Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spartan Race at Asheville, NC 2015 - Race Review - Best of the Old and the New

For those of you who've been following my writing for any length of time, you're well aware of my thoughts concerning the growing difficulty of Spartan Race (SR) events.  So I wanted to jump right out now and say I was thrilled with this course.  Without a doubt, this was one of the best SR courses I've been on...period!  Running through a working quarry on Black Mountain in Asheville, NC, this race had the perfect combination of length and climbing challenge to make you feel the accomplishment of finishing without the brutality that seems so common lately.

This may seem odd to anyone that has read the previous posts about the Wintergreen race or even the Asheville build, coming into the race injured.  And it's even strange to hear myself say it, since I couldn't even actually run the course.  I had to 'force' myself at times but I walked the entire course....and that's really the point.  Finishing a course in  my condition and still feeling good about it...well, that's why I do obstacle course racing (OCR) in the first place!  And it was everything I've come to love (and hate while I'm doing it) about SR (by the way, despite anything else I may say, there was nothing easy about the race in total).

During the build, the course designer told me there was only one long, grueling climb on the course, and it was absolutely true.  All the rest of the climbs were tough but manageable.  Even the log carry, the sandbag carry (dare I admit, after all my ranting, I found both almost too easy), the sled drag and the water obstacles were challenging without being over the top.  Of course the climb over the A-frame cargo net with the view of the quarry below was worth the price of admission.

One of the other things I've always tried to remember, and has proven true time and again on OCR, is that you're never too old to change or learn something new about yourself. Going back to my beginnings in OCR, and probably in life, I tend to take things seriously (put a 'too' in there for anyone that knows me personally).  In my old incarnation, I never felt that people wearing costumes during a race were doing OCR justice.  Having said that, it shouldn't come as a surprise then that I found myself running this course with a guy dressed in a red and black striped shirt and wearing a black derby hat.

A few minutes into the race, I noticed a guy passing me, Sean, that I had worked and become friends with on the obstacle builds during the week.  He was running with a group of his friends (including Bryan...aka B) the derby guy.  Along with Bryan there was Molly and Lisa, and Shana, who may also have joined the group during the of these races tend to blur together for me.

The focus of this team wasn't as much to push for time, but to make sure all the team got through every obstacle...and also made an effort to get as many other racers that needed help through as well.  I think the realization that nothing I could do that day was going to get me a decent time, and still fearing that I may not be able to finish at all, it allowed me to relax into that same mode of just enjoying the company of my adopted teammates and helping everyone through that I could.  Needless to say, each of these team members had their own story to tell, and it still amazes me how many unique and special stories there are.

Sometimes, even my help was limited by my injuries but this reminded me very much of the BattleFrog race in Pittsburgh, an experience that will always be a treasured memory of what OCR can really be about...maybe the most important thing OCR is really about.  Although limited, I managed to do most everything except the overhead obstacles (using the women's 'weights' though since I only had one good arm).  I did manage the legit male tire flip when the volunteer jokingly challenged me...yeah, there's a bit of type-A in me somewhere.  About six miles in though, I realized I was starting to fade.  So I told my team I was going ahead and would wait at the obstacles as long as I could...but I was in real danger now of not being able to finish and that was unthinkable after all the pain and effort to get this far.

Moving ahead through the log carry, the dunk wall and then posting up at the rope climb for a bit (one armed, legless rope climbs are above my pay grade at the moment).  Still not seeing my team coming, I moved on to the slip wall...contemplating for a while whether to give it a go or not.  After all, this was the type of obstacle that blew out my shoulder to start with.  When suddenly, I saw a group trying to help a woman make that last transition at the top.  I could see though that she needed someone behind her or her feet would slide.  Before I knew it, I was up the rope and planting my foot behind hers just as she fell.  But she got up, made it over and I had that great feeling when you know you made a difference in someones race.

However, since no good deed goes unpunished, I knew my tank was all but empty, so I moved on to yet another surprise...a little Spartan twist at the end.  After the rope climb and slip wall, when it looked as if you had a straight run to the finish, you ran smack into a second barb wire crawl and then a wade through a channel of...well, I don't even want to think about what was in there.  This being until recently a cow pasture and all.  Before I hit that wading channel I finally saw my team coming down past the dunk wall.  So back to the slip wall to meet up again and help several more people over.  At a cost that point I may have spent all the reserves I had left.  I barely made it over the top of the wall that last time.  Exertion I never quite recovered from that afternoon....but that's a whole other post...

In the end, stumbling across the finish line (but managing a photo op with my team of course!) then through the festival, I had nothing but good feelings about the day.  SR wasn't going to abandon me to races I wouldn't enjoy doing.  And I realized just how much I enjoyed racing with a team and offering help to other racers...whether physically or just some encouraging words.  It was a continuation of this new focus for me in OCR.  So now, while still desiring to see what I can do personally on any given course, I have to find a way to run for time and for pleasure....together....without killing myself in the process if possible....

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