|Posted by Strength & Speed on September 23, 2016 at 10:10 PM|
This month I had the opportunity to run the Rugged Maniac Twin Cities. It was the first time I had run a Rugged Maniac event, and overall I was pleasantly surprised. I had heard a lot of buzz over the past few months about how it is a really enjoyable race with a great atmosphere. I went into it looking forward to run a race known for its fun obstacles, but still have the opportunity to run competitively.
The morning did not start as smoothly as expected. Despite a fairly late start for the first wave of the morning I was running behind due to road construction that hadn’t showed up when I looked at the route to the venue the night before. I ended up arriving about 20 minutes before my heat took off. Luckily parking was a snap and registration went quickly (and free bag check, big plus). I ran a few strides and stopped to talk with some friends as I walked to the start line.
Looking around I saw plenty of familiar faces, which caused me to mentally calculate my final placement. Judging by the people I saw I felt that I could end up anywhere from 3rd to 10th. From what I had heard from the race last year my biggest worry was that there would be some random cross-country runners that would come in and do well enough to drop me out of the top ten. The impression I had before the race is that despite being held at a ski hill, the course would be pretty fast, and the obstacles weren’t generally difficult enough to slow down more pure runners. Fortunately I was proven wrong.
The course quickly made its way up a fairly steep climb. My goal was to keep the presumed leader (Mike Ferguson) in sight for as long as possible. I was feeling really well up the first hill and was very close to him, however, once we hit the first downhill Mike kicked it into another gear and created a huge gap with the rest of the field.
We then hit a longer, but less-steep, climb, and the pack began to thin out. By the top I was trading 4th and 5th place, and that is where I remained for the rest of the race. From then on things were mostly uneventful, except for the barbed wire-crawl that went through some form of nettles or razor grass, which made for some great picture comparisons later that day.
After the first mile I felt comfortable with the gap I had put between 6th place. I felt confident that I could get 5th unless something weird happened. As a result, I paced myself off a guy named Broc (who had ended up 3rd at Conquer the Gauntlet Des Moines where I lost my belt), so I was interested to see how I would hold up. We traded places every once in a while, but kept it close for the rest of the race. My plan had been to keep it close and pick up the pace in the last quarter mile or so. In retrospect I think I had settled on hoping to get 4th after seeing 3rd place’s gap on us. It’s unlikely I could have made it up, but I’m a little upset at myself for not trying. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 5th , getting beat by about 3 seconds. Broc didn’t show up on the results, so he must not have gotten chip timed, so I show up as 4th, but I know it was 5th.
I had been a little worried by the amount of balance intensive obstacles before the race, but ended up not having too much trouble. Rugged Maniac had a lot of interesting obstacles, that while they weren’t very challenging, they were a lot of fun. The whole vibe I got was similar to a Warrior Dash, only the obstacles were more fun, they made better use of the terrain, and from what I saw there was a lot more to do in the festival area. I wish I would have had more time to stick around and have fun at the various challenges (and try my hand at the electronic bull), but unfortunately I had other commitments. It was a really fun time, and a good race to open up and focus on speed at. I’m hoping I’ll be able to fit it on my race calendar again next year.
(All pictures are from Rugged Maniac official photographers)
Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on August 29, 2016 at 10:40 PM|
Wayback on Saturday August 13, 2016, Terrain Race made its first trip to the Minnesota market (busy time at work, so it took me a while to sit down to write a recap). As an event, I thought it was fun; but as a competition I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. To be honest, the fire that I had in my belly after the Des Moines Conquer the Gauntlet faded quickly, and I fell out of a regular training schedule. I made some specific changes that were tailored to this event though, and I was eager to see how I would do considering I didn’t think Terrain would have the same regional draw as the Minnesota Spartan Race (plus, I happened to know a few of those that had beaten me at Spartan would be racing elsewhere). I went into the race hoping to place in the top 5 for the first time at a race this year and left with a whole mix of emotions that I’m still working through.
For once, a larger race series delivered on a promise: the venue was actually within 30 minutes of downtown Minneapolis at Buck Hill (aka, Camp Titan to those in the know). It isn’t as large of an area and the terrain isn’t quite as rugged as venues outside of the immediate suburbs, but the tradeoff for an extra hour or so of sleep wasn’t too bad. I had actually trained at Buck Hill quite a bit during the summer of 2014 as it was one of the few places near me to get in some good hills as I prepared for the Vermont Ultra Beast that year (Buck Hill helped me survive… barely). To be honest, I knew the area enough to know that having a 10k and 5k course was ambitious. When I heard the week before that two of the ski hills were off limits due to them installing some year-round skiing surface, I knew they would be cramped for space (as I would come to know all too well by the end of the race).
Thefestival area was great. There was a small warm-up rig featuring some of Terrain’s signature “Monkey Balls” for racers to get accustomed to; a set of yard games; great views of multiples obstacles; and unfortunately a DJ that seemed to have limited playlist that got me sick of the song “Uptown Funk” by the end of the day.
I personally liked that Terrain let you add on the option to run multiple laps of either the 5k or 10k course with registration for a small fee. I love the competitive aspect of OCR, but for my mental health it is great to go out and run a second or third lap with friends just for fun, and I planned on taking full advantage.
The Race (10k Competitive)
I went into the race with a stated goal of finishing in the top 5 overall, but in my head I was hoping that this would be my first time making it on to a podium.The race started off quick and I was keeping pace with the two people I knew would finish ahead of me based on past races. As we got towards the top of the first hill I had the leader in sight and was in a small clump of people between third and sixth. At the top we had a short Wreck Bag carry through some single track. It was camped, but flat, and the Wreck Bag was only 25 pounds so everyone kept up a good pace.
After exiting the carry there was some confusion about which way to go. After dropping off the bag there was some marking tape on the ground several yards infront of us. I asked the volunteer manning the obstacle which way we were supposed to go and his response was “which way does it look like you’re supposed to go?” Looking around again, I said, “left, but that’s why I’m asking you man.” The volunteer directed us, along with everyone else after us to go right, over the trampled orange tape. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time,that is where we ended up taking a very significant shortcut that ended everyone’s races. But read on, the plot thickens…
We powered up a short hill, believing the two leaders had gapped us enough to be out of sight as we rounded a bend on the back side of the hill. Down a short tube slide and into some rolling mud pits, then we came to where the 5k and 10k split. The 10k went into some single-track mountain bike trails that allowed us to open up some speed. It was flat, and in over a mile all there were in terms of obstacles was a sandbag carry of probably less than fifty yards (and the bag couldn’t have been more than 25 pounds), and a couple teeter-totters. The threeof us that were clumped together once again, but one of the others dropped during the tire drag. This was similar to the plate drag at Spartan, but with a fairly large tire (made more difficult in this instance by the fact that you had topull them up an incline on an uneven surface).
Next, we got to the top of one of the larger hills and went over an 8-foot wall. At that point it appeared were supposed to go under a cargo net, but there was some marking tape across part of the opening. Again, we asked the volunteerwhich way we were supposed to go and he told us to go over the cargo net. This required us to around some of the marking tape, so we asked if he was sure and he said yes. We were then directed on our marry way, up and down another hilland we came to the shortest rope climb I’ve ever done, and made our way througha water station. After rounding another hill, the course clearly marked us togo… back over the cargo net. Understandably confused, we asked the volunteerwhich way we were supposed to go and were told to cross the cargo net again.Afterwards, we again asked which way we were supposed to go, and told thevolunteer he had already sent us that way. Assuming we had missed a turnsomewhere else, since this was the way we were actively being told to go by thevolunteer, we sped off again.
This was the first point that I began to think we had gotten lost. We went up thehill again and saw the rope climb and asked the volunteer there if we hadmissed a turn; unfortunately he had no idea why we were there again. It wasclear as we passed through this area that we didn’t miss a turn. I started talking with the only other racer with me and we began wondering how manypeople would pass us while we were on this detour. We got back to the cargonet, went over a third time, and decided to go off a different way than the volunteer told us; coincidentally, it turned out to be the right way.
At this point, I saw a lot of people in front of us, and while we had joined upwith the 5k runners, I knew several of those I started to pass were running the10k and I had been a decent distance ahead of them. At that point I knew things had gotten screwed up pretty badly. I figured the volunteer had finally been told which way to send people after we had gone through twice and was a little demoralized by the thought of how many people had gotten ahead of us. My pace slackened a little, but I kept up with the other guy I had been going back andforth with, hoping there would be some way to sort things out at the end.
We rounded down a hill and started to head back towards the festival area. My GPS watch was still way short of a 10k, so I began to think something was up considering I had thought we ran a considerable amount extra after being misdirected. I entered the signature “Monkey Balls” obstacle next to the personeI had now been trading off between 3rd and 4th for the last few miles and decided that just for my own satisfaction I was going to try to speed throughto beat him in the last few hundred yards. Prior to the race this had been theonly obstacle I was worried about needing more than one attempt to complete. I had gotten slightly more worried after practicing on the rig in the festival area. The balls on the practice rig were worn down and somewhat grimy, makingthem extremely slick and difficult to hold during transitions.
With that in mind I approached the obstacle on the course with a little hesitancy, but I felt fairly confident given the training I had been putting in at Ninja'sUnited. I got to the monkey balls slightly ahead of my competitor and found that my worries were unfounded. The balls were still dry and had substantially less wear and tear than those in the festival area. I breezed through andsprinted to the final cargo net and flung myself across with reckless abandon.I crossed the finish line just in front of my competitor.
The Finish Line
When I got to the finish line I started seeing some familiar faces and quickly learned that things had gone wrong for almost everyone. It turned out that only the first two racers had followed the course to the left after the Wreck Bag carry. I then found out that (as far as I know) only myself and one other racer had been misdirected at the other portion of the course. By the time I had finished only 4-5, had already finished the 10k, and staff seemed pretty aware that they had an issue on their hands. Others had made them aware of the firstmisdirection, but when I brought up the issue later in the race they seemed indifferent.
I spent the next hour or so pretty salty about the whole situation. This wouldhave been the first time I had ever finished in the top 3 at any event. I honestly didn't care about losing out on money (although it would have been nice), but I wanted some form of validation for the hard work I've been doing. After doing the course again later I realized just how much of the course had been cut (and how much extra I ran in other places). After seeing this, I don't even feel comfortable claiming I *would* have gotten third because things could have changed so drastically on the portion that was cut. I left feeling cheated out of the opportunity to compete.
It isnow 8/23. I know they gave awards to the top 2 finishers. I haven't heard anything else about how they are handling other finishers (despite reaching outa few times). No results have been posted; I went out and self-timed a 5k laplater that day to see where I might have ended up, but haven't been able to check, since nothing has been posted.
My takeaway lessons for Terrain Race to make things better for competitive runners:
· Release a course map in advance of the race, or at least have it posted in the festival area. This would have allowed everyone to realize we had taken a wrong turn by the next obstacle rather than ruining the race.
· Give volunteers a copy of said map and give them instructions on where to guide participants.
· Don't loose the course back so closely on itself. If you go off course you generally know it within about 20 yards since you don't see any markers. This is not the case when you cross directly onto anotherportion of the course (I'd note that this should concern course designers ingeneral because switchbacks lend themselves to INTENTIONAL course cutting.
· Communicate after the race. It would be lovely to knowwhat (if anything) is happening with the results. Everything I know has been heard second or third hand. Even if it is acknowledging you have no idea how toresolve the situation, it would be nice to know. Own up, acknowledge the mistake,and vow to not let it happen again. No need to offer explanations, just work to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Ultimately, would I run this again if they come back? Probably. There aren't a ton of options for competitive races in Minnesota (especially given the recentuncertainty regarding Battlefrog), plus the price is right and they got apretty good venue. I wish Terrain the best and hope they sort out the very fewissues I had.
(All pictures provided by Kevin Hill)
Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on July 23, 2016 at 4:20 PM|
On Saturday July 16, 2016, I had the pleasure of running my first Conquer the Gauntlet (CTG) event in Des Moines, Iowa. I made the trip down the night before with Fellow S&S Dev Team Member Josh Rundquist and North Star Spartan teammate Dan Stowe. As we sped south of I-35 I couldn’t help but think I’d be able to speed along the flat terrain the next morning (I mean seriously, the state is so flat that if the corn wasn’t growing I could probably see all the way to Missouri).
We woke up early and made our way to the venue. Parking and registration went smoothly and it was just a matter of warming up and waiting for the starting line. Over the past two weeks I had been thinking a lot about this race and thought it would probably be my best shot at finishing in the top 5 at a race this year. On the positive side, this race had mandatory obstacle completion, which I thought would help me out over some of the faster runners, and I had thought it would be a relatively flat course, which would help me against the people that are better on ascents. I was slightly worried when the obstacle list came out and I saw two possible balance obstacles, but was somewhat relieved when I saw that Pegatron was toward the first half of the race. I had my first opportunity to try a peg board at Ninja’s United, a local gym with a lot of the obstacles you’d see on American Ninja Warrior. I didn’t do too well, but I chalked that up to trying it at the end of a workout and felt somewhat confident I’d be able to handle Pegatron when the time came.
The race started off well and I found myself within the top 10 after the first obstacle (inverted ladder wall). Surprisingly, I made it across the slack line on my first try, passing a few more people, and then we were off into the woods. Once we were in the woods I discovered that CTG had found one of the few places in Iowa with any decent elevation change. We went in and out of a dried creek bed and up and down a ravine. I had anticipated running through some mowed fields and instead got some surprisingly technical trails and creek beds with loose rocks.
I passed a few others on some longer hills and by my count had moved up to 5th by the time I got to the Z-balance beam. I got 2/3 of the way before slipping on my first attempt. Then only a few steps. Then 1/3 of the way. I was able to try several times before anyone else had come through, and luckily a few of those ahead of me were also having difficulties. At one point, I followed the lead of another racer and tried to lay down and scoot across the beams. Unfortunately my knees touched the ground and it was back to the beginning. Eventually a larger part of the pack had come and it was fairly demoralizing to see a couple people get through after just a few attempts. Finally, after 15-20 minutes of attempts I made it through and took off at a sprint to try to make up some time.
During the next running section I bombed all the downhills I could to make up time. I had some minor skids down into some creek beds and at one point a small tree allowed me to keep my balance instead of going head-first onto a pile of rocks. I emerged from the woods relatively unscathed and had worked my way back up to the top ten or so. At that point I knew that my legs were going to allow me to catch up as long as I could make it through the obstacles.
Then I got to Pegatron…
On my first attempt I got about halfway through before my momentum gave out and I was stranded hanging by one arm. I quickly got up and tried to go on another side so that my dominant hand would be in front. I got about as far, but my arms gave out again. I listened to other people and made some minor adjustments with technique, but wasn’t getting much farther. With each attempt my arms were getting more taxed and it took longer to try to recover before my next attempt. At one point I was able to get far enough that I thought I’d be able to get my feet onto the next set of foot holds, but I was about one hole short. Overreaching caused my swing to get off-kilter and I fell again. After over 30 minutes of attempts I was getting consistently less far on the wall and was demoralized by the amount of people that were making it through on their first or second attempts. I talked with Josh (who had made it to the wall before me) and we decided to give it one last shot before giving up out belts. Unfortunately neither of us made it, so we put our tails between our legs and turned in our belts.
This marked the second time I DNF’d a race (the first being the Surf the Murph 50 Miler last fall that I attempted after basically taking 2 months off of any training). My mood had soured, and with it my legs had turned to lead. Josh and I slogged through the remaining obstacles. I attempted to enjoy the terrain and focus on doing all of the remaining obstacles well. I made it through everything else on the first attempt, with the exception of the Tarzan Swing (CTG’s version of the Rig) which I got on the second try.
I was incredibly disappointed with having to turn in my belt, and ended up a disappointing 43rd as an unofficial finisher. After a long period of beating myself up, I decided to accept what happened and analyze it. In attempting a new event I faced things that were completely new to me and exposed some weaknesses in my training. Rather than having a pity party I have recognized what I need to do to be ready for my next race and for CTG events next year (needless to say, I’ll be making my own peg board and balance beam to practice on).
Every once in a while you need something to break you down in order to light a fire in you. The whole point of obstacle course racing, at least in my mind, is to find your limits and push beyond them. Well… limits found. Time to work on pushing beyond them.
Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.
Pictures are from the official CTG photographer and provided for the article by Kevin Hill.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on July 11, 2016 at 7:40 AM|
Cheating: it is a topic that never seems to die, but like a horror-movie ghoul comes back again and again, only to be struck down again. OCR is like the rest of life where there are rules in place that a certain subset of people doesn’t think applies to them.
I recently started a new job as a criminal prosecutor and had to take an oath to support the law and our constitution. There is a concept in Minnesota law that the letter of the law should not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit. I have found that the largest dichotomy in the OCR community comes from the clash between whether the spirit of the event or the letter of the rules should be followed. Each series has its own rules and its own effectiveness in governing them for those athletes running for prizes. Athletes attempting to make money off their races should absolutely be held to the letter of rules of the race.
There is far more ambiguity about what constitutes “cheating” in the less-strictly monitored open waves. Cheating in this context can affect a number of people: those attempting to qualify for age-groups at OCRWC, points series awards, or personal pride. It also has the less-tangible but more internet-rage-inducing effect of cheapening the race experience of others. The best analogy that puts this into perspective is a marathon: someone who doesn’t (do their burpees, skips an obstacle, gets help on an obstacle, etc.) is akin to someone that ran the first mile of the race, hopped on a bike to mile 26, and finished the final .2 miles on their feet.
There is greater ambiguity when it comes to an event like BattleFrog’s BFX, which has a competitive aspect (winner gets an awesome trident and top 3 qualify for OCRWC) and caters to the OCR enthusiast’s desire to run a course all day long. Prior to BattleFrog’s recent rule changes, all that was required for an “attempt” was to essentially tag the obstacle. For those running the race competitively there was an easy cost-benefit analysis: what would bet shorter and leave me less drained… Platinum Rig or Body-Builders? By the letter of the rules and from a tactical standpoint, tagging the obstacle and doing your penalty seemed like the wise choice. But many people argued that despite what the rules said, the spirit of the race demands an honest attempt and a failure before doing a penalty. It is an OBSTACLE course race… right?
To go back to the example of BFX, BattleFrog’s new implementation has largely addressed the concern of “tagging”. However, in adding intermediate and novice options to obstacles, and permitting BFX participants to use any lane it has opened a new question for competitive BFX racers. The rules clearly permit the use of the novice lanes on all obstacles. So if a racer were trying solely to get the best time they would want to use the novice lanes throughout the course. Other BFX participants (myself included) would argue that in the context of this event, it is the spirit of the race to do the obstacles on the elite level until you cannot complete it, if after a couple honest attempts you feel your body can no longer do the obstacle, use the intermediate lane, and eventually the novice lane, or penalty loop.
I fully recognize that policing such a system is impossible, that is why BFX is largely based upon an honor system. But that is what the winner should feel: honor. And what will feel more honorable: completing five laps of elite level rigs, or seven novice rigs?
So, what is cheating? When an advantage is the result of cutting a course, skipping an obstacle, shorting your burpees, or taking a banned supplement the answer appears clear. But when someone acts within the technical strictures of the rules to gain a tactical advantage is that cheating or racing smart? The answer often turns on the questioner; someone racing for placement will do whatever they can justify within the rules to get the quickest time, but someone else may see that even if they are not cheating a competitor out of a podium spot or a cash prize, they are cheating themselves out of an experience to better themselves.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on June 30, 2016 at 8:15 AM|
On Saturday June 25, 2016, Spartan Race made its return trip to the Welch Village ski resort in Welch, MN. This was set to be my first OCR of 2016 after having to skip the Twin Cities Battlefrog event in May due to an illness. After a somewhat disappointing finish at the San Diego Marathon I was looking forward to using this race as a way to gauge my all-around fitness and see how well my training has paid off.
Welch is about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities in the Cannon River Valley. This being the second year at the venue, returning racers knew the terrain that Spartan Staff would have to work with. Having the race at a ski hill pushed Minnesota natives that are used to rolling hills out of their comfort zones by subjecting them to quad burning accents and descents.
Welch had ample on-site parking that flowed into Spartan’s streamlined registration process. There were the usual vendors, sponsors, and activity challenges in the festival area. I took advantage of the Spartan Rig to do a bit of a warm up and headed over to the Biggest Team Tent to join up with some fellow friends and training partners with the North Star Spartans. One thing I would point out in case anyone on Spartan’s staff reads this is that if you are going to locate the Biggest Team Tent on the far side of the festival grounds, it would be nice to give them a port-a-potty.
The only other downside to the layout of the course was that this year spectators were only able to see the first and last few obstacles. In 2015 the course had looped back to the festival area and allowed spectators to see racers at various stages of the race, but 2016 largely used the “back bowl” area of the resort for single track and bushwacking. The change was great from a racing perspective (at least for me personally), but made things less exciting for spectators and made for a long wait between glimpses of racers.
I’m a firm believer in the theory that you only notice what goes wrong at an event like this, and apart from one big snafu that will be discussed below, things operated flawlessly. Walking around after the race there was a healthy mix of exhaustion and smiles from those that had made it across the finish line and looks of dread from the clean people that hadn’t run the course yet.
Due to… well, we were never told why… EMTs hadn’t arrived on site for the Elite wave to start at 7:30. We waited impatiently in the starting chute as the race director talked on his phone, visibly displeased. We were eventually allowed to head out to the festival area and told to reconvene at 8:15.
One of the biggest problems I have noticed with OCRs is that participants are terrible at self-sorting at the start line (apart from the few who knew they’d be finishing in the top 10). Prior to our false-start I had positioned myself with about 20-30 people ahead of me, knowing that I placed 22 last year; however after the delay I was unable to jostle my way towards the front and ended up probably 50-60 people back from the front.
The course started with a steep incline and most of the racers started off fast. At first I was convinced that everyone else was going to blow up halfway up the first hill, but as things started to even out there was still a large group pulling away from me. I started to worry that my hill training hadn’t paid the dividends I was expecting. After a few walls to break up the pack there was a steady descent into the dunk wall, followed immediately by monkey bars. This was the first spot that I made up major ground as it appeared that the monkey bars had decimated the field in front of me, moving me up about 15-20 places.
We then headed up another climb and into some single track through the woods. I ended up behind some people that were a little slower than my intended pace, but had promised myself not to allow my heart rate to get too high early on. I decided to sit back and bided my time to find a flat spot to open up. One of my biggest setbacks in 2015 had been ascents; during my training I started to focus on steady sustained climbing at an aerobic or threshold heartrate. In 2015 I made the mistake of jacking up my heartrate by bombing the downhills, and starting ascents with an already elevated heartrate. This year I used downhills to run at a pace that was high enough to pass some people, but slow enough that it allowed my heartrate to get back into an aerobic zone before the next climb.
We got to the barbed wire crawl and were welcomed by a rocky field and low barbed wire that made the rolling technique difficult in many areas. I personally preferred the muddy downhill slip-n-slide of 2015, but this was definitely more challenging. Shortly after was the Z-Wall, which I took slow and steady and was able to make it through. By that point I was past the two obstacles I failed in 2015 (monkey bars and Z-Wall) and I felt confident the only burpees I might have to do would be at the spear throw.
The remainder of the obstacles were the standard fare of Spartan Races: Atlas Carry, Sandbag Carry, and walls. I was picking people off every once in a while, but finally got another big boost as I breezed through the Herc Hoist. For some reason I have always found that obstacle to be easy; I have no idea if it is a technique or body type issue, but I passed at least 10 people there and bombed down the next hill.
At some point (I forget exactly where in the order of things) I was approaching a wall and saw someone grab the top only to see their shoulder pop out of its socket. It wasn’t until after the race that I realized it was fellow Strength and Speed teammate Justin Lund (we didn’t have a chance to meet in person until after the race). I later learned that he popped it in, kept going, and dislocated it again on the rig later on (but still finished like a champ).
By the time I got to the bucket carry a spectator told me that maybe 20 people had passed by already. I tried to make up some time at the bucket, but the hill was so steep I had to stop and rest it on my knees a few times on the way up and once again on the way down. My legs were gassed but at that point there was less than half a mile left. Directly after the bucket carry was a grueling uphill climb that had slowed everyone around me to a slow hike. We made it to the top and hit the rig. A guy I had been going back and forth with on the hill dropped next to me and a few ahead of me were doing their burpees. I figured at that time that I was in about 15th place and from the research I had done before the race figured I needed to move up one or two places in order to earn a coin and a chance to enter the Spartan World Championships at Lake Tahoe. All that was left was a downhill, the spear throw, and rope climb.
I made good time on the downhill and caught a pack of three people. I sprinted past them right before the spear throw and looked at the burpee area: another 2 or 3 people there. At the time I figured if I hit the spear I would make it into the top 10 (I later checked my watch and confirmed I would have placed 8th if I cut off the time I took to do 30 burpees). Up to that point my only missed spear throw was in pitch dark during the 2014 Ultrabeast and I felt good going into it. I had the right line, but put a bit too much on it and it sailed over the target by about two inches. I did my burpees (the referee even commented about how nice my form was), then slowly got to the rope climb, dinged the bell, and crossed the finish line in 15th.
Overall it was a huge improvement over last year. I didn’t fail any “real” obstacles (which is a subject for an entirely different post), and from looking at the results of people I finished near in 2015 I can see that I have made huge strides in my training. In the end, the spear cost me a few places, which ended up being the difference in earning a coin. But knowing how close I was, I now know what sort of work I need to put in to get it next time. It was a great learning experience and I ended up doing much better than I expected before the race and even halfway through. It was a huge confidence builder and has put my mindset in the right place for my next challenge: Conquer the Gauntlet in Des Moines.
The general consensus after the event was that 2016 was more difficult than 2015. Most people cited the incredibly hot (for Minnesota) weather, the steep uphill start, and the layout of the obstacles as what made this year so much more difficult. I tend to agree with that assessment. As more resources have emerged to help prepare people for these sorts of races the race companies have begun to be more purposeful in structuring their courses to make them more challenging to both competitive and open class participants. The design of the Minnesota Sprint was a prime example on how properly using a mix of terrain and thoughtful placement of obstacles can make for a challenging and rewarding experience for people of all fitness levels.
Distance: 4.98 miles
Burpees: 35 (Spear Throw and Atlas Carry)
Elevation Gain: 1,529
|Posted by Strength & Speed on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 PM|
This past weekend I had the opportunity to race the Rock’n’Roll San Diego Marathon. My sister-in-law moved to San Diego last fall to go to PT school and my wife and I decided to plan a trip to visit her around the marathon (I did the full and my wife and her cousin did the half). I learned early in the trip that I won’t plan on running any big races at the end of a weeklong vacation, as tapering and trying to eat healthy are not the best ways to spend time that is supposed to be relaxing.
The Training Cycle
I started my official training cycle back in February and loosely based most of my training off the Nike Running App’s Coach feature. We had signed up for the race months before, but due to resting a foot with plantar’s fasciitis, a work commute that wasn’t great for training, and a relatively new edition to the family I had let my training slip to a fairly nonexistent level. I found that my running snapped back relatively quickly, and I was shaving minutes off my 5k time weekly as I approached where I had been last summer.
During my training cycle I took a leap of faith and left my job, which left me with a lot of time to train while looking for work (which I eventually became employed at my dream job, so it all worked out). I was also selected to participate in the Strength & Speed OCR Development Team, which allowed me to get great access to training and nutrition information and gave me a great group of peers to inspire me to aim high with my goals. For New Years I set a number of goals for myself, one of which was to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the other was to run a sub 3:00:00 marathon.
While I had set goals based around marathons, my true passion is OCR and I use my marathon training as a means of improving my aerobic base and running speed. As a result my training was a healthy mix of trail and road running with some weight training and bodyweight WODs mixed in to keep the strength necessary for my OCR events that will start a few weeks after the marathon.
Rock’n’Roll San Diego was set to be my first chance to achieve those goals and I felt 100% confident until May when I got a two-week cold that ended in me losing my voice for a couple days and waking up several nights in cold sweats. After feeling better for a weekend and cranking out a solid 22 mile training run I got hit with a viral infection that left my throat swelled nearly shut and looking like Freddy Krueger’s skin. I had to take an entire week off training at what I felt like was a very important phase of my training, missed out on running the Battlefrog Xtreme event in Minnesota that I had been looking forward to since last fall, and caused me to overcompensate in the last two weeks of my taper to regain some of the fitness I had just lost.
The Race (The First 13.1)
Rock’n’Roll started off on a good foot. Their logistics game is on point; they were in contact early and often with pertinent information and the race expo was easily the best of the now four marathons I have completed. There were a ton of booths giving out samples of different gels, gummies, sports drinks, bars, and various health foods. The higher prices of clothing and gear were in line with other race expos I’ve attended as well.
The morning of the race I had a usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee about an hour and a half before the race and tried using BeetElite for the first time at a race (I had experimented with it in some time trials during my training with positive results and did a three day load leading up to the race which had been recommended by a few regular users). We walked just under a mile to the start line and dropped off our bags with ease. I looked around and despite the rows and rows of port-a-potties the lines were still incredibly long (note to races with 37 corrals… you can NEVER have too many bathrooms at the start of a race). I was set to start in corral 2, but due to mistiming I ended up starting with corral MEB, in between 3 & 4 by the time I was able to squeeze through the security barrier.
The beginning of the race was extremely crowded due to marathoners and half marathoners being released together and it was hard to get into a good rhythm while dodging around people. I was taken aback by the amount of people that had started to walk within the first two miles given that they had started in early corrals; I would have thought that having prior races times to justify being in an earlier corral they would know enough about race etiquette to know to voluntarily move to a later corral or at the very least to move to the right side of the road, but apparently that’s too much to ask. My first few miles ended up higher than what I was realizing was an ambitious sub 3-hour goal, but not so high above that the negative split I had hoped to run wouldn’t be able to make up for them.
My late start turned out to be a bit of a blessing because it gave me the chance to shake hands with Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2014 Boston Marathon winner and 2016 USA Olympic Men’s Marathon Representative, among other things) who was pacing a group for the half marathon. It was crazy to see how effortless he was maintaining his pace.
I noticed around mile 6 that the course forced us to run on the left side of many of the roads. This worried me because my PT-in-training sister-in-law had recently confirmed that my right leg was longer than my left and I had planned on trying to run on the right side of the road as much as possible to alleviate some of the knee and IT band pain that has started in on later miles in the past. The roads were also cambered more than normal, so I started getting in my own head (a recurring theme of the day) worrying about how I was going to feel later instead of focusing on the present. All the worrying turned out to be for nothing because I had the most pain free marathon I’ve ever ran.
After the half marathon broke off between mile 7 and 8 the road opened up and I was only able to see a pack of five or six people in front of me. With some room to breathe I set my sights on slowly picking them off one by one and using that as a way to keep myself engaged in monitoring my pace. There were a lot of rolling hills through the first half of the race that I managed well due to my training on trails and was usually gaining ground on those in front of me on the uphills. My pace was getting better and better, and just short of the halfway point we came to a long downhill that I decided to use to my advantage to try to make up some of my slower early miles. I came across the 13.1 mat at 1:31:55, a few minutes off my goal, but within what I thought I would be able to make up on the back half.
The Race Continued (The Second 13.1, where the wheels fell off)
Miles 13-16 went fairly well, I maintained a steady pace and was abled to see some of the race leaders on an out and back portion that I had predicted the night before would be exactly where I would see them. At mile 16 we were down near Sea World and had the flattest second of the course to deal with, which I was excited about because I thought I’d be able to get a nice steady pace going. Unfortunately for me my pace was about 10 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace.
This part of the course is where the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my right shoulder started to get into an argument. The angel was telling me not to worry, just push a little bit and focus on getting to your BQ pace and you can always push hard for the last 10k if you are feeling good and want to try to get to the sub 3 hour mark. Meanwhile, the devil was telling me that if I couldn’t maintain my pace on the flats that I wasn’t going to make up that time on the climb up Highway 163 later in the race. Unfortunately for me there was no fan support on this section of the course, so I got to listen to this internal battle for several miles. Even more unfortunate was that the devil seemed to be getting in more punches with each step.
I was doing a lot of mental math leading up to each mile to determine what pace I would need for the rest of the race in order to meet my goals. By mile 20 I was at 2:22:12, and thought that if I had a great final 10k and final kick I could just scrape by with a BQ time under 3:05:00.
By mile 22 things were looking bleak. My legs weren’t responding the way I wanted them to. I kept telling myself if I could make the next mile split that my body would maintain its pace, but the devil on my should had landed an uppercut, the angel was on the ground, and the 10-count was starting.
Then came the hill…
I had seen it on the course map and the video preview of the course: an approximately 230ft ascent over the course of a little over a mile from up Highway 163 to get to downtown San Diego. I had been doing hill training for the past three months up much steeper hills to prepare for the Spartan Sprint at Welch Village Ski Resort in Minnesota at the end of June. Spaced out over a few miles that should be no problem. My training should have prepared me for this hill; had it been in the first half of the race it probably would have. But I made a rookie mistake in my preparation by thinking running steep hills on fresh legs would translate to a sustained climb at the end of a marathon after over two hours of pushing myself. I broke the cardinal rule of specificity of training and quickly realized I was going to pay the price. I kept making demoralizing glances at my watch as the numbers for my pace and heart rate kept creeping higher and higher. The hill seemed to be going on a lot longer than I had remembered on the map and there was no end in sight. For the first time I walked through an aid station to try to clear the fog from my brain and realized I would have to run a 5k PR to get a BQ time and I still couldn’t see the top of the hill.
The 10 count was over and the little devil on my shoulder was dancing around with his new championship belt. I had never felt so demoralized during a race before; I barely kept my pace above a shuffle for the remainder of the hill while I kept thinking about all the things that had gone wrong leading up to the race and what I could have done to get my time. Once things flattened out I picked up my pace slightly in an effort to pass some runners that I can only assume from the dejected look on their face had also been humbled by the hill. After the course joined back up with the half marathoners there were a lot of fans and I was able to draw enough energy from them to step up my pace before finishing in an official time of 3:12:15. Playing head games again, I was unable to find any glee in setting a new PR by five minutes, and instead focused on all the things I didn’t do.
I crankily made my way through the throngs of people at the finishing line to get my medal and jacket so I could sit and digest what happened. It took me a while to realize that while I could have been better prepared for that hill and things would have been better if I hadn’t gotten sick leading up to the race, I beat myself. I am usually very strong mentally. Last year at the St. Louis Marathon I was able to will myself to shattering my old PR by fifteen minutes and beating my goal for the race by five minutes. But upon reflecting I had beaten myself before the race started. I’m not the firmest believer in positive thinking, but I know I had overanalyzed and put enough doubt into my head about what had gone wrong that I would have had to have woken up feeling like a million bucks to overcome what I had put in my head. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
On the positive side, there is nothing like a missed goal to light a fire within you. I found the chinks in my armor and know how to train smarter for my next race (and select a more friendly race for my next try). More importantly, after having a day to think about it I am happier with my results. I was able to get a new PR despite some setbacks and feel out what my fitness base is so that when I start my next training cycle I will have to improve less to meet my goals next time I take a stab at them.