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Spartan Super in Asheville… Two Years Later

Two years ago, almost this exact day, I ran (haha… funny) the Asheville Super by Spartan. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. The course was insane (ask anyone who ran it) and unforgiving. We climbed 3,000+ feet in elevation and it seemed like we climbed it all at once.  I was on the course for 7 hours and was depleted in energy when I finished.

So of course I signed up to do it again this year.

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A small pond around the festival area had the best reflection

We had rain for days. In fact, I think it rained 7 days prior to the race and my brother confirmed it did the same in North Carolina. He lives about two hours from Asheville so I drive there to stay with him. It poured off and on all day on Friday but the weather seemed promising.  Spartan sent an email to say, “We’ve changed the course to keep you safe but we expect it to rain hard so come prepared to get wet and get muddy.”

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Smiling prior to the race

The best news of the day was that the weather couldn’t have been better. It was beautiful. It wasn’t too hot even after the sun came out. The bag check guy was convinced it was going to rain by 11 am and that did worry me but I never felt a drop.  However, the venue was muddy. And by muddy I mean sinking to your ankles in mud. No matter where you walked, mud. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to wear my flip flops out of there this time.

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This is how the whole festival area looked

Before the race started, I sat and chatted with a woman. We had a lovely time talking and discussing races. As it turns out, she came in first for her age group in the open division. I figured she would pass me and she did.  I also met up with a friend from childhood.  He was running late so we didn’t get much time to talk but he also crushed the course.  Did I crush it?  Yes and no.

The upside:

I have been hiking hard hikes for the past two years. What a difference this has made. Just two weeks ago when I hiked up from South River Falls I pushed myself. I wanted to crush that elevation.  In the gym, I have been on the treadmill with the incline jacked up and carrying heavy stuff. So this time, as we climbed the mountain, it was hard but I was able to keep going. Plus, we had relief at times. More switchbacks. We’d go down in elevation and then back up. At times, I’d stop, catch my breath, and keep going. Wherever I could, I would run.  I really crushed the last half of the race… what about the first half?

The downside:

I met a lovely woman right at the beginning of the race. We were going through water and she asked me to grab her hand. I thought I would be helping her through just this portion. She was very small and I think, scared of the water. I ended up assisting her for the first half of the race. I’m very torn about this because I am very happy to help people. We went through a ton of water and I was happy to help guide her. However, on the trail, it hurt me. I was exerting a ton of energy pulling her up hills and helping her not fall going down. Her shoes were not as good as mine and she kept slipping. I assisted her on walls and other obstacles. She could not offer me any assistance at all.  Finally, I decided to go on ahead. I felt bad.  I honestly did but I wanted to finish. As I think back to how quickly I did the last portion of the race, I’m quite sure I could have cut my time down by 1-1.5 hours. Regardless… I still finished faster than two years ago and that was my goal.  People have praised me for helping the woman for as long as I did. They say I have a good heart and while that is probably true, I always want to feel like I did the course as quickly as I physically could.  I don’t know if I’ll ever offer help for half a course again. Sometimes I would look back and others were pulling her up the mountain.  It takes a lot out of you to continually pull and lift someone. I hope I don’t come across as callous or rude. I don’t want to because I offer help to people all the time and am happy to do so.

Taking all of that out of the equation, the course was fun. I enjoyed it. The water felt great and I loved that I could get up and down the mountain quickly. I was able to run when it was flat.  My asthma did great except in one location.  And… goodness is that course beautiful.  There was a section with big bushes just covered in butterflies.  COVERED!  It was amazing.

 

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With my brother with the awesome Blue Ridge Mountains behind us after my race

Next up for me is the West Virginia Beast. Again, I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea. I feel like changing it…. I think I’ll decide by the end of this week.

Asheville Spartan Super 2016

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The Race Venue

I sat and wondered if I should write about this race. Technically this is a Hiking blog but since we did hike a mountain during the race, I figured this qualified.

Two years ago I did my first Spartan race. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and I loved it. It was a ‘Sprint’ which means it is the shortest of the three Spartan races. That race covered 5 miles and was the farthest I had ever ran/walked at the time. I did another last year and decided that 2016 was the year I would earn my Trifecta. The Spartan Trifecta is completing each Spartan length in one calendar year. This past weekend I finished the Super. I have the Sprint in two weeks and the Beast at the end of October on my 45th birthday.

I was certainly worried about the Super. I felt like I had been preparing myself for it – trying to get miles in running and hiking, strength training, and working on my grip strength. I felt like I had done my research. I looked at past videos to get a sense of the terrain and I figured I could at least complete it.

The beginning of the race had me feeling good. I was running. Breathing well (I have asthma). I swam through a creek that felt amazing. And I finished mile one feeling like I had flown through the course.

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Me in a shallow portion of the creek

Well, the race beat me. Sure, I finished but I wasn’t prepared for the 2,600 feet in elevation gain that we covered. In fact, I feel like from the parking lot to the top of the mountain may have been a bit more than that. 80% of the race was continuously uphill. Sometimes we had to hold onto trees to pull ourselves up. Many of us grabbed a stick to help with climbing and going downhill. It felt never-ending. The trail took us through Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina. As we climbed higher and higher the views just got more magnificent. I was sad to not have a camera with me to capture how beautiful the mountains looked.

We had a long, 3 mile stretch on the mountain. The first two miles felt endless as we just kept climbing. There was no level ground for recovery so people just stood against a tree or sat down. I saw some laying all the way down in the woods (I was ultra careful because I didn’t want poison ivy and I still got some). We would turn a corner hoping to see the top or at least to have some level path but nope – just more climbing. All you heard on this portion of the course was silence with some curse words as people struggled. Many were not prepared with a hydration pack or energy gels or food. I passed more than one person who had passed out on the course and were waiting for medical help.

Finally, as we came down the mountain, single-file, through Rhododendrons, we felt relief. And there was a very welcomed water station towards the bottom before the vertical cargo net obstacle. I know I filled up my water cup four times. Although some did we weren’t really supposed to fill the hydration pack. Volunteers stopped some people while others didn’t seem to care. I didn’t fill mine because I figured that was less water for those who came unprepared.

As I started my last quarter of a mile (as told by a boy, all of about 14, who was sitting in a tree and had already finished the race) I wasn’t sure I could finish. I know that seems strange with so little to go but we still had a creek to walk through and 4-5 more obstacles. Spartan Race had placed some very close together to aid in NBC filming the race. I knew my brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me at the finish line so I had to get there. I was cramping and in pain – shoulder, ankle, feet – but I got there. When I saw them at the end, I felt a wave of emotion come over me. I was elated to be done. I found out later it had taken me 7 1/2 hours to complete the course.

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I know that my future includes a lot more elevation training. I don’t have many mountains super close to me so it will have to come in the form of hilly roads. I still have more upper body strength to build and I want to jump higher. All great goals.  As I was hiking up that mountain I kept thinking, “I’ll never do another Spartan on a mountain.” but I won’t rule that out. The scenery is amazing and if I train appropriately maybe it won’t be so bad next time.