It has been 2.5 days since I finished the elite heat of the 2012 Arizona Super Spartan and I think I’m finally ready to process it.  These races consist of so much excitement, details, and sometimes drama that I find it difficult to put all my thoughts and emotions about them into a few hundred words.  So with that introduction, here are the things that went through my head before, during, and after the race.  If you’re just reading this to see how well (or poorly) I did, then scroll to the bottom.  However, if you do that, you’ll miss the occasional witty remark found within the rest of this post.

As I walked from my car to the race site, it was clear that the terrain was going to be much different than the Vermont Beast and the Midwest Sprint.  I was one of the first racers to arrive and as I walked along the dusty streets of Rawhide I could almost hear that old cliche’d western music that signaled an imminent gunfight.  A showdown was in store.  As with the other Spartan races, the site was buzzing with excitement.  Some of the racers clearly did not know what they were in store for, but others had grim looks on their faces as if they were determined to do well.  I like to think that I had that determined look, but mine probably just came off as goofy looking.  The entire setup of this race was spectacular.  Booths were clearly marked, visible, and there was plenty of space to roam around, stretch, and congregate.  About 20 minutes before my heat (the elite/competitive heat) started, I made my way to the starting corral.  There were a lot of exceptionally fit athletes in this heat as described perfectly by one of my new racing friends, Chris Rutz (one of the fittest of them all).  Physically, I was feeling pretty good although I wasn’t sure how much upper body strength I would have because of the long layoff.  If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, I’ve been battling rotator cuff/shoulder issues since before my last race of 2011 with little to no improvement.  Mentally, I was almost there, but the inability to train fiercely the last 4 months had also reduced my mental intensity level to about 90%.

As usual, I positioned myself about 20 people back from the start, but by the time the race had started a bunch of people had nosed their way in front and I started around 60th.  When the race started, I was good to go and quickly ran myself back up to 20th or so.  The ground was flat and we snaked our way around some barriers and jumped a few small fences when suddenly there was a shout.  We had went the wrong direction!!  We had to reverse the path before we could get back on the right track.  By that time, I went from 20th to probably 70th as those who were a little slower at the start were able to go the right way.  I expended a lot of extra energy for nothing there, but I wasn’t the only one.  There is nothing I could do about it, but go hard.  The details and path of the race is really fuzzy.  I remember crawling down some culverts into dry creek beds, running very technically on the large river rock to avoid injury.  I remember running up and down some small gulleys and across some of the dry, flat, Arizona desert-like land.  I think the interspersed 5 foot walls that you jumped, crawled under, and crawled through were the next obstacle.  Those are no biggie, just slow you down.  Then there were a series of wide trenches to jump across.  If you didn’t make it, you ended up in the muddy trench about 4 feet down.  It reminded me of footage of wildebeests migrating across the rivers of Africa.  Those that were unfortunate to fall or slip were in danger of being trampled by the wildebeests behind them or even worse, in danger of getting snatched by a crocodile.  There were no crocodiles in these trenches…I think.  Fortunately, long legs and decent jumping ability made these fairly easy for me.  More running and a series of muddy berms into muddy water pits.  Just enough to coat you in mud and clog your shoes.

I may or may not have the next obstacles in the right order, but it doesn’t matter because they were both brutal.  The most memorable was the dual 25 pound sandbags with handles that we had to carry, lug, and toss for about a quarter of mile.  That’s right….50 extra pounds that went with you over walls, under walls, and the 30 feet crawl under ropes.  Don’t forget carrying them up and over bales of hay.  It’s bad enough crawling around on that orangey-brown, gritty, pebbly sand.  It’s another to do it while keeping up with those 2 heavy bags with the handles cutting into your hands.  There was lots of groaning and grunting involved (mostly from me) with this one.  I made pretty good time with those bags, passing a few people along the way.  When I dropped them back off at the starting point, I saw a line of dozens of people just getting there.  I felt a tinge (just a tinge) of sympathy for those people.  Dropping the load of sandbags, made the next segment of the run seem like a piece of cake.  All you had to do was make sure you didn’t run over the bristly brush or step in a gopher hole.  I had the extra responsibility of watching out for rattlesnakes, as my dad (yes, you Dad) was convinced that I was going to be bitten by a sidewinder, a giant desert spider, or stung by a scorpion!  I don’t know if my telling him that I would be going too fast to be bitten eased his mind or not.

The next horrific obstacle involved running up about 20 feet of a very steep incline of piled dirt, back down the other side, and repeating that another 4 or 5 times.  That was an energy zapper as the dirt was not tightly packed, causing your feet to sometimes suddenly sink and slide with the dirt.  More running across the desert sand.  At one point, we were running beside a golf course and I watched a couple of guys watch me as I sped past.  At that moment, I was 100% happy with my decision to give up golf in exchange for obstacle course racing.  I have never heard the term “bad a$$ golfer” before, but I have heard it several times describing obstacle course racers.  Now, I don’t think I’m one of those bad a$$es, but I sometimes like to pretend I am during the race!

I definitely do not remember the exact order of the remaining obstacles, so I’m just going to describe them.  There was one small pond about 40 feet wide that we had to cross.  I saw the life jackets and asked the race volunteer how deep the water was.  She said 5 feet so take a life jacket if you can’t swim.  Well, I can’t swim, but water 5 feet deep gives me 6 inches to spare before I’m in trouble.  I didn’t waste the time with the life jackets and splashed down into the water.  About halfway across, I realized that the volunteer had miscalculated the depth.   That 6 inches that I had to spare quickly turned into a half an inch to spare.  Could I have swam the rest of the way if I had to…yes.  It wouldn’t have been pretty, but I could have made it.  However, the water got no deeper and I finally came out of it.

There were the customary series of 8 or 9 foot walls to climb over.  I made it over with a little more difficulty than usual, but no major loss of time.  More running.  There were several stretches of straight running, which made this course favorable to those who consider themselves runners.  I tend to perform a little better when there are hills and mud to deal with it.  There was the monkey bar obstacle of about 15 bars to cross.  One guy in front of me fell off, but started over and made it.  That was supposed to have been a failed obstacle and 30 burpees, but he didn’t do them.  I can rock the monkey bars like a little rhesus now and went through that one in about 1o seconds, passing 2 people on my way across.  I think my favorite obstacle of the course was the quarter to half mile of running through a river that was about 3 feet deep.  I shouldn’t say running because it was not possible to run through most of it due to the uncertain footing that alternated between river rock, silt/sand, and vegetation.  It doesn’t sound too hard, but when you came out of it, you realized that your quads had been given quite a strain.  Speaking of water, one obstacle consisted of crawling through the river underneath a tarp.  At regular intervals, you had to almost completely submerge yourself to get under the wooden beam supporting the tarps.  That obstacle probably scared the crap out of those who have claustrophobic tendencies.  There was some running and crawling through culverts and lots of running along river beds.  The race looped around back to the starting area for a series of obstacles.  There was the horizontal traverse (ninja) wall that you had to scale horizontally with only small irregularly-placed blocks to grasp and step on.  That is difficult for most people, but one that I have yet to fail.  I probably shouldn’t have written that because I will surely fall the next time.  The rope climb was next and one that I usually have no problem with.  This was the low-point of the race for me.  I started up the rope thinking I would climb to the top and ring the bell as usual.  That didn’t happen.  First of all, I had forgotten my weight-lifting gloves that I usually wear while racing.  They help with the grip.  Second of all, I felt the loss of strength from no upper-body exercises for 3 months.  About halfway up, I started struggling.  I couldn’t get my feet positioned and my hands kept sliding down the rope everytime I made progress.  After slipping down the fourth time, I gave in.  I gave in.  I gave in.  That’s the first time that I’ve ever voluntarily surrendered.  That meant 30 burpees, but more importantly an overall estimated time delay of about 3 minutes and the mental blow that I took for failing it.

Immediately after that was the spear throw.  That’s a 50-50 shot for me and this time I came out on the wrong 50.  Thirty more burpees.  After the successive burpee penalties, I was too fatigued to go straight back to running.  I had to walk several yards before I was able to slowly progress to a jog and then to a run.  There was another trip down a river at some point and when I came out of it my left calf started cramping.  When I reached the next obstacle of pulling a bucket of concrete up 20 feet through the use of a pulley, that calf went into full-out cramp mode.  It was completely locked and in my response to shake free of it, my right calf cramped.  The look on my face must have been horrible because the race volunteer ran to me asking me if I was okay.  I told her the issue and said I would be fine.  It took a good 1 to 2 minutes before I could even attempt the bucket pull.  During the midst of it, my calf cramped again, but I was not about to fail this obstacle and do 30 more burpees so I grimaced my way through it.  Another minute delay recovering from the second cramp.  Once I got back to running it was okay.  While I’m on the topic of failed obstacles, there was one more: the zig-zag balance beam walk….my nemesis.  I have never successfully completed that obstacle.  Thirty more burpees for me!  That’s 90 total if you’re keeping score.

What’s left…I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but the race is almost over at this point.  For the majority of the race I ran virtually alone with 1 or 2 people in my sights in front of me and 1 or 2 behind me.  I occasionally passed some people out of sheer resolve, but it was mostly a solitary outing except for the occasional run-ins at an obstacle.  The final stretch took me back to the area filled with spectators watching — down a hill into a mud-filled culvert run culminating in the standard fire jump.  I love the fire jump!  Come on, who doesn’t love jumping over or through fire!!  Up a steep muddy hill to be greeted with the “slippery wall”.  This is a slanted wall with no footing that is covered with slick, soapy water.  There are ropes to help pull you up, but the pinnacle usually involves grasping the top and clumsily pulling yourself over.  I did this pretty quickly and went to the next obstacle…a new one.  There was some sort of erg machine setup that contained about 10 different stations of dual ropes to pull down.  The erg is a “rowing machine” and tracks the distance you row.  Everyone had to row 200 meters before moving on.  It is designed to increase your heart rate and wear out your shoulders and arms.  Surprisingly enough, this was really quite easy.  Immediately after that was a cargo net climb up about 30 feet and back down the other side.  This is another obstacle that I like and am pretty good at.  After that climb it is the full-out sprint to the end through the gladiators.  I was running side by side with someone else at this point and we met the gladiators together.  I took my beating, he took his, and ran the final few steps to the finish line.

Wow!  That was a different race, but still tough in its own unique way.  I was cut, scraped, nicked, bruised, muddy, and wet, but the relief of finishing this race was incredible.  I grabbed my water and banana and walked around a few minutes until I could gather my wits.  I then took full advantage of the nice shower setup that Spartan Race provides.  After cleaning up, I just sat down in the warm Arizona sunshine and dried out while talking to a few of the other racers who had finished.  The rest of the afternoon I spent meeting new and old friends and volunteering to work in the Spartan Merchandise tent.  Oh yeah, and I signed the Wall of Valor again with my trademarked signature.  It really was a well-organized, grand event.  Spartan Race keeps getting better and better at this.

So, how did I do??  Well, I’m not satisfied with my time (primarily due to the failed rope climb), but it really wasn’t bad at all.  It took me 1:36:37 to complete the 8.5 mile course.  I raced in the elite heat, which puts you head-to-head with the best competition.  I finished 76/426 in that heat.  Overall, I placed 137/2412 and 8/201 in my age group.  A year ago, I would have been ecstatic with that.  Now, it just tells me that I can do better and I will do better as soon as this shoulder heals and I can get back to hardcore training.  I hope that happens soon.  Next up: Indiana Spartan Sprint in April.