Updated: Dec 17, 2019
Well, that was something. I think most people who registered for this Ultra (or even Beast for that matter) did so thinking that it would be an "easy one". Technically, nothing is easy if you truly give it your full effort, but we all know what people mean when they say that. They mean it isn't on a mountain course with 3,000ft vertical climbs.
Brief Background: Back in July, I looked at some upcoming races after the idea of doing a Spartan Ultra sounded fun in my head. I saw this one in NC coming up. It was close enough to me geographically, and it was far enough away (17ish weeks) for me to put in a lot of great training in preparation. I had also just finished reading 'Training For the Uphill Athlete' and was looking for a good challenge to try out some of the programming theory from that book. I wrote up my training plan, and started plugging away week after week for the 17 weeks leading up to the race. I'm not going to spend the time going back to tally up exact numbers, but I put in very close to 500 miles and right around 38,000ft of vertical gain for this race. That doesn't include the strength training or mobility work during that time. Several races fell in between, (Spartan NAC, Savage & Savage Blitz, and a Spartan Super and Sprint) but they weren't the priority.
What I wore on race day was a VERY last minute decision. I changed my mind (for the better-as you can see at the 4:32ish mark in the video) about 5 minutes before we were released. The weather was cool and rainy. I was going to run in compression pants and no shirt (just the Ultra pinny), but the wind started to kick up, so I threw on a very light long-sleeve "wind breaker".
It was awesome starting an OCR in the dark. Since I'd never done a Spartan Ultra (just a trail ultra) previously, I hadn't had the experience of doing the obstacles while being lit by just a headlamp. I loved it!!!
The course was awesome (on Lap 1). There was grass, and there was abundant traction to be had considering only 5 people were ahead of me. Normally, I like to "run my own race". All that really means is hitting paces that I am comfortable and capable of hitting (because if I push it I will explode at some point). However, on this day, I ran the race that I HAD to run. I'm just not that fast in general yet. Here are the mile splits from the first 1/2 of the race:
1 - 8:49
2 - 8:10
3 - 8:02
4 - 8:56
5 - 7:55
6 - 11:06
7 - 10:34
8 - 11:26
9 - 8:57
10 - 10:10
11 - 9:46
12 - 9:06
13 - 8:12
14 - 11:21
15 - 11:35
Anything in the 8's for me (on this type of terrain with obstacles) is a Beast-pace race. Now, somewhere around mile 6 is where my competitive side, and my lack of experience running an Ultra, came out. I was running along near another athlete for a while. He was running slight ahead of me, but on the previous 2-3 obstacles I completed them ahead of him. As a result, coming up to the Z-Wall, he and I were on it at the same time. So, what did I decide? I decided I'd risk a jump for the bell in order to finish it faster than him. The goal, in a situation like that, whether it actually works or not, is to make sure the other athlete knows in their head that no matter how long they run ahead of me, I'll keep passing them on every obstacle. Mind games. Anyway, I was stupid for playing mind games barely 6 miles into an Ultra, and I slipped on the Z-wall and ended up having to do 30 burpees there. Waste of time and energy! Instead of just completing the obstacle and spending 5-10 more seconds doing it, I burnt at least 1.5 minutes on the burpees. The lesson is learned.
Lefty caught up to me during the Burpees and for the next 5-6 miles he and I changed positions. We've had this type of situation back and forth at races before, and Lefty is an awesome athlete and guy, so it kept everything much more fun! However, later in the first lap, he got ahead, and stayed ahead from there on (he ended up finishing 2nd place and absolutely destroying the 2nd half of the race).
The "gauntlet" of obstacles at the end of the first lap went smoothly. I was very happy with my Sandbag Carry and Hurc Hoist. I nailed the Spear without any wasted time. The Table and Vertical Cargo were a breeze as were Helix and Inverted Wall (Ignore the weird effects in the video below...facebook live was going crazy while Luke filmed). After heading back down and up the hill again, the Barbwire Crawl, Rolling Mud, and Dunk Wall were fine. The Dunk Wall was very cold, but it actually made the air feel warmer to me because of how cold it was, so that was an unexpected perk! I went right through the Multi Rig, and was able to just barely grab one of those mini ropes on the Slip Wall on my first attempt. Then it was right into transition where I grabbed some Tailwind-infused water, threw a bag of Tailwind in my Flipbelt, switched out my "wind breaker" for a real wind breaker, and headed back out of transition. Out of habit, I stopped my watch when I stopped running in transition, and started it again coming out. I subtracted my watch time from my chip time and that put me in transition for 70-80 seconds total.
Due to pushing my effort (which results in a dramatic increase in fatigue), my lower body was feeling pretty tight heading into lap two. Really, this Ultra was a tale of 2 races. Lap 1 was fast and clean and fun. Lap 2 was a mud fest with stronger winds and more rain. Really, lap 2 was pretty miserable for me, but I kept moving. My splits from lap one were dramatically slower. I was still able to complete all of the obstacles along the way until getting back to the second "gauntlet" at the end of the 2nd half.
I pulled the Spear in and prepared to throw it, but I knew very well that I didn't have a great idea where it was going to go - I was pretty cold and tired and didn't have the feeling for it. I missed the Spear and enjoyed (enjoyed is a lie) 30 burpees in the cold mud.
I made it through the other obstacles, back down the hill (which was now a pure mud slide) and back up the hill into the Barbwire Crawl. I did the whole crawl on my knees only. My hands didn't touch the mud because I didn't want any mud at all on them when I went to attempt the Multi Rig.
After the cold of the Dunk Wall, I was out, on the Multi Rig, and through within moments. Then there was the slip wall. While I made it on my first try on Lap 1, the wall was so wet and muddy now that I wasn't able to make it after two attempts. Wasn't even close. A big reason for it was the fact that there was a ditch now directly at the base of the wall that was filled with water, so you couldn't get a good last step before heading up the wall. Anyway, after not completing the obstacle, I did my 30 burpees, climbed over the A-Frame, and finished.
I was pretty exhausted. That's a lie. I was very exhausted. My body was extremely fatigued and I was cold. I spent about 10 seconds thanking God in my head, and just stayed squatted in the finish area for a minute while one of the Spartan employees took my bib info and timing chip number down.
I thought I was in 4th coming across the line. My brother Luke was there and told me I got 3rd. You'd think it would mean a lot, and it does in a sense, but I was just kinda too tired for it to matter right away.
I've been chasing a Spartan Podium since I started running competitively. I'd hit podiums at Terrain Race, Bone Frog Challenge, and Savage Race previously, but I wanted the Spartan, and I wanted it for their most difficult race length. I am very satisfied that I was able to get on the podium - especially in a race with challenging weather conditions.
Really, the only thing that makes it all worth it is realizing the fruits of very hard labor.
To all who went out and finished that race, I give you huge props! To those who started and wasn't able to finish, you get props too, and with a lot of solid training, you'll be able to get out and conquer your next challenge!
N E V E R S T O P
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