By: Brent Snyder
When most people think of Spartan Race’s New Jersey venue, things like steep climbs, rocky terrain and cold temperatures come to mind. This weekend’s Super event at Mountain Creek, in Vernon delivered all of these things and more, as many of us looked to close out our OCR season on a high note.
My pre-race worries centered less around the course ahead of me, and more on the ankle that hadn’t fully recovered from a sprain during a trail race two weekends earlier. I had done all I could to prepare in the time leading up to race day, with my training and gear selection. And while I needed to keep my ankle in mind, I knew that if I wanted to leave the mountain happy with my effort, there would come a time that I would need to forget about the potential of injury and let it all go.
As I entered the starting corral for the 8:15 am competitive heat, there were plenty of familiar faces, including several fellow Lehigh Valley Spartans. Every person was doing their best to fend off the sub 40-degree temperatures. I had elected to wear my newly purchased Cressi wetsuit gloves and an Altra buff. Other than that, my gear was rather normal. I wore a Second Skin short sleeve compression top and paired it with Second Skin shorts. Injinji compression toe socks and Altra Superior 3.0 rounded out my gear.
After the normal starting corral hoopla, we were off and up, straight up as is normal for starts at this venue. The pace was pretty strong, and I swapped 3rd-5th place with the same couple guys the entire way up the first 600-foot climb. The first few hurdles and wall obstacles did little to slow us down as we crested the hill and bombed down the first downhill toward the dunk wall. The water level of the dunk wall obstacle was the lowest I’ve ever seen it, and I was able to limbo under the wall, keeping everything above my belly button dry. While part of me was interested in finding out how well my new gloves held off the cold while wet, I was more than happy to keep my hands dry, and warm. As I splashed out of the water and up over the slip wall, I was already starting to encounter some of the racers from earlier heats, about 1.5 miles into the race. The course headed uphill another 600 feet, over a couple walls to the first carry, a short sandbag haul down through a rocky wooded stretch and back up a ski slope past the photographer. After yet another climb, I approached the Multi-Rig. I paused while the two racers in the lanes next to me struggled on the rig, and ultimately had to head to the burpee pit. I was fine with the break, because I would rather wait and make it through the rig clean, than have them knock me off as they were swinging around wildly. As I grabbed the first ring, 4th and 5th place in my heat did the same. I made it through quickly, but slowed my pace for a couple seconds to put my gloves back on. I’m glad I had the gloves because my hands were freezing from the traverse pole. As I slowed, 4th and 5th passed me and lit a fire under my ass. A steep downhill and some rather flat wooded trails worked to my advantage and I approached Atlas Carry with only one guy from my heat in front of me.
I got impatient at Olympus as the guy in the first lane I picked was really struggling. His lane looked to be the driest, but I really wanted to keep the spots I had just worked so hard to regain, so I swithed lanes. This was a mistake as I stalled out on a very wet spot in the new lane and had to enter the burpee pit. I was upset about losing my bid at a clean race so early into the race, only about 3.5 miles in. But I was angrier that I was losing spots, so I busted out the fastest 30 burpees of my life. I’m unsure how many racers passed me, but the next stretch of trail served me well. Before I knew it, I had caught and passed the guys from the earlier back and forth battle. I approached Twister steps in front of them and made it through the first two sections, despite them being wet. I struggled to spin the third section around to the bottom, and before I knew it, I was celebrating another failure in the burpee pit. As I counted my 20th burpee, several racers entered the burpee pit. The same guys departed before I completed my 30 unbroken burpees. Since these were Elite racers, I was angry at being passed by people that don’t follow the rules.
I ran angry and passed those guys within a quarter mile. I was really moving as I made quick work of the Plate Drag and passed at least 10 racers in the Barbed Wire Crawl. I had almost run myself back into the heat race again, as I saw the guys in front of me exiting Z Walls. For whatever reason, I just fell off right away. Aside from a freak occurrence at Barre Super where a block ripped off the wall as I grabbed it, Z Walls has never really given me any trouble. I don’t know what happened and there’s no excuse for the failure, but I still owed Spartan 30 more burpees. I made quick work of Stairway and was angry when an Elite racer re-passed me during a rocky downhill stretch. “NO ONE PASSES ME ON THE DOWNHILL!!” I screamed inside as I decided now was the time to push hard to the finish. As I tried to keep his pace, my left foot slipped between two moss covered rocks. A loud pop was muted by my screams of pain. I hobbled for a minute and thought my race was over. I talked myself into running and after a short time, I was able to really push it again.
I was doing my best to slow my heart rate as I walked up to the Spear Throw. I settled in and threw the perfect spear. Perfectly straight, perfectly flat, perfectly centered…perfectly…LOW! The spear tore through the bottom of the haybale and stuck in the ground. I headed back to the burpee pit, feeling defeated. Another guy does less than 15 burpees, looks around to see if the volunteers are paying attention, and heads up the hill. I’ll admit, I was tempted to do the same, but it’s not in me to cheat. As I near my 120th burpee of the day, I hear an unmistakable sound. Our fearless leader, Justin Scholl had thrown such a perfect spear that it blasted clean through the haybale and stuck into the wooden supports behind it. He jogged by the pit and I was determined to catch him. I finished my final 5 burpees of the day and caught up to Justin as fast as I could, on the last short climb of the day. We climbed the A-frame side by side and I heard his footsteps on my heels as we bombed down the mountain. I was able to pass some racers in the woods and separate myself a bit before the next obstacle. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Hercules Hoist but it was perhaps the lightest one I’ve ever done. I was able to pull it to the pulley in three pulls, all while standing upright. I cruised down the hill, knowing the end was near. The gloves came through again, and my hands didn’t hurt at all while I did the entire Bucket Brigade without stopping. After flopping over the last wall, I considered taking the gloves back off for Rope Climb. Instead, I decided to see if they would help make the climb easier, knowing I had a small cushion over the racers behind me. I tried the rope twice with the gloves and they didn’t help at all. I could barely move off the ground, so I stuffed the gloves in my shorts and made my way up to the ball. I slumbered up that last little killer hill, locked eyes on the photographer and did my best to make a memorable Fire Jump picture happen.
Place- 34th Male, 34th Overall, 8th in the 30-34 Age Group in the Competitive Heat
Burpees- 125 (including the 5 at Atlas Carry)
My Garmin Fenix 3 HR tracked 9.29 miles and 3,182 feet of gain.
My race rating:
Obstacles- 6/10. While I did fail 4 obstacles, I would chalk it up to me being under prepared, rather than the obstacles being overly difficult. I’ve previously completed all of the obstacles I failed, so it is just about putting in the work. The rig, monkey bars, herc hoist and bucket brigade were all some of the easiest I’ve done this year.
Terrain- 7/10. Definitely more bush whacking than I’m used to with Spartan, especially since Norm isn’t around anymore. Lots of low branches and rocky descents on sometimes hard to see trails.
Water Stations- 10/10. Although I only stopped for water at one station, I think there were 8 on course, almost 1 per mile.
Venue- 8/10. I may be a little biased since Mountain Creek is less than 30 minutes from my house, but I love this venue. I try to make every race they hold here. Steep ascents, somehow steeper descents and still plenty of space for open running. Hopefully next year they try to change up the course path a little so that it doesn’t start to feel “stale”.
While I am disappointed to fail 4 obstacles and do so many burpees, I know these are things I can fix. I can walk away happy, knowing that my running has greatly improved because there was no chance that I would finish top 35 after doing 120+ burpees earlier in the year. I have been focusing my training more on long runs and endurance events, so now I am going to try to find more balance as I decide what events to run next year. While this was far from the hardest race Spartan has put on, I still enjoyed it a lot.
I waited at the finish for the rest of the Lehigh Valley Spartans and other friends from my heat and discussed what they thought of the race. Some said they thought was the hardest race yet at this venue. While I disagree, that it part of the beauty of OCR and also what makes it so hard to master. Something that one racer finds easy; downhill running for example, may be the hardest thing for another racer. OCR is all about balance, just like life. In short, OCR is life, and life is good.
Links to my gear:
Cressi HIGH STRETCH Premium Neoprene Diving Gloves (I got the 3.5mm but they were honestly probably overkill. 2.5mm should be fine unless it is below 20 degrees).
Injinji 2.0 Compression Over The Calf Toesocks
Altra Superior 3.0
Second Skin Men’s Quatroflx Short Sleeve Compression Top
Second Skin Men’s Woven Heather Training Shorts
Bodyglide Original Anti-Chafe Balm (apply liberally, do not eat)
Bodyglide Foot Glide Anti-Blister Balm (protect your tootsies)