Posted in Racing

Washington DC Spartan Sprint – August 28, 2016


My alarm goes off at 5:45 and I head down to the kitchen for  my normal prerace breakfast, coffee and raisin bran. The Pop-Tarts will need to wait until a little closer to race time. Luke will be out of bed in a couple of minutes since he likes to sleep later than I do.  As I finish my coffee, he wanders down and gets some breakfast as well.  When he’s done we grab our bags and head out to the car for our 70 minute drive to Maryland International Raceway, the home of the DC Spartan Sprint. When we are done with that race we will have earned the second piece of our trifecta pie.

When we arrive at MIR it’s nice for the temperature to be in the mid 60’s instead of the upper 70’s that we have had for much of the summer. By the time we get on course, the temperature will be mid 70’s, which is great for DC in August.

As expected, parking and registration goes smoothly, except for one thing. I would have guessed that those who arrive early would get the close-in parking spaces. I guessed wrong.  The walk from the parking lot to the start seems like it is miles long.  But if a 10-15 minute walk to/from the car is my biggest problem, then I am doing OK. We get changed and then do a bit of warming up. I do some easy running,  some strides and my obligatory 4-5 trips to the porta-john.  While I’m warming up my hamstrings feel a bit tired and tight, but the rest of me feels really good. I am ready for a good day.

It’s now 7:45 and our start time beckons and we head over to the starting line. We get the obligatory blah, blah, blah, “I AM SPARTAN! AROO! AROO!” speech and then we are off on the race.

Today shouldn’t be too bad, it’s only about 4.5 miles, has less than 1,000 feet of vertical climbing, 24 obstacles and is finishing is all that stands between us and the second slice of the trifecta pie.


We start to run and I am out ahead of Luke which is good, but as we come to the first incline I notice that I don’t feel that well and my legs feel tired.  I think this is not the best way to start a race. But then I look down at my Garmin Fenix 3 and see that my heart rate is 174 beats per minute and decide that I need to dial the pace back a little bit. But, of course that takes a while and I ran almost the entire first mile an average heart rate of “way too high”.

We came to the first obstacles, a couple of 4-foot walls which Luke and I both cleared easily. These were followed a bit later by three more walls that you go over-under-through; a fairly standard start to the race. After that we were coming to the first “Classified” obstacle which wasn’t marked on the map. I figured a 7-foot wall or something along that line. But to my surprise, I see a big board with lots of numbers on it and the volunteers telling people use the last two numbers of big to pick what you need to memorize.


A memory test in a sprint, really?  It’s normal for a beast, but for a sprint that is highly unusual; I was completely unprepared for this.  It was a word, followed by two sets of numbers that I would need to remember at some future point in the race. I looked at the board and saw: “Alpha‑039‑3474” and I remembered something close to that. As you can tell, brainpower and lactic acid don’t mix very well for me. But on a positive note, the 30 second break gave me a chance to get my heart rate back under control. After this, Luke was ahead of me by about 45 seconds, what I considered a manageable gap.

We had about another ½ mile of running and a trip through a short barbed wire crawl until the real race would begin at the Hercules Hoist followed seconds later by the monkey bars; two obstacles which I have never completed in the past.

Herc Hoist
Hercules Hoist

By the time we negotiated the trail and arrived at the Herc Hoist, I managed to catch up to Luke and we were just about dead even.  I grabbed the rope and started to pull. My first thought was; “This feels easy today.”  But I realized that having the bags lighter than normal was not a good thing. I was hoping that I would be coming off of this obstacle ahead of Luke. If he wasn’t doing burpees, I was in trouble. As expected, we both complete this one.

On to the monkey bars.

Monkey Bars
Monkey Bars

The monkey bars are an obstacle which have stopped me in my two previous Spartans and one that Luke has never missed so I know I need to make it across.  So I guess you could say the pressure was on.  I got to the bars, took a couple of deep breaths and set out on the way. Hand over hand I worked my way across and then there was the bell, clang! Monkey bars completed! First time ever. At this point I didn’t care that Luke made it across faster, I was doing the dance of joy.

A-Frame cargo nert

We looped back around to the A-frame cargo net where we were still even, but somehow he got across way faster and had a 15 second lead before I got off of the obstacle. I still can’t figure out how I did that so slowly.

At this point I realized that we didn’t have any “difficult” obstacles until we got to the spear throw, which was about 1 mile away.  Even though I could no longer see him, during this time his lead hovered at about a minute.

When I get to the spear throw I see Luke. There he is in the burpee pit. I am not sure if he saw me (After he read this he said yes he did see me and he even did his burpees facing the targets so he could see if I made or missed my throw. Smart kid, I have trained him well), but, now is my chance to make a move.  All I need to do is hit the throw. So I pick a lane, grab my spear, make sure the cord was clear (I did not want a repeat of Palmerton) and got ready to launch my throw. Off it went and like a Buffalo Bill’s Super Bowl kick, the spear sailed past the target “Wide right!” ARGHHHHH!!!!! Off to the penalty pit, my first burpees of the day.

Opportunity wasted.

As I went in, Luke was coming out.  We high-fived and the race was on again once again. By the time I was done with my burpees, I was about 2 ½ minutes behind and the race was more or less over unless the bucket carry (obstacle 14) was steep and the sandbag carry (obstacle 15 was either a dual bag or 65 lb bag). I was desperately in need of help from the course designers.

The short distance between the spear and the sandbag was mainly running, but there were also a couple of “easier” obstacles which didn’t help me to close the gap.

I got to the bucket carry (obstacle 14) hoping to be able to see Luke somewhere, but he was nowhere to be found. So I filled the bucket with 65 lbs of gravel and started on the way. I kept the thought in my mind, keep moving but don’t push too hard, there is still a lot of race left. To make sure I didn’t stress myself too badly I took a couple of breaks along the way. In hindsight, I should have just pressed on at least for the final two breaks. Compared to the Palmerton carry this one was not bad, compared to what I expect in Killington, this was downright easy, but not very helpful in closing the gap.

Right after the bucket carry was the sandbag carry, as it came into view I saw the white heavy bags and thought this is good. It would be even better if they make us carry two. But, as I got closer I saw the pancakes and my heart sank a bit. The volunteers said grab a pancake and get started and I did. I was hoping for the heavier weight to help slow Luke down a bit.


The sandbag was uneventful and fairly easy except for a couple of slippery spots in the small stream. But, in those spots my Saloman Speedcross 3’s kept my footing secure.  They have now been replaced by Speedcross 4’s.

Between the two carries, I was able to trim almost a minute out of Luke’s lead; but, I was still more than a minute and a half behind.

Right after the bucket carry, as we came out of the woods was the obstacle (16) I feared, the second half of the memory task.

Yes, Luke you were supposed to stop here.

They asked for my word and numbers. I told them something and they said: “Close enough.” So I carried on.

After that came what could be aptly called the “Roll-a-thon™” what seemed like a never ending roll under barbed wire. In reality it was about 200 yards, but they were some of the most dizzying 200 yards of my life.It was at this point that Luke must have been tired and thought he was far enough ahead to lay down and take a nap.


By the time I was done, all I wanted to do was to stop my head from spinning; but what I needed to do was to face one of my least favorite obstacles, the Z-Walls (obstacle 18).


As I got to the wall, I was a mess. My head was spinning and I wanted to throw up from all of the rolling. But, I needed to try to get across the wall. On this obstacle I kept my streak intact, a perfect three for three on failures. I have no idea why this obstacle gives me so much trouble, but I really need to figure it out.  These are 30 burpees that I should never have to do.

After I banged out the burpees I knew that I had about 1-1/4 mile of running left and only two obstacles that might require burpees.  My time on the course would soon be coming to an end.

Next up were:

The inverted wall. No problem.

The Atlas Carry. The stone felt light today.

Then I came to the rope climb. I have gotten better at this since I learned how to climb a rope, but I was still a bit worried. What was nice was that there wasn’t a water obstacle close to the rope climb so the rope was clean and dry. So grab the rope, jump up, lock in the J-hook and head to the top.  Repeat this a couple of times and “Clang!” I ring the bell and head back down.

Now the only obstacle of consequence that is left between me and the finish is the rig. A collection of gymnast rings, a hanging baseball and a horizontal pipe that I need to get across. This is one other obstacle which I have yet to complete.

The rig

So I scope the rig and plan my strategy. Go ring to ring until I get to the ball and then skip in and swing across to the final ring. Then grab the pipe and go hand over hand, then hit the bell. Easy in theory.

So I start ring, ring, ring and make it the baseball. I start to swing across and don’t believe that I have enough of a swing to make it past the ball. So I don’t try (bad idea) to grab for the ring. When I swing back, the ring rotates and now my left arm (not my “normal” lead arm) is facing forward. I grab the ball, but don’t get a solid grip and I slip off as my right hand grabs for the ball. Bummer. My final trip to the burpee pit for the day.

I slowly knock out the burpees and head up and over the “Stairway to Sparta” and jump over the fire. Then cross the finish line.

Mission accomplished!

As usual, Luke is waiting for me. This time he beat me by 13 minutes. I was closer than at Palmerton, but this race was much shorter in both time and distance. Even if I ran a perfect race with no burpees, he still would have beaten me by at least 3 minutes.

I have come to the realization that I am not going to beat him in this sport. His youth, fitness and dedication to training have created a gap that I don’t seem to be capable of closing.

I am proud of you!

PS – But on a great note both of us still did well enough to win our age groups and to once again earn times that qualify us for the Obstacle Race World Championships later this year in Ontario, Canada. Not that we plan on attending, but it is nice to know that we could participate at Worlds if we wanted to.

Next stop – The Vermont Spartan Beast – September 16th for the final piece of the pie.





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