Beast, Super, Sprint

Continuing my Spartan Race series, today I would like to chat a little bit about the difference in preparation between a Sprint, Super, and Beast. I’m going to break this down by preparation step so you can really see how my process changes depending on the Spartan distance I’m bracing for. Please note that I am not a coach, this is just my experience (which hopefully will be helpful to future Spartans).

Training Plan

The real difference between a Sprint, Super, and Beast is length of course which translates to amount of time an athlete will spend on the course. This means that your training plan is going to have to support you differently as you prepare for these races. For a Sprint, you’re probably looking at a 2-3 hour course time (unless you’re REALLY FAST or it’s a very long/tough Sprint). For a Super, you can be out there more like 4-6 hours. You can plan for anywhere between 5 and 10 hours on a Beast depending on your level of fitness and the length of the course.

Western Mass Super: 2016; Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

Western Mass Super: 2016; Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

For all of the races, you’ll want to do a good combination of trail running and strength training in your training regime. There are some good training plans out there online you can dig up, or talk to a certified SGX coach who can help you craft one. Sprints, for me, don’t actually mean any difference in my regular training; Crossfit combined with a rigorous running schedule prepares me no problem. When I know I’m prepping for a Super, I make sure to mix in a couple 6-8 miles trail runs and some extra hill training. Beast prep involves long trail runs, lots of hill training, and lots of sled work (to get my quads and hams ready for the brutal ups/downs that a Spartan course entails). I also do fatigue or brick training when I prep for a Beast; back-to-back workouts with little rest between to get my body ready for the endurance aspect of the race.


No matter what race I’m on, I make sure to take in about 100 calories every hour, on the hour. I also take in a salt tab every hour (and one hour before I hit the course) particularly if it’s a very hot day. This means calculating approximately how long I’ll be on the course to prepare my nutrition packs. I am a slow, steady OCR racer and I can generally bank on my slowest miles being around 45 minutes on a Spartan course. As a result, I pack enough fuel for that time (since I want to make sure I have enough, and taking a little extra never hurt).

On a Sprint, I may or may not pack fuel. If I think I’ll be off the course in 2 hours or less, I’ll throw a Gu in my pocket but I won’t sweat it other than that. A Super requires a Camelbak so by then I’m in full nutrition prep mode. I pack everything in double-bagged ziplocks so my pack can be submerged without damage to the fuel and/or salt tablets. For a Beast, I basically pack a picnic. I will take “Frankenfuel” (Gu packs, Cliff Shot blocks, etc.), but I will also take real food like jerky, Rx bars, and trail mix. I don’t assume I will be off the mountain in less than 10 hours to make sure I have ample fuel, and I take anything I think might sound appetizing. IMPORTANTLY I don’t take any fuel that I haven’t previously trained with. The last thing I want on a Spartan course is a GI issue.

What’s in the Pack

As I mentioned, I don’t usually do a Sprint with a Camelbak, though I have made exceptions for exceptionally hot days, exceptionally long routes, or if I’m racing with a group who hasn’t done a Spartan before and might not be able to anticipate their own hydration/fuel needs. I do make sure I have a water-resistant watch and a pair of gloves (I use batting gloves; they really save my hands when I have to do burpees). For a Super, I pack all of my fuel, my sodium tablets, gloves, watch, full Camelbak (that I refill on course every chance I get because you NEVER KNOW), and travel sunscreen. Since I am generally on the course for a while, and since the course generally involves getting wet/sweaty/dirty, I want to make sure my skin doesn’t pay the price for being outside. This has been a marvelously effective way to avoid getting a dorky headband sunburn from the headband bib numbers you wear during a Spartan. On a Beast course, I pack all of this (more fuel, obviously), PLUS a few extra salt tabs (I have often been asked for extra by other racers, and I like to have one or two on hand beyond my own needs for this reason), and a spare long sleeved tech shirt if it’s likely to get breezy/cool down as the day wears on.

What I do After

Honestly, not much changes race to race. I eat more calories on a Beast day than on a img_3089Sprint day, but I couldn’t tell you how much more because I make it a rule not to track my nutrition on race day. I take the same victory pictures. I drink the same amounts of victory beers. I smile with the same amazing feeling of accomplishment. I take the same awesome victory showers (…though I may wash my hair one or two times more on Beast day than on Sprint day). I wear my medal all day long (race day tradition). A Spartan is a Spartan and it’s an incredible thing to achieve no matter what distance you’re racing, so I stay proud any way I slice it.

So, Spartans, anything I’m missing here?

20 mile hustle

As I near the end of my marathon training cycle for the 2016 Mount Desert Island Marathon (I’m two weeks from taper y’all! WOAH!), I am also dealing with some serious distance during my Saturday morning long runs. Since I’m an avid Crossfitter, my coach designed a marathon training program for me that’s a little different from what a strict runner might use. As I’ve previously mentioned, I only run once a week; my long; and the rest of the week I spend doing work to strengthen the muscles that my legs need for dealing with the marathon distance. The theory behind this is that my body is making the most of rest periods in order to recover from the damage that a long run can do. It’s a great program for me because it keeps me from getting bored. While I love to run, doing it four or five days a week for LONG periods of time can get a little repetitive. My training program keeps me on my toes and, while there is a pattern to it, it also makes sure that I’m mentally engaged in the training rather than piling on a constant barrage of “junk miles” that do nothing but needlessly tire my overworked muscles.

This weekend, I tackled my last 20-miler of the training cycle. It was my second time at the distance, and while I can’t call running 20 miles “easy,” it definitely went down a bit smoother than my last 20-miler. I tend to hit the wall right around mile 8, get a second wind, and push through. What I hadn’t counted on was re-hitting the wall (mile 18 for those who were curious). I hit it hard on my last 20, but this time it was less of a slam and more of a tap. I was able to push through much better thanks to some adjustments my coach and I made in my hydration routine, also thanks to the weather being a little less brutal.

Post 20; first you feel like this....

Post 20; first you feel like this….

All that said, it was really hard to get myself going at 5:30 AM this week. Since it’s been so oppressively hot, I’ve had to roll back my wakeup time to get some mileage in before the sun beats down. This has been surprisingly uncomplicated; it means going to bed at around 7:30 the night before so I give my brain plenty of time to shut down and then get the requisite 8+ hours. Unfortunately, it also means I don’t get the best sleep in the “early” phases of the night (before midnight or so). This week, I was asleep by 8, but inexplicably awake from 9:30 – 11:00 and suffering from some mild GI distress which wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried.

When the alarm went off, I was under slept. I was also cranky, and still thinking about the scarier bits of the “Supernatural” episode my honey and I had watched the night before. Since I’m a wicked chicken, this was pretty disturbing to me in the pre-dawn hours when it was still pitch black outside and I was all alone in a shadowy house trying not to make noise while I got ready for my run. Much to my dismay, that whole “it’s autumn and thereby daylight happens later” thing is also kicking in. I’m used to pre-dawn light starting right around 5:30, when I leave, so I don’t actually run in darkness. This weekend, it was bumped back by about 15 minutes (due to cloud cover and also the natural rhythm of dawn being later in the fall). As a result, my run started in the dark.

So I was scared, it was dark, and when I stepped out the door it was both hot and humid. This did not make for ideal long run conditions. I tried to bargain with myself; just run the first half outside and then you can come back and finish the last 10 on the treadmill in the air conditioning if it’s really that terrible. Just keep going until you feel like you should stop and then you can come in, get cool in the air conditioning, and maybe finish up on the treadmill. Thankfully, and counter to all intuition, it actually got cooler after the sun came up and turned into a nicely temperate overcast day. By mile 8 it was obvious that while I was going to suffer a little bit, I would be fine to finish the run outdoors.

Recently there’s been an article circulating my Facebook feed about how telling yourself you can do something (out loud, and in the definitive positive voice) gets you pumped up better than anything else. I tried to riff off of that and tell myself that not only can I do this, but I would feel SO AWESOME when I was done. Long runs do that; there’s something about running an unreasonable number of miles before most people are even awake on a Saturday that makes you feel like you can do pretty much anything.

Sure enough, while I was completely pooped afterwards, I felt awesome. My wonderful honey even treated us to lunch from Noodles & Company because I was craving pasta (gee, I wonder why?). This was our first time trying their food and we both gave it a rousing thumbs up. One great thing about that place is they have detailed nutrition information about all their dishes available on the website. Since I’m constantly managing my nutrition, this is key for me. I really wish all places would do this; calorie counts are useful, but not as useful as macronutrient breakdowns.

Since Saturday was long run day, Sunday has been mobility, stretch, and rest day. The

...then you feel like this

…then you feel like this

arches of my feet have been tweaking lately and I’m hyper paranoid about plantar fasciitis. There are some really tender spots right now, so I’m subbing in a nice long walk for my recovery run in order to reduce impact and give my muscles a chance to recover from whatever inflammation is going on down there. I also made sure to do a nice long stretch and foam roll session, and I’ll get one more in before bed.

What are your favorite recovery regimes?

Things the Marathon Training has Changed

Marathon training is a huge commitment and, as I’ve found out during this (my first) marathon cycle, can change a lot in your life. Some of these changes I thoroughly anticipated and expected; while others were a little more sneaky. Here’s a run-down of how my life has changed since I started marathon training.

I’m a…. morning person?

Because I’m training during the summer months, I have to wake up early (….and I mean EARLY) to get those long runs in before the heat bakes me out. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who hated mornings, but apparently that’s not true. Apparently I only strongly dislike mornings when I haven’t regulated my sleep schedule enough to get in the requisite eight hours. Turns out if you go to bed at 7:30 PM on Friday night, a 4:30 AM wakeup call on Saturday isn’t the worst thing in the world. Who

And Sunday morning recovery runs are a thing. Forget sleeping in on weekends!

And Sunday morning recovery runs are a thing. Forget sleeping in on weekends!


I can eat a lot

 I guess I always kind of knew this, but usually there was so much guilt affiliated with the massive consumption of food that I just sort of swept it under the carpet and tried to forget about it. When you’re fueling your body for marathon training, food guilt is pretty much out the window. On long run day, I sometimes eat five full means (two of which are mostly carbs) just to get in the requisite calories with the proper nutrition balance to fuel my training. NOM!

Massages are no longer a luxury… and actually hurt more than they relax

 With the things I am putting my body through, I need to take very good care of it. One important way to do so is to make sure I keep up with my mobility: my lacrosse ball has become my best friend. I keep one under my desk at home so I can roll out my feet on a regular basis. Sometimes, the self-care regime just isn’t enough and I have to seek professional intervention. Before you go all “poor you, have to get massaged all the time,” think about this: I’m getting rubbed down because there is some muscle group (probably in my lower body) that won’t stop hurting. Fixing this problem is very painful. Massages are no longer a relaxing device, they are a feel better device… that is, after they are a torture device.

Weekends are no longer your own 

The first half of the weekend (Friday night and Saturday morning) are now sacrificed at the altar of the Marathon. I can’t tell you how many plans I’ve had to sorrowfully turn down with people I would really like to see because bedtime on Friday is so egregiously early and wakeup on Saturday means 3-5 hours of running. Saturday day might also be gone too depending on how long the Saturday morning run is. 16 miles or less andIMG_3761 I’m generally good to go after an hour or two and some serious feeding. More than that and I start to push into areas where my body just doesn’t want to do ANYTHING for several hours. I can’t blame it; it’s not like running 20 miles is easy or anything.

Post-run brain is a thing

After a long run, my IQ drops by at least 50 points. I stop being observant, I can no longer make higher-level brain connections, and forget intense conversations. My vocabulary is basically reduced to that of a five year old. This really just means that I have to plan to be out of commission. I set up my snack at the front of the refrigerator to avoid unnecessary fridge diving. I make the grocery list Friday afternoon so that I don’t have to think about it. I spend my run planning what mind-numbing television show will best help me recuperate after the ordeal of running, so that’s planned out too. Post-run brain is all about the proper planning so that you have your luxuries in place before you really need to think about them.

Alright, your turn. What are some that I have missed?



My Spartan Go Bag

Alright; so you’ve signed up for your Spartan race. You’ve trained, you’ve thought about what you want to wear, you’re ready to go. But what should you pack? While some things in my Spartan kit are mainstays, there are definitely race-specific items that I need as well. Today I want to break it down a bit and go through what’s in my race bag and what I definitely don’t bring to the start village.

The Spartan Go-Bag

My first few Spartans, I was still developing the habit of what to load up in my go-bag. This is the duffel that I will take from the car into the starting village, check at bag check, then have immediately after the race. As such, it has to have all of my indispensible items in it. A couple years of racing have made this a science; here’s what I generally bring:

*A Towel
Self-explanatory; Arthur Dent style.

*Flip Flops/Shower Shoes
The Spartan shower is just a bunch of hoses on planks to keep you from getting your newly-clean feet overly muddy. You need a pair of shoes that can go through the water unharmed. I use flip-flops, but I know others that use Crocs.

*A change of clothes
A FULL change of clothes; socks, underwear, the works. Include fresh shoes if you don’t intend to wear your shower shoes off the course. I generally just wear my flip flops the rest of the day.

*Several plastic bags/garbage bags
You’re going to need something to store your muddy, sweaty, disgusting clothes in so you

I'm telling you.  You will be muddy.

I’m telling you. You will be muddy.

can get them home and washed. I usually shove two garbage bags in my go-bag and leave a few in the car in case I need to cover the seat on the way home.

I have curly hair and it tends to get nuts when left to its own devices. As a result, between the finish line and my shower at home my hair becomes kind of scary. I pack something to stick on top of my head so that I can at least put the hair away until I have the opportunity to wash it.

*Shower wipes
I discovered these for my Beast this year and I’m not looking back. While Spartan does provide a place to hose yourself off, it’s basically in a field amongst mixed-gender company. You get the top layer of grime off, but there’s still definite grunge underneath those clothes you feel too bashful to remove in mixed company. I find that I generally want a second pass at being clean when I peel those muddy clothes off. Enter the shower wipe: you can get them pre-packaged with one wipe that will do your entire body. You could also just pack a bunch of baby wipes; but my household doesn’t tend to go through those fast enough so they dry out in the interim between races. You can find these sweet puppies on Amazon.

I have a big bottle of sunscreen that I keep in the go-bag, and I take a travel size bottle in my Camelbak on the course. Because I am serious about skin health.

*A pouch for necessities
There are definitely things that I don’t want rolling around in my duffel because I just won’t find them when I need them. Cash, credit cards, ID, etc. All of these go in a little pouch like this one that goes in the duffel. That way, I have the important stuff together in a place that I know I can grab it if I need to.

Things I have in the Car just in Case

Since the car will be parked a fair distance from the starting village (sometimes a whole shuttle ride away), you won’t have access to these items immediately after the race. That said, they will be there when you need them.

*An extra set of clean clothes
We learned this the hard way last year when I accidentally dropped my fiancé’s clean pair of after-race undies in a puddle of dirty water while he was hosing off. Bring a spare set of clean everything, you seriously never know when you might need it. Leave it in the car so that nothing can happen to it. You may not use it every race, but it only takes one underwear-drop to feel grateful that you have it.

*My wallet and phone
Since Spartan bag check is not generally a secure affair, I only bring the bare minimum of what I need in my go-bag (generally an ID and a debit card with a tiny bit of cash). The rest stays in the car. Locked and secure.

make sure you take lots of "before" pictures; they're great for compare and contrast later!

make sure you take lots of “before” pictures; they’re great for compare and contrast later!

*Water. Water water water.
Yes, there will be water at the finish line; but generally you’re going to have a long drive home from these races. I keep at least a bottle of water, if not a case of water, in the car for after the race. It has definitely improved my next-day comfort (and my ride home comfort).

There will also be snacks at the finish line; but calorie deprivation turns me into a cranky hunger beast. In order to protect my driving buddies from the wrath of the beast, I throw a protein bar, trail mix, or (if it’s a big race) a sandwich in the car so that I have immediate food should I need it. Trust me. It’s a necessity.

Things I leave at Home

There are things that I just don’t take on the Mountain. Period. Here is a short list of them.

*Anything that might get broken, drowned, wrecked, or stolen.
Spartans are why we can’t have nice things. Don’t be dumb; you’re about to encounter extreme situations involving water, mud, dirt, physical activity, and other people. Leave your valuables at home.

*My fitness tracker
As much as I would LOVE the HR data from a Spartan, I really don’t have the confidence that my Fitbit won’t get broken or fall off during the race. I actually tend to leave it in the car just so I can wear it before and after, but it definitely goes nowhere near the starting village.

*Basic first aid supplies
Spartans come equipped with a first responder tent. Things like ice, ibuprofen, ace bandages, Band-Aids, antiseptics, etc. can all be found at the starting village. You don’t need to bring them. Extra points for being a boyscout, but it’s not a necessity.

*My camera
There will be professional photographers on the race and race pics are free. Your device will just get damaged and ruined. Leave it at home. The exception to this rule is a GoPro when it’s got an appropriate case; GoPro footage of Spartan races is awesome and there should totally be more of it in the world.

There ya have it! The basic necessities of starting village comfort. Next time on Spartans with the Dani Beast I’ll chat about the differences in what I bring on the course for a Sprint, Super, and Beast. Until then; stay strong!

Thanks for all the Fish

As an athlete, I like to think of myself as a perpetual student. My form can always be better; I will always have more to learn about nutrition; a fresh set of eyes will always see something different in my lifts. I’ve also spent a lifetime as a teacher of movement arts: a fight director, ballroom dance instructor, and (way back in the day) swim instructor. I’ve been on both sides of this table.

As a teacher, I make frequent corrections. My students are with me to learn; what I have to show them is something they aren’t experts in. I know more than they do and I see what their bodies are doing with an outside eye. As a result, I’m in a position to note when something they are doing isn’t quite right. The more I correct their form, the more they can grow in whatever movement they are learning from me.

My coach definitely had things to say about my elbows in this front squat

My coach definitely had things to say about my elbows in this front squat

I’ve noticed a knee-jerk reaction in my students to immediately apologize for whatever they are doing wrong. “Hey, the lead on that is coming a bit too soon. You’ll want to wait until the next beat to execute it.” “Oh! Sorry!”

It breaks my heart when students do this. Mistakes are a crucial part of the learning process. When you’re doing something new, or doing something you hope to become better at, you’re inevitably going to do it wrong many many times before you finally get it right. That’s why we practice; that’s why we drill. Being a student is all about making mistakes. It’s a matter of how we react to these mistakes that determines what type of student we are, and how quickly we will excel in the given movement form.

As a result, I never apologize to my coaches when they give me notes on my form. My knees coming together in a squat or my back arching a bit too much in a deadlift are not things to be sorry for. These are elements of the learning process; inevitable foibles that are required to move forward.

So I say “thank you.” I don’t try to explain what’s going on (unless what my coach is telling me contradicts something I thought was correct); I don’t apologize for the mistake; I don’t make excuses. I simply thank my coach and try to do it better next time.

Saying “thank you” also communicates to my coach that I am listening, paying attention, and respecting their expertise. It expresses the truth: that I am grateful for the help and for their expert eye, as well as their devotion to helping me get better at whatever it is I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong; there are some mistakes that warrant an apology. Any mistake in which you are actually at fault for something will want to be accompanied by “I’m sorry.” Being late to class, stepping on someone’s toe, or accidentally grabbing someone else’s jump rope from the equipment stack (for example) are all moments where an apology is more than appropriate. The inevitable by-products of the learning process in a physical discipline? Not one of these moments.

So try it; see what happens. Don’t apologize for mistakes that only effect you. Learn from them, grow from them, and see what they can spring-board you into.

What to Wear for your Spartan Race

While I won’t say that I’m an “expert” Spartan racer, I will say that I’ve put a few notches on my belt at this point. I’ve done at least one of each of the three primary races (Beast, Super, Sprint) in multiple different environments through different kinds of weather. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things.

One of the most anxiety-producing parts of learning to race, for me, has been the research phase of it. While there are a few great reddit threads about Spartan racing, there are very few long-form pieces of knowledge about the races. I spent a great deal of time fervently Googling as I researching, desperately trying to find someone who blogged about what to wear; what to pack, and what to expect. Since I’m now in a position to add to the communal collection of knowledge on these topics, I figured I would do so in hopes of easing someone else’s mind as they themselves prepare for their first Spartan. Discussing Spartans will not take up the entirety of this blog since I know Spartan racing isn’t the only thing my readers might be interested in, but at least for a little while expect to see one entry a week geared towards the Spartans among us.

Today, I want to tackle a great primary question: what should I wear to my Spartan race?

The short answer is: things you wouldn’t mind throwing out after the race, absolutely nothing that’s cotton, and something that will give you protection from the course.

While I haven’t ruined every article of clothing I’ve ever worn on the Mountain (indeed, going through my Spartan photos you might notice that I tend to wear the same shirt to every single OCR; there’s a reason for that and it’s a story I might get into at a later date), I have junked my fair share of clothes. Barbed wire (a mainstay of Spartan racing) is brutal on clothing, and I’ve seen many a racer (myself included) do a great deal of damage to their duds whilst crawling under it. My favorite pair of Spartan pants was ruined this way (may they rest in peace). Mud, rocks, abrasions, and even the obstacles themselves will all take a toll on your kit. On my Beast, I tore the front seam of my pants several inches

Taken just before the finish line on my Beast.  You can... not really see the wardrobe malfunction I mention (but trust me, it's there)

Taken just before the finish line on my Beast. You can… not really see the wardrobe malfunction I mention (but trust me, it’s there)

coming over the incline wall (luckily it was late in the race and my shirt covered most of the tear so this wasn’t as embarrassing as it could have been). I’ve worn holes in multiple pairs of socks (they get wet making the fibers of the fabric more delicate, and then the constant pounding of running just shreds them). I haven’t lost a shirt yet to the race, but I’ve seen plenty of people do so. My point: don’t expect to get anything back from the cruel mistress that is the Mountain.

Quick-dry fabrics are a MUST. You will get wet and muddy (unless you’re doing a stadium sprint, in which case you will probably just get sweaty). Quick dry fabrics will work to keep moisture off your body, and if it’s not a terribly humid day will even dry out most of the way as you run. This will mean that your body can more efficiently keep cool (since sweat won’t be stuck to your skin but will, rather, evaporate as nature intended); or even warm on a cold day (who really wants to be stuck in a sticky cotton tee shirt when it’s in the mid-sixties?). When I say wear quick-dry fabrics head to toe, I mean it. Quick-dry socks can be purchased at a running store; so can quick-dry underwear. Trust me; the last thing you want is for it to be swampy in the nether region while you’re trying to carry a bucket that weighs half what you do up a hill in the pounding heat. Also: dampness promotes bacterial development. Particularly for us ladies, it’s important to pay heed to keeping it as dry as possible where the sun don’t shine. I was on the Mountain for 8 hours to complete my Beast; I sure as heck didn’t want to be growing a veritable petri dish in my pants that whole time.

During a Spartan, you will be crawling on rocky, muddy ground. You will be climbing ropes. You will be using your knee pits to hang on to netting and lines. You want to wear something that will protect your knees, legs, and (if possible) elbows and arms from the various hazards of the course. It took me a few years to figure out that if I wore soft leggings, I could roll them up to capri length for most of a hot course, then roll down the

I wore layers on my Beast (the long sleeved top layer eventually got removed as it warmed up) but you can see that I wore long socks with my capris

I wore layers on my Beast (the long sleeved top layer eventually got removed as it warmed up) but you can see that I wore long socks with my capris

legs when I wanted full leg protection. This also means that the extra fabric acts as a bit of a cushion for my knees when I want it to. Rope climbs are not something to be done without a layer of fabric between your shins and the rope; trust me. If you must wear shorts, consider wearing long socks that cover your knees to give your poor skin something between it and the abrasive surfaces you will inevitably encounter.

I wear gloves on Spartan courses because I like to have something between my hands and the ground for doing burpees and barbed wire crawls. They also help save my hands on things like the Herc hoist and cargo climbs. I take my gloves off when I do the rope climb, monkey bars, or anything when I want to be sure of my grip. My gloves are great, but they do tend to get slippery when wet or covered in mud (which happens quickly on the course). I use batting gloves; they are unlined leather gloves, cheaply available online or in a sporting goods store. They are also quick-dry, and I’ve run mine through the washing machine several times now with no issues (they do shrink a little when you do this, but I’ll take that over the hassle of hand-washing).

My pink gloves are pretty distinctive; and as you can see from this shot kept my hands from getting totally dusty in this dust bowl

My pink gloves are pretty distinctive; and as you can see from this shot kept my hands from getting totally dusty in this dust bowl

Last, but certainly not least, shoes. When I first started doing Spartan runs, I wore old running shoes that I was going to get rid of anyway. This was fine for a while until I realized that 1) I was going through “disposable” shoes faster than I could make “disposable” shoes and 2) for a relatively nominal investment, I could get a pair of shoes built to handle Spartan trails that would wash off between races. Undoubtedly, the coin of the realm for Spartan shoes is the Inov-8 X-Talon (or the Inov-8 Mud-claw). Unfortunately, these shoes run extremely narrow and I have pretty large, wide feet. After doing much research and reading many reviews, I settled on the Salomon Speedcross 3. I have never looked back. These shoes are awesome because they have a cleat which sticks into the mud and lets you glide across it like a elf on snow. I didn’t realize how much I was struggling needlessly with the loose trails of a Spartan course until I picked up these shoes. If you’re even semi-seriously considering doing more than one Spartan, I would highly recommend a pair of trail shoes. Make sure they’ve got great drainage (again, you will get wet); and make sure they fit you well. Remember that for trail running you want a closer-fitting shoe than you do for road-running; no slipping and sliding in those puppies!

I’ve already been over my sunglasses thing so you know how I feel about eye protection (and how to choose a pair of sunglasses that will might survive the course.

And that’s pretty much it. My golden rules for how to dress for a day on the Mountain. I hope these are useful to you; and remember to keep an eye out for future Spartan-themed tips and tricks. I have a whole lot of them!

I wear my Sunglasses

If you follow my Instagram (and if not, you totally should!) you might have noticed that I wear sunglasses a lot. It’s true; I barely ever go outside without my trusty sunglasses. I’m pretty photosensitive; bright lights get to me very quickly and can even trigger some pretty awful migraines.

If we do a combo indoor/outdoor workout, I can even be spotted wearing them in the gym.

If we do a combo indoor/outdoor workout, I can even be spotted wearing them in the gym.

But I will admit that I have a problem: I lose sunglasses. Not just lose; break, destroy, and abandon. I am a cheap pair of sunglasses’ worst nightmare. I will love them and use them every singe day for a season until one day, they just crack under the pressure or go on a vacation and never return. I generally go through between 2 and 3 pairs of sunglasses in a year and because of this, I have some policies about my sunglasses:

I never spend more than $10 on a pair of sunglasses. My favorite pairs have been nabbed from a mall kiosk where I got a deal for buying like four of the same pair. I also stock up if I find a good price on them at the grocery story (I once scored a pair of sweet shades with Darth Vader on them from a Publix when my primary pair of sunglasses bit the big one while on vacation in Florida).

I only purchase sunglasses that have rubber edging on the ear hooks. This helps them stay on my face when my face is sweat (i.e. during a workout), and also makes it easier to wear them on my head when I’m not working out.

I only purchase sunglasses that fit perfectly. And I mean perfectly. They have to fit like a glove; not too tight, not too loose. As a result, I’ve taken sunglasses on long Spartan courses and not suffered a loss. It’s all about the fit people; shop picky and shop often.

I have a specific designated “sunglasses zone” where I always put my glasses down when I come back into my apartment. This means that they’re always available when I need them and that I always know where to find them. Every time I have accidentally deviated from this rule, it has resulted in a tragic sunglasses loss.

I don’t take them off when I’m out. They either go on my face, or pushed up on my head. If I don’t take them off, I can’t leave them somewhere never to be IMG_3616found again. This also means that my aforementioned “fit” rule has to apply to fit on my head as well as on my face. It’s important to try on your sunglasses in various permutations just to make sure you’ve achieved optimal sunglasses harmony.

This summer, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve managed to nurse this one pair of distinctive yellow sunglasses the entire season. They’ve been with me on two Spartan courses, countless half marathon-length runs and courses, errands, work trips, vacations, and more. I happen to love them because the distinctive color makes me easy to spot in group photos/race pictures. I realize that by blogging about how awesome they are, I am probably dooming them to some sort of ill-fated accident in the near future, but I’ll take my chances. I’ve had a backup pair on deck all summer because… well… I lose sunglasses.


This weekend, I finished the race that completed my Spartan Trifecta.

For those not in the know, the Trifecta is a series offered by the fine folks at Spartan. They

post-race beer with my medals

post-race beer with my medals

run three basic race lengths: the Sprint (3-5 miles with obstacles); the Super (6-8 miles with obstacles) and the Beast (10+ miles with obstacles). When you complete each race, you are given a finisher’s medal and a wedge of a second medal; one third of the Trifecta medal. To complete your Trifecta, you must complete one race of each type within one calendar year.

I ran my first Spartan race in 2014. It was a Sprint at Mohegan Sun (therefore a “stadium Sprint” and slightly less tough than your standard issue Sprint). I prepared hard for it. This race was the impetus to finally begin and finish my couch to 5K program. I cross-trained with an aerial acrobatic course to build strength. I thought I was ready.

Turns out, I pretty much was. I finished with plenty of gas in the tank and really excited to try it again. One of my compatriots had caught a massive cramp midway through the race, causing us to slow down dramatically. I was frustrated that I couldn’t perform to what I knew was my fullest, and really eager to try again and see where my limits actually were. At that point, I thought I might someday have a Super in me. I never thought I could complete the Beast.

By 2015, I had hit a point where I was flirting with the idea of a Trifecta. I was running regularly, I was set to complete my first half marathon midway through the season, and I was in pretty decent shape. I was still nervous about the Beast, and an injury sustained over the winter of 2015 (fractured clavicle) pretty much ruled out intense upper body work for the season. I had to rehab my shoulder before I could even consider something so grueling as training for the Beast. Trifecta 2015 was out; but I still completed a Sprint and a Super. The Super was grueling; 6 and change miles in driving rain up and down a ski slope. The mud was ankle deep over about 70% of the course. Obstacles were closed or modified due to safety issues. I hit the finish line of that race without much left, and was pretty glad I had made the choice not to push for Trifecta.

By November of 2015, I was re-examining my fitness goals. I had completed 4 half marathons between May and November of that year, and showed no sign in slowing down. I had discovered Crossfit and was attending classes regularly, seeing massive improvements in strength and general athletic ability. I was trying to figure out what the next step was.

It was pretty obvious at the time; it made me a little nervous, but I was reasonably sure that I was finally in good enough shape to begin training (and that I had the proper support to do so). I decided that 2016 was going to be Trifecta year.

Podium Finishing pose from my Beast

Podium Finishing pose from my Beast

I trained for my Beast all winter, and ran it in New Jersey on April 30th. It was grueling. 14 miles (the longest I had traveled in one clip to that date); up and down a ski slope. I hit the finish line mentally and physically exhausted. To make matters worse, I had chosen to run it alone. I have a very small number of fitness friends; and of those most are runners. There wasn’t really anyone who was crazy enough to do it with me; so I did it myself. It took me eight hours to complete, but I came off the mountain with the utmost certainty that if I could handle this, I could handle pretty much anything.

Since I completed the Beast first, the Super and Sprint were not really taxing at all mentally. My Sprint was over Father’s day weekend and I was set to run it with my fiancée, my sister, and my dad. We had run this race the year before and my dad had broken his ankle at about mile 2. We all rushed off the course to get him to the hospital and DNFed (my only DNF to date). As a result, my dad had a vendetta with the mountain. We arrived to find out that it was going to be a long one; 5.8 miles; almost a Super. Once again at about mile 2, tragedy struck; my fiancée twisted his ankle coming down off the 7-foot wall. When he

The whole gang at my Sprint

The whole gang at my Sprint

realized he wouldn’t be able to finish the race, he encouraged us to go on ahead. Since we were pretty sure that this wasn’t going to be a hospital trip, we did. My dad was a champ and finished strong; successfully beating that mountain into submission.

My Super was out in Barre, Massachusetts. This was a completely different race from any Spartan I’ve run before. I’m used to these courses being on ski slopes – hilly to the extreme. The course in Barre is on a dairy farm; it’s flat. The biggest ground hazard is from pockmarks in the field that can easily be ankle twisters if you’re not careful. Due to the aforementioned ankle injury, my fiancée couldn’t run this one; so we took it slow and walked. I’m not going to say that any Spartan race is “easy,” but compared to others I have run this one was a breeze. For that, the weather was against us. It was forecast to be 90 degrees with a heat advisory, and since the course is basically just running through fields there was minimal shade. Luckily, it didn’t quite get that hot; it was only around 82 (“only” being relative here).

Finisher's pose at my Super; sensing a theme here?

Finisher’s pose at my Super; sensing a theme here?

Finishing this series means the accumulation of my first ever fitness “super goal.” It’s the first thing I’ve found that I once though “I could never do that” and then proved myself wrong. It’s the most challenging physical thing I’ve ever done, and the second most challenging thing I’ve ever done (the first being getting my Ph.D.). I’m really proud of it, and I will probably be blogging more about it in the weeks to come because there’s a lot I’d love to gush about (and a lot I think would be helpful to other Spartans). But for now, I’m going to sign off and drink some more water or roll out my lats or something. Until next time!

Fueling Up

Here’s something I’ve heard out on the road: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Fueling!”
Person: “But you’re only running [a half marathon; 10 miles; w/e]!”

Okay, so first of all, let’s get rid of the word “only” when describing distance. Sure, there are people in the world who run crazy ultra-marathons (a hundred or more miles over the course of a day or two). Sure, there are people in the world who do triathlons and other endurance events that are way harder than a 6, 10, 13, or even 20 mile run. But using the word “only” implies that in order to be a “real” athlete, I have to measure up to these people. You know what? The only person I have to measure up to is myself. I work every day to be stronger than the previous day; who are you to tell me that the person I am today is “only” anything?

Alright, that little mini-rant out of the way, onto the next one: fueling is about time on your feet and calories burned, not distance. If I’m running for over an hour, I fuel. That’s just the way it is. Personally, I find myself most comfortable when I take in about 100 calories after the first hour and then on the hour after that. If I’m going very long, I will try to do 50 calories on the half hour rather than 100 calories on the hour because it keeps my blood sugar/insulin from spiking and then (subsequently) crashing.

I use a variety of fuels when I run. I started with just Gu but gradually I have moved to prefer cliff shots. I love the gummy candy texture, and the fact that they come in easily dispensed blocks allows me to control my intake a bit better. With a Gu packet, I pretty much have to take the whole thing or none at all (I have yet to master the “take half of your Gu now half later” trick that I know some runners use). Pro tip: tearing the Gu packet open with your teeth will keep you from getting sticky fingers when you’re trying to fuel yourself.

These days, I’ve taken it a step even further. When I can, I try to fuel with (gasp!) “real” food. I have to put “real” in quotation marks because there’s not much really real about the food I tend to use. I favor Rx Bars (pretty processed despite their wholesome ingredients) and Pop Tarts (come on, seriously? I can’t call this real food). Half an Rx bar has about what I need for an hour’s worth of going and it packs up pretty conveniently. These puppies kept me on my feet for my Spartan Beast which took me an unexpectedly long eight hours of trudging. Rx bars have a good protein/carb/fat balance so that you’re not just getting carbs, but I will say they are pretty chewy. They’re approximately the consistency of a tootsie roll, so I find I can’t really run through my Rx bar snack break; I have to stop and walk it off.

Pop tarts are a whole other beast entirely. I’ve had mixed reactions from people when I tell them I use pop tarts as fuel. Some say “Oh my god, Pop tarts! I love those things! They’re so good and they’re not terrible for you!” Others reel in horror at the disgustingness I’m putting into my body. Let me set the record straight: Pop tarts are terrible for you. One pastry is 200 calories of pure carbs/sugar. To make matters worse, they are packaged two pastries to a packet. This means that either you have to come up with some method of keeping your extra pop tart clean and uncrumbled, or be forced to eat two servings of this already terrible snack in one go. Not okay, sneaky food industry. Not okay.

Suffice to say the Pop tart conundrum is pretty annoying. I, personally, grab a Ziploc and stick the whole shebang in my camelback. Over the course of a long run, I’ll go through two pop tarts so it’s not a big deal. That being said, I now understand why my mom was so adamantly against feeding these abominations to us when we were kids. They are, however, great quick carbs for when your body is burning fuel so fast that it’s hard to stay on top of things. As a result: runners, crossfitters, weight lifters… pop tarts are awesome for us. I’ll eat a quarter of a pop tart every half hour and find myself doing great for the run. As an added bonus, if you’re running when it’s hot out the heat will give you a nice melty pop tart center just like a toaster oven. Yum? Or gross? I choose yum.

Anyway, fueling is one of those things that’s different for everyone. You’ll have to experiment for the best results. The only real hard and fast rule is that you probably shouldn’t criticize another runner’s fueling techniques mid-race…. Especially if the other runner is a complete stranger who just happens to be running next to you for a while.

Rules of the Road: Runner/Driver Edition

I do a lot of road running. I like it; it lets me get out and explore my neighborhood (or close by neighborhoods), it lets me run in places where I feel like I can get support (i.e. water, bathrooms, call for help) if I need it, and it provides an interesting urban environment to take in as I go. I find all kinds of new and cool things while I’m running; museums, shops, coffee stops. I really enjoy getting to know the places around me as a runner, and it removes obstacles between meand my run because I can just walk outside my door and go if I want to.

However, there is one thing about road running that can sometimes put me on edge: the drivers. I admit that I live in Massachusetts; a state notorious for its lack of etiquette behind IMG_3562the wheel. That said, there’s just a few pretty logical little rules that I truly wish drivers would keep in mind when they encounter runners on the road.


 I get it. Sometimes, the shoulder is narrow. Sometimes, you’re driving on a really cramped two-lane street. I, too, am a driver and have experienced these things. But for heaven’s sake, if you spot a runner coming towards you, do your best to give them a wide breadth (obviously not at the sake of safety or obeying the rules of the road). There is no reason to try and get as close to the runner as possible while you zip by. Such behavior is pretty much guaranteed to scare the pants off of the poor runner. I try to be as courteous as I can be when I’m running on a busy road (and, honestly, I try not to run on busy roads); but there’s only so much I can do when a driver decides that they absolutely must be skimming the curb even when they have plenty of space on the other side. Try to stay aware of this while driving. If you can give the runner space without endangering yourself or others; give the runner space! Trust me, we don’t want to be in your way, we will try our best not to be.


I really don’t know what people are thinking when they do this but here’s the deal: it is not cool to honk at a runner for no reason as you drive past. Is this some form of cat-calling? Is this some kind of weird show of support or solidarity? Or is this the driver’s way of ridiculing and playing a practical joke on the runner? I have no idea. All I can tell you is that it annoys me, it startles me, and it breaks my focus. It’s a safety hazard because it makes me think there’s something I haven’t noticed that I need to notice coming up fast (after all, why else would the car make such an alarming and sudden sound?). Please, for the love of runners, don’t do this. Say a semi-silent cheer of awesomeness if you must, or give a thumbs up as you drive past. That’s enough support. Trust me.


In Massachusetts, pedestrians have the right of way at marked crosswalks. That means that if a pedestrian is waiting to cross (and certainly if they are in the middle of the road!), it is your legal obligation to allow them to do so. Now I’m not going to lie and say that I have always done this every single time I’ve been a driver passing an intersection, but it’s definitely something to stay aware of. You definitely do not want to speed up in an attempt to “make it” before the runner, or cause the runner to try and dodge out of your way as you go by (true story; I wish I could say this was an isolated incident). Be courteous to the runners out there; they want to live through their run.

IMG_3571Almost as bad is trying to “let” runners pass against a light at a traffic-controlled intersection. Most of the time, intersections that have walk/don’t walk signs are intersections that need them. Complicated traffic patterns mean that even though you are going to let the runner go doesn’t mean the runner isn’t at risk from another vehicle who doesn’t know that you are vagrantly disobeying local traffic laws. Honestly? I never walk against the light when I’m out running even when a driver waves me by. The last thing I need is a traffic incident to land me in the hospital for however long. I’ve got races to run, people. I don’t have time to be injured because I couldn’t wait the extra sixty seconds for the light to be favorable to me.

On behalf of runners everywhere, I personally thank you considerate drivers for your dutiful attention to these noteworthy items. Small acts of consideration can definitely go a long way towards making my run more pleasurable.