl, but there was definitely no rolling through this one!

Then there was the bucket carry! More on this later, but I did this carry on Friday, the day before the Beast. When I got to it for the Beast race I saw that they had changed it some, cutting off part of the ascent and had cleared the vegetation from the climb down. Both of these elements made it easier than it had been the day before. That being said, it was still a heck of a carry! It was a good climb up and the climb down felt even worse. It was very steep and it was hard to get good footing. In all my races I haven’t seen as many people fall down or spill their rocks as I did on this course.

Once you made it through the bucket carry it was time to head up the mountain. From here it was up, up, up.  With the exception of the occasional gravel road this was all technical trail running. Once you got to the top you were faced with the Z-Wall and the aforementioned Stairway to Sparta. Shortly after there was the Bender and then the course took it easy on you for a little bit. It was a lot more gradual down hill and more gravel roads or cleared paths. It was nice to have a break from all of the briars/thorns and bees! A few hidden obstacles that they didn’t tell you about before you started! This was a good time to regroup and maybe make up some lost time if those climbs had slowed you down at all.

Gradually you made your way back to the festival area where you had a few obstacles, like the swim, tire flip, rope climb, sandbag carry and spear throw. After the spear the Beast exclusive part of the course took over and sent you far out into the wilderness. There were a few good climbs and some technical terrain, but it was a lot more manageable than the first half of the race. There were only a few obstacles thrown in on this portion and most of them were pretty standard except for that log carry. Normally lifting heavy things is my wheelhouse. I’ve been a heavy guy for a long time now and I’m used to dealing with extra weight; it doesn’t phase me much. But this log carry was a little painful. It started with a gradual downhill, but it was on gravel, then it sent you up a pretty steep incline, part of which you had to walk over large loose stones. It was this area, or half-way up the hill, that most people had to stop to take breaks. Once you made it up the hill it was pretty flat, but you still had a good bit of distance before the carry was over. From eavesdropping on other racers this obstacle was a pretty defining element of the race.

Not too long after the log carry you come back toward the festival area for the final gauntlet. They did a beautiful job of lining up a whole bunch of grip strength obstacle right at the end. Back to back you had to complete the Twister, Herc Hoist, Olympus, and the Multi-Rig. If you had any energy left when you got the the end it was sure to be depleted here at the end. Twister has a reputation for destroying your grip strength. To put that before all of the other obstacles really made it hard for a lot of people, myself included, to complete them all. The Herc Hoist seemed heavier this race than it has in other races this year. And maybe it’s just in my head but the rope also seemed harder to grip. I am not sure if it was the nylon or if the rope was actually thinner but it was more of an obstacle for me than it typically is. After doing Twister and the Herc Hoist, Olympus was a real challenge. If your grip strength (or technique!) is good enough, you might have been one of the lucky few to make it through, but it was sending a lot of people to the gravel burpee pit. The Multi-Rig took a little pity on the racers and was (for the Beast) just rings with one horizontal bar. This did take out a fair share of racers, but I think more people had success with this than they did Twister and Olympus. Then you wrap it all up with a classic fire jump!

This was an amazing race! I really feel like they did such a good job planning this event. The venue was fantastic, the terrain was challenging, and the obstacles were top notch. This race had a little bit of everything: Steep climbs, water, mud, technical terrain, flat ground, you name it. It was a really fun race, but also very challenging, which is what you want in race. I really hope that they continue to have races in this venue as it was a great time and has the potential to have new and exciting races year after year.

As I eluded to earlier, this wasn’t just a Championship Race, it was actually a Trifecta weekend! That’s right, All three races were available for racing this week. The Beast was held on Saturday, which was the championship race. The Super was held Sunday morning followed in the afternoon by the Sprint. When I first heard about this weekend I was excited and terrified. Obviously, it’s something I wanted to do, but I had a lot of concerns about whether I actually could. First of all, was I in good enough shape to be able to complete all of these races? And secondly, with my history of injuries, was it a safe decision to push myself that hard?

I figured this was going to be year to really push myself and see what I was made of, so I went ahead and signed up! And I am happy to report that I made it all the way through all three races!! Looking back, I honestly can’t believe that I really did that. This would be a huge accomplishment for me, even if it were an easier course, but this was a Championship Race course, a course that Spartan refers to as “The Ascent”. I never would have imagined last year at this time that I would have been able to pull this off. It’s easy to get caught up in you shortcomings and to focus on the things that aren’t going great. This weekend was really a great boost to my confidence. While it made me realize I have so much to do to get to where I want to be, it also made me realize how far I’ve come. And I think it’s important to look back sometimes and celebrate the progress you’ve made.

But I’m not done with the good news yet! I know that saying I completed a Trifecta in one weekend is big enough announcement, but I have one more surprise! I completed not three races, but four!!  That’s right, there was actually a Sprint Race that was held on the Friday before the Championship Race. This race was actually a charity event that was hosted by NFL great Randy Moss. He was in attendance and actually ran the entire race. And while it was a charity event, it was a genuine Spartan Race complete with all obstacles and burpees. I signed up for this one last minute and was honestly terrified that it would set me over the edge and put me into injury territory. When I was out on the Beast course I was definitely feeling it from the day before, but also, I was a little bit grateful for it as I had a good handle on what a third of the course was going to be so I was able to pace myself a little better and it made it easier to know what to expect. I was a little disappointed with the medal though. I have seen in previous charity races that the racers got unique yellow charity medals. This race only provided a regular Sprint medal. I don’t know if that it wasn’t planned well enough ahead of time or the fact that there weren’t that many racers (maybe around 45). Whatever the reason, it was a bummer, but at the end of the day, it was good for me to push myself and the money went to charity to others, so it was a good day!

I still can’t believe what I was able to accomplish this weekend. This time last year I wouldn’t have imagined signing up for this weekend and I wouldn’t have believed you if you said I could finish it. But I did! It just goes to show that hard work and dedication will pay off. While I’m still riding the high of going home with all those medals, it just makes me wonder where I will be next year if I keep it up. The future is exciting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BONEFROG (Sprint)- Maryland 8/19/17

BONEFROG (Sprint)- Maryland 8/19/17

Another week, another race! This week was my first experience with BONEFROG. Sponsored by HESCO, this U.S. Navy SEAL obstacle race is similar to, but still pretty different than most other races. Like most other OCR events you will get dirty, you will have obstacles, and they even offer different race lengths, but it’s all done a little differently. They approached their event with a different perspective than some of the other offerings and I appreciate that, it’s nice to mix it up once in awhile.

This event was held at the Wicomico Motorsports Park in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. For those savvy Spartan racers in the area, you will recognize this venue as the same place they held the first D.C. Spartan Race in 2014 (also MY first OCR race!). It was good to be back and it was even better to see it from a different angle. The first thing that is different about BONEFROG is that all of the obstacles are either obstacles the Navy SEALs actually train on or they are inspired by SEAL stuff. For example, there are a lot of walls to get over in this race. Like “Hell’s Gate”, a 4ft-6ft-8ft-6ft-4ft wall medley.

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Hell’s Gate. Aptly named. Try to get through quickly or you’ll have people jumping over the walls on top of you!

 

But there are some obstacles where they got more creative. “The Chopper” is a body weight grip strength obstacle. Sort of like “Wheel world” in Savage Race or part of “Funky Monkey: The Revolution” in Tough Mudder. The difference is that in the other races it is some sort of wheel that you grab and it rotates. Instead of a wheel this is a 4 “Bladed” rotor, sort of like the blades of a helicopter. It also rotates and you have to move from one to the next without falling to ring the bell at the end. I actually found this obstacle to be much more difficult than the other variants. I think the narrow space it gave you to hold and the spacing of the handles made it a little tricky and while I completed it on my first try it took me awhile, with a lot of spinning. You definitely want to keep your momentum in check on this one!

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The Chopper. You might have to look close, but you can see the handles. A lot of people failing this one!

 

I do want to take a moment to call out the “31 Heroes” Obstacle. I thought this one was really awesome. As you are running through the trails you come to a large vinyl banner with a story, instructions, and names. Each name on the banner (31 in total) is the name of a solider who died in the service.  To honor their sacrifice and their memory you must read each name out loud and perform one burpee for each one. So, you complete 31 burpees before you proceed. I really liked this obstacle as I think it is important to remember those who have gone before you, especially our veterans. It also helps to put into perspective what you are going through on the course, and it really made me realize that the challenges placed before me were nothing compared to what they had to endure. I want to extend a sincere thank you for your sacrifice.

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It’s a little blurry, I didn’t take this one, I borrowed it from the BONEFROG Instagram account. You can’t really read it, but I felt I should include it nonetheless.

 

The next, but maybe more distinctive quality of BONEFROG, is the distances offered. You have several options here: Sprint, Challenge, Tier 1, and Endurance.

Sprint – 5k with 20+ obstacles.

Challenge – 8+ miles with 30+ obstacles.

Tier 1 – Both the Challenge and the Sprint, back to back, so around 11 miles with 50+ obstacles.

Endurance – Tier 1 + as many laps of the Sprint as you can complete (Endless obstacles!!).

As I have the hardest test of endurance I have yet faced coming up the week after this race I decided to go with the Sprint distance. I didn’t want to be worn out or hurt going into a Spartan Trifecta weekend! But since my goal for next year looks like it is going to be going for the bigger endurance races, I think I might take on the endurance distance next year.

I will tell you though, don’t let the distance fool you, this Sprint was no ordinary 5k, this is a Navy SEAL 5k! I have done the Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash this year, both are the same distance, and neither compared to this event. I was shockingly sore for the days following this race. It is fun, and it’s not so hard that ‘normal’ people can’t finish it, but it’s not to be taken lightly. I can only imagine how I would feel if I HAD done the longer distances. Some of the obstacles on the longer courses seemed really cool and I’m sad I missed them, but I’ll get ’em next year!

Interestingly, this race doesn’t have any sort of validation to your starting time. You are basically signed up for a wave at a specific time, but not a specific race. So Challenge racers were starting with Tier 1 racers and Sprint with Challenge, so that was interesting. Once you are on the course, you just follow the signs for your event. Also, there is no real starting corral to speak of, so you can just walk right up to the start line. And most interestingly of all: the starts are done on the honor system. There is no verification of identity or start time. You just walk up with your band and you can run. This has the potential to get messy, but it seems to be working so far. I think most people are going to follow the rules and it didn’t seem chaotic.

While the start line area didn’t get too messy things were a little different at some of the obstacles. Full disclosure, I’ve been racing earlier and earlier so obstacle backups might be a little more common than I think they are in all the races. I’ve been noticing at some of the events that things are really, really backed up. For an example look at the line for “The Chopper” above or the line for “Kiss of Mud 2.0” in the Tough Mudder post I did. The line for “The Chopper” might not look very long, but everyone was pretty much waiting until the person on the obstacle finished completely, which could take a little bit of time. It was like this at the “Walk the Plank” (a very unstable and challenging balance beam) and “Rolling Thunder” (hurdles with unsecured tires on them). It’s hard to know what to do with these because there isn’t ever a clear line and while you don’t want to be rude and cut in line you also are being timed. I went the polite route and I know I spent a lot of time at these obstacles that I didn’t want to. However, it is nice that you can try as many times as you like on any obstacle. It’s up to you if you think you can get it or not. Much like Spartan Race there are penalties if you fail the obstacle. Unlike Spartan each obstacle has a different penalty. It could be burpees (as it was at “Rolling Thunder”) Or pushups, or jumping jacks, or squats, whatever they want you to do. That is pretty cool too, since it mixes things up a bit. I’m glad we got to try the obstacles multiple times though. I didn’t make it over “Rolling Thunder” on my first try. In fact, I failed so miserably that I basically got close-lined by the hurdle and I hit it so hard that I knocked the air out of my right lung. I had to limp around for a minute to catch my breath. It’s always nice to have an audience for those moments!

I am sure if I had raced earlier that the backups wouldn’t have been an issue. I am also sure that if I had insisted that everyone would have probably let me go first with no problem. Ultimately, most people are there to have fun so they don’t even think about it. I do wish I had tried a little harder though or had pushed through the lines a little more. Turns out I was only 15 minutes away from a top 5 age group finish which would have qualified me for the OCR World Championship race. I really think if I had given it my all I would have made it. I did push myself, and I’m not ashamed of my finish. It was very warm that day and the humidity was suffocating. I was shocked at one point during the race when I realized the top of my shirt, which never went under water was as wet as the bottom, which did get submerged. The humidity did make it quite hard to breathe and I know that slowed me down some. I’m not going to complain though, I had a great time and it was a really good race. I am definitely interested in trying this one out again and seeing what challenges the longer distances have in store for me!