Thursday, August 25, 2016

SPARTAN HURRICANE HEAT 12 HOUR (HH12HR) - NASHVILLE / FORT CAMPBELL 2016

Preface: A fight to the finish... 

This was the first race/event where I was uncertain if I'd be able to finish.  I've done races from 1-26.2 miles, but this was different.  It's an event with team-building challenges, lots of PT, and individual challenges.  You are kept on your toes the whole time, not knowing what the Krypteia (Spartan Cadre) would make you do next.  The average completion rate across the HH12HRs is a bit under 40%, due to time hack challenges, and sometimes, dog-eat-dog challenges.  Many members of this HH12HR class 022 were reuniting from our experience in HH-080 in Atlanta in March.  During the 4-hour Hurricane Heat 080, when I was super cold and wet, I remember thinking "never again - this is one and done", yet not long after, I was signing up for the 12-hour version, which comes not only with the extra 8 hours but also 20-lb rucks (20 lb plus gear and mandatory items) for women and 30-lb rucks for men.

The HH-080 event was special because I learned what being on a team meant in a way I've never experienced before in team sports or school/work teams.  Never leave a fallen comrade.  After that event, the team bonding stayed active in a Facebook group.  The HH-080 organizer, "Cookie" (Steffen Cook, a British ex-pat tough guy with a remarkably caring and kind heart) continued to help us grow stronger even after the event.  He created the WOD that I've been posting about since early June.  It made me work parts of my body that I normally don't use as much, and it led to a breakout race at the Asheville Spartan Super earlier this month, where I conquered some obstacles that had previously seemed insurmountable. My only regret as the HH12HR approached was not doing more of the WOD sooner, since the last 10 days are meant for the taper. There was no guarantee of success at the HH12HR, but I had to give it my best.

The Training Lead-up:

Sunday, Aug 14:
A week before the event, I did my last substantial workout, a 10-mile trail run in 1:33:21, 9:19 average.  Trails would be good, since the OCRs typically have lots of uneven terrain.  I did three laps around the Lake Loop at the US Whitewater Center, after doing a couple short spurts on the climbing wall.  It was 5pm, but the trees provided shade.  It was nice to be out in nature.  Near the end of my second lap, I found a cell phone that was likely from a biker that I ran across.  I ran with a mission after that, wanting to get it to the USNWC staff quickly, but I ran into the biker right before the end of the trail.  I was going to use the return of the phone as a good reason to end my run after just 2 loops, but I was phone-free again before the end, so a 3rd loop it was... no excuses.  The last 2 miles were tough, and I did get thirsty, but I made it. 

Tuesday, Aug  16:
I was going to run this night, at around 11pm, but the gym was locked when I tried to go in.  Good thing I had my ruck on... so I made it a combination Rucking plus Pokemon Go night.  I got lots of Pokemon over 5.2 miles with 20lb plus gear, in about 90 minutes.  At one point, I ran into a security guard watching over the community pool, who was probably surprised to see me out at midnight and warned me about coyotes.  Don't know if he was just messing with me, but a minute later, I saw an animal and freaked out momentarily before realizing it was just a deer.  The most I had rucked at a single time was 3 sets of 1 miles on 7 degrees of incline.  I had done 0.5 miles at a time on flat road to and from the gym before, but I'd always be very ready to take off the ruck after just 0.5 miles each of those times.  The 5.2 was good to get my body used to the ruck, though.  It was fine.  The biggest surprise was a blister on my right heel, which was odd because I've worn those trail shoes many times for many miles before.  Better to learn this now, though, since I had been considering doing the HH12HR with these.  I ended up doing the HH12HR in my Reebok Spartan Beast OCR shoes, instead, and had no issues at all, despite getting them wet a couple of times and despite the reduced cushioning.

Wednesday, Aug 17:
The last run, of 5.0 mi in 41:19, 8:16 average, 2 degrees of incline = 7:56 effort.  I did this while watching track on TV.  I stopped at 5, but if I wasn't reining it in for the HH12HR, I felt like I could've gone longer and faster.  It had been soooo hard to get myself out the door, after being so tired during the day, but once I got into the gym, I loved the fact that I was there.

Taper Thursday.

Fast and furious Friday.  Not really fast or furious, but lots of driving through the night.  Left work at 4pm, stopped by home to grab gear, arrived in Kentucky at 1am, got 2 hours of sleep in the car, then headed out to Fort Campbell a little bit before 4am.  Not ideal sleep before a big event, but it adds to the epic-ness.

Gearing Up:

Hurricane Heats come with a gear list that's announced a week or two before the event.  There's some standard gear that you can expect at every race, like a ruck, water, food, duct tape, multi-tool, headlamp, chemlights, safety vest, plus some class-specific specialty items based on whatever the Krypteia dream up for you.


I read up on some event recaps and browsed social media.  People recommended a reliable pack, not one that will bust on you for carrying too much weight, causing you to DNF.  GoRuck's GR1 is the most recommended.  It's pricey at $300, but on July 4th, they had a special where I got one for half the price, with a free GoRuck challenge included.  I had considered using my Camelbak Asymetrix, which would be more comfortable with its built-in waist belt and chest strap.  It seemed to carry the weight OK, but who knew whether it could survive 12 hours of it over rough terrain and challenges.  Better safe than sorry.  The 26L capacity GR1 ended up being valuable for the space it could carry in the event, I would find out, anyway.


Specialty items for this event:
- 5 Gallon bucket with the picture of someone very dear to you affixed.  This would be our motivation.  I thought about a couple of options - a friend, a family member, but I went with a third that suddenly came to me and was the best.  It was a picture of some staff members from the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship... it symbolized not just the dear people who helped me through some tough times in college, but also a reminder of God's grace and faithfulness. During the toughest moments of the event, that's what I clung to.
- Factory-sealed gallon of water - still not sure what sure that ended up being for, aside from additional weight to lug around the whole time.  Scared to death of drinking it or breaking it, out of fear of being cut or forced to take some penalty.
- 3 balls, a ziplock bag, and a condom.  That last one, haha... I was so embarassed buying that.  Thought about doing it at some nondescript, sketchy gas station vending machine, but didn't find any.  Ended up getting it at Walmart.  
- Oh yeah, and learn to count to 30 in German.  Fortunately, I had spent a few car rides on my way to work a few years ago, trying to learn German.  I got numbers and some basic words, but not much more than that. 



The Event - The Storm:

There are certain unspoken rules in the HH12HR... not quite unspoken, since it's advertised in social media build-up.  Don't ask questions.  Don't be late.  It pays to win the challenges.  Work as a team.  Expect the unexpected.  Fail and face burpees or whatever the Krypteia feel like you should have to do.  I arrived about 40 minutes before check-in time.  There was a long drive into the fort, and in the darkness with no other cars in site, I rolled through some army simulation city replicas.  It was eerie.  I followed tire tracks and was relieved to find the venue in the night.  Soon, others came, and we found out where to park. 


We checked in with three Krypteia while doing planks and squats... no wasted moment.  I was scared and nervous.  Even standing with the pack on was tough.  Finally, my name got called, and I went into one of the barracks lined with fellow HHers on either side.  We were supposed to be in two even lines, and oh, man... it was sad and humorous at the same time, how challenging this was for everyone.  People couldn't count in unison, and when we spread the message that we had to be even, people thought they were supposed to count off with even numbers only.


(I'm the white bucket head on the left)

We did synchronized burpees, repeatedly, then burpees counting in German.  The latecomers started trickling in.  Felt bad for them, since the road was long, and they must've been frantic when they realized they were late.  They had to do bunny hops or other stuff down the long line to join the group.  Once we were all there, time to put the buckets on our heads and walk half-blind through the pre-dawn night.  We were being "kidnapped" and led onto buses to take us to who knows where.  On the bus, we had to keep the buckets on our heads, with no talking allowed.  This was one of my more favorite parts of the day... the nervous excitement... also an opportunity to close my eyes and half-nap for a little while, to get what rest I could after a 2-hr night.  Time to bank up whatever energy I could for the long day.


Krypteia Waller led my bus gave us an inspiring pep talk part way through, to help get us mentally ready for what was to come.  Remember your first 5K, first 10K, first Spartan Race, etc, and how scared you were.  But you worked at it and beat it.  This was the next challenge. 


Special K (Kristena Lynn) was on one of the other buses, with this priceless shot of bucket heads.


Eventually, we got to a place where we were let off... it was a park by a river, with a bridge and an uphill paved trail.  We brought out our gear and did some PT, followed by a game of human Hungry Hippos, where groups of 6 carried a 7th person, who scooped up as many balls in the grass into the buckets as they could.  One team didn't go back to the starting line when they were supposed to, and had to jump in the river.  Eventually, we all had to jump in the river, a couple of times.  Unfortunately, I wasn't a very hungry hippo, so I may have caused my team to be second-to-last, at best, but they were all very encouraging teammates anyway. 

 
Next there was a ball-grabbing competition/relay with our teams where we each had piles of balls to guard while going out to steal from other groups' piles, sprinting back and forth in the frenzy, all with the rucks on.  One guy tried to hold me off from getting to his pile, but I was determined and used all the velocity I could muster with the pack on to charge through like a football player. 

Then, we met "Sally".  There's a song that's popular in the Crossfit world, and it goes like this:


When the song says "Bring Sally Up", you go up in whatever move you're doing for that song, and when the song says "Bring Sally Down", you go down and hold the movement, which is the tougher part, which is 5X tougher during the choruses when you're stuck on down and eagerly waiting each second for the chorus to end.  After a couple of practice rounds of the song, we did push-up Sallies, squat Sallies, plank Sallies, leg lift Sallies... we hated Sally by the end.  A love/hate.  Missing an up or down meant an extra burpee for the group.  I failed the push-up Sallies but got the others.


After that, we carried logs in teams up the trail with Special K.  Then, we carried a giant log up a giant and steep up-hill. Then, the 4-hour and 12-hour groups split off.  The 12-hour group did a number of back-and-forths across the field with various movements, like pencil rolls, bear crawls, lunges, hops, broad jumps.  My favorite was a type of martial arts roll that felt really cool, at least when you hit it right.  The times when I went sideways too much, it hurt all over.  But if you hit it right, moving diagonally off of one shoulder, it feels like you're a ninja.


There was a picnic pavillion next to the field where we were doing our thing, and Cookie asked us to sing happy birthday to a little boy.  Imagine 69 Spartans dressed in black, sweaty and dirty, with our big rucks on, standing in two rows, and singing happy birthday to a 4-year-old.  He was soooooo excited and gave a little dance each time we cheered.  It was so cute, and nice to know that we helped to make his day.


Next was our first time hack "mission"... navigate to a special location (a cross-fit box) using a limited number of available maps, with your weighted rucks.  Two options for routes... a longer one and a shorter one... you figure out why one is longer and one is shorter.  I went for the longer one, not wanting to potentially have to cross the river with my weighted ruck, and hopefully playing to my strengths with running.  I set off with a group and soon made a friend in Glen, who gave great strategic tips on surviving the HH12HR as we rucked and ran.  Since there were limited maps and we wanted to make sure those behind us found the way, I left stick arrows along the road at turns.  After a couple of miles, we caught up with what looked like the tail end of the groups that had chosen the shorter route... guess we picked the longer route.  Not a good sign, if we were 2nd and 3rd on the long route crew and were just now catching up to the end of the long route crew, this far in.  It started raining hard, which was a welcome cool-down.  We started seeing some runners coming back, and one of them mentioned that they were giving out cards.  Perhaps there would be limited cards?  We had to get moving.  Glen hinted that I could go on if I wanted to, but we were a team.  This exercise was the individual portion of the HH12HR, where it's about placing the mission first, and less about doing everything as a team, but we were going to be in this together, even if it meant potentially not making the cut.  We made our way up the road, coming across more and more people, until we got to the Cross-fit box which was the station.  We did 10 burpees with our rucks to earn a card and re-fill on, before having to head back to where we started.  We took the shorter route this time, and spread the word to others to do the same.  When we got back to home base, we checked in with Cookie and got to eat, drink, and recover for a bit, while others came in. It felt good to stretch.  And to eat.  I had started to feel low on glycogen in the last 2/3 mile, but didn't want to stop and lose time.  4.2 miles one way, 3.7 miles back = 7.9 miles with the rucks on.

(Grab those maps!)

Our next time hack mission was to take another map and go to a secret location.  We didn't have to go with packs this time, but we had to bring our buckets, hydration, and our condom.  What would we need those for?  Before we left, we had to give up anything in our pack with the words "energy" or "caffeine" on them, putting them in our zip-lock bag and turning it in.  We'd have to do this with strength and stamina from within.  We went off, single file down the road.  The roads had some decent hills in them.  Some people stopped in their cars to ask what we were doing.  This person's story was the best...


There was a good number of girls in the event.  A couple of them blew me away, endurance-wise and strength-wise.  I thought I was a good runner, but I didn't even see them after the start... they were leagues beyond... a whole 'nother level.  It's good to be humbled every now and then... gives you new levels to strive towards.  I did see them on their way back from the destination.  Our secret location was a Walmart Marketplace parking lot, where we had to get our condoms filled with liquid Tide, seal it up, and bring it safely back to home base without popping it.  The bucket was good for keeping it protected as we ran back along the sides of the hilly roads.  3.2 miles each way = 6.4 miles.  This run wasn't easy... our legs were toast after the 8 mile rucked run, along with everything else from the morning.  It was semi-running down-hill and on flats, power-walking up less step hills, and slow-walking up steeper hills.  I caught back up with Glen and finished in a group of others.  We turned in our condoms for inspection, checked in, then got to rest for a while.  More re-feeding, drinking, stretching.  My quads were getting really stiff.  This was the sad part... not everyone made the time hack.  Some fought so bravely, but would have to live to fight another day.


We moved to the next part, which would turn out to be the last part.  We got sandbags - one kind for the guys, one kind for the girls, and hauled them over to a cluster of small trees.  Oh man, even bringing the sandbag to the starting area was hard.  I bucket brigade-carried it in my bucket, along with the gallon of water, wearing the 20lb ruck plus gear.  I had to stop multiple times along the short ~100m walk to get to the trees.  At the start of it, Cookie mentioned that this was going to suck and would be the hardest thing yet.  We started by learning how to decipher collapsible codes.  Letters in the alphabets' placement corresponded to numbers between 1-26.  We got a combination of letters and numbers and added those numbers up.  We then had to add up digits in the sum, repeatedly, until we wound up with a single digit.  Time to test your mental agility, after a day that already drained you physically and taxed you mentally. 


Then, we found out our last task... carry the sandbag plus bucket plus everything else, all the way to the end of the trail where we had been carrying logs earlier in the morning, to get part of the code, and come back, and go back, and come back, etc.  It was soooo far away, and I struggled so much just to bring my stuff a short way to the start.  Well, this may be a looong day, or soon-to-be the end.  The only way we could finish is by getting the code and deciphering it.  Worst case, I could complete the task, maybe after the cuttoff, but if I had to, I'd move it a few feet at a time until I eventually made it.  Cookie told us that this is where the picture on our buckets would be most critical.  If you give up, you're letting the loved one on your picture down.  Time to go.

Everyone set off, and I decided to re-jig my gear.  If I was going to have to make several trips (just one trip may take forever), better have my stuff most strategically arranged.  I bucket brigaded my stuff far far enough to get behind a cluster of trees so that the Krypteia wouldn't see that I had already stopped and think that I was giving up or something.  I moved my gallon of water into my GoRuck GR1.  It was pretty full, with the balls, nalgenes, and other stuff already in it.  I was glad that I had went with this larger bag.  I heaved the heavy ruck onto my shoulders and started moving again, with just the sandbag in the bucket now.  This was going to be very hard to sustain.  So I stopped again, and decided to strap my bucket onto my bag with a dog collar and duct tape.  This way, my hands could be free, and I could carry the sandbag by itself, preferably on my upper back, which has worked very well for me ever since a Spartan veteran gave me that tip in my first Spartan race where I encountered sand bags.  Oh man, it was super heavy, but at least I could move now.  Everyone else was far ahead by now, but it was going to be worth it.  I don't have a ton of strength, but I could use strategy to help make up for some of that.  I started catching up to the tail of the group, and caught more and more.

There was a long uphill.  It had thankfully been cloudy most of the day, but I was surprised by how much I was sweating with the effort.  I wasn't moving very fast, but I felt like water was just oozing out of all my pores like a sponge being wrung out.  My heart rate shot up.   My hip flexors were feeling the strain, but I had to press on.  It was so hard to move with so much weight, especially right on my upper back below my neck.  Once at the top of the hill, it was mostly flat, to get to Krypteia Special K, who wrote the first digit or two of each person's code either on their sandbag or on their bucket.  Turned around, and time to trudge back down.  Even the downhill was hard, with that weight.  I was grunting/wailing/crying out really loudly with each step.  I think tears were coming out of my eyes, too, but it was hard to tell whether they were tears or sweat.  Could've very well been tears.  Hurt so much.  Might've freaked out some of the townspeople who must've wondered why we were doing this to ourselves.  I prayed that God would give me strength to make it.  At the bottom of the hill, I stopped a couple of times to offload the weight momentarily, before proceeding.  So hard.  The ~100m at the end of the first lap to get back to Cookie felt so long.  Got to him, and got the next digit or two of my code, and time to head back up to Special K.  I had seen others who had strapped the weight around their belly like a baby.  I took a pit stop at a picnic table to offload the weight and contemplated for a long time about whether or not to shift strategies and try go do the same.  It was hard to try to get such a heavy sandbag strapped to your body, so I gave that up.  I did try to make handles to try to make keeping the bag on my upper back easier, but they didn't end up helping much, and the tight tape ties just ended up concentrating the weight in a smaller area, instead of allowing it to be more distributed on my shoulders.

I wasn't making as much noise now.  As I started on the second journey back up, I tried to arm-carry the bag for a while, but that wasn't any easier, since it just added a bunch of work for the arms on top of the legs.  I tried to move the bag back onto my upper back and almost fell backwards but somehow caught myself in a super-low squat at the very last second and heaved everything back up.  Phew, that was close.  Don't know if I could've gotten back up, if I had gone backwards with all the weight on my ruck, and the ruck strapped tight to my body.  I kept moving forward and tried just letting the sandbag rest on top my my ruck, so that my hands didn't have to keep holding it against my back.  Worked pretty well, but I did walk carefully.  Back up the long uphill.  Then on the flat path to Special K, who was giving out full codes now.  Oh, the sweet relief.  Just had to make it back down... just.  I started for a bit, then had to rest again, after making it all the way up the hill and to the turning point without a break.  There was a bench with three crosses carved into it, I appreciated the symbolism as I collapsed onto it, and lay there exhausted for a while, before mustering the strength to get back up.  As I made my way back down, I wasn't sure if I'd make whatever time hack or placement hack was in store.  I thought about what it would feel like if I didn't make it... I would've cried.  Kept pushing.  With the out-and-back, we all saw each other on the trail, and everyone was so encouraging with one another.  We were all suffering together.  One guy (might've been a DNF who was helping out, since he had no pack) kindly offered to help with the sandbag, but this was something I had to finish for myself.  Especially if this was going to be a position hack mission, I had to get it done myself.  Got to the bottom of the hill, and Waller cheered me on.  Now, just the last stretch of grass left to get to the trees.  Made it, checked in, and felt the relief of finally being able to drop my stuff.  I laid there catching my breath for a minute, chest heaving like crazy, before settling in with my code to decipher it.  Got my number, double-checked it, and gave it to Cookie.  Mission accomplished.  Others came in, and as the time hack approached, we were encouraged to go help bring our teammates in.  With new-found strength (and thankfully, no more pack), we headed back out and up the hill to find them and help them bring it home.  Everyone was going to make it.  Special K found me afterwards to check if I had made it and told me how proud she was of me for fighting through, which was really heart-warming.


At the end, we were all proud to get our patches and delta wedge.  We proudly received our wedges from Special K with a "congratulations, Miss M*Fer", and a warm hug from Cookie.  A Cookie hug.  Couldn't wait to get back on the bus... our rucks and clothes were super stinky.  Feel bad for whoever had to sterilize the bus afterwards.  In contrast to this morning, when it was dark and we weren't allowed to talk and had buckets on our head while being kidnapped, the bus ride back to Fort Campbell was cheery.  We had made it through the 12-hr ordeal and formed strong bonds in the process.  I even thought about next steps... I had told myself earlier that if I somehow managed to make the cut on the HH12HR, that I'd sign up for an Ultra Beast to complete the Endurance Trifecta for 2016.  I even started thinking about Agoge, although I'd only find out later what that would entail, through the Overcome and Run podcast with Special K and Ali.... may need to train myself physically and mentally quite a bit more before taking that on.


Reflections: 
1. When I finished, I felt like this is one of my proudest accomplishments of the year... and it's also up there, for all-time.  That last mission was so hard. 
2. It is possible to improve.  Challenges make you stronger.  I'm not destined to be beaten by certain obstacles due to my size or genes.  I can work at it to beat it.  On my first encounter with the Wreck Bag at Battlefrog Xtreme, I thought I was going to die carrying that heavy thing up a hill and over a wall, and then repeating that three more times, but I made it.  When I met the Wreck bag again at a race more recently, it felt much easier than before... I had gotten stronger.  At the Asheville Super, thanks to the Deez Nutz WOD, I conquered obstacles that had previously conquered me.  After this event, I'll have the strength and confidence to face more heavy stuff I may have to carry in the future.
3. Building better humans... that was the tag line for Spartan at one point.  I always thought of it as creating a community of people striving for better physical readiness.  But now I see it as more than that... building better humans in making them kinder, more selfless, more resilient.  The people that I've met at these events have a unique sense of being a team and being there for each other, and that's something special.


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