Category Archives: OCR

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…

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.