Spartan Agoge China 2016 – What the heck was that?

2016spartanagogechinaSpartan Race Endurance is always pushing the envelope.  Agoge 003 was billed as a unique opportunity to test your physical fitness, mental readiness, and to capitalize on a once in a lifetime training regiment around and on top of the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. However, it quickly became the proverbial Annual Check-Up at the Doctor’s Office for Agoge Finishers with information regarding our overall health that we were not ready to receive, much less confront.

As soon as news started trickling about the happenings in China, we began questioning Spartan leadership (Krypteia), the event’s goals, and Spartan Founder Joe DeSena’s mental state…and rightfully so. But WE, the Agoge Community, strayed when we began critiquing and passing unfair judgment on these entities without input from all parties involved.

Contrary to some of the past elitist mindsets and conversations I’ve witnessed from our community, we rallied support for those who at that point technically “did not belong among us” due to the absence of an “Official Finisher/Graduate” title or Spartan Delta Wedge which signifies successful completion of the Training program. There were alot of sacrifices made by some to cross waters in pursuit of the perfect Spartan Trifecta Delta in this first year of its existence. Many sold possessions while others were able to raise funds in very creative ways. Time away from loved ones and other invaluable resources were used without the expected return on investment.  We saw a fire but WE brought stockpiles of wood and gasoline to put it out. There were personal attacks and assertions made towards the female Graduates, Joe DeSena, and Krypteia which revealed some underlying issues that perhaps we should individually and/or collectively look into.

Why did WE feel it necessary to judge prematurely? Why do WE think personal attacks are acceptable? Have WE forgotten how valuable and impacting our words are? Have WE truly evolved in the areas of wisdom, discernment, and discretion?

I don’t have definitive answers but I know that growth happens slower for me when I look outward examining others instead of looking inward examining myself. I know that some Agoge 003 China Participants, Finishers, and Graduates are ok with the change in wedge distribution aka MedalGate. And I know that since details of Joe’s 10/23 Agoge conference call were released, WE have been identified as 3 groups of people that get 3 different “its”:

Group 1 was in China and able to accept “it”, meaning whatever came of what may have appeared to be “on the fly” program modification made by Spartan leadership.

Group 2 was also in China and able to accept “it”, meaning Joe acknowledging possible shortcomings, his thoughts, and resolutions offered to satisfy even the unknown variables that may have been overlooked during wedge distribution.

Group 3 are the well rested Stup”its” that had nothing to lose as WE prematurely and negatively Monday morning quarterbacked a situation we heard was happening halfway around the world without letting the dust settle.

I had a friend who would proudly introduce me as a “Death Racer” knowing I DNF’d both of my DR efforts confirming that even in my failures and in your successes WE are inspirational. Many aspire to emulate our efforts as part of their bucket lists but many have been turned off by us because of our words while discussing this event.

WE know that Agoge Participants, Finishers, and Graduates are mostly comprised of fun loving, adventure seeking, and sometimes emotionally unstable, unique, God created beings that find refuge in endurance events for sifting and rediscovering of ourselves.

Unfortunately, we now know that some of us have forgotten what we’ve overcome to get to where we are today and are now just focused on where we are today. Our list of accomplishments has grown but our character flaws remain so, have we evolved? We’ve forgotten that these Spartan programs have challenged and changed some of us, defined and defeated some of us, refined and redeemed some of us. As such, they deserve our sober judgment, respectful correction, and then our endorsements.

I believe that speaking as if our words do not have power is a greater disservice to our communities than not speaking at all.  I also believe that a little humility and a few apologies may be in order.

I hope that our 2017 Annual Check-Up will reveal more of the greatness WE are truly capable of.

“Life’s silver linings mean more than any metal means, more than any meddling, more than heavy medal dreams they can change your frame of reference and transform you into true mettle beings.” Author Unknown…jk, I just made that up 🙂

Spartan Endurance: Hurricane Heat 12 Hour (HH12HR) Review

I began conversations with Kirk in June of this year and liked him right away. We discussed opportunities to work together, and decided a great way to start was to have him begin writing for ORM. I was as shocked and dismayed as everyone when I heard the news earlier this week. Please consider donating to his family. – Matt Davis editor

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Super Short HH12HR Review:

Spartan is well known for its individual experiences and competition, but they can put on a hell of an amazing team event as well.  A little Agoge, a little GORUCK, and a little Spartan race all mixed together to create a unique experience.  I have done a ton of events, and the HH12HR will go down as one of my favorites!

Spartan HH12HR

Brief introduction:

I have been running OCR (non-competitive) for a number of years and recently got into GORUCK.  After tackling a bunch of GORUCK events, I started looking at other team based events to participate in.   The HH12HR was recommended as an event “you might fail” so it was of immediate interest.

HH12HR review

What is a HH12HR?

Spartan has a whole series of endurance events outside of the standard race format.  The Hurricane Heat is a team based event hosted on a Spartan race  course, often carrying additional items and with team/time based objectives.  The HH12HR is the 12 hour version, but it is not just longer, it is significantly more difficult.  I am doing Sealfit Kokoro this fall and I plan on doing the Spartan Agoge next summer, this is a great training event for those.  In fact, a number of Agoge finishers did not finish this event!

A HH12HR event requires that you have a ruck, and that it has 25 pounds of weight in it.  Steel is best of course.  Rucking is outside most obstacle racers normal training/events, but well within a GORUCK or Sealfit event finisher’s wheelhouse.  The event is truly a competitor to those military-style endurance events, and doesn’t have much in common with something like a Spartan Ultra Beast, even though they are both ~12-hour Spartan events.

You are going to want to be plugged into social media (Facebook specifically) for the event.  The gear list is posted there, the team interacts there, the Krypteia (instructors) post in there, etc.  If you aren’t in the Facebook group for your event, you are putting yourself at major risk of screwing yourself over.

Gear List:

Please Note: Since I was training for Sealfit Kokoro (50 hour event with dress code requirements) when I did the HH12HR event, I wore my Kokoro gear (boots/BDUs) as prep.  I didn’t wear my Kokoro style ruck, as it is not durable and would be a liability.  Normally I would wear my OCR gear (Inov8 shoes, Shorts, etc) to this event.

● Black top: Russell plain black tech shirt

● 1 Rucksack – (STRONG Recommendation to use a GORUCK pack.  The GORUCK GR1 or GORUCK Rucker are amazing)

● Ruck weight:  GORUCK Weight plate – 30#
● Caribiner – GORUCK one fills the need, attaches to you Molle.
● Hydration bladder – Source 3L is great, tough bladder, bundle it with your GORUCK order.
● Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot 2016 – Link to item here, Full review here, it’s offered on the GORUCK site too)
● PT Belt -or Vest =This one on Amazon is good.
● Boonie hat – Rothco hat works fine
● Gloves: Mechanix Fastfit – better than standard Mechanix – no velcro to fail on this style.
● Black BDU Ripstock Pants – (Rotchco BDU’s are functional and inexpensive)
● compression shorts – (Nike Combat Pro are awesome)
● “broken in” boots – (New Balance Bushmaster)
● 1 BDU Utility Belt (Black) – (Propper Tac belt)
● Water Bottle – (Make sure this is something crush proof! Nalgene works great)
● Socks – (Fox River liners, with Darn Tough Wool socks.  Cover your feet in Trail toes lube!!)
●Don’t forget to bring a garbage bag for your wet gear and a towel and change of clothes for after the event!
●We also had to memorize “The Humpty Song” and the intro song to Spongebob Squarepants! (as per instructions in the Facebook group)

Day of the event:

Palmerton is a 3-hour drive from my place, and I wanted to make sure I was there a bit early for the 7AM start, which meant being up at 2:30 to eat and get my car packed.  Hit the road with a monster sized protein/carb/chia shake, a few energy bars, a water and huge coffee at 3AM and arrived at 6AM.  We were told to park by the trailers but when we arrived we were made to park about ½ mile or so farther away.  I was getting ready and I noticed the other participants were rushing and seemed flustered.  “Hey its 6AM – this thing starts at 7AM right?”  I asked.  “Oh jeez, this guy didn’t read the instructions! He is probably gonna get us burpees all day!  There is a warm up at 6:30!”.  Ruh roh – time to get my butt in gear.  I rushed and got myself ready – oh crap! I left my signed and filled out participant waivers on my kitchen table!  Off to a bad start.  Luckily some others had extra copies and saved my butt!

I was supposed to meet up with a friend to get a mandatory 3’ long piece of 2×4, but I ran over to the warm up area and everyone was lining up, so I couldn’t connect with him.  Oh crap, maybe I am going to get everyone burpees.  I spoke with some other participants and was told about a spare 2×4 that was left around the other side of a fence.  Went and snagged that during roll call without getting in trouble and was good to go.  Another teammate saving my butt.  This would be a recurring theme for the day.

Spartan HH12HR Review

Game on:

Class HH12HR-021 started with a warm up that consisted of some basic PT movements. Plank, pushups, flutterkicks, etc.  It wasn’t terribly challenging but it wasn’t super fun either.  After a few minutes, the instructors introduced themselves and we did roll call.  We handed in our waivers, then rucked up and headed off to get this party started!

My understanding is that the typical Spartan HH12HR culture is that the Krypteia will give you an extremely small amount of the data you need to accomplish a task.  Ask a question?  You don’t get an answer – you get burpees.  So you have to FFIO (F’ing Figure It Out).  Additionally, it is my understanding that its common for the Krypteia to be negative or hard on the participants.  Rob Barger lead this event, and he was very personable/friendly/humorous.  He allowed questions with no burpee penalty, but almost never answered them, answered with a lie, or answered with an even more confusing statement.  It was nice to not do lots of burpees, but we never really benefited from being able to ask questions.

Spartan HH12HR Review

At 7AM, it was already nearly 90 degrees.  It would top out at 106 degrees!  Didn’t get much of a break from being in the blazing sun either.  Good times.  We hiked up an empty grass hill.   79 people lined up in 4 lines, and began receiving instructions.  First the ground rules of the event.  Build your cardboard box.  OK, now dump your ruck out, do we all have the required equipment? Someone didn’t bring water! I had an extra water bottle and he used that during the event.  Another person’s bladder broke and I always bring an extra bladder so I lent it to them.  It felt good to help my teammates, since they had helped me few times already. Next we played the where is your equipment  game – put your tennis ball in the box, put your zip ties in the ruck, put your paracord in your ruck, put your straps in the box.  Now take your tennis ball out of your box and put it in your ruck, then take your straps and put them in the ruck, etc.  All our food ended up in the box, we wouldn’t be eating very much.  Finally after moving everything 3 times, we had to grab our tennis ball.

“I need 2 volunteers from each team!”  I love volunteering for stuff – let’s do it!  We got assigned as team leaders and were given instructions to split our teams up for our first challenge.

Spartan HH12HR Review

Team leaders ran and grabbed 2 paint buckets each and placed them in a 20ft circle (each team had a circle).  1 bucket in the center of the circle, another randomly in the circle.  All the tennis balls start in the center bucket, and must be transferred  from the center bucket to the other bucket.  Oh yea, you can’t step in the circle.  Oh and if you step in the circle you spend the rest of the time holding a plank (you became a “zombie”). One team had almost every single person holding a plank.  All planks had to be held facing downhill – that’s no fun!  Oh, plus the balls can’t touch the floor.  Oh and the second bucket (once full of tennis balls) must then be placed in the center.  Lots of rules!  The only thing we could use was our straps and carabiners to accomplish it.  We finished second and were awarded a longer break.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We then moved to a welcome party, going up and down the mountain: crawling, lunging, crab walking, etc.  with our wooden planks.  Wooden planks couldn’t touch the floor, unless directly instructed to do so.  We all stuffed our planks through our shirts or vests or PT belts. Class HH12HR-021 did over head lunges and repeated the warrior ethos over and over again.

The Warrior Ethos

I will always place the mission first

I will never accept defeat

I will never quit

I will never leave a fallen comrade

AROO! AROO! AROO!

Spartan HH12HR Review

After getting a good sweat going, those of us that finished the tennis ball bucket challenge quickly were awarded a water break, while the other teams were not.  We ran down the hill, put the buckets back, filled our water bladders, and ran through a giant hose spray to cool off.  On to the next evolution!

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

We rucked up and were told that we had 10 minutes to go down the hill, through the festival area, and to the porta-potties.  We high-tailed it over there and found ourselves at the bottom of another hill (fun!).  Here, we were tested on our first memorization requirement – the Spongebob Squarepants song!  After singing the song reasonably well, it was our turn to “flop on the deck like a fish” with a set of 10 armless burpees.

Spartan HH12HR Review

After that it was time for team races!  I found these fun – it pays to be a winner.  The first race of class HH12HR-021 was laying on our backs, heads uphill, foot to shoulders, we had to pass our rucks up the chain.  We were in lead until someone’s ruck blew up and we lost time putting it back together, but it was photo finish. Next, we had to bear crawl up the hill, and forward roll down the hill.  A bunch of people were ready to hurl after that!

Spartan HH12HR Review

Big tires are also heavy, who knew?

Next evolution: hike around the Spartan Sprint course over to where the giant tires were stored.  Once arriving there, it was the full heat of the day.  I was applying sunblock every 30 minutes or so, but some others were getting torched.  Each team was told to volunteer 2 people to memorize some code, get a tire, and follow the instructors on a trail.  Our memorizers memorized while we tried to figure out the best way to rotate people in and out under the 600lb tire, but we had a number of very tall people and number of very short people so it was challenging.

Spartan HH12HR Review

The trail we followed was surprisingly difficult in some spots with steep step downs, deep mud, and narrow sections.  We had our tire nearly fall, and when it slipped it ripped all the skin off my shoulder.  Not my favorite feeling.  We carried the tires maybe ¼ mile or so down to a very mucky shallow lake.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We put down our tires and got into 1 line in the water.  Getting in the water felt amazing, the water was cool and we got to lay down to do flutterkicks and push ups.  Putting our faces in the disgusting water was even nice because it was so damn hot.  10-15 minutes in the water and we got back in our lines.  We had to volunteer 7 people for an unknown reason, so we arbitrarily chose the first 7 people.  Those 7 then squared off in the first HH12HR-021 class race across the lake and back.  It didn’t seem too challenging, but the lake was ~2ft deep, with ~1ft deep mud so it was a complete smoke session.  After the lake foot race, we had to volunteer 5 more people for another unknown reason.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We picked the next 5 people in line, picked up our tires and headed over to the next challenge.  Then, we went over a small hill to the monkey bars that are suspended on steel wire.  After we put down our tires the 5 volunteers raced across the monkey bars while the rest of the team did some basic PT and cheered them on. We repeated the warrior ethos loudly here and I think that was the best one of the day.  After the race was finished, the winning team got to rest (it pays to be a winner) while the rest of us had 5 minutes to do 100 pushups.  If it wasn’t 100 degrees and 5 hours into the event that wouldn’t have been too bad, but given the conditions, it was surprisingly tough.  The class HH12HR-021 leader calling out the cadence of the reps totally nailed it though, we finished in 4:58!  Time to put the tires away – we picked them up again and walked around the course to where we got them from and returned them.  We lined up and awaited further instructions in the blazing sun.  I was dry already!

Spartan HH12HR Review

Casualties

We picked another 2 volunteers for no apparent reason and then were told we they were our casualties to take to the second hill we were on earlier in the day.  I said “ok, I’ll just pick this guy up, then when I get tired, somone else can carry him, and we will rotate”.  Rob came over “Oh yea! I forgot – you can’t touch the casualty!”.  What the what?  So we started plotting how to tackle it and the other teams just slid some boards under their casualties and started moving.  We had some Agoge finishers who tried creating a litter but it wasn’t happening.  We were in last place – by a lot! We continued to try different things but nothing was working.  I wasn’t doing a great job as team leader here.  After a while, a member of our team (who was carrying the other casualty) showed up and told us we only needed 2 planks and to carry the casualty on our shoulders.  We tried this and our pace picked up immediately – this was SO much better.  Lesson learned!

Spartan HH12HR Review

Once back at the hill, the winning team got to pick our punishment – log rolls down the hill.  This SUCKED with our rucks on.  It took a little while but eventually we got to the bottom.  While we waited for the rest of the people to finish we hid in the shade of the porta-potties.  No shame.  We made our way back to the water refills and the hill where we started the event.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We grabbed the buckets again and each team lined up at the 20ft circles we started the event at.  The bucket was in the center, and we had to try and throw our tennis ball into the bucket.  Made it?  You got to go rest and eat 1 food item.  Miss? You have to run down the hill and then try again until you hit it.  We did quite a few runs up and down the hill!  Eventually we all got to grab some food and rehydrate.  We refilled our bladders, and just back into the spray hose to cool off.  This was right about 6 hours into the event.

A team that is strung together stays together

Once we got a short break, it was off to the next evolution.  We hiked over to an off-course area with a winding single track trail up a steep hill.  We then learned what we would be using our paracord for – tethering ourselves into a giant connected line.  We were each connected to the person in front and behind us by caribiners very closely.  This was the slowest part of class HH12HR-021. We started up the trail team by team and immediately found the pace to be insanely slow as each part of the line needed to move at a different pace depending on how steep the section of trail the part of the line was on.  We eventually got a little rhythm going and made it to the top, then spread out and walked side by side on the way down the ski slope.  Once on the bottom we remained connected and moved to the next evolution.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We rucked down the to the log carry and refilled our bladders.  Then it was connected as a team log carries.  Down the hill, up the hill, dump the log.  We nominated another 5 random people.  After that, the group headed over to the rope climbs and did team rope climb races.  We didn’t have much in the way of PT to do while we waited for the racers to finish.

Dance party

Next we headed all the way back down to the festival area and had our ultimate test – could class HH12HR-021 rap and dance to “The Humpty Song”?  The answer?  Not a chance – ha! We danced our butts off but in the end we were really terribly.  Afterward, we had to “wobble” a song that none of us had ever heard – that’s burpees!  We had made it this far without punishments but the “Wobble” song might be our undoing.  Luckily, one participant came up to the front and lead the group in the wobble dance.  We botched that too, naturally, but we were trying hard.  This was a lot of fun!  It was getting late in the day though, and we had been outside for almost 9 hours in 100 degree blazing sun.  It seemed like the intensity of the event was waning.

Spartan HH12HR Review

We left the festival area and headed up to the dunk wall to cool off on the way up to the next evolution.  Turns out we had one person on our team that had never done the dunk wall and was terrified to have her face underwater.  We stayed together as a team and coached her through getting under to wall.  After 5 minutes, the entire class was at the start of the next evolution and we were still at the dunk wall.  The instructor came over and alerted – you have 2 minutes to get moving.  We stayed together and kept encouraging her to complete the obstacle.  After almost 10 hours of the event, surely the dunk wall wouldn’t be her undoing.  Finally the instructor came over and let us know – either get under or quit, but the next evolution is starting.  Finally, she stuck her head under and did the dunk wall for the first time ever! This was a major breakthrough for her and I am glad we were able to come together as a team to help her conquer it.  In addition to that, we got to hang out in the cool water for 10 more minutes, which was perfect timing – I was starting to over heat bigtime.

Spartan HH12HR Review

Performance hack

We hiked up to meet the rest of the group at the bottom of the single track trail we had done earlier as a connected unit.  We lined up and dumped the water out of our rucks from the dunk wall.  Now we found out the next event – the individual performance hack.  This portion consisted of an unknown distance/unknown time hack that would determine if we would be cut from the event or if we got a patch.  Each of us had to do the lap (up the winding single trail, then down the ski slope) alone.  Rob let us know how critical the stakes were and then started the clock!  This was make or break time for everyone in class HH12HR-021. Off we went as a big pack all trying to squeeze into the trail, but then we quickly got spread out.  At the end of each lap, we had to check in to get credit for the lap.  One lap, feeling ok.  Lap two, feeling ok.  Lap 3, fading fast. REALLY fast!  I barely made it to the top, I was totally smoked.  Not good!  OK no problem, I’ll get down the hill slowly and be done.  It had almost been an hour, and if it was taking me nearly an hour to complete, then it must only be 3 laps.  Well I got a rude awakening when I got to the bottom and there were a whole bunch of people sitting around.  Some had completed 4 laps, others had quit.  I checked in, and Rob let me know – I had 9 minutes to complete a lap, and my current pace was WAY to slow.  I should probably just sit down.  I was spent.  Totally spent.  My legs were dead,  I was severely dehydrated and not thinking straight.  Did I jut fail?  I never fail, how is this possible?  I was heart broken.  I stood there for a minute weighing my options.  What was that warrior ethos again?  Oh yea – I WILL NEVER ACCEPT DEFEAT.  I WILL NEVER QUIT!  I said “I am going back out”, and he let me go.   At that moment I knew I had more than 9 minutes.  He was playing games to test my spirit – he wouldn’t waste the whole class’s time with me on the trail, holding everything up, unless I had a chance.  I had no idea if it was true or not, but until I was pulled from the course, I wasn’t stopping.  This reinvigorated my spirit bigtime.  Unfortunately, my energy levels were still really low and I was so focused on the mission I had stopped drinking water.  I was just putting one foot in front of each other as fast as possible.  My toenails were completely wrecked from smashing into the front of my boots on the down hill, but when I finally got to lap 4 down hill, I hit it as hard as I could anyways.  I got to the bottom, and I was exasperated.  I logged in my last lap holding back tears.  I put it all out there and I was having a hard time keeping my composure.  When I sat down in the shade I started talking to the person next to me. He alerted me that I was unsteady and slurring my speech.  He couldn’t understand some of what I was saying, which is very not good!  So I started drinking water as much as I could and a few people threw me some electrolytes.   I ate everything and just kept drinking water while we waited to hear our fate.  A teammate helped me stay in the game by quizzing me and engaging me.  This was the point in the event when I was extremely close to dropping and my AWESOME team mates kept me in the game.  I would have never made it without them, I am so grateful for their help.  This evolution was the ultimate embodiment of  Spartan HH12HR– the challenge, individual effort, high standards, testing your will, and teamwork  – all in 1 hour.  Rob orchestrated this fantastically.

Spartan HH12HR Review

Rob came over and let us know that we had not made the time hack, but that we came damn close to it.  There were 30 of us in the “close but no cigar” group, and 26 in the “made the hack” group.  All the other people had been sent home for missing the hack by too much or quitting.  At this point the two groups stood up and faced each other.  I almost fell right over when I stood up, I was dizzy.  Kept drinking and focusing on my breathe. Breathe in, breathe out, you got this!  Standing in one spot seemed like a large task at the time, but I was pulling it off – winning!  Positive self talk was keeping me in the game.

Final test

Rob gave the “made the hack” group an offer: they could go (right that second) to the finish and get patched.  OR they could save “close but no cigar” group with a few conditions.  If they chose to save us, we would have to perform another time hack as a team (unknown of course) – if we missed that time hack no one gets a patch.  There wasn’t one second of delay – we were getting saved.  Hell yea – Never leave a fallen comrade!  This was a well designed team test/building exercise disguised as an individual hack.  Anyone can PT you to death – Rob did a great job capitalizing on every opportunity to test us physically, mentally, and as a team.

Spartan HH12HR Review

So what was this mysterious time hack?  Buddy carries! Unknown distance (but some people who knew the course estimated the distance at 1.5~2 miles) in 27 minutes.  Without buddy carrying anyone that would be tight.  Our team was great – we had no time to lose so we grabbed as many people as we could and started buddy carrying.  This would be my personal moment of epic failure.  I am a buddy carrying monster – I love it, I train for it, and excel at it.  Unfortunately, I was still uneasy on my feet, I was having a hard time staying upright under my own weight.  It would have been a bad idea for me to pick up a 200lb guy at that moment.  I grabbed some wood planks to try and be useful, but inside I was so disappointed that I was having a pity party.  I was determined to keep drinking water and contribute!  So I carried the wood to a stop point, probably ¼ ~ ½ mile away, and by that time I was feeling a little better.  I ran back to the start point and we 3-man carried the biggest guy all the way to the stop point at a full jog.  It wasn’t a full redemption but no one else knew how to do a 3-man carry so I was able to share some knowledge and help the team.  Once we were all collected at the stop point (far short of the end point), we were told that we wouldn’t be buddy carrying any further, but that we would have to pick up the pace.

Spartan HH12HR Review

Secret Garden/Finish

We finished the distance and ended in the secret garden of finishers.  At last year’s HH12HR only a few people made it here, but this year we had a large group.  Here, Rob said a few words and opened the floor for finishers to say something if they wanted.  I was honestly shocked – I expected to breeze through the event, which I did not – I was pushed to my limits.  I learned a few things about my perceived strengths and weaknesses vs. reality.  I learned about my training and where it could improve.  I learned about the how to deal with the heat/hydration/nutrition.  I learned that even though Spartan is well known for its individual experiences and competition, they can put on a hell of an amazing team event as well.  I have done a ton of events, and this will go down as one of my favorites!

Spartan HH12HR Review

Spartan AGOGE 60: Adaptive Grit Overcomes Grim Expectations

SpartanAgoge60-AdaptiveAthletesPhoto Courtesy of Michelle Stone Stairs Roy

On April 25th, Team Believe 923 received the exciting news that the 1st ever Agoge 60 endurance event was opening its roles for amputees and other Adaptive Athletes (AA). As an Agoge 48 (Class 000) participant I understood that; a) hell’a miles and labor would be waiting for us in the Green Mountains of Vermont and b) with only 24hrs to commit to participating, there was no way I could mentally prepare our team and paralyzed athletes for the hell’a miles and labor that would be waiting for us in the Green Mountains of Vermont so we reluctantly declined the invitation. However, I did ask to be assigned to another Adaptive team in case I could be of any assistance…access granted!

Stardate 94062.71 (June 17, 2016 5:30am)
Enter stage left: team Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW) consisting of U.S. Army Veterans Earl Granville and Justin Shellhammer (each with 1 prosthetic leg) and Norbie Lara (with 1 arm) at the ready who were supported by Andi Marie, Eric Schmitz, and Erica Walker.

SpartanAgoge60-OEW

Enter stage right: team More Hearts Than Scars (MHTS) consisting of U.S. Army Veteran Billy Costello (with a prosthetic leg), U.S. Navy Veteran Greg Bullock (on crutches), U.S. Marine Veteran Matthew Pietro (an amputee on crutches and wheelchair), Blind Pete Cossaboon (no explanation needed), and Zackary Paben, who were supported by Joey McGlamory, Wendy Paben, and me.

SpartanAgoge60-MHTS3A Photo Courtesy of Nelson Runaway Diaz

We were 14 in total who were mostly greeted with silent nods for showing up but not given much hope to make it beyond the first 12 hours. After all, this event was created by the core of Spartan Staff that produced the DNF-friendly Death Race in this very same environment.

The day began with registration from 5:30am-8am where we received an Agoge Passport Card in exchange for our car keys and Drivers Licenses; a necessary precaution for participant safety especially for those who would endure 2.5 days of undisclosed training and torture. Next came medical evaluation followed by the barking orders for mandatory gear to be splayed on the required 8’x8’ tarps. Penalties for missing gear included disqualification while food other than the required MRE’s (Military Meals Ready to Eat) and Backpacker’s Pantry were confiscated. Reward for early registration included hauling lumber and other weighty objects to and fro Riverside Farm aka base camp until the registration process was complete.

Erica and I were tasked with a running assessment of the Adaptive Athletes for the duration of their participation. I was told that when they dropped out I could continue the Agoge with the rest of the participants but understood that I would not be a “finisher” if they indeed quit. Spartan leadership (aka Krypteia) had a look of concern and slight agitation as they said they didn’t even know what to do with AA’s, they didn’t know any would actually show up, they felt this was another one of Joe’s (DeSena) crazy ideas, and that this was NOT the right venue for the Adaptive Athletes. Well, it took less than 60 hours to prove them right. And wrong.

After a brief welcome and introduction to the Agoge format, both able-bodied and adaptive participants were split into larger teams tasked with carrying 80lb. bags of concrete and 5gal. buckets of water to reinforce the famous steps on Joe’s Mountain which was built and expanded on with manpower provided by several years of Death Races. It became instantly clear to the Krypteia that the veterans of OEW would need little assistance while we of MHTS had a different set of challenges in front of us that would require teamwork of epic proportions to overcome so when asked if we were capable of participating in this “beautification” project…a silent nod was my answer and that’s all that was needed for them to send us up the mountain to join the renovation. A single file of Spartans snaked up and around Joe’s Mountain like an ant trail with the adaptive athletes melting into the numbers pulling their weight and assisting others along the way. We were joined by Michelle ‘Stone Stairs” Roy who was assigned field communications for OEW and MHTS. She is intimately familiar with this terrain from years of Death Races and for writing the names of those battling cancer on stones that she would then personally add to this landscape.

Following this 3 hour effort we were reassembled at the Farm and divided into 3 large groups consisting of 3 smaller groups. MHTS now became Team 3 Division A aka Team 3-Adaptive. We understood that our goal to complete this 60 hour event required us to NOT interfere with the experience of any other athlete and that anyone who chose to assist us could potentially miss out on portions of the event that could cost them a DQ as the event progressed. With fair warning, we accepted 4 Spartans to join our ranks for an experience of a lifetime that, if fulfilled, may never be duplicated. Enter Brian Lynch, Matt Rex, Anthony Schena, and the bearded Mexican in a skirt Fernando Casanova. We were now equipped with 5 adaptive athletes, 4 work horses, Wendy to keep Zack in check, Joey who served as Blind Pete’s guide & 1 Puerto Rican Reindeer.

SpartanAgoge60-MHTS Photo Courtesy of Nelson Runaway Diaz

Teams were assigned a slosh pipe and a kayak filled with 25 gallons of water that would later serve as our source for hydration. Team 3 however, was assigned (2) kayaks, a slosh pipe, plus Matt’s wheelchair which has been in heavy use since he lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident after returning from combat with PTSD. Another team was assigned a wooden handled fence post hole digger and wooden 4×4’s which would serve as the structure that held the metal Spartan helmet bell to be rung as the final act of those who would later succumb to the rigors of the Agoge training.

SpartanAgoge60-Bell Photo Courtesy of Nelson Runaway Diaz

As we completed several uphill miles to the Log Landing, we were given instructions to eat and hydrate quickly just as the Spartan Helmet Bell of submission first broke silence reminding us that we would all reach a point where tapping out would become a real option. Several participants withdrew due to equipment failure and medical complications while Lora Cesuga from Spain sacrificed herself for the sake of the team in light of her slower pace coupled with hearing the fate of those who chose to travel through the night into the famous Bloodroot and not make the time hacks. Lora also loaned me equipment that enabled me to keep working alongside OEW an MHTS teams.

12 hours into the Agoge and the 8 Adaptive Athletes were still in!! The toughest part at this moment was convincing the AA’s to follow a different path to the new base camp called ‘Area 51’ while the other participants trekked up Bloodroot to the same location. Fact is that only logistics prevented our teams from pressing on into Bloodroot but at the same time there were only 8 people trudging through with missing or disfigured limbs which kept the scales well balanced. This alternate path enabled Justin to stick around as he contemplated an early exit concerned whether a lengthier stay would cause him further injury and derail the limited summer time scheduled with his children.

We trekked back to Riverside Farm as everyone else powered through the night for their rest at Area 51. Before we were reunited with the rest of the Spartans, we were greeted in the morning by Michelle, cups of coffee, and Joe DeSena giving us limited time to gear up and transport building materials back up Joe’s Mountain to Muddy’s Hut, which is a rentable retreat built out of nature and recycled materials by Matt Batz.

At Area 51, another favorite destination for Death Racers, we began Physical Training and noticed for the 1st time that there was another adaptive athlete among us. It was virtually impossible to detect that Amy Palmiero Winters was an adaptive athlete until we saw her pant leg rolled up revealing her prosthetic leg. Amy would outperform many in this event even while tasked by Joe to personally assume responsibility for the fate of Spartan Editorial Content Manager David Deluca (you must read the 1st hand account of his Agoge60 experience!). The bell continued to be rung for different reasons. One international participant complained of boredom with little learned not realizing that shortly after quitting the real teaching would begin which would make the previous days torture worth it. After PT, DeSena interrupted the silence to advise that going forward NO ONE would be considered a finisher if ANYONE quits for non-medical reasons.

It was at this new base camp where our Agoge passports would be stamped as we completed evolutions including Drown Proofing in a leech filled pond (yes, blood everywhere), Raft Building, Survival Information (eating meal and earthworms), Litter Building (Stretcher), and Rolling 700lb bales of hay (through a swamp…I’m still confused about this one). Failure to complete an evolution sealed your name on the growing list of DQ’s and DNF’ers. At some point, Zack and I were asked to accompany Blind Pete to The Abyss for a 200’ repel followed by a 60-70 degree single track climb up a rock face with unstable footing as a way to assess this evolution for the other AA’s. Many faced and conquered their crippling fear of heights but to hear Pete who has been totally blind since April 2015 laughing as he stepped backwards off of the cliff to begin his descent was truly remarkable and inspiring for those that followed. Does it help not being able to see the dangers around you or does it help knowing that you are alive and thriving in spite of them? Another answered question for most of us this weekend.

SpartanAgoge60-BlindPete Photo Courtesy of Nelson Runaway Diaz

The verdict was in, Norbie and Earl of OEW were more than prepared for The Abyss while Justin stayed behind to be checked out by medics due to a fall. Also Billy of MHTS who lost his leg in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan ran against daylight to make it to this location before nightfall. The inspiration continued as Norbie began his one armed repel since his right arm was severed by an RPG in Iraq, 2004. The climb continued to challenge able bodied Spartans alike but to hear the pounding metal of Earl’s prosthetic left leg as he sometimes crawled up the stone proved that a missing limb at the hands of a roadside bomb in 2008 would not deny him victory in 2016 (nor would the cast on his left hand from a recent cycling incident…this boy has issues :).

SpartanAgoge60-RockTop

Upon our return to Area 51, we were told that Justin was removed from Agoge due to medical issues and we couldn’t be any prouder for him since he was forced out after fighting through 32 hours of Agoge training. A fellow Spartan ensured that Justin’s green military issued sun hat made it to the Agoge graduation ceremony in his honor. That was the least that could’ve been done for this soldier who lost his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, 2005.

Prior to the repel, OEW was the 1st team to literally hack through the uncleared woods with Andi Marie on the litter but after the repel MHTS was the last team to perform the several miles of Litter Carry. The best Krypteia Eric Roman could offer us was to be partnered up with another team should we need help carrying one of our heaviest teammates, Matt, on the litter for an undisclosed distance. As both teams set off for the carry, we found a comfortable rhythm of resting and rotating positions every 100 steps…then every 50. Zack mentioned how the friction on his hands and the pain on his wrists and fingertips was akin to what he felt at the age of 10 when he had to tear off his fingertips in a horrific accident. Watching him persevere was a fresh reminder that even the crippling hurts of our past can be reduced to inconsequential memories when you choose to fight on! This includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual hurts as well.

At the end of the carry Krypteia Eric told us of how the team that went with us raved about our efforts. One of them helped us with Matt’s backpack while we managed without additional assistance. It was said that they mimicked our cadence, tempo, and methods of transport. We knew that inspiration would present itself as the AA’s fought to stay in the Agoge but this bit of news demonstrated our significant value which could benefit the able-bodied Spartans experience as a whole. We had Grit and it was contagious!

About that 700lb. bale of hay…even though the swamp route was now closed it still sucked to navigate it up and down several hills around the perimeter of Area 51. A funny thing happens when all participants are allowed to sleep for a few hours and your team of AA’s still has to deal with this 6-foot tall circular bale of hay, you get it done anyway.

A few hours of sleep later, we were woken up by the commotion of a Spartan who rang the bell late night but was not allowed to leave. You ring, you leave, and try again another time was the norm but this was different. This distraught Spaniard nicknamed Hunter was brought out into the circle of the 98 remaining Spartans because he worked harder than most in every evolution but due to language barriers he was under the impression that he had to manage the 700lb. bale on his own since his team completed it prior to his return from The Abyss. Only 1 question was asked “Should he be allowed to stay?” and only 1 resounding answer was given “YES!” And just like that many cheers, hugs, and tears were shared. The language of hard work and integrity was understood and well appreciated by these Spartans.

The language of flatulence during morning yoga stretching was also understood by all. We had plenty of time to interact with others while waiting to begin the “final” 1-mile hike that would conclude the event. Turns out many had gone without eating for hours and even days since their meals were confiscated. Every ounce of shared carbs were gratefully accepted by the Spaniards and other international participants who did not have MRE’s nor Backpacker’s Pantry to purchase in their country.

We began the hike without Matt’s wheelchair since he should be able to crutch his way for a mile…then 2…then we realized we would be back in these mountains for a long time. Someone suggested we make a litter to carry Matt once his wrists had enough. Four of us were allowed to continue while the procession stopped to make the litter. It was Matt and Greg, who fell 40 feet from a helicopter during practice jumps before is second deployment, on crutches, the Mexican in a skirt, and the Puerto Rican Reindeer moving as fast as possible to avoid using that stretcher. At one point, Agoge staff caught up and mentioned taking an alternate route for evacuation which caused Matt to crutch for his life. He would accept nothing less than crossing the finish line on his foot (if there ever was a finish line). So off we continued alternating crutching with piggy-back carries up the mountain over and over again. A mile or so later Krypteia Eric caught up to us and ordered us to stop and wait for the others since we had no radio communication. Matt was convinced to use the stretcher for a short while so the rest of us would have litter carry experience in this real environment. Although this was not the most popular moment of the journey, once again things got done and Matt was back on his foot in no time.

SpartanAgoge60-Matt Photo Courtesy of Nelson Runaway Diaz

The last few miles were marched in silence and, with the help of many Spartans, we piggybacked Matt as needed with the Adaptive Athletes leading the way. After a pit stop for a refreshing river dunk, we marched the “final” mile back to Riverside where the graduation ceremony was set to commence.

We were met with applause and cheers from families and friends in attendance as well as several participants who rang out. This premature celebration was short-lived as Joe found someone whose medical exit seemed questionable to him and therefore rewarded our 60-hour efforts with disqualifications FOR ALL. However, a deal was struck where able-bodied teams had to run timed laps up and down Joe’s mountain while the adaptive teams ran timed laps through the woods around Riverside. It was chaos, it was confusing, but after 60 hours it was over.

SpartanAgoge60-Class002Graduates Photo Courtesy of Spartan Race

Several hundred registered, 139 showed up and, in the end, the Agoge 60 produced the 99 graduating Spartans of Class 002! Closing ceremony was officiated by US Marine Corps Retired Veteran, 40 years of service Massachusetts State Police hostage negotiator, Gilbert Bernard, who prompted each team to nominate 2 Spartans to receive the coveted Spartan Coin for being the most inspirational, the most motivational, and for being the reason why many were able to complete this feat. And when the dust settled, 3 adaptive athlete’s were counted among them! Congratulations Blind Pete, Earl, and Norbie!!!

While there may still be confusion on how to pronounce AGOGE, I defy you to prove that AGOGE stands for anything less than Adaptive Grit Overcomes Grim Expectations. Are you adapting?

FOOTNOTES:

  1. It is a very humbling experience when your character is on display in the harshest environment and it proves to be less glorious than you thought it was.
  2. The struggle doesn’t build character; the struggle reveals your character.
  3. If allowed, times of suffering can transform strangers into family in some instances and preserve family in others. Suffer well!