Road to Trifecta 4: Don’t Call It a Comeback

Well, it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve taken the time to sit down and write a new blog post. For my loyal readers, my apologies. It’s been quite the busy summer. I’ve taken on a new teaching challenge which took up a good chunk of my summer, plus a couple opportunities to travel, and the adoption of a sweet black lab puppy (yes, puppy; four months old when we adopted her), it hasn’t left me much time for writing. But I’ve decided it’s time to get back to it and catch you all up on the happenings of the year, especially as I continue my trek for a Spartan Trifecta.

Super Recap

A week and a half ago, we took a leisurely eight-hour drive up to Fayetteville, North Carolina, so I could take on the second of the Spartan Race challenges: the Spartan Super. The official stats on this race: 8.3 miles, 27 obstacles, and a fine day to be in North Carolina. This race not only represented my second of the Trifecta distances, but my first out of state race.

I have to say that North Carolina did not disappoint. Not only was the weather excellent the terrain challenging, but the people there, both working/volunteering for Spartan Race and running the course were awesome. I haven’t spent a significant amount of time in North Carolina in quite some time, and if you haven’t either, you definitely get a great taste of Southern hospitality from the good people there. It took me three hours and 48 minutes to complete the Super, and since I barely trained over the summer, I’m very happy with the result.

Successes

The Spartan Super put forth the challenges I expected, but the best part of it were the challenges I was able to overcome. Two of the obstacles I struggled with during the Sprint were finally beaten.

On the Rope Climb, I managed to make it to the top on my first attempt. I have to admit, getting to the top of that rope and hitting the bell was possibly a highlight of the race. I was so excited, I asked the volunteer if he would be bothered if I let out a celebration. He said he didn’t mind, so I let out a yell that slightly echoed through the woods.

On the Atlas Carry, I decided to try a new technique for picking up the Atlas ball. I saw a Spartan training video that showed the method of getting down on my knees and rolling the ball up my legs. The technique worked fine, but I found I had a hard time getting back up once I got the ball on my legs. I felt my hamstring tighten almost to the point of cramping, and rolled the ball back to the ground. This is when the Southern hospitality kicked in. One of the other participants stopped to help me pick the ball up. I found that once I had it off the ground, carrying it the short distance was no problem. Thanks to the gentleman who gave me a hand. It was nice to beat that obstacle for the first time.

What to Work On

This wouldn’t be a Spartan Race experience (or blog post) if I didn’t talk about the challenges of the course. That’s just the way it is.

One of the big parts of this course that I went through most of the course without many mistakes. In fact, I didn’t have my first problem until passed the eight-mile mark. As I was traversing Twister, I slipped with just a few handles away from the bell. My grip just gave out, and as I was doing my burpees, I saw I had opened a blister on my hand. This made burpees way harder, but I finished them.

When I got to Olympus, I found my girlfriend on the side and borrowed a water bottle to rinse my hand a bit. Then I put on one of my gloves and took a swing at Olympus. Again, I came to within one or two grips of the end before I slipped. So again, I was doing burpees. This was my problem in the Sprint, and it turned out it’s still a problem: letting mistakes get to my head. Sure, I had barely trained for the Super, and I was tired from completing my longest distance thus far in an OCR. But still, I should have been able to knock out the burpees faster than I did. Even just taking a breath and talking to myself (“It’s okay. Just a slip. You’re almost there.”) could’ve helped a great deal.

But I let it beat me up. When I came up to Spearman, I found my confidence shaky, and so was my aim. Another 30 burpees. That was three penalties in three of the last five obstacles. I probably wouldn’t have managed to finish those last 3o if it weren’t for my girlfriend. She did them right along side with me; didn’t have to, but did it anyway.

After my last penalty, it was just a short A-frame climb and a fire jump away from the next step in my challenge. A completed Super. Another wedge to go in my Trifecta Delta. Two down. One to go.

What Happens Now

I’m not doing the same thing I did with the Super. I went in pretty cold. I am not letting that happen with the Spartan Beast. For those who don’t know, this longest Spartan Race starts at 12 miles. Over 30 grueling obstacles. And I’ll take it on in December right here in Central Florida. It’s the last step to the Trifecta. I’ve started an interesting tradition of buying two extra pieces of merchandise when I go to Spartan Race. The first is a flag that’s the same color as the wedge of each race. I have Sprint red and Super blue flags. All that’s left is a Beast green. And the other thing is just something I’d like to have. At the Sprint, it was a Spartan Race key chain. At the Super, it was a Fayetteville Super t-shirt to remember my first out-of-state race. For the Beast, I’ve already picked it out. It’s the Delta. So I can put together the wedges of my Trifecta and display it in the glory with which it is meant to be displayed.

Perhaps the best part about doing the Super and training for my next races, which include a Mud Titan this weekend, is the realization of how far I’ve come since I started not just my Spartan journey, but my OCR journey. But more on that later.

So don’t call my Spartan Super completion a comeback. For the first time, I feel like I’m just getting started.

Until next time, there’s only one thing left to say: AROO!

Road to Trifecta 3: Where I Went Wrong

In my last post, I outlined how my first Spartan Race went, and, as I often do in my posts, I discussed the areas where I fell short and how that affected me through the rest of the course. For this post, I decided to take things in a slightly different direction: I know where things went wrong for me; now I need to work on how to prepare for them so when I take on the Spartan Super (most likely in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in September), I will be ready for it.

This will also be a challenge on its own since I haven’t had time to work out much since I got back from Miami. Not to make excuses, but the month between then and now has been busy. The school year came to an end (for those who don’t know, I’m a teacher), which meant lots of grading, my girlfriend fought off mono, plus I’m preparing to teach a new level of my subject, which means I have lots of professional preparation to focus on this summer as well. But, as long as I create a good routine, I know I’ll be able to get back on that horse quite easily and somehow manage to accomplish everything I hope to.

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Road to Trifecta 2: One Down, Two to Go

This past weekend, I ran and completed my first Spartan Race with the goal of getting my Trifecta this year. While I’ve decided to take on the Spartan challenges in order, I’ve learned something very important this weekend: Spartan Race is no joke, and I’ve got a lot of work to do.

I took on the Sprint in Miami, the shortest of the Spartan Race series. This one was approximately 3.2 miles with 22 obstacles standing between me and my Trifecta wedge. I ran at 11am, later in the day than I’d prefer, but that was fine. The weather was nice and there was a constant breeze that kept it from being crazy hot.

Early Successes

I have to say that I saw within the first two miles that training and past races were starting to pay off for me. In Warrior Dash this past February, I completed their 5K distance in 47 minutes. And even though I didn’t have a watch and couldn’t keep track of time, I genuinely felt like I was setting a personal best. I was going through the first obstacles with near perfect precision. I got over the hurdles and walls with ease, even rearranging my technique a bit to take stress off my arms. Even a challenging cargo net climb felt easier to take on. And I was jogging through most of the first two miles, sticking very well to my pace.

Perhaps the first big success came at an obstacle pretty much only Spartan offers: the Bucket Brigade. For those reading this post and knowing nothing about the obstacles, the Bucket Brigade is a simple challenge in which each competitor takes a 5-gallon bucket, fills it with rocks, then carries it around a small loop, approximately 200 meters (if I were to guess). Now, despite my screw-up of grabbing the wrong bucket (they had black buckets for men and red for women; I grabbed a red one…though I didn’t hear anyone say I was supposed to get black and no one else corrected me), I managed to go around the loop without stopping, something I saw others unable to do.

Because I didn’t have the proper means to train for this, I followed the advice I have heard a few Spartan Pro athletes suggest for carrying the bucket. As it turns out, it worked pretty well, and I was able to finish the obstacle. However, this is also incredibly deceptive. While the premise itself is simple, the act of carrying a bucket that, all told, is probably close to 60 pounds or more, and then doing a lap is an incredibly draining feat. And while I got through it, this is what led me to have more difficulties later on.

Challenges

The first big challenge hit me right at the Mile 2 marker: the Atlas Carry. Again, for those unfamiliar, this obstacle requires athletes to pick up a large concrete sphere (for men, it was about 75 pounds), carry it a 10-yard distance, put it down, do five burpees, then carry it back. Here, I hit my first big road block. I didn’t know the proper way to pick it up, and within a few minutes, it seemed obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. And here’s what makes Spartan especially difficult: the penalties. Because I was unable to complete Atlas Carry, I had to perform 30 penalty burpees. And, I’ll admit, I lost count at 15. So maybe I did more, maybe less. I couldn’t tell you.

From here I went on to the Monkey Bars (which are not your average Monkey Bars). Despite my arms still being pretty tired from the bucket carry and the burpees, I got through this. But then I hit the Rope Climb. This is where things took a tough turn. I’ve completed rope climbs before, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get my technique down. I wasn’t able to get the rope wrapped around my leg. I didn’t have the arm or grip strength left to pull myself up. I couldn’t get off the ground. I spent about twenty minutes at this obstacle, cursing at myself (both in my head and out loud), because I just couldn’t get off the ground. At this time, I had been on the course for an hour, and was getting way behind my time. After about 10 tries (no exaggeration), I took defeat, and had to do another 30 burpees. These I couldn’t count at all. I think I did 30. Again, I couldn’t tell you.

Following the Rope Climb was Olympus, a slanted wall with three types of grips. My first try, I made it over three-quarters of the way before my leg gave out and I slipped. I walked back to the start, getting incredibly frustrated. I tried again, but couldn’t even get halfway. I slipped again. I gave it one more attempt, but again, didn’t make it to halfway. So, for the third time in four obstacles, I failed at completing the obstacle, and suffered my third set of penalty burpees.

At this point, I was on the losing end of another very important battle: the head game.

Getting Out of My Head

Before I continue on my recap, I wanted to discuss this part of the OCR game that isn’t often discussed. This sport is not just about pushing their athletes physically. It’s also about pushing them mentally and, to an extent, spiritually. Well, after my third failed obstacle in the Spartan Sprint, I was in my head, convincing myself that signing up for the Trifecta was a mistake. Convinced that I wasn’t going to finish. That I didn’t deserve my medal, my T-shirt, or my wedge. I wondered if Spartan would refund me a portion of my Trifecta pass to cover the one race I did and call it even.

This was, without questioning, the lowest I had ever felt in the middle of a race. I walked the rest of the way, only picking up to jog once or twice. When I got to the Sandbag Carry and the Barb Wire Crawl, instead of knowing that I’ve done these before and that they were easy, I struggled the whole way through, wishing that there was an end in sight. And even when I saw the end, I didn’t feel any closer to it.

I’m sharing this because it’s important to know that this is a part of the OCR lifestyle. There will be times in races where you might question yourself. Question if you can do it. Question if you can finish. One of my biggest problems is getting in my own head. There were no reasons why I shouldn’t have finished those obstacles. But I didn’t. And it’s because I let it get to me. I’m still working on this. Hopefully I’ll figure out a solution soon.

Getting Back on Track

At the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag lift through a pulley, I was still stuck at the mental wall. I gave a rope two pulls and was done. I had turned my back and started walking away when, as cheesy as it sounds, I was reminded of why OCR is the great sport it is. Two strangers, guys I never met, didn’t get their names, and never saw after that obstacle, stopped me before I walked away. They refused to let me leave the area without giving it another chance. They stood on either side of me, talking me through it. I pulled the rope and got the sandbag up a foot or so. They helped by holding the rope, but never helped me pull. They stood there encouraging me, talking me through it, and after a few minutes and several more pulls, the sandbag got to the top of the pulley. They helped me lower it down, helped me off the ground, and congratulated me. To those two guys, I don’t know if you’ll come across this post, but thanks. I really needed that.

After that, I hit the last few obstacles without any problems. I was up and over the A-frame cargo net, down through the Dunk Wall, easily up and over the Slip Wall (with no slipping), and blasted through the Multi-rig. With the last push I had, I leapt over the fire and crossed the line. Finally, my first step toward my Trifecta was done. It took me way longer than I wanted, just short of two hours. But as they often say, it’s not about how you finish, it just matters that you finish.

Next Steps

My next move is to bump up to the next level in the Trifecta, which would be the Spartan Super, the middle distance at 8-10 miles. There is one taking place in Florida, but there isn’t enough time to properly prepare for that.

So I have a couple of options moving forward:

  1. Focus on training for Spartan Beast in December, and then find the most convenient Super that’s along the way. The options are currently the Asheville Super in July or the Atlanta Super in October. (The only issue I have with Atlanta is I don’t know what the weather will be like at that time of year, so that’s something else to consider.)
  2. Pick a Super and go for it. The best candidate right now is Asheville. Not only is it a relatively short drive, but I have a friend there who may let me crash on his couch. It’s already going to be a long and expensive trip; avoiding extra costs is a smart move.
  3. And this, by the way, is the option I would hate to go for, but an option was been presented to use my Trifecta pass and just run two more Sprints. I would hate to use the pass on doing races not adding up to my Trifecta, but with how much the first one burnt me out, it is an option to be considered.

From here, it’s just a matter of time to decide. What do you all think of my future Spartan plans? Get in touch through Facebook and Twitter, and now, Instagram!

Road to Trifecta 1: Revving Up

One of my big goals for the year is to complete a Spartan Race Trifecta. For those who are unfamiliar with this, here’s a short rundown:

The Trifecta is earned when an athlete completes the three levels of Spartan Race within a calendar year (or from January 1 to December 31). Those three levels are: the Spartan Sprint, which includes 20-23 obstacles over three to five miles; the Spartan Super, which kicks up to 24-29 obstacles over eight to ten miles; and finally, the Spartan Beast, the toughest of the three at ten to twelve miles and packing over 30 obstacles. Continue reading

From Casual to Competitor 7: Changing My Vocaburlary

from-casual-to-competitor-7

Two weeks ago, I thought I closed out my From Casual to Competitor series. And then, I somehow pulled out a personal pinnacle: completing three obstacle course races in three straight weekends. After that, I had a conversation with my girlfriend, and I was talking about being a casual obstacle course racer. She then made the very obvious point I’d been missing: “You probably should drop the word ‘casual’ from your vocabulary.”

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From Casual to Competitor 5: 24 Hours Left

First off, I’m normally up this early because of work. Even on weekends. But this morning is different. In 24 hours, I’ll be waiting at the starting line of Warrior Dash with the other competitor racers. As I stated in previous posts of this series, I don’t have any crazy expectations. I’m running the competitive wave to push my personal boundaries. I don’t expect to stand at the podium and hold up a check. I don’t expect to be in the top 10 and qualify for the OCR World Championship. I just want to finish in a respectable time. My goal is 45 minutes for the course.

Right now, I’m excited, nervous, and full of anticipation. Keep your eyes peeled for the followup to the race. And find me on Facebook and Twitter!