Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spartan Sprint at Tuxedo 2013...the battle continues...

Hard to believe it's only been a week since the race.  This has become an annual event for me now, having started my racing "career" at the first Tuxedo run in 2011.  The irresistible urge to once again challenge Spartan Race to do their best to beat me off that mountain.  True to form, they designed a brutal course to punish you right out of the gate.  And once again, the gods were with them.  Not only was it a scorching day, but they even managed to get an air quality alert...I mean really?!?...running is tough enough for me without any intervention from nature! 

I really should have suspected something from that very first race anyway.  Have you ever seen anything pleasant happen in a movie when there's a sleepy little country town in the opening scene?  No...me neither.  Maybe I should watch different movies.  But I digress....

So...there are several things I've learned to count on in any Spartan race: the opening run is intended to kill the weak; the rest of the course is intended to finish the job; expect it to be worse than you imagined.  Last Saturday was certainly the most intense opening run I've seen in my short Spartan life.  Worse even then Citi Field, which I thought was truly a work of tortuous art.  I don't know if they have the mileage on that climb, but it just seemed to go on forever.  There were a couple of rogue obstacles thrown in, but pretty much it was a long, slow uphill climb.  By the way, I heard from someone I ran into on the course that, as hard as the course was on paper, apparently it was actually laid out to be even tougher.  Whomever was really to blame for that, for the first time since I started racing, I really wondered if I could make it to the end...physically...would I have enough, regardless of the how bad I wanted it.  And somewhere along the way is when it hit me...what the hell was I thinking signing up for the Tri-State Super in NJ...or the Beast in Vermont!!!?  I must have been completely delusional to think I'd ever be able to finish either one of those.  Well, that was before I finished though.

As far as the obstacles go, I think my favorite this time around was the sandbag carry.  Picking a favorite though was pretty tough.  There were several that could have claimed that honor...   the traverse wall (which I was able to do just fine at Citi Field and the practice wall)....the rope climb (which I missed for the first time ever...just no juice left at that point I guess)...or probably the runner up, the (much too) inclined wall after the barbed wire crawl (guess it would have helped if I'd realized there were no intermediate boards where I was climbing in the middle...duh!!!).  And honestly, I just about shit myself when I saw that dreaded pole walk was back again.  I thought for sure the insurance company had banned it...I mean isn't bad karma to impale people?  But in the end, I had to pick the sandbag carry.  Just a gruelling uphill carry after so long on the course and starting off through a bog at the bottom.  I guess it's also a good time to make my apologies to my sandbag.  For slamming it down so many times and mumbling rude, nasty and unprovoked vulgarities at it throughout....I mean, it's only a sandbag after all...just doing it's job.
Then there were the easier-than-expected obstacles.  The reverse inclined wall was one (although, as I was joking with the volunteers, I slipped coming out of the mud pit and almost face planted into the back of it...didn't everybody??!).  The barbed wire crawl wasn't as bad as I anticipated either...but definitely more challenging with the berms they put in...I guess they want more crawling and less rolling.
Like every race though, there's always at least one obstacle that you just know you can't do.  Then somehow, in the midst of sheer exhaustion, you manage to succeed.  In this race, it was the high walls for me.  Although I've learned some fairly unorthodox ways of getting over these, the last few races I used the side blocks to get over the 7' and 8' walls...all except the first one of course...you have to beat at least one of them.  But Saturday, they told us those steps were off limits for the men.   Interesting!  Even with all the training I'd been doing specifically for this obstacle, the course had taken it's toll and I just couldn't get enough lift to muscle up on those.  But somehow, I did manage to get just high enough to find my way over both...and I've got the bruises to prove it too!  I still remember the people behind urging me on and the groan from the crowd when it looked like I wouldn't get over at first...then the shouts when I managed to pull myself up finally.  Most people just wouldn't understand the feeling of accomplishment from such a simple feat...but I guarantee Spartan racers will know exactly what I mean.
The organization was much better this year too.  Another given about Spartan race is that they improve every time.  At least they try to....though setting off a smoke bomb every 15 minutes in front of the med tent might be one thing they might want to change next time.  So...next year's race will be different...it will be harder...and like they said before the race Saturday, there will be something you haven't seen before.  And next year they will see me...again.  Because as long as I can run, I will never let them beat me off that mountain! 


A link to the report on the 2012 Spartan Sprint at Tuxedo:


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Spartan Races and Tough Mudder....there is a difference! (to me anyway)

For those that were expecting a report on the Spartan Sprint at Tuxedo, NY from Saturday...it's coming!  Just as soon as I'm strong enough to handle it.  But something else came to mind during the race that I thought was interesting too.  In fact, it was a combination of several recent observations that seemed to be related somehow.

By most accounts, Spartan Race (SR) and Tough Mudder (TM) are the top dogs in this new world of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).  And of course there are people on both sides that are absolutely certain that their events are the true test...the one that everyone should be aspiring to run.  Well, in all fairness I haven't run a TM yet.  Not out of any particular leaning, but more out of the practical aspect that I suck at running!  Which also explains the fact that I don't run any more than I have to.  Which goes on to explain that since TM's are longer races than a typical Spartan Sprint... the Sprint is what I started with.  Just makes sense.  The ironic thing is that I've only run the sprint at Tuxedo for the last three years, and that's been described by some of the elite OCR racers as the equivalent of a TM or even a flat Spartan Super.  Anyway, I do plan to run one in the future...god willing and the river don't rise!

Meanwhile, what occurred to me during the race were several things that I had read over the last few months [in fact many thoughts occurred to me during this race...but since most of those revolved around water, pain and beer, they're not really relevant].  One was from a relatively successful Spartan racer who said that he didn't want to run the Super Spartan races until he was sure he would "dominate" them.  Another comment I read had to do with a TM race, and the question was about which obstacles to skip based on his physical "deficiencies" (for lack of a better word).
I realized that both of these ideas really epitomized the difference between these two OCR titans.  TM makes a point that it's not a race but a challenge.  Spartan Race on the other hand, is...well...a race...just like the name says!

Why would a race not be a challenge as well though?  Doesn't really make sense when you think about it.  I can tell you from my own experience, these races are real challenges.  They push you to your physical limit and challenge you mentally to hang in there and finish it.  You know your time...your know everyone else's time...and you know exactly how well you performed.  If you don't know how well you did, then how do you judge when you're getting better?  I can guarantee that the competitive TM racers are timing themselves every race and if they don't compare their times to each other, they're definitely comparing their own from race to race.

One thing there's no doubt about in both events, that you will have a feeling of accomplishment rarely found these days.  Something that people can't really understand until they experience it.  I had someone tell me that Saturday.  He had just finished his first race and said, now I get it....now I know what people are talking about when they go beyond what they thought was possible.  That's happened to me on every course so far.  I deliberately attempt these races for that very reason...I want to know what my limits "aren't".  I found out again this Saturday that I could do something I truly thought impossible.  Facing real exhaustion and for the first time truly questioning whether I had enough left physically to finish, I hit the walls...time after time.  Real walls...big walls...like the kind you have to go over!  In the past we could use the blocks on the side but this race they said no!...those were only for the women racers...I had to go over.  Racing alone can be a bitch!  But I can tell you, it wasn't pretty but I got up and over every damn wall that race.  And I can tell you too, whatever my time was, wherever I fell short somewhere else on the course, in the end, that small accomplishment is mine (along with about eight feet of bruises all told...but that will heal in time...I guess).

That's another big difference in the events too. At least to my understanding. Spartan Race has a penalty for missing an obstacle...the dreaded burpee!  There's no skipping an obstacle either.  As far as I know, other than maybe falling into water and having to swim to the other side, TM doesn't have any penalty.  If you want to skip an obstacle you can!  I guess that makes sense because it's not really a race. But sometimes we need to fear the punishment more than the obstacle. I don't think there's a racer that will intentionally do 30 burpees on a Spartan course without first trying the obstacle...more than once if they can get away with it.

Whether it's the racer that wants to wait until he's "ready" for the next stage or one that's looking to skip an obstacle because it's "too hard", I feel they're missing out on the very essence of these runs.  It's not just about proving what you already know you can do, it's the fear of the unknown....and the feeling of reaching inside for something you didn't even know you had...and succeeding.  I've said to a number of people over my racing adventure that each race shows me that I can exceed what I thought possible.  To me, that's the whole point to doing these runs in the first place, otherwise what was the point of coming?  If you fail, at least you tried.  And that's where the real triumphs come...from giving your all on something you "know" you can't do...and doing it!