First, Asheville and the surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful! So we decided to go up early and turn this trip into a vacation as well. We stayed in a very cute B&B in Black Mountain that was right on the downtown strip and about 10 minutes away from the race site.
Friday and Saturday in Black Mountain:
Strongly encourage y’all to enjoy the race and explore some of the other trails in the area!
We parked at the local college campus and walked the ‘lookout summit’ trail and beyond. There’s over a half marathon’s length of gorgeous trails back there and this is only one of the many clusters of trails in the Asheville area. Actually Madison and I are going back next weekend for just that reason!
As far as the actual race, again our first big comment about it was the scenery! You were running essentially on the top of a ridge-line of mountains! It’s hard to feel like you’re suffering that much when everywhere you look is a gorgeous panoramic view.
Going into this race i was very nervous. The past two years i’ve been finishing up my Masters Degree and finishing my dietetic internship leaving me without the free time nor the money to keep up with my usual race schedule; i could barely get my training in, so i chose to just focus on training and worry about competing later. Well later finally came.
Two years of perpetual training without a single race to test how the training was working left me feeling uncertain and a little anxious. I used to be good at Spartan races, what if i somehow lost it all and didn’t even notice as it was slowly slipping away? As athletes, so much of our identity can end up getting tied up in our races and athletic performances.
Deciding that mindset of letting my mind ruminate and play the ‘what if’ game wasn’t productive, i steered my mind back to focusing on the things that i could control.
Sunday Funday – Race Morning
Madison and I woke up around 5:00 that morning at out B&B that was kind enough to have a Keurig! We proceeded to just relax and sip our coffee on the porch and to start talking strategy… Madison Decided that he was just going to have a good time and enjoy the whole experience. Through our conversation i broke mine into 3:
- Enjoy the race first and foremost! If i’m not enjoying this beautiful course, then i’m doing something VERY VERY wrong
- Push It Between Obstacles then ‘coast’ through the obstacles
- Start out HARD out of the gate and then just try to ‘hold on’ – there’s a ton of ‘single track’ trails in this race and if you get stuck at the back it’s unlikely you have a shot at making your way to the front of the pack.
After finishing our coffee, we backed a small bag and started heading to the race site. On our way over, we saw our first black bear ever! An adorable little cub. It’s a good omen, i decided 🙂
Upon getting there, checking in was a breeze and all the girls started lining up in at the starting pen. Tons of pros in the mix at this race; all very easy to smile and seeming to have a calm and focused demeanor.
It was time for the race to start – the announcer came up to rally the troops!
So it seems that all the other girls had race strategy #3 in their mind as well, because we shot out at about a 6:45 pace after the final ‘Aroo.’
The first obstacle was a barbed wire crawl, which i LOVE because i’m so short that i can just high crawl through (like a baby) when most people have to roll or low crawl (on their belly). I was third place out of this and held that position into the first 4 obstacles and then off running through a creek.
Truly this track was the most rugged trail that any obstacle race i’ve done has laid out. The rocks in the creek were moss covered and slick. Also since we went after the male elites and pro racers, the water was murky and you could not see where to step; rather we just went for it and trusted our balance and reactions to keep us standing.
The first water segment was 300-400 meters and seemed to take forever as i tried to keep up a ‘jog pace’ as most of the racers began hiking through with the quickest turnover they could muster. My hip flexors were increasingly taxed fighting the extra resistance of the water and mud to their attempts at quickly lifting and moving my legs forward.
This started to become problematic by the second run through the creek, longer than the first and with deeper water. Unable to jog through the intermittently knee and waist-high deep water, i moved as fast as i could comforted that all of the other girls seemed to be doing the same.
After this we came out to the sand bag carry followed by the bucket carry.
This was the only part of the Spartan race that was easier than past races. The bucket felt much lighter and i was even able to jog a large portion of this carry.
As for the sandbag carry, myself and most of the other girls jogged the entire 1/4 mile course with the 35# sandbag slung over our shoulders.
This was immediately followed by a steep climb up a mountain lol. Up the mountain i slowly gained ground on the 2 racers ahead of me as my breath turned from rhythmic to a more desperate and panicked rhythm. Assuming that i’d have time to catch my lungs again at the top, i sucked it up.
While i was right about that, the next obstacle killed any ground that i made up that hill. I completely missed the spear throw; it wasn’t even close. Maybe it was the fact that i was completely out of breath and trying to do a coordinated and athletic movement. In any event, 30 burpees in the penalty box let 3 girls pass me as i watched while counting my burpees aloud.
There was a string of very challenging strength and agility obstacles after this. I moved calmly and smoothly through almost all of them until i hit the tire flip. Apparently Spartan has recently increased the weight of this tire flip for both males and females. The tire was new, unscuffed, muddy and slick. I tried twice unsuccessfully and took a couple deep breaths as i saw one of my competitors get it and then two give up and do burpees.
Deciding to give it one more effort, i rubbed my hands in the dirt rubbed extra dirt on the tire to try to dry in out and managed to get my first flip…barely! One of two flips down! I confidently tried again immediately and failed…
I’ve already killed too much time at this obstacle to fail it now AND THEN add on the time of the 30 burpee penalty… i took a couple of deep breaths and again rubbed dirt on my hands and tried to focus on seeing the tire flip. Went for it and then GOT IT! Thank goodness!!!
At this point i was solid in 8th place overall and i had been keeping track of my place as i needed to be top 10 to get a bid to worlds.
After this was the rope climb, a spartan classic. A warning to any people reading this that will be doing their first Spartan…Respect The Rope. It’s not like your standard PE class or crossfit gym rope. These ropes are muddy, tiny and incredibly worn down and slick. If you don’t know how to use your feet WELL, then you will not have any hope of getting up the rope. I don’t care if you can do legless rope climbs…it’s not about your upper body strength, it’s the GRIP.
Actually i think that there should be a book about Obstacle Races called ‘get a grip.’ I don’t care who writes it lol…just give me a shout out for the title idea! Anyways, TRAIN YOUR GRIP. This is what most competitive Spartan races live or die by.
Okay back to the race. So after all was said and done, i jumped over the finishing fire pit and ended my first race back in 8th place. Very proud of that finish considering all of the professionals there with me racing for prize money and a bid to worlds.
Will i do more? yes…yes i will. And Madison agrees whole heartedly!
What Worked well With My Training?
- Great run volume. I only felt truly breathless at one point sprinting up a mountain (which is to be expected)
- Great overall strength with upper body, lower body and core – no issues with sand bags, the hercules hoist, eventually got the tire flip and the rigs.
- Was successful at a couple of the obstacles that i failed at other races in the past due to greater upper body strength and stamina.
What will i do different?
- buy a spear and practice alongside my apartment complex for the entertainment of my co-residents
- Do 2 x a week track workouts and speed training consistently. This needs to be a weekly occurrence at worst.
- Continue to strength my grip strength by incorporating it into my workouts (high rep deadlift or hang clean sets without letting go of the bar) or by adding this onto the end of my workouts (as a ‘grip finisher’ set with farmer carrys, deadhangs, towel grips or any other crazy thing i can think of).
All in all Madison and I LOVED the race and will 100% be doing this yearly and making a killer vacation out of the whole event!
Comment below with any training questions or comments about your upcoming races!
Happy Trails My Friends!
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