Our mental state determines much more about us than many give it credit for. Through every single up and down in our lives we can effectively say during the better times it feels as though things turned out better. This very much applies to racing as we tend to believe more in ourselves and push harder than we would if we just didn’t care enough.
Over the past few weeks I’ve made a conscious effort to live life more in the moment than I ever have before. Two weeks ago I made an on-the-spot decision to sign up for the Tough Mudder Half in Coatesville despite only attending as a spectator. Last week I chose to dive head first into switching my registration over from the Beast at Killington to the Ultra Beast at the same venue. This past weekend I made another attempt at doing something I had no plans to do. Switch from my usual Competitive Heat to Elite for the first time.
Having never been to Tuxedo before I didn’t know what to expect. Knowing it was only a Sprint my nerves weren’t there and honestly, the difference between Elite and Competitive is just the level of the other runners. Which is to say, much faster.
Very early on, I learned just how advanced these guys are. The dust was in my face and the path cleared very well. Most of them absolutely breezed through the early obstacles. The hurdles, walls, and O-U-T proved to be enough for the top guys to break away from the rest of the pack. Even they were ahead of me for much of the race.
Previous experience in New Jersey and Palmerton had me believing the terrain would be similar. But with the mountain having been closed for years it was far more overgrown with everything from small trees to sharp thorns to massive rocks littering the paths. The first incline wasn’t terrible but the straight-away at the top of the course provided quite a bit of difficulty navigating my way through gaps of rocks trying to not twist an ankle or anything. That logic saved me from the fate one of my teammates had to suffer through for almost the entirety of the race. Catching up to him so early had me turn my engines down a bit as to not suffer the same fate. I knew this may be my first Elite race and I had hoped to see what I could do but my focus was and will be Killington until that day.
Based off a quick glance of the course map I knew that the majority of the obstacles came towards the end of the race with much of the beginning part having things much more separated. After the first few obstacles came the rolling mud which was far too easy. The climbs out of the water were covered in tarp and my Salomons dug right in to the soft earth beneath it. Having much of the the actual rolling mud covered made the slip wall more of breeze than usual. One short but interesting addition to the event was basically an army crawl obstacle under the same material used for the A-frame cargo net. It was short and sort of high (enough where I could bear crawl without covering myself in mud) but that mud may have been some of the most vile smelling crap I’ve ever had to go through. Let’s just say I took about 3 showers when I got home. It was haunting.
Having the barbed wire crawl right after that was kind of interesting. It would’ve been nice to see them separated a bit more but I guess they figured to have runners keep working the same muscle groups in succession. While the crawl wasn’t the longest I’ve done (That honor still falls to Fort Carson in 2016) nor was it the steepest (Palmerton 2016 holds that title) it made up for what it was lacking with only one really usable lane with some extremely low hanging wire, and a ton of thorns spattered all over. I get it, Spartan. You want to make things tough and uncomfortable but when I’m busy pulling massive thorns out of my skin while trying to run you need to do a better job of course upkeep on multiple day events, especially with the barbed wire hanging so low a skinny guy like me can’t even get under without it digging into my back and opening it up.
After the last few straightaways, the real fun began. This was the point in the course where we finally made it back down towards the festival area starting off with the rope climb. The barrage of upper-body-centric obstacles would only just start there, however. Just as it was in Colorado, the sandbag carry had a much different style sandbag than previous races. It was long with a nice groove right in the middle so draping it across both shoulders was easy and made for keeping the arms out of the equation. No balancing or switching of shoulders was necessary.
Now I don’t mean to brag because there is a zero percent chance I’m stronger than at least half of the other Elites but my new claim to fame is actually snapping the chain on the plate drag on one of my last pulls to the stake. I didn’t care to take the time to actually look at it because once the volunteer told me he’ll handle it and to run I just took off. This allowed for me to avoid the usual plate into the shins on the drag back. The arm strength I had thought I would have burned through by now was still fresh at this point and it didn’t end there. Right in front of the early crowd gearing up for their own start times was the Herc Hoist. Again, if my pictures do not tell the full story I weigh very little. On a rainy day I can honestly say I believe some of the Hoists may weigh about the same as me so I have no leverage whatsoever. Most of these races has me going through a good amount of my arm and grip strength just trying to get the bag to the top, let alone down. This sandbag had to have been ripped or something because I managed to get it up and down without any resistance. And yes, I made sure to go to one of the men’s hoists.
The sad part for me is that’s where the break ended. Literally feet from the Herc Hoist came one of two obstacles I had yet to conquer… Olympus. Introduced just in time for New Jersey’s Ultra Beast, I’ve now had 4 cracks at both Olympus and Twister up to this point. Each time Olympus destroyed me, more so than Twister. At least I came within feet of the bell before being kicked off of Twister in Colorado. Previously, the furthest I managed to traverse Olympus was roughly half way across. My my my… how the tables have turned. A combination of holes and rock grips were all it took, along with no shortage of sheer determination. Within striking distance of the bell my grip had completely given out and my feet began to slip to the point where they were likely inches from touching the ground which would’ve resulted in failure. Maybe I should’ve let go to save some of the strength for the remaining obstacles but my desire to finally master one of my arch-nemesis’ led to me using every ounce of strength left to pull myself up and smack the hell out of that bell.
With all of my arm strength burned out I still managed to finish somewhat strong. The last couple of climbs on the mountain greeted us with the 8′ wall, A-frame Cargo Net, and the Inverted Wall which aren’t exactly ball busters. Completion of those few brought us right back down to the main party with everyone’s favorite… Twister. This was the first obstacle besides the Spear Throw where I saw more than one person doing the burpee penalty. (I realize somewhere in my memory of the race I completely forgot where I ran into the spear throw. Fortunately for me that means I breezed through it like I have managed to for the better part of the year.) That extra effort completing Olympus absolutely demolished anything I could have given into Twister. Only a quarter of the way through I dropped and rushed to the burpee zone. At this point the Elite women started passing me. Jackie Landmark who came in first overall for the women had failed Twister right after I started my burpees and finished them well before I got through mine. I knew the multi-rig with my ideal set-up of only rings was left but I had managed to overlook the fact that I hadn’t yet done the Bucket Brigade. Yes, it was short. No, I still didn’t enjoy it. With my grip still gone it made it that much tougher. Gripping the bucket isn’t how I work through it but I do still hold onto my other arm, which even that wasn’t fun at this point. With my first career perfect race already out the window I still wanted to hit that multi-rig with everything I had left in me. I may have not been as quick at it as I can be but I made it through without fear of failure. The more we conquer obstacles the more we adapt and learn what works for our own specific needs. The Multi-Rig, along with the Z-wall were two of my earliest holdups. I couldn’t beat them for the life of me. Now I don’t even think twice. I will get there with Olympus and Twister.
Tuxedo definitely left its mark on me. The switch to Elite didn’t rattle meas much as I thought it could and not finishing last gives me hope towards the future. Finally conquering Olympus will only give me the confidence with it moving forward and failing Twister only pushes me towards that desire for revenge at Palmerton. Next up for me is a shift from Spartan Race to another favorite of mine from 2016… Bonefrog.