A Day at the Ball Park – Spartan Stadium Series AT&T Park Sprint Review

Take Me Out to the Ball Park


AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Stadium-View

Home of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park is situated in downtown San Francisco right on the San Francisco Bay with a beautiful view overlooking the water. This view was highlighted from the top of the rope climb; located in the stands above right field which overlooks McCovey Cove. Fun fact: home runs hit into “The Cove” are known, unsurprisingly, as “splash hits.”

AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Rope-Climb

This was my first Spartan Stadium Race, but I had done my research beforehand as well as watched the Spartan live stream that morning. I felt prepared and honestly, most of the reviews that I had read of the Spartan Stadium Race Series indicated that they were the easiest of all Spartan race types.

This was an interesting race for me. It was the first race where going as fast as I could wasn’t my goal. My ultimate goal was to help a first time Spartan, and good friend, not only complete the course but actually enjoy himself. Running with my friend allowed me to really take in the venue and focus on how this race was laid out. This gave me a unique perspective on the course design.

Batting OrderAT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Obstacle-List

From my perspective, I thought it was a fast and furious course with few potential hang-ups. Once the Spearman was completed it was essentially a time trial for the rest of the course.

From the other perspective, and the focus of this article, I saw a course designed to exhaust untrained/new racers. Having the Spearman (the most failed obstacle) as the 2nd obstacle on the course, it was almost guaranteed that anyone who was not prepared for this race was going to be pumping out 30 burpees early on. Shortly after the Spearman, there were multiple low crawls up an incline and then the Z-Wall. For someone unpracticed in grip strength and balance, the Z-Wall can be a difficult obstacle. For these people, they are looking at 60 potential burpees within the first 5 obstacles.

The Z-Wall was followed by more stairs and then 20 slam balls before you could move on. While the slam balls aren’t difficult from a technique perspective, it really ramps up the heart rate. Moving on from the slam balls there were more low crawls followed by low crawls, and once again… Low crawls. It seriously felt as if we were going to low crawl from the very bottom of the stadium to the top (and we may have). Once we made it through all the low crawls we just had to clear the 8-foot wall before the sandbag carry.

Foul Ball 

In my opinion, the sandbag carry, which was really a Spartan pancake, was by far the most difficult obstacle in this race. Not because of weight or distance or any actual factor relating to the obstacle, but because of the DISGUSTING stench of the sandbags. These things smelt rancid. Even as I approached the sandbag carry I could smell them from a good ten yards away. At first, I thought I had come upon a group of Spartans that did not believe in personal hygiene, but I could not have been more wrong. The carry was only a short route and yet nobody wanted those things anywhere close to their body. That scent attached itself to any body part or piece of clothing that it came in contact with. I do not know what Spartan did to make them smell so terrible, but there were people at the end of this struggle that were on the verge of vomiting.

Once everyone’s stomach settled from the smell of the sandbags, we did some more stairs and approached the box jump obstacle. This was another obstacle that wasn’t necessarily difficult in terms of strategy, but rather conditioning. My one issue with this obstacle was the lack of coordination between volunteers. Some volunteers would tell Spartans to stand straight up after jumping on the box while other volunteers just let people do it however they wanted.

Seventh Inning Stretch 

Up and down some more stairs (it’s a Stadium Sprint – shocker, right?) and there was the rope climb. Really the only reason to discuss this obstacle was the view. I finished my rope climb quickly, but my friend was unable to make it to the top and had to do his burpees. Being the good friend that I am, I enjoyed the view while he did all his burpees. I actually did offer to do some for him, but he wanted to do it all on his own no matter how long it took, which definitely earned him added respect from me.

AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Assault-Bike

After a couple of staple Spartan obstacles – the Atlas carry and Herc hoist – there was a brand new obstacle: the assault bike. This was another take your heart rate through the roof type of obstacle. Burn 10 calories and then move on. Simple enough, but being so close to the end of the course, a lot of people were already exhausted. Right around the corner from the assault bike was the jump rope. 20 revolutions to advance. The only caveat being that you had to have an exercise band wrapped around your ankles. This was more of a nuisance than any real added difficulty.

AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Multi-Rig

The Multi Rig was next and turned out to be a tricky obstacle due to the fact that the rings/baseballs were hanging precariously low to the padding. Being 6’2” myself and my friend being 6’3”, this made things more difficult for us and it was crucial to keep our knees up and arms bent in order to complete this obstacle.

Sliding Into Home Plate

There were only a few more obstacles left to finish the race: the A-frame cargo, some military hurdles, a couple walls and then the gladiator. I have only been doing Spartan races for a couple of years now, but I have read that they used to have actually “gladiators” at the end of a race that you had to get past. Unfortunately, now they just have some punching bags hanging from a structure that you need to run through.

AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Hurdles

Going back to my perspective, I found the course to really be too easy. I completed the race burpee free, and I didn’t feel like there were any true challenges. With that being said, I did enjoy it and would love to do another Spartan Stadium Race. Plus, the medals are really cool.

I did regret not being able to run the course as fast as I could. In hindsight, I could have run it earlier in the day and then run again with my friend. More importantl, though, I was able to introduce another person to Spartan races and he is already talking about signing up for his next race! No matter what time I could have run on my own, I consider this a far better result.

AT&T-Stadium-Sprint-Medals

Rea Kolbl – My World’s Toughest Mudder 2017

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A word of warning – this race review is LONG! But so was the race and no matter how hard I’ve tried to cut things, everything seemed important. So I tried to divide it in sections, in case you want to read 400 words rather than 4500. And I added some pictures in case you don’t want to read at all. And that’s okay too, because I think I partially wrote this for myself too, to remember.

Getting Ready for Something I’ve Never Done Before

I signed up for the World’s Toughest Mudder just over a month before the race, which didn’t leave me with much time to plan, train, and acquire all the necessary gear. I quickly started asking everyone for guidance and advice. One of these people, Mike King, offered a great piece of advice – just buy anything you might possibly need, keep the tags on the equipment, and then return things you never touched. It ended up being the best I’m-in-a-rush strategy I could’ve learned. This came most handy with wetsuits. When I took my measurements it essentially came down to being S in hips, XS in waist, and M in chest… also add being short to the list and the result was I had no idea what size to order. Ok, so let’s order them all! This worked out great because my initial size inclination was totally wrong, and I would not have enough time to re-order a replacement. I did the same thing with shoes – in the past month, I think I ordered about 10 new pairs of trail shoes, which ended up being necessary to find the pair to run in for 24 hours. Now, of course it would’ve been smarter to start planning ahead of time, and have enough time to test the gear a bit more than a week before the race… but you got to work with what you’ve got, I suppose.

In terms of gear, I listened to the advice of many and out came a scramble of what many people suggested. I basically flew to Vegas with a suitcase full of neoprene gear, I think 10 pairs of shoes, all of the MudGear socks I owned, too many pairs of shorts, lots of lube and anti-chafing products and all of the energy gels I could find laying around the house. But more on that later.

When in Vegas

My excessive gear left no room for food, so the first thing we did after landing on Thursday in Vegas was to visit a supermarket. The last time I ran a race longer than 4 hours was in 2013, which at 8 hours was still runnable on energy gels and bananas. But for 24 hours I had no idea what to eat. My strategy was buying things I really crave in real life; maybe those would still be edible at 2 am after 16 hours of running. We left the store with enough food to feed an extended family for a birthday get together: a loaf of bread, PB&J, a bag of avocados, a bunch of bananas, two bags of oranges, beef jerky, noodle soup, nuts, chips, crackers, oatmeal, cereal, almond milk, rice, soy sauce, potatoes, yams, salt chews, and baby food. I figured I’d rather have too much than not enough.

Next day was the check in. Doing this for the first time, I had no idea exactly how early I should show up. I knew that the registration opened at 9am for contenders, and I also knew there would be hundreds of us trying to register at the same time. I asked around and got a good poll of opinions, then naturally picked the advice that told me to be there the latest. Sleep seemed more important than a few spots in line, especially since I can never rely on getting a good night of rest before a race. Oh boy was I wrong! After arriving to the Westin, my pit crew joined the line, and I went to check just how long it was to the check in. I turned a corner, and another corner, and another corner… it never stopped! Obviously, showing up at 8am was too late. Like, 2 hours too late. For anyone doing the race for the first time next year: be early. Ask around, and do exactly the opposite of what I did – be there at the earliest time suggested. We pretty much sprinted from the registration area to the car, from the car to the pit, and ended up with a not-so-bad-pit spot. Not that I really ended up spending much time there during the race, but I guess my crew was spared a long walk coming to meet me each lap in the quick pit area.

We spent the rest of the day preparing the food; baked yams and potatoes, cooked oatmeal and rice, boiled eggs, and got everything organized in ziplock bags. To make things easier for my crew, we labeled all of the ziplock bags with their contents, and tried to put things together that I would need in a particular lap. So the “Last lap before sunset” bag had my shorty wetsuit, strobe lights and headlamps, bandana, and gloves. That way we would avoid having to sprint back to our far away tent since forgetting things was less likely.

I spent the last night before the race sleeping in the closet. I have a very hard time falling asleep before a race, and all of the noises and lights bothered my already distracted mind. The giant walk-in closet in our AirBnb turned out to be a perfect isolation capsule for an acceptable night’s rest before the big day.

Race Day

Learning my lesson from Friday, we made sure to come to the venue early. This paid off – arriving at 9am, there was already a long line of cars waiting to park. Being a contender, I decided to enter the starting chute as soon as it opened to make sure I was as close to the start line as possible. I found a spot and sat down. It was 10:30 am. That hour and a half was probably the longest hour and a half in my life. Kind of like a microwave minute, where 60 seconds feels like an hour. It felt like a microwave too because it was getting hot! Thankfully other contenders around me provided some shade (yay for being small!), but the midday desert sun was strong. The heat wasn’t my only problem. Trying to stay hydrated, my bladder filled in no time; I had to go pee. Badly. I tried to stay as hydrated as possible before the race, which inevitably lead to a full bladder in less than an hour. I couldn’t really leave my spot, and the only solution was peeing my pants. This was before the race even started. Things were definitely going well.

Finally, at 11:30, stuff started happening. I have a thing for start line speeches, and one part in particular stood out that I will probably remember forever: “No one is better than your best. But your best can make others better.” Thank you, Sean Corvelle. The anthem was beautiful too – I’m not sure if there were issues with the recording or if they intentionally let the crowd sing, but the Star Spangled Banner started with a recording and was taken over by the everyone in the starting corral. It was so inspiring; the race hadn’t even begun yet, and I already felt a part of something bigger than myself.

Then, 11:59 arrived. The music picked up. The countdown began. And at noon, the crowd started moving. There was quite a bit of elbowing going on to make it through the narrow starting line, and everyone seemed to be quite in a hurry to start. I thought the race would begin slower, given we had 24 hours to run, but I guess everyone got restless waiting. It wasn’t until I saw the aerial footage that I really appreciated just how many people there were in the starting corral because sitting down, I could only see my immediate neighbors. It looked so magnificent from the air; and it also made me realize that planting my butt by the start line at 10:30am was a really good idea.

 

Daytime running

The longest I had run continuously in 2017 was 17 miles. I had no idea how far I could actually go. Combined with the fact that none of the obstacles were open before 1pm led to my decision to start fairly fast. I certainly wasn’t pushing the pace, but I also wasn’t trying to slow down on purpose. I figured I might as well get as many miles in as possible before I break, and before my laps get significantly longer due to penalties. With starting behind all of the elite contenders and national teams, and then losing some places in the elbow wrestle, I had no idea where I was in relation to everyone else. Still, I started to come across familiar faces fairly quickly, and it was so amazing to be able to chat with people on the first lap. At all of the other races I’ve done this year I could barely breathe coming out of the gate, so actually enjoying the first few miles was a refreshing change. I also had no idea I was the female leader because there were people in front of me for the whole duration of the first lap. It wasn’t until I got handed the green bib at the end of the first lap that I realized I won the sprint lap. I was excited, but also extremely worried; there must have been a reason why all of the experienced athletes were more than 5 minutes behind me. The green bib worried me throughout the entire race. Whenever people congratulated me on the sprint lap, I always responded with “we’ll see in 10 hours”.

I didn’t know that the obstacles were going to open in a staggered way; I was sure that come 1pm, everything would open. So I made it my goal on lap two to make it past rope-a-dope just before 2.5 miles – the one obstacle I failed during the Tougher Mudder two weeks prior at the same venue. It was 12:59 when I made it on top of the hill, with about 200 yards to the rope-a-dope. I sprinted so hard!!! I made it to the obstacle, volunteers looking at me funny, and as I passed the entrance I almost yelled in happiness: “I’m so happy I get to pass this for another lap!!” To which they responded, with straight faces, “Oh, but we don’t open until 4pm”. Oh. Okay. From that point forward, I made it a point to ask the volunteers at each and every obstacle when exactly they will open. It turned out only a few obstacles opened at 1pm, Kiss of Mud being one of them. Yep. Rolling on those sharp rocks in just enough water to fully soak you got mildly annoying pretty fast. Someone called this obstacle Kiss of Rocks, which I think was much more accurate. Luckily, once in the wetsuit, the whole experience became a lot more pleasant.

WTM_DianaWilson_KissofRocks

A competitor at the Kiss of Mud, a.k.a. Kiss of Rocks obstacle

Tracking woes

While I won the sprint lap I somehow fell off the official leader board. I was lucky to have a friend watching the live stream at home. When she heard Matt B. Davis announcing that I fell out of the leader board altogether after winning the sprint lap, she checked the on-line leader board and found that my tracking data was missing and relayed this information to my husband. When he saw me at the mid-point he asked if I had my tracker – it was still there. At the next pit spot we quickly exchanged the broken tracker for a new one. This fixed the issue but the leader board took much more time to update and was not completely accurate until the evening.

Nutrition

For the first few laps I managed to run on granola bars, energy gels, and honey pouches. All that sweetness was quickly too much and I started craving salty things. As a response to this new craving my crew gave me some baby chicken noodle soup. Just no. I quickly learned to stick to the fruity flavors of baby food, and decided to switch to PB&J sandwiches (with added salt) instead of energy bars. For most of the race, eating was a conscious effort; I never really felt hungry, and for the most part I didn’t feel like eating. I was lucky that my crew knew better. Whenever I came to the pit stop they would ask me what I want, and I’d say “nothing, not really hungry and don’t feel like eating.” This response was not accepted because almost immediately I had spoonfuls of different foods come flying into my mouth. It didn’t take long to realize that the food actually did feel good, and for each pit stop I was quickly able to figure out which of the food options felt right. For the most part, I stuck to rice with soy sauce, oatmeal with honey and almond milk (and salt), and PB&J sandwiches (with salt). I tried beef jerky and that gave me a stomachache pretty quickly, and other salty options such as crackers and chips were too dry to swallow. I also made sure to eat during the lap; the water station at 2.5 miles was a good marker for that, and I’d usually have an energy gel around that point.

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Rice with soy sauce, fed by the spoon

Nighttime running: losing everything, sweating buckets, pooping my pants, and freezing my ass off

Nighttime running was easier than expected: mainly because I had so many issues I forgot I was doing the same lap, over and over again. My crew and I made a gear plan and a gear back-up plan before the race. This was helpful in the beginning but ultimately fell apart during the night. I listened to the advice of pretty much everyone and changed into my short wetsuit before starting the sunset lap. I was actually looking forward to putting on a wetsuit – already at 3pm, the air was getting chilly and constant in-and-out of the water was making me cold. So I ran into the sunset, in my shorty, ready to tackle the darkness fully equipped with two strobe lights and my brand new (and expensive) Diamond Storm headlamp. Unfortunately, I lost all of my lights before the sun even fully set. I attached my strobe lights to the back of the running belt, and I swear they were gone less than a minute later. Then my headlamp fell off at the Snot Rocket, the first water dunk obstacle. So for whoever is doing this for the first time next year – do not attach strobe lights to your running belt, and make sure to put the headlamp around your neck at every single water obstacle. I was lucky that my crew was resourceful, and they managed to borrow Ryan Woods’ spare strobe armband, which attached around my arm and stayed there securely for the rest of the race. I would highly recommend those over the clip-on lights, unless you’re really good at not losing stuff, which I am not. As for the headlamp, I was glad we brought spares; I lost another one later during the night at Devil’s Beard obstacle.

The plan was to run the rest of the night in my shorty, with a neoprene jacket and a windbreaker over that to keep warm. Then two laps into the night I found myself unable to warm up after the swims – especially after the Snot Rocket which, in my opinion, was Arctic Enema AND Snot Rocket combined. Shorty was great for running since I barely noticed wearing the neoprene, but the constant influx of water was too much for my body to warm up. It wasn’t so much that my limbs weren’t fully covered or the thickness of the neoprene; the issue was that every half a mile, more cold water entered the suit. I was dreading each and every water obstacle and realized that I wouldn’t make it through the night this way.

I realized I had to put on my back-up full-suit, which I brought just in case I got really hypothermic. Since my full suit was a hypothetical back up, I never tried wearing it beforehand. Or putting it on. With the help of my crew we managed to get the suit past the ankles in a respectably short amount of time. Just as I was ready to pull it up, I realized I never took the shorty off! Alright, take it all off and try again. On the second try, we made it all the way up and then equipped the neoprene hood, running belt, gaiters, windbreaker, and the bib. I was ready to roll. After taking a few steps; however, something seemed off. We somehow managed to put the wetsuit on BACKWARDS! I already spent so much time in the pit I was ready to just deal with it – at least now my back zip was front zip, which seemed like an upgrade anyway. But my crew was wiser and made me come back, take it all off, and do it again. We finally got it right and it took only three tries!

I think I spent about 30 minutes in the pit. When I asked for an update I was beyond surprised I still had the lead coming out of that mess. My guess is that it was the lap when everyone was putting on wetsuits, and although they probably did it just once, it still took longer than a regular refueling pit stop.

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One of my favorite nighttime sights: the people lights. Photo credit: OCRTube

There was one observation I quickly learned. My long suit was HOT! Not only was the neoprene thicker, it also had a fleece inner lining for insulation. So by mile 1, I was sweating buckets. Whereas I was dreading the Snot Rocket before, now I couldn’t wait to submerge myself fully in some freezing cold water. This excitement was short-lived because I found out my full-suit let absolutely no water inside. That was the first lap where I started to walk on the uphill – not because my legs couldn’t run, but because I was overheating so badly that I was worried I was going to get dehydrated and exhausted from all the lost fluids. This was also the lap when I started to fail obstacles; obstacles got progressively slipperier, my upper body was getting tired, and from about 6pm until the end of the race on Sunday I had to run the penalties on Funky Monkey, Kong Infinity, and Hanging Tough. Obstacle failures were almost opposite from what I expected – I was afraid of failing Rope-a-Dope, and that ended up being the one obstacle I was able to do for the entire 24 hours. Around the time I started taking penalties on pretty much everything, I also learned the lesson of accepting help. While there were some obstacles I needed help with from the get-go (thank you to the millions of hands on Everest!), there were others that I could manage on my own. People offered me help on every lap, but I always said I’m okay. This was until I found my upper body strength failing at an alarming pace, and the race was not even half done yet. So from then on, I accepted help – perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year: it’s okay to not be able to do obstacles by yourself.

It was encouraging that even with all the penalties and walking, I was still maintaining the lead. And I felt good – nothing really hurt. By around mile 60 my feet started to ache, so I decided to switch shoes to one of those ultra cushioned Hoka pairs. That move did the trick – my knees and ankles felt fresh again. I expected to hurt, but it was actually surprisingly pleasant. The one persistent annoyance, though, was that I was still sweating like crazy and nighttime temperatures weren’t dropping. At the next pit stop we decided to cut my wetsuit at the calves, and I remember asking frantically around the pit if someone had a knife. Yancy Culp came to the rescue, and I think we’re both glad that his pocketknife cut wetsuit only and left my calves intact. This helped a little; at least now some of that Snot Rocket water made it to my skin.

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Maybe Team USA had the best strategy to avoid wetsuit problems: don’t wear a wetsuit at all. Photo credit: Brad Kerr

Eventually, midnight arrived – OH, THE CLIFF! Unlike for many others, that was the moment I had been looking forward to the most. When I got worried about the 24 hour aspect, I’d always tell myself that it’s just a very long hike to a cliff, and then I get to dive over and over again. Yes, it was amazing and it lived up to all expectations! Those few seconds of free falling alone were worth running for 24 hours. At midnight the course changed as well, and there were, I think, at least two added swims within the first mile. Almost at the same time the breeze picked up and temperatures dropped, and suddenly I went from comfortable to feeling really cold; and my cut-at-the-calves wetsuit got duct taped back together. In retrospect, I really wish I had a thinner full suit. Next year I’m bringing at least two of those; one really warm as a back-up, and a 3/2mm one for the running that will, nonetheless, keep the cold water out.

As the morning neared, my stomach got more and more upset with my eating habits. I’m normally very active on very little food, so a PB&J sandwich every 5 miles mixed with rice and oatmeal and then some energy gels in between became more than what I could handle. I was about half way through the loop when my stomach gave me about a 30 second warning that I needed to poop. I was wearing a full suit, running belt, windbreaker, and two bibs. The wetsuit was a back zip one – I couldn’t even find where my zipper string was located, let alone take all those layers off in time. With little I could do… it happened. I pooped my pants. I spent the rest of the lap trying to contain it in one place and figure out a way to tell my crew I’m full of shit. I was doing pretty well until I had to jump off that cliff… I will love my husband forever and always just for the fact that he helped me clean the mess, and his sisters to not judge me for it (at least vocally). I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to share this bit of information, but ultimately decided to tell the whole story, even the gross and embarrassing parts. I think it’s important to know that it’s okay to break, and then glue back together the pieces, and go back out there and keep on going. And it’s important to know that it’s never as pretty as seen from the outside. I was surprised that even after another 30 minutes lost in the pit, again, I still had a more than a lap lead.

My full suit was now cut, ducktaped back together, and covered in poop. I didn’t have much choice but to go back in the shorty. I figured it can’t be as bad since it was around 5 am at that point, and the sun was about to rise on the following loop. Up until that point I was walking the uphills, conserving my energy since I had enough lead that I knew if I just kept moving for the rest of the race, I could probably win it. But with the shorty, I got so cold again, and now running was the only way to stay warm, at least for part of the lap. I was concerned that I would run out of energy, but at the time it seemed that running again was the only way to make it through the next 6 hours.

The sunrise and the struggle hours

As the sun rose I realized it was not going to get much warmer; thick cloud cover was working against me and my shorty. My hands were completely destroyed from the water; wearing gloves to keep them warm also meant they had now been wet for close to 20 hours, and the skin turned into a mush – my BleggMitts now served as both hand warmers and cushioning on ropes and walls. I heard from people that nighttime running is the hardest. To me, it was the morning hours that were the struggle.

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The volunteers never stopped cheering for us, and it was their high fives in early morning that kept me going. Photo credit: Brad Kerr

This is how I remembered my morning race: jump off the cliff, eat something, shiver for a few miles, climb a rope, then run back to the cliff. Obstacles were pretty impossible and the name of the game was one foot in front of the other. I think the hardest lap was the second to last. I somehow managed to lose all of my energy gels on the course, and by the time I hobbled to the cliff I seriously doubted my ability to swim out after the jump. Even more troubling was being unsure if I could walk another half a mile of penalty. I was so hungry my stomach was growling! It’s crazy how hungry a person can get in just around 5 miles. I was so lucky that Eric Botsford aka E-Rock at the cliff with a spare blueberry energy gel. I really think that his highly processed blueberries saved my race there.

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The last dive

After reaching the pit, I ate EVERYTHING! I was so starving, and I didn’t care that I only had to go out for one more loop. Rice, oatmeal, energy bars, and PB&J sandwiches blended together surprisingly well. My last lap was more of a victory lap. I was pretty sure I had the win locked down so I took the time to appreciate each and every obstacle, knowing that I’m doing it for the last time. I made sure to walk with people and share as many chats and high fives as possible. When I returned to the Cliff to jump one last time I made sure to take it all in before my plunge. It wasn’t until I crawled out of the lake that it really hit me: I won! It was incredible and so beyond what I thought was capable from my body. I’m bad with hiding my emotions, and being exhausted I just let them all out. I had known I would probably win for a few hours by then, but that was the first time I also felt it. It felt incredible.

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Crossing the finish line for the last time after 23 hours, 47 minutes, 90 official and 101.5 unofficial miles.

Beautiful Moments

There was pain and struggle during the 24 hours on the course; but honestly, the beautiful moments outnumbered the struggles by millions. There was the sunset, when the colors over the hills turned purple red, and the sky was on fire. There was the moonrise when the crescent was so large and beautifully golden. I’ve seen all of that before, but somehow it was more beautiful that night; I think it was sharing those moments with everyone else on the course. Then there were things I’ve never experienced before; the bag pipes, people with their strobe lights hiking up the hills, people with missing limbs braving the course, wheelchair teams getting down a cliff or over a wall. For those 24 hours, it was all about helping each other succeed. And being a part of that, I don’t think that can be described in words. I cried a lot during the race, not from pain but from happiness. Someone told me that WTM will change me, and I thought they were talking about pushing my own physical limits to new extents. But I think they were talking about everything else instead.

After the Race

Nothing has ever been as painful as the hours after the race. My crew walked ahead with all of our stuff to the car. I would slowly wobble and catch up. I was taking so long that I think my husband texted me twice, “where are you?” When we got back to our AirBnB I sat in the chair for about an hour, dead tired, and unable to make it to bed on the second floor. Eventually I decided to catch a piggyback ride from my husband. I wanted to skip the shower because that meant that I had to take my clothes off, which inevitable also meant I had to move my limbs around. Then everyone kindly reminded me I’m probably still covered in poop, winning that argument. Throughout the night I woke myself every time when I tried to move. Thankfully, the next day was better; I made it to the Champion’s brunch under my own steam, and as the event progressed, and the awards were handed out, and the stories were shared… I knew then and there that I would be going back, year after year, until my body says the ultimate no.

WTM_bibsMuch more than just a collection of bib numbers. 

 

Carolina Beast 2017-SPARTAnburg STRIKES BACK

South Carolina- Spartan Beast November 2017

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You mud lovers asked for it, and Spartan Race delivered. A brand new venue for your dirty adventures in South Carolina. Spartanburg hosted their first Beast and Sprint for those last minute trifecta chasers. The new venue had every racing fanatic wondering what Spartan Race was going to bring. Spartanburg held the races at the University of South Carolina campus. The Beast tapped out around 13 miles and the sprint boasted 5 miles.

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Spartan Race Beast/Sprint Course Map
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Photo Credit: Spartan Race

Obstacle Changes

Although the OCR season is still active until the end of the year, Spartan is using this time to try out new changes that may be implemented next season. One of the changes that was noted in Atlanta at the Lake Lanier Super was a penalty loop added next to twister and the rope climb. Instead of the traditional 30 burpee penalty for obstacle failure, the athlete is required to crawl under an additional barbed wire, or go for a small jog around a loop. Spartanburg did not have any penalty loops and just required the 30 burpees for obstacle failure.

Twister

A well known obstacle for failures, Twister, earned more failures in Spartanburg than ever before. Spartan added velcro grips to the handles for extra hold on the difficult obstacle. Whether or not Spartan did this in preparation for rain, or to make it easier is unknown. However what is known, is that 90% of the athletes did NOT like the changes implemented to twister. Team Southern Spartans athletes joined in to say that the grips made it very difficult to grab the bars because they were slipping and moving. Perhaps Spartan Race could modify this change and put the grips on half of the bars instead of all of them.

Twister-Grips

Unfavorable Grips Added To Twister

 

Elites and Scratchy Terrain

Tiffany Palmer won first place for the elite woman with a time of 2 hours, 7 minutes and 34 seconds for the beast ! Tiffany recaps her experience at South Carolina on her Instagram by saying “(the) Beast was definitely a race to remember. As in…it will most likely leave scars on me from all the briars! Beautiful clean race besides gashing my knee open at mile 1!! The terrain was the worst obstacle, and there was a LOT of screaming every time a Briar wrapped itself around me.” Although it took me double time to run the beast, I did experience the same terrain issues as Tiffany. The terrain reminded me of a post Hurricane Irma scene with all of the knocked over trees, branches and pinecones. There were thorns that would come out of NO WHERE and literally reach out and wrap around your legs causing nasty scratches. Racer, Troy King states “The course was hell! 13 miles of thick woods – running through miles of briars and hurdling waist high thorns. I was constantly watching the ground for hidden holes. It was literally miles of uncomfortable aggressive terrain.”

Tiffany-Palmer-Elite

Top Three Elite Women (Beast)
Photo Credit: Tiffany Palmer

Troy King Scratches

Troy King- Scratches from Spartanburg
Photo Credit: Troy King

 

       I spotted this CUTE handmade tank top made from a finisher t-shirt and two spartan headbands !! 

Spartan-Tank

“Blondie” and her handmade Spartan Tank

 

Trifecta-Tribe-SC
MY FIRST EVER TRIFECTA, Y’ALL !!

Overall, for my first Beast, I found Spartanburg to be a challenge and a great time. I certainly recommend this course for those seeking to test their limits and get that green beast medal to complete their trifectas. Spartan is scheduled to bring this venue back next season, but will hopefully take into consideration some mild parking lot issues and the scratchy terrain. Can’t wait for next year!

 

Jessika_Poppe_signature

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Photo Credit: Jessika Poppe, unless otherwise stated.

 

Farm Fit Challenge 2017

The Farm Fit Challenge proved what a veteran obstacle course racer with a little land, an idea, and a lot of ambition could accomplish. Other than purchasing some trail tape every obstacle on the course was either found on the farm or handmade on the farm.

With all proceeds donated to the Wounded Warrior Project this event, which was limited to 40 participants, was one of those small grassroots contests that I love to race.

Held on a working farm, parking was pretty much anywhere on the grass that you could find and registration was basically just telling the kind lady with the clipboard that you were there. If you needed to change you headed to the barn and if you wanted a bag check? Well, it was safe wherever you wanted to set it down. ‘

The course setup and outline was simple but the execution was exhausting both mentally and physically. The object was to complete as many laps on the 1.2-mile course as possible in 2 hours. After the 2-hour limit athletes were no longer allowed to start another lap. The race started at 1 pm trying to take advantage of the warmest part of the November day but the constant drizzle and temps in the 40s still made for a chilly and sloppy race.

Starting off along a path through the fresh cut cornfield athletes accumulated mud by the pound on their shoes leading up to a maze of 12-foot-high sawgrass and cattails.

When you finally managed to navigate your way out of the maze it was back to running through that nasty, sticky, soul-sucking mud until you came up to the first “fit” challenge. 100 air squats had to be completed before moving on to a sandbag carry through…. You guessed it, that nasty mud.

Heavy legs got another test a short jog away in the form of bucket carry, again through the mud. Now, this bucket carry was unique. The bucket had to be carried by the handle with one hand only and was filled with 100-year-old bricks taken from a local building.

After carefully dropping your bucket off the trail led out of the field and into the large yard where you were immediately required to drop for 100 pushups. Once finished, a rope climb with bell tap was next up, failure to complete the climb meant a 25-burpee penalty. Love sit-ups? Great, cause the next fit challenge required 100 of them before getting your chance at the rig. The rig set up was a series of horizontal poles set at different heights and made all the more treacherous by the constant rain with a bell tap finish. Failure on the slick rig once again meant a 25-burpee penalty.

Tractor tire flips for 20 yards down and back was the next obstacle in line and further tested an athletes’ strength and endurance along the short course, but at least the mud was finally gone from your shoes!

One last test of strength and agility followed the tractor tire flips on the way through the course. Yet another tire, this time a truck tire, was placed on a peg. Racers had to pick the tire up and off the peg and walk it 50 yards down to where it was to be placed on another peg. A repeat of the process on the way back was required. If at any point the tire was dropped one had to start the whole process over.

Probably the most exhausting challenge of the whole event was next up in the form of a hundred plus yards of knee-to-ground lunges. It’s difficult to sit and write this review now as my glutes and hamstrings are still killing me! One last test was waiting once the lunge train was finished. A narrow balance beam, made even more difficult to cross as the rain came down and the mud and grass accumulated on top, was the last test before athletes picked up a “lap complete” band and headed back out for more!

Finishers awards were also very unique at the Farm Fit Challenge. Sections of a tree branch were cut into small sections, fire-branded with a Farm Fit brand, and then polyurethane covered.

Drinks were provided at stations along the course and were manned by a troop of Boy Scouts. I certainly hope those guys earned a special badge for braving that weather!

Fruit, chips, and hot dogs were provided at the finish along with a crock pot of baked beans. I found this event to be extremely family friendly and extremely draining physically. While the scale of the event was small the feeling of accomplishment at the end was still large. So, if you’re looking for a smaller event that’s tough while still providing a great family atmosphere check out the Farm Fit Challenge!

Dallas Spartan Race Weekend: How I Survived My First Ultra Beast

My first Spartan Ultra Beast was in Dallas on October 28, 2017. There was laughter, there were tears, there was a mess. Seriously though, there were some things I learned that I hope might help others during their first Ultra Beast.

Transition container – What it is, why you need one, and why you don’t have to use a 5 gallon bucket!

First, I didn’t even know what the transition container was all about or why you even needed one. I saw people post pictures of theirs but had no idea what was supposed to go in it or what it was used for. After doing some research and asking questions I found that it was pretty helpful to have a resupply of food, water, and clothing at the halfway point.

I was under the impression you had to use a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and decorate it up so you could find it in the sea of other buckets. I found, through some great groups on social media, that you can actually use pretty much anything. If it’s going to rain you certainly want to keep things dry and secure so the buckets are a great choice, but there are many options. Some of the containers I saw were plastic totes, backpacks, duffle bags, fabric grocery store bags, a shoe box, and even a plain old garbage bag. Since I was flying, I was hoping for an option that would be easy to carry on the plane and didn’t require bag check, as I didn’t want to take a chance of my luggage being lost.  I opted for a backpack so I could put it in my suitcase for traveling and fill it up at the hotel.

What went into the transition container:

-IMPORTANT: I lined the backpack with a trash compactor bag in case of rain

-Food for transition included baby food squeeze packets (chicken and rice, sweet potato, and banana). Someone listed this on a site and it was great. Quick, easy, and didn’t weigh me down.

-Food to resupply my pack for the second half of the race included homemade energy balls (date-based with nuts, chia, coconut, etc.) and honey stinger gels

-Food for after the race was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to get me by until I could drive to get dinner

-2 Liters of Water to refill my bladder (quicker to pour it in than switching out for a new one)
-Electrolytes
-Towel (to clean feet at transition)
-Shoes and socks
-Extra top and pants
-Garbage bag for dirty clothes
-Gloves
-Sunblock
-Advil
-Body Glide
-Band-aids

What I actually used from the transition container:

-1 liter of water
-Electrolytes
-Change of shoes
-Garbage bag for dirty clothes
-Sunblock

What worked:

Backpack – I was very happy with the garbage bag lined backpack. Easy to transport on the plane and easy to carry to the drop site at the race (nice being able to put it on my back instead of doing an early bucket carry)

Trash compactor bag liner – they are much heavier than garbage bags and won’t rip unless it’s an extreme case

Food – I sorted the three categories of food into their own gallon baggies so they were easy to pick out

What didn’t work:

Sunscreen incident – At the beginning of this article, I mentioned tears, laughter, and a mess. Well, I didn’t close the sunscreen all the way when I reapplied at transition and it leaked inside my bag. Yes…..it wasn’t pretty! Putting it (and this goes for all liquids) in a baggie would have prevented a big mess. Lesson learned.

Packet pickup:

I arrived the afternoon before the race to pick up my packet. I decided to store my transition bag the next morning as I came directly from the airport and didn’t have time to completely pack last minute items in it.

Race day:

I live in Seattle and chose Dallas for my Ultra Beast partly because it’s warm! Well, it ended up being colder in Dallas than Seattle that day. Very, very cold. My start time was 6:15, so I arrived at 5:15. I heard it was 28 degrees and I believe it. It was still dark, so I broke in my headlamp as I took my bag to the transition area. As I set it down I saw the grass sparkle from frost. I grabbed my neoprene gloves (they are the best thing in the cold and have great dexterity). We headed to the start line.

The Ultra Beast Elites went out first. Things were a little behind schedule, so they sent both open wave UB’s at the same time. We were off! It was dark, cold, and a bit crowded through the first few trails. It was awkward to run with the headlamps and uneven ground.

As the sun rose, the terrain came into view and it was a spectacular site. We started to spread out and came to the hurdles and short walls.

There was a lot of rough terrain,  more walls, and then we came to one of my favorites, Bender! Once it was complete I could see something looming in the distance. It was the first sandbag carry. These were old school sandbags which were duct taped in a criss-cross fashion. They were firm and had no wiggle room to drape over a shoulder. Just a solid bag of sand to carry. I was able to get mine on my shoulder which helped. The second time through was a bit easier as the bags had become unraveled a bit. I was able to hold onto an end this time.

The hardest part about the carry was the ground. There aren’t many hills on this course, but they utilized the ones that were there to the fullest extent. The sandbag was on a short steep hill with very loose gravel and some spots you had to step down quite far. With the bag on the shoulder, it made it harder because your weight isn’t distributed evenly. I almost went down a couple times but saved myself.

We came to the barbed wire crawl which was long and had a lot of dry hay like grass. I like to roll, so this went pretty fast. Next up was the Ultra Beast loop. It was about 1.5 miles and consisted of hay bales to jump over, the memory test, and the Cormax flip. Then up more hills, over water crossings….more hills, more water. It seemed like that went on a long time.

When I reached the Tyrolean Traverse I talked with a gal who had paced most of the first half of the first loop with me. We ended up hitting it off and running the rest of the race together. She was so much fun and so interesting. Vanessa and I were both running in the open heat, so we were able to help each other along the way.

The UB group didn’t have to cross the “Ball Shrinker” the first round, but the second one was cold as heck! I tried to keep my shirt dry but it didn’t work. Went into a hole and it was all over.

A very interesting development occurred at the Olympus. The obstacle was the same, but the penalty was not the standard 30 burpees! If you failed the obstacle there was a loop you ran instead. I was very curious if this is something they are testing or if they may incorporate more alternate penalties at future races. I like the idea of varying penalties.

We reached the festival area and had the usual obstacles including the rope climb, spearman, A-frame cargo net, and multi-rig. Usually, that means you’re getting towards the end, but not this time. Next up were the bucket carry and about six more obstacles and a rather large distance to travel before reaching the transition area.

To enter the transition area we recited our memory test word and number combination and received our pinney to wear during the second loop. I applied sunscreen (messy incident moment previously discussed), changed my shoes, and ate. I caught up with a couple of my team members and Wes looked a bit concerned about my baby food pouches, but they worked like a charm. I had chicken and rice, sweet potato, and banana. They settled right into my stomach and I couldn’t even tell I ate anything. They were great! I thought about leaving some of my layers behind as I was wearing four shirts, but it barely got up to 60 degrees that day so I opted to keep them all on and I was very glad I did.

Round two began and my new friend and I were underway. The second loop started out fine, but as time went on I could tell that the obstacles were going to be more of a challenge. I particularly noticed it with the atlas carry. I could barely pick up the stone. I got it up about knee height and duck waddled to the flag, burpeed, and duck waddled back. They also had a second atlas stone, but this one had a chain attached. You just carried it to the flag and back without burpees. This was the first time I’ve seen it. It was a bit awkward and hard to decide whether to carry centered or off to one side.

We finally made it around and reached the wonderful, marvelous fire jump! I had been waiting for this moment for quite some time and it was here at last! We did it!!!

It was funny because I introduced my new friend Vanessa to my Seattle friends and they knew each other already! Such a small world! We went to the results tent and received our belt buckles. What a great feeling! It is something I will cherish as it holds memories that will never be forgotten. Oh, and a quick side note….if you notice the white slip of paper you will see that my bag was randomly selected to be checked at the airport. I bet they loved it when they unknotted my double garbage bag full of cow mud covered clothes! AROO!

Photo credit: Spartan Race, Kim Collings, Patricia Glaze

 

Spartan Race Dallas Beast 2017

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Start-Line

The Weather

There’s no way I can review this race without addressing one of the toughest obstacles of the day: the temperature.  A quick google search shows the average low in the Dallas area for October is about 56°F.  November’s average low is 45°F, but we weren’t even that lucky.  When the first wave went off this day (just before the sun came up), the temperature was at a frigid 29°F with a little bit of wind to top it off!

Everyone that arrived early for the elite and competitive heats stood around shivering in the dark before shedding a couple extra warm layers and making their way into the start chute.  Luckily the sun started to make its way out after the first couple of waves were released.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Map

The Course

The start line emcee told us that we would be running 14 miles while the official map showed about 12.5 for the Beast course.  My watch clocked me at about 13.5 miles, but that includes a couple of burpee stops.  One interesting note is that the Olympus obstacle ( the slanted wall that you navigate horizontally using a variety of handholds) had a penalty loop instead of the typical 30 burpee penalty.  Looks like Spartan might be trying to add a little variety to the penalties they use for failed obstacles.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Sandbag-Hill

The course didn’t waste much time before having everyone wade through a waist-deep pool of water which got the bottom half of everybody cold and wet.  Most of the initial miles were broken up by a variety of walls in addition to the first of two sandbag carries – this one up and down a steep, rocky hill.  Next up was the first of two barbwire crawls, another wall, and the only time we were forced to submerge our entire bodies in the cold water: the dunk wall.

Luckily, this occurred just beyond the 5-mile mark and the sun was starting to warm up the air just a little.  (And by “a little,” I mean hardly at all.  It was still freezing!)

The dunk wall was followed by a lot of open ground to cover through the gorgeous Texas landscape.  Rolling hills, open fields, and plenty of cacti made for a scenic view as I tried not to think about the soaking wet clothing pressed up against my body.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Rope-Climb

Gauntlet of Obstacles

After a few more obstacles and opportunities to wade through waist-deep water, the course really hit its stride with a brutal obstacle gauntlet over the last few miles.  The spear throw was preceded by Monkey Bars, Olympus, and the Rope Climb just to make sure our arms weren’t too fresh for the attempt.  After that was the second sandbag carry of the day followed by the multi-rig consisting of rings, a horizontal bar, and then more rings with a vertical pipe thrown into the mix.

And if that wasn’t enough, we were treated to a solid bucket carry and atlas lift before getting a chance to attempt Twister.  I don’t know about everyone else, by my arms were beat at this point in the race.  A couple more wall climbs in addition to a final Herc Hoist stood between the final Fire Jump and a shiny new Beast finisher medal.

One last item of note is that the course spread over many different parts of the ranch which required navigating mini A-frame ladders to get up and over barb wire fences numerous times.  Unfortunately, each one of these managed to create a backup on the course, even in the early heats, as only 2-3 people could use it at once.  A small suggestion for future years would be to widen these out a bit in each direction to not slow everyone down.  As I was driving out of the venue, I saw a group of about 50 people waiting to get over one of them!

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Festival

The Venue

Spartan has hosted races at the Rough Creek Lodge and Resort in Glen Rose, Texas for years and it was even the home of the 2011 Spartan World Championship.  Parking was on-site and a short walk from the festival area, which contained a wide variety of vendors and amenities for race day.  The rolling hills were well-utilized by the course which made for some amazing views (if you had a chance to look up while a sandbag rested on your shoulders).

Overall, I had a great time and would definitely return to this venue for another Spartan Race, possibly to attempt my first Ultra Beast.  Although I’ll be crossing my fingers for warmer temperatures next time!

 

Photo Credit:

  • Becky Bouillon
  • Spartan Race

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