I’d like to think of today as a glorified workout.
So technically every race you run is basically just that – a glorified workout – but today’s race sent me flashing back PTSD-style to all those training sessions out on the track, in the Rec center, or up on the patio of the Rise Apartments in College Station. Why?
Because I did a lot of burpees today. A whole lot of burpees.
You know, every now and then we need one of those races that just kicks our butts and gives us a lot to ponder about (Zoolander style) in the hours that follow. Sometimes we need courses placed before us that can be summarized in one word – “humbling” – and that tear us down to the point that we realize the beautiful metaphor that is obstacle course racing. (Have you ever realized how metaphoric OCR can be in comparison to the obstacles we face in real life? Perhaps I’ll write a blog about it one day.) Sometimes we’re like plants; we need to die a little inside and be shredded to the core so that new life can sprout from that beautiful mess that was the course we just faced.
In all honesty, I can’t tell you what about today’s course messed with me so much – perhaps I just didn’t get enough training to feel good out there – but it definitely destroyed me. It wasn’t a particularly hard course, necessarily (sure, the deluge of rain from the night before made grip-heavy obstacles a bit more strenuous), but something about it definitely took a toll…and I can testify that I wasn’t the only casualty, because it seemed like nearly every single Elite racer did burpees at one point or another (one of my buddies I talked to did 180 today, despite typically running spotless races). It just seemed like an off day for all of us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me backtrack a bit. Having watched the first ever Spartan Time Trial course Friday night, I was surprised to see that the races this weekend would be located at a different spot than normal, forsaking the beautiful lake-side, pavilion-centered festival area for a slightly-less-scenic venue about two miles away. This allowed Spartan to save money on bussing people back and forth between parking lot and festival (the new festival area was located a walking distance from the parking lot), but in doing so they also forsook one of the most attractive qualities of the Austin Spartans. This was my sixth year doing the race – and my 5th year anniversary of doing Spartan Races in general, in fact – and right off the bat it made for an interesting note: the festival area was not as lively as it has been in years past. (Hopefully Spartan had more than just monetary reasons for changing the location, because I would hate to see them continuing down the path of quantity over quality as they have fallen into over the past few years.)
While I could do a write-up on Friday’s Time Trials, I’ve already been rambling a bit too much, so let me fast forward to Saturday’s race: the Super.
I stood at the line with a group of familiar faces, feeling a bit warmed-up yet ultimately uneasy about my physical capabilities. The semester had just ended a week and a half ago, and I’d only managed to get in a week’s worth of training in contribution to this race, so it’s safe to say I was feeling a bit under-prepared (even if that week of training had involved a lot of good stuff). Nevertheless, the “AROO! AROO! AROO!” was shouted and the group of us Elite men poured out into the course.
For the first mile or two, I felt pretty good. We passed through the classic pace-making obstacles – Hurdles, 6’ Wall, A-Frame Cargo, O-U-T – and I was feeling fairly alright, holding a steady pace while hanging back in about 5th or 6th place. The course had been flat thus far (not counting the cargo net, obviously), and my legs were feeling pretty swell. My stomach felt a bit uneasy, but it wasn’t enough to slow me down much. Next came three back-to-back obstacles back in the festival area, a fun change of events that allowed us very little recovery time in between each set. First we reached Olympus, and I traversed across it fairly quickly, opting to use the drilled-in holes rather than the rock climbing holds or chains so as the help conserve some momentum. Next came the oh-so-slippery Monkey Bars (which I luckily made across quite easily, despite noting mid-obstacle the growing number of people already doing burpees) and then continued on to the Tire Flip.
…oh, that Tire Flip. So, funny story: the race director at the starting line told us that the rules for the tire flip were as follows – 1 flip forward, 1 flip back (as had been the case ever since Spartan got sponsored by Yokohama and their extremely heavy tires) – but when we got to the obstacle, the volunteers were yelling at us to do 2 flips each way! (These were the rules prior to the Yokohama sponsorship, back when the tires were a tad bit lighter.) So that confused a lot of racers, and I watched as various different athletes attempted various different things: some did what the race directors had told us, while some listened to the volunteers. I heaved at the tire, and while I did manage to lift it, my feet slid from under me (gotta love that fresh mud), and I realized that it would actually be faster for me to bust out 30 burpees than waste 75 hours trying to flip the tires 2-4 times. So, joining another dozen people who had already concluded the same, I submitted myself to my first set of burpees in a long, long while.
After the burpees, I’d fallen back to probably the mid-20s to early 30s when it comes to placement, so I knew I needed to pick up some spots. The 7’ Wall didn’t slow me down at all, and by the time we got to the Barbed Wire Crawl, I’d probably picked up about ten spots.
I just wanna say this: the Tire Flip and Barbed Wire Crawl were probably the two most-talked about obstacles after today’s race. The Tire Flip was talked about thanks to all the confusion involved with it, and the Barbed Wire Crawl was because…
…we talked about the Barbed Wire Crawl because it was not a fun obstacle. Typically crawls like this are the “boring” part of OCRs, but this one was unique in the fact that not only was it super-long and not only did it involve us cresting over four decently-sized hills, but it was – get ready – basically a field of stickers. And no, not the “congratulations-buddy-you-successfully-made-it-through-another-dentist-visit” kind of sticker that kids proudly wear on their t-shirts, but those poky, painful little things that hurt worse than walking across a field of Legos. Grass burrs, burr grass, sand spurs, whatever you want to call them – those. Yeah, the entire barbed wire crawl was through a field of those spawns of Satan, so it made for a very painful few minutes that seemed to drag on for hours. I don’t know who designed the course, but I can affirm that you owe many grown men apologies, because I heard many of them making remarks about you by using words that I cannot morally bring myself to repeat. But yeah, that was a miserable few minutes, and I’m pretty sure I will be finding burrs stuck into my skin for the next week. Let’s just hope that by tomorrow, they’re all pressed deep, deep into the ground.
Okay, rant over. The Atlas Lift was a bit lighter than normal – and thankfully the cinder spheres weren’t caked with mud – and after that came the ever-feared Bucket Brigade, which was – get this – not that hard! The course was short and flat, and the obstacle I typically dread ended up being a piece of delicious cheesecake when compared to that dang tire flip or those mounds of thorny plants which still poked into my flesh even at this point in the race.
Next we got to the Super-only portion of the course, consisting first of Stairway and an 8’ Wall, and then making its way over to the staple of the Austin Spartan Race: the Culverts. These long tubes of torture are trademark of this location, typically the hardest obstacle for most people because crawling through it is like having little blades tear at your elbows and knees, since the entire tube is littered with tiny pebbles that dig into you. Luckily, I’d already endured the barbed-wire crawl, so I’d lost feeling in my elbows and knees (so ha-ha-ha, jokes on you). However, I do have a slight case of claustrophobia, so that ended up being my biggest obstacle here. But thankfully there’s this super-swell passage called Psalm 23, and by quoting that as I passed through the tight passageway, I managed to make it through in record time. I even picked up some spaces, too! I was probably in the higher teens.
After some Over Walls, we did quite a bit of running until we reached the Z-Wall, which I traversed across pretty quickly. Around here was when I really began to start hurting, my entire body beginning to feel weak as the heavy running began to take its toll on me (turns out that a week of training isn’t really enough to place well in an Elite race; who’da thunk). Another long drag of running brought us to the Plate Drag, which then deposited us onto some more twisting-and-turning paths, which eventually brought us back onto tomorrow’s Sprint course.
Twister was the first obstacle we encountered here. Now, Twister is a new obstacle – basically, it’s like mini, rotating monkey bars – and I’d heard plenty of horror stories of those who had fallen prey to its treacherous difficulty, but I was pretty confident about it. And that confidence paid off! I made it 19/20ths of the way there, and then, as I reached out to ring the bell…
I slipped. Whoops. The metal rung was still covered with rain and I guess my grip wasn’t as secure as I had thought, so just like that I succumbed to another thirty burpees. I watched as racer after racer passed by me, though more often than not, racers came and joined me at the burpee station. (Like I said at the beginning – everybody fell prey to this course.) Then I took off again, but that second set of burpees really took it out on me. I was purrrrrty tired at this point, but luckily we were about seven and a half miles in, with only one and a half left to go.
Next came the Inverted Wall and the Sandbags, neither of which were too horrible save for my quickly deteriorating strength. Some more running led us to the Spear Throw, which I successfully threw and –
Crud. Thirty more burpees. The spear was thrown perfectly, just a tad too high. I busted out thirty more burpees, and once again was interested to note that more people were joining me in the burpee station than were passing by. It was brutal.
After my third set of burpees, my goal was just to finish the race with no more of those dang up-down push-up things. I hadn’t done this many burpees since Spartan Worlds in Vermont back in 2014, and I figured 90 was a good place to stop with the whole failing-obstacles thing. So I passed through the Rolling Mud, Dunk Wall, and Slip Wall, and then made my way back into the festival area. I completed the Herc Hoist pretty quickly and then moved on to the Multi-Rig, where I grabbed one ring and then another and then—
I’m just kidding, I made it across (But I tricked you, didn’t I?). I rung the bell on the Multi-Rig and then scaled the Rope Climb using arms only (for some reason my arms decided to find their strength again towards the end of the race) and then leaped over the Fire Jump as I sprinted to the finish. Twenty-third place overall, just under an hour and forty-five minutes. Definitely one of my worst-feeling races in a while, but hey, I was done.
So yeah, there’s Austin Spartan Day One! It might not have been my best race – and like I said earlier, I can’t exactly explain why all of us seemed to have such a tough time today, since the course really wasn’t that hard – but I do enjoy races like this, ones that keep us humble and give us goals to strive towards. The course was flatter than previous years and the race venue wasn’t as nice as usual, but guess what, the day was still an awesome, awesome day! Many strawberries to be had. The overall highlight of the race was definitely getting to catch up with the great community of friends that obstacle racing has had to offer me over the past five years; it’s been a great, great ride, and it’s been a pleasure growing up surrounded by such awesome and inspirational individuals.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…I need to acknowledge the real heroes of today. Congrats to Michael Mark for taking home first for the Men’s Elite race today (and winning the Time Trial last night), and congrats to Alexandra Walker for taking home first place for the women and 6th place overall! Y’all are both super, super awesome.
To all of those who competed today amidst the rain, terrain, and pain, awesome job! I hope y’all enjoyed the course, and hopefully it didn’t destroy y’all too badly. I’ll see you all tomorrow.