Date: October 1st, 2016.
Location: Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Olympic Valley, California
Event: Spartan World Championships 2016
Distance: West Covina to Squaw Valley- 514 miles
Estimated Driving Time: 7 hours, 46 minutes.
Actual Driving Time: 5 hours, 52 minutes
Travel and Race Companions: Regan and Gaven (Man-boy)
If you prefer the quick version the next paragraph is for you.
So those are the details of where, when, and how I got to the world Championships.
SPOILER ALERT: I Finished the Race…both days!
The journey to the race was crazy. Simply put little to no sleep and a long drive with our hired driver Gaven, we ventured to Lake Tahoe for The Spartan World Championships. The 1st race on Saturday was the Beast, (14.7 miles) and we finished…YAY, Go Us! It was so much fun (and hard) that we decided to another race on Sunday, however this one was only 4.7 miles long. Convincing Gaven to run this one, we beat a storm coming in a finished. Two days, two races, and two medals. AWESOME!
However, if you want to read the Super Fantastic Awesomeness Story, continue reading. If not, no hard feelings, but proceed to the last paragraph.
“My Call time is 4:45 pm tomorrow. Shooting into the night. I may not be done till midnight. I’m sooo sorry.”
This was a text I got from my trainer and friend Regan a couple of days before we were to leave for The Spartan World Championships in Lake Tahoe. His commercial shoot, Regan is an established actor, was to be filmed in West Covina on Friday evening. However, our original plan was to leave for Lake Tahoe at 4am Friday morning, get settled in, have a nice dinner, and acclimate to the weather and conditions. The dilemma arises.
Of course stress became a big factor. Our start time for our competitive flight was to be at 8 am Saturday morning. With Regan shooting into the night we came to the realization that we probably weren’t going to make our start time and we would have to drive through the night and race tired. So before we took on a race that had long distances with challenging obstacles, crazy altitude, and cold weather, we faced a series of events we hadn’t thought of or prepared for. In my mind I just told myself this is what Spartan is all about. You can prepare for everything, but the unexpected happens. What do you do? Do you push through, or do you cave in? Caving in was not an option.
Enter plan B! Regan hired our co-worker Gaven, who was later nicknamed Man Boy, from the Gym to drive us through the night so we could try and sleep a little. I rested and foam rolled as much as I could Friday trying to mentally prepare myself for this race. As the day became the night, I texted Gaven and told him to meet me at the gym at 10pm. When I pulled in, he loaded his overnight bag into my jeep and we headed for West Covina. With Regan filming, I decided to take Gaven out to dinner. We stopped at TGI Friday’s, got some grub and waited on the text from Regan to go meet him.
At 1 am Saturday morning we got a text to meet Regan at his shoot. The awesome thing was we were a half-mile away from the set. As we got there, Regan pulled up, we loaded all of our stuff in his car, discussed our plan to drop off my car in Burbank, and decided to make a video. These videos became a theme and documentation for those on our social media following. One thing for sure, they were very entertaining.
I am not promoting breaking the law when it comes to driving, but who are we kidding. No one drives the speed limit in Southern California. We made it to Burbank in 20 minutes, left my car and we all piled into Regan’s car. Our journey to Tahoe had begun. The goal of Gaven driving was to get as much rest as possible. After all, once we got to Tahoe, we were to change and race.
As I passed in and out of sleep mode I noticed we were making amazing time. Gaven was playing get-pumped music to keep him awake, Regan was curled up into a ball in the back seat, and I was using my extra hoodie for a pillow up front. After a couple of hours on the dreaded and boring 5 freeway (I mean this is up there with one of the most boring drives ever) we pulled off for gas. Bathroom breaks, snacks, hydration, and of course, another hysterical video from Regan. This time making little to no sense from sleep deprivation and commenting on Gaven’s music selection comparing it to the rave scene from the Matrix. He then added, “Gaven, if you were my kid, I would take all music playing devices from you. What the shit is this?” He then followed up with “do whatever you need to do brotha. I’m just playing.”
Again, we were back on the 5 in the dark. I did my best to get some shuteye. Every now and then I would wake up, check on Gaven, drink some water, and give him props on his driving. I mean seriously, we were making amazing time. After another couple of hours on the road I woke up. This time the sun was starting to come up. We pulled off for a bathroom break. I looked at my watch and realized it was a little past 6am. However, the air was cleaner, the trees and mountains were green, and it was much colder. I looked at our GPS and saw that are arrival time was 730am. Ok…like AMAZING TIME! This means we would only miss our start time by an hour at the most. Regan and I were prepared to start at 11am.
We piled back in and this time all of us stayed awake. I was in awe of the landscape. I also kept my eye on the temperature. Even in the warm car, I could feel the coldness that would be Lake Tahoe and our race. My nerves were more than setting in. Secretly I was kind of freaking out. I was getting closer to the World Championships. What have I signed myself up for? Would I be able to do this? Should I do this? I didn’t sleep much and the thoughts of failure were creeping in.
Then we saw the sign for our turn and a big banner highlighting our event.
We could see the mountains and the course in the distance. At that moment, despite being nervous, my mind and eyes were in awe of the mountains and it was then that I realized that I have spent a year preparing for this. I had put in long hours at the gym, run countless miles, couldn’t even count the number of push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, rope climbs, and those dreaded burpees I had completed. I was prepared for this. As for the cold, well one thing kept me going that entire weekend. I am from VERMONT! We are the cold! Basically I kept telling myself, “I GOT THIS!”
We pulled up to our lodge, which just happened to be on the course. We checked in, got our stuff, and headed to our room. As soon as we got in we changed and prepped, drank our pre-race formula, ate a banana, and headed to register. As we walked out the side door, we noticed the Hercules Hoist, a very easy-looking but difficult obstacle. The race jitters were setting in.
After another video, a picture or two and a mini warm-up, Regan and I made our way to the starting line. We jumped the wall and squeezed to the front. We would be starting with the first open flight at 9 am. We only missed our original start time by 1 hour. The temperature was around 36 degrees, but no wind and that sun felt amazing. I looked at Regan, made a few jokes, and then told him thank you for helping me get here. Then the starting line activities commenced. (Instead of Waldo, find Regan and myself…Hint we are up front)
I really can’t tell you what goes through my mind when I start running one of these races. But I will tell you that my face has a smile on it and I know I am about to embark on something awesome. I knew today was going to be the longest distance I have raced at this point in my life. I also knew there were going to be new and challenging obstacles to face. The cold, the elevation, and how my body responded to all of this would be the question.
I knew today’s course was around 14-15 miles. With that in mind I wanted to push myself, but also find a pace that I could sustain. Once I hit the first hill, which was only 1.5 miles long, finding a pace wasn’t hard. I would run for 10-20 seconds, walk 5-10 seconds, and repeat. My goal was to never stop moving. Find a happy place, focus on it, and run. It also helped that I was in a new venue that was absolutely breathtaking. My mind was taken away from some of the grueling hills because of the views. I kept counting my blessings that I was running this race.
At the 4-mile marker I was back down the mountain around the main obstacles. I completed the new thigh master obstacle, climbed a few walls and then was headed back up the mountain. The second climb was much worse than the first. There were more obstacles, the wind and dust were brutal and I was tired. I just had to keep moving. After quite the climb, I could see the top of this summit. It was loaded with obstacles, some new and old. The first one was the spear throw. I am now extremely confident with my spear throwing abilities, but I knew the wind was going to be a factor. Long story short, the wind decided to take my spear for a ride. Yep, it was time for Burpees!
Once I dusted myself off I started running again. After my least favorite obstacle, the barbwire crawl, I arrived at a new obstacle called the ape-hanger. The ape-hanger consists of a rope climb and rope ladder crossing over cold water. Unfortunately I was knocked off the obstacle by an impatient runner and guess what, more burpees. At this point the wind had picked up more and now I was wet from chest to toe. I was starting to shiver quite a bit.
After I did my burpees (and fast to keep warm), I took off only minutes later to arrive at a large body of water. I looked more closely and saw people swimming in it. I usually try to stay away from this word in my blog, but it is honestly what went through my head…”Oh fuck!” I did a few more obstacles before grabbing my mandatory life preserver. I kept saying out loud “the water is 90 degrees, the water is 90 degrees.” Well it wasn’t even close. What I noticed getting in was people on the side were suffering from cramps and hypothermic conditions. Well, there was no delaying what had to happen. It was time to go in.
As I got submerged in the frigid water, I kept thinking to myself this is a lot like lake Willoughby back home in Vermont. I then went to a whole new place mentally and started singing in a loud voice Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The best part was that many people joined in. The smile warmed me up a little. At about the 200-yard mark we were heading back in. My shoulders and legs were so tired that I started quoting Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride “I only dog paddle.”
Finally I reached the shore, got out as fast as I could. I grabbed a protein bar with my shaking hands, struggled to open it, and started chewing on plastic wrapper and peanut butter tasting protein. It helped stop my lips from clamoring. I heard someone say that we were 10 miles in, which meant we were 5 or so miles from the end. Yep, it was time to move. I wanted to warm-up, finish this race, and have a celebratory beer. It was time to run.
Once I hit mile marker 11 we started running on a single-track trail. The mountain was to my right; the cliff down was to my left. The view was the most beautiful view I have seen in a long time. For the next mile or so I was so captivated by Tahoe’s beauty that I warmed up and found a great rhythm with my running.
As we got down to the bottom of the mountain I came upon one of my favorite obstacles, the bucket brigade. For those of you that don’t know what this is, its carrying dirt, stone, and gravel in a 5lb bucket. It usually is no longer than a football field. This bucket brigade was on a whole new level. It was a half-mile long with a quarter mile going up hill. This was grueling to say the least. The sheer exhaustion and lack of strength and technique were giving many people a hard time. I had never set the bucket down until this race. After setting it down a handful of times on the way up, I decided to turn up the speed on the way down and get it done. After I dumped it out I knew I was close to the end. The adrenaline was now becoming a factor.
After another mile or so I came to the last few obstacles. I could see the finish line. I was a quarter mile away. So far this race was just tiring with minor scrapes and bruises. Then I arrived at a balance beam. However, this was not your ordinary balance beam. It wobbled and was very unsteady. All you had to do was cross 10 feet and touch the red at the end. I thought to myself, no sweat. At the halfway mark I started to lose balance. I decided quickly to leap for the red. My foot hit the red, but my body was headed straight for the ground. THUD! Yep, I ate shit! Despite the pain, I sprung back up, looked at the judges to see if that counted. Thankfully it did. Yay, no burpees.
I then ran to the Hercules Hoist. As I said, the concept is simple. All you have to do is grab a rope and hoist up a 120 plus-pound sandbag 30 feet in the air. The hard part, my hands were bleeding. The word Vacuum came to mind, because this obstacle sucked. After the struggle, I had to get in more water for the dunk wall obstacle. The water made it very clear where else I was bleeding from my epic fall just minutes before.
Just a rope climb and a few rings away from the finish. I now hear Gaven’s encouraging words, “you got this buddy.” Regan yelling at me overshadowed it and for those of you that have witnessed him training me or anyone else, you understand. I climbed the rope and rang the bell. From there I stammered to the rig. Only 5 rings, one bar and 5 ropes to the finish line or if I fall, 30 burpees. And this happened…
So as you can see for yourself, that close to the finish line and I had to do my third set of 30 burpees. However, once I crossed that finish line that euphoric feeling of awesome came over me. Despite everything that took place, I finished! It was the culmination of all my training, setbacks, goals, and hard work. I did it!
That night we decided to celebrate with Pizza and an Irish pub. We were exhausted and still a little cold, yet we had a sense of energy that can only come from accomplishing something you put so much into. We had our couple of hours and then Gaven, Regan, and myself went back and called it a night. Some of you that know me are probably saying “What? No crazy celebration?” Well normally I would, but only one thing was preventing that, yep…tomorrow was a new day with a new race. Sunday, Regan, Gaven (who we convinced to do it), and myself were going to take on the Spartan Sprint. It was going to be the first 4-5 miles all over again.
Sunday morning came around. The sun was out which surprised us. The weather forecast was not looking good for our race Sunday. It was supposed to be colder (it was), windier (it was), and it was supposed to rain and snow (not yet). After suiting up Spartan style, we went to the registration tent where Regan and I picked up our packets and where we watched Gaven sign the “Death Waiver.”
What we noticed is the conditions were much worse than the previous day, however the course was only 4.7 miles as opposed to the 15 from Saturday. Today’s goal, run, run fast, get medals, find warmth, and beat the storm that was heading in.
Regan and I gave our best advice to Gaven at the start line. Again, just keep moving and do what you can. We moved into position and went through the pre-race rituals. The emcee led us out and the race was on. I don’t know if you call this an advantage, but I knew what the course consisted of; a little water, 15 obstacles, and one giant hill climb. It was time to push the pace up the hills, crush the obstacles, and open up that stride on the downhills. And that is exactly what I did. As I reached the summit of the hill climb, I was freezing. The wind was not only blowing hard, but it was bone chilling. Much like Saturday, I kept saying, “I got this, I am from Vermont!” and thought of warmer times.
Before I knew it I was headed down hill towards the finish line. Today I only had to repeat the obstacles at the end. I was determined to not meet the ground again on the balance beam. Success! I didn’t fall. The hoist was hard because my hands were frozen, but after a struggle it was complete. The water and rope climb weren’t too much of a struggle, but the rig…oh that rig. It has been my Achilles heel all year. Any guess on what happened? I love your optimism, but I failed and had to complete 30 burpees. Once I crossed the finish line, I got my medal and headed to cheer on Gaven. This kid, having never done a Spartan Race before, crushed it. After getting our bags, we headed inside because we were freezing our butts off.
After another hilarious video documentation by Regan, we decided to jump in the hot tub to warm up. At this point after celebrating our success, getting our body temperatrure back to normal, and packing up the car, we decided it was best to head home to beat this incoming storm. We had a long drive back to Oak Park ahead of us and we were extremely tired. As we headed out we drove into the storm. It was one of many highlights of this trip.
All in all, this was an amazing experience and a story I will share for the rest of my life. Not only did I complete two Spartan Races in one weekend, but I completed these two races at the World Championships. I set a goal over a year ago. Let me say that again, I set a goal over a year ago. I wanted to make 2016 the “Year of the Spartan.” Within this huge goal came many small goals. I wanted to transform my body, get in the habit of eating right, and challenge myself. I not only wanted to inspire others, but show people that amazing things can happen when you have the right mindset, work ethic, and support.
My challenge to you all is to set a goal, map out the steps you need to take to accomplish it, and DO IT! We are all awesome, now just prove it to yourself.
Top 5: Highlights of World Championship Weekend
- Finished 2 races and earned my double Trifecta
- Being around Regan and seeing him respond to fans
- Seeing the beauty that is Tahoe
- Snow…I really miss it
- The numerous hours in the car. Jokes were told, laughs were had, and memories were made.