The 2012 Spartan Sprint in Toronto was my first ever Spartan Race, so I was excited to get back there. Not sure that my body was as excited, knowing what was ahead after I had just put it it through a couple of races the day before.

While this year's race was at the same location, the organizers made some noticeable, and beneficial changes. Yet another course with a ton of hills proved that elevation changes continue to be my nemesis. However, while most racers tend to move slower through the obstacles and make up time during the run, I've found the obstacles are my strong suit and where I pick up time.

Not sure exactly why, but the Spartan Races in Canada do not seem to be as difficult when it comes to obstacles as those held in the USA. The distances required to pull the concrete blocks and carry the sandbag, are all shorter, and held on relatively flat ground. Even the "Hercules Hoist" - an obstacle where you hoist a boulder by a pulley system about 20-30 feet in the air - seems to use a lighter boulder (unless I've just gotten stronger).

New this year, and utterly draining, which proved to be the downfall for most racers and where you could see a plethora of burpees taking place (which for those of you who don't know, Spartan Race imposes a penalty of 30 burpees should you fail an obstacle before you can move on) was called the "Premium Rig". This obstacle was 3 parts and was stationed right near the finish line. The first part required a monkey bar cross - simple enough, except for the fact that it included not just circular rungs, but square as well which forced you to change your grip, and an incline and decline. Once you finished that, it was on to the rope climb. Climb the rope to the top and come back down - again, relatively simple, except this rope had no knots in it making it a little more challenging. Finally, the third part was a ring crossing (think "Hang Tough" from American Gladiators - such a great show). Fail any portion and you did burpees before you could move on to the next one. Fail all 3 and that meant you did 90 burpees on just one obstacle.

Thankfully, and slightly to my surprise after seeing the 2nd place elite racer even fail during the final obstacle, I made it through without issue. Actually, now that I think about it, I actually made it through the entire course without failing an obstacle. Pretty certain my body was happy about not having to do any burpees.

So here we are, 5 races down, 95 to go. My body is slightly worse for wear (hopefully the saying is true that women like scars, because I'm going to have a lot following this year), but overall is staying strong. Time to shift focus to the next weekend - back-to-back Tough Mudders in Brooklyn, MI.

This was the second year that the Xtreme Muck Ruck (XMR) took place. I ran it last year too, and more local races like it can either be relative successes, or be pretty miserable failures. Fortunately, XMR can be placed in the former category, as they did pretty well for their first time last year, and made some great improvements this year.

One of the great things about this race is accessibility. They actually have 3 distances you can choose to run while out on the course - 2 miles, 4 miles, or 7 miles. I chose the 7 mile course again this year and they made it far more difficult. The race is held at the Twisted Trails Off-road Park and is most frequented by ATV's. The number of hills on this course was certainly the most difficult obstacle and by the end my quads were cursing at me.

Because of the accessibility of the race, I was fortunate enough to have some family and friends also run the course, some at the same time I did, others earlier in the day - though because I was the only one to take on the 7 mile course, I didn't actually see them except for right before the race started and after I finished. They also added a kids course this year, which one of my sister's friend's son absolutely loved. The number of times he ran the course he probably could have at least taken on the 2-mile course. Not bad for a 6 year old - Good work, Oliver!

At the end, I had the chance to meet the 2 race directors, who have been supportive of Run to Remember since I first contacted them. They're awesome guys, who just want to put on a great event, and they certainly are doing just that...especially in an area of the state where you don't see obstacle races. They're putting on a shorter 5K exhibition event on October 5th in Grand Ledge, MI, which I'm excited I'll get to be a part of. Anyone near that area should definitely consider it, and it's only $30 to enter, which is relatively cheap when you talk about an obstacle race of any distance. Thanks for your support guys!

I was also fortunate enough to have my parents do the driving for me this weekend, so I could get some rest between races. I can't thank them enough for their support. In a quick stop to Applebee's, so I could carb load for the next day, the manager actually came out and talked to us and my mom was explaining what I was doing (I was too busy scarfing down my meal as fast as humanly possible). That's been one of the great things so far, as I run and people read the shirts, they start asking questions and I get to explain my reasons for running and they often share their own stories, offer up encouragement, or even take pictures of the back of the shirt so they can visit the site later. While $1 million is an important measurement of the goal, creating awareness is an immeasurable goal that is extremely necessary to support the cause of gaining further support to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease.

From there it was on to Toronto (well, Barrie to be exact) for race number three of the weekend and the 5th race overall, which you can read about it a blog to be posted later.

Hero Rush - Michigan kicked off a full weekend for me. I started out at 8:30am at the Hero Rush in Oxford, MI, jumped right in the car after finishing the race to head 3.5 hours north to the Xtreme MuckRuck in Copemish, MI (more on that race later). Following the Xtreme Muck Ruck it was back in the car for a 7 hour drive to Barrie, ON, Canada (outside Toronto) for the Toronto Spartan Race on Sunday (more on that race later too). A special thanks to my parents for their willingness to drive me around this weekend so I could get some rest between races!

I have mixed feelings about the Hero Rush, though reflecting later it was an overall good course. One major positive is that it was definitely different than most of the other obstacle races. There was zero mud, and most all of the obstacles were firefighter themed. Quite a few of the obstacles were particularly more difficult and physically demanding like dragging a stretcher with a sandbag on it over a wall, under barbed wire, and then over another wall - among others which you can see in the video posted soon. While these obstacles were certainly entertaining because they were new and different, some obstacles seemed shaky, but could partially be due to the terrain, not necessarily poor construction (at no point did I feel unsafe). I ran in the first wave of the day and though while running I was not certain that the integrity of some of these obstacles would last through the day, I'm told there were no issues.

Simply to get in the earliest wave possible, I ended up running in the competitive, or elite, wave - though I had no real intention of attempting to be truly competitive to win any prizes, knowing that I still had another 7 mile race in the afternoon and another race Sunday. However, my competitive nature often overtook me, and I needed to actively silence the voice inside my head that said, "Go faster. Leave it all out here. You can catch some of the guys in front of you." Thankfully, the part of my brain that knows there is a larger goal and task at hand took over and I scaled back my pace. Sounds like a topic for another blog post later as I know this will be a constant internal battle.

Overall, it was a pretty great experience for Race #3. It's always exciting to run a slightly different race than you've come accustomed to. Check out the video to be posted later this week after I get it edited and see for yourself what I experienced. It was also great to have some additional friends there at the race...my boss from the gym I instruct at part-time - Brandan Thomas (who jumped in last minute to the competitive wave and took 2nd - way to go Brandan!), Becky Bolles, and Darci Brasier (members from the gym who ended up posting the top 2 times for females during the day) who also came out and ran - all of whom sported Run to Remember shirts too and got some additional publicity for the cause. While I was running, the emcee actually caught a glimpse of the back of their shirts and asked them to speak a little about Run to Remember and drawing greater attention and awareness to the ultimate purpose of the mission - an end to Alzheimer's.

Special shout outs also to my buddy Andrew Cuevas, who I ran the Mid-west Super Spartan with last year as a part of Team Dial for Men, and have now seen at the Savage Race last weekend, the Hero Rush, and will run Sunday's Tough Mudder with next weekend. Another shout out to Ryan Makowski, a buddy from college who was out there running as well.

Race #2 of the first weekend took me from Zanesfield, OH over to Channahon, IL for the Warrior Dash on Sunday. I was actually really looking forward to this event, as the Warrior Dash in Illinois back in 2010 was the first obstacle race I ever completed back in 2010. It was a great event back then and Red Frog Events continues to put on outstanding events that I look forward to each time.

My excitement and anticipation for this event was certainly well-placed. I'll touch briefly on the race itself here, but focus on the experience above and beyond the race shortly after. If someone asks me about running their first mud and obstacle race, I always point them towards Warrior Dash. It's just the right distance for most people, and the obstacles present just the right amount of challenge for someone starting out. What Warrior Dash really succeeds at is creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable, like they can complete the course, and an atmosphere of fun that makes you want to spend the entire day there. You can actually see my footage of the race in the race videos portion of my website.

My sister and I after the 2010 Warrior Dash in Illinois.
Now on to my experience outside the race. I have to say a big thank you first to Red Frog Events, as they've been one of the first race series with the Warrior Dash to support Run to Remember by offering free entries to me for any of their events to help offset some of my costs and reach my goal. I can't tell you what a huge help that is. Not only have they offered up the entries, but Makenzie Smith has continuously been following up with me to see how things are progressing including a congratulatory email after completing the first 2 races this weekend, and the rest of the staff I met during the race was incredibly welcoming and genuinely excited to be helping me and Run to Remember succeed. A lot of credit for that experience on this particular race day goes to Matt Ericson, a fellow Michigander who is interning for Red Frog this summer.
Matt met me immediately after I got checked in. He then took me around the course to give me a glimpse of what was in store, and started to introduce me to many of the Race Directors and other interns working the event. As someone who has also had the task of managing volunteers for large events, it was great to be with Matt as he checked in on the volunteers while he took me through the course and made sure that they were taken care of and having just as great of an experience as the racers were. For those who don't know me as well, for a guy with a Sport Management background whose professional career has been spent primarily in college admissions focusing on event management and great guest experience, getting a glimpse behind the scenes was a ton of fun for me. This was a side to the event that most racers don't get to see - the incredible amount of work that goes into the coordination of such a major event. And that's just during the event, not to mention all the work leading up to and after, and for Red Frog, it seems all done with a smile and the utmost desire to make sure that each and every person who is at the event from the racers, to the spectators, to the volunteers, has the best experience possible.
Course tour with the awesome intern, Matt Photo credit: Ali Engin - alienginphotography
I then took my turn to run the race, and had a great experience on the course, actually running faster than I anticipated or planned, knowing that there were still 98 races ahead of me. After I finished, I then had the chance to pitch in and help distribute water at the end of the race with some of the other race volunteers, Matt, and other staff. While most people like to relax and have their celebratory beer after the race, this was actually another true treat for me. It may seem odd that after a race I'd rather work a water line than have a beer, but having the volunteer experience at some of these races is incredibly enjoyable, especially right at the finish line. Once you've finished a few races, you sometimes forget that unique feeling of completing your first race, meeting a goal you set for yourself, or crossing the finish line covered in mud with all of your friends. While I was only at the finish line helping for a little while, I loved getting the chance to be a part of that experience for the runners crossing the line with big grins on their faces. Whether you're a seasoned racer or not, I encourage you to take the time to volunteer at one...it's a pretty incredible time.

So to Matt and the entire staff at Red Frog Events, thanks for an extremely memorable experience both on and off the course at Warrior Dash Illinois. I can't wait for my next Warrior Dash here in Michigan in July, and if you need some volunteer help, I'm pretty good at carrying around 5-gallon water jugs :)

Oh and in case they read this:
Marty - That mustache is epic. And I mean Burt Reynolds epic.
Blades - Your mom is awesome. Seriously, awesome.
Madelyn - Thanks for being ready to pull me out of the fire in case I happened to trip on my way over. I had complete confidence you'd rush in to save me.
Matt - "Did we just become best friends?" 
Well, after months of preparation, the journey to 100 races officially began this past Saturday at the Savage Race in Zanesfield, OH. This was my first time running a race in the Savage Race series, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it certainly did not disappoint. While the obstacles were relatively familiar with several other race series, the greatest obstacle was the venue itself. I guess had I looked up "Mad River Mountain", I probably would have realized prior to driving into the parking lot that it was in fact a ski hill.

I'll have video posted soon of running the course. As I stated above, the obstacles were pretty typical to many other obstacle races, but the running up and down double black diamond ski slopes was truly the most difficult part. If you're from Mount Pleasant, MI, or have been there, you know that "Mount" is pretty misleading, so my training has lacked any real elevation changes...especially for these type of hills. Talk about burning quads and calves!

My parents, my aunt Ruthie, and cousin Kimmy, also made the trip down. It was great to share the kick-off event with them and to have them cheering me on as I started this journey. Some folks at the race even started to take notice of the cause. A few of the runners saw the back of my shirt and urged me on and wished me luck for the rest of the year. When I finished, I also had the opportunity to interview with the finish line announcer and tell anyone who was listening just what I was running for, as he encouraged them all to check out Run to Remember.

So now it's begun. After months of planning and preparation, it's time for me to push my physical limits to make this year all about bringing awareness to Alzheimer's disease and to reach the goals I've set out to meet - 100 races. 52 weeks. $1 million for the Alzheimer's Association. One down; 99 to go. 

Tomorrow I'll post about race #2 from Sunday, and a great experience at the Warrior Dash in Illinois. Warrior Dash has already shown great support to me and Run to Remember, and they definitely showed me the love on race day. But more on that in the actual post...