Wait, am I a runner?- Fort 4 Fitness Half Marathon 2013

It may sound odd with all of the events that I do, but I have never considered myself a runner. I hate running and I’ve never been any good at it. The main purpose of signing up for road races was to make certain I didn’t skip my long training runs. When people asked I would say I run as needed but I’m not really a runner.

Among the first races I ran was the 10k at Fort 4 Fitness in 2012. As soon as I had completed it I signed up for the half-marathon this year.

My ankle was structurally OK but not completely healed from Virginia and Vermont the weekend before, so I decided to run in my hiking boots to stabilize it.

I live 3 blocks from the starting line, so I used walking there as a light warmup, chatted with the other racers, and found someone to take my pre-race picture.

A woman commented on my hydration pack as we entered the starting corrals, “Oh, you’re running with a backpack? Around Mile 7, that is going to be HEAVY!” I smiled and said nothing, but all I could think was if she had any idea the other events that I am training for…

Local radio hosts made the announcements, national anthem played, and we were off.

I actually enjoy the bottleneck that often happens just after the start of a race. It may be one of the best places in the world for wry humor about what you are all about to do.

I modified my normal run a bit/ walk a bit style into pick someone in front of me, pass them, take a walking break, pick someone new, pass them, and keep going. This worked reasonably well, although I will admit that the group of 70-year-old Hispanic women absolutely left me in the dust.

Every so often I would bump into someone I knew or slow to a walk at the same time as another racer, and would usually share bits of encouragement and often some snarky humor.

Two National Guard soldiers had signed up to complete the course in 50-pound rucksacks. When I caught up to them I worked my way through the running crowd to tell them that they were badass.

When I had run the 10k last year, every photographer happened to catch me in a walking break. It may be a bit of ego, but I was determined to not let that happen this time.

All that is on my mind during long runs is to keep the spirit up and keep moving. Fellow runners were great for that, often chatty and always encouraging. Although at intersections of different courses we did make comments of, “Hey, if we turn here do you think we can win the 10k?”

The race bibs allow you to enter a nickname rather than your legal name, and many spectators will read your name to be able to call out encouragement to you. I had chosen the nickname “Spartan” hoping I would get jokes of “What is your profession?” That didn’t happen, but I did get several cries of “This. Is. SPARTAAAAAAA!!!!!”

Every mile or two there was an aid station with water and Gatorade, but the surprise came just after Mile 12. Getting my game face on, pushing for a strong finish, and-

“Hey, guys, beer shots!!”

I do not know who was the mad genius responsible for putting shots of beer just before the end of an endurance race, but this needs to catch on. This needs to be an actual thing.

The last leg of the race takes you to the local baseball stadium, you run around the bases and the finish line is at home plate. As I went down the ramp to the field, I yelled a last encouragement to the runners next to me and poured it on.

My fear has always been flagging and having to slow at the end of the race, where everyone can see you (on the jumbotron screens no less). For whatever reason, that was not an issue this time, and the harder I pushed the stronger I felt. For the only time in the race, I was passing everyone in sight.

They had a timing chip reader just before the finish line, so they can announce your name as you finish. It was a really nice touch.

I charged across the finish line, surprised that I had gotten here in under 3 hours, grabbed my bottle of water from the finish line volunteer, and stopped to congratulate the racer behind me (she and I had been continually passing each other and trading jokes for the last few miles).

I took a few minutes to pick up my post-race goodies and found the line for official results. I heard loud cheers and realized that the two soldiers had just finished about 10 minutes behind me. Perhaps a challenge to duplicate next year.

As I was walking back from picking up my results, I did something that I have never done before. I picked up one of the 13.1 stickers for my car. Something had shifted in my mind with this finish, and I no longer felt I had to justify or qualify what I do as not really a runner, slow but hard to stop, etc. For once I felt worthy of the mark.

I made reference to this race in a previous blog, which several friends posted on Facebook. One of them drew this comment from a fellow Cornfed that I had met at the starting line:

“I met him at this race and he kicked its ass. I watched him hard charge across the finish line and encourage others while doing so.”

I guess there is no further denying it. I am a runner.

Double Tap: GORUCK Nasty 001 and Vermont Spartan Beast 2013

It is a wonderful thing that the sport of obstacle racing is taking off and new events are coming online. Less wonderful trying to decide what races to do when they fall on the same weekend.

No fewer than three races that I wanted to try were scheduled on the weekend of the Spartan World Championships in Vermont. After looking at the drive times and expected race finish times, I decided to try to double up two races (in two states) in the same weekend. I was soon to find the logistics much more complicated than I had foreseen.

Friday night’s work went a little later than expected, the drive was a little slower than calculated, and I ended up getting what little sleep I had time for in a service area along the Ohio toll road, but nonetheless hit GORUCK Nasty in high spirits.

This was the first ever event of its kind, terrain was great, obstacles were insanely cool and the atmosphere among competitors was great. There were also the usual Rucktard shenanigans, people carrying logs through the course for no reason, me doing continuous front rolls down the mountain because I was tired of running.

The downside (understandable as the first event is always a bit of a test run) was that most of the cool obstacles had an absolutely horrendous backup. My best guess is that they tested how long they would take to complete among operators and hardcore GRTs, not thinking of all the n00bs that would show up.

But when the wait was through, they were worth it.

Oddly enough, the part of the course that will stay in my mind the longest was one of the simplest, the Memorial Walk and Mogadishu Mile.

We came out of the barbed wire crawl and were met by one of the Cadre. He told us about the most recent SOF to be killed in Afghanistan, and explained that we were each to take a small American flag up the hill (which was a brutally steep ski slope). When we hit the point of thighs and lungs burning in agony, we were told to remember those who came before us, those who could not be here today, and push on.

There has always been a running joke that the Cadre control the weather, and I am starting to believe it, because as we started up the hill a thick fog and misting rain moved in.

It messes with your head going blindly up a steep hill, able to see neither how far you have come nor how far you have to go. The group that I was sent up with were great, checking in on each other, encouraging everyone on. We reached the top and each placed our flag on the Memorial Wall.

The Cadre at this point of the course happened to be one that I knew from Navigator, so we spent a few minutes chatting while a group formed. The next stage of the course was the Mogadishu Mile, a 1-mile team movement to the next obstacle. I made sure everyone was able to keep pace with the group, and we got through the movement to the balance beams.

I made it through this reasonably well, but when I dismounted something in my ankle popped and I fell down. I checked it over just enough to know it would bear my weight, assisted the next man in line on the balance beam, and made it through the last few obstacles.

The last, appropriately called “The Tough One” was roughly 100 yards from the finish line. Many around me were walking, but with the Cadre waiting at the finish line I pushed myself to run as fast as I could without further tweaking my ankle.

Got my patch, got my Victory Beer, toweled off as  well as I could, and back on the road. Nasty had taken 4 hours longer than I budgeted, eating into recovery time that I knew I would desperately need.

My advice to anyone who does back-to-back events like this is to take very good care of yourself between them. That is to say, don’t do what I did. A nasty storm blew in, causing interstate traffic to move at 1/3 the speed it should have been. I pulled over for a couple hours of rest sometime in the wee hours, best pre-race dinner I could come up with was a gas station sandwich and a bag of cornnuts.

I stopped for breakfast in Killington, a few miles from the Beast. I took the chance to charge up my electronics and check in on Facebook. A friend had posted encouragement on my wall, hoping that I made it to Vermont okay. My response summed up my condition: “I’m in Killington. I’m here on 2 hours of sleep and one working ankle, but I’m here.”

My mental game was knocked off kilter when I saw posts from some of my friends who ran the day before. A few of them that I consider better athletes than me had been pulled from the course due to a time hack and listed as DNF. This did not seem to bode well. But I laced up my boots to support my ankle, found the venue, found my teammates at the starting line, and prepared to give it all I had.

Words cannot describe the brutality of this course. The steep uphills and slick nasty downhills. Carrying a 70 pound sandbag up and down a slope that you can barely walk up unloaded. Barbed wire crawls that had too much in the way to use any of the normal time-saving methods of rolling or butt-scooting under.

VT image

At one point I heard those near me discussing time, distance, and how long we had until the time hack kicked in, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. So let’s see how far I can get.

I came to the wall that you have to duck under the water and go under. My hydration pack snagged and I had to come back up. I angrilly threw it out of the pit and I think I made some comment to the course official of “Bitch tried to drown me.” The next was the rope climb, full height coming out of water, which I had never successfully completed, and I surprised myself by nailing it. That raised my spirits a lot and put my mental game back on track.

We all knew we were fighting the clock at this point, and started having to be more pragmatic in the choices we made. There were several obstacles that I would like to try under better circumstances, but the fact remains that burpees were faster, so crank out your burpees and go on.

I was near another group of runners fearing the time hack when we heard a vehicle approaching. “Are those the people who pull us from the course?” “Don’t know. Head down. Keep moving. Don’t look back.”

I was finally sure they would let me finish when I hit the last sandbag carry. It was so dark that I could not see where it ended, just take the bag and go till you find it. I came up on a man sitting with his head in his hands and the sandbag at his feet. You can see the difference between someone who is just resting and someone who has given up. This man had no hope left.

“How ya doin’?”

“I don’t know. Too far. Too much.”

“Dude, you’ve come 13 miles, what’s one more?”

“Don’t know. Too much.”

“Want to do it together?”

Misery does indeed love company. We picked up the sandbags together, carried them as far as we could, dropped them, rested, then did it again. We finished the carry, made it through the last couple obstacles, and regrouped just before the fire jump.

“Let’s go get it!”

That race ending is something I will remember forever. As I go over the fire, I hear the cheers and realize that my teammates have waited to see me finish. I look ahead and all I can see is the silhouettes of heads, shoulders, and pugil sticks. A voice thunders out of the darkness, “CORN FED!!! WHO! ARE! YOU!!???”

I muster everything I have left, shout out, “I AM A SPARTAN!!” and charge in.

The gladiator pit is a whole different thing when you can’t see the blows coming. Just as I was getting past the last one, I took a shot to the back and was knocked off my feet. I was able to roll out of it and keep moving, but I did bounce my head off the ground enough to see a flash.

Received my medal, met the gladiators who turned out to be teammates, and went off to get my gear and try to get warm.

It wasn’t until it was too late to fix it that I realized what medal I had been given. I finished alongside the Ultra Beast runners, so the medal lady had accidentally given me an Ultra medal.

Now that I have been given one, I need to go earn it.

Mount Killington, it was a pleasure to meet you, and rest assured that we will meet again. I believe you owe me a dance.