Spartan Race Review

Some friends and I signed up for the PA Spartan Sprint, supposedly 3 miles of various obstacles. Five miles of mountainous terrain that takes the average participant well over two hours to complete is not a sprint.  

Map of actual race course.
A freakin Gatorade at the 45 minute mark would have been paradise. But no, the guys and I (and everyone?) produced 90 plus minutes of intense activity in the heat on four dinky cups of water.

This race was a marathon of misery and awesomeness.

Yes, 5+ miles is much different than 3, when every mile includes carrying and dragging buckets of rocks and cement blocks, tire flipping, creeping through gravely mud, and (the worst) running, walking, crawling, collapsing to evaluate your existence, on double black diamond ski slopes under the July sun.

There was much climbing and carrying and pulling, me with 1.5 arms. Just a few months ago I estimated that this event was out of the question following another little event known as Torn Pec and Surgical Repair.

There were hoses and hecklers. Hill-mud, hill-mud, hill-mud. There were walls to scale, some of them 8 feet tall. No one told you not to lunge down rocky terrain. There were no warnings about wiping out on the balance logs.

Some of the hundreds of spectators should have been participants. Some of the thousands of participants would have made better spectators.

There were many people trying to make it over the walls, failing horribly at stacking and stepping and boosting. Not even close. Many were sitting on the ski slopes, head hung between legs, unable to go on and too far to turn back. The task was nothing for the faint of heart and lets just say that there were many who signed on with a false sense of their abilities.

Make no mistake, merely completing this race is definitely an accomplishment.

The guys and I came in the top tier of the Open Division contestants. Our times would have placed us ahead of the middle of the one Elite Division that took place earlier. For our first race, for any race, I'm extremely proud of Kyle and Cort and Ben, and of our showing.

If we do it again next year, we will take specific training a little more seriously and enter the "elite"  heat. We may actually have to try doing more hill endurance type misery.



how to build huge calves

Visiting a local gym to assist a client transitioning out of physical therapy, I heard a strange noise coming from behind, making it difficult to hear the person in front of me. I turned to witness a man groaning. Moaning. Squinting with face to the ceiling.

He was doing seated calf raises.

This one goes out to you, Seated Calf Raise Machine Calf Crusher.

The man wasn't asking for advice. He was working them calves. It was impossible not to judge him.
I mean, he was at the gym. Strength training. He could have been doing a lot worse with his time. But all the moaning and yelling and Big Dawg drama was just begging for attention of some kind. I was tempted to go ask him what his Seated Calf Raise Machine Goals are.
If you want to know how to build huge heavy chunks of blocky bulk that extend to the top of your feet and make you feel like you're running around with cinder blocks duct taped to your shins, then you should ask someone else.

Perhaps they will share their Secret Russian Seated Calf Raise Machine Routine, shouting spittle in your face until you blow that thing up. Because the soleus muscle is preferentially recruited when the knee is flexed and the gastrocnemius is on slack and blah blah blah.

But if you want to be strong and fast and efficient, and you're feet and ankles are in relatively good health and you care about functional anatomy, you should probably get off the seated calf raise machine. And the standing donkey calf raise machine.

If you really want your calves to function well and maybe grow a little, you should try my very own

Calfy McCalverson Anti-Calf Routine.

Squat and/or Deadlift: Once or twice per week, for a lot of weight and a lot of reps. Just do it, and you will grow the right stuff in the right proportions, all over.

Single Leg Jump Rope: Once or twice per week do this as a warm up or as a finisher. Do 100 jumps on both legs to tune in and don't even look at your calves until you can do 100 single leg jumps in a row on each leg. 

Hill Sprint with *Special* Recovery: Sprint up a fairly steep hill and walk down backwards with nice long controlled strides.

Caution - You will be VERY sore in the calves the day after walking downhill backwards between hill sprints. You will stir up achilles tendinopathy and other ankle/foot related problems if you do any of this too-much-too-soon. So go slow, okay?

If you're relatively heavy or have structural foot issues, you need to pay particular attention to the right foot wear and slow progression. These exercises are all fairly aggressive in terms of strain and impact. You may need to do months of prehab before your muscles and tendons are ready for this.

If you manage to achieve the resolve and the type of body that comes with these exercises done on a fairly regular basis and you still CARE about the size of your calves...

Well, I truly don't know what to tell you.

But I definitely have someone to introduce you to...

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Lessons from Blake

Blake went through the Slippery Rock DPT program at about the same time as I. We were like minded and got along very well. Actually, everybody liked him a lot.

Blake was in excellent physical condition. He carried around a massive upper body: chest and tris, back and bis. His legs were tiny. Blake was an intelligent and kind How Much Ya Bench caricature. But this wasn't due to neglect. On the contrary, he squatted and leg pressed twice per week, to exhaustion.

His legs were simply tiny (relative to his upper body) because he did...

Blake jogged often. He stirred away on a stationary bike almost every day for at least an hour while studying. And he wouldn't let up, as someone in his family had suffered a cardiovascular event in their 50s. 

At about the same time, I lifted harder, quit running around so much (school and having a life necessitate that), and allowed my legs to recover. I went from barely being able to dunk with one hand to dunking in games and throwing down 2-hand reverses.

I doubt that Blake needed all that cardio, that an active 25 year-old who eats very healthy and exercises regularly requires that to stave off any genetic predisposition to heart disease. But the point here is that you can't have it all. If long duration activity and fatigue made people into powerhouses, we'd have a lot more of those walking around.

You cannot be great at endurance events and as fast and powerful as you possibly can be. If you're untrained or deconditioned, you can improve all areas simultaneously for a while. If you want to be fast in the 800 meter dash or marathon, there are a ton of track coaches and trainers eager to run you into the ground with endurance exercise.

And that's absolutely fine if endurance events are your thing. 

But if you want to gain "foot speed..."
If you want to gain explosive strength for leaping and accelerating and hitting...
If you want to get jacked and awesome...

(And from the questions I hear, this is what a lot of people are after...)

You must lift heavy things for low to moderate reps. You must sprint and jump and accelerate full-bore, teaching your brain the art of explosive total body effort. You must push yourself without chasing fatigue for the sake of fatigue, which short circuits your long-term progress.

You must rest well, and do just a little heavier - higher - faster the next time. 

elite boxer, football lineman, basketball forward, wrestler, and marathon runner