Two months before the Spartan Race HH12HR in SoCal was to commence, I received a phone call from Cookie (Steffen Cook) in which he started the conversation with, “Listen to this…,” so I listened intently. As part of the cadre/director pool at Spartan Endurace, we were both studying the Spartan X programming, and he had caught an idea from the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton that he was keen on implementing.
The concept was simple: have four scavenger items strewn across the Temecula hills for participants to find while they dragged sleds behind them that contained all of their supplies.
So we began step two, which was to beta test everything and reconvene to discuss what worked and what didn’t. The reason for the mixing tub was that it was a very cheap alternative to a snow sled. It was structurally sound enough to get the job done, but not so sound that it would not require some form of repair at some point in the event. With the dragging aspect, you had to select the proper strategy on hole and rope placement, and we found that with the bottom of the sled being slowly scraped away, we had to reinforce the bottom with duct tape, make wooden skids from branches, and generally attempt to really strengthen the entire structure to endure 12 hours.
From beta testing, we knew that it would take less than 15 minutes to construct a reinforced sled and that if a person were to drag the sled on concrete that the sled would disintegrate faster. We also knew that weight distribution in the sled itself would determine durability as well.
From the sled, I was given the PT, or “Welcome Party”, portion of the event. This is where the participants do exercises. Anyone can make someone do hundreds upon hundreds of exercises, but my method is based on wildland fire crews and our attention to crew cohesion and strong culture of teamwork and camaraderie. One of the things that I pride myself in is the attention to beta testing each and every exercise that I present in these events. It allows me to try out my idea, fine tune it, and tweak it for safety and effectiveness so it is a clear, sharp, and properly executed exercise.
Fast forward six weeks, and when I arrived at the venue the Thursday morning before the event, Cookie and I scouted locations, course markings and material for the HH12HR. We spent the entire day preparing the venue for both the HH and the HH12HR, focusing our first day on logistics and locations. Friday morning saw the two of us back at the venue, this time preparing sandbags, wood planks, and other HH12HR materials and setting them in their proper places for Sunday. Saturday morning, we met at base camp, grabbed our race bibs and timing chips, and headed on course to do a final scouting of locations and testing the course and course markings one final time before Sunday’s event. During the Super, we discussed multiple fail-safe measures and alternate plans and multiple backup plans in case plans had to change and other measures had to be taken. In all, we had the initial plan and eight back up plans in place. We felt ready and prepared for Sunday.
Sunday’s event started with a light rain and low temperature. 56 signed up, 32 started with the 33rd person scrambling to join in about 30 minutes late.
The highlight of the Welcome Party was the Gladiator Gauntlet; a one on one event during “It pays to be the winner” that pitted two people against each other in a three exercise contest. In the end, Rachael Helms came out victorious and her team was spared having to complete a grueling team task.
Time for the Scavenger Hunt. The savvier of participants had already deduced the purpose of the mixing tubs and had come prepared. The others scrambled to fashion their tubs into sleds as fast as possible, and judging by what we saw, we could tell right away who would have issues with breakage. We were not wrong. What surprised me was that right after the Welcome Party, we had three quit immediately with a fourth person quitting a few hours into the event. The rules were simple. Carry everything you own in the sleds. The sleds must be with you at all times. There are four points on the course that you must visit one at a time. Pick up one item at a checkpoint and bring it back to be officially checked in. You are then free to visit the next checkpoint and repeat the procedures. Stay on course at all times, however, you can travel forward, backwards, widdershins, whatever, so long as you stayed on course and off of the concrete roads. You can visit any checkpoint in any order, but you can only visit one at a time, grab only one item at a time and check back in every time you visit a checkpoint.
There were two checkpoints with sandbags and two checkpoints with wood planks. Total weight for men with all of the equipment and items was estimated at 120-140 lbs. Total weight for women was estimated at 80-120 lbs. In the end, 13 people had collected all of their items before the time hack ran out. Everyone one else could now leave to get warm and dry, but their HH12HR was over. And it sucks when you have to hack someone. There is never a time when you want to hack someone, or you feel good about it, but it is a part of the event and to maintain the integrity of the event, you have to hack them.
The final hours found 13 participants scrambling from one time hack and individual challenge to another and another. From having to push your sandbag on the ground in front of you while having your belly keep contact with the ground the entire 600 yards, to a double elimination bracket race that had participants compete in three heats to climb rope, lunge to the multi-rig, and hit the bar on the multi-rig, with the slowest in all three groups having to race an elimination heat where the last person was cut. To the final footrace from the warmth of the finish line to uphill to find Cookie and race back to the finish line to find me, each race was an elimination challenge where the last person could be cut, and we maintained that contest to the very end to push and prod and keep the participants involved and present. But in the end, 12 people finished one of the most grueling, difficult HH12HRs every presented.
Thank you to Tony Matesi, Steffen Cook, Spartan Endurance and the many participants who braved the elements and kicked ass. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to provide a paradigm shifting experience.
Photo credits: Stacy Thompson, Le Roux Konig, Kyoul Cha
He can be found on the weekends exercising and exorcising his demons on the OCR course and in endurance events.