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10 Lessons From My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon – Peak Races

Originally I had planned on running the 50 mile option for the Peak Races Ultra Marathon up in the beautiful Green Mountain Trails. When I signed up this past winter for the race, I believe it was around the middle of November while visiting Joe De Sena, Miguel Medina and Andy Weinberg up in their cozy town of Pittsfield, VT.

As soon as I told Andy, the Race Director of Peak Races, that I wanted to do the 50 miler he came back at me telling me that I had to do the 100 miler. Apparently, the 50 miler was not an option for me. Perks of being a previous Death Racer and friend I suppose? I didn’t hesitate and happily took on this challenge. Going into the race I did not put in nearly enough training to be running this race, I knew it, my girlfriend knew it, everybody that knew how little I ran on a regular basis knew I hadn’t trained nearly enough to be going into a 100 mile race. Regardless, I was still ready for the challenge. After all, I have finished one Death Race out of pure stubbornness and both times I’ve competed in the Death Race I was forced to stay awake and on my feet much longer than the 34 hour cut-off allotted to complete the mileage in. 100 Mile, Ultra, Peak Races, Peak Ultra, Marathon

When I decided to write this post I opted to skip the long story that I normally put together for these types of adventures. Let’s be real, no one wants to hear about how I went around in circles for nearly 24 hours doing the same loop over and over again. That’d be really boring, I promise. What I did instead is create a list of lessons I learned on the trail from doing my first true Ultra Marathon, other than the Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer 50K I did last October I’ve never ran more than a standard marathon (2012 Chicago Marathon) in one go.

From what I gathered from the seasoned ultra marathoners on the course, I picked quite the difficult 100 miler for my first. Of course I did. In addition to this list I created, I put together a short video of clips I filmed during each of my loops. Hope you enjoy.

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10 Lessons I Learned at the Peak 100 Mile Ultra

  1. Not a lot of people show up to run the ultra long distances, 15 racers showed for the 100 Mile and 11 racers for the 200 Mile
  2. Having a support crew can make all the difference in a race of this nature. Thanks momma (Darnell Matesi) and sista (Mariah Matesi) and Kristine Iotte
  3. Teaching your support crew about your needs for each lap can save anywhere from 5-10 minutes during each lap
  4. Having a water bottle that works is a lot more useful (I couldn’t sip out of my Ultimate Direction water bottles if my life depended on it, I kept having to unscrew the cap to drink which resulted in lots of spillage)
  5. More real food, less gels, chews, and other non-real food substitutes. By mile 70 my stomach was in knots and couldn’t stand much of anything
  6. Burgers, Pizza, Beer, and Egg with Bacon sandwiches are the most delicious things you can have between laps and give you such an incredible energy boost. Oh ya, and Mountain Dew. Mmmm
  7. Apparently taking Aleve is a very good idea to help with some of the aches and pains that start to settle in after 40 or 50 miles
  8. Trail toes truly is the most amazing anti-chaffing balm there is, after 70 miles of rugged terrain over the course of just under 22 hours I only changed my socks once and had zero hotspots and zero blisters. Note: I wore Injinji Outdoor 2.0 toe socks, they’re fantastic – sock review coming soon
  9. Training is a lot more important than I expected. I thought I could will my way through this, I’ve finished a Death Race, why couldn’t I finish this? That was my thought process. It was wrong. Next year I’ll be logging more miles the months leading up to this race.
  10. There is something exciting about pushing yourself to run a ridiculous amount of miles through the mountains. When it comes to trails and mountains, I really do enjoy running on them.

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle – Dead Last

Continuing on the trail I eventually came to a section of single track trail. I remember catching up to Paul who had run back to make sure he was on the right path because he hadn’t seen a trail marker in a long time. I was standing directly underneath one as he approached and assured him he had to be on the right path as I pointed up to the marker. He turned around and took off with a much faster pace than I could keep up with. In that moment I started to feel lonely. There was nothing I could do to catch up. I didn’t have the motivation at this point. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, I was tired. I needed to keep moving. I kept thinking to myself that the end of this race must be near. Maybe when we get to the top of wherever all these single track switchbacks lead I thought, maybe that will be the last challenge. I hoped. These switchback went on forever slowly guiding you up the hillside. It felt like it was taking forever. The further I got the more I understood why Paul came back, there were almost no markers along this trail. It was single track, as a fellow race director I could understand why Josue didn’t put many up. But that didn’t change the fact that I wanted more confirmation that I was on the right path. I knew It was easier to just mark the places the major intersections in order to guide a racer.  As I continued on, I was always hoping that I would see another trail marker soon.

I remember when I reached the top of the hill that seemed to go on forever there was a large cross, it felt very creepy to me at first because it almost seemed like it could be the location for some sort of cult gathering, but then I remembered all the religious kids that were here at Camp Eagle on retreat the day we arrived. I guess it made sense though this seemed like a very distant place (from my perspective) to have a cross. I had no clue how close or how far we were from Camp. For all I knew I was over 20 miles away from the cabins. I was hoping to find the next challenge here at the top but left the area disappointed and continued on my journey.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.09.50 PMArriving at the challenge location the sun had begun to set and the wind was picking up. I could feel my body temperature starting to drop. I had caught up with a one of the runners along the last stretch of single track trails and we came into this challenge together. I was greeted by the two volunteers and once again asked the same question I always asked, “How is Corinne doing and how long ago did she leave?” I was making great time I thought because she was only about 30 minutes out. Next I asked what had to be done because I simply wanted nothing more than to catch up to her.

1278014_521493327940321_1077282190_oStill holding my bow and seeing the target I knew my next challenge was to test my bow. To retrieve my arrows, I was to climb a tree and cut them down before I could discover how well made my bow really was. I walked over to the tree feeling excitement rising within me and a sudden burst of joy overcame all the pain and suffering I had been trying to keep at bay. Growing up I’ve always been a big tree climber, it wasn’t uncommon to be at a party and have someone ask where Tony went only to find me up in a tree. I looked up and at first I could not make out any arrows and then I spotted them all the way up, almost at the very top. Sweet!!!! I jumped up, wrapped my armed around the first good branch and began scaling my way up. With all my years of gymnastics it’s no surprise that I’m a human monkey. I sliced the rope holding what I declared as my set of arrows down and quickly climbed back down. As I approached the target range the wind had picked up. I laughed maniacally realizing there was no way in hell I would succeed regardless of how well made my bow was. I lined up my first shot and just laughed at myself as my arrow basically dropped not even 3 feet in front of me. There was no way I would make however many shots we were expected to make. I asked if I could just test the machine-made bow just to see if it was possible for me to hit the target with the wind, the way it was. Being fairly good at shooting a bow and arrow I figured if I couldn’t make it with a legit bow there was no way I would succeed with my homemade one. With full tension and my aim lined up to adjust for the wind I let the arrow fire and with little surprise my arrow stopped very short of the distance needed to fly far enough to pierce the target. It wasn’t meant to be. Wanting to still make the cut off I decided to be realistic, with wind picking up and my body was starting to shiver I needed to start generating body heat. Fast. After that many hours of rockin’ out my body was becoming fatigued and could not retain heat as the sun began to set.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.15.27 PMIt wasn’t the type of decision I normally would like to have made and there will be rules in place next year to prevent participants from doing this but I decided to not even waste my time building a travois. This was the last obstacle and I recalled the time I made one during my first Spartan Death Race. With a teammate it took us over 45 minutes to build our travois at the Death Race, there was no way in hell I was going to waste that much time after seeing all the ones that were left behind not even 50 yards away from where I stood. Clearly everyone before me found this task to be impossible to finish within the time cut off. I opted to skip the challenge completely, knowing what I knew this was the best option for me if I was going to finish unofficially, I was going to do it in within the time cut. I took off without even trying to make the travois.

1391699_718660334829257_161728537_nAs I ran I saw one travois after another, abandoned. There were still tracks in the gravel, however, and the further I got the more and more amazed I became. Who the hell was dragging their travois still?! I thought to myself as I began to climb the first, steep, switch back hill. As the trail began to narrow and become a very rocky, and technical single track trail I was astonished to see that someone was STILL dragging a travois through this. I wondered if they just dropped the weight or something because it seemed impossible to drag a travois through what little passage there was.  Then I saw her. That’s right, it was Corinne. The only person who had the strength and determination to drag the travois through this insane terrain. This is where my race stopped. When I saw her attempting this challenge I couldn’t go any further,  I had to see her, see this through. It was getting darker by the minute and there was no way I would let Corinne pull over 80lbs on a handcrafted travois through these narrow and twisting trails with steep ledges and cliffs she could fall down. No way in hell. I asked her how I could help and she was in her zone. I mostly guided her through the terrain, watch that branch, ROCK!!, you know that sort of thing. At one point there was a break down and she wanted me to just go on. I couldn’t do it. I had to make sure she finished, I could never leave her alone. I was so impressed and inspired by her perseverance. She insisted on dragging that travois all the way if it was the last thing she’d do. I couldn’t understand why she was battling this obstacle with such tenacity but I was there to support her however I could. Mostly, keeping my mouth shut.

1374172_10101040719706489_1897239997_nOther racers passed us, all shocked that Corinne had gone so far with it. They continued on and that was it; we were the last two racers on the course. Dead last. No one succeeded at this obstacle, everyone quit, myself included, but Corinne pushed on. We eventually came out to a clearing and we had thought this must have been the place where this ended. There was no way Josue would have us take a travois over this brush and such. We both decided the volunteers might have left this area already and that’s when the battle with the travois finally came to an end. We were told it was a 2.5 mile trek with the travois, uncertain how far we had gone but given that it had been over 4 hours we figured this had to be the drop point. Corinne abandoned her travois and we started up a fairly steep climb. About a mile later after a lot of upward climbing we arrived at a volunteer station and discovered the real end to the travois challenge. With complete disbelief we realized how insane this challenge really was. There was no way anyone would have finished this challenge within the time cut off. It simply was not possible in that amount of time. We began our descent through more wicked terrain and we were finally on the last leg of the race.

At some point it started to rain. Already wearing Corinne’s pullover I was still shivering. Trying to keep myself warm I continued to run a little ahead of Corinne and then I would wait for her. Corinne managed to stay warm but I constantly checked on her to make sure she was okay. I forgot entirely about myself and after witnessing what she put herself through with that travois. I wanted nothing more than for her to finish this race strong. Josue has a way of getting you excited during his course, he’ll bring you just close enough to camp so you can hear the chatter, but then he swings you away to take you off into the woods uncertain of how much further you’ll have to go. This happened a few times and when we had just under a mile to go my barefoot sandal ripped completely off, the tongue part of the lacing had torn. I busted out some medical tape and strapped the entire sandal to my foot. I was really hoping this quick-fix McGuiver would last until the finish. No such luck. By the time we could finally see the lodging and START/FINISH area with under a half mile to go my sandal came dislodged again. Corinne continued running and I quickly caught up with my right barefoot sandal in my hand. We ran as fast as we could, the rain was accelerating as it came down from the dark sky above and just after we crossed that finish line, Dead F#$*ing Last, the most torrential down pour followed and we were so thankful to have finally finished. My body ached, I was cold. We had made it.

photo 3Unofficial or not I was extraordinarily proud of my FAIL. This was the most challenging event to date and if you had asked me right then and there if I’d do it again, I’d have said, “you’re nuts!” Now, I think I need to go back, better trained, better prepared. Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer is THE primal survival test that all should experience.


Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Because I Can

The further away from the cabin I found myself going, the more cruel I felt Josue was. At times I found it difficult to wrap my head around how I found myself here. Why did I sign up for this race? Why do I continue to put myself through these ridiculous challenges that bring out the primal nature within? I started questioning myself but the first answer I came to and always will come to when people ask “Why? Why do this? Why put yourself through something like that?” Because I can. It was as simple as that, and with that thought, that knowledge, I did what I had to do and I carried on and continued along the path Josue laid out for us. Up and down the hills, moving further and further away from that tiny beacon of hope. That cabin on the ridge.

In my mind I already knew reaching that cabin meant a few things. It would be the next source of water. My next challenge would await me and perhaps I would be that much closer to finishing this extraordinary race. In my haste to leave the fire pit I did not refill my water. That last time that I enjoyed the refreshing taste of water that I had to purify myself was during my last few attempts at starting a fire.  It became apparent that unlike most races I was not taking my nutrition or my hydration very seriously.  I was not eating as much as I normally would during a race of this magnitude. Upon that realization I thought back to other racers where I had been laser-focused on my nutrition and yet even with that perfect balance of carbs, protein, potassium and all the other important nutrients needed to succeed there were many races where I still had issues. Back in Vermont at the World Championships Spartan Beast I even had issues. Somehow out here in the foothills of Texas, my lack of nutrition or focus on it had little effect. In fact, I felt quite wonderful. My body was doing well, the feet – while suffering from the technical terrain and lack of protection, I found it wasn’t all that unbearable.  My mood was starting to lift. My face began to pull itself up and I could feel an enormous smile forming, ear-to-ear. In the silence around me with only my thoughts to guide me I knew it was true, I love this shit. This is my happy place. This is what I, what we (as a species) are born to do. Astonishing. Being alone can either be the worst thing or the best thing, it’s all about perspective. That’s what this moment was. It was that feeling of enlightenment. This entire race was a meditation. I was finding myself yet again. And even though I did not succeed in making fire, even though I was unofficially moving forward one step at a time in this race, even though I was all alone with no one to talk to, I was happy. That’s why I do this. That’s why I challenge myself and find myself alone, whether it be in the woods of Vermont of the Hills of Texas, I do it for one reason and one reason only. To find my happy place.

srhg6Almost within an instant of making that connection, my happiness was tested. My concentration had strayed away from watching my every step and in that moment of bliss my foot came smashing down into a patch of prickly pear cacti.  What felt like a 1000 needles pierced my skin, sticking deep within the tips of my toes and the top of my foot. “DAMMIT Josue!!!” That’s the edited version of what I really said. Profanities became my vocabulary for a brief moment, but I would not let this ruin my mood. I couldn’t. This is what I signed up for. This was my choice to take on this race and a few needles in my foot was not going to break me. No. I wouldn’t let it.  So I picked all of them out with as much haste as I could trying not to miss a single one. (Even after a month I still found needles buried deep within my toes.) 1275480_521493091273678_836067679_o Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.01.30 PM From there I continued on my way toward that distant cabin that loomed over the cliffside almost mocking me. I needed water bad and that cabin was my source. I needed to pick up the pace. Nearing the last stretch of trail leading to my next challenge Josue started taking us up a very interesting cliffside.  The brush became thicker and I found myself ducking under branches while trying to find the right footing as began to scale my way up the cliffside. I was even faced with having to do some bouldering just to make it to the top. This is so badass, is all I could think. This adventure was proving to be one of the most complex, riveting challenges that I have faced to date. As much as I found my self cursing Josue, I found myself loving the brilliance of his twisted creation. 1271837_521493117940342_264512149_oPlacing my hand on the boulder that protruded from the cliffside I pulled myself up over that last ridge and a feeling of relief swept over me. I made it. Finally, after all those moments of false hope I had arrived at the cabin. I was greeted by a very jolly man who as it turned out was the father of the two boys who had been “taunting” me with their superior fire making skills. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 7.57.23 PMAs had become the standard at this point I asked him the same question I asked each time I arrived at a challenge. How is Corinne doing, and how long ago had she left. It turned out I wasn’t too far behind but she had left over an hour ago. I really wasted a lot of time because of my absent-minded loss of my knife. I needed to finish the challenges here fast so I can make up more time on the course. Before that though I needed to take care of the most basic of needs. I needed water. I asked where I could fill up my canteens and was pointed over to a cow trough. Are you kidding me? I walked over to it and it was disgusting. Filled with mosquitos and gnats. I turned everything off in my mind and just did what had to be done. I purified over 3Ls of water with my SteriPEN there, drinking one of the liters before finding out what challenges await. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.43 PMAlong the way we were supposed to gather Juniper berries and algarita. I had grabbed mine before even leaving the fire-making challenge and stuffed them inside a wrapper from my GU Chomps. After presenting those to the man, I was handed a test all about the qualities of those plants. From the airport to the race Corinne and I had studied the plant guide we were given by Josue. Since finishing graduate school I knew that the less I study something the better I usually do so I only reviewed the material as much as I felt I needed. The real test here was how well do I know my ability to retain information. As I waited for my test to be graded I wondered how I would do. Passing was 7/10…I nailed it. Only missing one question and realizing my mistake before he even told me which one it was. Feeling extraordinarily proud of myself I was ready for my next task. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.37 PMWe were to take a few strips of Sotol fibers and we had to soften them up with a rock so we could make it into almost a string-like material.  Then we were to braid them together a total of 3 feet. Having grown up with two older half sisters and a younger sister, I found this to be way too easy. Once I finished I was presented with my beads for completing the first two tasks and I was given my final task before leaving the cabin. Make a Bow. This was it. One of the tasks I had been waiting for. The Bow and Arrow has been one of my favorite weapons since I was a wee little one. I went over to one of the Juniper and found myself the best curved branch I could. I hacked away at it with my KaBar and began to shave off the excess bark. I noticed some of the other racers were taking a significantly large amount of time to craft their bows. I was more concerned with making the time cut-off than anything else so I did not put in the time or effort that I would have liked to but felt I had made a fairly decent bow. I strung it up with some of the orange string I was provided and made my way. Once again, I was all alone. And I felt absolutely epic running along those trails, bow in hand.

To be concluded…

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Fire Makers

After realizing my knife was missing I just about lost it – my mind, that is. At first I was cursing myself, “Now what the fuck are you going to do?” Then I was questioning myself, “How will you finish? Are you going to have to make your own knife out of stones?” Honestly, I had no idea what to do. And that’s when it hit me. This is the second time I’d misplaced my knife this weekend. Why was I being so absent-minded? Why was it hard for me to hold on to something I cared so deeply for? I started to feel overwhelmingly upset about losing my KaBar. I just felt horrible. My dad gave this to me. How did I lose it?! At this point I wasn’t sure what happened. Did it fall out of the holster when I stumbled on a few rocks traversing that one ravine we had to go through? Did I leave it at the windmill? Was my race over?

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.26.42 PMI continued heading toward the next task with my head hanging very low trying to stay on course. I’m not quite sure when it happened, but eventually, I felt numb about everything. Why am I even doing this race? Even if I had my knife, could I really make fire? Doubt started to get the best of me. I tried to shake it off and think positively. Maybe someone found the KaBar while they were heading this way. Maybe you left the knife by the windmill and someone can find it if they haven’t already. My pessimism slowly dissolved and overcome with the optimism; optimism that I needed to carry on. I started envisioning what it was going to be like the moment I made fire.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.25.56 PMAfter what seemed like the longest four or five miles I’d ever experienced. I finally came to the next clearing and once there, I saw two large tee-pees, a few volunteers, and these boy scouts who basically, at first glance, appeared to be taunting the racers about how easily they could make fire. My first concern when arriving was to find Corinne, so I ran over to the area where everyone was making fire and I found her drilling away with her bow drill. I literally saw the determination burning inside her to make this fire. It was very motivating to see how hard everyone was working on their fire. Corinne had already burned through two spindles and was working on her third. It was a relief to finally see one another since the start of the race. I explained to her what had happened with my missing KaBar and shortly thereafter, we found out over the radio that someone had found my knife and was bringing it to the next challenge. This news wasn’t enough to calm me down. I had so much energy and I was as determined as ever to finish this race. Now that I knew I was going to be able to stay in this race, I kept pacing around and searching high and low for materials to make my fire. Patience is not a virtue I’ve been blessed with.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.26.56 PMIt wasn’t long before Corinne succeeded in making her fire. I was so happy for her. She went on and completed the next throwing challenge here at the tee-pees. This time, there were two stones on top of a tree stump and each racer had to knock them off with their throwing stick. After she finished this challenge I ran a short distance with her (since I was still waiting for my knife) to wish her good luck with the rest of the race. Corinne is one of the most incredible athletes out there, if anyone could finish this race, it was her. 1374045_10101040722755379_990873160_nI went back to my area and observed the other racers. I saw that most of the guys had moved on from using their knives and were strictly focused on spinning that spindle as fast as they could in hopes of getting that tiny little ember, which just might be enough to ignite a fire, into their small bundles of tinder. At times, everyone was trying to tackle this seemingly impossible task. It’s astounding that we, as a species, once depended on this skill as a necessary means for survival. Today we’ve become so disconnected that most human beings would not be prepared to survive should the need for primitive survival tactics ever arise. I finally asked someone if I could borrow their knife, I was so frustrated and absent-minded that I don’t even recall whose knife it was, but thank you for helping me out!

1001712_10101040722700489_362065211_nEarlier, while I was gathering all my supplies, I had already made my bow using some of my paracord and with someone else’s knife, I was able to make my first spindle. I set to work trying to get a good spin going. Corinne had given me this awesome rock to use as my top hold, but of course, as was the trend, I managed to misplace that as well. I had placed the stone next to my supplies, but when I came back from gathering more sotol out of the tee-pee I couldn’t find the rock. It’s very possible someone else used it. I suppose that’s what I get for leaving a rock on the ground. I decided to move away from the other racers and more into the clearing so I could see when my knife was going to arrive.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 7.31.55 PMAfter growing increasingly impatient with making the fire, I decided to take out some of my anger by knocking out the throwing challenge. We had seven attempts to hit the stone off the wooden stump two times. I only knocked it off once. Again, no bead for me. At some point, while waiting for my KaBar to arrive, Shannon Hulme came into the challenge and told me that he was done. He let me borrow his knife for a while as I continued to wait for mine. I don’t know how long it took but when my KaBar finally arrived I was already defeated. I’d already spent over three hours here and was nowhere near making fire. Determined, I gave it a few more attempts. It came to a point where I had to question what my next move. I didn’t have to get all the beads to finish the race officially but I did have to make fire. If I gave up on this I would be able to continue the race knowing I couldn’t finish officially. Yay. Welcome to the world of unofficial finishes once again, Tony. Before making a decision I discussed the options with Shannon. I knew all along I wasn’t going to make fire after wasting that much time, so it didn’t take long for me to realize it was better for me to take off now and make the time cut-offs rather than risk not finishing at all. I made sure to gather all my supplies, thanked Shannon once again and took off — leaving without my “I” Fire amulet. All I had so far were a couple beads and a “Fail” Symbol amulet. Whatever, another five or so miles and I’d be at the next challenge. Time to move.

From this point on, I was really just there to be there. I was no longer in the race, I was no longer a contender. Once again, I had found myself facing the reality that I could finish a race, but I wouldn’t be counted as an official finisher. This didn’t bother me as much as it did earlier this year when I finished with an “unofficial” at the Summer Spartan Death Race. No, this time it just was what it was, and I didn’t really care what it meant. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that going into this race I had never made fire or completed many of the tasks the Josue subjected us to. In that moment, I was just there to challenge myself to do something I’d never done before. Regardless of the outcome, I was there and this is how the story was unfolding. I accepted the results of my lack of preparation and vowed to  finish what I started.

As I continued on this crazy adventure through the foothills of Texas I found my mind wandering all over the place. It wasn’t like your standard race where you move so fast you can’t really think. Here, a racer had all the time in the world to get lost in whatever fantasies their mind created. Every step was slow and steady for fear of snapping an ankle with the constant indeterminate measure of distance between you and the next person. These unknowns and doubts were my biggest fears out there. We literally ran through sections that lasted more than a mile up and downwith loose rocks that threatened to slide out from you at any given moment. On top of that, I was still bushwhacking everywhere I went. I constantly needed to look at my feet but also up as well. I just couldn’t look in both places at once — that’s when I’d end up with a branch jabbing my left shoulder, or the time where I earned myself a bunch of prickly pear cactus needles sticking to the top of my foot, underneath my little toes and, of course, a nice big needle directly into my big toe. This didn’t just happen once.

View from cabin

View from cabin

While making my way to the next challenge I remember coming down this path and I could see a cabin not too far off in the distance overlooking a cliff. It looked like that was the next place we would be going. I remember thinking to myself and remembering I had not refilled my water at the last challenge, that I have to be close by now. I was starting to get so thirsty. I didn’t want to stop, but I had to get to the next challenge, I needed to hydrate. Just as I thought I was about to head toward the cabin, Josue had the course swing to the left and as I turned around I could see the cabin getting further and further away. You are a cruel man, Josue, and we all love you for it. He did this more than once on this route, it was so uplifting every time I thought I was almost to the next checkpoint and then bam, the course would switch directions steering me away from that glimmering beam of hope, that cabin on the top of that ridge. I wanted to get to it as fast as possible. I was ready to just finish this damn race. I started to question the possibility of being able to actually do the 100K Survival Run. Would ANYONE be able to complete the 100K?

To be continued…

Spartan Race Stadium Series Miller Park Sprint

Entering the Miller Park Stadium I could sense that this was not like your ordinary Spartan Race. It was unlike any other Spartan Race event I have attended. It just felt different. I arrived around 7:00AM and had to do a lot before it was time to race. I went straight to bag check and started working on stretching out and contacted my father to see how long it’d be until his arrival. Sarah Pozdol and I made our way over to registration to make sure we were properly registered for being on Corn Fed who had an astounding 316 people cross the finish line this weekend. Around 7:30AM I met up with all the Corn Fed Spartans that made it in time for the group photo, had that taken. Then I finally met up with my dad with only a few minutes left to get ready. So I handed him the rest of my ABB Performance Speed Stack Pumped N.O. (my now go-to pre-race fuel) and sped off into a quick jog. I didn’t have much time and basically headed straight to the starting area. I situated myself and went off with the second wave they sent out. Unlike a normal Spartan Race this one requires waves of 15 every to be sent out every 60 seconds to keep the flow going and to prevent too many bottle necks from happening.

The Elite Wave

Going into this race I haven’t trained as much as I had for many of my other races this year. Since Fuego Y Agua running has been non-existent from my training regimen. I’ve neglected it. Not because I wanted to, I actually kind of miss running. Since moving to the city of Chicago I find it harder to get out and lose myself to the sounds of my Spotify account and the rapid movement that I had started to enjoy. Without trails I feel a bit lost. The Miller Park Sprint acted as an excellent catalyst for forcing me to embrace an alternative training grounds from the great outdoors that I’ve grown so fond of. Right out the gate we were headed up a concrete incline ramp that lead to the next floor of the stadium, with each half floor we went up we were either greeted with a set of bungees we had to bear crawl under or skip over without tripping. It was a great way to start spreading out the competition and in my wave I was holding between top two and three for a while. 4057_156bfd57de9b267c72cc56caca90c2c8_TopZoneThe race was very fast paced, it brought you up and down staircases, around the perimeter of the park, inside and outside, challenged by most of the standard Spartan Obstacles that would be at any other Sprint, Super or Beast and then there were unique obstacles that are exclusive to the Stadium series. One of the first Stadium obstacles I encountered was the slam balls, you had to bring a 25lb slam ball over your head and slam it to the ground 30 times before continuing on your way through the course. The Stadium specific obstacles were derived from Spartan Group X workouts and served as a great addition to the race mix. The exercises were very effective in breaking you down and giving you that feeling that all Spartan Races inflict on those who finish the course.  Accomplished. 1410853_218263498351340_304010768_oThe one Stadium Obstacle that really got me was the Concept 2 Rowing Machine. At this obstacle you are required to row 500m in under 2 minutes. A task that I’ve done many times before on my father’s rowing machine. What I didn’t account for and didn’t realize until after running additional laps of the race was the resistance varied from machine to machine. If you didn’t have yours set high enough if didn’t matter how hard or how fast you rowed because you were going that much less distance per row. As I yanked away as hard as I could, feeling my legs begin to cramp I saw the dreaded Burpees screen pop up with only 2m left to row. I was shocked. How did this happen to me? Do I really have to do effing burpees right now? To say I was pissed in an understatement. Going into my burpees I was completely gassed. I’ll be honest I hope I did enough because counting out loud wasn’t working, my head was spinning. Nauseous? Check! Ya, these were probably some of the worst burpees ever. I’m sorry to those of you who saw these on the big screen. It was not my best but it was all I could give without collapsing. You see going into this race I made myself a promise. No matter what happened I was going to push myself as hard as I have even though my training has been lacking. Most races I have finished and I have been able to throw my front flip over the fire at the end. Knowing there wouldn’t be any fire here I wanted to just push it to the limit. I wanted to see how far I could really go. I wanted to see if I could make it into the top 10 with all the tough competition that showed up. I believed I could and wanted to prove that to myself. I had to keep going. 905278_218264195017937_1378506579_oAfter finishing those dreadful burpees I continued on and dominated the looming 8′ wall that came after the long row of garbage cans.  They were clearly there in anticipation of how people might react to the Rowing Machine obstacle. Other new challenges and obstacles here included 20 chest-to-floor hand release push-ups, 50 heavy jump ropes, and a jug carry. It was refreshing to have the standard Spartan obstacles like the hercules hoist, traverse wall, and Spear throw and a waterless rope climb there to make me feel like I was still running a Spartan Race even though I was not out in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere like I am used to. I really enjoyed the way this race ended, you came off the cargo net, went to the hercules hoist, hit the rope climbs in the center of the outfield’s perimeter, from there you were essentially home free just a quick set of box jumps and it was a sprint to the finish. I hit it hard at the end trying to push myself all the way.

After finishing it took me awhile to collect myself. I felt very sick, coughed a lot, and spit up a little liquid vomit when I made it to the bathroom. I had to wash myself off before returning outside to see how I finished. I finished my first Stadium Spartan Race in 38:53. While I am happy with myself for pushing hard than I have before I do have to make myself change my training, it’s time to get my running back in check. Knowing how long it takes to do burpees and how pathetic mine were it’s safe to say I could have made it into top 10 territory. I’m coming to Fenway with a vengeance.

Double Dragon Tethered Heat


As some of you know by now Joe Kauder is my “Double Dragon” brother. Given that I had a spontaneous idea to try doing a tethered heat. I’ve been wanting to try it ever since hearing about others that had done it before. It sounded like a unique challenge and who better to do it with than my Double Dragon brother whom I usually only run 2-3 minutes slower than at almost every race we do together. We’re very close in size and capabilities so it seemed like a no brainer. If anything it would be a great way to push each other to test our limits. It didn’t take too much arm twisting to get Joe to sign on board. We secured two bandanas and each tied one to our non dominant wrist, mine being my right arm and Joe’s left. This gave us the freedom to use our dominant arms without limitation, you cannot imagine how awesome it is that Joe was a righty and that I am a lefty but I’ll try to paint you a picture. Going into this heat was fun, just before things got started I ran into a few of my friends, Ilya and Kostya and we all started in the same wave. Joe and I took the lead and seemed to be acting in perfect sync right off the get go.

There were a few things we hadn’t thought of going into this that we would have to overcome as we encountered them. For instance when we reached the Over-Under-Through it became clear that everything wasn’t going to be done side-by-side during this heat. So Joe would go in front or I would crawl through first. At first there was some hesitation but we got into a rhythm fairly quick and started discussing our plan of attack as each new obstacle came into our sights. When we reached the Concept 2 Rowers I knew exactly what to do before starting that timer, I adjusted my resistance up to 8 or 9 of 10 levels and then Joe and I started together and we rowed as if we were one. It was something incredible that I cannot even begin to explain. The amount of energy and power we were unleashing on these rowers was like something you’d see in an anime. Glowing aura’s all around us, extremely loud and aggressive grunts and groans fueled by testosterone, veins clearly visible and pulsing through your skin. Less than 2 minutes later we saw the glorious AROO! unlatched our feet, let out a loud AROO!! ourselves and took off making our way in and out of the course like it was nothing.

Arriving at the Traverse Wall presented an interesting challenge. Whoever led would decide which direction we went. I have become very comfortable ever since installing the Traverse Wall at REACH with going both ways so I told Joe to go first so he could lead with his right, I would follow behind. Some of the holds were closer and others were further so sometimes Joe would have to wait for me to adjust before he could continue forward. Taking it slow and steady was all it took. After that came an 8′ wall that was the only time where our bandanas actually came unknotted. We quickly tied it back together before proceeding to walk over to the Spear Throw. This is where the whole lefty righty thing really came in handy. Joe took his spear throw first and nailed it. I picked up my spear and approached it how I always do. As the spear flew through the air I knew it was going to land perfectly

in the hay. Joe and I let out some loud yelling to show our excitement for both hitting the spear throw and we continued on to the last few sections of the race.When we got to the Heavy Jump Ropes we actually had to untie our bandanas because if we tried to jump with them tied they would begin to get tangled with the heavy ropes. As soon as we finished we fixed our tether and set out on the last few obstacles. As we approached the rope climb I was starting to feel a huge burst of energy overcoming me. It came out of no where but it felt great. Joe and I climbed our way to the top of the ropes and together we kicked our outside legs up rang the bell in epic Double Dragon style and continued on to finish the last obstacle of the course. 555970_10151684420781861_1648038948_n1459121_10151684420856861_1240334095_nAs soon as we finished the box jumps I wanted Joe and I to finish as hard as we possible could so I set the pace. Rounding the corner we plowed through the gladiators and that’s when I realized I had turned the gas on a little too hard. I looked back and saw Joe rolling on the ground, I took that corner way too fast. I’m sorry big bro. I got a little bit excited about our finish.

5721_ed84c99073f32ac35554663470641ea0_GladZoneRunning this race tethered to my pseudo brother was such an awesome experience. Working together to accomplish obstacles, pushing each other to run harder, figuring out ways to run along the bleachers, dipping, ducking, dodging, it was a really interesting way to run a race and I look forward to toying with more unique ways to tackle these races that I absolutely love to do.

Kids Race

As always I made sure to jump in and rabbit a lap of the Kids Race. Joe and I lined up and got the kids pumped up. I got them all yelling AROO! Asking them to give it louder each time. The greatest announcer there is, T.C., came over and got things rolling. Joe and I were in the ready position for what seemed like forever when finally T.C. said GO and those kids came running after us faster than any I’ve ever seen. We had to push it hard just to keep up with the leaders. Joe took the lead male and I the lead female. The lead females leader, Mackenzie, destroyed this two lap, one mile course. It was mostly running with only a series of walls and over-under-throughs at the end of each lap for obstacles but the uphill climbs were pretty demanding and these little ones just never stopped pushing. It was so fun seeing them finish. Rabbiting and seeing the next generation of Spartans being brought up with such a healthy lifestyle, and parents who are leading by example, it’s a very comforting sign that people are moving in the right direction. The Spartan way of life really is about building better humans. Healthier, happier humans.

REACH: First Timers – Photographer Heat

1400308_218265858351104_2072922705_oSome how after all this I still had just enough energy to grab my Canon DSLR run over and say hi to a few friends from high school, and jump in a wave with my guys from the gym, Charlie, Adam, and Kyle. I figured this would be great to capture them during their very first Spartan Race so they could be guaranteed a bunch of photographic memories. You can’t always expect to get the best pictures from the automatic photo systems and the few photographers they have on the courses so having a personal photographer guarantees you have those epic facebook profile photos. Running with them was an awesome experience, Charlie has been training hard to get back in shape and you it’s really paying off. Kudos to you Charlie. Adam was able to have a great time and pushed himself harder than he has in a long time. After the race I received a text message that they both wanted some more of the kool-aid. It’s pretty damn good. I know, I’ve been drinking it for two years now. While on the course I saw Danny Rodriguez running his third lap as well. He’s been working hard with us at REACH to achieve his goals and I am so proud of him for never giving up.

**If you are interested in having me photograph you during your heat please check my Facebook Page: AJM Consulting.**

After running the race three times plus the kids race I was spent. Festival Challenges are the one thing that was missing from the event other than that I must say the Stadium Races are top notch and I cannot wait until Fenway.

Spartan Race Nebraska – Hurricane Heat

This year has been riddled with races being postponed and many have been cancelled. I signed up for Spartan Race Nebraska when it was first announced but as the months went on and I discovered new races I had switched my plans and I was supposed to run the Alpha Warrior race in Texas.  This would be the weekend after Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer. Plan was that I’d stay there in Texas for the week, race and come home. So back to how I signed up for this race long before I even knew what Alpha Warrior was. Luck was on my side because I never booked a flight until after finding out Alpha Warrior would be cancelled. (By the way this company gets “5 Stars” for customer satisfaction in how they handled this. Full Refund. Tshirt. Sticker. Free Entry to 2014 Alpha Warrior. VIP Experience. Invite to new Training Center.) Now that I wasn’t going to be in Texas I had an opportunity to go to the Nebraska race again.

1377130_10101028267036739_1156193921_nWhen I found out my friend Jeffrey Bent, the king of yoga as I like to call him, was driving from Ohio to Nebraska I was able to have him come kick it with me in Chicago before heading out to the wonderful Corn Fields of Nebraska. The plan was not for me to there to race though. I was still recovering from Fuego Y Agua and I actually had no desire to race for once, sure I wanted to when I saw my friends out on the course but I had a different objective. I was headed out here to help my the Queen of Green and Barbwire 4 Breakfast, Andi Hardy, with leading the Hurricane Heat. We had the great privilege of waking up at 4:00AM, arriving at the course at 5:00AM and getting the Hurricane Heat started promptly at 5:30AM.

Running this Hurricane Heat with Andi was such a great time. To begin I enjoyed half of my breakfast burrito in front of the Hurricane Heaters while they did burpees in the damp grass near the bag check area. We put them through a series of challenges that included playing hot potato with Atlas Stones, carrying a team member through a mile of the course going up and down the hills in the off road park area and lots of bear crawls. At one point Andi heard someone complain and instantly earned 25 burpees, but not even a second after those burpees were awarded someone else groaned doubling the burpees everyone had to do. The idea of “suffer in silence” was learned very quickly after that.

1377483_10101026645611089_1890734024_nWhile moving through the course we found some tires that looked like they could be moved to another section on the other side of a couple of hills. Once the Hurricane Heaters got all 4 of the enormous tractor tires to where we thought we wanted them it became clear that they just simply wouldn’t work there and were better off in their original location. After this challenge they had to army crawl across the course to these three culvert tunnels. We had them start on the far right, army crawl to the other end, bear crawl back, and then crab walk through the left tunnel to finish. These were very long culverts and when everyone showed up on the other side we had the teams select the 5 most muddy HH’ers. They were rewarded with not having to do burpees. Everyone else had burpees but naturally since they’ve become a team at this point everyone got down and did the burpees together. It’s amazing seeing the transformation these strangers and friends go through in the short period of time during a Hurricane Heat.

1395956_10101026703824429_1721642695_nThe last few challenges they had were to have each team get a spear throw the barbwire crawl without getting the spear dirty. This was an impossible task but very interesting to watch the various tactics deployed to try to succeed. After this it was off to the rope climbs, they had to get 6 bell rings between each team of 6 members. There were 3 teams one had 7 members. After this they had to get 10 spear throws it was during this time that we saw the first of the Elite runners come through the Spear Throw, James Appleton, followed by my brother from another mother, Joseph Kauder. It was an awesome finish and I was so pumped for Joe. We finished the last of the obstacles and finished the 3 hour Hurricane Heat with everyone finishing with only a few minor cuts and bruises.

The Festival

After the Hurricane Heat I decided I was going to just hang around and maybe compete in a few of the festival challenges to win some races for next year. The first one that I got pulled into doing was the Wall Climb challenge which was new for this race. The objective was to go up and over the 8′ Wall as many times as possible in 60 seconds. Jeff had already done this and was the leader with 12 times. The second highest was only 7. I decided to give it a go and with about 5 seconds left I came over the top of the wall and my feet landed on the ground marking my 12th jump over the wall, with only 2 seconds to get over again I was spent and tied Jeff. It was pretty funny and neither of us wanted to do the tie breaker which involved the addition of one burpee after every wall climb. No thanks. Jeff was kind enough to give me the free passes so I was able to invite 4 of my friends to join me at the Malibu Spartan Race for my birthday. I love that Spartan Race gives those of us with Season Passes a way to bring other people out to try the race when we win the Festival Challenges. It’s a great way to get my friends who are on the fence about racing out there for their first Spartan.

photo (1)We also went after the Slosh Pipe Challenge, I failed miserably but Joe destroyed it making all the big muscle heads look like wimps. When it came time for the tire flip challenge though, I knew I could likely destroy it. The one thing I do more than anything now that I have unlimited access to large tractor tires at REACH is lots of tire flips. Winning this challenge gave me another four passes which I’ll be using to bring some new friends out to the Midwest Spartan Race in 2014. How awesome is that. If you haven’t tried a festival challenge what are you waiting for? You can win free passes for you and your friends.

All in all it was an awesome weekend of Spartan Racing even without setting foot on the course as a racer. That’s because these races are about so much more than racing. It’s about the people you meet, the lifestyle that is embraced, the fun and mud, it’s about bringing people together from all over the world and giving them an opportunity to experience the great outdoors. Ever since doing these races I have seen a different side of the world. One you can only see by going out there and just living. It’s a wonderful life that I’m thankful for.

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Primal Beings

As I trudged through the river I could see we were nearing the large cabin area, the same place where the race began, I knew the water was about to become deeper and swimming with our logs as opposed to walking with them would become my ultimate challenge. My panic began to rise again. Without the help of Justin Atteberry, whom I met over a year ago when I crewed and played photographer at the Ultimate Suck, I would have probably taken much longer to finish this section of the course, that is if I’d have finished at all. The other racers: Paul Kavanagh, Shannon Hulme, Christian Griffith, and Isaiah Vidal also offered encouragement, which helped me to overcome my newly developed fear. Until that moment, I had no idea how terrified of swimming in a river at night I was. After taking some deep breaths, and eventually calming myself down, I pushed forward.  Justin stayed by my side and helped me through every freak out I had. Every time I felt the seaweed slowly wrap around my torso to weigh me down and hold me back, or I felt it entangling and intertwining itself around my legs – he was there. Every time I began to lose my cool, Justin was there to calm me. I’m very thankful for all he did.

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 9.07.14 PMWhat someone in this situation needs to understand is this seaweed was very thick and in many spots completely unavoidable and all there was to light the way were the headlamps of some incredibly skilled, talented, masochistic athletes. As you tread through the dark murky waters barely lit by the moonlight the seaweed would wrap itself around your legs, your waist, your feet and ankles. It felt like it would completely consume me, and yes, I feared it would pull me under and hold me there. Trapped and unable to escape. This was my fear. This was my demon. The density of all the seaweed combined with my fear added an additional element to the already muscle and confidence-sapping challenge of having to swim a mile and a half with a floating log.  By time we had hit the first dam the sun began to rise. My fear faded away and we made up some serious time as Justin and I swam side by side, purposefully swimming longer distances just to avoid any patches of seaweed that we might encounter. We even passed a few racers in the process. It felt good to be back in a secure state of mind. It goes without saying that dark waters really did a number on me. I guess I have something to work on. 

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.21.04 PMContinuing down the river we eventually reached the final dam, concluding our swimming adventure. After tossing both logs down together I climbed my way to the ground below, untied my log and carried it over to where the volunteers were waiting for us. Thankfully, there were a couple of metal folding chairs so I could sit down in and reattach my awesome DIY Luna Sandals to my feet feet again. Now that the fabric was wet I made sure to secure the lacing just a slightly tighter than I had earlier. I also took the time to make sure I wouldn’t have to screw around with it later, which was the last thing I wanted to have to do during a 100K race was stop more than I had to. Every time you stop it’s a chance for your body to seize up, so constant movement is key. I collected my bead for successfully completing that terrifying swim down the river and consumed a Clif Bar and a GU packet if I recall. Next, I began my climb up the trail and across the wobbly wooden suspension bridge and followed that same path Shannon and I went on for our “5K Warm-Up.” Again, I found myself running alongside Shannon and we joked about how it was a good thing we turned around when we did the night before, the terrain that started to come up right after that turnaround point was pretty gnarly.  It involved some rock climbing, scaling and lots of bushwhacking.

After going up another one of what seemed like an infinite amount of Texan hills, we finally arrived at the next challenge where the volunteers awaited our arrival. My two concerns were: How far behind from the leader were we? And how long ago did Corinne leave this challenge? I wanted to know if I would be able to realistically catch up to her during the running sections after having so many issues early on. I learned that she wasn’t too far ahead, so I listened to what the challenge was, and without hesitation opened my custom-made ruck, pulled out and opened up the yellow compression sack. This sack exclusively held my random gear such as my SteriPEN, paracord, and the item I pulled out for this challenge, my orange sharpie that I kept with me for moments just like this where memory would be key.

caveentranceOur challenge was to crawl through this very small hole in the ground into a cavern; a very tight and narrow cavern that I am told was littered with snakes, scorpions and who knows what other bugs and such. Fortunately, I was so focused on finding our objective, find six symbols placed throughout the cave, that I never really noticed any bugs or reptiles. I went straight down the cavern and to the left. I snaked my own way through the different levels of the cave until I found myself in the very back where I found the first two symbols. All they symbols were found in pairs. The first four I found within 30 seconds of each other.  Each time I found them I would take my bib off my compression shorts, scribble the symbol onto the back of the bib with my sharpie and continue to hunt for the next ones. The last two were a little more difficult to find, but thanks to Shannon, I found them and made my way out. I ended up sharing my Sharpie with a few people and even left it for Paul to use since he was entering as I was leaving.

photo (7)Upon exiting the cave I removed a couple safety pins and peeled back my bib off to reveal all my drawings and asked the volunteers, “Do you want me to draw them, point to them, or will this suffice?” They looked over the symbols and let me carry on my way. In hindsight, it was pretty funny because you could tell they considered having me point them out but decided not to bother since I had all the correct symbols. The seemed very amused by my tactic for conquering this challenge. I was awarded my FAIL amulet and I was directed to collect a prickly pear cactus pad before the next challenge and went on my way. I was on a mission to catch up with my race partner, Corinne. A lot of the trails followed along a fence line that surely kept us separated from the exotic animals that were hunted on the other side. It was kind of creepy to think about. With every step I had to constantly make sure not to roll my ankles, step on a prickly pear cactus, or stub my toes. It was a constant battle and basically limited me to a cautious jog as opposed to anything that could actually resemble a “run.” When I was not running along the fence line I found myself navigating ravines, climbing over trees and dodging branches searching constantly for the little trail markers to make sure I wasn’t going off path or missing a sneaky turn. I found some of the markers to be extra tricky to spot sometimes. After climbing through a rather heavily covered area eventually I emerged only to find myrself climbing through a bed of prickly pears only to see a Windmill in the clearing at the peak of this hill. There, my next series of challenges awaited me.

841178_521492717940382_2069296530_oAs I walked up to the challenge I could see this was going to reveal another weakness, throwing. Growing up I played a little tee ball and threw around footballs like all kids do, but it became very apparent that my left arm was nothing special, it wasn’t meant to throw, my aim (when it comes to throwing) is just not there. That’s why I strayed further and further away from most American sports and stuck to what I was best at, climbing, swinging, jumping, and flipping. When I saw that we would have to hit one of these three skinny hanging log targets with a requirement of hitting at least one of those targets 3 times out of 7 chances. Immediately, I knew I was probably going to miss out on earning this bead.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.25.18 PMAll positivity escaped me but I found humor in knowing that I wouldn’t succeed. The Volunteers presented me with my first quiz when I arrived. There were three questions asking us about the qualities of a prickly pear cactus and of course now we were also to take out our prickly pear pad which I had already de-needled and we had to turn it into a canteen and prove that we could drink from it. I missed one question on the quiz – no bead. I got out my KaBar and started to clean up my throwing stick just a bit to avoid splinters. When I went to make my first few practice throws at the metal legs of the windmill I was dead on, so I figured after two throws it was time to try my luck. First throw, way off. Second throw a little closer. Third and fourth throws were perfectly aimed just came in a bit low. Finally, I hit one on my fifth throw and it wasn’t even a direct hit, I basically just clipped the edge of the hanging log with my throwing stick. To leave this challenge successful I would have to hit the next two throws dead on. Knowing my abilities and lack of consistency, I had little faith that I would succeed and expressed it very vocally. I know I wasn’t being positive but there is a reason why I got myself into sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, and now obstacle racing. I suck at throwing sports. Period. So with my awesomely negative mindset I took my last throws. Two more misses and that was it.  I only hit the throwing stick target once – no bead.  All I succeeded at here was making my canteen.

At this challenge checkpoint we were also given the opportunity to refill our water from this giant water collection tank that was filled with mosquitos and who knows what else. Between the quiz and throwing challenge I took the opportunity to rehydrate and fill up.  Thankfully, I had my SteriPEN Freedom with me and I was able to make that water clean and purified in just a short 48 seconds (for each liter that I filled). After filling my steel canteen and my foldable hydration pack, I ate some of the Saquito Chia mix the volunteers offered us and took off with my throwing stick that we were told to keep with us. I also grabbed an Epic Bar to try later. We were also told we were welcome to find another throwing stick later if we would like so I ditched mine and took off. I was now only 10-15 minutes behind Corinne, and I knew I could catch up to her at the next challenge so I took off.

856096_521492617940392_1171662524_oThe next few sections of the course had me cursing Josue and the course markings constantly. No matter how hard I looked or how hard I tried to get some sort of pace going I couldn’t, the course marking were sometimes too high to see. It didn’t help I had my eyes glued to the ground in front of me for fear of wrecking my feet and or ankles in these oh-so-protective barefoot sandals of mine. All of this slowed me down quite a bit, I had to constantly stop to scan the area and make sure I wasn’t missing a trail marker. It’s not that the course was poorly marked, it was very well marked in terms of frequency but too often the markers were either too high to easily see or from the angle I was searching they were just hidden behind a branch or a leaf. I was just not seeing them as easily as I’d have liked. The distance from the Windmill to our next challenge was 4.8 miles and around half way through all the treacherous climbs, rocky descents, and ridge-less ridge traversing, I looked down at the knife sheath that I had fixed to my left calf with paracord and to my absolute horror I discovered that my KaBar was no longer there, the button that holds it in place was undone. Had I left it at the last challenge? Did I lose it along the way? What was I going to do at the next challenge? At that moment all the frustration that had been building up came out and I screamed…”F*********CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

To be continued…

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: It Begins…

Before the race even began we had to start off with a challenge. Sorry, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Allow me to back up a bit. Corinne and I arrived at Camp Eagle on Thursday evening after getting lost. Thanks, Siri. We wound up at the backdoor entrance to Camp Eagle. This inconvenience forced us to follow a random person up their driveway as the arrived home so we could figure out where the hell we had to go. Thankfully they were very nice and helpful. Apparently they helped another group earlier as well. As we began to turn around to head back down their driveway all we could see in the distance were hundreds of glowing eyes staring back at us. There must have been more than on hundred deer out in those fields. I don’t watch scary movies much, but all of this combined was definitely the making for one of those horror films, that’s for certain. So, we drove back down all the rocky roads and finally arrived at the eight mile stretch of dirt road that lead to Camp Eagle. The terrain was very rocky and filled with rolling hills. Of course, we were in the Hill Country of Texas. There was no way this could be anywhere near as difficult in terms of terrain compared to Vermont I recall thinking to myself as we arrived.

The creepy road we drove along went winding back and forth for a while and we saw plenty of animals that would make you jump every time they’d pop up out of the darkness.  Either they would eerily stare back at us or run off and jump away from the roadway. At one point we saw what had to have been a Moose or something ridiculous and hooved.. It was HUUUGE! It turned out that the surrounding area was filled with Exotic African Game, basically we were in an area where rich dudes come to hunt exotic animals from their helicopters. Talk about making you feel uneasy – and hunted. We finally arrived at the check-in spot and went to our dorm. Staying in a dorm was a bad idea for us lighter sleepers. After a night of no rest, we switched to an individual room because sleep is one of the most important things before a race of this magnitude and skipping out on another night of rest would not be a good idea.

Fire Making Practice

tony fire making

Photo Taken by: Corinne Kohlen

After that first rough nights rest in the dorm Corinne and I headed out to get in some more bow drill fire making practice. One thing I’ve always known that I need to work on is my patience, I like fast results. My haste led to a few finger slices, don’t worry nothing a little paracord can’t fix. No worries, I eventually put a bandaid on. Actually a bunch of other Survival Runners walked by as we were deciding to head back to bandage my fingers up and suggested we practice further away from civilization…which made me laugh given how far from real civilization we really were. The idea was to get further from camp since there were still some campers left.

We spent a couple hours working to perfect our bow drill techniques. I don’t recall anyone successfully making fire but there was a lot of smoke. I spent a lot of time trying to find the best materials. From all my studies I knew juniper and sotol stalks were what I should be looking for. I made a solid bow from a juniper branch I found and some paracord. I found that it is really important to have an evenly smooth and cylindrical spindle to achieve the right friction and speed needed to even generate a subtle hint of smoke. It’s also very helpful to have a good stone with a groove in it to apply the necessary pressure on the spindle. After a lot of frustration and some close successes we decided to head back and get some food and rest before packet pick-up. Even though I hadn’t made fire from the bow drill method yet I wasn’t worried because each attempt brought me closer and provided me with more understanding of what to do and what not to do. In my head I kept thinking, “That spindle is key.”

Packet Pick-up

So back to the race challenge. We had to be at bib check-in at 6pm and I was ready for bedtime. I came out in my comfortable ABB Performance pants and an OCR Freaks t-shirt, I was wearing all black, Mistake #1. I did make sure to wear my Inov-8 Trail Roc shoes just in case race director Josue Stephens had something physical in store for us. As expected, he did. I wasn’t very smart about this whole situation, arriving with both my Canon DSLR and iPhone in hand, Mistake #2.  Josue began to explain the instructions to us and we were to grab a log based on our weight/sex, Men 160lbs and under had one pile to choose from, those who were over 160lbs had another to choose from and the females had their own pile.

Photo Credit: Dirt in Your Skirt

Photo Credit: Dirt in Your Skirt

After quickly leaving my phone and camera on a table, I jumped the fence and grabbed my log as fast as I could. I took the lead in a short matter of time, but I could already feel my pants were starting to slip and I did not want to put my log down if I didn’t have to with it weighing in at 80lbs or so. We had to run up the road then up and down a few hills before finally arriving at the top of this one hill. There we would have to carve our bib numbers into the log with our knife. While descending one of the hills on my way to the log drop area I could feel the bottom of my pants sliding down underneath my shoe. I did the only thing I could do, I threw my log as far in front of me as possible and stripped down to my Hanes boxers briefs. Safety was all I cared about, plus I had hoped the pants could serve as additional padding to the shirt that I now had draped around my neck. By the time I recouped and got into a rhythm again, I arrived at the bib carving and retrieval as the fifth or sixth person or so. From there, we were to descend the hill, cross the river, and then  I was instructed follow the trail markers. When I came up and caught up to two other racers we discussed if we should just go back to the check-in area or continue following the markers. Based on my Death Race experience and the blogs I had read about Fuego y Agua I wouldn’t have been surprised if Josue marked a short 5K as part of the bib pick-up so I decided to continue on and so did Shannon Hulme. This was, Mistake #3. (Following the markers).

IMG_9610smAfter running around for quite a bit, feeling lost and uncertain of our decision we finally decided we’d gone too far and should turn back before the sun set. We did not need to find ourselves stuck on one of these rocky cliffs without our headlamps, water, food or anything else. Instead of taking the same route back we tried to skip the trails to make our own path. After some rock climbing near the wooden cable suspension bridge to get back on the marked route we were finally on our way back to base camp. We were greeted warmly and confusedly as to why we didn’t just go straight back to the check-in place as instructed. I explained how I was misdirected to just keep following the markers and I took that one instruction too far. I tried to brush it off so I could enjoy the dinner the camp staff had prepared for us. I figured at least I was warmed up, though I couldn’t shake off some of the frustration. It didn’t help that during all this I had also left my KaBar behind at the log bib number carving. That left me worried the entire time Shannon and I were out running our little 5K. For whatever reason I was completely scatterbrained. Thankfully, Josue had found it and brought it back for me. Not only was I concerned because I needed a knife to do this race, but more so because my father gave me this knife last year.  I didn’t realize it until I had thought I’d lost it, but this knife really means a lot to me.

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer

abb performance speed stack After a good, short night’s rest we were ready to take on the Survival Run. Wake up call came at 3:00 in the morning. Race began at 3:45AM and I started off with a beer and war paint. Because why the hell not? Ahead of me lied 15-20 hours of who knows what before returning to the start-line and drop bag spot. I had my drop bag loaded with all kinds of food, jerky, trail mix, Cliff Bars, 2 bottles off Dos Equis beer, my ABB Performance Carbo Force drink with 100g of carbs to refuel after the first 50K. I had everything I needed to finish this 100K Ultra Obstacle Endurance Race.

At 4:30AM Josue finally said, “Go.”  The race began with us quickly running over to a table set up by the guys at Luna Sandals with all our laces (3 strips each racer) and the option for either one large sole or two smaller foot sized soles. I choose the two and went to work making my sandal with my trusty KaBar. It wasn’t as great at cutting through the rubber as I had hoped. In fact it was awful. Not only did it cut through easily but my haste and tired state failed me and I cut out two left foot sandals before realizing it. I ran over grabbed another foot bed and went to town trying to make this one faster to catch up to everyone else who was mostly moving on to punching their holes for the laces. Shane McKay was the first out and Corinne and Gabi both left shortly after. I fell behind and told Corinne I’d catch up. I quickly finished my sandals tied up my Spartan Race finishers shirt custom made backpack by Tony. As I took off out down the road my pack exploded all over the road. This happened two more times before I added extra para-cord knots on every possible place that the pack could come undone. From here on I took off and made my way up to my log finding it right where I left it.

The descent in these sandals forced you to take extraordinary caution with each rock nearly slipping out from under you. Add in the darkness, prickly pear cactus and the heavy weight of the log and you’ve got yourself one of the most challenging combinations of misery you can imagine in a race. Well played, Josue. Half way down my lead toe knot pulled through the foot bed and I had to sit on my log and re-lace my entire sandal. Of course I was right next to a prickly pear cactus and had to remove a half dozen needles – they would not be the last that I removed from my feet. At the bottom of the wicked descent we were greeted by volunteers and instructed to attach a PFD (personal floatation device, aka a life vest) to our log. I took two life vests for mine as I was already a nervous wreck about swimming through this seaweed infested waters at night. I’m okay during the day, Corinne and I took a swim the day before, but in the darkness and over an extended distance. Anxious feelings and something my father told me about seaweed long ago crept into my mind and stirred a panic within me. “I can’t fuckin’ do this shit” was all I could think. That thought crossed my mind multiple times throughout this swim, but I fought my weak minded thoughts and pushed myself, and with the help of my fellow racers, continued moving into the water.

To Be Continued…

Spartan Race World Championships – Beast

The World Championships of Spartan Race arrived more casually than I had anticipated. For such a big event, I suppose I expected the day to arrive more dramatically. This would be my third appearance at the Spartan Race World Championships, my first taking place in Texas December of 2011, last year I was here in Vermont but I actually skipped the World Champs in favor of the Ultra Beast. That leaves me here in Vermont, finally doing the Championship Spartan Race Beast in the backyard of where the Beast became The Beast. All my training this year culminated up to this event. I even skipped the Ultimate Suck two weeks prior so I could zero my focus on training and giving my best performance of the year at this race.

Joe Desena, Hobie Call, Hunter McIntyreFirstly, let me just say that Race Director, Norm Koch’s pre-cursor to the Beast at the Virginia Super just a few weeks prior gave a very good glimpse of what he put together on Mount Killington. This course would take you up and down the mountain with relentless climbs that at times seemed never-ending, and descents that required I take extra precautions.  It’s pretty well known now that I let myself float down the mountain at incredible speeds, it’s what my body is built for – I can handle the feeling of letting gravity take over.  My years as a gymnast have left me with an air sense that provides me with an extra sensitive sense of alertness and sensitive knowledge of my surroundings. Like the Watson computer, I can typically calculate my entire path with little thought. On Norm’s course I had to slow my role to make sure I didn’t catch a root, or slide down one of the nearly vertical descents.

The Spartan Race Worlds Championships was an extremely eventful weekend filled with everything from playing a role on the Dark Side of the Spartan Team Death Race to running the Beast, doing some press work for Obstacle Racer Magazine, supporting Ultra Beasters and even playing the role of Ultra Beast photographer. That’s right I did not race in the Ultra Beast, and as a result of my performance in The Beast I could not take any risks leading up to the ultimate test of my ability to survive two weeks later where I’ll compete in the Fuego y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer 100K Race. To say this was an eventful weekend is an understatement.  It was filled with fun, laughter, stress, excitement, pain, love, happiness, an extremely unpredictable roller-coaster of emotions. This was a Spartan Race unlike any other.

Spartan Race – Beast Race Day

After waking up completely restless and covered head-to-toe in a cold sweat, I was not excited for the morning to have arrived so soon. The previous night, I awoke in the middle of the night literally punching at my leg, an excruciatingly painful cramp struck my left calf. I wondered if something was off in my nutrition but I couldn’t figure out what it could be. Leading up to the race I did everything by the book: water, check, potassium, check, carbs, check.  Overall, my diet had been very healthy I just did my best and prayed that the race would go well. Breakfast was a half bagel and a banana and as I’ve been doing everyday for over a month now I took down my morning wake-up call in the form of an ABB Performance Speed Stack Pumped N.O. Nitric Oxide Energy drink. Since starting on this I have been laser focused, energetic, and feeling pretty powerful. Besides that I had a bagel and a banana (a fairly standard pre-race meal for me). When it came to race days, I was good to go.

Photo Credit: Mohammed Iqbal

Photo Credit: Mohammed Iqbal

When I arrived I was still undecided on what to wear. I forgot all my short sleeve Under Armour compression shirts back in Illinois so I wore a long sleeve one to the race and my UA Compression Shorts. When I approached the starting line I already overheating, so I stripped out of the top and stuffed it in my Camelback. That’s when Joe DeSena had me gather all the top elites to the front of the pack, NBC Sports Network began things with a quick interview of the man who started it all. All I could see out of the corner of my eye was Corinne looking over to me. I ran over and gave her a hug. We wished each other luck and I ran back to my starting spot. The announcement of featured athletes was about to begin and then the rest of us elites would climb the wall to make our way to the starting line. Yes, we had to climb a wall before starting the race. I can’t wait to see what that looks like when the show airs.

After a few special “for TV” announcements concluded everything became familiar to us again, TC on the mic, giving his speech and the race began. A lot of runners took off way too fast.  I could see Hobie Call next to me saying what I was thinking, “they are going too fast too soon.” As we approached the first sets of obstacles we were greeted with the longest climb of the entire race.

Photo Credit: The Painted Warrior

Photo Credit: The Painted Warrior

Only a half mile in and I found myself already bear crawling my way up the mountain trying not to lose my pace. I wanted to make this race the one where I pushed myself to my absolute max. The thought dawned on me that I might have gone too far, something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel strong, my legs…they were aching, and then it hit…my right calf cramped up and felt like a rock. I was stuck. Barely able to lift my foot. What’s happening? I thought to myself. What did I do wrong?

I had forgotten to bring salt tabs even though I knew from last year that I should have had some. Thankfully from behind me, I could hear a familiar voice. It was Pete Coleman, a fellow Death Race companion and friend who has come to my aid before. He asked why I was so far back and when I explained my cramping situation he instantly asked if I had salt tabs. He saved me by providing me with two, one for now, and one I could save in case I needed it again later. Within five minutes I was thanking him and took off as we reached the one mile mark at the summit like a bat out of hell. Instantly I was back in this but I had fallen so far behind I wondered how hard I should really push myself with the Ultra Beast the following morning. Determination set in and onward I pushed. Trying to make up for all the lost time cramping and nearly collapsing within that first mile.

The Vermont Beast pushed me harder than any other Spartan Race ever has. I found this course to be more difficult than the two laps and extra miles I did last year at the Ultra Beast. I welcomed the challenge. It kicked my ass and when I eventually crossed that finish line. I knew.

Vermont Beast World Championships Spartan RaceThe course threw a lot of surprises at us: a half mile climb with a 70-80lb sandbag (no male or female specific weights this time). In addition there were obstacles that rarely show up at the Spartan Races including the Tyrolean Traverse and so far exclusive only to Vermont, the Tarzan Swing. Those two obstacles took place back-to-back essentially with some swimming, running, and climbing the Traverse Wall thrown in between. Talk about a perfect algorithm for making your arms completely weak by time you reached the Tarzan Swing. Try as I might have, I didn’t experience the same luck as last year.  I fell off on the fourth rope and met my first set of penalty burpees in what seemed like forever. Immediately following that challenge was the reciting of our memorization challenge. Mike 025-5877. I still can’t get it out of my head.

Spartan Race Vermont World Championship BestWith approximately 7 miles completed, essentially half the race was over. It was around this point that a whole new world of crampfest set in. This time it was on the inner part of my right thigh. It felt like the muscle was pulsating, I found myself lying on the trail not too far after entering the wooded area. I slammed my fist furiously into my thigh hoping to make the pain go away. I searched frantically for the extra salt tab that Pete hooked me up with earlier. It was gone. With no other choice I started eating what I could, Clif Bar….one bite, yuck. Clif Shot Blocks….mmm love the taste of grit and dirt that came from the package being partially opened earlier in the race, yum. The pain never fully dispersed but I was able to pick myself back up and carry-on.

This race would test my limits the entire time. Throughout the course I was challenged time and time again. I still don’t know why the cramping started so soon. Norm sufficiently kicked my ass with the Vermont Beast course, so much so that I didn’t want to risk ruining myself for the upcoming Fuego y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer.  I decided to withdraw myself from the Ultra Beast the following day and decided to play reporter instead.

Spartan Race – Ultra Beast

Rob Barger Ultra Beast Vermont Spartan Race ABB PerformanceI knew I was not going to run this race when the next morning arrived, I wanted to see my friends off and figured I could spend the day taking photos and cheering everyone on that taking on this monster of a race.  We’re talking about more than a marathon worth of obstacle racing on one of the toughest mountains Spartan Race has come to. I soaked in the experience even by not racing.  Mad props to those who attempted to do both the Beast and Ultra Beast back-to-back.

I found it was very enjoyable to just hang out for once. I stationed myself at the drop box area and spent time shooting photos of the Spear Throw, Water Crossing, Log Flip, and later in the day the Log Carry up the hill and under the barbwire.  ABB Performance drinks and ZICO coconut water magically found their way into the drop bin area. I have no clue how that happened ;-).  It was very warming to see my friends coming down the mountain and seeing them still in very high spirits. This was the type of race that can really put an athlete through a roller-coaster of emotions. You’ll have your highs and lows both physically and emotionally on the mountain. It’s crazy what these extreme endurance events will do to you.

Barbwire for Breakfast Corinne Kohlen Obstacle SpecialistI did find myself on the course running later in the day. It was probably mile 17 or so. Corinne Kohlen (Barbwire4Breakfast) came through the cargo climb area.  The Ultra Beast course went out on its own and came back to the Beast course eventually, and I started running with her to see how she was doing, take her photos and cheer her on. When she came out of the water from the Tarzan Swing I helped her recoup and continued to run with her. By this time I decided there was no turning back so I decided I would pace her much like you would an Ultra Runner toward the end of their race. At the Bucket Brigade we were both annoyed and surprised to see that people were being allowed by the volunteer to Burpee out of this mandatory obstacle. It was very disappointing to see happen. I was proud of Corinne for taking on this challenge instead of following the pack. Integrity is far better than a finish that is not earned. We went through probably six or seven miles together all the way to the Tyrolean Traverse where Norm cut her chip and pulled her from the course. Just twelve minutes after the cut-off. One of the hardest moments of the weekend was seeing that happen. She was so close to finishing and there is no reason she wouldn’t have finished there was only a few more miles to go. But…that’s how it goes, Norm said, “This is the hardest part of my job.” I could see that. It was defeating to be pulled when you have so much energy and strength to finish. It’s extremely impressive how far Corinne went both days even though she’s been battling an injury most of the summer. There wasn’t much else to do after so we shared a beer for her extraordinary effort at taking on the Beast and Ultra Beast back-to-back, anyone who tried this is at a whole other caliber. Next year I intend to walk away with both medals.

Isaiah Vidal Ultra Beast and Beast FinisherIt was an incredible event and really put me in a place where I’ve started making more rational race decisions. I could have completed the Ultra Beast but something was off and I listened to the signs and enjoyed sharing all the energy and opportunities I had to help all those who took on the Ultra Beast, a race attempted by a small population of the Obstacle Racing world and finished by very few. A very select few went on to finish both the Beast and the Ultra Beast back to back. Isaiah Vidal finished and told me that he could go do another lap no problem, and this is after riding his bike from Texas to Vermont because of a bet with Joe Desena that he couldn’t do it. He finished in 16 days and had about a week to rest up before conquering both Beast and Ultra Beast. Still speechless on that one. Joe Kauder was another racer who succeeded in crushing the two deadly courses set up by Norm Koch and Todd Sedlak. I’m not certain how many Burpees Norm earned from the bet that no one could achieve this feat but I know he’ll finish each and every one of them. We would love to see the entire list of people who completed both the Beast and the Ultra Beast if anyone has access to it. 😉

I learned a lot from this weekend and I am looking forward to watching this special air on NBC Sports Network December 7th. 

More photos from the Ultra Beast can be found on my Facebook Photography page


Spartan Race – Wintergreen Mountain Virginia

Just over a week before the Virginia Spartan Race I found myself itching. I needed my fix. I decided waiting until the World Championships at Killington for the Beast/Ultra Beast combo was WAY too long to wait until my next Spartan Race. Yes, it’s true, I have an addictive personality and it might be out of control but I wouldn’t have it any other way. After a quick post on the Corn Fed Spartans page looking for a ride, I found myself a confirmed spot with Missy, Stefanie, and my Dragon Brother, Joe. This was going to be one epic weekend with some of the best company.

The Course and Obstacles

When I tell you that this was the most difficult Spartan Race courses that I have ever done, I’m not exaggerating, the overall consensus from everyone I talked to, Elites, Pro Athletes, even Hobie Call was surprised at the technicality of this course. When I asked him his average Super Spartan finish time he said typically they are under an hour and thirty minutes, usually the 1:27:00 range. This time it took Hobie an 1:55:51 to complete the entire course. A very impressive feat. What was more impressive was the Alaskan, Matt Novakovich, who took first, beating Hobie by nearly 6 minutes. Yes, you read that correctly.

virginia spartan race super spartan This course had to be one of the most treacherous, dangerous, and intimidating courses to date. Running…ha. There was very little running, except for the speedy downhills and a few switchbacks, most of the course was spent climbing Wintergreen Mountain. When I say mountain climbing, what I mean is, 8,600 feet of elevation change during this race. As much as it sucked at the time, it was epic and every time I reached a peak it was like I had conquered the most difficult climb ever. Each time it felt that way.  Most of these climbs were not easy, they were Black Diamonds, very steep, very long, and extraordinarily demanding of the quads and the hamstrings. Turning many racers’ legs into solid rocks. There were literally bodies scattered about the mountain later in the day when I went out for a second lap.

spartan race virginia wintergreen mountain sandbag carry tony matesiThe obstacles were decently spaced considering the way this course was designed and laid out. The usual suspects were there, Over-Under-Through, Wall Climbs, Spear Throw, Monkey Bars, Sandbag Carry, Vertical Rope Climb, Traverse Wall…the usual. Then there were a few new ones as well as some less frequently seen obstacles such as the unexpected Log Flip, instead of a tire flip you had a big ass log to flip down a lane – touching the race tape lanes would be burpees – and back, another new one was a water obstacle that had you swim under three sets of tubing sleds that were strung together which came right after the Super Slip-n-Slide – another infrequent obstacle.

The course and the obstacles were amazing, demanding and quite possibly a bit on the “too dangerous” side for the general population that runs through these courses. From what I heard there were a lot of ankle twists and sprains. This one section down a ravine had a lot of nasty rocks that people were constantly losing their footing and falling down over and over. I was very concerned how bad this section would be later in the day after more people went through, it wasn’t pretty. Otherwise I would say this was one of the best courses out there because of how incredibly rewarding the finish was. I’ve never been more proud of a Super Spartan finish. At the finish line…I knew.

Saturday: Elite – Lap 1

Shoes worn: Inov-8 X-Talon 212s

The morning started out a little rough, I slept very little from a combination of excitement and staying up late making my DIY Luna Sandals kit. A big thanks goes to Billy at the Days Inn who let me use some of the tools from his maintenance room to get the job done.

spatan race virginia gladiators tony matesiWhen we arrived at the venue I was feeling a little sore and tired from the 12hrs in the car and lack of sleep but ready for great fun with all the amazing people who do this sport. The race started out fast and turned to slow as soon as we hit that first uphill slope which was then greeted by an extremely fast and long downhill. From there on out the course would become very demanding and took a lot out of me. I was able to finish with a time of 2:31:24.

Saturday: Barefoot Sandals/Barefoot – Lap 2

Shoes worn: DIY Luna Sandals kit and none.

After refueling I busted out the Luna Sandals that I made and got ready to do lap two with Richard from Team Mud and Adventure, and Joe. We took off together and stuck together for the first couple miles, Joe and I eventually broke off for a bit. Downhills in the barefoot sandals was a little scary not having the nice toe box that shoes have to protect them toes. I was still fairly reckless though, what can I say… I LOVE the speed of the downhill. It’s a rush.

Close to the 3.5 mile mark one of my sandals busted and that was it, I had no choice to but to continue barefoot. Never quit. Never surrender. I took my sandals off and carried them a bit before resorting to stuffing them into the back of my compression shorts. IT feels great to have sandals rubbing against your ass when climbing…not that I could feel anything anymore.  Before going barefoot I was already receiving a large range of comments from other runners, “that dude is crazy,” “check out the Jesus shoes” and a few recognized them for what these barefoot sandals are known as in the runners world, Tarahumara Huaraches. After busting the sandals I became “the hobbit,”and heard everything from “barefoot?! That’s hardcore,” to “dude, that guy is barefoot, I have nothing to complain about anymore.” It was very motivating to hear all the comments about my lack of shoes on the course. I felt somewhere between badass and completely moronic.

To answer the question, “did it hurt?” Yes, itBarefoot Luna Sandals DIY Spartan Race hurt but the course didn’t have too many rocky areas to worry about with the exception of the one ravine which was now covered in super slick mud forcing me to stay low and basically ape crawl my way through the muddy rocks and flowing water. I was keeping my cool but truth be told I was scared.  I was afraid I was going to break a toe or worse fall, snap my ankle, and end up smacking my head on a sharp rock leaving my concussed in a location that no one would be able to easily remove me from. Thankfully, none of that happened and I cleared that section safely.  During that section we had regrouped with Richard and eventually Joe and Richard took off ahead since I could not keep any sort of pace with how cautious I was being about protecting myself from injury.

log carry spartan race virginia wintergreen mountain barefoot

Around the 6th or so mile just as I finished the log carry I ran into one of my close friends, the Barbwire Queen of Green herself, Andi Hardy who was out filming Operation Enduring Warrior. If you haven’t heard about these guys look them up. What they do is just some of the most inspiring acts of bad-assery you’ll ever witness. They are the definition of no excuses. Thank you for all you do for us, our country, and our world. Andi let me drop my sandals in her bag so I could finally take off without having them rub against my ass in my compression shorts. She hooked myself and a few others with granola bars, brownies, and other fuel. I couldn’t be more thankful having already had a GU pack, 4 Snap Infusion Gummy packs and now this, I was far from satisfied but it would give me the boost I needed to finish strong. I gave Andi a quick hug and wished the Warriors and her good luck.

Spartan Race Virginia Wintergreen Resort Finish Line Super Spartan

From there my pace picked up and victory was almost in sight. After that last steep ascent it was just a quick tractor pull, followed by one last hill climb, the rope climb, traverse wall, the slippery slope and finally the fire jump and gladiators. I had conquered more than half the course entirely barefoot. I’ve never felt more in touch with the earth than during those last few miles and crossing that finish line never felt so good.

Will I ever run a Spartan Race barefoot again? Probably.

Sunday: Elite – Lap 3

Yes, when Sunday morning came after much whining and groaning I forced myself to toe the line once again with this BEAST of a mountain. For once this was a Super that actually did live up to the title of being a Mini-Beast. without question this was the hardest Spartan Race Super that I’ve ever done and I want those who may have done this as their first Spartan Race to know that they’re not all this painful but they’re also not this rewarding to finish either. Finishing this Spartan Race was an extraordinary accomplishment for anyone who completed the course no matter how long it took or how many burpees you did. If you got that medal, you had better be proud of that one.

super spartan virginia wintergreen mountain sunday elite heat

Starting out the Sunday Elite Heat I was very sore and very slow. I could not get much of a stride and walked up the first slope but as soon as we hit those two downhills I took off and used my strength in going fast on the downhill early on to try to get a good position flying past a lot of people recklessly floating down the hill knowing exactly when I needed to switch gears. From there on out I definitely felt like I had to struggle through some of the course but for whatever reason the third time going up the ridiculously long steep slope that led to the Hercules Hoist didn’t seem so bad. I guess my body and mind were just becoming numb to the pain that and ruthlessness that this course was putting me through. All that mattered was pushing myself as hard as I could to maximize my training for the World Championships coming up this September in Vermont.

Surprisingly enough I was only ten minutes slower than Saturday’s Elite heat. Typically I’ve run faster on day two but after that second lap I knew I’d be slower, I actually was expecting to clock in closer to three hours so that was a happy surprise. I finished 20th Overall, 18th Men, and 3rd in my Age Group. Let’s just say I had a smile on my face.

Festival Area

This was one of the more spread out festival areas of the year and it really makes a difference for how people interact before and after the race. I was out on the course far too long to really have enough input on the festival scene at this venue and left early Sunday but from what I could tell there was less mingling post race than what I’ve seen at some of the other venues I’ve been to.

A couple complaints actually came about at this venue which would include the lack of our usual Free Beer at this venue. That really sucked especially given that there were signs along the entire course teasing you about the Craft Brews from the Brewery at the bottom of the mountain at each mile mark. I understand that this was a VA thing and not up to Spartan Race, but why have all the beer signs if you’re going to take away my free beer, poor play on the resort’s part. My other complaint was with how I was treated at check-in by the bag checkers (who were not Spartan Race employees but Wintergreen Resort). Not only was everything taken out of my bag, my full bottle of Smart Water was dumped out for seemingly no reason (wasn’t explained well), then as I went to leave after anxiously waiting for my bag to be repacked, don’t they care about efficiency?, I was grabbed by my bag as I tried to leave the bag check area and I was told they had to check my bag. When I explained that the lady just did check my bag the guy said he didn’t care and was going to check it. I gave him my piece of mind and walked away aggravated at how I was treated by this guy.

Spartan Kids Race

Spartan Kids Jr Adventure Kids RaceThe Spartan Kids Race was once again a highlight for me. This time even more so than previous times. This time I had the pleasure of meeting young Mathias on Friday night before the race. When he raced Saturday morning he successfully completed a lap of the Kids course with the help of  his grandfather, mother and Andi guiding him through the terrain and the obstacles while his father awaited him at the finish line. What makes this Spartan Kid so incredible is that he did this without being able to see any of the obstacles he faced, Mathias is blind. I was very impressed, motivated, and inspired by the tenacity of this young Spartan in training. No obstacle will stop him from succeeding in life. He climbed the walls, went over the cargo net, crawled under the web, I can only imagine how proud his parents, Craig Vescelus and Katie Vescelus are with both of their sons. That’s right, Mathias’s brother Magus also conquered the Spartan Kids Race. I’ve gotta say, the thought of a Spartan Family is looking mighty appealing.