You never know what to expect in Glen Rose.
You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Back in 2013, the high for the day was 27 degrees, there were 20mph winds, and it had snowed the week before. It was so cold, in fact, that they decided to remove most of the swim and left us trudging through the icy, thigh-deep water which made the cold that much worse.
Just last year, as its own little contribution to the “Year of Rain” (it rained the night before every single Texas-based Spartan during the 2015 calendar year), the course had to be cut five or so miles short on the first day due to massive flooding, resulting in the second day’s full course being a sludge-fest of clay-like mud that left you running all fifteen miles with a seeming five-pound weight attached to each foot.
This year, however, the conditions couldn’t have been better.
I woke up at 5:00am to eat my pre-race meal and down some Beet Elite, taking my sweet time getting ready so that, around 6:15, the three of us (myself, my father, and David Tolstyka, a buddy from A&M) were heading out the door of the Rough Creek Lodge and making the half-mile trek over to the course venue (yeah, it wasn’t too bad). It was still pitch-black outside when we checked in at registration and made it into the festival area, still an hour left before the Team Championships took off (I myself had decided not to run in the team race – as I had done last year with Brian Hoover, Elliot Megquire, and Miles Keller – and instead would be running the Elite Men’s heat that took off ten minutes later; Tolstyka would be running in the competitive heat at 8:30 due to the fact that the Elite heat had been sold out when he signed up). This gave me time to say hi to some friends and then start warming up about thirty minutes ahead of time; I wasn’t feeling the best (kinda heavy on my feet, stomach hurting a bit), but I attributed it to nerves.
Let’s cut to the chase: Race time. The teams ended up taking off about fifteen minutes late – pushing us back a little bit in scheduling – but in no time, I was up at the starting line with familiar faces like Matt Campione, Matt Willis, Luke Halterman, Glenn Nakamura, and another A&M buddy Mikhail Llauder up there with me, joking around and dancing to the music as we got pumped for the race. I was beginning to feel a bit better, but still heavier than usual. The announcer came out and gave his speech and soon we were on our way, out into the cactus-infested fields of Glen Rose, Texas (aka “Dallas” according to Spartan’s website, even though Dallas is really 2.5 hours away).
At the beginning, I was feeling strong. By the time we hit the Over Walls and the Hay Walls I was in a comfortable third behind Mark Batres and Michael Mark, kicking the tall grass out of my way and jumping over all the cacti as we quickly cruised over the walls of wood and hay and down a tiny hill into a muddy pond (aka “Swamp Crossing”) that then deposited us up a hill to the O-U-Ts. For the briefest second I was in 2nd, but in no time Michael regained the distance as we forged further into the course. We were by now a mile in, and I was feeling pretty good. Establishing distance.
Then came the Swamp Run, a half-or-so mile trudge through a muddy, overflowing creek (“with snakes,” as Tolstyka reminds me) which the majority of us tried our best to avoid getting too deep into by clinging to the muddy wall off to the left. I lost a bit of distance here, but managed to regain it later when we came out of the creek, up a hill, and back into the festival area for the A-Frame Cargo. However, being the cautious person I am, I always take my sweet little time on the cargo nets, so the two Matts – Willis and Campione – as well as Kevin Slider managed to pass me here, pushing me back a few places as we made our way back into the trails for some more cactus-jumping.
And that’s when I hit my first wall. As we wound through the trees and attempted to barrel over the thorny bushes, my stomach started turning inside and I felt the sudden urge to throw up. Pushing the notion aside, I continued onward, but my running got a lot slower and I lost a lot of ground. By the time we hit the Monkey Bars, I was in about 8th; by the time we got to the Log Hop (just a tenth of a mile later), probably in about 10th; by the time we got to the Tire Flip I was probably back in 12th, where I began to settle for a while, trying to figure out what was wrong with my stomach. We passed through the Rope Climb and over the 6’ Wall, then wound through some more trails and at last got to the Spear Throw (nailed it) before veering off tomorrow’s Sprint course to take on the ten-or-so extra miles that is the Beast.
It was at this point that I hit my second wall, because as we did some heavy running on our way to the first Beast-specific obstacle, my hips began to ache, getting weak as they did so. I hopped over the 7’ Wall and made my way through the Pond Crossing (where I had noted some snakes swimming the day before, mind you), feeling myself slow more and more with each step. We ran along the edge of the lake for a while before taking a tiny dip for about a tenth of a mile – something they called the Ball Shrinker (perhaps as a play on Savage Race’s “Shriveled Richard”?), though the water wasn’t too cold or anything (especially compared to that 2013 incident mentioned earlier). After getting out of the lake we ran some more before reaching the Tyrolean Traverse which, while having far thinner and smoother ropes than usual, ended up being a pretty quick obstacle that allowed me to gain some ground.
At some point during the next run, I managed to land at the perfect spot so as to have a cactus needle drive through the rubber of my shoe and into the arch of my foot, something that I tried to remove but ended up getting stuck with for the next five miles (at which point my shoes had gotten so damaged by the cacti that I could literally reach through a hole in my shoe so as to remove it from my foot); as of now, I was stuck with that for quite some time.
Next came a mile-long run followed by the Stairway to Sparta and some Rolling Mud, which was then followed by a 1.5 mile run as we approached the Sandbag Carry. These runs began to introduce some inclines, which caused me to suddenly and unexpectedly hit a third wall: the pain in my hips spread to my back. I had plenty of energy and felt fully capable cardio-wise of running up the hills at full force, but a sudden weakness passed through my legs that I found myself incapable of doing much more than a walk as I made my way through the winding hills. Glenn – who had, along with quite a few others, had gotten lost on the [admittedly poorly marked] course and has resultantly run an extra two miles – passed me during this run, and by the time we hit the sandbags, my buddy Luke passed me too. I was trying to push myself, but my muscles just wouldn’t have it. I wanted to push harder – and kept reciting 1 Corinthians 9:24 in my head in an attempt motivate myself – but I simply couldn’t. Still – despite being in a solid 50th or so place by now – I trained to maintain my optimism.
After the sandbags, we had *surprise-surprise* another 1.5 mile run before reaching the Bucket Brigade, an uphill-to-downhill loop carry that ended up being somewhere in between a quarter and half mile. At this point I was getting strangely thirsty (which has never been a problem in races before) and made sure to spend a good few minutes at the water station, at which point Mikhail caught up to me – just the motivation I needed.
If my back wasn’t tired enough before the carry, it was crying blood murder afterwards. To make things a bit more interesting (fun?), my quads also began to cramp up during the carry, probably a result of my hips being so obstinate. However, having Mikhail there – Mikhail being another guy on the Texas A&M OCR team with me – helped push me a bit and motivate me to push through the pain, so that was good. We stuck with each other throughout the carry and would be with each other for a good majority of the rest race (we were now about eleven or so miles in), yet in no time he was cramping too (as was pretty much every runner we talked to) and we were all having to go back and forth between a walk and run. (At this point, I’d probably already walked three or so miles of the course.)
After the buckets came the Atlas Carry, where I managed to carry the cinder-sphere both ways and do five of the most arduous burpees of my life before taking off after Mikhail towards the first Barbed Wire Crawl.
Holy barbed-wire crawl, Batman! I made the mistake of going to the right side of the crawl – where the barbs were lower to the ground and in order to roll underneath it I had to make the decision of letting the barbs cut my shoulders on nearly each rotation – and to make things all the more fun, the ground was comprised of sharp stalks of grass rather than hard-packed dirt or thick mud as is usual, and those sharp stalks of grass were likewise dotted with giant burs, which stabbed into our backs and arms and legs so that it felt like instead of rolling under the barbs, we were rolling on top of them.
After that, we entered back onto the Sprint course by going over the Inverted Wall and continuing on to the Haunted Barbed Wire Crawl (a second, longer barbed wire crawl lined with fake spider webs – and terrifyingly real looking rubber snakes that scared the crud out of all of us – in honor of Monday’s Halloween), where we rolled through some more pokey grass and had more thorny burs implanted into our skin. Then it was back to our feet and – after stumbling dizzily for about a tenth of a mile from all that rolling – on to the Farmers Carry, an Atlas Carry-length double log carry where one grabs two handles implanted into the logs and carry the heavier-than-expected weights from one flag to another before dropping them, turning around, and carrying them back. Then it was a short run over to an 8’ Wall, which then gave way to a bit of a longer run as we made our way back towards the festival area for the Z-Wall, which luckily wasn’t too muddy too handle.
After the Z-Wall we entered the festival area at last, a fact that sent a little bit of extra energy coursing through me as I realized I was almost done. I ignored the cramping in my legs as I made my way through the Plate Drag, under the A-frame Cargo, and past the Herc Hoist, gaining a few placements as I went under the Dunk Wall and over both the Slip Wall and Fire Jump as I at last crossed the finish and accepted my medal. 45th overall – obviously not a good race for me, but I’d take it nonetheless.
In the end, I honestly can’t say what happened out there. The course wasn’t in and of itself a difficult course – other than the high grass and the endless cacti that we tried to avoid, really the most difficult thing about it was its extremely technical terrain – and I had been feeling pretty great for the entire week leading up to it, but I guess every now and then we need a bad race to help us better appreciate the good ones. The best lesson I could learn from it is perhaps to “expect the unexpected,” something that I feel summarizes OCR up pretty well (need I remind you of the constantly varying conditions at this particular race venue?).
To sum things up, I’ll say that Spartan Race once again put on a pretty dang good race. Sure, the course could have been better marked, the cacti were beyond crazy and honestly kind of dangerous, and some of the volunteers seemed to be confused about some obstacle instructions, but when it comes to course development and organization, it was another awesome weekend here in Glen Rose. There was some grata competition, an extremely festive festival area, and when it came to the award ceremony – which, as it typical at obstacle races, took place over an hour late – it was run smoothly and rather quickly. Can’t wait to see what they have in store for tomorrow’s race!!!
Also, congratulations to Hobie Call, Cody Moat, Matt Novakovich, and Aaron Fletcher for taking home the prize for the Spartan Race Team Championships! Y’all killed it out there. And congrats to Mark Batres, Michael Mark, and Matt Willis for the podium finishes in the Men’s Elite!