Spartan Race

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.