Train Like A Pro: Ryan Atkins

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Few athletes dominate their sports the way Ryan Atkins has dominated OCR in recent years. He has emerged victorious at World’s Toughest Mudder four years running, most recently completing 105 miles with partner Jon Albon, and Atkins also finished on top in the first ever Spartan U.S. Championship Series.

At the Spartan World Championships, he has finished in second place three years in a row, missing first place by just 00:27 in 2016. The fourth main event in the sport, OCR World Championships, hasn’t slowed him down either. He won the 3k short course this year and finished second in the 15k Classic.

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If you follow him on social media, you may not be surprised at all of the accolades. Atkins is an avid climber, runner, mountain biker and skier, not to mention proud Alaskan Malamute owner. A typical winter day for him includes a morning ski, fatbike ride and even a snowshoe hike or run for up to three hours. That’s usually followed by an afternoon climb or workout.

Below is one of those afternoon workouts, with climbing included. Atkins will generally warm up with four or five easy bouldering routes. 

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Do part one followed by part two and repeat four times.

PART ONE

BOULDERING 

Boulder near your limit for approximately 20 minutes. If you are unable to find a place to climb, perform the following six exercises as a circuit, doing 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat four times:

Dead hang – Plank – Pinch-plate carries – Kettlebell swings – Pull-ups – Wall sit

Pro Tip: Try to avoid using chalk to make previously easy routes seem harder, or to simulate wet hands in a race. After you have warmed up, go hard for the bouldering session. You’ll want to rest about one minute between difficult routes.

Writer’s Note: I don’t normally have easy access to a rock wall or mountain, so I opted to do the 30/30 circuit. I also used my homemade hang board, at times, to feel a little more like I was actually climbing. To mimic bouldering, I placed a chair a bit behind the board so that my toes were the only part of my feet touching. I then worked back and forth on the board, sometimes moving my feet from the left side to right side of the chair. Because I added this in, I did the circuit three times as not to over-exhaust my muscles and increase injury risk. 

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PART TWO

WEIGHT ROOM CIRCUIT

  • Wall Balls (20 reps): Stand in front of a wall and assume a squat position. When you come up, throw a medicine ball up in the air towards a target above you on the wall. As you catch the ball, return to the squat position. Atkins uses a 35-lb medicine ball.
  • Mountain Climbers (40 reps): Get into a pushup position. Bring one knee towards your chest and tap your toe on the ground. As that foot returns to its original position, bring the opposite foot up and tap that toe. That is one rep. Be sure your butt does not stick up. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
  • Side Planks (2 minutes per side): Lay on the ground facing sideways, with your hand, forearm and elbow on the ground. Your elbow should be under your shoulder. The only other part of your body touching the ground will be your bottom foot. Raise your body up so that you form a straight line and hold that position. Your free hand can either be on your hip or in the air. Focus on not allowing your hip to dip down toward the ground. 
    • Writer’s Tip: Use a yoga mat to make it more comfortable for your supporting arm.
  • Toes To Bar (8 reps): Grab a bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and bring your toes to the bar. Be sure to perform each rep slow and controlled. Your body shouldn’t swing at all when you come into the lower position.
  • Weighted BOSU Ball Lunge Squat (20 reps per leg): With a BOSU ball under each leg, stand in a lunge position. Hold weights at each side or at your shoulders. Lower until your back knee almost touches the ground, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass over the toes. Return to the starting position. Atkins uses 20 lbs. 
    • Writer’s Tip: If you struggle too much to have a BOSU under each foot, start off with one and work your way up. 
  • Weighted Goblet Squat (20 reps): Hold a kettlebell or one end of a dumbbell at your chest, with your palms facing in. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Squat down, retaining a straight back, and return up to the start position. Atkins uses 30 lbs.
  • Calf Raises (30 reps per leg): Stand on one leg, either flat on the ground or on a step with only the toes and ball of the foot touching. Raise your heel up, then lower it back into the starting position. 

Pro Purpose: Part two is a great way to allow your arms to recover from climbing. It also gives you some good leg and core strength training.

Pro Tip: Pace yourself during the strength section. The main purpose is to rest your arms and build functional, injury-free fitness.

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Writer’s Note: Thank you to Ryan for sharing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. For more workouts from Ryan, check out his Obstacle Course Training (a joint venture with Jon Albon and Matt Murphy): they are offering 20% off for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Ryan Atkins, Spartan Race, the author

Check out past Train Like A Pro articles:

Jacksonville Spartan Weekend 2016

Jacksonville Super/Sprint weekend finished off the 2016 Spartan season this year in Bunnell, Florida outside of Jacksonville.  A vast and remarkably lively crowd of racers showed up, including loaded elite heats with several familiar faces.  

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Saturday and Sunday races both kicked off with a flag ceremony followed by our national anthem performed by yours truly, and the energetic Robert Lyday with his infamous pre-race speech!   

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Both the Super and Sprint started with the elite men, chased down by the elite women, then the competitive heat, followed by the open heats for the day.  Elite athletes battled for the top 3 podium places.

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This course was designed by Norm Koch and he was present at both races. This flat, fast course allowed for no mistakes if athletes wanted to finish on top.  Race designer, Norm Koch, made great use of this flat land and undoubtedly challenged athletes.  Signs of Norm Koch could be seen everywhere!  

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Elite masters athlete, Kevin Donoghue who placed 3rd in the Super masters and 1st in the Sprint masters, stated,

Well, it was the flattest/ fastest Spartan I’ve ever done.  I set a PR for a Super by 3 minutes due to the incredibly low 22 feet of elevation gain!  Having such a unique course gave it the feel of a stadium race. That in regards to importance of not having a penalty.  One mistake and you would fall hopelessly behind!  It was a step on the gas and go as fast as possible for the entirety of both the Super and Sprint.  But it was by no means easy terrain.  Constant changes from loose sand, to hard baked sand, to thick mud, broken up by dense vegetation kept you on your toes enough to keep it interesting.”

The Super course was definitely a course for the seasoned runner, lots of running through ATV trails, creeks, and woods, mixed up with obstacles for the most part a couple at a time.  The race started off with 2 hurdles in an attempt to slow down some of the runners.  Next, racers climbed over a 6’ wall and a 7’ wall, followed by a very early spear throw, leaving many racers completing burpees while the lucky ones continued on.  

The rugged terrain and lush vegetation made it difficult for footing and Spartan Race, mapped out a challenging course on the flat terrain.  

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Ryan Kent, first place elite finisher at both the Super and the Sprint said this about the course:

“When you think Florida, you think flat. But the Palm Coast venue was anything but easy. Flat running becomes quite challenging when you add sand, mud, and Florida jungle to it. I was really impressed with what Spartan was able to do with that place. The terrain was always changing, and they did a phenomenal job using natural obstacles. The last mile was super fun, too. They packed a ton of my favorite obstacles in the final 2 kilometers, such as the Bucket Brigade, Herc Hoist, and Multi Rig. That Barbed Wire Crawl on Sunday sucked, though. I came out of that thing covered from head to toe in dirt and mud. Thank the lord for that Dunk Wall just before the finish. I’ve raced all over the country, and this was definitely one of the more unique venues I’ve been to.”

After the spear throw racers tackled a sandbag carry, the 8 foot wall, Z wall, atlas carry, and finally the Tyrolean Traverse.  These obstacles were the ones removed from the Sprint on Sunday.  The course continued through the mangled brush and large tropical roots, where racer’s had to be very careful where they stepped.  As racer’s turned the corner, the much loved, Bucket Brigade was in sight!  By Bucket Brigade standards, this was a remarkably mild one.  Racers walked through sand and some thin mud and climbed a few small mounds at a short distance of maybe 200 meters.  

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Next on the list was the Hercules Hoist, followed by an extremely long and low barbed wire crawl, and an immediate Stairway to Sparta.  Runner’s once again, entered narrow trails with complicated footing.  As runner’s emerged from the woods,  the infamous Multi-Rig appeared.  This obstacle was in view of spectators, ninja skills were tested to the max,  and the burpee zone was full of racers!  

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Upper body muscles were getting taxed at this point and the next two obstacles, the rope climb and cargo net, pushed racers close to muscle exhaustion.

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 Racer’s once again, entered back into the brush of the Florida woods on a trail run, before winding up in another spectator friendly series of final obstacles.  These included the monkey bars, muddy trenches, slip wall, and the final fire jump to the finish.   

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Athletes were awarded with the 2016 Spartan medals by a very friendly volunteer crew.

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Aside the actual course, Spartan Race impressed me with a larger than normal festival area.  They also had local food trucks selling food, rather than having their own.  This was a great marketing move, focus on what you do best Spartan Race, and contract out the other stuff.  

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Spartan also included a kids race of various shorter distances and had a nice turnout of kid athletes in attendance, making this experience a nice family atmosphere for athletes of all ages.

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The parking was a bit of an organized frustration.  Racers that paid extra to park in the VIP lot, found themselves walking near a mile to the festival area, meanwhile being passed by shuttle buses from the economy lot.  The rest of the racers parked in an offsite lot where they were shuttled to the festival area.  Talking with Spartan staff, venues are all unique  in terms of size and capacity and fitting that many racers into a small area is a complicated art.  Spartan Race did the best they could with the venue they had.  

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All in all, Jacksonville Spartan weekend was a hit for racers.  Norm Koch made great use of the flat land to provide racers with an excellent, yet challenging obstacle race.  The Spartan season in Florida ended on a high note and racers were satisfied with their experience.  People from all over flew or drove to Florida to experience the last race of the year.  

Spartan Race – Singapore Beast Review 2016

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It has been a busy twelve months in Asia for Spartan, with the debut of the Sprint distance being held only a year ago in Malaysia and expanding to see races organized in China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This time around the Singapore Beast race saw it go offshore to Bintan, an Indonesian Island which is a ferry ride away from the mainland, with most of the 3,000 participants opting to stay over for a weekend getaway.

The marketing for the race promised a much harder course than previous Asian ones with tougher obstacles, water crossings, a lot of mud, beach runs and varied terrain.  And it certainly delivered that!  Even Joe De Sana, Spartan Race Founder, who completed the race, said it was one of the best courses he had seen.

As the horn sounded to mark the start of the elite race, we were met with an aggressive 2km soft sand run to really get the legs warmed up, with the only break in running being the A-Frame cargo net set up on the beach.  Next it was off the sand and onto giant boulders and into rock pools that seemed never ending with no shoes being able to hold steady against slippery rocks and waves crashing in.  And just as you thought there may be some relief, there was a steep hill climb into the jungle straight out of the water.

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The rolling terrain was certainly varied as you went from beach, to jungle, to what seemed like a clay desert and then through mud and back into water.

Over a few hurdles and walls and before I knew it I was at the memory wall (it seems every race in Asia includes this as an obstacle).  This time I vowed not to forget it repeating it to myself for 21 kilometres… LIMA 383 2898!

The bucket brigade appeared next and after the brutal one in Tahoe uphill I figured this would be easy in comparison, which it was.  Onwards to a series of mud pools and then a short sandbag carry into the jungle and the inverted wall.  It was about this point when the cracks started appearing for everyone.  The first 6km felt like 16km due to the 90 degree 100% humidity weather and no one looked like they were having fun.

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Heading back into the village, and almost at the half way mark, saw a tough series of obstacles one after the other.  A tractor pull, spear throw, multi-rig, z-wall, atlas ball carry and monkey bars resulted in everyone doing at least one set of burpees.  And if that wasn’t enough, there was a river swim to get to the next part of the course.  The water was a welcomed cool down, but the leg cramps that followed were not.  I passed more than ten guys laying on the ground in pain not being able to walk.

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It was back to a long stretch of running on the varying terrain being interspersed with more walls, tyre flips, tyre drags, the Phoenician pass (with buses driving under it), and a lot of water crossings.  The tyrolean traverse was the longest one I have ever seen in a race, I took burpees as I cramped too much, which turns out was a much better option as the guy next to me fell flat on his back and hurt himself.

Thank heavens I was now two thirds down and was hoping the rest of the race would be kinder.  The log hop was next and a new addition which proved to be fun.  Followed by another long hot run and then the million-dollar question was asked… “what is your memory code?”  BOOM!  I answered correctly and off down the beach I ran.

A balance beam set up in the ocean was next and then the vertical cargo, a very long and rocky barbed wire crawl and the stairway to Sparta. I knew it was only about 2 kilometres and I would be done.

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A run back towards the village with some rolling mud and a dunk wall thrown in for good measure before hitting the Hercules hoist and a sand barbed wire crawl on the beach.  A sprint down the beach and I knew what was next – the rope climb set up in the ocean.  Not so easily done with waves crashing into your face trying to get a decent grip, but I held on for dear life and rang the bell before letting go to fall into the water (thank heavens it was high tide!)

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Over the slip wall and a jump across the fire and I was done!  A respectable third place in the elite women and first in the masters.  The coconut handed to us on finishing never tasted so good.

The race was by far the best organised one I have participated in in Asia.  The volunteers were amazing, plenty of water stations and they policed the burpee count toa degree (something that has been sadly lacking before).  But as with any obstacle race I saw a few people stretched off due to broken limbs and heat exhaustion, and sadly there was a death in the race due to a heart attack.  A reminder to always offer help to anyone on the course that may need it, which is the real essence of the obstacle race community.

Photo credits: Sadali Ami & Spartan Race Singapore

Train Like a Pro: Beni Gifford

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If the name Beni Gifford sounds familiar, it should. Gifford led his team (The Comeback Kids) to victory on NBC’s premiere season of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge. He was also the captain of Team Dallas on Battlefrog’s League Championship, which aired on ESPN. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll now be able to watch him on CMT as he competes on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.

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Off the small screen, Gifford has won fourteen races, with twenty-one podium finishes overall in just two years. That includes an undefeated record when competing in the Terrain Racing series.

Below you’ll find a workout that Gifford uses to train his body and mind to continue to perform, even after fatigue sets in and his muscles become tired. It helps with situations where your heart rate is high or your legs become heavy.

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PART ONE
2-MINUTE RUN / 1-MINUTE SLED DRAG INTERVALS

Run for two minutes at an aerobic base effort. You should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace. Once the two minutes is up, do a one-minute sled drag at the same effort level. Alternate between the two until you reach thirty minutes. Once complete, perform an aerobic pace run for up to thirty minutes. You can adjust the time based on your level of fitness, but aim to hit at least ten minutes.

Pro Note: Part one is about getting your legs pumped and strained (sled pull) and going right back into a run. This teaches you to run with heavy legs.

Writer’s Tip: If you don’t have a sled to drag, go to your local hardware store and buy several feet of rope that is at least ¾”-1” thick (usually about $1-2 per foot). Then punch holes in a flattened cardboard box and thread the rope through. Stack as much weight as you can handle onto the cardboard box for your own homemade sled. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look pretty. It’s more about function over aesthetics, here.

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PART TWO
BURPEES – 10/100 SUPERSET

Do a set of ten burpees at 90% effort, followed by 10/100 pull up/dead hang. Complete six total rounds. To perform the 10/100, start a timer and, with palms facing forward, immediately do one pull up. Then lower yourself into a dead hang. After ten seconds of dead hang, do another pull up. Repeat this until you hit 10 pull ups and 100 seconds or failure, whichever comes first. You must remain on the bar the entire time. The 10/100 is considered by OCR coach, Yancy Culp, as the Gold Standard for grip endurance and strength.

Pro Tip: Keep your transitions as short as possible from the burpees into the 10/100. This will help with your ability to tackle obstacles successfully without having to spend valuable seconds slowing your heart rate down before attacking.  If you can’t meet the Gold Standard at first, don’t worry. You now have an easy goal to track so you can match the best in OCR.

Writer’s Tip: For the 10/100, use an interval timer app so you don’t have to keep your eyes on a stopwatch. These apps allow you to customize so that an alarm sounds every ten seconds, giving you the signal to do apull-upp.

Writer’s Note: Thanks to Beni for providing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo Credit: NBC, Terrain Racing, Beni Gifford and Savage Race

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Chasing the “Perfect Delta” and finding myself

Be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, or at least get it in year one, was my major goal in my 35th year on earth. Change everything that I had become along the way was the method. “Unlearn what you have learned”. Wake up, look at my delta pieces, eat well, train hard, sleep and then do it again. This has been every day of my year. Each day has been focused on attainment of that specific goal. It was close to happening for me, but that is no longer a possibility, and that’s ok. I did not feel that way in Lake Tahoe three weeks ago, when the Ultra Beast was shut down due to inclement weather. I have many friends who also feel upset and confused, after what just happened at Agoge 003 in China, and I think now is a good time for this conversation. Please, let me tell you a story of how I have grown as an athlete and individual over the last month. I hope this perspective is able to help a few of my brother and sister Spartans out there who are pursuing the “Perfect Delta” with the same vigor as I.

Every person who runs an OCR style race is there for a reason. Some people were invited by a friend, are taking the first steps in getting healthy or are trying to get that first trifecta. For me, every event that I do is a step on my mission: to destroy every bit of the drunk, lazy and complacent person that I had become. After running my first Spartan Race back in 2014 at AT&T Park, I became obsessed with OCR but did not yet have the commitment level to start changing my life. That changed last fall when I read “Spartan Up” and decided to ditch the cigarettes, horrible eating habits, exert some control over my binge drinking and try to change my life. Time to stop wearing my Spartan shirts around and talking about how I’d get that Trifecta “one day” and do what I needed to do to earn it.

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It was August of 2015 when I got busy. I was tipping the scales at 262 pounds, which for a 5’9” man with not much muscle on my body, put me right around 40% body fat. I had been out of the military for ten years, having served the better part of a decade in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force. I dealt with a lot of trauma as a young man that had never been dealt with and pretty much inflicted as much damage as I could to my body and soul as an adult, struggling with depression throughout my entire life. I had considered suicide on numerous occasions. I had a problem. I’d gotten used to filling gaping holes in my soul with anything that “hit the pleasure button” and getting messed up and being the “party guy” helped me numb myself and avoid everything I needed to deal with in my life. By thirty years old, I had been through a gauntlet of heartbreak and found myself a single father. I had my little girl one week on and one week off, and was trying to figure out how to avoid winding up like my Mother. She lost her struggle to mental illness and substances when I was just 15, by taking her own life. I could not end up like her. My daughter deserved more than that.

My life took a major turn when I met Danielle Burmaster. She is a super smokin’ hot first grade teacher and athlete, great Mom to her young son and was getting ready to start her master’s degree. She loves life, art, fitness and truly loved my daughter and I with all of her soul. I could not lose her but she was way out of my league and I’d need to mature by leaps and bounds to make this relationship last past the honeymoon phase. I remember seeing her head out for training runs while I was playing video games and having a drink, thinking I’d really have to step up my game to keep her. So I did.

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Spartan Race had already been introduced to me and I focused all my energy on getting healthy so I could achieve that first Trifecta. The effect on my life was immediate and powerful. I took a break from alcohol for the first few months, which eventually became full sobriety. I implemented a new way of eating, based on the structure in “Spartan Up” that JDS gave us. My life began revolving around training, and I found coaches who inspired me to get stronger, stay sober and work harder. The drunks in my life began to lose interest in hanging out with me, and I them. I began attending counseling with a therapist and aggressively diving into the issues of my youth and the problems that I carried into adulthood, which led to me becoming the person that I was. I was fat and had gotten accustomed to never dealing with any of my problems. I was not genuine with myself and therefore never putting my best foot forward in life.

I found meaning in helping veterans through my work with BRAVO Co. (Bringing Resources & Activities to Veterans Operation). My life was new and exciting. After attaining my first Trifecta at the end of 2015, a new goal was set. I’d be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, and do it in the first year that the award was possible, 2016. There was a “new itch” that I had to scratch. I began to meditate again (having been introduced to kundalini yoga early in my life) and the authentic self finally began to emerge after months of sobriety, therapy and aggressive goal seeking. Today, I’m under 20% body fat, completely sober, eat super clean and have racked up quite a few endurance accomplishments in 2016. It has been my year of change. It took 35 years to do it, but I was finally living life, not just being alive.

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Having barely survived the Shackleton 12 Hour Hurricane Heat in January of this year, I trained hard for what I anticipated to be the hardest part of the nine requirements of the perfect delta, the first ever “Agoge 60 Hour”, in Pittsfield, VT. I started Olympic weightlifting, ran and rucked hard, tried a few different eating styles, and pretty much attempted every endurance event that I could to train for it. Agoge 002 was, undoubtedly, the most transformative weekend that I’d ever had in my life.

I put out everything that I had on that mountain. My team and other participants helped me keep my head in the game when my body was shutting down, which nearly happened twice, and I, them. Our team honored me with a coveted Spartan Race coin at the closing ceremony, an honor certainly more for work ethic or some shred of leadership, not athletic ability. That gift honestly brought tears to my eyes. My training and discipline intensified after, as I had set the last major event for the completion of my delta, the Tahoe Ultra Beast.

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I am not an elite athlete but paid for the elite registration to buy myself more time on course for the cutoffs. Bad weather was coming in, so I shelled out hundreds of dollars for insulated compression leggings and top, cold weather gear, new headlamp, and all the fuel that I would need. I bought new shoes, socks and had vaseline in all the right places prior to the race beginning at 6AM that dark Sunday morning. I had 15 hours to get this race done.

Knowing that my knees start to hurt around 15-20 miles into races, I took my time, moving slow and steady, and fueling my body with 300 calories on the hour, every hour. Tahoe was a challenging course, and my knees were not feeling great 14.7 miles in. I returned to the festival after wrapping lap one. The double sandbag carry, required for elites, pretty much took out my 30 minute advantage and I was tired. Shortly after heading out for lap two it began to snow. A lot. When we reached the top of the first loop of the second lap, Spartan Staff told us that all obstacles were closed and that we had finished the Ultra Beast. The “weather was our final obstacle”. We were elated. We were instructed to get back to festival safely and “claim what we had earned”. We took our time getting down the hill safely, took selfies and went live on our cel phones for the world to see. Posing for pictures with friends, I could not have been happier at that moment. I had done it. The Perfect Delta was in the bag for me, and I’d just need my SGX certification to complete the award.

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Upon return to festival, we were preparing to find out where to get our Ultra Beast medal and delta piece when we had our timing chips cut. We were then informed that we would not be getting either. We had earned a Beast finish and could go claim that shirt and medal. This directly contradicted what we were told by staff and I became unbalanced and lost my cool. I had been told I was an Ultra Beast finisher and now my “Perfect Delta” was on the line. I complained and fought for the finish I was told I earned. I went back to the staff to make my case and ultimately, was given the Ultra Beast belt buckle and delta piece. However, back at the house and on the ride home after, I felt horrible and sick about both my complaint and the “achievement” itself. I had friends who were told the same thing that I had been who went home, even more crushed than I, with a Beast medal. Even worse, were the cases of those who crossed the finish line and still got nothing as there was mass confusion at the award tent about who truly finished, and who did not.

Apparently, many of us were told we had finished but did not meet the metric of a true finisher. What really was a true finisher? People were super upset with Spartan and sadly, I was one of them. How did they not plan for the weather? They moved our UB requirements back because of the weather that we all knew about and prepared for. They called the race, I never quit! I felt that I had done what I was told by the staff, told I finished my race by them, and went home with the medal I was told that I’d earned. I finished my race, right? Or did I just complain louder than others? Did I not let myself get rolled on or did I take something home I had not earned? Damn it. Was my “Perfect Delta” now completely ruined by this tainted piece?

I tuned in to the ORM Podcast the following week where Matt B. Davis interviewed Joe Di Stefano and Joe De Sena. I heard Joe Di talk and listened with an open mind. If you had not run 26.2 miles by the time the race was called, “could you feel good wearing that buckle?”. I already felt like crap about the entire debacle, but hearing that made up my mind. I had to “reset the karma” of the event. I calmly pulled the delta piece away from the others and then packed it up with the coveted belt buckle and finisher shirt I had left the venue with. I shipped it off to another athlete who did finish the race and who was preparing to head to China for his first Agoge. He crushed the course but received nothing from the staff in the kerfuffle that followed the race closure. The staff was overwhelmed and I understood that now. Their priority was our safety and getting everyone off course, in accordance with their plan, when the race was called. I was not proud of how I acted when my chip was cut. Too focused on the material achievement and not appreciating the moment I was in. I knew nothing about 26.2 mile requirements for an Ultra Beast, and was very attached to my final chance to earn that delta piece in 2016. My goal for the year was now unattainable and I had earned a DNF. Life is not always fair, but its no fun eating crow. Spartan has since worked out the details on the UB and given those who truly finished the opportunity to claim their swag.

The reality is that I had truly run “my own race” on the mountain in Tahoe that day. I was not an Ultra Beast finisher, but that was fine. I spent valuable time with the people I love that weekend. I got to meet Randy Moss, one of my favorite receivers of all time, enjoy the Spartan Race festival as a spectator for once, and then see my fiancé take 5th in her age group on her first ever Elite heat in the WC Beast. I got to run the UB with close friends and see the beautiful day turn into a winter wonderland. With two trekking poles swinging wildly, screaming knees and hip, I prayed and asked God to keep me safe and told him/her that “I see you”. I felt the snowflakes melt on my eyeballs as I ran with every fiber of my being down a snowy mountain like a madman. That was MY race and I won it. That is what this life is all about. For me, “You’ll know at the finish line” has new meaning. It is not about the medal you get there but the total experience you had during the event.

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If we can learn to detach our emotions from the material achievements that we seek (be it cars, homes, money, medals, “Perfect Deltas”, or patches), and simply enjoy being “in the moment” and experiencing the journey, we can reach a new level of growth as individuals. Our sense of internal value and accomplishment should not be based on how many achievements we have hanging from our walls or how cool that shiny pyramid looks on our desk (even though I still really, really, want that pyramid on my desk one day). I will finish my “Perfect Delta” as soon as I can, but now the timing is of no matter. There is life to live first.

I empathize with the people who are bummed with how a few things have gone down lately at Tahoe and China, as I was one of them. Joe De Sena held a call for all Agoge finishers and Krypteia this weekend to formally announce their changes to the Agoge finisher metric and he gave a chance for those who feel they earned their finish to claim their swag on that event, as well. If you plan on doing this event in the future, you had better prepare and give your all when you get there. That may still not earn you an “official” finish!

Life, love and racing are rarely perfect in totality. Let’s grow together and focus on the positives. Spartan Race will continue to change many lives moving forward and I hope we can all continue to be models of that change. I will always try my best to be, that’s for sure.

If you ran the Ultra Beast in Tahoe but got pulled due to the weather, be proud of your accomplishment. If you finished the Agoge on the Great Wall, I’m jealous, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life. A delta piece does not define that experience or your journey as a whole.

My Agoge experience changed my life. Danielle and I are now training for our first Ironman, and I, for the big rowing expedition (more on that to come, stay tuned).

“Aspire to inspire” and choose to evolve.

(Sorry, I stole your phrase, Don)

Spartan Race VT Ultra Beast 2016- Finding your True Grit

As we all know, or at least have heard, the coveted Vermont Spartan Beast, held in Killington VT, is the birthplace of Spartan Race, the authentic test of the Spartan Racer’s true grit. This year, race Designer and Director Norm Koch and Jason Barnes were not allowing a single racer to forget that, especially those taking on the Ultra Beast.

The Spartan Ultra Beast is generally a 28+ mile, 60+ obstacle course and part of the Spartan Endurance level of racing. For the 2016 VT Ultra Beast, each lap ranged around 16.1 miles and was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I have ever done. Upon approaching the start line, my teammate and I knew better than to underestimate this mountain and with all the training and preparing, excitement and fear had been overwhelming. The announcers began with reviewing the rules and informing us of the new bib system for the first 20 females and 20 males to the half way point. Enter first goal. The sun slowly rose as announcer Rob Lyday prepared us, and with the final “AROO,” we were off.

VT Ultra Beast

Up and over hay bails to Sternum Checker, the first mountain hike began. Little did we know this hike up was just a warm-up for what was to come. Next up were wall jumps, a long barbed wire crawl and on to the Bucket Brigade – not the steepest of climbs with a bucket, but the distance definitely made up for it. Before we knew it, we had approached the 6-mile marker and the Tarzan Swing and swim to go with it, an iconic Killington obstacle that did not make an appearance the year before. The swim was in pretty icy temperatures to the bridge where we had the ladder climb and Tarzan swing across, drop down and swim to the other side. If either part of that was not accomplished, 30 burpee penalties were given for each failure. Just when you though the water was over, not too far into the terrain did you arrive at the rolling mud, wall, and another barbed wire crawl, my personal favorite.

VT Tarzan Swing

After finishing a long and enduring terrain climb, we arrived at the rope climb which is where we then embarked on the last and most grueling climbs of the entire race, the K1 Death March. Putting the thought of a second lap as far out of mind as possible, my teammate and I trudged upward one foot in front of the other. This is where all the true mental testing began with constant false peaks and motivation; we eventually reached the top and sped down to the spear throw, log carry, inverted wall, atlas carry, and multi-rig. With three girls in the burpee zone, I dug deep and got to the drop bin zone as tenth female.

VT Cargo Net

Trying not to spend too much time in the transition area, we quickly ate, fixed our feet and were off again. To be honest, I had done my best to push out any recollection of the last loop and feel fresh. Little did we know that we had made the mistake of which obstacle a specific time hack had been placed and upon reaching the second barbed wire crawl were faced with that truth. A quick glance at each-other and an affirming “We’ve got this” was enough to make us dig deeper than ever and give this course everything we had. Knowing what was between us and the 6:30 rope climb cut off, my mind became a battle field. Trying to displace any muscle fatigue and quiet negative thoughts I arrived at the sand bag carry directly before the rope climb. I had totally forgotten it was there. My mind brought up any and every doubt, inadequacy, and complaint it could. My quads burned, my chest tightened, but as I grabbed for the sandbag a spectator shouted out “Go Ultra Beaster! You have less than ten minutes.” The last bit of encouragement I needed to sprint up and down the sand bag carry to the rope climb and achieve the time hack with 3 minutes to spare. Any fears or doubts about a second go at the Death March were quieted and the burning desire to finish this course was in full force.

Death March

This climb was long, feeling longer than before, and with hydration low, we trekked onward. Making it to the summit with dropping temperatures and only head lamps and moonlight to guide us, we were hit with the craziest amount of energy and flew down the mountain, the smell of the finishers fire jump was finally in reach.

I have to say that this finishers jump was one of my greatest achievements. Not because I finished a race, but because of all that the race asked of me. For me, what makes an Ultra different from the rest is that it brings me to answering the question of what is my true grit. Yes, I train for these physically, but what happens when your body is tired and your mind becomes the battle field. That, is the test of your true-grit. At this Ultra Beast, I didn’t just have to face the walls of limitations I created, but had to shatter them. Much like my fellow racers and teammate found, only when we ask the most of ourselves, will we see how far our spirits can truly take us.

VT Ultra

Congratulations to all of my fellow VT Ultra Beast racers who crossed the start line. This course was definitely not for the faint of heart.