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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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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.