Spartan Palmerton Sprint #2 – Enjoy the View

Spartan-downhill-sand-bag-carry-at-Palmerton

The hills are alive with the sound of Spartans!

Okay, maybe “alive” is a bit of an exaggeration. For the second weekend in a row, Spartan Race invited all those willing to climb the mountains in Palmerton, PA and challenge themselves on one of its most difficult courses.

The course, itself, was mostly unchanged from Sprint #1, so for more information on that, you can read my review. The only difference was a slight change in route coming down the mountain. This was due to a heavy dose of rain received the days leading up to the race. The previous route was too slippery, and almost certainly would have ended in numerous injuries. I was slightly disappointed that the obstacles weren’t switched up a little, to add something fresh for those returning from week 1. But, logistics for that may not have been possible.

Palmerton-Atlas-Carry

MAKING AN ENTRANCE

Since the course was pretty much the same, that leaves time to discuss a few other aspects of what to expect at a Spartan Race. Parking at Blue Mountain didn’t require a shuttle. Some lucky race-goers were parked just outside the entrance, while others had to take a brisk walk to check in. Volunteers and Staff were parked just on the other side of the lodge from the entrance.

Plenty of waivers were accessible for both the mountain and Spartan. Rather than forcing you to look up your bib number on a giant board of papers, Spartan allows you to either bring a predetermined barcode, or have the volunteer look up your name. Either are quick and makes check in even easier.

Ski-lift-view-at-Palmerton

ENJOY THE VIEW

Spectators had several opportunities to watch competitors, right from the festival area. Just before mile 3, on the far side of the festival area, they could watch Olympus and the Spear Throw. Back on the nearside, in the last mile of the course, the Bucket Carry and Barbed Wire / Slip Wall were in perfect view. Spectators could also walk up the hill near the finish line to watch the final few obstacles: Twister, Dunk Wall, and Fire Jump, then the finish.

One of the coolest parts about spectating at Palmerton is the ski lift. I’m not an avid skier, so I was a bit surprised at how long it takes to get to the top, despite making the trek on foot a couple times already. It’s a nice reminder of just how tall the mountain is. Once at the top, you can take a short walk over to watch the Atlas Carry and Cargo Net. Fair warning, if you don’t like heights, the ride down may be a bit unnerving.

View-from-the-top-of-Blue-Mountain

PALMERTON PHOTO FINISH

Once done on the course, again a plethora of post-race snacks were available. No organic milk this time, though! After receiving your medal and picking up your shirt, a nearby tent had several tablets where you could easily search for your time and rankings. Some of them seemed to have issues connecting to the server, but I only ever waited a few seconds until one freed up.

If race pictures are important to you, Spartan has you covered. Sprint #1 was on a Sunday and preceded by a Super on Saturday, so photos took a few days to get posted. Sprint #2 took place on a Saturday, with no race on Sunday. Photos and official results were posted on Monday. This is definitely one of the quickest photo turnarounds I’ve seen. Searching by bib number returned good results, but if you couldn’t find any, there was a time search option. You may be wondering why that’s helpful. Spartan is smart enough to place the checkpoints from Chronotrack at the same obstacles as their photographers. So, if you go onto Chronotrack or Athlinks, you’re able to see what time you crossed each checkpoint, and narrow your search for photos. Genius!

 

Palmerton-Walk-From-Ski-Lift-To-Atlas
Photo Credit: Adam Gori, Spartan Race

Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 2)

LeaderBoard-Athletes-at-Chicago-Super

A plateau isn’t just a really tall, flat piece of land. It’s also where you, as an athlete, can find yourself if you get too comfortable in your training. Without the proper guidance, your body can become accustomed to the pace, distance, workouts, weight, and so on. Luckily, as I’ve found, LeaderBoard excels at preventing plateaus so that its athletes can continue their climb to the top.

If you’re unsure what LeaderBoard is, there’s an entire first article to explain just that!

ONE OF THE FAMILY

A common theme among LeaderBoard athletes is a sense of family. It may be a little cliche, but it’s true. Ean Caskey, a member of LB since the beginning, was surprised of the familial vibe. “Once you suffer alongside someone for months on end and share your highs and lows, you feel a certain connection and pride to be part of the team,” he said. The programming, along with Slack messaging, really keeps communication open. Not only can you see how fellow athletes are doing by checking out the WOD (Workout of the Day), but there’s always discussion on the workout itself. Everyone is there to support each other, which isn’t a common theme among training programs. Got a PR? Post it in Slack and just watch as everyone gives you a congratulations and various emojis.

Naturally, the LeaderBoard family has members all over the country. So, although you may have had communication with several members, maybe you never met them. But when several members are going to be at the same race, usually dinner plans are made. Everyone gets together to hang out and share their race day stories, or whatever else may come to the table.

LeaderBoard-athletes-meet-for-dinner

 PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT

Remember that whole plateauing thing? Well, that can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes, you just don’t think to add that one part to your workout that keeps your body guessing. Sure they can be tough. But, LeaderBoard athletes like Eric Aanerud, find that the parts he hates are actually his favorite. He explained that they are “the parts I would skip if they weren’t in there. It makes me feel like I have to do it. So I do. You get to the point where you stop asking questions and just do the work.”

I remember quite a few times thinking about how difficult a workout was, but realizing I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment with the physical training, but it hones your mental strength as well. Jeff Shoaf, who has completed 27 races since 2014, appreciates this part of the training. “They help train your brain to keep going and not quit just because it gets hard or mentally boring,” Shoaf said.

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Forrest Bouge on his way to first place at Savage, Ohio

THE LATEST BENCHMARK RESULTS

Outside of running a race (which I’ll get to), the Benchmarks are a great way to measure progress. Since article number one, I was able to retest all five Benchmarks: the mile, carry, rig, 5k and personal trail BM. Though I expected to beat a few of my previous numbers, I hadn’t expected to PR all five. But that’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t destroy the old numbers, per se, but any improvement in 4-8 weeks is positive. First, let’s start with the rig benchmark, since I had been on the rig specialization leading up to the test. The first part of the test is a grip-alternating chin up, with the second part being a straight dead hang (without dismounting from the first part). Before, I had done eight reps of part one and 40 seconds of dead hang, which counted as two reps. That totaled 10 reps. This time around, I hammered out 10 reps of part one, but only 20 seconds of dead hang, or one rep. Overall, an improvement of one total rep.

On the bucket carry, the test consists of timed carries for the bucket, double sandbag and dumbbell, or farmer’s carry. I was fairly concerned that my total carry distance would go down, since I hadn’t been specializing in it. I was able to squeeze out an extra 15 meters combined. Again, not a large increase. But, considering it was not my specialization and definitely my weakest obstacle category, it was great to see that number go up.

Eric-Aanerud-Boise-SandbagEric Aanerud at the Boise Sprint

We all know in the sport of OCR, running is pretty much the most important part. So, I was really curious to see how those tests turned out. My previous 5k time, done on 4/22, was 23:50. Just about 2 months later, on 6/21, I ran 23:37. That’s only 22 seconds from my lifetime PR, and certainly a non-race PR. As for the mile, on 5/23 I ran a 6:26. Five weeks later, on 6/27, got that down to a 6:19, a lifetime PR.

The trail loop time trial that I discussed in the first article would be another test. The other Benchmarks I had only done one time previously. This was my third out on the trail loop. As of the last article, my time was 59:09, an improvement of 3:43 (previous 1:02:52). This time around, another time reduction, totalling 57:36. My GPS lost signal briefly, so the splits are inaccurate, but the overall time is correct. That means in just under 3 months (March 25 vs June 24), I’ve dropped over 5 minutes off my time!

EVERYBODY GETS A PR

Right, I get it. You’re thinking, “Well, Adam, anytime someone starts a new program, they see the greatest results early on.” And you’re right. Or are you? I looked at some of LeaderBoard’s longest trained athletes, those that have been there since early on. They surely must have leveled out their Benchmark numbers.

Caskey, who is in his fourth year of OCR, hit a PR in the rig during the most recent test, and both the carry and mile this past May. Shoaf also had bests in his mile and carry at the most recent testing. Aanerud almost had a clean sweep recently, PR-ing in all but his rig (due to an injured hand).

Kirk-DeWindt-wins-Chicago-SuperKirk DeWindt fire-jumping to victory in Chicago

Kirk DeWindt, who joined LeaderBoard July 2016, shortly after his first OCR, has also found recent success. He hit a PR in both the 5k and carry during the last round of testing. It’s worth noting that DeWindt was a collegiate All-American in the mile during his college years, so it may be a bit harder to get a personal best there. Forrest Bouge ran his first OCR two years ago and was in the first group of LeaderBoard athletes. He’s hit a PR in all his Benchmark in the past 6 weeks.

OFF TO THE RACES

Now, that part that really matters to some people. How does training with LeaderBoard improve your racing? Shoaf, who had mentioned the benefit of mental toughness, has seen an increase in his ability to race through fatigue. It’s paid off in races as recently as the AT&T Stadium Sprint. Last year, he finished a respectable top 38% in his age group, top 32% of men and top 29% overall. This year, however, he rocketed up to the top 21% in both his age group and gender, plus top 18% overall.

Bouge has improved from a top 15 finisher to a top 10 finisher, with two podium finishes so far in 2017. Caskey was a top 10 finisher prior to starting LeaderBoard. So, with LB training, he’s now consistently challenging the podium spots. “The last three races I’ve been in 2nd for a large portion of the race,” he said. “ Last year that would have made me nervous and think to myself that I was going too hard. Now I feel like I belong there, and confident that my training will keep me moving forward.”

In 2016, Aanerud ran his first season as an Elite Spartan. His placement ranged anywhere from 15th to the mid-60s, and a 77th place finish at Spartan World’s. This year, his worst finish is 25th, with the majority being between 6th and 15th. Most recently, he finished 8th in Boise. DeWindt has also found success since joining LeaderBoard. He won back to back races, his first wins, at Spartan Race Chicago in June, and finishes top ten in most races he competes in.

 

Ean-Caskey-Chicago-RigEan Caskey making quick work of the rig in Chicago

I don’t get the opportunity to run a lot of races, so my main comparison is between Savage Maryland in the fall of 2016 and Savage Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Though my overall placement wasn’t quite as good, I put that blame on my own inexperience and not my training. At the 2016 MD race, there were a total of 188 racers in the competitive heat. In 2017, the PA race had 256 racers. Unfortunately, in PA, I waited too long to get in the starting corral, and started the race towards the back. This resulted in more cattle jams and even a five-minute wait in line before a first attempt at an obstacle. That obstacle, however, was Kiss My Walls, which took three attempts in Maryland, but only two in PA.

At both races, I was able to finish the SavagePro wave completing all obstacles. To me, the difference was the new obstacles for 2017. The 2016 race had one rig. Savage PA had two rigs, plus an obstacle called Twirly Bird, which is essentially another, more difficult rig. The upper body demand was much higher at the PA race. Though I obviously can’t say for sure, it would’ve been very difficult for me to finish 100% obstacle completion had the Maryland race been as tough. This year, I even had enough energy to run the course again, in an open heat, a few hours later with some friends. Something I know I wouldn’t have been up for last fall.

BLUE MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE

Palmerton gets its own category for a couple of reasons. First off, it fully reinforced the family aspect of LeaderBoard. A group of members got together Friday night, before the Super. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it. At the Super, I had the chance to meet almost all of the LB athletes that came out to compete, which was around 15. Saturday night, the group got together again and this time I knew I couldn’t miss out. After hanging out for a couple hours to chat about races, honeymoons, training and much more, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with the family (minus the OCR talk). We all even had a chance to catch up with our fearless leader, Brakken.

Sunday I was running the Sprint and ran into several LB members after my race, including Brakken. Everyone asked how I did, talked about the course, and congratulated me on my result. Speaking of, I went into the race hoping to qualify for the age group bracket of OCR World Championships. Even though I know I most likely won’t make it to the race, to say I qualified would be an accomplishment. To do this, I needed to finish top 20 in my age group in the Competitive heat(s). I researched last year’s top 20 times and set the goal of 2 hours. Well, I blew that out of the water. My final time was just under 1:37, good enough for 28th overall and 3rd in my age group. The 1st and 2nd in my age group were 1st and 3rd overall, so any better than 3rd would’ve been tough.

Tiffany-Palmer-and-Brakken-Kraker-at-Palmerton

Tiffany Palmer and Brakken Kraker at Palmerton

The rest of the LeaderBoard crew had equally impressive performances. Several Saturday racers finished in the top 35, which is especially difficult at a US Championship Series race. Two of LB’s female athletes finished top 25 (Tiffany Palmer 15th, Katie Huber 23rd). Many of those who didn’t run the Elite wave finished as some of the top racers in their age group for the Competitive wave. This was also impressive as the athletes registered for Competitive was larger than usual for Saturday’s race. On Sunday, Palmer and Huber returned for the Sprint, finishing 4th and 7th, respectively. Had Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning not stuck around from Saturday, LB may have had themselves a 1st and 4th podium showing.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Since the first article, a few things have changed at LeaderBoard. There is now a Standard and Pro program. The Standard is essentially everything I’ve experienced at half the cost of what it was. The normal cost now provides Pro, which includes a higher level of personalization. What does that mean? Closer contact with your LeaderBoard coaches, including 6 “Pro Chats” per year plus all the communication that comes with Slack. This personalization will help with individual athlete’s goals, such as a faster 5k time or getting better at hill running.

With this, however, Robert Killian is no longer one of the two Pro coaches at LeaderBoard. But, as unfortunate as it is to lose a great athlete like Killian, current coaches Brakken Kraker and Zac Allen have proven that they are more than capable of getting the best out of their athletes.

Does LeaderBoard require a certain level of commitment? Of course. Any training program does. Some days I had to do part of the workout during my lunch break and finish the rest later at home. But, tailor it to your schedule. If you can only fit in a certain amount of time, fit it. The more you can follow the program, however, the better your results will be.

Remember, everyone can start out with a seven-day free trial. LeaderBoard also added a pretty sweet referral system. If you are referred to the program, you receive $30 off your first month. Once on the program, if you refer someone, you receive $15 off your next month. Head to www.leaderboardfit.com to sign up!

Brakken-Kraker-at-Lambeau-Stadium-Sprint
Photo Credit: Spartan Race, Savage Race, LeaderBoard, David Martineau, Tiffany Palmer

Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint: Fun in the Sun – Spartan Style!

Apehanger

Well Howdy frickin do Obstacle Diary? It’s been awhile since we last spoke and I’ve missed you so. Last weekend my lovely bride and I ran the Spartan Palmerton Sprint together, and we had oodles of fun! Here’s why:

That moment when Bae wakes you up with a cup of coffee in bed, only in OCR terms:

  1. The Gods of onsite parking blessed me with the gift of not having to park off site and take a shuttle. I don’t mind the 1/4 to 1/2 mile walk back to registration, that’s just a great way to get the blood flowing to the extremities after a long car ride. I honestly thought it was shuttle time. This was an unexpected and welcomed surprise. Danke Schoen.
  2. Even though I signed up last minute (Thursday night) there was still an 8:45am start wave bracelet given to me. Thanks late sleepers!
  3. Five Words: Reasonably Priced Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak. It sounds as good as it tasted. 9 bucks with fries. GET SOME.

Ok, I’ll review the actual Obstacle Race……
Suunto

  1. My Suunto clocked this race at 4.89 miles with 2,477 feet of elevation gain and 2,543 feet of descent. Add in a humid 89 degrees and an initial climb up the ski mountain and you have a recipe for a difficult course. If you are signing up for a Spartan at a ski resort you should expect a lesson in the pain principle as it pertains to walking up and down mountains. Oh and you will most likely carry heavy things.
  2. So you said you had fun in the sun but you keep talking about pain principles and mountains, what gives? Well, the Sprint had 24 Obstacles over 4.89 miles. Compare that to the 9 mile Super the day before with only 8 more obstacles and the Sprint is much more obstacle dense. If you know me, you know that I like obstacles and this made Spartan much more enjoyable for me. image Photo Credit: Erica Michele
  3. If you are a die-hard follower of this Obstacle Diary, you know that Jon Snow is alive, I like obstacles, and McCauley Kraker is my mailbag hero. Which leads me to the top image of this review. A new non-heavy carry obstacle from Spartan Race! This rare unicorn named “Apehanger” had you rope climb up a small 3/4 inch thick rope while waist deep in water. At the top, you reach aluminum monkey bars that were strung together like a ladder that you see hanging from rescue helicopters (I actually think it’s the same ladder that they have used at the Tyrolean Traverse a few times this year). As you put your weight on them, they shifted down as you went across, which made it difficult to use momentum. This was a fun, creative and fresh take on regular monkey bars. It was by far my favorite obstacle. Once again, Danke Schoen.

Things I need to mention that are ultimately inconsequential in the grand scheme of things:

  1. Water stations. If you were at the race, you know about this. Apparently during Saturday’s Super, people were not very “Super Nice Club” to the volunteers at the water stations because Spartan instructed them that hydration packs were not to be filled as there was a potential water shortage. People got heated and got all Regina George up on the mountain. Overall not a really good look for anyone. In my previous two Spartan Races (Super and Beast), we were allowed to fill our packs at a specific section of the water station so it did not interfere with folks with cups. I only mention this because it is inconsistent with what people expected and are used to versus what Spartan announced mid-race on Saturday. On Sunday, they announced at the start line that no packs would be filled, and from what I saw, there were no issues as everyone was on the same page from the start (literally!). But guys, don’t be jerks to volunteers…. they don’t get paid and don’t work for Spartan.
  2. I noticed more porta potties on this mountain than I did at the Jersey Beast. This made me see fewer people without pants on squatting in the woods.
  3. The volunteers at the Water Stations on Sunday did an exceptional job of stacking the cups at the garbages and there was visibly less garbage on the ground than a typical Spartan. Well done.

Wifey’s Take:
“This is the first Spartan that I really had a lot of fun at! There were more obstacles grouped together and it made for a much better experience.”

PalmertonPainPrinciple

Final Thoughts:

I agree with Wifey. I had a lot of fun. I know from listening to Joe on the ORM Podcast that Spartan isn’t really focused on obstacle innovation, but Apehanger was a great example of one creative new obstacle spicing up a race.  In the end, Spartan does what it does best, which is send you up and down the mountain hoping to have you dig deep inside of yourself. Mission accomplished.


Tell us what you think of Spartan Race, leave a Review Here.

Or sign up for a Spartan Race now with codes:
ORM15 for 15% off
or
SPEAR10 for $10 off

Dr. Jason Wagner Talks Elevation Training Masks

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Elevation Training Mask

Episode 181 -Jason is a doctor/obstacle racer who wrote a blog post that began this way:

I’m a lung doc and have spent more hours than I can count studying cardiovascular and pulmonary physiology. This makes it nearly impossible for me to ignore all the attention that elevation training masks are getting.

We read the rest of his post and we found it insightful and humorous. We wanted to bring him on so that we could ask questions about what training masks do/don’t accomplish. In addition, we asked him about how to train for elevation, and even IF one should attempt to train for elevation.

Today’s episode is sponsored by

PearUp – Get your group sponsored on Pear and earn up to $1,000 for custom apparel or direct donation.
Udder Mud Run – Use code RUNORM for $10 off this race!

The Liquid Run – Newport Beach. June 18th. Code ORM25 is $25.00 off.

Show Notes:

Should You Wear An Elevation Training Mask – Jason’s blog that grabbed our attention

@theobstacledoc – Jason on Twitter

You can use the player below to listen or use the iTunes or Stitcher buttons at the top of this post.