The year has flown by and although I have completed a few different types of events so far I haven’t done too many obstacle course races. Concentrating mainly on the Toughest Mini Tour my trip out to Palmerton, USA, would be my first Spartan race since the Spartan World Championships last October.
For a few different reasons it’s always fun to come out to the USA to race, the first being to face different athletes and another is to see how the Sport is developing across ‘the pond’.
I chose the Palmerton race because it fit in with my schedule and because I thought the course would suit me, hilly but not at altitude and a Super distance as opposed to a sprint, so I could get my teeth into it before it ended. This seemed to be the case and the race was going very well until a ran into a little problem, two to be exact.
The race started fast but I seemed to be climbing as well as the others and descending far quicker, this meant with the first rep of the ski slopes done, some carries, a few obstacles and a successful spear throw I was in the lead with about 20-30 seconds.
Heading back up for the second rep I could see Robert Killian behind me, he didn’t seem to be closing the gap but the tables would turn as we reached the top.
Approaching the sandbag carry I was instructed to pick up two bags…this was my first problem, I didn’t seem to be able to hoist both onto my shoulders at the same time….bollocks. We had to carry both down a ski slope before turning around and coming back up again! and to add insult to injury rules were in place as to how we were allowed to carry the bags, we weren’t allowed to shuttle the bags one by one or drag them. In short I was fuked, let down by my bodies lack of strength and by my minds lack of will power I struggled to get the two things down the slope.
Now in 7th or 8th and with the return journey up the slope still to do I was in deep shit. Quitting wasn’t an option so plan B was initiated, pick the things up like two shopping bags, painfully hike counting to 15 in my head before collapsing for 5 breaths to steady my heatrate, pick the things back up and repeat. It was slow but at least I was moving.
Clawing my way to the top I was glad to drop the bags of but was dreading the next obstacle… I usually struggle with the Hercules hoist the most, mainly because being a lighter athlete I have less weight to assist me in pulling the rope and lifting the weight. Because I had to carry my sandbags like shopping my grip strength was destroyed..so even gripping the rope was somewhat hard. The thought of the 30 burpee penalty spurred me on and my weight slowly made its way to the top of the before I lowered it slowly back to the ground.
It was time to start catching people.
I was in 7th, winning was impossible but I had to see what I could do on the descent, swim and final obstacles. I caught 3, crossing the line in fourth.
Ryan Atkins won and apparently didn’t put his sandbags down once to rest…I was over a minute ahead of him going into the carry and left over 5 minutes after him. On the rest of the course I was only able to close the gap by about a minute.
Although disappointing, the outcome was far from unpredictable. My training this year has been predominantly for mountain running races and a more European style of obstacle racing, where courses are made tough with technical obstacles – as opposed to two 22.5kg sandbags. I held my own on the other carries and excelled on the hills and technical obstacles, it was just the sandbags that left me wallowing in self pity.
A question was asked as to whether I will change my training for future races. Although maybe carrying a few things in training may be helpful, the answer is no. I am really happy with what type of athlete I am and my experience here has made me realise that maybe the time where specializing your training for different types of obstacle races is now upon us? To win Toughest events I have to be incredibly fast, agile and good with technical obstacles. It seems to win Spartan races I would have to spend far more time bulking up to carry two thirds of my body weight up a ski slope.