Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Spartan Race Build at Asheville 2015 - I Finally Get to Build Some S**t

The inaugural Spartan Race (SR) at Asheville, NC was the final venue for my Summer of OCR series.  So regardless of the wear and tear from the last five weeks, the nagging and new injuries, I wanted to make the best of this opportunity.  Not to mention that having lived not too far from here, this race has been on my wish list since they announced the possibility two years ago.

There was another reason I wanted to not only volunteer during the week for this race, but also do it.  That was to be able to compare this to the previous week's Super Spartan at Wintergreen.  One race doesn't make a pattern and to see if there was a consistent attempt to make these courses as brutal as possible, I would have to be on it.  Not that I would have missed it for any reason, but self-preservation and the feeling that it was just plain stupid to risk making a serious injury worse...but that's a whole other story.

But I digress!  This would be my final build of this series...and maybe the last for a while, depending on how my plans played out in the coming weeks.  So, based on the other builds I'd been on, I fully expected to be working on start and finish corrals, festival tents, etc, etc.  The only problem...I wasn't 'picked'!  Meaning the Spartan crews picked everyone else first.  Well...I guess I couldn't exactly be surprised at that.

Then a funny thing happened...a build crew rolled in looking for some help.  Seeing that I was all that was left, this might be my big chance after all.  Being an engineer and former carpenter in another life, and of reasonable size for this sort of work, naturally they looked around for more choices.  Finally, seeing that no other volunteers were showing up, they asked if I was up for some build work!  So, knowing that my shoulder was still not 100% and that my leg injury from Wintergreen would further limit my mobility, I answered immediately..."Hell yeah!"

Like all the other builds I've worked on, I got to work with some great supervisors.  Drew and Steve 'Oh...not to mention some great people like Carl and Sean.  Mostly hired crew as they tend not to use volunteers on the actual build side very often.  So we set off up the mountain and I got my first look at the venue...which happened to be in a working rock quarry too...just one more perk for me.  

One of the things I've noticed on all the builds along the way, and certainly on the Spartan builds, was the way things had changed in just the last two years.  Equipment and parts were now packed in huge plastic containers and dropped at each obstacle location.  And for the Spartan Race at least, obstacles like the Herc-hoist, A-frame cargo net and rig were now made from light-weight metal truss systems, making them safer as well as easier to put up at each new race.

So the morning was spent working on the Herc-hoist, getting a chance to see what goes into these new (to me) construction techniques.  It was like a slice of heaven working on this...did I mention I just love building shit?!...other than the heat and dust and the fact that we had thousands of pounds of metal floating over our heads all morning.  But in the end, we had that obstacle built and I worked with Drew most of the afternoon on getting the bracing and fencing up to finish it off for inspection.

Then finally, we got to move up the mountain a bit to the quarry pit...where they placed the A-frame cargo net.  Poised on the lip of the quarry wall along the road at the top.  Just an absolutely spectacular location with a truly special view of the quarry floor far below.  During the race itself...with the sled drag on the quarry floor...and lines of Spartans everywhere, it reminded me of a scene out of an old movie depicting the building of the pyramids...just awesome!  

Fortunately I was asked back the next day to work with these guys again, because we didn't get the cargo net up the day before and I really wanted that.  Not only to work on it, but to get a chance to climb up there when it was complete...while the build was still in it's pristine state.  And the work on that net gave me my next surprise...just how much time some of these obstacles take to get right...something we as racers don't always appreciate.  It took four of us, working most of the morning just to get all the straps and each carabiner just right.  There guys have infinite patience and pride in what they do!  (and btw, one carabiner managed to stay clipped to my belt that day...but was carried through five miles of the course and returned race day to the cargo net of course!)

Finally, that afternoon, I worked with Steve on the rig installation.  Funny how un-intimidating it looks just laying there on the ground. I have to say, working with Steve was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the entire trip.  SR really sees their volunteers as more of an asset on their builds and expects more from them in the course of things.  But while he did have those same high expectations, Steve also had the patience to answer any questions I had to make sure everything went smoothly and safely.

Harness Safety Lesson
Of course during the build, there are always opportunities to talk to some of the other volunteers and staff.  In this case, it was mostly for a few minutes at lunch, where I got to talking to this guy about the race itself...and whether it was a good idea for me to go out Saturday.  At first I thought he was in charge of some part of this organized chaos.  Eventually though, I found out he was Taylor Cuevas...death racer and winner of the 2015 Mexico Death Race.  Asking him whether I should try to race, in my now even more deteriorated condition, was like asking a lion if it's a good day to hunt.  He did agree though to take me down off the mountain with his cart if I couldn't finish.  Looking back later on of course, that was never going to happen....I mean, admitting to anyone, let alone a death racer, that you just couldn't handle, not gonna happen.

At the end of the day I even had an opportunity to ask the man that designed and marked the course itself (was I really looking for someone to talk me out of this??!!).  What he said was that, while he didn't know anything personally about the Wintergreen course, this course in Asheville, while tough, only had one seriously long climb and that I should go for it.  Honestly, I had no idea whether he was being straight with me or joking.  Or whether his idea of not-too-bad would kill me.  So, I still had another 24 hours to make the final call.  This was the last race though and somehow, I don't think there was ever really any doubt....

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