Tag Archives: Philly Spartans

(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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When Up Against A Wall

Nothing is easier than making excuses.

It’s too cold… I don’t feel well… My training isn’t what it used to be… I’ll just make it up at another race… I don’t have the right gear to wear… It’s not worth the trip… 

The hard part is shutting those thoughts down. And it was hard for me. I kept checking the forecast nearly everyday, seeing what the new low was going to be, questioning my sanity and resolve each time I peeked. Watching that high of 30 degrees on race day drop…

24… 18… 15… 11… 6…

If only tuning that out was possible. Unfortunately when you need to make sure you pack the right gear for it you really can’t afford to ignore it. Nor does everyone and their mothers posting about it on social media make it easy to ignore.

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When I signed up for the race I was really at my peak. It was the day before racing at Killington. Before a date was set in stone, before Greek Peak was 100% confirmed as the venue. I welcomed the challenge at the time. That feels like it was already years ago.

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During the winter season, my training suffered. Dealing with health issues, it felt like a constant uphill battle. Making sure I took the time off to let myself recover became a hole that digging out of became continually more difficult. One week turned into a full month, which turned into nearly the entire off-season. Getting back into wasn’t the hard part. Getting the old habits back was. I could show up for a day and not feel 100% so I’d take more time off instead of just dealing with it head on. It wasn’t until nearly February when finding a formula of habits started working for me. Even then I was nowhere near where I had wished I had been.

That’s part of the beauty of Spartan Races. While you’re out on the course you may technically be competing with others but for the most part, it’s really a race against yourself.

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I do not like the cold. I weigh about 150 pounds, have almost no fat on me, and besides my beard, next to no protection from piercing cold air. The only thing I dislike more than cold air just happens to be cold snow and, of course, Greek Peak was absolutely covered by the time the race started. But by the time the race started I found myself feeling young again. I was jumping around, enjoying being in the snow and really felt the adrenaline surging through my veins. Nothing has felt that refreshing in ages.

The race itself most likely would have been a breeze without the brutal conditions related to the freezing cold and icy surfaces. It was almost impossible for me to grip the spear despite wearing gloves during the rest of the race. Other than that I had a perfect race due to certain obstacles being dumbed down (eg. multi-rig with only rings) and the climate being the greatest challenge. You warm up quick out there when you’re coated with a few solid layers of Under Armour ColdGear.

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Every excuse I had was thrown out by the end of the race. While I didn’t place anywhere near where I had hoped to in my mind, my poor training and conditioning during the winter months was what held me back from pushing harder and placing higher. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about what you have accomplished in the past. What’s difficult is understanding that everyone takes steps backwards occasionally. I’m already making excuses why I won’t do it next year even though (as of today it’s been announced that Spartan Race will return to Greek Peak on March 10, 2018) there’s no chance I’d miss it.

Now Open - Upstate NY Sprint

 

 

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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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.

 

Colorado Super 2016, May 14th

Colorado was nothing like I expected. But I’m okay with that. I had pictured mountains and hills everywhere. Trees and shrubs littered in between vast arrays of rocks and boulders. Not sweeping plains as far as the eye could see. The backdrop to the east was the great plains all along the horizon. The west… exactly the opposite. That alone made it worth it. Arriving at the base was a breeze and the instructions were clear and concise on their website. It was interesting to note that security was rather light getting onto the base which is the last thing I expected for a military base. The other thing I expected at the race was little to no hills and a ton of mud. Was I ever wrong.

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The course itself was amazing. Dry, desert-like terrain that allowed me to breeze by people. It wasn’t too difficult to find places to bushwhack when the main paths were bottle-necked. Cacti were plastered everywhere but they did a pretty good job of clearing most of it out and I can thankfully say I made it through the entire 10+ miles without getting pricked. That being said, I can imagine my thick-soled Inov-8’s helped me escape cactus needles penetrating my feet. I can’t imagine how those poor souls wearing Air Jordans or Chuck Taylors felt. For my first race in the Inov-8’s, I may have a new favorite pair of OCR shoes. I’ll save a review of them for another post, however. Now back to the course… It was a sight to see with all of the military vehicles parked all over, whether it was a tank, the crane at the starting line, or the helicopter flying overhead during most of the race. The picture opportunities proved memorable with some of these as the backdrop.

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As far as innovation goes for the obstacles I loved the rucksack carry but was bummed I didn’t get to try the “laser-shot” obstacle. The ruck-sack photo is sadly unavailable for me as I crossed paths with the photographer during a well-deserved potty break. I very seriously considered going around a second time if only because I enjoyed it that much and would have loved the photo op. The “laser-shot”, or whatever they call it, was only for the competitive and elite heats. I can’t say for sure I would have succeeded at it but it would’ve be fun to try. The first half of the course was a bit sparse with obstacles, relying more on hills and surprisingly steep cliff edges that, if running too fast, you really could fall quite a few feet into some very friendly cacti. This really was a race that suited runners. There were the typical upper body strength parts like the rope climb, monkey bars, and Multi-Rig, but surprisingly the Herc Hoist was absent from this course, not that I’m complaining. The Herc Hoist may be one of my least favorite next to the Multi-Rig. Miraculously I only failed two obstacles for my best effort yet. I overpowered my spear throw and it literally edged the top of the haybale. The Multi-Rig may forever be my Achilles Heel as long as I work through my torn labrum. On a much more solid note, I finally conquered the Z-Wall! I apologize to any racers I may have scared or intimidated afterwards since I slightly got worked up after finally overcoming my demons on it. Other than those, you had your standard walls spread throughout the course, the Stairway to Sparta on a plateau which was great for scoping out the landscape, and only maybe fifty feet worth of mud and the dunk wall. There was actually probably more barbed-wire than anything on the course and to make things even more interesting it was kinked halfway through and over a hump, so just when you thought it was over, you get over the hump and see you’re still only halfway done.

The best part of the whole race? I lost my timing chip. For someone like me who is very stat-oriented and takes everything like that to heart, not knowing if my time will count meant that my efforts may go unrecognized. In the heat of the moment though I actually used it as motivation and rocked the remainder of the course. Knowing that I conquered the course as best as I could meant more to me than I thought it would. It was just a cherry on top that the results tent was able to mark down my time based on my friends photograph of me crossing the finish line. To make things even better, when she asked what my start time was, hearing the doubt in her voice that I finished in the time I did, that was all the satisfaction I needed for my efforts. So out of 3,148 total Super Spartans, I finished 135 overall and only 9 spots out of qualifying for the OCR World Championships. Finally having a passion and goal in life is the greatest thing to come from these races.

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