Recently the Spartan Race season got underway with a series of 4 events in Lake Elsinore, California: a Saturday Super, the 100th Hurricane Heat, the 27th 12-Hour Hurricane Heat, and a Sunday Sprint. As an avid endurance athlete, I got excited to start my year off with Steffen “Cookie” Cook, Kyoul Cha and Tony Matesi. I’ve finished 4 HH12HR’s previously, and I’ve learned that each one is unique. Here’s a recap of the journey that Cookie and Kyoul took us through on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The theme was that we went farther and heavier than any previous HH12HR. (Warning, 12 hours is a long time, so this can be long.)
This HH12HR was scheduled to go from 11 pm Saturday to 11 am Sunday, with a warm-up starting at 10:30 pm. From previous HH12HR’s, I knew to take the event seriously, so I got to sleep in and relax during the day on Saturday. It’s not a good plan to run events on Friday or Saturday before an HH12HR because it’s structured to challenge you as much as possible. Your likelihood of success drops significantly if you come to the HH12HR tired. My initial plan was to take a nap during the day, but that didn’t happen, but I did succeed in resting and finalizing my final gear.
One staple of HH12HR’s is to have a unique gear list. The required gear list was:
- Backpack: Red Osprey 60L, big enough to hold all the below gear including the jug
- Hydration Bladder: 2-3L (always go for 3L, I filled mine with Natural Flavor Tailwind)
- Food for fuel: granola bars and beef jerky
- Plain black shirt with no logo’s: inside out Philadelphia-Area Disc Alliance jersey
- Headlamp with backup batteries: two Black Diamond Storms
- Chem lights
- High visibility safety vest: re-used from the SISU Iron
- Duct Tape
- Additional Weight: 30 lbs for men (6 taped bricks ala GORUCK), 20 lbs for women
- Notepad & Pen
- 5-gallon jug of water with water in it. Don’t break the seal: $1.99 Kroger from Ralph’s.
- Memorize a list of European capitals
The additional gear that I brought was:
- Red tights
- Mechanix Gloves
- Injinji calf compression socks
- Merrell Tough Mudder shoes
- Columbia Windbreaker
- Frog skin bottoms (also brought the top but didn’t use it)
- World’s Toughest Mudder buff
- Red Team Rubicon Hat
- Endurolytes salt pills
- Garmin 310XT GPS watch (put on silent and stashed in my bag)
- A complete change of clothing stashed in my car including a towel and flip flops
Getting warmed up: Lap 0
Typical HH12HR events start with a team portion and then move onto an individual portion with time hacks. During the team portion, the only way that you get cut is if you give up. Our first task after doing all the check-in and introduction things was to were to migrate some sandbags about a quarter mile from where they were dropped off to where our base camp was. Next, we dropped packs and everything and went Kyoul, while following the Sprint course for Sunday. In this Hurricane Heat, we were instructed to only complete the Rolling Mud and Barbed Wire obstacles. If there was something we needed, we could complete the Rope Climb and Hercules Hoist, but we were not required to complete it if we passed it. It’s typical for HH12HRs to avoid using the course’s obstacles because safety coverage of the obstacles is scant at 2 am.
Our instructions for this task was that the last person would be given a “code” that we would need to finish, so there was some benefit to being last. Even so, people went out quickly. I decided to go out for a nice casual jog and take in the scenery. The trails are beautiful at night, so it’s good to enjoy that a little while I’m getting used to running by the light of the moon, my headlamp, and others’ headlamps. Kyoul had set himself up about 2 miles into the course, and we said hi then went back to base camp. Shortly before base camp, someone who had started faster than I had the idea for us to group together and return to base at the same time, so we clustered together. We came in as one big happy team, and we got our code: “9.”
Starting Heavy: Lap 1 – Find the Sun
After a short break, we were told to pick up all our gear, including our water jug, and get a sandbag. In total, my pack had 30 lbs of extra weight, 5-10lbs of other gear (3L Tailwind=6lbs), the 2.5-gallon jug is 20+lbs, then add a 25-30 lbs sandbag (slightly lighter for women) to make a total of 85-95 lbs on your back. Our instructions were that there’s a sun on the course with a personal code that we need to finish. We need to travel along the course until we find that sun, then return. As I slung the sandbag behind my neck to rest on my pack, I felt the weight and thought we were going to go a mile or two out and then come back. I was wrong.
Fabian and I have run two HH12HR’s before, and are a similar skill level with my running being faster than his and his obstacle technique and strength being better than mine. As we went out on the lap, Fabian and I paced off each other and kept a slow but progressive pace. With that much weight, it would just be silly to run, so it was all about moving forward consistently and persistently. Occasionally, I dropped to my knees and let my back feel some relief from the weight. After a couple of those breaks, Fabian and another guy named Austin had created some separation and progressed ahead of me. That distance was increased when I stepped in a muddy section, and mud went up to my left knee. I tossed my sandbag ahead of me and crawled out of the mud. I kept a mental note of where that was so that I didn’t make that mistake again.
Soon after the point where we saw Kyoul the first “lap,” we came upon the Barbed Wire. As I came upon the Barbed wire, I saw that there were a couple of people who had just started crawling through. At this point, Fabian had dropped back to my pace, so we got in together. We both noticed that in the dark we couldn’t see the end of the barbed wire. It looked endless. My system was to push the sandbag ahead of me and put my pack on its back. My pack has a convenient handle on the top, so if it’s lying down, I can, pull it by that handle. I rolled one rotation on my pack, then pulled my pack forward and chucked the sandbag in front. I repeated this system over and over again. Fabian and I were going a tad faster than the two people who had come to the barbed wire first, so we were ahead. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we could see the end. We had spent at least 10-15 minutes deep in the sand just trudging along. As Fabian and I reached the end at a similar time, we looked back and saw that the people behind us were a good deal behind us. We were way out front.
The barbed wire finished around the 2.5-mile mark, so Fabian and I realized that we were going to be doing a whole lap with the heavy weight on. Time to get comfortable. At this point, we had figured out a good pace that we could maintain without breaking more than once or twice every mile or so, so we created decent separation on the rest of the pack. Eventually, we made it to the rope climb, which was almost at the end of the course and a first-timer named Austin caught up to us. We asked him if he had found the code, and he said it was back on the rig. Fabian and I had totally blown by it. Both of us dropped out packs and the sandbag and ran back towards the sun at a decent clip. We finally came upon it, around a mile from where we turned around. We got our codes (mine was 33) and turned back around. There were people around the code when we started running back, but we didn’t see anyone between them and our stuff, suggesting that there was a significant separation between the top 8 or so people and the others.
When we got to base camp, I knew that we had that break, and used that opportunity to reapply Vaseline in some key places because I was noticing some rubbing in my heels. We relaxed for a bit until we had around 24 people return, then we had our next task.
A Quick Interlude for Games
Once we had a nice posse, we picked up our packs (no jugs) and went into a nice flat clearing. Kyoul enjoys getting us to play games as challenges. Tonight’s game was bear crawl two-ball soccer. They split us into two groups: the first 12 people that lined up versus the second 12 people. The rules were that you couldn’t pick up the ball. You could only hit the ball. The first team to 3 scores wins, and after each goal, the losing team does 30 burpees whereas the winning team does ten burpees.
As in all games with ambitious people, the game got competitive fast. The first 12-person team dominated the game, scoring 3 points in a row. Kyoul attempted to monitor the game and make the rules fairer as things went along, but there were uncomfortable feelings on both sides about how things were going. The morale on the losing team got low, and there was some yelling going on within the team, especially regarding the pace of the penalty burpees (some wanted to go fast, others went slower). Eventually, the abort button was pulled on that idea, and we moved onto the next task: a team relay. Everyone loves a good team relay!
For this relay, there were three exercises, and each team member had to make it about 100m and back doing 2 of each of these exercises. The first was a bear crawl with your pack where you used your knees to push a sandbag along with you. The second was a crab walk with a sandbag on your stomach and your pack. The last was an alligator walk with a sandbag on your back. If the sandbag dropped, the whole team had to do ten burpees. This was a great experience with the team cheering for the person doing the work. Surprisingly, the second 12 people team who named themselves Team Echo, won that section, so the first 12 people team had to carry the sandbags back.
As we were doing these activities, people were added to the team as they arrived from doing their heavy carry lap. It seemed like no one got eliminated from that lap, as long as they finished reasonably close to when everyone else did. That left us with somewhere around 30 people left, from the 42 that started. We finished this somewhere around 2-3am.
Getting Lighter: Lap 2 – Moon
After that fun interlude, we started the true individual section. Cookie told us that this time we’d be searching for a moon and that it’d be in the middle of the path. We had to bring our packs, but we could leave our sandbag and our jugs. Those 30-40lbs on my back felt so much better than the 85-95lbs that were on there before.
For this lap, we saw our new friend Austin bust out in front with a jog. After jogging for just a little bit with the weight, Fabian, the others, and myself took the strategy of maintaining a nice brisk walk. Running with a heavy pack isn’t good for your joints and this is a 12-hour event, so it’s important to keep a good steady pace going and not get too excited too fast. This time when we made it to the barbed wire, the process went much quicker because there was no sandbag to drag us down. After the barbed wire crawl, Fabian and I found ourselves in the familiar spot of being first, except for Austin was nowhere to be seen. We finished the lap without much trouble after finding the moon (my code was PEAR) and came around to the basecamp, seeing that no one was around.
Freedom! Lap 3 – Wagon Wheel
Kyoul instructed us that the individual portion had begun, and we’d better get out there. We could drop our packs and all other weights for this lap, and we’d be looking for a wagon wheel. Our hint was that the wagon wheel wouldn’t be in plain sight. Kyoul then said, “See you in 30 minutes.” He knows us well, because Fabian and I started off at a nice leisurely pace for us: 8 minutes/mile. We stopped by each obstacle and sign to look around for the wagon wheel, but didn’t find it. Eventually, we started thinking and came to the conclusion that the codes had to be on top of the rope climb. That’s absolutely not in plain sight and was mentioned previously. We blasted through the lap and about half way through the sun came up, allowing us to turn off our headlamps and move a tad faster in our search. For a brief moment, I got excited and started running a 7:15 min/mile, but Fabian quickly noticed that and told me about it. We slowed back down and made it to the rope climb. We saw a sheet of paper up on the top, so Fabian climbed up quickly and read out the codes for both of us (mine was 7). Then we heard Cookie’s voice. He asked, “Did you see a wagon wheel?” We looked at each other and said, “No, but we saw the paper and didn’t even check. You said it’d be in plain sight.” Apparently, we had jumped the gun. The rope climb was our next challenge, not this challenge. Cookie directed us back to the base camp with a nice scolding. At the base camp, we caught up to Austin, who had apparently made the same error. After us, Cookie stood by the rope climb and directed people to continue on.
In watching others come in, we saw that the wagon wheel was by the Hercules Hoist. You had to pull down the bag in order to read the code, which was written in Korean, Kyoul’s native tongue. You had to write the Korean exactly for Kyoul to give you your code.
Remember how this feels? Lap 4 – Rope Climb
After we gathered a set of roughly 21 people that were still in the game, we had our next task. We had to do another lap and our codes were on top of the rope climb when we got to it. Also, for the three of us that made a mistake, we had to get our codes from the Hercules Hoist. This lap started soon after the elite men went out at 7:30 am. We were instructed to stay out of the way of the elite females which began 15 minutes behind them. Kyoul told Fabian, Austin and I that we were not to catch up to the elite men because he knew that we were fast.
As we were about to start going, we were told that this lap included our packs and our water jugs. That might not have originally been in the plan, but it would be quite embarrassing if Fabian, Austin and myself beat a significant portion of the elite field, so they might have wanted to slow us down. Alternatively, they just wanted to make us all suffer an appropriate amount.
As we went about this lap, we cheered on the elite females and said hi to our friends. For some reason, we didn’t see Austin at all this lap. Later, we heard that his water jug had broken, so he was required to fix it before he started. With all the social interaction and the fun of seeing the competitors and volunteers on course, this lap flew by as Fabian and I trudged forward at a decent walking clip. We quickly separated ourselves from the pack and didn’t see any of our fellow Hurricane Heaters until we finished. (My code was 4.) We had a nice little break after that as we collected the 20-or-so people still pushing forward.
Looking at our watches, we saw that it was 9:25 am. Knowing that the event was scheduled to end at 11am and our laps were taking 1-2 hours at best, we figured that they couldn’t make us do another lap. It just wouldn’t be possible. In previous HH12HRs, once they got to hour 11, the intensity decreased and it started being a celebration of finishing.
Cookie and Kyoul gathered us around and told us what we didn’t want to hear: there was one more, aggressive time-hack. You needed to hustle to get this one, and if you didn’t get it, you didn’t finish. We would start right after the 9:30am wave. This put a pit in our stomachs. People were tired, sore, and didn’t think they could move a single more mile, let alone 4.6 more miles with the packs but not the water jug.
You thought you were done? Lap 5
With the “aggressive” time hack, there was a decision to be made: how fast do we go? Fabian and I knew that with 30-40lbs on our back, running the whole time probably wasn’t an option, but this word “aggressive” scared me. Being experienced endurance racers, we made the decision to power walk the first half to the barbed wire, then maybe speed up after that. The most aggressive time hack we could consider them giving us was 10:30am, for a 1 hour lap, so maybe we needed to make sure we got in by then.
Given our decision to start with walk, the rest of the pack blasted past us as the wave started. There were a few people that decided not to run, and we were the front of those people, but that put us around 23nd overall. Given that 40% finisher marker of 17-18 people, that’s a concerning spot to be in. Our walk was quick and unrelenting, and probably was around 13-14 minutes per mile. We caught up to a few people along the way and made it to the barbed wire around 20th. Looking down the epic crawl, we saw so many of our companions in the dirt.
Without hesitation, I got on my side and started my system of a roll, then pull the pack as close to me as possible. I wasted no time and kept a steady but quick pace to maximize speed and minimize errors. As I made it further and further into the barbed wire, I zig-zagged around more and more of my friends. I even got a few nasty or shocked looks from the other side of the barbed wire. It’s hard to tell what someone’s face expresses when we’re both tired. With that efficient strategy, I made it to the end with very few people in front of me.
Knowing that the time hack was aggressive, I made the decision to start run/walking. I had some energy, and it was only 2.5 miles, so it was possible. As I started running, which is awkward with a 30-40lbs pack on, I was surprised how much energy my legs had. I cruised by a few people and eventually made it to the final straight away. Soon after that, I heard Fabian’s voice behind me because he had caught up to me after I had left him behind in the barbed wire. We went together for a little and saw Austin walking about a half to three-quarter mile from the base camp. He peeked back and saw us, then sped up, so there was a little friendly competition to finish strong. When we were about 10ft from him, I started jogging to get a good finish in. We passed him and the three of us started making good time. I kept on speeding up and felt like I was running faster than I could have imagined with a pack on. Natalia Guzman was around and sprinted with me for a good portion of the end. As I saw the base camp, I kept on trucking and finally made it to the finish. Kyoul gave me my code, 4, and told me that I was second. I looked to my right and saw Margarita Guzman sitting down there exhausted. She had started off running that last lap and just kept on going for the whole time! I had finished at 10:25am, which was quick! She was even quicker! She did awesome!
Almost there, now think!
All those numbers had to be for something, right? Yep. If you didn’t get them, you don’t finish. After 12 hours of work overnight it’s natural to get a tad delirious, so Cookie makes you do a math problem to solidify your finisher status. At the end of the event, I had the following numbers: 9, 33, PEAR, 22, 19+15, and 4. First, I needed to transform these numbers to single digits using a “collapsible code.” For numerical values with more than one digit, you add the digits together. If the result is more than one digit, add those digits together again until it is. For letters, the numerical value is the number the letter is in the alphabet. This means my numbers were, after transformation: 9, 33->6, 16+5+1+18=40->4, 22->4, 19+15=34->7, and 4. Kyoul confirmed that those numbers were correct then instructed me to use the normal mathematical operators (multiply, divide, add, and subtract) to make 30.
As a mathematician by training, I’m familiar with these types of problems. There isn’t a single method that guarantees that you’ll find a solution in a reasonable amount of time without a computer. Instead, you just need to try a bunch of possible solutions and troubleshoot to finally get the answer.
My solution: (9+7)+(4×4)-(6-4)=30!
After finding my solution, I told Kyoul and asked if anyone else needed help. As the first person that finished, basically everyone could use help, so I went from person to person helping them solve their puzzle. Eventually, we had 5 people working on one puzzle: make 184 from 9,9,9,4,1 and 6. I got stuck for a while, so I chose to jump off and help Margarita Guzman, who was struggling with hers. We solved Margarita’s, then all turned back to the hardest puzzle. Everyone was working on it for at least 15-20 minutes to no avail. I felt like I had tried every possibility, but I kept on trying. Eventually, I had an idea: I calculated 184 times and divided by each of the numbers: 4,6, and 9. Then I calculated 9x9x9=729. That looked remarkably similar to 184×4=736. Wait, it’s different by 7=6+1!
Final solution: (9x9x9+6+1)/4=184!
(If you want other examples of these math problems that I solved during the event, here are a few: use 8, 8, 8, 8, 9 and 9 to make 449; use 9, 3, 1, 8, 2 and 8 to make 160; use 9, 4, 6, 5, 1, and 5 to make 90; use 9, 7, 5, 7, 9, and 7 to make 173. Solutions are below.)
Things I wish I had brought: sunscreen.
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