A 5k, A 15k, And Some Revelations.

So, I decided at the very last minute to sign up for a 15k road race. I had first heard about this race, the Frostbite 15k, sometime in November 2017, back when I was still training regularly and feeling fit. At that time, I had committed to running it in my head but hesitated to sign up. The next couple of months came and went and race day was upon me. Looking back at these past months I can’t help but be disappointed. The number of times I’ve done a full workout I can probably count on one hand. I’ve run exactly 4.1 miles in that time. I’ve put back on more than a few of the pounds that I had worked so hard to lose. Even just doing normal activities in my day reveal that I’m not as strong as I was a couple of months ago. It is for all of these reasons that I wasn’t going to run the race after all, but ultimately it’s for these reasons that I ended up running the race. Warning: this is going to be a long post!

I felt really good coming off my 8k in November. I set my PR by a good amount. I finished solidly. I ran the entire race without much difficulty. Even though I had put on a little bit of weight through OCR season I was still feeling pretty good about the state of my body. It was a little beat up from all of those intense races, but it managed to make it through everything and was still doing some impressive things. In October, I wanted to see where my mile time was, since getting that sub-5 minute mile goal has kind of gotten lost in all of the OCR craziness that was 2017, and I ran it in 7:12! That’s a huge improvement over the 9:45 that almost killed me when I was first starting out. The Spartan Sprint I ran in September was good enough to qualify me for the OCR World Championships. I got hired on as a contributor to the preeminent OCR news and media website Mud Run Guide.

Everything was going pretty great! Even though progress was a little slower than I had hoped it would be, it would be awful of me to not be grateful for all of the wonderful things that had happened over the past year. And I was grateful. I was also tired. It was an ambitious year and it took a lot out of me. I decided to take a couple weeks off to celebrate; A nice little off-season break to let my body and mind heal. After all, Every elite racer out there talks about the off-season and how they take time off to “reset” before they start training hard for next year. I figured, if it works for them there must be something to it. Now, I know myself pretty well and I should have known that time off would have to be carefully managed or it would end up disastrous. I didn’t put any time or energy into planning the off-season. I didn’t watch what I was eating, I didn’t work out, and I didn’t have any firm date that I’d start training again; what was supposed to be a break for a week or two quickly turned into a month. Even though a month is a relatively short period of time I really had let myself go.

“How much fitness could you really lose in a month? I have been active all year, so taking a few weeks off can’t hurt me that much, can it? Even though I’ve put on a couple of pounds and have been eating junk food, I know that I’m resilient. I’m going to prove it and sign up for a 5k and crush the PR that I had set at the beginning of the year!” That was my thought process about halfway through December. The race was the Run-A-Latke which was hosted by the Jewish Community Center here in Richmond, VA. It’s a small event that is family run. This was the 8th running of this race and seemed like a promising event with an easy course. So, I went ahead and signed up for it. I know that I normally write race reviews for all of the races I do, but I didn’t write one for this event. Why? Because I was so embarrassed and ashamed by my performance. So, to fix that I’ll give it a short review now: The race was great! It was extremely well run for a small event. It had a much better production value than I was expecting. They had finisher shirts and medals. They gave out Latkes, hot chocolate, coffee, and doughnuts at the end of the race. The course was clearly marked and they had great volunteers. It’s a race I look forward to running again in the future!

As for my race, shortly after the race started I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and my legs felt like lead. No matter how much I pushed I couldn’t really get any speed. Even settling into a pace that felt ‘comfortable’ had me breathing heavily. This was a far cry from the 8k I had run a little more than a month before. What happened? Could I really have become out of shape this quickly? It seemed ludicrous, but there I was struggling on this nice, flat course.  Even the end of the race shocked me. I have always, no matter my level of fitness, had a good ability to sprint at the end of a race. Even if I’m feeling gassed, knowing that the finish line is right there lets me dig down and really put it into high gear. After all, at the end of the race, what are you saving it for? Go for it! Well, I tried that strategy this time and failed. Even when I tried to sprint, I couldn’t tell that I was moving any faster. Honestly, even thinking about running faster made me want to throw up. I let go of that ‘strong finish’ mindset and just trotted to the finish line. I finished the race in 28:06.

I realize that me running a 28 minute 5k and describing it like I did so miserably could sound bad. I know there are a lot of people that have worked really hard and can’t run that distance in that time. I’m not necessarily upset with the time but more about the amount of effort I had to put in to get that time. I really had to push myself and by the end, I was suffering.  In the preceding month during my 8k race my 5k split was a 26:21, almost two minutes faster. I got that time when was pacing myself knowing I still had another 2 miles left to go. So, I am satisfied with the time and I’m happy that I still came in under 30 minutes, but I’m less happy with how difficult it was for me. The revelation that I was beginning to lose my fitness hit me pretty hard. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit me in a good way.

I made an attempt to use this race as a catalyst to re-ignite my health/fitness routine, but I was completely unsuccessful. In fact, I think it actually might have made it worse. I think that by performing so poorly I actually got a little resentful about exercise as a whole. I spent the next few weeks sleeping in, eating junk food, and getting fat. The whole time I kept having these thoughts “You have plenty of time to get back in shape. You worked hard in 2017 and you deserve a break. A few weeks won’t hurt you. It’s just one (more) treat. You’ve got this under control, don’t stress out about it.” But I didn’t have it under control; I was in a downward spiral. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this these past few weeks and I think I came to a couple of conclusions.

My first mistake was over-doing it this year. That’s not to say I don’t think I can handle what I put myself through, but I think I did it a little prematurely. I apparently trained just enough to get myself through it, but it left me completely burnt out by the end of the season. Working out wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t look forward to it. And on those rare occasions where I got myself out of bed and did something my heart just wasn’t in it. When I worked out I felt good amount doing something, but just going through the motions isn’t going to really get you much progress. Paradoxically, the second mistake I made was stopping. I know that I was burnt out, but I think if I had kept up my routine, even if I wasn’t pushing myself, I would have ended up in a better place. I’ve been keeping up with all of the elite OCR racers over social media and I realized something. It’s not hammering yourself in the gym for an hour+ every day that makes you great. All of these racers are also in their off-seasons, but they don’t spend their time sleeping in and eating candy. They are out on hikes, climbing rock faces, skiing, and all around just having a good time. For them, their off-season is more active than most average people’s workouts. They aren’t pushing hard. There isn’t a number of reps or max weight they are trying to move. But they are outside and they are keeping active. I think this is a big part of the reason that they can be professional athletes; they have designed their lives in such a way where they can maintain their elite level of fitness without having to think about it. I am sure they still get in workouts, and I am sure that once they get done with their adventures that they spend a lot of time training as well, but the reason I brought it up was the stark contrast I noticed between their ‘down time’ and mine.

I’ve spent the last two months quickly destroying much of what I have spent the past 16 months building. The more this realization sets in the more panicked I become. The 2018 race season isn’t going to wait for me to get back in shape. Knowing this puts me in another bad situation because I know that I tend to fall apart when I feel that kind of obligatory, negative pressure. Rather than using this pressure to motivate me I tend to pull back from it in an attempt to escape it. But I’ve already signed up for some races and we all know they don’t give you your money back, so I had to do something. And this brings us to the weekend of the 15k. As I said, I first heard of the race in November, back when I was still feeling encouraged about my fitness. I thought it could be interesting because, while I’ve run 9+ mile OCR races before, the longest road race I’ve done was a 10k. I was curious to see how I’d hold up for that distance on the road.

Leading up to race day I was getting more and more worried about it and was trying to talk myself out of it. The 5k I just completed shook my confidence and I wasn’t sure running the longer distance was a smart decision. After all, I have had all of those issues with knees and Achilles tendons. I remember about this time last year when I was starting to try to increase my mileage during my training. I was only usually about to run twice a week, usually for 2-3 miles, before I’d be in pain. Surely, 9 miles would destroy me. It is January, so it’d be cold. If I could barely run a sub 30 minute 5k in December, this race would likely be really hard and it would hurt my confidence even more. My wife had plans that weekend, and you can’t have strollers in this race, so she’d have to adjust those plans to watch my daughter. On top of that, I hadn’t signed up yet so the entry prices had gone up. You name an excuse and I probably thought of it. I was really on the fence and I know that I’m pretty good at taking the easy way out. The 15k was on a Sunday and here I was at 11:00 on that Friday night still debating what I was going to do. Everyone is going to have a different opinion about this, and that’s fine, but I do believe that if you are open to it, and you’re paying attention, that you can get help from a higher power in times of need. Remarkably, I didn’t ask for this intervention, but I got, what I felt, was a pretty clear sign that Friday night that I needed to sign up for this race. So, I did! I was nervous about it, but I had faith that I was making the right decision.

I’m not going to go over the race in as much detail as I typically do. Not that the race doesn’t deserve its own post, but that’s not the goal of this post. The race itself took place in a historic part of Richmond and ran through and adjacent to two of the cities most iconic parks: Maymont and Byrd Park. Having the race in this area is pretty cool, though the majority of the race was through residential areas. The surrounding area isn’t unique, so the race itself wasn’t as captivating as some other races, but this race had a really serious tone about it, so I think having a scenic route was pretty low on their priority list.

Apparently, this is the 34th running of this particular event. I was surprised to hear that as I’ve never heard of the race before and I’ve been in this city for around 16 years. It was even more surprising with 34 years of experience how rough around the edges the race felt. First and foremost, was the bathroom situation. The check-in was indoors at a local elementary school, but we were not permitted to use the facilities there, we had to use the port-a-potties outside. That, to me, is perfectly reasonable. What was not reasonable was the number of port-a-potties that were available. The race website stated the race was limited to 1000 racers. When I signed up the website stated there were only around 40 spots left, meaning this event was almost sold out. I don’t know what sort of turn out they have had in the past but they concluded that 6 port-a-potties would be enough for this race. But if we do some math we can clearly see that their predictions were way off: If 500 of those 1000 people needed to use the bathroom and they divided up neatly into 6 lines, one for each toilet, that would mean there would be around 83 people per line. If each of these people took exactly 30 seconds in each stall that would mean if you were last in line you’d be waiting in line for 41 minutes just to use the bathroom!! We all know that runners are some of the most notorious bathroom users that exist on the planet. And while not everyone is going to need the bathroom and not everyone will need to go at the same time, you should expect these toilets to be in high demand. As you can see from the image below the situation was not good. If you had to stand in this line you definitely were not going to get the proper time to warm up and stretch before the race started. In fact, I’d say about 80% of the people in this photo were still in line when we were summoned to the start line.

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The line starts on the left, goes all the way back and then across the parking lot.

Speaking of being summoned to the start line, I thought it strange that they didn’t have a PA system at all. Perhaps it was because the start line wasn’t far from some houses, but there were zero speakers there. So, no music, no announcer, no anything. Instead of that, there was just a very angry sounding guy near the start line yelling at everyone in the bathroom line when there were 7 minutes until the race started. There was also no audible countdown or anything prior to the race start. We were all just kind of standing there and then the people in front of us started moving. This was a significant departure from what I am used to both in OCR and from other road races. Another thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t get a shirt. I know I signed up last minute, and they said last-minute sign-ups aren’t guaranteed a shirt. I accept that and I did get fair warning. However, I do think that if you’re putting on a race and you know there are only going to be 1000 people you could probably put in an order close to that number. This by itself wouldn’t have upset me too much, but combined with some of the other things left me questioning the race organizer’s commitment to this event.

It was an interesting race as the course had a pretty strange layout. It crossed over itself quite a few times and they did a good job of making sure you wouldn’t be colliding with other runners, but it did make the course a little confusing.  Luckily, I had hundreds of runners in front of me to follow so I never got lost! The most strange thing about the course is that they didn’t shut down any of the roads to traffic. So, there were literally parts of the race where you are running around/behind/in front of/beside moving cars. They do warn you of this on the site and tell you that you are responsible for your own safety, but it was weird to share a race course with cars. I did feel kind of bad for the residents of those areas where we were running. I am sure some people had a hard time getting to work, Church, or brunch.

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This post is getting long enough as it is, so I’ll spare many of the boring details of the race itself. I did manage to convince my body to run the first 5k. It was hard though. I’d say right around the first half mile my instinct to stop started kicking in. My 5k time was around a 30:40. Another 2.5 minutes slower than my 5k in December… If you think I was disappointed by that 5k, this 5k time made me forget all about that one! After the first 3 miles, I wasn’t able to run a single mile under 10 minutes for the rest of this race; which is evidenced by the guy that passed me who was juggling the entire time. That’s right, a juggler just cruised right past me while I was running my heart out.

As I mentioned in my 8k post I typically pick an enemy to beat in each race. It took a little while for the field to spread out enough for me to choose anyone. As a matter of fact, that didn’t happen until around mile 3.5, when I was walking. That’s when two ladies passed me. One of the ladies I recognized at a former bank manager from a bank I used to frequent. The other was a lady who was a little older than I am; She might have been in her mid-to-late 50s, possibly even early 60s. It was apparent after some time that we were all moving roughly around the same speed, so I decided to have two enemies this race. My bank teller friend was the fastest of the three of us, and there were plenty of times where I wasn’t sure if I’d catch her or not. Beating her was more of a stretch goal and so I set my sights primarily on my other enemy.

This race had a lot of downs for me without very many ups. I was truly struggling almost the entire time. I walked way more often than I wanted to and for way longer than I wanted to. I just couldn’t seem to get it together. I couldn’t breathe well, my legs were heavy and uncooperative, and I lacked any sort of endurance. My primary nemesis, on the contrary, had it all. After she passed me the first time I spent the entire rest of the race trying everything I could to finish before she did. She was truly amazing out there and was a formidable opponent. Like I mentioned, she is a bit older than I am. She had light colored, slightly greying hair. She appeared to have a pretty serious case of kyphosis (rounded upper back). Her running stride was short and choppy and her foot strike really needed some work. These are some of the judgemental things that came into my mind while I was desperate to find some strength to finish this race.

These observations weren’t coming from a negative place though, they came from some really profound revelations that I had while I was out there. The reason I noticed any of these thoughts was because no matter how hard I tried I could not catch this person. She would be far enough ahead that by the time I would start running, and I would gain some ground on her, I’d feel like I’d have to stop again. When I stopped running, there she was pulling away from me again. No matter what I was thinking, it didn’t change the fact that she was out there and that she was ahead of me. There I was with all of the things I’ve studied and all of the running mechanics tweaks I’ve worked on; I was the younger person with ‘better form’ and all this knowledge, and no matter what I tried, I just could not catch her. No matter what the mile marker said, there she was trucking along like it was nothing. I’m going through bouts of wanting to throw up and quit altogether and she’s there in front of me, charging forward. I kept switching from running to walking and she just ran, each foot landing like a metronome, the entire time. The only time I saw her walk at all was at the last water station to grab a cup of water. She drank it and tossed it in the trash can, and then started right back up running again. I had all of these reasons that I “should be” faster than she is, but at the end of the day, none of them could change the simple fact that I wasn’t.

I think with anything competitive there is a certain amount of ego you have to worry about. I think that without some sort of drive to make yourself better you can’t really have any fun in anything competitive. And while I know that I probably won’t be winning any races, I still want to get out and do the best that I can. The harder you work at something the better you tend to become. The better you become at something the more confident you feel about it. Confidence is a slippery slope though, and I feel like if left unchecked it can easily slip into vanity. I don’t think I’m a very vain person, most of the time, though I do think that this race showed me that I was getting a little more arrogant than I’d like to admit. There’s no reason that I should “expect” to beat anyone. When you show up to the start line anyone could be there, and it’s always possible you could be the worst one. There’s no reason, superficial or otherwise, that you should expect to beat another person. You never know how hard they’ve trained or how much heart they have. I know I have a problem where, because I’ve done something once, I expect to be able to repeat it at will, even if circumstances have changed. It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve gotten worse or that something is not achievable.

I think thoughts like these have been holding me back and are detrimental to my success, not just as an athlete, but as a person. This past year I made a lot of improvement and finally started showing some promise. But it’s wrong to believe that just because two months ago I ran a much faster time that I somehow deserve to run that fast now. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t take care of myself. I wasn’t training and I wasn’t eating right. Every bit of agony I felt, I deserved. My performance this day was the direct result of my actions, just like everyone else out there had a performance that was the result of their actions. My race enemy should be extremely proud of herself. It’s obvious she’s put in the work to compete in an event like this. The fact that she could run the entire event is amazing, just like anyone who ran the whole race is amazing. The fact that she is as consistent as she is, amazes me. I am sure she’s trained for a long time to get those results. And while I had a grimace on my face the whole time, whenever I saw her face she seemed as though she was having a blast out there. I think the ability to focus solely on having fun while competing is something I lost a time ago, and I really need to work on getting that back.

One final note about this topic is that I want to express my gratitude for this racer. If this person had not been out on the course I would not have finished with the time that I did. It sometimes felt torturous to try to keep up with her, but if she wasn’t there pushing me the whole time I know for a fact I would have walked a lot more and I would have run more slowly. So, I want to thank her for pushing me and giving me a better race time. But more importantly, I want to thank her for opening my eyes. I think it’s important for people to be humbled once in a while, and I think I was overdue. So, to this runner, I want to say something directly: I envy you. Your commitment to succeed is truly inspiring. I hope one day to have half the heart you displayed out on that race course. You may not know it, but you taught me a lot that day, and I’m better for it. I know it’s unlikely that you’ll ever read this but I still wanted to say, for everything that day, thank you!

I suppose after all of that I should say something about how the race ended. Well, it took almost the entire race, from around 3.5 miles to almost the 8th mile, but I eventually caught my first race enemy. It wasn’t easy and it cost me a lot of energy to do it. Once I caught her I had to try really hard to make sure I stayed in front of her. Even if I needed to walk, I had to keep it short because I was so tired at this point that I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to catch her again. Despite my best efforts, she did manage to catch me once, but I got lucky as I had been walking a while and had caught my breath so I started running again soon after she passed me. I knew she was there, hot on my trail, the whole time so it really helped to push me to the finish line. I guess my bank manager friend put a little too much into the first half of the race because as we were getting closer to the end of the race she got closer and closer. I saw her walk a couple of times and when she was running she wasn’t as quick as she had been before. I got my hopes up a little bit that I might also be able to catch her, but it was looking more and more hopeless as the finish line approached. After the 8th mile, I was pretty much exhausted. My legs were heavy, sore, and unresponsive. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and my will to live was waining. I was starting to give up hope that I’d catch her. I had come around one corner to see her walking in front of me, but unfortunately, as I needed to stop for a moment to walk she started running again.

At this point, I figured catching her was a lost cause, so I stopped thinking about racing anyone else and just tried to muster the strength to get to the finish line. I was maybe about a half mile from the finish line and was very eager to get it done with. Despite the protests from my legs, I made a mental commitment to finish that last half mile without walking. I managed to do it, though I am sure I looked like I was hurting and my form was probably awful. As I usually do, I tried my best to sprint the last little section. In this race, it was a straight shot to the finish line for the last 300-400 meters. Interestingly, it was on an incline, so that made it harder to get much speed when you’re already exhausted. But, I did my best to get up that hill and I managed to pass a few people right at the end. It was difficult and I was on the brink of getting nauseated again, so I held back just enough at the end of this one to prevent that.

I crossed the finish line in 1:45:37. My goal for the race was 1:30:00, so I missed my goal but not really by that much. In a race this distance, a few seconds on each mile add up, so I feel like I was actually pretty close to where I wanted to be. Of course, 1:30:00 was my time to beat, my real (vanity) goal was 1:20:00. But you know what? I’m perfectly ok with my time! I went out there and did the best I could and that’s all you can ask of yourself. Sure, I’m discouraged that I didn’t do better, but again, that’s the result of my lifestyle and I’m aware of that now. If I want a better time I have to work for it, it’s not just going to ‘happen’ for me. And if I want to keep my fitness I have to maintain it and watch what I eat. Fitness is truly a “get-what-you-give” endeavor. I’ve got some work ahead of me to get back to where I was a few months ago, and I’ve got even more work to get to where I want to be. It’s reassuring to know that I will get there if I just keep it up. Life itself is not (or it shouldn’t be!) a race, and I need to learn to cut myself some slack. I need to trust in the process and put in the time to get the reward, whenever that might come. Sometimes I think it can be hard to work so hard for something to get no immediate return on your investment. I’m starting to realize, that the best, most rewarding things in life are like that, though. And it makes it so much more meaningful when you do finally reach your goals.

Oh, and after the fact, I went online and checked the race results. I was so concentrated on running that last bit that I really wasn’t paying attention to anything but that finish line. After the race, I realized I  didn’t know if I finished ahead of my second enemy or not. According to the official race results I managed to squeak by her right at the end, finishing a whopping 30 second ahead of her! She was definitely a worthy adversary!

On that note, I think I’m finally going to wrap up this post. If you made it all the way down here I feel like you deserve a medal!!

 

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VCU Health 8k – 11/11/17

So, this post is super late but it is better late than never.

Along with the larger Anthem Richmond Marathon is the Markel Half-Marathon and the VCU Health 8k. This is a long-standing tradition in Richmond and this year the race is celebrating its 40th year. Of those 40 years, this year was my fourth year running this particular 8k. It’s a nice race; it’s mostly flat and the last half mile or so is completely downhill, so you can let gravity help pull you across the finish line. The course has been the same every year that I’ve run it, which is nice because, not only is it a fun course, but it also gives you a consistent race that you can use to measure your fitness.

In the past, I have always tried to “train” for this race. Not real training, more like, a few weeks before the race I realize there is a race coming up and I start running to get ready for it. For that reason, my times have never really been where I wanted them, and the race always seems much harder than it should. I was excited to race this year because it’s the first time I’ve really put any good miles on my legs leading up to the race. Going into it I definitely felt like I was going to set a PR, but one never knows how things are going to go on race day, so I was trying not to get my hopes up too much. As this race is solidly in November every year it’s usually pretty cold in the morning. Most years I’ve been out there it’s under 30 F ( 0 C) when the race starts. The cold temperatures have been the biggest obstacle in this race each year. I’ve found that if I’m not used to breathing heavily in the cold air it can be very difficult to run well. This year Mother Nature played a cruel joke on us by giving us hope that maybe this year would be different. The Friday morning before the race it was in the mid-40s and it was a lovely afternoon. Sure enough, the next day (the morning of the race) it was around 26 F (-3 C)!

I actually fared much better in the cold air than I thought I would, considering it hadn’t been that cold for the weeks leading up to the race. I don’t know if training helped or if I just got lucky, but my body responded much better than I was expecting. If anything, by the time I was done running I was too hot! I wore the same outfit I typically do: Long track pants, a light hooded-jacket, and running gloves. Shortly after the race started the hood came off, and by half-way, the jacket was unzipped. By the end, I was even thinking of taking off my gloves. There wasn’t a point where I felt like the cold air was really holding me back, and that’s a good thing.

As is typical in my road races of late, mile 4 is the hardest mile. I ran the first three miles pretty quickly. In fact, the first mile I ran too fast! It was my fastest full mile in the race and came in around 8:15. I was definitely feeling it in mile 2 and slowed down to around a 9 minute/mile pace for the next two miles. Strava has my 5k time as 26:21 which is a little over a minute faster than my 5k PR I set in March. According to Strava I actually ran the fourth mile in 8:48, 12 seconds faster than the previous two miles. While this is possible, it certainly did not feel that way. I was hurting a little in the fourth mile. I know I had a goal in mind for this race, and perhaps it was my mind fighting my body in that mile that pushed it to such a quick pace.

The last almost-mile (8k is just under 5 miles) felt pretty good. As previously mentioned, it’s almost all downhill and it’s a pretty steep downhill. Knowing this allows you to tell yourself “Hey, you’re almost there, and the last bit is super easy. Just keep it up and you’ll get there.” And that’s exactly what I did. In past years, I opened up too late and felt like I should have picked up the pace a little earlier. So this year, as soon as we turned that last corner and started the downhill I picked up the pace. I started gradually, but as the hill got steeper I pushed harder.

Now, I always pick an “enemy” when I race. This person is not someone I dislike at all, but instead someone that I deem to be at around the same fitness level as myself. Most of the time I choose my nemesis by the second or third mile, as we’ve had time to settle into our run and I can say confidently that we are about as fast as each other (or maybe that they are a little faster). This person silently helps motivate me to keep pushing when I want to stop. I can’t just let my enemy beat me! But I didn’t have an enemy for most of this race. I started the race with my wife and some friends so we were way back in the pack. This allowed me to pass a lot of people early on. Once I had settled into my pace I was either passing other people or being passed, but I didn’t really have anyone to run with. Somewhere between mile 4 and 4.5, there was a gentleman who pretty easily cruised past me. He was older than me, I’d say in his mid-to-late 50s. In my head, I congratulated him as he passed me, but I was a little jealous. When I made it to the downhill and started running a little faster I noticed that I could still see him. He was a good distance ahead of me, but not so far that it seemed impossible to catch him. So, at that moment he became my race enemy.

The rest of the race was me racing this gentleman. He didn’t know we were racing, but I almost wish he did, because he really pushed me at the end and I’d like him to know how much he helped me. It seemed like we had the same strategy in mind and every time I picked up my pace he seemed to pick up his as well. There was a solid moment near the end where I started doubting that I’d be able to catch him. We were in the last 400 meters and I still wasn’t sure if I could do it. I dug deep and really gave it my all, I really wanted to pass this guy and to get the finishing time that I wanted. With maybe a hundred feet to the finish line, I had finally made up some ground and pushed past him to the finish!! The feeling of success and pride quickly faded and turned into focusing solely on not throwing up in front of the hundreds of people surrounding the finish line. I have only ever made myself throw up from running once and that was in high school when I was training with a college track star after a breakfast I shouldn’t have eaten. Needless to say, I pushed myself a little too hard here and my body was quick to let me know it. I had three people ask if I was ok after I finished. I assured them I was fine, but I think the intermittent gagging told a different story. I tried to play it off and act cool about it all, but I don’t know how convincing I was. Luckily, after about a minute of heaving breathing and panicking my body calmed down and I was able to claim my medal and start to feel good about the race.

I ended up finishing the race in 43:06. There was a small part of me that was curious to see if I could finish in 42 minutes or faster. I didn’t quite get there, but that was a stretch goal. 45 minutes was really my goal and I managed to beat that without too much trouble. I would have been sad if I didn’t beat my previous PR of 52 minutes. Luckily, I finished out the race feeling pretty good about it. It was the first race I’ve run in a long time where I felt pretty confident for most of it and there weren’t many times looking back where I thought I could have pushed harder. I can say that I am 100% satisfied with my race and I am proud of my time.

I was excited when I was looking over my Strava data for that last section of the race. It says that the last half mile was run at a 6:16/mile pace and that the last 400 meters were run at a 5:30/mile pace. For me, that is a super quick pace!! There was a huge part of me that felt exhilarated running at that speed again. There is another part of me that feels a little intimidated by it though. Pushing myself to run at that pace almost made me throw up and I was only able to run that fast because of the downhill. Remembering how that felt makes it feel like that sub-5 minute mile is a little further away than I think is. It blows my mind that anyone can run that fast comfortably! Even so, it does reassure me that my body is capable of such a feat, I just need to condition it better. Now that I don’t have any more races for a few months I can finally dedicate some time to training.

I had a really good time at this race and have discovered that road races can also be fun, you don’t always need mud and things to climb over. I think when I lost my fitness I lost my ability to enjoy just running. This race made me remember that you can have fun with running, but you need to put in the time and work to get to a point where you’re fairly comfortable. Once you get past that first tough part, the activity becomes much, much more enjoyable. Now, I am looking forward to signing up for more road races! I guess we will see what 2018 brings!

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.

 

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!