Thursday, October 9, 2014

Spartan Vermont Beast World Champs recap

The Spartan World Championships event was quite the experience. It all started back in May, when I registered, and decided to do well at this event. The length, and climbing involved suits my strength, although it is a little short for me. I happened to be in town, for the Toronto Spartan events, which I raced, and had a lot of fun doing. The Eastern Canadian scene is lots of fun, and all the competitors were very welcoming, and cool. As the summer progressed, and I worked 10-14 physical days of work, I kept running, and visiting the mountains whenever possible. September descended upon us quickly, and before I know it, all the "hay was in the barn" and I was en route to Vermont.

I drove down with some local Toronto OCR athletes, and had a blast on the way down. I wasn't a part of the athlete panels, or even on the VIP list. Its as if no one knew, or cared that I was coming. I wasn't on the "vote for me" page either. I loved this, and it only fired my ambition to run hard.

I attended the athlete panel on Friday night, and got to meet briefly with a few of the athletes. I got a ride down the hill with Matt Novakovich, whom I had never met. After dinner, it was off to bed, with an early departure.

The race started at 7:30 am, which seemed a little early to me, but it was fine. Downhill start suited me well, and I pushed that first descent hard, and ended up sitting in second position up the first hill, before I passed the leader and took the lead on the way back down the mountain. The pace felt quick, but comfortable, and I just started getting into a groove. After the Tarzan swing, I had a decent lead of maybe 1-2 minutes, and after a confused official stopped me for about 30 seconds to try to get me to do the memory test (he was clearly confused), I still had the lead and settled in. I think I settled a little too hard, because my pace dropped and I felt like I was just out for a trail run by myself.

We hit a few obstacles, like a log carry, and a bucket carry, which I enjoyed, as well as a balance beam.

It was after this that I started noticing a guy in a red shirt was catching up to me. We ran together for a little while, and he seemed really nice. After this, he passed me, but I passed him back at the tractor pull.
It seemed that Jon was running the hills faster, but that I was stronger through the obstacles. After I missed the first spear throw, he passed me again, and put about 1 minute lead on me. It was at this point, that I realized all my remaining food had fallen out of my pockets, and I was left with the last 8 miles to do, without any food, only water. This was an issue.
At about mile 10 I started to slow, and bonk, and cramp. I wasn't getting any electrolytes, or nutrition of any sort. Cody Moat passed me, and him and Jon started to  distance themselves from me. Fortunately, we hit the Sandbag carry, where I closed about a 1.5 minute gap, and passed them both.
After the carry, I knew I would have to conserve my legs a bit, so I pushed as hard as I could, without cramping, or going too deep in the red. I was leading, and feeling pretty good. This is when the second spear throw came. I missed it, and Jon ran past me. AGAIN. grr, I was pretty upset at spears at this point. Why do they have spears? It seems so gimmicky to me. I though maybe the next world champs they would make athletes fold an origami crane, or maybe build and Inuksuk. I pushed those thoughts aside, did my burpees, and went as fast as possible. I was able to close the gap on Jon by the last monkey bars but the effort that I put out was too much, and I was unable to keep up with him on the final hill.
I crossed the finish line about 1 minute behind Jon, and it was sweet to come in second, but I knew that I could have won the race. Oh well! That's what racing is all about. I congratulated Jon on an excellent race, and I was thrilled when I learned that my Girlfriend Lindsay has placed 4th in the elite women's field. A good day for both of us!

Overall I had lots of fun racing the Vermont Beast, and I'm excited to race these athletes more often, hopefully on even tougher courses!

Like my Athlete Page if you haven't already. See you at the races!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Battle Frog Pennsylvania Race Review

This last weekend, I got to participate in one of the most fun Obstacle Course Races that I've ever done. It was called the "Battle Frog" and its an event put on by a wonderful group of people, including a bunch of the United States' Navy Seals.

The event was held at a place called "The Mines and Meadows ATV Park" in Wampum, PA. It was only a 5 hour drive from Toronto, so not too bad. I checked out the venue on Friday night, ate dinner with some other competitors and event staff, and then got ready to race the next day.

Overall, the event feel for the Battle Frog was very good. The race went off without a hitch, and it seems like everything ran with military precision, starting at exactly 8:00 am. The fist 100 yards had a few over, under and throughs. Then the next few miles had lots of creek running. They ran the course right down a creek bed for about a mile, interspersed with great natural obstacles, culverts, and logs to jump over. After this, we hit a couple of obstacles, including a huge A-Frame structure that we had to climb over and a few cargo nets.
 After this, we went into a mine. Yes, that's right, and underground mine. They included a few obstacles INSIDE the mine, and also gave us headlights so that we could see. They had us do a 200 yard swim, through fairly cold water, and also had a shooting section, in which we had to hit targets with a paintball gun. The whole mine was a surreal experience, and unlike any other race feature I've ever seen.
After popping out of the mine, it was a little more trail running, a rope climb, and a set of monkey bars. Up to this point in the race, I was leading by maybe 1 minute. I attacked the monkey bars with everything I had. Instead of just monkey bars, the elite men had half the monkey bars replaced with rock climbing holds. This made a high failure rate, since the grips were very small, and hard to grab. The rest of the elite field got shuffled around, since so many people failed on the obstacle. At Battle Frog, they have a "Pass/Fail" obstacle policy. So, if you can't do the obstacle, you can re-try it, but then if you keep failing it, you are out of the money, for the elites. I really like this policy, since I think the obstacles for the elite men need to start getting harder in this sport.

After the Monkey Bars, we did a bunch more running, lots of cool, big obstacles, and the action just kept coming with slick mud, steep hills, technical footing, and even more obstacles. I believe there was over 30 obstacles on the 15 km course, and they were all pretty serious, big obstacles. I had a smile on my face for the whole race, and just had a blast the whole time. The finishing chute had a big obstacle called "Tsunami", and another wall obstacle, with ropes, and quick slides into big water pits. I came through the final crawl, muddy, and giddy with excitement, gushing to the event organizers about what a good time I had out of their course.
Finishing off the day, there was a great event festival feel, kids races, Navy Seal demonstrations and food. I hung out, and talked with all the other racers.

I finished the race in first, in a time of 1:08, and took home a big cheque. The race was tons of fun, with great people, great obstacles, and great use of the natural terrain. I'm not sure what more someone can ask for from an OCR. I hope Battle Frog sticks around for a long time, and becomes a major player in the obstacle course business. If you have the chance to check out one of their races, I strongly recommend it!
Thanks for checking out my review, and like my new Facebook Athlete page, for training tips, and more.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2014 Winter Death Race

The last day of January, and the first of February this year, I spent getting a first hand crash course on death racing. Here's how it all played out...

Andy telling directions for the hike
Drive down: My wonderful Girlfriend, Lindsay and our magnificent Malamute, Suunto drove down with me. We left on Thursday night, made it about 3 hours, and then drove the last 6 hours in the morning. Pittsfield is pretty far south, so it was a long drive. Overall it was a great drive. Lots of stops at Timmy's, and yummy treats.

Preface: Each activity we completed earned us a puzzle piece. Once we completed our puzzles, we were done the race.

Friday 1:30 pm: We arrived in Pittsfield, and went to the cabin, where our drop bags were supposed to be. I was told to hurry up, and get to Amee Farm. So, we went back up the road to Amee. I was told to sign a contract, and start chopping wood. All the email contacts said that we should arrive between 1:00pm, and 3:00pm. I started chopping wood at about 1:40. I was told we had to chop wood for 2 hours. At 3:00pm, everyone who had started chopping at 1:00 got to leave. I stayed until the end, about 4:40, chopping wood, with the rest of the people who were "late". This was just how they mess with you in this race. I found out later that we didn't even have to chop wood, and that the race started at 3:00, with a time trial. I missed the time trial, and got to attend the fire making workshop, while the people doing their TT were still out on the mountain, finishing up. Little did I know it, but this would come in later as a very important detail.
Chopping wood: Totally "My Jam"
Friday 5:00-6:30: The fire building workshop was really cool. I learned a lot, and I'm glad I did. I managed to make several char cloths, and managed to get a fire going with a pretty wicked tinder ball. Overall, I didn't think that I was particularly good at making fire, but I am an Engineer, and once I understood all the components of making fire, I got it mastered pretty quick. After this, we all hiked the 2.5ish miles over to Amee Farm.
Fire Building: Blowing on my Tinder Ball
Friday 7:00-11:00: We went and all did a Ballet class together. This was a lot of fun, until Joe DeSena started to intervene. We had to do a ton of single leg lifts, and hold squats for long periods of time. Once again, the unfairness of the Death Race came into play, as some people would get called out for not doing the exercises properly, but others were allowed to perform sub-par exercises. Oh well... Just keep going.

Ballet: I'm better than I could have guessed!
Friday 11:30pm- Saturday 5:00am: After we hiked back to the barn, we were told we'd have make a fire with our partner. Cool! I had the fire building nailed. I was surprised that we weren't the first ones to make our fire, but apparently some people were using road flares to make their fires! I thought this wasn't very fair, but oh well. I think a road flare would qualify as a "modern fire starting technique". Once our first reached a certain height, we had to hike up to the top of the mountain, with our sandbags, and our full gear. I got up the mountain first, and there was no one there. I think I beat the volunteer up there. I had to do some convincing, because they didn't believe I had made it up there and back already. We had to keep going up and down, taking our sandbags one time, and leaving them the next. at 3:20 am, I was finished my 4th trip, and I decided that I didn't want to go back up another time with the sandbag, so I sat down, and ate a ton of food and rested until 5:00.

Saturday 5:00am-9:00am: We all had to go for a big hike at this point, with all our gear, but sans sandbag. I love hiking mountains, and I quickly went to the front of the pack. I was having such a good time, that I forgot I was racing for over 2 hours. We had to do some burpees at the base of the mountains. I got to see a lovely sunrise.

Burpees at 6:30am... They best kind

Saturday 9:00-11:00am: At this point, I was told that I had to do my "T.T." of the sandbag hike. I didn't want to do any more hiking with the sandbag, but I set off anyways. Foolishly, I thought that I should bring my super-light pack for this hike. BIG MISTAKE. The little straps dug into my shoulders badly, and the sandbag fell off at least ten times. At one point, I just lay down in the snow, and thought about sand bags for a while. After about 60 seconds of thought, I realized that I don't like them very much. I finished the TT nearly 2 hours after starting. For me, this was brutally slow. Also, I lost about 2 hours on the leaders during this activity, since they had already done their TT at 3pm the previous day.

Saturday 11:00am-12:30ish pm: I'm really not sure about time here, but we had to hike our sandbags back to Amee farm, and hold them over our heads for 45 minutes. This one really wasn't fun, and it further cemented my earlier thought about sand bags. After this we hiked back. Without the sand bags. yessss.

I'm a little hazy about what happened next, because I was getting tired. I think we hiked back up the mountain again.

Saturday 2:00pm-4:00pm: We had to hike over to a farm, and find pennies in the snow. They zip tied one of our hands to one of our feet. This really was depressing. I looked through the big field, and the stream for about 45 minutes until I realized that someone else had found all their pennies in about 5 minutes, and went to look where they were. I found them all a few minutes later. This was a great example of how they mess with us. It got me kind of upset.
Another Fire: I was taking about 3 minutes each time

Saturday 4:00-8:00pm: At this point we were tasked with a repetitive loop. It involved started a fire (up to about 18 inches), then hiking up the mountain and back. For those of you who know me, I love going up mountains. I am very good at it, and just love every minute of it. I also figured out, that if I kept all my kindling from my previous fire, in a hidden, sheltered location, it made my next fire easier to make. I also collected more tinder on my hikes up and down the mountain. once I combined all these factors, I just put my head down, and started jamming. I was able to hike up and down the mountain, and start a fire, plus collect my puzzle pieces in about 40-45 minutes per lap.

I started eating into the time deficit that I had. On the last lap, I was told I had to go up the mountain one more time. About 900ft of ascent. The leader had about 1 minute lead on me. I realized that I should just unleash all the power that I had left. I knew that running up a mountain would make me really hot, so i took off my shirts. about 2 minutes into the climb, I realized I had dropped my bib! I turned around, and lost another minute picking it back up, out of the snow. With my bib securely zipped in my pocket, I rocketed up the mountain, only slowing on two stair sections. I passed the leader on this climb. I put the puzzle together at the top, and ran back down. I completed the last climb in about 12 minutes, and the descent in about 6 minutes. I ran in, and finished.
All done
I won my first Death Race! The Stoke was on. It took just under 29 hours, and was a lot of fun. I met every challenge, with intelligence, and fitness, and just kept pushing.

Post Race Thoughts: I think the concept for these races is pretty cool. I did a lot of things that I would NEVER have done before, and a lot of things that I do all the time. I liked coming from behind, and I loved that they tried to mess us over with the start time. Being able to come back from a deficit like that was awesome. I met tons of really cool people, and had lots of fun racing with them. A lot of these people aren't elite athletes, just really cool people, pushing themselves to their limits. I have a lot of respect for everyone involved. I'm not going to do the rest of the Death Race Series, mainly due to money, and time, and then fact that I want to focus of different types of races this summer and fall. Having said that, I would LOVE to, and I think this type of racing suits me very well.
Thanks to everyone involved, and thanks to Andy Weinberg for suggesting that I do the race.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Don't Get Lost Snowshoe Raid 2014

This year's "Snowshoe Raid" marks the 3rd consecutive year that I have done the event, and I really don't want to ever miss this fabulous event. It won the "Get Out There" award for best snowshoe race, and I couldn't agree more. This is how the whole event shaped up.
The event is billed as a "Snowshoe Orienteering" race. What a cool concept! (pun intended). The day starts with picking up your map, and planning your route. This goes on for about 1.5 hours, but after I've signed-in, and said hello to everyone I know, it seems like there isn't much time left to plan the route. Decisions are made as to which CPs (Check Points) seem the most worthwhile, and which ones are better left off the menu for the day. The last two years, me and my team mate "Cleared" the course. This means we got all the CPs in the allotted time frame of 3 hours. This is dependent on running speed, orienteering ability, and route selection.

The race had a little twist to it this year, being that we were given our first map before the event and told that we can pick up the second map after 1.5 hours had elapsed. Also, we started at the bottom of Blue Mountain, instead of the top. I love climbing, so this just got me even more fired up.

All the competitors walked to the start, and then the gun went off. It was a mad dash across the field, and then up the hill. I settled into a good rhythm, and was able to run nearly the whole hill. we made it to the top in 10 minutes, with about 250m already under our belts.
After hitting the first few CPs, we settled into the routine of hitting a CP, checking our bearing, and running to the next. A rather funny thing happened about 55 minutes into the race, when I fell into a well. It was completely covered in snow and it just looked like flat ground. I dropped down, and was in the water up to my waist. Overall, I dropped about 8 feet. I managed to catch myself, and took about 5 seconds to process what had happened. As my partner tried to pull me out, I was more concerned with not dropping my gummy-bear snacks that were in the hand. I managed to get out, I ate the gummies, and we kept going. I'm really glad it was me that fell in, because I didn't get hurt. Oh well!
Our strategy wasn't the best, since we tried to clear the entire first map before picking up the second. The snow was a little slow, and our speed was suffering. We didn't get our second map until after 2 hours had elapsed. This left us with lots of CPs to look for, and little time. We ran our hardest, but were only able to pick off about 8 of the closest CPs, before we had to return, to meet the 3 hour time limit. We came in with 1.5 minutes to spare!
After the race, we got bused back to the start, and changed into some dry clothes. We got to talk about the event a whole bunch, and even won some cool prizes! (Orange camel-back bag). Eric and I managed to sneak by with a win, by a margin of only 10 points. WOW, that was close. We ran about 19.5 km, in the 3 hours, and cleared approximately 900m of ascent. Mostly off-trail, through snow. What a day.

After the event, I went Telemark skiing at Blue Mountain, which was fun, but doesn't event compare to how awesome the Snowshoe Raid was. I can't believe people pay nearly as much to ski, as the registration for this event. Mark your calendars, and make sure its not an event that you miss next year!