Spartan Race World Championship 2016 (October 1, 2016) - Race Recap

I’m not going to lie, going into this race, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. (And while yes, I realize this is true for literally any race someone runs, I’m talking in particular about how prepared I was.) Thanks to my more set-in-stone workout schedule I’ve had this semester thanks to the OCR team we started over at A&M, my cardio was feeling great, my strength was feeling great, and I was feeling great…probably in the best shape I’d been in since the beginning of my freshman year of college. The only problem was in the fact that for the last week or so, I’d been dealing with some major issues in my left knee as the result of trying to add on way too much mileage way too quickly (I may or may not have forgotten how quickly the SRWC was approaching).

So yeah, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My dad and I landed in Reno at about 11am Friday and upon checking into our hotel we were pleased to discover that we could literally see the Herc Hoist from our room; in other words, come race morning all I’d have to do was wake up, get ready, and take my sweet, sweet time heading to the starting line for the 7:30 start. And that’s exactly what I did, but more on that later. For the remainder of Friday, I spent time scoping out some of the course and going to the athlete's panel, and the biggest takeaway, I'd have to say, is that -- as a result of trying to implement OCR into the Olympics -- starting January 1 of next year (2017), racers will be drug tested. Fun little tidbit of information. Other than that, it was cool to hear some of our sport's top athletes giving tips and advice and reflecting on the past year as they built us up for the big showdown tomorrow.

Okay, race day. Remembering the pretty negative nutrition-related experience I had undergone two years prior at the Vermont World Championship (in which I bonked at mile 10 and spent the remaining 6 miles continuing onwards not because of any physical capability but purely because my ego wouldn’t let me stop), I woke up at 5am after a solid nine hours of sleep and ate a peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich before downing a Beet Elite and some water. As stated before, I took my sweet time getting ready, and then made my way towards the starting area (I didn’t jog around or anything, purely because my knee was slightly hurting already and thus I wanted to save it for the race). In no time, 7:30 was soon approaching.

THE RACE

(To make things a bit more interesting, I’m going to have fellow athlete Jack Bauer here with me to help add some additional commentary on the race. So expect an in-depth recap, because there’s a whole lot to cover!)

(Seriously.)

It’s normally at this point that I would give a shout out to familiar faces I saw at the starting line, but it’d probably be easier to say that pretty much everyone was there (something expected at a World Championship race). Notable exceptions included Matt Novakovich, Brakken Kraker (who was present but not racing), Junyang Pak, Marco Bédard, and Chris Schapman (the last three of which opted to run the Ultra Beast tomorrow).

One more comment before we get to the actual race breakdown: the entrance to the starting corral was utterly terrifying. With everybody fighting to get to the very front (because who doesn’t want that epic pre-race pic at the front of the World Championship race?), I was nearly thrown over the 4’ wall by those people fighting to get past me (it was more so what you would have expected from a herd of children entering a newly-opened candy store than you would from some of the manliest men of the OCR community).

Okay, enough of that stuff; let’s get to the race. I said a quick prayer asking God so save most of the knee pain for after the race, and after the typical race intro and national anthem, they sent the group of us out into the 15+ mile course, which started out with a nice quarter-mile run through the Olympic Village itself and the outer parking lot area, an interesting start given that most races typically shy away from any paved pathways.

1. O-U-T. Not much to say about this. As soon as we got off of the parking lot and entered onto some dirt, it was waiting there for us, so we were still pretty clustered as everybody fought to be the first to get past.

2. Rolling Mud. I think I can speak for all of us here when I say that Spartan wanted to ensure that our shoes remained dry for approximately two minutes of the fifteen-mile course. Immediately after the O-U-T we found ourselves charging into the freezing cold water, a quick preview of the water obstacles to come – and, boy oh boy, was that water cold. As short and quick an obstacle as it was, it left our bodies stunned as we charged up the hill to take on the rest of the course.

3-4. Over Walls & 6' Wall. Not much explanation needed. Just another distance-spreading obstacle as we made our way up the 2.7-mile hill that took up the first part of the course. At this point I was probably back in 100th or so place, pacing myself for the many hills that were to come.

(Since Jack is sitting here with me, I feel obliged to point out that it was at this point – as we continued up that massive hill – that he passed me, reminding me to pace myself and not be too worried about placement; there would be plenty of time to worry about that later.)

5. Monkey Bars. These were your typical Spartan Monkey Bars with the bars placed in such a way to mimic the graph of y=sin(x) (what can I say? Jack and I are nerds; this is how we think), and there were a whole lot of people doing burpees here. (I had warmed up quite a bit since the Rolling Mud and had managed to regain the feeling in my fingers by now, but Jack points that his hands were still pretty cold and thus he had to take the sideways hand-to-hand approach rather than simply monkey swinging it).

6-7. Hurdles #1 & 7’ Wall. More distance-placing obstacles, nothing to write home about.

8. Dip Walk. Not going to lie, neither Jack nor I can remember what this obstacle was. So...yeah, I'm just going to skip it.

At this point we had reached the top of the first mountain and had proceeded to head back downhill and towards the festival area. I had originally planned on saving all my energy for the downhills (being from Texas, I am absolutely horrible when it comes to running uphill), but soon began to realize that speed wasn’t really an option when heading back down thanks to the constant switchbacks and loose rocks that made up the path before us. I ran with my buddy Brian Hoover for a while, and it was nice to catch up for a bit before at last re-entering the festival area and reaching our first new obstacle:

9. ThighMaster. This obstacle basically consisted of a bunch of rows of punching bags that we had to maneuver our way across, something that would have been extremely difficult had we not been allowed to use the chains from which the bags hung. However, they let us use the chains and thus Brian and I made it across in little-to-no-time with little energy spent. (When Jack approached the obstacle, the hay gave way beneath his feet, causing him to fall forward, and even though he hadn’t even touched a bag or attempted the obstacle in any way, the staff made him go do penalty burpees, something which understandably threw off his mojo. Luckily, this also allowed me to pass him. #ThanksAndGigEm)

10. Inverted Wall. This was right after the ThighMaster, still in the festival area; it sent us along the path up our second mountain, along some winding trails and a good mile or so run without any other obstacles.

11-12. A-frame Cargo & Vertical Cargo. Typical cargo nets; still running with Brian Hoover at this point. I was feeling good, though my knee was finally beginning to bother me a bit.

13. Spear Throw. Oh, the beloved Spear Throw. There was a surprisingly large amount of people gathered to watch here despite it being pretty far up the hill we’d just climbed, but the extra spectators sent a rush of adrenaline coursing through me. I always get nervous approaching the Spear Throw, yet something about today left me filled with confidence: I grabbed that spear, pointed it at my target, and nailed it. Moving on. Back up the hill.

14. Olympus. This was our second new obstacle, and just to make things easier on everyone I’m going to call it Spartan’s version of Battlefrog’s Tip of the Spear (Correction: Battlefrog’s former Tip of the Spear; *RIP*). It was a slanted wall that you had to traverse across horizontally, choosing to grab onto either (1) short chains hanging from the wall, (2) rock-climbing holds placed at different heights, or (3) circular holes cut into the wall. It wasn’t a super difficult obstacle once you got your rhythm going, but as Jack notes, deciding which way to tackle the obstacle was the fun part.

15-16. Plate Drag & Atlas Carry. These obstacles were immediately after the Olympus, on the second-to-last summit before we hit Obstacles 17-21 at the top of the mountain we’d been climbing (the course was essentially two mountains: we went up and down the first, smaller one during the first five miles and the second, much larger one during the last ten). After these we continued up the hill towards the final summit. (My calves hated me at this point.)

17.  Spartan Ladder. This was another new obstacle, essentially a steep, A-framed monkey bar system [that you could use your legs on] in which you had to ring two bells: one at the top and one at the bottom of the other side. (There was a lot of controversy around this obstacle because apparently at some point during the race, the volunteers changed the rules so that you could no longer kick the second bell with your foot.) This was the first of many back-to-back obstacles, all at the very top of the mountain once we had reached the max elevation.

18.  Tyrolean Traverse. Though I still believe the Tyrolean Traverse isn’t near as fun when not placed above water, it’s still a nice little obstacle. For some reason unknown to me I was feeling really good at this point (probably because we were at last on flat ground and I had a lot of energy from holding back on my pacing), and I traversed across the rope at a far quicker pace than I ever have before. Smiling at my dad (who was taking pictures), I continued on to the first barbed-wire crawl just a few feet away.

19. Barbed Wire Crawl #1. This was a pretty straightforward, dusty, 200’ barbed wire crawl over some flat ground, and I wasted no time in diving in and rolling sideways as I passed one racer after another (Since I wasn’t gaining much ground on the running, I had to really push myself on the obstacles and thus far it seemed to be paying off).

20. Barbed Wire Crawl #2. In all honesty, I’m not sure why these are considered two separate obstacles on the course mpa, because they were literally right next to each other. We literally just crawled back in the direction from where we came, just in a different lane. I had made the mistake of rolling in one direction under the first barbed wire and had come out super-dizzy, so this time I made sure to alternate between rolling to the right and left to help counter the dizziness. (FUN FACT: It didn’t work. I was still dizzy coming out of the crawl.)

21. Ape Hanger. Another new obstacle and probably my favorite of all the new ones we were presented with. Essentially we had to jump to a rope, climb it, and then traverse across a horizontal wire-and-metal ladder that hung a bit loosely over a pond of cold water. After successfully traversing across, we would hit the bell (with our hand) before dropping into the water and heading back down the hill. My grip was feeling pretty good at this point so I had no trouble making it across from rung to rung, but I will admit that maintaining a constant rhythm and momentum was a bit difficult and I could have probably found a more efficient way of execution. But hey, you live and you learn.

22. Log Carry. After running downhill for a short while we got to this bad boy, and it was probably one of the most uncomfortable carries I’ve ever undertaken. The logs were thick yet stubby, not long enough to place upon the shoulders and not thin enough to cradle with one arm. In the end I had to hoist it onto the back of my neck and place both hands atop it as if I were carrying an oversized sand bell (“Minus the flexibility,” as Jack notes. “And with super-sharp bark.”), and then made my way down the loosely-packed path before turning around quite a way down to carry the log back up to the top and drop it off where I’d originally gotten it (probably a quarter mile total). My quads started cramping up at this point, which made the already-awkward carry that much more awkward (Jack says he started cramping here too).

23. Double Sandbag Carry. This was probably the most-talked-about obstacle going into the race (or perhaps most-anticipated or feared), but in all honesty it was more awkward than it was hard. A big wingspan would definitely help for making the obstacle more manageable, but in the end I managed (thanks to helpful advice from Matt Willis) to layer the two sandbags atop the back of my neck and carry them like that. It was probably a third of a mile long – carrying it up a hill and back down – and was placed not too long after the logs.

24. Cormax Flip. This was immediately after the sandbags, and was essentially a tire flip but with a long, plastic tube filled with water. Two flips each direction, piece of cake.

25. Lake Swim. Okay, real talk: I’ve been to Killington. I’ve been to Breckenridge. I was in Glen Rose back in 2012 when the high for the day was 28 degrees and the wind was gusting at 30mph. But this water…this was probably the coldest water I’ve ever had to swim in…ever. It was so cold that they literally made us wear life jackets going out there just in case people’s bodies went into shock! (I heard that the water was sub-40 degrees.) It was immediately after the Cormax Flip, and was probably a good 250 yards of swimming – out and around some buoys – and it was ridiculously cold (coming from a guy who loves everything from ice baths to daily cryotherapy). And maybe it was just the fact that I wanted to get out of that water, but I managed to pass a lot of people during this swim and gain some much needed ground. (My dad was stationed here taking pictures as well, and he was just as shocked as I to see that his son could actually swim somewhat alright). Then we exited from the lake, deposited our life jackets into the stack, and headed downhill for some running that would allow us to quickly regain the feeling in our bodies.

26.  8’ Wall. Now this obstacle wasn’t too exciting for me, but for Jack it was a totally different story. Coming out of the swim he began cramping quite a bit, so when he came to this obstacle he managed to slam his knee against the wall, thus explaining why, later in the day, both he and I were “would have lost the 100m dash to a dead person,” as he so kindly puts it. (You should’ve seen us walking around the Village when we went to dinner; with both of our hurt knees, we looked like two crippled snails.)

27. Stairway to Sparta. This was the same as the normal Stairway to Sparta, but with just a little bit taller wall to climb up (they provided us with ropes to grab onto to help us climb). Nothing too crazy. Then we headed out to some intense switchbacks that went steeply downhill, some of which had us literally running on a one-person trail with a steep fall to our left and a rising cliff to our right (I hate heights, so it’s safe to say I didn’t care for that part much).

28. Bucket Brigade. You know, I got really excited during this obstacle because I saw my buddy Ian Deyerle heading down the hill as I went up it and I thought, “Dang David, you’re killing this course!” Then I realized that the carry was over a half-mile long (just a bit shorter than the one I mentioned in Scotland), up a steep hill that we then had to come back down. So yeah…that was fun. But after completing that, there was nothing too difficult until the festival area about a mile and a half away! So, upon dropping off my bucket, I decided it was finally time to kick it into gear.

29. Hurdles #2. This was along the 1.5 miles downhill, but really didn’t do much to slow anybody down, I don’t think. There were six hurdles back-to-back, and thanks to feeling good I managed to pass through them without slowing down too much. Then continued downhill to the festival area.

30.  Balance Beam. They actually didn’t make us do this obstacle, so…yeah. Moving on.

31. Herc Hoist. I had heard rumors that this was going to be the “toughest Herc Hoist to date,” but in all honesty it didn’t seem that bad. It felt about the same weight as previous ones, so after hoisting it to the top, I let it down softly – something the volunteers were emphasizing quite a lot – and moved on to the dunk wall (at this point I was running directly next to my hotel room, so that was cool).

32-33. Dunk Wall & Slip Wall. Last water obstacle, HOORAH! After diving into the water and passing under the wall, we found ourselves coming up to the slip wall which then poured us into a short, winding, paved trail through the Village which then deposited us to the Bridge.

34. Bridge. Just like a typically Spartan Bridge, this one passing over the starting line to deposit us into the final runway to the finish.

35.  Rope Climb. Luckily the ropes weren’t muddy or anything, so this wasn’t too bad. I used my legs to climb the rope to save myself some strength for the rig, but I was beginning to realize that I had more energy than I typically had; I probably could have pushed harder at some point during the race.

36. Multi-Rig. Now this obstacle got a lot of people, but luckily for me the grace of God pulled me through. Like I said, I was still feeling pretty strong – stronger than I should have felt on the last obstacle of the race – and I made it across the ring-to-ring-to-ring-to-horizontal-pole-to-rope-to-rope-to-rope transition fairly quickly (not necessarily easily) before heading down the little dip to cross the finish line. BOOM. DONE.

Overall, I’d have to say I’m happy with my finish – 56th overall – though I do believe I probably left some stuff out on the course (I finished the course with way too much leftover energy to confidently claim to have given it my all). I was happy to finish the race penalty free and I'd have to say it was an awesome race at an awesome venue with some spectacular scenery and some kick-butt competition, and though the altitude didn’t seem to affect me too much, my runny nose serves as a constant reminder that cold weather, freezing water, and thinner air definitely aren’t my buddies. It was awesome to see so many great, great friends both on and off the course as well as to see Spartan Race creating new obstacles and changing their courses up to keep things fresh and exciting.

Oh, and shout out to the always-awesome Hobie Call and back-to-back champ Zuzana Kocumová for becoming not only 2016’s Spartan Race World Champions, but the first two people to ever have accomplished such a title twice!

Now time go ice this knee and eat some pizza.