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HH12HR-021 Palmerton Recap & Review

There are three elements to the Spartan Delta’s endurance trifecta. Having captured one piece at the beginning of the year by surviving Norm’s New Jersey Ultra Beast course, I had decided that I would do whatever it takes this year to get the others and complete the Trifecta. My Hurricane Heat would come from Boston, and the final piece of the pie would come from none other than Palmerton and the HH12HR-021, led by Mr. Rob Barger.

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First, if you don’t know, the endurance Trifecta is made up of a Hurricane Heat, a Hurricane Heat 12 Hour, and the Ultra Beast. They are sinister in color, ranging through grayscale to black; the Ultra Beast. Ultra Beast was Brutal, HH was team driven, and the HH12HR was in the middle of the two. Incredibly challenging, with team and individual requirements that need to be met in order to succeed.

Other details for our event would be found by way of a video with required items. Our Krypteia would be Rob Barger.

We would have two items for required learning: the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants and the Humpty Dance.

Plank

I had everything ready days in advance, food, water, supplies, and extra gear just in case. I knew it was going to be a long day, why not prepare for one. Amazon had delivered my box along with my Paracord and 1-inch webbing. My board was cut from a bathroom remodel gone wrong, and my Ruck would dual purpose as a work bag, the only way I could justify the cost to the bank.

Our day would start early; early for me anyway. The alarm was set for 4:30 A.M to get a jump on some early nutrition, get my gear ready, and the hope that I gave myself enough time before I left the house for a bowel movement, this is a requirement for any endurance event. Think about it…

With my box, my ruck, and my 3-foot board, I was ready. I hopped in my 1990 Corolla, an endurance vehicle… its 26 years old and still running, and started the journey.

Palmerton is about a one hour drive from my house and even though our event details email states that the event is to begin at 7 A.M., we are to arrive at 6 for athlete check-in, organization, and prep for a 6:30 warmup.

If our morning was any indication as to how our day was going to go, it wasn’t going to go well. We, the 79 (80 registered), would be standing on the venue’s landscaping and receive a scathing warning from one of the Krypteia. The morning was hot already with a forecast that calls for 95F and a heat index of more than 105F.

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From there it only got better.

Team captains are identified and the event starts for us with a random bag check. Mr. Barger walked the lines of attendees checking bag weight while we engaged in PT. I didn’t hear any grumblings from our Krypteia, but I am confident that some of the bags did not meet the weight requirements. Instructions were given, our boards were to remain in our hands at all times unless otherwise instructed. There would be no rigging, carrying, or chicanery with our boards and our rucks. Our box would not be used for some awesome game of shield your face from the tennis ball. Nope, it would become the home of our stuff; to neatly store all of our non-required items for the duration of the HH12HR! Reluctantly, we placed our food, our snacks, and all non-essential gear in the box and use our Sharpie to mark it with our name. Our day would begin when the box was closed.

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As stated, there are many aspects of the HH and the HH12HR that are completely team driven. We would be broken up into four almost even teams, with 2 sub-teams for each. My team, team 4, would only sport 19 members. The member shortage could either end up being an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the activity.

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With some minor shenanigans out-of-the-way, our first team event would be a Toxic Waste challenge with a pair of 5-gallon buckets arranged in a circle. One bucket would be placed on a dot in the middle of a circle, the other would be placed nearby. We numbered our tennis balls, broke out into groups and were instructed to place the tennis balls in the middle bucket. We would arrange ourselves outside of the circle and be required to move the tennis balls from one bucket to another without touching either of the buckets. We could not enter the circle and we would only be allowed to use our 1-inch webbing and some carabiners to complete the task. If a member entered the circle, they would plank until our Krypteia decided they were done planking.

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Our group would spend a good amount of time rigging a system of webbing, held together with carabiners, to try and maneuver one bucket over another in an attempt to tip the bucket enough to have the balls fall into the target. After a few failed attempts and some disastrous results, we simplified our plan. We used our webbing to pull the bucket from the circle, grabbed the balls and tossed them into the target bucket. Simple, Easy, Effective… team win. Sometimes the simplest plans are the best ones. We were finished long before any other team had completed, the first win for Team 4. We were asked to remember the number 12. 12, the number of significance, would be the amount of time, in minutes, we were able to cool off by the nearby slip wall’s stream of water while the other teams were engaging in physical tortures of some sort. The phrase “it pays to be a winner” is taken seriously and a valuable lesson learned in my first Hurricane Heat’s team contest events.

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Toxic waste in the bag, PT would continue. A variety of exercises that ranged from flutter kicks, squats holding our boards over our heads, push-ups, chair holds, etc. I could tell that they were preparing us for a long day.

Location changes would occur at random intervals and are always followed by a headcount. Our team captains would be required to make sure that all members are accounted for and present. We line up and call out our numbers. “75” would be my number for the remainder of the event. I felt like my number, it was only 8 AM.

Our first location, other than base camp, would be near the start line, between start and finish. If you raced Palmerton, it’s the section of the course where the Porta-Johns were. The day is starting to heat up and there are people around us wondering what the hell we were doing singing the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants.

“Flop like a fish”… didn’t realize we were supposed to take this literally. 10 armless burpees… with our rucks on… If you have ever done a burpee, you know they are not the most fun. Now imagine doing them, landing on your face and having a 25lb ruck smacking you in the back of the head each time you attempted one. This was not punishment, this was for the amusement of all that watched.

The second team event would be a challenge. The groups were to form a line, each of us are head to feet, laying on the ground on our backs with our rucks held up in front of us, imagine a conveyor belt of people. The challenge was a race to pass our rucks up the hill with the last person in line running up to the front to continue the line. As the bags are passed, the person at the bottom sprints to the top to continue passing rucks. The first team with all the rucks at the top wins. Overall, as a challenge, this one wasn’t that bad. That is until you grabbed the ruck from the person below you and the plate smacks you in the face.

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Good times… Either way, team 4 did not win this one. If memory serves, team 1 would be the victor and would be the only team exempt from punishment, forward rolling down the hill we just passed our rucks up. Each roll would feature a new battering and stabbing from rocks and twigs. Punishment and vomiting complete, on to our next location.

A short transition to our next location would inevitably lead to a count and a challenge. The extremely large tires would have to be moved from this site to a nearby pond. Carrying heavy objects with a team isn’t at all that incredibly difficult when the weight is dispersed between a group of people. However, doing this over uneasy and varied terrain can make for a painful journey. Team members would interchange frequently to relieve the load of the tires on our members.

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The pond would service as a home to more torture, sorry… PT.. and our next team challenge. “Rucks Down.” We walk into the pond, which I am sure is filled with sewage and engage in a series of flutter kicks, push-ups (face in water), and sit-ups.

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Our team captains are instructed to gather seven volunteers for an unknown challenge. You never know what you are volunteering for, but if it is a challenge, I am in. My hand raises and instructions were given. We are to engage in a relay race around a pole that indicates the pond’s depth. The pole is in the middle of the pond and the depth is unknown.

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Our team’s representatives line and are ready for action. Team 4 took an early lead and never looked back. We did not, however, at any point feel the challenge was in the bag and all our team’s representatives gave 100% effort for the event, guaranteeing victory. The winner would choose the punishment. “It pays to be a winner.”

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Palmerton would be home to a new Spartan Obstacle, the ape hanger. The Ape Hanger is a series of ladders, pinned in the middle, with a rope on one end and a bell on the other. The obstacle is hosted by deep and muddy water and requires a competitor to navigate up the rope, across the ladders, and to the bell using only your hands. Having run the course three times the week before, I was 2/3. Seven representatives are once again collected to compete in our next team challenge. This challenge would not be a race, but instead, would be gauged on the number of people who finish the obstacle from your group.

  • 1 failure allowed
  • 2-3 failures: 100 push-ups in 5 minutes or less
  • 4-5 failures: 100 burpees in 7 minutes or less
  • 6-7 failures: Carry another team’s tire back to TIRES

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Our seven members would all complete the obstacle and watch as the other groups performed 100 push-ups in 5 minutes. “It pays to be a winner.”

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We are lined back up and carry our tires back to where we found the tires. Our count begins and all members are present. Two individuals are to be picked from each line to participate in a memory test. This one is one that I will not participate in, I have to look at my driver’s license to remember my middle name. These folks are taken to an undisclosed location for their memory test and the rest of us would soon have to carry a “dead” team member to our next location. Oh, almost forgot, we were not allowed to touch our fallen comrade with our hands. Rucks on.

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This fallen comrade carry would lead us back to base camp and many of us imagined that this would be a challenge with a reward for the winner and punishment for the losers. We grab our two fallen members, with complete disregard for planning, prop our boards under them, and get our butts in high gear to base camp. This may sound like a challenge that can be easily completed without much stress, but that notion is quickly tossed out. The grip strength and forearm strength required to hold that plank for the distance we carried our fallen friends would prove to be incredible. Members quickly shuffle about providing relief to each other at each resting stop along the way.

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With much of Toxic Waste still intact at base camp, our next challenge would be a simple ball toss. Our groups lined up, buckets moved to the edge of a circle and awaited further instructions. Tennis balls would have to be tossed into the bucket without entering the circle or moving from the start line. Those that made it were allowed to retrieve one food item from their box and take a load off while the rest were trying to complete the challenge. I am not sure that everyone was able to retrieve a food item, but I devoured my bag of 2x larger sour patch kids with reckless abandon. Seriously, I was like a 2-year-old with an ice cream cone, I smooshed as much as I could in my mouth and tried to chew.

Afterward, we were marched off to a small clearing with a trail that leads up through the woods. Our teams grabbed our carabiners and paracord and were tethered to each other for a time trial challenge. Four teams spread two minutes from each other would be timed to complete a trail run through the woods that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 mile and unknown elevation. Team 4 took to the challenge first and it was quickly realized that not all members would appreciate the motivation of the group members up front. Picture this. Imagine a highway for a second. If you have ever driven during rush hour, you know that when a car in front slows down all the cars behind it must slow down. This slowing of traffic has a ripple effect that makes all behind take longer and longer before they start to accelerate again. As the car in front begins to accelerate, those behind it take longer thus a jam in the back while the front starts to spread.

With that in mind, the front of the line, while tethered, is moving faster than the back of the line. The result? The paracord around our waist would tighten to the point of excruciating pain. Once more of the group started moving again, the back would feel it. This challenge was the single most difficult team challenge. Not in respect to completing it, but more about wanting to smash each other in the face with rocks. We almost came unglued.

Many of us believed that completing this challenge as quickly as possible would prevent us from experiencing another punishment. Instead, the winner would be providing the punishment. We didn’t realize that the very sinister Krypteia Rob Barger would be using the fastest time as a metric for the individual time trial later in the day. Sometimes the reward for being the winner is not one you want. Team 4 pulled it together and finished with what would be the fastest time… securing our later suffering.

Still lashed together, we waited for the other teams to complete the trial. We sat in the shade and rested. As the other teams filtered in and the results of the trial times revealed, we gloated and somehow came back together as a team to share in our victory. The ill will and intent slowly disappeared and pride replaced the anger we felt towards each other.

Without removing our tether, we marched off to the courses log carry obstacle. Our time trial would continue with a relay race. Our teams would compete, still lashed together, in a race against the clock through the log carry. Members grabbed our logs and navigated the obstacle. One log for every two members would be required and passing the log through the group was permitted. Some of us are more physically equipped for carry obstacles than others and carried the log for the majority of the obstacle.

We wet our whistles as we waited for the other teams to complete the obstacle and once we were all collected and accounted for, we picked five members from each group to participate in our next challenge and were marched off, still lashed together. Not knowing the challenge, our volunteers were quickly identified and again, my hand was raised.

The destination and subsequent challenge would be the rope climb. We would participate in a relay race with the winning group picking the punishment. Having not known what the challenge was, some of our team members that had volunteered had never completed the rope climb in previous races. This challenge would be one that team 4 would lose. Our punishment? Log rolling down a hill. I hate team 1.

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When the vomiting concluded, we were marched off to festival area for a rejuvenation of sorts. Much to the amusement of the crowd, we were to participate in the singing and dancing of required learning item “the Humpty Dance”. This reprieve would not only serve as a fun distraction but served to lift our spirits as we danced and sang like a bad karaoke performance.

Shenanigans in the bag, we were quickly thrust back into reality. The heat had nearly taken our first group member out of commission. Medics rushed in to provide assistance to Brian and the reality of the heat (105F at that point) and the challenge quickly became apparent once again. These moments of concern are very scary and very real. With medical attention from Spartan Staff / Medics and time, Brian would soon be able to continue.

With fun in the bag, our groups would find themselves marching off to the location where our team time trials took place. The same place we had competed against each other while lashed together. This time, however, we would be competing against the clock as individuals for the right to be named HH12HR finishers. Our time trials would lead us through the same 1 mile’ish hike we found ourselves struggling on previously to complete an unknown number of laps in an unknown amount of time. Physical fatigue had been fully realized at this point. We had each made it through all the challenges and physical requirements of the day and it all comes down to this. Our time in the blistering heat, our time with our teams, our time pushing and helping one another would all be measured by this individual time trial.

I have not done all this for nothing, I will complete the time trial and get my finish. There is no DNF for me after all of this. We set out on the course, rucks on back, to compete against the clock. The herd quickly thinned as many were unable to maintain the pace those up front had set. I made my position in the group and kept it for much of the trial. The first lap, I found myself trailing only 1 member from the front and took top spot for much of the second lap. I put it all out there on the first two laps, knowing that I had to go hard and fast in order to make the requirements. Zephyr and I traded the number one and two positions frequently on this lap. While navigating the terrain a team member asked, “how many laps are you going to do”. Zephyr responded with a deep and illuminating “All of them.”

Having stopped a few times to catch my breath, some had begun to pass me. I still found myself within the top 10 individuals at that point and as we started the descent on our fourth lap, Rob had indicated that we can stay at the bottom… we had made it. The rest would find themselves collected at the bottom waiting for the announcement of completion.

The first announcement would be for those that had not made it. The names were rattled off of members that would have competed valiantly but were unable to meet the requirements of the individual time trials. As the names were read, I stood there… thinking about what they must be feeling. What they just went through to get to this point and be told that they were unable to finish. They walked off, twenty-four of our seventy-nine participants.

Twenty-nine more names would be called. These would eventually be the folks that came close. The people that had put it all out there and almost met the requirements. They were collected and grouped together for what would end up being the most important decision of their day.

Twenty-six of us were safe. Our names were called and we were grouped directly across from the twenty-nine that had almost made it. We stood there, looking at those that were close and were soon given a choice. Rob asked the twenty-nine if they wanted to be finishers… “Yes”. Rob asked us if we wanted them to be finishers… “Yes!”.  Our choice? Would we sacrifice our finish to allow those twenty-nine to complete a challenge for their finish? Without debate, we decided that we were one group, we decided that there wasn’t twenty-nine or twenty-six. We were fifty-five. This challenge would end up being one of the most difficult, the most mentally and physically draining challenges of the day. Each member of the “almost” group would have to “buddy carry” us to an undisclosed location, covering an unknown distance… with our rucks on. Some quick math… I am 165lbs, with 30lbs on my back and 30lbs on their back, I now weigh 225lbs.

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Without hesitation, the group members grabbed someone and started. The determination of these competitors was truly inspiring. They carried us for what seemed like miles. Although the distance is unknown, it wasn’t short. The will and resolve of these people is what this event is all about in my mind. They were put to through the ringer, cut just short of victory, and then put everything they had into their completion. This demonstration of strength and courage embodies the warrior ethos. “I will never accept defeat”, “I will never quit.”

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Those competitors, those warriors were put to the test. They were tested on their resolve and succeeded. The challenge was complete and they sealed their own fate. They were now finishers. We were now all finishers. We gathered for one last march through the woods to Rob’s secret spot.

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We sat down and listened as Rob outlined our adventure and invited us to speak. We spoke about our trials, our tribulations, our stories, what brought us here, and what motivated us. I have no great story… I only have the will and determination to do things that I consider a challenge. I am not a cancer survivor or someone that found themselves on the clean side of a drug / alcohol addiction. I did not dedicate this event to someone I have lost or someone going through a tough spot. I just wanted to do it, I wanted my endurance trifecta. To me, this event is me fighting my age. It is me not giving into time. All of these events are my attempt at outrunning it, outrunning father time.

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If you were to ask me what my opinion of the HH12HR is and how my experience was, I would probably say that the HH12HR is a barometer of fortitude and that I love being tested. Specifically, HH12HR-021 was as much of a personal accomplishment as my Ultra Beast finish. Both tested my limits in different ways, both were physically demanding in their own way, and both were extremely rewarding. To Rob and his team, thank you for the experience. You tested us, you pushed us, you gave us the “Humpty Dance” and the armless burpee. But most of all, you gave me/us a team of new friends. We are now a group of people that did it together… and whenever I see someone in their 12-hour shirt, they are my family.

About Joe DiFiglia

Fitness and sport enthusiast. Spartan Race Junky. I have been a martial artist since the age of 4 and addicted to anything challenging. Years of Martial Arts training provides the ability to keep going when my body really wants to quit.

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