by Thomas Nastasi
On September 7, 2013 I ran the Tri-State Super Spartan Race in Vernon, NJ at Mountain Creek Ski Resort. This race consisted of about 8 ½ miles and 25 obstacles. I ran this race in 2012 and considered it the hardest race I have ever completed. This year it was toned down to stay within the parameters of what Spartan defines as a “Super.” In 2012, the race was close to 11 miles and much harder.
When competing in a longer OCR, you have to be much more precise in preparing. This should start a week prior.
Unfortunately, I severely sprained my ankle on August 31. A week before the race, I was playing basketball and my toe grabbed the court and twisted. I knew it was bad. I rushed home and immediately followed the RICE procedures: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
I’ve hurt my ankles many times over the years playing basketball and I usually give a half-hearted approach towards rehab. But if you injure yourself in training, especially right before a race, the importance of rehab can’t be downplayed. This time I knew I needed to take every measure to be ready for a tough mountain race in seven days.
I was positive I would still race, but at the same time thought I was delusional. I iced my ankle every twenty minutes for about three hours that Saturday. I made sure it remained elevated, especially when I slept. When I had to leave the house, I wore a CEP compression sock. I followed this regimen for a few days.
However, sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough on their own. On Wednesday, I took a look at my foot and was disgusted. I paid a visit to my chiropractor/sports medicine doctor. He shook his head and told me, “You really did a number on yourself. Your time at Saturday’s race may take a hit.” But I was happy he had the same thought I did: I will race.
He used a laser on my foot that he claimed would help me heal five times faster. It reduces inflammation which aids healing and lessens pain. I saw him the Friday before the race with a much better looking foot. He continued the laser treatment and wrapped my ankle with KT Tape.
This tape job was nothing like the prototypical “wrap your foot with 100 feet of athletic tape.” This consisted of three pieces of KT Tape: one under my foot to the middle of my calf, one across that to the top of my foot, and one small piece to hold the two together. I was shocked at the stability those three pieces of tape gave me. I am a firm believer in KT Tape now.
Under normal circumstances, my race prep routine consists of strength training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and running on Tuesday and Thursday. Knowing that this race was on a mountain, I incorporated stairs into my running routine. I also decided a month prior to run the track twice a week. I would run three miles at a normal pace, then two miles sprinting the straight part and jogging the bends. After two weeks, this became easier. Next was running up and down the bleachers 50 times. This becomes repetitive, but I promise it pays off. On race week, I just trained on Wednesday and Friday. If I wasn’t in game shape prior to the injury, a week wasn’t going to get me there. On Saturday morning, I felt well rested and ready to go.
I tend to eat very clean the week of a race. I usually eat more carbs as well. A bag of pretzels or a bagel here and there during race week seems to do the trick. Carbo-loading should be done a few days before the event. I’ve read numerous articles that state carbo-loading isn’t as beneficial the night before an event. I usually eat a bowl of whole wheat pasta two nights before the race. I add beans, broccoli, and peas. Eat like a king to feel like a king! The night before a race, I like to eat light. I once ate pancakes and felt like I had a rock in my stomach during the race. I will opt for quinoa with vegetables or a veggie burger and potatoes.
The morning of the race is tricky. For this race, I had my Sunwarrior shake with more frozen bananas than usual. I really try to overload potassium before a race; cramping is not an option. I also had a plain bagel with a small amount of almond butter.
During the race, I use Hammer Gels and salt pills. The hammer gels are the cleanest gels I can find for easy calories. The salt pills help prevent cramping.
After the race, I always drink coconut water. Coconut water is an amazing re-hydrator with the highest concentration of electrolytes available in nature. I love Taste Nirvana Coconut Water and drink two bottles of it to hydrate myself. I then try to eat something ASAP. I really have no preference on what to eat. As long as it is readily available, I’m game. If I don’t eat, I get light headed. Some people may react differently. I usually am intensely hungry and need something.
It is equally important to be mentally prepared for a race. In this case, I had something of an idea of what to expect. Arriving to the venue very early tends to calm my nerves. I kind of relax and have plenty of time to check in, stretch out, and relax. I let myself really live in the now and believe that my training has prepared me for this moment. I truly believe in arriving three hours prior to start time to prepare.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling confident and drove to the mountain with my cousin and brother. I highly recommend running with a team. It can be a couple friends or family members or it could be a nation-wide organization; either way, events are much more fun with a group, even if you don’t run together. In our case, we were running this race with Team Braveheart. This was Team Braveheart’s biggest event in terms of numbers; over 100 racers were signed up with the team. The Boss, Jen Rosant, did an excellent job coordinating the team and getting us ready to compete. She handed out team shirts for this event for us to wear. She gave an emotional speech before the race about various obstacles in life. Everyone really felt inspired and ready to overcome the small challenge ahead of us.
I was glad we arrived to the mountain two hours ahead of time. It gave me time to mentally prepare. I had not tested my ankle yet and was unsure what to expect. I still planned on finishing the race, but was unsure of how long it would take me. I needed to complete the Super because I was racing in the Beast on September 21 in Vermont. Without a completion of the Super, I would not earn my Trifecta medal for completing a Sprint, Super, and Beast in the same season. I really wanted the Trifecta medal.
It was time to run. The starting corral was filled with Braveheart members and it was really exciting. The Spartan speech was recited and we were off. The race started with a vertical climb straight up the mountain for a few hundred yards. My ankle felt fine, but it was obvious the KT Tape limited my range of motion. There were a few turns in the ascent, but the theme continued: UP. I kept pace with my friend Ron until we got to the top of the mountain and then he was gone, never to be seen again. I was mentally thrilled that I was able to scale the mountain as fast as I would have if I were healthy.
The race continued across the top of the mountain with a short lake swim, tire flips, spear throw, seven foot walls, and the like; I’ve repeated all of the Spartan obstacles in many reviews. They’re all pretty standard and remain challenging. At the two and five mile mark, I encountered some discomfort in my ankle. It’s important to follow your body’s instruction here. If you were to push yourself while ignoring the pain, it’s possible you can do damage that would take much longer to heal. Accordingly, I altered my running style briefly and the pain went away. I have a feeling the pain was from the brace I was wearing; it was a little uncomfortable, but I needed to wear it. I also was very cautious letting myself down the walls to the other side. It would be awful to scale an eight foot wall only to snap your ankle coming down the other side.
Along the course, we were told to scream “Braveheart!” to anyone from the team we saw wearing a shirt. The mountain echoed this sound during the whole event. It was very cool. It gave you that little extra boost when you felt like slowing down. I made sure I remained competitive, but also wanted to stay safe. The Beast in Vermont would be the ultimate task. I had less than two weeks to prepare and could not be in this state for it. I needed to be closer to 100%. I finished this race in a respectable two hours and nine minutes, and if I wasn’t hurt, I would have finished closer to two hours. I was disappointed the race was a watered down version of the previous year’s course, but happy to be finished and proud I was able to compete and receive my Super medal. Racing with Team Braveheart also was a very special time. I’m glad I did it.
It’s hard to fully train to run mountains when you don’t live near one. After running Mountain Creek, I know that cramping is my greatest obstacle. And I need to really prepare for the Killington race, so I’ve been doing my research, including reading many articles about salt intake and potassium. For the Beast, you’re required to carry a hydration pack; I’ll be sure to pack it with a fair amount of snacks to aid me in finishing. Snacks are a must; last year the average finish time was close to seven hours. It’s an accomplishment just to finish—at the three mile mark, there is a gracious exit option! I will have my hands full. In the meantime, I’m taking it easy with my ankle and jogging lightly. Even if I’m not 100% physically ready, I plan on being 100% mentally. You can do anything when you believe!
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