Spartan® World Championships: Race Recap by Sponsored OCR Athlete, Michelle Kasold
I went into the Spartan® World Championships without too many expectations. It was my first time in Tahoe at Squaw Valley and I knew there were going to be a lot of unbelievable athletes toeing the line. I did as much as I could to prepare and I just wanted to go out, do my best, and see where that landed me in the world. All the prepping could not have prepared me for what Mother Nature decided to throw at us; nonetheless, I controlled what I could and just went in with a never give up mindset, which carried me over that finish line.
The week before World Championships, it snowed in Tahoe. As the week continued, the sun came back out and the Friday before the race, it was a beautiful 75 degrees! I brought clothes for all temperatures, knowing that it was possible to get snow, rain or sun. That Friday, my husband and I went for a nice warm-up jog on the beautiful mountains overlooking Lake Tahoe. My goal was to shake out my legs from travel, as well as get a little more acclimated to the altitude. Saturday, the weather started to change and rain/snow was predicted in the forecast. We decided to get in an early morning workout to test out my race gear for Sunday’s race, knowing snow was in the forecast. I felt pretty good physically and mentally, feeling like I was ready for my best performance of the year.
Then the snow hit! Saturday night it snowed about a foot. I had my snow outfit ready. The race was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., so we packed the car and got on the road around 7 or 7:30. Just minutes into the drive, we got the announcement that the start time was delayed 2 hours. The course tape needed to be uncovered from the snow and they needed to make sure the obstacles were still intact! Okay, back to the Airbnb we went. Now, this may have really disrupted some people mentally, but with my US National Team background, I have been through these types of situations many times. We always used to say, “Expect the unexpected.” I wasn’t fazed. Time to go relax and re-manage my pre-race fuel. We get the announcement that the swim is out — I am thrilled! Not because I don’t like to swim (I was on the swim team as a kid and I had been practicing!) but because I’m small and my body does not do well in the cold, especially when wet. In the back of my mind, I was so worried about not being able to warm up my hands and toes after a cold swim.
It probably was no more than an hour later that they put the swim back in! Expect the unexpected. Okay, mentally, get yourself ready and suck it up. And use your race plan. Take off the top layers and put them back on after to stay warm. And pray that it works!
Honestly, I was a little nervous. I never used to get nervous for field hockey games — even at the Olympics. But Spartans always make me a little anxious. I think part of it is the team sport vs. individual sport aspect. I think some of it is the fact that I played field hockey for almost 20 years of my life, and I’ve been doing Spartan for 2. There are always just more unknown factors. But once the race starts, I just race my race and do my best. I don’t worry about anyone else or what place I’m in. If I put it all out there, good things seem to happen.
Here we go! We’re lined up with the best of the best. I may not know everyone personally, but I know almost every name of those standing next to me. I am in awe, but also love the challenge. Off we go! I start in the middle of the pack and we start climbing the mountain! The first 3-4 miles are straight to the top! I felt like I was in about 40th position for the majority of this climb, but I knew how much was ahead and my strength is steadiness and the obstacles. I just kept going, taking a peek at the amazing snow-covered view every now and then! I mean you gotta enjoy what you are doing, too, and I love the beauty of what God has given us in this world!
Back to the race … I get to the top to a plethora of obstacles. Reaching the top, I immediately saw my husband smiling, cheering and videoing (anyone that follows me and/or him knows he is husband of the year for his videoing at races!!!) After a quick bucket carry up and down, spear throw was shortly after. I knew this would be a game changer for a lot of people. Not only is it consistently one of the toughest obstacles in Spartan, but if you failed it here, you had to do burpees in the cold snow/mud, getting you cold before you even hit the water obstacles. Fortunately, I nailed it!! I felt really good after that and took off towards the next round of obstacles. The next big game changer was the Ape Hanger. Basically, you had to get into some freezing water and climb a frozen rope up to a metal rope ladder set of monkey bars. You had no choice but to get your bottom half wet. That was cold! A lot of people struggled to get up the rope, and if you accomplished that, the monkey bars were cold and long. I wanted so badly to not fail any obstacles, so I muscled my way up to the monkey bars and started across. A little over halfway, my arms were getting so tired. I knew that if I fell, I would get completely soaked and I would still have to do the penalty loop. Plus, I still had my layers on, which would also get soaked. Mentally, I knew that would put me in a hole, so I summoned every ounce of energy I still had (we are at mile 4 mind you) and rung the bell! I still had to jump back down to the water and climb out (brrrr), but I could do it right at the end and controlled. I know this obstacle made a big difference in my race.
A few more obstacles, now a little wet and cold, I arrived at the sand bag carry. I had no idea going into it that it would be a double sandbag. (WC Rookie!) I awkwardly grabbed two bags totaling 80 lbs. (not far off from my own weight!) and started down the hill. That was hard, but I managed. With wobbly, cold legs, I now had to head back UP the hill. After about 20 steps, my legs would no longer take me any further. Uh-oh. I put the bags down and rested for a few seconds. Okay, let’s try this again … 20 more steps and stuck. I continued this pattern about 5-6 times until I reached the top (maybe 100 yards). I knew that wasn’t very fast, but I made it!! Mission accomplished — for now!
Right around the corner, the swim was waiting for me! I wanted to attack the swim. Just go hard and get it over with. Limit the amount of time I had to think or suffer through it. As I stripped my top layers, one of my best Spartan friends approached the swim, crying and visibly shaken. She is such a good racer and I didn’t want her to quit or be scared, so I gave her some words of encouragement. (Something along the lines of: You are not quitting! Come on! Let’s go! You are coming with me! Follow me!!) Okay, maybe I yelled at her a bit and pushed her down the hill to the water, too.
But I wasn’t going to let her give up mentally because I knew she was physically capable. I jumped in that water and swam like my life depended on it! (Turns out I put in the 6th-fastest swim of the entire female elite field!!) And my friend made it through, too. (She ended up beating me, finishing top 20 in the end!) **Quick thank you to all of the volunteers at the swim who cheered and encouraged us! It was super helpful and very much appreciated!**
Now that the swim was over, it was time for me to get moving! The next couple miles were pretty much a run down the hill. It was going to be key for me to get warm. My body was cold: my legs, knees, fingers, bones. Slowly, my feet and toes warmed up a little. My legs, my upper body followed. My knees and my fingers didn’t bode as well. I had special OCR gloves that are neoprene and helped so much though. (I wouldn’t have made any more obstacles if it wasn’t for them!) There is a little slit in the gloves to get your hands out, and I kept just trying to blow my hot breath into them to warm my hands. It helped some, but I couldn’t quite get them warm enough by the bottom of the mountain. Enter Monkey in the Middle (twister x 2, monkey bars, twister x 2). I was super excited about this obstacle going in, but unfortunately my hands were just too cold. I could barely even start it, so I just dropped and went straight to burpees to save my strength and time.
Then back up the mountain we went. This time only halfway! This part of the race was brutal though. I was exhausted. I just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other, and I knew there was nothing that could make me quit at this point. I had no idea what place I was in, but I would finish and that was really all I cared about at this point. I did well on any obstacles in my way, until I got to the Stairway to Heaven (you have to jump up to some rock climbing holds and then climb over a few wooden boards before going down the other side). I jumped, I grabbed the hold, and then I hung. My fingers just didn’t feel strong enough to pull and reach for the next hold. They were stuck. I did this 3 or 4 times before deciding I better just start on burpees. (My only other set before the finish!)
Back down on the final descent. I knew I was almost there (at least I thought I was!) My knees were aching and it was painful pounding down the mountain. I got passed by multiple people during this descent. Disappointing, but I was doing all I could do. I kept trying to warm my fingers up more and more, knowing there was a gauntlet of obstacles at the bottom that could still have a big impact on the race.
Sand bag, Beater (like monkey bars with some of that spin/turn), Tire flip, A-frame and Hercules (or Herc) Hoist. Reaching the parking lot and seeing my husband and all the fans gave me some motivation and determination. The sandbag was still super tough for me, but I knew I would get all of the final obstacles. There were quite a few other elite females right in front or behind me at this point, so it was an exciting race to the finish. Neck and neck with another Spartan friend, I was leading her by maybe 5-10 seconds going into Herc Hoist. The bag was so wet and heavy, the rope was slick, I was pulling with my whole body and it was all I could do to get it up without dropping it. She got it slightly faster than me and I saw her running to the finish just before me. I somehow found my sprinting legs to dart to the finish … but I clocked in just 2 seconds behind her. Tough. But one of the best parts was being greeted with one of the biggest hugs imaginable, but my competitor, but also my friend. With cheers from more Spartan friends just off to the side and my husband with a proud, encouraging smile on his face — I had made it! I had no idea what place I finished, and at that point, I really didn’t care!
It was one of the hardest, most challenging races that I’ve ever done, but I knew toughness was never something I lacked. I’ve been through some grueling training over the years with field hockey, including hours on end with the Navy SEALs. I’ve been through so many things that were meant to break me, so I knew this race wouldn’t be the first. Still, it is up there with one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I’ve ever done.
There were many times during that race that I told myself I am taking the next year off from this sport! I was in pain every step after the swim. No matter how much it hurt, I wasn’t going to quit because I knew I could happily embrace a break afterwards! I was miserable at times. Not quite at the point of tears (which I saw a lot of throughout that race). And yes, I do this for fun. But World Championships should be hard. I knew they would be hard. I mentally prepared to be in pain and to handle it. I am proud of how I did. I only missed 2 obstacles, which is a lot fewer than most of the field. I am proud of my swim. I am proud of my resilience. I learned a lot about the sport and my weaknesses. It was crushing and empowering at the same time. It definitely gives me fuel to get better — but also put things into perspective on how much room I have to grow.
At the end of the day, the main reason I race is because it makes me better. It challenges me to push myself past limits I never knew I could break. It makes me work harder and makes me strive to be a better version of myself (on and off the course). Plus, I have made so many great friends in just the couple years I’ve been racing. I am thankful for like-minded, strong women who are constantly cheering each other on. It is so special and I love being a part of it!
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