The racing season is officially over!
5 races in 5 different states including an ultra marathon. As I reflect on my first year as a competitor, I think about not only the lessons I’ve learned but how far I’ve come as an individual. My first Spartan race was in September 2019 where I got completely destroyed. After an 18 month break (COVID), I was back on the course ready to take on more races than I’ve ever done before. Each race had it’s own challenges and its own lessons to be learned. Before the season started, I set a goal to hit top 10 in my age group to prepare myself for the elite wave. The qualification for the elite wave is to hit top 3 but I wanted to start with the top 10 then work my way up.
Las Vegas, Nevada: In March, I kicked off the year with a Spartan Super which included 6 miles of running coupled with 25 obstacles. The experience of this race started a few days before where my friend Oscar and I visited Moab, Utah. We explored the town and dessert the day before the race to get a shake out run but I noticed we were rushing trying to get to place to place. This didn’t bring on too much stress but lead to eating poorly the day before the race. By the time we got to Las Vegas, we were searching for a dinner spot only to be told we needed reservations. Due to poor planning, we were forced to eat fast food chicken tenders and fries (terrible fuel the night before a race). While 6 miles wasn’t much for me, I came into that race with poor fuel and not the best sleep. I cramped around mile 4 and failed 6 obstacles. This put me in the top 50% of finishers and was not what I had in mind. I learned that nutrition should be planned beforehand and feet should be elevated for recovery the night before.
Big Fork, Montana: In May, Ashton and I headed to Big Fork for the beast which included 13 miles of running, 30 obstacles, and ~3,300 feet of elevation gain. We made reservations for dinner where I consumed as much sushi as I could. Dinner was around 4:30 PM as I wanted to take down food early to allow plenty of time for digestion and spend the rest of the evening with my feet raised. That next day I experienced no cramping and failed 3 obstacles. This put me in the top 33% of finishers which was great progress from Las Vegas but knew I could do better. After the race I was completely fine and it seemed like I barely pushed myself. I learned that when it comes to races the point is to push yourself to your highest capacity. This is a performance test not a workout.
Huntsville, Utah: In July, we headed to Huntsville for my first ultra marathon obstacle course race. This included 31 miles of running, 60 obstacles, 10,000 feet of elevation gain, and a starting altitude of 6,000 feet. This was my biggest challenge of the season and my main focus for the past year. We were informed the night before that there was a heat advisory and needed to be prepared. The thoughts of calling off the race went through my mind many times but I couldn’t do it. I felt like it was too easy of a cop out so proceeded to the start line. Between mile 20-30, I can’t tell you how many athletes I saw curled up in the fetal position on the side of the mountain waiting for medics. It was concerning but I knew there was nothing I could do to help. What I learned that day is that slow and steady is your best friend when it comes to ultra running. I took my time and monitored my heart rate during the race to ensure I wasn’t blowing myself out. With only two obstacles failed, I ended up taking 8th in my age group and finally broke top 10.
Attica, Indiana: In September, I headed back home to Chicago where a few friends and I would run the beast. This brought back memories of the pain I suffered from the last time I was here in 2019 but knew I was a different athlete. While many racers passed me off the starting line, I found myself slowly picking off people as the race went on. The majority of the race was in sand which completely cashes out your calves. While many people dropped to walking I fell back to my aerobic base running which put me into a huge advantage. I did experience a bad cramp in my right adductor at mile 12 but knew it was too close to quit. I did have to walk a bit but gained back my momentum for the last quarter mile. I had my first clean race (zero penalties) and finished 6th in age group. Again, I hit top 10 and knew I was onto something. What I learned during this race is that having that foundational aerobic base puts me at an advantage. When the going gets tough, I can still keep moving at a pace faster than most.
Big Bear, California:
This past weekend in October, I headed to Big Bear for the beast with two amazing athletes who were killing it in the age group division. We got a cabin at altitude and fueled heavily the day before the race. I had plenty of water, electrolytes, and rest leading up to this race. One thing that was different about this race was that I was coming in with an injury. After Chicago, I started to experience shin splints so bad that it became hard to walk at times. I took the week off from running leading up to the race thinking it would help but I was still experiencing pain. The day before I was considering not participating but I couldn’t do it. My goal in all of this is to become a professional OCR athlete and know that there will be tougher moments to come. The thought of my leg snapping did pop up but I didn’t think it could actually happen so I proceeded to the start line. I wrapped my leg with rock tape for support and shut those concerns off. I didn’t notice any pain until roughly 5 miles in but it quickly numbed. I ended up having a clean race and took 9th in my age group. I learned that the mind is more powerful than you think it is. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” -Henry Ford
Final Thoughts: As I write about these races, I’m truly happy with the outcome but more importantly the lessons learned. I didn’t come from a running background and didn’t start running until my mid 20s. I come from an alcoholic and substance abuse background so to be here I’m truly honored.
I’m going to take the next few months off from racing to fully recover and rebuild for 2022. Now that I’ve gotten a season under my belt I can view the year more strategically. Next year, my goal is to hit top 3 in the national series along with the North American championship in my age group. This will set me up to then run elite in 2023 with the pros and continue to build as an athlete. If you’re reading this, my hope is that this article helps someone take that first step to where they want to go or be who they want to be. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve done, all that matters is what you’re doing now to prepare yourself for the future. All I can say is stay disciplined and consistent. Do the work.