Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trying to Come Back...Again & Some Off-Topic Fun

I went on my first run since the unfortunate events of Spartan Race. I'd gotten up to run a few other times over the past week and a half, but aborted due to either weather (Saturday), too much pain in the tailbone area (several days last week), getting home at 4am after an excellent Dream Theater concert in Atlantic City (Sunday), waking up too late (Monday), or staying up all night working on Monday night (Tuesday).

I decided that I'd run out of excuses, and so this evening I ended up running 3 miles in 28:46.

It felt like 20 miles.

It was a gorgeous evening, but in the 80s and still Sunny at 6:15ish when I hit the roads. I'm not used to running in the 80s, so I've got to either get out earlier and beat the heat, like I did last summer, or perhaps try 9 or 10 at night, when it may be a few degrees warmer than 6am, but less humid and no sun. We'll see.

At any rate, I feel like I'm starting over and I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. After a pretty good start, the comeback had badly stalled over the last two months. And I do have a plan this time, but I have to save something for my next blog post, right?


(So, how was the concert, Brian?)

It was great, thanks for asking. For those unfamiliar with Dream Theater, who have failed to achieve the level of fame that their talent deserves, they are a progressive metal band (I don't really know what "progressive" rock means, but think Queensryche or Rush, but heavier) that I've been listening to since high school, when they released Images and Words, which features their best-known song, "Pull Me Under" (which is still not THAT well-known) and Awake, their best selling album to date, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.

However, I was unforgivably behind on their albums. It's easy to lose track of them, since they're more of a cult following-type band then a widely-known band and most of their songs are at least 10 minutes long so that they get almost zero airplay. So last week was spent working long hours and "cramming" for the concert any time I wasn't on conference calls. Except for the side of effect of this metal marathon turning our kitten evil, it was time well spent. Their last three albums, Systematic Chaos, Black Clouds and Silver Linings, and A Dramatic Turn of Events are all excellent, all with Dream Theater's distinct combination of metal and melody.

At any rate, the concert was excellent, with a good mix of old stuff and new stuff that left me feeling evil...but also uplifted at the same time. Musically, they're just amazing. Guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini on the drums (replacing long-time DT-er Mike Portnoy) are all at incredible. And they like to show off; almost every song has long instrumental bridges between verses, during which lead singer James Labrie wanders off stage to (I assume) play Angry Birds.

Their newer stuff is heavier than their earlier albums, and heavier than I what I usually listen to, but the frequency with which they change mood and speed from heavy to melodic and the vocal range of Labrie, and their often contemplative lyrics make them always interesting to listen to and also made me glad I'd done my homework and caught up before seeing them live. If you like metal or hard rock, check 'em out...these guys can make anything sound epic.

And, during their intro, they also had these cartoon versions of themselves playing on the three screens above the stage. Fun!

Ok, we'll now resume our regular running and complaining about running blog posts.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Post-Spartan Blues

The Spartan warriors are celebrated in history and popular culture not because of their own military triumph, but because they sacrificed themselves at the Battle of Thermopylae. (Remember, this is a crappy running blog, not a history lesson.  I'm going to over-generalize things like this.) So, if you run something called a "Spartan Race", it seems appropriate that you're out of commission for at least a little while.

That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.  

My legs felt really good after the Spartan Sprint, though my ankles were a bit wobbly the next two days.  It's my bruised (I think it's just bruised, because it does feel significantly better than it did on Sunday and Monday) tailbone that has kept me off the roads all week.  I'm hoping to get out for 3-5 miles tomorrow morning, but I was hoping to do so yesterday and today, too.  If not tomorrow, I think by next week I'll be able to return to normal activities.

Missing a week of running won't kill me, and it'll probably help to rest my legs.  But I did end up skipping the Harrisburg Mile on Wednesday, which means the 5:59 mile won't happen this year.  It probably wasn't going to anyway...but still.

I've gone back and forth about whether I'd do a Spartan Race again.  On one hand, I'd like to try again to see if I could do better.  I swore right after my first marathon that I'd never do another one, but by the time we got home from VA Beach I knew I wanted another shot.

On the other hand, note the disclaimer:

I'm sitting here a week later alive but with a not catastrophic injury by any means, but still a significant one that's kept me from even attempting one of my goal races for the year.

Maybe this is just one better checked off the bucket list.  (Note to self:  Start a bucket list and cross "Ridiculous Obstacle Race" off of it.)

Chris and I had a funny conversation yesterday with my Dad about the Spartan Race:

Brian's Dad:  "Why did you do this again?"

Brian:  (several seconds of dumbfounded silence)......"But Dad, free beer!"

So, we'll see.  This is probably the end of obstacle races for me this year, but who knows what the running future holds?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Pain, the Blood, and the Gore: Race Report Part 2: Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint 2012

In my previous post, I tried to describe my experience at the Spartan Sprint PA.  In this post I'd like to review the event itself in terms of organization, strengths and, in my opinion, a few things that could be done to improve the event, as well as my critique of my own performance and what I would do differently.

Race Review 
This race was a unique experience, and three days later I'm still not sure how I feel about this one.  Did I enjoy it?  Parts of it I enjoyed very much.  Other parts were less enjoyable, and some parts made my question my own sanity and that of the course designers.  Would I do it again?  I'm not sure.  Am I glad I did it?  Absolutely.  It was an adventure, a great story, and a unique challenge that my best friend and I triumphed over together.  I went in as a somewhat jaded marathoner ("Whatever.  It's five miles.") and left with a true sense of accomplishment (despite all my burpees!).

The Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint definitely lived up to Spartan Race's billing as a super-tough obstacle race.   Sadistic, even.  (Having the monkey bars right after the pancakes?  Evil!).  The ascents and descents were brutal.  While I wouldn't say I enjoyed all the obstacles, I would say that they were generally well-designed to be challenging.  Some of them were really fun.  The mud pits were fun.  Climbing walls is fun.  Rope ladder is fun.  Spear toss, fun, even though I failed. Jumping over fire was cool, too.  And I think the others were generally tough but fair.  Being tall is an advantage the higher walls, but Chris and I both found ways over them, despite our vertical challenged-ness.  There was a mental aspect to most of the challenges that made them enjoyable.  Not just "can I do it?", but "what's the best way for me to do it?"

That said, I think they should change how they market this race.  Here's how a Spartan Sprint, the shortest Spartan Race distance, is described on their website:

Spartan Sprint - 3+ MILES / 15+ OBSTACLES. The challenging sprint obstacle trail races are a great way to get off your couch and start living. From beginner trail racers and mud run participants to hardcore warriors, tough guys and marathon runners, they all come out to test themselves on the insane obstacle races! 99.9% of all people who try this event will finish, and 100% will have their thirst for mud & trail racing fully satisfied! 

This is how they described the 2012 Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint (from their facebook page):

Spartan Staffers are currently testing out the PA Sprint course and the verdict is in! Our Pennsylvania event will go down as the toughest Sprint we've ever done.

More (from a congratulatory e-mail):
Hey PASpartans! Congrats on finishing the race! Spartan Sprint Races are typically 5K long...but we thought you were tough enough and made the course ~5 miles long!

Don't underestimate your potential! You are much stronger than you think!
It's cool to know I finished their toughest Sprint ever.  It also seems that the element of surprise and the challenge of the unknown are important parts of the Spartan Race mystique that the company is trying to build.  No course maps, no exact mileage given, and people only give vague hints given by on-course volunteers about inquiries about what's next, etc.  But when people sign up for "3+" mile Sprint, to then late in the game make it "The toughest sprint ever" and 5 miles long on really, really challenging terrain, well, I feel that crosses the line from badass/challenging to dangerous.   Two extra miles on this type of terrain is nothing to sneeze at.

I personally would warn anyone that when Spartan Race says a race is tough, they mean business.  (There's a lot of mud/obstacle race series out there now, and it seems as if there are several different niches of difficulty level, and the differences might not be apparent from descriptions or websites).  I just think people signing up for this should have had a little better idea of what they were in for.  

I'm not advocating making the course easier, or  suggesting that organizers shouldn't take full advantage of the rough terrain. I think just some fair warning for people before they sign up that this is longer and more brutal than a typical sprint would be a positive. Call it a mini-beast or just mention that this is significantly longer (again, two miles on this type of terrain is no small thing!) and tougher than a typical sprint.

One obstacle that I do have some really negative feedback on is the one I was looking forward to the most.  I either broke or bruised my coccyx on a rock underneath the slip 'n' slide.  While there were some obstacles I couldn't complete and I did some burpees, I felt like the slide was the only one where I was completely at the mercy of the course.  On the hills, I could choose to press for speed or  to go slow and steady.  I could choose my own strategy to carry Spartan pancakes.  On walls that appeared to tall for me, I was able to pause and think of ways to climb up (or I could have done the burpees).   On the slip 'n' slide, I slid into a lake and there was nothing at all I could have really done to try to avoid injury.  I enjoyed every second of the slide until I landed in the water in immense pain, but on this obstacle I feel (in hindsight) like I was completely and totally at the mercy of nature and Spartan Race for the only point in the whole race.

Please don't think this just sour grapes from a guy not up to the challenge.  I did finish, and in the process of doing so I got over obstacles that I didn't think I could, pushed my mind and body to the limit, and I found the experience of finishing to be very rewarding.  I am no stranger to endurance sports with two marathons under my belt (and more on the way next year) in addition to two half marathons and more races than I can remember at shorter distances.

One thing that was really disappointing was that when my wife and I finished, the food vendors were closed and the merchandise tent was closing.  We started at 3:30 and did take 5 hours, so I know that our performance wasn't great, but we still rose to the challenge and had a memorable experience and we were by no means the last to finish.  I think those last finishers deserve the same finish experience as anyone who finished earlier and/or faster.  God forbid I want a cheesesteak or to buy a second beer after one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I've ever done!  (Thank you to the Long Trail Ale table for staying open!) And I didn't want to buy a hat or sweatshirt until after the event because what if I'd hated it, or worse yet, didn't finish?
I also thought all the staff and volunteers were responsive and extremely encouraging.  The EMT who rushed to assist me at the bottom of the slip 'n' slide was both professional in trying to make sure that I could physically go on but also understanding of me in the challenging situation of being in immense pain while also trying to make the go/no go decision, and in general there seem to have been adequate and responsive staffing to make this even relatively safe. In talking about the staff I must also say that I really appreciate the Race Director taking the time to read and respond to my previous post.  (He mentioned that elite Spartan Racer Hobie Call ran the whole course with the exception of the uphill sandbag I'm glad it's not just my imagination that this obstacle was super tough.)

The camaraderie and collaboration among participants was superb and I think was my favorite part of the event.  For example, everyone held the bottom of the rope ladder for the people after them, and I was happy to return the favor when I could help boost some people up some of the walls.  

The registration/bag check seemed well-organized and I appreciated that there was a post-race cleanup station and locker rooms. The medal and t-shirt are very cool, too. And I also wanted to add that honestly, I can't imagine the level of work that goes into setting up events like this one quickly and repeatedly throughout the country.  Spartan Races and other obstacle events seem to be quite a bit more expensive than similarly distanced road races, but it's easy to see why that's so.

Performance Review
Despite doing a decent amount of burpees, I'm pretty happy with how I did on the obstacles. I climbed high walls that I didn't think I'd be able to get up.  I gave a good effort on the monkey bars.  I don't kick myself for not being able to flip the tires.  That was so far outside the realm of objects that I'm able to lift that I was glad to take the burpees.  I should have been able to do the pulley obstacle...I know I can lift 60 pounds.  

If someone asked me what advice I'd give them about preparing for a Spartan Race, I'd say "Go ask Hobie Call instead of me."  But, if they insisted, I'd say do a lot of hill repeats and try to get really good at doing pull-ups.  

I'd say don't really worry about being a really good distance runner, just being in overall good cardiovascular shape and having good upper-body strength are more important than being able to actually able to run the whole course distance.  On this particular course, I, and I suspect the average participant, didn't do a great deal of running.  More upper body strength would have helped me quite a bit, though.  I think that even in my peak of lifting back in 2009 that I couldn't have gotten up a rope climb as high as the one on the course or flipped the 200lb tire, but I might have been able to pull myself up over some of the walls without having to precariously climb up the support beams.
In general, I still think of myself as a road runner and marathoner more than an obstacle race runner or ultra-endurance or multisport athlete, and I'll always run more "regular" races. I said after Mud Chasers, which was a cakewalk compared to this, that I wasn't sure that these mud runs were my cup of tea and I stand by that. But I'm grateful for the experience of this Spartan Race, because after finishing this unique and uniquely challenging experience, I feel like I can do anything.   

Overcome injury to get back in marathon shape?  Absolutely.  I've been through hell and back again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ow, My Ass! -- Race Report Part 1: Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint 2012

(This issue of "Earn Your Donuts" is probably going to be more vulgar and profanity-laced than usual.  Don't say I didn't warn you.)  

I had three goals for Saturday's Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint:

1. Finish
2. Don't get hurt
3  Don't sack my nuts

Two out of three ain't bad.

This race, if you can even call it that, held at the Blue Mountain Ski resort in Palmerton PA, was absolutely brutal.

I've run two marathons.  The five miles I traversed (It's not fair to say "ran", as we'll get to in a minute) on Saturday took roughly the same amount of time as each of them and were at least as -- if not more -- challenging.  I expected the Spartan Sprint to be a good deal more challenging than the only other mud/obstacle race I'd ever done, Mud Chasers, but I was completely shocked by how tough this was.

Chris and I left for the race, two hours away in the Lehigh Valley, at 11:00 and arrived around 1:30.  Our heat started at 3:30, but we were anticipating getting lost along the way and having to take a shuttle from the parking lot the staging area.  Neither occurred.  We found Blue Mountain easily and parked right by the starting area.  This gave us a chance to pick up our packets, liberally apply sunscreen, write our race ID numbers on each others' arms, legs, and foreheads so that they'd be able to identify our bodies, and gaze in terror up the steep inclines that we could see runners in the earlier heats ascending.  

We could see several places on the mountain where runners were ascending or descending.  In some places, they seemed to be moving quickly, in others it seemed as though they were standing still.  From our parking lot vantage point, we could see rope climb, an obstacle both of us were pessimistic about, but not much else.

At about 2:30, the rest of Team For The Love of the Run arrived, and after they picked up their packets, we chatted for a few minutes, dropped off our bags, and then it was time to head for the starting area.  There was a little too much pomp and circumstance at the start for my taste.  There was a bit of a speech from one of the race organizers about the triumphant weight loss journey of Chris Davis -- no, not the Orioles' designated hitter -- a guy who is going from almost 700lbs to under 200lbs with Spartan races as a goal and part of his training; some Spartany type cheers from a guy in Spartan warrior garb ("Who are you?"  Spartans!"  "No...I'm just Brian.")

Then, to the cliched sound of Dropkick Murphy's "Shipping up to Boston", our heat began and we charged up the hill.  I will try to describe the course as best as I can remember it, but as I outline the obstacles that we faced, I cannot emphasize enough that the mountain itself was the most fundamental obstacle.  I train on hills.  I live in a hilly area.  I ran a 10K a few weeks ago that brags about how hilly it is.  I'm not afraid hills.  This was not hilly.  This was insane.  The steepness of both the uphills and the downhills made it so that we did very little running during the race, instead treading carefully.  The race began with a steep uphill.  I'd love to give estimates of time or distance, but with no GPS or even a watch, I can't even guess.  I just know that it took us five hours to a little more than five miles.  I apologize if these aren't in the right order...I'm going off of painful, painful memory.

The course began with a steep climb with no obstacles.  As we turned downhill, things started to get fun as obstacles started to appear.  These first obstacles came in the form of walls to climb or vault over and "Spartan Windows", taller walls with window-shaped holes that you could climb or hop through.  I did well at these, I was able jump a little grab the top of the wall (4 feet high) and jump up and vault over it, or some that were a little higher, get my feet up and jump over it.  Chris and I had very different, but equally effective techniques for the windows.  She went through backward, I grabbed the top and swung through.  Nothing so far to challenge my badassness.

The next obstacles were a steep hill that you walked up by climbing  a rope.  There were several of these throughout the course, and they were fun!  Not so fun was what appeared next, a legitimate rope climb, the scourge of middle school Brian and still not something I can do.  I think on dry ground I'd have a shot at this, but the bottom of the rope was down in a 2.5ft (guessing) mud pit, and I either couldn't get my feet high enough to get purchase or there was an under-mud knot that I just wasn't finding.  

The penalty for failing or skipping an obstacle was 30 burpees (get down in a crouch, kick your feet back as if you were going to do pushups, pull back into a crouch, and stand or hop).  I burped 'em out, no problem.  Burpees would become more frequent and progressively harder throughout the day.

After this, and then a steep, endless climb up the mountain.  No obstacles for a long time, just the steep ascent.  I felt decent during this, and we paced ourselves, but IT JUST DIDN'T END!  Eventually, though, the course briefly leveled off, to allow participants to fill big buckets 3/4 of the way with gravel (gee, thanks!), and carry them around a several-hundred foot course.  I did really well at this.  I know that I'm at my strongest when I can carry something on my shoulder or above my head, and so I got the bucket up on my shoulder and just concentrated on not putting it down.  There were bales of hay to step over, but I navigated this obstacle pretty easily.  Another rope-assisted hill climb, and then more, unending ascent up the mountain.

Finally, we neared the summit, and the course started to level off for real.  There was a rope ladder to climb over, which was tough but fun and a good example of the teamwork that existed throughout the course.  As we climbed, the people who went ahead of us held the bottom of the ladder steady, and then we in turn held it for the next racers.  Nice.

Thusly, we came to the top of the mountain and what I feel was the single most devastating obstacle of them all.  The aforementioned Chris Davis was camped out here, serving "Spartan Pancakes".  Mmm...pancakes.  No!  Emphatically no!  Instead of delicious syrupy breakfast pastries, these pancakes are 40lb (for the guys) or 20lb (for the girls) pillows (for lack of a better word) that needed to be carried.  A course volunteer said "Head down Nightmare and back up The Razor's Edge".  Ominous?  Yeah.  These are the names of two double-diamond (tough) ski slopes.  Carrying the pillows (really sandbags) down was not so bad.  It was steep, but the the terrain was clear.

Going up?  Hell.  Pure hell.  The uphill climb seemed straight vertical, and you had the choice of either a slippery, grassy right side of the slope or the more traveled left side, with sharp rocks.  I started on the right, and it was literally take one step forward and slide two steps back.  I'll be honest, I was ready to quit here. This equaled the discouraging, defeated feeling I had when I bonked at the Philly Marathon, but this time Chris was there to encourage me. 

The rocky side was a little better, but the incline just made it hard to make progress.  Everybody had their own way of coping with this obstacle, and I finally found a "system" that worked for me, basically, pick the thing and scramble uphill forward as fast I could for as long as I could (usually about 30 feet -- I think?), drop my pancake, and sit on it so it wouldn't roll or slide down at all.  It wouldn't surprise me if we spent 30 or even 45 minutes on this probably quarter-mile uphill torture chamber.

Once we'd climbed back up The Razor's Edge, we were back at the summit and almost immediately -- Monkey Bars.  D'oh.  I have a fighting chance at Monkey Bars, but after the pancakes?  No fucking way. One of the volunteers yelled on the way to the bars "You don't have to get all the way through, just touch bar at the end.  Still, maybe I should just take the burpees.  You know what?  I gave it a good try.  It was probably about 20 feet and I made it to the last bar.  Arms failing, I swung my feet for the bar, hit and dropped, and was ordered to 30 burpees.  Sorry to say, but I went into Angry Brian mode and cursed out the person in charge of monkey bars, but I should have been mad at the guy that had given me some false info.

The next obstacle, just past the bars, was a pulley that was used to lift a cement block in the air.  Supposedly the guys' were 60 pounds, but I just couldn't do this.  I sat on the ground and pulled (the suggested way to do this) but the weight of the block kept lifting me into the air.  I weigh 145 pounds, so I don't understand this.  I probably should have been able to figure out this one, but still frustrated from the monkey bars, I took the burpees.

After the pulleys, we had a long trek downhill through the forests and at times across the ski slopes.  At times, the footing was very treacherous.  We kept our pace, but like the uphill sections, these long downhill stretches just seemed to go on forever, and with no idea of time or mileage it was frustrating.

The next obstacle we came to was were two high walls to climb over.  These walls were higher than I could "vault" over.  I tried to jump up, grab the top, and haul myself up, but I just wasn't tall enough and to be honest didn't have the arm strength.  However, mind over matter prevailed.  On we are able to use the triangular support beams that held the wall up, climbing up them to get over the wall.  Other participants and the volunteers at the station gave us some helping, telling us where to put our feet since it was hard to see down.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to get over a wall this high, and as we descended back into the woods Chris and I high-fived, badassness restored.  We had another long descent through the woods, and the whole time I was saying to Chris and race volunteers that we encountered "There had better be a Slip'n'Slide somewhere soon!".  

Instead, the next race was a series of 2-foot log posts driven into the ground about 3 feet (guessing) apart.  The idea was to make it across 10 or so posts without falling to the ground.  Being short seemed like a big disadvantage here, and I didn't make it past the second post before I was off doing 30 burpees.  At this point, I was having to take little breaks to make it 3 sets of 10 burpees.

Next was a fun one.   A windy path in the woods and a jump over a ravine took us to a series of huge mud mounds with muddy pools in between.  I hopped into the water of the first pool, and was surprised by its depth.  Instead of being a negative, this made it more fun because I could confidently take a big jump into each pool. last!  The obstacle I'd been looking forward to the whole race, a big Slip 'n' Slide into a lake.  This was gonna be fun!  And it was!  I was laughing gleefully the whole way to the bottom....until the moment a big rock underneath the slide nailed me right in the sphincter!!!

I was in immense pain.  I half-crawled, half-swam to the shore where I dragged myself up on the rocky "beach".  A volunteer, who turned out to be an EMT came over and helped me up, leading me over to a bale of hay that I sat down on for several minutes.  At some point, Chris made it safely down the slide and came over.  I didn't want to give up yet, but I also didn't think I could stand.  I was in a lot of pain, but we'd come so far and I didn't want to give up when the had to be near.  With help from Chris, I stood.  The EMT checked to try to see if I'd broken anything.  I guess there was nothing obviously broken (more on this later in the week), and I decided to continue.  The pain was bad but seemed manageable.Of course it had been the obstacle that I was most looking forward to that I got hurt on!

We swam through the lake, going underneath some floating barrels.  The next obstacle involved dragging 30 pound rocks up and down a loop course that went downhill, into a lake, and then back up the hill. This was not terrible, but I think me levels of rage and adrenaline were just so high that I could have powered through almost anything at this point.

That said, what came next was awful.  A long narrow (100 feet?  longer?) field of hardened mud and rocks, with barbed wire strung approximately a foot and a half high, which we had to crawl under.  According to the volunteers, the best way to go through this was to roll rather than crawl.  I went as fast as could, covering the obstacle quickly but developing a huge headache from dizziness in the process.  There were also some mounds that forced the rollers to crawl for awhile.  And there were guys shooting at us with a big pressure hose.  I think I let loose on them with a string of profanities that would have been not out of place in a Tarantino flick.

I came to the end of the barbed wire field, I climbed over a fence, rested for a minute, and then helped give some other runners a boost over.  Then, more barbed wire to roll under.  This barbed wire seemed lower, but the second field was mercifully shorter and flatter.  

The ground was flat here, and Chris and I ran for awhile, hoping to end our suffering as quickly as possible.  The next obstacle was huge monster truck tries, that we had to lift up and roll onto and then off a post four times.  I could barely lift my tire off the ground, much less roll it.  Burpees ensured.  I don't feel too bad about this one, the volunteer at this station, who had run the course earlier that morning, said that he was estimating their weight at 200-250lbs each. 

Next obstacle:  Traverse wall=climb sideways on a wood wall on which the hand and footholds were brick sized wooden blocks.  My arms were toast at this point.  Burpees.

Next obstacle.  Spear throw.  I gave a good effort and chucked my spear with all my might.  It went far enough but unfortunately had a little too much spin on it and bounced off the target.  By spin, I mean that it was going end-over-end.  Burpees.

Jump over fire.  Badass.  (And relatively easy!)

Next, another rope-up-hill obstacle.  This time, the hill was really just a wooden structure with a rubber mat on it, that volunteers were spraying with a pressure hose.  I did well on these rope-hill-climb obstacles all day and did well on this one.  

Chris and I got over the top with just one obstacle to go...pugil stick armed Spartan warriors guarding the finish line.  At this point, however, these guys were only really making a token effort to hit runners, and I was making a token attempt to deflect the pugil sticks, and I with a noticeable absence of any Spartan war cry, I "leaped" over the finish line, victorious(?).

For our troubles:  A medal, a t-shirt, a delicious "free" Long Trail IPA, more bumps and bruises than I can count, memories -- both good and bad -- of a unique experience, and a broken ass.

At least I didn't sack my nuts.

It took me long enough to write this post that I didn't feel like grabbing photos of every obstacle from Spartan Race's facebook, where there are tons of photos of the event.

Spartan Race Facebook: Photos from Saturday (Spartan Sprint and Kid's Race) 

WPHL 17 (Philly TV) coverage with photos and video 
Coming in "Part 2" -- Thoughts on the Strengths and Areas for Improvement for the event, and more personally where I think I did well and could improve, and where I think this leaves me as a runner.  I've got some very good things to say about the race, and some constructive criticisms, too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The July Blog Post's gotten a little dusty around here, hasn't it?  I think this is the longest I've gone without a post since starting this blog, in this case mostly due to lack of time, but also because I've been pretty uninspired lately and several "I went running around Manchester and Mt. Wolf for 5-6 miles and it was humid my legs felt crappy" posts in a row don't do anyone any good at all.

Still, a few interesting things going on...

1. This is SPARTA!!
So, yeah, this Spartan Sprint race thing is tomorrow.  It's going to be 5ish, muddy, hilly, obstacle miles and I'll probably die because that's about the distance I'm stuck on lately, and other than two trips over to the playground, I haven't trained for any of the obstacles. I'll put up a very self-deprecating race report on Monday.

2. Time to Hit the Old, Dusty Trail...

In my minimal Spartan Race training, I went with Chris on my first ever real trail run on Saturday.  (I don't count the rail trail).  We ran about 3 miles in 40 minutes on the Lakeside Trail and Old Farm Trial at Gifford Pinchot State Park, in northern York County.  It was challenging, fun, and most importantly, shady.  The day was scorchingly hot (highs got up to 102 and it was in the 80s that morning). but the shade kept it much cooler, albeit still very humid in the woods.  It's definitely something to mix in, although I need to really start adding distance to have a shot at a half marathon in the fall, and my paralyzing fear of snakes probably will keep me from being a more than occasional trail runner, anyway.

Photos from Chris at, who ran with me on Saturday and had run the same paths the previous weekend by herself.

3. It's Just One Mile...
If I feel ok after Spartan Race, and even if I don't, I'll probably try the Harrisburg Mile next Wednesday.  I've had the busiest two months of work of my life, and I haven't done any speed training, and am indeed barely hanging on as a runner in general lately.  But even though my chances of a sub-six-minute and even a new PR are probably not good, I realize that I'm probably approaching the end of my natural peak as far as speed and I'm running out of chances.  I'm 35, and without changing my training style it's probably downhill from here in the next year or two.

Because I've never really done speedwork, I think I can speed train myself to better results in the future (so the quest for 5:59 isn't over even if I bomb -- as anticipated -- this year!) even if my natural speed declines.  However, I think in a year where I've already gotten new 10K, 8K, and 5K PRs, that there's no reason to not try the mile.  Plus, there's free beer at the end.  Free beer.

So, that's probably two race reports next week, and then this unofficial blogging hiatus will likely continue.