2XU Ambassador, Shawn Feiock - Mind, Body, Obstacles

2XU Ambassador, Shawn Feiock - Mind, Body, Obstacles

Never done an Obstacle Course Race? Shawn Feiock, a Spartan Race pro, gives us an in-depth look into the of mind of an obstacle course racer, what it means to battle it out against the best, and the toll injuries can take on even the sport's best.

I have both some love and hate for Miami. Two of my four podium finishes happened in Miami last year. The race venue there is beautiful and inspires the feel of a tropical vacation rather than the rugged trails or harsh mountains where most of the Spartan Races take place across the country. It was after the Miami Race last year, however, that I injured myself training probably too soon and too hard again after the race. Ever since then I have struggled with chronic pain in my hip that has at times severely restricted my activities. It took several months to rehab enough to run again, but later in the year I started training and racing, testing out what seemed like an entirely different body. I would now learn to run with chronic pain, and I would look for ways to manage the pain during and after running. I found myself still successful in the races, enough at least to finish top-10 overall at most, but not competitive enough to break into the top-3 again for most of the year. Finally on the very last race of the year, I was able to stand on the podium again squeaking by with a 3rd place finish in my home state Texas. I worked harder for that win than I have for any other race, as if it was my last chance to prove myself.

A year later and I returned to the race where I last remembered feeling amazing, fearless, and fast. In the back of my mind I wanted this race to be a turning point for me. I was smarter now, my training is smarter, I know how to recover better than before, and I have some of the best brand name products in the world supporting me. The races I had done already this year all went good, but Miami would be great! What I tried to ignore was that a few weeks prior to the race my hip issues were getting significantly worse again, probably because of the increased training intensity and mistakenly less recovery. By three-weeks out I was holding my hip just walking around. I thought I was smarter, but perhaps still more stubborn than smart. With so little time before the race, I began to focus more on speedy recovery and forfeited what would have been some of the best quality training days for me on the third and second weeks before race day. I figured some of the good training I had done in the weeks before had already proven I was ready and that I had to back off some now to avoid taking myself out of the race completely. It’s not so much that I was actually ‘listening to my body’, it’s more like my body wasn’t really listening to me and started to debate.

The Miami Super Spartan Race is an 8+ mile obstacle race through trails, mud, water, and more than 25 military style obstacles scattered along the course to test both your physical and mental toughness. The sport of obstacle racing has grown so rapidly that the competitiveness has increased at least twofold in the last year. I would be racing both Saturday and Sunday in the Men’s Elite Heat. You can’t know until you have been there yourself what kind of a beating your body would take in a race like this in the competitive heats. I am no stranger to pushing through two days of hard racing, heading to the starting line on the second day with a stiff, bruised and scraped up body that begs you for rest.

And so the first race day starts with some familiar faces on the starting line, the fast familiar faces that I had expected. I know my place running with some of these guys, but I’m fast enough to catch them if they fail an obstacle, or if I am just better in the combination of obstacles and running together which is the real game changer in this sport. I weigh in at 185 lbs give-or-take and the strength obstacles won’t phase me. Still I go in nervous questioning how I am going to feel once we start running, trying to replace any doubt by reminding myself how fast and strong I felt on some of my best training days only four and five weeks ago.

We take off after the traditional Spartan Race themed warrior speech and a chanting of “Aroo!” that sends us on our desired journey. The adrenaline makes me fast at the start. I hold close to the fastest runners for at least the first mile and through the first few obstacles. The terrain is mostly flat and is already familiar from last year, although the course has been changed enough to be unpredictable. Over and under a few short walls and nets, across a first channel of water not more than waist deep, the over-under-through walls, and a longer deep water crossing that slows everyone down again. I take off slower out of the water crossings until my shoes have drained enough to be light. We were warned at the start about a new ‘mystery obstacle’ on the course, and I pass through it unscathed even though it was a challenge. This obstacle consisted of an A-frame shaped cargo net on which you had to ‘monkey bar’ underneath to cross over a pit of water. Falling off or not being able to complete any obstacle on the course means a 30-burpee penalty each that costs you precious time and energy needed later in the race.

Even after losing some of the other runners who failed the new obstacle, I realized I had started to slow down on the next stretch and was well behind the top-10 where I wanted to be. I had missed an important opportunity to open up on a long straight road and the rest of the course would not be as forgiving. The next few miles narrowed down to a single-track trail through the mangroves with multiple quick switchbacks, and more difficult obstacles between crossings to remind us that this was not just a runner’s course.

It was somewhere between miles two and three after jumping the 7-and-8ft walls that my hip pain finally exceeded my adrenaline, making it too difficult to lift my leg for a good stride or to pivot quickly in the switchbacks. I try to ignore it even though I feel myself slowing down and thinking about it as I run. I know I focused on it too much now and could have performed better if I had just shut out the pain. It isn’t until later in the race that I am able to catch and pass a few other runners ahead of me who had spent their energy running too fast too soon, or they couldn’t handle the obstacles. I decide not to miss the opportunity I did before once we got out of the trails and opened up more speed on the last road ahead.

The adrenaline comes back on that last stretch and I wished I had pushed harder earlier. The effort I put in now was too little way too late to get back into the lead pack. I keep up the pace until I run back to the festival area where there would be a finale of tough obstacles to conquer at the end. The Miami venue typically does not have the Spear Throw obstacle due to the park regulations, but here near the finish I come up to spears and hay targets 20 or so feet away. This obstacle has a 50% or greater failure rate for most but I practice enough that I never miss.

Well… never say ‘never’. I was exhausted from the last minute push and probably did not focus enough before my attempt. I miss the target and the spear flies off high and to the right. Resentfully, I labor through my 30-burpees penalty with a few other racers there already receiving the same disappointing fate. I walk to the next obstacle regaining my composure, then scuffle though three more obstacles to the finish with only half the energy I had before. It would be one of the few races I finished far outside of the top-10, and it was obviously not the result I had hoped for.

On day-two I spent extra time warming up as I had limped around banged up from the first race. My body was stiff and didn’t want to move. It is hot and humid even though it starts to rain lightly, this is Miami after all. On the first day I wore 2XU Compression X-Run shorts and 2XU Compression calf guards, today I opted to wear my full 2XU Elite Compression tights for more muscle support and improved circulation. I was warned by another racer that I would get too hot in the compression tights. Although that seems common, performance compression garments actually create an evaporative cooling effect that can reduce the surface temperature of the body. I knew all of these benefits and with tired legs I needed all the help I could get. Also my calf guards came up missing after washing all of my gear at the race site, so someone else would likely be benefiting from one of my favorite race accessories today.

I am much calmer at the start on day-two, just knowing that I have to repeat what I did the day before with slight improvements, and I could not miss any obstacles. The race started similar to yesterdays. I felt tired running at first but I was able to keep a good pace still. I took advantage of the long straight road this time and focused more on good form during my run. I passed a few runners that had started faster here which inspired me early on, but I still knew I was in about the same position as yesterday. The same pain after jumping the two biggest walls again too. And this time I had an energy gel in my front pocket which popped open as I dived over the edge of the 8ft wall. I was hoping to use this around mile-6, but settled instead for what I could still squeeze out of the broken pouch now and even took a handful from what was stuck to my body.

I was too busy trying to clean up the gel mess as I ran and I took an ugly fall turning into the wet and slippery mangrove trails. I recovered and got focused quickly, realizing that I had to get serious if I was to do well today. The fall woke up my senses I suppose because I picked off several other runners in the trails and I had forgotten that my hip was hurting. I usually do really well in tight trails despite my size because I train in very technical trails at home. I caught up to my friend Chris Rutz from Tough Training which gave me even more motivation that I was where I wanted to be. Guys like him push me harder because we know what each other are capable of and can’t let each other down to fight for the finish.

I picked up my pace again only to roll my ankle on a tree root in the next section of trails. Everything popped and cracked, and I felt a warm almost bleeding feeling rushing through my ankle and foot. I thought I was really in trouble at first, but it took only a few seconds for me to shake it off and realize that if I was still running on it I could deal with it. I’ve dealt with worse, and I kept going. I had more focus today despite all the crazy complications.

Some days you go home realizing that you have overcome yourself, overcome your body, your limitations, and you still feel like you have won, even in the races that you didn’t win. Overall I am happy with my race weekend even though day-one will be recorded as one of my least successful performances in a long time. I am happy, but I am not satisfied because I expect more from myself, and I am too competitive for that. On the other hand, it wasn’t easy and I dealt with the obstacles, not just the course obstacles but my own. I had a whole list of new problems going on in the second day but I didn’t let them control me. That really showed me where I went wrong on the first day. I got into a mindset that I was limited by pain, and a less than perfect training schedule in the weeks ahead of the race. I let my mind lose concentration and the motivation to fight for a top place from start to finish. I didn’t really believe going into the race that it was possible, and because of that it was not. I gained my composure on the second day and started to think again like a determined athlete. It was not my body that was slowing me down.

I always say that you get what you ‘train’ for not what you wish for, and I know I didn’t get everything I wanted out of my training before this race. In the next few weeks before I race again I will refocus both my mind and body. When the blurred images of the finish line and of my goals become clearer, so will my determination to get there. Next stop is in Colorado for the Military Sprint Spartan Race.

 

Photo Credit: Reebok Spartan Race

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