World’s Toughest Mudder 2018

Prologue

As a World’s Toughest Mudder novice, I was not sure what to expect, going into the race. I read the rules, I listened to pre-race podcasts, asked advice from past participants, followed the social media frenzy leading up to the event, and I scoured through articles and information provided from prior years. Planning for World’s Toughest Mudder was quite an ordeal in itself! While I had previously competed in other Ultra distance obstacle and trail races, preparing for a 24 hour event was a marathon of research, prepping, packing, and list-checking. At the advice of others, I purchased a full body wetsuit, neoprene gloves, neoprene hats, and a waterproof headlamp. I organized my nutrition, made a plan with my pit crew, and teed up at the start line with my heart on my sleeve. I knew it would be difficult and cold; I knew that I was embarking on the longest, most challenging athletic event of my amateur career to date. I was a little nervous and scared, but I was more excited than anything: excited to test my gear, test my legs, and test my strength against 24 hours of OCR. I knew that this competition would (obviously) be about the mileage and the ability to complete obstacles, but I had no idea this race would end up as more of a contest of grit than any other physical skill or athletic proficiency.

Course Design

The 5 mile loop was relatively flat with only about 600 feet of gain per lap. There was not a lot of single track or technical trail running, and most of the course was gravel roads and dirt paths. Leading up to the race, there had been heavy rain in the area. Most of the course was extremely slick and muddy, with Georgia clay turning into slimy, shoe-sucking smush. The slickness of the running paths resulted in poor shoe traction, excess mud on obstacles like Everest and Mudderhorn, and the slowing of cadence. There were a few steep downhills in the woods that required the use of branches and tree trunks as stabilizers, but the course was still relatively “runnable,” despite conditions. The rain caused traditionally “muddy” obstacles like Mud Mile, Happy Ending, and Kiss of Mud to become swamps of thick mud that engulfed competitors like quicksand. TMHQ maintained the standard rules of allowing (and encouraging) competitors to assist each other through the obstacles and penalty laps were offered in lieu of obstacle completion; across several obstacle failures, participants would max out at an additional 1.6 miles in penalties per loop.

Stoking the fire a bit, TMHQ had some special rules and variations in place that allowed runners to make strategic choices about their race and to earn a “Golden Carabiner,” which worked as a “get out of jail free” pass to either skip obstacles or take alternate routes on course. Runners could earn a Golden Carabiner once hitting the 25 mile (5 lap threshold), as well as by completing more difficult lanes of specified obstacles on course. In the late hours of the night, both Funky Monkey and Leap of Faith included Golden Carabiner lanes that made the regular obstacle even more complex; completion of one of these lanes earned the competitor a Golden Carabiner. Runners could redeem their Golden Carabiner at any other point during the race, either skipping a specific obstacle or being allowed to take an alternate route on course that bypassed a stretch of obstacles. Another spark of ambiguity was a fork in the road halfway through the loop that opened at 8:00 PM; TMHQ had devised two unique routes that competitors could choose between, one having standard obstacles (Quagmire, The Bloc Ness Monster, Leap of Faith, and The Guantlet) and the other having electrocution obstacles (Eletroshock Therapy, Entrapment, and Operation). This “pick your poison” and Golden Carabiner approach to course design maintained the integrity of the 5 mile loop distance, regardless of the route taken.

The Race

The race started at noon on Saturday, and the sun was shining! With a little bit of a wind chill, the temperatures were still warm enough for the short sleeves and smiles. Our first lap was a 5 mile tour and preview of the course-no obstacles; competitors took a Golden Carabiner route through the first lap, bypassing a view of some of the obstacles. For the first hour of the race, none of the obstacles were opened; beginning at 1:00 PM, obstacles were methodically opened via a rolling start through the course. By 3:00 PM, all of the 26 obstacles were opened (except for The Stacks, which opened at midnight). Most competitors started their first lap with a strong pace, full of excitement and energy about the day that lay ahead of us. I saw and felt that speed and enthusiasm on course, as runners continued into laps two and three.

Hitting obstacles as they started to open, I finished my second lap wet. The heat of my running pace and the sunshine kept me comfortable, and the blue skies created a beautiful backdrop to the event. Coming back around Mudderhorn and into the pit area at the completion of my third lap, the sun was moving towards the horizon. The Georgia autumn wind started to pick up and I began to realize just how cold this race was going to be. I was able to complete three laps fairly quickly and hit my pit crew before sunset. My wetsuit and headlamp went on for lap four, and the wetsuit never came off until I crossed the finish line. Watching the sunset from Ladder to Hell around 1.5 miles into my fourth lap was a special memory from that day; this tall obstacle was placed at the top of a hill, giving a panoramic view of the streaked paintbrush of dusk settling over the race. By the time I came into my pit for my fifth lap, the sun had settled over the edge of the woods.

As soon as darkness hit, the temperatures began to drop. Many competitors decided to opt out of active participation and camp out in their tents, avoiding the course in the cold. Throughout the night (my laps six to nine, approximately 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM) the course was relatively empty. I experienced long stretches of running alone, occasionally being passed my elite men and spotting other headlamps through the woods in the distance. With the temperatures in the low thirties, many obstacles began to ice over – even the grass and trees surrounding the course began to freeze. Around midnight, the TMHQ team began to methodically shut down certain obstacles, specifically those that resulted in total head submersion, as well as some of the obstacles that had dangerously slick frost. As a precautionary measure to ensure runners’ safety, obstacles such as Under Water Tunnels, Lumber Jacked, Skidmarked, Berlin Walls, Cage Crawl, and The Gauntlet were closed until sunrise. Many of the other water obstacles did remain open throughout the night, including Augustus Loop, Mud Mile, Twin Peaks, Funky Monkey, Happy Ending, and The Stacks (once opened at midnight).

Even with the improvised TMHQ safety modifications to the course, competitors that continued to fight overnight for mileage remained wet, muddy, and cold. The vibe on the course had shifted from energy and excitement to quiet perseverance and steady focus. Runners fought the conditions and their own demons to sustain a pace quick enough to stay warm, but slow enough to maintain shoe traction amidst slick running paths and icy obstacles. Once the sun began to rise on Sunday morning, the dawn brought warmer temperatures, many obstacles re-opened for completion, and the hibernating competitors came back out on course to continue their quest for mileage goals and the desired “24 Hour” finisher headband. The course began to refill with participants, pit crew began to awaken with a renewed sense of vigor, and the festival area began buzzing with excitement again.  By late morning, I was embarking on my final two laps, eleven and twelve; my pace had slowed to intermittent periods of jogging and walking, but I was determined to finish what I had started and reach my 60-mile goal. My last two loops were surreal and dreamlike, with the warmth of the sun back on my shoulders and the realization of the mortality of the event: my 24 hours was almost over. Despite the pain in my legs and the fatigue in my body, I felt so alive running across the finish line. This was my first World’s Toughest Mudder, and certainly not my last.

Epilogue

As I mentioned before, World’s Toughest Mudder became less of a competition of obstacle proficiency and running speed, and more of a test of mental fortitude and determination. Less than 25% of competitors reached 50 miles and less than 2% completed 75 or more miles, which were lower than most of the previous years’ result statistics. There was a clear division amongst competitors (and ultimately, finishers): those that succumbed and submit to the cold, and those that found comfort and resolve in the rawness of the adversity of their circumstances. Only a small group of competitors remained actively on course through the cold, ice, and solitude of the night; less than one-third of the twelve hundred participants maintained a continuous progression of laps through the dark. These are the racers that were able to put their heads down, remain determined, and march onward towards coveted mileage bibs (50 and 75 Mile threshold bibs). World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was just as I expected it to be; it was an obstacle course race designed to challenge your speed, obstacle technique, physical endurance, and athletic performance.  But World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was also something that many (including myself) did not expect it to be; it was a trial of overall tenacity, perseverance of will, and the mental grit that it takes to move forward in spite of cold, doubt, fear, and difficulty.

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Cadre-Cody-G

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Formation

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;

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Medic-Training

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

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Litter-Build

  • 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.”

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Classy-Part-of-Town GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Capitol-Dome

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Man-Down

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Heros

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile1 GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile2

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

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Tunnel-of-Love

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Graduation

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.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Patch

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

Asheville Spartan Super 2018

Every year for the last three years, I have made the nine-hour drive to tackle the Asheville-Black Mountain course. Over the past three years, the Ashville course has consistently ranked in difficulty at the highest level. In comparison to other courses, it’s put in the same category as Killington and Wintergreen.  The terrain and elevation provide a physically and mentally tough course, one that provides challenges to the strongest OCR athletes and pushes many past their limitations.

With that in mind, I drove to Ashville this year with a hopeful mindset. Each year I have managed to improve my time and overall performance and this year I had the same intentions. In typical Asheville fashion, just parking on race day was a difficult task. The rain had been falling hard for the last few weeks and the parking lot was a muddy mess with many Spartans stopping to help push out vehicles and navigate to safer parking.

Standing in the start line corral, feeling the normal butterflies and anxiousness that one faces staring at a monumental task, I took a deep breath, shouted AROO, and took off running to face the rugged terrain.

The course began much like years before, swooping hard right and heading towards the cold streams that run throughout the mountain. Soon I was jumping into the cold water and maneuvering around the slippery rocks and divots. Vertical Cargo and Plate Drag were the very first obstacles we faced. I really enjoyed the cargo climb and the way they used the terrain.

Cargo Climb Plate Drag

6ft wall followed by 8ft wall and Z-wall were the next obstacles we faced. The new design on Z-wall provided increased difficulty and many athletes were forced to do burpees in several inches of muddy water.

Z-Walls

Moving forward we faced lots of climbing and navigating muddy terrain, the rain made this particular course that much more difficult and the climbs alone were taking many Spartans a great deal of time.

Technical Terrain

After a few miles of climbing we were brought down the hill and close to the festival area. Here we faced the multi-rig and several other Spartan favorites including tire flip and dunk wall.  The dunk wall was extra gross and left us all orange and muddy.

Circling out of the festival area and heading back up the mountain we began another ascent. Most of the climbs and ascents were in areas where it was nearly impossible to actually run. Rather Spartans moved in a march up the side of the mountain. One thing to mention about this venue is the amazing views. While the climb is rugged, the view from the top is absolutely breathtaking.

Mountain View

Several miles of climbing up and back down was next; stopping only for the incredible views or next obstacle tends to be the right of passage for any Spartan who tackles the Asheville Spartan course. Adjacent to Cargo Climb we came upon a newer Spartan obstacle similar to a great wall with rock grips. The rock grips were muddy and made the obstacle very difficult but equally fun.

Great Wall

Similar to years past, the last mile or so of the course brought us back down the mountain and into the festival area to finish out the last few obstacles. First, a long barb wire crawl with many spectators and finishers watching and cheering us all on. Next, the spear throw and Hercules Hoist tried our reserves.  The last few obstacles and finish line were in the heart of the festival area. It was a lot of fun to have so many cheering you on as you finished this grueling and laborious course. Jumping the fire and smiling for the customary photo danced in my memory as I collected my medal and shirt.

I do, however, feel obligated to mention that when the small rain storm rolled in during the afternoon heats, many racers were taken off of the course with no medal or finisher shirt. The Spartan Staff at this particular event (I’ve been to many and never experienced this) chose to yell, scream and curse at racers to get out of the festival area. I was very surprised by the unprofessional display and lack of organization they showed over such a small storm; by the time I had trudged back to my car the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared.

However, outside of the storm and festival uproar, overall the 2018 Asheville Spartan Super did not disappoint; it was the perfect combination of the 2016 and 2017 courses. I am looking forward to the next event…AROO!

Tougher Mudder KY: Laps and Live Music

Let me start by saying this: Great job, Tough Mudder!  That feedback email that you get after a race? Tough Mudder really seems to have paid attention.  Year after year, they have consistently gotten better.  If you read my review for the Tougher Mudder TN last September, then you understand why I made a point to start with some praise for the improvements!

With Tough Mudder starting their competitive series just last year, they were playing the sort of catch up game that any runner who has ever fallen off an obstacle or come from behind should understand (I know I do!).  They realized that Mudder Nation needed improvements, and they did what many OCR brands do not do well: They listened to constructive criticism and made changes.

VENUE and PARKING: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY

One of the aspects that I most love about racing, other than the amazing and supportive OCR family, is getting to see so many different parts of the world that I would not see otherwise.  Although we didn’t race in or just around the Kentucky Speedway, getting to drive by it on the way in to the venue was exciting (I do NOT excite easily).

 Parking was in three different sections, and I went with the “General Parking” option.  It was a half-mile away, but it wasn’t a half-mile of wondering where the entrance was, as for the entire walk to registration, I could see part of the course, several obstacles, and a portion of the festival area.  Parking was quick and easy.

View-from-Parking-Area

 

REGISTRATION/CHECK-IN:

There is some room for improvement here, although it is better than the last Tougher I competed in (Thank you, TM!).  With plenty of lines for the non-competitive heats (makes sense, since there are far more participants in these areas), there were only two lines and two tables for Tougher Mudders.  While it was a smooth check-in with zero issues, maybe adding a table or two would help, as the check-in volunteers were three to a table, so there was congestion.  Overall, though, it took me maybe three minutes to show my ID, get my bib and timing chip, and move on.  I also come prepared, though, so that always helps those volunteers, as well as speeds up the process for other participants.

Registration-and-Check-in

Registration-tents

There were also tables set up with plenty of markers and zip ties for timers, as well as scissors to cut the loose ends off of the zip ties.  Convenience at its finest!

STARTING LINE, GOOD TIMES, and THE COURSE (of course)

After being told that there were some starting line issues this year already, I was a little nervous about being sure I was at the gate early.  I must say, it was hard to hear any announcements and I was constantly checking my watch and looking toward the starting line.  Thankfully, it seemed like volunteers were deployed to find anyone wearing a Tougher Mudder bib and to be sure we were headed to the starting line on time.

The way people were organized into corrals by time, then sent to the starting line, was a pretty cool change from the norm of people just heading to the start and getting a wristband or something else checked.  I spoke to a few of the runners from each type of race (5k, Tough Mudder half, Tough Mudder full), and how they felt about being able to start all in the same wave.  Everyone I spoke to loved the idea of being mixed with others with different, yet the same, goal-to finish stronger and together! No one felt left out or “called out” for running a shorter race.

After I finished my race, I met up at the starting line to visit with DJ Will Gill, who is always, always a superstar at the starting line and gets everyone motivated.  He announced me when I walked up as the Tougher female winner, and that was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of starting line people really get me going, and he is one of the few. Unlike other race venues, DJ Will Gill even let me sing the National Anthem for one of the heats!  Tough Mudder allows a moment of silence and the National Anthem before each and every wave of runners.

National-Anthem

Once runners lined up, they had a flat start that went to the top of a small hill, and then it was ON!  Tougher Mudders had to follow course markings like everyone else, but we had Lap 1 and Lap 2 challenges.  We pretty much had the course to ourselves for Lap 1, but once we hit Lap 2, we were intermingled with non-Tougher Mudder runners, and while it caused some congestion, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  My husband, who ran his first OCR, was part of the 5k crew, and he felt just as part of everything and every obstacle as everyone else.  For this being his first OCR, and with him not being a runner at all, I worried he would not know where to go on the course, but he says the course was marked so well, there was no chance for any confused at all.  (He also is planning on running another Tough Mudder, “at least a half”, he says!).

Runners also crossed over where others were just getting to the race and having the cheers and encouragement as I ran by was pretty nice. I also think Tough Mudder did a great job with changing up a little how the Tougher Mudders had to compete, such as we had to complete the King Kong Infinity, and we had to swim across a pond (I couldn’t even touch the bottom!).  Towards the end, Toughers had an ice bag carry, and we carried it to the Arctic Enema, broke it open, and poured it into the water before getting in and swimming to the other side.  As one who doesn’t like any weather below 70 degrees, this wasn’t my favorite part, but I do appreciate it being towards the end of the race!

DJ-Will-Gill

Starting-Line

RECOGNITION and MUDDER VILLAGE

Not only did Tougher Mudder decide to create medals for the top three male and female finishers, they also added a podium ceremony.  I do wish the podium was out in the middle of the venue, rather than being crammed at the end of the finish line.  This allows for people to enjoy watching the announcements, as well as others, getting pictures up on the podium just for fun; HOWEVER, for Tough Mudder to have made the changes with medals and recognition, and in such a short time, was pretty rockstar of them!

Podium-Ceremony

And guess what? There was a LIVE BAND in Mudder Village, as well!  There was other music being played, but the band did a super job covering top songs, and this was a wonderful difference from so many other venues I’ve been to.  The ATM was in a building on the way in and set aside and well-marked.  There were new obstacles and others from the past were brought back, as well.  It was nice to go into a race and not know exactly what to expect.

This is a racing brand that has been around for some time, now, and if you haven’t run one yet, go do it!  If you have, think about doing it again!

I’ll be back, Tough Mudder!

 

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)