Norm Koch Leaves Spartan Race

Norm Koch Spartan Race

Norm Koch has been a familiar face at Spartan Race since 2012. Many of us encountered him at the first ever Spartan Ultra Beast in Killington, VT. in September of that year. Back then, he was one of the only full time race directors at Spartan. He was known to design courses that tested athletes in ways that surpassed their limits. He is a visionary in the realm of obstacle course design and execution.

Participants developed a love, hate relationship with his particular style of torture.  In turn they birthed the battle cry , “EFF NORM!” This infamous cry became the racers mantra and echoed through courses (and Facebook) around the country.

His Spartan journey began as an early participant (and finisher) of the now defunct Death Races. He soon began working for Joe, and grew shortly thereafter into an iconic race director. He informed me yesterday that he is leaving Spartan Race.

These are his words:

So its finally happening, I will not be representing Spartan moving forward. My opinions and ideas are mine and mine alone. Muhahahah

I would like to thank most of the Spartan Staff for the opportunity to work with everyone on the team. We have had some good times. I will miss the build crews and a few of the office people. The best has been meeting all the volunteers and competitors. It’s been so cool to find so many like-minded people.

I do love seeing everyone at races no matter what the race series is. I am looking forward to being more supportive of OCR community.

• I would say I’m leaving Spartan, not OCR.

• My ideas and Spartan have changed, I feel an inability to make the changes that I wanted to due to the size of the company

• Everyone knows I’m proud of being part of Spartan since the early days and help shaped its growth over the years.

• I love Spartan and it will always be a part of me, literally my calf tattoo is representative of my Death Race participation – The good old days.

• This is not me leaving the sport moreover me looking to do something new.

• I would love to do something like designing courses for existing series and working with their brands to offer signature courses,

Starting a new series where I have complete creative control over the process is my goal. Any investors feel free to hit me up…. hahahaha.

Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

The 2016 Killington Ultra Beast was no small undertaking. Two laps of one of the toughest Spartan Races on the map is not a feat to be taken lightly. One of the most challenging aspects of the Ultra Beast for me was knowing on the first lap that I would have to complete everything in front of me not only this time, but another. And when I dared set foot back out on that monstrous course for lap two, I already knew every last detail of what waited ahead.

I had never raced at Killington before, let alone attempt the Ultra Beast, but I figured why not. I know I could do the beast. Let’s push it a bit here.

My drop bin was prepped long before we arrived at the venue emblazoned with the words “You ran FIFTY MILES… You got this.” I was surrounded by family and friends, words of encouragement and good food leading up to the race. I was ready. Nothing much was different from any other race.

Saturday morning, my friends picked me up and drove me to the venue. They dropped off my bin so I could go directly to the start, being the only one in the 6 am heat. Standing around waiting, I got to talk to many friends I wasn’t expecting to see at the start, but I felt like I was in a daze. After a 15 minute delay and then 10 minutes of explaining the rules and singing the national anthem, we were finally off by about 6:25. Consequently, the cutoff times were all pushed back 30 minutes.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-start

From the very beginning, racers got spread out based on power hiking ability. The course started with a 1,000 ft ascent and from just those beginning miles, I was already thinking about lap number two – how much I didn’t want to do this twice. I knew it was far too early to think like this and I redirected my thoughts to each step, one by one.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was somewhere near the front of the pack. I could count the women in front of me: three. I wasn’t moving like I normally do through the obstacles though. I felt extremely sluggish through the first barbed wire crawl and practically powerless on the vertical cargo net. Something wasn’t right, but I knew I had to get it done; so I opted to keep my eyes on the women who kept passing me on the obstacles. I made sure I passed them back on the runnable portions of the course as well as the climbs seeing as that’s my strength.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-stairway-to-sparta

When we neared the festival grounds, my pace improved greatly, that is until I stepped into the lake. For the remainder of the swim, I was gasping for air because the water was so frigid. I climbed the ladder and made it to the top but chose not to go across the Tarzan Swing since one of the ropes was not knotted and I knew I would slip. I climbed down, swam the rest of the way across and completed my 30 burpees. Back in the lake, rocks and sand in my shoes, and then finally back on solid ground for some more power hiking – rocks and sand still in my shoes because I wasn’t taking them off.

Almost more treacherous than the ascents were the knee shattering and ankle rolling descents. If we weren’t hiking through dense woods on extremely technical “trails” then we were on the ski slopes. Usually, I’d be cheering myself on at this point because downhill running is another strength of mine and typically where I would make up a lot of time, but not on this course. A few steps into each descent and I could feel the pressure building up in my knees. I decided to go swiftly, but not too daringly, at a jog.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-top-of-death-march

I missed the spear throw… SHOCKING. And then a few obstacles later, I made it to the final and easiest object on the multi-rig, the pipe, but just could not shift my left hand forward. I fell. 60 burpees right there at the end before I could get to my sweet salvation: potato chips, sour patch kids, and chocolate covered espresso beans. But why was I so out of it?

After the multi-rig, just before the slip wall (one of the final 3 obstacles), was an exit off to the left which brought us to the transition area. As I entered the transition area, there was a woman holding white bibs. She proceeded to hand me one and said congratulations, you’re in seventh. That was probably the first smile I cracked in several hours. I was extremely proud to be amongst the top 20 females, but I also knew how exhausted I felt. I long thought about stopping here, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. I needed to get back out there for another lap.

After 5 minutes of searching for my bin, which I just couldn’t seem to locate, others began to help and ultimately found it for me. I was greeted by my water, Gatorade, Clif Bars and Bloks, gummy bears and other treats as mentioned earlier. I also had a med kit, towel and extra socks, none of which I used. Very unlike me, I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off. A racer nearby took a massive container out of his bin and asked if anyone wanted a peanut butter & jelly. He must’ve had ten sandwiches! So yes, I ate one. I refilled my hydration bladder and packed my race vest with all of my new morale-boosting snacks as well as some solid calorie foods and I was off.

We set out on a short trail run beside the start chute which quickly reconnected to the course. It was there that it was apparent who had just begun the course and who was on lap two. The Ultra Beast participants jogged or even walked as Beast participants sprinted on by. But for the first time this race, I was running with people I knew. And as we approached that first climb once more, we got down on our hands and knees, crawling forward. Before long, I was by myself again and moving slower than everyone around me.

All of the obstacles were textbook Spartan with no real surprises. The course started off with some of the easier obstacles and proceeded to diminish your spirits and crush your soul as you went along. But by lap two, nothing was easy. The Bucket Brigade must’ve taken me 20 minutes the second time around. And at the Tarzan Swing, I barely made it up the ladder at which point my grip was fried. I reached out and grabbed the first rope and then let myself drop into the water. “Well, my headlamp’s gotta be dead now…” And it was.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-tarzan-swing

The burpee area was a mud pit by now and I was thankful we were getting back in the water afterwards. Upon exit of the lake, I took out my Ziploc baggie filled with sour patch kids and espresso beans, drained the lake water out, and ate the espresso beans. It only took 6 miles at a snail’s pace to realize that this would give me the boost I needed. The power hiking expert me was back.

As I climbed up through Norm’s trails in the woods once more, I was soon stuck in a very slow-moving line. I used every opportunity to climb rocks and tree roots just to pass people. Many cheered me on saying, “You go, Ultra Beast,” but I replied “More like ultra idiot.” Although I was completing the obstacles with the most ease I had all day and really began to boost my pace as I watched the clock tick down to 6:30, I was only at the plate drag. Regardless, I sprinted down the mountain to the sandbag carry, got it done as quickly as possible, and sprinted toward the cutoff. I heard a stranger say good for you for finishing strong just before I reached the rope climb… 15 minutes too late. I topped it off with a smile and a heel click, just what I said I’d do when I finished, but it wasn’t long before my timing chip was cut off and I could no longer hold back the tears.

We had 15 hours to complete the course twice. We had to be out of the transition area by 2 pm, giving us exactly 7.5 hours per lap. I completed my first lap in 6.5 hours and despite the extra hour, I still didn’t make it. Approximately 28 miles into the 32 mile Ultra Beast and all that remained from that point was the Death March with a number of obstacles back down at the base right before the finish. The Race Directors knew that racers wouldn’t make it to the finish by 9:30 pm if they didn’t get through the rope climb with at least three hours left to complete the final 4 miles. I knew if I could catch my friend and my mom doing the Beast I would make the cutoff, but I never caught up to them.

As I returned to my drop bin, I received consoling words from friends as well as strangers, none of which seemed to help. Still now, I’m not quite sure how to explain exactly what it is I’m feeling, but one thing I know for sure is that I earned my DNF.

I watched headlamps line the mountain slopes as racers completed the final ascent and descent while I waited by the fire. Everything about it was remarkable: from the simple beauty of the lights to the incredible challenge Spartan Race put in front of us on such a magnificent mountain. Although what stands out most is the physical and mental resolve of the competitors who took on, and more so those who were able to finish, the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast: no small undertaking.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-drop-bin

Photo Credit:Kevin Donoghue, Bill Durando, Spartan Race, Justina Rosado


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Spartan Race Hawai’i 2016 – Mud, Turtles, and Norm

REVIEW: A formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary

This is supposed to be a “review” of the Hawai’i Spartan Beast, but since I clearly cannot institute change, any intention to do so is irrelevant so I will instead share my experience with the Hawai’i Spartan Beast.

Firstly, however, let me provide some backstory. In 2013, I was in good enough physical condition to run elite heats of Spartan races. Back in those days, there were no age group trophies, and I never hit the podium but I did well enough to earn a season pass for 2014. Life circumstances changed yada yada, elite physical condition went away yada yada, Joe and Andy broke up yada yada, and I stopped doing Spartan races, for a variety of reasons. Since then, I’ve discovered that I’m not an OCR addict but rather an accomplishment addict. I’ve gone on to do well in longer events like Death Race, World’s Toughest Mudder, and SISU Iron. (full disclosure: I only technically “finished” one of those events, but the long slog was accomplishment enough)

I thought I had some unfinished business with Spartan races, however, and that business looks suspiciously like a block of wood. It irks me even now that I don’t have one and there are people with multiple blocks out there that I HAVE BEATEN IN RACES. I can’t believe I don’t have a block of wood.

So…my oldest son had graduated high school and was readying to launch into the world and I thought a nice little trip to Hawai’i would be just the thing and oh hey, grab a block of wood while I’m there.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHLSDFJLASDFALSHFDLASHDFLKHASDFHOMGLOLHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

But I digress, aka collapse on the floor in fits of laughter at my pre-trip delusions of grandeur.

We arrived in Honolulu, went straight to Snorkel Bob’s to rent gear and proceeded to snorkel for ten hours, sans sunblock. [Btw, I’ve never been sunburnt like this before. I have new compassion for white people because now I get it. I’m sorry melanin-deficient folk for what you have to go through every summer. I’ll never scoff again.]

It was amazing!! I saw beautiful angelfish and needlefish and shrimp. I SWAM WITH SEA TURTLES. We had four days of this:

Spartan Race Hawaii Sand

IT REALLY LOOKS LIKE THAT. It really is paradise on earth. Save up, sell an organ, do whatever you have to do, but get yourself to Hawai’i before you die.
So I get to the race late. No one that knows me is surprised by this. I register for open heat Beast Sunday morning. I head out, back and legs all crispy and warm. I’m wearing long-sleeve heat gear, brand new CW-X tights, compression socks over Injinjis with properly lubed toes, Inov-8 Mudclaws, a cooling neckband and my lucky white visor that I always wear. I’m ready for unfinished business, or at least, I look ready.

I’m not doing a blow-by-blow because no, but here’s a pic of the course:

Spartan Race Hawaii Course

Now, I have done a lot of damn races. I have NEVER seen mud like that. Even in my Mudclaws, the only way to get up those hills during those mud climbs was by hanging onto the trees for dear life. Did you hear about this? IT WAS REAL. Because I had Mudclaws; I was able to pass hella people on the way up but I still slipped and struggled a lot. I have no idea how long those mud climbs were but that shit seemed like HOURS.  Dave Huckle, founder of Weeple Army, captured the slog on his GoPro when he wasn’t using both hands to not wipeout in the mud.

Spartan Race Hawaii Beast Mud

Then I saw Norm Koch. I pointed at him. He pointed at me. Suddenly it all made sense. What I thought was gonna be a run through the woods leading to a nice block of wood for me to enjoy looking at was, in fact, A NORM COURSE. Those of you unfamiliar with Norm courses need to realize that this is not your regular Spartan race. This is some next level shit.

Norm was the 9,347,509,234 person to tell me my pants were ripped. I had ripped at ~mile 4. We laughed.

Here is some really important info to take away from this article. If you see someone on course with ripped pants:

1. They know about it. Or
2. They don’t really need to know about it, because
3. What the fuck can they do about it, really?

Eventually, a few people were spared looking at my ass because I ran into a friend who graciously let me borrow his shorts. I ran into said friend ~2 miles from the end however, so basically this is how I did the Hawai’i Spartan Beast.

Majestic, isn’t it? What started out as a tiny hole was enhanced by burpees, squatting to pick up the atlas rock and so on. I have close friends that don’t know me as well as the strangers behind me during the barbed wire crawls.

So…did I enjoy the Hawai’i Beast? I’m still not sure. A few weeks earlier I had been telling another friend that I’m considering stopping OCR altogether after this year. Every morning my ankles hurt when I get out of bed. I don’t get the thrill anymore. When the Beast was all over and done with, I was all “meh”, even though it was REALLY. FUCKING. HARD.

It’s become predictable. You’re gonna go far, carry heavy things, do a bunch of burpees, climb some ropes blah blah blah. When I know I can do something, there’s not a real accomplishment there. I don’t have to be in “elite” physical condition to be able to do the crazy long stuff that provides more outlet for me. I just need to be able to do for a couple of days straight. When the Beast was over, I COULD HAVE KEPT GOING, and would have preferred to do so, especially if I didn’t know what was still coming. That’s really what my jam is now.

I still feel like I have that unfinished business, though, so I don’t know. I could burn all this fat off and go for it again. We’ll just have to see what happens. Love and respect to all of you and major apologies to those who received a face full of my butt.

Spartan Race Hawaii Flaunt It

Photo Credits: Leah Erickson and A.J. Jaeger Photography

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