Spartan Race

Sunday, December 11, 2016

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Superhero Scramble Intimidator - Carolinas

     Summer in the Carolinas is an interesting thing.  It comes in a lot of varieties.  Hot and dry. Hot and wet.  Hot and unpredictable.  The one thing it is not, ever, is cool.  The thermometer  hovered around 89 as I pulled in to the parking lot.  I just happened to have thrown a camel back in my truck on the way out the door - I made a snap decision to take it with me.  Most other people didn't.

     Check in was fast and easy, with an adequate number of volunteers and a good process. There was a bit of confusion at the start of the first wave - there was a decision to start the 9:15 Scramble Gamble and the 9:30 open wave at that same time - no big deal.  I hopped over the Rugged Maniac Style wall into the paddock with plenty of time to spare.  A few minutes later, and we were off.

      I had made the assumption that this race was going to be obstacle rich - I mean, 8 miles, 25+ obstacles?  That translates into three obstacles per mile, right?  

   
At first, it appeared my assumption was correct - after a couple of hundred meters we hit the first obstacle - a rope climb cleverly suspended from the bottom of the second obstacle (two cargo container high cargo net climb and traverse).  Like the Spartan, one had to climb into a waist deep puddle to get to the ropes.  Unlike the Sparatans, there was an option of a rope without knots.  I have no problem getting up knotted ropes, but getting down is always problematic - I mean, the knots are in the way.  I flew up an un-knotted rope, ran through a drainage ditch, and went up and over the cargo net.  The race was going well.  A few hundred yards later, there was a rock carry (one of the standard sandbag totes, but with a big rock).  Great - again, three obstacles right off the bat.

And then they stopped.  We ran. And ran. And ran. And then we started walking. No obstacles.  For miles.  At some point, we passed a mile marker that said three miles.  Sure, could have been. All we did was go up one hill and down the next.  For a long, long way.

At some point, we did emerge from the woods and hit a pair of rock climbing walls.  Then we went up hill, and down hill.  Really steep hills.  Somwhere around five or six miles, I hit another flurry of  obstacles - a walk over the 2x4 balance obstacle, which I promptly fell off (unique to this race is that if you fail an obstacle, you have to do 20 burpees and 10 "spinners" - that thing where you put your head on a baseball bat and spin around. That put a new twist on things).  Immediately adjacent to that was a leap of faith type obstacle - I have no fear of heights, and always enjoy these.  I hit the bottom of the pit, but very softly.  It seemed to have been covered with a tarp to keep the water in the hole.

Then I ran again.  Up hills. Down hills.  Hills so steep that you had to nearly go on hands and knees.  Then we went through the famous Carolina Adventure Park river - it was medium-high this time.  Full of pea gravel. At some point, there was also an over-under-through obstacle.  By the time I got to it, my calves were cramping so bad that I had to stop and stretch then out before very painfully hoping over the wall. At this point, the race stopped being fun.  It had a very low density of obstacles thus far (there was a cinder block carry at some point - could have been before or after the river, I don' t remember) and the terrain was, frankly, boring, but hard.  Everyone around me was complaining about the same thing. Not enough water.  Legs dead.  Very few obstacles.  Some time around mile 7.5 or so, we emerged from the woods to face a ring-over-the-mud pit obstacle. I violated my own cardinal rule for an obstacle I've never attempted before - I didn't stop to watch how other people did it.  I tried to swing monkey-style from ring to ring, and they were really too unstable to do that with , so I fell about the fourth rung.  Watching others, I should have advanced one hand after the other, using two lanes of rings, but hey, live and learn.  Pretty soon after that, there was a mud pit that required you to jump in, and then go under water to get below some boards placed perpendicular to the pit.  By that time, anything with mud in bottom that I had to dislodge my feet from caused my legs to cramp painfully, so I really wasn't feeling it.

Then we ran again.  Up hill, down hill.  Tedious.  I ran a while with a group of Marines. Marines.  They were angry. Their complaint?  Too few obstacles.  Not nearly enough water.  Their legs were cramping up.  It wasn't fun any more.  Marines.

At some point, we emerged from the woods and I could suddenly see my truck.  I seriously considered abandoning the race, even though I could see the finish line.  The next obstacle?  A deep mud pit that one had to slog across.  I took one step in, and my left calf cramped up so bad that I could not control it.  I had to climb out and sit on the side of the pit for about 10 minutes. Every time I tried to stand, I cramped up again. I literally couldn't get my lower body to react the way it should have.  I ended up burpeeing an obstacle that should have been a gimmee, and I was far from the only one.  Immediately after that was a sandbag carry through some sort of atv pit full of mud and water.  I took a chance and went for that one, and did have any issues.  At this point, I had used most of my camel back's water, and also drank at every opportunity.  I was cramping and dehydrated. It sucked.  There was also and over the hill-through the mud-up the hill type obstacle at some point in here, but I don't remember exactly where.

The next obstacle was the obligatory fire jump. The  Superhero Scramble folks follow it up with an ice water bath. It felt great.  The problem was, I could generate the force necessary to jump over the fire - the picture of me with the fire at the beginning of this blog is actually me trying to decide if I can risk jumping without burning myself.  I ended up literally just stepping over the fire - proving that it can safely be done that way.

The next obstacle was the "signature" one of the event - a rope aided climb up a 15 or so foot slope (maybe a 70 degree slope with 90 being straight up?) to a mega-slide into a pit of what I think was supposed to be slime, but felt pretty much like water.  No issues getting up the slope.  The slide seems to have been criticized for being poorlly padded and scrape inducing on other races, but it was a smooth ride for me. It was fast and fun, unfortunately, when I hit the slime, again, leg cramps. Twenty feet from the finish line, I had to sit for 5 minutes, and pull the cramps out of my calves.  
 That did allow me to see an amusing aspect of the slide - about every third person on the race found something that someone had lost in the slide.  Folks popped up with headbands, water bottles, sunglasses, hats...
I also got to watch some little guy talk trash to the two guys blocking the way to the finish line with the MMA pads. He said something to his girl friend, and then charged right at the bigger guy who was blocking the way.  The big guy lowered his shoulder and checked the guy around 8 feet into a bale of hay.  He was fine except for wounded pride. 

I finally got up, hobbled through the guys. who recognized I was hurting, and hit me medium-hard rather than full force. The reason I'm smiling in the pic is because the guy on my right checked me into the guy on the left (the big guy).  I was close enough to his size to knock him off balance into the bale of hay, causing him to fall over.  I crossed the finish line, grabbed my medal and T-shirt, and went to grab a drink of water.  But they were out of cups.  At the finish line. No cups.  People were kneeling and letting the water fall directly from the cooler into their mouths.  I hobbled to my truck., threw a towel on the seat, and left.  

I honestly don't know what to think of this one. I've done a Super Spartan, two Spartan Sprints, a Spartan Beast (the same place, even), a Hero Rush, a Rugged Maniac, and a Warrior Dash. I've also done two Goofy's Race and a Half at Disney. I'm used to having to persevere.  I've loved aspects of them all. This is honestly the first one (with the possible exception of the 16ish mile, much higher obstacle density Spartan Beast) I'm not sure I'd do again.  First, the terrain was brutal, but not in a fun way.   You can't have a 10 mile race through ridiculous terrain in the summer in South Carolina without a LOT of water stops - at least one per mile and a half of so.  If you aren't going to do that, you really, really need to publicize that you need to carry your own water and electrolytes.  I suspect that the race organizers were comparing the event to what they did in Florida.  South Carolina is just as hot, but isn't flat.  You've got to take that into consideration.  Their lucky that they didn't have a number of heat strokes out there.  Also, we were promised 25+ obstacles.  In fairness, I may have forgotten about a lot of them, but I can only remember enough to get me into the mid-teens.   I also hate that they packed so many of the obstacles into the last mile - some of that was unavoidable, as it is with any race, but there were multiple time were emerged into a flat area (I say we, I ran solo, but stayed near a lot of the same folks the whole race) where an obstacle could have been placed, only to realize it was just a long out and back that eventually led back to a hill.  Some of the obstacles are truly cool and not represented in other races, but if you are so gassed you can't enjoy them...

I get the idea that you want to have demoralizing terrain.  I get the idea that you want your race to be hard. I get the idea that you want people to say to themselves that they've accomplished something.  Somehow, this race, rather than doing that, made me mad.  I was irritated when I was finished, not proud of myself.  This seemed to be the prevailing opinion of those who finished about the same time I did, as well. I might do it again, because, well, time cures all wounds, but I'll be sure to carry a lot of water and a lot of gel.  Maybe I'll look back on this one with fond memories at some point, but right now, not so much. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Spartan Sprint 2013

I wasn't real clear on why it took me this long to post about the 2013 Carolina's Spartan Sprint.  It was, after all, months ago.  Then I recently realized the answer.  It's because it was hard.  It wasn't hard because of the obstacles.  In fact, I don't think there was a single thing in it that I had not done before in a at least one Spartan.  It wasn't hard because of the terrain. The trails of the National White Water Center are some of the best around, and there was actually a lot less slogging through the Catawba river than last year.  So why was it hard?  Weather.  The exact same race that Mrs. RQ and spent the last five minutes of last year relaxing in the neck deep water because it was so hot was absolutely freezing this year.

     I didn't notice this while I was running it really. In fact, while it was cold, I didn't think it was terrible. It was only when I got back to my truck and couldn't get my fingers to work well enough to open the zipper pocket on my shorts that I realized how cold it was.  I should have admittedly figured it out on the course.  I should have figured it out when I couldn't get a good hold on the rope pulley obstacle that I usually power right through, and had to hold on to a set point on the line and walk backwards, like everyone else.  I should have figured it out when I fell of the monkey bars.  I never fall off the monkey bars.  I should have realized it when I couldn't hold on the climbing rope well enough to get up to the top and ring the bell.  But I attributed all of that to the wet.  To the constant rain that was falling, not the 38 degree weather.

     After I got back to my truck, and sat there with the heat blasting for 15 minutes before I could move, did I realize just how cold I was. But I was done. And it was fun. That said, it was also my fourth Spartan event. They always bring it hard, but I had done every obstacle at least twice prior. I'd really like to see a bit more innovation on their part - throw a new obstacle in for a new season.

      I also innovated a new technique.  One of the most disconcerting things I have noticed about running in bodies of water (for example, the Catawba River) is the fact that a foot of mud on the bottom of said river is not easy to dislodge oneself from.  Also, one never knows when one is going to hit a hole one end up switching from a 2 foot wade to a 6 foot plunge. As I entered the river this time, I noticed a long root from a ceder tree floating by me.  I grabbed it, and used it to stabilize myself, and also to probe for drop offs.  I'll be using that technique again.




     It also provided me with the best picture I've ever had of me and the fire jump.  I think we usually all think we look cool doing something like that.  If photo evidence is any proof, I almost always just look awkward.  This picture at least makes me look like I struck a Heisman...


Monday, April 1, 2013

Shamrock Half Marathon 2013

I've described the Shamrock Half in detail before this, and I'm not going to go int detail about it again  I will say, however, that I think this is still one of the best races on the east coast, and continues to outdo itself every year.  Some years it is cold, some years it is wet, this year it is phenomenally windy (my trusty Sugoi Zap jacket is good for all of the above, however).  It always has great crowd support (at least 4 random groups with in-race beer stops this year!), superior organization, and awesome swag (full size fleece blankets this time!). There was one thing a bit different this year.  I never really get sick, but somehow managed to come down with full bore influenza the Sunday prior to the race.  I wasn't even sure I was going to start the race, much less finish it, but, hell, I was there.  And if you are there, then...

Long story short, it was slow, but I finished.  Not fancy, not pretty. I'd like to think it was a gritty performance on my part, but the truth of the matter is I didn't push it, so I felt fine. Mrs. RQ was kind enough to slow down and keep me company, so I even had a good time during it.  This race continues to get 5 stars.  If you haven't run it, you are missing out.

The Rugged Maniac

I started March thinking I was going to run the Jungle Cup, a scant 45 minutes away, however, a week before that event, I got an email saying that due to unforeseen circumstances, it would have to cancelled. I was a bit dejected about not having an obstacle race to do, so started looking around for a replacement.  As it turns out, the very next weekend, the Rugged Maniac, Carolinas version, was slated to go on at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, SC, and, hey, we were to be in Charleston anyway.  Mrs. Runningquack agreed, so I signed up.   

The Maniac was an interesting race.  It isn't timed unless you sign up for it to be timed.  I never really care about my time in an obstacle race, so didn't pay the extra ten bucks for a timing chip.  As it turns out, that means you didn't even get a number.  I checked in on a cold, 43 degree morning to find out that I got a T-shirt (a pretty good one, but more on that later) and a wrist band for beer.  No problem, I just do this for the experience, right?  It was cold enough that my family abandoned me for the sanctuary of a warm car, and I gravitated towards the starting line for the first heat of the day.  One had to climb over a four foot wall to get in the starting corral, which I thought was a nice twist. A remarkable number of people had trouble with it, which probably didn't bode well for them later in the race.  

At the start, it was clear that this was very different from most other obstacle races I have done. It was pancake flat.  I've gotten used to the terrain being a huge, ubiquitous obstacle on these things, but on this one it really wasn't.  I had to slow myself down a couple of times because I thought I was going too fast, and needed to conserve energy.  I was wrong.  On the plus side, apparently (at least I hope), Boone Hall has some sort of haunted hay ride during the Halloween Season, and the rugged Maniac route weaved all through these props.  My first clue was the six foot diameter faux brain in the middle of the running path.   I ran past Indiana Jones-style temples, haunted electrical plants, swamp-cannibal cabins, and out-of-control trains.  It was actually really fun and gave those of us running a lot to look at between obstacles.  The whole course was a legit 3.1 miles.  I've gotten so used to claims of a 5k stretching into 7 or 9 k (all the Spartans, and I think the Hero Rush as well), that I assumed that this course would just keep going.   

As for the obstacles, this reminded me a lot of the Hero Rush.  Some classic, easy stuff, mixed with some pretty innovative things I haven't done before.  I'll not dwell on the classics - this race had its share of cargo net, jump the pit, log over the pit, and climb the wall obstacles, but it also had some unique things I hadn't done before.  The Maniac decided to make its own dirt hills on the tundra-flat terrain.  There were eight foot tall piles of dirt all over the place. On one set of these, the put a corrugated drain pipe on the downhill side that ultimately led to a freezing cold mud pit.  One had to climb down the pipe, slog across the mud pit, and the climb back up another drain pipe to the top of the next dirt pile.  Good obstacle - it combined a psychological, claustrophobic element  with some physical strength (you had to pull yourself up with a rope) and, well, freezing cold mud.  They also had a taller-than-usual wall with a 4x4 mounted a few feet up and a two by four mounted about that.  One had to run up to the wall fast enough to jump on the 4x4, progress to the 2x4, and then grab the top of the wall and climb over.  I'm about 6'2", and had no issues with it, but the shorter racers had a hard time with that one.

I have to say, the piece de resistance obstacle of this race was a hybrid climb-net-slide monstrosity that would have done the Hero Rush proud.  It combined a short mud pit with a slanted wall to the top of one level of cargo containers, followed by a cargo net climb to the top of a second. One then had to cross a cargo net slung horizontally to another set of cargo containers, and then slide down a really fast slide into ice cold water.  As in knock the wind out of you, disorient you, cold.  I'm not sure if it was just the outside temperature, or if they actively iced the water, but it was freezing. 

The rest of the race was standard mud-under-barbed-wire crawling.  I've gotten real used to rocky, red clay as the substrate for such a crawl, but this one was in a flat, cultivated field.  I think it may have strawberries growing in it now. It was just mud, pure and simple.  It was almost luxurious in comparison to a lot of the other races I've done.  If it hadn't been cold, it would have been pleasant. As it was, I plowed through it, and hit the finish line fast.  As in about 33 minutes by my stopwatch.  This race was fun, but over almost before it started.

One doesn't get a medal for this race (which is a negative for me), but does have a cool associated shirt. It has a rugged maniac logo on the back and "I'm a Rugged Maniac" on the front.  I've worn mine a couple of times since, and the fairly unadorned front always gets me funny looks.  A woman behind the cash register at Subway read it out loud and then said, "Hmm, well, you look fairly normal to me".  It clearly is good advertising for these folks.

 I liked this race a lot.  I initially equated it with the Warrior Dash (beginner race), but it was actually a lot more like the Hero Rush - fairly short, but with some really innovative, fun obstacles in it.  Not once did I feel like I was being asked to do something dangerous, which is a fear with smaller races, but the race directors clearly put a lot of thought into it, and worked hard to make it a great experience.  The added benefit of Boone Hall's Halloween decorations gave it a weird, quirky twist that bumped it up a notch, too.  






Sunday, October 21, 2012

Carolinas Hero Rush

I'm basically addicted to obstacle races.  Luckily for me, a lot of other people seem to be too, so a lot of them are cropping up these days.  A few months ago I came across a firefighter themed obstacle race called the "Hero Rush".  It looked unique, had some cool obstacles, and supported a worthy, firefighter related charity.  I was considering doing it when I got an email asking me if I'd review it in return for a free entry.  Um, okay, twist my arm... As a result, I found myself at the drag strip portion of the Charlotte Motor Speedway on a cool morning in mid-October.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that well over half of the participants appeared to be actual teams of firefighters. I started my heat with teams from everywhere from Atlanta to Moncure, NC.  As a single participant, it can be intimidating to run a race in the midst of a bunch of teams, but these guys were very inclusive.  Kind of nice to run a race with that many first responders, too. Very safe feeling.

Every race has some sort of separation obstacle at its start, and the Hero Rush was no different. We packed in to a corral on the drag strip,  facing a stack of shipping containers with staircases leading up to the top of them. Your object: climb up the staircase, and then slide down a fire pole on the other side. They cleverly placed the timer mat on the track just after the fire pole-in other words, no reason to worry about the slow going up the stairs, your time hasn't started yet. After that there was a stretch down the very flat, very straight drag way, which was cool in and of itself.

The Hero Rush packs 20 obstacles into about 3 miles, and that straight stretch was probably the longest we went without an obstacle. After that, you could usually see the next obstacle from the one you just finished.  For an obstacle race guy, that density is what makes a good race.  At the end of the track, we hit an over the wall/under the wall/through the wall obstacle. The first two parts were standard fair, but the through part was actually some sort of spring mounted door you had to force your way through.  Kind of cool - I should have looked to see what kind of mechanism they used to make it, but I didn't think about it at the time. Soon after, there was an up and over cargo net climb and a tire drag. 

Most obstacle races make use of the terrain, and the Hero Rush had a good mix of man made structures and woods. The next obstacle was of the latter type, and had me slogging waist deep through a river.  A very, very cold river. It never ceases to amaze me what I'm willing to do in a race that I'd never do otherwise. Run through a freezing cold river for fun included. Next up was another first for me - I rounded a corner to see dozens of rescue Annies strewn about the ground. The next obstacle - 30 seconds of CPR.  That was followed by the requisite mud pit (a run through rather than crawl through), then a offensive line style tire drill. Next up was another unique Hero Rush obstacle - you had to save a "victim" (two tires tied to each other) by getting it under a wall, over a wall, and over a hill. It could be done in teams of two, or by yourself.  I dragged my rescued tire victim by myself without issue.
Up to this point, the Hero Rush had thrown a few small twists on fairly standard fair. The next three obstacles were new ones for me. 

First up was "Hoarders Hell" - a simulated climb up a ladder to an attic full of garbage (a smoke-machine smoke filled shipping container stacked on top of another container) and then a climb down a cargo net on the other side. Next up was "Basement Escape" - a 15ish foot climb up a knotted fire hose up to a platform (there was an extension ladder option also), followed by a descent down a bridge made of one fire hose for your feet and another for each hand. I've climbed plenty of ropes, but never a hose - they make for very comfortable, civilized climbing.

If there is a dreaded, signature obstacle of the Hero Rush, it has to be the "Towering Inferno". It involves jumping into a waist deep tank of water, then climbing up the inside of a four foot drainage pipe that's had wooden platforms mounted inside it in a spiral, all the while having cold water sprayed down on you. You disembark from the pipe onto the top of a double stacked shipping container only to find that your only way down is by sliding down a tarp into a tank of ice cold water. 
   I really, really liked this obstacle. That said, the two people in front of me both backed out of the pipe and went around it. I also had to boost another woman who was stuck at the top of the pipe out.  I'm not sure why she was stuck - she couldn't climb the last few inches. The water at the end was also really, really, take your breath away type cold.  Truly unique. And fun.
   After that came another victim rescue  (this time over a wall, under barbed wire, through a pipe). I've crawled under a lot of barbed wire recently, and dragging two tires wasn't that much harder. The twist here was that you had to put your tires on a stretcher. I passed a lot of people on this one.  Next was a jump over a wood fire, followed by a foam pit.  We then headed under the drag way to an entanglement pipe. I'm a fairly big guy (6"2', 195lb), but I'm not claustrophobic at all, so these obstacles don't bother me much. Emerging into to daylight, I assumed I was almost done. I turned back into the drag way and jumped into the "bystander blast" a pool of water surrounded by spectators with live fire hoses.  Blasting you.  I could see the finish line. Then I realized I was running away from it. Towards the bleachers. The Hero Rush had a nasty surprise just before the end of the race.

The single most brutal obstacle of the race involved throwing a coiled fire hose over your shoulder (I don't know how much it weighed, but it was enough) and doing an old fashioned bleacher climb (up, down, up, and down again).  I managed to do it without rest, but it was awful, especially at that point in the race. Well played, Hero Rush.

My favorite obstacle of the day came next. It involved a fairly standard obstacle consisting of a pool of water bisected by a row of floating barrels. You simply swim beneath the barrels and come out the other side. The twist? The pool wasn't full of water, but of a blue-dyed, hydrophilic polymer of the type used to hold moisture in potted plant soil or "lock" liquid in diapers. It was warm and felt like a million little massaging fingers. I seriously contemplated just hanging out in it for a while.  It also cleaned off all the accumulated grime I had on me.

After that, it was a short run to the final obstacle - a dark maze you had to crawl through. Again, non issue if you aren't claustrophobic. A few seconds later, I crossed the finish line.

I have to say, this was a great race.  It was a great combination of easier and semi-hard obstacles and, as a result, should appeal to racers of all abilities. I'm not too speedy, but I make up a lot of time on obstacles, so I caught up with and passed a lot of people from previous heats, and they were all having a great time.  The terrain had a few surprises, but was for the most part flat and fairly easy going. The best part, though, was seeing whole stations of firefighters out having a great time together. I will definitely be back next year, even if it's on my own dime.
  


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Spartan Beast Beat Down

I love obstacle races, and in my humble opinion, nobody does it better than the Spartan folks, so when a Spartan Beast was announced a scant 30 minutes from my house, I jumped on it. Most races are more fun when you have company, and obstacle races are even more so, so I started recruiting people to go with me. At one point, I had a group of some 7 fellow Spartans champing at the bit to run. One by one, for various and sundry reasons, they fell away as the faithful day approached. On race day, I ultimately found myself sitting alone in my truck, staring at the temperature display (which, despite my attempts to use the force, refused to creep above 49 degrees), and frantically searching through all the nooks and crannies of the cabin for something to substitute for the nipple-bandaids I had forgotten (a cut up paintball sticker performed admirably). As I meandered to the start line, very cognizant of being fairly removed from my not-so-impressive running peak, I decided that I needed to be conservative in my approach to this race. Use some strategery. In the corral, I started chatting with the oldest guy signed up for the race - 68. We wished each other good luck, and we were off.
  I was initially hoping, given the sub 50 degree temperature, that there would be a few miles before a water obstacle. Nope within a few hundred yards of the start there were a series of water filled trenches one could either climb into and out of, or simply jump over. They were easily within my broad jump, but given it was really early in a really long race, I decided to conserve energy. Strategery. To my surprise, the water wasn't too cold, and I realized that the temperature wouldn't be a factor. A short run later, we reached what I think of as the early spartan crowd dispersal obstacles. These are then type of obstacle that have a high capacity and everyone can do, but spread folks out.  For the Spartan, the first of these was a series of crawl under a net then hop over a four foot wall groupings and the second was a crawl under a wall, climb over a wall, hop through a hole in the wall obstacle. After that, to be frank, things get blurry. I can vaguely divide obstacles into first half and second half, but the exact order I really didn't commit to memory. One other thing about a Spartan Race, the biggest obstacle by far us the terrain. It varies from dirt path to single track to no track. This one was no different. It usually goes like this: ridiculous hill, drainage gully, rocks, murmur up ahead, trail gets brighter, clearing, obstacle, back into the woods. 
   In some order, over the next five or so miles, I crossed a gully on a pine tree, jumped from post to post to cross a distance, used a rope and pulley to pull a 5 gallon bucket full of concrete up 20 feet and lower it back down, carried an Atlas Stone, dragged a concrete block attached to a chain around a course, jumped 6 foot walls, climbed over small pine trees suspended horizontally about 5 feet above the ground (much different than climbing the same height wall, strangely enough), and swung across monkey bars. I am not a good balance athlete, and was rather proud of myself for not falling on the logs or the posts. New to me was an obstacle with a cargo net suspended vertically one had to climb up and over. It wasn't really all that high, but you had nothing to hold onto at the top. It was a little disconcerting.  Also in this "half" was the obstacle that had been my downfall in the Super Spartan we did at this location - the series of four or five water filled clay mud pits with triangle shaped mounds of red clay between them.  By the time we got to them in the Super Spartan, my calves were cramping so bad that I was literally having to pull a cramp out each time I extended my foot.  Not a good situation to be in when you are standing waist deep in red clay colored water trying to climb up a slippery clay hill.  I was thrilled to see this particular obstacle this early in the race.  More on that later.  
     Around mile six, we came out of the woods near the race start for a series of two back to back obstacles.  The first was a rope climb out of a pit of red clay water.  This obstacle was just about the hardest one at the Spartan Sprint.  For that one, you had to pull yourself out of  a good foot and a half of thick, shoe stealing mud.  For this one, there was a few inches of mud on the bottom, then three feet of water rather than half mud and half water.  It made your shoes slick, but you didn't have to break a vacuum with upper body strength.  It had knots tied in it, which theoretically should have made it easier, but I never use them for my hands, and they were very far apart for me to use them at 6'2", much less anybody shorter. Got up the rope, rang the bell, and then slipped going down, ultimately landing with a knot between my knees.  Not comfortable.  I disentangled myself, and slid the rest of the way down.  Next up was the wall traverse - the series of 2 x4 attached to plywood you have to climb across without hitting the ground.  I got within about 3 feet of end on the sprint, expending tons of energy, and fell, still having to do burpees.  Since it was right after the rope (literally, within feet), both the handholds and the foot holds were coated in mud, as was every body's shoes and hands.  As I watched, the only people having real success were the people "illegally" holding on to the top of the wall rather than using the handholds.  I made a token attempt to cross, fell off fast, and burpeed.  Strategery.
   At some point around now I started having some twinges of calf cramp.  This was obviously not good considering I was barely (or, as it turns out, not even to, the half way point).  Nobody really knows what causes muscle cramps, but the most prominent theory is that it is an electrolyte imbalance.  I was carrying several electrolyte tablets, and downed all of them along with an excel gel in the hopes it would make things better.  To some extent it did.  Back to the half way point issue.  At mile six, we were told by a volunteer we were half way there, ditto mile seven, and mile eight.  Mile seven provided a nice break point in that right around it was a large ladder type obstacle that allowed one to climb up to a vertical bridge over the entrance to Carolina Adventure Park, and then back down on the other side of the road.  Other racers were doing the same thing coming from the other direction, implying that there wasn't much on that side of the road. Implying and actually being are two very different things.   Immediately on the other side of the road was the famous barbed wire crawl.  I've done a fair number of these.  They usually hurt.  This one was awful.  Up a hill, with a fire hose blasting you.  In red clay that had largely washed down to sharp little rocks.  Before the run, I had decided I would just burpee the barbed wire.  In the heat of the moment, however, it looked fun, so I crawled under and up the hill.  And then ran some more, and cramped up some more. And started walking.  At some point, over the next several miles, I flipped a tire ten times, carried another atlas stone, climbed another rope, climbed over an a-frame cargo net,  hit another series of mudpits with berms in between them (this time my calves were killing me, but there were only three, so I made it), and tried a new obstacle that involved putting a big rubber band around your ankles and hopping over stuff.  Then we hit the river bed.  We ran for a mile or so on pea gravel with occasional forays into knee deep water. climbing over several beaver dams (one of impressive size) and ending up in the same dagoba like ditch that was used for the super spartan (the second rope climb was after that, I remember that). 
     We then hit the Tyrolean traverse over a lake.  I managed to shred the back of left calf with a major rope burn, and still had to burpee it.  I'm going to have to research that one.  After that (I think, though the 7 foot could have been earlier) I hit 7 and 8 foot walls.  I've never, ever had any problems with getting over any wall, but on my first hop for the 7, both calves cramped up.  I ended up requiring assistance for both walls.  It would have really bothered me, except for the fact that at least half of the people there were having the same issue.  Still, kind of embarrassing. I immediately went back around and helped three or four people over the same way, to assuage my conscience.  There was also a second one of the post hop-type obstacles somewhere along the way.  I fell off early. And did burpees.  At some point, I rounded a corner to find a sandbag carry up and down a nasty hill (ironically the same hill that had been at the beginning of the super spartan), then went back over the ladder obstacle to the other side of the road. There, I got a nasty surprise - a second barbed wire crawl, up a much steeper hill, over purpose-built micro-hills, through a water/mud pit in the middle. And oh yeah, another fire hose.  I walked my camelback about half way up the hill, and then started back down.  I met another guy along the way who told me he thought I was doing burpees to avoid it, and was following me to do them.  I seriously contemplated doing them, but his buddy said that we didn't pay to do burpees, we paid to crawl under barb wire. In my exhausted state, that made sense, so I crawled under.  Thirty feet in, it didn't make as much sense, but I was already committed, so...
     There was one last, long, demoralizing hill climb up after than, and an equally hard climb down a washed out road.  I think that the 8 foot walls were immediately after that, followed by the spear throw (which I had to burpee, another thing I'm going to have to figure how to practice, I'm 0-3 on it).  There was a slight variation of the soap climb A-frame in that there was a short barbed wire crawl through a foot deep mud puddle prior to it. I was really worried about my calves on the a frame, but I popped right over, no issues.  Lastly, came the required jump over the fire common to all adventure races and a quick run through the American Gladiator style Spartans to the finish line. And then I was done.
    I have to say, as I write this the day after. I'm less sore after this one than I was after the Super Spartan, but I'm way more cut and nicked up.  I have hundreds of small cuts on my knees, elbows, and calves, a deep rope burn on my right Achilles, and some road rash on my legs from rope climbing.  Showers hurt.  That said, I think I'll be mostly ready for the Hero Rush next Saturday. 



Friday, September 28, 2012

Riverbound Race Series - Charlotte

     I learned a little about myself last weekend.  Mostly that I was slow. Also, though, I learned that I was at least a little more resilient than I had feared I was.  Given that I really only ran last weekend because I have a Spartan Beast coming up in mid-October, I thought it might be a good idea to get at lest one more training run in prior to said beat down.  Why train when you can race?  I pulled out my trusty phone on the car ride home from Asheville and started looking for another race. The RiverBound Race Series Charlotte endeavor the next weekend seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  Half Marathon? Check! Close by? Check! Trail Run. Hmmm. This, I had not considered, but given that the Spartan is a trail run, it seemed to be a bonus.  I signed up immediately.    Thus, I found myself cruising up I-77 in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, simultaneously excited about running some trails and kind of nervous that I was still sore from my mid-week training session (tabata squats always require some recovery).

The Charlotte flavor of the Riverbound Race series (there's also an Asheville variety) is located on the campus of the US National Whitewater Center, and I honestly don't know if there is a better outdoor venue in all of the South.  The place is gorgeous, clean, innovative, and literally made for this kind of race.  I'd previously been up here for the Spartan Sprint in the spring, and immediately found myself lamenting the fact that I hadn't come back since to try the ropes course, zip lines, or whitewater offerings.  Race check-in was quick and painless. This event was the ultimate of four spread over the year.  Each event features a 5k plus a race of increasing length.  The first event also included an 8k, the second a 10k, the third a 15k.  I just happened to hit upon the fourth, which featured a half. 

I timed my trip well, and had just enough time to wonder around for a few minutes, trying in vane to understand the physics and mechanics behind the man-made rapids of the Whitewater center, before I had to line up for the 8AM start.  The race directors made a decision to start the 5K prior to the half, and as a result those of us running the longer distance ended up standing around for a while, waiting for the course to clear.  After about 15 minutes we were off.  We ran around the edge of the whitewater channel for about half a mile, and then hit the woods.  And slowed to a crawl.  I think this is the same as every event I've run that had any trail in it. Hit the single track, and walk.  Soon enough, though, people began to spread out, and one could at least trot.  I fell in behind a big guy wearing orange shoes who paced like a metronome.  I'm horrible at pacing, so if I can find another person who is good at it running the speed I need to be going, hey, great.  This guy never varied his pace - up hill, down hill, roots, rocks - it didn't matter. That was a really good thing, because I didn't have any mental energy to devote to figuring out if I was going the right speed.  I was too busy trying to avoid killing myself. 

The vast majority of this race was single track, literally crawling with roots, vines, boulders, stones, wet clay, and every other bit of nature you can think of that could trip, stab, catch, twist, or pull one's ankle, foot, leg, or knee. I have never had to concentrate so much on placing my feet in the right spot for miles at a time.  I know I ran through some really pretty areas, but to be honest, I was looking at the trail five to ten feet in front of me most of the time.  Every once in a while, I'd look up for a second, and realize that I had been running by, say, the Catawba River, and wonder how long it had been there.  I saw a lot, looking straight down.  Sand. Clay. Dirt. Holes.  Much later, a broken toilet swam into view (likely coinciding with the area pithily marked "toilet bowl" on the race map).  Once, a random snake slithering into an drainage culvert (oddly placed in the middle of the woods) eased into view. Occasionally, I'd note some part of a ropes course or zip line.  I'm not saying this wasn't a pretty race or, in its own way, maybe even a stunning race, but the scenery was taken in very, very locally rather than by gazing out over distant vistas the way one can run a race on asphalt.  In the early going, the trail was well marked, but I hadn't paid any attention as to whether the orange or the yellow signs depicted the rout for the half (the other being the 5k).  I was really glad that they had started my group separately, and I could confidently follow the folks ahead of me. My Garmin seems to have had a similar problem with not being able to figure out where I was going.  With all the hills and switch backs, it seemed to get the idea I was on an elevator at some points and not give me credit for any forward motion despite fairly impressive changes. 

I followed orange-shoe guy until about mile 7, when he abruptly slowed his pace.  In fact, a lot of people started slowing down about that point.  There was one really long hill about the middle of the race that seemed to be the Bette noir of many folks.  Since I'm out of shape, I intentionally started in the back third of the pack.  From this hill (perhaps Goat Hill from the map?) onward, I started passing a lot of people.  Not that I was going fast.  A lot of other people just slowed. A lot.  I probably had a 10 to one ratio of passing people versus being passed over the last 6 miles of the race.  I usually wouldn't have any idea what that ratio was, but on this race, you had to plan to pass or move over to be passed, so it required some degree of thought to do either.  Also, about this time, I started to see a lot of people fall. Spectacular wipe outs.  I fairly good at predicting it.  I'd see a runner start dragging his feet.  Soon he'd bounce over a root or two.  A minute or so later - full fledged tumble. Almost all of us did it at some point.  Everybody I saw popped right back up laughing.  My time came around mile 11 when I caught my left foot on something and started falling straight forward like a log.  Probably because my trainers tend to go nuts with them, I instinctively threw the same leg out in front of me, executed a stuttered forward lunge, recovered with my right leg, and barely broke stride.  I'm sure it looked as graceful as a Japanese Beetle courting a bug zapper, but at least I didn't fall.

As I mentioned before, I didn't see a lot of the race course, but other things were profound.  Given all the effort involved, very few people were talking. Birds chirped happily.  Water lapped at river banks.  High voltage wires occasionally hummed overhead.  The first half of the race smelled like river.  The second like trees and dirt.  A latter portion of the race had three different widely spaced segments of the course pass through the same meadow.  Each time, I was overwhelmed by some flower that smelled like melted butter (not sure what they were, perhaps buttercups, but I'd always assumed they were named for their looks, not their smell).  I enjoyed it immensely.

I have to admit, I was glad to see the finish line.  I had enough left in the tank to speed up a little bit at the end, but was pretty spent by the time I finished. This race was one of the most enjoyable I've ever run.  Well run, plenty of water stops and volunteers, great venue.  By my usual grading criteria, it was only missing two things - beer and a medal at the end.  It's no secret that I run for T-shirts and participant medals, but if more races were like this one, I might start waiving the latter requirement.