Man, I was killing this course – KILLING IT – until I got to the last mile and a half. Seriously, my wheels came flying off and that ended it. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, shall we?
In terms of Spartan Races, the Boston sites – in this case Carter & Stevens Farm, but also the Boy Scout Camp in Rutland that Spartan has used for Sprints the past couple of years – are pretty flat, fast courses. In comparison, the Palmerton Super was some 4000′ of elevation gain, versus todays’ 1400′. It’s a very nice facility – wide open, wooded, muddy AF, all kinds of things that make for a good obstacle course. It’s a cow farm, right? I mean, it’s flat, it’s muddy. Spartan also does a really good job of compensating for that in terms of obstacle selection and spacing.
The fact that it is August 11 and 70-degrees, overcast, kind-of-crummy really didn’t hurt.
By and large, this is a trail run with some obstacles thrown in there, and I was KILLING IT. This is where the whole compensation thing comes into play, though, I finished in a little over 2 hours, 35 minutes – on a course measuring 8.6 Miles by my watch. Thing is though that were this a 7-mile course, I’d have finished in just under 1 hour, 45 minutes. Seriously. That last 1.6 miles took me over 50 minutes to complete between the obstacles, my faulty wing and the burpees. I’ve had a messed up shoulder for a while, but that means that I’m basically going to fail a bunch of obstacles I should otherwise complete, like monkey bars for instance.
Pretty much everything was stacked toward the end: I failed the spear throw (a 50/50 proposition for me anyway) and everything else: multi-rig, monkey bars. I usually get the Herc Hoist, but between my sore wing and the rain soaked bags that did me in. I got the rope climb by some virtue, but otherwise I sucked that stretch.
I was really pleased with my performance for the most part, but that last stretch really messed me up. On ward and upward.
This completes my third Spartan Trifecta in the last three years. Something I considered almost impossible when I started my fitness journey in 2016 has become somewhat routine. Perhaps routine is a little too blasé, but it’s something I’ve come to expect of myself and use to push myself toward more. Of course, it’s also something Spartan uses to push for more sales…but no reason to go down that road. It’s about delivering whats advertised.
Last year, I missed the opportunity for a few Sprints – I’d registered for the Boston Sprint, but couldn’t do it due to injury and finished the trifecta with the Fenway Spartan Sprint. A little weak, frankly. So, it was kind of important to get a little redemption this year. As it turns out, redemption has its own hazards that are outside the scope of this recap.
A Spartan Trifecta is the completion of a Sprint (3-5 miles), a Super (8-10 miles) and a Beast (13+) in the same calendar year. Now, there are specific rules around completing these – can’t do multiple, same day laps and what not – but otherwise reasonably straight forward. So, it turns out a Stadium Sprint (the Fenway Sprint I did in November, while it counted as a Sprint for the Trifecta, was a little more than 2 miles…not really heavy lifting) counts. Not all races classified as Sprint, Super, Beast are equivalent.
My first trifecta in 2016, I ran the Killington Vermont Beast – widely regarded as one of the hardest of the Beasts. (At least according to this list, I’ve done top three of the 5 hardest courses…irrespective of length). Last year and this, I bagged off Killington because I’d done it once and went to Vernon, NJ instead. I’ve done the Super in Barre, MA twice – it’s a cow farm. It’s relatively flat, and frankly almost the distance of the Sprint that’s also held on the farm. An obstacle race of any distance is a challenge, but matched up against the Palmerton Super I did today, it just pales.
The FIT Challenge matches up very well in terms of difficulty — elevation gain, number of obstacles, challenge of obstacles — in fact I’d say it exceeds almost anything Spartan offers, particularly in terms of price. The Multilap FIT Challenge stacks up well against today’s Palmerton Super, but I will say today’s race was the only one I’ve done that I would compare FIT unfavorably against Spartan.
There are a couple of reasons for the difficulty of today’s race not attributable to the race itself – I slept terribly, I hydrated terribly this week, the shoes (that I’ve worn for 65 previous miles) were ridiculously narrow (perhaps the heat?) and blistered both my feet, the promised hotel “breakfast” was an urn of coffee and a pre-packaged muffin (“That’s it?” “Yeah – that’s it”). All of those are controllable variables and ones with any sort of attention to detail can be overcome. There are reasons fully attributable to the race that made it more difficult – it’s July vs. April, it took me just a little longer to do 11+ miles at FIT than it did for me to do 9 miles today, FIT was 4100′ of gain, today was 3500′, and burpees. Perhaps it’s just the recency effect, but this felt subjectively more difficult.
I accomplished obstacles I’ve failed previously; I failed obstacles I shouldn’t have. Same story as usual, really. The one I’m most proud of? The goddamned Spear Throw. Seriously. I wrenched my gimpy shoulder earlier and the fact that I could even lift my arm was victory enough. That wrenching came back to bite me elsewhere, but at that point, hitting Spearman was victory enough.
This was definitely a Spartan Race I’m happy to have completed, and to have used to complete a Trifecta. I’ll be happy to not do this race again, however. In fact, after having wrenched my shoulder again – I’ve had difficulty with my rotator cuff for no less than the last 6-years – this may well be my last go at obstacle course racing. I’ll do the Super in Massachusetts again in a month to complete my “unofficial” 2x trifecta (for reasons explained about my second Beast attempt and because of that I set up my second Sprint on the same day as my first — remember, same day multi-laps don’t count — in a remarkable twist of pretzel logic to avoid deep regret), but other than that I may well have raced my last OCR. Which saddens me, I mean it’s OCR that I latched onto as the reason I wanted to get in shape, but I’m really worried that my shoulder may well have to be surgically repaired and if so, it would mark the first time I’ve run into the “at my age” syndrome where “at my age” I can’t really afford the time to rehabilitate. On that note, I guess we’ll see, but as of today I’ve completed a Spartan Trifecta on one of the hardest courses offered, not by literally sliding into home at the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
Early this week, my daughter texted me and told me that her plans for today had changed and was wondering if there was a race we could do. As it turns out, there was. Of course, I was already registered for the Sprint and was kind of hoping to rip it up, but I would run with her. And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have to make a choice. Since my debacle with the second Beast a couple of weeks back, I really can’t see my way through to getting another one on the calendar (who knows), so my hope of earning a double trifecta this year has been pretty much shot. So since I had a code for a Sprint I decided to just run a second lap: two laps in the same day only count toward the Trifecta once. Groupon had an afternoon entry AND a discount code, so we were able to pick up a couple of late entries for about $60 each – so I got to run with both.
Also of note, since Spartan considers a second lap of the course a separate race – different bib numbers, second full registration fee, second insurance fee, second shirt, medal – I consider it a second race too. A race like FIT Challenge considers multi-laps an add-on so I consider that the same race. That’s the difference between an entity overly focused on profit margin (and not wholly well run either as illustrated below) and a labor of love that’s actually profitable and well regarded (and well run).
As soon as the first race of the day was finished – it began to rain. And hard too. So I took up shelter at the facility’s shooting range and waited for the kids to get there. Which is another story, and since this is my blog, I’ll happily digress and tell you that story.
On Thursday of this week, Spartan announced it was changing up the usual practice of $10 parking and instead would make parking free and charge $5 per person to ride the shuttle. After the backlash on social media about this – that it was contradictory to the idea of carpooling, and/or that folks would simply drop off at the facility and then park – it became clear that it wasn’t going to work out quite the way the race anticipated and on Friday they announced a clarification that what they really meant was that it would be $5 per person to ride the shuttle, with a max of $10 per car. Now all well and good for me – because the kids were showing up later and were riding in together, it was $15 instead of $20.
However, by the time they arrived for our 12:15 heat, the lot was full and they were now redirected to a secondary lot at a college in the next town over – 15 or 20 minutes away. Now, there was no mention of this lot on the web site and I’m quite sure I received no email about it. So the kids find the new place, and wait. And wait. And wait. Because apparently no one told the shuttle drivers to go there…or how to get there. 5 arrived at once, then another that they got on. Where they would have been 45 minutes early, they now arrived late. Inexcusable logistics problems by a company that runs races all year across the country AND, let’s not forget this was not the first time they’d run this specific race in this venue.
Remember, it’s now been about 2.5 hours since my first race ended. I’ve been steadily rained on for two hours, muscles cooling off, and pretty sure my body had gone into full recovery mode – even if I’d only run 5-odd miles, it was longer than it had taken me to run the first race.
The rain made the already muddy course ridiculously sloppy – more than a few of the obstacles were almost impassable, Olympus was exponentially more difficult than it was in the morning; the slip wall was true to its name. The Sandbag Carry and the Herc Hoist were made more difficult with the water having penetrated the bags. I used the very same station at the Herc Hoist that I had used in the morning and while it’s safe to say fatigue played a part, I’m quite sure it was also much heavier after sitting in the rain. The bucket carry was more difficult due to the course itself – thicker, sloppier mud made slipping quite the hazard.
All of which said, it was awesome to run with these guys. “Team Mo” was an experience I wouldn’t give back at all. Watching them help each other and support each other. Not a thing better than that. On this time around the course, I came up with 5.63 miles and 1375′ of elevation gain.
In all honesty, I’m not thrilled with my first race today. I ran about as well as I could – I’m on the other side of my piriformis issues I think (it flared up not at all today, perhaps a dull ache), but over the last week or so I seem to have developed a compensatory injury in my ankle or perhaps the end of my hammy. I crushed some of the obstacles I had missed at the Beast a couple of weeks ago (Olympus you’re mine now), I failed one I expected to (the Twister, damnit) but actually did better than expected, and I came THIS close to getting across the rig which I actually hadn’t expected to complete. Damn Spearman: always a crapshoot for me with that one.
I finished the Spartan Trifecta last year, but the skin of my teeth – I was injured most of the early summer so I missed the Boston Sprint and completed the set with the Fenway Stadium Sprint – since it’s technically a Sprint, it counts, but it didn’t feel like it – so this was the first mud Sprint I’d done since 2016. It was a good, challenging course. My GPS pulled down a little more than 5-miles so it was on the long end of the Sprint spectrum, but I suspect that’s to make up for the relative lack of elevation gain.
I found the bucket carry to be more challenging than the same obstacle at the Tri State NJ Beast a couple of weeks ago – that one was basically ring around the rosey in a relatively flat spot; this one was up and down through mud, water, and downed trees. Otherwise, the obstacles and the course really wasn’t all that difficult, but then again I’m measuring it against my recent races at the Beast and the FIT Challenge so perhaps I’m not being fair to the course. There was a grouping of upper body obstacles right in a row that was devious and clearly designed to make the course harder than it might appear otherwise – well played.
There was a non-insignificant amount of mud along the trails and it has been a while since I experienced that aspect of the race, so that was a welcome challenge.
Overall I think I acquitted myself well – certainly didn’t crush it as I had hoped I would, but I’m willing to cut myself some slack for injury and some conditioning loss from not being able to run as much. I pushed as hard as I could and I think I gave it my all. I was certainly more careful counting my burpee penalties.
Overall, I was pleased with the Sprint course – it was a challenge but not over the top. My watch clocked in at 5.34 miles and 1100′ of elevation gain. Clearly not my best result, but perhaps that’s just because there were a lot more badass 40-49 year old guys out there today than usual. I’m going to chalk it up to the idea that I’m really just not as competitive as I’d like to believe.
Yup. Day #2. Second one in two days. For a middle aged, marginally fit guy pushing to find his limits, this was an expression of that journey. Guess what? I found the limits. I have to say that of some 130 races over the last 2 and a half years or so, this is the most humbling…no humiliating I have felt.
First the course specifics and details. Sunday clocked in at 14.1 miles – just about a mile shorter than Saturday’s course. I haven’t looked at the maps of both to know if there was actually a mile less or if my watch was inaccurate or what – actually it would be more than a mile less because on Sunday, I missed the spear throw that I made Saturday and had to take a penalty loop. More on penalties later, because they play a substantial role in my story of Sunday. Elevation gain Sunday was up over 5200′ compared with 5000′ Saturday which would definitely be reflected in that spear penalty as it was just straight up…forever…or so it seemed.
I missed obstacles I got on Saturday, I got one Sunday that I had missed Saturday which felt good. The lesson of the day, though, is that Spartan races are more than physical challenges – they’re mental challenges. I pushed through this race, and was physically compromised to be sure, but I did it. My mental acuity though, my mental acuity failed. I failed 3 obstacles with a burpee penalty – 30 burpees and a time penalty. When I crossed the finish line – I actually took some time to pull myself together before jumping over the fire at the finish – I felt like I had crushed the race.
I later found that I had been disqualified. It seems I had failed to complete the requisite 30 burpees on ALL 3 failures. ALL of completing progressively fewer – including the penultimate obstacle on the course – which is the one I apparently didn’t put in the minimum. I KNOW I counted 30, but knowing you counted 30 clearly doesn’t mean you completed 30. So, I failed. And while I finished, and not technically a DNF, I was disqualified. Rules violation and rules are rules. I’m beside myself upset, all that time and effort to blow it on the last one.
At first I was frustrated because I thought it was glitch or misunderstanding at one station. I was firmly convinced of it. Then I was angry. But while I could argue one station, I can’t argue with three. I blew it. Perhaps at some point I’ll be able to look at a bright side, but I don’t see a bright side right now. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m humiliated. You’ve got to play by the rules and if you don’t you have to pay the consequences.
Mental exhaustion. Physical exhaustion. Whatever. Fact of the matter is that I pushed my limits and found that I’m not where I thought I am. Perhaps that’s the bright side – knowing how exertion affects my mental acuity will help me down the road. Perhaps. Right now, I just feel defeated. “Disqualified.” Basically says “cheat.”
When I decided to start recapping each race this year, it was an accountability instrument. I wanted to see my progress through the year, and I wanted to see my opportunities to improve. I honestly never thought I would fail or at least fail for these reasons. I thought I was better than that, but now that I know I’m not, I never ever want to be here again. Failing is one thing – its human – but “disqualification,” damn. I never want to feel this way again. In failing I know I’m pushing, growing, becoming better. I’m trying hard to see this in that way. I desperately want to see it that way. That’s all just framing – what matters is what I do with it. The story you tell yourself is irrelevant if you don’t do something to improve from it.