Let me take a deep breath. I’m actually drinking a glass of wine as I sit down to write this post. I underestimated Spartan on this one. I am pretty tough. I fight very hard on the course. I will be the first to admit, I was not prepared for what happened on Saturday, October 1st at Squaw Valley and because of that I am still feeling extremely exhausted both physically and mentally from the entire event. When Joe Desena, the CEO and co-founder of Spartan, said this was going to be hard (it’s world championships), I figured it would be comparable to Asheville. That was hard and also part of the US Championship Series at over 10 miles with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
You see that’s the Spartan way. You know. STFU (Spartan The F* Up). Have you ever read the Spartan words to live by?
- Spartans push their minds and bodies to their limits.
- Spartans master their emotions.
- Spartans learn continuously.
- Spartans give generously.
- Spartans lead.
- Spartans stand up for their beliefs, no matter the cost.
- Spartans know their flaws as well as their strengths.
- Spartans prove themselves through actions, not words.
- Spartans live every day as if it were their last.
I should have known better. I mean read the last bullet point. Leaders own their shit. Spartan is certainly not afraid to do that. They essentially push you to your breaking point so that when you cross the finish line you have a renewed sense of purpose. It’s actually pretty overwhelming. This was an emotional race to say the least for me.
Let me start from square 1. I’m a full time mom. A beast is really not up my alley. I don’t have time to invest 3-4 hours a day to training. At best, 2 hours. I am already at a disadvantage. When I stepped on to the starting line at the Asheville Super (just 8 weeks ago), I had no intention of doing the Lake Tahoe Beast. In fact, it wasn’t until a fellow racer informed me that I earned a coin at Asheville that I even had a thought about going.
To earn a coin, you have to finish top 5 in the elite field at any given race. That top 5 is rolling. If 1-5 already have a coin, then the next best 5 who don’t have a coin, get one. Yes. I came in 34th at Asheville. That many people in front of me already had coins. That’s how competitive that race was. It was through this same fellow racer that I learned I had earned a coin the year before (but was never told by Spartan). Either way, I reached out to customer service to confirm that I had in fact earned a coin and inquired about having this piece of hardware sent to me. I still wasn’t sure if I would go.
I went on vacation to New York. I thought about it a lot. I didn’t really train much. I ate a lot. I took a break. It was during that break that I decided I would go for it. It couldn’t be that bad, right? I signed up! I trained specific skills for the next 6 weeks. With only a few weeks out there wasn’t much else I could do about my endurance level. I was just going to have to gut out the distance.
We flew in Friday. That was our first mistake. I underestimated the altitude effect on my body. We went to Squaw Valley directly from the airport. I wanted to pick up my bib and scout out the festival area obstacles before heading to the cabin that we were staying in. Spartan has gotten into a habit of posting course maps the day before a race. The maps typically have a few “Classified” obstacles. If I can check out the course, I try to figure out what some of these are to aid me in determining my race plan.
Yes, I said race plan. Over the longer races, these maps provide insight into when it is best to fuel and how hard I want to go out. As the race increases in length a strategy can help you survive. I typically share tips pre-race with anyone on my team based on what I see.
This race was no exception. I used the back of my airline ticket to jot down notes based on the elevation profile, mileage and obstacles that I knew were missing. Visualizing the race is my way of meditating. Picturing myself completing the race. Relieving my anxiety. It was through this process that I determined my fuel for the race and leading up to the race would be as follows:
- 400 calorie breakfast by 5:45 AM – whole wheat bagel with peanut butter
- Balance Bar for ride to venue (approximately 6:15 AM)
- RSP Fast Fuel with 16 oz of water 30 minutes prior to race
- My hydration pack had a powder BCAA mix with water (approximately 50 oz of water)
- Drink at least 1 cup of water at all water stations
- Three Gu Packs walking through water stations – mile 4, mile 7, mile 11 (I packed one extra just in case)
We left the venue just shy of 3:00 PM Pacific Time – 6:00 PM Eastern time. We were hungry. We decided to grab an early dinner at a local restaurant a few miles south of Tahoe City. Since we were still on east coast time, eating dinner so early and didn’t eat much of a lunch, I went big. I ordered the chicken parmesan.
I ate every last bite of that bowl along with two or three slices of garlic bread. Our plan was to stay on east coast time as best we could. At that rate, my bed time would be 7 PM and I would get up around 3:30 AM. We also ordered a pizza to take back to our cabin so that we could have a “snack” before we went to bed. There was no way I was going to make this race off of a dinner that I ate so early the day before.
Don’t judge. I have issues with my digestive system. I have to be very careful with what I eat the night before and morning of a long distance race. Calories and carbs are an important part of preventing me from needing to find a bathroom.
We took some time to review the course map yet again before heading to bed around 7 PM. I had trouble sleeping. I was already dreading a slew of new obstacles that Spartan had announced in the 24 hours leading up to the race. I was also dabbling in the idea that I might DNF (Did Not Finish) because of the swim. The weather in Lake Tahoe was high thirties with strong winds due to a snow storm that was headed our way.
I woke up at 2:40 AM Pacific time. That’s 5:40 AM Eastern time. Pretty consistent with my normal routine. There was nothing to do and I didn’t want to eat breakfast until it got closer to race time. We settled on watching Saved By The Bell for almost an hour and a half before we both took showers and started to get dressed.
Aside from the course, Squaw Valley has almost a dozen trails that were open on the day of the race. In a last minute effort to get into the elite heat, my husband found out there were no more spots until the afternoon session. He didn’t want to go all the way out there to not do anything while everyone was racing. That said, he plotted out a trail run that would essentially drop him in on the top of the mountain where a majority of the obstacles were (so he could watch me) before descending and meeting me at the finish line. He was essentially dressed for race day as well.
If you remember my post about the Asheville Super, I essentially started as close to the front as I could with the intent to push as hard and as long as I could. My plan for this race was quite the opposite. As my anxiety level rose during the days leading up to the race, I had to keep reminding myself that I was invited to compete in the Championship heat. However, I’m not going to lie, the venue and the women that were there intimidated me. My ultimate goal was to do me. In other words, start at a steady pace towards the back, do my best not to worry about everyone around me, and essentially finish.
When I stepped up to the start line, I began to see familiar faces. My friends. Someone even yelled out, “Hey, you’re FlyJenDuf!” I began talking to the women around me. I found out where they were from. I found out how they qualified. I began to realize that they had the same insecurities about this race as I did. I began to do what I do best. Coach.
If you check out the course map, there were essentially two mountains to crest. I will walk you through the obstacles and my journey as best I can based on this. Mile 1 was essentially a blur. It wasn’t until I watched my husband’s video of the start that I realized how far back I actually was. Definitely the last 25%. I wore my watch for the first time in a race. That would later go on to help me again with figuring out fueling and when to expect obstacles.
Obstacle 1 – Over, Under, Through – After a short run through the ski village, we hopped a parking barrier and went over a short wall, under a wall, and through a wall. Easy stuff.
Obstacle 2 – “Classified” – Moats – I should have walked over to see what this classified obstacles was the day before, but I didn’t. Leave it to Spartan to throw you in the water less than a mile into the race. It was here that shit got real. No longer could I feel my feet. I heard women around me shout, “I don’t think I can do the swim if it’s this cold”. I sucked it up and moved on.
Obstacle 3 – Over Walls – We again had to jump over several short walls before beginning our climb up the first peak.
Thank goodness for this peak. Everyone immediately slowed down. I am a climber. I hustled. I knew there were a lot of good descenders in this group. My heart rate climbed as I climbed, allowing my feet to warm back up again. It was during this climb that I encouraged those around me. We actually talked. Every 20 or so steps I would run 20 or so steps but for the most part I did my best to conserve energy for the rest of the race.
Obstacle 4 – 6 Foot Wall – Couldn’t have been easier. Lots of jumping walls on the first mountain and steep climbs. My tip – Instead of stopping to rest, turn around and walk backwards ten steps. This will keep you moving while taking the weight off your quads. When you turn around, you will feel golden. Aside from heavy carries, I did not stop one time on a hill to rest.
Obstacle 5 – Monkey Bars – The start of Mile 2 – essentially the top of the first mountain! I was a little nervous going into this. I failed at Asheville due to wet equipment from early morning fog and bad storms. There were at least 10 people in the burpee zone when I got there and people failing all around me. Well, I crushed the monkey bars. I kicked the shit out of that bell.
Obstacle 6 – Hurdles (2) – I say two, because we saw hurdles later in the race and a lot more of them. I couldn’t get over all of the women having trouble with the hurdles. I jumped over the first one so excited and full of energy that I yelled, “I’m just so excited I didn’t have to do burpees for the monkey bars!”
We were down hill from there. My weakness. I ran slower down hill. All of the people I had passed in the burpee zone and the steady climb came running down on me. That’s okay. Again, I’m doing my race. I let them pass along the narrow switchback trails.
Obstacle 7/8 – one was the 7 Foot Wall, one was the “Dip Walk” – I didn’t see the Dip Walk. Or I blacked out. The next thing I knew I was at the bottom of the mountain in the spectator zone.
Already at 4 miles, I looked at my watch and realized I was coming in at just under 50 minutes. I was actually coasting this course with so much speed that I knew I would miss my husband through this round of obstacles. I had anticipated it might take me 90 minutes to get this far. Festival zone obstacles were short.
Obstacle 9 – Thighmaster – One of 5 new obstacles released in this race. Over a rig system, 5 punching bags were lined in a row, in which you had to wrap your legs around each bag while holding the top of the bag to maneuver down the line. I was worried about this obstacle. Surprisingly, I had not problem. Too bad my husband wasn’t there to see that. I rang the bell and proceeded to the next obstacle.
Obstacle 10 – Inverted Wall – Old school obstacle. No problem. Done and done. As I headed back up the mountain, I took my first gu pack, drank out of my hydration pack and gave myself a pat on the back for making it through the first third of obstacles with no penalty.
And so began the trek to the next peak. I knew I wouldn’t get to the top until mile 9. That’s right, about 3-4 miles of straight climbing. The only advantage was that for the most part the terrain was pretty even. We weren’t “bushwhacking” like we were in Asheville.
Obstacle 11 – “Classified” – A-Frame Cargo Net – Just before we hit mile 6, we ran into this obstacle. Pretty simple. The catch was, we had a clear view of the bucket carry, which we wouldn’t encounter until mile 13 (see picture above). We will talk about that more later. It was empty at the time. The World Championship males had not made it there yet. It was intimidating to say the least.
I continued my walk up the mountain. I continued to pass and make gains on people. It was during this time that I came up on a girl from Texas. I can’t remember her name, but she asked who I was. She was wearing a tank top and shorts. She explained to me that she blacked out during the first 2 miles. She also told me several times that she was just so mad because she knew she was in shape and she didn’t feel like she was doing well. I reminded her the same things I reminded myself. One, she was invited to be here, so she should remember that. Two, she could do it. Finally, I offered her the one extra Gu pack I had in my pack. I told her my husband would be waiting on the top of the mountain for me. I told her to let us help if we could. Note, I went on without her before seeing her pass me again well into the race. I may never see her or talk to her again, but I will remember this moment for a life time. She probably will too. That’s the OCR way. I know several of you reading this can relate.
Obstacle 12 – Vertical Cargo – The volunteer was singing the “Hokey Pokey” when I got there. I should have known that was a good sign. I told her, “I’m a Hokie, I can dig that”. She probably didn’t understand. The wind was so strong, I thought the whole thing was going to blow over. Either way, I did the obstacle and kept climbing.
Obstacle 13 – “Classified” – Spear Throw – Just before hitting mile 7, we got to the spear throw. With ridiculous wind gusts, rarely was someone making this. I threw it underhand for the first time ever in competition. I barely missed and with that I failed my first obstacle. I was in the burpee zone. I guess I still had a chance of winning money because they asked my bib number to count my burpees.
I took my second Gu pouch as I crossed mile 7 and ran into my husband sitting on the side of the mountain. He didn’t recognize me at first. I yelled “Jeff!” several times before I got his attention. I couldn’t wait to tell him that I had made it this far in the race and only failed one obstacle – I have to admit, after seeing all of the new obstacles and failing 5 obstacles in Asheville, my goal was to fail 7 or less. I was on track.
The top of the mountain was where it was at. My husband was able to see me complete at least 12 obstacles. Too bad it was too cold for many people to get up there. I was told they actually closed the top of the mountain the next day because the wind was so strong they were afraid the obstacles might fall down. Here we go though.
Obstacle 14 – Olympus – Yet Another “New” obstacle. There was NO Z-Wall at the race, but there was the Olympus. Essentially an inverted Z-wall that you had to use varying hand grips to traverse across. I actually loved it. I hope they throw the Z-wall out and use this going forward.
Obstacle 15 – Plate Drag – Just steps away was the plate drag. For those of you unfamiliar with the race, you pull a weighted plate towards you over several yards before pulling it back to start.
Obstacle 16 – “Classified” – Atlas Stone – Again, just steps away. Women and men carry varying weights of sphere shaped stones back and forth while doing 5 burpees in between. See the flags going straight out. There was a constant strong wind. Sorry for the clarity of the images. You get the picture.
Obstacle 17 – Spartan Ladder – NEW – Athletes were required to climb up the inside of a pyramid structure before descending on the other side. Bells had to be rung with hands. My time spent rock climbing helped here. I found this obstacle very easy while people around me were yelling expletives and asking to “burpee out”.
Obstacle 18 – Tyrolean Traverse – This obstacle just requires patience. Again, my husband was there to coach me through this. I had done this before. The wind was a brand new factor. I pretty much competed these obstacles with a girl named “Faye”. Her friend was cheering her on at the top of the mountain. I remembered her name because one of the top female OCR athletes is Faye Stenning.
Obstacle 19/20 – “Classified” – Barbwire Crawl – Back to back. I have never done a barb wire crawl with a camelbak on. I tried to crawl under at first. I took my pack off and tried to pull it. Eventually, I slid through like a sideways crab walk. The wind was ridiculous. Dirt kept getting in my eyes. Let’s just face it. I am not good at this obstacle.
Obstacle 21 – Ape Hanger – (see video on Instagram) Oh the Ape Hanger. I never thought I would see this in Tahoe. This was a new obstacle introduced at Palmerton this year. It is a permanent structure there. I never thought Spartan would try to recreate it somewhere else. Well, they did. It was my understanding prior to starting that I would not have to get wet if I made it all the way across. WRONG. I surprised myself when I was able to maneuver all the way across without falling. I was even more surprised when the official told me to drop into the water. EXCUSE ME? I hung for at least 30 seconds arguing with him about how I didn’t want to get wet. Shouldn’t you get rewarded for completing? It was game over when I hit that water. I had tucked my gloves (and hand warmers) into my pants waist band through these obstacles. When I hit the water, my gloves, pants, shoes and socks were soaked. And I was now freezing.
Obstacle 22 – Log Carry – My husband ran with me to the log carry. I began shaking. My saturated hand warmers were garbage. At this point, some of the elite guys that had started in the wave behind me were catching up to me. My husband watched as I picked up a log and began my descent/ascent with my log. I walked the loop with a man from San Francisco. He was able to slowly carry his log all the way around without putting it down. Essentially, I would power several steps ahead, put mine down while he caught up and repeat. He told me how this was his first trifecta. His first beast. I told him the same. We stuck together for the next few obstacles. We watched as someone dropped their log just before reaching the finish. The log rolled fast down the hill as athletes screamed for people to get out of the way. Kind of like when someone hits a golf ball towards someone by accident.
Obstacle 23 – “Classified” – Double Sandbag Carry – My husband encouraged me as I finished the log carry and proceeded through mile 9 onto the next obstacle. A heavy carry yet again. Yes, that says “Double”. I could see the swim as I grabbed my bags. It didn’t even register to me how heavy they were. Carrying the bags was like carrying my kids around. Since it was an out and back obstacle, I had a chance to see who was behind me. My fellow North Carolina racers came up the hill as I went down. We smiled, we laughed, we said good job. While my gloves were on, I still couldn’t feel my hands.
Obstacle 24 – Cormax Flip – At the Sandbag drop off was yet one more obstacle before the swim. This was dumb. I’m all for Spartan, but this obstacle was a disaster. There were cylinder type weights that were supposed to resemble a tire flip. You had to flip them twice down and twice back. The issue was, since they were rounded, they were rolling all over. I stayed out of people’s way and grabbed a “Cormax” on the end.
Obstacle 25 – Swim – Wow. This I will never forget. I had a plan going into the swim to take my shirt and gloves off and put them in a ziplock in my camelbak. My husband watched as I stripped down and struggled to even zip up the bag because my body was already shaking so much. I asked if I could leave my pack on the side of the water and the official said only if it couldn’t fit under my life jacket. Well hell. I’m a small person. I was stuck taking my pack. I couldn’t find a way to get my stuff in and zip my bag all the way up. As I type this, I feel a pit in my throat. This swim. While the pictures look beautiful. It was cold. I watched as others dove in around me. I looked at the Starbucks on the top of the mountain and thought about calling it. I repeated, “You can do this.” I got in.
I started to panic. I swam breaststroke without putting my head under around two buoys. When I got around the second buoy I stated to hyperventilate. I was out of breath and I was freezing. I remembered my friend Shane saying, “You can swim on your side”. I rolled on to one side. I switched sides. I got out of the water trembling. I could see my husband was scared for me. I pulled my shirt out of my bag with my teeth chattering. I literally could not get it on. I took deep gasping breaths as I said to my husband, “I can do this”. He told me he couldn’t help me (since I was in the World Championship heat), but if I wanted to drop out to do it. I’m still not sure how I made myself move. My mind will be forever changed in this moment. I still kind of wonder if something is wrong with me to ask my body to keep going after this.
Obstacle 26 – 8 Foot Wall – We were on our descent at this point. My husband ran to the 8 foot wall with me before looking at me and asking if I would be okay if he left me. He was no longer allowed to continue on the course as we hit narrow trails to the bottom. He was genuinely concerned for me. I told him to go. He didn’t see me attempt the 8 foot wall. Had he seen me, I might not have finished. I failed. Over and over and over. I went to the burpee zone. I have never failed this obstacle but in this moment, my shaking hands could not grasp the top of the wall. I probably needed those burpees to warm me up. I watched my North Carolina girls pass me as I counted out my burpees. Remember, this was my race. I just had to finish.
Obstacle 27 – Modified Stairway to Sparta – The wheels started falling off the bus on the descent. My body was well aware that I had not trained to be moving this hard for over 4 hours. I struggled between walking because my knees hurt so bad on the descent and continuing to run to fight hypothermia. At mile 11, we ran into the Stairway to Sparta. I say modified because they have changed this obstacle in that you must use a rope to climb up a wall to get to the ladder to the top. I actually got my first cramp ever in a race as I stepped over the top of the obstacle. Lucky for me, the calf cramp subsided quickly.
Obstacle 28 – Bucket Carry – We crossed mile 12 before hitting the bucket carry. People can talk all day about how this was the longest and hardest bucket carry in Spartan history. I can tell you right now, this carry gave me life. It was a protected carry. As such, there was sunshine and no wind. It was the first time that I wasn’t shaking in almost one hour. I took my time. Hell, I put that bucket down several times. I listened to the open people play their music as they climbed the A-frame. Remember, I said you could see it earlier in the race? A little Macarena, some Rockey theme music. I saw my friend Faye from the top of the mountain. I saw my North Carolina girls. I reminded myself that I would simile through this. The picture below is what the carry looked like on Sunday.
Obstacle 29 – Hurdles (6) – The last obstacle before the spectator zone. We are now past mile 13. Hurdles again. Six of them. This was no joke. Up and over. Up and over. Up and over.
Obstacle 30 – Balance Beam – This was a piece of the memorization test only required for “open” athletes. I was allowed to pass.
Obstacle 31 – Hercules Hoist – We hit mile 14 as we passed through the last few obstacles. At this point I had only failed two obstacles. High five! I got to the hercules hoist and gave it my best effort. I got it about half way up before my hands started to slide and I gave up. I was warm again. I was almost done. I went to the burpee zone. My husband watched me in disappointment.
Obstacle 32 – Dunk Wall – My cockiness for being warm was short-lived. We waded back into a second pool of water before we submerged underwater for the dunk wall. Now my clothes were soaked.
Obstacle 33 – Slip Wall – The slip wall was not so slippery. In fact, most of the water obstacles had protected sheeting between the water and ground which prevented things from getting super muddy. Not sure why that was.
Obstacle 34 – Spartan Bridge – My Spartan Bridge obstacle from Asheville was god awful. As I peaked to the top, I saw the cameraman, I looked right at him and I said, “I’m going to smile through this.” I feel so lucky to be a part of such a cool event. Regardless of how I finished, I want others to know how happy I am to be here. Such an honor.
Obstacle 35 – Rope Climb – Piece of cake. This is one obstacle that I look forward to.
Obstacle 36 – Multi-Rig – My hands were still wet from the slip wall when I reached the multi-rig. I heard my husband yell, “Just like the garage”. I tried to wipe my wet hands off on the dirt which just made it worse. I slipped on the first set of rings. Someone behind my husband said, “I guess that isn’t like the garage.” He laughed. I talked to a fellow racer, who I would later find out finished in 100th as we completed our burpees and crossed the finish.
With that, I had finished. 101st overall. 28th in my age group. 4 failures. 4 hours and 44 minutes. I was nearly brought to tears. As I sit and write this post, I have so many thoughts running through my mind. I guess the strongest emotion that I have is how incredible this ride as been. My transition to “coach” has opened so many doors for me to see the potential in others. The fact that I can inspire someone to do something good for themselves is a gift that is irreplaceable. Having my husband turn around as we walked to the car in the airport and say, “I’m proud of you” is everything to me. Taking a step back and smiling as I crossed the finish line instead of being so serious is turning a new leaf for me. In fact, it’s just the start of something even better. You are truly never too old to set a new goal or dream even bigger.