Spartan Race Edinburgh (July 23, 2016) - Day 1 Recap

One down, one to go.

The Edinburgh Spartan Sprint today—to be followed by the Beast tomorrow morning—was quite successful, I’d have to say. No podium finish or anything for me, but a great race with some great competition nonetheless and some great takeaways that I can use for the future. Over the 5.4 miles (roughly 8.5k) that was this morning’s Sprint, Spartan Race managed to fit in nearly 3000 feet of elevation change, some freezing cold water, and a relatively low-count of 20 or so obstacles, many of which were either new to me or a variation of the obstacles I frequently experience back in the States. A great day indeed.

A map of the Sprint course. A few obstacles got switched around during the days leading up to the race, but other than that, a fairly accurate course map. :)

A map of the Sprint course. A few obstacles got switched around during the days leading up to the race, but other than that, a fairly accurate course map. :)

It all started with my waking up at 5:00am to the bright Edinburgh morning (it’s rarely dark here in Edinburgh, with the sun setting at nearly 11:00pm and rising at about 4:30), and after actually managing to get a solid 6-7 hours of sleep, I was ready to go. I threw on my clothes after taking a quick shower, ate a banana and downed both a Beet Elite and a bottle of water and, together with my parents, set off towards Spital Farm—the beautifully-placed venue for this weekend’s event—located just twenty or so minutes from our hotel. We pulled up around 6:20 in the morning—a whopping 1 hour and 40 minutes ahead of the 8 o’clock start time—and, lucky for us (that’s sarcasm, in case you were wondering), the registration tents didn’t open until 7. So, for a while we found ourselves waiting along with plenty of other early birds until they at last opened the gates less than an hour later (but it wasn’t too bad, because during this time I made friends with two racers who I would continue to converse with throughout the remainder of the day: Romanian racer Daniel Corbu and Claudio Locatelli, an Italian reporter who would be joining me for today’s Elite heat). I ended up being the first racer into the festival area, so after putting on my chip and making sure everything was in order, I began to warm up. It was during this time I met up with my friend Carlo Landaverde (a Florida-native Elite racer whose goal is to set the new record for most Trifectas earned in a single year) and also went on to meet local Scottish racer Gary Leishman, another Elite runner who I would go on to spend some time getting to know throughout the rest of the day. So far, everybody was extremely friendly, the venue was great, the weather was nice, and it was looking to be a great day to race. I started to get pumped. My parents went and looked for good places to take pictures, and I continued to warm up.

Next came start time. After jumping up and down and staying warm before the 4’ wall that led into the corral, the lot of us were at last called into the box to receive our motivational speech and sent on our way just a few minutes after 8. The pace was quick right off the bat and I found myself shouldering my way to the front as all the racers fought their way to be the first to the bottlenecked trail just a hundred meters ahead. Satisfied with my momentary placement of 5th or 6th, I settled into a pace and began to cruise, seeing how I was feeling and trying to judge the competition. The course was immediately hilly (something that I will admit I had been looking forward to going into this race), however, it would appear my calves weren’t looking forward to the hills, because within the first half mile they were begging for some relief. But, since my quads were feeling good, I just shifted my weight and continued to push the pace, trying to keep up with the racers ahead. You’ve got time, I thought to myself. Just pace. Still, I began to lose some distance.

The hills didn’t lighten up, and the actual obstacles soon came. We passed through the space-making obstacles—stacks of tarped hay to climb over, some hay bale hurdles, O-U-T, and the Delta Cargo—and then waded into the ice-cold water that led to three consecutive dunk walls, which left our bodies totally numb and free of any feeling as we climbed our way from the murky pool of frigid water. Then came the sandbag carry, a flattish course that consisted of two fairly light (roughly 20lb) sandbags, which was more awkward than it was hard, yet interesting nonetheless. Then, as I turned the corner, I found myself facing one of the most painful sights known to man: a vertical ascent that seemed to go on forever and ever. It was at this point I finally got to see what placement I was in, because despite the distance I’d fallen back, the first place male hadn’t yet scaled the top of the hill (given, it was a fairly large hill, so he had a huge distance on me nevertheless). I calculated that, at that point, I was sitting in 10th.  After hopping over some quick 4’ walls, I found myself putting on my game face and shrugging up the hill. (Oh my calves, how they burned.)

After the hill that seemed to go on forever, we found ourselves approaching the Atlas Carry, which was unique in the fact that as opposed to being just plain old gray cinder spheres, these ones were painted and had the Spartan logo embossed on their face—a nice aesthetic touch in comparison with the US races. After completing this quick obstacle, we ran along the crest of the hill for a while and then came to the spear throw, where I found myself praying to God that He would lend a brother a helpful hand. God, I found myself whispering in my head, Please grant me the focus. I know that the only way I’m going to land this bad boy is with Your help, so please guide my spear along the correct course.

I nailed it. Praise God. I fist-bumped towards the heavens and continued on.

I took off with a newfound energy, heading directly towards the barbed-wire crawl just a hundred or so yards off. Diving beneath the especially-low spiked wire and crawling through especially-tall, thick pockets of grass, I transitioned through a mix of army crawl and sideways rolling as I tried to pick off a few positions to regain my top 10 spot. After making my way through the barbed wire, I regained my footing and darted down the side of the hill perpendicular to the side we had just scaled, picking up to a high 5, low 6-minute pace as I darted passed one racer after another, barreling down the hill and making some fairly daring hurdles over some spiked plants and thorny flowers (there were a lot during this race, and I have battle scars a plenty to prove so). The trail began to undulate rapidly and diverted into a bunch of quick turns, which I did my best to do without rolling my ankle… too many times.

Next came the log carry, which proved to be a pretty fun obstacle. Along with the sandbag carry earlier and the up-and-coming Bucket Brigade, I noticed that the carries in Europe are a tad bid longer than the ones in America, something that was a bit more difficult for me but still fun nonetheless. Noting that the racer in front of me picked up a short, thick log, I instead picked up a longer and thinner one, knowing that, while both were the same weight, mine would be easier to run with because I could simply place it atop my shoulders, wrap my arms around it with one to each side, and take off.

It paid off. I passed the runner in front of me and made my way through the winding trails, which soon opened up into a prairie for a while before we turned back into the trails. Then came probably the best and most intriguing part of the entire course, which involved us having to weave through fallen trees and small crevices, all whilst towing our log along the way. My choice of a long, thin log once again benefitted me here, where I could toss the log through the crevice ahead of time and then crawl after it, a much speedier process than would have been possible otherwise. After winding through this uprooted, unleveled, running/crawling path for a short while, we were deposited back into the open where we could drop off our logs and be on our way. I waved at the volunteers at the water station as I passed by, but continued on with that newfound energy still driving me along.

After continuing downhill back towards the festival area, we made a sudden right turn and were deposited into the Bucket Brigade (yep, you know where this is going). I noted that the buckets here in Europe were both taller in height and wider in diameter – as one racer would note, it was more of a “trash can carry” than a bucket carry – but having filled my trash can up, I set on my way, my mouth falling open as I saw the sheer size of the loop we would have to carry.

If you’ve read past blog posts, you know that Bucket Brigade is my least favorite and weakest obstacle, and though I’ve been training on it more as of late, today was no different. As I continued along the course, I found myself fall back in placement, so that by the time I finally deposited my bucket back into the stack, I had lost my top 10 spot once again. Still, I had a lot of energy and a lot of hope and optimism left in the tank, so I took off full stride.

Next came the Herculean Hoist, which looked a lot more intimidating than it really was. Shaking my forearms out, I nervously grabbed onto the rope but was pleasantly surprised when the 40kg kettle bell (as opposed to the typical heavy sandbags) easily shifted under my pull. The hoist was also shorter than usual, so I moved on in no time, going on to complete the balance beam (a very odd and slightly awkward obstacle that included inclined, flat, and declined surfaces, the last of which was the hardest and strangest) and subsequently the monkey bars, which were a bit longer than usual (either that, or I was just a bit more tired; not sure which). Next I passed over the Container Climb/Bridge, which was unique to me in comparison to the American races, where it is typically just a wooden ladder wall on each side, passing over a road. This, on the other hand, had 2x4” handholds to climb up the inclined-plane, rock-climbing style, and then, after crossing the road, we would lower ourselves down along the two-inch thick ladder planks. It wasn’t a hard obstacle, but it was a pleasant and unexpected change. We had officially returned to the festival area. Just a few obstacles left.

Then came the Z-wall, another obstacle that was slightly modified at this race. Whereas the Z-wall is typically a solid wooden wall dotted by staggered 2x4”’s, this one was missing its entire center piece look at the picture if you don’t get what I mean), which actually made it easier considering that, instead of being confined to pressing against a flat wall, your knees and torso now had more range of motion. I passed it, then scaled three back-to-back inverted walls, two back-to-back 8’ walls, and then clumsily tripped over the fire wall as I crossed the finish line (yep, I kicked the burning embers in a failed attempt to jump over the last obstacle, a slightly embarrassing end to an otherwise spotless race). First race of the weekend completed.

Overall, it was a very grueling and intense race, most of the intensity a result of the hills, the terrain, and the thorny plants out on the course rather than the obstacles themselves, which, while different, where at roughly the same or maybe even a slightly easier level than what would be expected at American races (the exceptions being the carries, which were longer and heavier). I finished 11th overall—just missed that top 10 spot—but I’m still pretty happy with that, considering that hills aren’t my forte and I still have plenty of time to improve. It was a great, great race, and I can’t wait to see what they hold in store for us tomorrow (rumor has it that the Beast is 17-miles).

The post-race festival was probably the most exciting part of the entire day, mainly because I got to meet so many awesome people. I hung out with Carlo, Claudio, and Gary quite a bit, with them expressing how awesome it is that my parents come out here to support me at all my races (a gratitude that I myself share to the hundredfold). I also met a bunch of really great, really eccentric, really inspriational and exciting characters, people from all over the world and from all walks of life. I met racers from Kuwait, Slovakia, and Austria to name a few, each with different stories and passions. It truly was awesome—like Claudio commented to me at one point, it’s probably what going to the Olympics feels like, where all the nations come together, putting aside their disagreements and disputes, and just having a truly awesome time out on the field, enjoying one another’s competition and company. We took a lot of pictures, watched the awards, and at one point some staff members approached me and asked if they could interview me for Reebok and Spartan Race advertisement stuff, which was actually pretty cool! So I got to do that too, and afterwards one of the staff members went and dragged Joe DeSena—the founder of Spartan Race—over to me, introducing the two of us and allowing us to converse for a little while about my racing, my love for OCR, and a bit of the travelling I’d been doing for quite a few of his races. Real cool guy.

So yeah, that’s the day in a nutshell. Coming to Europe to do some Spartan Races has definitely been an experience to hold onto, allowing me to meet some really great people, race against some really strong competition, and push my limits to continue along the path of success that I one day dream of. I can’t express how grateful I am to my parents for supporting me all along the way—it doesn’t get much more supportive than flying your kid all the way to Scotland to run a few races—how grateful I am to God for providing me with such blessings and opportunities, and how awesome it is that Spartan Race and OCR in general has provided the athletes and people of this world with the opportunity to form a worldwide community of people who share the same passion, desires, and friendship. Well done, Spartan Race, another race day in the books,

Time for the Beast tomorrow. Let’s do this. Game on.