Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RACE REPORT: Asheville Spartan Super 2016 - Southeast Showdown

This was a memorable race, because of the progress I've made.  In road races, it's easy to identify PRs when you beat your best time at a certain distance.  In OCRs, each course is a completely different mixture of length, terrain, and obstacles.  You can't use time as a criteria, but finally beating some obstacles that have previously eluded you is probably the equivalent of a PR.

Training the Week Before:
I had intended to exercise more this week, but after work (my first week in a new city/office), I only managed to do it once.  Even though my legs would feel runnable after work, I would end up deciding to have dinner first.  By the time dinner was digested, my body wouldn't feel in the mood to run anymore.

The one time I did get out, it was great, and it made me wonder why I didn't exercise every day.  Part of the reason I felt great was probably that I had had 6 days of no exercise (aside from walking in London) prior to that, so I'd better be fresh.
 
7.0 in 58:38, 8:23 ave, at 2 degrees of incline = 8:02 effort.  I could've gone farther or faster, but I was doing the Super 2 days later.  Doing 7 2 days before is already more than I usually do before a tapered race.  I usually have 3 full rest days, and the last run would be more like 4, maybe 5 miles.

Pre-Race:
It was an early start, to drive out to Asheville, the day after I had already done quite a bit of driving for a drivable business trip.  But people travel great distances for these races often, so it's nothing remarkable.  I'll end up driving 7 hours one-way for my next Spartan event, and that drive will be as much of an endurance event as the 12-hour Hurricane Heat, perhaps.

I wasn't expecting a spectacular performance, because I haven't trained pull-ups at all in a long time.  I haven't done all that many push-ups or burpees, either, even though they're part of the Deez Nutz team WOD, because I've have lots of other WOD-required exercises to fit in, too, and I've tried to balance my efforts across them.

This Asheville Super was going to be bigger than usual, since it's part of the 5-race Spartan Championship Series and would be filmed for NBC.  I even considered delaying my start and going with a later wave, to avoid potential embarrassment in case there were any film crews still out there when I came across some of the obstacles that I've failed in the past.  I didn't end up doing that, but because the first two obstacles in the last two Spartans that I've done started with a jump-over-high-beam that I've miserably failed, I decided to take it easy during the run from the start, so that there wouldn't be so many people around when I failed that.


The men started at 7:30am, and the NBC race and championship series brought all the big names.  It was cool to finally see Bear, Hunter, and others, in person.  I've seen them on TV and social media, and I've heard them on podcasts.  Watching the start of these races is always eye candy... a bunch of the fittest, shirtless Spartans.

Before the race, I had a 1-oz piece of chocolate, and a mini Clif Builder's Bar, so maybe 150 calories, but I was fine with just that and hydration.  I had had a big dinner, including Indian food, the previous night.   I didn't have a ton of sleep... maybe 5 hours, after catching part of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

On the womens' side, there were some big names there, too, like Rose and Lindsay.



The Race:
We started off on a service road where we ran in the tire ruts, and it was pretty congested.  It was slow going and not easy to pass, but I didn't sweat it too much, because the race was supposed to be just under 10 miles, which is high for a Super, and because of my wall/jumping obstacle-related reservations.

The first obstacle was a set of shorter walls at about the 1-mi mark, which I went through OK.  These walls were the same size as the one you had to cross to get into the starting area, which I had muscled up with ease.  At the obstacle, I was able to get up the first of the two OK.  On the second, I struggled a bit more, but I found that I could at least hold myself up there with my forearms after the jump and pull, then kick a leg over to do the rest.

The next obstacle was my nemesis... the mid-air beam that you had to jump over as if there was an invisible wall, but without the benefit of a wall.  I expected to have to burpee it, like the last two times.  I went for it, and tried the forearm and leg technique, and it worked!  There was a second one, and I got over that, too!  I was elated.  I used to be the only one in the elite heat who couldn't do it.  I don't know if this was shorter than the previous ones, or if it's just the implementation of the technique, or if I have more strength now.  But I finally conquered it!

Next was a 6-foot wall.  Then a plate drag.  I accidentally chose a harder one, with a bit of an uphill pull on ground that hadn't previously been dragged before, so I had to pave my own uphill gravel trail.  It's ok, though... it's one of the easier obstacles.  Next might've been the Atlas carry - no issues there... a challenge, but doable.  At this point, I was so happy - the mandatory 5 Atlas Carry burpees were the only one I've had to do thus far in the race!  We hit barbed wire, with mud and hay stacks... I crawled through this one.  I prefer rolling, but this one was not designed for rolling.  It was more awkward and difficult for me than usual. 



The trails went through streams with very slippery hidden rocks.  There was a pretty even mixture of service roads, bushwacking, and single track.

Next, we came out of the trails and back into the festival area, where they concentrated some obstacles for better spectating.  There was a 7-foot wall, with a small ledge that the women could use.  This was another one that I tended to fail.  I don't know that I've ever done it before.  I tried a few times.  I would try to kick off the ledge, and would get my right hand on the top of the wall, but I never had the strength to grab it and establish both feet on the ledge.  I asked the course volunteer where the burpee area was, and he said that there was no burpee area because this was a mandatory obstacle.  I had never heard this before.  There have been mandatory obstacles in some other races, but I don't recall the wall ever being one of them.  I figured that this may be it... maybe I'd have to end up being marked as a DQ or DNF or something.  Since I was now in no rush, I decided to give it a few more tries.  There were lots of spectators around, which is normal for the festival area... people waiting for their family or friends to come through.  On maybe my 7th try, I got both hands up, which allowed me to get on the ledge, at last.  From there, a jump, and I got my forearms up on the ledge.  The spectators cheered, having seen me try and fail so many times before.  Now, I just had to get my leg over, and yes - I did it.  I sat on the top for a moment to thank the cheering spectators, and a big camera shot pictures.  I couldn't believe it.  I went back down and floated with elation  onwards.


Next was the z-wall, which I've only made it through once.  It's doable when I'm not muddy.  I failed and got my first set of burpees.  Next was the Dunk wall plus Rolling Mud (mud, mud-filled valley x 3).  Then, the rope climb.  In the last 2 or so Spartans that I've done, they've taken the rope climb out of the water and onto straw.  I don't know if it's because of safety issues, or if it's meant to increase completion rates a bit.  I got to the top last time, but the bell was too far for me to feel comfortable reaching out with one hand to hit, after having nearly maxed out my muscles already.  I was never able to get up the ones in the water, but on dry land, I can manage.  This time, the bells were closer, and I finally hit the bell on a Spartan rope climb!  Next was the spear throw.  Still no luck.  I have a spear to practice with, but I haven't figured it out yet.  Another 30 burpees.


We left the festival area and back into the trails.  There was an 8-foot wall, with 2 ledges for the women.  I followed the technique that other women were using, and got past that.  We went into a working rock quarry, which was cool and unique.  There were giant construction claws and tiered rock mining stripes.  It was a foggy day.  There was an A-frame cargo net, then the Bucket Brigade.  BB's always a challenge, but you can push through it.  I took lots of breaks.  The route was a reasonably short uphill then downhill, and then path was road-sized, so not narrow and not too rocky or uneven, which was good.  People could take breaks and navigate around each other more easily than in some other OCRs I've seen.



I failed the monkey bars, falling off the second bar.  30 more burpees.  There was a new "Devil's Ladder", where you had to first climb a slightly inclined wall, then do one of those standard giant a-frame ladders.   I got up, but at the cost of tweaking my right knee a bit. About mid-race, we started a long hike up the mountain... it was pretty steady and very long, and everyone walked up it.  Here, I was able to pass a good number of people, with a steady walk.  I guess my running endurance helped.  Lots of people were miserable and missed water, but it felt like a typical hike to me, and I can go for 10-15 mile runs without water.  The water stops were plentiful, in my view.  Then, on the downhills, it was just like when cars pass an accident site that had caused a bottleneck, and everyone starts running and celebrating again.  There was runnable downhill, and some where you had to kind of put on breaks when it was steep dirt.  Nothing was too technical, but I semi-ran cautiously.  We had a vertical cargo - transitioning at the top is always precarious, and it always makes me wonder how many people, if any, fall from the top, at any given race.

We have the sandbag carry, which goes down, then up some steep stuff.  The womens' one isn't too heavy, so I can do the route without breaks.  The men seem to struggle with the big pancakes that they have, though. 

At the end of the downhill, we go through another stream with hidden rocks.  My shins find them at power-walking speeds, which hurts a bunch.  We're back in the festival area.  More barbed wire - this time, it's roll-able.  The Slip Wall is fine, although slightly more challenging after rolling a bunch.  I didn't make it very far on the Tyrollean Traverse... maybe 1/5, if I was lucky.  30 burpees (running total of 120).  Like last time, the Herc Hoist was unmovable, even when I threw all my weight on pulling the rope down.  If I heard correctly, it was supposed to be 75 lb, but maybe there's extra water weight, or something?  Who knows - burpees.


We went over the entrance bridge.  Then, the multi-rig, which is fun, but I only make it 1/3 of the way, not able to fully transition onto the pipe after managing two knotted rope handles and two rings.  Burpees (180 at this point), then the fire and finish.




I finished in 3:20:10, for 9.8-ish miles with about 1,500 feet of the main elevation gain.  I feel like it's been my best race yet, after beating the walls, the mid-air beam, and the rope for the first time.  I still have work to do in the monkey bars, rig, Tyrollean Traverse, and spear.  I enjoyed the "hike", and the uniqueness of the quarry. 


After the race, I re-hydrated, re-fueled, watched the awards ceremony, and watched people on obstacles.  I'm tired and consider  nap before my volunteer shift starts, but my energy level isn't too bad, so I watch peoples' techniques on the obstacles.  Inspiring moment of the day: a wounded warrior who lost an arm conquers the course with his friends.  On the rope climb, he courageously tackles it one-handed, with his friends helping him belay.


I volunteer at bag checking, which I enjoy.  It's like I Love Lucy chocolate assembly line plus easter egg hunt to find peoples' bags and give good customer service.  We were in a shaded tent, but it was still hot work.  I helped out at the merch tent, counting inventory, afterwards, until 11:30pm, followed by a long drive home.  A stellar day.


 Bear

Hunter, Rose, Lindsay

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