Moving up to Age Group competition can sound like a scary transition. I did my first age group race at Spartan's Stadion Race at Citizen’s Bank Park. Here are some things to consider before you make the move to AG:
What is your body telling you?
Three years ago, I tore my ACL. Part of my recovery strategy was to learn as many injury-prevention techniques as possible. I also set a goal for learning to run better and faster. The ACL recovery went according to plan. If you have pre-existing physical conditions that either preclude you from running at a competitive speed or may become worse simply by racing, then you may want to consider staying in Open or not racing at all. Recover to race another day. I know and practice all kinds of injury prevention tactics to ensure my longevity in OCR.
What are your coaches telling you?
For running faster, I got three running coaches. From Dennis Welch’s Endurance Project, I learned a ton about slowing down in order to speed up. I religiously drag a tire around for warmups. I train using heart rate data instead of miles on my feet. From Richard Diaz’s Running Clinic I learned the proper form, mechanics, and drills for running. This was critical to ensure I did not re-injure myself due to poor technique. Finally, my son, a budding coach still in school learning all this stuff for an Exercise Science degree, helped keep me honest in executing all the things learned from Welch and Diaz.
What are the numbers telling you?
Previous stats from my races at Citizens Bank Park also told me that I could reasonably jump back into the Age Group competition after running open waves last year. I finished 3rd out of 69 athletes in my AG. Had I run AG, I would have placed 20 of 36 in the 50+ group. By this year’s rules, I would have been 4th of 9 in the 55-59 bracket. I also knew from my training stats that my running was way better (faster, longer endurance, consistent heart rate). All the keys seemed to be in place.
What is your training telling you?
For two years I trained harder than I ever had before. The second half of 2017 was for rehab shakedown events. The 2018 season was pretty much miserable as my body adapted to a lot of new things and my mind released a lot of negatives and fears like “I’ll get hurt again,” “I can’t compete anymore,” and “I should quit.” This year things turned around starting at Palmerton where I ran in the open wave with 100% obstacle completion. That was a huge confidence booster since I had not been able to do that in any race since the very first time I ran Palmerton in 2013.
Are you committed to the point of no return?
Monday morning chatter online is always filled with the same issues of slow runners, backed-up obstacles, and other issues that cause people to consider moving to AG because they think the race will be more enjoyable and convenient for them. Take it from me, a guy 57 years old, busted up and competed in every category offered. The question of moving up to AG is not about your personal convenience, or whether the volunteers and marshals will be better, or you’ll have a better chance to show what you can really do. Competition at AG and above is not about the what-ifs. You run AG or Elite if your body, your coaches, your numbers, and your training outcomes tell you you’re ready. Otherwise, stay in Open and have a good time with your team. Because once you toe the AG or Elite start line, you are committed. There’s no turning back. You either compete, get trampled, or get out of the way.
What about next time?
My son and I lined up at 0830 and I managed to keep up with him for about half the race even though he runs way faster than me. His problem was the obstacles. I usually caught him doing his burpees. The last time that happened was when we were both at the Spartan Ram burpee obstacle. This thing was no joke. While it’s relatively easy to do on its own, it was a game-changer two miles into the race. Once we got through this evil, I never saw him again until the finish line. He finished about four minutes ahead of me. That made me happy as I expected him to do way better than finishing a mere 30 seconds ahead of me at Palmerton.
I finished 9th in the Men's 55-59 AG. Not the podium I wanted, but I would have to make up about nine minutes to make that happen. The 2018 and 2019 races both had about 4600 runners. I improved my overall finish place from 439th to 330th and my gender place from 359th to 255th. The number of men in the 55-59 age group was about the same each year – over 400. The analysis of the race revealed what prevented me from hitting the podium goal. I found my Kryptonite.
One of the things I will not do in a race is run with a heavy load. So the Jerry Jug Carry and Sandbag Carry were both slow, steady walks for me. I will not run because I have learned the hard way that running under heavy load will compress my L5 disc and cause it to re-herniate. That will take me out of the game for months, if not permanently. So walking these obstacles takes many, many minutes compared to other athletes who are able to run under load. Precious minutes are very hard to make up.
Is there room for improvement?
Those two plus the new Spartan ram easily ate up those nine minutes of time. There’s nothing I can or will do about the carries. But I can definitely work on the ram. And as my son reminded me, I can still keep working on improving my running. So maybe, just maybe I can compensate for the time killers.
I’ll find out at the 2020 CBP Stadion Sprint. It is, next to Palmerton, my favorite venue. It’s my home town event. I always see so many friends there. The Philly vibe is outstanding. The course is always changing and challenging. Unlike other Spartan races, parking is free; bag check is free. Post-race offerings were abundant with Fit-Aid, Body Armor, water, bananas, and protein bars. The festival area was loaded with vendors and sample tents. The new Spartan sponsor Harley-Davidson had a great setup for trying out some bikes. The Philly spectator crowd came out to see their own compete. Spartan 4-0 and the Philly Spartans combined to win the largest team. It was great to hang out with them, hand out a bunch of MRG stickers, and finally put faces to names.
The new Stadion name, medal, and finisher shirt are cool. So overall, MRG gives this race a solid 5 for 5 stars.
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