First race in over a year in a half is officially in the books!
This past weekend, I completed the Spartan Super in Littlefield, Arizona. The Spartan Super is a 10K run with 25 obstacles which is the 1st out of 3 races I’ll be completing this year for the Spartan Trifecta. The goal for this race was to complete it in under 1 hour and 20 minutes and my official time was 1 hour and 24 minutes. While the time was not where I wanted it to be, I am happy with the performance given the mistakes that were made that I’ll cover in this article. In this article, I will recap my performance (endurance and strength), obstacles, and lessons learned.
From a running endurance standpoint, I am proud to say that this is where I felt I did the best as running has been a huge focus area for me the last 2 years. I don’t come from a running background and really only started running seriously 3 years ago. I started running back in 2013 but it was never anything consistent until 2018. For the first mile, I found myself in the top 15 where we ran through gravel, sand, and a creek. It wasn’t until the obstacles that I found myself falling behind but was quickly able to pick runners off once I got back to running. My endurance was strong as I felt that it only took 30-60 seconds to recover from an obstacle that required muscular endurance. My average heart rate was 176 beats per minutes (BPMs) which was great to see as that was within my threshold zone. I would’ve been a little concerned if I was above 180 BPMs (Red Zone) as my Max HR is 205 BPMs. Looking back, I wonder if I could’ve gone faster or harder given that I had room to push but again, this is the first race in a year in a half so I’ll take it.
When it came to muscular endurance, my body felt great as I implemented a regimented strength training program since the last race back in September 2019. I’ve taken a periodization approach to my strength training programming where I’ll adjust load, sets, and repetitions on a weekly basis. This prevents me not only from plateauing but also reduce the risk of injury as recovery weeks are built in where I focus on eccentric movements. This came to life when I approached an obstacle that I was dreading which was the atlas stone. The atlas stone is a ~100 pound cement sphere that you pick up from the ground and carry 10 meters around a flag and back. The first time I did this, it completely tore up my left calf and made the remaining 5 miles (in 2019) a complete nightmare. By adding heavier lifts into my programming, I was able to complete this obstacle without injury and happy to do so at 140 lbs.
Looking back at the Spartan Beast (20K) in 2019 and comparing it to the Super (10K) this past weekend, I took more of a technical approach to the obstacles versus trying to muscle through every single one. I remember the weeks following the Beast and not being able to do anything for about a week. My legs were completely cashed and my shoulders felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. This time around, I was able to get back to running the following Monday while taking a recovery approach to strength training. While I had 6 penalties this time around versus the 2 from 2019, I know this is the appropriate approach as now I know where to focus my energy and a great segue into the technical mistakes.
For the technical mistakes (6 total), I’m going to break it up by the obstacles I was penalized (30 burpees each) on during the race. I’ll start with rigs since I made mistakes on two of them. The rigs were obstacles I was looking forward to as I’ve been working on my shoulder mobility, joined an OCR gym (Cerus Fitness), and recently started rock climbing. These are obstacles where you’ll swing from various grips (rings, pipes, rope, etc.) and simply put, my grip strength was not there. On two occasions, I found myself slipping right before ringing the bell at the end of the rig which lead to a 30 burpee penalty (each). I was wearing gloves as I thought this would help me but I’ll cover more of that in the lessons learned. Moving forward, I have rock climbing and visits to the OCR gym on a weekly basis built into the programming to get more swings under my belt and increase my grip strength.
Moving to tire flip (400 lbs.), this was a new one I haven’t done in the past but knew it was coming. From a programming standpoint, I thought this was going to be about strength which it does require but it’s more about grip strength and technique. Reason being is because what I learned once I got there was that you can’t get your hands underneath the tire. After talking with VeeJay Jones (Took 1st Place), I learned that you need to grip the tire tread to pull the tire slightly up then use your other hand to get underneath. From there, you can use more of your legs to get completely underneath and flip twice.
The Olympus Wall was one I really thought I had but took the wrong approach. At the OCR gym I train at, they have a similar wall that I’ve done in the past but the grips were different and I was leveraging my weight incorrectly. I learned that I need to lean into the wall more and use my knees as an anchor versus just my feet. Easy mistake to fix and looking forward to my second try in May.
The Irish Table was a frustrating one as I completed this one during the Beast but for some reason couldn’t flip entirely over. As a short guy, this one could be challenging as you need to get on top of a table that is somewhere around 5 feet tall and stand up. I approached this with the same technique of flipping over (backwards) versus trying to jump on to the table but for some reason I couldn’t keep the momentum going to get fully over.
For the final obstacle review, I’ll be covering the spear throw which is an area I’m looking forward to learning more about. The spear throw is exactly what it sounds like where you grab a full sized spear and throw it roughly 10 meters with the intent to hit a target. You don’t have to hit the bulls eye but it is required to stick to the target. I don’t own a spear or have access to one at my daily gym but was offered some technical coaching from a peer so looking forward to taking him up on it.
I learned so much in this first race and can’t wait to get back on the course on May 1st in Montana for the Spartan Beast (20K with 30 obstacles). Looking back, there are a few items I would do differently to prepare myself for the race. The first item would be around my environment the day before the race. For this race, I spent the night in Vegas the night before as it was close and hotels were reasonably priced. I don’t drink alcohol so it wasn’t so much that that was a distraction but just the intensity. I don’t think I came down and relaxed quite enough the night before to be fully focused for the race. The other part of Vegas that I didn’t think about was looking for food. We were there on a Friday night looking for a restaurant to feast at and everywhere was booked which lead us to eat chicken fingers and fries in our hotel room.
Not using gloves will be the next adjustment I make going into my next race in May. I learned that with gloves, it actually makes it more difficult to grip as you have a layer between your skin and the obstacle. The grip on the glove may help in some instances but this is where increasing my grip strength and building up my calluses will help.
Overall, I’m happy with the results given the technical mistakes and this being the first race in a year and half. I’m grateful too to have found a sport that I truly enjoy doing and one that challenges me in a way I’ve never experienced before. Throughout my life, I’ve never really found something where I felt like I fit in. Only until recently did I learn that this was a big factor that lead to my alcohol and drug use in my 20’s. Since cutting both from my life, I’ve pivoted my focus to health and wellness and ultimately lead me to obstacle course racing. Dwayne Johnson always says to find your anchor and this sport is what helps keep me motivated to grow as a man and human. The purpose of this article is not only to recap the race and my performance but also to show those who may be struggling that there are multiple ways out of your dark hole. My hope is that this helps at least one person to tie those shoes and hit the pavement into their next journey in life.