Review-Salt Lake City Spartan Super
Deciding to complete the Salt Lake Spartan Super race was where it all started for me. It was in my home state of Utah, easy to get to, and the date was open. When I first decided to race, I wanted to set a goal that would push me hard for the six months I had to train.
I looked through the results of several of the 2014 Spartan Super races and did some research on-line, and figured that about 50% of the competitors finished in under 2 hours and 30 mintues and that about 15% of the competitors finished in under 2 hours. After talking with friend who had previously completed the Spartan before, they suggested that setting a goal to finish under 2 hours was really not a good idea because of the high level of variance in the races. So instead I settled on a goal of finishing in the top 15% of the Open heat racers.
I invited lots of friends to do the race with me on a team. Six or seven said they wanted to, but it ended up that just three of them actually followed through (some did the Boise one with me instead).
When I first signed up, I had just completed the P90 Beachbody program by Tony Horton. Finishing that had given me the confidence to even consider doing a Spartan Race. After signing up, I decided I would complete the P90X program for the first 3 months of my training, with a little bit of running, and then transition to more running and Insanity Max30. Toward the end I also ended up doing a lot of P90X2 and several days I would do both P90X2 and Insanity Max30. I also spent a lot of time outside at parks, in the mountains, and in my neighborhood running and using whatever I could find as an obstacle to train on.
The mix of P90X2 and Insantiy Max30 is something that can get a serious person ready not just to finish a Spartan Race, but to really do well. Those two programs really deliver the goods, especially if you throw in some hill running and speed work a few times per week.
I made sure that I was consistent in drinking Shakeology every day and in eating much healthier than i had in a long time. I found that it was easier to skip a brownie or dessert when I told myself that "If I eat that, I'm going to have to haul it up the rope climb."
On the day of the race, I woke up at 5:30 AM, made up a Chocolate Vegan Shakeology drink, took a quick shower and then woke up my wife and kids.
We drove up through Provo Canyon, which is such a beautiful place and just seeing the mountains got me really exited.
We arrived at Soldier Hollow about 7:45 am, just as the women's elite heat was taking off. We could see the men's elite heat racers running up the ridgeline of the mountain just to the East of us. Soldier Hollow is a really beautiful venue and there were quite a few places for spectators to watch portions of the race.
I went through my pre-race rituals of drinking some water, eating a Clif Bar, and doing some stretches. The time flew by and before I knew it, we were lining up for our heat. My group made our way pretty close to the front, with maybe 50 people in front of us.
After the MC's very quick recitation of the waiver we all signed to be allowed in, and the "pre-race" speech. He chanted "Ahroo, Ahroo, Ahroo-GOOOO." I took off at a pretty fast pace, knowing that there would be some single track ahead and not wanting to get stuck behind the slow people in our heat. After about 100 yards up a slight incline, we hit the Moats (three mud pits). I jumped in quickly and climbed out without any trouble. Having the right kind of shoes here definitely makes a difference.
By the time we made it out of the mud pits, I was next to my brother, and we were behind only three or four people from our heat. We ran down a slight hill and hit the second obstacle "O-U-T" (over a 4' wall, under a wall, and through a hole in a wall).
We ran up a slight incline for another 1/4 of a mile or so, before the real climbing began. At this point I'd been running hard to keep up with my brother at a much quicker pace than I would have liked. I had to start walking up the hill and even had to stop a couple of times to try to catch my breath.
For me, this climb was more difficult than anything we had faced in Boise (which I thought were plenty tough). It was probably due to the quick pace we set for the first 1/2 a mile of the race. I was left behind by my brother, passed by both of my brothers in law and found myself at the back of my "Trailblazer's" team. I was also passed by a decent number of people from our heat. The climb lasted for at least 3/4 of a mile, and while it wasn't quite as steep as the ones in Boise, it took its toll. I didn't feel like I had the start that I'd been hoping for and certainly felt like I was struggling.
When I finally reached the climb at the top of the hill and looked down at what I could see of the trail, it was packed with people who were bascially walking. There was no way I was going to catch up unless I got a bit on the agressive side and did some "trailblazing."
I ended up running almost the entire way down the hill and passed not only everyone who had passed me, including the other three members of my "trailblazers" team, but also pretty much all of the slower racers from the 8:15 heat.
My brother ended up following me (and leading me some of the way down the hill) and one of my brothers in law also joined us as we literally flew down the mountain. Our other "trailblazer" got stuck in the crowd of people and ended up losing around 10 minutes on us. After the race, my wife said they could tell where we were because there was a massive cloud of dust following us down the mountain. I broke through a few trees and lots of brush. It was tons of fun but also sapped a lot of energy out of me.
At the bottom of the hill we ran for about 200 yards on a pretty flat trail before we got to the first water station. I quickly ate my first "GU" packet, before stopping for two cups full of water.
The next obstacle was the "Tractor Pull." This one was very dusty and I was still trying to catch my breath from the runs so I didn't fly through it like I would have liked and instead had to settle for a fast walk. There was about 1/2 mile of moderate descent before the Clif Multi-Bar obstacle. I failed this one in Boise, but was hopeful that I'd figured it out. I made it about 90% of the way through before I fell, so progress, but still 30 burpees.
As I was doing my penalty burpees for failing the obstacle, I noticed that my family was watching (and even worse my two trailblazers were resting up and getting drinks). I went as fast as I could so that I wouldn't be too far behind, got a quick drink from my son's camelback, and hurried onto the next obstacle trying to catch back up.
I tore through the "Plate Drag" obstacle and ran down the hill to the "Rope Climb." The other two trailblazers were waiting in the first line. I stood there for a minute, and then realized that the line on the far side was open. I hurried over there and got onto the rope the same time as my brother. In Boise, the rope climb nearly killed me and took a long time and a lot of energy before I fell 25 feet or so. This time however, I flew up the rope without any difficulty, rang the bell and made my way all the way back down. I looked over and I'd gone a bit faster than my brother.
Next was the "Herculean Hoist." I like this obstacle because it seems to be much easier for me than it is for others. I got through it quickly and moved on to the "Z-Walls."
I picked the wrong line on the Z-Wall. The guy in front of my slipped off right at the first corner, so I got on, started making my way and when I got to the first corner, I realized that both the handhold and the foothold right there were much smaller than the rest (possibly broken) and I fell right where the guy before me fell, which meant another 30 burpees.
As I was doing the burpees, I saw my brother finish the Z-Wall. He came over and stood by me. I said "Don't wait for me, go." He said, "You sure?" "Go!" I told him. The burpees were sucking the life out of me, and I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with his pace any longer.
Just as I finished my burpees I noticed my brother in law had finished the Z-Wall. Right after the Z-Wall was the "Tyrolean Traverse." This was a new obstacle to me. It is a 50' or so rope that you have to crawl under to reach a bell at the other end. It requires massive amounts of grip strength and endurance to make it to the end. The course designers had given us the Clif Bar, the Plate Drag, the Rope Climb, the Herculean Hoist, and the Z-Wall all in rapid succession, because they all also drain your grip strength. Evil genius on the part of the designer.
I waited for a good 2-3 minutes before I got on a rope, knowing that I would need that rest if I was going to have any chance of making it across this thing. I used the "sloth" method I learned from youtube videos (although I'd never actually tried it out before) and it seemed to work pretty well. The sloth method has you "walk" your feet with your hands instead of dragging them along with you, which avoids rope burns, and makes your feet do a lot of the work to propel you forward, leaving your hands to just hold on.
After I'd been going for what seemed like a really long time, I looked up and realized I was less than half-way across. I refused to accept more burpees at that point, so I had no choice but to keep on going and fighting for every last inch of that rope, just focusing on one hand in front of the other, and one foot in front of the other.
When I finally got within reach of the bell, I extended for it and hit it. Right then I lost the grip of my feet and I started a fall to the ground right on my back. I thought I got right back up, but I may have blacked out, because my wife and kids claim that I just laid there on the ground for at least 10 seconds before getting up.
As I walked to the next obstacle in a bit of a daze, I couldn't help thinking. I'm only 3 miles in a on 9 mile course. I don't know if I'm going to make it. My forearms were about as tight as they'd ever been. I could hear my heart beating in my head. My throat was dry and my breathing was out of control. But somehow, I put one foot in front of the other and kept trudging along. It was only a short walk to the next obstacle, the "Atlas Carry," and luckily, this one was easier than the one in Boise. I made it through and looked up the hill just in time to see my brother go out of sight about 200 yards ahead. That was the last I would see of him until after I crossed the finish line.
The next mile was a moderate incline hike. I did my best to walk fast while trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I passed quite a few people, but I was also getting passed by some who were still jogging. Anytime the trail flattened out, I'd jog at a slow pace, but if it was uphill at all I was walking at this point.
Next we a 6' wall, which I crossed easily. There was a girl laying on the ground with cramps, so I gave her one of my mustard packets, hoping that would help her out.
Shortly after the 6' wall was the "Inverted Wall." Just before I got on it I watched a girl fall from the top onto the 1" or so of straw padding. It looked painful, but she had some friends helping her out and didn't look seriously injured, so I went on. I had no trouble with this wall.
Next was another water station. I ate my second "GU" packet and took a cup of water and then refilled and drank some more. The water and "GU" seemed to get me back on track and I was ready to move forward at a much quicker pace.
There was another mile of roads that went both up and down and I jogged through these at about an 11 minute per mile pace, passing quite a few people who were walking. Those still running at this point were getting to be few and far between.
Next was the "Monkey Bar" obstacle. I failed this miserably in Boise, and failed it miserably again this time. I did study the bars a bit so that I can build something similar at my house to train on. I hate failing and burpees just rub salt in the wound. It took me at least 5 minutes to get through these 30 burpees. (At home I can usually get through 30 burpees in 90 seconds).
Next up was the "Dunk Wall with Rolling Mud." I was happy to see this obstacle because I was so hot and the cold water looked very inviting. I made it through quickly enough, but when I came out, my hamstring started cramping. I quickly grabbed my mustard packet and choked it down. I'm not a mustard fan, but it did help in this instance.
I walked most of the way to the next obstacle the "A Frame" stretching my hammy as much as I could on the way. I flew up and over this obstacle, (learned from Matt Novakovich that you need to grab the vertical strap with your hands instead of horizontal ones, which helped). On the way down, while everyone else was turning back to face the cargo net, I stayed face out and simply walked down, much, much faster if you've got the balance and the nerves for it. Next up was the "Tire Flip." We had to flip a large tractor/truck tire four times. It was heavy but not difficult.
After a water station, we came to the final, and by far steepest hill climb. I had to stop several times on the way up and was passed by quite a few people. I definitely need to work on my hill climbing skills.
Once we reached the top, I flew down the downhill portion, likely passing everyone that had passed me on the uphill and lots more as well. A lot of this running was "off-trail" as the trail was filled with slow moving people, basically crawling down the path. For me though, the steeper the trail, the more it energizes me and excites me. Had a few near wipeouts when brush tried to trip me up, or landing on a big rock unseen in the dust and brush, but somehow I always manage to keep my balance and keep flying down gracefully.
I was now back in the mood to "race" instead of just survive and I also knew that the rest of the race was pretty much all downhill from that point. I jogged along at a 9 minute per mile or so pace and passed quite a few people. After a mile or so, we reached the Bucket Brigade. This one was easier than Boise becaue the trail wasn't as steep, so I only had to rest for a few seconds at the top.
Another short run before the "Spearthrow" obstacle. I failed this one in Boise because I didn't follow through well enough. This time I took my time, straightened the spear tip out, controlled my breathing and made sure to follow through on the throw. The spear stuck right in the middle of the target. It was all I could do not to shout for joy.
I jogged as quickly as I could to the next obstacle, a series of walls (6', 7' and 8'). I asked the volunteer what time it was, she said 10:50. I only had 10 minutes left to finish or I would miss my son's race.
I went quickly over all three walls without much trouble. After the 8' wall though I felt a tug on my arm.
I looked at my wrist and my timing chip was gone. I'm not sure anything sucks more than thinking, that your timing chip is lost so they won't even give
me a time. Luckily I found it laying on the ground by the wall. The strap was broken, so I had to tuck it into the top part of my glove and I ran on. The next obstacle was the "Thermopylae." It wasn't difficult, just a cargo net up and a ladder down.
As I jumped off the ladder, my right calf cramped up sending me to the ground. I was out of mustard (not unhappy that I gave one to the girl on the ground, but could have used another one), so I just punched my calf a few times until it released and then went on. The feeling of being on the verge of a cramp never left after that.
I made it to the Barbed Wire crawl and dove in, using a bear crawl for as long as I could, before just crawling, and then using a mix of crawling, scooting and sliding through. I can't roll through it like most people because after 2 or 3 rolls I would be puking, but I was able to pass quite a few people.
My knees got pretty scrapped up, but the ground was not super wet or they would have been worse because I would have been able to slide much more quickly through.
I made it up the Slip Wall without any difficulty and scaled the Stairway to Sparta obstacle easily as well. That left just the Fire Jump and the Finish line.
I finished in 2 hours 29 minutes and 28 seconds, just in time to see my son's race. I grabbed my banana and energy bar quickly and almost ran over to the kids race. Luckily, I saw almost the whole thing. My time was good enough for 334 out of 6,072 in the open heat. I easily surpased my goal of top 15% finish, being in the top 5.5%.
I've set a goal for myself of doing the Trifecta next year, but also to run in the Elite Heat in all three races. I've got a long way to go before I'm ready to compete at that level, but I had so much fun getting ready for this year's Spartan Races that I can't wait to take on the challenge.