Having run this course before, I knew that it would be mostly going up and down mountains and ski slopes. In this case, all of the Black Diamond slopes at Wintergreen. It was raining and foggy at the start of the race, and for the majority of the heats that went after the Elite runners. I was running with a team this time, whose heat was at 9:00am, but due to logistical issues with transportation from parking to the runners village, everything was delayed at least 30 minutes. It would seem the company handling the buses failed to get them there on time. Once I got to the village and checked in, it was off to baggage check and then to the starting corral. My team had already left 15-30 minutes previous to me lining up in the corral, but though Spartan only allows about 100 people on the course every 15 minutes, but if you missed your heat time, you could jump into the next corral and go out wit them. At a little after 9:45am, the corral let out and we were off.
The race started out with a climb up the bunny slope, and you could tell how this race would progress based on the fact that all the runners "ran" from the start until they were out of the view of the crowd, at which point a large number of racers started to walk up the hill. With the ground being wet, footing was at a premium and would force you to walk just to get a good push-off. The obstacles were the normal run of the mill Spartan obstacles, the over the wall, under the wall, the wall climbs of varying heights (8/12/14 feet). The walls were tricky, as traction on the walls themselves didn't exist, so those runners like me that climbed the walls, versus just pulling up, had to find other ways up the walls (including help from other runners, like one of my teammates Chip Place). The monkey bars became problematic, as they were wet, cold, and muddy. Grip was almost impossible, and many racer who could normally complete them, including me, fell for lack of a grip. It should be noted that strength is far more important then grip here, but if you lack one, the other is required.
I then hit the Hercules Hoist, where you must hoist up and down a 100+ pound bag. Due to the rain, they absorbed enough water to almost lift me up like a counter weight. Once I completed this obstacle and got back to the trail, I caught up with my team. They had broken up into two major groups, which I had passed part of earlier. The other obstacles of note were those that you had to carry 60 pound bags, or a 5 gallon bucket of rocks, or logs up and down the slopes without dropping or spilling them. We did these as a team, helping motivate each other and help where needed. Here again, footing was a problem. Then we hit the Black diamond slopes. Up to this point, we had gone up and down bits and pieces of them, which were technical due to being wet, as the majority of the downhill went through streams and forests, where the uphill was on the slope. We now hit the mile long climb up the largest of the Black Diamond slopes. This was called the Death March, and was considered an obstacle due to the difficulty of climbing such a steep slope. Footing here was just as bad as earlier in the race., if not worse Chip Place was with me at this point and I had pointed out that stopping at any point going up this mountain will doom him to pain and a much longer, slower climb. With this in mind, Chip powered through the climb, staying only a bit behind me and not stopping until the top.
Then we quickly completed a few more obstacles (wall climbing, net climbing) until we came face to face with one of the the worse obstacles in the race. The obstacle required us to pull a very large tire 60 feet up a steep slope, while sitting. Since our legs were almost dead at this point, it was not an easy task. As we completed each of our tire pulls, we heard a request from a group near a much larger tire for help. It would seem there was a tire setup for a team to pull, versus each individual, but they had the same issue we had with the smaller tire and they needed more manpower to get it up the slope. Chip and I both jumped right in and helped drag it to the top, and then we headed off back down the same death march slope to the next obstacle. Here Chip and I took different approaches down the slope. Chip slid down the slope on his rear, while I tried to take it on foot. The pain the following days told me that Chip may have been the smarter, as my quads hurt for a week.
The last few obstacles were a staple of Spartan races. The rope climb, the angled wall climb with rope, and the fire pit. The race was .25 miles shorter then last year, totaling 8.5 miles with obstacles, but had twice as many climbs and drops. The total elevation gain was 4k, and total elevation lose was 4.2k. This year seemed much harder then previous years, with the elites taking a bit over 10 minutes more this time around. I ended up around 20 minutes slower, but ended in more pain and exhaustion the last year, so I had no complaints. I am looking forward to next years version, and possible a 3 hour run versus a 3:30-3:50 from these last two years. To achieve that task, I will need to put more effort into strengthening my upper body and stability/core muscles. That and a great deal more hill work!