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Though last year's Midwest Super Spartan took place in October and was moved this year since it was 30 degrees during last years event, I was really excited to get back to this event. First, it's just a great event, at a great venue, with great obstacles and challenging terrain. More importantly, however, it was driving back from last year's Midwest Super Spartan that I formulated the initial plans for Run to Remember. I'd be wrong if I said I didn't become extremely reflective on the journey it's been since that day in late October to now and even more thankful and slightly surprised that the plans I started to develop at that time were actually in motion.

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First off, the race was once again incredible. As I stated in a previous post about the Spartan Beast, there's something special about a Spartan Race, making their slogan "You'll know at the finish line" extremely appropriate. I love the physicality the race presents and even though it's still a race and you're competing against others, during a Spartan Race I always find myself competing more with myself than in any other race. I thought I knew what to expect having done the race last year, but Spartan Race being the innovators that they are took us on a completely different path, with very few of the same obstacles, and making some of their traditional obstacles all the more challenging. After running the Hurricane Heat the night before, I wasn't quite sure how my body would recover and react, but I ran a surprisingly good race, finishing in the top 100 overall out of over 3000, and 14th in my age group. Of course that doesn't include the Elite racers, because those men (and women) are just incredible all-around athletes who demolish these courses in times that us mere mortals could only hope to run on a flat course without obstacles. 

I was also thankful that I only ended up failing 2 obstacles, leaving me with only 60 burpees considering the number of burpees we did during the Hurricane Heat the night before. The spear throw continues to give me problems - I wonder if my apartment complex will mind if I build a replica to practice. I also failed at the Hercules Hoist. Most people doing burpees complained about their inability to get a grip on the rope. This wasn't my issue, but rather I just simply couldn't get it off of the ground. I can't be certain (and I may be exaggerating), but the 5-gallon bucket filled with cement may have weighed more than I did, leading to my issues. However, in both cases I did my 30 burpees dutifully, counting out loud, so everyone knew I was taking my penalty seriously.

I'm truly appreciative of Spartan Race, because not only do they provide me each and every race with unique ways to challenge myself both physically and mentally, but they've recently given me the tremendous opportunity to spread the word about Run to Remember and to create greater awareness for the Alzheimer's Association to their millions of followers. On the 14th of July they posted to their blog the story about what and why I'm running, later posting it to Facebook where it received more attention than I ever could have generated on my own. At this race I also had the outstanding pleasure of working with Steffen "Cookie" Cook and a couple of videographers, Matt and Sean, where they interviewed me and allowed me to tell more about the importance of Run to Remember, as well as getting footage of me going through several of the obstacles, for a short feature to be produced later. I never would have imagined being given such opportunities when I first formulated the idea so many months ago, especially considering all of the incredible stories of others out there running. Hopefully through the magic of editing they can make sure I sound good lol.

So between the Hurricane Heat and the Super Spartan, it was an incredible 18 hours spent with Spartan Race. I also had the chance to meet with people who were following along on Facebook and Twitter, which means so much knowing that word continues to spread about the need to find a cure for Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, a race on Sunday was still on the schedule, even though I really didn't want to leave. I can't wait for my next Spartan Race, which will truly test all of my physical and mental strength and drive as I take on the 26.2+ mile/50+ obstacle Spartan Ultra Beast at Mount Killington, Vermont - the most intense and furthest race I've ever attempted. 

So thank you again to Spartan Race for your continued support of my efforts and for continuing to put on incredible events...you've got a fan for life.

 
 
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On the morning of Friday the 19th, I got into work a little early, logged into Facebook, and saw a flurry of messages from the "Chicago Spartans" Facebook group talking about who was doing the Spartan Hurricane Heat that evening, prior to running the Super Spartan either on Saturday or Sunday in the same location. I was already set to run the Super on Saturday morning, was going to be leaving work early to head to Illinois for the race, and had always wanted to participate in a Hurricane Heat. After a few contacts with Spartan Race to see if there would be on-site registration available for the Hurricane Heat and confirmation that it in fact was, and some encouragement from others to do so, I decided to pack throw together the extra items I needed for the Hurricane Heat and proceeded to make my way to Illinois, with absolutely no idea what to expect.

The Hurricane Heat first and foremost is not a race, but rather a team event. The best way I can describe it is for anyone who has done a bootcamp workout, imagine that, and then make it 4 hours. We did so many burpees over the entire heat, I lost count, but it was several hundred. Once the initial tasks are finished, like moving 5-gallon water jugs from one location to another, we were then separated into teams. The team concept and leaving no individual behind is stressed over-and-over throughout the entire Hurricane Heat. Having done several Tough Mudders, which touts itself as a team event, the Hurricane Heat is truly a team event. You and your team succeed and fail (which usually leads to burpees if you do) together.

During the heat, we had the opportunity to run much of the course that we would see we ran the race ourselves the next couple of days, but with several unique twists. As a team of nine (shout out to TEAM VOIT!!), we had to navigate each obstacle together. For example, we came to an obstacle that had three sets of 2x4's with netting at most 2 feet off the ground followed by a 4 foot wall. The object of the obstacle was to go under the lower boards and then over the walls - pretty simple. But this was the Hurricane Heat, so as a team we had to figure out how to get 3 people through the obstacle in the correct manner without them ever touching the ground, at any time. My team developed the correct strategy, and as one of the lightest members of the team, one of the other guys kept me on his back throughout the entire obstacle (total beast mode especially when having to crawl under the boards 2 feet off the ground).

Following several laps of pulling chained cement blocks behind us, each team was given 3 wooden logs about 3-4 feet in length that we would have to keep with us throughout the rest of the course (which ended up being about the next 2-3 hours (I really had no concept of time or mileage during the course, except for the fact that it continued to get dark). This required that as a team we continued to strategize how to navigate the obstacles with the logs. This would become particularly challenging when we approached barbed-wire crawls and the logs had to pass underneath as well, without ever touching the barbed wire or the ground. At no point could the logs get wet and even when we had to do additional burpees, a couple team members would have to hold the logs while the rest of the team completed their burpees, had them off and then complete their own set. At one point, while the staff figured out our next path, we all had to get into the plank position, again without the logs touching the ground which meant they stretched along our backs...which you would think would be quite easy, but it also required additional core stability to make sure the logs did not roll off.

There is so much more that can be said about the Hurricane Heat and the events that took place, but it is truly something that you must experience for yourself. While a couple of people on our team new each other previously (I actually was happy to get the chance to be on a team with my buddy, Preston, who I ran the same Illinois Super Spartan with last year as a part of Team Dial for Men), yet none of the nine of us knew each other prior. However, it was amazing to see the bond formed, how we looked out for one another, how well we worked as a team, and the fun we had together in just a short period of time. The experience was something incredibly unique and I'm happy I made the last minute decision to head out to do the Hurricane Heat. I definitely won't forget the experience and Team Voit...can't wait to see any of the photos that might have turned out.

So that concluded race 14. Next blog entry will be Race 15 - the Illinois Super Spartan the morning after the Hurricane Heat in the same location.

 
 
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Race 13 took me to Toronto for the Spartan Beast. For those of you who don't know what the Spartan Beast is, it's a 13.1+ mile, 25+ obstacle race. I've always enjoyed every Spartan Race I've done because I've found they're obstacles tend to be much more physically demanding and they require you to successfully complete every obstacle. If you fail to successfully complete an obstacle you find yourself doing 30 burpees...and if you don't know what burpees are, or have never done them, the last thing you want to do in a race is burpees. Unless you skip the burpees, or do less than the 30 you're required to do, but that's a whole different issue - and at that point, why even sign up for a race with penalties if you're going to refuse to do them? But I digress.

What I also enjoy about Spartan Races, especially as you get to the longer distance versions, is the truly psychological and mental element that becomes a big portion of your individual race. This happens in a couple of different ways. Spartan Race is unique in that they don't publish a course map prior to the race. This means you don't know exactly how far the race will take you, exactly what kind of terrain you'll encounter (though you can bet there will be hills and lots of them), and you have no idea what exact obstacles will be included, exactly how many, or where they'll be located. This race in particular also played with your mind because there were zero mile (or kilometer) markers and none of the volunteers would give you an accurate estimate of how much you had completed or what you had left. This obviously frustrated quite a few of the runners who were encountering the Spartan Race for the first time. And for those who chose the Beast as their first event, it probably was not the best decision. I actually never even bothered to ask any volunteers the distance, assuming they would either not know or intentionally give an incorrect answer, and in the end the race was over when I crossed the finish line and it didn't matter how far I had left to go. 

At each of the 5 water stations, they also presented us with a "simple" math equation, the answer to which we needed to remember in order to solve the subsequent equations and give a final answer to a volunteer near the end of the race and if you gave the wrong answer - 30 burpees. I use quotations around the word "simple" because they really were extremely easy, but you could tell that the length and physicality of the race started to take its toll on some of the racers as they struggled to solve the equation before leaving a couple of the later water stations. In fact, while at the final water station, I actually watched as one racer started writing in the sand trying to figure out what 2013-1800 equaled and listened as he argued with his friend over the answer (neither of them had it correct). Even when I tried to help them with the answer, they still didn't believe me, so I decided to move on. 

I felt pretty good about the mental portion of my run, not to mention the physical portion, as I only had failed one obstacle the entire race and only had to do 30 burpees. The spear throw at the Spartan Race continues to be my nemesis, as I can hit the target, but never get the spear to stick. Don't be surprised if you're in Mt. Pleasant and you see me build a replica of the spear throw lol. I say I felt pretty good about the mental portion of my run, but not great, because I failed to anticipate, like most every runner around me at the time, that when you thought you were coming to the end of the race, you really weren't. Just as we turned the corner after giving our final numerical answer the final gauntlet of obstacles appeared right before the finish line and you could see and hear the crowd cheering you on. Foolishly, I started to increase my pace for the final push, only to reach the crowd and find a volunteer turning us away from the final obstacles and up yet another hill. As I made the turn, somewhat dejected that I had not yet reached the end, I could see that I was not the only runner who was fooled as I watched those who had hit the hill ahead of me climbing slowly with heads down. I kicked myself for not anticipating this twist when I had been fooled in much the same way at the Spartan Beast in Texas in December. I got over it quickly though, made it through the final stretch and finally reached the actual end.

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Just like the Toronto Sprint a few weeks earlier, included in the final set of obstacles was the "Premium Rig", except the rig was slightly different. The Premium Rig reminds me a lot of what you would see on American Ninja Warrior and you see people failing to complete it about as readily as well. This time the premium rig included a short traverse across a set of hanging rings which then transitioned into a singular square bar that you traveled hand-over-hand. Immediately following the square bar was another single ring, which transitioned basically into a pipe that required you to almost do a chin-up in order to reach the raised set of rings just on the other side. Fall or touch the sides of the rig and you were down doing 30 burpees, or as several people did, if you didn't even make an attempt, 30 burpees. (I actually saw several times where people wouldn't even attempt an obstacle throughout the course and chose to do the burpees instead, which I never truly understand). Thankfully, I passed through the Premium Rig without issue, made my climb up the slippery wall, took my hits from the gladiators, and crossed the finish line to complete my 13th race in 30 days.

I could talk so much more about each obstacle, but once I get the video edited, I'll let you see for yourself. A big thank you to Spartan Race for also featuring Run to Remember on their blog on Sunday, which if you haven't read it you can do so here: http://blog.spartanrace.com/a-run-to-remember-brad-kloha/. Up next for race #14 is the Super Spartan in Illinois, which I ran last year and look forward to the challenge the course presents. Thanks to everyone for their continued support and for following along on this journey!

 
 
I happened to be in Chicago this past week for a conference and in my search for races happened to find that Lincoln Park was holding their annual 8K/5K Bastille Day run on Thursday evening after my conference sessions were over. It presented a unique opportunity to get in a mid-week race, which definitely helps in the quest for 100. I've resigned myself more to the fact that road races would have to be a bigger portion of the goal than I first had hoped, simply based on availability.

I had no idea what to expect, especially from a race scheduled for a Thursday evening. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a city like Chicago was still able to hold a race with over 2,000 participants, even on a night when the Taste of Chicago was taking place, and both the Cubs and White Sox had home games...not to mention everything else that goes on in the city.

I'll also say that I've always been a big fan of the city of Chicago and each time I'm there I'm reminded how impressive it is. This run in particular reminded me of the year I spent living in Evanston and would go for runs along Lake Michigan. For me there have been few places I've run (thus far) that can rival the views you get from a run like this. First, you have the beauty of the lake and it's shoreline. Second, while running south you get to see the picturesque skyline of the city of Chicago. Finally, for this run in particular, the rest of the route wound you through Lincoln Park itself where you enjoyed the park system, neighborhood, and marina; Not bad for a 5-mile run. Joining me for the race were my friends Dan, Erin, and Jon, and we all agreed that we were pleasantly surprised by the event, and each had our own individual stories to tell based on where our paces put us in the pack.

So race 11 is now in the books with 89 to go.
 
 
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Though I've already posted about races 8 and 9, I never got around to posting about my Tough Mudder weekend, which were races 6 and 7. This was the beginning of my Tough Mudder weekend to complete both races 6 and 7 by running the course both Saturday and Sunday. This first post focuses on the Saturday event, which I was fortunate enough to be joined by a team of friends who all ran the event together.

For those of you who don't know what the Tough Mudder is, I'd recommend visiting their website and watching some of the videos. Tough Mudder is easily one of the giants in the mud and obstacle racing industry, and also one of the more difficult. Courses range from 10-12 miles, depending on the event, with the Michigan event being 12 miles. This was my 3rd Tough Mudder after running 2 last year, but the first time I ran in temperatures above 40 degrees which made the experience much more enjoyable lol.

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Tough Mudder is also a little different in the fact that it is not a timed event. In fact, Tough Mudder stresses that working with your fellow mudders and helping them to complete the course is more important than how fast you complete. For the most part, everyone adheres to this principle, which creates for an overall positive atmosphere out on the course, is extremely conducive to a team event no matter the differences in physical ability among team members, and participants regularly encouraging and helping perfect strangers to get over an obstacle.

Now on to my specific race experience -
I ran the Saturday event with some fraternity brothers, friends, and some of their friends and family (now my friends too). A big "HAZAA" to Steve-O, Jacki, Alfred, Joe, Joe's dad - Joe, and Matt. And a thank you to them for wearing "Run to Remember" shirts during the race as well to help continue spread the word.

The waves were running slightly behind, well and when I say slightly, I mean about an hour in some cases. However, we made the most of our wait before the start telling stories and bonding with other people in line. When we finally jumped the wall to get to the start corral, they actually just gave us some quick instructions and let us take-off to try to catch up on some time. In that regard, I feel slightly bad for my friends who for them this was their first Tough Mudder because the TM emcee Sean is like no other race emcee out there. You can read about him more in my post aboutSunday.

Through most of the race we ran into quite a few back-ups at obstacles, which again, since it was about 75 degrees out and I had a great team with me, wasn't so bad. We worked well together, went at a comfortable pace for everyone, and encouraged everyone to conquer each obstacle. After completing each obstacle we all came together to do a team cheer of "HAZAA" and moved on. About 6 miles in it started to downpour, with the occasional sideways rain, which made the course and the run in between obstacles even more fun.

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There are a few obstacles that draw the most excitement, sometimes ire for the participants, but overall enjoyment for both spectators and runners. I'll highlight a few here:
        - Arctic Enema - If you've ever taken an ice bath, imagine that. Now take that feeling and think about jumping into a dumpster full of ice and water, having to completely submerge yourself to go under a board half way through, and then claw your way to the other side as your muscles revolt the entire way. For many people, this is the worst obstacle.
        - Walk-the-Plank - This is really only an obstacle if you have a fear of heights. Personally, I don't, so I love this obstacle. Climb up to the top of a 20-30 foot platform and then jump into the pit of water below. Who doesn't love that?!
        - Funky Monkey - Imagine the monkey bars at your elementary school. Now make the first portion an incline and then after reaching the peak, you go back down. It can sound simple enough, but the incline can prove quite the challenge, especially when you add the fact that your hands are already slick with water and mud and so are the bars from participants before. I'm proud to say I made it through no problem both days and was able to avoid dropping into the pool of cold water below.
        - Electric Eel - Army crawl through a pit of water, but hanging above you are live electrical wires carrying 10,000 volts. This is definitely a favorite for spectators, but for many mudders torture - as is evidence by the plethora of expletives and screams throughout the obstacle as people take shocks in the back of their heads and every other portion of their body. Thankfully, in my 4 Tough Mudders I've now completed, I've never been shocked in this obstacle as I've been able to keep my body low enough to avoid the wires.
        - Everest - You've probably seen a half-pipe used by skate boarders, but at the Tough Mudder you run up it. Again, this is a favorite for spectators, probably more when they get to watch people slide back down who don't make the top. This is one of the obstacles where you see some of the most camaraderie among mudders as many who have made it to the top stay there to help grab others running up the half-pipe and pull them over the precipice.
        - Electroshock Therapy - Another crowd favorite because participants run through another tunnel of live 10,000 volt wires. This is the final obstacle standing between you and the finish line. This one is much harder to avoid any shocks with many more expletives being used, shouts, and the occasional mudder who immediately drops face first into the mud after being shocked. Quite the site to behold.


There are about 15 more obstacles, but you can watch my video I'll post soon once it's edited so you can see what else we went through. There's certainly a reason why Tough Mudder is so popular and people flock to participate, even with the threat of electrocution lol. The best part about it, especially in my mind, is the atmosphere. Tough Mudder has made it clear who they are and what they want their races to be like and they execute it almost flawlessly. Even though I've done it several times, my favorite part is bringing along new people who have never done it before and being a part of their first experience and seeing their pride after they complete it.

Up next, my blog post about running it a second time on Sunday, this time without a team.

 
 
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Race 9 took me to Gaylord, MI for the Over the Top Xtreme 5K at Treetops Ski Resort. This was the 2nd year for the race, and with some improvements, I think they're on their way to holding a pretty great entry level obstacle race in an area that typically wouldn't see an obstacle race. With none of the obstacles being overly intense, it's an extremely accessible race for those who may not have run an obstacle race before, but may be interested in trying one.

Before getting to some minor details about the race itself, what made this race even better was some of the people who were there (as is often the case). My mom once again joined me and I love having her support at as many races as she's already made it to (thanks, mom!). Also in town were my great aunt and great uncle from Oklahoma. They've followed all my racing since I really got into it last year, so I was excited to have them there in person to see what they've only watched in videos. In August I'll be down in Tulsa for "Conquer the Gauntlet" and they'll get to see another race, as well as some of my young 2nd cousins who will get to see it live for the first time.

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One of my fraternity brothers, Jason McArt, also joined me for the race. This was actually his first obstacle race and now I've totally got him hooked. I love introducing people to obstacle races because they always come away loving them and wanting to do more. It's a great way to keep the sport growing, have fun with friends and family, and to keep people active. Finally, two of my friends from high school, Jeff and Ally Roscoe, were in Michigan visiting their families, and since it was close by Jeff had signed up to run as well. Jeff is in the Navy and has been doing some obstacle races near where they live and he actually ended up winning the overall men's title. While he and I were talking, we discovered we both signed up for the 2014 Death Race too. If the rumors are true about needing to partner up for the race, pretty sure we're set to go. While neither of us have Death Race experience, I like my chances with a Navy search and rescuer.

Back to some race details - The race is still relatively small and with waves taking off every 15 minutes, they were able to keep the heats to an extremely manageable size. I ran in the first wave of the day, so I didn't encounter any back-ups at obstacles, but I didn't hear that many folks in later heats encountered issues. Overall, I enjoyed the race, though I could have done without the 5-10 minute break in the race while you rode the ski lift at about the 2.5 mile mark to get to the next part of the course. They're already talking about improvements they know they want to make for next year, so I'm excited to see how they will continue to grow the race. Being relatively close to home, I'll probably be back again next year and maybe improve on my own 3rd place finish. Time to rest and get ready for Race 10 tomorrow!

 
 
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So I realize I've skipped from Race 5 to Race 8 for blog posts, but I'll get back to posting about running the Tough Mudder for races 6 & 7 later, as it will be much more in-depth, because there is much more to write about. So on to Race 8 - the Volkslaufe in Frankenmuth, MI on the 4th of July.

This race was actually relatively uncharted territory for me as far as races go. The Volkslaufe was a traditional road race, with options of 5K, 10K, or 20K distances. I chose the 10K and was happy I did, simply because I still wasn't back to 100% after getting sick from the Tough Mudder just 3 days prior. I mention it as uncharted territory because this was actually only the 3rd traditional road race I've competed in...ever. 

Now, none of this is meant to be a knock at folks who really enjoy road races, but they're just not for me. I definitely felt out of my element and was begging for an obstacle to break up the monotony every step of the 6.2 miles. I'm pretty convinced I was also the only person on the course who didn't have a watch on their wrist and constantly checking it to see my pace. 

I give the Frankenmuth Jaycees and the community credit because they really do put on a great event, and it certainly involves the whole community. As you wind through the neighborhoods homeowners are out in their yards cheering on the runners, many have friends and family over to join in as well, and others have music playing. Some folks even had hoses or sprinklers that they aimed out towards the road for any racer who wanted to run through them. I'm sure anyone behind me thought I was slightly crazy - whereas everyone else stayed a straight course, I could be found changing the path of my run to hit every sprinkler or hose available, simply to add something a little different than just running. The only very odd moment that I questioned about the race was right before it even started. Nothing against our Canadian neighbors, but just prior to the race beginning the band played "Oh Canada" and then the "Star-Spangled Banner". Normally, this wouldn't seem so odd to me since we are so close to Canada, but the fact that the race is held on the 4th of July the Canadian national anthem seemed slightly out of place.

So that's about it for the Volkslaufe. For a road race, I had no complaints, just not my preference. I'll get my blog post about the back-to-back Tough Mudder weekend up soon.