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“Challenge” Review: Tough Mudder Miami

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Tough Mudder has been taking lots of heat and deservedly so for changing the date of the Boston event.  Even more criticism has come their way by scheduling the New England Mudder on the same weekend as the Spartan Sprint at Amesbury.  Add their high prices paired with bully behavior and many Spahtens have written off Tough Mudder for 2013 and beyond.  In my opinion, that could be a mistake.

Here’s what you see and experience at a Tough Mudder:

  • Money spent on the festival area and the course
  • A lengthy 10-12 mile course that is pure fun other than electrocution
  • Take a break from burpee penalties
  • Mandatory assistance to/from fellow mudders
  • Excellent spectator access to obstacles at many parts of the course
  • A large variety of obstacles, with new and unique additions built for 2013 (see pics)
  • Humerous and motivational signage throughout the course
  • The best pre-race starting line pep talk
  • Very well supported courses with water, bananas, oranges, energy gel chews (6 stations in Miami, only 2 had just water)
  • Protein bars, bananas, beer, and water at the finish line
  • Schwag bag with tech shirt, protein bars and energy gels courtesy of CLIFF
  • Foil blankets (race temps were in the 50s, which is freezing for South Florida)

The Miami event took place on March 3rd & 4th at the Homestead Miami Speedway.  One week’s time made a huge difference in weather.  It was cold, cloudy and windy, the exact opposite of the Spartan super a week earlier.  Despite that, TM made good use of the venue both inside and outside the racetrack.  Athletes ran on the racetrack, pit stop areas, burm top, and the surrounding fields.  The festival area, start and finish were located inside the track.  Although there were no trails, the 11+ miles were extremely fun and loaded with approximately 25 obstacles that were a refreshing change to my recent Spartan runs.

My only negative issue was the two obstacles that provided electric shocks.  The crawling “Electric Eel” zapped me 6-10 times and the “Electroshock Therapy” took out my buddy.  The shocks appeared to be much stronger and more  frequent than my last TM.

I too was disappointed that the 5/11 Boston event was moved to another date.  I negotiated pre-approval with my wife and I was ready to book travel pending the venue announcement.  I’m not a competitive runner, so the TM suits me well.  You get a solid distance to thoroughly enjoy conversation-paced jogging with your crew and fellow mudders.  The TM is a great event to share with friends, teammates, and comrades over a few hours.  My advice:  Do a TM when it makes financial sense and never regret the decision.  You will have a fantastic time with your mates.  I look forward to seeing many of you at the Ruckus!

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Miami Spartan Super 2/23/2013

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The second Spartan Super of 2013 arrived in North Miami this weekend. 80+ degree temps, high humidity, ample sunshine, and a powerful  UV index were in abundance.  This event holds unique importance to me because it marks the one year anniversary of my introduction to obstacle course running.  I didn’t participate in Miami Spartan 2012, but some friends did.  Their pictures ignited an obstacle race Google search and I quickly went from beginner to enthusiast.  Now, a year later, I was eager to meet a handful of robust fellow enthusiasts representing the NE Spahtens who made the journey seeking tropical spartan glory.

Oleta River State Park requires a 5-10 minute shuttle from a separate parking location just like Amesbury. The shuttle bus actually drove under a cargo net bridge created by the stacks of two by two cargo containers. Athletes were rolling over the top of the net as shuttles passed through underneath.  The festival area seemed tight and chaotic at times, but any tent/service I needed was utilized in a timely manner. Free samples of coconut water, protein bars/drinks, etc. we’re notably absent or were hidden.

The 8.3 mile course highlighted the South Florida inshore ecosystem of bays, estuaries, mangroves, seagrapes, pine, bamboo, and limestone. Several miles of mountain bike trails meandered through the forest. Here’s the list of obstacles in order thanks to a spectator map:

  • Under over under over walls
  • Water crossing via bay
  • Over under through walls
  • Monkey Bars
  • Water crossing with buoy line
  • 7 foot walls
  • 6 foot walls
  • Rolling mud (trenches)
  • Tractor Pull
  • Sandbag carry
  • Cargo net bridge
  • Atlas lift (lift large chuck of concrete, walk, 5 burpees, lift and return)
  • 8 foot walls
  • Tire flip (three over and three back)
  • Hercules hoist
  • Bucket hoist (repel down embankment, fill three homer buckets, spill H2O, climb back up)
  • Rope climb
  • Traverse wall
  • Mud crawl under barbed-wire
  • Slippery wall
  • Gladiator pit

Spectators had excellent access to the final five obstacles as well as a walking trail to view others.  I was pleased to complete all of the obstacles with zero penalty burpees.  I did complete 30 “team” burpees for the two locals I ran with.  I also learned a valuable lesson:  Don’t make Spartan races any harder than necessary.  For example, I chose the one XL tire because I was impatient.  The body strain nearly left me with a soprano voice and sent me to the OR to repair soft tissue tears.

I found it difficult to  partition my time among several local factions, the traveling Spahtens, and my family.  I look forward to seeing new and familiar Spahtens as we travel around the globe seeking new challenges.  Thank you to Keith (solid man), Nele (Naila-friendly beast), Corrine (sweet soul), Tom (proud dad), Ellen (cat who swallowed canary smile), Betty (saw her for a second), and Yvette (self-proclaimed bag crasher).  I’ll see you at the Ruckus!

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Arizona Spartan Sprint Review 2/9/2013

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The second Spartan race of 2013 was held this weekend at the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.  Spartan HQ changed the venue just a few weeks prior to the event for a “more challenging course”.  As a result, logistics also became more challenging due to a 30 mile ride to parking, a 25 minute bus ride (each way) to the venue, and a 45 minute wait to board a return bus.  It was time to STFU!
The 4.7 miles sprint meandered through single-file trails littered with loose rocks of all sizes. Flat ground was rare and there were two steep hill climbs both up and down. My knee-high socks protected my shins from the desert scrub brush and the brutally sharp gravel I encountered on the crawls. The 47 degree temperature chilled my FL bones once I became water-logged during the last mile.

Obstacles:

  • Under/Over
  • Over Under Through
  • Concrete carry with 5 burpees (new to me)
  • Walls of 6′, 7′ & 8′
  • Log Hop (obstacle formerly known as Stump Traverse)
  • Monkey Bars
  • Pancake/Sandbag Carry (appeared shorter than expected)
  • Wall Traverse
  • Tractor Pull
  • Spear Throw (my only failed obstacle)
  • Rope Climb
  • Mud Mounds & Water Trenches
  • Cargo Net
  • Mud Crawl under barbed-wire (long on a bed of super sharp gravel)
  • Slippery Wall (no running start due to mud/water trench)
  • Fire Jump
  • Gladiators

I thoroughly enjoyed the desert terrain and panoramic views from the hilltops.  Cloudy skies and the cold temperatures were not ideal, but it’s part of the adventure.  Many obstacles had improved signage with descriptions.  The Reebok name was ubiquitous and omnipresent.  The festival area seemed a little tight and chaotic, but all the usual tents/booths were represented.  Bag check was a total mess.  It was drastically understaffed and many Spartans including me were permitted to retrieve their own.  Growing pains with volunteers at new venues are to be expected.

I’m looking forward to meeting NE Spahtens at the Miami Super, only 13 days away and 30 degrees warmer!

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Superhero Scramble Race Review #Miami January 12, 2013

The Superhero Scramble set up camp at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, FL, which I consider to be the Amesbury of Miami.  It has become the venue of choice for the 3-6 mile obstacle course events.  There’s onsite parking ($10) just off the entrance, which provides a very short walk to the festival area with car access if you need it.  The various lakes, open fields, and extensive mountain bike trails provide the necessary terrain for quality runs.

Registration and bag check ($5) appeared smooth for those who used them.  I took advantage of offsite packet pickup, which always speeds up race day.

The festival area included sponsor tents, merchandise, a live band, and access to the final handful of obstacles.  I did not take advantage of the bevy of local food trucks, but was impressed with their menus.  Grass-fed beef & bison burgers and other gourmet fare were available.  The large shade tents provided for spectators were both smart and effective.

The Superhero Scramble did not disappoint those who came to see costumes.  They were ample.  My kids liked Gumby most and everyone from the Hall of Justice was represented.  There were also a few villains and many teams in non-hero themed matching outfits.

The race kicked off a midst a green smoke grenade.  Here were the obstacles I conquered:

  • Barbed wire crawl
  • Pile of tires to traverse
  • Water crossing via tunnel
  • Leap of Faith jump into lake
  • Water crossing via wire balance
  • Rock climbing walls 10′ or 5′
  • Net climb up a trail hill
  • Pair of 8′ walls
  • Over under through walls
  • 5 gallon bucket of water carry
  • Rope climb with thick rope and generous knots between a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • US Marines section with 10 burpees, low crawl, baby crawl & 15 reps of ammo box press
  • Cargo net suspended by a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • “Hell Freezes Over” small fire jump immediately followed by a low crawl through freezing water
  • Steep angled wall climb with knotted and unknotted rope (your choice)
  • Water slide into green slime with questionable viscosity
  • Mud crawl under very low barbed wire
  • Run into a US Marine holding kickboxing pad

I had a wonderful time running with an unofficial team of veteran runners and first timers.  The Superhero Scramble course was not outside the box, but was loads of fun.  I strongly recommend you add the Superhero Scramble to calendar in 2013.  They look like they are gaining traction in the OCR world.  Go experience the scramble for yourself June 8th in Amesbury.

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Chicago Super Spartan / Hurricane Heat

In the world of Spartan Race, there are a several different racing distances that you may compete in, each with their own color to represent them on the event schedule. Generally speaking, Sprints (red) are 3-5 miles, Supers (blue) are 6-9 miles, and Beasts (green) are 10-13 miles, but there have been plenty of races that exceed those guidelines. If you finish one race in each distance category within a calendar year, you will have successfully completed what is referred to as the Trifecta, earning you a shiny new medal that encompasses all three colors.

After conquering two sprints (PA and MA) and the Beast (VT), I needed to get a Super in before the end of 2012. Since there is no Super in the New England area as of yet, I had only three options: VA, NJ, or IL. I happened to be away during the weekends of the first two, so if I was going to complete this Trifecta as I was determined to do, I would have to travel to the latter. Flying was not in my budget, which meant that a crazy road trip was the only chance I had. Fortunately, the Spartan community is full of like-minded individuals, so after some asking around, I found eight others who were willing to join in on the journey. I had only met a few of them in person before, but what better way to become friends than to spend more than 48 hours, over 2,200 miles of highway, in cramped quarters? We met up in Boston on Thursday night, hopped in a twelve passenger van, and made the seventeen hour drive toward the Midwest, with a goal of making it there with enough time to participate in the Hurricane Heat (HH-019) at 6pm SHARP.

We arrived in plenty of time to have a real lunch at an establishment where we were the only patrons under the age of forty and to allow some of us to take quick cat naps. I opted to shower the road grease off before heading out for the HH, which probably was not a fabulous idea due to the wet hair plus cold weather combination, but obviously my brain was not functioning properly. It was dark and it was cold, so the five of us made sure to don as many warm layers as possible before making our way to the race location. Cue 87 Hurricane Heaters meeting and exchanging “hellos” and “nice to meet yous” as we awaited our instructions from Tommy Mac. I’m still trying to process everything that happened, but I will try to recall as much as possible.

Our first task from Tommy was to run from the festival area down to the street and back. Total distance was maybe a half mile, if that. When we returned, we were asked to gather into five groups and complete thirty burpees. Then, we began “Operation Keep Spartans Warm.” This consisted of constructing five separate fire pits, which needed several different supplies to create: gravel, firewood, and concrete blocks. The gravel, which was retrieved via plastic buckets, was hauled from the registration area and placed in the center of the fire pit. The concrete blocks came from a huge pile of debris that we had to sift through. A circle of concrete surrounded the gravel in the middle with a square of concrete around that, a slight distance away to be used as seats. Enough firewood to start a fire was placed on top of the gravel and the rest had to be stacked neatly next to the fire pit. The crew crowned the best fire pit of the bunch then asked us to deconstruct one that was too close to another and reconstruct it in another location. After that, we assembled into a large circle where James (one of NE Spahten’s own) was asked to recite the Warrior Ethos. We then counted off before heading into the woods.

A good chunk of our group struggled to keep up with our walking pace, which resulted in lots of angry comments between members and lots of penalty burpees for being last. The trails were very wet with thick mud and the strewn leaves made traction a little tricky in some areas. The first mission we encountered was a grueling one! We were asked to go through a section of deep trenches, with two (or three, I forget) of our men not touching the ground. The trenches seemed endless and it took a decent amount of time to finish. Once we were allowed to have everyone on the ground, a hundred penalty burpees were issued, which equated to our team of eighteen doing six each. From there, it’s a blur of trail running madness, but we did complete a couple parts of the course during the few hours we were out there. There were some bunny hops and jump lunges mixed in there as well, but the best stuff came towards the end of the event.

Two of the founding members of the Storm Chasers, Jennifer and Danny, eloped over the summer. Recently, at the Carolina Beast, they were able to tell their families the news. We had a mock wedding for them in the middle of the Hurricane Heat! We were asked to assemble into rows of five on either side of the “aisle” and even had someone to officiate. Jennifer’s Dad was participating in the HH and he was finally able to walk his daughter down the aisle! To congratulate them, we each did fifteen burpees for the happy couple. More trail running ensued before we finally came back toward the festival area, with the Storm Chasers team somehow in the lead. We scaled the horizontal cargo net and were rewarded for being the first team back by getting to do frog jumps for what seemed like an eternity. Following that, they instructed us to do bear crawls to the port-a-potties with each group to line up in front of one. Once all the groups had arrived, they asked for the lightest person on each of the first three teams to come forward. I was about to offer myself before Chris, one of my road mates who is a Spartan employee, looked at me and shook his head, but it was too late for one of my other road mates, Shaun. We had to carry the port-a-potties, which were as clean as they would ever be, over to another spot in the festival area with poor Shaun inside of it. Then, each team needed to set up two picnic tables. Sounds easy enough, but the catch was that our two heaviest men had to be atop them. Twenty-five burpees were issued and then we were free to warm up by the fire and collect our HH gear! My hands were numb and my back/thighs were frozen due to a leaking Camelbak, so we took our t-shirt and dog tags before making our way to the van as soon as possible. Fortunately, our roommates that had stayed behind were nice enough to order pizza and wings for us, so we were able to satiate our hunger once we returned to the room.

The next morning, a few of our group were running in the elite heat, so we all hauled ourselves out of bed early to get ready to head over to the site. It was a very chilly morning and lots of layers were needed again. I could not get myself warm, no matter what I did, so after we got our bibs, I attempted to roast myself in front of one of the fires we had so kindly built the night before. At one point, I looked over and my favorite elite racer, Ella Kociuba, was standing right next to me, trying to warm up before the first heat of the day. I was kind of star struck, but I somehow mustered enough courage to say “hello” to her, to which she responded with an “Are you Kay?” and a giant bear hug. Totally made my day that she recognized me, even though it may possibly mean I stalk her too much! I have yet to meet an elite racer that didn’t seem completely down-to-earth. We wished our elite racing road mates well and watched them head out on the course.

I will start by saying that Clifs Insane Terrain Park, where the race was held, has its own obstacles already set up, which Spartan definitely utilized. The course wasn’t very hilly, but you had to trudge through streams and basins that were loaded with mud and leaves, so it was slow going for me. I can’t remember the order of these obstacles and I’m sure I’m missing some, but I will present them in true Kay fashion with bullets and my accompanying notes.

  • Rappel – Use a rope to descend a steep hill and then use a rope on the other bank to get up the next hill. There was a long line for this and it ate up a good amount of time.
  • Monkey bars – One side rotated and the other side was fixed. I chose the stable side and made it across.
  • Pair of eight foot walls – ‘Nuff said
  • Two barbed wire sections – One was in the beginning of the race, not too rocky. I lost my gloves during this and didn’t it realize it until after, so I was a little bummed. The other one was at the very tail end of the race. It was longer and full of soupy, thick clay mud. Definitely the muddiest Spartan I’ve been to.
  • Over-under-throughs
  • Log over-unders – The overs were really high. Didn’t see many people making it over these without some kind of assistance.
  • Rope climb – First time I’ve failed this one, but it was at the end of the course and suspended over water that was freezing and up to my neck, which zapped all of my energy.
  • Traverse wall – First time failing this one since my first race. I was two blocks away from the end.
  • Spear throw – Still have yet to stick a spear!
  • Log ascent – Right after the wicked muddy barbed wire section. Looked a little too precarious for me and there was a super long line, so I took the burpee penalty.
  • Tractor pull – Longest line I’ve seen other than at the sled pull in Vermont, so I did burpees instead of waiting.
  • Balance beam – I scooted on my butt, which tore a nice hole in my pants, but it was suspended over water and I did not want to take a dip.
  • Sandbag carry- Wicked long, but not straight uphill. The route was more along the lines of a motocross track with small hills.
  • Log cross over – Water obstacle with logs suspended horizontally, varying distances apart. You had to move from each log without touching the water. I opted out.
  • Triple balance beam – Three balance beams, which were not fixed in place, of varying heights. I scooted again, but made it through.
  • Water filled trenches – They made you go through these and the water was very, very cold!
  • Log jump – Preexisting obstacle where the logs were in water. I made it to the third to last and couldn’t reach so burpees for me.
  • Fire jump – Easy, peasy.
  • Gladiators – One pushed me into the hay bales, but they’re always gentle with me.
  • Trench jumps – Kind of self explanatory. Jump across the trench to the next bank.
  • Rope traverse – One rope overhead, one under your feet and you cross the water. I really had to overreach on this one as I’m not the tallest chick on the planet, but I made it across.

It was not my best performance, by far. I ended with 180 burpees, 90 due to failure and 90 due to opting out of long lines or potential injuries. It took me just over three and a half hours to complete, which was under my goal of four hours, but a bit shy of where I truly hoped I would be. I had to do a lot of walking as my shins are still not back to 100% from killing them at the Beast last month, but I was probably better off that way since the course was so muddy. Since its Breast Cancer Awareness month, the ribbon on the blue Super medal was pink. Although pink is my least favorite color, it’s unique and I like that! Also, I’m pretty sure I was borderline hypothermic at the finish, so I made it a point to try to get warm…just as soon I had my Trifecta medal around my neck! Off to the Merch booth I went to get it before heading in the direction of the showers, which thankfully were equipped with warm water. Some of my road mates had gone back to the hotel to shower and change, so I was stranded without my change of clothes until they returned, but luckily, the changing rooms are heated so I hung out there until Gaby found me and we could leave. We all showered and changed before shipping back up to Boston, but not without first stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings! All in all, it was a great weekend with great friends and I look forward to the next time I can join them for a Spartan trip!

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Prepping for Spartan

2012, it’s been a year composed of challenges, motivation, and obstacles. For several months a flyer sat in the window of my hometown gym. On this flyer, there was a date, June 2nd, followed by Tri-State Spartan Sprint. Never in a million years could I have envisioned myself crawling under barbed wire, jumping walls of fire, or blasting through gladiators. With each decision to take on a new challenge comes the prep work necessary to conquer the unknown. It just so happens training every day at the intensity of contest preparation was all I needed.

On top of one new obstacle, I was well in to preparing for my first bodybuilding competition three months away. The days were long and the nights were longer. 6am Cardio, one workout in the middle of the day, and posing at night. I had absolutely no intention of throwing a Spartan Race into the mix until a friend approached me about building a team to race. I’m not someone to say no. Turning down a challenge with the mentality I have just isn’t me. Team Evolution quickly came together and the race was set in stone two months away.

Each day I trained, there were two reasons to push myself to the breaking point. I would wake up knowing I was running my first race and that i was 12 weeks out from my first bodybuilding competition. This gave new meaning to the word determination. Eight meals a day, lifting heavy, sleeping eight hours a night, no drinking, no going out, and no distractions. I was determined to give hell to both of these obstacles. Each run was important and each lift was a necessity. 6 days a week, 3 hours a day and an hour on Sunday. A grand total of 28 hours and 30 minutes spent in the gym a week, give or take. I was in the best shape of my life and could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Not going to lie, I was going into this race completely blind. What obstacles were ahead, what the terrain looked like, who would be my competition and how was i going to hold up against it all? The three members of Team Evolution ran at 7am. My adrenaline was flowing. My body was pumped. As I stood at the starting line and listened to the sound of Spartans in the air, in came a team of Hurricane Heaters. I ran down the line as the smoke grenades went off slapping hands and hugging each person in front of me. They gave me hope, and lit the fire under me. Then there was just the mountain and myself.

It was only until 8:23 am June 2, that I realized how important all of the preparation I was doing had paid off. Each pull up, each push up, all the burpees, all the heavy lifting, and high intensity work outs made each obstacle leave a feeling of satisfaction afterwards. I pushed myself harder than I ever dreamed to be able to complete the course. No matter how difficult the path was, knowing I could do it meant anyone on the course had what it took to do what I’m doing. The Sand bag carry at the last mile was never ending. My legs were destroyed but my mind over came that. Seeing someone struggling as I pushed up the hill just led me to motivate them, “Keep Pushing, you can do it.” I said this not only for her but for myself as well. It made me push so much harder to get to the end.

Crossing the finish line bloody, tired, and muddy left the most incredible feeling of accomplishment. From that moment on, I knew there were more races in my future. My training was on point. Knowing there was no obstacle that could stand in my way from that point on meant what I did was right. There is no reason anyone should not be able to accomplish any obstacle. Determination will create an unbreakable desire to achieve your dream.

“I’ve never known anybody to achieve anything without overcoming adversity.”
—Lou Holtz

WOD 1: 3 Sets, 8 exercises. 2 body parts. 2 minute rest between sets. rep range 8-12.

  1.  Incline Bench Press (Hammer Strength or Free Weight)
  2. Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
  3. Decline Dumbbell Press
  4. Incline Dumbbell Flies
  5. Cable Flies
  6. Super Set – TRX Pushups & Dips (Weighted will be harder)
  7. Rope Tricep Extension
  8. Single Arm Tricep Pull Down Extension

Finish with 30 minutes of Cardio: 2 minute warm up, 30 second sprint, 30 second slow pace. Repeat till the 28 minute mark and finish with a 2 minute cool down. Mileage is not important.

Let Your Fire Burn Bright – Stay Motivated. Determined. & Inspired.