Spartan Dallas Beast 2018-Muddy Miles and Cramping Calves

Dallas Spartan Beast 2018

On October 27th, 2018 Spartan held the annual Dallas Beast to nearly maxed out waves for all times. The course had to be cut down a few miles due to flooded areas. This didn’t stop Spartan from putting racers calves through mile after mile of foot groping, sloppy goodness. Of about twelve and a half miles nearly sixty percent of those miles were sloppy bogs or slick, muddy rocks. A fun cramp-inducing time was had by all on a well put together course in beautiful Glen Rose, Texas.

Muddy Miles on Muddy Miles

Due to frequent rain in the previous week many of the trails on Rough Creek Lodge’s ranch were a muddy mess. From the beginning even the fastest group of elites were not moving their quickest as we were pulling our feet free from mud constantly. This added an extra endurance element to an already endurance heavy event. Later on in the race, many suffered from severe burnout, muscle fatigue, and debilitating calf cramps.

Spartan ingeniously utilized the hills on the ranch. Competitors proceeded up and down them both with and without sandbags. Steep, rocky descents coupled with mud spelled potential disaster for anyone not closely watching their feet and controlling their body. I personally throttled myself down a bit on these downhills to avoid injury. Slick rocks can come out from under you in a heartbeat.

The venue was beautiful to look at as always. Rough Creek Lodge never disappointing on the views that you get to see at the top of those hills if you take the time to look around. The festival area was also set up very nicely and the starting line was again by the beautiful church on the property. The weather was absolutely optimal with a pretty still 58-degree start for the elite men and a slow warm up to around 70 as the day went on. Compared to last years freezing temperatures the weather was absolutely amazing.

The Obstacles

I would like to preface by saying that there were no mile markers at this race.  Some areas were cut due to flooding. I found this to be a good thing as it kept me focused on the task at hand rather than how far I had to go. However, this also prevents me from stating an approximate location for all of these obstacles. I would like readers to know that between each of these obstacle portions were long, long bouts of running through mud and rough terrain. Spartan did a great job of throwing great combos of obstacles at racers. Each section seemed to have an intended aspect of skill to attack and I really appreciate the thought that went into this design.

As previously stated, Spartan has an optimal venue for such a flat area in Texas and they utilize it well. The first majorly taxing obstacle was after the z- wall in the form of a sandbag carry up a steep hill and back down. This put a decent little burn in the calves especially after running through all of that mud. The spectator route was superb. It allowed spectators to see many of the most entertaining obstacles. Compared to last years Dallas Beast, Spartan did a superb job on the spectating end of things.

Climb

The slick mud made the slew of climbing obstacles far more difficult. These included: stairway to Sparta, Bender, the 8-foot wall, and the inverted wall. The first real grip tests came in the form of the Tyrolean traverse (which was hanging far too low in many lanes people were dragging their backs). The next grip obstacle was Twister following Bender. I do appreciate Spartan placing this obstacle out of the mud for the most part as it is so grip-heavy. However, there were many Spartans plunging face first into the mud for burpees at this notoriously difficult obstacle. If the strength and endurance is not still present in your shoulders and hands, it can be a real killer.

Lift

The next obstacle heavily affected by the mud was the Atlas carry.  I’ve never had trouble with an Atlas carry.   However, the first ball open this time around was a mud-covered concrete lump of fumbling, back-straining hell for me. I was picking it up out of a very large divot caused by the soggy ground and it was slicker than a freshly born calf. Finally, I had the good sense to look up and see a dry ball had became open and moved through no problem.

Spartan knows their obstacle placement game as after the Atlas Carry came the Hercules hoist and the Yokohama tire flip. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spartans tires are heavier than most. Getting under these 400 lb tires when they are sunken deep in mud is no easy feat. Though the requirement was only to flip the tire twice. Many chose burpees instead. I, however, found that once I worked my way around the tire and found a good place to get under it the rest was simple.

Later on, came another short sandbag carry followed by an equally short bucket brigade. Some elites were shouldering the buckets. Volunteers were not correcting them.  This was unfortunate considering that immediately afterward many grip obstacles followed. This allowed them to salvage their grip for later on.

Hang on!

The plate drag was a muddy, sticky mess that added difficulty. The grip gauntlet afterward sapped the last bit of strength left in Spartans as they neared the finish. The multi-rig, Olympus, and the rope climb were nearly back to back to back.

The spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump where spectators could get a great view of finishers coming in as the annoucner did a great job as well. The finishing area and the number of spectators were very impressive.

 

 

Aside from some minor issues, the Dallas Beast was a fun and challenging experience. Many racers suffered horrible cramps. This was due to all of the mud eating away at their endurance mile after mile. It was truly a suffer fest for many. I feel they will all return next year with a new determination.

Great merchandise, attractions, and people filled the festival. Spartan did a superb job of making the awards ceremony very central. There was also a great festival for racers to enjoy afterward. This was a big leap from the lackluster festival area last year. I would certainly recommend running the Dallas beast if you are in the area, or if you would like a Texas-sized challenge.  Spartan created a great race.  They utilized the venue to its utmost potential. Aroo!

Hammer Race Fall 2018 – Hammers and Hills and Tires, Oh My!

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Hammer_Kilt

For those of you who don’t know Hammer Race is a beloved local Minnesota 10k OCR that requires each runner to carry an 8lb or heavier sledge hammer through some of the Midwest’s toughest terrain.  If you know me you know that I’m a rig guy, I love monkey bars and rope climbs.  Bucket carries and Atlas stones are my worst enemies, so it took some convincing to get me to this race where 90% of all the obstacles were strength based but I saw it as an opportunity to work on a weakness and have some fun.  After all according to the Hammer Race finisher shirt “Weakness is a Choice” but not a choice I nor any other Hammer racer would make.

 

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_T-Shirt

 

So you think the Midwest is flat?

Nope!  We may not have mountains but we do have some pretty amazing hills.  Over the 10K course, my GPS recorded 1,400 ft of vertical gain and descent with a maximum grade of 77%, and that crazy steepness was seen climbing, descending and even traversing across for one section.

A Sufferfest

The race started with a short quarter mile run up to a tire flip with various sized tractor tires all filled with water from the previous day’s rain. 10 flips later it was another short quarter mile to another heavy flip.  This time it was 200+ lb railroad ties for two flips.  2 brutal obstacles within the first half mile of the race, this was going to be a sufferfest.  A quarter mile later and we were in the woods facing the first steep hill 150 ft up and then right back down, hammer in hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Tire_Carry

The obstacles became a blur in my mind, each one coming right after I thought I had recovered my strength from the last obstacle or brutal hill.  There were many “Bangers” with a cut piece of railroad tie or sometimes a tire you had to smack with your hammer down and back a certain distance.  Your hammer was used on almost all obstacles either as a smashing tool or handle to drag or carry some heavy object.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Carry

For the elite “Burden Carry” you had to carry a piece of railroad tie as well as your hammer up and down a hill. The suffering was intense and the last half of the course while not as obstacle dense was loaded with constant ups and downs on steep ravines.  The course ended with the only two non-strength or crawl based obstacles.  A traverse wall with hammer holds and a final wall without your hammer

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Traverse

Having fun through the suffering

Knowing that this race was going to be a test of my physical strength and mental fortitude I knew I needed to do something that would add some fun to the suffering.  I decided to put on my best warrior gear and wear a kilt because what is more fitting to wear while running through the woods with a giant hammer than a badass kilt?  After a bit of research I found a “running kilt” by JWalking Designs that was made of recycled plastic bottles (basically your typical stretchy performance polyester) It was super lightweight and didn’t slow me down in the least, while attracting plenty of compliments and imbuing me with the strength of my Scottish ancestors, which was greatly needed for the tasks at hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Yoda

Other people were also having fun with this brutal race like this force-wielding gentleman who decided to carry his Jedi master through the course with him.

Conclusion

This was by far the hardest race I have ever done.  It pushed my physical and mental fortitude to the limit.  If you want to improve your heavy carry skills/strength, or you are just a masochistic glutton for punishment, put this race on your calendar.  If you are looking to have fun or increase your manliness without sacrificing speed or comfort get yourself a kilt.

 

 

Photos courtesy of; Rick Aske, Justin Smith, David Razidlo
Kilt courtesy of JWalking Designs

Spartan Beast Windsor 2018

This review may be my last. Spartan Beast Windsor has potentially sent me into early retirement.

On a rainy, miserable Saturday morning, me and my brother Dai, made the lengthy journey to Windsor. Before I had even set foot on the Spartan site, I was wet. I’d had a headache and so decided to take some tablets but as I tried to swallow a big gulp of water, Dai made me laugh and I spat it out all over the steering wheel and myself. Much to his amusement, but to my distress.

On our arrival, the entrance to the site was a little problematic. The road was still more congested than desired but was a shorter wait than last year. Parking was good as there was plenty of space in the field. I do, however, still think that parking should be in the cost of the race entry. An extra £5 doesn’t seem much, but on top of travel, entry and any other onsite expenditures, I think it’s a bit steep.

Registration was very simple and easy and the volunteers were very helpful. There was no queue which meant as little time in the rain as possible (she says knowing that it would have made no difference. The whole race was out in the rain.)

Bag drop was great and fast and the volunteers were very attentive even whilst I was rushing and fumbling around to get everything in my bag in time to get on the next heat. I must have looked like a mad woman.

For us, this race was bittersweet. It was the last in the season but as of yet, we haven’t been able to complete our trifecta. Part of this is because, for some reason, all the Sprints are on a Sunday! We even went all the way to Amsterdam to take part in the Spartan Sprint as it was on a Saturday but a week or so before the race it was canceled. Hint, hint Spartan.

Anyway, on to the race. AROO, AROO, AROO. We were pumped and ready to take on this literal beast of a race. We both we wore Macmillan green in honour of our Grandfather, Wynford Seymour. We have managed to raise £160 so far and if you would like to donate, please click here.

Within the first 5 minutes, there was a backlog. I don’t think it was a great idea to have made a ‘single track’ route so quickly. Too many people were itching to get past but there simply was not enough room. Once this opened out, we were off and I could really enjoy the trail run through the woods.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of every single obstacle.

1) It would simply take too long.

2) I actually have repressed most of them because they were evil.

In all seriousness, thinking back to the race whilst driving home, I honestly couldn’t remember half of what we had just done. Exhausted body, exhausted mind. And to think, some crazy Spartans had done the Sprint, Super, and Beast that weekend. I just can’t.

But, having said that, there were some really fun obstacles and sections of trail running. I think that the setting of this Spartan compared to Aston Down is what really makes the difference. I LOVE running through the woods. Aston kills you with hills and Windsor kills you with mud but I’ll take mud any day of the week.

Grip was next to impossible on Twister, Monkey Bars, and Tyrolean Traverse. My brother had even decided to purchase some OCR approved gardening gloves but the constant rain and mud were no match for our fake green fingers. Kudos to those that had the grip of a monkey and effortlessly made these obstacles look easy.

 

The bucket carry was far more manageable this time around and I even remember saying to my brother “I actually enjoyed that” I know, I’m crazy. Some ingenious sandbag carries made the difficult race a little funnier and lifted some soggy spirits. Sometimes, balancing the bag on your head is the only way to conserve arm strength and simultaneously look like Toad from Mario.

The middle of the race was sort of a blur of trails and wading through mud. It probably also consisted of me pointing out the obvious fact that it was STILL raining.

Mud. I like mud. On our way home, Dai called my brother Glenn and they discussed the difference in the mud between the Calgary Sprint and the Windsor Beast. Seriously. You’ll only understand the necessity for this sort of conversation if you have ever done a Spartan race. Windsor certainly had its fair share of gloopy ‘shoe sucking’ mud along with the ‘to your waist’ ponds of liquid dirt. Both of which provided some great entertainment on the route. Obviously, Spartan racer etiquette demands that you only laugh once you’re sure they haven’t broken an ankle.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my physical condition at this point of the race, but Herc Hoist and the Atlas Stone Carry was significantly harder than before. I had always managed to complete Herc Hoist on my own but this year, volunteers were requesting that people work in pairs. And I’m so glad that I did.

Water and food stops are a must but I felt that more variation at stops was needed. In previous races, there has been bananas and other snacks. This race was jelly babies and dolly mixture. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweets but each to their own.  I didn’t, however, think that there were enough water stops.

My only real problem with this race was the lack of photographers. In one way, I was glad that I didn’t get many pictures (I looked like death most of the way around), but I did feel like considering the length of the race, there needed to be more points where photos were taken. In total, I had two pictures from the Tyre carry and a very dark fire jump photo. I did, however, have massive respect for those photographers who sat out in the rain all day.

The most frustrating part of this race, for me, was the fact that there were things I knew my body could do, but because of the cold, I just physically and mentally couldn’t. My hands were frozen, and when it came to the Rope Wall, I couldn’t make it to the top. The volunteers at this obstacles were incredible as well as the other racers who helped a shivering, exhausted (crying) girl over the top. A quick walk over to the Spear Throw and knee and leg cramps were rampant. At this point, the finish line was all I wanted and it was still so far away. I am aware, before anyone says, that it wasn’t far away. In fact, I could see it right in front of me. But I was being over dramatic and I’m allowed.

I hear that women forget the pain of childbirth once their baby has been born, this is how I felt about the Beast. I remember feeling completely ruined the last time I raced, but for some reason, I signed up again. For myself, I feel like the preparation for each Spartan race is SO different and really, you can race for fun, but these races are HARD. They are meant to test your strength and endurance and, to really not feel like a defeated mess at the end, it’s important to PREPARE.

It is important to also remember that conditions affect everything. I think that I would have done so much better in this race if the weather was not so poor. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

Spartan Virginia: Sprint and Super Weekend

Yes, sprint and super, not the other way around. Virginia was the first time I’ve run a Spartan where I had to complete the sprint first, and then the super. Let me tell you- that was significantly more challenging than it was the other way around! There were several differences between the two races, making them equally as exciting regardless.

Saturday Sprint

Check-In/Festival

I knew it was going to be a great day when I pulled into the venue. Why? This venue had something special that not all venues have– PARKING! There was a parking lot rather than pulling up to gravel! It was absolutely amazing. I knew it was going to be a great day.

Going into the festival area was a bit different than usual. When we got to check in, the volunteers did not have us show them our barcode in order to get through. They just grabbed our ID and looked up our names. It was so much faster, and the volunteers were extremely pleasant!

Once we got through, which only took about 45 seconds, we were met by a security officer. He was very friendly, but if you did not have your wristband on, he would not let you through to the festival area. I had not seen this before. It’s a fantastic idea for Spartan in order to ensure that people aren’t sneaking their way in (although I confess, I’ve literally never seen that happen), however, the implementation could have used some improvement. The wall keeping out of the festival area was really close to registration tent, so it started to clutter quickly. People were standing right in front of the security guard putting on their wristbands and headbands, and it got a little clustered. Perhaps if they are going to use this in the future, they will give people more room to get themselves situated.

This festival area was organized very neatly. Everything was packed together really well, with the merchandise tent being the center of it all. The merchandise tent has grown so much since the beginning, and they had a lot of the new Craft items on display. Right next to the merchandise was the timing station, so you can guess where everyone was hiding.

Course

Registering online for this course was a little shocking. In the elite division, there were only 16 females. You read that right…only 16 elite females in the entire race. It was weird. While we were on the start line, the race director informed us that this sprint was going to be flat and fast. With only 4.25 miles and 21 obstacles, I figured as much.

When the gun when off there was a short run before the first obstacle: hay bales. Followed by another short run before going down a hill via barbed wire. The wire was low and sharp, but definitely do-able. There were a lot of people running around with holes in their shorts later from it getting ripped. Followed by that, monkey bars. Then the dunk wall. And then, a run into the woods.

The obstacles were fairly easy. One obstacle to note was the bucket carry. I’ve never seen a bucket like this. The bucket was pretty early on, and one of the next obstacles after the dunk, so we were a little slick. The buckets had lids and were color-coded, so it was easy to grab one and go. This was honestly one of the, if not the, easiest bucket carries ever. It couldn’t have been more than 200 meters, in a dry, relatively flat loop where the grass had been matted down and was easy to get through. The buckets even felt lighter than usual–so I’m not sure if they didn’t fill them as much as usual, but it was an enjoyable bucket carry. Wow, I never thought I’d say that!

The next obstacle after the bucket was the sandbag. They only had us carry one, and it was nothing special. Just another loop (longer than the bucket, of course), down and back through the woods. The only thing really to note was there was a drop-off, and several people fell. Nobody fell enough to get significantly hurt from what I saw, but several people fell. The people who didn’t had the sandbag resting on their shoulders and used the trees for leverage. Again, nothing special. Spartan being Spartan.

There were a few differences in the familiar Spartan obstacles. The biggest and one of my personal least favorite differences was how loose the straps on the A-frame and vertical cargo net were. It had rained all week leading up to the event, and the straps were so loose that I honestly thought I was going to fall through it! But, everyone around me made it through.

Spartan Race Cargo Climb

Another difference that was to be noted was one of the walls. Once you ran out of the woods in one of the final fields, you came across rolling mud hills that were pretty shallow, and a little further of a run for a 6-foot wall. Now, I figured this was a six-foot wall because there were no red steps on the side, but as I ran closer, I realized that it was definitely taller than 6 feet. Spartan had fooled me! It was seven feet with no step. Which, accomplishable (even for my 5-foot-self), but it threw me a little off guard. I wonder if Spartan will continue this trend for elite races in the future.

A little run led to an incredibly dry rope climb on top of a short hill, another little woods run, and then the spear throw. I was really impressed by the spears here because I noticed that the hay bales were really tight. Normally, I try to look for neater and tighter hay before throwing the spear, but this time it was almost all of them! It was awesome. One extremely dry inverted wall and a short hill later, and it was over the fire jump and through to the finish.

Volunteers

I wanted to make sure to add a separate section just to talk about the number of volunteers in the race. Okay, so, we all know that Spartan has been lacking on the number of volunteers present at obstacles lately. Actually, the number of volunteers that have been at OCR races, in general, have been depleting–and not just Spartan.

Now, one thing that was a little shocking again, that I’d like to step back and talk about was how hardly anyone registered to run the sprint. Again, there were only 16 elite females in the entire race. That’s insanely low! I was talking with one of my friends about possible theories as to why people weren’t registering. One thing we came up with was that people weren’t racing because they were going to volunteer the sprint, so they can get a free race code, now that Spartan is giving race codes again.

We were probably right on the volunteering for race codes thing. I honestly had never seen so many volunteers in my life.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every single obstacle had at least two volunteers stationed. Even the barbed wire. It was crazy! Because there were so many people out there, the atmosphere was great also. Double the volunteers meant double the encouragement, and all of the Saturday volunteers were awesome. If you volunteered Saturday morning and were on course during the elite women’s race, I personally want to say, thank you!

Other

Honestly, it was one of the quickest and most fun OCRs that I have ever done. I was super impressed with the atmosphere. It was so small, flat and fast, that it was extremely enjoyable and everyone there just seemed so happy. Congratulations to Ryan Kent and Heather Gollnick on their first-place finishes!

One thing that I really enjoyed was that while we were running if you looked around you for a moment, you could see blue mountains in the background. It was amazing.

 

Super Sunday

I was really surprised this day. I wanted my friend and me to leave early because this race sold out in the elite and age group divisions. Whatever didn’t sell out, was really stinking close. We assumed that the glorious parking lot was going to be completely full.

My race started at 7:45, so our goal was to be there super early. You know, because the parking lot was going to be crazy busy.

Well, we were wrong. It had been just as empty and easy to maneuver as the previous day. If anything, it was even easier than the day before because we had gotten there so early.

Registration had been just as easy the second day. The security guy, instead of having us put our bands on first, had us show him our packets and then let us gear up inside the festival area. Which made way more sense than the day before. He was very pleasant to talk to and I think did a great job.

When you got into the festival area it was very similar to the day before: ghost town. You could see a few more elite women and men trotting around but it was mostly people who ran the day before.

Course

Holy smokes was this an amazing race. The race director met us at the start line in order to inform us that there was going to be 8 miles and 26 obstacles. Was this supposed to be a super, or a little bit longer of a sprint? Either way, it was an awesome time.

The beginning of the race started out the same. After the very cold dunk wall, it was off to a run in the woods. Rather than being greeted by a dunk, we were greeted by Twister in the woods. Followed by obstacles. The beginning of the race held the first few “tougher” obstacles. The hay bales, over walls, barbed wires, monkey bars, dunk wall, Twister, A-frame, and Herc hoist were all in the first two miles. I would like to add that Twister had the black grips on the right half of the obstacle, and the left side did not. I appreciate that Spartan kind of gave options, especially since this has been a great controversy. After that, it was smooth sailing, and a whole lot of trail runs.

Mile 3 was very interesting because you ran on single track trails for about .7 miles before hitting the next obstacle. One thing that Spartan does well is to place the Stairway to Sparta obstacle in beautiful places. It was really put in an amazing place in Virginia. When we ran out of the trails, it opened onto this open field. Beyond the fields were these beautiful blue mountains and fresh air. It honestly felt like Julie Andrews was going to pop out of nowhere and start singing beautiful songs.

After another trail run was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We came out of the woods and were greeted with this huge pumpkin patch. They were legitimate pumpkins too; separated by vines and everything. There were hills of them! It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen during a race…if not the coolest. With those of you who struggle to make pictures in your head while reading, I really do apologize that I was unable to get a picture.

At the top of the hill with all of the pumpkins, there was the Z-wall. It was one of the open z-walls that, to be honest, I don’t like as much as the ones that were filled. I looked around though and strangely enough, there was no volunteer at this obstacle. Weird.

As we kept running, we eventually came to an obstacle that causes a lot of people some trouble: the bender. Now bender isn’t hard because it is hard, it is just one of those that you look at, and it looks so scary that it honestly trips a lot of people up. I’m sure because of it’s scary-ness, it is one of the more dangerous obstacles in a Spartan Race. I’m very thankful that this obstacle was pretty much completely dry by the time we hit it, but, something has been off with bender. Spartan has sometimes not been putting anything underneath it but hay. This time, there were mats, but the way the mats were placed was a little strange. They are placed in a way that would ensure a safer landing from the top, but there is no coverage at the bottom of the obstacle. Weird.

After you kept running, you came back to the 7-foot wall which, this time, was sided with those little steps. The carries were toward the end of the race rather than the beginning like the previous day, and they were not any more difficult. The rig was in the last mile also and it had rings and ropes. That was it. One of the ropes I grabbed was a little more slick than usual, but it was nothing to write about. The end of the super was the same as the sprint. Spear, inverted wall, hill, then fire jump, then a sweet sweet finish line.

Just like the day before, it was another fast and overall flat run.

Volunteers

The volunteer situation was completely different on Super day than it was during the Sprint. During the Sprint, as previously mentioned, there were SO many volunteers. Two at every obstacle. It was amazing.

During the Super, there was only one volunteer per obstacle. There were some obstacles that did not have anybody.

Now, I am not someone to judge. I have never had to be a volunteer coordinator, and I can’t imagine that it is easy. For some obstacles, I do think it’s okay to not have a person there. I feel that the obstacles that are more in isolation (kind of like how that beautiful Stairway to Sparta is) should maybe have two people. That way, if something goes wrong then they aren’t left all alone to survive.

Overview/ Other thoughts

I really enjoyed this race. This race was very flat, fast, and more than that, fun. Personally, I like courses where you can run through the race rather than have to do a lot of hiking. I think that if anyone wanted to do a race where they like to run as opposed to the hike and wasn’t in Virginia, well, then you missed out.

If you were one of the volunteers who came out and supported everybody, I want to sincerely say thank you. I know that it is difficult to give up your time, and I hope that you know you are greatly appreciated! Special thank you to Saturday’s 7-foot wall guy, Saturday’s inverted wall girl, Sunday’s Olympus guy, Sunday’s water by Olympus guy, and Sunday’s Bender guy for being especially awesome. If I can remember who you are, you should know that means something!

The group of elite women on Saturday were some of the best people I have raced against. Often in Spartan, people tend to get a little more competitive than in other races, and sometimes this doesn’t mean being the best toward no-name athletes like myself. I really felt like the women on Saturday did a great job cheering for each other and being supportive, even during an elite race. So ladies, thank you for being awesome, and it was an absolute pleasure to race against you.

Aroo!

Highlander Assault 2018

Upgraded and beefed up is the best way to describe year 2 of the Highlander Assault. Held on October 6th in Holiday Hills, Illinois the Scottish themed event featured 4 different race lengths: Open class 4-mile, Open class 8-mile, Elite class 12 mile, and Elite class 24 mile. A free kids challenge course was offered for the little racers and Coach Pain was brought back for year two, bringing his special motivational voice as the emcee.

General admission parking was 10 dollars, but that’s if you could find a dry spot to park. The weather in the Midwest this year has brought large amounts of rain during certain periods of time and Mother Nature decided that the week leading up to the race was as good as time as any to let loose. This made it difficult for the race directors to set up the course the way they intended, along with making the course itself tough to build up any speed on.

All of the obstacles were wet and muddy, and the trail looked like a herd of horses had trudged through it. The race was even delayed for a short period due to a lingering thunderstorm that was slow to leave the area. The skies never did clear up all the way as intermittent periods of sprinkles caused racers fits throughout the day.

The race started out with athletes climbing over a siege wall, then leaving the coral when a fence, which resembled a medieval gate, was opened releasing participants through the festival area with Coach Pain hot on their heels screaming encouragement for the first hundred yards.

After a brief run, athletes faced a wall climb and then encountered a unique climb over large sections of concrete culverts stacked up in a triangle configuration. This is an obstacle I’ve never seen at a race, and the large circumference of the tubes along with the mud tracked onto them made it a difficult climb. Athletes were now led along a trail on the edge of a cornfield ending up in a gravel pit type area along one of the properties many lakes. A low crawl through some very cold water with sections of chain link fence over the top was the first obstacle presented in this segment along with a series of cargo net climb suspended over a set of shipping containers.

A short distance away a bow and arrow station with target tested ones aim. Failure to hit the target resulted in a short bear crawl through the slop along the lake. Relax, no real arrows were used, instead, they were tipped with a rubber stopper. After you got a chance to play Robin Hood the trail led around the lake where an Atlas Stone carry was placed. Moving further around the pond athletes were led through a waist-deep drainage “moat” with four pipes placed horizontally across the expanse making for an interesting and chilly over and under.

Crawling out of the water, cold and shivering, was when it dawned on you that this section of the course was also used as a motocross track. Yeah, it was time to climb up and over some very steep hills. The previous night’s rain left those without lugged shoes grabbing as weeds and rocks to assist on the super slick climbs. One last obstacle remained in this section of the course in the form of a log balance beam cross over a water pit. Once across, the trail led onto a gravel path leading away from the festival area.

It was along this path that Highlander chose to place their over, under, and through walls followed up a short distance away with the classic Z wall traverse. At this point, the course split into two with the 4-mile racers going one way and the 8-mile racers going another, and even though the signage is clear here it never fails that someone goes the wrong way. I’ll be describing the 8-mile loop from here on out as and the 4-mile loop converged with the 8 again further down the course. A very pristine lake now came into view, and as athletes make their way around the water Highlander placed a weighted drag in the form of an Atlas Stone with an ax handle sticking out for “easy” handling. A set of low parallel bars joined to a set of high parallel bars needed to be traversed next leading to a teeter-totter balance test followed up by a platform climb with a bell tap the top.

The property on which Highlander holds its event boasts a wide range of terrain as the race now transitioned from running on a gravel track to running through a few miles of shin-deep mud. This marshy area proved too difficult to place many obstacles as only a short Wreckbag carry was required here. It was the dense marsh here that proved to be the real obstacle, and I was left wondering if Yoda was going to be raising an X wing fighter out of the sludge at some point.

 

After escaping the marshes of Dogaboh the footing became more solid as racers now faced obstacles once again. The first encountered was Highlander’s version of the Irish table followed up by a series of wall climbs. Also tucked neatly into this section of the course was the wire low crawl. In sticking with the Scottish theme of the race, a caber carry was next up leading back towards the festival area.

One last wall, this one the inverted type, guided racers to the last section of the 8-mile loop. The course threaded its way through the heavily wooded area including two difficult climbs along the way. The first was a vertical climb using only small rock-climbing holds, and unless you were the first person through you found those tiny holds to be slick with mud. The second was a two-story vertical rope climb, and I don’t need to tell anyone how tough that rope was to get a grip on due to the conditions. The last obstacle found in the forest is what I’ll call the “fun box’. Highlander constructed this long box with a million bungee chords inside going every which way, then made it tougher by covering it making it pitch black inside.

One last obstacle stood in the way of the 8-mile finish now as Highlander set their rig up right in front of the finish line. Racers were backed up waiting to retry this monster as the failure rate was high. The setup consisted of a vertical knotted rope swing complete with a small wooden platform on the bottom, two plastic rings set at varying heights were next followed by a pole suspended horizontally all leading to a suspended car tire. I’m not sure this rig would have been terrible if the conditions were dry, but of course, they were not, luckily athletes could use their legs as this proved to be the saving grace for me.

If you ran the 4-mile or 8-mile course congrats? Your day was finished, and you could go enjoy your beer and grab a bite to eat from the local vendors. But if you signed up for the 12-mile or 24-mile course more was yet to come, and your rig crossing was put off till you finished another loop. But have no fear, as Highlander set up some of their best obstacles on the section of the course leading back out!

This short gauntlet of three obstacles leading out started out with a unique three-part traverse. The first and third section needed to be crossed by suspended ropes while the second section required a jump across an expanse landing on a wooden plank angled down 45 degrees. The Strong As Oak version of Stairway to Heaven was also thrown in here and consisted up pulling oneself up a set of ascending stairs which evened out at the top and continued horizontally for another few rungs. And lastly, Highlander brought back its torpedo tube type climb requiring racers to shimmy up a plastic tube with only short ropes coming out the sides to hold on to. From here on the trail joined back up with the original start listed above. I was a bit bummed out that by choosing to run the 8-mile course I missed out on the last three obstacles I described as I’ve been on those before and found them to be very challenging.

Highlander Assault, in my opinion, added some very cool obstacles to an event that was already a must do. They pulled off a great race under awful weather conditions. The only real suggestions I would have is to possibly add a volunteer or some signage in a few spots where I saw racers unsure of what to do. Namely, the Wreckbag carry and Scotty’s carry but no race ever has enough volunteers and I still figured out what to do.

Pictures were free and posted within two days of the event, and I must say that they had the best swag tent short of the Spartan Race. Parking was 10 dollars, but it may have cost you more if you needed to be towed out due to all the rain. So, have you heard enough to add this to your race list in 2019? I hope so and I’ll see you there!

 

GoRuck Mogadishu Mile – Salt Lake City

Last weekend, GoRuck hosted Mog Mile events throughout the US to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Operation Gothic Serpent (aka Blackhawk Down).  The event we did in SLC also involved drinking beer.  But not before learning about the operation and paying homage to the men who served in it through rucking and teamwork.

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Cadre Cody G looking the part

Early in the night, someone dropped one of the team weights we’d been tasked to carry.  When it landed, it was loud.  At a GoRuck event, letting any assigned weight (aka Coupon for ‘good living’) touch the ground is a punishable offense.  Defying the Cadre is worse.  So when our Cadre yelled out “who the F%$# dropped the weight?” I was equal parts proud and scared when nobody on the team said a word, even after he repeated the question.

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Cody eventually punished us for dropping the weight, but we took it together as a team and nobody snitched. This brand of instant cohesion among strangers is why I love GoRuck.  Nobody succeeds or fails alone, everything’s done as a team.  Nothing is ever about you as an individual, just about where you’re going and the people beside you.  It’s a fitting way to honor the spirit of what happened 25 years ago in Somalia.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Penaltydespite appearances to the contrary, the ground is actually wetGoRuck-Salt-Lake-Funishment

If you want a list of exercises and an inventory of weights we carried, sorry.  The linear version of these stories has been done before.  It’s a GoRuck Tough: we had #40 in our packs at all times, and most of the night we carried much more.  We did a lot of exercises, and rucked close to 20 miles against time hacks.  Some of the experiences that made the highlight reel for yours truly were:

  • Learning how to stop an arterial bleed using four types of tourniquets;

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  • Watching two guys’ light-hearted banter/bickering over the right way to build a litter;

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  • Appreciating how dangerous sliding down playground equipment at night can be during a race with other adults (think loud sounds and pain that a helmet could have prevented);
  • Learning how to play Cadre Baseball – i.e. several trips around a diamond where each base (or trip thereto) is associated with exercises that suck;
  • Realizing how much fun doing sprint intervals can be while wearing a #40 pack during crossing guard duty through SLC’s urban grid;
  • Seeing an older lady hardcore crush on our muscular Cadre around midnight;
  • Watching Cody’s magnanimity when a group of a-holes driving by in a truck at midnight shouted obscenities to our group. Seriously, who yells f-you to a crowd led by a special forces vet that’s carrying an American flag?
  • The contorted faces on everyone in the hotel lobby and elevator as I walked by after the GoRuck event.

Our experience started shortly after sunset and went through until early morning.  In the process, we’d gone from a dingy park on the classy side of town (visualize needles in the grass type class), traveled to a major park on the good side of town, continued up to the hillside University of Utah, then headed back down to the capital dome where we were summarily punished on the State grounds for missing a time-hack.  It was an unseasonably hot night, and the team’s copious pee-stops were a testament to how seriously everyone took our Cadre’s instruction to “hydrate or die.”

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Shortly after the sun came up, it started:  Kent got shot in the leg, “you have 2 minutes to stop the bleeding.”  Out came the straps to stop the bleeding and up Kent went into the air. In addition to the rucks, weights, and beer (we’d made an early morning pit-stop), Kent made his way back to the park we’d started from carried by the team.

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The emotional climax came once we arrived back at the park where the event began.  Throughout the evening, Cody would tell us stories from the mission and two people at a time would share bios they’d brought of service members they’d researched ahead of the event.  Now it was time for the final two bios, purposely saved for the end: Delta Force Snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon.

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Master Sergeant Gary Gordon (left), Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart (right)

I’m conflicted about describing these two here, mainly because they deserve better.  What I’ll say is that the movie shortchanges them and the crew they were trying to protect.  They saw wounded Americans in a crashed helicopter with an angry city mobilizing towards them.  After three tries, they were given permission to hit the ground (all two of them) and do what they could – which ended up being a lot.  Both posthumously received the Medal of Honor – the first issued since the end of the Vietnam War.

After Shughart and Gordon’s stories were told, Cadre Cody named our casualties and sent us off to complete the final part of the Mogadishu Mile.  Everyone was being carried or carrying multiple things as we followed the flag back to the Endex.

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But instead of finishing the event when we reached the Cadre (and beer), we were told to form the tunnel of love.

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As each of us made our way through, Cody was there on the other side to hand us the patches we’d spent all night trying to earn. Once the final person cleared the tunnel, class #2817 graduated and finally got to crack open the beer we’d been carrying.

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This was my first event since DNF’ing the Ultimate Suck in August.  The night before, I’d been nervous about being too weak to pull my weight and was clamoring for an excuse to stay home.  I hadn’t done a GoRuck since 2016, and the last time I tried I couldn’t find the start line.  Happily, all of that nonsense went away the second the event began and I got to hang with an amazingly fit group of Americans and a kick-ass Cadre.

When my wife and I made our way through the airport the next day, she saw me wince and make poopy faces every time I’d try to sit or stand.  Over breakfast, she caught me smiling at the new patch on the front of my ruck and said: “it’s an awful lot of work for such a little patch.”  She may be right, but it’s an awfully cool patch… and earning it was one of the more special emotional journeys I’ve experienced as an athlete.

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Photo Credit for everything but the Popeye’s Shot: Nicole Sugihara