When I first began to do obstacle course races, especially Spartan Races, it seemed like a different time. There were no course maps released prior to the event or many standard obstacles and the number of water stations was always limited to very few. The unknown added a sense of fear, but in a good way if that makes sense. You knew you had to train, but not sure exactly how. You knew there would be obstacles, but not sure what they would be. You knew there would be an estimated number of miles, but the course was not marked so you had no idea where you were or how far you still had to go. You knew that if you failed an obstacle you would be doing 30 burpees and were going to do ALL of them. You knew that the only way to earn a trifecta was to travel because there were not nearly as many races so to have completed one trifecta was a huge accomplishment.
Now, fast forward to 2016 where there are so many locations and is fairly easy to earn more than one trifecta. Most races contain almost all standard obstacles and now the course map is released before the event. There are mile markers throughout the course and several water stations just a few short miles apart. And if you are not in elite or competitive heats, there are way too many people do not do all of their burpees or barely filling up their buckets with rocks but still boasting about their rankings or placement in age which is ridiculous in my opinion. Spartan race has a 30 burpee penalty and obstacle completion guidelines so if you are physically able to do them (yes, I know there are some that are unable to due to handicap or other reasons, this is not referring to them as I doubt they are bragging about their time and ranking on social media) you should be running the prescribed race including the torture carrying rocks up to the holes at the bucket brigade and all 30 burpees!
That being said, I do love that there are so many people now getting off their couches and falling in love with obstacle course racing and I am so fortunate that I am able to train others to now complete these as well and that is very rewarding to see them achieve their goals. But that leads me to why I am writing this blog post, because while I love these races I do miss the sense of the unknown and the sense of doing something different that many others have not done before. When I originally set my goals for 2016 I had no intention of focusing on endurance events, but when Spartan announced they were adding an Ultra Beast in NJ in April, suddenly I started thinking that this was going to be very difficult and not many people would be crazy enough to do it. The typical rate of completion for an UB was not very high so there was a good chance I may not finish, but I decided to do it anyway and in April 2016 after covering approximately 32 grueling miles I became an Ultra Beast finisher, one of only 79 females that completed the race.
This sense of accomplishment had me looking now more towards endurance type events and so I decided that on Saturday July 23, 2016 I would not only run in the elite heat of the Palmerton Spartan Super but I would also do my very first Hurricane Heat later that evening. This was a whole different type of endurance event for me, first because Palmerton is considered one of the toughest Supers on the circuit and then a few hours later to do a “3-4 hour” endurance event that I didn’t know too much about. I knew it was a team based event that was made to push your limits and why the HH was created but not much more than that. There was not course map. No water stations. No idea of what I was going to be asked to do out there. I only had a few people I met at races that had done one before but no one I personally knew that could give me any training tips so I prepared for the unknown with the limited information I had.
About 2 weeks before the event I broke my second toe (right next to the already sprained big toe from the NY Sprint) and was unable to run and had to modify my workouts significantly. Then, the night before the race I was up very late celebrating my daughter’s birthday and since I didn’t want a race to take away from her big day I was still packing my gear close to midnight. Then I kept tossing and turning and worried I would miss my alarm that could hardly sleep. When my alarm went off at 3:45 am, I had maybe gotten a total of an hour of sleep and had a very long ride to Palmerton ahead of me and felt a flood of emotions and completely exhausted.
We arrived just over an hour before my race time and had to park what felt like miles away since I was so tired and I thought to myself,” how am I going to be able to get through this day?” After checking in, gearing up, and checking my bag I was off to the start line and I just kept repeating to myself that today was a day about endurance and not my time so I needed to pace myself and remember that running downhill and certain obstacles would be difficult with a broken and sprained toe right next to each other and I would certainly feel fatigued on the course with lack of sleep, especially in the heat. As I hopped over the wall and listened to the rules, I heard that on this day elites would have to carry 2 sandbags and immediately I wanted to breakdown and cry just thinking about that.
Soon we were off and as I was going up the first hill, I could feel the exhaustion and heat affect me but I was pacing myself pretty well overall until the bucket carry. Normally I don’t put the bucket down, however, I found myself place it down a total of 3 times and while they were not long periods of time, it mentally started to affect my mind. I just had no energy and the race just started! I got a second wind and my toes seemed to feel ok at this point so I decided to try and make up some time running. That worked out well, until I reached that awful sandbag carry. It wasn’t so much carrying 2, it was the fact that they were not easy to grip with sweaty hands and climbing back up that steep ski slope in the heat really took a lot of energy, which I already was lacking.
After completing the sandbag carry, again I made up some time running until I reached the 8’ wall. As I approached the wall, I leaped and grabbed the top of the wall, but then my hands slipped and I fell right off. I proceeded to attempt this wall again, this time smashing my two injured toes into the wall, which was very painful. I attempted to get over this wall 4 more times, but the fear of the pain was in my head and I kept pulling back and was unable to make the leap to grab the top. I then made a sad attempt to lead with the other side that was my uninjured foot and that didn’t go well and I literally hit the wall and got a bad cramp. After wasting about 10 minutes on this wall I ended up having to do 30 burpees, which was really upsetting to me. Immediately following this obstacle was O-U-T, a simple obstacle, but as I was going “under” my leg cramped again and it was so very painful I knew I needed to slow down or I would never make it through HH later that day.
Running down the final mountain was very painful for my toes and I kept feeling the cramp not matter how much I hydrated, fueled, and stretched. Exhaustion was definitely taking over at this point. As I approached the new obstacle I asked someone for the time and they said it was around 10:50 which made me think if I could suck up the pain and just push through, I could actually see my team head out in the 11:30 wave so I just kept thinking of them and pushed along and crossed the finish line at 11:12. I rushed to find my team to wish them well before they began their race and after they started their race I went to change and try to rest up and eat before my next event. I headed back to the car and ate my lunch and headed back to the venue with my bucket and Camelback to find a spot to relax and hydrate before the Hurricane Heat.
As I roasted in the hot sun, I couldn’t get much rest sitting so I found a spot that some other people were laying at by a shed that gave off some shade. After chatting with people around for a little while, I used my Camelback for a pillow and just rested until about 3:15 which is when I went to get my compression socks and other sneakers on. We were expected to check in for our Hurricane Heat at 3:45 and were warned that if we were late, there would be consequences. We congregated in the designated area and just after 4:00 we were called to line up in our lines that we would have to remain in for a good portion of the event. Soon after we were led into the festival area, buckets in hand, and were told that we were to operate as a team. We were not to socialize with the others in the festival area and were reminded that we were there for the mission and had to place the mission first or we would be dismissed.
This event was more about what you did and how you accomplished it and understood what you were going through versus the actual tasks that you did. You had to be self-supported with fuel and water. There were burpees, bear crawls, push-ups, flutter kicks, squats, lunges, and many physical challenges as well. We performed tasks like carry heavy tractor tires, ran in and out of the lake several times, did parts of the course such as the dunk wall and barbed wire but with a twist, and had to incorporate our buckets for many of these tasks. It was about teamwork and doing your best because others were counting on you. It was tough, but it was awesome!
As the night fell and we cracked out glow sticks and turned on our headlamps and I figured we were almost done. It had been about 4 hours at this point (which the event page said 3-4 hours) but that was not the case. We carried out buckets, filled with water this time, up the mountain to re-stack all of the logs from the log carry for the Sprint the next day and then it we headed down towards the festival area, which was closed at this time and only a few spectators remained. We chanted our warrior ethos, emptied out buckets, and were reminded of our “why”. I am not going to share more than that, as this experience reaffirmed for me that being ready for the unknown can be scary, but so rewarding. By 10:30 I had finally received my dog tags, finisher shirt, and had a sandwich and beer that my friends bought for me me a few hours early before the festival area closed. While the sandwich was soggy and the beer was flat by the time they were able to give it to me, I was so thankful they did that for me as I was starving and so grateful that they were there supporting me!
The Palmerton Super completed my first Spartan trifecta of 2016 and HH-092 provided me with the 2nd piece of my endurance trifecta. Next up in my endurance trifecta quest will be at the NJ Super on Saturday October 22nd followed by the HH12HR the next day! Prior to this, I do have quite a few mini-endurance challenges lined up in an effort to prepare for this event, which at this point will mark the end of my 2016 OCR season.