Wednesday, September 14, 2016

RACE REPORT: FORT BRAGG SPARTAN SPRINT 2016

Summary:
  • Asheville was not a fluke.
  • I still have things to work on. 
  • Herc Hoists stink.

I loooved the Fort Bragg Spartan Sprint course.  It was relatively flat and fast, with sandy double-track for most of the race.  This allowed me to focus a bit more on the obstacles, instead of being wrecked by the terrain with less energy available to take on the obstacles. 


I came with an 85-90% taper, ready to test myself and have a checkpoint on obstacle ability ahead of the Ultra Beast.  It felt so odd to be registering and walking through a festival with some pavement and sand, at the very scenic Smith Lake Recreation area.  The festival area was more compact than usual, and cleaner feeling than usual, and so beautiful, which made for a great atmosphere.  To get into the festival area, we had to go through Security, I guess because we were on fort property, so it was good to get there a bit early. 

The elite wave started off, and we hit a pretty big bottleneck with lots of elbows and coming to a screeching halt within the first 100m, as we went through a fence gap that wasn't even really blocking anything.  Going out harder in this case might've been a better strategy. 

The first obstacle was again the Hurdles (I've referred to them as floating beams before), and for the second time in a row, I've been able to get over them.  I think I have it down, now, which is exciting.  Most people wouldn't even blink at them, but they had been something that I failed at for a long time.  I ran into Bev from HH12HR-020 and wished her a good race.  It was cool to see other 020ers out there.  Next were moats, then over-under-through.   

As another "PR", I got through the rig, for the first time.  I typically get through 1/3 before losing grip strength.  Somehow, everything flowed.  The rig starts with a row of strung up rings that you go through monkey-bar style.  Then, a single pipe.  I started traversing the pipe looking forwards, but after swaying back and forth and not making much forward progress, I quickly changed approaches.  I think it might've actually been a facebook post from Bev that suddenly came to mind, about taking it sideways.  I used a switch grip (thanks, American Ninja Warrior), which worked beautifully, and got through to the next portion, which were hanging knotted ropes and rings.  I had some doubts in my mind the whole back half, since each foot that I progressed was one foot farther than I had ever gone before.  Would I make it?  After finishing the pipe, only a few more left, and I finally got to touch the bell.  I didn't want to risk kicking or punching it, since I wasn't sure if I had it in me, so I stuck with a still satisfying slap.  The first time you finally conquer an obstacle, you feel over the moon and can't stop smiling as you continue your run down the course.

There was the double-sided vertical cargo net, thankfully, with a solid metal frame at the top, instead of just a wire holding up a single net that you have to precariously move your body over.   There was a barbed wire crawl.  I wanted to use this race as an opportunity to try out some gear.  I had gotten some gloves with thick wetsuit-like padding on the palms.  As I started up the 7-foot wall, the gloves slipped right off the top of the wall.  No bueno.  I took the gloves off, and had no problems on the second attempt.  Another repeat of Asheville success.  I ended up keeping my gloves in my sports bra for most of the race.  Especially for such a short race with not much of an opportunity to start to wear on your hands, this was not an issue.  I had mostly brought them just to try them out, for potential uses in longer races.  Having the proprioception was better.  Plus, it's easier to grip something that's smaller in diamater, vs. larger in diameter, and the padding was thick on those gloves. 


We hit the Devil's Stairway (inclined wall followed by an a-frame), the Atlas carry, where I think I did use gloves.  I got through the z-wall for the second time ever (non-consecutive)... also very satisfying... went through it very deliberately, not wanting to slip and wanting to ensure proper footing and hand holds.  A-frame cargo, inverted wall (always enjoy that one). 



The sandbag course was flat and much easier, after having endured the perhaps 70lb of Ruck+Sandbag+Bucket+H2O at HH12HR.  I did put on gloves for the bucket brigade, which worked out.  This might've been the first time that I went through without putting the bucket down.  I did shift the weight around onto my forearms and thigh a few times, but the course was flat.  HH12HR probably helped, too.  I gripped the bucket with a hug instead of lifting it, which was a lot easier.


Then, things went downhill, and I don't mean the terrain.  Missed the spear throw, as usual.  I have a spear, and I've tried practicing with it, but I still can't figure it out.  Maybe next time, I'll try using a bit of a running start to add momentum.  Up to this point, I had been burpee-free, which I was amazed by.  Burpees.  Then, the Herc Hoist.  Since like 2014, I've been barely even able to budge them.  Maybe they had been wet, adding to the weight of the sandbags at the other ends of the pulleys.  This time, I could move them some, with great effort.  This is much harder than a rope climb, though, because... well, maybe it's because you can't use your legs easily (you could put them on the gate, but it's pretty awkward), and well... the herc hoist is just not very nice to me.  I got it maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up with much struggling, and I didn't feel like I could make it much farther.  I started to let it down but of course didn't want to just drop it and risk breaking the sandbag or do extra burpees or whatever.  I did let it down gently, but at the cost of searing rope burn.  My hands weren't too bad off, in the end, but at the time, it stung a lot.  Burpees. 

There was downhill barbed wire.  I started semi-rolling, but that wasn't quite efficient, so I started crab walking, since it felt ok going downhill, but someone yelled "ape walk", so I tried that, and it worked really well.  I should try to be more adaptive and versatile in my choices of animal movements in the future (thanks, Andi Hardy from the Spartan Workout Tours, for teaching all of those!).  I never thought I'd actually use crab walk let alone ape walk in a race.  I guess crabs could be used going down an a-frame, but ape walk?  It was perfect, here.  This terrain had been pretty downhill and rutted, with a decent distance between the wire and the ground.  Too bad I didn't start ape walking until nearly the end, but I'll know for next time.  It's surprising how something as simple as the barbed wire crawl could have such a variety of optimal techniques, depending on the type of terrain.

It was nearly the end.  Spectators were saying to give it all you had, since it was almost over.  I didn't want to, though, because I didn't want my heart racing and body in lactate mode when hitting the rope climb, which I've only made once before in a Spartan (Battlefrog ones have been fine, other than in the last lap or two of BFX).  I thought I had a chance and strategically chose a rope.  But I couldn't get up it at all.  My arms were shot from the Herc Hoist attempt.  Burpees.  Disappointing.  Slip wall.  There was someone else coming down the slip wall at the same time as me.  We had recognized each other from the HH12HR.  I think she was one of the insanely fast and strong ones.  She had cheered me on as I was doing burpees at the spear throw.  I might've broken an unspoken rule about waiting in line at fire jumps for the photo finishes (I know open heats try to do this, but Elite heat may be different), and if so, I feel bad and am sorry.  The two things that were going through my mind at the moment, though, were having two HH12HRers finish together, and the late-season Spartan World Championship coins that everyone could potentially have a shot at.  Anyway, I was pretty excited when I saw that we finished with the exact same time, down to the second.  Aside from my first Spartan, I go to these races alone, but after HH12HR, it's been cool to have so many new Spartan friends, and to be running with so many of them on this day.


I was still like 15 places off from the last SWC coin, but it was only like 4 minutes, which I could gain back by going more aggressively on the running and obstacles, and by improving on rope climb and finally getting the spear.  Even if I did get 4 more minutes, that would only work in the late season, after a bunch of others have already earned their coins, and in smaller races.  Well, something to shoot for in the future. 



I ended up doing better than half than the Elite Womens' heat, which I was surprised by.  This day ended up being a great day for many.  Lots of PRs, and some even went burpee-free.  This was an easier terrain course, granted, but I think this is confirmation that I'm getting stronger on the obstacles.

 (Such a cool medal!!!  It didn't disappoint.)



After the race, I visited vendors, hung out while watching the other finishers, and played around in the training area.  I couldn't practice the rope because my pulling arms were still shot, but I honed my pipe traversing skills on the pull-up bars.  I also flipped tires.  In my first Spartan race, I could barely budge the womens' tire.  This time, I was moving the mens' tire all around.

(2014 - Couldn't move this one)



 (Beasting it in 2016!)

It was such a picture-perfect day for spectating in the afternoon.  The lake was beautiful and there was a good bit of cloud and shade early on.  Operation Enduring Warrior was out there in force, and among them were those who were wounded serving our country.  It was incredible to watch the soldiers as they helped each other conquer the obstacles, without having four limbs.  They inspired us all, and taught us all with the warrior ethos that they embodied.  


After the race, I was scheduled to volunteer.  I still had a couple of hours, so I hung out in my hot car, drying my clothes and trying to sleep.  It was too hot to sleep in the car... there wasn't much wind blowing through the doors.  I read a little bit of an Ultra Running guide that I just bought.  Oh, while I was in the festival, they made announcements about not keeping dogs in cars or else they'd break your windows.  There had been some issues in Asheville with that.  I recalled that I had a stuffed animal dog in my car, a large one.  I hoped that it looked fake enough, but I couldn't remember how realistic it looked.  Fortunately, it was ok, haha.  Windows intact.


(NOT A DOG THAT NEEDS RESCUING FROM A HOT CAR!)

Volunteering was great.  I'm always impressed by how dedicated my fellow volunteers are.  We all hustle and work hard.  People could just coast through it, but something drives us.  Is it just who everyone is, being people used to giving 110%?  Or maybe the Spartan Race / Spartan Life if something we all really believe in.  Every weekend, across the country, people are racing and overcoming challenges they never thought possible.  They turn their lives around.  They find solace and friendship and a return to a raw, gutsy, and more natural way of living.  They find strength and courage they never knew they had. 

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