Thursday, September 26, 2013


I've had a few of days to look back on one of the most difficult races I've completed to this day - the Reebok World Championship Spartan Beast - a 14+ mile 12,000'+ elevation obstacle race held at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. This race tested me both mentally and physically - it was a painful, bloody, cold, and cramp filled torturous challenge - but all can think about is that I can't wait to do it again.
Photo Credit Spartan Race

It's really difficult for me to write a full review since running a 14 mile race like this tends to leave my brain slightly scrambled, but I'll do my best to piece it together. First - perfect weather for a race. Not too cold not too hot. Loved it. One of the best times of year to be in Killington and New England (although I do prefer snowboarding down the mountain to running up it).

1 mile 65lb sandbag carry
We started a few minutes later than the normal 8am elite start time due to the NBC Television presence and some introductions of the incredible athletes from around the world. Then it was game time...Aroo! Aroo! Aroo! - and we were off. The first two miles were pretty much completely uphill - as expected and very difficult. There were the normal walls, over unders, etc. There was a tire drag on a chain then a pull - I live for the upper body portions of the race. Around mile 4 or 5 (it's honestly become a blur) we got to the dreaded sandbag carry. This was no ordinary 40lb sandbag carry up a hill and back down.
This was a WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BEAST sandbag carry and it lived up to it. The sandbag weighed 65lbs and the carry was up one of the steepest slopes Killington had to offer for A FULL MILE - 1/2 mile up and back down.

This was also the part of the race that my better half, Gretchen Krueger, caught up to me - I think (still blurry). We decided to stay together for the remainder of the race - also with my buddy Keith. During the next couple miles there was a spear throw (which I was thrilled to have NAILED - Gretchen made it too) and a few other obstacles including a pretty long barbed wire crawl.

Barbed wire scratches
At mile 7ish we got to the rope climb, inverted walls, another barbed wire section (one of 4 barbed wire crawls). I was wearing my Ultraspire Omega hydration vest and I did not want to shred it on barbed wire, so every time I went through a barbed wire patch I would take it off and roll with it. This is how I got scratched up pretty bad during the race. I was also starting to cramp up in my legs from the cold muddy water.

After the barbed wire we had to cross a pretty cool raised ladder to a cargo net then back down. We also met up with a good friend and great guy, Rob Butler - owner of Shale Hill Adventure Farm. Next was the real water portion of the race and the start of crazy cramps and hypothermia. A brief swim into the late September chilled waters of Killington's runoff led to the second rope climb of the race - the rope is attached to the bottom of a 20' high bridge. That was not too bad. Then we had to run around the lake to the traverse wall. Legs were very cold and slightly cramped but still did it no problem. THEN was the hard part - another swim to the bridge and another rope climb followed by a tarzan swing on very short ropes to a bell ring. Gretchen went first and I cheered her on. I really thought if anyone could make it, she would. She got to the second rope of the swing and fell.
Swim - rope climb - Tarzan swing (mile 7) - Photo Credit Spartan Race

This is also something on a normal day I feel I would be pretty good at - I did not make it either. When I swam across the lake to the other side to meet Gretchen, she was holding her hand and practically in tears. Uh oh...

Her pinky was purple and white and turned to the side. Four different people looked at it and said "yes, that looks broken." We thought it was broken. We were freezing. I felt sick that we would have to stop the race. I could not imagine how Gretchen would continue the race and all obstacles with her finger looking like that and I asked her repeatedly if she wanted to go to the medic. If she did, that was it - race over and she would be DQ'd. If she went to the medic I felt like there was no way I could continue racing while my hurt wife was in the medical tent. I'll be honest - I was so cold and miserable at that point I almost wanted her to say "ok, let's go to the medic." It would not have taken much to twist my arm to drop out at that point. But Gretchen is tougher than anyone I know and she said "no, let's keep going." I was amazed at her fortitude. I'm a baby - if my hand looked like hers I probably would have dropped out. Luckily it was just sprained and freezing cold because once we started moving for another mile or so we all warmed up and her hand was ok.

Photo Credit Spartan Race
After a 1/2 mile bucket carry up the mountain (5 gallon bucket filled with rocks) and some actual fun running (not climbing) for a few miles we were routed back to the water again around mile 9. This time for the tyrolean traverse - a 40-50 yard rope strung over the lake which you have to climb under or over to ring a bell. I went first this time and made it no problem. I go underneath and rest my calves crossed and pull using all upper body.

Gretchen went next with the more conservative technique of staying on top of the rope. That way takes longer but uses less energy. She made it and so did our friends. The rest of the race was pretty straight forward with more running up hills, down hills, a few walls to scramble over and some other obstacles...More barbed wire...this time uphill.

After race pose with Beast & Trifecta medals
The last major obstacle was another sandbag carry for about 3/4 of a mile. The slope was much less steep and the sandbag was only 40lbs, so it seemed easy after what we had just been through. Last was the fire jump and gladiators - Gretchen and I held hands over the fire and rushed the gladiators together. It was a great feeling to get that medal with my wife. It's funny - I still don't really like to run, but I LOVE to finish a run or a race. This race was really satisfying to finish especially after the debacle from last year with the "lost tribe."

The other incredible highlight from the weekend was seeing my Spartan Family and VPX Team Xtreme family. I have made lifetime friendships with people from literally all over the world and it is such a great feeling to get together with friends who share the same passions.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mud Guts and Glory

I received a message a few weeks ago from my friend Matt B. Davis of Obstacle Racing Media. He wanted to know if Gretchen and I would be interested in coming out to Ohio to check out a new race called Mud Guts & Glory. Unfortunately Gretchen was already going to the US Open in NY with our daughter Mya for the weekend, so after some creative maneuvering to find a dog sitter and my sister & brother-in-law stepping up to watch our son Michael, I was able to arrange the trip.

I arrived in the Cincinnati airport and quickly met up with Matt, Rob Butler of Shale Hill Adventure Farm, and Holly Joy Berkey (aka Muddy Mommy) and we were off in our rental car to Kings Domain.

It was a treat to get to the race venue the day before with time to spare - not a luxury I'm used to in most races. The staff and race directors were incredibly friendly and welcoming and put us up in some very nice air conditioned cabins. The Kings Domain property we later found out is used for retreats, conferences and more importantly to help inner city children and other families in need experience the great outdoors. One of the founders, Brad Cousino, a former NFL MVP and all around great guy, told us that after visiting a well known obstacle race he got the idea to have one at Kings Domain. He didn't want it to be just a set up and leave obstacle race, but a permanent venue that people could train and race at. He was definitely serious about making it a permanent venue - checking out some of the obstacles allowed us to see the quality and thought that went into the creation of this race. We met the race designers and heard some pretty interesting stories about clearing the trails and building the obstacles - they even brought in an arborist to make sure the natural trees and terrain were used properly in both the trails and the obstacles. The lower portion of the property featured a series of obstacles known as the gauntlet - we were immediately drawn to them. A giant set of monkey bars that started 25' off the ground and led down a 45 degree slope over a muddy moat with a short flat section and then an incredibly challenging 45 degree uphill section. It was like a playground for big kids like me! Then a series of over unders made of fresh cut trees followed by a muddy ending with a ridiculously tall tower climb that was still being painted the night before. It looked like a blast!


After being shown a very small portion of the course, we were thoroughly impressed with the terrain and the thought that went into the design of this race. We then met up with the other racers who were also invited - Elite's like Junyong Pak (Worlds Toughest Mudder), Amelia Boone (Female Worlds Toughest Mudder), Brad Kloha (Run to Remember), Jeff Cain (On My Way to Sparta), Heather Ganoe (Relentless Forward Commotion) and Kevin Jones of the Cornfed Spartans and Crazy Mudder Muckers.

The interesting thing about this race was that I really had no expectations. I was there to have a good time, and it exceeded anything I could have hoped for. To top it all off this was being filmed for a Spike TV show called Playbook 360 with Dhani Jones! As a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, I was very excited to meet Dhani.

Race day started off with an early wake up in the cabin - some fruit and protein shake. We then made our way to the cafeteria for a real breakfast. I typically don't eat a lot before a race, but when pancakes, bacon, and eggs are in front of me, its hard to say
no. I made my way to the registration area with the guys and we got our bibs on and waivers signed. We also met some really cool Cornfed Spartans.

We made our way to the starting line and met up with Dhani and the rest of the crew. Where we took some pre-race photos. There was a bit of social media hype leading up to this race - I really just wanted to beat Dhani and Matt B. Davis.

Before we knew it we heard the countdown "Mud! Guts! Glory!" and we were off.
The race started in some pretty thick mud and went immediately up a steep hill. From there it's kind of a hilly blur until we hit the gauntlet about 1 mile in. I asked the volunteer if anyone had made it on the monkey bars yet since they were slippery and covered in mud and he told me that two people had (I assumed Pak & Rob Butler). That motivated me to make sure I did it as well. I used up a lot of energy on that obstacle, but I made it using only my arms. If you fail on an obstacle it was determined that there would be a time penalty added to your finish time.
The course was divided into 5 one mile sections where you could essentially opt out after each section. The obstacles and terrain got more and more difficult the further you went. The terrain itself really made this a fun race - the hills were steep and long enough to be challenging, but not so long that you were ready to tear your hair out. The trails were technical but fun. The steeps were steep! There were log carries, sandbag carries, a light tractor style pull and rope climbs. One of the really cool obstacles that no training could prepare you for was the "David & Goliath." You were given 3 paint balls and a wrist rocket sling shot where you had to hit Goliath in the head. I was pleased to hit him directly in the face on my second try - maybe my Hebrew heritage :) ? Towards the end of the race there was a crazy steep hill called "The Pinnacle." It was practically a cliff face with hanging ropes to get to the top.
Then a similar hill going down with ropes on the other side. Throughout some of the forest areas I got chased by a few giant horseflies that seems to really like the taste of me - all part of the fun! The end of the course was a huge water slide dug into the side of a hill with a 100 yard sprint to the finish. I ended up with no penalties and finished 8th directly behind Jeff Cain in 7th. I had a great time. I highly recommend this race to anyone that can make the drive. Matt B. Davis rolled in about 12 minutes after I did, and Dhani came in about 25 minutes later. I was happy with my finish!

After a few interviews with the Spike TV crew and the race camera folks, we met with the race directors. They were anxious to get our opinions as "seasoned obstacle racers" on how they could improve the course moving forward. They took all of our constructive feedback and are looking to incorporate it into future races. The icing on the cake after this race was that we got to hang out with Dhani that evening in downtown Cincinnati - he was incredibly generous and we had a blast!

I hope to be able to compete in the next Mud Guts and Glory race on November 2nd. This time I want Gretchen to be there!