As many of you know, Krista and I competed in the Spartan Sprint this past weekend at Blue Ski Mountain in Palmerton, PA. For those who haven’t been, it’s a beautiful venue deep in the Appalachian Mountains about 2hrs northwest of Philadelphia. The location has become a staple on the east coast OCR circuit because of it’s steep climbs and technical descents through a gorgeous back drop of thick green, and that’s probably why NBC chose to spotlight this area as one of their featured races to be aired this season. This was our second trip to Palmerton (my 2013 race ended with a broken ankle and detached AFL), and from what we’ve gathered from everyone who competed, this year was probably the hardest course the mountain has ever seen; if not the toughest Sprint Spartan Race has yet to assemble.
We awoke Saturday morning to a light drizzle and moderate humidity (about 70° and climbing). There was a good chance of showers throughout the day so we weren’t too surprised, but what did catch us off guard was the lightning that cracked as soon as we got in the car. We really don’t get “thunder storms” in San Diego, so needless to say it was an interesting way to start the day. The rain seemed to fall harder and the lightning bolts came more frequently as we approached Blue Ski, where the parking attendant happily took our $10 and told us to wait in the car until the storm cleared. One by one as the lot filled Spartan’s began trickling out to see what was going on, and eventually (about 45 minutes later) we we’re allowed to check-in. The storm had passed, and it was time to race.
The first 400M was a scramble up a mild slope where, as usual, several racers came out hard only to fall back early. There we’re about 10 of us who hit the hilltop first where we scurried over a few log hurdles before starting to file into line and up the first single track. The next mile was up and up and up, where I comfortably traded 3rd-5th place with some very strong runners. About 1.5miles in we hit the first real obstacle, my nemesis, the Herc Hoist. This was the only obstacle I had failed at my last Spartan Race, and I thought for certain it wasn’t going to give me problems this day. Well, that wasn’t the case. I could barely get the 3 water-logged bags off the ground so I quickly launched into the burpee pen where two of the race leaders we’re already getting work done. I was able to make up some time on one of them, but fell back 3 or 4 spots as some of the taller guys behind us were able to complete the obstacle without penalty.
Next up was the Cargo Climb followed by .5 mile of moderate hilly trail running along the top of the mountain. I put some good distance between the guy behind me before coming up on the Spear Throw. There was at least one person doing burpees, so I knew sticking my spear kept me in contention for the Top 5….NAILED IT! This is where the course got fun. The next 1.25 miles was seriously tricky terrain (rocky, wet, and steep) but this has always been where I excel. Those next 10 minutes, flying through the forest as the trees whizzed by, was the most euphoric feeling I’ve felt in a very, very long time. I had been dreaming about it for months leading up to the race and was not disappointed in the least.
Now that I had my fun the course was about to get serious. Waiting at the bottom of the tree line was a very taxing swim (arguably 150M), leading right into the Z-wall. I held my position through the swim and approached the bouldering obstacle without hesitation. Unfortunately, my whole body was still soaked and feeling pumped from the swim and I did not wait to step up on the first set of holds. Bad move. I fell off immediately and cursed my way through a second set of burpees as 4-5 Spartan Elites passed me on their way to the Bucket Brigade. At this point I was about 60 burpees and 50 minutes into the race, and the worst was yet to come. Our next obstacle consisted of filling a 5-gallon bucket full of wet gravel, carrying it down a “bunny” slope, and then returning to the top without spilling a single pebble. In all, we had to lug this merciless bucket about 200M ’round trip and it was by far the hardest “carry” I’ve encountered (trust me, I’ve done my share). I had to rest 4, maybe 5 times on the way up that hill and doing so put me back another 3-4 spots. When the Brigade finally came to an end we passed through some trees, stopped for a Rope Climb, and did another up-and-down on the slope; only this time for a low crawl. This section of the course was pretty beat up from the weekend before so the terrain was just brutal (all rocks). I held it together though and came out the other side in the same position I had started.
Now, the final stretch…Balance Logs to Beam, Spartan Rig, Under Wall, and Fire Jump. I got through all 4 obstacles relatively easy as I charged down the mountain and across the finish line. I had lost track of where I was at this point, but was happy to find out that I had finished 2nd in my age group and 13th overall. Not my best race result, but among 4,716 competitors it was good enough to earn a coin (invitation) to the Spartan World Championships! And even more importantly (to me), I had finished significantly faster than anyone in the Open Heat, and would have placed Top 20 the weekend prior against some very well-known veteran racers. Krista kicked butt too, finishing 20th among the Elite Women!
So here’s the net of it:
All of my training paid off and I was able to validate many of our training methods here at MROC, #1 being that you don’t have to log high-volume mileage to be competitive at one of these races. Which is good since I had just “fully” recovered from ankle surgery 8-weeks ago (having not trained at all for almost 2 years). Instead, we mostly train short-interval, high-intensity sessions while averaging only 10-15 running miles per week. A lot of Pro Team folks will argue that this isn’t enough running, but nobody “out ran” me in Pennsylvania. Instead, it was the lack of grip strength on some of the obstacles that kept me out of (what should have been) a Top 10 finish. We’ll address that though over the next 8-weeks and see what kind of numbers we can put up in SoCal!