Close to Greatness, Far From Great: Washougal Race Recap

Three legends of the sport had recently wrapped up their cool down and were gathering their things in the parking lot outside of the Spartan Sprint venue in Washougal, WA.  My friend Phil and I were getting ready to head back to Portland to catch our flight back to San Francisco. Luckily we had time to take the opportunity to go over and say hi to these walking myths of the sport.

One of the all time greats offered me some blueberries he had picked in the surrounding fields near the course. This was Hobie Call, he seemed like he just finished a family fun run 5k, not an intense Spartan race. He, Codie Moat, and Brakken Kraker all podium candidates for any race they enter or likely race winners if the others dont show up, took some time to share some of their knowledge with Phil and me as we bothered them for photos and talked to them about our podcast.

This moment after the race was actually one of the reasons I wanted to come up for this race.  I knew all of the top athletes would be there because it is one of the 6 races that NBC highlights each year for it’s coverage of the Spartan Race series.  How I faired in this race would tell me a lot about where I stand relative to the field. Also, it would give me a chance to observe the tactics of the top racers. What do they do to get ready for the race, what do they do after?  What is it that separates legends like them from also rans like me?

I’ll tell you, objectively it was about 14 minutes. The race winner Codie Moat finished in 38 minutes and it took me 52 to finish the obstacle dense 4 mile course.  That’s a lot of time considering how short that course was. But as the field rounded out, I saw a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  Of the 8 guys in that race who are members of the Spartan Pro team and consistently win races, I was 8 minutes behind the person who came in last.  I certainly did not feel like I left 8 minutes on that course, but I know that if I work hard, I can continue to narrow that gap.  My final placement among the Elite heat males was 18th, which was good enough to earn me a spot in the fast heat at the Tahoe world championships.

**To give you a little perspective on how stacked the field was, I’ll tell you a little bit about how qualifying for worlds rendered this year: for any Elite series race, the top 5 earn a “coin” to the Spartan World Championships.  If a runner in the top five of a race has previously finished top five earlier in the year, then the 6th place finisher gets their coin and so on. So in this race at least 13 people ahead of me had finished top 5 in a race at some point in the year.**

IMG_0023

The course itself was a lot of fun.  It actually took place on a motorcross track so there were a ton of little hills and sharp turns.  This made the terrain a little tricky to navigate and this caused me to hesitate in some of the running portions.  I never really felt could get my legs under me in order to get a good stride going.  I may have gone out too fast also because my legs were burning like they never have in a race before. There were periods where I was rendered to walking to gather myself.  Good thing I have been doing a ton of medium length interval work so I was able to get my heart rate down quickly and get back up to speed.

The obstacles were tough, but I was able to get through the race burpee free.  The primary challenge for me was the bucket carry.  The race organizers placed it right after a long barbed wire crawl over muddy moguls. This made it very hard to grip the bucket because my hands and chest were covered in thick mud.  Add a 20 or 30% grade incline to that equation and you have a recipe for me needing to set my bucket down a few times.  The bucket brought out a few come to Jesus moment of me. I remember kneeling and bracing the bucket on my knees, screaming explicatives at myself as the stronger competitors walked by me, including Phil.  Soon after he passed me he said, “don’t worry, you’ll pass me on the running portions.”

An odd thing to say during a race, but it did prove prophetic, as I edged Phil by about 2 minutes when all things were said and done. The bucket was so hard for me on this course that it actually caused me to fall on my ass! The bucket landed either on me or the ground, but none of the gravel spilled out, so I just had to pick it up and get going again. Other than the bucket none of the obstacles stood out in my mind.  The bucket is not my best friend

Stupid Bucket
Stupid Bucket. This is how I practice in SF

To wrap things up, I had a great time at this race.  I’m still really excited about obstacle racing and I am building trust in my training.  My body is holding up to the rigors of endurance volume training and I am making small amounts of progress each day. It was awesome to meet and compete against all the great athletes I watch on TV. Because of the nature of the sport, it’s not a stretch to say, one day I might be up at the front jockeying for position with these guys. Unlike a road race for example, which I could never dream of getting near the front of the pack.

I know I have a long way to go, but at the end of the day that is a huge part of what keeps me interested in this sport.  It’s not necessarily about competition, it’s more about seeing what is possible and aspiring to be on that plane.  It’s obvious to me that the top 10 in this race are playing a different game than I am. That’s the force that pulls me.  That and overcoming the challenges the course and the obstacles create every race.  Just like every other race I have done, it’s back to the drawing board to strengthen my weaknesses while not degrading my strengths. I need to keep climbing and keep carrying.

 

 

Turning Turmoil Into Triumph: Obstacle Racing As a True North

The last year and a half has brought out of me a newfound dedication and passion for training. Despite my new resolve to train and compete, immediately before the Sacramento Super Spartan race, I found myself in a state of lull I haven’t experienced since my final few months as a collegiate track athlete.

Why am I doing this?

I’m certainly going to fail and I don’t care.

What difference does it make anyway?

Those were just a few of the thoughts going through my head in the week leading up to what was supposed to be my benchmark race. The come down off the high of the Tahoe World Championships was a rough one. That combined with the fact that I was going through a difficult break up with my then fiancé, made for a sort of surreal experience as I tried to get my mind right for the Sacramento Super Spartan race.

After my mediocre performance at Spartan World Championships I was pretty humbled and disappointed. I placed much lower than I would have preferred. There were points in that race that my physical ability was called into question. The bucket crushed my soul. That left me questioning every aspect of my training and in a tough place mentally. But if I have learned one thing in the past two years it’s that you have to just keep going. Despite the doubt, despite the pain, don’t stop. Just keep going. Even if you aren’t doing things perfectly, you are making more progress than if you are standing still or regressing.

The sun struggled to escape the horizon the morning of the Sacramento Super, as I left Folsom, CA on my way to the Van Vleck Ranch. As I made my way towards the ranch, I chocked back tears. I’m not exactly sure where the emotions were coming from.  I felt very alive and alone. It’s for that very reason that I am so thankful to have Spartan Racing in my life to keep me grounded and be my true north. Recently, I have had to spend a lot of time battling my demons. At times I have relented. But just like in training, you have to just keep going. I tell myself all the time it’s not the mistakes you make, but how you respond. Sometimes those words are hard to live by.

To complicate things further, I had been battling a tender piriformis. For those of you who don’t know, it is literally a pain in the butt. The piriformis is a deep muscle that attaches to the greater trochanter (hip bone). So sensation in this area is fell under the glut. It kinda feels like your butt hurts, though technically it’s not the glut.

It would only act up when I ran above a certain pace. This prevented me from running much faster than tempo pace in the weeks leading up to the Sacramento Super. As you could imagine, in every way possible my confidence was shaken going into this race. Physically and emotionally.

In my general life, I tend to be overly analytical and stress a lot about tiny details. When applied to Spartan Racing this means looking over the course map repeatedly, watching youtube videos of past races on the course, planning my fueling strategy to the minute; the list goes on and on. There is a fine line between being prepared and being obsessive. I have always had a hard time toeing that line. There were so many factors about the world championship that were different from all of the other races this year. This caused me to swerve over to the obsessive side of the preparation spectrum.

There was the altitude to contend with which impacts fueling and pace. There was the expected time on course (3-4 hours) which influences everything. There was the cold air and cold water. Then the layout of the aid stations, considering the weight of the water and fuel. It was a lot. I didn’t want to have a blowout on the course and be rendered a cramping mess.

Sacramento was different. I had no real expectations. I had been there before. Those two things combined with the fact that I was relatively distracted in other ways, meant I didn’t really have a chance to stress out about this specific race. I even slept the night before which tends to allude me most race eves.

Back to the morning of the race. I started my warm up later than normal with the hopes of finishing it as close as possible to the actual race start time. The extended corral holds have been a major issue for me lately. I wanted to do as much as possible to mitigate the damage caused by all of these long holds. Funny enough this is a large aspect of my race strategy. Today my plan was to report at 7:25 for the 7:30 start. This plan almost backfired due to an emergency last minute bathroom stop. Luckily, I made it just in time as they sang the national anthem to start at the front of the pack. The song ended and after a short hoorah, we were off! The leaders went out pretty fast at about a 5-5:30 mile pace. I didn’t think I would be able to maintain that so after about 1/2 mile I decided to pull back and settle into my pace which is like 6:30 to 7:00 on flats. The difference this year is even though the race winners were about 7 minutes ahead of me by the end of the race, I kept “contact” with them most of the way. Last year I just remember seeing a tiny dot off in the distance that turned out to be Cody Moat. The obstacles in the beginning of the race seems to be mostly thinning the heard devices, walls, over under throughs. Stuff like that. About midway through there were an onslaught of strength obstacles including an uphill tire pull, tire flip, Herculean hoist and the bucket. My monkey mind was certain the bucket would kill me because I had not had a chance to work on it much during this training block, but I crushed it. I actually felt like a crushed all of the obstacles. I still need to work on my speed through the obstacle and be less cautious.

When all the dust settled, I finished in 9th place. This was my first top 10 and I am very happy about that. I learned 3 things in this race. First, if I ever want to win a race, I am going to need to average at least 30 seconds faster on my average moving pace and I will need to strip at least 30 seconds from each significant carry. Second, If I can do that, I have a chance to podium or win, depending on who shows up. The third thing I learned is that it might be better to not stress out on the preparation aspect. The hay is in the barn so don’t fret on all the little details. Take it as it comes and be smart in the moment.

My second season of racing is now in the books. Overall, I consider the season a success. The first year was highly reactive.  I had to figure out a new sport and how to train for it. This year my goals were clear and I hit all of them. I qualified for the Elite heat at the world championships, earned a top 10 finish in a non-stadium race and I never finished outside of the Top 20 in any Elite heat race other than the world championships. As an athlete who remembers a time when I rarely lost and was always in contention to win, it’s an adjustment to slowly crawl up the rankings, being happy with small successes along the way.

With two seasons of racing in the books I have become a much better obstacle racer, but I still have a long way to go. The mountain always gets steeper as you approach the summit. Some give up, some realize other things are more important than summiting, while others still realize they are not capable of reaching the summit no matter how hard they try. I’m not sure what camp I fall into, but I do know these two things are true: I’m having a lot of fun finding out. Also, I’m growing a lot as a person during this long ascent.

Woodside Crossover Trail Race Recap

Woodside Trail race

The trail has a way of exposing you as a runner. In my career as a distance runner, I have had many ups and downs.  Applied to pacing and training volume, my sprinters mentality has not translated particularly well to the longer distances.  As a 32 year old I know I can’t sprint anymore.  Life is a marathon.  This is what I love now and I am finally starting to figure out how to run longer distances.  With that being said, it is rare that everything comes together for me in a race.  Today everything did and the result was 1st place in my age group and 5th place overall in the Half Marathon division of the Woodside Crossover trail race.

Continue reading “Woodside Crossover Trail Race Recap”

Every Day is Not Your Birthday: Stop Eating Cake

Cake,cake, cake

This is an offensive rant post.  Please do not read if you are easily offended and love cake.

As a fitness professional, I participate in and overhear many conversations about eating.  Many people claim to want to change their diets and are curious about what my collegues and I eat.  Often as I describe my intake, I get wierd looks and grossed out reactions.  I want to clear something up: that is offensive, lets get that out of the way.  I don’t cringe when I hear your story of the pastries and suger laden coffee you had for breakfast or that “healthy all fruit smothie” chased down by a bowl of cereal, so please don’t blatantly disrespect my food choices.

Another common response I get from people is, “but I don’t like that food.” Or, “that sounds gross.” Another of my favorties is, “that’s wierd.” First, I don’t care.  Second, of course you don’t like it and it’s wierd.  You eat what you like and that has you in the spot you are in right now: unhappy with your weight and energy levels.  It’s fine if you like those foods and also fine if you continue eating them.  You can stay exactly how you are.  I’m not going to tell anyone there is anything wrong with that.  However those responses are unacceptable from the context of the question “what can I do to lose weight?”

It’s ironic how much criticism I receive from the people who have absolutely no clue what they are talking about.  The simple fact is that if you have the desire to lose weight, your breakfast can no longer be sweet.  And what you are currently doing is wrong.  So just admit that rather than defending it or blindly rejecting options you have never even tried.

You can’t eat cake for breakfast anymore. That went out the window years ago, along with your insulin sensitivity (that was a joke for nutrition nerds).  The most important thing to remember on the road to health and fitness results is every day is not your birthday.  Therefor most of your meals should not taste like or have the same ingredients as cake.  If you want to eat cake all the time, then you don’t actually want to lose weight.  Bagels are cake.  Scones are cake.  Toast is cake.  All fruit smoothies are cake.  Donuts are cake.  Cereal is cake.  low fat yogurt is cake. Danishes, pretzels, pancakes are all cake!   Anything that is not primarily protein and fat and fiber is cake.

If you don’t “like greens”, then you will stay the way you are when you don’t eat greens.  If you don’t like eggs and veggies, you will stay the same as when you eat breakfast that doesn’t contain eggs and veggies.  You’re likes and dislikes inevitably shape your current state.  That means you are going to have to do some things you don’t like and are not used to, in order to make a change.  Eventually, you will like these new food choices.  At some point you will not desire cake for breakfast.  Until then you will have to learn to like the foods that slim people eat. It’s as simple as that.

As a side bar: stop eating so much.  You’re not Micheal Phelps, you don’t need “carbs for energy”

There are no tricks and secrects or special potions that will allow you to continue eating cake for breakfast and lose weight. If you are not thin, you do not know how to be thin.  If you want to be thin, the ideas you come up with on how to do so will always fail.  This is obvious becuase otherwise you wouldn’t be asking me what I ate for breakfast, then scoffing at it essentially because it is different than what you do.

Please back away from the cake.  Eat what I tell you to eat.  And if you choose not to do that, please don’t criticize my food choices and complian that, “you wouldn’t like that.”

End rant