Tri-State NY Spartan Sprint: 007 Style

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Colorado Super & Sprint Weekend 2017

My favorite race of the year has come and gone. Despite being in the beautiful state of Colorado for a full 6 days, it definitely isn’t enough time to see everything there is to offer. Race weekend felt even shorter.

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Maybe it was the heat or the fact that this would be my first ever back-to-back race, but something about it just felt shorter. Come to think of it, every race this year has. The laws of physics and time hasn’t changed so could it be that every course has been shortened?

For the second straight race to start 2017 (minus Greek Peak as it was the first ever held there), us racers received what could be described in most running sports as a ripoff. The Ultra Beast in Vernon was shortened by most accounts around 4 miles. According to my records, Fort Carson was cut by close about 1 and a half miles. So then why did my time increase on what was still a runner-friendly course?

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Steve Hammond has done a commendable job in my opinion. Following in #effNorm’s footsteps isn’t easy especially with how most of 2016 played out, highlighted of course by Killington’s Death March. Looking at the course map for Fort Carson ahead of time, it looked nearly like a carbon copy of last year despite starting and finishing on opposite sides. 2016’s course was fast and while there was a lot of single track, the obstacle locations made it easy to get past other racers with ease since most were in open territory. It looked like much of the same… in and out of the gorgeous valley with the only difference being that we could actually enjoy the scenery this year.

Wrong.

Sure, the parachute team dropping out of the helicopter with the American flag to start was just as awesome as last year, as were the Army Colorguard members on horseback roaming the grounds blasting guns loaded with what I hope were blanks. But deep down this year’s course was a wolf dressed in sheep’s wool.

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If a race starts with a downhill, it’s going to be all uphill afterwards. Write that down, memorize it, because Fort Carson proved it to be 100% true. That downhill led to some quick and easy obstacles (wall, wall, O-U-T, wall, herc hoist) with plenty of room to open up in between. Just make sure you watch out for all of the cacti out there because as I learned during the barbed-wire crawl it doesn’t feel any better than that wire does. Once again, just like in New Jersey, the bucket brigade proved to be the most onerous obstacle of all. That first 2 mile stretch was a major tease because once that bucket hit, the fun was all over with. While not as treacherous as Vernon’s, this bucket brigade found itself traversing dry and loose sand and rock making for a slippery affair. Add in the heat and the sun beating right down on you and you have the makings of a memorable time.

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The best part about the Military Series races are hands-down the added obstacles. After getting my first taste of them last year I was stoked to be able to do one in particular that was exclusive to Elite and Competitive waves, the target shot. To my extreme disappointment, it was not included in this year’s festivities. Maybe it had to do with cutting certain obstacles out to include the new ones like Twister, Bender, and Olympus, but I really do think if it was considered another arbitrary obstacle such as one of the net climbs or even the Herc Hoist. Unlike the target shot, the Ruck Sack carry was spared although I don’t think anyone was extremely thrilled to be doing it when it came time for it on the course. The likely explanation was Steve Hammond thought it would be a brilliant idea to increase the weight of the ruck by ten-fold. Seriously, it was that heavy.

One of the trends for this year’s races I’ve noticed is that there are points in the race with a bunch of obstacles in short order that all focus on one particular aspect. More times than not, that aspect has been upper body strength. 2016 had some similar parts on the courses but when you add in the new obstacles, it really manages to magnify that point in the race. When the rope climb is followed by Twister, the spear throw, and the multi-rig within maybe 100 feet of each other, there really isn’t a chance to get your bearings or give your arms and shoulders much of a break. All that tells me is this is going to continue to be a theme this year, and that I had better get to work on increasing my upper body strength quickly.

If Joe de Sena and Spartan Race wanted to standardize every race to fit within a certain parameter they’re definitely sticking to it. They’re also managing to keeping things difficult, especially for the running specialists. To me, that’s a challenge. Challenge accepted Spartan Race… Challenge Accepted…

(Ultra) Beast Mode

How do you compare something that has no equal? In my short racing career I’ve never attempted more than either a half-marathon on pavement or a Spartan Beast on trail.

Jumping headfirst into race season with an Ultra Beast would have felt like suicide a year ago. Even though my body was in much better shape strength-wise last year I don’t believe I would’ve been able to finish. Changes to my training program (for as light as it has gotten), may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Completing over 26 miles on some of the toughest terrain New Jersey has to offer isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But despite my obvious shortcomings in terms of leg power and raw upper body strength, for the first time in my life I went an entire race without any knee pain. Imagine the possibilities!

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The leaked map during the week leading up to the race was spot on.

Overall, I personally believe the most difficult obstacle during the day was waking up. Either that, or walking to the car afterwards. There’s something special about finishing a race pain free and then your body immediately telling you afterwards it’s going to lock up for a few days so you can’t put it through anything like that again.

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Last years Beast in New Jersey had been my first ever Spartan, short of Citizen’s Bank Park (I will never count that one as my first.) If you had asked if I would have ever done two laps of that course right afterwards I would have asked for you to beat me over the head with an axe-handle. I signed up for this race after conquering the Beast course at Killington last year. I was in much better shape, and despite dealing with a twisted knee at that venue my muscles felt intact afterwards.

Fast-forward to this year and my training took a massive hit over the off-season. Dealing with some massive personal issues, my training took a dump. Not a little one either. I went on a complete break from training for just over a month. I let depression and anxiety creep back into my life after working so hard for years to get rid of it. But I didn’t let any of that stop me. Despite losing nearly all of my muscle between not training and barely eating I told myself I would still do it. Not for placement, not for time, but for me.

So that’s what I did. I ran it, and then power hiked it, and then walked. I nearly crawled my way to the finish line after having to do the most brutal bucket carry yet. Spartan Race should have seriously set up a whole team of photographers just at that bucket carry alone, it was that difficult.

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Even the new obstacles that I had yet to experience made things even more gloriously harder. If Spartan wanted to make people want to keep coming back for tougher races they certainly succeeded. Twister was definitely the most interesting. People keep asking me to explain it and I’m still stuck grasping for words. All I know is that it’s just plain difficult. Olympus was the other new obstacle to give me trouble. Some of you may know I battle through these races with a torn labrum, so oftentimes I need to use alternate movements across obstacles that most people will never do. What works for me on obstacles like the Multi-Rig, Monkey Bars, and Z-walls may not work for everyone. Well, if someone can help me figure out what the hell would work for me on Olympus that would be great.

Oddly enough, one thing that inhibited my ability on countless obstacles was swelling in my hands. I have no idea when it started or how, but both of my hands became completely puffed up and stiff to the point where I couldn’t bend my fingers.

The learning experience was easily the most satisfying part. The things I need to work on stuck out like sore thumbs on swollen hands that normally wouldn’t become apparent during a Super or a Sprint and perhaps even an easier Beast. Diet would be my number one aspect to work on so I’ll be working hard on fixing that and posting more updates on how that’s going. I’m even considering a little YouTube series on healthy cooking for skinny guys like me looking to add muscle and weight the right way.

Spartan Race really outdid themselves this year. It wasn’t the most difficult of courses (Killington) or even the most innovative (Ft. Carson & other Military Series races) but it was a step in the right direction for the sport as a whole. Mixing in tough new obstacles, keeping the terrain as the greatest challenge, and hosting another great day full of awesome faces from all walks of life is why I won’t leave Spartan Racing anytime soon.

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Vermont Beast 2016: #EFFnorm

Words will never do justice for the Spartan Beast held annually in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Pictures don’t come remotely close enough to capturing the sheer depth of those towering peaks in the distance. The scars accrued during the grueling event only tell a fraction of the story behind them.

Killington managed to leave its mark in more ways than one.

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This was the first race in which I ventured to the race site a day early. Due to volunteer training as a Course Marshal for Sunday’s Elite Sprint wave I made my trek up early Friday morning and with time to kill spent a couple hours wandering around Vermont from the nearby town of Rutland to the resort hosting the race. It’s kind of magical how the mountains and trees and streams sort of just come together. Every winding road is hugged by a clear, crisp brook while every mountain is parted by small fields lined with pine. It’s a sense of awe only trumped from my time in Breckenridge, Colorado earlier this year.

That natural beauty was on full display for the first quarter or so of the race. There was a solid first incline that really fired up the calves and quads with runners in the Competitive heat already using alternative methods for climbing up the mountain. Despite a flurry of steep hills the race started off rather quickly. There were a few early obstacles that had racers getting penalized with burpees such as an unusually difficult Hercules Hoist and a set of Monkey Bars that, while dry and easy for most, had its bars much further apart. I think the degree of difficulty with the hoist had more to do with the pulleys getting completely stuck at certain points. Most people were having no issue until a certain point of varying degrees at which no level of effort could budge the sandbag.

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You know it’s early in the race when you’re actually smiling.

The dry summer also allowed for quicker completion of obstacles such as the Z-wall that was also towards the early part of the race. Right after that Z-wall was when I believe the race changed for almost everyone. The lake swim and Tarzan Swing obstacle were right afterwards and while this was my first time in Killington, it was made aware to all racers at the start line that the swim was doubled from years past. The 200-yard swim was split up by a moment of treading water unless you were lucky enough to find an uninhabited ladder to climb up. For us skinny folk, the water was brutally cold which led to severe cramps come time for burpees since yes, I did fail the swing portion. Sadly, with over 10 ladders, there are no pictures from Spartan Race of myself.

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Those cramps from the cold water attacked more than just myself. It seemed as though the jump from hot to cold to hot was killer enough on the muscles. From there, the number of people halted due to pains and cramps was like nothing I had seen before.

Problems arose from the cramps too as my normally fine knee started experience pain and limited my descent speed. This all hit a head right after mile 9 when the ultimate ascent began. Never in my life have I experienced something like that. Just under the ski lift, we climbed the entirety of the mountain. It was at least a full mile with no points of flat land for more than a few steps. No matter what method people used to get up the mountain those who kept moving reached its peak all the same. There were a serious number of racers (all in the Competitive or Elite class still) that came to a standstill or just collapsed on the incline. The #EFFnorm hashtag had never been more appropriate than during that point of the race.

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The Death March- Photo Cred. to Joan Wright

Just near the finish line were a multitude of some of the tougher obstacles. In sequence were the spear throw, log carry, inverted wall, atlas carry, multi-rig, and A-wall cargo net topped off with the signature fire jump for the photo finish. During my Sunday volunteering stint I learned at least half of the ropes tied to the spears were too short. The spear I used was so warped it was no wonder it curved downward so rapidly.

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I’d advise Spartan Race to seriously consider their own integrity as they attempt to hold their Elite and Competitive racers to the same standards. 

While I don’t believe it was done on purpose, greater care should be taken in setup. There’s no excuse for an obstacle right next to the festival area. It’s embarrassing to the racers as well as Spartan Race to see so many people fail an obstacle.

That being said, I’m glad to report after 6 races under my belt I was able to complete my first multi-rig! If I wasn’t so beat down at that point I might have made a little more noise about it. Maybe next time.

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DC Spartan Sprint 2016

A little over a year ago, a former trainer of mine told me I need to forge my own fitness path and goals. I had been following in my girlfriend’s footstep working on combat sports mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. My trainer had passingly mentioned to me obstacle course racing since my greatest asset in the gym was my running ability. Despite being skeptical at first due to my torn labrum I looked up the schedule for different race series and went with Spartan due to the Citizen’s Bank Park one being so close to home and far enough out that I had ample training time. So I went to work, training for something I had no idea how to train for and, honestly, neither did my trainer. When it came time to race my lack of any experience was obvious and my reserved attitude at the stadium went to show I didn’t understand a big part of these races. I may have nearly froze to death during the race but despite that I gave it my all and ended up placing way better than I expected. From then on my goal was simple… Get better.

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So… much… dust…

 

Fast forward to the Jersey Beast with new knowledge and proper training on my side I gave everything I had once again despite coming close enough to hypothermia and bears for a lifetime. That race saw such an improvement where I went from the top 35% in my age group and top 27% overall at Citizen’s Bank Park to the top 15% in my age group and top 13% overall. In only my second ever race my entire career goal had changed…

To qualify for the OCR World Championship.

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2016 OCRWC Qualifier!

I had two races on the calendar that I believed I had the best chance at conquering my objective. In Colorado, I turned a solid effort and even greater knowledge and experience into a top 7% age group and 4% overall finish. Even with the incredible jump in percentage I managed to take a nosedive in the standings compared to Jersey with a 29th age group finish versus 24th in Vernon. Knowing competition would be stiff at Blue Mountain, I set my sights on the DC Sprint. Having signed up for the race well before I even created my new goal, I grew semi-concerned about enlisting in my first Competitive heat.

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The photographer would miss the entire time I was smiling at him…

 

 

Everything I had heard up to this point was that this course would play to my strength as a runner and my greatest obstacle would be the vast amount of mud like in years past slowing me down. If the DC Sprint was supposed to be a mud pit, Blue Mountain should have been flat. Maybe it was due to an arid summer but the course at Maryland International Raceway featured little in the way of mud. Even the dry terrain featured more hills than expected and the dry, sandy dirt made for a new challenge as I struggled to gain traction on short but steep cliffs of the loose earth.

What made for an increasingly difficult race was the order the obstacles were in. The shockingly heavy Herc Hoist was a precursor to slick monkey bars… The spear throw was shortly after the rolling mud, dunk wall, and cliff climb which was insanely slippery… The rope climb was led by the atlas carry and all of that rolled into my forever-nemesis, the multi-rig. When at most races the obstacles feel like something of a break, but the layout at the raceway made the obstacles feel much worse than they usual.

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Photo Credit to Spartan Race US

There’s something to be said about a race that not only defies your own personal expectations but also for the venue itself. I expected a fast and fun race but ended up with a fast and fun challenge. If there was ever a race that I would plan on benchmarking myself each year with it would be this one.

Battlefrog Cancelled! Kinda… Sorta… +Battlefrog Pro Athlete Ryan Atkin’s Spartan Critique… Critique.

Scrolling through Facebook on a rather slow work day I came across a post by Obstacle Racing Media (ORM) that Battlefrog US was cancelling all future races. I thought this could possibly be a knee-jerk reaction since they were initially only going off of the fact that their Twitter page was down as well as the inability to register for any future races. The more I read through, even before any official confirmation on Battlefrog US’s behalf, I started to believe what I was reading, that I would be unable to ever obtain a Battlefrog medal.

Most race series don’t mean as much to me as the Spartan races. The two “frog” series were the exception. Battlefrog and Bonefrog both have qualities that I believe even the mighty Spartan Race lacks… Battlefrog with their mandatory obstacle completion and Bonefrog with the ultra-intense obstacles and the sense of honor you get working alongside Navy SEALs. Having completed a Bonefrog earlier this summer, I had hoped to follow up with a Battlefrog considering the venue is so close to home. Due to extenuating circumstances that would not come to pass this year. Looking forward, the New Jersey race in October as well as the local race next year were both serious possibilities. With the revelation this week that Battlefrog would be cancelling all future races, that reality became a legend.

Let me reiterate that I have not attempted a BattleFrog race. What I know comes from the experiences of teammates and friends. But the excitement and passion they all shared for the events makes the loss of this series all the more disappointing. We can all speculate exactly why they decided to immediately cancel all future races, including those this weekend, but in reality it’s not important. What does matter is that those employees currently need to find another job while the racers already have plenty of options. One of those options being the world’s largest race series, Spartan Race. I personally started with this series and continue my goal of becoming an Obstacle Course Race World Championship qualifier through them but there are most definitely things I would modify or tweak.

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I’m sure most of us have read the Elite racer Ryan Atkins’ thoughts on what he would change about the Spartan Races but for those who haven’t I will sum up.

  • Having paid and trained referees at all races.
  • Requiring independent drug testing for the Championship Series & World Championship.
  • Institute qualifications for running in the Elite heat.
  • Removal of the burpee penalty for mandatory obstacle completion.
  • Abolishing the spear throw for balance/agility-based obstacles.
  • More water stations at races.

Ryan Atkins is arguably the greatest Obstacle Course Racer in the world. He more often than not dominates every venue he appears at. His viewpoint and opinions should be looked at similar to anything LeBron James or J.J. Watt would say (I refuse to name Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby for personal reasons even if they may be better examples than Watt). That being said, some of his ideas are borderline Elitist and go against the Spartan way of not ending up like Battlefrog… to make money. Spartan will make money as long as they continue to evolve, especially with Battlefrog now relegated to television audiences. There is a demographic that is bursting at the seams for an even tougher series to come out and at the moment the one most likely to seize that crowd is Bonefrog Challenge. Another series called the Savage Race could also move up the pecking order to grab what Battlefrog lovingly referred to as Battlers. (I hope Bonefrog Challenge can come up with their own idea to name their racers…) But with Spartan Race founder and President Joe de Sena wanting to eventually work the sports way into the Olympics, now is his greatest chance to put his series firmly in the history books as the reason Obstacle Course Racing ended up in the Olympic games.

Here are my thoughts on what Ryan Atkins said and also my own ideas on how to let the Spartan Races evolve into the sports greatest series.

  1. Spartan should have paid and properly trained referees at Championship Series races at the least. With so much money on the line I seriously cannot believe that isn’t the case already. Since Spartan Race is definitely about turning a profit, and paying referees would definitely cost a pretty penny especially if they were required at all races, how about making Spartan SGX certification classes more accessible (discount)? Or instead, having SGX certified volunteers receive an extra bonus for volunteering during these Elite heats at the Championship Series.
  2. Drug testing for the Championship Series and World Championship is a no-brainer.
  3. This will probably never happen, but some sort of qualification for the Elite heat should be instituted. I think it could be something as simple as having a Trifecta in the book or even just one Open heat race and one Competitive heat race completed. I can understand his frustration of having massive groups of racers running Elite field. But being Ryan Atkins, his complaint of having to reach out the Spartan HQ is a non-point because they will always give him a spot no matter if the registration is full or not. His idea of only having people who finish in 15% of the leader’s time is absurd and impossible. What time would that be? The last race from an earlier weekend or the last calendar year’s race? Courses and venues can change. Not only that, but what about the Boise Sprint or Indiana Sprint Elite heats? Good luck getting any turn out with that being the case. Championship Series races can institute some sort of qualification or have two separate waves of Elite racers but Spartan Race will never in their right mind require qualifying for every single Elite heat.
  4. Elites shouldn’t have to do burpees. Period. Mandatory obstacle completion or DQ.
  5. How about not abolishing the spear throw while still incorporating more agility/balance obstacles? The spear throw takes skill, talent, and practice. If I hadn’t seen certain guys hit it at a near 100% success rate I wouldn’t believe that but if you practice it enough and work at it in ALL conditions it’s not a random chance at hitting.
  6. More water can NEVER be harmful except to Spartan’s bottom line. This is a hit or miss problem across venues. The New Jersey Beast was setup perfectly, Colorado was great as well, but PA definitely could have used more.

There can always be improvements made, and maybe Spartan’s biggest question mark revolves around how much, or little, they’ve evolved over the years. If Ryan Atkins goes on the free agent market, maybe he’ll be pursued by Spartan US and they’ll finally listen to some, but hopefully not all, of his ideas.

Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint 2016

If you’ve noticed my lack of new content on here congratulations. That means I’m doing something right. Considering that it feels like I’ve been consistently failing since my last race in June for the Bone Frog Challenge, this “race” was a complete and total success.

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No, not in terms of my time or placing. In fact, this was my worst race ever. Even compared to my miserable half-marathon appearances, this Sprint takes the cake as far as letting myself down. But the best part was that I didn’t. I’ve never felt better. And all of that goes out to you. Yes, you. If you’re reading this, you are why I race. To help, to inspire, to create lifelong friendships where the only thing standing between us is the wall when it comes time to jump over it or dunk under it.

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(Shout out to my new friend Tony, who’s arm is the only thing in the picture, for really pushing me to actually run the last stretch of that brutal Bucket Brigade. My advice may have helped you but your words inspired me to give it everything I had.)

I managed to get so incredibly soaked up into the competitive spirit that I managed to forget why I race. What makes things even more ironic was the Sprint on Sunday wasn’t even my only event for the weekend.

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(I may not be the focal point of this picture but it’s definitely my favorite. I’m on the far left with my new brother Tony showing him how to avoid wasting energy by putting down and picking up the bucket. Glad to say it worked out for him and he killed the rest of it!)

On Saturday night, I joined with 145 fellow Spartans for an endurance event known as the Hurricane Heat. It’s not a race but a team bonding event meant to break down selfish barriers and bring people together to work with each other and solve the problems at hand. So when I received the list of items to bring to the Heat I focused the most on the bucket at the bottom of the list. In it we were to write why we raced. Why we would put ourselves through as much pain and torment as we did. In mine it read “I race for everyone who said I couldn’t.” What I didn’t say and didn’t need to, because it really only mattered to me, was that the everyone I was referring to was only myself. I don’t care what others think. I’ve always been my biggest critic. Never accomplishing enough, never giving anything all I had, always looking for an excuse or an easy way out. That problem plagued me for years. It still does at times but only when I drop my guard. But that’s exactly why I was participating in the Hurricane Heat. Because the old Tom, that guy, would have never done it, or looked for a way out, or said he would have and bailed, using some lame hacked up excuse such as a shoulder injury or whatever. That Tom could’ve not slept long enough and used that as enough of a reason to skip out on something remotely difficult.

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(“F#$% your standards!)

So when I went to sign up for the Palmerton races I could’ve done the Super, Hurricane Heat, and Sprint. I could’ve done it all for me, to say “look what I accomplished” but instead I found myself praising others for everything they’ve done. This was my first race having a friend join in the fun with me. For awhile I didn’t think it would happen. Most of the responses I get involve the belief that they can’t do it more than anything. More than just not wanting to or thinking it’s disgusting swimming through mud or crawling under barbed wire. I thought it was a miracle when I got the text from a friend saying they signed up. It helped believing this was someone who was in shape based on the eye-test and thought could keep up or at least I could help push to come close to where I myself am comfortable. But come race day I learned that would be far from the case. Now granted, he doesn’t have the greatest of knees but neither do (or should I say did) I. But for a race that plays to my strengths with tons of steep inclines, I knew I could compete and push for a solid top 5% finish which would have me in the less than 2 hour range at least. The reality was just about double my expectation. And it’s that expectation I’m glad I left on the table because hanging back with my friend, not leaving him like I promised, made my weekend what it was… A solid and enjoyable weekend of growth and enlightenment. With three more races on tap for the rest of the year I have an opportunity to complete my goal of qualifying for the OCR World Championships. While that goal will never change with whatever steps forward or back I take, I’ll enjoy the journey and use my experience and knowledge to lend a helping hand to others along the way.

For my first home-state race, Palmerton was everything I hoped for and more. I finally received my wish of a hot and sunny day and amazingly managed to not get burnt. Course layout was simply fantastic, which is absolutely no surprise thanks to Norm Koch. I’ve done two of his courses so far and while I can say my favorite was the one he didn’t have a hand in (Colorado Super 2016) that’s mainly because while it wasn’t easy it wasn’t as insanely brutal as a Norm course. The race started right up a nice incline and early on it pretty much remained that way. Obstacles were sparse to start, which is fine, except the biggest obstacle for most everyone was the ridiculous climbs that Blue Mountain offered. Norm made sure everyone’s calves were nice and worked up early and often. Every time that there looked to be a break in the inclines you were greeted by another. It wasn’t until after the spear throw that it finally started to really taper off a bit. Of course, the minute you get all the way back down to the festival area, Norm had a little present waiting for everyone in the form of an uphill barbed-wire crawl. If you did this on Saturday for the Super or even the Hurricane Heat the night before it wasn’t terrible. Sunday’s Sprint offered up the hill with a nice shower and made gaining any traction nigh impossible. I found rolling to even be more difficult than usual since it seemed like the wire was lower hanging than usual. Where the race really got interesting was the latest and greatest obstacle Spartan has invented as of yet… the Apehanger. Start with one serving rope climb, followed with a course of unstable and wet monkey bars, all served over nice muddy water and you get one hell of a tough but fun time. One day, I will conquer it. Overall the race couldn’t have been set up any better. Parking, registration, showers, medals, shirts, all were handled as cleanly as any Spartan I’ve done. I’m proud to say this is my home race.

These races mean the world to me but I also understand what they mean to others and I will never take that away from anyone. One person’s “why” means no more than another’s. We’re all in this together and together we can conquer anything.