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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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Miami Spartan Super 2/23/2013

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t05AD8C9KVY&feature=share&list=UUkYqSTqRQtgd-DTsiNw5zMg]

Read the team reviews!

The second Spartan Super of 2013 arrived in North Miami this weekend. 80+ degree temps, high humidity, ample sunshine, and a powerful  UV index were in abundance.  This event holds unique importance to me because it marks the one year anniversary of my introduction to obstacle course running.  I didn’t participate in Miami Spartan 2012, but some friends did.  Their pictures ignited an obstacle race Google search and I quickly went from beginner to enthusiast.  Now, a year later, I was eager to meet a handful of robust fellow enthusiasts representing the NE Spahtens who made the journey seeking tropical spartan glory.

Oleta River State Park requires a 5-10 minute shuttle from a separate parking location just like Amesbury. The shuttle bus actually drove under a cargo net bridge created by the stacks of two by two cargo containers. Athletes were rolling over the top of the net as shuttles passed through underneath.  The festival area seemed tight and chaotic at times, but any tent/service I needed was utilized in a timely manner. Free samples of coconut water, protein bars/drinks, etc. we’re notably absent or were hidden.

The 8.3 mile course highlighted the South Florida inshore ecosystem of bays, estuaries, mangroves, seagrapes, pine, bamboo, and limestone. Several miles of mountain bike trails meandered through the forest. Here’s the list of obstacles in order thanks to a spectator map:

  • Under over under over walls
  • Water crossing via bay
  • Over under through walls
  • Monkey Bars
  • Water crossing with buoy line
  • 7 foot walls
  • 6 foot walls
  • Rolling mud (trenches)
  • Tractor Pull
  • Sandbag carry
  • Cargo net bridge
  • Atlas lift (lift large chuck of concrete, walk, 5 burpees, lift and return)
  • 8 foot walls
  • Tire flip (three over and three back)
  • Hercules hoist
  • Bucket hoist (repel down embankment, fill three homer buckets, spill H2O, climb back up)
  • Rope climb
  • Traverse wall
  • Mud crawl under barbed-wire
  • Slippery wall
  • Gladiator pit

Spectators had excellent access to the final five obstacles as well as a walking trail to view others.  I was pleased to complete all of the obstacles with zero penalty burpees.  I did complete 30 “team” burpees for the two locals I ran with.  I also learned a valuable lesson:  Don’t make Spartan races any harder than necessary.  For example, I chose the one XL tire because I was impatient.  The body strain nearly left me with a soprano voice and sent me to the OR to repair soft tissue tears.

I found it difficult to  partition my time among several local factions, the traveling Spahtens, and my family.  I look forward to seeing new and familiar Spahtens as we travel around the globe seeking new challenges.  Thank you to Keith (solid man), Nele (Naila-friendly beast), Corrine (sweet soul), Tom (proud dad), Ellen (cat who swallowed canary smile), Betty (saw her for a second), and Yvette (self-proclaimed bag crasher).  I’ll see you at the Ruckus!

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Arizona Spartan Sprint Review 2/9/2013

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The second Spartan race of 2013 was held this weekend at the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.  Spartan HQ changed the venue just a few weeks prior to the event for a “more challenging course”.  As a result, logistics also became more challenging due to a 30 mile ride to parking, a 25 minute bus ride (each way) to the venue, and a 45 minute wait to board a return bus.  It was time to STFU!
The 4.7 miles sprint meandered through single-file trails littered with loose rocks of all sizes. Flat ground was rare and there were two steep hill climbs both up and down. My knee-high socks protected my shins from the desert scrub brush and the brutally sharp gravel I encountered on the crawls. The 47 degree temperature chilled my FL bones once I became water-logged during the last mile.

Obstacles:

  • Under/Over
  • Over Under Through
  • Concrete carry with 5 burpees (new to me)
  • Walls of 6′, 7′ & 8′
  • Log Hop (obstacle formerly known as Stump Traverse)
  • Monkey Bars
  • Pancake/Sandbag Carry (appeared shorter than expected)
  • Wall Traverse
  • Tractor Pull
  • Spear Throw (my only failed obstacle)
  • Rope Climb
  • Mud Mounds & Water Trenches
  • Cargo Net
  • Mud Crawl under barbed-wire (long on a bed of super sharp gravel)
  • Slippery Wall (no running start due to mud/water trench)
  • Fire Jump
  • Gladiators

I thoroughly enjoyed the desert terrain and panoramic views from the hilltops.  Cloudy skies and the cold temperatures were not ideal, but it’s part of the adventure.  Many obstacles had improved signage with descriptions.  The Reebok name was ubiquitous and omnipresent.  The festival area seemed a little tight and chaotic, but all the usual tents/booths were represented.  Bag check was a total mess.  It was drastically understaffed and many Spartans including me were permitted to retrieve their own.  Growing pains with volunteers at new venues are to be expected.

I’m looking forward to meeting NE Spahtens at the Miami Super, only 13 days away and 30 degrees warmer!

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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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DNF: Ultra Aftermath.

I originally pictured the finish line as a goal.  But the real finish is so much further than the finish line.  Its at the Pickle Barrel for the after party.  Its Sunday when those racers take the field.  Its next month when people are still asking “Well how bad was it?  Really.”  Its next year at the Amesbury Sprint.  The NJ Super and at the Death Race.  The finish will be every single day after the race, whether its training for another race or just having a run.  It will be that sense of pride when I talk with these other crazy Spartans and we smile at the word “Crazy”.  The finish line is so much more than an inflated arch.  Its that accomplishment of completing the task, what ever the task maybe.”

The danger of writing something down is reflection.  I may or may not have created my own destiny.  Made a self-fulfilling prophesy, or simply slapped that bitch Karma one to many times on her ass.  For what ever reason I played till the chips were down, the house wasn’t dealing anymore cards, and they were calling in their marker.  They say you have to know when to hold ’em, fold ’em, walk away or run.  Well I didn’t hold, fold or walk.  They just wouldn’t let me run any more.  The Ugly lights got turned on and the race director Mike Morris said “Sorry folks the parks closed.  The Moose at the front should have told you

But the end never reflects the effort.  Even now in my head my mind is still running that course.  My body is in a battered state, yet I know if I could just throw on a pair of shoes I could drag myself back into a moving state. So where am I, what has happened, where to I go now.  Well the smart man goes to Google.  A smart woman taught me that.

Here’s what I found:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  These are the 5 accepted stages of grief and loss.  “Although presented in a set order, they are not necessarily experienced in that order. In addition, most people cycle through each stage multiple times.”  

Denial even my own initial reaction of telling myself “I am not denying this, I accept that I didn’t finish” is in fact the denial.  Its denying myself the pain of the not finishing, to try to jump over to acceptance and move on.  There’s nothing healthy about that.

Anger is easy I am full of it!  But what I am not full of is blame.  There is only one person responsible for me not finishing:  ME.  Not the course, I had the endurance to continue, even on a faster pace than my first lap.  Not Spartan Race;  they had a rule they enforced it, I fell on the wrong side of it.  I do not blame my friends who I freely chose to stay with, staying with them may have been the reason I had that second wind and the energy to go on.  No, blame is a selfish emotion, it finds fault in others and absolves the self of wrong.

Bargaining, I’ll be going through this little hell for a while.  Oddly enough not on the course.  When I started that second lap I damn well knew it was a “suicide run”  I had no idea how long I was going to be able to go, but I had a pretty good idea they weren’t going to let me get far.  I went anyway because that is what I came to do.

Depression.  Do I really need to delve into this one?  If your not up to speed on my thoughts on this by now read on it becomes self apparent.

Acceptance.  I accepted this long before I should have and this why I am writing.  I have accepted my DNF graciously.  And that is not the right way.  I do not and will not accept this as a defeat, as quitting, or as failing.  I simply ran but oddly enough ran out of time.

I was accepted to undertake a great challenge.  An experience for a life time.  In an activity that I truly love, I, me, the little runner that couldn’t was given the opportunity to bite off as much as I could, and choke on my own hubris.  The names I was set next to.  Athletes of the highest caliber.  Training regimes which rival Olympic athletes, even Olympic Athletes!  And me.  Chugga chugga pokey pokey 30 minute 5k. What the hell was I thinking.  26 miles over a mountain!  I really thought I could do it.  I prepared a little, had some quality equipment and my little bucket of round 2 items.

I’m not in the mood for writing a recap.  I will say when we started I felt like ass.  And I knew the initial accent would be tough.  I didn’t speculate that it would be as tough as it was.  But that first glorious down hill portion set the pace in my mind.  I was going to finish!  My character had other plans.  I fell back onto my personal training and habits, which is to place others first and myself second.  It wasn’t until it was too late did I make the hard choice to leave. It was personally my lowest moment.  After that I made a unbelievable accent to the summit, across it and then flew like a damn dive bombing eagle down the back side.  People complained how bad it was but I couldn’t tell you,   For myself I never saw it.  I looked at the ground for milliseconds at a time: Enough to decide if the foot hold would support 50% of my weight or less.  Yes Jesus walked on water but I was doing my damnedest to run over mud and stay clean.  My shoe and shirts swap at the Start/Finish zone ate some time, and I ate too.  Everything that was left in my pack and more.  I washed it down with warm PBR.  I looked on stunned at other runners who pulled the plug.  And I saw one undefeated soul.  We knew it was hopeless but out we went.  What took me hours earlier took less than 2 on my second lap.  We could have gone faster still but had linked up with yet another forlorn group.  It was all for not however.  Arguing with rules is not my style.  Being pulled was not a surprise or anything, we knew there would be time hacks.  That’s life.  Shit happens.

I only want one thing and one thing only.  Another shot at it.  In my personal life this is going to be twice as hard.  But I am a blessed man.  I am thankful for all that is set before me.  Challenges and rewards alike.  I just want a chance to fix my choices and be able to put the 100% at it again.  If I get some flak about that.  Than I might enter back into Anger.

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Ultra Beast: A few final thoughts before the Ultra.

I thought I wanted to blog about this coming weekend.  But couldn’t muster the energy.  I searched inspirational quotes.  Went over some old blogs.  Looked at other peoples blogs.  I noticed that a melancholy sense of apathy has set in.  My bin is packed.  Bags are packed.  Everything is prepped and waiting.  GPS is set.  Time to leave is set.  Emergency numbers and contact numbers programed.  Fridays events lined up.  Alarm set for Saturday.  Last “training” run has been done.  Rest period is in motion.  1 year of preparation, anticipation and aggravation is done.

At this time tomorrow I plan on sitting on my tail gate in the parking lot above the course, just like I did last year.  The Start and Finish line at the bottom of a very steep hill, will lay in front of me.  There will be an air of frantic energy as people put the final touches on the race.  The trick will be to not buy into that frenetic chaos. Later on at the Outback, there will be an all to familiar fraternity of racers boasting and retelling stories.  It will be wonderful. Hurricane Heaters, Trifecta Tribe members, those looking to complete the Trifecta, Beast Veterans and first timers.

On Saturday morning I will take my usual position at the back of the heat.  In front of me will be Championship racers and Ultra Beast Individual runners.  Behind me Team Ultra Beast Members will be waiting to fill that stockyard like pen behind the starting arch.  Every race is different.  Every race is the same.  Forward until its over.  This one will be holding the unique challenge of ending; only to start again and do it twice.  I have never done any race like this before.  I have never run this distance before.  I have however faced many challenges that will be replicated in this race.  I haven’t quit on them and have no plans to quit on Saturday.  If for nothing else to say yes, I did do that.

I originally pictured the finish line as a goal.  But the real finish is so much further than the finish line.  Its at the Pickle Barrel for the after party.  Its Sunday when those racers take the field.  Its next month when people are still asking “Well how bad was it?  Really.”  Its next year at the Amesbury Sprint.  The NJ Super and at the Death Race.  The finish will be every single day after the race, whether its training for another race or just having a run.  It will be that sense of pride when I talk with these other crazy Spartans and we smile at the word “Crazy”.  The finish line is so much more than an inflated arch.  Its that accomplishment of completing the task, what ever the task maybe.

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Dispatches from the Storm Front: HH-016 Amesbury, MA.

Zero dark thirty.  A parking lot somewhere or nowhere.  The air is damp.  Remnants of the previous evenings deluge still hangs off tree and person alike.  A black technical (thats a pickup truck for you non-military types) marks the make shift rally point.  Tommy Mac and his staff greet each HH’er collecting waivers and directing them to put excess gear into the back of the Technical.  This is the Hurricane Heat.  A team oriented pre-race heat for Spartan racers who need an extra adrenaline push before they start their race day.

HH-016 was special.  It marked the 1st anniversary of the original HH brought on by Hurricane Irene.  Where hearty souls took up Joe D’s challenge to run into the storm.  So successful was that first HH in 2011 that Spartan Race has run 16 more.  Yet again setting a standard for separating themselves from their competition.  By listening to their racers their Spartans most importantly their family.  All Spartan Racers are family.  HH’ers are like that awe inspiring Aunt or Uncle.  The one that shows up at birthday parties and holidays with strange gifts and stories from exotic places.  Their stories seep into your imagination until one day you decide you too need to go on an adventure too.  HH-016 was just that adventure for so, so many.

When Spartan Race says 0530 sharp with a start time of 0600 they mean it.  I learned on my first HH, HH-007, that you do not want to be late!  Not wanting to be that guy, I also learned being early is no prize.  Now I have just given in to the fact that early or late your going to be doing burpees, lots of burpees.

Along the dirt trail which makes up a nice piece of downhill on the course HHer’s were assembling. Breaking off into groups.  Strangers, pairs, small groups, Spartan veterans and previous HH’ers.  For me it was an internet reunion.  I couldn’t turn around without seeing someone I have ran with at a Spartan Race, HH, met at training camps, volunteered with at the DR, handed out flyers at an expo with, or met in Spartan FB pages.  Former co-workers, Fire Academy graduates.  This was like a small version of “This is your life 2011-2012”  Yeah I was more than happy.

Typical of every HH the forming of groups is paramount.  And staying with that group is the goal.  To work together.  Out of the 22 persons on team “Lost” I knew 4 prior to starting.  Because I am terrible with names I tend to characterize by apparel.  And Spartan did a great job of killing that for me by making everyone wear black.  I know now Dom was wearing his signature Orange hat.  Keith a blue back pack,  the 2 wonderful ladies from Canada who did not speak to much english, which didn’t slow team “Lost” in anyway, and Mikel who translated.  Sandy protected the eggs, Brig had a k-9 eaten Tough Mudder shirt, someone had a pack with the Zelda logo on it, Devin more hair on his face than on his head.  Steve all the way in from AZ who I was with at HH-007.  Our Team Captain with the epic left arm sleeve tattoo.  Lisa another DR racer, over coming injury to run.  Some other heavily accented Gents who could scale walls like Spiderman.  This partial list is brought to you by Aricept.  For those I can’t immediately recall my most sincere apologies.  Because Team LOST was, to date, my favorite team to have been a part of.  Micha Arnoulds team in AZ was hard to beat.  And Storm Chasers IN was a classy group.

Team Lost immediately grasped the concepts of team work and accountability.  Together we pushed, pulled, carried and motivated each other.  This is what the HH is all about.  Whether carrying a tire over water pits, assisting each other over walls or up ropes. Team Lost always put the mission first, never accepted defeat, never quit and never a left a fallen comrade.  I have read posts from those on Team Warrior, Team Ninja and The Storm Chasers.  The Warrior Ethos was plainly in use on every team.  Even “bleedover” teams were people got confused, and lost their original team.  They were quickly absorbed into another.  This is how the HH works because in the end we are all one team.

There are many exhaustive recaps of HH-016 online.  Very excellent recaps that cover each and every nuance of the course.  I love those recaps.  Mainly because I’m lucky if I can remember what I had for breakfast, so in reading their work I can relive moments which blew by me in a blur.  Those who can recall each obstacle and challenge certainly have superior memories to mine.  I don’t remember each challenge individually because my HH’s start the moment I try to sleep the night before, through the groggy sleep deprived drive to the Heat and then the awesomeness of the Heat itself.  I don’t take stock of the how many walls, pits, hills, ropes of burpees I did.  Much like a boxer doesn’t take inventory of the punches he threw or the hits he took.  He just keeps going till the bell rings or his gets bell rung.

Its time for you who have not done an HH to get off the fence.  There were so many first time Spartan first time HH’ers at HH-016.  You can do it.  I believe in you.  More than 150 people who turned out on Saturday believe in you.  You will never reach your limits if you don’t find out where they are.  To go further than you ever have you must first go to where you have never been.  Take the challenge run the Hurricane Heat.

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HH-011 Middle Ground

1800 hrs, 20 April 2012 Haspin Acres.  Laurel Indiana.  HH-011

Dispatches from the Storm Front.

Chasing a Storm can be a lot like chasing your tail.  Organizing runners is akin to herding cat’s.  Organizing Hurricane Heat Runners is like trying to herd cat’s while they are simultaneously trying to chase their tails, the wind, and each other.  Andy Weinberg, Joe DeSena and Tommy Mac definitely know this, and boy do they love the chaos.

HH-011 fit right in with the Founders race as a whole.  It was chaotic, dirty, wet and brutal.  The Chaos started right in the beginning and lasted right to the end.  Truth be told I have revised this blog many times.  At each revision it morphed into personal observations and internal issues.  That isn’t fair to those who participated in the HH or those who oversaw it.  I believe it was a success.  It was “fun” and as alway each person should have taken away something that will make them stay positive for a long time.

For me I tend to believe in the “Warrior Ethos”  which is the benchmark of the HH.

“I will always put the Mission first.”

“I will never admit defeat.”

“I will never quit.”

“I will never leave a fallen comrade”

These aren’t just words.  You don’t just say them.  You either believe them and act accordingly or you don’t say them at all.  In the small realm of the HH the “Mission” isn’t always apparent however there is always a primary directive in every HH which is also part of the ethos:  Finish the HH, never accept defeat, never quit.  Which brings us to the last part.  “Never leave a fallen comrade.”  This is where my blog has digressed numerous times.  It comes down to this.  A team is only as strong as its weakest link.  Or in these cases its slowest member.  Your job, as a team, is to encourage that person.  I’m not going to go into my tangent rant again. Just do it, stay together as a team.

It was a little difficult in this HH to keep the teams separated.  I’m not sure why but we seemed to be one massive swarm for the majority of the HH.  That was actually ok although personally I am more of a small group person.  It is easier for accountability, safety, and enjoyment.  Oddly enough those are my primary goals when I do anything.  Life is to short to get hurt while not having fun.

Going into details about what actually occurred during the HH isn’t really relevant.  HH’ters got wet, got dirty, climbed ropes, sat in nasty disgusting water.  And of course carried heavy objects and pushed the hell out of some ground.  If you are reading this and want insight into what to expect from an HH I will tell you this. Show up on time, with a smile.  Remember you chose to do this.  Be positive; always.  Leave your baggage at the door.  Be a team player, sacrifice for your team.  Chaos is an exponential factor:  Like a fire, chaos builds with the more air you give it so shut your mouth and open your ears.  Have fun.  If you can’t have fun by laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole thing, this really isn’t for you.  There are 3 types of fun.  There’s the type of fun you have while doing something and its fun to talk about after.  There’s fun that isn’t so much fun while your doing it but lots of fun talking about after.  Then there is the last type of fun.  Its not fun while your doing it and its not fun to talk about it after.  Keep your head in the game long enough to have the first 2 types of fun.  If your slipping into the third type.  Stop, take a breath, reassess the situation.  You might have missed something.

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Thoughts on a Beast.

 Why would I do such a thing to myself.  I have had many rambling thoughts as to why I would do this.  The basic overriding reason is because somewhere in the back of my mind is a voice from the past saying “you can’t do that”.  I don’t like that voice.  It isn’t me, it never was me.  That voice has prevented me from a great many things in my life.  I didn’t put that voice there, someone else did.  I can’t tell you who or when but its there.  At some point, someone told me I wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t fast enough.  I wasn’t talented enough.  And I believed them.

Last year I heard about the Death Race.  I watched the only video they had at the time, I think it was from 2007.  I thought to myself that has got to be the coolest things ever.  And of course I also immediately thought “I could never do that.”  Again I thought “Man what an awesome concept”.  And again “Well maybe in another life that could have been you too.”

March 2011 I was coerced under duress to sign up for the Spartan Race in Amesbury.  To say I was out of shape at the time would imply that at one point I was in shape.  Have you ever got out of breath bending over to tie your shoes?  That was me.  Not terribly over-weight but completely sedentary.  Not one chin-up, 5 push-ups and I was out of breath and dizzy.  12.5 minute mile and that was it, I couldn’t have gone another step.  Multiple days to recover from that 1 mile.  But as you know when you sign up for a Spartan Race you open your email to the flood gates of Spartan Nation.  It seems that last year 8-10 miles wasn’t hard enough for people, so now they were going to hold the inaugural Spartan Beast! 10-13 miles on Mt Killington.  Well the idea sounds cool and it’s 10 miles (yes I completely blocked out the possibility of 13)  and if you registered with the promo code you got %50 off!  There’s that voice “you can’t do it”  So I bargained, a stage of denial, and I thought its 8 miles further than you have ever run in your life, how hard can it be?  So  I signed up.  My wife thought I was crazy.  My son threw up (reflux he was about 7 months old at the time)

So with no training, 0 experience, and not even a good pair of running shoes I set out to do a half marathon obstacle course on a mountain.  Thankfully my favorite color is green.  Because focusing on that little medal is the only thing that kept me going.  I was not leaving without that medal.  And I didn’t.

So why do I think I can do the Ultra-Beast?

It wasn’t just the Beast.  After Beast I still had to do the Sprint.  Thats would be a great way to wrap up the summer and move back to normal life.  The Sprint came.  It came on the heels of 3 days of rain.  It came in the middle of a Hurricane!  And it was everything the Beast was in a small package.  Epic-ness!  It was about this time that someone whispered trifecta.  Well I did the hard part:  Beast.  I did the fast part:  Sprint.  It didn’t seem right not to at least do one of everything and hang it up.  So off to Staten Island my buddy and I went. It was a very fast course, but when Eric DeAvilla and I crossed the finish line and we put a Blue medal over a Green one and a Red one , there was no turning back I was hooked.   I must say I really  liked hearing the whispers “why do they have 3 medals”  or “what’s the Green one for?” I now officially had “mud” in my veins.  On that day Eric and I had become 2 of the 77 people in the world who held the title trifecta tribe.  Granted its a small world but I belonged to it.  And I belonged to an even smaller club.  No one could say I can’t.

Upon completing that challenge everything became about Spartan Race.  I sought out every fb page, I became a Street Team Member.I began to exercise and run infrequently.    I remembered there were these crazy brothers who supposedly dragged a tire through the Beast, I believed it was a tall tale for sure.  Wrong!  I thought they were crazy when I found out it was true.  Then they said they were holding a training camp in Rhode Island.  For some reason I signed up.  That is when I met people who told me “you can”  They joked and asked us if we wanted to quit.  But they were changing the voice in my head.  They were teaching me how to turn off the “I can’t” voice.  I didn’t have to be better than them.  Shit I didn’t even have to keep up with them (to a point)  All I had to do was not quit.  The same thing I did at the Beast.  Just don’t quit.

So can I do the Ultra-Beast?  Yes I can, yes I will.  Will I hurt?  Immeasurably. Will I cry? Probably.  Will I stop?  At times.  Will I give up and quit?  Not while I have some ability to move forward!  I have no intention of listening to that voice that says “I can’t” any more.  Now I have the tools to hear that voice and punch it in it’s mouth.  And if I can’t there’s a whole Army of Spartan Warriors I call friends that will help me beat that voice to the ground!

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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.