Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spartan Beast - South Carolina 2013

Carolina Adventure World, Winnsboro, South Carolina - Saturday, November 9, 2013

When I registered for my first Spartan last winter, the Indiana Sprint to be held at the end of April, I remember saying 'There's no way I can do the distance of a Super and certainly no way I could do a Beast and get my trifecta.'  I don't exactly remember where I changed my mind but somewhere I decided that this would be my major goal for 2013.  I chose the Virginia Super when it was still located at a 'flatter' location and the Illinois Super was in October.  Then Spartan relocated the Virginia Super to a ski mountain and changed the Illinois Super to July.  If you haven't read my blog on the Virginia Super, you can read it here, but I'm not sure what would have been worse, the incredible slopes of the course or the Spartan Herpes of Illinois.  I somehow survived the Super but came away wondering if I was just not physically capable of handling the extremes of a Beast.  I immediately started researching what the problem was with my knees and learned that it was more IT Band related.  I set a routine to work and stretch my IT Bands and strengthen my knees for the next 2 months.  A couple weeks before the Beast I met with the running coach at my gym.  His knowledge was invaluable.  He interviewed me and analyzed my gate and told me several things that I was doing wrong.  Using his advice, I hit the Mud, Guts & Glory course for training 2 weekends prior to the November 2 Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Constantly paying attention to my running, particularly with the ascents and descents, and using the advice from the running coach, my knee pain was gone.  I was incredibly happy.  As I mentioned, the week before the Carolina Beast was the fall Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Five miles with 2,200 feet of elevation change and incredible obstacles.  The week before this, I decided to run my first half marathon on Sunday, November 3 with fellow Crazy Dewaynne Tackett.  Yes!  A 5 mile extreme OCR on Saturday and a half marathon the next day, all one week before the Beast.  This was the only way I would feel confident that I could slay the Beast.  The longest distance I had ever continuously ran before was a 10k.  At MGG I concentrated on my off-road skills and keeping my knees and IT Bands in one piece.  At the half marathon I concentrated on pace.  We made it through both without stopping, except for the 5 second water stations and one potty break.  

Coming out of the half marathon I have never felt so confident and ready.  I knew I was going to slay this Beast and the only unknown was the elevation changes and how long my knees would last.

For a few weeks before the Beast I asked questions and paid attention to the posts of the veterans of the Corn Fed Spartans with regards to hydration and fuel.  Our wave time was to be 10:00 so a big breakfast was out of the question and it went through lunch time.  I have a couple hydration packs but they have little storage in them for things like fuel so I started leaning towards my CamelBak Mil Tac H.A.W.G. with lots of storage space.  I decided to remove the hydration bladder and just take a couple of bottles but I had all kinds of room for fuel.  I looked into 'fuel' and everything out there is nothing but simple carb based sugar boosters and my body does not deal with sugar overload well.  In a book I recently purchased called Superfood Smoothies, there was mention of Chia Gel.  I did some investigation into this and the calories in Chia are incredible.  Basically you place Chia seeds in a liquid and they absorb the liquid.  I chose to use 100% Apple Cider so that I did get some carbs.  I found a squeeze bottle at the Eddie Bauer booth at MGG the weekend before and it was perfect.  The substance tasted like applesauce and had about the same consistency.  Total calories in the squeeze bottle was about 1000.  It was incredible and kept me going much longer and better than any carb-only substance would.  For additional carbs I had some Island Boost given to me from Jascia Redwine to test.  It was good but again just straight simple carbs.  Here is a quick and dirty calorie breakdown on the substance.  

I registered for the Carolina Beast because because I had NO intention of going to Vermont or Texas, so this was my only option to complete the trifecta.  Up to 4 weeks prior I still wasn't sure how I was getting to South Carolina or where I would be staying.  Devon Brown hit me up and we decided to drive down together.  I heard there was onsite camping available so I called Carolina Adventure World and all they had left was RV sites.  $63 for the whole weekend was a great deal and it was ONSITE.  There was room for 4 or 5 tents on the site so I let it out that I had room and was able to sublet space to Mark McKennett from Maryland and Jeff Hoskins of South Carolina.  You've heard me mention before how much I love the camaraderie of this sport.  I love it!  Devon and I left early Friday morning.  I set my GPS, not paying enough attention, to the last place in the Carolina's that I searched for, which happened to be the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte where they have held past Spartan's.  We were almost there before I realized we were going to the wrong place.  The good news is we were only an hour off course.  We arrived around 4:30, quickly setup camp and then we were off to dinner with all of the Corn Fed clan.

The forecast for that night was to be cold and we were sleeping in a tent.  When I camp, I do it in style with cots and all.  I stopped and bought a space heater for $25 because I knew we were on an RV site with electricity.  Plugged it in before we left for dinner and it was like sleeping in the tropics all night.  There really was no better way to prepare for this race than to be in a comfy cot at 10:00 p.m. the night before and so warm that you kick the covers off.  We slept a solid 8 hours that night.  We dreaded leaving the tent in the morning because it was 28 degrees but the view of the sunrise over the venue was incredible and required some contemplation.

We walked over to the festival area about 7:00 a.m. and started to gather at the venue.  We got checked in and I watched Devon and others take off in the Elite Heat.  I was extremely disappointed and saddened by the actions of the so-called 'Elite' runners as half of them actually skipped and ran past the first set of obstacles.  They should all have their points taken away from this race.  At 8:30 I watched the ever-inspiring Operation Enduring Warrior group with their grand entrance.  Before you knew it, it was 9:45 and time to make our way to the Start Line so I found my Spartan running partner and pace-setter Kaitlin Stein (who almost didn't make it to the event) and we headed to the Start.  If it weren't for the accomplishments of the weekend before, I would have been extremely nervous.

We weren't 100 yards into the course and there was the first obstacles, a series of ditches at least 6' wide, 4' deep and full of cold water.  Remember, it was 28 degrees at 6:00 a.m. so it may have been 45 by now.  From there it was the standard Over/Under/Through and Walls but for the most part the course was a lot of trail running and the elevation changes and slopes were relatively easy.  I concentrated constantly on my running form to prevent any knee issues.  I have to say that the Spartan obstacles on this course were the most difficult I have encountered yet for a Spartan.  The obstacles at Virginia were lame compared to most of these, but it was the Beast so you have to expect that.  As we approached the half way point, 6 miles, and back to the festival area, there was a small pond that is used by the off-road vehicles for mud-bogging.  The water was nearly waste deep and super cold so we were trying to get through it as quickly as possible when all of the sudden my legs ran into a boulder under the surface of the water that was the size of a small car.  I had been trying to protect my knees up to this point, just to smash them on a boulder that couldn't be seen.  I limped out of the pond with my left knee starting to swell and right shin with an abrasion.  Damn it!  I was feeling great up to this point because I was not having any knee issues and by mile 4 at the Virginia Super I was shot.
Come along little doggy !
Next up, the dreaded Traverse Wall.  I have never been able to complete this and was looking for redemption after Virginia.  I carefully studied every wall and every little board to determine which was the least muddy.  My hands were still wet and muddy from the climb up a small hill to the festival area so I found the only clean spot I could to clean them off, the back of Kaitlin's shirt.  I started my trek across the wall, hold by hold, feeling good and steady.  DING !!!  That bitch was mine and I felt great about it.  Immediately after was the standard burpee station with an option-out if you throw a spear and make it stick in a hay bale.  I nailed this one for the first time in Virginia but missed it this time.  I was ok with this since I was burpee penalty free up to this point in the race.  Next, the rope climb.  The Indiana Sprint rope climb started on muddy ground.  The Virginia Super was over a water pit that was about waste deep.  This one was over water but when I got in, it was chest deep.  WOW!  I had been practicing this one on other courses and made my way up and rang that little bell like I owned it.  We took some time to hydrate and fuel up and then it was time to move on to the back half of the course.  Immediately after the festival area was a series of mud moguls and pits that were just a sloppy mess and then you were off into the woods to run.  We were freezing at this point after having been in so much mud and water and really needed to keep moving.

The second half of the course entailed a lot of trail running with obstacles strewn throughout until just past mile 11 where we came upon the Tyrolean Traverse.  We were just a little past 3-1/2 hours into the race and feeling good about our time as our goal was to finish around 4 hours.  The Tyrolean Traverse had about 10 ropes going across a pond that you had to cross the rope about 40' and ring the bell.  At every rope there was a line of at least 20 people waiting and the people 'attempting' the crossing were taking forever.  I really like these obstacles and find them easy but after watching everyone else, I'm the minority.  After 20 or 30 minutes of waiting in line, it was finally my turn.  I went first so Kaitlin and the others could watch and learn, up and over in about 15 seconds to ring the bell.  To keep the line moving I dropped into the water instead of going all the way across and that was a mistake as I sank in muck up to my knees.  We had considered just doing burpees instead of waiting on this one because of the line and the lack of desire to get wet again but chose to STFU.  Kaitlin started her crossing and made it about half way before she fell in.  Now she was wet, cold and having to do burpees anyway and really hating life.  The good news is we're very close to the finish line.  Just before the Traverse is when I started to feel that familiar pain in my knees bringing back terrible memories of Virginia.  It was funny how throughout the entire course, all we heard was "this is nothing like Virginia" or "Virginia sucked way worse than this".  After the Traverse was the sandbag carry which I'm fine with but had to start going backwards on the downhill or I wasn't going to make it.  After the sandbag carry was an uphill climb to the Log Jump.  The lame part about this was they were allowing you to help each other across this by holding hands.  At this point, we had no intention of doing burpees and were glad to take this opportunity so we helped several people and then went ourselves.  Back into the woods on some gnarly uphill and downhill terrain until we came back out of the woods to the bucket carry.  I've not experienced this one yet but you basically take a 10 gallon bucket, fill it with gravel and carry it up and down a hill.  I carried it on one shoulder going up the hill and switched to the other shoulder on the way down as i gingerly went backwards.  After this was a standard 8' which I can usually handle easily on my own but we were so exhausted that we all worked the buddy system this time.  Then we we see a small little hill with some barbed-wire.  I was thinking "this doesn't look bad", I had heard bad things about last years crawl.  We started up the hill and as you crest this 'little' hill under the barbed-wire then you can see the next 40 yards of the nastiest looking barbed-wire crawl you have ever seen.  It looked like a war zone and the only thing missing was bullets flying over your head.  What looked like mud and muck was really sharp little shards of jagged gravel covered with mud and muck.  This is where all the planking, yoga and mountain climbers pay off but nothing can prepare you for the absolute shredding that my legs got from all the rock in the mud.  Glad to be out of that, but now there was a muddy water pit with a wall across it that you had to go under.

I'm not sure what they call the next obstacle but it's basically a high ladder climb and then you cross a horizontal cargo net that's about 20' up and then back down the other side.  Not good for those with a fear of heights.  I could almost see the Finish Line.  The Fire Jump and Gladiators were the only things standing between me, that pretty green medal and that even prettier tri-colored trifecta medal.


Aside from being near hypothermic, I felt great.  This marked the end of a very long year with enormous strides in my physical health and endurance and I have never felt better.  Now to set next years goals.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mud, Guts & Glory #2 - 2013

King's Domain, Oregonia, Ohio - November 2, 2013

The great folks at King's Domain held their second ever Mud, Guts & Glory event at their location in Oregonia, Ohio on November 2 and they managed to outdo themselves from the incredible first event.  They listened to the elites and experts from the first event and made several changes in just 2 short months.  

First, they moved the start line to be closer to the finish line and the crowd.  One of the really nice things about this was that you didn't have to start running up that first hill.  It was only 30 seconds before you got to it, and it was still a tough first hill but it was nice to not start off staring up it.  

For the large Monkey Bars, the last event people started going over the top of the bars because they are just so intense.  To prevent that from happening this time, they simply put sheets of plastic over the top.  It was great to see more people attempting and completing the Monkey Bars.  This is one of my favorite obstacles.  As I started to climb the tires to the top platform of the Monkey Bars, a little boy came scampering up my left side.  Somebody asked him his age and he said "10".  With that, he reached out to one of the 20" sections of Monkey Bars and started making his way down, across the bottom and all the way up.  This little guy was a beast with his father doing everything he could to keep up behind him.  With it being the first weekend in November and not know what the weather would be like, they opted to not fill the pool under the bars with water and filled it with hay for a 'not-so-hard' landing if you fell off the bars.  Just after the Monkey Bars in the Gauntlet area, they didn't add any water but it rained all week and the mud in the Over/Under section was so thick it would suck off your shoes.  Good stuff!

There were two new obstacles added in the last 2 months and they were thoughtfully placed out on the course in the woods.  The first is a set of three menacing walls.  The first wall is about 6' tall but then you are immediately hit with a wall that is every bit of ten to eleven feet tall and absolutely no way to 'cheat' over it.  I have seen two people scale this wall by themselves and they were able to use the rocks placed at the bottom of the wall to 'spring' off and grab the top.  A short 'old' guy like myself has a little difficulty with this and needed to find a tall buddy to give me a boost.  Even with a boost, reaching the top was very difficult but I did finally make it.  The third wall is between six and seven feet but still quite a challenge.  Be careful off the backsides of these walls and make sure you land well.

The second new obstacle is a traverse very similar to the Tyrolean Traverse but there was no body of water to run ropes across so they placed this on the top of a hill and call it the Polish Traverse.  They took 4 long 'utility-like' poles, laid them horizontal and elevated them about five feet off the ground.  These poles are tapered so one end may have a diameter of eight inches while the other may have a diameter of twelve inches and they are about twenty-five feet long.  The goal is to 'mount' the pole on one end, traverse the pole and dismount the other end without touching the ground underneath.  The difficulty is that you don't have anything to hold on to, you have to wrap your arms and legs around the pole and traverse while holding on.  I found the dismount without touching the ground to be the most difficult part.

Another great change to this event was the addition of physical penalties to certain obstacles.  The Elite wave was given 30 burpees upon failure of the Monkey Bars, Walls, Polish Traverse and others.

The course this time was very different from the first in the fact that the first event had super dry weather leading up to it and it was in the summer.  This time, it had rained the week leading up to the event and the trails were covered with leaves from the trees.  This made the trails very slippery and covered every little stump, root and rock along the way making it very treacherous.

The weather on event day started off chilly but it was sunny and it warmed up nicely.  They had a huge bonfire going in the middle of the festival area that everyone congregated around making for a great social atmosphere.  

They had an ancillary contest going on in the festival area that was sponsored by the great folks at OCR Gear, a Tug-Of-War.  I hesitated on this but then went and signed up myself and another 'oldey' teammate, Dewaynne Tackett.  Together we had a combined age of almost 100 at 96.  I'm fairly certain the other two-man teams could barely hit 60.  I had already changed out of my muddy OCR shoes before we started off our first battle and that was a mistake.  I slipped and slipped and we quickly lost.  With the contest being double-elimination, and me not being able to accept defeat, I quickly put my Inov8 212's back on and readied for battle again.  This time we handled the opposition quickly and continued to advance ourselves back into the ranks.  We were 2 rounds out from the top and our opponents were two young muscle-bound guys.  We dug in started to pull.  Back and forth, back and forth, at one point we were within a foot of winning when Dewaynne started to slip.  I had already expended so much energy, I just couldn't hold it any longer and we lost.  What a great time this was for a post race activity.

The day went well for Team Crazy Mudder Muckers.  MGG added a 'team' category this time around.  We won first place for the largest team and first place for the fastest team.  They took the top 4 fastest runners of each team and averaged the times for this.  For individual teammates; Nicki Green took second place overall women's and Ulrike Rosser took first place overall women's.  Sam Mincey took third place overall men's.  Crazy Mudder Muckers teammates also took first place men's and first place women's Tug-Of-War.  As a result of all of this awesomeness, the challenge has been thrown out there for any team to come and steal our thunder at the next Mud, Gut's & Glory event, sometime in 2014.  We will be back and we will be even stronger.

There's a local photographer, David Long, that has been popping up at some local events and his work is incredible.  Check out his video of pictures from the event.  There are some really great people in this.  Both course photographers that day have some great shots, please check them out. -