Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Somewhere in there a few neurons are still firing...

Post by Kevin:

So it's been a little while since I was able to contribute to this blog. It is not for lack of wanting to though... I've found myself busier and busier everyday with responsibilities, and sometimes after working a long day at work (working = sitting at a computer cranking out structural designs and drawings) the last thing I want to do is get back onto a computer.  Add to that a wife who's amazing at all things computer and blogs, and at times I feel a little like I'd be adding my pencil sketch to DaVinci's notebook.  

But I had an amazing weekend, and a SUPER fun race, and thus by the prodding of my loving wife, who claims that "he who runs the race should blog the race", I shall attempt to tell the story of my first ever obstacle race!

About two weeks ago, I got invited by a good friend of mine, Justin, to run this race with him. It's called the Spartan Race Series. I'd never really heard of it, and didn't know much about it, but I always know Justin's good for an adventure (same guy who's got me out playing Frisbee every Saturday morning, got me to walk barefoot across 100 feet of ice and jump into Lake Michigan in January, etc.) so I agreed!

Naomi and I managed to get a babysitter for the afternoon (Thanks Shelly!) so we drove down to Marseilles, IL to an ATV park that got taken over by a bunch of nuts just like me who think they could run a course normally navigated by a two-stroke 4-wheel drive ATV! 

Not knowing what to expect, I had my normal pre-race jitters PLUS the "what did I sign myself up for?" jitters. Apparently that combination produces the face you see here.
This is what the start/finish area looked like.  Because I signed up so late in the game, my heat didn't start until 3:00PM... the second to last.  I didn't get into the same heat as Justin either, and I got my head bit off when I called to ask if I could change my heat time.  That is not a good question to ask the folks putting on the race a week before the event... they (understandably) get cranky.
I got all geared up and ready to go.  The numbers on the arms, legs, and forehead are my bib number, and are meant to make it easier for the photography company to identify you.  I also wore an orange shirt to try and make it easier for Naomi to find me.  In retrospect, and for reasons that will soon become apparent, both attempts at establishing my unique identity were laughable.  Nevertheless, I tied my shoes tight, my shorts tighter (I still almost lost both during the course of the race) and I was ready to go!
I lined up in the chute with about 300 other people to start our heat.  We were warned that because we were close to the last group to tackle the course, the course and all the obstacles/challenges would be exceptionally muddy and slippery.  They weren't kidding.
The dude that started us up dressed up like King Leonidas and gave us the pre-race speech, complete with the obligatory, and I'm sure not influenced by Hollywood or Gerard Butler in the least, shout "tonight we dine in Hell!!" then they sounded the gong and off we went!

The very first obstacle that we encountered was a giant mud pit that we had to jump into, then wade across and climb the other side.  This first obstacle ensured each participant was completely covered in mud and lost all inhibitions about staying clean and dry! Incidentally, as I was climbing out of this pit, I got kicked in the face by a girl, inserting a bunch of mud in my right eye... it took me a good 5 minutes before I could see out of that eye, and for the rest of the entire race my vision was cloudy at best and my tear ducts went into overdrive trying to expel the mud and sand from my eye.  Any "angry" looking faces I made during the rest of the race I attribute to this. 

Then we began a steady stream of obstacles.  Run a couple hundred yards, do another obstacle, run another couple hundred yards, do another crazy obstacle... etc.  It was awesome!  We first had to climb over several wooden walls, some just chest high that I was able to vault without too much of a problem.  One wall though was about 8 feet high with a shear surface (ie. nothing to grab onto) I actually could've probably jumped and grabbed the top of the wall and pulled myself up that way if it weren't for the sticky mud that at this point of the day swallowed my legs up to my shins, making any thoughts of jumping at all just a dream!  It was obviously an obstacle not doable solo, so I helped 3-4 people coming up behind me by boosting them up, then finding a kind soul to in turn boost me up!  

There were some walls that instead of climbing over, only about 24 inches clear space was available at the bottom, and I discovered that if I pretended I was stealing second, it was so muddy I could simply slide underneath with breaking stride! Some walls had a small 2ft X 2ft window about chest high that you had to figure out how to get through.  This one was simple if you just pretended that you were superman, jumped head first through the window, then tucked and rolled into the soft mud on the back side and then kept going!

Other fun obstacles that were encountered during the first 1/3 of the course included:
  • crawling 200-300 ft under barbed wire through super-slick mud (tough because a fellow in front of me was struggling so I would crawl forward, grab his shoe and push him forward in increments!)
  • dragging a 40-50 lb cinder block via 6 ft rope through a hilly 200 yd course
  • running down a rocky, steep ravine that again by this point in the day was full of deep sticky mud that it swallowed the shoes of not a few unlucky souls.
It was at about 1 1/2 miles into the course where we circled back to the beginning for a series of obstacles right next to the crowd of spectators, and thus Naomi was able to snap a few pictures.  This rope climb proved to be the toughest obstacle for me, and consequently the one I was most proud of conquering! If you look closely, you can see me coming down the hill in the background.

I even managed to spot Naomi in the crowd during the few seconds that I had to wait for a rope to open up!

At this point in the day after several thousand other poor souls had tried climbing the same ropes, they were so coated in wet, slick mud that it proved nearly impossible to grip the slick rope whilst pulling yourself up.  Three knots were provided in the rope that helped near the bottom, but one final oomph was needed to ring the bell at the top.  My first several attempts were futile, and I realized my fingers were getting fatigued fast and I needed to change tactics.

That new tactic was to go for a little "golden rule" action and help some other people get up.  These two girls were eager for some help and didn't hesitate when I offered to help them get up.

It still wasn't easy, but with a little help they got up without too much trouble.

Note: it's hard giving a person a boost when there isn't anything to hold onto while you try to lift them up.  Legs and shoes were equally slick, and add an unsure and slick footing at the bottom of the water pit... and let's just say helping was tough! 

Having done my good deed and ready to cash in on some of that good karma, I flexed my rested fingers and tried one more time! I tried asking several people for help in giving me a boost, but no one would come over, so I was left to tackle it on my own.  I finally rang the bell when I managed to jam my fingers into the little slot created by the two ropes coming down and joining into one, then pulling myself up and getting my feet to the next knot.

It felt ridiculously good to have finished this obstacle and I very gracefully dismounted from the rope.  Wish I could say my landing was so graceful (good thing Naomi didn't get a picture of THAT)!

Then we had to climb a small, slick hill to the next obstacle, again, right in front of a huge cheering crowd!

Naomi got this little gem as I passed her.  Good thing I wore an orange shirt so she could find me, right?!
I think I look like a deranged Igor in this picture.  Mmmm "me want brain for master..."

Naomi even got me to pause for a second for a good muddy shot!

 The next obstacle (again right next to the crowd) was this little inclined wall.  If you look at the bottom right of the picture, you can actually see the bottles of dish soap that they would periodically squeeze onto the boards to ensure a coefficient of friction so small it required scientific notation just to express.  You can see my head poking up near the back of the ramp as I contemplate the challenge and wait for an available rope.

 This was another obstacle that was done better with a little help.  One person planted themselves at the base and pushed the feet of the person in front of them, and someone at the top reached down to pull you up.  I don't know what it was about me though... I must have had a look about me that said "do not help!" because I couldn't get anyone to help me at the top.  The guy I'd helped push in front of me had reached the top and just kept going! Oh well.  I was left to pull myself up to the top via another really slick rope! Any obstacle that involve a rope of any kind in this entire course was slicker than slick, and my fingers proved to be the most sore part of my body at the end!

 I managed to get a hand over the peak of the wall and pull myself upward.  It was so crowded at the top, however, that I couldn't swing a foot around to turn myself around, so I was forced to shimmy my way face-first down the back side until I could get clear and turn myself around. My first thought when I saw this picture was a quote from the movie "Mulan".... I thought to myself "that's right... I conquered this obstacle pretty boy... and I did it with my shirt on!" hahaha
I did manage to turn myself around and get back to the top to help the fellow who had pushed my feet and helped me reach the top.  He was very grateful! Then I climbed down and ran(ish) to the next challenge!

 This challenge was throwing a spear.  You got one chance to hit the bale of hay about 10-12 yards away.  This was one of only 2 challenges that I failed! It looked to me like I missed the hay by mere inches... which probably means I missed it by a mile!

 If you failed or opted out of any of the challenges, there were volunteers who made sure you got down and did 25 burpees (burpee = doing a pushup, jumping your feet forward, standing up, then jumping up with your arms up to the sky, then going down to do another pushup).  Needless to say, they're tiring... and there were some people who had troubles with the obstacles and ended doing upwards of 400-500 burpees over the whole course.  They were tough for sure, and provided me all the motivation I needed to try and conquer every challenge!

It made me feel good that almost everyone at the "spear throwing" station also had to do burpees!

After that station we again set off for the last 2/3 of the course, at which point Naomi couldn't get any more pictures! The next obstacles included:
  • sliding down a steep muddy ravine pitted with rocks (bruised cheeks anyone?)
  • running through a trail that included plenty of trees, hills, rocks, ravines, mud pits, etc. All those runs I did up Battle Creek and Slate Canyon saved me here!
  • Carrying a tire for a hundred yards or so, down then back up a ravine . The up part was (of course) super slick and proved extremely hard to maneuver with a heavy hunk of rubber on your shoulders.
  • filling a giant Home Depot bucket with gravel, then carrying it too through a long course that included traversing a ravine.
  • a 50 ft super-slick hill where we had to create a chain of people all laying on their stomachs pushing up the feet of the person in front of them.  It was wicked tough to get up.  Once I got to the top, I found a really long tree branch, propped my feet on a good solid tree root, and held it while several people climbed up using the stick I was holding. Someone else eventually took over "stick-holding duties" and allowed me to continue on my way! Thank you kind stranger!
  • A set of monkey bars.  Again, these bars were so slick it was hard to hold onto them, and I saw a huge crowd of casualties off to the side doing burpees as I approached... you only got one chance to make it across and if you fell you were doing burpees again! I had a secret weapon though, my friend Justin (who ran the heat several hours before me) told me the trick of putting your feet up on the bars and shimmying across the bars sideways, rather than try to traverse it "playground" style (using only your hands).  This allowed for some of my load to be taken off my tired hands and I made it across without any problems.  Someone even yelled out that I was cheating... but the volunteer laughed, called him an idiot (no joke!) and said "all you have to do is get across! No one said you couldn't use your feet!"  I chuckled and thanked Justin as I jogged passed him doing his burpees.
  • lifting a 40-50 lb cinder block about 20-25 feet into the air via rope and pulley.  It was again another slicker-than-snot rope, so it proved to be a very difficult task.  After several failed attempts, I got the bright idea to run into the woods behind me and grab hand fulls of dried leaves and grass. Then I wrapped the rope around my arm and grabbed the rope with the dried leaves.  The leaves gave me just enough traction on the rope to pull it down enough to wrap my other arm around it and then pull down with that arm. I repeated this several times until the weight joyously hit the pulley and off I went!
  • A zig-zag patterned balance beam (up-ended 2X6s).  This was the only other obstacle I failed ... I guess I need to work on my balance a tad! But I did my burpees and moved on!
  • More rugged trails, rocks to jump over, hills to slide down, fallen trees to climb over, ravines to traverse, sections of a muddy and stagnant river to cross and work through... etc.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel though...  

There were three obstacles remaining between me and my t-shirt and medal... the first of which was this wall we had to traverse. They had nailed up small pieces of 2X4s for hand and foot holds that were of course slick with the mud of the thousands who went before me!  You just had to traverse the wall from one end to the other without touching the ground or the top of the wall... if you fell even once... burpees! All those hours spent bouldering with Naomi, Jennie, and Eric must have helped though because I made it across the wall without too much of a problem! Whew!

Next was the jump over the fire... just to ensure that if for some reason the rest of the trail did not rip them off, the hair on the lower half of your legs would be singed off!

 The very last obstacle was these guys! Made me feel like the last part of American Gladiators, when the poor skinny contestant gets clobbered by the ripped gladiator waiting behind the paper wall.

These guys were from the Illinois Air National Guard, and I suspect they were especially picked on by their drill sergeant during basic training... because they loved nothing more than to whack you with their jousting sticks, then sweep your legs out from under you when you were disoriented! I think they enjoyed their job WAY too much! To be fair though... can you blame them? I mean, seriously, how cool would that job be?!
Fear not though... I had a tactic for dealing with the over-zealous American Gladiators! I just trailed right behind those two poor fellows in the red and black shirts...
While Mr. Red Shirt and Black Shirt were busy getting pummeled, I snuck past the distracted and over-zealous guardsman with my teeth intact and successfully made it to the finish line!

I was very happy to get my medal!

 I even got to sign this really cool wall that now that I've signed it I'm sure will be an exhibit in the Smithsonian in a hundred years.

Just in case you don't believe how muddy I got... Naomi decided to get a close-up.  Notice my right eye is closed. That's due to both the sun shining in my eyes and the mud the bothered that eye the entire race.You can even see the stream where my tear ducts worked on expelling as much of it as possible. This picture will also help you understand why our home shower was turned black when I got home and it took a hand full of q-tips to clean my ears! There's something very fun about getting so dirty.
Anyway, it was a blast and a very fun challenge.  I have no clue what my standing is, or what place I got, and don't really care too much!  I figure that since they held the awards ceremony 3 hours before my heat even started, that they didn't really expect anyone in my group to pull any spectacular times! According to our own time-keeping efforts though, I do know that Justin finished in about 1:05:00 and I finished somewhere around 1:12:00. He's one tough monkey though, so it doesn't surprise me that he whooped me.

I'm sure glad I did it! And as if the day wasn't great enough... that night I got to wolf down an entire Papa John's medium pizza by myself (can't imagine what would make me so hungry) whilst listening to BYU beat Oregon State! Woo Hoo! 

(From Naomi: I just looked up Kevin's Stats and he finished 21 out of 441 in the Male 25-29 age group. And 58 out of 1830 in the Male Overall Open Wave. That doesn't count the literally HUNDREDS of people who didn't rank because they didn't finish! Kevin, you are such a stud!)


Naomi Hanks said...

P.S. In the 20 minutes that I watched the giant mud/rope pit, I only saw one other person besides Kevin who climbed the rope and rang the bell without having someone boost them. My husband is such a STUD!

Beccarigg said...

DUUUUUUUUDE!!! "Tonight we dine in Hell!" hahaha! That pretty much sums it up right? LOL! Yeah right, that was a cake walk for you Mr. "I only had to do burpees twice when everyone else had to do like 500!" DANG!

Plus you should get extra points for helping those chicks climb the rope and holding the stick up for everyone to climb the super slick hill. Stinks that nobody wanted to help you back but come on, did you see yourself? Not sure I would stop and help "Brains for master!!" either. no offense, haha!! Kidding, kidding, but seriously, that igor picture is pretty awesome. I think you should make it your new profile pic on Facebook.

I am sooo sad you don't have a picture of you scaling the monkey bars with your hands and feet. Genius! Of course the kick butt fire jumping pic kind of makes up for any other pictures that were missed. Also I'm thinking of joining the air national guard just so I can pummel all the crazy nuts who sign up for these things with my jousting stick. BEST JOB EVER!!

Way to bring out your inner Spartan dude. I bow down to your gladiator awesomeness ; )

Curtis & Elise said...

I would LOVE to have seen you jumping superman-style through small holes in walls! I'm sure Curtis (my husband) would love to be in a race like that. Naomi, thanks for letting facebook know about this blogpost! :)

Pae and Guy said...

Kev, I'm sure you just finished the coolest race you'll ever run! Simply awesome!!

Tara said...

WOW. Wow, wow wow. Makes my upcoming half marathon look like a stroll in the park! Total insanity! Your Igor picture had me almost in tears. You look SO TIRED. Looks like you sprinted through that thing like nobody's business, helping people all the way through! Way to be! Amazing accomplishment, Kevin, nice job!
Naomi, these photos look awesome- love how you did the black and white effect with Kevin in color- nice touch! :)

Tau said...

I can't believe I don't see a picture of someone kicking someone else in the chest in to a bottomless pit...WE R SPARTA!!!! That would make it a real Spartan race...JK

But that looks like a blast and really hard too. Way to go Kev!

Jennie said...

DUDE!!! I'm totally in awe of your amazing awesomeness and I bow to your super spartan skills!! We so have to do one of these races together because it would be the bomb! Let me know when you're ready to get your trash kicked and maybe I'll come out and join you :)

Cindy Uda said...

Kevin! You constantly amaze me with your energy and super hero abilities. You could be in an add for the Army with the Igor picture. Great job and I especially admire your ability to think of others and give them a hands up during the heat of competition. That says a lot about your character. Hugs and Loves!
Mom Uda