Today, I had to face one of my greatest obstacles yet, and it’s an obstacle that you won’t even find on the course map no matter how hard you look.
You see, loose rocks are my kryptonite. Give me a dirt trail with some rolling hills and I’ll do my darned best to cruise along like Prefontaine on an early morning tempo run, but throw some loose rocks into the equation and I bumble and stumble like Clark Kent around Lois Lane. Call me overcautious or call me scared, but it’s something I’ve always had a problem with: if there is any chance of slipping and falling and possibly causing myself to get injured, I air on the side of caution and I will walk if I have to. It's better to be safe than to be sorry, y'know?
The day started like most—after a solid four hours of sleep, I awoke at 5:00a.m., got ready, had my dad stencil my race numbers onto my chest and back, and headed to the course, which was, as usual, located at the always-beautiful Reveille Peak Ranch. The morning was a bit chilly (for my liking, that is), but as the sun came up, so did the heat; I talked with some people and caught up with a few friends I hadn’t seen for a while, did some jogging around and stretching, and then entered the starting corral. I was feeling good—light on my feet, wide awake, ready to boogie.
As time drew closer to the start of the race, other elites began to file into the corral—Matt Campione, Matt Willis, Isaiah Vidal, Van Tran, Lee Thompson, Yancy Culp, and dozens of other familiar faces joined me at the starting line, ready to take on the nine-mile course that lie ahead. Beni Gifford was also there, just not racing this week—instead, he provided some pretty awesome moral support to all of us on the course. Even Lance Armstrong—yeah, that Lance Armstrong—decided to join in on the elite heat, this race being his first ever OCR. It was beginning to look like a pretty good day to race. Some men came out to present the colors as the national anthem was sung, officials presented us with the basic rules for the race, and at last the classic “I AM SPARTAN” speech began, culminating in the “AROO! AROO! AROO! GO!” that sent us elite men barreling into the rolling course filled with cacti and creeks.
For the first mile or so, I felt pretty great. It being a nine-mile course and all, I figured I had plenty of time to speed up later, so I decided to chill in the back of the front group (around ten to fifteen people) as we crested some rolling hills, dodged some hanging branches, and overcame our first few obstacles—the over-under-throughs, some hurdles, a six-foot wall, and some very, very wet monkey bars. My cardio felt good, my strength felt fine—it was looking like the race would turn out just fine.
But then I hit the wall. If you recall from last week (and if you don’t, I’m about to fill you in anyways), I found myself quite sick in the days leading up to the Battlefrog in Dallas; after going to the doctor’s office the Monday after the race, I learned that it wasn’t just a minor cold or allergies like I’d initially assumed, but instead some sort of upper respiratory infection. They gave me some medicine and I’d been doing my best to recover and—despite a very heavy cough—I had thought that, in fact, I had recovered from the illness, but right after we hit the first mile mark of the race, I felt my heart suddenly press against my chest and all my cardiovascular strength seemingly ooze out of me. I broke into a fit of coughing that would stay with me throughout the rest of the race, and my pace dropped drastically. Trying to shake it off, I continued along the course, hoping that eventually I would hit a point of mind-over-matter where I would be able to push past the pain and speed myself back up.
That point didn’t really come. I meandered through some quick obstacles—plate drag, atlas carry, some more walls, a cargo net, and a sand bag carry—pretty easily, but the extensive running in the middle few miles really took their toll on me, with my pace slowing more and more with each hill we scaled, each creek we crossed. The loose rocks didn’t help, because every time I’d hit those, I’d stop and carefully pick my way across them, making sure to only step on stable rocks and looking for the course that offered the least chance of injury—it’s definitely something I need to work on, because that tactic alone cost me quite a bit of time.
At some point around mile 4, I stopped and had one of my energy chews, and within no time I felt a little burst of energy kick in, allowing me to not only speed up, but actually be a little more daring as I jumped from rock to rock as a group of us made our way down a fairly steep-ish hill. That’s one thing I noticed during this race—despite the course being nine-miles in length, there was never a time when I was alone. Typically this is the case for a Spartan Sprint—a far shorter 3-to-5 mile long course, such as the one I’ll be racing in tomorrow—but in a Super [or a Beast], that’s nearly unheard of, but that was the case with this race, where I was nearly always finding myself within a group of runners, running with one another for an extended amount of time.
Well, that has both a good side and a bad side to it. The good side about running with a group is that it provides you with people who can motivate you and encourage you along, so that even when your energy is waning, someone will give you a pep talk and provide you with the right words that will get you going again (I can never emphasize enough how amazing the obstacle racing community truly is). The bad part is that instead of looking for course markers, you just follow the feet in front of you.
…which leads to an entire group of runners getting lost on the course.
This happened twice to me, once somewhere between miles 4 and 5 and another time somewhere between miles 6 and 7, leading to me running nearly an extra mile throughout the course, turning it into a ten-mile race rather than a nine. At first I thought I was just the guy with the really bad luck who just-so-happened to run off-course, but once the race was over, I would learn that almost every single person I talked to ran off course at one point or another, whether that be a mere few steps off course before realizing the mistake or, like me, running a whole extra mile. This would have to be my biggest gripe with the race, because I know from experience that a course that isn’t marked too well can without a doubt lead to some major frustration. Given how well I was performing today, it didn’t bother me too badly, but in previous races, a mismarked course—or rather, a course that needs just a few extra markings to clear things up—has definitely had some pretty major influence on the rest of the race. But, on the plus side, other parts of the course—especially the last mile or two—were marked extremely well, at some places having both cones and ribbons to lead you along. So, yeah, there’s that aspect, which I felt should be voiced. Mooooooooving along.
Eventually we approached the spear throw, which, as many of my fellow Spartans will surely testify, is one of the most dreaded obstacles of the race—you never know what to expect. I’d nailed the spear into the target at the last few Spartans I’d raced, but still I approached with caution—wiped my hands, got a good grip on the spear, threw the tether back over the fence to get it out of my way…
And here’s the best thing about the spear throw: as soon as you let go of the spear, you know whether or not it’s going to go into the target. You can just feel it. The moment that javelin leaves your hands and goes airborne, it’s like your mind pumps out those kinematic equations and calculates exactly where that sucker is going to land. And as soon as I threw my spear, I knew I had it. It soared through the air, its point aimed directly at the center of the haystack—bullseye. It pierced into the haystack and I sighed with relief.
…and then the tether, having been pulled taut by the spear’s entrance into the haystack, worked like a spring and pulled the spear back out of the target.
I stared in disbelief. The volunteers stared in disbelief. My good friend Brian Hoover—who had to drop out of the race due to a nasty gash on his knee from some of the rocks out on the course—stared in disbelief. I looked at the volunteers and they looked at me. They had seen the whole thing—the spear going into the target, the spear bouncing back out. They knew.
But the rules are the rules: the spear has to stick in the target, not just hit it. While my spear did hit the haystack dead-on, it now lay on the ground in front of it, and thus I had earned myself thirty burpees over in the burpee zone. Stupid tether, I thought to myself as I made my way to join the masses pumping out their burpees off to my right.
Next came some more quick obstacles like the Stairway to Sparta, the Z-wall, and, at last, the culvert crawl. In previous years, the culvert crawl had been one of my quicker obstacles—my small frame along with the small diameter of the culvert allows me to crawl through it more quickly than most of the people I race against—but this time was a different story. This time, I was further back in the pack—in the twenties, maybe thirties, when it comes to placement—so I was forced to go through a culvert with people already crawling through it, rather than utilizing an empty culvert like I had in previous years. So I entered the culvert, and immediately claustrophobia set in, with me quickly closing distance on the guy in front of me. To make the situation worse, another racer entered the culvert behind me, so that I was sandwiched between two guys, and my claustrophobia was freaking me out like crazy. As per usual in a situation such as this, I started quoting Psalm 23 in my head, just to calm myself down.
Then the guy in front of me start slowing down, which really freaked me out. I heard him grunting as he struggled to pull himself forward, and we weren’t even halfway through the culvert. What if he gets stuck? I asked myself. What if I get stuck in here with him? What if I can’t back out? What if—
Then I paused, my eyes growing wide.
What if someone farts?
I allowed myself the quick laugh to help calm my nerves, and then tried to think of other things as we slowly trudged through the small tunnel, the light shining at the very end. What should have lasted around 30-45 seconds ended up lasting 3, maybe 4 minutes, but eventually we made it out and I took off, fresh and ready to make up some ground. Sure, I coughed a bit as I made my way up the next hill, but overall I was feeling stronger than I had been feeling before. I was just happy to be out of that gosh-darned culvert.
Next came the cargo wall and the tire flip, shortly followed by the multi-rig. I crossed the rig fairly easily—monkey-swinging across the rings and kicking the bell at the end, using my momentum from the kick to catapult myself into the air and keep on running—
…or that was the plan, at least. As I kicked the bell with my foot, some volunteers off to my right called out, “You have to hit it with your hand!” so, struggling to maintain my grip on the last ring I had just monkey-swinged from, I managed to somehow rotate 360 degrees in the air—all while hanging from one arm—and then hit the bell with my other hand. I landed on the ground, astonished with my ninja-like skills. The volunteers looked at me, surprised by my superhero-like capabilities. I smiled, knowing that whether or not my finish was as strong as I had originally hoped, that instance alone had made the course worth it.
Next came some rolling mud, an inverted wall, and then the bucket brigade—we were in the final mile. As per usual, the bucket brigade took its toll on my back, but all-in-all I made it around the hill-loop and, after emptying my bucket, entered back into the festival area for the final few obstacles: slip wall, rope climb, the wooden high bridge, the Herculean hoist, the dunk wall, and, at last, the fire jump, which deposited us into a little ditch which we would then crawl out of and run to the finish line.
As I made my way towards the dunk wall at the very end—having successfully completed all previous obstacles—I saw my buddy Mike Bishop just a bit ahead of me, making his way to the same obstacle. Deciding to turn it into a friendly little race, I sped up a bit and jumped into the water. Gotta love those races to the finish.
After the race, I got a chance to catch up with a lot of friends—Wooch “Thong Strong” Graff, Robertlee Vidal, Chris Acuff, and a bunch of other people both previously mentioned and not previously mentioned—all of the while enjoying the amazing festival area that Spartan had provided us with at the ranch this year. Sponsoring tents lined the entire festival area, music was blasting, and it was just a grand ole time.
All in all, it was a good day. My fourth year anniversary in the obstacle racing community—my first ever Spartan Race had been this very same Burnet race, a Sprint, back in 2012—it was a nice capstone to enjoy. Sure, I didn’t race as well as I’d hoped, but sometimes you have to look past that and just enjoy the amazing things God’s provided you with. Burnet is always an amazing venue for Spartan Race, and despite my performance, it was nice course—a bit under-marked, but nice nonetheless. And hey, now I can officially say I’ve beat Lance Armstrong in a race! The festivities, the community, the comradery, and the entire atmosphere—it’s all stuff that makes for another good race day and another great day in general. Can’t wait to see what the day has in store for us come the Sprint tomorrow morning.