The Tale of the Piggy Back Spartan Race

Well this is just downright inspirational. Whenever I’m starting to doubt myself in the lead-up to Spartan, I’m going to come back to this blog and remind myself that if this amazing trio can do it, I can.

Spencer Wyckoff

Before the Race

Three ordinary people set out toward the Georgia International Horse Park on Saturday March 7, 2015 around 7:00am.  Our bellies were full of steel cut oats and maple syrup – fuel for the day’s main event – the Atlanta Sprint Spartan Race.  The crew: Dani Pasierb, Carden Wyckoff, and Spencer Wyckoff were listening to Barbell Shrugged’s episode #147, where they showcase Tony The Fridge – an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

quick aside:  Tony the Fridge raises money for curing cancer through running ultra marathons with a large 42kg fridge on his back.  There are so many pearls of wisdom in this particular podcast with Tony, however my favorite part is when he speaks about the two other voices inside his head.  1 voice says he’s done enough, it’s ok to stop, go ahead and pat yourself on the back.  The other voice says no, keep going, don’t stop…

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Finding motivation: counting down to Spartan

Spartan-Race-Spartan-Logo2

I’ve lost some motivation recently. Not only with my eating (which didn’t surprise me at all), but also in my training (which did). Losing training motivation snuck up on me and yes, it surprised me a bit, because for the majority of the last 18 months my motivation’s been strong. While I’ve not enjoyed specific exercises, or had down days in the gym, for the most part I’ve wanted to be there and I’ve wanted the results. But over the past couple of months I’ve found myself consistently thinking about skipping-out on PT sessions, and dragging my way through them when they do happen. My PT’s noticed it too. At the start of the year I set a couple of goals for myself- weight loss (not specific), to be able to deadlift my own body weight, and to do a pull-up.

Turns out I’m very motivated by an end-point, but when I set that end-point myself I don’t work so well. This isn’t new to me- I’m constantly dealing with this exact same thing in the workplace when it comes to deadlines- but it’s a new concept for me in the gym. Needless to say, with no ‘other-imposed’ due date on those goals, they weren’t pushing me very hard.

Late last year I completed The Stampede, a 10 km obstacle event. It’s not a race- it’s supposed to be fun, supportive and non-competitive. My partner couldn’t do that event, so we’ve been keeping tabs on the obstacle race calender for a similar event to do together ever since. There’s been plenty happening across the first half of the year, but none of them at a convenient time. Anyway, Spartan Race recently announced their next Melbourne dates and races – on September 12 their running a 7 km, 21 km, and completely insane 42 km. So we signed up for the 7 km.

It’s crazy, but the day after I paid my cash and signed up, my motivation in the gym shot through the roof. Suddenly I had a six month time frame in which to achieve some fresh goals, and my mind was really really happy with that. Spartan seems to have a lot of monkey-bar style challenges (although it’s hard to tell, because they don’t release a map of the course), so my first goal is to improve my grip and upper body strength enough to be able to complete at least one of those obstacles. And if I can do one, hopefully I can do more.

We’ve signed up for the 7 km, because let’s face it, 21 km is just a bit nuts. The furthest I’ve ever run non-stop is about 3.5 km, and I’m definitely not up to running that right now, so my second goal is to get my running back up to a fairly decent standard. I’d like to be able to run 5 km of the 7- which should be doable, seeing as there’ll be obstacles breaking up the running. So it’s back to the Couch to 5km running app for me- and with six months, I know that’s realistic. I think the time-frame is the best bit about all of this. Not only do I have my motivation back, but I also have goals that I can actually achieve in the time frame. Run 5 km, do one monkey bar obstacle, and of course generally kick the rest of the course’s bum.

I know Spartan is a tougher, more competitive course and environment than the very family-friendly Stampede, but I’m really looking forward to giving it a go- and giving my body a go at pushing hard.

Mt Bogong Conquestathon: up the Staircase Spur

bogong medal

As I mentioned last week, my friends and I were off to climb Mt Bogong. Well, we did it. It took a (very) long time, but it was a team effort and not only did we make it up the mountain, but we made it down too- which is no mean feat, when you consider that you reach the summit just 8 km into the 22 km round trip! This was my third ascent of the mountain in five months, having camped overnight on the summit the first time and done the full loop in one day the second, and each ascent (and descent!) has presented its own challenges and obstacles. In the lead-up to each of my climbs I’ve tried to do some research about the climb to share with others, but there’s not a whole lot out there for walkers doing the Staircase Spur – Eskdale Spur loop, so I thought I’d do a bit of a write-up here.

As a way of background, the Mt Bogong Conquestathon is an annual event run by the Mt Beauty Lions Club over the Labour Day long weekend. I’d love to link you to a website, but unfortunately that particular Lions Club is somewhat behind the times. To register to participate you simply turn up on the morning of the event, $20 in hand, and they’ll register you on the spot.

We started our walk just after 6:30 am, when light was only just beginning to emerge. The first 2 km of the walk are an easy undulating path along a 4WD track, with the occasional walking path diverging to cross footbridges. It’s a great warm-up, and you can power along it in about 20 minutes. The 2 km is over before you know it, and you find yourself at the start of the 6 km Staircase Spur. This spur is names the Staircase not for the hundreds (thousands?) of steps you walk up on your way to the summit, but rather the ‘stairs’ that make up the topography of the spur. The first half of the Staircase is nasty. It starts off ok, and you find yourself lulled into a false sense of security. Sure it’s steep, but it’s not too bad! Oh, did I mention that along the 6 km of the staircase spur you’ll be rising 1.5 km in height?!!

Around a quarter of the way (45 minutes at a reasonable trudging pace) there’s a giant log that’s fallen down and been cut into several pieces in a relatively flat small clearing. If you’re hiking in a group that’s split in two, this is a good place to re-group and catch your breathe. It’s also a good place to remind yourself to eat something, and drink more water. From this point the track gets harder. There’s very steep sections that are also slippery with dust and dry leaf cover, and it’s here that your legs will start to feel the burn a little (if they haven’t already!!). After an hour or so of this, you’ll reach the halfway point of the climb- Bivouac Hut.

I know some people camp at Bivouac Hut, but I can’t see the point- you’re only a few hours into the climb, and you’re asked not to camp in the hut itself anyway. Even if you’re not camping there, though, the hut makes a great rest point. There’s plenty of shade and flat ground, and a very well maintained drop-toilet (carry your own toilet paper!). Walking into the clearing on Sunday was a lovely experience- there would have been 60 or so people all resting and preparing to continue on their walk, but there was no more than a quiet murmur in the air. Although we were sharing the mountain with 240 other people, there was still plenty of space to enjoy the environment in which we were hiking. Everyone was super respectful.

After the hut, you enter what I think is the most beautiful part of the hike. Immediately after leaving the hut you find yourself surrounded my snowgums, and the terrain changes dramatically- we’ve now entered the ‘staircase’ section of Staircase spur. There are four ‘stairs’ altogether (I reckon, anyway). The first I would class as medium difficulty- you’re walking up well formed stairs of varying sizes most of the way, so it’s a constant uphill, but the length is not too long. At the top of each ‘stair’ the terrain flattens out for 10 or so metres, so you’ve got time to catch your breath. These are often the places with the best views, too. ‘Stair’ number 2 is what I would call the ‘arsehole stair’ (excuse my language). It’s not massively steep, but it just keeps going and going and going. You think you’re at the top- but you’re not!!! Stair 3 is much like Stair 1, but Stair 4 is where the magic happens- you can see the ridge you’re about to climb, but magically halfway up you round a corner and realise that the path is actually going to take you around the rest of the hill, not over it. It’s here that you get wonderful views of Eskdale Spur, which you’ll be walking down, and you can also see Michel Hut.

From this point you walk for about a kilometre on a relatively flat track through above-the-snowline terrain. It’s beautiful here, especially in summer when the flowers are out. Enjoy it while you can though, because the final climb before the summit’s a bit of a killer. Whether it be genuinely physically hard, or whether it’s just the fact that you’ve been climbing for four or so hours and your brain’s getting tired, I’m not sure. But either way, the combination of mental and physical toughness means many people call this the toughest part of the climb. I’m not sure I agree with them- if you take your time, pause for breath and a look at the view often, and remember to truly appreciate where you are, then the final 20-30 minutes fly by. From there it’s an easy 200 metre stroll along the ridge to the top.

bogong summitThe summit of Mt Bogong’s not exactly what you’d expect. Instead of the top of the tallest mountain in Victoria, it just kind of feels like you’re in the middle of a very highly elevated field. That’s not to say there’s not a great view though- on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt Kosciuzko (I had to google how to spell that).

The walk down Eskdale Spur starts out well. The terrain is rocky and reasonably steep but the views are spectacular. Once you hit Michel’s Hut and the treeline, however, it goes downhill somewhat. By this stage you’ll have been walking for approximately 45 minutes (if you stopped to take some photos along the way), and you’ve got somewhere between 45 – 70 minutes left of downhill depending on how confident you are on your feet. And believe me, you need to be confident. The Eskdale Spur is steep, slippery, and the surroundings can become monotonous after a while. Take care to stay mentally alert- it’s when you forget to concentrate that you find yourself flat on your backside!!

Make it to the bottom of the spur and you’ll find yourself at Camp Creek car park. I think this car park is closed off most of the year, and is only accessible by 4WD track, so chances are at this point you’ve got somewhere around 7 km to go (the definite distance is debatable). First up is a solid 700 m or so of downhill through tree fern-laden bush. It’s a nice change in scenery, but there’s a lot of scrub over the track so keep looking down. Once you’ve hit the bottom of that hill you’re on the home stretch- it’s all undulating 4WD track from now on. Personally, the first time I did this loop in a day, I found this stretch the hardest part. I concentrated so hard on the climb and the ascent that I left practically nothing in the tank, and that was a mistake.

Speaking of the tank, make sure you carry plenty of food and water. I got through 5.5 litres of water on Sunday, and that included refilling in the creek somewhere on the final stretch.

This walk is spectacular, and if you’re a bushwalker you’ve got to give it a go. If you’re not, then the Conquestathon’s a great place to start- but make sure you get plenty of practice km under your feet first!!!

bogong view

I’m off to climb a mountain

Staircase Spur

It’s a long weekend here in Victoria- we get Monday off to celebrate Labour Day. Which no-one does, but we very much enjoy the day off!!!

final ascentI’m spending my weekend with some very close friends- we’re off to climb a mountain. The tallest mountain in Victoria, to be precise. I’ve written about Mt Bogong before- I climbed it in November, across two days, and in February this year I did the full 22km loop in one day. This weekend is exciting because the group of eight of us are climbing it together, which is something we’ve been working towards for a long time. We’ve done a lot of training hikes, and we’ve figured out our hiking rhythm as a group. Each of us has a hiking style on our own, but to walk as group takes practice. We’ve figured out who the trail blazers are- they’ll walk at a faster pace, then pause at pre-determined resting points for the back group to catch up. That group likes to power on through, and take longer rests at intervals. Then there’s the plodders- the group that will go at a slow but steady pace. This group prefers to just keep walking, but walk slowly. This group finds it harder to get going again after frequent rests, so they’ll take less ‘big’ breaks throughout the walk.

I’ll be in the back group. I’m a loud and proud plodder- resting too frequently makes my bushwalking experience pretty painful. bogong signMy legs hate me, and my mind starts focussing on the negatives. By plodding, I find a rhythm and stick to it. Going uphill I’ll take plenty of 20 second breathers, but that’s about it. I’ve recently been introduced to the Camelbak style of hydration system- it’s a bladder that sits in your backpack, with a hose that you can sip on. It stops me needing to pause my walking to get a drink bottle out, and by sipping regularly I end up drinking more water throughout the hike (I’m terrible at drinking enough normally). It also helps me regain breathe control while I’m hiking, which once again helps me to keep walking and stop less.

I’m not concerned that I’m a plodder- my style of walking gets me where I want to go, in the time that I want to get there. Practicing group hiking has been a really interesting exercise in each of us identifying our own style, and becoming comfortable with it. I think we’ve all had our moments, questioning our style (would I not be better going faster?! Why can’t I go faster?!) but ultimately we’ve all settled into something that’s comfy.

Sunday’s walk is going to be challenging. 22km is a long distance for relatively inexperienced walkers like ourselves, and it’s the longest distance some of our group have ever walked. Add into that a very steep ascent (and decent!), and we’re up for a big day. A very big day. None the less, I’m really excited to be taking this adventure with my friends, and I’m looking forward to challenge of ensuring everyone succeeds in this oddly team sport.