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A Marauder's Story

3 Posts tagged with the challenge tag

The Goruck Challenge

Posted by Superfiend May 5, 2011

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Goruck Challenge: http://goruckchallenge.com/

 

It will take me some time to fully process the breadth of this accomplishment. I am now the proud owner of a well-earned GR2 bag and a TAC hat with the widely-sought-after Goruck Tough patch.

 

Peter and I had been spending time together in preparation for the event. Spending Friday waiting for the hour to come was excruciating. We passed the time and then eventually got to organize our materials. Here is a look at what I brought:

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I was fortunate enough to be allowed to record the data from the challenge, and I will go into some detail about it as I describe the experience. There was a short period where I lost the GPS signal, which I would attribute to the frequent switching of rucks during the run. For the most part the data came out really well. The most impressive piece, in my opinion, is the route as represented by the GPS markers.

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That imposing red line represents almost all of our cadre’s movement over the course of the morning.

 

Rucking Of Where Everybody Knows Your Name, But No One Cares

The event began in earnest at the ruckoff which took place at Cheers on Beacon Street. We were fortunate to have the entire back room reserved for us, and people filed in as the night progressed. The first few were nervous enough before two towering figures strode into the room. An awed hush came over the group as we realized their TAC hats were adorned with already worn-in Goruck Tough patches. They introduced themselves and soon became the topic of the majority of the conversations. We sat and talked about our apprehensions, anxieties, experiences and hopes. It was a good bonding experience, outside of the obligatory name-game about which most people, save Sarah – our motivational “mouth-made-for-pain” Goruck girl – seemed relatively ambivalent.

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The ruckoff lasted from 9pm to around 12:45am Saturday morning. There were 20 of us before 12:30am, and then the final ten showed up as a group. We rallied and brought our things out to the sidewalk to await Jason and Brian. They arrived before long, pulling up in their jet-black Escalade and strutting down the sidewalk like bosses. Handshakes were exchanged briefly and sporadically before we were organized and the lectures began. Our bricks were to be inspected and everyone was to be given a GR bag.

 

I was thankful to have some friends join me for the beginning of the event who were willing to tote my discarded things home for me. I cleared out the unnecessary things from my standard backpack and soon thereafter began the transfer into my stiff new GR2. In a moment of panic I realized that I had forgotten to take my hydration pack out of my other bag and put it in my GR2. Luckily my friends hadn’t left and I retrieved it from them.

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Our group weight was provided by Rod Butler’s saint of a wife who found it in her heart to bake us 25lbs of cookies. There were 30 individual Ziploc bags of cookies to be distributed to the cadre.

 

Soon everyone had their bags packed and we went through the logistics of signing the waivers. Jason ran through some basic, sparse details about the ideology of the challenge. He hesitated, looked around, screwed up his face, and went to the back of the truck muttering something about another ruck. He pulled out a GR2 and began loading it with some horrific slabs of what looked like lead. After fiddling with it for a moment he stood up, looked it over, asked out loud “Hm, is that heavy enough?” Silence. He looked at the group, raised his eyebrows and playfully said “Nope.” Some more slabs were added to the bag that would become known as “The Bítch”. Our group lined up along the sidewalk and Jason placed The Bítch in front of us. He said simply “29 rucks, 29 guys”. We all looked around stupidly. His eyes narrowed. “I see 30 rucks. We’re leaving with 29 rucks and 29 guys. Get it together!” His tone was sterner and perhaps even angrier than an exclamation point can express. We slowly converged on the bag and began emptying one of the borrowed bags to distribute its contents among us. The Bítch was born and saddled. It quickly became clear that Jason would be accompanying us instead of Brian, as I had originally been told.

 

I will not deign to describe Jason for those of you who don’t know him. Very simply, it comes as no surprise that his personality spawned something as profoundly progressive as the Goruck Challenge. I greatly appreciated his leadership and dedication to our team cohesion.

Unceremoniously, we began. The run commenced with a light jog into the Commons.

 

Figure Eight That Shít Out – Your System Sucks

We traipsed along through the Commons with no recognizably consistent pace, no formation and no regard for Jason’s various instructions. He would occasionally shout “Go!” to which we would either respond with awkward silence or someone would shout “Ruck!?” Jason was unforgiving in realizing that we had no idea how to organize ourselves into a reasonable line. We also had no idea what the “Go” command meant. He stopped us in front of the water and berated the group for being incompetent. We were facing him with our backs to the water and he told us to take a step backward. Everyone stepped to the ledge of the pond. He said “Take a BIG step” with a twinge of contempt in his yet untrusting voice. In the water we went. He went on to explain what we were going to do for some indeterminate period of time.

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Jason described this portion as “Doing figure-eights”, which puzzled everyone. The nature of this devilishly clever exercise would soon become uncomfortably familiar. There is a footbridge across the pond in the center of the Commons. We were to form a two-by-two line and do bear crawls along the bridge until we reached the stairs at the end which lead down to the lower level. We would descend one flight of stairs, crawl under the bridge, ascend the other set of stairs, and then go back across the bridge to repeat the pattern at the other end; hence the 8-shaped portion on the GPS readout. At the beginning of this exercise we were instructed to perform all movement as bear crawls. It was explained that there were snipers around and that no one, unless called upon, should stand.

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We were finally told what the “Go” command meant: each time he calls this out, two of us from the back are to move to the front of the line. The partners are meant to remain the same. Jason left it to us to figure out how to best coordinate this movement and it took our group an inordinately long time to come to a consensus which, at first, was a resounding failure. It was demoralizing and we paid for it with the skin of our hands and knees as we scrambled along on loose gravel and shards of glass from broken beer bottles. Our pace was inconsistent at first, but we were able to reduce it to something more accurately resembling a crawl, which serves to make the movement more difficult.

 

Eventually Jason decided that the crab-walk would be better suited for moving down the sets of stairs than the bear crawl. This was such a relief. If you’ve never tried a bear crawl, do it now. Look it up if you don’t know what it is and have no imagination. Now that you realize how that might feel on flat ground with no weight, just try to go up and down a set of stairs. Yes. Now imagine doing that fifteen times with a backpack full of bricks, pond water and any assortment of what Jason calls “useless bullshít” (food, for example).

 

I estimate from following the GPS markers that we went up and down those stairs at least fifteen times. At our pace, and with frequent setbacks, it took us about two hours to get our team to a point where Jason deemed us worthy of a dip. We lined up in front of the water again and locked arms. Suddenly we were on our backs in the water and were being told to flutter kick. I lost my mind and started yelling like a madman. I was euphoric. We kicked our way through the water from one end of the bridge to the other and then did about another half an hour of bear crawls on the stairs. I experienced a wonderfully grounded moment when I was waiting in the bear crawl pose. The pond water was dripping heavily from my GR2 into my face and it felt amazing. We continued the exercise for some time. Our pace and formation tightened and we eventually graduated to running. We were briefly praised by Jason saying that the Baltimore groups had taken three hours to organize themselves in this way, and that we had done better. We had no way to know if this was true, but it sure was reinforcing in the moment.

 

We began a shuffle-like trot around the pond, still straining to maintain a two-by-two formation. Jason began belting out his “Go!” commands, but we weren’t getting it. He stopped us and we were told that we were no longer allowed to talk while running. He was not happy and would give us some short period of time (ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes) to devise a system for our Indian Sprints (here again the idea that the back runners run up to the front on each “Go”). We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide on a system and ended up failing again. We were punished with doing pushups and flutter kicks in the rocky dirt while Jason told us how “silly” it was. The flutter kicks absolutely killed my right Sartorius, but I did not stop. We were given another chance to find a working plan while listening to the faraway shouts of Jason exclaiming how much our system sucks.

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While running, Jason would often shout two or three “Go” commands, so we had to devise a way for the people in the back of the line to know whether they were meant to run without looking around or talking. It took us a few tries before we decided on a shoulder/ruck-slapping method which seemed to do a passable job. A slap on the shoulder meant you run, a slap on the ruck meant you are now the last man in line. This was shaky at best, but we made it through. This method evolved with us throughout the morning, eventually becoming an effective method of counting off running placements. Without this basic skill we never would have been able to complete the various challenges to come.

 

Bounding for Breakfast

We ran around two full laps around the pond with general success at the Indian Run order which allowed us to graduate to the actual run itself. We left the commons and crossed over onto a footbridge leading to Storrow Dr on the Charles. We made our way into a little park and we were about to practice an exercise called Bounding.

 

We split off into four groups and were numbered. Groups 1/3 and 2/4 were paired, and were to run together and drop to the ground on command. The exercise was actually quite fun. Peter was in my group and was carrying The Bítch at the time. This made getting up considerably more difficult for him, and he was liable to topple over from the sheer weight of the pack. We were just beginning to enjoy ourselves when we were interrupted by a police cruiser which was prowling the park. They explained that the park is closed at night because there are “weirdoes” out at night. We grumbled our compliance and ran back across the footbridge onto Beacon Street. Jason nominated a navigator and we were off to see Fenway Park.

 

Fumbling through Fenway – Coupon Commencement

We went down along Arlington Street and someone asked to switch out The Bítch. I volunteered because I was feeling light and strong. Those feelings quickly dissipated with all that extra weight on my back. I still maintained my pace, and had only slightly more difficulty with the sprints. We turned onto Newbury Street and continued the length of it, enjoying the breadth of the deserted road as a nice contrast to a narrow sidewalk. We ran the length of Newbury and turned out onto Comm Ave. I handed The Bítch off and we briefly stopped under the Charlesgate Bridge for bladder relief and some refueling. We followed Comm Ave to Brookline Ave and Fenway was finally in sight at around 4:45am. We reached Lansdowne Street and Jason explained that we were going to do laps around the park. He also mentioned, in an off-hand unconcerned kind of way, that we were to begin our buddy-carries.

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I don’t remember the exact ratio, but Jason chose a fraction of the group to be carried. I believe we began with six carriers. We took some time to determine who was the lightest and to exchange our rucks. It soon became clear that many of us didn’t know how to carry another person with any efficient technique. Jason told us to work it out, and one guy stepped up to explain the Fireman’s carry. We adopted this technique and worked our way around the park for the first time. I took turns with Peter, carrying him first. Some carriers were handing off their rucks to the others, while some preferred to leave theirs on to act as a sort of “shelf” on which the carried buddy could rest. We reached the other side of the park and I was no longer carrying or being carried. Jason spotted a burlap sack with one end wrapped in duct tape. He pointed at it and said “There’s our first coupon. Somebody grab it.” With a faint understanding of the coupon system from my obsessing over past Goruck pictures, I shouldered the bag and continued along. Coupons are essentially any object added to the group which comprises extra burden, typically chosen as a punishment but occasionally the result of Jason’s aimless whim. We went around the park once more and then rested from 5:12am to 5:18. We left the street corner and started to run again when Jason suddenly realized that we no longer had the sandbag coupon. Fortunately for us he brought this to our attention so early. We turned around, reclaimed the bag, and began again.

 

We stopped at a corner at 5:26 to check on Rod since his stride was locking up. Jason determined that he was carrying too much weight, so we took some bricks out of his ruck. Rod was not happy and one could easily tell from his frustrated sighs (which sounded suspiciously like the word “shít”), that he was even ashamed of himself. Not one person reproached him, and we were all very supportive. I gave him a high-sodium stroopwafel which I hoped would help loosen his cramp.

 

Muck, Mire and Mental Grit – Lifting Logs from the Fire Pit

We worked our way along Ipswich Road to some strange, muddy garden which is located behind the Charlesgate Bridge. By this point our team was bonding quite well. The shrill cries of Sarah, our inspirational Goruck diva, were profoundly inspirational. We trudged through the gardens, some of us still making a bizarre effort to avoid mud by balancing along haphazardly-placed boards, eventually making our way out to more water. Jason stopped us at the water and by this time he didn’t have to say anything for us to realize what he expected us to do. Brian, one of our group’s largest members and a Goruck veteran, took it upon himself to tackle the water first. This became one of the few instances during the run when his size became a hindrance to our group.

 

Brian was suddenly sucked into the water, knee-deep, in mud. The two guys following him were sucked in as well. Jason was standing at the rear of the group, idly surveying the area and remaining generally ignorant to the developments at the front. Suddenly he took an active interest and balked “Hey what the f*ck is going on up there? Why aren’t we moving?” Weak cries for mercy leaked from the front “We’re stuck in the mud-”, Jason interrupts, aloof and dismissive, “Well yeah-”, the stuck members and those pulling them out respond “-up to our knees…” Jason’s expression, for the first time, showed surprise. He expected us to simply slosh through the water. About face. With our larger, more ambitious members out of the mud, we stood around awaiting our next task. Jason indicated a wood pile.

 

We started picking it apart. Not knowing what we were expected to do, I pulled a thick branch off the pile. Jason barked “That is a disgrace to every class that has come before you.” I hastily tossed it back, ashamed and confused. It soon became clear that we were trying to find one of the legendary logs to be carried by our group. As we searched Jason expressed his lament at not being able to find a log during his scouting of the route. As if by magic we produced two horrific misshapen trunks from the pile. These awful arboreal antiques were scarred by fungus, decomposition and burns. Both touted significant weight from being waterlogged and dense. Their shape was as conceivably far from portable as they might have been; replete with jagged edges, bumps in inappropriate places, uneven weight distribution and flaky patches which provided the occasional ejection of ashes into the faces of the carriers. They were lovely and nothing made Jason happier than to see us shoulder them. He sounded like Donald Trump in his speech about the President’s birth certificate, “I’m so proud of myself. I was so upset earlier, like, I didn’t think we were going to have a log for these classes. It would have been the only Goruck class to not have a log and then BAM! there they were. I am so good.” He also was sure to mention that he was proud that we had thwarted a few “drug deals”, this judged by the number of shady characters hanging around in the gardens in the wee hours of the morning. One guy picked up a thick, awkward waterlogged stump, one picked up a large ball of cement, and another grabbed a sapling with its ball of earth clumped around the roots.

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And so began the log saga. We carried those things for an hour and a half – over a total distance of approximately 1.5 miles according to my Forerunner. It felt a hell of a lot longer and farther than that.

 

We toted them from the park back into actual civilization. By this time the sun was up and people were out and about. We received plenty of dazzled stares and we took the opportunity to crack jokes. The streets began to refill with cars and the sounds of the city began to dwarf our grunts – “bítch noises”, according to Jason.

 

We worked our way along Massachusetts Ave, and faced the long bridge across the Charles. We picked up another coupon along the way, a Rock Band guitar controller, which although initially humorous was more of a logistical concern than anything. By the end of the challenge there was a general consensus to want to smash it. The view from the bridge was incredible and I took a few selfish peeks away from the group to savor the moment. The sunrise was just what I had hoped it would be, and it did indeed have the rejuvenating effect I expected. Jason furiously snapped some photos and teased us about being done when we reached the other side of the river.

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When we made it to the other side it became clear that we were done with the logs. To say that we were happy to see them go would be a severe understatement. Despite our contempt we were considerably ginger about placing them on the ground to be handed off to the following cadres. It was almost 7am at this point, but our best guesses relied on judging by the sun’s position. We briefly rested before tackling our next undertaking.

 

Brian’s Brainchild and The Bítch – The Handoff from Hell

Jason took some time after the logs to explain what we were meant to do. “Your shoulder straps no longer exist. You will continue to do Indian Runs, but the rucks have to stay with their owner. Figure it out.” Renewed puzzlement. We stood bewildered for a moment before rallying and deciding to continue with our current system which had proven successful. So it began. We ran along the Charles, handing off the rucks to the person in front of us as we ran. Most of the handoffs were done by the top handle while the GR2s usually required cradling in both arms, especially The Bítch.

 

I’m going to take a minute to note that the right line, my side, was stuck with The Bítch for the ENTIRETY of this task. I assign no blame for this development; this is simply a digressional gripe.

 

It seemed like we endeavored to simply pass the rucks towards the front of the line at a steady rate regardless of when Jason was calling out “Go”. Peter was behind me and we generally kept a good rhythm, but there were a few instances where I simply neglected to turn and accept the ruck. This happened quite often. The rucks tended to bunch up, and it seemed like this happened for an especially long time when I was running while cradling The Bítch in my arms. Lovely. It helped that by this point Jason felt good enough about our group to be singing the refrain of an LL Cool J song at us. This chant of “Doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well” became something of a credo by morning’s end.

 

In my opinion we did really well with this exercise, and before we knew it we were on the banks of the Charles for a group photo. There was a short break on the steps of a Boston University Rowing Gym which we invaded for water and bathrooms much to the dismay of the hoity-toities inside. We were eventually locked out so we resorted to shamelessly pissing on their building. One guy was sent home by Jason. He had apparently injured himself and was not allowed to continue.

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We continued the handoffs until we reached the John Weeks Bridge. Jason announced, much to our relief, that we were done with that portion. We stood in our two-by-two formation and he asked us how much we liked the shoulder straps on our Gorucks, to which we enthusiastically shouted our approval.

Jason floated alongside the group in long strides as we shuffled beside the Charles. He turned to us and said, “Hey why don’t we try something different?” We perked up because his tone sounded so positive and hopeful. He paused briefly to be sure that he had everyone’s attention. “How about Indian Runs? Go go go!”

 

He teased us some more about being done with the whole challenge, and quickly hit us with another exercise.

 

Shítty Silhouettes – Hahvahd Yahd

We stopped briefly and Jason asked for four of our biggest guys to step forward. It was eventually decided and Jason had them lie on the ground. He had one of our cadre members explain what we were meant to do. Essentially we had to drag the body of this large individual across the ground on Jason’s command. It did not work very well for us and the extent of our “large individual” (Brian)’s discomfort quickly became clear. After seeing the relative failure of this exercise, and judging the ground to be “shítty”, i.e. rife with sharp rocks, we left to continue our run.

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We ran down John F. Kennedy Street towards Harvard, now in our standard two-by-two formation which actually felt like a relief. We made our way onto the campus itself while snide comments about the students being stuck-up nerds rung out contemptuously. We snaked through some small footpaths on the quadrangle before stopping on the steps of what I believe was their library. Jason pointed out a serpentine path along the steps and we ran up and down them. We stopped at the bottom and he allowed us a minute to rehydrate and refuel with our “lickies and chewies”, while warning us ominously about the danger of stopping at this point as it relates to muscle cramps. We left Harvard and made our way back onto the streets, crossing onto Massachusetts Ave. We stayed on this street for a long time, continuing our Indian Runs up the sidewalks while deftly avoiding parked bikes, benches and pedestrians. We stopped at a McDonalds to refill out hydration bladders. Another member was added to the “watch list”; his stride was shot. Both he and Rod now looked like they were wrestling an octopus on a conveyor belt but their determination inspired us. The break at McDonalds was too long and I felt bad for the first time during the challenge. Before too long we were off again, and our group pace leveled itself out.

 

We were 8.5 hours into the Challenge when Jason explained that “this isn’t the Harvard tour, is it? It’s the Boston tour, and we haven’t even seen the city. Let’s go do that.” And so we did.

 

Bawstin’s Brains, Bridges and Bottlenecks – Downtown Cadences and Faneuil “High-Knees” Hall

As we passed MIT the group’s snide comments about nerds were significantly more pronounced. We passed their edgy architecture and made our way out to the streets off-campus. We took the Longfellow Bridge back across the Charles and made our way towards the Commons again. This lead us into the heart of the city where our raucous cries of “TWO!”, “SEVEN!” and “GO!”, “RUCK!” were followed by supremely enjoyable echoes against the steel monoliths that surrounded our cadre. At one point we were running out of things to shout without feeling redundant and Pete broke into his own cadence – one with which I was familiar from our training run around Fresh Pond.

 

“My Grandmamma was Ninety-One! She did Goruck just for fun! My Grandmamma was Ninety-Two! She did Goruck better than you! Ninety-Three – better than me. Ninety-Four – out the door. Five – to stay alive. Six – just for kicks. Seven – up to heaven. Eight – at the pearly gates. Nine – doin’ Goruck, doin’ fine.”

 

Glorious. The cadre loved it, and it had a wonderful rallying effect on us all.

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We stopped briefly at Faneuil Hall and some people needed to use the bathrooms. Jason decided that this was a good reason to make us do high-knees which hurt like hell. I remember wondering how long it could possibly take to use the damn bathroom, but I’m sure the pain in my Sartorius over exaggerated the amount of time that we were actually standing there jumping up and down. Some people were reduced to standing in place and slowly lifting one knee, then putting their foot down, and then slowly lifting the other. Some didn’t do it at all. We were definitely hurting by then. I took a moment to remove my shoes and clear the little rocks out of my socks which were doing a number on my feet. It felt so much better to have my shoes clear of the rocks, and the people who were using the bathroom did eventually come back out.

 

The Freedom Trail – That Green Piece of Shít

We converged on the Freedom Trail and followed it all the way out to Paul Revere’s House – another false end-point of the Challenge.

The path led out from the North End to some smaller streets which eventually became cobblestones. We did a decent amount of buddy carries on these smaller streets, and the ratio was increasing with each iteration. We were punished on more than one occasion for not securing more carriers by increasing the ratio.

 

Jason stopped us at the bottom of the hill which leads up to Paul Revere’s house and berated us on our organization into the buddy carries. We were forced to remain in the push-up position while he reprimanded us, and we organized ourselves into more groups. I decided that I wanted to carry someone for this portion – someone significantly larger than me. I told a guy near me, who is probably 30 pounds heavier than me, that I wanted to carry him up the hill. He seemed incredulous at first because he was one of the largest guys in our group and he had been shouldering a lot of the burdens throughout the Challenge. I explained that this was precisely why I wanted to carry him and he complied. We finally got our group ratio right, and I led the group with the guy piggybacking me. Jason walked along beside us and I looked up the hill and asked, “We’re going up to that green piece of shít, right?”

He laughed and said “It could be the most beautiful house in the world, but right now…”

“Yup, it’s just a piece of shít.” I replied.

 

I was moving fast and my buddy’s words of caution about the cobblestones filled my ears, but I heard nothing until he told me that I had passed the house. I had my sights set on the top of the small cobblestone hill, but it turned out that Paul Revere’s House was a small grey house on the right hand side and I had indeed passed it by about ten feet. I let the guy get off my back and I looked down at the rest of the group as they made their way up the hill. We regrouped on the sidewalk and Jason continued to tease us.

 

“We’re all done, right? That’s the end, right?”

 

I caught myself thinking, “Shít, I hope not.”

 

Finish Strong – Bunker Hill and The Navy Yard

We continued to follow the Freedom Trial as it led us across the Charlestown Bridge towards Bunker Hill. The Indian Runs continued.

It became clear to me that as we weakened as individuals, the team became stronger. This is the basis for the cadre’s evolution.

Sarah continued to root us on though her voice was strained and fading. Our two weakest members set the pace for the group by running in front. Most of us were out of water.

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We made it to the other side of the Charles and snaked our way to Winthrop Street which leads up a small incline to Bunker Hill. We were rallied, and our pace quickened almost imperceptibly. We regrouped again at the base of the hill and made our way up together.

 

Together.

 

We stopped at the top of the hill for a group picture and some preemptive celebrations.

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We were not quite done. After some milling around we shouldered our rucks once again and headed downhill towards the Naval Yard.

It soon became clear to the entire class that our end point would be the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned vessel in the Navy, having been named by George Washington.

 

The cadre emerged onto the Yard at just before noon. Jason explained that in order to complete the Challenge we had to “finish strong”. This meant a full 50/50 ratio, everyone is either being carried or carrying someone. During past buddy carries we were able to hand our rucks off to others to reduce the weight. Now we were contending with multiple coupons, the full weight of all of our rucks, and a buddy carry. We picked up our buddies and some strange noise disseminated from the Yard. The din grew louder and I lifted my head to see that the tourists were all cheering for us. I looked at the cadre and we all shared the same desperate goofy smile. There is no eloquent way to describe the simple pride we experienced as one.

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Our group seemed ready and we made our move for the finish – the vessel as she sat in the harbor. Just as I found a rhythm Jason cried out for us to stop. I turned to see one of our injured lying on the ground with Sarah kneeling at his side. We regrouped and he insisted on carrying her to the end. We let him, but stayed close. I readjusted my two rucks, re-shouldered my buddy, and we were off again. One-by-one we reached the gate in front of the USS Constitution and the finishers before me let the carried buddy back down to Earth. I soon followed suit and was finally allowed to revel in the culmination of our evolution.

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I estimate our total time to be 11 hours over a distance of approximately 18 miles (distance calculated by the GPS trackers and filling in the gaps with a path marker tool).

 

Initial Reaction

My pride for the group’s performance is still burgeoning and it serves as a consistent reminder of our accomplishment. The lessons of unity and trust are undeniably salient and serve as the fundaments for the Challenge’s very philosophy.

 

I’ll take a moment to briefly describe my impression of the Challenge as I realize – with pride – that my language to this point has been very collectivistic.

I felt strong throughout the event and didn’t realize just how focused I was until I allowed myself to relax. My concentration was set at a firm 100% from the moment we stepped into the Commons to the moment I put my buddy down in the Yard. I experienced one mental lapse after the event (briefly forgetting Brian’s name), but only for a moment. Admittedly it only deteriorated from there until I was truly able to rest, but I find this development remarkable.

 

My voice was absolutely destroyed from all the yelling we did. I didn’t realize how much I had been yelling until the event was over. Three days later I still sounded like some contemptible septuagenarian harridan who has been chain-smoking since her teens.

 

My shoulders were severely sore for two days after the challenge. I attribute this mostly to shouldering the logs and simply the prolonged support of the ruck itself. Two days after the Challenge my right bicep and forearm were sore from the handoffs.

 

Otherwise I experienced no issues. My ankle held up with no concerns. Even my left knee, which would sometimes be tender after a longer run, showed no signs of fatigue. I found that I was very well prepared for the Challenge as a whole – mentally and physically.

 

Jason made it clear that he is very consistent in “underpromising” and “overdelivering”. We received far more as a group than I could have imagined, and it has instilled in me the thirst for more. I will be signing up for future Challenges. It is humbling to realize just to what extent this achievement is collective, as compared to something distinctly individual like a mind-numbing road race or competitive mud run.

 

I have attributed my athletic endeavors over the past months to a desire to find my limits. This experience has helped me to realize how much more might be accomplished as a team. I was deeply honored to be a part of this shared evolution.

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**Photos courtesy of my friends Whitney and Gopi; and Jason's shots of the Challenge.

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Ruckus Boston

Posted by Superfiend Nov 16, 2010

November 13th was met with great anticipation. I strain to recall another morning where I’ve woken up as eagerly. I was making oatmeal and packing my things at 9:05am as my mind raced, attempting to find the proper disposition and to dredge the cobwebs of sleep. I ate about half of a bowl of oatmeal and gathered my things. I was dressed and walking out the door at 9:30. The drive was pleasant and within 45-minutes’ time I was at the event. As I pulled in I was able to see a few runners trudging through the course, but I was not able to make out any helpful details from my vantage point. I parked, sifted through a few things, made myself an Endurance mix and choked it down. I felt rushed and uncomfortable, but overly determined. I had a positive attitude and I meant to bring it to bear on the course.

I left the car with the majority of my things not knowing if there would be a place to store them during the race. It turns out that there was a Gear Check. Peter, a friend I met at the Shawnee Peak Challenge, picked me out of the Registration line and had already checked himself in. I numbly bumbled my way through the check-in procedure and talked to Peter for a while. We walked around, stretched, I used the bathroom and we were soon in line at the Start. We made our way up as close to the gate as we could since this greatly benefited me in the SPC. The wait for the beginning of the race was tense. Some guy mentioned to his friend that he should take his gloves off since he would slip on the monkey bars or the commando pole. Peter and I were having none of that claptrap and defiantly left ours on. We shook, flailed and extended our limbs as the final seconds counted down. We went off with the siren.

 

Peter and I were running together for a stretch before the first obstacle. We were met with barbed wire precariously suspended above our backs as we shimmied underneath. This proved to be something of a choke point for the runners out in front. Peter and I made our way through rather quickly, and ran around a corner and through a small area with trees. I came up closely behind Peter, pacing myself with him as we crossed a small bridge. As we made our way out of the trees and around the next corner we were affronted by the next obstacle: the Trenches.

 

The Trenches are just as they sound. Large holes in the ground with the unearthed dirt from the holes piled up behind them. The holes are conveniently filled with freezing muddy water. Being as though Peter and I were competing in the 11am wave the Trenches were worn in, meaning that the mud was matted down, slick in parts, and didn’t let go easily. As I approached the Trenches I was confounded at first. “Am I meant to jump over the hole?” is a conscious thought I recall. I heard one of the attendants shout “Go in and out!” And so I did. The shock of the cold water on my calves was a delight, and climbing up the dirt hill after pulling myself out of the water was just bliss. There were about five of them; I certainly made no effort to count. This obstacle put me far ahead of most of the other runners who were close before. Having conquered the last Trench’s dirt hill I began running again and noticed that my shoes were full of water, rocks and mud which effectively made them twice as heavy and incalculably less comfortable. I turned the corner and the next obstacle came into view.

 

This was simply a low-hanging camouflaged net under which one has to crawl or move in a quadrupedal fashion. This went by easily enough, but the following obstacle was directly behind it. There was a giant, horrible pit of muddy water which had two logs supported horizontally about a foot over the surface. Attendants screamed: “Go over or under the logs!”, “Do NOT dive!” So my hopes of diving were shot. I trudged through and went under the logs, climbing out at the end and reveling in how fun it was to run with soaked feet. The next section was simply a mind-numbing run back and forth until you reached a few buildings. Thus ends “Zone Foxtrot”.

 

The next few obstacles were placed in between the buildings. The first set was a sequence of barrier walls of alternating height. I flew through these, passing one guy. I turned a corner around the first building to find my beloved Normandy Walls. The attendants stipulate that you have to do this obstacle with your hands behind your head for some reason, so I complied and jumped into it. They are placed so close together, however, that running through and jumping over each wall with any discernible rhythm is essentially impossible so I was forced to slow my pace to walking speed and simply step over them. This change in pace was devastating, and I think had a huge effect on my stamina. I finished the Normandy Walls and turned the next corner. More barrier walls. The same set. Joy. I vaulted these just as the set before and had a decent intuition as to the next obstacle. Well whaddya know? Another set of Normandy Walls. I walked through these, stepping over them, and finished with “Zone Zulu”.

 

We ran from the end of the previous Zone up to the main Fairgrounds along a rather lengthy track and passed through “Zone Delta” to reach “Zone Uniform”. The first obstacle in this Zone was the Uneven Fences.

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I found these more challenging than they were at SPC since we had to run uphill to the walls at SPC and at Ruckus they were simply on flat ground. I was pretty beat by the time I reached the Fences, but made my way over each one easily. As I finished the last fence I suddenly realized that I couldn’t run anymore. I was spent and somehow had no motivation. I slowed to a shameful walk, and went about half of the way between the Uneven Fences and the next obstacle, the Ranger Bars. The idea here is to pull yourself up to a single suspended pole and to make your way across to the other side by any means necessary. Some people shimmied across hanging upside down from their hands and knees/ankles. Some people went with just their arms. I chose the latter and it seemed to work well. There was no designated end point for this obstacle other than the end of the bar, but we did have two men who seemed like Marines yelling outrageous things at us, which was cool.

 

The end of “Zone Uniform” was marked by more camo nets, and I made my way easily through those, but I was reeling at this point from a side cramp. I began walking again, but only briefly, in an effort to breathe deeply and remove the cramp. It seemed to work a little bit, and I was passed by a guy who asked if I was all right. This rallied my spirit and I began to run again. It hurt.

 

“Zone Delta” is a long, winding path located in the middle of the fairgrounds. There was a lot of running back and forth. One eight-foot wall affronted us as the first real obstacle. One side had a rope, the other didn’t. Guess which side I chose. I was up an over in an instant, and hit the ground running – literally.

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We ran in another loop before coming around to a sequence of concrete barriers which seemed like they were thrown in as an afterthought. I hurdled them, passing someone who was vaulting them more slowly. I turned the corner, exhausted, and began to walk briefly again before mentally reprimanding myself. I ran again, making my way around another corner to the next obstacle. A group of tires were lying on the ground and I approached them, about to place my foot inside and run through. An attendant corrected me, saying that we’re meant to “bear crawl” on the outer rim of the tires. I complied, and was quickly on the other side.

 

We then transitioned into “Zone Sierra” which began with a system of large concrete tubes which were arranged to follow a path from one end to the other. Occasionally two pipes would converge on one which led to me cutting a guy off while inside the pipes. I felt fine going through them but did notice that it was working my calves and tearing the skin on my knees. Once outside the tubes we were quickly met with the next obstacle: the Sea of Tires. People didn’t know what to do with these; step in the tires or on them, but it didn’t seem to matter. I almost toppled a column of tires as I lost my balance, but I escaped this obstacle uninjured. I made my way around some more snaking trails and turned a corner to finally meet the Monkey Bars. I clambered up the wooden ladder to the bars and was somewhat disappointed to see that there was no mud pit below the bars as there was at the SPC. There were actually a bunch of hay bales which is about as unextreme as it gets. I took my time to get a grip on the first bar, found it to be secured and a bit easier than it was at SPC, and I assumed a great rhythm, making my way across in no time. We ran straight from the Monkey Bars behind the announcer’s location and came around the other side to reach the final Zone.

There was another set of camo nets, but they were decrepit by the time I reached them.

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I went in the side that was in the best shape, but I still got caught and nearly strangled halfway through. I finished the camo net and was affronted by a large, steep dirt hill. There were apparently ropes to help competitors to climb the hill but I either didn’t notice them or didn’t care and I was up and over in a heartbeat (or, more accurately, likely a dozen or so heartbeats judging by how winded I was at the time). I ran from the bottom of the hill and was guided back towards it for a second up-and-over, this time there were definitely no ropes. Again, no problem. I turned another corner and there was a final set of barbed wire to be avoided. I moved through deftly, but felt that the open cuts and scrapes on my knees and shins were definitely being coated with mud and sand. I looked up once I finished the final barbed wire to see the last leg of the hill which was somewhat steeper than the other sections.

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I powered up the first side and carefully made my way down, discovering that I was at the finish already. I might have moved a bit faster in the preceding obstacles had I known. I was overcome with euphoria and noticed, to my delight, that there was a large mud puddle right before the Finish line. I jumped high with my arms out to my sides while making a crazy face and came down hard into the mud, splashing it everywhere. I looked up to see a photographer for Brightroom who exclaimed “Yeah! Awesome!” I really hope that she got a good shot of that moment. The Brightroom pictures from the SPC were pretty poor.

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I numbly walked out of the event area, accepted my medal from some overly-enthusiastic girls, picked up a bottle of water and two half-bananas and nearly vomited at the thought of eating some potato chips that they were offering. I sat down and watched a few of the other competitors as they ran, waiting for Peter. He showed up eventually, looking like hell and covered in mud. I really wish I had pictures of how we both looked right after running the event. The bananas were not ripe, and I spit out the bite that I had taken. I could barely drink my water and was generally disgruntled and disagreeable about everything else. I eventually regained some semblance of a personality and suggested that Peter and I walk around a bit to see what the vendors were selling and to keep our bodies moving. We tried some lackluster “Code Blue” recovery drink which we threw out and headed over to check our results.

 

My time for Ruckus is better than the one for Shawnee, but only by about 40 seconds. We looked at some of the top finisher’s times and they were just outstanding. The first finisher for my wave had a time of 25:36, which I believe is within reach for me. Had I done less walking I would have finished much, much sooner. The best time for the regular event was 23:15, and the best time in the Champion’s Heat ended up being 21:58. I placed 62nd overall out of 897 participants, and 11th in my wave. I am happy with my result, but I am anxious to find another event before Tough Mudder because I feel like I can do much better. From what Peter and I could tell by the results page that they posted I didn't qualify to run in the Champion's Heat, but I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I did but the results were incomplete when we checked them. At any rate I wouldn't have wanted to run it again.

 

Official results here.

 

Laments aside I thoroughly enjoyed this event. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as Shawnee; the two are difficult to compare, curiously enough. As I mentioned after the event, but as Peter rephrased more eloquently, Shawnee was more anaerobic while Ruckus is more aerobic.

 

I felt fairly strong for the most part. If I had the chance to go back and change something about my training I would have doubled the amount of short distance Elliptical running.

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The Shawnee Peak Challenge

Posted by Superfiend Oct 24, 2010

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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