Broken But Not Beaten- Gnaw Bone 50K 2014

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I planned to put a couple 50K trail runs into my race schedule as I work up to the Spartan Ultra Beast. Gnaw Bone was reputed to have the roughest trails in all of Indiana, which was just what I was hoping for. As it turned out, it would over-deliver in terms of a Spartan training run.

Note: I didn’t get any photos at this event. All photos stolen from the event Facebook page.

Arrived at 0MG early, found the bag drops, chatted with the other racers, and followed the crowd when we were all directed toward the starting line. Quick announcements and well wishes, and we were off.

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We started out on gravel, crossed a paved road into the state park, and then the trails got awesome. Steep hills that seemed to go on forever, fallen trees across the path, more stream crossings than anyone can keep track of (mostly rock-to-rock jumping type of streams).

About mile 6 a thunderstorm blew through. Windy, pouring rain, reduced visibility and was soaked to the skin with water sloshing in my shoes within 5 minutes.

Keep going, walk when you have to and run when you can. I started counting off paces to make sure that I was running/shuffling at least a little more than I was walking.

I particularly enjoyed some of the structures in the park that they ran us over, log bridges and paths made out of split wood.

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Less pleasant were the stairways near the end that seemed to go on forever.

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When I hit the aide station just before Mile 18, I was off of my goal pace but still on track for a PR, and was informed that the bag drop where I could change into dry shoes was only 2 miles away.

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Left the aide station at a good pace, covered a mile or more of trails, and was surprised to meet a group of racers walking in the opposite direction.

“We’re lost. Trail ends half a mile ahead.”

Well darn.

We went back the way we had come, found the turn that we had all missed, and continued on our way. Perhaps it was only 2 miles to the next station, but it was 2 miles of nearly straight up. I passed a racer from FLorida who mentioned that she had no way to describe this terrain to friends back home.

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Just before the checkpoint, I met the last-place marathoner and was able to encourage her on her way (she did finish). Refill my camelback, check the condition of my feet (not good but okay) and get fresh footwear.

It was after this station that the terrain truly got Spartan-worthy. One steep slope they sent us up was so steep and slick that I was literally bear-crawling and grabbing at trees to make my way up it.

My feet and my fighting spirit went downhill badly in that last ten miles. Blisters got worse and I had trouble even pushing myself to even a slow run. What really surprised me was when they put us in the water. I didn’t know non-OCR races did that.

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The memory that had an impact on me from this race came at the very end. Somehow the path to the 50K finish lead me through a staging area for the 10Kers about to take off. At this point I was feeling pretty down and embarrassed, more than an hour past my previous time, noticeably limping. All I could see in myself was how far short of my goal I had fallen today.

The 10K racers looked at me and all they saw was, given the pain I was in, I was still moving forward. They didn’t just encourage me along, they put up a cheer that could have been heard a mile away.

I came over a small rise and saw the finish line, and did the best I could to sprint the rest of the way.

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This was without a doubt the ugliest piece of running I have ever done. Right and left strides uneven, posture lopsided, it felt like my left foot was hitting sideways. The cheers from the finish line hit me like and electric shock and I pushed through even faster.

Medal, banana, some very good free beer.

My girlfriend had asked me to check in when I was done. My terse message sums up how I was feeling at that point:

“Vitamin I. Waffles.”

And yes, I wore my finisher’s medal to Waffle House.

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No matter how I did on time and pace this course, I learned a lot that will help with future races.

Carrying nutritional shakes to keep your energy up worked out perfectly. While my blister-prevention protocol has improved drastically since the HUFF, it still needs work. And I still need to spend less time on the pavement and more in the mud.

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A Light in the Black: Midwest SUCK 2014

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This was one of a very few events that I have signed up for recently that truly frightened me. I remember staring blankly at the computer screen for a few minutes after I registered, thinking, “What did I just do? I think I just went full rucktard. NEVER go full rucktard…”

The day arrived and I brought the 130 pounds of required gear to the staging area. Joe and Nicole Decker, two of the most motivating and badass individuals that you are ever likely to meet, explained the event to us and checked all of our gear.

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We stood at attention for the national anthem, then started our warm up with a jog along the trails that we would become good friends with later in the night. We reached a campsite near a bridge and were given the rest of the warmup: Go through the stream:

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Up the far bank, across the road, through the stream on the other side of the bridge:

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Then go back to your assigned table, do 50 pushups with your feet up, 50 situps, and 50 dips.

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Then go through the stream again and do 40 of each, then 30, 20, 10, through the stream one more time and back to base camp.

By the end of this I was solidly in last place. I knew I was going to be one of the weaker athletes but didn’t think it would be that blatant. I put it out of my mind and shuffled back toward camp. Along the way was a series of logs that had to be lifted before you could move on.

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Back to base camp, load up the ruck with 50 pound sandbag, sledge hammer, and a car tire, and off to do a lap around the lake and back to camp.

I would later find out that the car tire was included in the packing list for one reason and one reason only: It is ridiculously clumsy to carry. Add to that that the terrain around the lake was your choice of sucking mud or nearly impassible brambles, and it soon got dark enough that I couldn’t see well enough to tell how bad the brambles were.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that this is an overnight operation, for no other reason than to make a grueling event that much harder. The lack of visibility messes with your head, with your ability to gauge time and distance. You will be given a new task to complete as soon as you finish the task before it. Everyone works at their own pace, so the leader may well have completed twice the number of challenges as the last finisher. There is a minimum number to get through to be considered a successful finisher, but no one will tell you what that is. You can’t slack off knowing you have enough, you just have to push like hell and hope it is enough.

After slogging around the lake and finding out what it is like to fall on your face in deep mud with 80 pounds holding you down (twice), I made it back to base camp. OK, drop your ruck, go that way, you will see the volunteers and they will explain your next task.

I can’t tell from the dark what the distance was, but I figured out from the racers ahead of me what the next task would be: Cover the entire distance back by burpee frog hops. 

Grunted that out, back to camp, and was given the strongman circuit. 25 each: Sandbag squats:

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Tire flips

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Log flips

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And kettlebell swings

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Then I was sent on the longest farmer carry I have ever seen, heard, or thought about. Buckets unevenly weighted and one of them full of water, so I had to be careful not to spill it.

It is an individual, not team event, but there is still the camaraderie and encouragement as racers pass each other. That helped a lot through the night.

Drop off buckets, go back to do the strongman circuit again and bring my ruck back. At this point the volunteer informed me that I needed to step it up if I wanted to stay in it. I have no idea how to step it up with 80 pounds of gear over rough terrain, but I did my best.

Was then given 3 exercises with the sandbag, to do 50 reps of each. Joe and Nicole were manning this checkpoint, so I inquired how narrowly I was still in the game.

I have to confess here: I am not as mentally strong as I am often thought to be. The shorter version of the Suck, called the Gut Check Challenge, was scheduled for the next morning but had been absorbed into the 12-hour event. The one runner still in it simply got done before the rest of us and got the 4 hour medal instead of the 12 hour challenge coin. I honestly considered asking them to drop be down to the 4 hour challenge, try to go home and not have to take the DNF.

But Joe and Nicole encouraged me on, told me if I knocked out the sandbag exercises well that I could continue, so I went after them for all I was worth.

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More insane carrying distances in the dark. Memories get fuzzy, all sense of time and distance goes away. Just keep moving forward.

When I reached what I was told was my last checkpoint, I was told to help another racer get his gear loaded up, then to haul ass and get myself and all my gear back to base camp.

The other racer was in rough shape, having major back problems and just generally worn out. I figured that I was risking my shot at finishing, but if he fell forward with all his gear on, I doubted if he could get back up on his own. I stayed with him, encouraged him on, at one point prayed with him. The tire on his pack was the main thing causing him trouble, so I talked him into letting me take that until we got back to my ruck (at this point, due to having completed different challenges during the night, he had all his gear and I only had my bucket with sandbag).

We got back to my ruck, loaded everything up, and quickly found that there was no good way to do this. All the gear was too heavy, too clumsy, and we were too worn out. The best solution we could come up with was we each had our pack, one would hand carry both tires, and the other would hand carry both buckets. When the guy carrying the buckets couldn’t go anymore, we switch out or take a rest.

Another, more experienced, racer stopped and encouraged us on. Some of the things he said along the way will stick with me.

Some are here to race, and some are here to push themselves. You’re running a different race, and that’s okay.

It doesn’t need to be fun to be fun.

Dude, this is hard. You don’t have to be embarrassed about how you are doing. This is a tough race.

We were met by the wife of one of the racers about a mile from base camp. She also encouraged us on, and told us not to stop the buckets in the last stretch where we could be seen. The other racer took both buckets as far as he could, I did the quickest tire hand off of the night and took them the rest of the way.

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We were then told drop your gear, one challenge left, follow me, don’t think about it. About 5 minutes later we were covering 100 yards by burpee leaps.

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And yes, they gave us a pretty pink finish line ribbon.

Crossing the finish as a group, knowing we had made it. Lots of hugs, glow of accomplishment, and beer and bagels around the campfire, and the challenge coin ceremony.

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This was without a doubt the toughest event I have ever done. And most certainly I will be doing it again.

ALWAYS go full Rucktard.

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Back to the Beginning: Indiana Spartan Sprint 2014

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This race each year will always be my benchmark. I have been an athlete for two years now.

I grabbed breakfast at the hotel with some of my fellow Hurricane Heaters from the night before, picked up my team T shirt for the race, found a new carrier for the traveling jersey, and found the man I had agreed to battle-buddy through the course.

We assembled in the starting corral, were given a rousing sendoff by the MC and the heads of Corn Fed Spartans, and we were off.

The first little bit was fun but not particularly notable, hilly trails, the typical over-under-through and medium-height wall obstacles, all cleared without a problem. The first item of note was the bog that we had done the Braveheart charge across the night before.

A foot of water over 3 feet of slop, nearly impossible to walk through. I found it easier to drop to all fours and half crawl half swim my way through it. We slowed to a walk for a bit after that, but as the mud dried we were able to increase to a shuffle along the trails.

The barbed wire crawl on this course was a mess. Slick clay mud, uphill, sloppy beyond anything I can describe. On one particularly difficult slope, we ended up with a system of 5 people to get the job done: the person moving up the slope has one person pushing from below and one person pulling from above. Each of these people has another to anchor them from sliding back down the hill. 

My battle buddy and I got through the worst of it and each stayed a few minutes helping those behind us before moving on.

Next big obstacle was the inverse wall, my favorite. I did not do quite as epic a job on helping others on this as I did in Vegas, but we helped a few over before clearing it ourselves.

We then had to climb the ladders to the structure above the rope climb, walk across open slats to the other side, and climb down. This is my zone, I am very comfortable with things like this, so I stopped to help steady a young lady who was stopped in fear of the height. “Easy. Walk normally. These slats aren’t really wide enough to fall through.”

Got her to the far side, then down and waded across a pond. The bank where we had to get out was too sheer to climb, but the racers ahead of us offered a hand and got us out. We then turned around to help those behind us, and a friend passing (a big guy referred to as the Bling King) made a joke of trying to pull me back in. It was all in fun, he kept me from falling, I helped him out, and we moved on to the cargo net, which we cleared without issue.

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Memories of order get a little fuzzy in mid-course. Typical obstacles, tractor pull, sandbag carry.

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At the monkey bars, we both wanted to have a go at seeing how far we could get before needing assistance, but doubted whether we would have time to get a spotter in place before losing grip, so we just said screw it and assisted each other across.

More steep trails, mud pits, helping one racer retrieve her shoe from the mud, and came to the final volley of obstacles.

The Hercules hoist was much heavier this time, 115 pounds. I had to revert to dropping my body weight to get it up, but I got it done.

We went on to the rope climb. I had spent all my grip strength on the hoist, so I made it about 5 feet up the rope. 3×10 burpees and on to the traverse wall. I explained to my battle how to spot me across, made it, then went back and spotted him.

People in front of us were having a rough time of the slick wall. I made it up and over, and spent probably 10 minutes helping those behind me. And I was lucky enough to have it caught on camera, in the upper left corner.

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I told the last man I helped over to help the man behind him so I could go and climbed down. I made eye contact with my battle, yelled, “Talley ho!” and we charged across the fire and the finish line.

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As always, a great time and a good challenge. Can’t wait to see what they have in store for me next year.

The Sovereign Domain of the Victorious: Hurricane Heat 050

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The Indiana Spartan race will always be my #1 race of the year. It is where I started, and where I make it a point to come back to. This year I signed up to do the Hurricane Heat the night before the race. The packing list included a raw egg, so I assumed that we would be punished for breaking it. This is why you will note an egg carrier as part of my gear.

The HH (largest to date with 130 participants) started as many of them do, with many, many burpees. We were lined up in two rows facing each other. One side was facing down the slope of a hill, which made burpees much more difficult. The biggest problem was getting all 130 of us, of all different fitness levels, working on the same cadence.

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We then moved down to the edge of a pond and enjoyed the cold water while memorizing the Warrior Ethos. I was very thankful for my Under Armors, stayed at least a little warm through this.

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We continued on, bear crawls, planks, pushups. When one team member had a cramp and couldn’t continue, it was taken as an opportunity to practice wounded warrior carries.

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When our eggs were checked, four were found to be broken, resulting in 40 burpees needing done, with all of us moving as one.

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One guy was having considerable trouble keeping up. We all cheered him along, and those next to him helped him to his feet.

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The next point of note was the sandbag carry, where we went through once with the sandbags and once more with the crates they were packed in.

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Just as the sun was setting, we were sent through the nastiest, slimiest mud pit that you can imagine. Maybe a foot of water over three feet of slop, nearly impossible to walk through without losing your balance.

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As I was approaching the far end, I heard the HH leader’s order, “As soon as the last one is through, I want you to charge back through to this side. Impress me! I want Braveheart, I want the charge of the Light Brigade!” And of course I would be near the front of the charge.

I dove in, struggled to walk two steps, then dropped to all fours and crawled through as fast as I could.

The next challenge was at the barbed wire. One member of each team must pass through without touching the ground. We arranged ourselves in two ranks so that the lightest member of the team could crawl on top of us.

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Through the now dark trails to the spear throw. Eggs set up that needed to be hit to avoid burpees. I don’t think any of us managed to break one.

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At the rope climb, we were able to use outside-the box thinking. They gave us no instructions beyond 10 people of each team need to ring the bell. Some did the traditional rope climb, some climbed the ladder to the structure above and reached down to get the bell, some flicked the rope to hit the bell and ring it.

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While waiting for the rest of the teams to finish, we were told to keep moving to stay warm, so many of us started dancing. After being reprimanded for twerking, I tried and failed to get a Rockettes kick line going.

The last obstacle before the finish was the slick wall, which we had to get everyone over with four people playing wounded and a few people who were actually injured. I found that if someone ahead of me slipped, I am just barely tall enough to push their foot to where someone from the top can reach them.

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We assembled for the “after” picture, and Todd Sedlak gave a short congratulatory speech. What stuck with me from it was “I am always asked why I do these things. It is because suffering is the sovereign domain of the victorious.” Every moment of suffering has value, has something that can be learned from it. Even if it is just how incredibly easy your normal life is.

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