Three days later, I’m still hurting. Bo-o-o.
Whether it’s the Spartan, Tough Mudder or GoRuck, these races have a common thread – lots of military-type obstacles, steep ascents and descents, low crawling, getting wet and muddy, and being a hot mess by the time you cross the finish line. Here’s my amateur racer’s list of do’s and don’ts, in no particular order:
1. Spare no expense on athletic compression underwear (gentlemen) and sports bras (ladies and some gentlemen). Spend the extra ten bucks to protect your family jewels or tatas from rocks, splinters and razor wire. I did and I’m ready to pro-create. Like, right damn now.
2. Race with a friend, blood sister, conjoined twin, someone, anyone! As Rex from Rex Kwon Do would say, “no more flying solo.” You’ll need a battle buddy to watch your back … or prevent your backside from getting snagged by razor wire while you’re in the middle of a 50-yard bear crawl.
3. Dress minimally. I wore UnderArmour underwear, shorts and a knowing sneer. Most women wore a jogging bra, tight booty shorts and a smile. 🙂 Racers jumped into waist-deep mud water within the first 5 to 10 minutes, so having less clothing on minimized water-weighted drag for the rest of the event.
4. Drink some pre-game electrolyte primer, such as Gatorade G1. No shit, Sherlock.
5. Follow the arrows. There were no tricks. The arrows pointed out the racing path. Of course, that didn’t prevent some hallucinating racers from forging into thickly wooded areas because they thought they saw a Bigfoot-like shadow running that way.
6. Consume electrolyte beans and gum, and save some for later when fatigue sets in. Race organizers distributed electrolytes only at the water stations for Miles 2 and 4. We sure could’ve used some at the Mile 6 station, after climbing an endless slope.
7. Train for the event. My battle buddy, whom I’ll call Dodger Mohammed, prepared by chasing his kids around the house and eating bon-bons. The kids may be fast and the bon-bons heavy, but he was hurting after the first turnaround at Mile 2. The prescribed workouts distributed by the race organizers are actually pretty good, if you do the exercises honestly and at full speed. A trip to the local playground to climb the jungle gym probably wouldn’t hurt, either.
Let’s take a break for a public service announcement from Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor:
1. Eat a big breakfast before the race and risk feeling like Joey Fatone after a Golden Corral buffet. Before your race, try a bowl of cereal and a little fruit. Definitely eat something, because you’ll need some fuel beyond electrolytes and water to push you toward the finish line.
2. Be a buddy fucker. “Say what?!” You heard what I said the first time, buddy fucker. Don’t be the asshole who, for instance, pulls tree branches aside, only to have them catapult into the face of the racer running a few steps behind. Hey chica, that was me and it hurt my face and my feelings. Also, don’t kick dirt and mud blindly behind you as you’re ascending an obstacle. If I truly wanted to take a face full of shit, I would’ve dived into a cow dung pile at one of the farms outside Wintergreen.
3. Bring an iPod or any electronics that can’t handle a beating. Common sense is sometimes an uncommon virtue.
4. Wear cotton. See “Do” No. 3 above.
5. Race with any headgear more bulky or elaborate than a baseball cap. One dude in my 10:30 a.m. heat started out with a double-horned Viking helmet. I imagine that headgear was a joy to deal with during the low crawl, while going underwater or during one of several rope wall ascents. Keep the sombrero on the shelf. Cinco de Mayo will come in due time.
6. Pick the biggest log you can find to carry up a 45-degree hill. It’s impressive for the first 100 yards. After that, well … I’m still hurting. As Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character said in “Boogie Nights,” “I’m an idiot.”
7. Run in Vibram Five Fingers. There’s a time and place for these kicks, and an adventure race probably isn’t one of them. I wore the pair pictured above, which are intended for trail running – the soles now have several rips that would make running in them extremely unwise and painful. Last weekend’s Spartan Race featured rugged micro-terrain by Mile 3. This required Vibram-wearers like me to step carefully through long stretches of jagged rocks and branches that felt like Viet Cong pungi sticks by Mile 7.
I won’t completely discount the use of Five Fingers, because I think they’ve helped make my overall running stride more efficient while running on streets and more finished trails. However, the next time I do one of these obstacle races (and there will probably be a next time, since I enjoyed the experience and think I can chop a couple hours off my 8-mile time), I’ll probably wear a pair of Merrills to get the best of both worlds – a light, minimalist feel with presumably greater protection for my soles.
I’ll wrap up this self-serving diatribe with a TED Talk by author Christopher McDougall, author of the minimalist running Bible Born to Run.