Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Race Day - Spartan Beast 2013 Killington

spartan beast, killington, vt - 2013


getting here

I started training for this after the MS Muck Ruckus event in April 2013. That was my first obstacle course, 5 miles, 12 obstacles if I remember correctly. I was bitten by the bug, I love running, but this took it to a whole new level for me. It required athletic ability, balance, strength, endurance - everything I want to improve within myself. I'm fortunate to have a deep, real motivation  to push myself and challenge myself.

motivation

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 7 years ago I had two conflicting emotions within myself. On one hand, cold fear for the potential course the disease could take by destroying my ability to move. But also a glowing ember of motivation to build myself up higher and higher so no matter what the disease took from me - I would always have more than it eroded. Over the past two years the ember turned to a flame. My motivation has been on a high, building up through 5k's to half marathon in 2012, building strength and speed and agility this year training for the Spartan Beast. And it takes motivation, there is no other way around it - some days my MS is bad, my legs are numb and the bed sheets irritate my skin. Others, my legs are tight and I can't straighten or bend them. I've been through PT for so many different issues in the past 7 years. The race would test my motivation, my desire. I would face the choice to quit once, stomp it back down, then continue on until the next time. By the time I finished, I knew that all my training and preparation, all my gear and planning couldn't take the place of my motivation. I knew I would not quit and I was mentally strong enough to finish. Without that, giving up would have been easy, and even after seven miles and four hours I would have been proud.

race day start

Driving took longer than I thought, I arrived late, my team - the New England Spahtens - was already in the gate and I had missed them. I ended up going back and forth from the gate to the team tent to the entrance where I was waiting on my family for an hour. Instead of jumping in and catching up I waited and got the motivational hug that would carry me through the first 7 miles from my son.
I am a lucky dad

the race

I knew it would be hard, I knew it would challenge me beyond anything I could prepare. I was hoping that I was wrong. But I was right. The only easy run of the entire race came in the first quarter mile, everything after that point was up or downhill.

geared up and ready

Everyone quickly settled into an inspired trot, pausing to calmly conquer the first set of obstalces, then we headed toward the bottom of a trail. From there, we headed straight up the mountain for what seemed like a mile. I met challenges from that point forward that pulled every ounce of strength and willpower out of my body. Carrying enormous sandbags up a ski trail, they said if you dropped it you had to do 30 burpees. Well, I dropped mine at least 15 times but I made it. I had one of those annoying sandbags without leaks, some people were carrying empty sacks. This drained a ton of energy, then around the corner we were sent back up the mountain again.

legs

I never consider my legs to be a weak point in my conditioning - I have soccer player legs - and I need to builder more upper body strength, that I know. The MS has been cruel to my legs, they are still strong, but I suffer spasticity, where small spasms are always going on in my legs and cause them to cramp, they are always stiff. When I was first diagnosed in 2007 I could not climb up the hill in my backyard without immediate fatigue. Time, a few relapse-free years, medication and physical therapy have all helped, but there are certain things I normally avoid. Hills are hard for me but I pushed it this past summer. More and more hills, technical trails through the woods, rocks, mud, tree stumps, it was a mess out there and the first half of the course was more of a madman's hike than an obstacle race. I was grateful to have help from my gear on these trails -and all day.
I was wearing Icebug running shoes with carbide metal tips. I made it through the entire course with sure feet and felt like a mountain goat on many trails with people slipping on every side of me. Not to mention how well they did on the verticals walls and the slippery wall - almost felt like cheating! The last five miles were torture on my legs. I struggled to stand up straight and spent a lot of time climbing on all fours. My legs burned and on certain parts of the course I had to take 1 minute breaks after every minute of climbing. Herein I learned that the strength of mind I developed from motivation, from adversity, and from defeating challenges was the only thing that kept me going. I worked harder than anyone else that I saw at the stone carry - 90 lbs of concrete, 25 feet there and back. This was complete hell for me, I am not a big guy and it felt like the weight was heavier than me. It took me a while but the encouragement of strangers once again buoyed me and I made it past that obstacle.

back at base camp

right in the middle arms at 90s
Around mile 7 we finally came back to the base lodge. My family was there rooting me on! By this time my son had already completed his own Spartan Race and his beaming face and smile gave me at least another 3 miles worth of encouragement. My wife gave me a kiss and braved a hug from my dirty sweaty mess of self. Then, they watched and cheered as I completed the rope climb!

Several more obstacles right at the base - at the same time the weather changed and it felt like the temperature dropped 20 degrees. After crossing the cargo nets we came to the first water obstacle. I swam out confidently to the rope climb but couldn't repeat my effort. Burpees, again, I lost count, around 90 at that point. Then around to the sideways wall which I did manage in spite of some bitter cold wind. At this stage I was shivering and my teeth chattered. I considered giving up even though I knew I couldn't. Stray thoughts entered my mind: "how nice would a sweatshirt feel right now?", "I could be sitting in the lodge eating". After seeing civilization again it was a challenge to continue.
swimming to rope

back uphill

I knew I had to get moving, and the course offered a chance as it was a bit wider path and I was able to actually run for a while through a drainage hole in the middle of the woods, then back up more and more hills and trails. My legs starting to tire at this point, but not completely caving - that would come later. At some point we reached a pair of cargo nets which teamwork might have made easier, or harder, I couldn't tell. People were pulling the nets backward and forward instead of straight down. More hills, more trails, more burning legs, starting to feel like I should quit.

true strength

After the Tyrolean Traverse we cover a trail that barely deserved to be called one and merged up another skit trail climb right next to the finish line. I don't know how steep the uphills were, but with the finish line in sight it was cruel, cruel torture to head back out into the trees between trails again. Night was falling but I had conquered the chills. My legs screamed and I had to take breaks more frequently on the ski trails. I was doing better on the technical paths between trails. But also the voice telling me to quit, or just head back and not follow the trail started to get louder. I knew my body was in a difficult place, but I also knew that after each rest I could push on.
cargo net at base
I ran into a couple of Spahtens somewhere in this later part of the course and they offered encouragement and I ran with them for a while. Eventually it got dark, really dark and I had to follow the headlights. Every time we came out of a trail and did not turn back toward the finish I felt such a huge wave of disappointment. At that stage though, it was easier to follow everyone back. It didn't get easier, and the same wave appeared often as the last few miles seemed to last forever and the final turn always turned out to be one more turn away. Nothing could stop me at this point though, I had conquered so much and felt such an accomplishment. I was pushed past my limit time and time again, the fact that I could continue I still can't explain to myself. I wanted it bad, I wanted it for ME. To prove that I didn't have to give in to my disease, that I didn't need an excuse. I could just do it. And I did.

finish

I finished strong with the pancake hike, climbing some things that I couldn't even see because it was dark, under barbed wire and over some nets. Then at the slippery wall I once again heard my family calling my name! I couldn't believe they were still there and waiting, I'm so grateful to my wife for her persistence and desire to be there for me, and my son, for his race, and for wanting to see me do mine.
spartans!
Their excitement was infectious and everyone in the crowd enjoyed seeing my son's reactions. I was proud. I made it up the slippery wall easy with my BugGrip shoes, jumped over the roaring fire, imagining how excited my son must be to watch me flying over fire, then ran past the gladiators who each gave me massive hits with their sticks and across the finish line. When I got the medal over my neck I knew I had earned it. I knew I had learned a lot about myself and my family and strength. We have it.

before

after

the race

Here is my GPS map of the course. Battery died before the finish:
And here is a NE Spahten teammate's map whose battery lasted for the entire race:

And for the full story, another NE Spahten, Vince Rhee put this together!
annotated beast course