Monday, March 25, 2013

I am NOT a Spartan: Carolina's Spartan Race

  Like so many of us ingrained in this media culture, I get daily emails from Groupon, Livingsocial and Homerun showing me the latest and greatest deals available in m local area. One day I noticed that there was a Groupon advertising the "Spartan Race" over 8 months away and I figure why the heck not? The marketing guru's behind this event must be making some serious dough as this seems to be the #1 trending sport in our nation. After signing up I have had other goals along the way, nearly forgetting that I actually was registered for this race up until about 2 months ago.

  In order to get somewhat motivated for this race, I began taking some classes at "Fight Gone Mad" and started to institute my own strength regimen 4-5x per week at the YMCA. As a runner I typically would avoid all of this "Strength" work, but over this past year I have had a change of heart I would call it and have decided to spice up things more. While instituting some minimal running to retain aerobic conditioning I hit the weights more and more. From the video's I had seen online, this Spartan race could pretty legit and I did not want to take it for granted in any way. I began to institute stabilization training into my routine with each session making it more and more difficult with heavier weights and uneven surfaces. One of the key workouts that I found really worked a hard burn was my 1 - 10 workout, which consisted of 1 hard mile on the treadmill then immediately hoping off and doing 10minutes of strength with a max out of pull-ups while I was about 20 steps away from the treadmill.

  As the days approached I felt very confident in my overall fitness level, no I was not in tip top running form but in decent enough form to slug through 4 miles I believed.  2 weeks out from the race I decided to really push my anaerobic/aerobic thresholds at the McMullen Greenway with the goal of running under 40minutes for 6 miles. The catch was that the 6 miles had a variety of taxing exercises along the way including (in order); 15 explosive parallel bar dips, 10 pull-ups, 3 miles, 30 push-ups, 25 dips on bench, 15 lunges, 1 mile at 90%, 12 pull-ups, 2 miles to finish in 39:24. After this workout I used the bars to do some additional work and thought to myself that I am in the best overall shape that I have ever been in my life. LET'S DO THIS SPARTAN WARRIOR!

  The forecast worried me on race day, 39 degrees and raining, what would this mean? Those of you who know me, know I have the WORST circulation in my hands and have been known to use gloves in 50 or even 60 degree weather, how could I pull myself up ropes and across bars? Oh well, no time to worry about that! As I pulled up to the US National White Water Center I remembered how much I really liked this place and also that this was a legit event that I was about to partake in. I would guess that nearly 1,000 people were already at the race at 7am and running around with camelbaks, crossfit shirts and compression garments. I had a little time to check in and do a few drills before I had to rush down to the start area. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't really get on the front of the line as there would always be a new guys or two showing up to hop up front. As I looked around, I felt as if I was the only non-military guy up at the front as each were chatting about their drive from this base and that base. The race started with some guy screaming lines from the movie "300" that I vaguely remembered and then all of a sudden everyone took off.

Starting Line - you can see me to the left in Red

  Where was the starting gun? This was something new to me, I missed my chance to make my way up front and push the pace early on. Instead I had about 60 people in front of me on thick gravel while I had to hurdle several guys who were trying to make their bid to be champions. We hit a bridge crossing about 200m into the run and a few more guys face planted on the slippery wooden planks, all the while I was thinking, " I may not have the mentality for this race, this guys are running for their lives, literally". We get into the single track section of the woods and I am SUPER frustrated, I am coasting behind heaps of guys who are about to blow a lung and I cannot pass anyone no matter how hard I try. At every little opening I quickly realized I had to sprint as hard as I could and pass as many guys as possible. We began hitting our first few obstacles from what I remember as mostly water/mud pits through the Catawba River. The barb wire was pretty high and I thought this would be a cake walk until I was knee deep in mud and swimming through it the best I could.

Rock Pull up the Power Line Hill
  The next section of the Catawba river was the most miserable as it took me several minutes to slog through this freezing water where I was neck deep. After I hit land and caught my breath I kept moving my way through the field confidence increasing. The next major obstacle was pretty interesting in my eyes, we had to scale two 7 foot walls and then finish it off with an 8ft wall. This does not sound very difficult until you are tired, dripping wet and numb. After conquering this challenge our next battle was 50 yards away. We had to drag concrete blocks up this mega hill with Metal chains attached. This was the only time I could actually see where I was place wise in the Elite race. I counted a total of 10 guys in front of me finishing this obstacle as I was beginning. After this was complete, I surged over this next running portion as hard as I could passing several more people and making my way towards the front. As I passed the 3 mile mark I was thinking, "Almost there, you can get this top 10 Chris, Come on!!!". At this point I was completely solo and hit the 40yard barbwire mud crawl, wow, 40 yards! This was so much incredibly harder than I anticipated; it was up and down, mud pit, rocks, so many variables. The worst variable was getting my shoe laces caught in the barbwire and failing to detach. I was waddling around in a freezing pit of mud while my foot is dangling on a metal wire and I look like an idiot waving my leg around the best I can to release and continue.

Sandbag Carry, down the hill
into the woods and back.
   The pit was brutal for me, but I finally got out after what seemed like an eternity. After about 400yards of running I saw my demise in front of me as I approached. This past summer I was 3rd overall in the Davidson Mud Run due to the fact that I slipped on the monkey bars and had 10 push-ups while I lost m 2nd place. When I approached the bars, I wiped my hands off the best I could and tried to gain some composure. I knew that if I did not make this all the way across I had 30 burpees ahead of me and that would wreck my chances of finishing well. I grabbed the first bar with my numb hands and fingers, it felt so weird, I saw my hands grasping the bars but just did not feel anything. Moving across the bars slowly I was making my way towards the end thinking " wow, you really can do this". Reaching to the 2nd to last bar I knew I had no grip but nowhere to go but to the ground. "Great! freaking monkey bars". 30 burpees at the gym isn't so bad but after all of this it was like death! Thankfully I breezed through the next 4 obstacles but that was all she wrote. The weighted rope pull, tunnel crawl, net climb and sandbag carry helped me gain back a few more places, but when I approached this black standing wall, I thought "this must be a freaking joke". They expected me to climb across this board of dripping wet 1x4 and 2x4 tiny slices of wood, spaced far apart without falling off! NOT - 30 more burpees for this guy!

30 Burpees Please (this was from the course, see the ropes in the background)
   The next challenge was the spear throw, something I of course practice on a daily basis (sarcasm). My toss was solid as it hit the hay bail and of course promptly bounced off and onto the ground. Guess who had 30 more burpees lined up? That's right ME! At this point I had given up all hope on being in a competitive battle. After my torture I jogged on to the next obstacle, a rope climb that starts in the middle of a deep pit of muddy water. AWESOME! I knew my arms and hands were really fatigued, this would be a true challenge for me to say the least. Taking my time while people were flying up and down these ropes somehow, I was slowly climbing to the top. Here I was about 1.5-2ft away from ringing the bell at the top and I honestly thought I just have no more strength to hold myself up from falling straight down into the pit. As people were cheering me on, I knew it was about to happen and then I just let it happen, splash! Climbing up the muddy hill a nice woman greeted me with "30 Burpees over there, 30 burpees!" Dammit, this really sucks! After my 30 burpees, I have to pick up this MASSIVE tire two times forward and two backwards, this was much more difficult than it would seem but I got through it thankfully.
Our ropes went higher but this
is the basic premise
   Broken mind and broken body, I literally walked to the next obstacle, looking back this was a bad idea, I should have continued to press on, but I just was over failing and doing burpees. One more water pit and a rope climb over a wall and I was done finally. Trembling, shaking and just pissed off, I typed my # into the results and it showed that I finished in 57:04 and was 55th overall in the Elite race. Honestly I don't know the last time I was not top 50 in a race, the only race that comes to mind would be the Boston Marathon in 2007 when I was top 400. I am not sure how to react after this race, where did I lose myself and how could I let myself perform at such a bad level? Should I have picked up a pair of XC spikes after all, should I have taken the gamble and pressed through the crowd at the start to get ahead of everyone and use my strength on the run? Given the day, things just did not work out for me, I even lost my free beer ticket and then was told to leave the locker room because I could not use the showers. As any competitive person would feel after a performance like this, part of you wants to really conquer this challenge in the future while the other part of me wouldn't mind avoiding all of the cuts and bruises all over my body and just calling it a day.
Feel the Pain!
   One of the final points of this rare post, relates back to a article that on facebook bashed, which referenced the Spartan Race and it's test of true fitness. To be honest I was a big skeptic as well but after this race I can truly say that this was the hardest race that I have ever done despite the burpees (I think). Just minutes after the race I was so incredibly sore and today (sundayy evening) I am even more stiff. My Overall result was 55th overall and 15th in my AG! What a bonk! The Spartan race is LEGIT, no doubt about that, I challenge anyone to give it a shot, especially runners as we are often afraid of injury, don't knock it until you try it!!

FYI: I am supposed to get m personal pictures from the Spartan race at the end of the week, can't wait to see the pain and agony! Also, a Shout out to David Bolger for managing to complete the race, even though he opened a gash in his leg that required 9 stitches, after the race. Wendy Norvell who killed the course and finished as the 5th overall woman, while managing to better my time as well! John Chambers who also slayed the course and came out of it with a smile, ready to do another, I have some hardcore peers, great work and thanks for keeping me motivated!