A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Spartan Sprint

Yes, yes, yes I know it has been a while since I last posted. A gauntlet of training for the Philly Spartan Sprint (more on that in a bit) and going to 3 weddings in 4 weekends makes it hard to keep a strict writing schedule and train for your upcoming half-marathon. In other words- training and maintaining that healthy diet has been a laughably unmitigated failure for the past 2 months. But hey, when it’s all open bars and Chateaubriand for a 3 weeks straight, you can cut yourself some slack and then use September to dial back in on the nutrition side. But back to the shenanigans that was the Spartan Sprint.

When it comes to the week leading up to any race, obstacle or otherwise, you normally don’t want to go too hard at the gym or out running. You want to keep a level of consistency in your routine but not overdo it and potentially cause an injury. It’s OCR 101. It’s the same strategy I followed for my first two Mudders, the Love Run and every other run I have done since I started this odyssey. Well, every race except for the Spartan Sprint. In my defense, it was deadlift day at the gym and you do not say no to deadlift day! Unless of course, it’s to find your heavy 5 rep max and then you decide to push just a smidgen too hard. Then follow up the deadlifts with some dead hangs and basically eviscerate your triceps in the process. Yes I know I am an idiot, stop looking at me in that tone of voice!

Now you may be asking, “Dan, you didn’t actually go through with the Sprint after straining both your triceps right? You’re not even that reckless.” Well, that’s where you are wrong, I am indeed that reckless and there wasn’t any way that I wasn’t going to go through Citizens Bank Park and conquer that course. OK, conquer isn’t the right word. Survive is more appropriate since my arms were screaming at me from the second I vaulted over the first wall just to get to the start line. Oh yes, for those of you that have never done a Spartan race before, you have to scale a wall before you even get to the starting line. Any other day, that wall would have been a piece of cake. Yet, this day it was more like a piece of overdone fruit cake that your grandma liked to recycle every Christmas dinner when you were growing up. Let’s say that the amount of pain in my triceps were definitely going to be a persistent issue as the race went forward. My fellow members of Team Maximum Effort, Tyler and Craig, made sure to remind me throughout the race that I was an idiot.

Since Citizens Bank Park first opened in the Spring of 2003, I had spent many a hot summer day with a Phillies Ballpark frank in one hand and my glove in another; waiting to wage guerrilla warfare to get any batted balls that found their way into the stands. I’ve seen division clinching games, heartbreaking playoff losses, the 10,000 loss in Phillies history, Roy Halladay’s Playoff No-Hitter, and both parts of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. Citizens Bank Park has become an indelible part of my summers from high school all the way through to the present day. When I saw that the Spartan Race started holding a yearly race within the friendly confines, I was intrigued. Of course, it wasn’t until I started actually taking care of myself and doing OCR’s that I finally signed up to see my second home in a brand-new light. A concrete war zone with obstacles that did not take prisoners and gave no quarter.

There were 3 obstacles that stand out in my mind in the weeks following the Spartan Sprint that perfectly describe my experience. The Spear Throw, the Hercules Hoist and the final wall that you had to climb that spanned the right field warning track. The Spear Throw is probably one of the most iconic obstacles for any Spartan race. It was the weapon the warriors the race is named after most frequently used after-all. Granted, my throw was absolute hot garbage and I embraced doing my punishment burpees for failing so miserably, however, the mere act of throwing that spear was an adrenaline rush. As well as a nice change of pace from the 100LB medicine ball carry I did the obstacle before that. Completing that obstacle was a blast and a half.

After climbing an obnoxious amount of stairs, we came across the next obstacle that stuck with me. Craig had put some distance between Tyler and I, so Craig had already completed the Hercules Hoist and moved on by the time Tyler and I made it to the Hoist. Between the 2 walls, medicine ball carry, and general OCR tomfoolery, my triceps were on fire and screaming profanities that would make the Pope blush at me every 30 seconds. I knew the Hercules Hoist was going to be a beast but I gave it my best shot and would live with the punishment burpees when my arms eventually fell off in protest. I was able to get the bag half-way up the rig before everything started cramping. I still managed to lower the bag without it banging on the ground, which would have triggered the punishment burpees. That’s when Tyler came over and wouldn’t let me quit that obstacle. He looked me in the eyes and said “we didn’t come this far to let this obstacle win. Get down and start pulling with everything you got. MAXIMUM EFFORT.” The pep talk was the kick in the ass I needed to push past the pain and get that damn sandbag all the way up that godforsaken rig. Thanks buddy, wouldn’t have gotten through that one in one relative piece without you. However, not every obstacle ends in a win for Team Maximum Effort. There was the matter of a few more obstacles, punishment burpees and one last reminder why I will never deadlift the day before a race ever again.

There were two obstacles along the warning track of Citizen’s Bank Park that were mocking my strained and nearly comatose arms. A rope climb and two walls that were the highest we had seen that day. Craig waited for us at the rope climb and it wasn’t pretty. I grasped the rope tried to hoist myself up and at once realized as my philosophy professor in college used to say an “Oh-No-Go.” It wasn’t happening on any level, so I took my punishment burpees with distinction. Then came the walls. Those godforsaken walls. Dating back to my first Mudder and every OCR that has walls I had made it a point to always get over them, no matter what. It was a point of pride for me that I always found a way to get up and over those physical representations of every obstacle that stood between the old lethargic me and the present day me. You know, the one that you can tell works out but can still tell you where you can get the best cheesesteaks in the city. It’s Sonny’s Famous Steaks on Second and Market by the way. Fight me. However, these last two walls were two walls too many for my arms. With Craig’s help I got my hands up onto the top of the first wall and in position to haul myself over when my arms had finally had enough. Both arms finally gave out and I had to settle for not completing those two walls. I only have myself and the decision to go heavy on deadlifts the before to blame.

Hubris has a way of coming out of nowhere and knock us back down a couple of pegs. It was the first time on any OCR course that I didn’t finish a wall. Now, I could wallow in that failure and let it define my Spartan Sprint experience. The perfectionist in me still stings from that particular failure, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that Craig, Tyler and I finished that course. It doesn’t take away from the experience of seeing Citizen’s Bank Park in a completely new light. Most importantly, it does not erase the hard work I put in beforehand to get ready for the Sprint and the fact that I am determined to not only do better on the Sprint next year, but also take on a Spartan Super and Spartan Beast in my age 30 season. It’s about turning that setback into motivation to come back and fight smarter and harder for round 2. That is the Team Maximum Effort way.

One last thing guys and gals. The main lesson to take away from this story- Do not. I repeat DO NOT, under any circumstances deadlift the day before you run an OCR. You’re going to have a bad time. 1/10 would not recommend as a part of any pre-race routine. The amount of shaming you will get from your friends should be enough of a deterrent.

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