So, yesterday was the Chicago Spartan Super.
The personal headline: For the first time, I rang a cowbell in a Spartan Race.
It was the Z-wall, and it surprised me. I’ve been bouldering, but I had been last time I tried the Z-wall, and it didn’t help.
Anyhow, I didn’t cry after hitting the bell, but I was closer than is dignified to admit.
The personal deck that’s immediately below the headline in a smaller font size, but in this case smaller by like maybe a quarter of a point, because it’s practically as important as the headline: I actually rang three cowbells this race. I completed the monkey bars for the first time in a Spartan, and I did the rope traverse (maybe Tyrolean traverse, I’m not sure, but it’s the one where you grab a rope overhead, lift your legs up to it, and walk your way backwards to the bell), which is the first time I’ve been in a race that had it.
Oh yeah, also: I hit the spear throw for the first time.
So there’s a blatant positiveness to yesterday, which is nice. The rest is kind of a mixed bag, so I’ll tackle the day in order.
Getting there was surprisingly difficult. Due to the heat I didn’t want to spend any longer waiting around then I had to. Normally I’m really early for stuff, but this time I planned things so I got there right about an hour before my heat.
Just about everything took longer than expected, though. The bus (which took me to the train) was a little bit late, but no biggie. Then the train (which took me to the airport) was—well, not late, since the CTA doesn’t really have schedules, but it was a 10-minute wait, which was, again, not huge but not ideal.
Then the shuttlebus (which took me from the airport terminal to the car-rental place) was—not late, but jammed full, which made getting on slow. And then the car rental (Dollar) was the huge delay—the jammed full bus dropped us off at the counter, where several other jammed-full busses had already dropped people off. I joined the line inside the building, but I was lucky—it quickly stretched out the door.
All told, I’d budgeted about a half an hour for the train-to-rental-car segment of the trip, and it took an hour and a half.
The trip to the venue was supposed to be a bit under an hour, but there were a couple of 10-minute delays. One seemed, while in it, to be Spartan’s fault, but upon further reflection, probably not—it was a four-way stop sign that probably should have had a light. Sure, race traffic contributed to the delay, but the cross street was also jammed.
The other delay was a long line entering the parking lot, and I’m not sure why—once we got in it was pretty smooth sailing. My hunch is that when several shuttle buses lined up, the last ones blocked the path into the lot itself—but I couldn’t see much so I’m just projecting based on the lot’s geometry.
By the time I got on the shuttle bus, my heat time had passed, but at bib pick-up they automatically put me into the next available heat. No fuss, no muss. After a quick bag drop, and a quick pee, I made my way to the start line.
The race itself was, as I mentioned in my preview, very hot. It was also muddy, in a not-very-good way—long stretches of suck-your-shoes-off muck that were also single-track, so your pace was whatever everyone else was doing. I don’t know how long precisely, but I’ve seen a few reports that the one that started the race was a mile long, which I’d believe and which is also just stupid. It wasn’t fun, and not in the “Wow, this is a really hard challenge that I hate while I’m doing it but will love afterwards” way but in the “Wow, this is stupid” way. After a couple miles, I was just cranky.
The middle part of the course was where I had the obstacle successes, which boosted my spirits a lot. And then the end was a lot more muck packs.
The other course-design quibble that I had: This course was really wall-heavy. I think 5 or 6 obstacles either were plain old walls or they had walls as the significant component of them. It may just be my general suckage at them (I did not do well on the walls at all) but that seems like kind of half-assed course design to have so relatively little variety.
The bad in my personal performance: In addition to the wall suckage, I burpeed 4 obstacles. Multi-rig was hardly a shock, especially given how muddy the first rope was. Rope climb, similar—while the ropes were over dry land rather than mud pits as in the past, they were still slick with mud and I couldn’t get any traction.
The slip wall was a bit disappointing, since I haven’t had much trouble with that in the past. But it was mega-slick, both the wall itself and the ropes to pull yourself up. (It was immediately after a muddy pond with an uneven bottom so you were pretty likely to fall in and coat all of your limbs.) As a result, there was a big crowd of people at it, most of them struggling and often sliding down the up side in a completely out-of-control way. After a few tries, I decided burpeeing out was a less-likely-to-break-both-legs kind of option.
I also burpeed the Stairway to Sparta, which was immediately after the slip wall and immediately before the fire jump. With the slickness and the fatigue, I couldn’t manage the initial wall.
Logistically, things were pretty good, I think. It’s actually tricky to judge in a way. The line to get into the parking lot kind of sucked, but I’m inclined to give Spartan the benefit of the doubt—big rainstorms a couple days before flooded the initial lot so they had to use contingency plans. The packet pick-up/gear check/pre-race stuff was a blur that I don’t remember, since it went so fast, but that’s a sign that it was quite efficient.
The backups on course were almost all during the mucky run portions, rather than the obstacles. (The slip wall was a notable exception.) Water, which I had been concerned about, was nearly hitchless. There were 5 stations; Station #2 had only one volunteer and several of the jugs had broken nozzles, but even that didn’t produce any unseemly backups. Also, station #4 had a “nutrition boost,” which really shouldn’t be in quotes because I don’t remember the exact words they used to describe it. But they were giving out packets of gel cubes; mine was so citrus and so gelatinous and the best thing that I’ve ever tasted. Plus, I figured there would be two cubes in the packet, and then I ate two and there was a third one, so bonus.
The course was very flat, through farmland, woods, and (most interestingly) paintball courses. There were a bunch of things that looked like ads spread throughout the course, but their benefit was lost on me because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
And the most important lesson: I brought some food as lunch and recovery fuel. I only left one banana for after the race—which I left in the car. Which, naturally, was closed up for about 6 hours in the extreme heat. Turning the banana into a hot banana.
“Hot banana” is not a good thing. Seriously, it was amazingly disgusting. Don’t warm a banana in an overheated car for six hours and then eat it. Yergch.
Oh, yeah: Alpha 039-3474. I think. It could be Alpha 039-7434. I remembered the number as “0 EZ OGRE,” which it clearly wasn’t. But it also wasn’t asked, so no big.