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.**
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
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.