Race Recap: 2016 Spartan Race Super, Hurricane Heat and Sprint in Palmerton, PA
Check out my thoughts on the Super, Hurricane Heat and Sprint courses at the 2016 Palmerton, PA Blue Mountain Challenge.
I arrived at the View Inn & Suites in Bethlehem, PA on Friday night at around 7pm to a lobby full of distressed looking Spartans. Something wasn’t right. I tried to check into the room I reserved via Expedia I was informed that the hotel overbooked rooms and that myself, and other guests (Spartans) who had already paid for their rooms, would have to find another place to stay night. The hotel manager handed me a post-it note with the address of a local Holiday Inn Express, I called it, but they only had rooms for Friday night. I booked Friday night and upon arrival called another Holiday Inn Express and reserved a room for Saturday night. It was around 11pm when I finally settled into my hotel room and I was signed up for the 8:00 am competitive heat on Saturday morning. Luckily, I brought two dinners, each of which contained 7oz chicken breasts, 100 grams of broccoli and 100 grams of sweet potato with me for dinner that night so I scarfed that down and went to sleep. I also packed two servings of my famous “Brotmeal,” two 3-4 oz servings of grilled steak, and some grapes all into my Isolator Fitness Isobag.
Breakfast was “Brotmeal”: steel cut oats, 1 scoop of protein powder, cinnamon, blueberries, and a banana plus steak. Between wake time and race time, I drank 1 serving of Cellucor Alpha Amino Xtreme, 1 serving of Eclectic Freeze-Dried Beet Juice Powder, 1 scoop of Ascent Protein powder, and 1 serving of Xendurance Extreme Endurance. During the Super course, I ate two energy gels (they were GU or Clif) and a shot of pickle juice. The Saturday Spartan Super in Palmerton was my first Super and completed my first Spartan Race trifecta ever. I completed the course in about 3 hours and 30 minutes. I completed every obstacle, including the spear throw, on the first try but like a lot of others, the double sandbag carry up the double black diamond hill drained me. I actually drank some pickle juice and ate half a gel during this obstacle. There was a new obstacle called Apehanger, which required you to climb a rope vertically, climb monkey bars and ring a bell only to drop into a pool of mud water. Here’s the thing about this course, and many others that I run: I walked most it.
I’m not a good runner; I’ve never been taught how to run. I’m a former smoker and drinker of 10 years so my lung capacity and oxygen efficiency is subpar. However, I long, strong legs so even just talking long strides during walking lets me cover a good amount of ground. With that said, the main lesson I learned at this race was that I needed a new pair of OCR shoes. I’ve trained and raced in the Reebok All Terrain Series Supers since 2014 but on the descent of these woods, I was slipping and sliding, dangerously. Perhaps the treads wore down, but I couldn’t get a grip while hiking. Nonetheless, I had so much on this course. Hiking through rocks is a mind-sharpening activity, akin to doing agility ladder drills, which has been shown to improve cognition according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. My obstacle technique is best best described as burly: there’s not technique, S hooks, or J hooks, everything is done with pure strength and power.
Compared to the 2016 New Jersey Beast course, the Palmerton Super was more manageable for me, as I wasn’t cramping or limping like I was at the NJ Beast. Overall, I definitely plan to do the Palmerton, PA race next year and I hope to be able to run more of it.
Post-race, I spoke with 2015 Spartan Race World Champion, and during our conversation, I felt myself getting dizzy and lightheaded. I needed to rest before the Hurricane Heat which started at 3:45 pm. By the time I found my car, which happened luckily because someone saw me wandering for an hour searching my lost vehicle and offered to drive me to my vehicle, it was around 2pm. I had about an hour and 15 minutes to recover from my first Spartan Super and do my first Hurricane Heat. I ate another chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato meal and supplemented up with 1 scoop of Ascent Protein Powder, 1 scoop of Cytosport Monster Aminos, 2 scoops of BPI Sports Best Glutamine and 1 GLUKOS energy tablet.
That’s the second lesson I learned from this weekend: my supplement picks, doses and timing worked. I didn’t train to be in the heat for an entire day but through simple supplements, I hacked my body into thinking it could last and it did. While laying down in the backseat of the car, I considered quitting, just going home and not doing the Hurricane Heat. Honestly, what made me get out the car and head out with my Home Depot bucket to an unknown 6-hour event was the fact that I bet the supplements I took would get me through whatever the future held.
The Hurricane Heat was unlike anything I had ever done. The only thing that came close was a Goruck Light I did on the coldest day of the year, February 14. The emphasis was on teamwork and not leaving fellow Spartans behind. My Osprey Pack Rev 12 was the perfect hydration pack for this event: it had enough space for a Pelican Case, snacks and 2L of water. I changed shoes for this event and wore the Merrell Capra Bolt Mid Waterproof: these are mid-top no nonsense hiking shoes. The Hurricane Heat ended at about 11pm and I shockingly still had mental energy left in the tank. The hardest part of the Hurricane Heat were pushups and planks done with feet/hands suspended on a tire or plastic bucket. I’m used to doing decline pushups but for some reason my upper body was physically drained. By the time I arrived to check in at my second hotel of the weekend, it was midnight and my check out time was at 11am. I was out of food so I ordered two medium Dominos Pizza pies a chicken wings. I ate about five slices, all of the chicken and passed out. I woke up and it was time to get ready for the Spartan Sprint. I could have not driven back to the mountain, but I did. The focus wasn’t on supplements or my time. I wanted to experience Spartan Race in a different way: as someone struggling to complete a 5-mile event and I did just that since I was in the last heat: 1:00.
I helped others on the Sprint course, such moving someone’s sled over a ditch during the sled pull, and encouraging others on the initial climb. People running at this time were running in groups, not looking to be elite, but looking to be at ease with the fact that they pushed themselves as hard as they could. I heard a man say, “It’s all in your head, it’s all in your head.” He was talking to himself, trying to convince himself to get up the Bucket Brigade. The thing is: an elite could easily use this statement to push through their struggles. By the time I had finished the Spartan Sprint, I was proud of the fact that I had walked into the unknown and conquered it. I think I might be ready for either a Goruck Tough or a Hurricane Heat as I’d like to see just how long I can last outdoors. Until then, I’ll keep hoping that proper supplementing will get me through races because after all, I’m a writer first, athlete second.