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.

 

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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!