Why this? Why the Ultra/Beast Spartan event?
We got started with the Spartan Sprint in Maryland 3 summers ago. The next year, Theo, Grant and I decided we liked the 4+ mile Sprint enough to go for another one, along with an 8+ mile Super and a 13.1+ mile Beast. Finishing all three in the same calendar year is called a ‘Trifecta’. After that first Trifecta, we were hooked. I’m a firm believer in the idea that having a race (or other event) on the calendar gives focus to my training and keeps me motivated to make the necessary sacrifices to stay committed.
For 2017, we set our sights on a very aggressive goal – one with a real risk of failure: arguably the most difficult and the original Spartan Ultra (30+ miles) on the ski slopes of Killington Resort. To me, this seemed like a worthy goal for the year and one that would keep me motivated for months of training!
Despite countless weekends spent with 4, 6 and 8 hour ‘workout-fests’ that combined trail running, Boot Camps, more running, Crossfit WoDs, more running, and then as much else as we could do until our legs seized up and we could barely walk home, my race wasn’t successful. I was cut at the 12 hour mark, having completed 25 of the 30 miles in the race but about 20 minutes behind the required pace.
2018 was to be our ‘Return to the Mountain’ to claim our rightful buckle!
Why again? What made you sign up again immediately after the first?
Last year, I pushed myself further than I’d ever pushed my body physically. Not just during the race, but throughout the summer in our training sessions. Many Sunday mornings I had to walk down the stairs backwards because my legs wouldn’t move. Yet I failed and it kind of sucked. There were two distinct moments during the race that I broke into tears – 5 after completing lap one, totally dehydrated and on the verge of heat shock, once the adrenaline started to work out of my blood as I fueled up in the transition area. The again when I got to the top of the mountain for the 5th time, as the sun was setting and I could see the valley all around. I had promise myself that no matter what, I’d walk out of the transition zone and start lap 2. But my mental game wasn’t as strong as my body was and I started having second thoughts. Theo set me right, made sure I was hydrated, and basically forced me out of the zone to start the second lap.
I lost my race no physically or mentally (thought that was close). My hydration plan fell apart and I found myself climbing a mile long black diamond ski slope in the direct sun with no water. I missed a pack re-fill station and spent nearly 90 minutes with no water. For reference, I’ve calculated that I need at least 2 liters of water per hour to maintain hydration. I finished lap 1 at least 3 liters behind. That sucked because I had to walk for nearly an hour before my legs felt somewhat normal and I wasn’t dizzy.
I knew what went wrong the second I was cut and we all vowed the next morning over breakfast to get our butt back to VT in 2018!
What has been the hardest part about training?
The hardest part of training has been cutting back on my beloved ‘strength cycles’ and focusing a lot more on trail running and strong-man type movements. I was / am a Back Squat junkie and over the last year my PR is down about 15%. I’m also about 10# lighter, which sounds great but is probably 50% muscle loss and 50% fat loss.
Was it a hard decision to scale back the even this late or are you totally comfortable with that? Can you talk about why it’s a good idea to adjust your goals to meet reality.
Life hasn’t cooperated with me this year to allow me the proper time to build the base I believe I’d need to successfully complete the Killington Ultra. The race is up and downs only – there is virtually no flat trail to run on. In fact, much of the race isn’t even really a trail so much as a patch through the wood that Spartan marked out and the runners in front of you have trampled down. So your legs are completely trashed on both the up-hills and down-hills, with not a lot of time to recover.
I haven’t been able to work out as frequently as I would like to over the past 4 months. I’ve never stopped moving (ask me about my 10 x 2 min set workout you can do at work even on days you’re swamped!), but I’ve not been able to do the long runs, stair training and lunges I believe I’d need to be ready to run lap 2 fast enough.
About 6 weeks ago, watching the days close in, I made the really hard decision to back my registration down to a single lap, ~15 mile Beast, rather than the Ultra. I had to be honest with myself and recognize where where my body is and what it can do. My cardio is outstanding, but I just don’t have the legs for the mountains. Knowing that, I’d rather run 1 lap and give it everything I can than spend the first lap worried my body’s going to give out at mile 20 and hold back. I still get to play on the mountain for 6-7 hours!
I’m also aiming to complete 15 races this year to do a 5x Trifecta. It will culminate with an Ultra in November on my birthday. While I’m not doing 30 next weekend, I’ve just moved the goal a few weeks down the road.
How much training were you doing at your peak?
At our peak last year, a typical week for me looked like this:
Monday – Crossfit WoD
Tuesday AM – Run 3 miles with 20# vest;
Tuesday PM – Crossfit WoD
Wednesday – Hill sprints and lunges, with 20# vest; maybe a Crossfit WoD after if kids (and fatigue) allowed
Thursday – slow and easy recovery run or just a longer RomWoD
Friday – Murph w. 20# vest at Open Gym, followed by a few sets of barbell lunges, weighted pull ups and KB snatches; then beers and a large steak!
Saturday – Run 5 miles trails; Boot Camp; Run 3 miles streets; Crossfit WoD; run 4 miles trails, or until the legs cramp and I have to hobble home in pain and hop into an Epsom salt bath for an hour.
That’s about 10-15 hours per week of training. We had heavy weeks and deload weeks because the overall cycle was 6 months long. I’d also aim to do 3-4 RomWods throughout the week in the evenings before bed, as well as sets of lunges, planks, pushups or burpess at the office during the daytime whenever I could sneak them in.
How has CrossFit fit (or not fit) into the overall training plan?
Crossfit produced the amazing base and strength that allowed to walk onto the first Sprint course and totally crush it. Beyond that, sport-specific training is needed to do well in Obstacle Course Racing (ORC). Most of it can be done on top of a 3-4 day/week general Crossfit program. Most everything we do in addition to the regular WODs are Crossfit movements – we just need to do more pull ups, farmer carries, plate carries, and trail running etc. than we would over the course of the average week or month. The mountain courses are no-joke and one needs to train the leg muscles to be ready for them and not cramp.
Can you talk about the toll this takes on your wife and family?
Yeah, one of the hardest things is missing the many lazy mornings sleeping in while the girls watched cartoons; eggs, bacon and pancakes for breakfast. Lisette ran many Saturdays until 2 or 3pm as a solo parent, as well as the MANY weekends I’m away. The trade off was that in October 2017 once my season was over, the girls stayed with me and she took a 9 day culinary hiking trip in Italy with her mom! The promise for 2018 was a week away with her friends, but it looks likes husbands/boyfriends/partners are going on that one too, so I better start planning for a kick-ass Christmas present!
Anything else you would like to add…
It’s been amazing to watch Grant, Theo and myself develop physically as well as mentally. Things that intimidated us 2 years ago now seem easy. That’s been the real progress for me!
Going Long: Dani Grigsby
Going Long: Brian Bunch
Going Long: Theo Hadjimichael
Going Long: Grant Barker