Spartan Race

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Asheville Citizen-Times Half Marathon

My time on this particular half reminded me a lot of my brief foray into golf. The foray during which people would tell my score wasn't bad for a beginner, and then find out it was for 9 rather than 18. I haven't run longer than 4 miles since March, and I've averaged probably 1.5 runs a month over the same time period. I frequently don't train for races, but it's usually during a stretch where I'm racing a lot - 3 half marathons in 4 or 5 weeks kind of stuff.  I don't advocate this training style, if you can call it that, but it actually works for me as long as I don't try to PR. That said, I've never gone 6 months without running and then tried to roll out the door and hit 13. I haven't been a slug - I've weight and hiit/kettle bell/personal trainered religiously- but those ain't distance running, and I had no idea how they'd translate into a mountainous half.

I've described this race before in great detail and my 2010 and 2011 posts go into great detail about it. In a nutshell, it's pretty, mountainous, hard, and well run. The weather this year was cool and foggy, which I like, and while it detracts from the views adds to the experience. I was honestly nervous about basically running this one cold, especially given its challenging nature. I have a Spartan Beast coming up in a few weeks, though, so I figured I needed to do something. I'm glad I did. I didn't light the world on fire, but I also wasn't in any danger of being press ganged by the sag wagon. Mrs. Running Quack took pity on me, and kept me company for the entirety of the race. Only once did she roll her eyes.  I learned something, too. I missed racing.

Not infrequently, when I've crawled out of bed at an ungodly hour to go stand in the pouring rain in 30 degree weather, I've wondered why I race. Why I put myself through it, when I could just as easily be sleeping in, and then having breakfast. Having an excuse to have a beer at 9 am wasn't enough for me to run anymore. I started listening to the little voice that said "this sucks".  Only shear terror at the thought of being dragged down at the Beast, not by some obstacle, but by the distance made me jump back into the fray. And it was fun. I liked it. So much that I signed up for a trail half next weekend on the way home. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The fall

Starting to really love obstacle races. Definitely doing the Spartan Beast in the fall, and following it up with the fire fighter themed Hero Rush the next weekend. The question is, so I then follow that up with a Tough Mudder the next weekend? 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carolinas Spartan Sprint

I really love obstacle races.  I like mud. I like climbing over stuff.  I like being asked to crawl, wade, and slog through place I would never think of going otherwise. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and wipes me out physically.  Both of those things are feelings I love. 

Mrs. RQ and I participated in the Carolinas Spartan Sprint at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.  The last Spartan we did was a Super Spartan that clocked in somewhere around 8 miles.  This one was technically only four, but I honestly really didn’t have any idea how far we had gone at any given time.  The trail was convoluted, ran up and down hill, over hill and dale, doubled back on itself, wove in and out of swamps and rivers, and finally ended up back at the start.  Some dozen or so obstacles thrown in made it even more difficult to gage the distance.   I’m also going to give a disclaimer right now.  I’m pretty sure of the order of the first couple of obstacles, and a sure of the last 5 or so, but prior to that, I’ve really lost the order.  I’m going to try to get them all in, but I have no idea the correct order.  The basic gist was run single track for a while, come out of woods, do obstacle, more single track. I’ve kind of noticed that the obstacles can be divided into endurance, strength, skill, combo, and “hey we need an obstacle here” categories (easy obstacles children could do) that I’m going to call filler, and I’ll try to label them as I go.

The race started next to the NWC’s whitewater facility (which is awesome, by the way), and went fairly flat for about a quarter of a mile.  We then hit a filler obstacle that required one to crawl under some mesh and then over a short (3ish foot) wall.  I think it was really designed to stretch the crowd a little bit out, because we hit fairly tight single track immediately afterward.  We actually slowed to a walk for a while because of the log jam, which isn’t uncommon in this type of race.  This particular stretch was very similar to the course of the one we did last summer. Lots of slippery red clay, switchbacks, and fairly steep ravine sides you had to climb up.  Sometime after that we hit a clearing and another filler obstacle, the old over the wall, under the wall, through the wall times two. More single track led us to a mud bog easily thirty inches deep, and the first real obstacle of the day, a knotted rope with a bell near the top that one had to climb.  I’d but this one in the strength and skill category.  Not too hard in usual circumstances, but you had mud all over your hands and feet, the ropes were already slippery, and the bell was fifteen or so feet off the ground (which you were actually starting below given the several feet of mud).  I managed this one, but I am extremely proud of myself for doing so and it could have gone either way.  Probably 80% of people at least were doing burpees on this one.  After that, a little more single track led to a river, which we then had to slog through for probably another quarter of a mile. I say slog because it also had a foot or so of mud on its bottom and was more like walking through marsh that anything else.  It was slow going, partially because in random intervals, one would hit a 4 foot deep hole, or a tree, or a submerged rock.  Finally, we climbed out on a point of land… only to run 15 feet and hop into another inlet.  This one was too deep to wade, and had to be swum.  After climbing out of that, obstacle order become very murky, so I’m just going to list.  Likewise, the trail between obstacles can be considered anything from moderately challenging to super challenging single track. 

I think what showed up next was the infamous barbed wire crawl.  This time it was on a boulder strewn clay road and we had to crawl thirty yards, make a 180 degree turn and crawl back through ditches and little hillocks. The wire was also too low for somebody of my thickness, so I had to low crawl on my back for a while and hold it up with my hands.  That one is more of an endurance obstacle than anything else.  Over the next several miles, we had:

Strength Obstacles:  drag a 45 lb concrete block around a course via a chain (not allowed to carry), carry a sand bag up and down a hill, pull a five gallon bucket full on concrete up twenty feet off the ground via a slimy rope and pulley (not that hard dry, but coated with mud and having a wet rope…)

Strength and Skill obstacles: A series of 7 foot walls, a series of 8 foot walls, and new to the race for me, a series of walls I had to jump to reach the top of (9 foot?), and then pull myself over (a guy in front of me ran to jump on this one and lost his footing in the red clay, sliding face first full speed into it.  He was ok, so it was hilarious), long monkey bars (which Mrs. RQ rocked- it was a bĂȘte noir

Filler Obstacles:  A claustrophobic trip through a 36 inch drainage pipe (just part of the landscape, not brought in for the race, a climb over hay bales onto an open shipping container (this container actually formed a tunnel allowing folks back and forth to the parking lot, despite the fact that the race course crossed the path)

Both Spartan Races I have done have, in contrast to say, the Warrior Dash, done a nice job of blurring the line between obstacle and just general part of the race course.  That said, both franchises also do a nice job of stacking obstacles at the end of the race, such that the crowd can watch them.  This race was no different.  Emerging from the woods back near the start, we hit what turned out to be the hardest obstacle of the day – the strength and skill laden wall traverse.  It’s basically a 20 foot long wall with 6 inch long, canted, zig-zagging pieces of 2x4 attached at eye and foot level.   One has to hold on, traverse the distance without hitting the ground, and ring a bell at the end.  I got within two feet of the bell and fell off.  I was too tired to do rapid burpees from my effort, and in retrospect it would have been better to fall off earlier.  Next we had a filler obstacle that seemed really out of place – a 200 meter standing row complete with cybex-type machines and a digital counter.  Then my other burpee-bringing obstacle, the spear throw.  I need to practice this one.  After those burpees, we hit a curious filler obstacle that turned out to be psychologically difficult.  It was a simple cargo net climb, but it was strung between two cargo containers over the NWC’s man made white water river.  While there was no way to fall in, the rushing water cause a lot of people to do burpees.  I have to admit, it was strange to see boats full of people whitewater rafting sailing beneath me as I climbed over. What then followed was a short strip of single track.

Emerging again from the woods for a final time, we hit our final series of obstacles – an A-frame plywood triangle covered with dishwashing soap one used a rope to get to the top of,  the famous American Gladiator-style Spartans wielding quarter staff, who pummel you, and a very, very pleasant swim through a portion of the NWC’s man made river.  I frankly didn’t want to get out. 

Frankly, I was wrecked after this race.  I didn’t have the horrible compartment syndrome like calf paint that I had after the first one, but I still knew I had worked hard. Some races, you get a medal and a T-shirt for doing very little.  This one, you earn.  Can’t wait for the next one.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shamrock 2012

The Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathons are, to my thinking, some if the best organized, most professionally run races in the country. I've previously described the course in great detail. It's flat, fast, scenic and has pretty good crowd support. 

I've not been running much recently, largely because I've been doing other stuff like dead lifts and kettle bell work outs. I won't say this one snuck up on me, but the truth of the matter is I hadn't run in 10 to 12 weeks prior to this race (and even then it was just the Disney Half - I hadn't run for a month or so prior to that one either).  So there you have my preparation- about 13 total miles, run all at once, in the preceding 4ish months. What could go wrong?

Truthfully? Remarkably little. I mean, it was very slow (about 20 minutes off my PR) and it hurt, but Mrs. RQ and I still had a great time doing it.  I got weird shin splint type pains for the first several miles, accompanied by what I can only describe as calf fatigue, but it went away.  A little after that, my left iliotibial band needed stretching. No big deal. I was really tired around mile 11. Shot an extra gel and went on.

    Not my fastest, far from my prettiest race, but the weather was great, Mrs. RQ kept me company, and the beer and Irish stew tasted just as good at the end.  All in all, a pretty good day.

Just a quick pic from the Disney cruise..

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Disney Cruise review: coming soon!

I know it's off topic, but I thought I'd review it anyway!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Disney Half

     The Disney Races are favorites of both Mrs. RQ and mine, and we always feel like the holidays aren't actually over until were back from our annual trip to the mouse.  The last two years, we've run the Goofy, and while that was a great experience, we both decided that it took way too much out of us early in the racing season.  I dropped back to just running the half, and Mrs. RQ decided to follow my lead.  Our rationale was basically that it would allow us to run the half, and then not worry about what we had to eat or drink for the rest of the weekend. I have to say it was a great tactic. 
     I have to explain something here. I've run the Goofy the last two years.  I ran the half the year before that.  The full the year before that.  In all that time, the half marathon shirts and full marathon shirts have been white (one year, the full shirt did branch out to grey...).  The goofy shirt was always a cool dark blue.  This year, the one year I don't run the full, they switch to a cool red shirt for the full marathon.  My other six or seven non-Goofy shirts are effectively interchangeable, and the one year they change it, I don't run it.  The irony...  I did console myself with the fact that the half shirt was a good looking royal blue. 
     The race itself, as usual, was great.  Disney does large crowds well, and their races are no exception.  The now-classic course is littered with Disney characters who are only too happy to take their picture with you.  Crowd support is unparalleled.  I realize that this is not one of the "Big 5" Marathons, but it, along with Marine Corps, have to be 6 and 7. 
     As for the tactic of running the half, and then eating and drinking out way through the rest of the trip.  What a great idea.  We were relaxed, ate anything we wanted, and stayed out late for fireworks.  Next year we may go back to the Goofy, but this year, it was the right thing to do.

The fall races...

    Last fall, Mrs. RQ and I hit a number of races - most good.  Some bad. The basic gist of it was a four half marathon blitz in about six weeks running from late September until early November.  We started with the Asheville Citizen Times half marathon, followed up with the Athens, GA half, moved on to the RNR Savannah Half Marathon, and finally our old favorite, the Outerbanks Half. 

    The Asheville Half is rapidly becoming a favorite. It is well run, the course is pretty, the air clean, and the post race beer cold.  It starts downtown, meanders through some neighborhoods full of varied, and, sometimes very interesting, homes, flirts with running by the famous Grove Park Inn, swoops around Beaver Lake, back through the campus of UNC Asheville, and then over a final mountain before venturing back downtown.  Last year it was so foggy, I never saw the lake, though we were only a few dozen feet away from it.  This year, we ran most of the way in rain or at least drizzle, but it was the type that just cools you off a bit.  It added to the race.  I highly recommend this one.

      The Athens Half Marathon was another smaller race that is worth seeking out.  I'm a University of South Carolina fan, but I have to admit, I enjoyed running through the University of Georgia Campus.  The stadium is nice, the fraternity houses and sorority houses impressive, and the rest of the little city of Athens is pretty as well.  Particularly nice was a several mile stretch near the end of the race through some dedicated greenspace that Athens is justifiably proud of showing off. I really liked this race, and would highly recommend it.  By the way, Athens also has a number of very impressive restaurants not to far from the race end, most of whom did not seem to mind catering to smelly runners on a Sunday Morning.

     And then there was the RNR Half in Savannah.  Let me say this first.  The actual run was fine. The Tech Shirts were good.  As usual, the medal was great.  The after party was quite an affair.  In other words, the event itself was really well done.  The logistics getting to and from the race were the absolute worst of any race I have ever encountered.  Ever.  Getting to packet pick up was an ordeal.  It was located in a convention center with a single road in and out.  It took forever sitting in a basically parked traffic to get there.  When you got there, their wasn't enough parking.  The actual expo was a fair clone of the Virginia Beach Half, and pretty impressive.  What was not at all impressive, and the reason why I will never run this race again, was the plan for getting 20,000 runner plus an equal number of race fans into downtown Savannah. 
     I thought this might be an issue when I tried to figure out where to park on the RNR website and was told to visit the City of Savannah's website.  That website touted several thousand downtown Savannah Parking places.  Several thousand. 20,000 runners.  Plus hangers on.  Not a good ratio.  Apparently the RNR folks figured out the same thing a week or so before race day, and came up with the idea of having all the runners not staying downtown park at the Savannah Mall and then transporting them in on buses and trolleys. In fairness, this was probably the only option, but it was awful.  Awful.  Huge lines.  Angry runners.  People missing the start of the race.  Awful.  And then they had to transport all of those people back to the mall after the race.  Lines long enough to be measured in furlongs resulted. Unless they severely limit how many people can run this race, never again.

   The weekend after Savannah, it was very nice to fall back on an old standard, the Outerbanks Half.  A smaller race, but it has great logistics, a scenic course, tremendous community support, and a great after party.  Plus, it's pirate themed, so what else can you ask for in a race?  The race course itself hasn't changed from the last several years, but no one cares, because everyone is so friendly, and it's a great run anyway.  If you haven't done this one, you should.