Spartan Race: Bringing the Pain to Big Bear

Overview
Spartan Race Southern California was the third of five races in the National Championship Series. Hosted in Big Bear, CA it brought an entirely new dynamic to the season. Not only did the race start at an elevation around 6000ft, it was the first Spartan Beast of the series. Being eerily similar to the World Championships this coming September in in Tahoe, CA, it brought many of the elites from the men’s and women’s competition who were trying to make a statement halfway through the North American Series.

San Jose brought rolling hills and smooth terrain.

Seattle brought the muddy and wet conditions.

Big Bear brought the treacherous climbs and unforgiving descents

The Course
Just looking at the course map was intimidating, touting 5000 feet of elevation gain in 12+ miles. In fact, I was a little confused if it was a Skyrunning Race or a Spartan Race knowing that the terrain itself would be the challenge of the day. The start line looked up at the mountain ahead that foreshadowed what was to come. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated with dry and relatively comfortable conditions throughout the day.

The course was laid out perfectly according to the plan of Steve Hammond who wanted to create one of the most difficult courses in recent memory. After about 200 meters of flat running, competitors were doomed with the instant climb that slowed the pace to a hike, a common theme throughout the rest of the race. The beginning of the race was relatively obstacle-free allowing racers to spread out before a collection of obstacles near the top of the mountain. We were sent up slopes simply to run back down again, a seemingly endless oscillation of technical terrain. I envied those taking the chairlift above us and wished for some snow and a pair of skis on the way down. With the Atlas Carry, Herc Hoist, Monkey Bars, and the Sandbag Carry #1 peppered near the top of the mountain, we were greeted with massive descent down to the bottom. Of course, this could only mean one thing, we were going back up. Twister greeted us at the bottom of our descent as we turned the corner to ascend back into the double-black-diamond hell of Big Bear Ski Resort.

After seven miles of punishing terrain, I wanted to believe that it could only get better only to be greeted by the worst of them all…. THE DOUBLE SANDBAG CARRY. I was met with a dizzying feeling and the metallic taste in my mouth. This is where it would all end for me… my Achilles heel. After agonizing up and down a steep slope we didn’t get a reprieve with yet another climb. Up, down, up, down, up, down, it never ended!

Miles 8-11 brought more climbs at a less steep grade. While runnable on fresh legs, I was having trouble opening up any semblance of a stride this late into the race. It wasn’t until the massive descent back into the village that I could taste the finish line. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated leaving the obstacles dry and less of a factor than the massive climbs. The descents were just as difficult on tired legs, as anyone could have easily twisted an ankle or fallen flat on their face on the descent. The final descent meant only one thing, the final gauntlet of obstacles. BUT WAIT! Sneaky Steve strikes again. Just in case our arms and legs weren’t tired before, the bucket brigade gave us the opportunity the feel nice and depleted before an epic gauntlet of obstacles.

The burpee station (Spear Throw), “YOKOHAMA Tire Flip!!” (said in Steve Hammond’s voice), rope climb, and dunk wall made the likes of the slip wall a true obstacle. With the ropes just out of reach for a simple jump, competitors were forced to give every last ounce to run up and grab onto that rope for dear life. I didn’t even know you could burpee out on the slip wall until then, an option some people exercised.

Finally the rig! A nice dry rig was Bear-able (see what I did there) amongst the massive climbs of the ski slope. For anyone who ran this race, we were greeted at the finish line by a sense of accomplishment, knowing what we just endured was a difficult course to finish, regardless of chip time.

 

Men’s Recap

The men’s race continued domination by the Ryans. Ryan Woods in San Jose, Ryan Kent in Seattle, and now Ryan Atkins in Big Bear. The real questions is, will Ryan win the championship? If so, which one?

The pack of Ryan Atkins, Angel Quintero, and Ryan Woods (Woodsy) kept a strong pace the entire race and stayed in the lead pack. With Woodsy’s running ability, Angel’s intense training at altitude, and Atkins’ strength and mountain acumen, none of them could be counted out. Atkins finally pulled ahead at the double sandbag carry with a time of just above 4 minutes for the entire carry. Atkins also rocked a whole new way to carry the bucket… on his back! Atkins continued to run a clean race, leaving Angel and Woodsy to the other podium spots. Robert Killian and Ian Hosek rounded out the top 5 for the men.

 

Women’s Recap

A win by Rea Kolbl in San Jose and Lindsay Webster in Seattle, along with Faye Stenning’s two second place finishes set up a perfect storm coming into Big Bear. These were the three girls to beat. Would they continue to set the Spartan standard, or would someone else break into the win column?

The women’s race was a close fought battle the entire time. Rea Kolbl and Lindsay Webster set the pace throughout, closely shadowed by Faye Stenning.

Rea continued to punish the uphill climbs and Lindsay matched every effort with her technical descents. Faye gained ground during the heavy carries and pushed hard late in the race. By the bucket carry, Faye was in striking distance. Lindsay missed the spear throw, giving Faye the opportunity she needed to move into second place. Rea continued to push hard and was slowed by the slip wall. With its ropes higher than usual and tired legs, it was difficult to reach up to the top. Faye used this opportunity to catch up to Rea as they traded attempts on the slip wall, knowing full well that whoever could complete it first would control their own destiny. Then finally, Rea mustered the strength to run up the wall and went through the rig unscathed, taking first place and claiming her second win of the season. Faye continued with her second place performances, protecting her lead in the National Championship Series while Lindsay finished strong in 3rd place. Spartan Team Pros Alyssa Hawley and Nicole Mericle rounded out the top 5 for the women.

Summary:

The third stop along the Spartan National Championship Series proved to be a memorable one. With similar conditions to Tahoe, this was a good barometer for those looking to do well in the World Championships in late September. Whether you were an elite, age group, or open competitor, everyone who crossed the finish line should walk with their head held high. This race was definitely memorable. I think I speak for everyone when I say, Steve Hammond… YOU SUCK!

 

P.S. Steve Hammond, Seriously THANK YOU and the rest of the Spartan Team for putting on a great race weekend! You did an awesome job!

Green Beret Challenge Operator’s Course Atlanta 2018

I usually stick with Spartan, simply because the obstacles have the  “burpee-if-incomplete” option. I’ve noticed I have been becoming too reliant on it, so I have decided to start looking at more race options. More specifically, trying to work on completing events that scare the absolute shit out of me. So, naturally, when my friend suggested I join her for the Green Beret Challenge in Atlanta, I registered immediately. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, right?

For reference, I am five feet tall, weighing in at a pretty gnarly 105 pounds. I’m not great at heavy carries; not because I’m not strong enough, but some of the carries…well, they’re pretty much the same size as I am. Knowing that the GBC is comprised of primarily heavy carries, I went in thinking that I wouldn’t do well. It didn’t matter though. I was still proud of myself for registering in the first place.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the address of the venue. Or, rather, the lack thereof. There was no address. In fact, the address that they provided, was actually the address to the building NEXT DOOR. This venue was literally in the middle of nowhere.

When my friends and I pulled up, what we saw was the most gorgeous house. Which was…well, very different from any venue I’ve seen. The venue was actually BEHIND this house. Parking was easy, check-in was easy…actually, everything was easy. There was no long walk to the venue, pretty much you parked and it was on course. And of course, the very first thing you could see, was Mark f***ing Ballas, standing up, proud, riding on his four-wheeler. I was intimidated but very excited.

I had jumped into the 8:00 heat; the first wave of the competitive division. Standing next to me at the line was none other than Rachel Watters. She was awesome to talk to, and I was very impressed by her modesty. The men and women ran the competitive wave at the same time, which personally, I am a fan of. For me, it seems much more fun with mixed gender seems more fun and laid-back.

Also at the start line, was none other than Mr. Ballas himself. Accompanying him was a man, whose name is currently escaping me (editor’s note: it is none other than Jarian Rich, Mr. Inspiration), covered in glitter. He had an immense amount of glitter in his beard, and gold glitter covering his arms. He wore a shirt that said “no frown zone,” and with that, he wore one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen. Even though this event is known as being one of the toughest obstacle races in the series, it’s very evident that every person there is excited about it.

When it was time to run, we started running in a flat field. We had been running for maybe two minutes before we hit the first obstacle–that darn yoke carry. I’ve never completed a yoke carry before this, and boy was it humbling. I’m a runner by nature and was one of the first women to the yokes.

Granted, after this obstacle started, I never saw Rachel Watters again. I grabbed one of the first in the line, as the volunteer manning the obstacle suggested. Once I put that thing on my back, I knew that it absolutely could not touch the ground until I was done, no matter how much it hurt. Immediately I was wobbling side to side from the weight. I was getting passed left and right, by men and women alike.

Many people grabbed the string that held their sandbags to keep them from moving, and I wanted to, but I was afraid to let go of my grip from the log. A minute went by and I had already been drenched in sweat. I was starting to get nervous about how my grip would maintain throughout this new adventure but remembered–you know what, Sarah, be proud of yourself for being here, this will make for a cool picture later, and trudged on.

The carry itself felt like at least 300-400 meters, but I confess that my depth perception is not great, and I may be mistaken. Either way, you get the point. It was long. It looped into a square back to the yoke drop-off point. I saw it from a distance and had to keep my eyes on it for the remainder of the carry. My arms were shaking, but eventually, I made it.

After I put the yoke down, there was a short run until the next obstacle, which was a wall. Walls don’t scare me much anymore, but this one made me a little nervous. I jumped to get a grip on the top and struggled to pull myself up. I hardly ever struggle with pull-ups. The yoke had taken its toll; hopefully, some of the runs later could relax my upper body. I will say, even though this wall was hand-made, it did not budge one bit. Mark Ballas does a great job building obstacles.

Following almost immediately was a balance obstacle. Walk up a plank of wood to the top of a hay bale. Next: another carry, but, it was a sled drag. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was long. From there, we saw a couple of standard obstacles: inverted wall, barbed wire crawl into a questionable substance, and trail run on a single-track trail.

I was really surprised by the next obstacle. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t have a name, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it again. Two wooden beams, where, you have to climb over the top one, anyway how. There was a rope there to aid in the transition, and being the short person that I am, was very thankful for the rope.

Although this obstacle wasn’t too intimidating, the number of failures that came with it was a little terrifying. The ropes were completely covered in that questionable substance that we just trudged through, which was leading to many people slipping and swearing. When I approached the obstacle, I was really proud of the support from both the competitors and volunteers. The people who had failed moved over to allow others the opportunity to attempt. Finally, it was my turn…I was slow, EXTREMELY slow on the obstacle. Nobody cared. Everyone who was there cheered. I thought to myself, this, right here, is EXACTLY what OCR is all about.

(sandbag and questionable “mud.” Image by Green Beret Challenge)

After a few more carries and some walls, we were approaching the finish line. I approached a creek, which we were instructed to jump into. I was NOT expecting a swim at all, but it made for such a nice touch. The water was nice and cool, plus, the unexpectedness of the swim made for a fun and unique challenge. The end was approaching. I picked up the pace, and then one of the volunteers shouted at me: “HEY! YOU’RE SECOND PLACE FEMALE RIGHT NOW.” I freaked out. I ran as fast as I could with my final sandbag on my shoulder, not going to adjust it once. I’ve never placed that high before..and I was excited.

I was so excited that it caused me to make some really poor choices. I hit the most intense obstacle of the day: the Happy Ending. It was most certainly not a happy ending. Happy Ending consisted of a low rig, a cargo net, and some ropes to Tarzan your way through before hitting a bell. Easy. Or, it should have been.

I normally take a breather before rigs to let my heart rate calm down. I didn’t this time, so naturally, I failed. Then I failed again. Then I failed again. And then you know what happened? I failed again. And with all of those failures, I became frustrated. I lost my joyful, cool composure that I had carried with me the entire way, and I couldn’t picture myself finishing the obstacle. I made a stupid, stupid choice to give up my band. Again, stupid. But, I managed to complete it and was greeted instantly by friends and the man who was covered in glitter (he called me nick-names the entire time; fun ones like “Tiny Trap Master” and “Mighty Mouse”).

(“Happy Ending” picture by Green Beret Challenge)

After races, I typically grab my stuff from gear drop-offs and then leave. This race was different. In the end, everyone jumped back into the water to wash off, and then everyone just sat in lawn chairs, drinking and having a great time. Nobody there was a stranger. Even Mark Ballas and his lady joined in. I was amazed at how well this event brought people together, even though it was considered individual.

My overall thoughts on this race? It was an amazing experience. It pushed me past my comfort zone, but, it made me realize why I love racing. Although it’s individual, I have never seen so much love and teamwork on a course–not even during endurance events. The volunteers were extremely excited to be there…I feel like very often, people only volunteer in order to get free race codes, but this certainly was not the case.

This event was intended to push your mind, and although I was frustrated at the last obstacle, I smiled the entire time. It made me realize that when you get your mind right, you really can accomplish anything. Mark Ballas is an incredible race director. I loved the small, intimate feel and of course, the obstacles were sturdy and challenging. The “fuck Ballas” attire was a nice little touch as well!

I will definitely be doing this event again, and I hope to see you there with me.

(Mr. Inspiration, Jarian Rich, and me)

 

Ryan and Lindsay get VO2 Max Tests


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HumanN (makers of Beet Elite), sent Ryan and Lindsay Atkins to have their VO2 Max tested. Lindsay took questions from the OCR community about those tests, and we attempted to answer them here.  Spoiler Alert: We also learn about the law of diminishing returns!

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

 

Ragnar Relay and Ragnar Trail Series

runragnar.com Enter code ORM18ALL for $60 OFF any 2018 Ragnar Relay

Show Notes:

Law of Diminishing Returns

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

Topo Athletic Hydroventure Review – Waterproof Shoes for Trail and OCR

Topo Athletic Hydroventure
4 / 5 Overall
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Durability
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We recently got in touch with Topo Athletics to review the Top Athletic Hydroventure shoes. They were rated Gear of the Year by National Geographic Adventure, so we needed to find out if they lived up to the hype! 

They certainly live up to their waterproof claim, as discovered on some wet and muddy trails as winter turned into spring in Georgia! They are also, without a doubt, the lightest pair of trail shoes I’ve had the pleasure of beating to death on Kennesaw Mountain. While more geared toward trail running than OCR, these would certainly be great for certain courses that don’t require the deep lugs.

Topo Hydroventure Features

The Topo Hydroventures boast not only their lightweight waterproof membranes but also a full-length, flexible rock plate to prevent stone bruising. This is extremely important since you expect a shoe that protects your soles from stone-bruising to also be heavy laden. Thankfully, this is not the case with the Hydroventures. I found myself feeling that these were simultaneously delicate (so lightweight and comfortable) and unyielding. It’s much rarer to find applicable shoe reviews geared toward women, so when I found these shoes, I knew I needed to let all of our female readers know about these powerhouse shoes!

Other notable features are:

  • The Roomy Toe Box: These are noticeably boxier and wider in the toe box than other trail and OCR shoes like the All Out Crushes or Reebok All Terrains. This allows for your feet to freely form their proper strike position during a run.
  • Lug Rubber Outsole: The high-traction outsoles made the transition from sand to gravel to thick mud to puddles seamless with the design that allows the shoe to release the “crud” you would normally pick up from the trail which weighs down the shoes.

Topo Hydroventure Usage

I used the Hydroventures on some pretty technical trails around Georgia. The hills and mountains, covered in mud, sand, and rocks, provided a well-rounded picture of how these shoes hold up on various terrain. They also made their OCR debut during the Atlanta Warrior Dash!

I really enjoyed running in these due to their low drop. While they aren’t zero drop, they do have a low, 3 mm heel to toe drop which is important to me, and many other runners who prefer as minimal of a shoe as possible, while still being protective. The Hydroventures also have the lower stack height of Topo’s other trail shoes and is the only women’s trail shoe from Topo with a full-length rock plate.

These have taken a beating for weeks, being the only shoes I want to wear on the trails due to their extreme comfort. While they are the lowest cushioned of the Topo trail shoes, I can’t imagine needing any more cushion or support than the Hydroventures give. I would wear these around town if I wasn’t worried about wearing down the soles on concrete!

I didn’t have to “break them in” by doing those weird things we all do to break in trail shoes – wearing wet socks or bending them back and forth for hours. They felt extremely comfortable right out of the box, slipped on over thin, synthetic ankle running socks, and taken immediately out to the trails. I found them extremely flexible, and it was easy to forget I was wearing brand new shoes at all.

Topo Hydroventure Durability

Once I’m no longer carrying this extra weight in the front (I’m now far enough along in pregnancy to be front-heavy), I’ll be taking these on the bigger OCR courses to see how they do at races like Spartan, Savage, and Tough Mudder.

I have no doubts about the future durability of the Hydroventures, however, due to how well they’ve held up thus far through my long runs on technical terrain. They’ve already gone about 50 miles and still look brand new, in spite of all that I’ve put them through. Even the laces are holding up well compared to other trail shoes I’ve run in! The uppers feel very durable, and not thin like many of the other shoes on the market, with the waterproof coating helping to seal the durability of the upper material.

Topo Hydroventure Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Roomy toe box
  • Comfort and cushion
  • Mud-release outsole lugs
  • Low heel to toe drop (3 mm)
  • Waterproof
  • Fit true to size
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • I could do with more color options!
  • They could be a little more flexible from left to right, straight out of the box, but that will get better as they loosen up during continued use.
  • If only they had deeper lugs to make these the perfectly rounded OCR shoe – allowing for better grip on obstacles!
  • The drainage could be improved, for when you really need to submerge – they are very waterproof, but there are sometimes when the water is just going to get in the shoe, and the drainage took a little longer than I preferred.

 

Topo Hydroventure  Verdict

I will definitely be looking into more Topo shoes and if these ever happen to burn out on me, they will be replaced immediately. I would recommend these to the runners who spend most of their time training and running on trails over recommending using them for obstacle races. The Topo Hydroventures could certainly hold their own on some of the courses I’ve run in past seasons but are more suited for trail running.

The waterproof feature is also going to be appealing to other runners in wet climates such as the northwestern U.S. and our readers across the pond who put in hundreds of miles in the rainy climate of the U.K.

Should you add Topo Hydroventure to your collection of trail shoes? Without a doubt! You will find these to be lightweight, comfortable, and durable, nearly all that we can ask for from a trail/OCR shoe.




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Bonefrog Talladega 2018 Review

Bonefrog Talladega Superspeedway

Bonefrog Talladega Superspeedway

The setting for the Bonefrog, which is touted as a unique obstacle course created by Navy Seals, was none other than the famous Talladega Superspeedway. While I’m admittedly not a racing fan, I can attest to the uniqueness and ambiance of the surroundings. It was definitely one of the most unique locations I have ever raced in and provided Bonefrog an opportunity to utilize the stadium for obstacles, as well as the infield. As soon as I entered the gates and went through the tunnels, I got a little too excited feeling like Ricky Bobby while childishly uttering, “Shake and Bake.”

The parking could not have been better. Most races require you to park a distance from the actual race, so you’re stuck carting gear back and forth. This proved to be even more favorable after completing the race when you’re exhausted and wiped, and a quick walk back to the car afterward can make all the difference. The icing on the cake was the flow of the traffic, or in his case, the lack of the traffic due to the top-notch parking and guidance from traffic directors. Hands down best parking I’ve seen at a race event. The registration moved quickly as well, even as they were training volunteers on scene. I was quickly checked in, given my race packet, and sent on my way with a smile.

Obstacles

Bonefrog Get a Grip

Bonefrog Get a Grip

The obstacles at Bonefrog were definitely challenging, namely Get a Grip, the Chopper, the Brute Force Carry up the Talladega stadium stairs, and the Stronghold. I was prepared for a lot of water and mud on this course but it was dry as a bone, which made obstacles like the Siege Wall, all the phase walls, and rope climb much easier. All of the obstacles were sturdy and well built with water stations interspersed throughout the course.

Once I got back on track, I realized the twisted (ahem, genius) minds of the Bonefrog creators saved the most difficult obstacles for last. The last leg of the Challenge was the ultimate grip test as the Strong Hold and Chopper were among the most difficult of the obstacles and were positioned in the last mile or so with only little reprieve and quickly followed up with Dirty Name and the Cargo Net. Pure evil genius. The course ended with Black Ops, an elevated monkey bar with a rope climb to the platform, followed up by a descent to run to the finish line.

Bonefrog Chopper

Bonefrog Chopper

Bonefrog Black Ops

Bonefrog Black Ops

Staff

The staff at Bonefrog was the best. We were greeted with smiles, and the founder and race director were all over the course, talking to participants and spectators, handing out medals and shirts at the finish, really showing a concerted interest in participants’ race experience.

I even had a chance to chat with Brian Carney and Josh Rich after the event about my disappointment in getting misdirected. Shockingly, Brian and Josh listened to my newbie grumbles. There are many races where you can’t actually walk right up to the race director with feedback or if you do, it falls on deaf ears. To add to that, I think those who have had similar experiences, only share with friends and on social media instead of having a chat with the race directors themselves in an effort to help make the races better. The Bonefrog team seemed to genuinely care about my feedback.

Overall Impression

The obstacles presented a challenging course where you definitely had to bring your A-game. While I would love to see additional signage to clearly indicate the course route, the whole event is organized by a very small, grassroots team, so the fact that this was the only small glitch, shows how well the event was organized in retrospect. Kudos to Bonefrog for a top-notch event. I will definitely be back to this event!

 

Photo Credits: Jen Wade, Bonefrog

Alaska’s Winter Wilderness Ultra – The Little Su

There’s an Ultra event held every February that bills itself as a Race Across Frozen Alaska, and it’s the real deal.  Race temps stay below freezing (by a lot), it’s all wilderness through snow and ice, and the starting line is x4 Iditarod Champion Martin Buser’s kennel.  As a skinny economist with bad eyesight and zero wilderness intelligence, I decided to face a laundry list of weaknesses by making this Little Su 50K my first attempt at Ultra running.  Last Saturday, it went down.

Minutes from the 11:00 a.m. Start

It’s possible there are safer options for a first 50k, but safe has always just felt like another word for dull. After 4 years of OCR, rope climbs and bucket carries feel slightly less exhilarating nowadays… but I still really love trail running and getting lost into the unpaved nowhere.  So just after the temps rose above 0F last Saturday morning, I lined up with 76 bikers, 4 skiers and 25 runners in my home state to try a different sort of running experience (sans obstacles) over 31.4 miles of arctic fun.

the Little Su is Underway

My goal was to run the entire thing, but anything faster than 11 minute miles in snowy conditions would put that at risk. Snow is slow, and it sends a heart rate to the stratosphere if it’s treated like pavement (imagine beach running over squishy sand). When I saw my first mile clocked in at 9:50, I checked my ego, hit the brakes hard and watched the field pass. I wondered how many of the faster runners would gas out at mile 20. Not many (if any) did, they were just in much better shape.

Early in the Run

Around mile 4, I saw a glorified bunny hill and decided to let gravity placate my racing ego with a brief sprint.  Seconds later, I felt like a world-class idiot after my foot sank into a deep snow pocket and rolled my ankle at full speed. It was a potential setback that the SealFit coaches would have ridiculed as a quinjury (i.e. pain quitters use to justify quitting, even though they can continue).  The nagging pain from there on out was a fun reminder that technical running isn’t just for rocky trails.

A mile or so later, I came to a 50’ish foot section of funky brown ice and crossed to the other side without much thought. It looked sort of thin, but the lakes had been frozen for weeks and nothing cracked underfoot. Then I heard a guy yell at me from behind “Hey!!!” as he pointed over to the trail I was supposed to be on. Drat.  After some cathartic expletives, I doubled back across the weird ice to rejoin the right trail.  Shortly after I got home, I looked this section up and realized the funky colored ice was actually the Little Susitna River… Oops.

Roughly 40 minutes later, the snow density changed to something less fast and my pace slowed to stabilize the heart rate. For the next 20+ miles, I saw just a handful of racers. At this point, running became almost meditative and felt like a mushy communion with nature. The remaining hours were spent taking in the Alaskan winter experience… Snowmachines zooming by, low flying planes passing overhead, and picturesque views in every direction with zero wildlife. To all the dutiful bears honoring their proud tradition of hibernation: thank you!

Typical Trail Section Plowed by Snowmachines

Mile 17 Checkpoint w/ PingPong Ball Drop to Prove you were there

After being on the course four 4+ hours, silly songs like “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen and every Christmas Carol I’d ever heard started going through my head. I’d been alone in the wilderness for so long that I started talking to myself. Somewhere the dialogue stopped being just in my head and I caught myself carrying on the conversation out loud. I choose to believe this had more to do with being lost in the Ultra moment than temporarily losing my mind, but either explanation seems plausible.  It’s weird how quickly a person can get lost in their own head without obstacles to distract them every 1/4 of a mile.

The day had its expected opportunities to Embrace the Suck. I constantly worried about my 3L of water freezing (it didn’t), and the Gu’s started making me gag 4 hours in. The potential quinjuries multiplied: my ankle hurt progressively, an IT Band acted up, an Achilles felt like it had partially torn, and a PT tendon went achy for a brief spell. None of these were legit injuries, but my mind wanted in on the day’s challenge to see if it could ruin an otherwise beautiful experience by being a drama queen.

Winter Sunsets last Over an Hour

Around the marathon point, the long sunset was starting as I met a skier 5’ish hours into the race. A few miles later, Iditarod champ Martin Buser zipped by on a snowmachine saying “you’re almost there!!!” as he sped away.

Martin Buser Patrolling the Course  – Photo by Andy Romang

Soon after Buser’s encouraging words, my 6½ hour day of living the dream by running 31.4 miles through frozen Alaska ended under a warm (10F) sunset.  The last time I finished something this far out of my skill set, my Uncle Don was waiting at the beach to greet me as I finished the swim from Alcatraz in to San Francisco. Thanks to the incredibly gracious event photographer, I was able to get one final post-race photo with Uncle Don (who passed 12/20/17) at the finish line.

Sunset Finish – minus the gear – Photo by Andy Romang

Running for 6.5 hours in the snow at these temps was a way different experience than completing the Sun Peaks Ultra Beast in Canada or any other event I’ve done that celebrates our ability to suffer. Bridging the gap from OCR to Ultra distances was a lot harder and more technical than I thought it would be. But thanks to my coach Nickademus de La Rosa (formerly Hollon) sharing his otherworldly endurance knowledge, it’s something I was finally able to manage without a red lantern (last place) or DNF to show for the effort.

Everything about this was fun. The race staff and participants were just nice across the board, and the event’s host was one of the more gracious people you’ll ever meet. After doing one, I get the draw to these events and can’t wait to do more…  Just as soon as my freshly diagnosed Grade II ankle sprain heals…  Apparently some of the pain wasn’t just in my head.

As I was driving away under the sunset, superhuman people were still out there running and skiing the full 100 mile version of the course.  Props to them for stamina and grit, but the full 100 is a goal for another day… maybe.

The Course Just after Sunset – Photo by Andy Romang

 

Photo Credit: Daniel Delfino (thanks GoPro!), Andy Romang, Martin Delfino