This past weekend, three OCR Buddy Ambassadors completed their first Spartan Ultra. While fresh in their mind, I thought it would be great to spend a little time with them and ask about their preparation and event. Let us introduce you to Greg Champion, Emma Bivens and Sherry Valenzuela as they are today’s guests on “10 Questions with…First Time Ultras”.
How long before the Ultra did you decide to sign up and what was your first thought after hitting “submit”?
Sherry – I had always wanted to do an ultra since 2019 but unfortunately a broke tibia and knee surgery kept me from it. About two months before Fayetteville I decided I would run the ultra for sure and signed up. When I hit submit my first thought was it’s go time!
Emma – There were several of us that had discussed it at the beginning of the race season, but when Sherry signed up is when I also decided to do the race.
I got sick to my stomach as soon as I hit submit. It is one of those moments where you truly question your life decisions.
Greg – Being a life long soccer player the longer distances really weren’t a draw for me but the challenge was there. After my Beast in 2019 Florida I felt I wanted more then Covid hit so I had to plan mine out to make the most of the weekend.
How did your training change for an Ultra, or did it?
Sherry – I incorporated running on a daily basis. I would run my neighborhood that consist of flat and hill. I would run at least 3-4 miles. I also watched my eating and drank more water.
Emma – I incorporated interval running on the treadmill into my workout. I already watch what I eat(sort of) and my water intake. I also am accustomed to doing double workouts on most days. Hitt at my home gym in the mornings and Crossfit in the evenings. My weakness lies in the running.
Greg – My training changed dramatically going from my home gym to an actual gym with trainers to help hold me accountable. I kept using my elliptical at home & other machines when I could but made sure to focus really hard on my gym sessions.
A week before the event, how did you start to prepare mentally and physically
Sherry – My goal for this race was to complete it for my father who passed away in December so mentally I was prepared to do whatever it would take! I refused to let anyone or anything keep me from finishing. I continued my running and stopped two days before the event. I drank lots of water.
Emma – I tried to take more rest days and tried not to go heavy on strength days. I was battling a sinus infection so I was also coming off of antibiotics. Mentally, I just kept telling myself that I could do anything that I set my mind to. I am a firm believer that set your eyes on a goal and your body will follow.
Greg – Physically I tapered my workouts at the beginning of the week & then stopped on the Wednesday before to hope in preventing muscle fatigue but the mental aspect was much more difficult. Long runs I get bored & then self doubt or pain starts to creep in so I made sure to understand it’s one mile at a time.
Take me through the day before the event, and more importantly he night before
Sherry – The day before the event we woke up packed the car and Mark Emma my husband and my daughter Jasmin all hopped in the truck and we left. I normally drove to events and my husband William will stay home but because this meant so much more he came along. He drove this time so that I could rest and sleep. I did get some sleep on the way up. We got there early so that we could eat with the team more heart than scars. Unfortunately the place they picked was horrible so last min I had to order from another restaurant because it was important to me to have a good meal. I also went to Walmart last min for a few items.
I have this thing where the number 333 pops up and it is my dad sending me signs from heaven. On the trip up my phone rings from the location United States at exactly 3:33pm and I took that as my dad saying you got this!!!
Mentally I was determined nothing was standing in my way.
I went to bed by 10pm and well I didn’t sleep lol I was so excited and pumped for the race that I woke up every hour. At 2 am I woke up and say straight up in the bed and yelled I got this!! Lol
Emma – I stayed Thursday night at Sherry’s home and we left for Fayetteville Friday morning. Sherry’s husband was kind enough to make stickers for my transition bucket because I had been so anxious about the race in general that I had not even touched it. Once in Fayetteville we met up with More Heart Than Scars and had supper. Then while everyone else ran out for various things I took a shower and tried to calm my nerves. I did not feel prepared at all.
Greg – The day before the event was my travel day from Atlanta to Fayetteville with the whole trip nothing but upbeat music to keep my mind in the groove. The night consisted of a great dinner with friends,Beast runners, that was a great carb load. Once getting back to the hotel it was all about preparing for Saturday & clearing the mind.
What did you have in your transition bucket, did anyone help you with bucket preparation?
Sherry – I had an extra pair of shoes sunglasses and socks if needed. My head lamp. A soda because I’m diabetic. I packed to zip lock bags for my race one of which was in my bucket for transition and one I started out with. The bag contained two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with honey. Three baby food pouches one pickle juice two coin Jim’s two fruit roll ups toilet paper my MHTS necklace my sugar Checker that had bandaids and alcohol wipes in it. Granola bar. Hat if needed for second lap. A towel
Emma – I opted to just have normal race food (uncrustables, baby food pouches, dates, B-12 shots, pickle juice, energy chews, salt tabs) in my bucket in a large ziploc bag that I swapped out. I did have a coke, banana, and bologna and cheese sandwich. The baby food pouches were a new addition suggested by Joey and to be honest – those helped me more than anything on course. They hit almost as soon as you eat them and are a wonder food. I also had extra shoes, socks, and head lamps that I ended up not using.
Greg – My bucket was fairly simple. It had another full hydration pack already packed with everything I’d need for my 2nd lap. Had two PBJ sandwiches which one I think I devoured in 30 seconds. Many Honey Stinger waffles,gels & bars to chew on but also a fan favorite.. My massage gun.
Day starts, you check in. Your thoughts and mindset walking to the starting corral and listening to the starting speech?
Sherry – I was determined I was pumped and I was ready. I started with MHTS but my thought was the minute they were slowing up I was taking off. I had planned to run solo if needed. I had a certain pace I aimed to keep. I didn’t really pay attention to the speech honestly I was more speaking to myself saying I got this we are gonna do it dad!
Emma – I cannot even remember much of anything during that time. I was a nervous wreck. People have sent me photos and are like what were you thinking? Honestly, I was thinking that I do the dumbest shit. LOL. I mean 34 miles is ALOT.
Greg – Since I was lucky enough to check in Friday all I was doing Saturday morning was taking in all the air. The energy. The excitement that was felt in the transition area. The corral was nothing but positive & LFG attitudes!!!!
What moment did you regret signing up? Just joking. What do you remember on your thoughts during your first lap?
Sherry – I never had any regrets! Mile two I noticed that my speed was far more than the others so I slowly took my distance. Adam Loyd actually kept up with me and we took off. We ran as much flat ground as possible. My goal was to hit transition before 1pm and I made it at 1:30 pm. I was feeling great the first lap and was positive and still pumped.
Emma – I never regretted it per say (OK maybe) …. I just wanted it over with. The first lap was actually not that bad once I realized we were making good time. I was more concerned with my team and our chair (we started out with a wheel chair pushed by Juan Frank for One Leg Beast who ran off and left us), but I would get ahead somewhat and realize that I needed to wait on my people and I did.
Greg – My first lap was all about pacing & getting done without getting injured. The pace was good with a few stumbles on obstacles but I took it in stride knowing it’s a long day.
You get to transition? What do you do? How are you feeling about yourself in terms of cut off times?
Sherry – I am feeling great! Not hurting not tired ready ti go. I had a lot of sand and rocks in my shoes so I sat down on my bucket and dumped my shoes out. I then took the ziplock in my bag and switched it for the one in my bucket. I used a towel I had to wipe my hands grabbed my head lamp and took off. I was there maybe 5-10 min if that I didn’t want to say there long at all. I feeling good about time cutoff as I was 30 min ahead of cutoff.
Emma – One- it is raining and my entire body is shaking. I was covered in black mud from my boobs to my feet. It was so thick that the rain was not washing it off at all. Two- I had not ate that much or used a lot of my supplies so I really just grabbed what I needed and made myself eat the bologna and cheese sandwich and banana. I also downed a pickle juice and gave a few of the extras I had to my team members. I was in a hurry to get back out because in my mind I could not stop.
Greg – Once arriving at the transition I realized I beat my goal by almost 40 minutes so that was a positive for sure. I got to my bucket & quickly swapped out packs all while eating & getting hydration back up. I was able to take a quick bathroom break & get some massaging done with the gun. I felt great leaving.
What moment did you realize that you were going to finish the race? Tell us about that moment in your mind.
Sherry – I actually left Adam behind somewhere in the second loop and met Michael and Tim two older gentlemen. I ran most of the course with then until I left them both behind. Five miles before the end I found jessica one of the MHTS members and we finished together. I had hit my second cut off an hour and half ahead of cut off so I definitely knew for sure then I would be fine if my knee would hold up. I was not going to stop unless the pain become unbearable but thankfully it did not
Emma – There was a moment where I had to be taken to medical to have my heart rate checked. To make a long story short….. I was looking at the peak zone minutes on my watch rather than my heart beat and I scared everyone including myself. So I ended up way behind my team on the second lap. I actually was so determined at that point (I mean screw this Ultra!)- that I caught up with them a few miles before the finish. In that moment I knew that come hell or high water I was finishing that thing.
Greg – At Fayetteville the rope climb was the last obstacle coming out of the woods heading into the open festival area. After seeing that at the top of the hill for the second time I literally smiled & said a few choice words to put my head down to just keep going. The energy from that area was electric!!!
I know you all went out and did the Super and Sprint the next day. How did you spend time recovering that night for another 9+ miles?
Sherry – As soon as we all finished we went to Texas Roadhouse for victory dinner and fuel up as soon as dinner was over it was back to the hotel. There was three of us to take turns showering. Then I iced my knee. Got to bed as quickly as possible. I wasn’t exactly sure I would be able to race because my knee was in so much pain. I told everyone that night if I can walk in the morning then I am racing.
Emma – I went home the next day. Mentally I was done. I cannot explain the way this thing messed with my head. I felt dizzy the entire second lap. I was swollen even on my arms and face. I had blisters on the inside of my thighs from caked up mud in my leggings and blisters along my bra strap and on my feet. I felt almost out of body and I hated it.
Greg – Recovery was 3 Chick-fil-A sandwiches,cold bath,hot epsom salt bath then a relaxing shower with nothing else following but relaxing.
(Bonus) What could you have planned better? What would you change?
Sherry – I would have left earlier so that I had more time to rest that day. Probably not went out to eat with the team and focused on what I wanted to eat. Decide to race in more time to allow more training time.
But other than that nothing!
Emma – Definitely more interval running, I don’t know how to prepare mentally except have the faith in yourself. Know that your body is capable of way more than your mind thinks it is. Surround yourself with people that support you, and people that will encourage you – that is key. Had I not had my people there I don’t know what the out come would of been. I even had my friend Brittany Cooper there at the finish line with a chocolate milkshake!
Greg – I would’ve done a little more trail running.
(Double Bonus) What advice would you have for people thinking about and preparing for their first Spartan Ultra ever?
Sherry – Run run run!!! You need to incorporate running into your training whether you like it or not. Don’t just do flat ground train hills too. Run solo or with someone who has the same speed as you. Otherwise you may feel guilty for leaving them behind or you may stay with them risking not finishing. It’s your race! Make sure to pack your bucket and hydration pack with the necessary items. Double check everything. Mentally focus and keep positive thoughts do not have self doubt! Go into it with one mindset and that’s your going to crush it.
It is as much physical as it is mental and you have to be ready!
If you make your time good on the first lap you can walk the second lap and that’s a good thing because second lap you start feeling your body wanting to give up but you have to keep going!
Emma – 1. DO THE DAMN RACE DON’T LET IT DO YOU.
2. You can do great things with great people.
3. Be your biggest cheerleader (this is my downfall. I always doubt myself). So don’t be like Emma.
Greg – Just do it. Sign up. Train for it & crush it. Can’t live in fear of the unknown forever.
Follow Emma on Instagram: @Emmaleebivens
Follow Gregg on Instagram: @GregtheCoach
Follow Sherry on Instagram: @sval13
And on TikTok @SherryVal