One Year Later: Spartan Race Championships

If there is one thing I learned from the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships this past weekend, it’s that you can EASILY get rope burn through clothing.

Tyrolean Traverse Photo credit: Scott Keneally
Tyrolean Traverse
Photo credit: Scott Keneally

Ok, I might have learned more. But that was, by far, the most painful lesson. Tegaderm is now my friend.

It’s been a year since the first Spartan Championships, and it was undeniable how things have changed. It was evident not only from the caliber of athletes that showed up this year, but even the feel and mood surrounding the race with the cameras and press and hoopla. While I laughed and joked with other racers and tried to appear calm, I’m pretty awful at hiding my nerves.

The start (photo credit: The Painted Warrior)
The start (photo credit: The Painted Warrior)

If there is anything that is calming, however, it is being back in Pittsfield. Ironically, the home of the Death Race and days and days of suffering tends to have a calming affect on me – go figure. Pretty sure I told several people I’d rather being doing the Team Death Race with my DR family. (Note – I probably would have recanted that come Sunday night after the TDR’s finished up the Ultrabeast at the end of their three days of misery).

But I think it’s safe to say that, while many of us had run the Championship the year before, none of us knew what to expect from either the course, the competition, or the mountain. While I knew I had come far in a year – last year’s Ultrabeast was actually the first Spartan Race I ever ran – between an iffy calf, nerves, and stiff competition, I wasn’t sure if I had come far enough.

Photo credit: Scott Keneally
Photo credit: Scott Keneally

But aside from learning the painful way about rope burn, there’s something that became abundantly clear to me this weekend:

Obstacle racing may be the perfect combination of strength, endurance, and speed.

I’ve said this before, but in the back of my mind, always felt like speed in running could compensate
for inability to do obstacles. In fact, I’ve never considered myself “good” at obstacles compared to some women. Coming into the weekend, there was quite a bit of chatter over whether the “obstacles” in obstacle racing were negligible, and instead, would be dominated by elite runners even if they failed numerous obstacles.

I think this course, and the results, proved otherwise.

Up we go
Up we go

The mountain. I love this mountain. And it probably shouldn’t be that way, considering I live in a city where the biggest hill is the overpass at mile 25 of the Chicago Marathon. However, as soon as we crossed the starting line, we started to ascend straight up to the summit. Calves went numb almost immediately, and Morgan Arritola, the Olympian nordic skiier turned professional mountain runner, left us all in the dust. I held second, but quickly lost sight of her. As we caught up to the men’s Elite heat, guys started telling me just HOW far ahead she was: 15 mins, 11 mins, 20 mins (obviously, they all had different ideas). But aside from trying to run that mountain (which is a feat in itself), we hadn’t hit any real obstacles.

The obstacles. And then we hit the tire drag. And the 60#(ish?) mile-long sandbag carry. And the rope climbs. And walls. And other heavy things. And this was where, without strength, you would die. Here, I hit my stride. By mile 7, the time we came down to the water, I had caught up, and never felt better. I ran my race, and had a blast doing it: smiles all the way home.

Of course you smile at this point Photo credit: Scott Keneally
Of course you smile at this point
Photo credit: Scott Keneally

To me, this course showed that obstacle racing is a unique discipline, and one that can’t be dismissed. Obstacle racers must train to find that perfect balance between speed and strength, and skill and expertise come with practices (hence why I’m still marginal at the spear throw – something I don’t have the ability to practice in my downtown Chicago high-rise). But throughout the race, and in the days following, I realized that I’ve been blessed and fortunate to ride this obstacle racing waive to the top. Whether it’s a lucky streak, or something more, remains to be seen. For the time being…

Thank you, stairs. You are the closest thing I have to hill training around here. And you are much more forgiving on the body than running dozens of miles on the pavement on a weekly basis.

Preparing for the new "Snatch Ladder" obstacle? Photo credit:  Marcus Smith
Preparing for the new “Snatch Ladder” obstacle?
Photo credit: Marcus Smith

Thank you, CrossFit. Yes, I drink the Kool-Aid. But as a training tool for obstacle racing, I’ve found nothing better. That sandbag carry? We work with sandbags regularly at my box, The Foundry. Rope climbs? Monkey bars? Check and check. Grip strength? Honed by pullups, farmer’s carries, and barbell work.

Thank you, Death Race. In Summer 2012, I carried a 60# concrete bag 3 miles to the top of Joe’s mountain. In Summer 2013, we carried massive paving stones. Having survived both of those, I repeated to myself through the mile-long sandbag carry “this is nothing.” I believed it…kind of. Further, in every Death Race, we always seem to carry buckets (mostly handle-less), mostly filled with gravel (in the words of Andy Weinberg, “who comes to a Death Race without a bucket?”). So the Bucket Brigade obstacle felt like…home? At least I hadn’t been up for 72 hours.

Costco, ftw
Costco, ftw

Thank you, Pop-Tarts. Mid-Tyrolean Traverse, race director Mike Morris got on the megaphone and yelled out to me “Amelia, what’d you have for breakfast this morning?” I replied, “Pop-Tarts.” I wasn’t joking. But I should have added “Pedialyte.”


Thank you, friends. I’ve said time and time again that it’s largely the people that keep me coming back. When I arrive in Killington/Pittsfield, I arrive “home” to a dysfunctional family of misfits, but one that has great love and respect for each other. So while winning a race is awesome, spending time catching up with my “race” friends, and meeting and bonding with new friends, is a special kind of awesome. From seeing the Team Death Racers get their skulls after three days to introducing newbs to the treasure that is the Pittsfield General Store to sharing post-race beers with good friends, there is nothing more magical than a race weekend.

Rise of the Sufferfests
Rise of the Sufferfests
I love this girl. Photo credit: ORM
I love this girl.
Photo credit: ORM

I most recently blogged about the challenges that obstacle racing faces in its struggle for legitimacy as a sport. The Spartan Championships were another step towards that, and one that gives me hope (says the girl who won – I know, I know). I’m grateful to be a part of this growing sport, one that now, more than ever, is here to stay. And while it’s tough to get to the top, I know it’s tougher to stay there (cue groans over that cliche). So I’ll enjoy the time here, thank those that have supported me, and keep on doing what I love: racing.

See you out on the course.

Post-race "ice" bath
Post-race “ice” bath

The Push for Legitimacy

At my grandma’s 90th birthday party following the Pacific Northwest Spartan Sprint, I found myself
in a conversation with a family friend, who I hadn’t seen in years, trying to explain the race I had just run that morning. Granted, I’m not known for being able to express coherently when speaking (yes yes, and I’m an attorney…bla bla bla), but I found myself saying things like this:1268103_166267906897843_1342804676_o

“So it’s a trail race, typically pretty hilly, and you have a few dozen obstacles on the way – climbing over walls, crawling under barb wire, dragging tires, etc.”

His response: “So kind of like steeplechase?”

Continue reading The Push for Legitimacy