Looking for a quick review of X Warrior? Checkout my review here.
Given that this event is still relatively new, I believed that I had a really good shot at making the podium. That is until I got sick in April with mono (see here). Although I was sick most of April and I would be ok with not reaching the podium, deep down I wanted it more than anything because I am not an elite of the elite racer so my contention for podium spots are few and far between.
For a while before the race I contemplated pitting every lap and not taking hydration with me, however I decided that with how much I sweat it’s best to keep the water with me. This plan was further confirmed when I saw how far out of the way the pit area was. Titans head to complete a lap before pitting, then run backwards to the pit area, through a number of doors and hallways, then back around the finish line and out onto the course. This was would prove to be quite the time suck. Therefore the less pitting I had to do the better.
Heading into the race shoot I made my way up towards the front where I saw Stefan Wiecalwek and Shane Kups, among a few other familiar faces. Stefan as a knack for these ultra distance events (he’s also not so shabby at the shorter stuff too, with back to back top 10 finishes at the Montana Spartan Race Beast and Sprint the previous weekend) so in my mind he was by far the favorite to win this race. I asked Stefan who his major competition was today, and he looked around and said “I don’t know, you?” I laughed at his response and told him that I wish that was the case. If I had not been sick for April I may have believed him, but even then I don’t think I’d be his major competition (or if I was that just means there was no one else out there who could really challenge him).
Coach Pain was at the start line getting everyone fired up to tackle the course. I’ve never heard one of Coach Pain’s speeches before in person, and it blew me away. His ability to inspire and motivate is phenomenal. I was pretty relaxed because I was about to run for 6 hours, but after listening to Coach Pain, there was definitely a burning desire to get out there and leave it all on the course.
When we got called to the starting line I ended up in the first wave, with Stefan and last year’s Titan winner Cody Reuser. I knew Stefan would be running pretty conservatively off the start and then lay the hammer down later in the race. Being aware of this I figured I’d try and let Stefan pace me for the first couple laps and see how that goes.
As we headed out onto the course Cody, and some other guy dressed in bright orange (I’ll shall name him “Guy in Orange”) took off fast. I was shocked at the pace they were running and thought either they are idiots for going out that hard, or they are spectacular athletes if they can maintain that pace for the entire race.
The course began on the Chuck Wagon course for a little out and back before heading up into the stadium stairs. Cody and the Guy in Orange were nearly out of sight when I reached the stairs, they were seriously flying! But whatever, I needed to run my race and maintain a comfortable pace because 6 hours is a LONG time, and we are barely 5 minutes into this race.
After zig-zagging through the stadium stairs and the first sets of obstacles, the course went back out on the Chuck Wagon course and the surrounding area. There weren’t many stairs so they wouldn’t be a major concern throughout this race. Especially when half the stairs you had to crawl up because of ropes strung from railing to railing (X-Spider), which I actually found to be a nice break for the legs.
X Warrior utilized the idea of stringing ropes across hand rails again to create a new obstacle for this year, the X Ape. After making my way through X Ape on my first lap, I knew I’d be dreading this obstacle for the rest of the day. Being hunched over for solid distance with no chance to stand up is painful on the hips, back, neck, shoulders, quads, and hands, pretty much everything! In short, this obstacle Sucked! The good kind of suck. It was a good unique, hard obstacle…but it Sucked!
I was right behind Stefan after the X Ape and we headed to the first of two sandbag carries. Stefan picked up the bag and began to run with it. I wasn’t planning on running with weight this early in race (or at all) but I figured that there isn’t a lot of elevation gain on this course, so I could try and pick up the pace a little bit on the carries.
At the end of the 1st lap there was another new obstacle, X Dragon. X Dragon is essentially Dragon’s Back from the Toughest series in Europe. To be hones this obstacle is quite intimidating (this obstacle is the reason why Faye Stenning DNF’d at the OCR World Championships in 2016.). Getting the courage to leap from platform to platform is not terribly easy. The platforms are high and there is a real risk of falling ~12-15 ft to the ground. However once you get the courage to jump, you realize that the leap required isn’t all that significant. Getting the courage to do this jump once is all you need to breeze past the rest of the jumps…Except, when you leap from the scaffolding type platform and feel your toes get caught in the gap between the plywood and the metal pipe…Luckily I didn’t get to tripped up by this and managed to pull my foot out before it was too late. A little shaken up about what could have happened I kept on leaping…but made sure that my toes were hanging over the edge before leaping again.
Throughout the 1st lap I felt very comfortable and was able stay within a few seconds of Stefan and was feeling pretty good. I managed to not fail any obstacles and had my fingers crossed that I could keep this up throughout the rest of the race. As we finished up the 1st lap I decided not to stop at my drop bag as I still had plenty of water, and only consumed 1 gel so far.
The second lap was essentially the same as the first, smooth, calm, and controlled. Cody and the Guy in Orange were increasing their lead and pushing the pace, but that didn’t concern me. I stayed with Stefan and now Linzee Knowles (she did the Elite Sprint, then jumped in to the Titan) for the entirety of the second lap, until we made it to the Axe Throw. At the Axe Throw every participant was given 3 throws to hit the target. This created a huge bottleneck. Linzee and Stefan opted to do burpees rather than wait, I figured I’d wait and save my energy…However I was incredibly anxious by the time I got my turn to throw the axe. I couldn’t figure out if it was worth the time to wait or not, My mind was racing and my heart was beating fast as I urged the people on in front of me to hurry up (politey…I think). By the time I got my chance to throw Stefan and Linzee were already done there burpees….then I missed all 3 attempts and had to burpees anyway! That’s when I made the decision to opt for burpees at this obstacle if there is any sort of line in the future.
Having fallen a little behind Stefan and Linzee I did pick up my pace a little bit in order to catch back up to them. Now finishing up lap 2 I decided not to pit again as I still had enough water and a gel or two.
However halfway through my third lap I began to feel awful! I looked down at my watch and I’m not even 2 hours into this race…fuck! My legs felt fine but I felt horrible. It would have been around noon at this time and the Sun was beating down on me hard. I was dressed completely in black in my 2XU compression tights and shirts (this will be my base layer for Toughest Whistler. Thought this would be a good test run of the gear), and I was burning up. I didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to drink. I just wanted to jump into the river and cool off…I couldn’t believe this was happening this early into the race. I forced myself drink, and began focusing on the next shaded area and the brief relief from the sun.
Although few and far between, the few seconds out of the Sun’s rays were a god send. The best shaded area was right after the second 8ft wall, and the tire flip. The course ran through a few horse stables at this section, and as soon as you entered the horse stable, you felt the relief from the sun. The cool stable air felt amazing as I ran through…although the smell made me gag…but the smell was totally worth the chance to cool off!
During my third lap I didn’t catch back up to Stefan but he was within sight. I stopped by my drop bag in the pit after my third lap, grabbed more water, gels, and a peanut butter, jelly and bacon wrap. If there was one thing that was going to make me feel better it was the peanut butter, jelly and bacon wrap!
I took a bite of the wrap, and it was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted! Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the wrong ratio of peanut butter to jelly. I’m not sure which it was but either way it was terrible. I was crawling up X Spider with the wrap in my mouth, and some thick brown mixture may or may not have leaked from my mouth to the stairs…so to anyone who had to deal with that later, sorry (not sorry haha. It happens). I managed to force a few more bites down before throwing the rest of the wrap out. Good thing I brought enough gels to support me for the entire race because I did not have any desire to eat solid food after that horrendous experience.
I began to be strict with my hydration, by forcing myself to drink every 15 minutes. By the time I was finishing up my 4th lap I was feeling much better, which I think was largely due to my increased water consumption.
While out on my 4th lap I recognized Brayden Jessen creeping up on me. He was looking strong and I knew he’d catch up to me eventually. Brayden started in a later heat so if I wanted to stay ahead of him in the standings I needed to stay in front of him by a substantial margin. I figured I’d try and match his pace once he caught up to me, leaving me the option to try to surge in the final moments of the race. However the pace Brayden was maintaining when he caught me on the 5th lap was far too fast for me o match. So I let him go, and left it at that.
The fourth lap went well, besides getting passed like I was moving backwards by Brayden. As I didn’t fail any obstacles but I did opt to do the burpees at the axe throw, rather than waiting in a massive line.
I hadn’t seen the Guy in Orange in a long time, but I had seen Cody and Stefan ahead of me. I therefore assumed I was in 4th place on my 5th lap with Brayden now ahead of me as well.
On my fifth lap I began to feel the fatigue of the obstacles adding up. Obstacles like the 6ft and 8 ft walls became extremely taxing. Landing on the other side of the wall became less graceful and increasingly painful with each one. Once coming off of the second 8ft wall on one of my final laps I took a few stumbling steps backwards but managed to stay upright, while wincing in pain.
I was completely out of water upon finishing my fifth lap, so I decided to pit for the second time. Heading out onto my sixth lap I was comfortably in fourth place. I looked at my watch and figured that I’d have enough time for 1 more lap, but not likely two. With that in mind I tried to pick up my pace a little bit. Although I was comfortably in 4th place and could easily remain here till the end, I remember hearing Yancy Culp on the Obstacle Order Podcast, saying to “never settle”. Yancy talked about how easy it is to get comfortable in a race and not fight till the end. With Yancy’s words running through my mind I wasn’t going to settle for 4th place. If I ended up in 4th I’d know I gave it my all and closed the gap as much as I could on 3rd place.
Brayden continued to increase his lead on the 6th and 7th lap, and it was very unlikely that I would catch him. But I still wasn’t going to settle, I kept pushing on.
I began my 7th lap 4 hours and 38 minutes into the race, so I knew 8 laps wouldn’t be possible. Now it was time to really push and leave nothing left in the tank. Never Settle!
As I came out of the Grandstand and onto the chuck wagon course I saw Cody making his way to X Monkey (the rings). He was still quite far ahead of me, as I had to make my way all the way along the outside of the chuck wagon track, back along the inside track, and then make me way to the rings. But…Cody was walking!
This was my chance to make the podium! My pace became fluid and strong, as I aimed to run Cody down. However in order to this I could not fail any obstacles, burpees or mountain climbers (different penalties for different obstacles) at this time would prove to be costly.
My forearms were tired. Hands were soaked in sweat, and glazed with a little blood from a ripped callus as I approached the X Spear (Tip of the Spear). This obstacle became harder each lap as my grip became more and more fatigued, but now was not the time to fail. I grasped the wooden holds and made my way across. I reached for the chains and my sweaty, bloody hands began to slip. I squeezed tightly with both hands on the chain and managed to grab the next hold. Feet now slipping, knees on the obstacle, I reached for the next hold and stretched my foot out on to the finishing plank! I completed it! Not gracefully, but I got the job done.
With X Spear out of the way it was relatively smooth sailing to the finish…I just had to catch Cody. I kept cruising along and caught up to Cody at the first Sandbag carry. He was on his way back while I was on my way out.
Now it was time to play some mind games. While Cody could see me I walked with sandbag, as I tried to give him the impression that I was tired. However as soon as we passed each other I began jogging with bag to close the gap even more.
I was closing in on Cody and all I could think of in my mind was “Ghost him, ghost him!” I don’t even know what that means but I wanted to do it. I wanted to look strong while I passed him to deflate any hopes he had about catching me. So that’s what I did.
As we approached the second 8ft wall I sped passed him, hopped over the wall, cruised to the tire flip and made my way through the horse stables. I wanted to get through the horse stable as fast as possible because there were a few quick turns and I didn’t want Cody to see me. If Cody couldn’t see me, he would subconsciously believe I’m further ahead than I actually am.
I felt strong now as I ran for 3rd place. I made my way through the final sections of the course without failing any obstacles (barely, it took me till my 3rd try on the axe throw), and crossed the Finish Line with 7 Laps (50.4 km) in 5:26:05 good enough for 3rd place!
I was pretty stoked to be on the podium, and get my first true podium picture. I edged out Cody by a mere 3 minutes! I’m unaware of how many times Cody pitted throughout the race, but I truly believe that only pitting twice definitely allowed me to catch him in the end. Additionally Yancy’s words truly helped today as well. “Never settle” because you never know what might happen. If I had settled for 4th I likely wouldn’t have seen Cody walking, nor would I have been in striking distance to pass him. So that’s a new motto I need to take with me throughout this season…Never Settle!