Going into Palmerton I had only one simple goal, to perform better than I did last year. If you aren’t familiar, last year’s race has a name unto itself Burpeefest. It was a horror show of epic proportions, including 240 burpees and major legs cramps. It finally ended after 3:39.54 of exquisite suffering.
So, to outperform last year all I needed to do was beat last year’s time and get there with less than 240 burpees. It seemed like a relatively “easy” task.
Once the course map came out from the obstacle that could be seen my first thought was:
“This doesn’t look too bad!”
Since Luke and I got to PA early on Friday, we decided to head over the open house and to try out some of the new obstacles and revisit some old ones as well. My main concerns were:
We got to Blue mountain and had some time to kill so we walked around for a bit and saw quite a few of the elite athletes but didn’t want to bug any of them so we just let them walk by. The only exception was Lindsay Webster-Akins who saw my Battlefrog shirt and said, “Nice shirt” and continued on her way.
After the gates opened, we headed up to Ape Hanger to take a look at it. When we got there the guys said why don’t you give it a try and there was a guy there with a video camera filming. My thought was here is my chance for glory! The first problem was that you can’t do the obstacle without getting wet and all my spare clothes were back at the hotel. And the second problem was I was wearing a “Battlefrog” shirt (a former Spartan competitor). There was no way that I would ever make it into a Spartan video with that shirt on. So quick solution was developed, dropped the shorts and took off the shirt and headed into the water. I made quick work of the short rope climb and then successfully cleared the rope ladder monkey bars and hit the bell.
I didn’t expect to be able to do that. Thanks to training with Yancy Culp at YANCY CAMP I was able to make it happen. If you want to take your training to the next level you might want to give it a try.
But now back to the story. Somewhere in the recesses of Spartan video is my triumphant crossing of the Ape Hanger wearing nothing but my underwear. I hope it surfaces at some point.
We tried the rig and twister as well. Neither of those went as well as the Ape Hanger, but I was OK with that. Now it was time for dinner, to get some food for the morning and then off to bed.
As usual everything was a breeze race morning. We watched the elites start, warmed up and headed to the start corral. It was “GO TIME” time to erase the memories of Palmerton 2016. I wish they would stop the “I am a Spartan, AROO, AROO, AROO” nonsense and just give us a quick pre-race briefing and send us on our way.
The race started out similarly to last year, with a long climb to the top of the mountain going over a couple of easy obstacles along the way. As we headed to the top of the mountain, Luke and I went back and forth a couple of times depending on how quickly we made it through an obstacle. Neither of us ever having more than a 5 second lead. But as we crested the mountain for the first time, I looked back and saw that I had opened up about a 15 second gap.
But before I took off down the hill I needed to remind myself of what I told him before the race started:
“I am racing other old guys, I am not racing you.”
So I resisted the urge to drop the hammer and try to put distance into him.
On the downhill it wasn’t long until we were back together and it pretty much stayed that way until the Herc hoist, which for some reason took Luke a while to get through and I once again had about a 15 second gap. Then as we continued to roll downhill past the rope climb and plate drag he closed the gap once again. Then right at the bottom of the mountain we came to one of the new obstacles, the Olympus.
Luke put about 15 seconds into me at that point. I was way too cautious in making it across this one, I will be much faster next time.
Next stop the spear throw.
As I got there I looked to find a target with the spear sticking in it to know the cord was long enough for the spear to reach and stick. As I found my spear and was getting ready to throw, Luke ran past and said,
Happy birthday! I missed.
Then I set up for my throw and BAM! Success! No burpees on this one today!
I knew that this would give me a nice gap, but I also knew that the next obstacle, the rig, would have a good chance of taking it away.
When I got to the rig I knew exactly what to do from trying it the night before. Ring, ring, ring, slide down the pipe, big swing to the ring, one more ring and hit the bell. But as sometimes happens, theory and reality don’t match. I had the exact same problem as the night before, I just couldn’t make the big swing from the pipe to the second set of rings. Off to the burpee pit. I set up so I could see the rig as I did my burpees and about 30 seconds into my burpees I can see Luke approaching the rig. All I could think was
“WOW! He did some fast burpees after he missed the spear.”
I needed to get back to the task at hand but I wanted to see how he did as well. As expected, he made it through pretty easily and I still had about 15 burpees to go. He was going to come out of this with a pretty big lead. But once again I reminded myself,
I am not racing Luke. I’m racing other old guys like me.
So now I was a couple of minutes behind and was getting ready to start the grind back up the mountain to the only place I where I thought I might have a chance of seeing Luke again, the legendary Palmerton double sandbag carry. But before I could get to that, I had about 1 mile and 1,000 feet of elevation gain ahead of me. Along the way, the A-frame cargo net and Farmer’s carry go by with no trouble at all. As I am grinding my way up the climb with grades as steep as 40%, I keep checking my HR and making sure that I keep it somewhat under control. For the most part, I was able to keep it under 165, I bit higher than I wanted, but not unmanageable.
After reaching the peak, I turned and headed down the hill and could hear the volunteers saying,
Guys take two green bags. Ladies take two white bags.
The moment of truth had arrived. I had been training for this for this one obstacle for the past six months. So I grab my bags, toss them up on my shoulders and head down the trail. The downhill part was a breeze, I made it to the bottom without stopping, but I could feel some fatigue setting in, so I decided to drop the bags and take a breather before the long, uphill slog. After about 15 seconds, I picked up the bags and started on my way. As I turned the corner, i looked up and to my surprise there was Luke. I didn’t know it then, but I made up about 5 minutes on him during the first half of the carry. Now as I continued up the steepest part of the hill, I kept looking at my HRM and seeing 170+ as my heart rate, not a rate that I could sustain for the next 60 to 90 minutes. So I decided it was time to dial back my effort at bit. I caught up to Luke and we went back and forth a couple of times, but we made it to the top of the carry together.
Nearly 2 hours into the race we were dead even. But that wouldn’t last long.
We both failed the next obstacle, the monkey bars, which were about 100 feet beyond the sandbags. Luke hadn’t ever failed them before and I hadn’t failed them since last year here at Palmerton. I think that more than spreading out the distance between the bars, they also managed to make them smoother and slipperier than last year. But no matter what the reason, we were both off to the burpee pit. As would be expected, Luke won the “Battle of the Burpees” and was back running before me. I have no idea how he does his burpees so fast. It must be a 16 year old thing. At this point I began to fight off a serious cramp in my right calf. As I was running, I was doing my best to manage it and to figure out a strategy to eliminate it. The only idea that came to mind was to chomp down of one of my electrolyte capsules and see what happened. I knew how bad they tasted, but at this point I figured it was my best/only option. I had some flashbacks to last year, but as the cramp faded the flashbacks faded as well. Physical and mental crisis averted. Now I just had to get ready for the next climb to the summit.
As I got to the top, I could hear a strange sound that I had never heard before during a Spartan race and could figure out what was next. As I turned the corner I learned what was making the sound, the 400 lb tires at the tire flip.
I saw Luke on his way to do burpees since he couldn’t budge the tire. I figured if I could get my two flips done I could be off and running before he finished his burpees. I struggled 4 or 5 times, but I finally got the tire over for the first time. A surge of adrenaline coursed through my body and I thought:
I’ve got this now.
But, in hindsight, at that point I should have realized the second flip wasn’t happening, but I continued to struggle for a about 10 or 12 more tries before I threw in the towel. Luke finished his burpees at the same time as I started mine and I could feel how much energy the tire drained from me as I was counting 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. Done and back running.
Note to self. If at West Virginia or Killington the tire doesn’t go over on the first try, head straight to the burpee pit. It isn’t worth using the extra energy and still ending up doing burpees anyway.
Now. it was almost all downhill for the duration of the race. I cruised through some easy obstacles, the lake crossing (which felt great)
and into the obstacle gauntlet waiting for us in the last mile.
And after one more easy obstacle there it was the Ape hanger. I beat this one the night before so I thought I had a chance to get through it again today. But, by now point 7 miles and many obstacles had taken their toll on me.
I made it up the rope, but after 5 or 6 rungs of the rope ladder, I slipped and splashed down into the water.
Off to the burpee pit. These ones didn’t feel so bad since I had a lot of “friends” doing burpees with me. There were also a lot of people who didn’t bother to do their burpees after they fell or did way less than 30, but that is beyond my control. So I just counted them out as I went. I got to 30 and was off and running.
Did I say running? I may having been technically running but it definitely wasn’t fast running. I was trying to save some energy for what came next.
The bucket brigade – I got there grabbed my bucket, filled it with about 65 pounds of rocks and for the first time ever, had a volunteer look in and say.
“Can’t see any holes, looks good!”
I started down the hill and by this time my entire body was drained. I could feel the lights going out. It took me 5 minutes to get down the hill and 7 minutes to get up the hill. About midway down, I passed Luke and he looked like I felt. The entire way back up the 30% hill was carry the bucket 50 feet, stop, rest it on my leg, take a couple deep breaths and start again. When I got to the top, I barely had enough energy to lift the bucket to dump out the rocks, but I managed to do it. I was never so glad to be finished with the bucket carry as I was then.
After what seemed like an eternity of rolling and crawling, I made it to the end of the barbed wire crawl and had the last “real” obstacle ahead of me. The one and only Twister. But first I needed to shuffle my way over there from the barbed wire. At this point, my gas tank was reading empty. I had not been eating enough during the race so as Paul Sherwin would say:
“It looks like he is in a spot of bother!”
By the time I got to Twister, I was done. I tried to get across and I nearly made it to the first transition before my grip gave out and I fell. Now, I knew that all that stood between me and the finish were my final 30 burpees.
As I was doing these, I had a very strange thought cross my mind:
“If you don’t do them all, no one is watching and it doesn’t really matter.”
And then about 2 seconds later, a loud voice came blaring through my head:
“Of course it matters, your integrity matters. You are in the competitive wave and every burpee counts, even if no-one is watching.”
So I got to the task at hand and knocked them out, slowly.
Now all I needed to do was run down the hill, go under the dunk wall and jump the fire.
After I completed the jump, I stopped my watch and looked down.
“3 hours, 31 minutes and 53 seconds”
Faster than last year by 8 minutes. Even though the course was more than one mile longer with 750 more feet of climbing. Success!
Burpees – 120 a huge improvement from last year. I failed the tire flip, monkey bars, ape hanger and twister. The only one of those that was a real shock was the monkey bars. I expected to succeed on that.
So in the end I had a great race, 12th out of 46th in the competitive age group and I qualified for OCR World Championships for the 3rd year in a row. At some point, I may actually head up to Canada and race them. I have heard that it is an amazing event.
Next stop on the tour is the West Virginia Beast.
Until next time . . .