Hobbled in the Park

2014 Xterra Monster Dash 15k Race Report

1:16:21 (8:11/mile)

13/21 AG   29/83 Overall

February 22, 2014 – It has been nearly 14 months since I made my resolution to get back in shape, and thankfully, I have been able to stick with it.  My longest timed run to date is a little under 11 miles, but my longest non-obstacle course race was the Monument Avenue 10k back in 2007.  Somehow I discovered the Xterra Monster Dash 15k in Pocahontas State Park, which was taking place only a few miles from my house.  I put out feelers on Facebook to see who wanted to run with me, and Pat McStay was my only taker.

Pat is a full time soccer coach, and thus, his job involves a lot of running.  In fact, he once ran a marathon in less than 4 hours without training.  He claims that it was painful, but I think he was just trying to make everyone else in the room feel less bad about themselves.  I really had no expectation of being able to keep up with Pat, but at least it would be nice to have someone else I knew running with me.

Before that race, I had heard that your body is capable of more than you think possible because your brain gets in the way and tries to convince you otherwise.  Thus, I believed that the key to exceeding your expectations was simply to find a way to push through the pain.  The Xterra Monster Dash would teach me, however, that there are other ways to bypass the voices in your head.  In short, ignorance is bliss.


The day of the race was fairly warm for February, with the high in the 50’s, so it was nice running weather.  Still, it was fairly chilly before the race got started.  Pat and I had met at the entrance of Pocahontas State Park, and since the check in went so quickly, we had a fair amount of time to kill before the race started.  After downing 5 Hour Energy shots, we spent a lot of that time running around the parking lot to stay warm and to loosen up.

The race itself was to be held on the dirt/gravel trails in the park, and I naively figured that there would be mile markers.  I did not have a GPS, only a Casio watch with a timer function that I had picked up at Walmart with a $25 gift card that I won the prior July.  Unfortunately, we were informed just prior the race start that there were no mile markers.  Moreover, there were only two water stations, with the first being “near mile 1” and the second being “somewhere near the mid-point.”  In actuality, there were three, because you passed by the first water station on the way back in.

There were only 83 people signed up for the 15k race, but there was also a 5k race being held as well.  Both races would start together, but the 5k participants would veer off on another route in the second mile.  After gathering near one of the lakes, the runners for both races were off.

xterra trail

**I can be seen in the black shirt in the middle of the photo with Pat to my left in the blue and red ski cap**


Given that Pat is younger and faster than me, we really did not plan to run together.  Our plan was simply to take off and see if our respective paces were similar enough to stay together for awhile.  Oddly, even though there were not that many runners, we somehow lost sight of each other in the first hundred yards or so.  Some of the trails had long straightaways, and I scanned ahead of me to try to find Pat’s red and blue ski cap, but it was nowhere to be seen.  That made me think that he might be behind me, but I didn’t see him back there either.  After awhile I stopped looking for Pat, and figured that we’d find each other at the finish.

Based upon my training runs, I expected to be able to hold a pace between 8:30 and 8:45 minutes per mile – depending upon how hilly the terrain was over the 9.3 miles of the race.  The first water station came quickly, but my trusty Casio only read 6:30.  Given that the fastest mile that I have ever run was 6:10 (in high school), I was fairly confident that I was “near mile 1” and not actually at mile 1.  At that point, I knew that I would not have a reliable way to pace myself, so I decided that I was going to have to run by feel alone.  Thus, I settled into a pace that I hoped I could hold for the entire 9.3 miles without bonking.

For most of the race the trails were fairly wide, and it was no problem when passing (or getting passed by) others.  Much different than the Spartan Race at Wintergreen.  The biggest issue was that it had rained a fair amount in the week leading up to the race, and there were some areas of standing water, along with some washed out gullies.  You had to be fairly attuned to where you were running, lest you step in one of the gullies and twist your ankle.  I also made sure that I jumped over the standing water to keep my feet dry to avoid blisters.

Unfortunately, after about 25 minutes of running the outside of my left knee began to hurt.  It came on gradually, and I initially thought that it might subside.  By the time I hit the water station near the race’s midpoint, the pain had gotten much worse.  The pain was tolerable enough to continue, but I had started worrying about doing more damage to whatever was ailing my knee.  Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I hate losing.  Quitting, however, is an order of magnitude worse that losing.  Therefore, since I was still able to hold my pace, even with the knee pain, I decided to push on.

By mile 7ish my knee pain had peaked and plateaued, and I was doing fairly well at keeping my mind on other things.  An IPod loaded with a running mix helped immensely, but fatigue and oxygen deprivation were also setting in and helping to distract me.  My mind was also worried that I might be overextending myself with my pace (whatever it was), and I thought that a bonk might be in my near future.  About that time, my thoughts began to focus upon seeing the first water station again, because then I knew that I would be within 7 minutes of the finish.

It was about that time that the race took us on a narrower trail, which ended up having a fairly steep climb.  The course had taken us on some rolling hills up to that point, but nothing that made me consider walking.  Sadly, I was forced to walk a bit on that climb in order to catch my breath and to try to stop the burning in my legs.  Upon reaching the top, there was a welcome downslope and soon thereafter came the third and final water station.

Knowing that I was within 1 mile of the finish line lifted my spirits and gave me a second wind.  I soon saw the lake where we began the mass start, but the finish line was next to a pavilion up the hill from the lake.  That hill was not as long as the hill that had recently slowed me to a walk, but it still was not a whole lot of fun.  Up the hill I went and darted across the finish line, only to see Pat standing there looking calm, cool and collected.  He had apparently finished 8 minutes and 21 seconds before me, and was already enjoying some of the post-race refreshments.

Post Race

When I stopped my watch upon crossing the timing mat I saw that I had finished in a little more than 1 hour and 16 minutes.  This equated to an 8:11/mile pace, which exceeded my optimistic pace of 8:30/mile by a whopping 19 seconds per mile.  I guess the upside to not having a GPS or mile markers is that you have to run by feel.  In doing so, you are dependent on what your body is telling you, not what your brain wants to tell you.  The Xterra Monster Dash would be the first, but not the last time that I would experience a performance that was unencumbered by the voices in my head.

As the endorphins and adrenaline of the race subsided, the pain on the outside of my left knee got worse, and even walking became a chore.  To my dismay, there was no ice at the finish line, so Pat and I parted ways so that I could head home and ice my knee on the couch.  I was able to reflect on the race during that time, and while I was elated at my time, I was concerned about my knee.  I was scheduled to pick up my new bike from Busher later that day, and I had triathlon plans looming on the horizon, with no time to be hobbled by a knee injury.

I remember hoping that it was a simple strain, and that it would heal within a matter of a week or so.  Still, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that the pain was in the same area of the same leg that plagued me during my junior year of high school.  Weeks of outer knee pain during soccer practice ultimately led to an MRI, which revealed a 9 centimeter tumor.  The fact that the tumor was benign is the only reason that I still have my left leg today.  Subsequent MRIs had confirmed that the tumor had not come back, but I am somewhat of a worrywart, and my last follow up MRI occurred when I was in college.  Thus, as I sat there icing my knee after the 15k trail race, I was hoping that it was a minor injury, but I was fearing something far worse.






The Butterfly Effect

According to the Butterfly Effect, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a hurricane halfway around the world.  I don’t really know about that, but I think that the principle really boils down to this – one small change in a moment in time can lead to dramatic changes in the future.  Don’t believe me?  Well then perhaps you should rent the Ashton Kutcher movie of the same name and then call me to discuss.  Seriously though, a chance encounter on January 25, 2014 would end having the Butterfly Effect on my life.

My wife is a pharmacist, and she went to pharmacy school at MCV.  Several of her pharmacy school friends live in the Richmond area, and they try to get together every once in awhile to reminisce, and perhaps to get some use out of their mortars and pestles.  In January 2014, their meeting place was the home of Chris and Mindy Busher in Goochland.  I remember Mindy from when Leigh Anne was in school, and we had been to the Busher house once before.  It was the January 25, 2014 visit, however, that would be eventful.

That evening Chris (who simply goes by “Busher”) was drinking a foul-smelling green concoction that smelled like human waste.  I was obviously interested (and concerned) as to why he would voluntarily ingest such a foul substance, and his response of, “I’m training for an Ironman” took me by surprise.  He took down the giant vat of green liquid like a champ, and we ended up discussing his triathlon training in great detail for most of the evening.

I’m not really sure why I was so fascinated with Busher’s triathlon commentary, whereas I had never swam more than 50 meters of freestyle in my life without hanging onto the pool wall and gasping for air.  I was on the Old Church Swim Team when I was about 5-7 years old, but I never really learned to swim freestyle.  I could swim breast stroke and tread water for an hour or more if need be, but I couldn’t swim more than one length of the pool using freestyle without feeling like I was about to drown.

In addition, the second leg of a triathlon involves bike riding, and conspicuously absent from my life was a bike.  Well, to be honest, there was a $129.00 “comfort” bike from Dicks Sporting Goods hanging upside down in my garage  (just beneath the steer skull), which I had purchased for Leigh Anne back in 2006.  That bike probably only had 20 miles on it, but it was a woman’s bike, and certainly not designed for triathlon.  As luck would have it, however, Busher had a brand new road bike that was too big for him…if I wanted it.


The bike in question was a 2011 Trek Alpha 2.1, which retailed for $1,320.  Apparently, some pour soul went to Agee’s Bicycles looking for a “beach cruiser” and walked out with a $1,300 road bike.  After riding it once and finding it unsuitable for beach cruising, it was sold to Busher for about $650, who also rode it once, but found it to be too big for him.  Thus, it was available to me for $650 if I wanted it.  In actuality, that last sentence should read, “Thus, it was available to me for $650 if my wife would allow me to purchase it.”

The night of January 25, 2014 ended no differently for me than pretty much every shopping experience I’ve ever had at a mall clothing store – me saying, “Let me think about it and maybe I’ll come back.”  My interest was peaked, but I needed to come up with a sales pitch for the wife.  Those sales pitches typically involve me explaining to Leigh Anne about how the initial outlay of money will actually save us money in the long term, and how the item can be my birthday/father’s day/Christmas presents all in one without her having to shop.  What a deal, right?  Quite frankly, I don’t recall the exact details of my bike/triathlon sales pitch, but it must have been a good one, because I eventually obtained permission to buy Busher’s bike.

Thus, on February 22, 2014 I returned to the Busher abode to buy my new bike.  I hobbled in, injured from my 15k trail race earlier that day in Pocahontas State Park, and watched as Busher attached the Trek to his trainer so that I could be “fitted” to the bike.  As it would ultimately turn out, I am a bit too big for the Trek, but I did not know that at the time.  Even if I had known, I couldn’t pass up a brand new bike for roughly 50% of the cost.  Eventually, the bike would come to be called “Blue,” and Blue would serve me well, even if he was a tad too small for me.


After a brief bike maintenance 101 session from Busher, I barely managed to squeeze Blue into the back of my Mazda, which is not designed for transporting bikes (on the inside).  Then Blue and I were off to hit up trifind.com to sign up for my first triathlon.  I had no idea how I was going to learn to swim, and I really didn’t know if I would even enjoy riding a road bike.  Little did I know, however, that my experience in my first triathlon would set me on the path towards Ironman, and away from  obstacle course racing.

Again, all of that was thanks to a chance encounter with Busher in January 2014, and in hindsight, perhaps there was more of a Busher Effect than a Butterfly Effect…



Footnote: The picture above shows Busher and I just prior to the start of the I Love the Tavern Triathlon in June 2014 at Robious Landing.  I look melancholy because Busher was about to beat me by four and a half minutes.








“Almost heaven, West Virginia…”

Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic Fall

2013 Race Report

October 20, 2013 – I finally get to have a go at the Tough Mudder!  Unfortunately, the Virginia Tough Mudder in June 2013 was cancelled due to Tropical Storm Andrea, which created (ironically) too much mud.  Thus, my registration was rolled over to the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder, which was held in Gerrardstown, West Virginia.  The event was held at the Peacemaker National Training Center, which was a great venue.  The sole exception was crawling through spent shell casings during certain obstacles, whereas there was a lot of bits and pieces of military ordinance on the ground.

While I would be the sole member of “Team” 50/50 once again, Leigh Anne and Jackson did make the trip to West Virginia with me.  We got a hotel room in Winchester on Friday night, and the drive up was nice.  Jackson was most excited about getting to sleep on the sofa bed in the hotel room, thinking that such things are super fancy.  The hotel was only about 20-30 minutes from the Tough Mudder parking site, and there were a lot of other “Mudders” staying there as well.

On the morning of the race we were up and out of the hotel by about 5:30 a.m., and after a brief stop at the nearby McDonald’s, we made our way to the parking area.  From the parking area (a giant field) we would be shuttled to the event site via school buses.  This was probably the most frustrating part of the event, whereas the bus ride was another 30 minutes.  We then had a mile walk or so from the bus parking to the actual event site.  The site itself (once we finally got there) was fantastic, and consisted of rolling hills that featured nice views – especially early in the morning when the fog was lifting.

My start wave was actually at 8:30 a.m., but I ended up starting with the 8:45 a.m. wave since I got caught in the porta-potty line.  The temperature at the start was around 45 degrees, which was a bit chilly, but it was actually very pleasant once I got started.  Still, I was cold in the starting corral.

At 8:45 a.m. my adopted wave took off, and it was time to take on 10-12 miles of obstacles.  I was confident that I could handle the Tough Mudder after the sufferfest that was the Wintergreen Spartan Super, even if the Tough Mudder was a longer event.  I really cannot call it a race, because unlike the Spartan Race, the Tough Mudder is not timed.  Still, my goal was to complete the event as quickly as possible, and I had “50/50” Sharpied on my hand for extra motivation…just in case.


The first half mile or so was a run through a wooded trail, and the first obstacle was a muddy barbed wire crawl where volunteers sprayed the Mudders with water hoses.  I presume that they wanted us to get wet and muddy quickly, and the water was quite chilly since I had not gotten warmed up yet.  The next few obstacles were rather uneventful, and consisted of some walls and logs to climb over.

The first “major” obstacle came around the 2 mile mark in the form of the Arctic Enema.  Essentially, the Arctic Enema is a giant dumpster that is filled with ice water.  There is a board halfway through the dumpster, which makes you submerge yourself about 12 inches under the water in order to get past it.  The temperature outside was about 50 degrees at that point, and while I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t really warm either.  Thus, I was not super excited about dumpster diving into icy water.

Since 32 degree water will literally take your breath away and can paralyze you, they only let two people go at once, with a volunteer dedicated to watch each participant.  Since people were waiting behind me, I really did not want to hold up the line, so I simply jumped in with the plan of going under the water and past the board prior to emerging from the water on the far side.  My plan was successful, but when I came up out of the water I could not catch my breath.  I was able to move slowly to the far side, but my body was in shock and it was about all I could manage to keep moving forward.  “My” volunteer helped me get to the top step on the far side of the dumpster, and I had to pause for a few seconds to catch my breath and get my body working again.  Then I was off and jogging again.


About two minutes after getting out of the Arctic Enema a funny thing happened – my body felt like it had been turbocharged.  I know that sounds silly, but it was like I had downed several cups of coffee in a short span of time, and it was awesome.  The feeling lasted for fifteen minutes or so, and I’m sure that I was running at a good pace during that time.

The next few miles went by fairly uneventfully, and were largely spent running trails through the wooded hills, with an obstacle mixed in here and there.  During that time, I heard someone complaining about the hills, and my thoughts immediately returned to the “death march” up the black diamond slope at the Spartan Race.  The rolling hills of Gerrardstown weren’t even in the same ballpark as the mountain climbing at Wintergreen, and the complaints I heard seemed a bit petty.

Near the mid-point of the race I came upon two obstacles that altered my positive mental state a bit.  The first was the Cage Crawl, which is designed to spook people who have a fear of water and confined spaces.  In short, ditches are filled with water and are then covered with metal fencing.  There are about 2-3 inches of open space in between the water and the fence, so you are forced to lay on your back and pull yourself along on the fence – with just your face protruding from the water.

I am a fairly small guy, but it was a struggle for me to even get into the ditch.  I would say that I am mildly claustrophobic, and once inside I tried to just look at the sky and forget where I was.  Thankfully, after a minute or two of crawling I emerged from the other side.  Unfortunately, what was waiting for me at the far end was much worse than the Cage Crawl.

cage 2

While the Spartan Race course designers are more adept at inflicting pain over the long term, the designers of the Tough Mudder do have a leg up on them in the short term pain department.  This is exemplified by the Electric Eel, which is a slow crawl in water through dangling electrical wires.  Tough Mudder’s signature obstacle is “Shock Therapy,” which is where you run through dangling wires near the end of the course.  That is bad, but the biggest difference between Shock Therapy and the Electric Eel is that you are stuck in the Electric Eel for what feels like an eternity.  I’d estimate the Electric Eel crawl at 30-40 yards, and the electrical wires pack a punch – especially since you are dripping wet and crawling through standing water!  I must have been shocked dozens of times, and I was certainly happy to finish that obstacle.

electric eel

The rest of the course seemed to fly by, and unfortunately, I never saw Leigh Anne and Jackson at any of the spectator sites.  I later found out that Jackson had to hit up a porta-potty while they were waiting for me at the Boa Constrictor, and I must have gotten to that obstacle at the exact time that Jackson was porta-pottying.

After crawling over a few more walls, jumping off of a platform into muddy water and scaling Everest, I neared the end of the course.  As mentioned above, Electroshock Therapy was waiting for me, and I was not looking forward to getting shocked again.  A guy in front of me was trying to walk slowly and to maneuver around the wires, so I thought that I would try that tactic.  I made it about three feet into the wire jungle and then I got a nice electric jolt on my backside.  That was enough to set me off into a full sprint, hoping to just get through it and minimize the damage.

Unfortunately, when I was nearly 3/4 of the way through the wires I took multiple shocks at once, which pretty much “reset” my muscles and sent me tumbling to the ground in a heap.  As I tried to get up, I was precariously close to getting shocked in my face, and my mind immediately went to the “in the face” scene of The Hangover.  I did manage to escape the dangling wires without taking a shock to the face, and then it was a short run to the finish, my orange finisher’s headband and a beer.  Unofficially, it took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes to finish the course, but who was counting anyways?


After I finished, it was a good 45 minutes until Leigh Anne and Jackson got to the finish line since they were still looking for me on the course.  By that point, Leigh Anne was worried that I had been carted off by the paramedics since she had not seen me, so she was very relieved to find me by one of the fire pits trying to stay warm in my wet and muddy state.  Jackson had taken advantage of the free tattoos that Tough Mudder was giving out, having had his forehead tattooed.  He also wanted to know if he could run with me the next time.  Unfortunately, Tough Mudder does not have a kid’s race, but Jackson would have his chance at the 2014 Wintergreen Super Spartan.



1377504_10101387675833556_683700572_nWe didn’t stick around the event long after we found each other, and it was a relatively short bus ride back to the parking area.  From there, we made our way to Carter’s Mountain Orchard outside of Charlottesville and had a good time picking apples and drinking wine before heading home.


Overall, I liked the Tough Mudder, but I felt as though it was more of an event for groups of friends to tackle together than it was an event for solo runners.  Getting shocked seemed like it would be a bit more tolerable if I knew the people getting shocked next to me.  As an individual “proving ground” so-to-speak, it did not compare to the Spartan Race.  I actually felt pretty good when I finished the Tough Mudder, whereas I was beaten and broken after the Spartan Race.  I would ultimately get an opportunity to take on the Virginia Tough Mudder with a team in 2014, and that group experience would be much more enjoyable than my solo experience in West Virginia.  After the 2013 Tough Mudder, however, I was already trying to find my next challenge, and a random encounter a few months later would take me in an entirely new direction…











“Maybe I’m crazy, but laughing out loud makes the pain pass by…”

2013 Wintergreen Spartan Super Race Report

Time: 3:52:38

575/3672 Overall

August 24, 2013 – The Wintergreen Spartan Race has finally arrived!  I have been training for almost 9 months, and I am ready to take on the 8 miles or so of obstacles.  I have even written “50/50” on my hand with a black Sharpie to remind myself that Richard Engel gives me a 50 percent chance of finishing the course.  Having been to Wintergreen numerous times, I know that I am in for a lot of elevation change on the course, but I picture myself running up and down the ski slopes, with a little bit of hard surface running mixed in.  Boy was I wrong…but let me start from the beginning.

The way the Spartan Race works is that the elites start first in the early morning, then the “open” waves start every ten minutes or so thereafter with groups of about 250 people.  The earlier you choose to begin determines the price, and I had selected an afternoon wave to keep the costs down.  Thus, Leigh Anne and I drove to Wintergreen on the morning of the race since its only about two hours from our house in Chesterfield.

Unless you wanted to pay for a VIP parking pass, you were forced to park at the bottom of the mountain and then ride to the top on the buses that were provided by the race.  I will give Spartan Race credit for its organizational skills, whereas they has dozens of buses, and as soon as we got on ours we were off and heading up the mountain.  The road to the top of the mountain is not bad by mountain standards, and the views are impressive in certain spots.  I was interested to listen to the conversations going on around me from people who had never been to Wintergreen, and many seemed to be in shock that the race was being held on a mountain.  One lady claimed that the race website promised “rolling hills,” and was seriously regretting her decision to sign up.  I was still comfortable with my decision at that point.

Once we got to the top of the mountain and checked in, I still had about an hour to kill before my wave started.  We decided to look around a bit, and that is when I first saw the course map.  The Spartan Race likes to keep its courses secret until the last minute, so this was my first opportunity to see what was waiting for me.

race pic

My first thought was, “Oh crap, we are supposed to run The Highlands!”  If you have ever skied Wintergreen, you know that The Highlands is their expert area, which is depicted on the right side of the map above.  Having skied that area numerous times, I knew first-hand how long and steep it is, whereas it is all black diamond and double black diamond.  At that point, a little bit of self doubt began to creep in.

One of the neatest aspects of the race was the fact that one of the ski lifts was operating, and the spectators could ride it over the home stretch of the course to watch the racers making the final ascent to the finish line.  Leigh Anne and I decided to ride it to kill time.  That’s when the enormity of the task facing me truly began to sink in.

We saw dozens of people making their way up the intermediate slope towards the finish line, but not a single person was running.  In fact, most were barely even walking.  I laughed when I saw the first few, thinking that they must have just bitten off more than they could chew.  It then dawned on me that EVERYONE was moving slowly, and all of them had looks on their faces that seemed to be a mix of exhaustion, anger and defeat.  I distinctly remember my wife telling me not to laugh because that was going to be me very soon.  And with that, we completed the ski lift survey and headed over to the starting corral.

The beginning of the race was fairly uneventful, and I headed up Eagle’s Swoop, which is an intermediate slope.  There were some “over under through” obstacles and then a few muddy trenches, but nothing awful.  The course then headed down Tyro, which is another intermediate slope.  I was moving at a pretty good pace down the mountain, but running down a ski slope can get pretty treacherous.  There are rocks everywhere, and you really have to pay attention so you don’t roll (or break)  your ankle.  Once I got to the bottom of Tyro I was about 1 mile in and feeling pretty good, but that’s when the terrain began to get serious.

The course had us going back up the mountain, but not up the ski slope.  Instead we headed up a narrow muddy “trail” that was only wide enough for one person.  The grade was steep and people began to slow to a walk.  After awhile, many began to stop to rest.  I told myself that I was not going to stop, and it was about that time that the “just keep swimming” quote from finding Nemo popped into my head.  I felt like it was in my head for the next hour or so, but it took my mind off of the lactic acid filling my legs.  I finally exited the woods near the top of the mountain, and then it was back to stumbling down another ski slope.  Back up through the woods, then down another slope, rinse and repeat.

Near the end of the “easy” side of the mountain I encountered the first tough obstacle, which was the sand bag carry.  In short, you are given a 60 pound sand bag and told to carry it several hundred yards up the ski slope and bring it back down.  Thankfully, the bag is soft, so it was easy on the shoulders.  The real pain is in the legs going up the mountain with the added weight, but I made it through without too much difficulty.  At that point my legs were beginning to get tired, but I was still in pretty good spirits.


Around the 4 mile mark, the course looped back through the middle of the resort and I saw Leigh Anne for the first time near the monkey bar obstacle at the bottom of the ski lift.  She wisely advised me to take off my gloves before attempting it since a lot of other people were falling.  Bare hands proved to be the way to go, and I avoided the 30 burpee penalty that the others had incurred for falling.  I also remember Leigh Anne commenting on how good I was doing to be halfway done in an hour, and she mentioned that I had caught up to some people who started 30 minutes ahead of me.  Unfortunately, however, the course was about to get a bit more serious.

From the monkey bars, the course went to the lowest point of The Highlands expert ski area via a stream through the woods.  Each step was treacherous, and it would have been easy to brake an ankle by slipping on a wet moldy rock.  After what seemed like forever, we were at the bottom and the course headed back to the ski slope.  Before we could start back up, there was a giant log to flip end over end several times.

What came next was a soul crushing, burning hike up roughly 1 mile of a black diamond ski slope, which had an elevation gain of about 1000 feet.  This “death march” – as I referred to it – can be seen on the far right of the map above, and the slope was littered with people falling out on either side.  Dark thoughts crept in, and it was about that time that I made a deal with myself to block out the negative.  I would hike up until lactic acid filled my legs, and then I would stop and turn around to admire the view into the valley below.  I looked at the 50/50 on my hand more than a few times during the “death march,” and finally made it to the top of the mountain about 50 minutes or so after I left the bottom.

They say what goes up must come down, so back down I went, which is easier than it sounds when your legs want to give out with every step.  Once I got mid-way back down the expert slope, the sadistic course designer had yet another fun obstacle waiting – the log carry.  Instead of a sand bag, we each had to carry a log down several hundred yards of the expert slope and then back up.  It was quite rough on the legs, and I was forced to put my log down a few times.  At least I didn’t drop my log like one poor soul whose log went rolling down the mountain, causing people to scatter.


After completing the log carry and seeing Leigh Anne once again, there was one more ascent to the top of the expert area and then back down.  I knew that the finish line was approaching, but the course was not done with me yet.  Before we could head up the intermediate slope towards the finish, we had to complete the “tractor pull.”   This was where you dragged a large stone that is attached to a chain up and down the mountain.  I wrapped the chain around my hand (being thankful for my gloves) and did my best tractor impersonation.


Once I completed the tractor pull I was nearing total exhaustion, but I was now at the final climb where I had seen all of the walking dead earlier from the luxury of the ski lift.  I became one of the undead and made my way to one of the final obstacles – the rope climb.  My arms were not as tired as my legs, but scaling 8 foot wooden walls does takes its toll after awhile.  The only obstacle that I had failed to that point was the spear throw, and I was determined to climb the rope, ring the bell and avoid the 30 penalty burpees.

There was 4 feet of muddy water under the rope climb for safety purposes (when people inevitably fall), and I waded into the water to an open rope.  Incidentally, I noticed a lot of people going straight to the penalty burpee area without even attempting the rope climb.  Thankfully, there are knots in the rope every 4 or 5 feet, so I was able to grab a knot, pull myself up and then stand on the knot below to rest my arms.  After I reached the top and rang the bell, I resisted the temptation to simply drop into the muddy water below, not believing it to deep enough to keep me from breaking a leg or blowing out a knee.


Once I scampered out of the water beneath the rope climb, it was a short run up the remainder of the ski slope to the obstacles just before the finish.  Those were not so bad, and the finish line was downhill through the volunteers who try to hit you American Gladiator style.  I did not have enough energy left to try to avoid them, so I just covered my sensitive parts and let them do their worst.


I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 52 minutes and 38 seconds, got my medal and promptly collapsed.  Even though the first half of the course only took a little over an hour, the second half took more than 2.5 hours, thanks mostly to the “death march.”  After sitting in the grass for a few minutes, Leigh Anne and I headed to the beer line, but I got dizzy and had to sit in the gravel to collect myself once again.  I was able to down the beer once it was purchased, and then it was off to the communal “showers” and then the bus to the bottom of the mountain.


On the way back home, we stopped at the Blue Mountain Brewery and I was feeling a bit better by that point.  I can’t remember what I ate, but I do recall my re-hydration plan!


We got home around 8 that evening, and Leigh Anne and I shared the day’s experience with our neighbors, Alan and Linda Posey.  Alan committed to the 2014 Wintergreen Spartan Race, and my goal was to get Richard to commit too – especially while the price for the 2014 race was low.

At that point, the Spartan Race was the toughest physical and mental challenge that I had completed, but it was tough describe to people who had not seen it firsthand.  Leigh Anne had seen a large portion of the course, but I don’t think that even she could understand how technical and challenging some of the off-slope portion of the course was.  I did describe it to Richard and Alan, but they would have to wait until the 2014 race to see whether my descriptions were accurate, or whether they were exaggerations.  All I knew is that I couldn’t wait for them to decide for themselves.





















Finding the Motivation – The Birth of “Team” 50/50.

Motivation is a funny thing.  As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve never been all that fast, and I can barely out jump a rhinoceros.  There have been a few times in my life, however, when I was temporarily able to make my body do things for a brief period of time that it normally refused to do.

In 4th grade I was chosen as a representative of Mrs. O’Brien’s class for the 800 meter run on field day.  In 4th grade, field day is a big deal and bragging rights are involved.  The race started off as one would expect for 4th graders – an initial all out sprint, followed by a drastic slowing since 4th graders are largely incapable of any sense of pacing and strategy.  After 600 meters or so, I was a distant third, and the leader was a kid who had been held back a grade.  Perhaps it was unfair for a 5th grader to be racing 4th graders, but I guess that is beside the point.

The leader’s name was Ronnie, and he was easily the best 4th grade athlete at Battlefield Park Elementary School.  For unrelated reasons, he may also have been the least likeable.  Anyways, he was probably 75 meters ahead of the second place kid and myself, and it was pretty clear that he was going to cruise to an easy victory.  At that point, still some 200 meters from the finish line, Ronnie decided to show the rest of us up by waving his hands around and slowing his pace a bit to grandstand and taunt.

Well, something about Ronnie’s antics set me off, and suddenly the cramp in my side and my the fact that I could hardly breathe sank into my subconsciousness.  In an instant I was sprinting, and the kid in second place became the kid in third place and was lost somewhere behind me.  Ronnie was still well ahead of me, and I was trying to extrapolate my closing speed in my head to see if I had any chance of catching him.  I knew that it was going to be close, so I dug a little deeper and tried to push my pace even faster.

With about 50 meters to go the cheering from the onlookers picked up, and Ronnie decided to glance behind him to see how far he was ahead of his competition.  By the time he saw me, I was probably 5 meters behind him and I moving must faster than he was.  I still remember the “oh shit” look in his eyes when he realized what was happening, and by the time he hit his top gear again I was already ahead of him.  Unfortunately for Ronnie, he finished less than a second behind me and it was the only time that I ever saw him cry.  Crying is decidedly not Kosher for 4th grade boys, much less for 4th grade boys who should have been in the 5th grade.  The memory of that field day race and Ronnie’s crocodile tears has stayed with me for 30 years, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

A more recent example of performance enhancing motivation came in 2007 when I was training for the Monument Avenue 10k.  I am not quite sure what prompted me to sign up for that race, but perhaps it was due to a prior New Years resolution.  Because of my competitive nature I wanted to do well, but there was nothing in particular that was motivating me.  I arbitrarily set my time goal as 50 minutes, which is an 8 minute per mile pace.  That was, admittedly, and pretty ambitious goal for me at that time, but why not aim high?

About a month or so into my training, my wife casually mentioned that she had been talking to our neighbor about the 10k and my time goal.  My neighbor is an avid runner, and she has run countless marathons.  She routinely podiums in her age group.  According to my wife, my neighbor commented that my 50 minute time goal was “optimistic” since I was a non-runner.  Honestly, she was probably correct, and I know her well enough to understand that her comment was not intended to be malicious or mocking in nature.  In fact, she and her husband are great friends ours, and they are fantastic neighbors.  Nevertheless, that little switch inside m head went off again, and I was determined to prove her wrong.  I doubled down on my training and finished the 10k in 47 minutes 10 seconds.

This brings us to early August 2013, when we were on a beach trip to the Outer Banks with friends – less than a month before the Wintergreen Spartan Race.  Richard and Jessica Engel were one of the couples that we vacationed with, and Richard was (and is) a far better runner than I can ever hope to be.  It probably helps that his quads are as big as my waist, but I digress.  Anyways, I typically like to train solo so that I can run at my own pace, but Richard was adamant that we should run together, and he promised that he would run at my pace.

Against my better judgment, we set off for a 5 mile run together, and true to his word, the first 2.5 miles were largely at the pace I desired – with a little bit of friendly banter back and forth.  On the way back home, however, I noticed that Richard kept pushing the pace faster and faster.  For me, all conversation ceased, and I was focused only on not being left behind.  Pride alone kept me on his heels, but there is little doubt that he could have left me far behind if he truly desired to do so.  This was emphasized by the last 100 meters or so, when he ran backwards at the pace that I was running forwards.  I collapsed in the driveway of the beach house as soon as we got back, and to add insult to injury, Richard casually commented that he was going to “run a few more miles.”  Apparently, I had been holding him back and he really needed to get a workout in.

Flash forward another week or so, and Richard and I were discussing my upcoming Spartan Race.  I had tried to coax Richard into doing the Spartan Race with me for months, but oddly, every time he said that he was going to sign up, something came up.  Finally, after the price for the race had increased to its maximum, Richard indicated that he wouldn’t be doing the race due to the high price.  Hmmm…funny how that worked.  He then told me that I had roughly a “50/50 chance” of completing the race.  I kept waiting for the “I’m just joking, I’m sure you’ll do fine” punch line, but it never came.

Now don’t get me wrong, Richard is a great friend of mine, and he and I routinely but each other’s chops.  Unbeknownst to him, however, he had flipped my little interior switch once again, and I was full of motivation to prove him wrong.  Little did Richard or I know at that time, how much his “50/50” comment would impact my 2013 AND my 2014 Spartan Race.




“Jump in the mud, mud…get your hands filthy love…”

Friday June 7, 2013 – Tropical Storm Andrea has been sending sheets of rain across Virginia for several days.  Rain is one of two essential ingredients that are necessary to make mud…and mud is perfect for something called a Tough Mudder, right?  I am all set to take on 10-12 miles of obstacles and mud on Saturday June 8th at the Berkley Plantation.  My race gear is ready, my spectator tickets are purchased and all of the logistics have been worked out.  Five months of training and following through on my New Year’s resolution are ready for their first test.

And speaking of training, by that point I had completed T25 Alpha and Beta, along with P90X3.  Both programs were fun and easy to stick with, mainly because they only lasted 25 and 30 minutes respectively.  I had tried the original P90X back in 2008, but that program was a commitment of 1 – 1.5 hours per day, 6-7 days a week.  Due to my work/family schedule, I am forced to do a lot of training before the sun comes up, and getting up at 5 a.m. or earlier to do P90X was tough in 2008 – when I only had 1 kid.  The 30 minute workouts of P90X3 were far more manageable, and nearly as intense.

By the spring of 2013 I was back down to my usual 170  – 175 pounds, and I was running once or twice a week in addition to the T25 and P90X3 workouts.  Overall, I was working out about 5-6 days per week, even if most days entailed less than 1 hour of workout time.  My running was progressing slowly, but I had built up to about 5 miles for my “long” runs at a pace in the low 9 minute per mile range.  My neighborhood is hilly, so my pacing did (and does) suffer a bit from the hills.

Sometime that spring I came across obstacle course racing on the internet.  I had never heard of obstacle course racing, but it seemed to be far more interesting and challenging than simply running.  I have never been a fan of running, and most of my running came during soccer practice and games growing up.  Moreover, I was never a very fast runner – either short or long distance.  I do, however, have pretty good upper body strength for my size.  Thus, breaking up running with obstacles that focused primarily on upper body strength sounded appealing, and I thought that it might give me an advantage over pure runners who might not be able manage more than a few pull-ups.

Based upon my internet research, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race seemed to be the two main obstacle course racing brands.  Tough Mudder was not a timed race, and it had more “gimmicky” obstacles, such as dangling electrical wires.  Some of its obstacles also played to certain fears – such as a fear of heights and confined dark spaces.  The Spartan Race was timed, and appeared to be designed with a singular purpose – to inflict as much pain as possible on any given course.  Both were appealing, so I signed up for the June Tough Mudder at the Berkley Plantation and the Spartan Super race at Wintergreen in August.  The Tough Mudder was 10-12 miles and the Spartan Super was a measly 8 miles.  By June 2013, my longest run was still only 7 miles, but I was convinced that I was ready.

Back to June 7, 2013 – that evening I received an email that the Tough Mudder was going to be cancelled due to the heavy rains and mud.  Apparently, mud is a good thing, but too much mud, even for a Tough Mudder, is a bad thing.  According to the Tough Mudder bigwigs, the excessively muddy conditions created safety issues, in that, paramedics would be unable to evacuate injured participants.  To say that I was disappointed was an understatement, but Tough Mudder eventually offered to roll over my entry to the October 2013 event in West Virginia.  Thus, Mudder glory would have to be delayed for several months…

Thankfully, I did have the Wintergreen Super Spartan on my calendar for August, but that race was ONLY going to be 8 miles, not the 10-12 that the Tough Mudder promised.  Oh well, I figured that I could use the Spartan Race as a “tune up” for the October Tough Mudder…



“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

January 1, 2013 – I tipped the scales at 181 pounds.  To many people this might not sound earth shattering, but it was the heaviest that I had ever been in my 34+ years on planet Earth.  On my first day of college in 1996 I weighed in at 156 pounds, and I had generally been averaging about 170 pounds from my late 20’s to my early 30’s.  I certainly wasn’t “fat” at 181 pounds, but I wasn’t “fit,” and I was headed in the wrong direction.  Having a few drinks here and there (and sometimes more) certainly wasn’t helping either.

New Years resolutions are made and broken by a lot of people every year, myself included.  Still, I was determined to get into shape and to avoid the long slow decline that typically comes with advancing years.  Call it a mid-life crisis if you will, but I had no desire to buy a convertible sports car.  Quite frankly, I longed for a challenge and the thrill of competition that had been lacking for a long time.

I’ve always been a competitive person, and growing up, I played a lot of sports.  I was blessed to have been pretty good at most every sport I tried, but I was never really great at any of them.  Volleyball was probably my best sport, where I earned the MVP award from 9th to 12th grade, as well as All District and All Region honors.  Still, I was going nowhere fast as a 6 foot nothing volleyball player, and I was too slow to excel at many other sports.  I did participate in some intramural sports in college, along with beer league kickball in my 20’s.  Nevertheless, my days of regular and organized competition were long gone after high school, and I had a giant hole where the thrill of competition used to be.

On January 1, 2013 I didn’t know what would fill that hole, but I was determined to find something.  I was also committed to getting back into shape, so I purchased the first pair of shoes that I had ever owned up to that point that were dedicated solely to running.  Only later would I learn that my shoe selection would contribute to an MRI on my left knee and multiple injections.

Nevertheless, my resolution was made, and I was off and running (pun intended) with a whopping 2.09 miles on January 2nd.