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.