Spartan Race Arizona Sprint 2016

Arizona Spartan Sprint start line
The Spartan Race Arizona Sprint was at the same location as the last few years, Fort McDowell, an older rodeo centrally located on an Indian reservation. It was a warm and sunny 65 degrees as I made my way to the starting corral. As is tradition with a Spartan start line, we yelled, “Aroo” and sprinted ahead. Being this was my first west coast race, I noted how thin the air seemed and the difficulty of the terrain. Right from the start, we were heading towards a steep incline. The first half mile was spent maneuvering in and around and up and down the terrain while avoiding slipping on the rocks and touching the cacti.

Arizona Terrain After two 6-foot walls, we were met by our first cargo climb. From the top of the climb, you could see nearly the entire course stretching and winding around mountains. Just shy of the mile one marker were the inverted walls. The volunteers here were very helpful with direction and cheering us on.

Arizona Sprint Crawl

Next up was the 8-foot walls; we were instructed by the volunteers that they were unable to assist here and that we had to make it over the wall or complete the 30 burpee penalty. Coming up to the rope climb, I completed my penalty of 30 burpees and moved on (the rope climb gets me every time). The rope climb was followed by another half mile of winding terrain until we reached the sandbag carry and 150-yard barbed wire crawl. The volunteer at this obstacle was great, yelling for us to move forward and stop slowing down his obstacle. Right around the corner was monkey bars, not the traditional type but a fun set of uneven bars sporadically placed. The goal was to cross and touch the bell with either your hand or foot at the finish. There was a large number of racers completing the burpee penalty here.

Spartan Arizona Rope climb

Arizona Spartan Monkey bars

Next came the dreaded bucket carry (the only words for this obstacle are, “Holy crap”) – at 3 miles in, grabbing a bucket of rocks and hitting some more terrain will make your legs burn. Many slowed and rested during this obstacle. After we proceed through some more mountain-like terrain, moving much slower after that bucket carry, we finally came down to the last few obstacles near the finish line. Walking past the mile 4 marker, we approached the ladder wall and spear throw. I missed the spear, busted out the penalty, and moved on to a newer obstacle that looked like a tight-rope. It was fun attempting to get across without falling; thankfully they were allowing assistance. Last was the 10-foot wall, slip wall and dunk wall. My pace picked back up in excitement, over the slip wall and under the dunk wall hopping out of the muddy water and smiling as I jumped the fire.

Spartan Arizona Spear throw

Arizona Spartan Slip wall

The 2016 medal was beautiful and hard earned. This was the hardest Spartan sprint I have ever completed. The terrain and dry thin air really played a part in making this a bad-ass race.  Arizona Spartan Sprint will certainly be on the calendar for next year; it has created a love for west coast racing, and I can’t wait to get back home and train even harder. AROO

Arizona Spartan Fire jump

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Spartan Race Arizona Sprint 2016: Blindfolded Challenge

The goal was simple. Run the Spartan Race Arizona Sprint blindfolded for a good charity organization, BlindStart of America, and not kill myself in the process. It started as an idea and suddenly turned into a serious commitment once Jeff Nelson, Stephen Sinek, and Lauren Marquez decided that they wanted to challenge themselves as well. I was stoked. Three elites coming to play.
Spartan Arizona Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Team

Four obstacles that would hand me burpees came to mind: Monkey Bars, Multi-Rig, Spear Throw and Z Wall. In the past, I used to do blindfolded judo and jiu jitsu grappling practices. I use visualization and spatial relationships techniques, projecting in my head calculated distances and placements, and that practice and training in blindfolded grappling gave me the tools that allowed me to create a mental map in my head by analyzing slope, surface, and tactile shifts identified by my footing, touch, and sounds. Having nearly five years of experience in running OCRs, I’ve encountered nearly every type of obstacle that Spartan can throw at you, and using previous experience and muscle memory, I knew that if I came up to an obstacle that I’ve encountered before, that it would be relatively easy to use visualization to complete it successfully.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Wall

My equipment was a pair of ski goggles that I had spray painted the lenses with five coats of blue paint over 20 coats of black paint, attached stickers to the outside of the lens and used black duct tape to cover the vent ports so that there was no light or visibility. My wife, who would be guiding me, started giving me directions and descriptions at the Start. It’s very disorienting having no sight and it took me a couple of minutes to adjust my thinking and realize I had to really, absolutely trust my guide to get me through the course. Giving 100% trust in someone else is not as easy as it might sound, no matter who they are.

The race starts and my hands attach to the carabiners on my wife’s ruck. I would use three fingers to maintain a light grip. The only time I would grab with more than one hand would be during narrow passages where I grabbed both sides of the ruck, maintaining a light grip to avoid getting any assistance by my guide for incline or weighted hiking.

Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Guide
The guiding is good, but I’m lacking critical information for my mental map. Here’s where how I think and how my wife thinks starts to conflict. She’s giving me good information, but also gives me instructions on stride and stepping, or downhill techniques. I need degree of slope, length of incline/decline, and distance from topographical features. I can make a better determination on stride and technique myself. Large steps in unsettled terrain is dangerous because it’s more unbalanced. Smaller steps were more effective at avoiding falls and injury. We have good communication in our marriage, though, so it took less than a mile to get things figured out, and she did a phenomenal job throughout the entire event in guiding me safely and effectively. The new predicament is that my stride and body position changed which places increased demands to different muscles. Fatigue sets in faster and the change in walking posture forced me to stretch my body more often because you pretty much walk with the expectation of falling or running into something, so your body is on “high alert”.

The obstacles in the first half of the course gave me no trouble and I cleared them quickly and easily. Between obstacles, I felt an incredible urge to move faster and was getting impatient. I kept trying to push the pace. We jogged when we could, but it was normally a walk pace for safety concerns. Barbed Wire crawl was a bit of a challenge because of the congestion and being guided by voice only. Lisa kept directing me, and I just wasn’t able to process directions clearly, but we made it with extra assistance from another runner.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Bucket
I am not a fan of Bucket Brigade when I have my sight. I am even less of a fan when visually impaired, but it got handled.  Later, when I jumped on the 7ft wall, my toes pointed down and my calf muscles cramped. Lisa was allowed to help with the 8ft wall, and we headed to monkey bars. I attacked the monkey bars sideways, allowing me some stability as I was pulling upwards with one arm and swinging around like a wild man looking for the next bar. The pattern on the uneven monkey bars were different than before and I was a bit lost, especially not being able to process what my guide was telling me and hearing every other person shouting and talking. Two bars away from the bell, I dropped to the ground and screamed out the loudest swear word that frustration would allow. 30 burpees.

Near the finish came the next three obstacles that I dreaded facing sightless: spear throw, multi-rig, Z Wall. Facing Spear Throw with additional guidance from my wife and my friend, Mike Santos, I hit the target. Climbing on the multi-rig, I shimmied on the bar, caught a ring, made the mistake of holding on to the ring with both hands, got spun around, reached and missed the next ring several times and fell to the ground for 30 burpees. I didn’t care. I hit spear throw blindfolded.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge MultiRig
I was afforded assistance for slack line, which I gratefully accepted, felt my way to Z Wall and used grip strength and tactile awareness to successfully make my way across. Tunnel, Slippery Wall, Dunk Wall, and a five minute conference on how we four blindfolded runners would do fire jump, which ended in a cluster. But cross the finish line, kiss my wife, grab my medal, and I removed my goggles. For three hours I was deprived of any light, having run the course in pitch blackness and my eyes hurt. The light was hard but the colors were painful, especially green. My sight was affected for the next half hour as my eyes were still adjusting and I couldn’t help but contemplate the thousands of people who are visually impaired and must negotiate through life in the darkness. I could remove the darkness, but they can’t and that really gave me a greater understanding and compassion for my fellow humans. I am still in amazement about the entire experience. If you were ever wondering about whether or not you and your significant other have good communication, place yourself completely in their care and trust them 100%, and it will become very evident if you can communicate clearly or not.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Fire Jump

Photo Credits
Andrea Trowbridge: Team Hike, Wall Jump, Guide hold, Bucket Carry
Brent Forbes: MultiRig, Fire Jump



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