Aston Down Spartan Super 2018

Aston Down Spartan Super

The 2018 South West Super was the first race of the season (for me). When was the first chance for me to back out? A long time ago. If I could say I was not prepared for this race, that would be an understatement. Two weeks previous to this race I was bungee jumping off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, hardly Spartan Race preparation. In any case, it’s been quite some time since I did any sort of race, and I felt it on this Super. At least this time, I wasn’t on my own. Joined by two of my three brothers and our friend, we stuck together as a team for over 3 hours in a blistering 23 degrees (Yes. This is hot in Britain).

The first 30 minutes are always tough for me. Many thoughts go through my head including and not limited to “I’m going to die.” or “Why am I doing this?” and more importantly “Can I stop now and still get a medal?”.  Maybe it was something to do with the fact that the first five obstacles were all walls. My arms are puny.

The next couple of obstacles were well varied and consisted of two Barbed Wire Crawls, Twister (why?), the A-Cargo frame and Block Wall. This last obstacle was a personal triumph for me. I have NEVER completed this before and was beyond ecstatic that the Super 2018 was the moment that I defeated it. Dramatic I know. In any case, it was short lived because the other Z Wall I failed epically on. Small victories.

This race gave me a new appreciation for hills, although I’m sure I thought the same last year. My chat with Karl Allsop, Race Director of Spartan UK, had already given me some idea of how the course had been created. I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this though. This year, Aston Down sported a long hill switchback section which unfortunately spelt out a longer word than ‘Aroo’ that was used the year before.  Amongst the moans and groans (some from me) of those first seeing the hill, there were plenty of grunts and shouts of those already taking it on. I know what you’re thinking, come on its just a hill. No. Not just a hill. It was a good 10 – 15 minutes of ascent, descent, hidden holes and twisted ankles. After that, the sandbag carry was a walk in the park. A really big park where there was no discernible need for us to carry sandbags.

The 6′ wall came next. At this point, we were hot, sweaty and seriously tired. This is where the famous Spartan spirit came in to play. Struggling on the second wall, a group of fellow Spartans lent a hand (a shoulder and a head) to get our entire group over all three walls. It was a brilliant moment of the race and by far my fondest memory. We caught up with these lads in the T-shirt line at the end of the race. It’s such a good feeling to know that there are those who race that just want everyone to cross that finish line. It’s also nice that it feels like a rite of passage to shout other Spartans on and make sure that everyone is OK when they’ve just stopped to catch their breath.

Rolling Mud wasn’t really all that muddy (great) but it was a welcome cool down in the scorching heat. It was also just enough to make the Slip Wall a little more slippery. It was the water station on the other side that saw me almost run up the wall. Cue the foot cramp coming down the other side.

Once we had eaten copious amounts of bananas, drunk and poured water over us, we entered a gentle jog along the unusually flat ground. We all reflected on the race so far and how we were so glad that we had managed with no major injuries and no dropouts. It was such a great feeling to know that our bodies were capable of so much.

As we reared around the corner, I spied the familiar abandoned building nestled in amongst some trees and bushes. Bucket Brigade. Those running with me could tell my distress, we could see the last few obstacles to our right but first, we had to endure. Last year, we filled our own buckets with pebbles. This year, Spartan Race graciously filled our buckets for us and tightly secured the lid. I was grateful/ungrateful for this. Whilst re-arranging the position of the bucket last year, some pebbles may have fallen out on the way. Oh, how unfortunate. Along with the suspicious piles of pebbles that were found as we heaved the buckets around the course, I think Spartan Race cottoned on. This year, no such luck. I held it in front, to the side and finally settled on the ‘half on the back half on the shoulder’ method. The heat at this point was almost unbearable and I felt for the men and women who had chosen the heavier buckets. Several people along the route were either stopped or stopping with their buckets falling to the floor. It was tough. But we all knew that it would be this, a small jog, four or five more obstacles and we would have the sweet victory of the Spartan medal. 

We endured it well and all welcomed the short (light) jog to the next set of obstacles. The atmosphere approaching the finish line was electric. It makes such a big difference when you can hear the music blaring and the cheering of the spectators when you are trying to pull the last few particles of energy together. It’s also comforting to note that everyone else looks just as dead as you.

Herc Hoist is usually trouble free, but at this point in the race, it was horrendous. It felt like all the muscles in my legs were cramping. I’m glad there were no photographers here. I then hobbled over to the Spearman throw; failed as usual and attempted some burpees. Next up was Monkey Bars to which my calves decided enough was enough. I know, who uses their legs for monkey bars? Me apparently.

These last obstacles were sort of a blur mainly because we could see the finish line and desperately wanted the end to come. I didn’t care if I threw myself or was thrown over the 8′ Walls that separated us from the glorious finish line. The lads heroically completed them without help whilst I called upon some more shoulders and heads. I’m just too short. And that was it. Our Fire Jump picture was possibly the best one I’ve had yet and it perfectly embodied the joy we felt after finishing the race.

On our way to our Brazilian BBQ, post-race treat, we discussed the day at length. We laughed and groaned at the best and hardest parts then quite deservedly stuffed our faces.

The course was well balanced but we did agree that the significant amount of hills was almost demoralizing. This didn’t, however, take away from the fact that once completed, there was a greater sense of achievement. A few more water stops on such a hot day would have also been beneficial. But the layout was definitely challenging enough but not impossible to complete. We all came away knowing exactly what our weak points were. The volunteers were there to offer support and encouragement (and sometimes an inaccurate portrayal of how long we had left).

Overall, the race was a great day. The atmosphere was amazing and you really felt like you were taking part in something epic and that everyone else thought you were epic too for simply being there. The pre-race warm-up always makes me feel a little silly, but it was nice that everyone else was willing to make a bit of a fool out of themselves. Please, just don’t ask us to do more burpees.

A big thanks to Karl and the team for putting on such an eventful day at Aston Down and shout out to the incredible volunteers at the end who let four thirsty finishers raid their water bottle stash.

Aston,  we will be back.

All images are credited to Epic Action Imagery, Alec Lom, and Paul Pratt.

Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.

Kids Obstacle Challenge Chicago

It’s tough to coordinate things when you and your kids head to an OCR event. Bringing extra clothes for everyone and managing start times so everyone can be seen can be a major headache. Here’s an idea though, why not find a Kids Obstacle Challenge race near you? It’s just for the kiddies, although parents can run along within the non-competitive waves and everything is designed just for your little one! I had the great pleasure of attending the June 16 event held in Chicago with my 3 little ones and found it to be a great way to get the kids active and enjoy some family fun. KOC had set-up 14 obstacles along a 1.75-mile course within the Ned Brown Preserve in Rolling Meadows for a thrilling test for the youngsters. There was plenty of space at the park and KOC made great use of it by keeping their course in easy viewing for the multitude of spectators watching their little ones having a blast. Registration was a breeze in the early going as not many parents signed their children up for the opening competitive wave, but the lines became much longer later in the day when the open runners checked in. So, a little hint here mom and dad, if your child is competitive sign them up for the early wave as I found this to be the least attended wave of the day and had virtually no obstacle backups. Your child will get chip timing and could win a Razor product if they finish in the top 3 of their respective age group. Later on in the day when the open waves race I found the course to be really packed up at obstacles with many more athletes as well as their parents on the course at the same time.

 

KOC set up their starting corral next to the festival area where the emcee for the event got the kids pumped up for the start. Using a super soaker water gun only added to the excitement on this 95-degree day. Once we were thoroughly drenched the air horn blew and waves of parents with their children took off. The first obstacle along the way was a series of suspended punching bag type balloons which required racers to weave their way through before continuing to a series of A-frame type walls that needed to be traversed. Next up a shallow pool of ankle-deep water filled with colored floating balls needed to be crossed before dropping down on all fours for a set of low crawls. An A-frame with rock climbing holds sat in a pool of water and required racers to cross from one side to the other. I found this to be perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day and possibly the most fun for the youngsters. KOC followed up with an adult obstacle, the sandbag carry, but scaled it down to 5 and 10-pound bags with the carry distance being around 20 yards total.

The trail became a bit soggier now as the rain the previous night drained into this section of the course. Racers now encountered a spider web of bungee cords on them leading to a fun rope swing across a shallow water pit. I noticed the kids really liked playing Tarzan on this rope! No obstacle course can be complete without a cargo net climb, right? KOC chose this section of the trail to install their A-frame cargo climb with a group of car tires set up a short distance away for the high knees obstacle. The distance between obstacles lengthened a bit now during the last section of the course. Ladder walls, which the racers could either climb or go under was the next obstacle presented. A suspended balance pole with hanging ropes proved a tough task to manage as racers made their way around the last turn of the course where a rock climb with a slide down to the stickiest mud ever waited. I personally had to pull one of my kids out of this mess and I’m sure many a parent went looking for missing shoes in this muck after the race. The last obstacle along the way to the finish became a messy one as a net was suspended over a mud pit which got kids low and dirty before crossing the finish line and picking up their unique medal.

The KOC was an awesome family adventure as I saw smiling faces everywhere. The obstacles here were geared a little more towards younger racers as there wasn’t anything that older racers would fail to complete. KOC offered cool Razor Scooter products to the top 3 winners in each competitive age class and although the competitive waves were small, the competition for those scooters appeared fierce. One thing I noticed is a bit of an obstacle back up during the open waves. As a veteran racer I’d suggest making smaller waves staggered every 10-15 minutes apart instead of the larger waves every half an hour, or by adding another obstacle at each location along the course. Additionally, having a computer or tablet available for competitive racers to view their time would have been a valuable addition. The only people who knew their times were the top 3. The rest of the racers had to wait until Monday to see their results.  Parking and pictures were free at this event which was certainly another plus. So, if you’re an OCR enthusiast, and I’m guessing you are if you’re reading this, grab the kids and hit a KOC event so that generation next can enjoy their own special race!

 

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

Maryland International Raceway, just south of our nation’s capital, is usually filled with revving engines, screeching tires and roaring cheers. This weekend, the cheers were still there, but the tires were replaced with the sound of feet running through the woods. The engines were replaced by splashing water, ringing bells and spears hitting hay. Spartan Race had returned for its popular Sprint distance.

Parking and Registration

Personally, the two biggest things that make a race great, other than the course itself, is parking and registration. Parking at D.C. was on-site, which is always great. Generally, if I see there’s a shuttle, I’m less likely to add that race to my list. Parking at Maryland International Raceway was extremely easy, and the lot was only about a 3-4-minute walk to the registration tent. Check in was smooth and quick early in the morning and I didn’t notice any long lines in the afternoon.

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

I know a lot of Spartan diehards were down in Dallas for one of their bigger stadium races of the year, but turnout still seemed relatively strong. There weren’t a ton of vendors, but this made the festival area seem less congested and easy to navigate. Regardless of festival vendors, there were still plenty of free goodies to be had both at the finish line and around the festival area.

The spectator area didn’t extend far into the course, but after watching racers start, they were able to view Hercules Hoist, Multi-Rig and Rope Climb all within about a quarter mile of the course. There was also an area outside of the festival to watch Monkey Bars and Vertical Cargo. At the finish, spectators watched racers emerge from the woods to take on the A-Frame and finish with a Fire Jump.

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

Out of the handful of Sprints I’ve done in the past, DC was by far the flattest. Though there were plenty of short hills with varying inclines, the total ascent was low for your typical Spartan. Though 300 feet over a little over 4 miles is nothing to scoff at, many other venues easily hit 1,000 feet or more in the same distance. This led to quick times for the Elite racers, with the male winner, Tyler McCredie finishing in 39:48 and the female winner, Tiffany Palmer, coming across in 50:42.

Most Spartan Races and obstacle races, in general, only include a few obstacles in the first mile. Mostly, this is to keep the field spread out so there isn’t a lot of backup. The D.C. Sprint, however, included seven obstacles in the first mile. And not just hurdles or barbed wire, either. Those were included, but so were the Spearman, Bucket Brigade and Olympus. Initially, I expected this to cause some unusual backups. But, to my surprise, I didn’t face any significant obstacle lines. That went for both heats I ran, once in Age Group at 8:00 am and the second being Open at 11:30 am.

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

In all, the course tallied up about 4.25 miles and racers faced 22 obstacles. That early run of obstacles meant no crazy gauntlet at the end of the race. The last half mile only included Monkey Bars, Vertical Cargo, A-Frame and Fire Jump. So, if you had enough juice in your legs, you could make a solid finish with the lack of strength or grip obstacles. Personally, I like having a string of obstacles right before the finish, but each design has its strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

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!

 

Racing, Burpees, and Misogi: a Three Year Update (Part One)

This past fall I traveled to the United Arab Emirates for the Inaugural Middle-Eastern Obstacle Course Championships.

I wasn’t particularly excited to be racing. Granted, there had been a time when I was really passionate about racing, back when I first stumbled upon the sport and subsequently caught the racing bug. Back then my goal was to be the best in the world at what I did, and a good deal of every day was spent either training, recovering from training, or thinking about training.

I thought about the sport constantly in those early days, but the sport did not think about me. I loved speed and trained that way, but the sport of obstacle racing was evolving toward sluggish, multi-hour mountain races. This left me with the occasional short course races and not much else. I had a brief stint with Spartan’s Pro Team and moved on. I would end up working far too much, meeting a Hungarian girl, and eventually following her to Europe.

My racing days were three years ago, ages in a sport spit-balling forward into the public’s eye as quickly as OCR. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a certain tickle, an itch in the back of my head. I tried to bury it and move on to new things. Still, it reemerged on an almost weekly basis.

Twice in the last three years I’ve attempted to scratch it.


The Championship took place well outside of Dubai, in the northeastern, mountainous section of the United Arab Emirates that bordered Oman. As we left Dubai behind there was no gradual transition from urban to rural. Instead, one moment we were in the awe-inspiring, meticulous city, and the next we were alone on a sand-strewn two-lane highway. To either side stretched seemingly unending dunes dotted with the occasional camel.

The novelist Wilfred Thesiger spent years wandering through this “Empty Quarter” of the desert in the 1940s. For months at a time the landless Bedouins he traveled with subsisted on nothing more than dried dates and camel milk. Dates, to me at least, seem to be about on par with sandpaper in terms of nourishment while in the throes of dehydration. And why would Thesiger, an affluent aristocrat, willfully spend extended amounts of time trying not to die out in these ever-changing sands?

Eventually British interests began to show interest in meeting with tribes, oil was found, rights were negotiated, and just like that, the massive silver city currently shrinking in our mirrors had sprung upward from the sand.


I drank strong, bitter coffee to stave off the jet lag while Halvord Borsheim, a Swedish racer based out of Dubai, slalomed his BMW SUV though sedentary early-morning traffic. His girlfriend Martha, also a racer, was co-piloting, but she was rehabbing and would be cheering instead of racing today. My brother, Brakken, had flown in from Milwaukee, and currently sat next to me, dozing.

This would be my second time racing here. I had flown out to Dubai in 2015 for the first Middle Eastern Spartan Race. It was a sprint to the finish, and I crossed the line thinking I had won. But my celebration was cut short when I saw Hallvard, medal around neck and banana in hand, waiting for me past the finish line.

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Given the brutal terrain and conditions, I was ecstatic with the 2nd-place finish. The rest of my week was spent wandering around the city in a sleep-deprived spell, jaw hanging at the sheer wonder of the place. I was new to racing, to traveling, to having giant checks handed to me, and everything felt like a dream.

Something clicked for me that during that trip. This was a thought that, simple as it was, would grow into a philosophy over the coming years. You see, I have good speed endurance (I once took a year and a half off from running, and for my very first day back, walked to a track and ran a half mile in 1:58) but my talent is not linear, and I’m actually quite average when it comes to pure aerobic, or endurance events. Had the Americans shown in 2015 I’d have taken 10th and gone home empty-handed. If the Europeans showed up I would have been lucky to take 20th. But only I had made the choice to show up, to sit on a plane for 16 hours, to race. This was the secret: talent is important in this world, but like it or not, it is finite and can only be improved so much. Circumstance, however, is entirely up to you.

This attitude began to bleed into other parts life. Identify a low-probability event, give yourself the skills to succeed in that situation were it to happen, and then finally, attempt to influence the odds of the said event occurring.

I wasn’t able to make it in 2016, but Brakken did fly out.  He took 2nd as well, but to a Russian this time, Sergei Perelygin.


It was morning, but in name only- the sun had already cleared the jagged mountains skirting the race grounds, and it was 93 degrees, well on its way to triple digits come race-time. I was thirsty by the time my warm-up was over.

Like most championships, this race would be the Beast distance, rumored to be in the 13-mile range. The first hour would consist of open desert running before moving into the mountains for the second hour. I’ve discovered that these races are typically less-obstacle intensive than US races, meaning shorter, lighter carries and crawls, but it was rumored that there were some intense carries and lengthy swimming sections in the 2nd half of the race.

I stood there at the start line, a good 15 pounds heavier than my racing days, minutes slower in the 5k, running a race 5 times longer than my ideal racing distance, wondering if I still had “it.”

But we’ll come back to “it” later. Because this story isn’t about that.

It’s really about the first time I attempted to scratch the itch, and more importantly, how I failed.


In 2016 I was invited to LA for the taping of a new TV show. The History Channel and Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor) were teaming up to expose everyday people to Special Forces training; somehow I had been chosen. Probably, if I’m going to be honest, because I’m the cheaper Kraker. I think Brakken might have been out in Atlanta filming a show with NBC at the time.

Nonetheless, work had become quite stressful and I needed a break, so I put in for vacation and flew out to sunny Valencia, California. I saw a fun week in the sun, some long rucks, probably some pushups and planks, and an easy paycheck ahead of me. As you’re probably aware of by now, the History Channel did not share these sentiments; they had very, very different ideas of what the weeks would be like.


Side-note: There’s a strange moment where everything changes. Where in a split instant a person, a normal, everyday person, goes from “Average Joe” to “PUBLIC FIGURE.” What this means essentially is that people now are allowed to say awful, unfiltered things to you on social media. We’ve seen people end up in this position, so I wasn’t unaware of what was coming.

Fast forward to the Thursday night the show, called “The Selection”, aired, and sure enough, the comments and messages began to stream in. People, especially veterans, seemed peeved – no, legitimately upset by what we had volunteered to do.

We were disrespecting the Special Forces and what they stood for by ‘playing pretend.’ We were embarrassingly weak. We were actually actors – heck, we probably hung out in heated trailers between takes. We were soft.

Soft. Now that’s a critique that stuck with me, and for good reason.


A few days before the show began the 40 or so of us participants were shuttled via 12-passenger vans to a small park outside of the city. It was a beautiful, sun-drenched California day and spirits were high. We’d been cooped up in a hotel room undergoing physical and psychological panels for the past 3 days and were ready to blow off some steam.

There in the parking lot we were split into groups of 20 and sent through the basic army PT tests. The first sign that I may have bitten off more than I could chew? I couldn’t hit the sit-up standard of 60 in 2 minutes. Here I was, surrounded by some massive, impressive human specimens, starting to regret my (non-existent) fitness.

We’d been given maps and orienteering to study, knots to tie, etc, to prep us for what was to come, but I put off going over the materials. There was no point preparing – things would most likely be fine, and if not, I would figure it out as challenges arose.

The show began and I was anything but fine. I struggled with the lack of sleep, the never-ending upper-body exercises; the planks, push-ups, log-carries, and of course the constant, wet, bone-chilling cold. An hour in I made up my mind to leave the set. Luckily, my ego wouldn’t allow that, but I’d already accepted my departure as inevitable.  But it wasn’t the physical pain, the tear gas, or the running that did me in.

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I began to feel myself losing my mental edge. We were given a very specific set of instructions summing up, among other things, communication with the instructors running the exercise. Before long I’d forgotten even the most basic one: the word “Instructor.” All I could think of, for hours on end, was the word “Inspector.” I kept my head down and tried to avoid any communication with the cadres, whose names were lost to me. I began to feel vulnerable. I didn’t trust myself, were I to be blindfolded, thrown in a box, tortured, or any other number of things. Would I have a rational reaction on camera, on national TV?

I’m externally motivated. This is great for showing up and overachieving come race day, but not so good for putting in work when the competition is gone and its time for a solo training session.

So what do you do when your external motivation decides to do the opposite, and blasts your face with a hose while telling you, rather explicitly, to quit? 
In my case, I listened.

Physically I was fine, but as I tried to find motivation it became clear I was lacking a “why” for being there.

One of the participants had cancer. He’d put off undergoing brain surgery to be here. Another had only ever wanted to serve his country, and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else in life. This was his moment to shine. But why was I here?

I never figured it out, so I stuck it out for 30 hours and then was gone, just like that, whisked off the set and to the airport for a return flight to Denver.

‘You’re Soft’ I had written, matter-of-factly, in a notebook while the plane took me east toward Denver. “Oh, it’s just an aftermath of being tear-gassed,” I fibbed to the flight attendant, who had seen my red eyes and inquired if everything was alright.

I touched down late that Sunday night, Ubered home from Denver, and slept for 12 hours. That next morning I opened Reddit to catch up on the last two weeks of news.  While browsing, I stumbled across an article from Outside magazine about Kyle Korver, one of the greatest NBA’s shooters ever, and his “Misogi”- inspired training.

Misogi is a Japanese term that refers to the Shinto ritual of full body washing, or cleansing. Korver’s training group referred to it in the physical sense: A difficult, borderline impossible task that served to strip one to the core, both physically and mentally. For their first Misogi, Korver and his training buddies paddle-boarded 27-miles across open water. The next year they upped the stakes, with an underwater, boulder-weighted, 5k relay.

Grantland explains:

“Each participant would dive down, find the rock, run with it as long as he could, and drop it for the next guy to find. Those waiting their turn wore weight belts and tread in water between five and 10 feet deep.

“It took five hours. ‘We were honestly worried about blacking out,’ Korver says. They were also worried about sharks.”

What about the aforementioned wanderer, Thiseger? A quote of his comes to mind, upon leaving a desert journey behind, one in which he’d been imprisoned by the Sultan of Saudi Arabia:

“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”

It hit me. Like Korver and Thesiger, l had been gifted an incredible opportunity: a chance to participate in my own Misogi. But I had walked away, no – I had quit, before allowing things to get bad. In doing so, I failed to capitalize on the experience.

This wasn’t my first time walking away from something. I dropped out of college with one semester remaining. I walked away from racing as I was just beginning to win the short distance races. Maybe there was a theme here.

Sports (and this type of experience) possess a fantastic ability to simulate the highs and lows of life while in a protected environment. How do you react when things go poorly? Who are you when you forget to wear your mask? Its why we stress athletics in children – this is not just playing, but high-stress character-building in a controlled environment.

This Misogi put me to a simulated rock bottom. It was time to fix myself.


Fix Yourself: A Two-Step Process to Physical Enlightenment

Step 1: Remember, explicitly, your thought process during and immediately after the event.

I know you’ve had lows; you’re a human, after all.  What did you think at that rock-bottom point?  “I hate myself when I overeat.” “I gossip too much.”

I used to watch the open heats at Spartan Races. You’re bound to spot someone having a really, really bad time out there. You’ve seen them. Wallowing in the mud, baggy t-shirt and basketball shorts being sucked off, or sitting off to the side on their own, taking deep, ragged breaths, eyes averted from passerby. What would happen when their race was over, once they had taken a hot shower and changed into fresh clothes, I wondered.  Did they take an Instagram photo, accompanied by a big smile and flexed biceps, throw a caption on the photo like “Crushed it” or #Beastmode, and move on with their life? Or did they, from time to time, remember what had really happened out there, the vulnerability they had felt? In my case, I pretended like it didn’t exist for far too long.

Write it down, write it all down and set it in stone explicitly while you’re still in the trenches of despair.

“Pain + Reflection = Progress,” says Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio.

Time is an optimist’s best friend, and we need to get these thoughts down before we begin to rationalize our choices, the passing months softening the rough edges of memories.

So I wrote it down. “You’re Soft.”

Step 2: Get Hard

Yes, I was weak mentally. But if I had the physical tools to succeed, would I still have struggled?

And how does someone become stronger? I decided to start with the basics. Take it back to square 1 and acquaint myself with heavy, painful movements that as a life-long distance runner, I had avoided like the plague for a variety of parroted misconceptions, including:

  1. “You’ll become too muscle-bound”
      1. and
  2. “You’ll injure yourself”

Enter the Burpee.