Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spartan Super - Virginia 2013

Wintergreen Resort, Virginia - August 24, 2013

"Your body will stop when it falls over.  Until then, the only thing stopping you is your mind."  many people have heard me say this over the last 1-1/2 years and I try hard live by this.  It's gotten me to where I am today.  The Virginia Super Spartan of 2013, held at the Wintergreen Ski Resort mountain, nearly broke this credo for me .. several times.  This was an incredible and very long experience for me so I will apologize ahead of time for this lengthy piece, please enjoy.

The terrain and scenery from the venue was incredible, beautiful, awesome and intimidating.  These weren't hills, these were mountains with black diamond rated ski slopes and some sadistic person (Norm Koch) decided that we shall run (not hardly) up and down these slopes, not once or twice, but several times with Spartan obstacles strewn throughout.  The course was 8 miles with 3,874 ft. of elevation gain and 3,794 ft. of loss.  Minimum elevation was 2,465 ft. above sea level and the peak was 3,498.

I was at the venue around 7:00 a.m. and watched the most incredible sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As the sun rose, the slope of the course came into view and I was suddenly concerned.  I watched the elite groups take off and then went to watch the EnduringWarrior group make their entrance.  (pics here)  I’ve never seen these guys in person and it was awe inspiring.  After that they opened the chair lift and I was able to go down the slopes to see more of the course.  I went from concerned to totally worried.  To look up and down these slopes and see people trudging this mountain side was incredible.  I was fortunate enough to see Hobie Call and Matt Novakovich come over one of the walls and do the log carry.  They were together when they disappeared up the next hill but when they emerged, only Matt was visible.  I watched him finish first and then Hobie came along several minutes behind and I was fearful once again.  11:00 rolled around and I lined up with my brethren from the Corn Fed Spartans and we were off to the inevitable.  I typically like to set my own pace and maintain that throughout an event.  This usually means that nobody will be with you all the time.  The main group of Corn Fed stayed together and were falling behind my pace.  I found that new Corn Fed member Kaitlin Stein and I were maintaining about the same pace so we pulled ahead of the group.  I started out thinking I could do this in 3 to 4 hours but after the second swing back up the mountainside and we still weren’t at mile 1, I started to worry a little more.  The obstacles were the typical Spartan obstacles with walls to climb over, go under and go through followed by muddy moguls and mud pits.  The 3 I failed in the Indiana Sprint were the Rope Climb, Spear Throw and Traverse Wall and I was determined to be burpee free this day.  As we made it to the first water station at mile 2 and officially 25% complete, I was feeling really good and the confidence was up there but these hills were made for goats, not people, and we still had a long way to go.  Somewhere about 3-1/2 miles in and going down one of the many treacherous, rocky, wooded hillsides that were more like glacial runoffs, my left knee decided to start to hurt and it wasn’t long before it just locked up.  The pain was incredible and I have no idea what was causing it but I knew that the downhill slopes is when it hurt, I was fine going uphill.  Kaitlin was kind enough to slow down while I tried to nurse my knee back.  We made it to mile 4 and the halfway point in 1 hour and 30 minutes.  Without knowing the rest of the course, and disregarding my knee, we were on track to finish in 3 to 4 hours and we were feeling pretty good about it.  Right after the mile 4 water station was the spear throw.  I personally don’t like ‘challenges’ like this because they are not really obstacles or anything you can really train for.  They should just call them burpee stations with an option to throw a spear.  I came into this with a plan of attack and a goal of no burpees.  I grabbed the spear, backed up, took a couple steps and threw it like a javelin – nailed it!  Fortunately for me, I got to rest my knee a bit as I waited for Kaitlin to complete her burpees.  After this was another downhill to the monkey bars, I could barely make it down there.  I finally got to the bottom and crossed the bars with ease.  Kaitlin asked if I minded if she went on and I knew I was slowing her down with this knee issue.  Of course I didn’t mind and it was me against these mountains.  The monkey bars were located right next to the operating chair lift and I was in so much pain, this was the first time I actually considered quitting.  I sat for about 10 minutes to give my knee a break but it didn’t help much, so I embraced the suck and trekked on.  Not far after this I was going down through the woods on all those treacherous wet rocks and came upon the Enduring Warrior group.  This is where it became emotional for me.  I’m about 5 miles into the course and approaching the lowest elevation of the course, in so much pain that I can barely walk and suddenly in front of me are a group of men that wish they had a knee to hurt.  I suddenly wasn’t thinking about my problems and my pain and was thinking about how brave, courageous and inspiring this incredible group is.  This was the second time I was choking back tears on this course.  I still am not sure if I wanted to cry from sadness, gladness or embarrassment.  I looked at these guys taking on the most incredible challenge I have ever personally taken and it’s probably just another day to them yet they do it without complaint.  I took the time to tell a few of them how inspiring they were to me and shook their hands.  I feel this pain because I can and I am alive.  One day, I won’t be able to enjoy this feeling.  The vision of these incredible individuals kept me going for the next 4 hours and replaced my thoughts every time I started to think about my knees or quitting.  They don’t know this, but that entire group of extraordinary people got me through this course and I am grateful.  Then I pulled up my big girl panties and trekked on.

The obstacles on the course became more of just a place to relax along the way.  With the exception of a couple, none of them are very difficult.  One difficult task was the log carry.  On a good day this is not so bad but this time we had to carry the logs back down the hillside about 130 yards and back up again.  I had to do this walking backwards down the hill because my knees were about to explode.  What made this worse was the occasional person dropping their log on the hillside above me and having it roll down the hill catching everyone like bowling pins.  Not easy in my current physical condition.

The uphill portion between mile 5 to 6 was ridiculous.  I heard it was a solid 1-1/2 mile uphill climb but it was a little more than 1000 feet of ascent.  The day and the challenge passed fun, exciting and challenging a long way back and was now just about survival and getting the hell off this mountain.  The only thing I could think about the whole way up was that I would eventually have to go downhill, and my knees hurt just thinking about it.  I got to the peak, turned around, sat down and looked in awe out over God's incredible world.  These pesky little manmade tasks called obstacles were nothing compared to His obstacles.  

Up and down, up and down, up and down, the repetition was monotonous and every so often there would be an obstacle.  I was getting tired of going down hills backwards or crawling but eventually, I could see on the horizon the rope climb.  I was both elated and concerned at the same time.  No burpees!!!  I was convinced I was going to nail this but I was completely exhausted and running on fumes.  I approached the structure and decided to take a break and contemplate before taking this on.  I gingerly lowered myself into the mud pit, making sure to not get my hands wet or muddy, and carefully selected my rope.  Up, up, up, slip, up, up, break, up, almost there, RING that damn bell!!  Nailed it!!  Still burpee free!!  After the day I had been having, this single ringing of a bell gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment yet.  There was only a little more of a climb to go to my next challenge and then on to the finish line.  Next up, the Traverse Wall, again I carefully selected a wall that looked to be the least muddy.  Board by board, careful to keep 3 points of contact at all times, onward, one more board to go and I get to hear another bell, reaching and my left foot slips off and I fall to the ground.  DAMN!!!!!!  I know that echoed across those mountain tops.  5 hours of pure hell and all I wanted to do was no burpees.  Oh well, I was feeling good at this point and could see the finish line, I just needed to do my penance (burpees), cross the Slippery Wall and jump that fire to the finish.  Those were honestly the easiest burpees I have ever done.  The Slippery Wall wasn’t so slippery, up and over.  I took the moment to stop look up and enjoy the view.  I mustered through the pain and took off running, leaped that fire, through the Gladiators and give me that DAMNED Blue Medal!!  5 hours and 25 minutes after I set out, it was over and the greatest sense of physical accomplishment I have ever felt in my life.

One word best describes this day, this course, this event and even me doing it – STUPID.  I have always told people that anybody can do these, the only thing that matters is that you cross the finish line.  You can walk the entire course if you have to, but challenge and push yourself to do it.  After the 2013 Spartan Super in Virginia, I retract that statement.  I would not take just anyone on that particular course and would definitely tell people (in their best interest) they shouldn’t do it.  There is a point where we can push ourselves too far, beyond necessity or reason, and Spartan created the perfect storm for just such a point.  They admitted that this event was the single most difficult event they have created to date, short of the Ultra Beast.  To them I say … AROO!!!  One more Spartan event, the Carolina Beast, and I shall have that trifecta.

Course overview - http://youtu.be/PUS1eNUFWTk


  1. Kevin,

    Those guys are the inspiration of our motto: "You excuse is Invalid!"

    Adam Burke

    1. They are truly inspiring .. when I came upon them in the woods, my excuse became invalid