Let me take a deep breath. I haven’t posted in awhile. For various reasons. The summer has been busy. I haven’t really had much to say. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if anyone cared to hear what I was saying. Clearly these are excuses. In the moments leading up to and following last weekend’s Spartan Race in Asheville, NC, I felt so much support. While I will likely never find myself on the podium in the elite section of a Spartan Race, I am not ashamed to put myself in contention with some of the best athletes in the world (and let the public see it).
I had done several obstacle races before I actually began my Spartan journey in 2015. The transition from full time, corporate America to a mom of two girls was very hard for me. I spent all of college and my first few years in Charlotte building self efficacy through climbing up the corporate ladder and traveling all over the United States. After the birth of my second child and when I ultimately left work full time, I almost had to find myself again. I had to find a way to get a piece of me back from before I had kids. That came in the spirit of competition through obstacle racing.
This year’s Asheville Super was and will be one of the hardest and most competitive races of the 2016 race series. After competing in last year’s event, I thought I had my hands around any and everything that the course director might throw at us. Boy was I wrong. Last year’s course consisted of 8 miles over an 1,800 foot elevation climb. I finished it in a mere 2 hours and 5 minutes. This year’s course on the other hand was over 10 miles over a 3,000 foot elevation climb. It took me exactly 3 hours. Plenty of racers have gone on to to post images of the differences in elevation and difficulty year over year and it really is mind blowing.
A lot of things have changed since last year. The biggest being that Spartan will post the course map with obstacles prior to racers arriving on site the day of the race. It’s interesting to me. Last year we showed up the day of the race and crowded around the race map trying to see what was in store for us. This year, Spartan posted the course map the day before the race giving us a chance to set a race plan over night.
When I say set a race plan, I had time to determine where I would take fuel (as it relates to water stations), how fast I wanted to get out depending on the terrain and how I would tackle the ridiculous clumps of obstacles scattered around the start/finish line.
Before heading out from Charlotte, we hit our favorite pre-race dinner spot, Roasting Company. See picture above -pulled chicken with rice, squash casserole and stewed okra. I eat a lot the night before a long race because I do not eat a lot before the actual race.
Rather than stay at a ridiculously priced hotel (or even motel) in downtown Asheville, we found a bed and breakfast just outside of the town and rented a room. I used to have thousands of hotel and airline points, which made trips like this easy. The transition to finding more creative places to stay has been interesting. Needless to say, I absolutely loved The North Lodge on Oakland. I enjoyed coffee in my room with a cookie before going to bed. We didn’t hear a thing all night, and we both woke up feeling like we had slept in our own bed. We will be back. Next time for fun, not a race.
We woke up Saturday at 5:00 AM. I had a Luna Bar, a bite of bagel and a cup of water. We were at the race location by 6:15 AM. We checked in, warmed up and grabbed everything we needed to start. Since it was an NBC sanctioned race, things moved a little slower loading the elites into the starting corral. The top 10 elite racers were announced and allowed to run to the front of the line.
After pre-race instructions and some “AROO’s” we were off. We were fast. I had no doubt that it would be that way. After a short trail run, we hit the first obstacle.
Obstacle 1 – Over Walls – Jump over 2 four foot walls. Easy.
After that, we found ourselves in the creek. Everyone still had that beginning of race anxiety. There were people literally flailing trying to find their footing and still move as fast as possible (including myself).
After hitting mile 1, we made our way out of the creek only to hit obstacle number 2.
Obstacle 2 – Hurdles – These are beams suspended about 4 feet off the ground. This obstacle is more difficult for shorter people like myself. Two in a row and we were off into the woods.
Thick woods. Hilly woods. Extremely steep woods. At one point they even had a rope suspended off the side of a steep cliff to guide individuals safely down. I literally bear crawled on my hands and my knees up the steep ridges. The terrain was rough and everyone was forced to slow down. See picture below.
Obstacle 3 – 6 Foot Wall – As the name implies jump over a 6 foot wall. These are easy at this point for me. After jumping the wall, we proceeded through more thick terrain and mile marker two.
Obstacle 4- Plate Drag – In the midst of the thick woods, was the plate drag (along with a water station). Participants were asked to drag a weighted sled about 10 yards across a muddy path. You then had to drag it back to start. No problems here.
We ran quite a ways on more even and open terrain before we arrived at the next obstacle.
Obstacle 5 – Barbed Wire Crawl – This was much easier than prior races I have done. The wire was higher than usual. I could crawl without rolling. The biggest issue was how ROCKY it was. I think the majority of the cuts and bruises on my knees came from this obstacle. What looked like smooth mud was actually mirky water covering sharp rocks. I was passed by two women here.
Obstacle 6 – Atlas Carry – Things were quite wet here. I was smart about which line I chose to carry my atlas. Racers are asked to pick up a stone that weighs over 50 pounds, carry it about 15 feet, put it down, do 5 burpees, pick it up and walk it back to start. The last thing I wanted to do was drop my atlas into a muddy hole making it more difficult to pick back up. I did my first set of burpees here – the 5 that are required to complete the obstacle.
From there we took another open terrain path back to the festival area where we hit several difficult obstacles in a row.
Obstacle 7 – 7 Foot Wall – This obstacle typically gives me no trouble. That said, I ran at the wall on my first try only to miss and land back on my feet. I got a great reaction from spectators. My second try I used the kicker that the women are allowed to use and had no problem hoisting myself over.
Obstacle 8 – Z- Walls – This is one of my least favorite obstacles. I just can’t figure it out. I looked at several different paths I could take before I opted on the first wall facing the crowd. I made it half way across before I fell off trying to reach around the corner of a wall. This was my first failed obstacle. Burpee count = 30.
Obstacle 9 – Dunk Wall/Rolling Mud – I hope you aren’t afraid to get dirty. Just a few yards away from completing my burpees, I dove right into the muddy water only to submerge my face under a wall and go through a series of muddy pits.
Obstacle 10 – Rope Climb – Wow. All I can say is wow. This obstacle singlehandly threw off the entire race for many elite runners. The ropes were ridiculously slick because of the rain and mud from the night before. Women were given two tries to get up while men only had one chance. Good thing because my hands slid right down the first rope I tried before I moved to another rope with no problem.
I went on to learn that two top 10 finishers for the men were disqualified here for doing the same thing I did and not completing burpees. That is huge for point standings and money. As the day went on, this obstacle cleared up.
Obstacle 11 – Spear Throw – Another one of my worst obstacles. I have been practicing. I wound up only to have the right distance and miss merely to the left. Fail. Burpee count – 60.
In a matter of a few feet, I had now done 60 burpees. I was feeling gassed. However, I had made up time on several women with my speed in burpees. I was headed back into the woods feeling good about things.
Obstacle 12 – Memory Chart (omitted) – Elite are not required to perform this obstacle.
We began our trek up the mountain on a gravel road. The grade was not as steep as we had already seen. I opted to follow a pattern of run 20 steps, walk 10 steps so that I would not wear myself out too soon. It was during this time that I went back and forth with several women. One of whom actually offered me fuel as she consumed it up the hill. Really, a very generous offer given the circumstances.
Obstacle 13 – 8 Foot Wall – At the clearing of the top of the hill was the tallest wall we would encounter the entire race. I definitely had help from the kicker here. We were off into the woods yet again from there.
Yet another clearing and we were at Mile 4. What? We weren’t even half way and I felt like I had been put through the ringer already.
Obstacle 14 – A-Frame Cargo – At the quarry clearing was the A-Frame Cargo net. I am definitely more cautious on this than most elite athletes. Take the path up the sides of the middle where it is tightest to the bar. I made my way over before taking my only other fuel for the rest of the race as we hit the water station.
Obstacle 15 – Bucket Carry – SUPRISE! This was a “classified” on the obstacle map. We had no idea what to expect. What came next was one of the hardest parts of the entire race. The fog covered the side of the mountain as we approached the start (and finish of the bucket carry). Go ahead. Load it up to the designated line. Carry it up very muddy 45 degree incline hill. Walk back down. Then walk back up without the bucket. I NEVER put my bucket down. I did several times in this instance. I could barely take 10 steps without feeling like I needed to rest. As I walked down the hill, I saw my husband for the first time. I yelled at him. SERIOUSLY? He had already caught up to me even with a 15 minute head start?
The picture below so accurately depicts the feeling that I experienced as I made my way back up that hill without the bucket. It was BRUTAL.
What came next was just plain mean. We ran a little bit more. I couldn’t tell you how much, but it wasn’t long. Then I saw the monkey bars. Soaking wet. My forearms were still quivering from the carry and I literally looked at the guy beside and said, “Of course they would do the monkey bars after a heavy forearm carry.”
Obstacle 16 – Monkey Bars – I couldn’t find a path that wasn’t wet. There were at least 15 people in the burpee zone already. I went for it. Again, an obstacle I never fail. I made it three quarters of the way and fell. I yelled an explicit word. I went to the burpee zone. Burpee count = 90.
Obstacle 17 – Stairway to Sparta – Let’s climb/walk/jog. I was exhausted going into the woods for the start of the climb up the backside of the mountain. The Stairway of Sparta was fun last year because it was at the top of the mountain. You grab the top of a 5 foot wall then climb up the 2×4’s of an A-frame.
Obstacle 18 – Sandbag Carry – When I got to the sandbag carry the bags were saturated and filled with wet sand. They were heavier than usual. They pointed us in the direction that we were to follow. It was ridiculously steep and again muddy. One girl ran by me and I never saw her again. More power to her. I set my bag down over and over and walked the entire way. Going back up that hill, I didn’t know if I would make it. Every time I set my bag down and heaved it over my back I wished away the leaking sand that was falling out of the bag.
As I placed my bag down to finish the carry, I asked the volunteer if we were close to the top and she kind of laughed, kind of joked, then said we had another 1.7 miles to the top. WHAT. I started walking.
I walked sideways 10 steps, switched sides, 50 steps forward, turned around. Rested 10 seconds. Passed a bunch of people. Talked to a girl who was on the Spartan TV show. I thought a lot about Flywheel. The people I train. My husband. I saw these mushrooms on the ground. My one year old loves to try to pick mushrooms. Every time I saw one, I thought of her. Then I kept walking. I had a lot of time to think as I walked by myself.
We reached a clearing that seemed like a down hill before we were forced back up hill. I broke. I bent over and I couldn’t breathe. As I stood hunched over on the side of the mountain, my husband found me. He inspired me. He got me going. It was in this moment that this race became more about us doing something together than me trying to beat the person in front of me.
Obstacle 19 – Vertical Cargo – We finally hit the downhill. I’m talking a 1,000 foot drop over 1 mile. He stayed with me. He had decided to do the race because of me. He wasn’t really happy with where he was at. He wanted to push me. That he did. He helped me manage obstacles and terrain the rest of the way. We cleared the vertical cargo no problem.
Obstacle 20 – I have no idea. I still can’t figure it out.
Upon hitting the final clearing of the woods before the final set of obstacles, we were forced back in the creek. My husband took the lead. As I followed, in what seemed like slow motion, he slipped on a rock and landed flat on his back. I thought it was all over. He told me to press on but how could I? I stopped. We slowed. We let people pass us. We would finish this together.
Obstacle 21 – Barb Wire – Another easy obstacle.
Obstacle 22 – Slip Wall – As I approached the slip wall I told my husband I felt delirious, I felt weak. He helped me figure out the best route to take up the wall. We cleared it no problem.
Obstacle 23 – Tyrolean Traverse – My first time. LOVED it! My husband went first and fast. He prepped me up and yelled at me the entire way. I opted to hand upside down and walk my opposite hand with opposite foot until I hit the bell.
Obstacle 24 – Hercules Hoist – I feel ill saying this, but I FAILED. My first time ever failing this obstacle. I had literally given everything I had to this race. When I went to pick the bag up I pulled it down and just had nothing left. I went to the burpee zone. Burpee count = 120.
Obstacle 25 – Bridge – Seriously? Can I just be done. Climb up a ladder, walk over, climb back down. I am going through the motions at this point. My husband, who finished the hercules hoist, went on to run through the finish line only to circle back up with me at the bottom of the bridge.
This picture. Terrible. I look awful. I am sharing it because I feel it really shows what I felt in this moment. Terrible. Awful. I am covered in grass. Ashamed from the burpees I had just put myself through. Over it.
Obstacle 26 – Rig – Within 200 yards we were doing obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. The rig. You know that circus looking thing. Within 50 feet of the finish. I made it half way across. I fell. I failed. My husband watched in shock as I walked to the burpee zone and did 30 more. Burpee count = 150.
Obstacle 27 – Fire Jump – I had nothing left. Maybe Spartan knew that. They didn’t take my fire jump picture. Thanks. I’m sure it was awful too. Thankfully, I have the one below.
Defeated. Yet not broken. As we sped down the mountain together, we talked terribly about how hard this course was and how we would never do it again. Spartan had gone too far this time. It is in the moments after that you truly appreciate what the human body is capable of. Regardless of what a picture looks like or what size you are, you feel incredibly satisfied with yourself. You feel strong. You feel confident.
I had a team this year in the mountain with me. I thought about them a lot. I worried for them. I felt their strength. I am more proud of them than ever. I underestimate their strength, and I am so proud that each and every one of them walked across the finish line. They are why I love doing what I do.