Spartan Race: Carolina Beast 11/4/17

Spartan Race: Carolina Beast 11/4/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What a pretty medal!!!

 

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

 

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Spartan Race: Virginia Super 6/3/17

Spartan Race: Virginia Super 6/3/17

Two weeks after finishing my Spartan Beast in Ohio I had the Super in Virginia. It was at a new venue this year, which presented a whole new experience. But was it a good one? Read on to find out!

To the best of my knowledge, as long as the Virginia Super has existed it was held at Wintergreen Ski resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Having a race at a ski resort presents all sorts of interesting elevation challenges. The first race I did there in 2014 was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done physically. I had a hard time even walking for almost a week after that race. It took me over 7 hours to complete and my entire body was trashed at the end. No joke; I was so tired at the end of the race I couldn’t even do the fire jump. I actually had to step right into the fire to finish the race. I have a photo to prove it! This race became one of the more legendary races in the circuit. In fact, the race was so tough that the most common thing I heard in my three races on that mountain was “I’m never doing this again!!”. And I think those people meant it. I feel like every year there were less and less participants. This might just be my observation, but if you look at the finisher data, the total number of finishers goes down every year. I think that from a business standpoint Spartan couldn’t have that race anymore as they were losing repeat business.

It’s a real shame. I loved that course. While it was long and grueling it was also a blast and it was something you always felt proud about when you went home, no matter how well you did, you finished it, and that’s enough! Being that I am finally doing something about my fitness I was eager to take on that course again and do better than ever before. My fastest time was a little over 7 hours, but my slowest was over 9. I had something to prove to that course and, sadly, it looks like I won’t get the chance to do it.

Even so, it’s always nice to try new things and to see new places. The new venue for the Virginia Super is Infinity Downs in Arrington Virginia. Not far from Wintergreen this farm provided plenty of space to run around and get muddy. The one thing it did not have was elevation change. This was a very flat and fast course. Which made it a lot more fun than Wintergreen, but it was much easier.

The course itself wasn’t overly demanding, but most of the trails you were running on were blazed just for this race, which means that there were a LOT of 1-2 inch tall sapling stumps in the fallen leaves. A lot of the trail running was very difficult for this reason and if you didn’t have strong ankles you were sure to roll your ankle at some point. Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever tripped and fallen to the ground in the 12 Spartan Races I’ve competed in. A witness declared that it was a graceful fall and she gave me a 10/10 on it, which made me feel much better about it! I liked that it had this extra challenge because it helped keep it more interesting since there wasn’t much elevation change.

I really liked the layout of this race. There were plenty of obstacles nicely spread out over the first few miles. Then it went to mostly trail running for the majority of the rest of the race. The last few miles had another good collection of obstacles in rapid succession. I don’t know why I didn’t find them quite as exhausting as I typically do, but I think it might have had something to do with the layout and arrangement of the obstacles. They did put the rope climb, Olympus, and the spear throw within sight of each other, which is pretty cruel. Luckily, I only failed two of those three and I completed Olympus for the first time! In fact, I only failed three obstacles this race, which means only 90 burpees. Until now 120 burpees was the lowest number I’ve had to complete in a race, so I’d say that’s some progress!

I guess I can’t get into failed obstacles without talking about Twister. They put this guy right before the slip wall and the fire jump, so the finish line is literally a stone’s throw away. I haven’t ever completed Twister before, but I was feeling good about defeating Olympus and the multi-rig (I have done this one before, once, but my feet did hit the ground a little and while I didn’t stand I still kinda felt guilty about it). So I decided it’s right at the end I’m going to give it my all and finish strong! Much to my amazement I was doing really well on it! It was three lengths long, which meant two transition areas. The first leg was no problem really. The second leg went pretty smoothly. I lost a little time as I was awkwardly grasping the supports on the transition to the third section. This made me a little nervous and may have contributed to what happened next. I was about 3 rungs away from the bell. One more rung I and I think I could have reached out and smacked that bell victorious! My grip was failing, but I felt I had it in me. As I reached out for that last rung with my right hand my left hand gave out, the callus right below my ring finger tore off and it caused my hand to slip. I was devastated. I was so close, I was right there! Anyway, it was 30 burpees for me, right at the end of the race. Such a disappointment! Even though I failed it, I did really well, which means I know I can complete it next time! I put a pic of my injured hand below, don’t scroll all the way down if blood makes you queasy. The ladies at the medical tent said I was about the 10th person they had come in with the same injury from the same obstacle, so at least I wasn’t alone in my condition.

Spartan did a really good job with this race. Everything was well spaced, including the water stations. I really think it was a pretty great race overall, though It’s hard to think about it without comparing it to Wintergreen. It was a different race for sure, but it was a lot of fun, so I won’t complain. I hope one day they bring Wintergreen back so I can give it one more shot. But if not I will enjoy racing this venue again in the future. I am still missing the FitAid at the end of the races though. Spartan places the blame on FitAid for not showing up, but it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, they need something at the end. A banana and a dixie cup of water are not enough after an event like that. They had protein drinks before they had FitAid, now it’s just water. Whatever it is, I think they need to step it up a little. I get better goodies at the end of a 5k than I do at Spartan Races now, and that is disappointing.

My third Spartan is in the books and I have first Trifecta of the year! After running these races I am getting a little more confident overall, but it is also starting to make me worry about the West Virginia Trifecta weekend coming up in August. My body is starting to break down around mile 7-8. If you see my post about the Ohio Beast you’ll see I had some fatigue and cramping issues. Those same issues popped up in the same spot this race. Which, in a way, is good. I know what’s weak and I can work on it. But it’s making the threat of this race real. If I really want to attempt to do this event I’m going to need to fully commit to it. It’s going to take everything I’ve got. Especially since it’s a championship race and it’s in the mountains. It’s going to be a killer, one that will be talked about in the future, I am willing to bet. I want to be able to have a good story to tell when I talk about it. Here are a few pictures from the race!

Spartan Race: Ohio Beast 5/20/17

Spartan Race: Ohio Beast 5/20/17

This post is long overdue. In fact, me posting anything is long overdue. You know how sometimes life just gets crazy and things start falling off of your radar. Regardless of whether or not I forgot to write this post, I haven’t forgotten what the post is about! I did my first Spartan Beast of the year in Chandlersville, Ohio on 5/20/2017! The race is set on a wildlife refuge called The Wilds. The course was great, but unfortunately I didn’t encounter any exotic wildlife while running. That would make this a different race entirely!

The weather was calling for a hot Saturday afternoon. Luckily, I was running in the competitive wave and got started while it was still cool. It had recently rained and it was foggy, misty, and relatively mild; A great setting for a race, in my opinion. Once I got going on the course I realized it was a bit more humid than I initially gave it credit for, but it wasn’t terrible. If you’ve ever lived through a Virginia summer you’re no stranger to humidity. Also, there was a fair amount of trail running through the forest, which helped keep it cool and the humidity down. In fact, if you look at the map almost all of the green Beast route was in the trees. Personally, I love running in the woods, so I felt right at home.

The combination of these longer races with the Sprints is making for a really interesting race dynamic. If you check out the map almost all of the obstacles are either upfront or at the end. It means you have short periods of high intensity, and then long periods of cardio. It sort of changes how you have to approach the race and you have to know what’s coming up so you can save enough in the tank for the gauntlet at the end. I liked this race setup though. It was a good batch up front, then a lot of running, another pop of obstacles in the middle, more running, then it finished strong. There were also plenty of obstacles around the festival area so everyone got a good view of the runners they were there to support.

Overall I think the event was really well done. I loved the course. The course was just over 13 miles and it had a decent amount of elevation change, around 2000 feet total. So it wasn’t as brutal as some of the mountain races, but had enough to be a challenge. There was plenty of varied terrain and different sections of the race presented different terrain, which helped keep it interesting. The course was pretty technical at times, but the entire course wasn’t super technical. There was a decent amount of mud, especially in the second half of the Sprint course. That section was probably the muddiest part of the entire race. As mentioned, I think they did a great job surrounding the festival area with the course to give everyone a good vantage point of many of the obstacles.

If your grip strength needs work (like mine does) the last part of the course was a little bit awful. While I hated doing all the burpees, especially at the end of the race, I liked the challenge it presented. They put the multi-rig and the new obstacle Olympus right at the end, back to back, both within eye shot of the finish line (see pics below). I have been pretty successful on the rigs lately (at least the easier ones with mostly just rings), but the fatigue I was feeling and the damp, slippery rings were too much for me and I fell off on the second ring. After those burpees were done I went to Olympus, which was the first obstacle I failed in Charlotte. Being that I had failed it once and this was literally 50 feet from the finish line I really wanted to finish it. I heard that this obstacle was having a very high failure rate, due to the wet and muddy conditions. A lovely, wonderful volunteer was offering her sleeves for racers to wipe their hands on. After thanking her for her assistance I tried my absolute best, and I got about halfway when I lost my grip. 30 more burpees. At least I tried though, and I learned a few things about the obstacle, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Since I’ve started talking about my performance in the race I suppose I’ll go ahead and talk about how I personally reacted to the race. Overall, things went great! The first 7 or so miles were actually a breeze. It helps that the course wasn’t crazy difficult, but I felt like I was breezing through most of  it. By this point in the race I had run most of the miles and had only failed one obstacle so far, the rope climb. No surprise there. The sandbag carry was the last obstacle around the festival area before the Sprint course took you back out into the wilderness. It was my first time with the new, wreck bag style sandbags. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet. I feel like they might be easier to carry than the pancake, and I don’t do these things for them to be easy. Anyway, right after the sandbag carry I started getting some pretty wicked calf cramps. This is the first time I’ve ever really had a cramp in a race. I’ve had some mild hamstring cramps before, but they’re gone as quick as they come usually and haven’t held me back at all. These cramps were different. I can now sympathize with those people I see sitting on the ground in pain as I run past. I attribute these cramps to running this race while ketogenic, it’s the only thing I’ve done differently. I admit, I had eaten some carbs before the race, but it was by no means carb-loading. While it was unfortunate to get them, I did learn something about my body that’s come in handy in subsequent races.

I would also like to add here that I saw more people having cramps in this race than I have seen in any of the other 10 Spartan races I’ve done. I don’t know if it had something to do with terrain or maybe the extra sweat from the higher humidity, but people were falling out left and right near the end. So that made me feel better!

The cramping did hold me back for those last 5 miles. I ran when I could, but I could feel them sneaking up from time to time. I got a nasty one that paralyzed almost my whole leg when I was going over the 8 foot wall. I had to step aside and let that calm down before I tried it again, using the other leg for support instead. But I did get over it!! Which, everyone, is a huge deal. Having to ask for help on any wall over 6 feet was always super embarrassing. The fact that I can clear an 8 foot wall now with relative ease is HUGE for me!

So, other than the cramps around mile 7 or 8 I started noticing my back hamstring on my right leg was feeling funny. Not like a cramp and not like I was injured, just more like it was tired. By the end of the race it was affecting pretty much my entire knee. A little painful, but mostly just fatigue, I think. I haven’t quite ever felt that before. This combined with the cramps made those last few miles a good bit slower than I would have liked. But I was still able to trot around from time to time and I was able to finish the other obstacles, other than those grip strength ones at the end.

Overall, I had great race! Maybe even my best race to date. Through the whole race I actually maintained a better pace than I did in my recent Spartan Sprint! I was holding back a little on that one because it was the first one of the year and I wasn’t sure what kind of shape I was actually in and I didn’t want to overdo it. My obstacle completion is getting better all the time and I am running more and running faster! I am very excited for the rest of this season! Here are some photos of the race.

 

Review: ShoeCue Running Insole

Review: ShoeCue Running Insole

A while back I had mentioned that I purchased some ShoeCue insoles. I have been trying them out recently and I wanted to share my thoughts on the product.

First off, what are they? They are insoles for your running shoes that actually replace the insoles that came with the shoe. They are a nice, bright orange color with a black area in the heel. The actual insole itself is made of a soft, spongy material just like most other shoe insoles. The black area on the heel is more of a plastic. The interesting thing is that this black section has a whole bunch of little nubs that stick up. The point of this and the insoles in general is to help you improve your running form. Heel striking is overly prevalent in runners these days and has resulted in many runners having poor form and injuries. Recent studies have shown that really it doesn’t matter which part of your foot hits the ground; it’s more important that your foot is coming in contact with the ground directly under your center of gravity. While that may be true, the ability to heel strike with super padded running shoes has encouraged people to over stride and are instead landing in front of their center of gravity. I think that it is easier to land properly when you are landing more on your forefoot. And the fine folks at ShoeCue agree. The textured heel they designed for these insoless is designed to give you biofeedback when you’re running so that you can, over time, gradually eliminate your heel strike and develop a solid forefoot strike.

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Free drawstring bag with order! I didn’t think to take a picture of mine and mine wife has made off with it. I borrowed this picture from the ShoeCue website (Please don’t sue me).

When you order the insoles they come in a universal size set and, at the time of writing, come with an attractive, free drawstring bag. You actually need to cut the excess off the front of the insole before you can use them in your shoe. There are pre-marked lines that indicate where you need to cut depending on your shoe size. They did a good job with their design because I cut mine as suggested and they fit perfectly in my shoes. Once they are cut down you simply remove your old insole and put these bad boys in their place.

You will definitely feel the difference right away. The spongy forefoot actually feels really good, and I actually think I like it better than the insole that came with the shoe. The heel of the insole is immediately noticeable. It’s a hard sensation to describe, but it almost feels kind of like when you have sand inside your shoe; it’s not uncomfortable and it doesn’t hurt, but you can’t help but notice it’s there. Walking around with them feels really strange at first. We all heel strike when we walk and the insole is definitely noticeable when you’re walking. Again, it’s not painful at all, just a constant sensation. Interestingly, that pretty much all goes away when you’re running, if your form is good.

When I first ran with these insole it revealed a few things to me. The first thing I noticed was that my form wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’ve been working hard at moving away from the heel strike and it’s definitely been paying off! One thing that I found interesting though was the textured part of the insole actually extends, at least for me, a little bit into my mid-foot as well. When I was first running I definitely could tell when I was mid-foot striking instead of forefoot striking. Amazingly, even when you’re running and putting all that extra pressure on your feet the insoles still never hurt. I even let go of my form for a little bit and let myself slip back into a heel strike just to be able to determine if there is a difference. I could definitely tell when I was running on my heel  over the other areas of my foot, but it never got too uncomfortable or painful.

Near the end of my first run with these insole I was starting to lose steam. Throughout the run I had been focusing on my form, but after the last big hill I just couldn’t keep it together anymore. For me, when I get tired there are a few tell-tale signs: I break at the hips, my shoulders go up, my torso rotates, and I heel strike. I actually thought my form was still pretty good but once I crested that hill right away I knew, without consciously thinking about it, that I was heel striking again. I was impressed that these insoles were able to point out to me that I was slipping back into my old patterns. If I didn’t believe in the product before I did after that run.

I have taken these insoles out for all my successive runs and I think I am getting better each time. I still think it’s a really strange sensation when I first slip them on and I am walking around, but as soon as I start running I pretty much all but forget about them even being there, unless my form gets sloppy. I am now able to tell right away and fix my form for the rest of the run, rather than reinforcing the bad habits by continuing to run like that.

One word of caution while using these: Don’t try to change your form too fast! It may be exciting to try to finally nail that forefoot strike and you might like how the changes feel, but your body needs time to adapt to the new  running style. Running on your forefoot places a lot more strain on your Achilles tendon. Without a proper adaptation phase you’re running the risk of getting Achilles tendinitis. The whole point of correcting your running form is to prevent injury, not cause it, so please be smart. My calf muscles were on fire the first time I used these; a small change in form can affect your body in a major way.

I would suggest getting a pair of shoes just for your ShoeCue insoles. Not that you couldn’t just wear it all the time, but I’d imagine you’d wear them out a lot faster if you just walked in them all day. Also, I could see your body adapting to them too much and you wouldn’t get that instant feedback while you’re running if you form starts to suffer. I could also imagine that switching insoles in your shoes whenever you wanted to go for a run could get pretty old. Even if you have to go out and buy a new pair of shoes, I say do it. Put in your ShoeCue insoles and be done with it. And seriously, who doesn’t like buying new running shoes??

You may also need to pay attention to what socks you wear while using the insoles. I found I can still feel them with thick, traditional cotton socks, but not nearly as well. I have been using a thin, synthetic sock and I feel the response is much better with the insoles. If you’re one of those strange people that don’t wear socks while you run, well, carry on.

One other recommendation I would give is to make sure your shoes are laced tightly. And if your shoe does come untied, stop to tie it. In one of my earlier runs I didn’t tie my right shoe well enough and eventually it came untied. My foot was a little loose in there and my heel was sliding around a little and was rubbing on the textured part of the insole. I can see someone, especially starting out with the insoles, getting blisters from the friction caused by the ill-fitting shoe. Make sure your shoes and on well and laced tightly. When they are you’ll have a great experience with them.

Overall I would definitely recommend this product to anyone who runs at all. I know that a lot of pro athletes have started using them for anything from road races to obstacle course racing. They feel well made and are surprisingly comfortable to run on. They are a well designed and helpful product. I think what you get for the price is well worth the investment.

If you’re interested in taking them out for a spin you can buy them here:

If you decide to pick some up please come back and tell me what you think of them!

 

 

** Please be aware that I purchased this product at full price with my own money. It was not a gift and there was no compensation for this review. I have not and will not receive any compensation for this review. This is just me, sharing my opinion.