I woke up yesterday morning at 6:30 with my friend, Rob, who had come up to Boston to accompany me to Maine for the event. I had no desire to eat anything that morning, but I did manage to choke down a Clif Bar and some water.
I did most of the driving on the way to the event (about 3.5 hours from Boston to Shawnee Peak). We arrived and I was immediately overcome with exhilaration and anticipation. I got a few of my things together and headed for Registration where I picked up my t-shirt and packet. I attached my bib (Number 11) to my shirt, fixed my timechip to my ankle, and put my hoodie back on to keep warm while I waited for my wave's start. I ate another Clif bar and had my Endurance Booster mix about a half an hour before my run, which was perfect.
The first wave underway, we were able to watch some of the people leading the heat and admiring their speed. The announcer for the event stated earlier that day that they estimated people would finish the course in around 50 minutes. This proved to be a gross overestimation of the course, and underestimation of the competitors. One guy finished the race before the second wave started, his final time being 28.13. Shaking our arms, jumping around and breathing nervously, we lined up at the start awaiting the siren for the second wave.
No obstacle on the course even remotely approached the hills themselves in terms of difficulty and simple, masochistic punishment. The race begins with a short jog up what is called "Long Gun Alley" which, according to the website, is 250 yards long by 100 vertical feet. Most competitors stop running halfway through this short jaunt, or are stopped by the time they reach what seems, comparatively, like a plateau.
This hill weeds out the weaker runners, or those who delude themselves into some form of illusory pacing strategy. After this first hill, you are made to run diagonally across the slope, while still slightly uphill, towards the first obstacle.
A few haphazardly constructed frames of wood compose what is meant to be the Balance Logs obstacle. My shoes, the Mudclaws, are NOT conducive to such an event. My Parkour experience, however, paid off in spades as far as balance and coordination. I deftly made my way across the beams and on to what is, in my opinion (one shared by what I imagine to be the vast majority of those involved), the worst part of the course: The B itch.
The aptly named B itch is a debilitating and seemingly indomitable gradient of a Black Diamond ski trail. Its slope is such that one cannot even see the top of the hill from a vantage point at the bottom. The website claims that it is a ratio of 100 yards long to 400 vertical feet. Running on this gradient is, for all intensive and realistic purposes, medically disastrous if not simply physiologically impossible. I began by briskly walking. Then I noticed my feet turning out to the sides to give myself more leverage against the incline. As I desperately looked up at the few competitors ahead of me I noticed that they were actually using their hands to advance. I soon followed suit. After what seemed like mere seconds of attempting this strategy I looked up again to see that they were now literally crawling on their hands and knees. Again, I conceded to imitate this strategy in an effort to gain headway against this awful predicament. I remember being passed by one person on the hill who called out to me “Great job, man, don’t stop.” This was extremely reinforcing for me, and I surged forward. About halfway up The B itch, my body gave up. I literally had nothing left to give. My mind raced. “Am I done? Am I going to simply collapse and be carried off the field? Can I psychically withstand such humiliation? Wait, am I even going to physically survive long enough to be humiliated?”
To hell with that. My boys don’t stop. I did not stop. Not once. I rallied energy from somewhere and trudged on, eventually making it to the top of the hill and after what seemed like a century of crawling on my hands and knees, I was able to stand up and to my surprise – I was running again.
The coordinators for the event, in their infinite wisdom, found it appropriate to allow a short downhill run after The B itch. These downhill sections were my saving grace and I regained an incalculable amount of time and distance in the run thanks to what seemed like a rest compared to the previous inclined struggles.
I should take time to mention the view from the top of the mountain. The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect. There were clear, blue skies with not a cloud in sight. The temperature was brisk and the air crisp. From the apex of the slopes one could see out in all directions around the mountain and the sight was, in a word, sublime. I had lamentably few seconds to enjoy the view, however, because the next obstacle found its place immediately around the next corner.
Though the event was only yesterday, the order of the obstacles blurs in my mind. I believe the next obstacle, located at the top right-hand corner of the mountain was the Barrier Walls. Again, my Parkour training was infinitely helpful here. I approached the walls with two fellow runners at my sides, and I vaulted them with finesse and power while they struggled, out of breath, to hoist their limp exhausted bodies over the high wooden walls. I used a specific technique, the Kong Vault, to bring my feet up and over the walls without losing any momentum and I was through this obstacle section in a very short time.
More downhill. Sweet, sweet gravity, do your thing. We came around what was supposed to be a smoke bomb, but I suppose it had petered out by the time we got there. Back up another small hill before the next obstacle.
It is worthy of note that no competitor was running up these hills. Some were walking, some using their hands to push on their knees, some power-walking. None ran, not even me.
I was relatively isolated at this point, having distanced myself from a great majority of the other competitors in the race, and I turned a corner to encounter another obstacle, the Normandy Walls. It was essentially a small field of wooden Normandy Wall structures enclosed in a diagonal path between ski slopes. You are not allowed to put your feet on the walls, you must jump over them. I had some difficulty in coordinating my foot placement on the first few jumps. I quickly found the right rhythm, however, and overtook another competitor who was struggling with his placement as I was.
There was a long downhill run which lead to the next obstacle: High Crawl and Tires. The Tires were the most difficult for me. I attribute my difficulty to the obstacle being on a downhill slope and the size of my feet. I had a hard time keeping the placement clean and not hitting the tires. Luckily, I didn’t fall. I made it through the first set of tires and hit the ground, moving in a quadrupedal fashion under the net only to be greeted by another set of tires. I managed this set a bit easier than the first, and hit the deck again for more net quadruped movement. Two people were crowding the exit of the net, and I politely pushed my way past them, which essentially put me two more ahead. I was now in fifth place although I didn’t know it at the time.
I came down a large hill and was met at the bottom by a group of fluorescent girls toting cups of water. I grabbed one even though I didn’t want it, took a small sip, and crushed it in my hand while splashing the water all over myself. I decided not to simply toss the cup on the ground as it seemed like a lot of people were doing before me. From the bottom of that hill they make you turn around and go right back up the SAME DAMN HILL. We walked. Another obstacle affronted us: the Uneven Fences.
These are simply wooden walls, but offset at such an angle as to make vaulting them impossible, especially since you’re going uphill as you climb them. I managed these easily and was closely followed by a fellow racer named Matt. I was picking up some trash on the hill after the Fences as we made our way up. Matt stopped at one point close to the top, doubled over and hyperventilating. I said “Come on man, don’t stop. We got this.”
I started running again, making my way around the corner, picking up a piece of paper, and then going downhill towards another obstacle. The Monkey Bars were next. I made my way to the bottom of the hill, handed the trash I had collected to an attendant, and jumped up to the Monkey Bars. They were loose and spun in place as you climbed them, which made it extremely difficult to get a good grip. I was very glad to be wearing gloves. The Bars are set above a nasty pool of water. The rules state that if a participant fails at an event, they must try it again. If they fail a third time they are to be given a thirty-second penalty.
I dominated the Monkey Bars and ran off in front of the crowd at the bottom of the hill exclaiming: “This is so fun!” to which they cheered. I ran around the bottom of the hill in front of the registration tent and the announcer to find the next obstacle, Hay Bales, which were partially destroyed as a result of some previous ungraceful participants. I vaulted the still-intact section and continued on up a small hill towards the next obstacle: the Commando Rope.
One is to hang upside down from the rope and shimmy across without touching the ground. I sacrificed the integrity of the skin on my legs to slide with powerful pulls from my arms, Matt right beside me. I finished first, and turned only to see another HORRIBLE hill, the simple sight of which was demoralizing.
We made our way to the hill and started our walk back up. I held my position and made it to the top. I began to run again once the terrain leveled out. Once again the run was downhill but we had some High Crawls to do. Matt was, at this point, right behind me. The High Crawls went by easily enough. The downhill run from there was punctuated with what they call The Trenches, which are essentially big gaps which the runner must jump over. I held my own as far as downhill speed, but as we turned the corner at the bottom of the hill towards the next obstacle, The Pipe, Matt cut in front of me and took fifth place in the heat. I was still, at this point, unaware of my ranking. I was of course, for the most part, generally unaware of everything else in the world with the notable exception of pain and determination.
We crawled through the Pipe which was tastefully decorated with barbed wire. After the Pipe we ran downhill some more, jumping over gaps until we turned a corner for the Mud Pit. It’s just shallow hole in the ground full of muddy water. I didn’t even have enough presence of mind at that moment to do anything spectacular or interesting, so I simply ran through it.
The Cargo Nets, the last obstacle, were next. This obstacle comprises a series of three nets, one 12’ high, the following 10’ and the last being 8’. I had little difficulty in physically climbing the nets; it was more a question of logistics and courtesy as far as me not crushing Matt or some other guy who came out of nowhere as I descended the backside of each net. I got over the last net to see Matt crossing the finish line and I sprinted through to complete the madness.
My name was announced as I finished so I went to talk to an official to see why. It turns out that someone had reported me picking up trash on the course, and I was to be rewarded with a metal token in addition to the medal necklaces everyone gets. I grabbed a water bottle and a banana and plopped myself down on the hill, savoring the validating exhaustion.
I met a couple guys who were in the heat with me, and I eventually got my individual results.
I placed 6th in my wave, which was the second of the day. I placed 11th in the Men’s Open Division – which, coincidentally, matched my bib event number! – and I placed 13th overall out of the 209 official competitors in the event.
There was the option for competitors who place in the top ten percent of their division to participate in what’s called the Champion’s Heat. I qualified for this and was hesitant about actually doing it. I was worried about competing again amongst the best of the day which definitely would have inspired me to push myself even further, thereby effectively increasing my chances of injuring myself. My muscles were really tight after my wave and I eventually decided against it. It turns out that a very small number of qualifiers actually ran in the Champions Heat. The officials also opened the final heat to anyone who wanted to participate which further reduced my interest. I had a short moment of deliberation as I looked at the prize helmets which had been spray-painted gold. Somehow their cheap aesthetic appealed to me in a way which defies logical explanation. I believe that it was the right decision to not participate, however.
Rob and I went into the lodge to get some food, expecting at least a free burger or hot dog and beer. They were charging four dollars for a cheeseburger and two fifty for a hot dog while beers were five dollars. This was outrageous in my opinion, considering the registration fee. We gave in to bodily necessity, though, and ended up buying a bunch of burgers. After talking with a few fellow participants and making some friends, we left.
I am very happy with my results since it represents the first time I’ve participated in such an event. It’s significant to note that my specific training has only lasted for less than two months now, and I’ve made such progress in that time as to be able to do so well in something so difficult.
Outside of the physical aspect of the race there is the mental dimension which encompasses the drive, grit and motivation. In this respect there is one major aspect of my run which I believe contributed significantly to my success in this race: I never looked behind me. I had no conscious thoughts about my place in terms of other competitors (until the end when Matt and I were neck-and-neck), and I only ever brought my gaze up from the trail to assess obstacles or to enjoy the view. This focus was infinitely helpful.
I am currently extremely sore. More than I’ve been in a long time, despite how much protein I’ve consumed in an effort to effectively recover. I’m giving myself a few days of stretching and conscious dieting to get myself back to normal. So far I see no signs of imminent shin splints.