One hour ago I was sitting in an ice bath, teeth chattering, starting the recovery from a race that is a veritable terror to knees, hamstrings, and IT bands. Five and a half hours ago I watched my daughter and dozens of other kids give everything they had on their own 1 mile obstacle course. Eight and a half hours ago I was doing burpees – my penalty for missing what I thought was one of the easier Spartan spear throw obstacles I’ve ever seen. About that time, Brakken Kraker was winning the men’s race and Amelia Boone followed soon thereafter as the female winner. Nine and a half hours ago, I cautiously began my first race in 6 months and the first real challenge that my rehabbed hamstrings and IT Bands had faced.
I’ve said before that the Indiana Spartan Sprint course is one of my favorites and it remains as such. The course path changed. The order and types of obstacles changed. The terrain didn’t change. This almost 5 mile course wound up and over and through ravines – about a thousand times! Slight exaggeration, but not overly so. I think most racers would describe the course as series after series after series of short ascents and descents. While my strategy of starting slowly may have been beneficial to my still healing “knee area”, it took away one of my strengths – racing downhill. There were plenty of downhills, but I found myself behind too many people to get up to full speed. These downhill ascents were not only downhill, but they curved frequently and sometimes sharply and were strewn with loose and jagged stone. The few times when I attempted to pass people, I would inadvertently bump them as my momentum carried my through the curves (not around them). I didn’t want to be “that guy”, so I backed off a little.
The signature Spartan obstacles were there – spear throw; over-under-through walls; rope climb; 6 and 8 foot walls; sandbag carry; traverse wall; inverse wall; barbed wire crawl; cargo net; herculean hoist; tractor pull; and slippery wall. No bucket brigade. No log carry. No Hobie Hop. No atlas carry. No rolling mud. There was however, a short water crossing and a couple of shoe-eating mud obstacles. The rope climb area doubled as a dual obstacle with a ladder-type climb up the sides of the stacked storage bins and a beam walk across the open area from where the ropes hung. The obstacle was very safe due to the various cross beams and cage-like structure to prevent anyone from actually falling through. It did however cause a few racers to pause before going across. For the open heats, there was a “Gamble” option. Racers could choose to either climb a short steep hill or run down a creek bed and complete 10 burpees at the end. Overall, this year’s course seemed to check in lower on the brutality scale. Perhaps it just felt that way because I didn’t go full throttle. Goal number one for me was to not re-injure myself in a way that would further delay any comeback training. I think I met that one.
In the 6 months I have been absent from racing, Spartan has stepped up it’s game with regard to the non-race experience. Different and better shirts. Finishers received not only water and a banana, but also a protein shake and a protein bar from new sponsors, Core Power and Clif Bar. Overall food choices were better and there appeared to be more activity in the festival area. Of course the medals are new.
It’s a cliche’, but today I ran my own race. For one of the very, very few times I was not overly-competitive. I tested strategy. I tested my body. I tested technique. While nowhere near my best race, I’m satisfied that I gained some useful knowledge for the future. Goal number two (qualify for the OCR World Championships) was accomplished and I gained a little more confidence in my body’s ability to withstand racing again. I am on my way back and more importantly, I think I will be back better.