Category Archives: Spartan Race

OCR Report: 2017 Citi Field Sprint

Last weekend was my annual pilgrimage to New York for a family visit and Spartan Citi Field Sprint run.

The race really isn’t wildly different from year-to-year, so I’ll save my words for things that are actually notable.

First off, the weather. I’ve historically not had great luck with Spartan weather; almost every race has either had rain during the event or enough beforehand to make the mud dramatic. There was no mud for this one, obviously, but there was moderately heavy rain throughout. It was bad enough that the spear literally slipped out of my hand in the spear throw. I mean, the throw looked pathetic—it went maybe halfway to the target.

The race had far less Sisyphian climbing of the stands than last year, which was very nice. I think the race was shorter and easier overall, which was nice, as my brother was dealing with some shoulder issues.

We were hoping that my nephew would be able to do the kid’s race this year. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out—officially, due to the weather, but as a practical matter due to logistics. (The family had been having varying levels of illness in the week leading up to the race, and getting the kid out to the race while simultaneously caring for the other kid who’s still too young for the race and having care for him in place before and after his race while his dad and me were running turned out to not be feasible. He wound up going to his ninja class instead, which was some consolation.)

The Z-wall made an appearance, which was the first time I’ve seen it at a stadium race. I made a significant goof in that obstacle by not checking it out beforehand. As a result, I didn’t realize that the foothold around the blind corner, was also really, really far. So when I was on the obstacle, I really had no idea where that foothold was.

In better news: I did the rope climb for the first time in a race. Given the rain, that was a big surprise; I think the rope was thicker this year, since I was able to get some grip on my feet.

I’m feeling extremely sore today in weird ways. That’s less due to the race and more due to the fact that yesterday I drove about 800 miles from Long Island to Ohio. Yep, I’m a car owner again, for the first time in 14 years, because I bought my sister-in-law’s old car. I am not in driving shape, apparently, because my gas pedal shin is throbbin’.

 

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Fat Boy Big Wall, Juvenile Offender

One not-terribly-interesting change that I’ve experienced since moving to Ohio involves recycling.

In Chicago, recycling bins were always pretty readily accessible, even though the buildings where I lived didn’t always provide them. Here, they are less so.

However, there is a recycling center that’s not too inconvenient: It’s basically down the street from the good grocery store (there’s another one that’s very close to where I live, but it’s a bit sketchy, and it makes pretty clear that produce is not its jam) so I’m in the area at least once a week.

I went there for the first time last weekend, and it went… well…

It’s the weather’s fault, really. I decided to walk there, rather than bike, because it had been raining all morning and wet roads will get you nicely moist, even if it’s not raining.

There is an attendant at the recycling center, and going there on foot really, really, really messed with his head.

He was obviously suspicious when I came in. That really kicked up when I was finished dropping off my stuff, which is slightly my fault. I had another errand to run, which was across the street from the grocery store. So instead of walking out the typical entrance and exit, I tried to go through the back of the recycling center. I didn’t, as there was both a rather rusty fence blocking the path (which could have been jumped) and a more-significant-than-I-realized highway with no good crossing, except the main one that I already knew about (which led me to turn back.)

This unauthorized exploration was simply too much for the attendant, and he had to confront me.

I explained my slight awkwardness, that I was new in the area and had never been there and wanted to see if it was possible to cut across to the bank (which was my other errand, even though I neglected to mention it earlier. My apologies).

“You can’t go through that way,” he informed me quite needlessly.

“I see that now,” I said.

“You just get out of jail?” he demanded.

Wait, what?

One more bit of local geography you’ll need to fully understand the story: Across the street from the recycling center in the other direction from the bank is the local juvenile detention center.

So, the attendant was very confident that I just gotten out of there. No, not “gotten out of there.” The tone of voice which which he asked if I had just gotten out of jail suggested he thought that I had escaped, and that he was about to score himself a bounty.

Because the first thing a 41-year-old does upon escaping from juvie is take some recycling in.

(Also, to keep it OCR related: I happened to be wearing a Spartan finisher t-shirt from last year’s Citi Field sprint at the time. Perhaps those are as readily available at juvenile hall as they are at Citi Field, which raises some questions about Mets fans that I’m sure Phillies fans would be happy to exploit, if they knew how to read.)

I assured him that I was not actually a criminal, but he wasn’t going to give up on his opportunity for Justice™ that easily. “Then why are you on foot?”

“Because I walked here” was my fairly obvious response. Looking back, I think his inquiry was more high-minded and philosophical—as in, “Why didn’t you drive?” As in, “driving is the only possible way to move between two points.”

Which suggests pretty strongly that, despite working at a recycling center, he hadn’t quite considered the implications of his work in the broader environmentalist context.

He demanded to know where I had walked from. I told him, and he informed me that it wasn’t possible to do so. I reminded him about the off-road trail that brought me nearly halfway, and the ample sidewalks on the other half of the trip.

The attendant did not believe me. But he also wasn’t accustomed to having someone respond to him as if they were saying logical things. It threw him, and he couldn’t come up with any more lines of inquisition, and I was free to go. I mean, that’s what he was thinking, even though we both knew that he had no authority to hold me there, and I was only staying around because it amused me. He didn’t say anything to me, but just sort of shook his head and backed away murmuring about how confusing the whole situation was.

I hope he’s happy… he single-handedly put another junior felon back on the streets

 

 

 

 

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I Watched the Spartan TV Show and Wasn’t That Pissed Off By It

So, the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge premiered this week. It was actually a few days ago, but I only got around to watching it yesterday. I don’t have a TV, which makes me sound really pretentious—I actually watch more than I should, it’s just all online because I don’t really care about time-shifting.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge courseI also wasn’t in a rush. The show is paired with American Ninja Warrior, which is cool but also really obnoxious. (I’ll be full-on pretentious here and declare the original Japanese one was way better.) The format is awesome, but the dressing-up with REALLY SHOUTY HOSTS WHAT SHOUT ABOUT EVERYTHING! and the increased focus on Backstory bug me. I fully expected that the Spartan show would take the same approach.

It does, to some extent. It dwells soundly within the reality show paradigm, and expecting it to avoid those trappings completely isn’t realistic. (The presence of Evan Dollard, Who I still affiliate with the American Gladiators reboot, one of the most egregious examples of taking a great show format and turning it into an absolute pile of shit*, which is completely unfair to blame him for and I don’t but it’s still something that happened, concerned me.) But, while I’ve got plenty of unsolicited recommendations to improve the Spartan show, I’d say it’s got a lot of potential.

The show started horrifyingly, I’ll say, with about 7 minutes of Backstory Glurge. And then, the first few obstacles were either skipped or shown in a fog of confusion. What exactly are the rules for that log jump thing? Is there any penalty for not making the jump other than having to climb out of the lake?

After the commercial break it got even worse: A tiny update on the “previous heat.” So, basically, in order to get enough time for Backstory Glurge, they turned the race into the Technical Oscars. Then, more obstacle confusion: The Log Traverse (I think? – the thingy where the teams had to hold on to a log while it swung somewhere) was massively unclear. What was the penalty for dropping off of it? And, more importantly: the show told us that one of the teams did succeed at it, but they didn’t bother to show how. I mean, “show don’t tell” is only the first piece of advice any aspiring storyteller gets, but when you’re a Spartan, why bother paying attention to that? It’s a problem that happened several times during the show.

The thing is, once they started focusing on the race itself, it got a lot better. Much to my surprise, by this point, I really got into watching the teams racing each other. There were plenty of points where teams could make up or lose time and pass each other, and the tension built nicely—it was fun and exciting to watch. I was also often impressed by how the obstacles were adapted into team challenges rather than individual ones.

I was especially surprised by this because of how hard the show pushed the “New York vs. Boston” “rivalry” that two “teams” in the second heat supposedly “had.” It’s unfair to have this reaction, but I was so happy when neither team was fast enough to qualify for the final. Even though that meant that we just got more special-needs-baby emotional porn as a replacement.

So, yeah, I’d love to ditch that kind of thing. I suppose I’m not qualified to declare whether or not the competitive aspects of the show are sufficient to support a show on their own, and I’m obviously a bit biased, but I think they are. You know, the way real sports do.

A few other criticisms that I hope are constructive:

Insight about the teams would be a great replacement for “story” about the teams. The hosts noted how important strategy is, to take advantage of team members’ strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. But I don’t think the show ever mentioned any details. I’d love to have some idea of who’s fricking awesome at raw strength but so bulky they can’t climb, and how teams deal with that, or whatnot.

Insight about the obstacles would also be awesome. As I mentioned, the program often told us that teams completed a really hard obstacle without showing it. It also told us how epic a challenge some obstacles were, without giving any kind of insight about how it could or should be completed, particularly if there are options that each might have advantages or disadvantages.

At times, the show felt overly performative. A lot of things seemed to be played up way beyond what was real: I can’t say for certain, but I suspect the woman’s hyperventilating at the dunk wall was a bit less serious than the program tried to make it appear. (Also, it was pretty poor form of the show to immediately follow that with a segment about how the women on that team are redefining feminine strength.)

This may also be unfair, but it also seemed like some of the encouragement provided by the coaches were playing to the cameras—like the producers might have told them to be sure to keep up a running commentary. And equally unfairly, I suspect that some of the post-race celebrations with families were only captured on the third or fourth take.

Not every ad break needs to be a cliffhanger. Especially not when the cliffhangers were as stupid as this show had. “Will the guy who managed to jump into the lake before manage to jump into the lake this time? Gosh, I don’t know!”

If you’ve got to have product placement, be more interesting about it. The fitness watch (I won’t give the brand, because no need to encourage that kind of behavior**) could have potentially provided some interesting insight rather than just mentioning one guy’s heart rate at one point in the race.

The hosts were surprisingly good. I was worried that the two of them would impersonate fourteen hosts, the way American Ninja Warrior’s do, but I didn’t mind them.

Yeah, Spartan loves its medals. I had to freeze-frame it, but I can confirm that they’re not identical to the regular medals. But they’re close.

medal

Ultimately, though, I think there’s a really good base here to build from. I hope the show evolves and finds success, particularly if it can find success as a sports show rather than a reality show.

 


* Why did the reboot suck? Sin #1: They crapped all over the gameplay. The events had the potential to make maybe 10 seconds difference in the Eliminator—which could take 10+ minutes. And even the Eliminator was stupid, because almost all of that time was taken up by that reverse treadmill at the end. So the entire show came down to that one thing. Sin #2: They managed to slow the pace down to a crawl by doing really unintersting interviews with every competitor before anything happened, and after anything happened. Sin #3: Hulk Hogan was a spectacularly annoying host.

** Unless they want to pay me, of course.

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2016 Chicago Spartan Photos: Why Aren’t These Worse?

I got my pictures from the race this weekend today, and was pleasantly surprised. Not by the photos themselves, but by how easy it was. The past several Spartans the “search by bib number” has not worked at all for me, so I’ve had to estimate the time that I hit each obstacle and do a brute-force manual search. This time, however, flawless. Perhaps it’s just because I had one of the easiest possible bib numbers (2900). Or, more likely, it’s because a few minutes into the race, while we were stuck in a muck bottleneck, a couple of women let me know that I had my headband on upside down. (I put it on real quickly and didn’t notice.) I have no idea who they were, but thanks to them!

Anyhow, the photos are disappointing just in that they’re not the spectacularly bad offerings of the past, but they don’t make me look good, like someone I’m not. It’s the uncanny valley of photogenic mediocrity. Welcome to where I live!

Still, I’ll share a few:

Me doing the bucket brigade at the 2016 Chicago Super

It’s time for America’s favorite game: Which of the moles on my face is real, and which are made of mud? The winner gets a more intimate knowledge of the moles on my face.

Me at the 2016 Chicago Super

I actually saw the photographer here, and made an effort to smile. Or portray a serial killer. For me, the dividing line is awfully thin.

Me at the dunk wall at the 2016 Chicago Spartan Super.

I actually really like what the mud did to my hair here. Were it practical, it might be my new look. I am not sure what’s coming out of my mouth, but were it practical that might be my new look as well.

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OCR Report: 2016 Chicago Spartan Super: Lines, Bells, and Muck

Spartan medal and banana.

Spartan Super medal, with a banana. It’s not the Hot Banana, but it is the Hot Banana’s bunchmate. Basically, it’s the Dannii Minogue of Hot Bananas. (This will make sense if you read the whole post, except for the part where I know who Dannii Minogue is.)

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.

 

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Time for the Terrordome

If only it were that easy.

Tomorrow is the Chicago Spartan Super, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared before a race.

There’s the concern about my fitness level, although that’s not that unusual. Of much more concern is the conditions.

Tomorrow it’s scheduled to be 95 and humid. And my heat (no pun intended) is at 11:45.

I can’t blame myself for not preparing for that part. We’ve had a pretty cool year so far; I doubt we hit 80 around here before today. So there’s not even been any chance to get acclimated to the extreme heat a little bit before running in it.

I hope there’s enough water. Spartan is normally good with the logistics of races, which is a good sign (Last year’s Vermont race notwithstanding) but there have been a couple ungood signs as well. First off: On Monday this week, they sent an email asking for volunteers for this weekend. In all the Spartans I’ve done (this one makes 6, so that’s a pretty grandiose way of putting it) I haven’t gotten one of these requests. I don’t know what exactly that means, but the obvious fear is that the event will be understaffed. And, while hopefully that won’t affect water (or anything else; I’m certainly capable of demanding that everything be perfect because I’m special!), since water is going to be one of the most safety-critical factors tomorrow, I can’t say I’m not frightened that it might.

A second bad sign: I haven’t gotten any kind of confirmation email from Spartan about the event—you know, the “here’s your bib number, here’s your heat time, here’s the stuff you need to know, print out your waiver before you come” thingy. I’m registered—I got my heat time from the website—so this glitch is something that may be nothing or may be a sign of an impending shitshow. I hope it’s the former (and, to be clear, Spartan has sent out other stuff to me, including updates to the parking situation since apparently the planned lot has flooded) but anxiety is a magnet to itself.

Anyhow, I’ve already made a couple concessions to the heat. First off: No Fez of Inspiration. It’s a stiff fabric that wouldn’t retain water (a friend recommended soaking a hat in water to cool off during the race, but that’s not practical with the fez) but would trap heat. Second, I’ve already planned a run/walk cycle, rather than the usual “try to run the whole thing” approach that I’ve tried but not succeeded at in an outdoor Spartan yet. 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking. Hard limit to start; if I get a couple hours in and am feeling okay I might extend it, but I’d really like to not collapse.

My code for the memory wall is HOTEL 1991845. If I don’t get credit for remembering the code for a full year after it was included but not checked last year then I will personally poop on someone’s face.

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Why, No, I Don’t Photograph Well

As we all know, the real OCR starts when the photos have been published and you have to start hunting through the bajilliobytes of data to find ones of you. Citi Field’s have been posted, and there are a lot of me. Not, strictly speaking, good ones, but that’s more on me and my ugly, non-posing face than anyone else.

This year it was easier to find mine than usual. The bib number search worked—not perfectly, but enough to provide some useful information. But also, I wisely decided to not wear black, and instead chose my bright red Excalibourbon shirt and my Extremely Blue Shorts. Anyhow, they should be good for a laugh. In order of amusement-inducingness, from low to high, are:

cargo1

Meh. Me on the cargo net. Next to my brother, who I didn’t realize was next to me. It’s pretty much all business, with an appropriate amount of effort being shown and a mild quantity of action. Easy to share with your aunt; way less memorable than my sarcastic 1980s aerobics instructor look from last year.

gsandbag2

Fun fact: This is one of the few times I’ve actually seen a photographer on the course. They’ve obviously been out there; I just don’t notice things like that. Anyhow, for some reason I decided to switch the sandbag to the other shoulder, and I noticed the photographer while I was doing it, and I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s going to make for a terrible picture,” and I was right.

gsteps1

This one’s really not interesting for me (although the facial expression does make me look like a complete wanker). But if you can look at the guy next to me without singing “A-aaa-aaaaaah!” and preparing to fight the Night Man, well, I don’t want to know you.

gauntletblurred

The motherload. And yes, I blurred the woman in front of me’s face to protect her privacy. It looks exactly like we just finished up having mommy-daddy times inside the Gladiator Gauntlet. Which probably has happened at some point, so think about that next time you’re running a stadium race.

This one does raise an interesting ethical question: It’s really not hard for me to find the other person in this image. I almost feel like I should make contact with her to say, hey, I’m really sorry—I’m the really creepy-looking guy behind you and I promise to never contact you again and please don’t let this make you lose faith in all humanity. Is that a reasonable thing to do or should I just let her recover as she will?

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