Tag Archives: Spartan

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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NJ Beast 2016, Sunday May 1st

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This race was everything to me leading up to it. Previously, my only other Spartan Race was at Citizen’s Bank Park in November 2015. That was a Sprint, and likely measured out to close to 3 miles. Flash-forward six months and I’m staring straight at the Beast. Measured by most racers on the previous day at somewhere between 15.5 to 15.8 miles, this would be the longest and farthest race I have ever even attempted. Leading up to race day I monitored the weather closely. Out loud, I would tell myself and those close to me that I welcomed the frigid temperatures and more than likely rain. I would proclaim I wanted it to be as difficult as possible.

Wish received.

Arrival was a breeze. Having stayed less than five minutes down the road, finding the venue, where to park, and where to check-in for registration couldn’t have been more streamlined. That’s when it all begins as you walk up to the venue and see the first ascent staring back at you. This being my first Spartan outside of the confines of a stadium I really didn’t know what to expect. Let me say that going into this Beast with the positive and all-conquering attitude I did made me more prepared for the mental challenge than anything.

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It was only a brief wait before my heat began. I made my way over the first wall and stood towards of the front of the corral with my fellow Spartans. Sociability this early in the morning for me doesn’t come naturally but somehow being with all of these men and women who have the same passion as me opened up a realization that I finally found my calling, my niche. Dustin led us off with a great speech and just like that, we were on our way up the first descent. One of the greatest realizations for me came in learning I really do have a strength when it comes to this sport. I may not be the quickest runner and I certainly lack the upper-body strength for a multitude of obstacles, but fortunately my 8 months of training allowed me to destroy the uphills. Not only did my legs carry me up the steep mountains faster than anyone, it provided the mental boost that even after a failed obstacle followed by the burpee penalty, I could catch up to everyone when it came time for inclines. Slick mud didn’t matter. Nor did loose rocks. Not even coming within 50 feet of Norma Bear and her cubs. I kept moving forward. Not even bashing my shin bone on a rock around mile 11 was enough to stop me for more than a few seconds. Even seeing people running ahead of me early since they skipped about 29 burpees out of the 30 wasn’t enough to bring me down. I know for every one of those that cheats, there’s another like me that would do anything to get their fellow Spartan across the finish line at the end with honor and respect. That’s something no one can take away from me.

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While part of my success may have been from my shoes, Salomon Speedcross 3’s (the grip truly is otherworldly), I know a lot of it had to do with listening to professionals like Matt “The Bear” Novakovich and those in my training group, The Philly Spartans. (A side shout-out to Alex Schwab, Ryan Fleming, Jay Sherman and the rest of the group for pushing me to be the greatest I can be). On a side note, the shoes, while phenomenal on grip and definitely a future staple for me, are terrible at draining out water. That may not be news to most obstacle course racers but you really don’t know how important that is until you’re facing a Beast like the one at Mount Vernon containing as many water obstacles as it did.

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It wouldn’t be a Beast without serious doubts of finishing. Around halfway my knee started to throb with pain after a brutal stretch of downhill in slippery mud, and with the steady flow of rain towards the back half of the race, it’s not all surprising people were dropping like flies from injury and hypothermia. I’ve learned always come prepared, even if it means potentially falling out of your comfort zone. I’m not a fan of carrying a lot of weight on me as my speed and agility are my greatest strength, but I would rather carry and back-mounted hydration pack with room for a thermal blanket or poncho than freeze to death in the middle of nowhere North Jersey. These are the times you really learn about your true self, when there is no mental filter. It was during this race that my motivation and inspiration to succeed really shined through and I learned something I always knew deep down but just needed confirmation on… seeing my loved ones succeed and being the inspiration they need to get out and conquer their own dreams and aspirations.

Getting to meet some great Spartans, crossing the finish line with my unbelievably supportive and amazing girlfriend there to embrace me, hearing from my mother about her getting out and striving for bigger and better goals, this is why I race. I am a Spartan!