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Featured Review: Spartan Race – MA Sprint

Where do you begin when you want to recap a weekend like we just had?

For me, it kicked off way before August 10th actually rolled around. For weeks now, the admin team behind the New England Spahtens has been working with the Spartan Race staff, co-ordinating member signups, transfers and all the other countless little things that goes into making sure all the registrations that were from Spahtens were put in the right places, and counted towards our biggest team efforts. Blog posts were written to help people find their way through this, and help new folks understand what was going on. Countless questions, referrals back to the blog posts, more questions … believe me, I was ready for this race weekend!

Our final tally for registrations was 271 Saturday, and 54 Sunday – which I understand to be the biggest team Spartan Race has ever had!

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Friday night, I headed up to Amesbury. For me, it’s about an hour and a half drive with no traffic, so I had booked a room at a nearby hotel for Friday evening. Getting to the venue late afternoon gave me a chance to drop off a bunch of the stuff I had for our biggest team – some banners to put up on the tent, 6 boxes of Snap Infusion SuperCandy‘s that were donated to help us fuel the team through the weekend (and, as usual, we devoured in short time – huge thank you to Snap Infusion for that!!) – catching up with a few of our community members who were giving up their days to volunteer and do everything from stuff packets, to build crew at the event was awesome – I unloaded, setup, and then with the end of the volunteer shift we headed to the Amesbury Ale House for some dinner, some beers and back to the hotel.

I had signed up for the Hurricane Heat – so my “ohmygodO’Clock” alarm kicked off and we headed over to the venue – one big advantage to the HH is you get local parking to the race, less than a mile down the road. Spartan staff had already started screwing with us and changed the mandatory black top requirement into a blue top at the last minute – which was fine by us – instead of the “Buddy Carry Ready” black shirts we had picked up, we switched into our team drill shirts – I’d estimate a good 1/3 of the HH had New England Spahten drill shirts on that morning – we were out in force.

Other mandatory gear, the usual hydration and nutrition, “a small rock” and a blindfold. We never used them – damn you, Spartan! Meeting in the parking lot, burpees are the usual start to the HH, along with getting into a team of 20, creating a team name (Junior Varsity Ninja Death Squad was re-born!), and lining up.

The rest of the HH took us about 3 hours. It consisted of all kinds of things – from a road jog back to the venue, buddy carrying each other up and down the Amesbury slopes, carrying two sandbags up and down the slopes, moving the wood for the fire pit 3’ to the left, rope climbing, burpees, burpees and more burpees. Climbing the incline wall with no ropes was pretty awesome too. By far, the highlight of the HH was the team “race” – through the mud trenches, over the incline wall, looping around to the barbed wire crawl, with 100 burpees on the line for the team who came in last – happily, that wasn’t Team Ninja, but I didn’t see the burpees being enforced (I was already planning how we got around the “100 burpees” penalty if it was us … they didn’t say “100 burpees” *each* …)

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It also seems that for many, the biggest fail of the HH was the PT / Group X trainer portions. In the right settings, I’m sure his speech and his style is motivating and inspirational – but for the HH, we were signed up for group based challenges, and to do the course backwards / sideways / upside down – holding a bridge position and planks for 30 minutes. then burpees and jumping pushups (actual time is unknown), while someone tries to pump you up is actually quite de-motivating – and for me, I was very happy, both times, when it was over. Unfortunately, the second time, it was over because the HH was over – we collected our HH T Shirts (nice, Reebok cotton shirt) and dog tags, took some photos.

Feedback to the Spartan team has been provided, and I will be running it again in 2014, if I have the chance. You should too, there’s nothing else like the hurricane heat, and the 2012 hurricane heat remains one of my favorite OCR events.

Total time for the HH was around 3 hours, and we were done well before 9am, leaving a pretty good window of time before the team heat. This meant I could hoof it back to my car, change into my spare clothes, hydrate a bit, and get back to the venue in time to find my wife and friends getting off the shuttle bus and checking in.

As has been mentioned many times, we were the biggest team – this meant that we had over 270 people register for the event, and Spartan provided us with an awesome, spacious tent – this became mission central, bag drop, meeting area, kids play area – our entire weekends festivities were based out of this 20*20 drop off zone, and we couldn’t have had a good time without it!

As is usual for Amesbury Sports Park, the shuttle buses from the parking lot were plentiful and smoothly run – getting your bib and registration was fast and smooth.

This was the first Spartan event since Reebok became a major sponsor that I had been to, despite a few New York races, nothing else has been close enough for the Spahtens to get to – and it was pretty evident from the festival area that things were very different now. In an effort to make as much space as possible, the start line had been moved half way up the slope, so every inch of flat surface at the bottom was used for tents. Most welcome was the addition of an eating area – those without a team tent to hang out in could sit down in the shade and relax a bit. There were two merchandise tents fully stocked with high quality Reebok shirts and clothes. among other things, several sponsor tents, physical challenges, with the showers, finishers shirt pick up and potties moved around to the back of the main building – they used every square inch available to them, and despite it being crowded at times, I didn’t have to line up for any significant time, and was able to get anywhere I needed to go.

10:15 was our assigned team wave – and we had wanted to get a group photo at the start line – unfortunately, trying to get the ~250 official starters in one place at one time was pretty much impossible, and having a steep hill to contend with – we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience!

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Spartan have a new MC (or at least, new to us) – and he spent a rather long time talking and motivating – which would have been great, if I could hear him, and if he let us out on time- instead we ran late, which meant the 10:30 “regular” wave merged right into ours and things were pretty crowded. I missed listening to the Dropkick Murphy’s, I missed the AROO AROO AROO chant …

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I was running the team wave with my wife Beth, and our friend Liz, and a buddy, Kenny. Liz was our “newbie” for the race, having never done anything like this before – our job was to get her through the obstacles and to the finish line – and we did it 🙂 The course was a relatively short course this year, roughly 3.2 miles – but the obstacles were challenging, with some new ones to me. I particularly liked the inverted incline wall, and the extra heavy herculean hoist. The “gamble” on course was a hyped up option between a longer, flatter route, or a steeper, shorter option – we took the steep option and it wasn’t particularly challenging – but even so, the distance difference was something like 0.1 miles. No big deal.

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The new tire pull/drag was fun, and I spent quite a bit of time at the 8′ wall helping women and shorter folks over it. I made it up the rope both times (HH and the team wave) too. I do have to give credit to the course designer – they put a large bridge at the foot of the mountain – climb a wooden ladder to get up two cargo containers, then walk across a slatted floor, before climbing down. I didn’t give this thing a second thought, but apparently it was a huge obstacle for many folks – enough so that they had to create a “slow lane” to the side to prevent the people who were scared out of their gord from slowing up traffic – I never would have guessed!

Ultimately, the biggest reward was when we crossed the finish line with Liz, truly earning her first Spartan medal – turns out, she’s’ a beast when it comes to the strength stuff, having no problem with the hoist or the tire stuff – and she looked like she was having WAY TOO MUCH fun in the barbed wire crawl 🙂

Beth had a slight run in with one of the gladiators, and ended up at the medics getting an ice pack -big shout out to them for the job they do out there – patching up us crazies! Apart from being stiff, there is no lasting damage, thankfully. Spartan had moved the t shirt pickup to another spot on the venue, right by the showers – this genius move meant that we could finish the race muddy, then go hose off *then* pick up our t shirts – small touches like this make a huge difference in the experience, and show why Spartan Race are leading the sport.

The rest of Saturday was spent hanging out in the tent. NE Spahten team mates were everywhere you looked – whether they were heading back out on the course for yet another go, shopping in the merch tent, eating some food, or simply enjoying each others company. Ultimately, though, it was time to head home, pick up our mini, clean up our clothes and get some much needed food.

Courtesy of Andrew Fogarty
Courtesy of Andrew Fogarty

Sunday was another race day. I had picked up a living social entry to the Sunday event, and wasn’t sure if I was going to use it. I’d scraped myself up pretty badly at an event a week prior, and with the hours spent out on the course on Saturday, things were pretty crusty and red looking – going back through the mud didn’t seem like the brightest idea in the world … regardless, we made sure we were onsite and checked in with plenty of time before the 10:30 team wave – this wasn’t a dedicated wave, with “only” around 50 people on the Sunday team (still the biggest team of the day, by far), but again it was a sea of blue Spahten drill shirts.

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We actually transferred my ticket to Beth – which was smooth – and I came in on a spectator pass. We brought our mini with us this time, and I was *very* grateful to see that not only were there other young kids there, but someone was smart enough to bring a blanket, bubbles, paper and crayons for them! It was the difference between us having to leave early, and getting to hang out all day in the end.

The team tent was much quieter this time – we had space to stretch out our legs, park our butts, and actually have conversations – while the team went out for their second (and in some cases, third, fourth or more) race, I stayed back, played with kids and talked to new folks.

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One of the most impressive things I found was the number of people who were running their first OCR, or their first team event. That was awesome to see – bringing new people from the region into this sport is why we exist, and the more people who introduced themselves to me during the day, the more I was sure that we were doing it right.

Beth’s team came in with epic stories of buddy carrying their injured off the mountain and over the finish line, covered in mud, and overcoming fears – amazing!

This was our one year birthday. A year ago, two guys met and thought that if they combined their two small teams together, we could have something cooler – and thus, the New England Spahtens, with it’s original 100 or so members was born. We entered this weekend with 1,000 members of our community, and every single person on the course this weekend noticed us. Sure, there were other teams out there, but it’s the Spahtens who were unfailingly helpful, kind, supportive and best dressed 🙂 Along with that, it was Spahtens who provided large portions of the volunteer staff for both the build crew, pre-running, course and venue staff, sweeper heats and even today in the break down crew. This is an amazing resource that smart race directors are paying attention to and tapping into.

So – two days of racing, with many days of volunteering. Over 300 team members who were out on the course over the weekend, being unfailingly helpful, kind and supportive – we introduced all levels of people to both the sport, the Spartan brand, and our own community – and we formed memories, and made stories, and new friendships.

If you saw us out there, and want to get involved, it’s easy. We don’t have membership requirements or costs – we’re a community of OCR fans who want to run, support and love this crazy wall climbing, mud crawling, trail running weekend sport. Join us.

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Hurricane Heat: A path of Honor.

The Hurricane Heat is what its all about for me.  It is the culmination of doing what I do naturally in a Spartan Race.  This was my first HH and it will certainly not be my last.  A team is strong because of its commitment to a common goal.  I don’t know what our common goal was beyond having fun.  If that was the goal, our level of commitment far exceeded that of what we needed to achieve that goal.”  HH-007 A Storm in the Desert.

Thats how I felt after my first Hurricane Heat.  I went on to complete 2 more and am now at the precipice of number four.  I still enjoy the HH the most, racing or not.  And I still love it for all the same reasons.  But its not just the Hurricane Heat.  Its the team work that is abundant at every level of Spartan Race.  I was asked to re-post the following as a blog.    But I feel to do so I must mention that Spartan Race is often a defining race for Obstacle Course Racers.  Its seen as the toughest introductory race.  The most competitive of competitive races and the most arduous at all levels.  But its something different to everyone.  Whether it is your first, 10th, 100th race.  If its a Hurricane Heat, Sprint, Super, Beast, Ultra Beast and even the Death Race you must approach them the same.  You must put aside fear and doubt.  You must rise to the challenge you have accepted.  There’s no turning back, move forever forward.

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Some of you will do your first Spartan Race on Saturday. For some it will be your first Hurricane Heat. For a few, you have accepted the challenge to do both. These are brave and wonderful things you have chosen. Do not let one once of trepidation dilute or misguide your challenge. This is what you want. Do not put energy into fear, but channel it into faith in yourself. Your body is a wonderful thing and your mind has not even begun to fathom the heights and distances that it can achieve. I researched some words for you to take with you as you enter this great thing we call Spartan Race.

For the First Timers:
“Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them… they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight.” ~Orison Swett Marden

For the First time Hurricane Heaters:
“The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!” ~ G.S. Patton

For Everyone:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
~ Frank Herbert.

Toes on the line. Eyes on the horizon. What is set before you is no where near as great as what’s inside you. The tightness in your chest is the heart of lion roaring to escape. The pain in your muscles is the last vestiges of weakness digging in to hold on while your true strength pushes it out. The time for preparing is over. The time for Greatness is upon you

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Hurricane Heat – what you need to know

I’ve done one, single Hurricane Heat. There are many people who have done more. There is an entire team of people – the Storm Chasers – who started out life doing them all. Heck, marriages have been formed from people who ran Hurricane Heats together.

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However, that one Hurricane Heat – and my exposure to Hurricane Heats at other events – taught me more than a few things about them – and considering we have such a huge showing of New England Spahtens at the upcoming HH on August 10th, I wanted to let some of the new comers know what they may be facing, and what to expect.

But first – the HH has local origins. Two years ago, a hurricane was blowing up the coast, and hit the New England region late Saturday and into Sunday. Local authorities told Spartan Race they had to shut down their Sunday event, and despite cries of “We’re Spartans, we’ll run in anything!” – Spartan Race made the correct call and cancelled Sunday. People were upset, of course. Transfers were offered. As were rain checks for the next years event. But something else happened. An email went out to those affected telling them to come to the venue, early in the morning, and sign a very special waver. There wouldn’t be a race – no bibs, no timing chips – but the founders of Spartan would be there, and would show them something different. A couple of hundred people showed up and the Hurricane Heat was born.

Now, before every Sprint an Super distance event, they have a Hurricane Heat – sometimes the night before, or the morning of, or the Saturday night – but always in the spirit of the original – no bibs, no timing chips, no formalities.

Last year, I signed up for HH16 – the sixteenth Hurricane Heat, and the one year anniversary. James H wrote a recap, one year ago – http://www.newenglandspahtens.com/dispatches-from-the-storm-front-hh-016-amesbury-ma/

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This is usually where the new folks *and this included us in 2012* start to get confused. Whats expected (you don’t know)? What should I bring (they’ll give you a gear list)? How long will I be out (Expect 2.5 to 3 hours)? and many more questions. It’s easy to say now, but expect the unexpected. Don’t plan. If you are a planner – if you need to know the whys and wheres and hows – then you will NOT have fun at the HH.

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It all starts before the event. There will be no information given until a day or two prior – this includes start time, and starting place. Don’t ask for it, don’t worry about it. You will get it, and you don’t need it until you set off that day anyway. If you are stressed, book a hotel (I have). This lack of information also includes the “required gear” list. There will be one. It will be confusing. It *will* include hydration, nutrition, and a black shirt. In 2012 it also included a hard boiled egg, sandals, candles, a jump rope and several other weird things. Keep reading.

Do NOT over think the required gear list. Do NOT question the required gear list. You may not even use it all, and some of it will be there just to mess with you. Some of you, it will work. It is not unusual for their to be *multiple* gear lists, or for people to bring spares.

The details around what you’ll actually be doing are also vague and random. You will meet, you will do burpees, you will be split into teams and that team will be your family for the next few hours. Everything you do, will be with that team. You will NOT run the course – forwards or backwards – you will run it forwards *and* backwards *and* sideways and sometimes make your own course. You will do some of the obstacles, you will do some backwards or sideways or in ways that aren’t normal.

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Last year, we crawled *down* the barbed wire crawl – the race took you uphill. We carried team mates *on* tires – the race they were for flipping. We climbed walls, we buddy carried each other uphill, we climbed ropes a few times.

You will do a lot of burpees. The number you do will depend on how quickly you come together as a team, and how quickly you learn to work together. Teams will identify the strong members who can help lift things, and slow members who will be paced during running portions. Stay together. There is no timing chip and it does NOT matter if you run slow, need pushing, need lifting or need throwing over a wall.

You will hear a lot of different experiences of the HH – remember, every one is different, and everyone experiences it differently.  My experience of HH16 may be woefully inadequate for this HH, but it’s all I’ve got to go on, and all I’ve got to share.

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Once the start time and location is announced – one tip – don’t be the first person there, and don’t be the last person there. Someone has to be, of course, but it doesn’t pay to show up super early, nor does it pay to be the late guy.

The Hurricane Heat will end with the warrior ethos – something most HH finishers hold dear to their hearts after – you will get your HH dogtags, and HH shirt, and wear both proudly.

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Teams work.

Authors note:  This article was originally requested by The Spartan Race Street Team, and Travis Ketchem.  It has sat in draft form for months waiting for the original version to be published by Spartan Race.  After reading Paul Jones’ article on the importance of community I dug it out, cleaned it up and told the story for the benifit of those who live it.  Spahtens this is your story.  You live it, you wrote it.

~James

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That’s a polished picture right there. The New England Spahten Race Team is a large obstacle course racing team consisting of everyone from absolute beginners, to Spartan Race podium finishers, to WTMs, to Death Race finishers. But it didn’t just pop up over night and it had a humble beginning.

After running the 2011 VT Beast, I became aware of the sport of obstacle course racing as a community. At that time, however, it only hinted at OCR as a culture. I joined Spartan Race’s Facebook page and started to see semi-local people posting on it. I began to notice the same names posting day in and day out.

It wasn’t long before fb friend requests came in. Eventually, I got in touch with Nate DeMontigny. It turned out he and fellow Street Team member Ellen Duffey had a fb group called the Masshole Spahtens. It was a good play on the whole Boston based team theme. If I recall correctly, there were about 7 of us Nate DeMontigny, Ellen Duffey, Jeremy Fedderly, Kimberly Louise Jean, Myself and some others. It was fun to network and we made an effort to sign up as a team for our two local events in 2012 – Amesbury, MA and Killington, VT. As we registered the first team we decided that Masshole, although descriptive, just wasn’t family friendly so we became the MA Spahtens.

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2012 :  And the MA Spahtens just kept growing.  Names started to align with faces, repeat offenders kept posting, eventually group gatherings started. Small runs, work outs, 5ks and more were being done together. Relatively, we stayed small and social.  As we saw other groups form and dominate fb we remained true to our New England roots…or so we thought. A chance meeting between Jessica Wohlen, Sandy Rhee and myself at a Boston expo to promote Spartan Race and the Street Team gave our team the boost it needed. When the right people meet up, things change. These “encounters with greatness” are without a doubt a founding and ever present theme with this team. It was not long after this expo that we started to see more names being added daily. We weren’t suffering growing pains any longer, and it was clear we were on the scene, albeit on a very small stage.

August 2012 was the 1st anniversary of the Hurricane Heat. It was here that I got to truly observe the power of the our Team. There was a huge field of participants at the event, yet even in the dark, I couldn’t turn around without recognizing someone.  Sandy Rhee, Katie Weber, Mercedes Monroe, Keith Glass and on and on and on.  Team Ninja, Team Lost, Storm Chasers and more. You just knew awesomeness was afoot.  The MA Spahtens were here to stay and were expanding our presence.

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Post Sprint:  Enter Paul Jones. I had met Paul online, but had never actually “met” him. He was very active on the team page and highly motivating. I liked or rather bro-loved him from the start. On that August day, I raced the HH, our team heat, and the sweeper heat. In between I watched the great spectacle of the festival area. I worked the future race tent, and the exit poll area with other fellow Spahtens like Kay Norm, Kimberly and Hilary Peak. I continued to meet Spahtens who I had only seen online.

In one quick introduction I met Mike McKenzie who with others, had his own team – the Rhode Island Spartans.  Providence could not be a better word for what came later. You see, like most teams, our members belonged to multiple teams. It doesn’t weaken one team or the other but it makes organization difficult. So as I was posting about how awesome the Amesbury Sprint was in the MA Spahtens page, and how meeting all these teammates was very motivating, Mike and I had a sidebar going on. We thought that it was silly having two teams who basically share all the same members so Mike suggested a name merge. That would be simple enough since the two team names were already similar.  So, in what took all of thirty seconds, the New England Spahtens were born.

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The NE Spahtens welcomes anyone from anywhere. We race on any course, do any challenge, and seem to put at least one team member in every Spartan Race. We will field teams in every major OCR in our area this year. More importantly, we look for any new or upstart race to compare it to Spartan race. We are constantly seeking challenges and events.  When we can’t find them we make our own. Through our team Spahten Elite Fitness has been established. These groups meet regularly on Sundays and Mondays.

I have mentioned only a few of the amazing people who are part of this amazing team.  At this writing the team is over 570 strong and growing.  Each day I read posts of amazing athletes on the team.  Stories of triumphs and overcoming obstacles so far beyond races.  We do our best to feature these amazing people on our web page under our Athlete of the week column.

The things that have been accomplished through this team are extraordinary.   I can only touch the tip of the iceberg here in this article.  Its only March and we have done twice as many events as I could have imagined last year.  This team is a team.  We support, encourage, promote and protect each other.  We lean on each other in times of weakness and in times of strength.  You are never alone here.  Your never last, never the slowest.  YOU ARE PART OF THE TEAM.  That is the end of it.  The Spahtens celebrate the fastest finisher and the last finisher with equal praise.  Don’t give up.  You wouldn’t give up on someone else, don’t give up on yourself.

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Balloons: Holding firm and letting go.

Hey All.  Its been a long while since I have posted.  I have missed writing a great deal but since October I have had a lot on my hands.

When I woke this morning I had the image of a bunch of balloons in my head.  An odd thing to be thinking of when you wake up for sure.  Taking my littlest one in hand.  And then releasing the boy from his self inflicted prison of a crib, a prison he is fully capable of entering and escaping on his own.  I descended to the living room to feed and entertain my charges, leaving mom to catch up on some much needed sleep.   While descending the stairs the image of balloons returned, this time with some balloons escaping my grasp with each step down I took.

Parents aren’t given an awful lot of time to ponder anything in the first years of Parenthood.  Our children are our only prevailing responsibility.  Everything needs to be done secondary to our children’s needs and they need everything.  I don’t think you can truly say you are an adult until you try to raise a child.

With all this running through my mind, finding “one Thomas!” on the TV, and soothing the baby I was still pondering the balloons.  It occurred to me that the balloons were bright in color and seemed to radiate in the sun.  They were all different shapes and sizes.  But they are fragile. You need to be careful with them.  They are filled with gas causing them to rise and lift you up.  But if there are too many and you aren’t careful you will lose contact with the ground.

And thats when I got it.  The balloons are the contacts, relationships, commitments, friendships, responsibilities, goals, and aspirations in my life. They are everything I have done and hope to do.  Things I want to maintain and build.  Each one represents a little portion of my life.  Full of the elation to lift me up.  Bright, shiny and colorful.  But each with its own tiny string attached.  A little umbilicus tying me to it.  I’ve gripped so tightly to those strings over the past year that they are starting to separate me from the ground.  If I continue to go up too high, that ground won’t be solid enough to withstand me crashing back into it when I finally let go.  So the only thing left to do is loosen my grip on a few balloons.

I can’t just let go because those balloons represent everything, or nothing.  Some balloons are small but combined with 1 million other small balloons take up a lot of space and create terrible lift.  Some balloons are very large and will always provide the lift I need. The large cumbersome ones need to be held on to tight enough to be secure but not so tight that they would pop.

So where does this leave me and why did I blog this.  Well its really all right there.  I haven’t posted on fb for a while.  Haven’t been doing many of the training sessions that are going around like VD.  Haven’t been at many race’s and worst of all, on the personal level, I haven’t been training.  Its all about the balloons you see.

I went around this last year collecting balloons and making a nice big bunch.  All sorts of colors and shapes.  I attached a weight of worth to them.  Mostly that worth was attached to a medal or tee-shirt of some sort.  Some were weighted just by a day or an event.  The value I was assigning some balloons was not as much as I should have been assigning others.  The bigger and not so colorful balloons.  Balloons that were hugely inflated, more thin skinned, and required much more care than the smaller half filled balloons.

Obviously this problem has been wondering through my mind longer than today.  Longer than a single image of a bunch of balloons.  I suppose in the last 2 months or so I have subconsciously been doing exactly what I have been needing to do without an imagery concept.  I needed a metaphor, balloons and strings finally popped into my head and I finally knew what had to be done or more astutely what I was doing.  I had started to loosen my grip on smaller, brighter balloons.  I have seen friends give huge flowery  goodbyes on social networks.  Send cards, emails and texts of how they just need to escape and focus on the “important things”.  I didn’t do all that.  I just loosened my grip.  As much as I love following the trials and tribulations, highs and lows of so many people, love to give encouragement and inspiration, and most of all be part of a team which does that; I needed to and need to let a few balloons go.

It hurts a little to do this.  But my reality, my ground, needs a lot more from me than all my little balloons.  Nothing bad will happen to my balloons if I let a few go here and there.  They will just end up in someone else’s sky. They might become larger and more important.  They might even become attached to a child of their own.  And learn, like I have, that they too have balloons to let slip away.  There will always be a string attached to my balloons.  And if necessary and if time allows maybe I can go find some new shiny balloons or go looking for some that I have let go.  For a wonderful time however I enjoyed holding on to all the balloons I could.  But now I just need to hold on to a few precious few, and maybe borrow an old or new one  from time to time

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Chicago Super Spartan / Hurricane Heat

In the world of Spartan Race, there are a several different racing distances that you may compete in, each with their own color to represent them on the event schedule. Generally speaking, Sprints (red) are 3-5 miles, Supers (blue) are 6-9 miles, and Beasts (green) are 10-13 miles, but there have been plenty of races that exceed those guidelines. If you finish one race in each distance category within a calendar year, you will have successfully completed what is referred to as the Trifecta, earning you a shiny new medal that encompasses all three colors.

After conquering two sprints (PA and MA) and the Beast (VT), I needed to get a Super in before the end of 2012. Since there is no Super in the New England area as of yet, I had only three options: VA, NJ, or IL. I happened to be away during the weekends of the first two, so if I was going to complete this Trifecta as I was determined to do, I would have to travel to the latter. Flying was not in my budget, which meant that a crazy road trip was the only chance I had. Fortunately, the Spartan community is full of like-minded individuals, so after some asking around, I found eight others who were willing to join in on the journey. I had only met a few of them in person before, but what better way to become friends than to spend more than 48 hours, over 2,200 miles of highway, in cramped quarters? We met up in Boston on Thursday night, hopped in a twelve passenger van, and made the seventeen hour drive toward the Midwest, with a goal of making it there with enough time to participate in the Hurricane Heat (HH-019) at 6pm SHARP.

We arrived in plenty of time to have a real lunch at an establishment where we were the only patrons under the age of forty and to allow some of us to take quick cat naps. I opted to shower the road grease off before heading out for the HH, which probably was not a fabulous idea due to the wet hair plus cold weather combination, but obviously my brain was not functioning properly. It was dark and it was cold, so the five of us made sure to don as many warm layers as possible before making our way to the race location. Cue 87 Hurricane Heaters meeting and exchanging “hellos” and “nice to meet yous” as we awaited our instructions from Tommy Mac. I’m still trying to process everything that happened, but I will try to recall as much as possible.

Our first task from Tommy was to run from the festival area down to the street and back. Total distance was maybe a half mile, if that. When we returned, we were asked to gather into five groups and complete thirty burpees. Then, we began “Operation Keep Spartans Warm.” This consisted of constructing five separate fire pits, which needed several different supplies to create: gravel, firewood, and concrete blocks. The gravel, which was retrieved via plastic buckets, was hauled from the registration area and placed in the center of the fire pit. The concrete blocks came from a huge pile of debris that we had to sift through. A circle of concrete surrounded the gravel in the middle with a square of concrete around that, a slight distance away to be used as seats. Enough firewood to start a fire was placed on top of the gravel and the rest had to be stacked neatly next to the fire pit. The crew crowned the best fire pit of the bunch then asked us to deconstruct one that was too close to another and reconstruct it in another location. After that, we assembled into a large circle where James (one of NE Spahten’s own) was asked to recite the Warrior Ethos. We then counted off before heading into the woods.

A good chunk of our group struggled to keep up with our walking pace, which resulted in lots of angry comments between members and lots of penalty burpees for being last. The trails were very wet with thick mud and the strewn leaves made traction a little tricky in some areas. The first mission we encountered was a grueling one! We were asked to go through a section of deep trenches, with two (or three, I forget) of our men not touching the ground. The trenches seemed endless and it took a decent amount of time to finish. Once we were allowed to have everyone on the ground, a hundred penalty burpees were issued, which equated to our team of eighteen doing six each. From there, it’s a blur of trail running madness, but we did complete a couple parts of the course during the few hours we were out there. There were some bunny hops and jump lunges mixed in there as well, but the best stuff came towards the end of the event.

Two of the founding members of the Storm Chasers, Jennifer and Danny, eloped over the summer. Recently, at the Carolina Beast, they were able to tell their families the news. We had a mock wedding for them in the middle of the Hurricane Heat! We were asked to assemble into rows of five on either side of the “aisle” and even had someone to officiate. Jennifer’s Dad was participating in the HH and he was finally able to walk his daughter down the aisle! To congratulate them, we each did fifteen burpees for the happy couple. More trail running ensued before we finally came back toward the festival area, with the Storm Chasers team somehow in the lead. We scaled the horizontal cargo net and were rewarded for being the first team back by getting to do frog jumps for what seemed like an eternity. Following that, they instructed us to do bear crawls to the port-a-potties with each group to line up in front of one. Once all the groups had arrived, they asked for the lightest person on each of the first three teams to come forward. I was about to offer myself before Chris, one of my road mates who is a Spartan employee, looked at me and shook his head, but it was too late for one of my other road mates, Shaun. We had to carry the port-a-potties, which were as clean as they would ever be, over to another spot in the festival area with poor Shaun inside of it. Then, each team needed to set up two picnic tables. Sounds easy enough, but the catch was that our two heaviest men had to be atop them. Twenty-five burpees were issued and then we were free to warm up by the fire and collect our HH gear! My hands were numb and my back/thighs were frozen due to a leaking Camelbak, so we took our t-shirt and dog tags before making our way to the van as soon as possible. Fortunately, our roommates that had stayed behind were nice enough to order pizza and wings for us, so we were able to satiate our hunger once we returned to the room.

The next morning, a few of our group were running in the elite heat, so we all hauled ourselves out of bed early to get ready to head over to the site. It was a very chilly morning and lots of layers were needed again. I could not get myself warm, no matter what I did, so after we got our bibs, I attempted to roast myself in front of one of the fires we had so kindly built the night before. At one point, I looked over and my favorite elite racer, Ella Kociuba, was standing right next to me, trying to warm up before the first heat of the day. I was kind of star struck, but I somehow mustered enough courage to say “hello” to her, to which she responded with an “Are you Kay?” and a giant bear hug. Totally made my day that she recognized me, even though it may possibly mean I stalk her too much! I have yet to meet an elite racer that didn’t seem completely down-to-earth. We wished our elite racing road mates well and watched them head out on the course.

I will start by saying that Clifs Insane Terrain Park, where the race was held, has its own obstacles already set up, which Spartan definitely utilized. The course wasn’t very hilly, but you had to trudge through streams and basins that were loaded with mud and leaves, so it was slow going for me. I can’t remember the order of these obstacles and I’m sure I’m missing some, but I will present them in true Kay fashion with bullets and my accompanying notes.

  • Rappel – Use a rope to descend a steep hill and then use a rope on the other bank to get up the next hill. There was a long line for this and it ate up a good amount of time.
  • Monkey bars – One side rotated and the other side was fixed. I chose the stable side and made it across.
  • Pair of eight foot walls – ‘Nuff said
  • Two barbed wire sections – One was in the beginning of the race, not too rocky. I lost my gloves during this and didn’t it realize it until after, so I was a little bummed. The other one was at the very tail end of the race. It was longer and full of soupy, thick clay mud. Definitely the muddiest Spartan I’ve been to.
  • Over-under-throughs
  • Log over-unders – The overs were really high. Didn’t see many people making it over these without some kind of assistance.
  • Rope climb – First time I’ve failed this one, but it was at the end of the course and suspended over water that was freezing and up to my neck, which zapped all of my energy.
  • Traverse wall – First time failing this one since my first race. I was two blocks away from the end.
  • Spear throw – Still have yet to stick a spear!
  • Log ascent – Right after the wicked muddy barbed wire section. Looked a little too precarious for me and there was a super long line, so I took the burpee penalty.
  • Tractor pull – Longest line I’ve seen other than at the sled pull in Vermont, so I did burpees instead of waiting.
  • Balance beam – I scooted on my butt, which tore a nice hole in my pants, but it was suspended over water and I did not want to take a dip.
  • Sandbag carry- Wicked long, but not straight uphill. The route was more along the lines of a motocross track with small hills.
  • Log cross over – Water obstacle with logs suspended horizontally, varying distances apart. You had to move from each log without touching the water. I opted out.
  • Triple balance beam – Three balance beams, which were not fixed in place, of varying heights. I scooted again, but made it through.
  • Water filled trenches – They made you go through these and the water was very, very cold!
  • Log jump – Preexisting obstacle where the logs were in water. I made it to the third to last and couldn’t reach so burpees for me.
  • Fire jump – Easy, peasy.
  • Gladiators – One pushed me into the hay bales, but they’re always gentle with me.
  • Trench jumps – Kind of self explanatory. Jump across the trench to the next bank.
  • Rope traverse – One rope overhead, one under your feet and you cross the water. I really had to overreach on this one as I’m not the tallest chick on the planet, but I made it across.

It was not my best performance, by far. I ended with 180 burpees, 90 due to failure and 90 due to opting out of long lines or potential injuries. It took me just over three and a half hours to complete, which was under my goal of four hours, but a bit shy of where I truly hoped I would be. I had to do a lot of walking as my shins are still not back to 100% from killing them at the Beast last month, but I was probably better off that way since the course was so muddy. Since its Breast Cancer Awareness month, the ribbon on the blue Super medal was pink. Although pink is my least favorite color, it’s unique and I like that! Also, I’m pretty sure I was borderline hypothermic at the finish, so I made it a point to try to get warm…just as soon I had my Trifecta medal around my neck! Off to the Merch booth I went to get it before heading in the direction of the showers, which thankfully were equipped with warm water. Some of my road mates had gone back to the hotel to shower and change, so I was stranded without my change of clothes until they returned, but luckily, the changing rooms are heated so I hung out there until Gaby found me and we could leave. We all showered and changed before shipping back up to Boston, but not without first stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings! All in all, it was a great weekend with great friends and I look forward to the next time I can join them for a Spartan trip!

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Team Gear: A review.

First off, it must be said.  The team Jersey:  WOW!!!  I am so freaking impressed by the color blended logo and personalization.   The logo, it goes without saying, is a home run out of any park.  Including Yellowstone.  Mike MacKenzie’s design is so tight, so professional it really just sets the tone and pace for everything to come.

Personally I’m about 5’9″ and about 190 lbs.  I fall more on getting fit than actually fit but still I opted for a medium Jersey.  Its a four way stretch material, supple and very comfortable.  True flat seams and ample neck room add to the comfort of the wear.  For my size I found the medium a little snug but not constricting.  Although I might have opted for a large I don’t know that it would make a huge difference.  The shirts design appears to intend for a snug fit.  The shirt is an interesting and purposeful cut.  Broader at the shoulder, trim through the torso/midsection, and a slight flare at the bottom.  I have read reviews about how the material is a much heavier weave than Under Armor.  This is true however I think much heavier is a bit of a reach.  It is heavier but only because it is intended as outer wear and not “under” wear.  I can’t wait to get a race under my belt in it.  This is a great shirt, and even though it looks like a show piece shirt it certainly begs to get muddy and wet.

Tech shirt, T-shirt, and Hoodie.  I had used someone’s suggestion to go a size down.  I don’t think this was a wise decision.  I typically wear a large.  On some specific Tech and T-shirts I can get away with a medium but not on a sweatshirt. For the Team Gear I would say order your regular size.  The Sweat shirt is nice.  A good weight for post race.  Not terribly heavy.  I have washed everything once.  I dared not dry the cotton sweatshirt and t-shirt for fear of shrinkage.  The embroidery is spot on!  It showcases very well and is very discernible as the team logo.  I might have liked to see it a little larger, or the Akuma logo a bit smaller.  I don’t have any issue with the Akuma logo on it.  I’ve seen enough real Football to understand sponsor saturation on a shirt.

The tech shirt was my only disappointment.  I loved the subtle mock collar instead of a a standard crew neck.  The color panels were excellent.  Again I might have liked blue with red panels instead of gray just to keep with the Team Jersey color scheme.  The shirt is only a two way stretch. So its more snug than I would like for the cut of the shirt. Had I purchased a large instead of a medium this wouldn’t even be an issue. I think the Tech top is an excellent all around athletic shirt and top notch for racing.

The t-shirt is a t-shirt.  I didn’t find the quality excellent but its fair.  The embroidery again, excellent.  And again my poor choice in sizing makes it a little more snug than I would prefer.  In the future I would like to see the Sweatshirt and T-shirt with a silk screened logo as opposed to embroidery but that is a personal style preference and nothing against the products.

I’m very interested to see how these shirts hold up over time, washing, shrinking, and racing.   Im quite confident that the Jersey will stand up.  Im positive the rest will too.  In the future I hope some personalization can be done to the Sweats, Tees and Techs.  Maybe even in time some Polos and trainer pants and racing shorts.

A huge thank you to Jessica for making this happen.  To Mike for the unbelievable designs, in marketing its all visuals and branding these are the strongest images I’ve seen.  If I were at a race and saw this shirt I’d buy one for sure.  To Paul for pushing and pushing.  And to Michael for his input and effort with Akuma.  Great things come from small beginnings.  Heres to great racing, great representing and building the best OCR team in the Northeast.

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HH-007 A storm in the desert

0530, 11 Feb 2012 Rawhide.  Chandler Arizona.  HH-007

Dispatches from the Storm Front.

Arizona, pre-dawn.  The darkened desert stretches for miles and seems to absorb the light from my rental cars headlamps.  The ever expanding darkness is not a comfort.  Coyotes really are howling in the distance, otherwise I had the area to myself.  Off in the distance the coyote pack was getting really fired up now.  Those little desert tricksters, they definitely knew something I didn’t.  I’m sure they’re on Joe DeSena’s payroll.

Shortly more cars begin to arrive.  People started lacing up shoes, turning on headlamps, mowing down powerbars and prepping for the unknown.  Though the darkness we could hear “Everyone lets form it up!”  I know the voice.  Its a measured thoughtful voice.  Much like that of a college professor.  You know the voice, its the kind of voice that asks ridiculously hard questions with an even, relaxed tone because he knows all the answers.  Its Joe D, he must have rode in on the backs of his howling coyotes.

Dispatch note number 1:  Although they tell you not to be late, being early is not a prize.

So while we wait for other HH’ters to arrive and get themselves set; we burpee, we jumping jack, we yoga, we do not wait standing still. As 0600 approaches we here “Tommy, do we have everyone?”  Its a logistical question, it’s asked in that all knowing tone of a Senior Drill Sergeant.   The kind of tone that makes a statement in the form of a question.  Joe’s saying everyone that is present is all that will be going. The question didn’t require an answer.  Its go time.

With no regard to instruction our first task is beckoned.  “Break yourselves into 3 teams, preferably with people you don’t know!” 30 29 28 27…”Who’s the team Captain?”  Raising Micha Arnoulds hand I proudly proclaimed “Micha!”  26,25,24,23.  Micah went to retrieve something when “Whats the team name?” was asked.  “Street Team!” I responded.  Little did I know how well this fit our team.  There were at least  7 Spartan Race Street Team members on our team that ended up with 13 members. As for the other 2 teams;  Rattlesnake and the one that wasn’t Rattlesnake.  They were just plain awesome.  Watching people give their all is something that really should be experienced first hand.

Dispatch note number 2:  When you leave the comfort of your car for a Hurricane Heat you should treat it like you are combat jumping from a plane.

If you need it you better have it, if you have it you better need it.  We were told we would have a place to leave our bags, and we did, well into the HH.  But because of the distance between the start and the bag check there are currently a few cell phone customers who are replacing water logged cell phones.  Oh well it is the Hurricane Heat.

This is Spartan Race.  This is the Hurricane Heat.  This is madness.  As we gleefully follow Joe D and Tommy Mac into the darkness it occurs to me that none of this makes any sense.  Its dark, its the desert, there are things out there that do go bump in the night.  I’m not a strong runner and I question the level of my fitness every time I leave the house.  With all this on my mind, into the darkness I ran following a man who has been quoted as saying “Marathons are cute”.  Why am I doing this?  I don’t know.  But because I don’t know the why, I might as well try.

So we ran.  A short distance into the run we received our 5 team sandbags and team flag.  I was handed the Reservoir Dogs flag, after a few Tire Guys Death Race Camps this may be the lightest thing I have ever had to carry.  A flag is a rally point, it gives people a place to belong, a place to center on, it gives purpose.  I felt honored.  Team Street Team under Captain Micha came together quickly, and this was awesome to behold.  Strangers only moments before were now comrades.  Teamwork was instantly second nature. accountability was paramount, numbers checks were held often.  Sandbags were rotated out regularly.  I don’t think anyone was ever over burdened by them.  Obstacles were approached, crushed and left for dead.  The energy was palpable, no one ever lacked for support or encouragement.  Feed us more Joe!  We love it.

If you have done a Spartan Race you know the obstacles.  There are things to go under, over, and through.  Cargo nets to assail, ropes to climb, ropes to pull.  Heavy things to lift or to carry or to drag.  What I wasn’t prepared for was what made this Spartan event epic.  It was the apocalyptic amount of water obstacles. This is the desert for crying out loud!  We swam rivers, jumped in holes filled with water, swam under bridges and trudged like Army Rangers though a water and debris filled drainage ditch.  We forded the river, swam across it, and swam down it with the current.  Later we walked up the river against the current.  In the drainage ditch Spartan Race managed to get the obstacle so low over the ditch you had to put your head under this awful water to navigate it.  Through all of this I couldn’t have been happier!

Dispatch note number 3:  Commitment is something you can read about, but to see it, to be part of it:  Is to be a part of greatness.

The Hurricane Heat is what its all about for me.  It is the culmination of doing what I do naturally in a Spartan Race.  This was my first HH and it will certainly not be my last.  A team is strong because of its commitment to a common goal.  I don’t know what our common goal was beyond having fun.  If that was the goal, our level of commitment far exceeded that of what we needed to achieve that goal.