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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

BONEFROG (Sprint)- Maryland 8/19/17

BONEFROG (Sprint)- Maryland 8/19/17

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

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

IMG_20170819_073800375_TOP.jpg
Hell’s Gate. Aptly named. Try to get through quickly or you’ll have people jumping over the walls on top of you!

 

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

IMG_20170819_105442736
The Chopper. You might have to look close, but you can see the handles. A lot of people failing this one!

 

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

Screenshot_20170817-093832
It’s a little blurry, I didn’t take this one, I borrowed it from the BONEFROG Instagram account. You can’t really read it, but I felt I should include it nonetheless.

 

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

Sprint – 5k with 20+ obstacles.

Challenge – 8+ miles with 30+ obstacles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warrior Dash – Maryland 8/5/17

Warrior Dash – Maryland 8/5/17

Continuing my goal of running every OCR event that comes my way this year, I completed my first Warrior Dash. I’m really enjoying checking out all of these different events and seeing how they all operate. Warrior Dash felt pretty familiar, it definitely gave me more of a Spartan Race feel than some of the other events, but lacked some of the production value. Sort of a Spartan-lite, if you will.

This event was held at Budd’s Creek Motocross Track. I don’t know if it’s part of the same property or not, but this race is literally adjacent to the other spaces where they have held the D.C. Spartan Sprint races. It felt good to be home! The D.C. Spartan Sprint was the first OCR race I ever completed and what started this whole crazy journey, so I liked revisiting this area, especially in a new setting.

Parking was good, I got there early so I had no issues getting a spot. I also really like the idea of adding the parking charge to the ticket price, so you don’t need to worry about paying that day. They have that right and I hope the other races follow in their footsteps! The parking area was a good hike away from the start of the event though. I heard quite a few people complaining about this, even people who were racing that day.  I just can’t really understand why you would pay money to run an OCR and then complain that you have to walk a little way to get there! I think that this might be the different crowd that an event like this will draw. Sure, I saw plenty of really fit people and people sporting Spartan finisher shirts, but there were also a lot more of us “normal” looking people; people with some extra weight and less chiseled muscles. I’m going to use this moment to get on my soap box, and I am sorry if I offend anyone, I am, but it’s for your own good. If you signing up for races or even any event that will test your fitness please quit smoking. I have seen this a few times; people having a cigarette at the end of a Spartan Race in the parking area, but I saw quite a few people smoking this time. Even if you don’t have any aspirations of being a great runner, it’s just not good for you. And if you need to continue your habit, please be mindful of those around you that might not enjoy inhaling so much second hand smoke. End rant.

The festival area was familiar, it was very Spartan-esque, but it was a little empty. There was only one food vendor and they only had two sponsors with tents there (minus St. Jude). The bag check is free, which is nice, but it’s also unmonitored. I know most people aren’t there to steal other people’s stuff, but I think I’d rather pay a couple of bucks to limit the people with access to my bag. Interestingly, you can get your shirt and fuzzy hat prior to finishing the race. I thought that was really different. Sure, you paid for the race, but it seems strange to wear a finisher shirt if you didn’t finish. Another interesting aspect that was different from other races is that this event is Check/Credit card only! No Cash! Which is actually really nice, I never carry cash and it’s always a hassle to be sure I have cash ready for my races.

The start of the race is a little standard. The announcer at the start line did a good job engaging the crowd, but it didn’t have nearly the energy you see in a Savage Race or the Rugged Maniac, the most comparable race to this one. It definitely didn’t have the serious overtones of the Spartan Races. It was much more of a casual, have fun atmosphere. I did like the fire bursts that are let out when the wave starts though, that was unexpected and it was a nice touch.

Overall, I think the race was really well laid out and there was plenty of room for everything, except right at the beginning, there was a huge bottleneck. It was actually pretty funny, when I was leaving the casual racer waves were in full swing and there was what looked like a queue there at that bottleneck; people just standing there, in line, waiting to go. They should have anticipated that and tried to widen the trail a bit. After that portion though things went pretty smoothly.

The course was actually much harder than I was expecting! Like the Rugged Maniac, I underestimated the course; I suppose I figured that the less serious races wouldn’t take as much time to make a challenging course. Well, I’ve been proven wrong twice! The first half of this race was almost nothing but up and down hills. It really wore out your quads. By the time I got half way and things flattened out a bit my legs were pretty tired and I was having trouble jogging along the trail. I actually really liked this! While it was hard and it slowed me down a lot, it felt a lot more like the older Spartan Races, really tough terrain, with no apologies. You definitely had to put in some work on this course. The hills came back at the end, when you made it to the formal motocross track, but it was a little less intense than the first portion of the race.

The obstacles were a little underwhelming. I wouldn’t even call most of them obstacles, more like “things to slow you down”. I can’t think of anyway that anyone could fail any of the obstacles, with the exception of the Goliath, and even then the only way would be if you’re afraid of heights and/or water slides. They were fun, it’s always nice to try new things, but there wasn’t anything in there that really tested, or pushed you. I was a little upset when I got to the first couple of obstacles though, because they were not in the order that they claimed they would be on the website. I studied it pretty well, to form a strategy on how I was going to attack the course to get the best time possible. Well, that all went out the window the moment I stepped foot on that course. This isn’t too big of a deal, but I do like being able to see the course map ahead of time.

I feel like I gave this race a good effort. After my last race I was feeling a little lost and disheartened. But I used those lessons to improve and I was determined to make this a better race. The Warrior Dash is not a timed event, so they only track the top ten racers in each gender. I was really hoping to make the top 10, but I didn’t. I feel like I wasn’t that far behind the leaders though. I finished in around 45 minutes and as I was approaching the last section of the race I heard the announcer say they had the first racers reaching the finish line. At that point I would say I was within 10 minutes of the top ten, which is pretty good for me. My race was good enough that I would have been the fourth place female racer, were I in that gender. That’s pretty exciting! While I didn’t finish where I wanted to the fact that I finished among some of the top people is a good feeling.

I had a good time at this race. It maybe isn’t my favorite race so far, but if I have the chance to run it again I would definitely take it. They may not have aspirations to be a huge company like Spartan or Tough Mudder, but this is a solid event and with a little more investment I really think this could one of the better races on the market. I only have BoneFrog and Terrain Race left before I finish out the major, multi-state races. Those are coming the next few weeks and I am excited to run them!

As always, pics below.

 

 

 

 

Spartan Race: Nationals Park Stadium Sprint 7/22/17

Spartan Race: Nationals Park Stadium Sprint 7/22/17

I was super excited when Spartan Race announced that they were throwing a stadium race in Washington D.C.. It’s not too far of a drive from me and I’ve always wanted to run one. This was the perfect opportunity and I signed up right away. I had been looking forward to this race for some time and set my ambitions high.

The summer of 2017 will be a memorable one, especially those folk around the mid-Atlantic area, as it has been a very hot one. We had a heat wave that lasted for several weeks where it was close to or over 100 degrees (F) everyday. Combine high temps with the humidity in the area and you’ve got a recipe for some very uncomfortable days. Race day was no exception. Strangely enough, it was only around 86 when I crossed the finish line, but it felt so much hotter. They were reporting the heat index was going to be as high as 110 that day, and I believe it. Even sitting in the shade left you sweating heavily. It was definitely a good day to do a race that was mostly shady and had parts that were climate controlled!

As with anything, your first experience with an event is going to be parking, which was a breeze. It’s a stadium so they have parking in the area to accommodate the crowds. The parking deck was open and easily accessible. When I left the stadium, however, there was quite a line backed up to get in, so I am glad I got there early. It was a quick walk to the registration tents from the parking deck and that lead you right into the festival area. The festival area wrapped around the stadium, so it had a little bit of a different feel than most Spartan Race festival areas. Being that it was much longer and much more narrow it got pretty crowded in there. Add in the body heat and sweat and it wasn’t a place you really wanted to hang out for too long.

They have a different start method for the stadium races than they do for the normal races. You still crowd into the corral like normal, 4ft wall and everything, but you all don’t start at the same time. I suppose this is prevent too much of a bunch up through the narrow passage ways you have to traverse as you make your way through the course. Instead, they gathered 15 Spartans and released them, gathering up the next 15, and so on. There was a spread of around 30 second between each wave. It seemed pretty effective, as I don’t recall there being too many crowded spots. But unless you get into the corral early you aren’t *really* starting at your start time; it’ll be a few minutes after.

The Stadium Sprint is a little shorter than a traditional Sprint, this one coming in at 3.5 miles, so just over a 5k distance. Because of this they obstacles were a little more bunched up which added another level of difficulty you don’t get with a traditional race. They hit you with the “barbed wire crawl” right away. Since it’s a stadium with no mud, rather than use real barbed wire they strung up bungee cords that you had to get under. There were a little higher than normal and let you bear crawl under them. This was good because crawling on your hands and knees on the hard surfaces is pretty uncomfortable. Not only were you bear crawling, but they did it up a ramp. Actually, up several ramps. My best guess had us going up six 100 foot long ramps. It was agonizing. My quads were shot by the end. I tried rolling like you would in a traditional crawl, and it worked, but going uphill was really taxing and I had to go back to crawling.

After this, as you can imagine it was a lot of flat running, a lot of running up the stairs, running through the seats, and running down stairs. Most of your traditional obstacles were there, like the over walls and the Z-Wall (which is missing the middle portion, which was interesting). Since they are missing water obstacles and have space limitations they incorporate some variations of traditional obstacles or new obstacles all together. For example, the Atlas Carry wasn’t a sphere, but more of a block and the Farmer’s Carry was done with Jerry Cans, which are 55lbs (25kg) jugs of water. Some of the new obstacles were things like The Rolling Epic, which had your feet on a little square board with 4 wheels. You had to use your hands to pull yourself a specified distance, your feet rolling on the board. They also had a Battle Rope jump rope obstacle and a section with pushups. They had a rig, which was mostly rings, but at the end there were two baseball grips you had to grab to get to the bell. I thought that little homage to the venue was a nice touch.

I really liked this event. I thought I would enjoy this race just as much as a trail race, but for different reasons. You don’t get wet or muddy and because, while there is a lot of up and down, there is also a lot of firm, flat ground you’re running on. That combined that with the shorter distance made finishing times a little faster than you’d get in a traditional race. I am a little better at running stairs than I am hills for some reason, and in particular I feel like I can descend stairs quite quickly. I was really hyped up and excited for my finish in this race. It’s for that reason I was so crushed when I crossed that finish line. I didn’t even come close to my goal time. I really thought I could easily finish in an hour and my stretch goal was 45 minutes. I ended up finishing in 1:20…

I think that I was my own worst enemy in this race. First was the heat. I don’t do well in the heat and I think that I let it get in my head that it was “too hot” before the race even started. Next were those dang bear crawls. I knew I had a lot of race left since these guys were right in the beginning of the race. I knew that most of this race was going to be going up and down the stairs, so I didn’t want to burn my quads out too early, so I ended up being in a situation where I lost a lot of time in the crawls, my quads were tired, and then I took the stairs way too easy, because I was trying to pace myself. I think that pacing is important, but when you pace yourself the entire race you’re really just holding yourself back. I have been really wanting to nail the spear throw and the rope climb. These are two obstacles I haven’t ever conquered and I am tired of doing burpees! It’s not even the effort I mind, but burpees slow me down so much. So I’ve been working on these two in my free time. I still don’t feel great about either, but I am making progress. I was really thinking I was going to get the spear throw this time. When I missed the spear throw (just barely!) I was crushed. The tone of my race was completely different after that. I begrudgingly did my burpees and trudged on over the couple of short walls and took my time doing the box jumps. I didn’t have it in me anymore, I lost the spark of competition and the rest of my race suffered because of it.

A negative attitude and an OCR event don’t mix well. After that I was even more angry when I struggled a little with the 8 foot wall, I was mad when my 45 minute time ticked by and even more mad when I was doing burpees after the rig and the hour mark passed. I might as well have walked in the rest of the race; I had no motivation left to push myself. I then failed the rope climb. I did get on the rope, and stayed there for a moment, but didn’t feel I had the energy to do it and just took my burpees.

I finished the race upset, disappointed, angry, foolish, and bitter. I wasn’t even sore the next day. That’s a clear indication that I held back way too much in the race. It took me a couple of days to get over it and clear my head, but I decided, rather than let it get me down, that I’d use it as motivation to kick my training up a notch. I learned a lot about myself and about racing that day and while I didn’t do as well as I had hoped I am grateful for it, because I won’t have another performance like that again. We are all going to have bad days and bad races, but it’s critical to not let ourselves get defined by those moments. This whole race was an obstacle for me, and it wasn’t pretty, but I completed it. I am stronger and better for it and I can’t wait to do it again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Mudder: Virginia 6/10/17

Tough Mudder: Virginia 6/10/17

You can’t talk about obstacle course racing without talking about Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder is really the event that brought OCR to the mainstream. Sure, some other events like Spartan Race might have cultivated and developed the sport, but there is no denying the impact Tough Mudder has had on the evolution of the sport.

Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge. The event is around 10 miles long and features many different obstacles. Rather than timing the event to promote competitiveness they encourage teamwork and camaraderie to complete the challenge. In fact, several of their obstacles are designed so that they would be very difficult or impossible to complete without the help of a fellow mudder. While I have seen plenty of teamwork in the other races, I think that this element does create an interesting dynamic for the event and it definitely had a different feel than some of the other races.

This was my first time participating in a Tough Mudder. It was a long time coming. I had heard of them long before I heard of Spartan Race. I watched videos and saw articles online about it. It seemed too hard for me and it was a little intimidating. My first OCR event was a Spartan Race, and I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I was too scared of the Tough Mudder and thought the shorter Spartan Sprint was more my speed. I do remember feeling a little bit guilty though; Tough Mudder was the first major OCR event here in the U.S. and I felt like I should have run that one first. And even more bizarre is how long it took me to actually sign up for one once I started racing in OCR! I think the major reason I didn’t run them was that they weren’t timed and I really like knowing how well I did. I also fell in love with Spartan Race and didn’t have that strong of a desire to do much else, at first. Not only is my OCR honeymoon phase over, but I also am beginning to have some concerns with my first love and I wanted to play the field a bit and see what else was out there!

2017 marks the start of a new era for Tough Mudder! They have done a great job keeping up with the competition over the past couple of years and are, I feel,  leading the way in innovation. Part of this is understanding what your customers want and so they introduced a new feature to the event: Timing chips! That’s right, for the first time you can pay a small extra fee (around $20) to run in the first wave of the day and get your results timed and ranked against your competition. This was huge for me and I jumped at the opportunity. They have named this option: Tougher Mudder. So it’s the same course, it’s not actually any harder, but since it is competitive I suppose you could say that makes it a little tougher.

The Virginia race had the largest Tougher Mudder wave of all of their races this season; there was around 150 entrants. Of these entrants three of them were none other than Hunter McIntyre, Ryan Atkins, and Lindsay Webster! While they all smoked me on the course, it was kind of cool to say I ran with them. It was also a cool feeling to be given a bib like the kind they wear in the World’s Toughest Mudder or the new Toughest Mudder races. While it doesn’t really mean anything it makes you feel special, like you are part of something grand, and I really like that they did that. Maybe it’s silly and it’s a small thing, but for someone who has been out of shape for so long and has been working so hard for this, it really felt amazing to feel like I belonged there, running with the elites, even if it was mostly symbolic.

Anyway, on to the race itself! It was a nice day for a race, early June is a good time in Virginia, not yet too hot or humid. It took place at Meadow Event Park. I’ve never been there before but I know they do a lot events with horses. I think it was for this reason the course was mostly flat. This was a huge departure from most of the OCR events I’ve done. While some of the Spartans lately have been getting a little more flat, this was probably the flattest course I’ve ever run. Which is, in a way, kind of nice. It was fun to just go out run, talk to the people, focus on the obstacles, see a new place I haven’t ever seen before. There’s nothing wrong with taking it down a notch once in awhile.

The race was just over 10 miles long with around 21 obstacles. The obstacles were pretty evenly spaced apart and spread throughout the course. Though spectators are allowed on the course, Spartan seems to like to keep them close to the festival and they put as many obstacles there as possible. The Savage Race in Maryland didn’t seem to try to do that, but there were a lot of obstacles there were just a short walk away, so you saw a lot more spectators on the course. This Tough Mudder was a whole other story. I think there were only about 3 or 4 obstacles you could see from the festival area. The rest were all on the course and required some walking to get to. They did realize this though and provided a “spectator route” which was sort of a short cut to see a good number of other obstacles, but it did require some walking. I liked this idea at first, since it opened up some possibilities, until I was on the course and realize that the spectator lanes (and the only path to get to and from parking) cut directly through the race course. There were two spot in particular that it was almost a sea of people and it was a little disorienting. It was also a little weird to be covered in mud and running through hundreds of normal, casually dressed people. I thought this was confusing and I was having to actually go around and dodge some people, which I didn’t think I should have to do.

In that same vein the course markings were sort of confusing sometimes. The course winded in upon itself many times and there were a few spots where it was difficult to know where to go. They had tape up in most of these ‘tricky’ spots, but there was often either not enough or too much. As I was finishing, about to go through Electroshock Therapy, a group of three people asked me how to get to the Snot Rocket/Augustus Gloop obstacle. I told them after they got through Pyramid Scheme they just went a short distance down the hill, but they didn’t know how to get to Pyramid Scheme either! I had to point out where they had gone off course and they had to backtrack to get back to the course to finish the race. So I’m not the only one who was confused by some of the markers.

I thought the race was pretty solid. I did have those few minor issues with parts of the design of the course, but the race itself was actually very well put together. I had a good time and I really liked trying out some new obstacles and seeing a new venue. I may have overdone it a little in this race though. Being that it was timed, I wanted to do well. I had done two race in the preceding 3 weeks, one race was around 9 miles, the other around 13. And I had run a little on my own. My knees were starting to give out one me. I actually could have done much better in this event, I think, if I were fresh. There were parts that I just had to walk because I was worried about seriously hurting my knees. And even when I was running, I was taking it slow. I’m again glad it wasn’t a hilly course or it could have been bad for me. I have since been taking it easy on my legs, giving them a chance to heal. Doing everything I can to not get hurt. It’s been a bummer to not be able to train my legs, but I’m trying to do the smart thing. Though, I can’t wait too long. In 17 days I have my next Spartan race, it is only a Sprint, but I want to be ready for it. So the training resumes this week! Hopefully I can strengthen up my legs enough to stay in the game.

One last thing, and this has nothing to do with the race itself, but I had an issue with my regular OCR shoes so I was in the process of exchanging them when this race happened. Because of this I was forced to run this race in a pair of normal running shoes. I never could have imagined the difference this makes! Until this year all of my races were done in regular running shoes. I definitely liked the OCR style shoes when I got them, but until I went back to regular shoes I had no idea how much they helped. They help with everything from weight, to water retention, to grip. If you haven’t invested in a good pair of OCR specific shoes yet it is definitely worth the money! Check back as I’ll be reviewing my shoes after I put a few more miles on them!

Despite my problems on the course I finished 72/158, which isn’t too bad. It’s top 50% and for me, that’s pretty good. I’ve come a long way from being in the bottom 10%. It feels good knowing that a bad day still lands me ahead of more people than were in front of me. It gives a lot of hope that one day I’ll even be in the top 10%. I just have to keep going and not quit. I’m excited and nervous about the next 3 months; I have 9 races, which doesn’t allow for a lot of down time. It’s time to get serious about my training and recovery protocols. Here are few pictures from the event!

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 any elevation change. This was a very flat and fast course. Which made it a lot more fun than Wintergreen, and 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, 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.