I recently completed the West Virginia Spartan Beast Last year, I had vowed to never do it again and there I was, dragging myself up the side of a mountain. I left home Friday morning so I could do some exploring. Of course, a lot of that time was spent just driving. I swear the prettiest places are so far away. Thankfully, I had one of my best friends with me so the trip didn’t seem too long.
Our first stop was at Humback Bridge. Granted, this is in Virginia but close enough, right? It is so close to the highway it made sense to stop. The sky wasn’t great for photos. It was bland and gross. There wasn’t much water so the photos are so-so. We had the spot to ourselves, though, and that was cool. Again, it is too far away to go back very often but another trip during fall would be fun sometime.
Our second stop was the Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park. I have seen so many photos of this place and, of course, wanted my own photos. As we neared the park, we received a heavy downpour. I was worried that we might be rained out, but thankfully it stopped just before we entered the park. Whew. I also hoped that it would provide some water for photos. We haven’t received much rain this summer (unlike last year) and I really wanted a nice waterfall photo.
We arrived and saw that there was little water. The only benefit to this was that we could skip around on the big boulders to get different compositions. We took our time and had photos in front of the waterfall – together and alone. My only wish was that I had changed my lens. I am having some issues with my normal lens. Things never quite look in focus and it showed in my photos. When a location is 5 hours away, you want the best photos possible. Granted, it is hard to take a bad photo of the place. It is incredibly picturesque. What I wouldn’t do to go back in the fall or winter (and maybe I will).
We could have maybe fit in one more stop after Babcock but I felt gross and just wanted to shower. Plus, the race was the next day and I wanted to rest up for it.
Yes, I finished the race. I shaved an hour off of last year’s time and that made me happy.
Sunday, on our way back home, we decided to do the Long Point Trail that gives you a good view of the New River Gorge Bridge. We made sure to read about the hike first because we had very tired legs from the race. Thankfully, the hike is very short with hardly any elevation gain. Perfect! The walk in the woods was nice. It felt good to stretch the legs. Walking after a race like that actually helps you recover more quickly as it gets the lactic acid out of the muscles (fitness tip!). We arrived at the overlook and only one other person was there. Bonus! We set up and took a million photos. We were there in the middle of the day so once again, my photos kind of suck. The light was very harsh but whattayagonnado? The view was amazing. It felt great to take some time and just sit there and appreciate it. Eventually, we decided to back. The drive would be long. As we hiked back to the car, at least 30 people passed us. We talked about how happy we were to not be there with all of those people. Many had dogs off of leashes and kids who were yelling. Not peaceful! (PUT YOUR DOGS ON A LEASH!!)
I always knew West Virginia was beautiful. I live so close to part of it but had never really visited that section. Last year, I did Sandstone Falls and Hinton, WV but this was way better. All I can think about is returning. Having a job and responsibilities really puts a damper on my traveling. I yearn for the days when I can just get in my camper and go!
This past Saturday I completed my Spartan Trifecta. For those who may be new to me or to Spartan Races, let me explain. The Spartan Trifecta is made up of three races: The Sprint (3-5 miles), The Super (8-10 miles) and The Beast (12+ miles). To earn a “Trifecta” you complete all three races in one calendar year. I also did the Washington, D.C. (aka, Maryland) Sprint and the Asheville Super.
When I sign up for races I look at dates. Because I have two kids who play sports, my weekends are often taken up with their events. I try to cram my races into the summer and that gives me less options for racing. I also try to pick ones that are closest to me so that I can save money. When I go to Asheville, I stay with my brother. I can drive to and from Maryland. For West Virginia, I stayed at an AirBnB for the first time and it was perfect. After I signed up for West Virginia, I doubted myself. I knew it was going to be a hard race as it is classified as the North American Eastern Regional Championship. Spartan Race has a Global Championship and certain races are classified as “regional” or “national” championship. Winners gain entry into the Global Championship.
When I run these races I am not looking to win. That’s clear I think. What makes Spartan Races really cool to me is that we are running the exact same courses as the elite races. They cover the same mileage and obstacles (they just can’t have help like us open races) as we do – just much faster. This Beast took me 7.5 hours. Yes, that is a LONG time. I totally lost track of time. I knew, after I finished 3 miles, it had been only 1.25 hours. I had completed the first 3 fairly quickly and was pleased. I thought this meant I was going to finish in about 5 hrs. I was wrong. I was doing good running where I could – downhill and flat areas- there just weren’t that many. Much of this race included elevation: 4490 ft of elevation change over 13.5 miles. Some of that elevation was at a grade of 42%. You can reference this graphic to see how steep some of the elevation was. Fun fact: I bear crawled a bunch of it – way easier.
I felt like I accomplished more obstacles than previous races. I’m able to scale most of the walls on my own and did receive just a small amount of help on a few others. I still cannot do the obstacles that require good grip strength – hanging, monkey bars, etc. This is a big frustration of mine and I really want to change this over the next year. But as a result of getting better at the other obstacles means I came away with very few bruises. I think I even avoided poison ivy at this race and that’s a big deal for me. I also have realized I can carry heavy things. The log, bucket, and sandbag carries were all pretty easy for me. I did set the bucket down twice but it was at the end and I was tired. I also had to swim during this race and I found that super fun.
The place where the race was held: The Summit Reserve in Bechtel, West Virginia was beautiful. It is a Boy Scout Camp and one of the nicest “camps” I have ever seen. The views at the top of the mountains were wonderful. I loved seeing the peaks – it helped me feel accomplished. At one point, at the highest point, there was a dining room. It had glass windows all the way around and I could only imagine how amazing it would be to eat dinner in there during a beautiful sunset.
Overall, the race was about 15 miles (including obstacles). I am amazed at myself for finishing it. I wasn’t fully prepared for it. I hadn’t trained hard enough and felt it. I thought I had based on what people said about last year’s race, but, in good Spartan fashion, they made it harder. As I hiked, walked, and felt the pain, I told myself, “I never want to do this again.” But now, as I look back… I kind of want to…. I’m ridiculous.
If you haven’t ever done a Spartan Race and want a way to push yourself or have a goal I fully recommend trying a race. You can do the Sprint. I promise. Now that my Trifecta is done… I will relax a bit, probably gain a few more pounds, and then start in on my training. I am going to visit a couple of OCR gyms in the area and train on the grip obstacles. And maybe, in 2019, I’ll complete the Sprint and do it all without burpees!!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I really wanted to visit a waterfall this past weekend. I never can decide where to go but decided to do a return trip to South River. If you’ve been following me for a few months, you may remember I went this past winter in 0 degree weather. I think I prefer that trip and I’ll explain why below. The South River Falls trailhead is located in the South River Picnic Grounds at mile marker 62.7. The circuit I hiked is approximately 6 miles long and covers 2,300 feet of elevation. I started on the South River Falls Trail and went all the way to the base of the falls. You’ll get to a post that says, “Base of Falls”. Continue down that path. On my way back up, I stay on the fire road. This will cross the Appalachian Trail where you’ll make a left. This will take you back to the South River Falls Trail where you’ll turn right and just about be at the parking lot.
South River Falls is not my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s kind of weird looking and split. I much prefer Doyles River Falls but I love the hike to South River. There are many pretty cascades. I know it sounds silly but when I made my way to the river I was surprised at how different everything looked. I know. Duh. But in March we had a massive wind storm and the downed trees added to how it had changed. I had to spend time crawling on rocks, balancing on wet rocks and wading through water to get some of my photos. And I loved every minute. The green does add beauty to the photos but I also loved how wide open everything was during winter. I was able to get to some other small falls because I didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or as many ticks or stinging nettles. I had more to photograph and I like that. Also, I think the falls look really cool when they are partly frozen (better than they look now but that’s a personal opinion).
I kept telling myself to keep moving. It was partly cloudy and I was worried the sun would be too bright by the time I got to the falls. I just couldn’t help myself when I passed certain small falls and cascades. And unfortunately, a few of my shots ended up with dappled sun. And when I got to the falls the sun was hitting the top of the falls. A photographic disaster. (Laughing) I shot it in a few exposures and I guess the final image came out okay. Sometimes I rush and don’t really think about my compositions.
Eventually the sun was out to stay so I had to hike back. But, before I forget, I almost ran into a bear on the trail. I was all alone on the trail. And I mean really alone. I didn’t see anyone for 3 hours. I came around a corner and there was a bear. It was as surprised as me. I backed away slowly as I greeted the bear. I expected to hear it run off but it didn’t. I called out a few more times. Eventually, I saw it walk through the woods at a lazy pace. I was thrilled! Bears don’t scare me. I do wish I had gotten a photo but I thought I should follow protocol. I haven’t ever seen a bear while hiking so this was exciting.
Hiking back I forced my pace. With an upcoming Spartan Race this weekend, I wanted to test my fitness and not stop. I did have to stop once or twice but the 2,300 foot climb back up wasn’t so hard. Loved it!
I still recommend South River Falls. If you want to be in the water, it’s a great option! And the hike is just about 6 miles. Any time spent in Shenandoah National Park is time well spent.