WHAT. A. RACE! The Spartan North American Championship, located in West Virginia, was an amazing event! Luckily for the readers, both Luke and Joel were at the event and will be providing their perspectives. We'll start with Luke's side, and roll into Joel's from there, so make sure you read all the way through and you'll get a better picture of the race as a whole. There is also a recap video that we did Live after the race, so check that out at the end of the article.
The Spartan Race North American Championships in West Virginia. It's a pretty big deal. To run in the Elite heat you had to have qualified at a previous race so that adds a feeling of accomplishment and gives you a sense of pride as you stand there at the start line with the top Spartan Racers in all of North America. It's an awesome feeling to know that you are standing next to some of the most fit humans on the planet.
Side note: Last year's NAC was probably my worst race ever. After about a mile into the race a started having trouble breathing, I got dizzy/light headed, and my body just would not work. For the first time ever, I almost walked off the course but I had so much encouragement from other athletes and Momma didn't raise no quitter, so I literally walked most of the course to get my medal. Was it sports induced asthma? No clue, but I was pumped up to make this year much better.
This year was fantastic! I loved every minute of it even though I complained to myself "when is this going to be over - I'm hungry - wah wah wah".... it's all just part of the process. The terrain/elevation change on the first half of the race seemed pretty tame. The second half was killer! Maybe that's because I train for sub 8 mile courses or maybe it's because there was a very long swim, some extremely steep inclines, and rough technical trails. If you were there, you'll remember the most extreme incline of the whole course. Straight up for who knows how long but, at the top there was a fantastic view of the entire venue and the mountains surrounding it.
After The Armor, which of course was light as a bag of feathers, I was running down the gravel road and saw the athlete in front of me flailing his arms around and swatting at himself. Instantly I knew what was wrong. Bees. Sure enough, as soon as I reached the spot where he was, BAM! a hornet got me right in my leg pit (you know, behind the knee)! That sucker hurt! Though, It did make me run faster so I could get away from them, so that was a plus.
The swim was slow moving! It was a lot longer than last year and I almost ended up getting cramps in my calves. I will say that I am glad Spartan has swimming in some of races. I think it's a great obstacle that really screws up a lot of athletes who focus too much on certain aspects of their training and neglect others. That's the beautiful thing about obstacle course racing, every time you hit the course you find out what your weaknesses are and how you can improve yourself. The real question is, will you get out of your comfort zone and work on your weaknesses?
The last few miles got your blood pumping as you could start to hear the music and DJ at the venue. As the course came to a close, it was a ton of fun running on a boardwalk and stairs toward the finish. There was so much terrain variety! That's part of the reason why the WV course is one of my top 3 favorites. I still can't figure out why Spartan has Pipe Lair....it's not an obstacle...it's just an annoyance.
In the end I came out with 100% obstacle completion! The Spear throw? Bulls eye! Tire flip? Like flipping a pancake for breakfast! Atlas carry? No burpees (anymore)! Twister? Yawn! Fire jump? Too tired to strike an epic pose but oh well! I didn't run close to as fast as I would like and the hills fried my legs, but I feel amazing knowing where I'm at and I feel confident that I can make my weaknesses my strengths and make massive improvements with my performance.
Spartan did a fantastic job creating an energetic atmosphere and killer course to make one EPIC North American Championship. Though they did have a hiccup before the sun even came up... the venue was not fully ready so they didn't let any athletes into the venue until about 45 minutes before the race...there was plenty of grumbling but at the end of the day it wasn't a big deal. I would definitely recommend this race course for anyone who hasn't tried it!
The Elite Qualified race was to start at 7:15. The very beginning of the race was a 100 yard flat section leading up to hay bails, followed immediately by a short, but quite steep, hill. I personally love how Spartan sets up obstacles early in races to break up the athletes from one big pack and spread it all out.
At a race like this (double the number of athletes in this wave compared to last year) you can't afford to get behind too many people, so I had to run faster and harder than I wanted to for the first 1-2 miles. It was fast, fast running. Wide open gravel paths and grass fields. The Monkey Bars were early on, and though the athletes had spread out some, there was still a large portion who hit the Monkey Bars at the same time. I was in that group, and it was without doubt the most crowded obstacle I've ever been on. I had to wait behind an athlete at one point, and was getting bumped, and bumping into, other athletes as we all made our way through.
The first three miles absolutely flew by. I passed some athletes, and was passed by others. The log carry, which I used to hate, was actually fun; it helped that I picked a smooth log that wasn't scraping my shoulder and neck the whole time. The carry took us into some shallow water twice which made it that much more interesting!
It was fun running along and realizing at different points that the course was much the same as last year, except in reverse order. Stairway to Spartan preceded The Box - I got over both quickly. I was taking water at every other water station; just a little bit, but trying to keep it consistent since it was almost 14 miles of all-out effort to the finish line.
There were some very steep climbs in this race. Spartan does a great job of throwing them in and using the terrain as another obstacle and it was no different on this course. Instead of one or two long climbs, they ran the course over several very steep ones that were shorter (not that they were short...just shorter).
The Atlas Carry without the 5 burpees was awesome. Is it easier? Yes. Absolutely. Is it way faster and a relief to not have to set it down, do burpees, and pick it back up? Yes. I liked it personally.
There was one point going down a hill where I got an 8-10inch stick stuck in my shoe laces, so I went to stop on a bridge in the woods to pull it out, and my feet went out from underneath me on the slick boards causing me to hit the wood hard. I didn't feel too much though with adrenaline pumping (the hip I landed on is sore now), but that was when Lefty caught up to me and we ran together for a mile or two. However, once we got to the Sandbag Carry he blazed past me.
The new Bucket Carry rules allow you to carry it on your shoulder and it was SO FAST. It's amazing how much faster you can run with the bucket up high. It made a world of a difference for everyone. They shaped the carry course markings in the shape of a Spartan helmet which was pretty cool. They did that at the first National Series race earlier this year - it's a fun touch.
Then the Tire Flip happened. I have had no issues with the tire since the first time I ever tried it. It took me a few seconds to get a grip, but I got it, lifted it, and flipped it. I felt great. The first flip came easy. I was ready and confident for the second flip. I worked for about 2 minutes to try and get my fingers underneath it; to get a grip on it somehow. I couldn't do it. I ended up heading over to do my burpees. Only my second failed obstacle all year long. It was pretty demoralizing because I would have finished under my goal time if I hadn't lost the time there. There's work to be done in my training for that obstacle.
The slip wall was about 10 feet from the last barbed wire crawl, and the ropes were very short. As I came up to it, a few athletes ran and missed the rope. I knew the first time trying was the best shot, so I got as far back as the barbwire would allow, and sprinted up the wall. I was able to grab a rope and make it over on the first try - saving lots of time and energy.
A short run and stair climb took me up to the Multirig. A few seconds later it was the Vertical Cargo with the Irish Table in front. I completed both and ran the final 100 yards to the finish line.
All in all, I am very happy with my improvement over the past year. My training has paid off dramatically. Even with a swim that was much longer than last year, and with 4 minutes burned at the tire flip, my average mile pace was down considerably. Consistent progress is the map to success!
Lord willing, I'll be healthy and back to participate in the Spartan North American Championship in 2020. I hope they keep it in WV. I love the venue, and it's just a few hours from where I live.
POST RACE VIDEO:
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