Spartan U.S. Championship Series 2017: Emerald City Open

Seattle is home to coffee, grunge, and the Pike Place Market. This weekend it was home to the first race in the 2017 Spartan U.S. Championship Series. Not only was it the first race in the series, it was also live streamed. A playback video link can be found at the end of this article.

It was surprisingly dry and relatively warm on race day with just a few showers and temperatures in the low 60’s. Storms rolled through earlier in the week, ensuring there was no shortage of mud. The race would incorporate this natural obstacle in so many ways.

This is my hometown, so the race is extra special. Our team, BeastsOCR, received the biggest team award! They are an amazing group of people!

 

The Elites lined up and were underway. Hobie Call was back and placed 2nd, with Ryan Atkins placing 1st, and Robert Killian 3rd. Alyssa Hawley, Lindsay Webster, and Nicole Mericle rounded out the top three elite women. They are so fast and just amaze me every time I see them.

It was time for us to jump the wall and enter the corral. We took off and started with a pretty long run through corn fields and a trail that followed the river. We kept our pace moderate as it was going to be a fairly long super today at approximately 9.7 miles. We came to the hurdles and the O-U-T (over, under, through).

 

We made our way to the back section of the race venue and the mud hit with a vengeance! It seemed as though it was about a mile of solid mud. Probably wasn’t quite that far, but it sure did make the legs cry for mercy. There was one section that was particularly sticky and it looked like people were sinking in quicksand.

 

The double sandbag carry was up next! It was probably a quarter mile or more, with rolling hills and mud on the upper portion.

 

The new obstacle, Bender, was hard for me the first time I tried it, but I found it was all mental as I was able to go right up and over without a problem this time. Guess it’s a good lesson to not be intimidated by new obstacles and just jump in there and try it.

 

We trekked back through the mud and up some pretty steep hills towards the festival area. Seattle is known for a relatively flat course, but there are some sections that are definite challenges. We came to a second carry with wreck bags and then the spear throw. Missed and did the required burpees, along with several others. I believe these Spartans all made it.

 

Back up the trails and through the forest. The mud was thick and sticky again. We tried to do controlled slides going down, but they weren’t always successful. We found the inverted wall and then the Bucket Carry! It was a little unusual in that it went downhill first. The trail was muddy and uneven, making it very difficult to navigate. Several people fell and dropped their buckets. They had to get all of the gravel back in or start over. We rounded the bottom and made our way back up. Once the end was in sight, we realized this wasn’t the end at all! We had to go back down and up one more time! It was mentally defeating, but we gritted it out and got it done.

 

The dunk wall and slip wall were next, followed by the atlas carry. They had the big tires here today, 200 lbs for women and 400 lbs for men. They are very flat on the bottom, making them hard to get under. They were also being held to the sand with suction from the water. Flipped one way and then the next and we were off, to what we dubbed, “burpee hill”. The new obstacle, twister, was perched on top of a short hill. With exhaustion setting in, in addition to wet muddy hands, I didn’t stand a chance. Gave it a shot and dropped right off. 30 burpees!

Only a few more obstacles and we would be approaching the finish line. There was a waterway with cording, similar to barbed wire that we floated under. Then, we came to the Herc Hoist and the classic Multi-Rig. The Herc Hoist felt a little heavier than usual as the bags were wet from the rain the night before.

Finally, we jumped over the fire and received our well-earned medals!

 

Photo credit: Kim Collings, Adam Birgenheier, Jenn Reed, Spartan Race

Spartan Race was live streaming at this event and can be replayed here:

Spartan Race San Jose Super and Sprint

Spartan Race San Jose was no joke, even if it did fall on April 1st! Things were a little different at this race, beginning with the wall at the starting corral which was much taller. We started with an “Aroo, Aroo, Aroo” and came to the first obstacle which was a noticeably higher set of hurdles. A mud pit came shortly after which was very deep and didn’t have footholds. I was getting a little nervous to see what the rest of the race would bring as it was starting out more challenging than usual.

Next up were hills, hills, hills. The cumulative elevation gain was approximately 2,000 feet. It was a mental challenge as well as physical. When you climbed to the top of the first hill and thought you were done, you would look to the side and see the next hill. This happened about four times before finally receiving a much-needed break and spectacular view.

There was a short trail run and then, once you thought it was safe,  there was another hill which held a special surprise, the sandbag carry! It was steep, long, and enough to make you say shucks! They used wreck bags instead of sand patties.  I like both and this was a nice change of pace. I heard an unofficial weight estimate of 30-35 pounds for women and 55-60 for men.

Finally, the hills eased up and the trail was heading down. It was a perfect time to look around and take it all in. The cows that dotted the hillside seemed more like goats and were quite impressive on this steep terrain. One person did a shout out to them with an “AMOO”. I think the cows thought the farmers must have gone crazy!

We approached the festival area which included several classic obstacles such as the over walls, inverted wall, A-frame cargo net, and monkey bars. It was set up really well for the spectators, who were lining the course like a golf tournament and cheering everyone on.

One thing I kept thinking about was the bucket brigade. I had visions of straight up hills that never ended. I was completely shocked when I reached it and it was a fairly flat, short loop! I don’t remember when I was ever so excited about the bucket carry! One quick lap and I was done and heading towards some of the newer obstacles which included the multi-rig, which is now a series of rings, and the Olympus. I’m still trying to conquer these, but I get a little further each time.

We ended with the spear throw (made it…yes!), slip wall, and dunk wall. Both days brought two different gals who were a little hesitant to go under the dunk wall. We went together and they were both so excited when they got to the other side. They rocked it! A huge part of what I love about Spartan is the friendships you make along the way.

I was surprised to find there wasn’t a fire jump. That’s always such a perfect end to a race. I defiantly “fire jumped” over the finish mat and received my medal.

It was a beautiful venue and perfect weather. This is a race I definitely enjoyed and will do again!

Photo credit: Kim Collings and Spartan Race

Machete Recon XII Seattle – 12 Hour Overnight Endurance Event

Machete Recon XII was held at Golden Gardens/Shilshole Beach in Seattle, WA on February 18-19 from 8pm to 8am. The Machete team drove all the way from Southern California to put on this event. Some of the members of the local “Beasts OCR” team assisted as well.

Going into this was exciting, but made me nervous at the same time. I’ve completed shorter endurance events, and knew what to expect for the most part, but never one that lasted 12 hours, let alone overnight. Here it was…..Go Time! There were so many thoughts running through my head. Can I last that long? Will I get too cold (it was 40 degrees and predicted to go to 35 overnight)? Am I packing enough or too much? Will I be able to stay awake? I was about to find out!

We met in a parking lot and proceeded down a dark forested trail to the beach. We brought headlamps but only used the red lights when there were stairs or other obstacles. We were given a sand bag and instructed to write our names on it and NOT lose it no matter what. A 5 gallon bucket with no handle was on our gear list. These two items would be used throughout the night for our black ops style missions.

We were divided into two teams. One of our first missions was to run down the beach and find one of the leaders. The sand was loose and half ways down the beach it got very rocky. I’m not sure which was harder to run in. We reached the leader and did some PT and then filled our sandbags. Half way for women and full for men. Then we raced back with our sandbags to the start.

The Puget Sound waters are about 45 degrees year around. Hypothermia can set in in as little as 12 minutes. I’m mentioning this because we had various options and missions to complete in order to stay out of the water; however, there were a couple of times we did go in. Once was carrying a very heavy log into the water about knee deep. As a team, we pressed it overhead until we had hardly anything left to give.

The other water mission was challenging as well. We took our buckets and dug a trench about 2.5 feet wide, a foot and a half deep, and 30 feet long. We were all sent to the water to fill our 5 gallon buckets completely full and transfer it to the trench. Bucket after bucket came and the trench filled with very cold water. Team 1 army crawled through it, then team 2. We then laid diagonally in the trench and the other team ran back and forth with more icy buckets of water and proceeded to pour them on us. After both teams enjoyed this refreshing adventure, we ended up burying team 2 as a penalty from earlier. Some of the buriers got creative with the buryees.

There were several team challenges including a two mile run over rocks and pavement and a two-mile sandbag run. The team who came in last had to complete a “penalty lap”. The lap included a rock staircase going uphill through the forest until you met a trail (still uphill) and came down some cobblestone style rock staircases. It was a good distance, about 200 feet of elevation gain, and tiring. We would end up completing this many times before the night was over.

Several hours into recon, we were heading down the beach again. We were requested to pick up firewood along the way in the pits the locals make beach fires in. We reached one of the pits, when the leader said we had 5 minutes to make a sustainable fire or we were going in the water! We saw an ember in the pit and worked fast and furious to build it up. Some of the team went to look for twigs to use as kindling, one pulled out a piece of paper we could use, and I did 10 burpees to earn some kleenex for tinder. With just a little time to spare our teamwork paid off and we got it going and it turned into a beautiful blazing fire! We all took a little break at this point and circled around the fire and told our story. One by one we learned about each other’s struggles, dreams, and goals. A group of individuals became a team of brothers and sisters.

There were so many challenges and PT opportunities that I can’t put them all down, but we ended with a big one. With about an hour left, we ceremoniously cut our sandbags and emptied them back onto the beach. I felt like yelling and cheering as loud as I could, but figured that might put the team “in the water”…noooooo! We disposed of the empty bags and were instructed to tape our buckets to our backs. The sun was beginning to rise which seemed to give everyone a boost.

We went to the start of the “penalty lap” and bear crawled our way up. Once we were past the rocks, where the trail started, we received new orders which included walking lunges and inch worms with a pushup. That made for a long long long trail, especially because we could see our cars in the parking lot. We were so close, yet so far. Once we reached the top we still had 30 minutes to go. We finished with tabata style PT. Burpees, pushups, jumping jacks, high knees, it felt like it would never end.

Then, we were told to stop. We had successfully completed our mission and we did it with all of our team members in tact. Every single one of us persevered, gritted it out, and achieved something together that we will never forget. Our names were called one by one and we received a shirt, patch, and wrist band. Items that have so much meaning behind them. We gathered for one final photo, our group picture.

MACHETE RECON XII….WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION!!!!

I wore my shirt the next day and felt such a sense of accomplishment. It’s not just a shirt, but a symbol of what we earned and the amazing memories we will all have of Recon XII. I will wear it with pride every time I put it on! Thank you to the Machete team for making the trip to Seattle, the Beasts OCR members who assisted, and all of the others who helped to make this event a huge success. Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!

Photo credit: Machete Madness, Dustin Garrett, Adam Birgenheier, Kim Collings

Spartan Race SoCal Super 2017 – New Venue, New Obstacles, New Medals!

The first Spartan Race of the year is in the book, in a “SUPER” big way.

The race was held at Lake Elsinore, about 20 miles north of last year’s venue in Temecula.  It rained extensively the week before and everything was green and fresh. The rain also made for some wet, muddy conditions, which is the way I like it, but the weather on race day was perfect, bringing sun and comfortable temperatures.

The festival area was electric. It was the first race of the year and you could feel the energy and excitement in the air. For many, it was the first race after the off season. It had been three months since my last race, and I know I had been waiting for this day like it was Christmas, and it was finally here!

I watched the Elites line up and take off. They are so fast and it just amazes me every time I see them.

Spartan Race - SoCal Women's Start

As 8:15 approached, I knew it was time to head to the starting corral. This was my first race running in the competitive heat. I was nervous, excited, and ready to take it on. Aroo, Aroo, Aroo…and we were off!

The course was flat and fast! We got the walls out of the way right off the start.

Spartan SoCal - Walls

We ran through the trails and dry shrubs. I did a terrific superman impression when my foot caught a root and propelled me into a flying crash. I’m sure there should have been points for style! All was good. I dusted myself off and rounded the corner and came to the first of many water crossings.

Spartan SoCal - Mud

The water was so cold! My feet would become numb during each crossing. There was usually a break between waterways with an obstacle or two. It was just long enough for my feet to thaw out and feel the dirt and rocks in my shoes. Then, back in the water and numb feet again.

Spartan SoCal - Water Crossing

We came up to the Z-Wall. One of my favorites. My buddy did great and I was able to get across too.

Spartan SoCal - Z Wall

Next, came one of the new obstacles. TWISTER!!! The bars have rungs that are offset. As you grab one, the entire bar twists, and so it goes, all the way to the end, until you hit the bell. I watched a couple of people to study their technique. Some went across sideways, but the ones who went hand over hand seemed to have the most success. I made it five or six rungs before falling. I can’t wait to try this again.

Spartan SoCal - NEW OBSTACLE - Twister

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one trying to get the hang of it. There were a lot of burpees going on! 30 burpees complete and I was off to the next obstacle. Oh yes….more water along the way.

Tyrolean Traverse is one of my other favorites. I’m glad they kept this one. I keep trying different ways of traversing but still find that the hand over hand and leg over leg works best for me.

Another new obstacle came along called Bender. It’s arched back, a little like an inverted wall, and the first bar is maybe 6 feet from the ground. This one looked so intimidating when I was standing under it, but once I got going it wasn’t bad at all. It was a little awkward on the transition at the top, but it was a fun new challenge and one I’m looking forward to again.

Spartan SoCal - NEW OBSTACLE - BenderThe gal on the right cruised right up and over. She rocked this obstacle!!

Spartan SoCal - Breezing over Bender

The standard Multi-Rig didn’t make an appearance, but this one did. Rings, rings, rings!! I really liked it. They are grippier than the standard metal rings. It definitely tested your grip strength, but I liked having a more secure hold while going across.

Spartan SoCal - Rig of Rings

The bucket brigade made a very flat loop, which is unusual for this obstacle. I made it around the loop without stopping and moved on to the monkey bars. Next was the spear throw. I’ve only made it one other time in a race. I threw it and was so happy that it stuck! No burpees! Then, came the rope climb. That’s usually one of my best obstacles, but the rope was very different. Instead of feeling fibrous, it was slick like blond hair and much thinner. I got half ways up and wasn’t confident about my grip. I didn’t want wounded palms, so I jumped down. Time for my second set of burpees.

One more semi-new obstacle was the tire flip. Spartan has had several races with tire flips, but these were special. The women’s tires weighed 200 lbs. and the men’s were 400 lbs. Much heavier and flat on the bottom so very hard to get a hold of. You flipped it one way and then back a second time.

Spartan SoCal - Tire Flip

We wound our way around the course and came to the Herc Hoist. I like this obstacle. The bags felt good and went up fairly easy. Next were the rolling mud hills and the dunk wall. I’m a cold wimp and must have had a certain look on my face. One fella came over and said he was going to go under with me at the same time. He counted to three and we submerged. The water wasn’t actually as cold as the earlier water crossings, which I was very grateful for.

Spartan SoCal - Dunkwall

The slip wall and fire jump were next! My buddy and I stopped and high-fived and then remembered we still needed to cross the finish line. We high tailed it the last few feet and completed our first race of the year, the SoCal Spartan Super!

I had to go to the chalk wall and scribble my name and that was it. First race of the year in the books!

I like the new shirts. The neck seemed a little tight last year but this one is comfortable and fits true to size. I thought I had it on backwards at first as the circle is in the back instead of the front. Once I saw others with it the same way I was reassured.

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Finisher T Front

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Finisher T Back
The medals are great. They remind me of an old Incan coin. They are heavy and rugged. Definitely a winner in my opinion.

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Medal FrontSpartan Race - 2017 Super Medal Back

Photo credit: Kim Collings

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Spartan Race – Seattle Beast Review 2016

The Spartan Race Beast Seattle (Snohomish) was held at Meadow Wood Equestrian Center, in Monroe, WA. It rained non-stop for several days before the race, making the mud a “beast” of an obstacle all on its own.  The course is relatively flat, with some rolling hills and a couple of pretty steep ones thrown in for good measure.  I arrived at 6:30am and it was still dark. You entered the festival area under the A-frame cargo net which made me smile and get excited for the adventure that was ahead. when the sun rose it revealed this beautiful fall landscape:

 

Spartan Race Snohomish - Venue

Me and my “mud buddy”, Chris, ran the 9:30am open heat with our team “Beasts OCR”. The team’s battle cry is “HOW DEEP”. We could hear it throughout the course all day long.  Just love it! The requisite battle cry reponse?…….. “BALLS DEEP”, as loud as you can.  It’s fun and it’s great knowing your friends are all around you.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Beasts OCR - Biggest TeamThe course began with a very muddy hill through the forest. A low crawl was the first obstacle we reached. Under and through and we continued until we reached the first sandbag carry. The races always seem to have a “specialty” or theme. I think this one was two of everything! Two sandbag carries, two bucket carries, two+ barbed wire crawls.

The first bucket carry was a fairly short loop with a bit of a hill but a good obstacle to make some time on.

Spartan Race Snohomish -Bucket Brigade 1

We wound our way down the rest of the trail and came to the rope climb. It was so slick and muddy that it was really difficult to get a grip on the rope. Hardest one I’ve done. I held on like a vice grip and made it to the top!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Rope Climb

Just when you think you have a breather….the Multi Rig shows up! Our very own “Beast Elite”, Steven P. Hammond crossed it fast, making it cleanly to the other side. The Olympus followed (shown in the background). It was the first time I’ve seen this obstacle and it was definitely a challenge that I enjoyed. I watched, as people used different methods to traverse it. The wall was angled and had chains, rock climbing holds, and holes. You weren’t allowed to touch your feet to the ground or put them on the holds. I saw a few people make it by wedging their knees on the wall and making their way across. The mud made it very slippery if you tried to use your feet.

Spartan Race Snohomish - The Rig

The spear throw came and went with a pile of burpees. Next, came the monkey bars. It’s so wet in Seattle that they set it up in a barn. Brilliant! Made it across and continued to the back of the course.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Monkey Bars

The next portion of the course consisted of mud, mud, water bogs, and more mud and continued for about a mile. It felt more like 5 miles as it was very slow going. The mud wanted to take your shoe off with every step and the water bogs had logs, holes, and vegetation, making it quite the challenge. I came out with a tail, AKA blackberry vine attached to my pants!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Water Crossing

Spartan Race Snohomish - Muddy Course

Next, came several obstacles in a row including the 7’ wall, plate drag, stairway, and the second bucket brigade, which was quite forgiving. It was a larger loop than the first, but flat.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Bucket Brigade 2

We crossed the field and reached the Tyro. Love this one!  It was interesting that the bell looked so close when I started but it seemed like it was getting further away as I was making my way towards it. Finally got there and rang the heck out of it!

Made our way back through the mud and water bogs and followed the river for a nice jog to the farmer’s carry. It was really muddy so it was hard to get a foothold while carrying the heavy logs. Made it without incident and continued through the corn fields to the O-U-T.

The inverted wall felt so much harder this time. I was starting to get tired at this point and just couldn’t get my hand up and over the top. Got a little help from my friends and we all moved on to the 6’ wall.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Inverted Wall

Next, we went over the A frame cargo net. Some of my friends have a fear of heights which has to be very difficult as this is no small net. I’m always so impressed when they get up and over and conquer that fear.  That’s a huge part of what Spartan Races are about to me. Putting yourself out there and doing something that you would never do in your regular life. You become stronger because of it and learn that you can do more than you ever imagined you could.

The Herc Hoist was next. Most of the bags were sitting in puddles, making them very heavy. The ropes dripped water as you hoisted them up. It was a struggle, but I got it up there, as did my Beast OCR friends. It would be getting dark soon, so we moved on to the last remaining obstacles.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Herc Hoist

There was a fairly high barbed wire crawl with an over wall in the middle. Then, an Atlas carry which had a twist. Instead of the Atlas stones, we carried beefy logs to the flag, did five burpees, and returned them to their starting position. While this post is about the Beast, I felt I had to mention an amazing man, named Chuck who dominated this obstacle during the Sprint on Sunday. Pretty darn impressive considering he is 83 years young! I wondered if there might be reason for concern. After hearing he was a marathon runner, ran 80 miles on his 80th birthday (in under 25 hours), and performs in Masters track and field events, including pole vaulting, it seemed pretty obvious that the only concern would be keeping up with him! He took on the challenge and completed it like a true Spartan! Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Chuck at 83 years old

There was one last mud/water bog and then, instead of a dunk wall, we had a floating barbed wire crawl. It had a couple of feet of water with some holes to throw you off. Once you got to the wire it was too low to crawl so you had to get in the freezing cold water and float. The easiest way was to pull yourself along with your hands on the bottom. There were a couple of times I couldn’t touch the bottom so I used my momentum to float through, channeling my inner alligator, until I could reach the bottom again. There was a lot of grass and it felt very swampy. At the end, I came up looking like a lagoon creature with vegetation hanging from my clothes and hair.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Bog and Slog

The slip wall was the only thing standing between us and the finish! We didn’t know if we were too tired to make it, but soon we were up, over, and on the other side. We were running for the fire jump when we saw the big patch of mud in front of it.  I had visions of slipping and going face first into the ashes… ”Do not fall in the fire…do not fall in the fire”. We reached the flames, jumped high and made it without incident.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Fire Jump

They put the medals around our necks and it was time to celebrate! We conquered the Beast!!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Finishers

I’m really excited that Spartan has provided all three races in Washington state and it looks as though it’s on track for next year as well. Look out Beast 2017!

Photo Credit: Adam Birgenheier, Gretchen Jaeger, Spartan Race, and the author

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