Posted in Racing

PA Spartan Super – AKA Burpee fest

So the day started out promising enough, Luke and I drove the 35 minutes to Blue Mountain, paid our parking fee and parked without a hitch.  With our forms in hand we walked to registration, past all of the people frantically filling out their waivers and waited behind the one person in front of us and had our packets in about 2 minutes.

Now it was time to stroll over and watch the elites start, first the men and then the women. Watching them take off running up the first hill was amazing. By the time the leaders crested the short hill .1 mile into the race, they already had a lead of a 75 seconds over the back of the pack and some of those folks looked like they were in trouble already. They were obviously not ready for an “Elite” level race. Something needs to be done about that in OCR, but I will leave that for another time and another post.

PA Super 2016

Map of the course

So now it is time to get dressed and ready for our start. We have about 45 minutes to get changed, drop off our bags, get back to the start line and do a quick warm up. This all goes smoothly and at 8:25 we are in the starting corral waiting for the race to start.

And then.

Bang! Off we go!

A video of nearly all of the obstacles in the race is shown below, the guy who shot this is quite good at Spartan Racing. Thanks to rem6a (whoever you are) of Youtube for posting the video.

The obstacles are shown on the map and the time are relative to the time in video if you want to see what the obstacles actually look like.

I knew that after the first uphill the race leveled off for about .5 mile and then the real race began. The .9 mile climb to the top of the mountain. (Video 23 seconds) Luke and I started this off together and while we were on the flat section, we went past a couple of guys who were already walking and saying, “I am not sure what’s happening, cardiovascularly I’m fine, but my legs are burning already.” Luke and I looked at one another an said, the real race hasn’t even started, they will be in trouble once they get to the steep part.

So here we go, we turn off the flat gravel road and begin our ascent to the top. A couple of times I check my HRM and it always seems to be at 165 about 10 BPM higher than I wanted it to be at this point. So what do I do? Do I slow down? Of course not, I keep plugging away thinking, I feel pretty good at this point.

After 25 minutes, we get to the top and have the spear throw (#2 at the top of the map, video 35 seconds) waiting for us. I think there is virtually no wind, this should be easy.  I look over and see Luke stick his throw and I get ready for mine. I let the spear fly and it is heading right for the hay bale, I think to my self “Nailed it!” and then I feel something get snagged on my arm. The cord attached to the end of the spear got stuck on my arm and I helplessly watched the spear fall to the ground short of the target. I looked at Luke and said to him; “I missed. See you at the bottom.” and our races went different ways.

Burpee count – 30

Then we had some fairly easy downhill running and over some small walls and we get to the bucket carry (#4 on the map, video 55 seconds).  A 5-gallon bucket, loaded with pea gravel, about 65 lbs that we carry up and down the hill. As I am heading down the hill I see Luke and realize that I am not that far behind, I yell to him:

“Keep it going, keep up the good work.”

I thought I might have a chance to catch him on the uphill part, but it was not to be. That was the last time I saw him until the finish line.

We do some more down hill running and get to one of my least favorite obstacles, the Z-Wall (#5, Video 1:30). It should not be difficult, but for some reason I always struggle on these. I slip off 2/3 of the way through at the transition to the last section of the wall and its back to burpees.

Burpee count – 60

Right now, I’m thinking the burpees haven’t been bad and I still feel pretty good.

We do some more downhill running, a heavy sled drag (#6, video 1:40) over an easy wall and get to the monkey bars (#8, video 2:02 ). An obstacle that I have gotten way better on lately. So I slip on my new gloves, grab the bars and start my way across. I am cruising across nicely until about three rungs from the end, the gloves completely lose their grip and I fall to the ground. I never expected to fail this one. I vow to throw the gloves in the trash at the next water stop. Burpees again.

Burpee count – 90

Back in business, past the LONG barbed wire crawl and a couple of easier obstacles and begin the long slog back to the top on the mountain. There was nothing too difficult on the way up, it was mainly just a long steep grind to the top, The elevation gain for this part was about 1,000 feet total. At the Atlas Carry (Letter B, Video 2:42) after I got my stone across I heard some kid yell to me: “Dude, your stone is rolling down the hill!” I turned around and the stone was headed for the bottom of the mountain. Fortunately, I caught is about 4 or 5 lanes down the hill, rolled it back into place, did my five burpess (not included in the count since they are part of the obstacle), picked up the stone and caried it back to the start.

Then we head down a bit and come to the sand bag carry. (Letter C, Video 2:55) It was 400 yards down and back up an insanely steep part of the mountain. When I got to the obstacle, they said you only have to carry one bag even though they said two in the pre-race briefing. I asked how long ago they made the switch and they said 10 minutes. I figured Luke was at least that far ahead and was trudging on with two so I figured I would do the same. Imaging carrying one 50 lb sand bag (the stack of heavier big green bags shown in video were the ones we used, not the easy to carry pancake bags)  in each hand while trying to not fall down the side of a mountain. It was brutal. Even on the downhill part it was pick up bags, walk 10-15 steps, drop bags and rest. By the time I got to the turn to go up hill I was spent. At that point, I decided, the rules are the rules and I dropped the second bag. It no longer mattered how many bags Luke was carrying, I just needed to get up the hill. After doing the pick-up, walk, drop, rest cycle for what seemed like days, I finally made it back to the start. At that point I was exhausted and my grip strength was gone. Amazingly, Luke did carry two bags and did get them both through this obstacle; he took 26 minutes to do it but he made it none the less. Great job!

At the top, I took a moment to gather myself and head up to he top of the mountain for the next test, the Hercules Hoist (Letter D, Video 3:07), .

When, I got there I did a quick inventory check.

  • Legs – both calves starting to cramp;
  • Quads and hamstrings – tired but functional
  • Grip strength – some of it was coming back

So I grabbed the rope and started to pull. At first things went well, and I was thinking I might actually get this; but, after 3/4 of the way to the top, I could feel my hands begin to slip. Oh no! And down came the weight. More burpees,

Burpee count – 120

When I was finished with my burpees, I looked down the mountain at the view of the valley and said to one of the guys next to me: “What a beautiful view, I just wish I could care enough to enjoy it.” This was mentally my lowest point of the race, ironically at one of the highest points of the course. Go figure.

But at this point there were two pieces of good news, I was more than halfway and the major uphill portion were done. So far my time on course was nearly two hours (1:52:35 to be exact). So much for a 2 1/2 hour finish time.

So I started back on my way. Next up the 8 foot wall (Letter E, missed in the video). These are a staple in just about every race and I had never missed one before. So of course you know what is coming. I take my run up, plant my foot on the wall and CRAMP! I try using my other side as my plant leg and I get my hands on the top, but can’t lock in the grip to get over. I for some reason in my lactic acid induced haze, I thought that this was a mandatory completion obstacle, so I spent way to much time trying to get over it.  But it is not. So more burpees

Burpee count – 150

I knock those out and begin to head off across the ridge line. At this point I did two things, took time to enjoy the view (it was great) and to eat a Clif bar (I should have done that way sooner) . At that point, I had eaten a couple of gels, but eating something solid was much better.

There were a couple more obstacles to hit and then I could start the long downhill to the finish. My only concern at this point was managing the cramping in my calves to ensure I could make it to the finish. So I banged down another mustard pack and hit the down hill. Mustard is great to ward off cramps, I can’t recall were I learned this, but it saved my day. The rocky section shown at 2:38 in the video was actually a lot of fun and I got to pass a bunch of people. It was one of my better sections of the race since it was similar to several spots at Sugarloaf where Luke and I have done our training.

As I passed the 6 mile marker, I did a quick inventory of the obstacles that I could remember were left and did a quick calculation. I had about 1.5 miles and a maximum of 120 burpees between me and the finish line.

So I went through a couple of mud pits, these felt great in the nearly 90 degree heat, I actually, wished they were deeper. Over a 7 foot wall, and then to the “swim” which was actually a 300 yard walk through neck-deep water where you needed to duck under some floating inner tubes along the way. The water felt wonderful and did a great job of cooling of my overheated body. But as for all good things it needed to end and I was back out onto the course and into the heat and sun.

So I cruise over to the Log Hop (#15, Video 4:17), an obstacle were you hop from stump-to-stump to cross about 25 to 30 feet of ground. So I jump up on the first log and stretch to reach the second one and BAM! CRAMP! BURPEES! This should not have been hard, but my calves were in no condition to stretch at this point.

Burpee count – 180 (a max of 90 to go)

We then hit my new favorite obstacle, the Tyrolean Traverse (#16, Video 4:26). A quick slide across a dangling cable. If felt really good to complete an obstacle that I though might be a problem, especially with my calves cramping.

Then we came to this new obstacle called the Apehanger (#18, Video 4;49) which required us to climb a rope, transition to a set of rope monkey bars and swing across. My thought, burpee city. The good thing was that it was over water so at least I would get wet and cool off. At this point cool and wet was a simple joy. So I grab the rope, take a couple of pulls and try to lock in my feet. As expected, my calves cramped again and I walked to the burpee box. At least at this one I had a lot of friends, I would guess that 75% of the people failed this obstacle it was one of the two that Luke failed.

Burpee Count – 210 (a max of 60 to go)

Next on the list of things to do before I was done was the log carry (#20, Video 5:11).  So I checked out all of the logs in the rack and picked one that would be my friend for the next 15-20 minutes. I found one that was about 8 inches in diameter, 3 feet long, nicely balanced and perfect to sling up on my shoulder. So my friend and I set off down the hill, about 300 yards. The whole way down every 20 to 30 steps I would slow down, drop my head and roll the log to my other shoulder and press on. I even allowed myself the deluded thought of “This doesn’t seem to be so bad” to enter my brain. Then we hit the uphill. My brain flashed back to the sandbag carry. Lift, walk, drop, rest. I was counting steps 20 at a time at this point and not looking up to see how far it was from the end. The way down was 6 minutes, the way back up was 13 minutes. At that point I said good-bye to my friend and got to move on. I never really like that log anyway so it was good for me to let it go.

Next on the agenda, the rope climb (#21, Video 5:20) . This had been going better for me recently since I have finally begun to get my technique dialed in and can take most of the stress off of my grip and use my legs to climb. The main question here was “Will I be able to lock my feet in and support my weight without cramping?” As I was getting ready to start there were some young guys struggling as they tried to get up the rope and arguing about how to J-hook the rope as they climbed. Since that is the technique I use, I figured this is a good time to get started. Jumped up, grabbed the rope and locked my feet in. I took a moment to gather myself and realized that I wasn’t cramping. So I started my way up the rope, as I was headed up I heard one of them say: “We are supposed to do it just like that guy. He made it look easy.” To them it may have looked easy, but I will assure you it was not.

An accomplishment for this race, NO BURPEES.

I was down to my last serous obstacle between me and the finish line. The dreaded multi-rig (#22, Video 5:28). Today they had it set with 4 rings, a horizontal bar, a baseball, a second horizontal bar and then the bell. On a day when I was fresh I would have a decent chance of completing this. After being on the course for 3 1/2 hours my chances were pretty slim. I made it through the rings, and nearly across the first bar before I came off. So i headed off for my final set of burpees.

Burpee Count –  240

After I completed my final burpee, I could look down and see the last two “obstacles” and the finish line.  Another two minutes and the race would be over. So I headed down to the dunk wall (board you need to go under in a pit of muddy water) and the fire jump. When I landed after the jump, I finished the final 50 feet to the finish line and the first piece of the Spartan Trifecta medal.

Mission accomplished.

My time on course: 3:39:54. 16th in the 50-54 age group and 322 overall.

After I crossed the line, Luke found me and all I wanted to do was to get something other than water to drink, not throw up and find out how he did.

Luke’s time on course: 3:05:11. First place in the 15-16 competive age group and 136th place overall. Well done!

He may have been faster; but, I was the burpee champion.


At twice the distance and climbing, I can’t imaging what Killington is going to be like.


3 thoughts on “PA Spartan Super – AKA Burpee fest

  1. Great job on this! The Asheville Super was incredibly hard for me. Your time makes mine look like you flew through the course (I did mine in 7 1/2 hours). I’m hoping for far less elevation at the Carolina Beast.


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