Remember that using your feet and legs will always help you. You legs are generally stronger than your arms, so let’s make use of them! “Standing” on the rope is so much easier than hanging from it!
This past weekend we took part in the first ever Spartan Race 12 Hour Hurricane Heat. Honestly, had Joe Di Stefano not invited me I would not have considered it but who am I to pass up that opportunity? I had never done a Hurricane Heat so I had no expectations, but being a SGX Coach and finding out this was a Death Race qualifier I knew one thing, they would do everything they could to try to break us.
The nerves set in a week before when we get this ominous email from Tony Matesi saying they have been watching us and then proceeded to name a bizarre mandatory supply list each athlete must take. The list included a golf ball, flotation device, and Hooters poker chip to keep in our backpack that would carry enough food and hydration for 12 hours. Oh, and we will be in the desert so why not make us wear all black while we are at it!
Morning of, 32 of us HH12HR athletes met at 5:15am with the rest of the regular HH crew of 60, but we we’re distinguished by our reflective vests. We didn’t actually start til 6am and of course we kicked it all off with burpees. We did them together counting as a team until told to stop at 103. Next came the first of what would be MANY dunks in the ice bath. At first we were told to just sit in there and recite the Spartan Warrior Ethos and then we all had to cross over the other side by submerging our heads under a wall. This would be my biggest Achilles heel of the day.
After that, we had to duck walk up a mountain to where there start line was and of course, do more burpees. From there, we had to lay on the ground and roll about 100 yards to where we would build a “tunnel of love”. First person to arrives goes to plank, next person army crawls under to plank, and so on. I was third to fall in line which meant I had to hold a downward dog/plank for about 10 minutes while 90 people crawl under. Not so bad but your pack is on your head crunching your neck. Then we proceeded to some obstacles. First was the under/over where I was chosen as the person to not touch the ground. I would bear hug the hurdle and swing under which was most affective while I saw other groups lay down and pass someone on top. After climbing another hill we then proceeded to some more obstacles: cargo net, wall, and then to the rope climb where we all had to wait til every athlete hit the bell at the top. I hopped right to it nailing it and then watched as a bunch of men tried to get a larger fellow up without success. Finally someone grabbed the bell from the top and brought it down to him to ring.
By this time, athletes and spectators were filling in so why not parade us in front of them? So we had to do about 30 minutes of different exercises which included more burpees, push ups, lateral gorilla, planks, and kid n play. At this point, 3 hours was up and we went back to the dunk tank to chant the ethos, ran out jumping the fire that just kicked off near the finish line, and said goodbye to the HH crew. 3 hours was already up?! Easy, peasy I thought!
Then the tone of the game changed and things got real. Tony shows us a map and says, “you are no longer a team, it’s individual challenges”. So, our first mission was to run to a destination in the desert that’s off course, grab a tire, and meet back at the start line in x amount of time. I was the first girl to the tire graveyard picking what seemed smaller than others, little did I know the smallest ones were buried under to be revealed to the slower runners.
It’s about 10am and Tony says, “now do the whole 9+ mile obstacle race with the tire”. I was more than happy to oblige and excited to do all the obstacles in a 4 hour window. “Piece of cake”, I thought! Although time was on my side, it quickly became apparent we had entered the suck. Maneuvering up and down gravel hills was quite dangerous! Sometimes I chose to bear crawl because I couldn’t keep my footing with the weight of the tire. The whole time I kept thanking God I was not racing this at full speed. It would be all too easy to miss a step and injure yourself.
So through cargo nets, walls, the Hercules hoist, multiple carries, tire flips, crawls, and many other obstacles, I made it through with ease of my tire. I was lucky to be small enough to fit inside my tire where I could position it to rest on top of my pack so it actually helped in the gravel carry because I was able to use the tire to place the weight vs using strength. But still, holding anything for that long burns your shoulders. If we missed an obstacle it was a 50 burpee penalty vs the usual 30. Rope climb and monkey bars with a tire? Not a chance!
So me and my new buddy Kristine stayed together through the entire course helping each other and laughing while we would nonchalantly take a pee break while chatting to people passing by. I really want to thank everyone who passed us that day. Everyone was so encouraging shouting words of praise. That’s the best part of the Spartan events, we all want to see the other succeed and hearing cheers from fellow racers made our will that much stronger that day.
I do feel I was well prepared for this event. I had all kinds of electrolytes, salt packets, and snacks to help carry me through such a long day in the desert. I even helped a few of the other athletes including some that were not in HH12HR but were desperately seeking salt for cramps. Not once did I have a physical limitation. Despite only being back in the game for 6 months after a year off from total knee recon and 4 surgeries to replace toxic breasts, I never experienced a twinge of pain or cramp. For me, it was the mental part of dealing with the environment. As previously mentioned, the terrain was incredibly wicked with multiple climbs on gravel and rock. And of course, it was blazing hot and I was surprised I was one of few to wear sunglasses (mine are prescription) to help block the sun. Another tool that helped me greatly that day was the dry fit handkerchief I tied around my neck. I used it to cool myself, pick dust globs out of my nose, to cover my mouth when crawling, to wipe things off, and to occasionally cover my whole face while some wicked sand storm would blast through. The weirdest thing about the desert is how quick the temp changes. You would be incredibly hot with dry mouth and burnt skin but then a cloud would come in creating a rapid chill, especially after you enter those dang ice baths!
So after another dunk in the ice bath, Kristine and I crossed the finish line just in time for the cut off. While waiting for everyone else to finish and trying to get warm, we were awarded a break to refuel and collect our finisher medals and shirts. All of us were delighted about having something warm to put on. However, only 19 of us successfully completed that mission. While the others were able to rejoin us, they were not eligible to receive the HH12HR patch.
Only 4 more hours to go and feeling great at this point! They decided to parade us again in front of everyone with our hands interlocked to each other between our legs and then back into the damn ice bath!!!! Really?!! Get us warm and then make us crawl under barb wire while freezing water sprays us only to fully submerge us in the ice bath again?! At this point, I was pissed! We get out and they say go make sand angels. My head was angry as I stared up at the sky flailing around arms and legs. The clouds rolled in and even though I cloud see the sun I was shivering so badly all I could do was pray the clouds would move. Just to mess with us a little more, they had us flip over face down to make sand angels while they kicked up dirt.
After another series of torturous exercises that included group sit ups, more rolling, fire man carries, reverse bear crawl down hill and crab walks back up hill, we were sent on another mission….after another trip to the ice bath of course. We partnered up and were told to retrieve our poker chips from the tunnel under the freeway off course. Lucky I’m only 5’1 because the first tunnel we had to cross was tiny, dark, and laced with spider webs. Then we met one of our slave drivers under the freeway where he demanded 100 push ups for the chip. We did them together in sets of 10 because our shoulders were absolutely destroyed at this point. After running back to hand in the chip, we were greeted with yet another damn ice bath!
Only 2 hours left and we were dragged to a car where we had to retrieve logs to carry. Once we reached our next destination it was exercise roulette drawing from a deck of cards that would determine what and how many of each exercise we would do together as a team. Finally, the golf ball and sharpie came into play writing our names on them only to have them chucked into the desert. After all, Easter is coming so why not celebrate with a hunt? Still not sure why we had to bring a floatation device to the desert, perhaps to slow us down as we crossed under water in the ice bath….?
Back to the logs and on to another destination of freezing water where we did more burpees. At this point I was so cold and the sand storms were so bad that I began coughing uncontrollably feeling like I had pneumonia. One more hour!! Well, the sand storms got so incredibly dangerous that parts of the Spartan festival started flying around so they put us to work helping break down set ups and grab sand bags to reinforce tents. Thank god because I was praying for no more ice baths. I honestly could not wait to run out of there and get dry clothes after one last task, Indian run the festival while carrying a heavy ass tractor tire.
Finally, our day was done. We earned our shirts, and while only half of us earned the badge, we all earned honor! Some people must have quit along the way as well because the group pic does not have 33 athletes in it. Either way, it was a complete head trip and I totally cried at the end knowing that I can do anything as long as I keep a strong will. I would definitely do this event again, any day. As far as the Death Race goes, I think I may have to pass on that for now so that I can take on the Ultra Beast later this year.
Thank you to all my teammates, slave drivers, and everyone who encouraged our journey. Every bit of the suck was worth it. AROO!!!!
Tags: Anthony Matesi, Burpees, cargo nets, cold water, Cookie, freezing water, HH12HR, hurricane heat, John Ziegler, Las Vegas, monkey bars, pain, poker chips, push ups, Rob Barger, Steffen Cook, suffering, super spartan, tire, Vegas
The spear throw is one of the obstacles at Spartan Race that is generally considered a burpee factory. Along with the rope climb, more people fail this one staple obstacle of the Spartan Race than any other.
But to what many may consider a bizarre circumstance given the threat of those 30 burpees, there are some that rub their hands with childish and cartoonish glee when they see this obstacle on the horizon.
It started out all innocently enough. Steffen Cook, “Cookie” to everyone that knows him, is well known for not taking races and obstacles altogether seriously. Despite being a veteran of 6 Trifectas plus change, he prefers to “mess about” on the course and make light of hills, obstacles and not worrying a great deal in what his recorded time is. His favourite obstacle is the spear throw. As such, one afternoon while trying new throwing methods, he decided to spear an orange from a distance similar to that of at a race.
“There was nothing in it. No challenge, nothing malicious, just me messing around and having a bit of fun. I knew that my aim was fairly precise and just wondered if I could prove it.”
He did. Nailing the orange dead centre, he cheekily walked off camera and thought nothing more of it. His good friend Kevin Kierce, reigning Spartan Race Slosh Pipe challenge champion and also a veteran of Spartan Race saw the video and together they hatched a plan.
“I saw Cookie at a workout he, Michael Ainis and Matt Trinca organised in Lakewood, California and suggested that I spear a peach. During the workout, I though, ‘hey, this is for Cookie, I may as well spear a cookie’”. Kevin went home and couple of weeks later he found the time to set up a camera and sacrificing a girl scout Thin Mint, he completed his video with an even cheekier shrug of the shoulders, titling the video on Facebook, “Your turn, Mr. Cook”.
Knowing what was coming, but not sure how to top it, Cookie decided that the simplest way to put an end to something that had, frankly, got way out of hand, was to land the spear on a penny. For the sake of the video, he stuck the penny to some painter’s tape and then attached that tape to a sheet of paper on the bale. That way, the dark color penny would show against the white of the paper. In inevitable fashion, he again bullseyed the target.
“Kevin is an immense Spartan. He throws accurately, runs like the wind and frankly, should have a license for those guns under his sleeves”, he explains. “We decided to leave it there and call it a tie as, what’s next? A peanut? A raisin? It would prove nothing as the spear end is wider than those targets and it would be like hitting something of the same size.”
“People talk of a rivalry and how we should be outdoing each other and that’s just nonsense. Spartan doesn’t teach that. It teaches how we encourage, support and help, not talk down, belittle or point fingers with cries of “cheat” or “fake”. If somebody does something awesome, congratulate them on it. Whether it’s a PR for a 5K, their first 30 burpees, their first whatever or even a very silly showboating video of throwing spears. There’s always going to be haters, but they can be drowned out with positivity.”
Kevin and Cookie are toying with the idea of doing one last video to end them all and put the matter to bed when it comes to “messing around with the spear throw”. Look out for them at the LA Marathon on March 9th, as they will be running together, each doing one half blindfolded, while he guides the other in aid of Blind Start Of America charity.
How precise is your throw? Find out at your next Spartan Race.
He thought nothing of the red mark above his left knee as he scratched it. A mosquito, perhaps. Maybe a zit. How charming. But as the hours rolled into days, it was apparent this was no ordinary mark.
Californian resident Steffen Cook – “Cookie” to those that know him – was visiting his family and friends in England and had decided to make the most of his sojourn with an annual 10k in a local town close to where he would be staying.
“It was just to keep my eye in, more than anything. I knew I wouldn’t be working out or anything, so thought a little 10K just to keep sharp would be a good idea.”
On the morning of the Woodhall Spa 10k, Cookie awoke to find that the small red mark was quite a lot angrier than that of a visit from a mosquito. It was all too apparent that before he made it to LAX, an unidentified Californian spider had bitten him and whatever poison was injected into him was in full effect.
“I don’t think it was full-blown necrotic. Sure, the skin was falling away and I was regularly squeezing the wound and having a very unpleasant cocktail of blood, pus and, I assume, poison coming out. I was told by a medic that it would get worse before it got better. He was right.”
On the morning of the race, Cookie had a decision to make. He’d been unable to train for the race due to various commitments, but despite this, he knew it would be an easy choice to make.
“I’ve met people at Spartan Races with terrible conditions. People with no arms or legs. Others that have Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, this list goes on and on. I’ve met cancer survivors who just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. Let’s get this straight: people with conditions that don’t see it as a big deal. They just laugh off their situations like it’s dandruff or something. If I step on a Lego, the wife will have to deal with my whining for several days and will have to bring me several cups of tea and a large selection of cookies and cake in order for me to feel better.”
Cookie knew it wouldn’t be his best time. Working on 2 hours sleep due to the jetlag of having landed the day before and with the bite throbbing and trying it’s hardest to make itself known, he stepped into the starting corral and ran.
He continues, “It was hard, I won’t lie. I could give you great lines about how I ignored the pain and whatever, but that wouldn’t be true. It hurt like Hell. Yes, I ran, but it was the slowest 10k I’ve done in all the time I’ve been doing this. But you know what? Every time I thought about quitting, the Cookie in my minds’ eye would fold his arms, do “that” sneer and shake his head like he’s disappointed in me. I’d pick up the pace and he’d reward me with some Slayer. Slayer makes a great running soundtrack you know! Everyone listen to more Slayer!”, he laughs.
In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t as large of an obstacle as some of the other things he’s had to deal with. His biggest injuries, ailments and conditions were never physical. Divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness are but just a few of the darker chapters in the book of Cookie’s life. But bizarrely, he grins when these pages are mentioned to him.
“Yeah, not good times! I’ve certainly had better periods in my life. But, as perverse as it sounds, what I went through back then made excellent training. You can put Spartan Beasts in front of me, or challenge me to do 500 burpees or whatever. Those things or spider bites don’t even register. I’ll get all those things done, slowly of course, but they’ll get done. I’ve walked through my own personal hell made it through and now, there’s not very much that will put me off something that I’ve decided to do.”
This unusual way of channeling negatives into a positive works for this jogging enthusiast and essentially, all he’s doing is living his own version of the Spartan lifestyle. Every single person has something that they use in order to get through. Training, love, anger, hatred, fear, joy, reward… all means to an end. Find your motivation and use it as you see fit.
“I’m not sure how you’d label my motivation. I’m a happy guy that uses everything negative that I’ve had to go through in order to get to where I want to be. Hate can be a very powerful force. It’s just down to harnessing it. I’m just an oddball, I suppose. I’ll happily hold my hands up to that. Guilty as charged! But I’m an oddball that doesn’t quit. Quitting isn’t allowed”, he smiles.
See you at the finish line….