BLACK MOUNTAIN - Thousands of runners will breathe a sigh of relief when they cross the finish line of the Asheville Super, one of two Spartan Races returning for the fourth year to the quarry at Grove Stone & Sand on Aug. 4 and 5. Paul Lachance will take a few breaths, head to his hotel and get ready to do it all again the next day.
That’s because the 77-year-old cancer survivor will be back on the course the next day to run the Asheville Sprint, putting him one race closer to his goal of completing 15 Spartan Races in 2018.
Just four years ago competing in even a single Spartan Race would’ve seemed impossible for the Grand Junction, Colorado resident, who will travel to Western North Carolina for the first time to participate in the Asheville Super and Sprint Weekend, which takes place in Black Mountain, just outside the city from which it borrows its name.
“It started in 2014, after my heart attack, when I was looking on the internet for exercises and things of that nature,” Lachance said in a phone interview a few days before the race. “I came across a Spartan Race video and said to myself ‘I can do that.’”
He signed up for the shortest of the Spartan Races. The Sprint is over three miles and consists of over 20 obstacles, including flaming logs and towering walls.
“Sometimes they have a bucket-carry,” Lachance said. “What they like to do is find these hills, and you have a five gallon bucket filled with rocks, and you have to carry that bucket up the hill like 100 yards or so. It gets heavy.”
For obstacles that runners can’t complete there’s a penalty of burpees, or squat thrust, that must be performed within a designated area before returning to the course.
Lachance was quickly hooked on the races and began staying in shape to run more. In 2016 he completed what the Spartan website (spartan.com) calls the “ultimate Spartan achievement.” A Trifecta requires runners to complete three Spartan races of different distances within a calendar year, a feat Lachance accomplished three time in 2016 and four last year.
"My goal is to add one Trifecta a year until I reach the age of 80," he said. "That will be eight Trifectas at 80."
But much like a Spartan Race, life placed an obstacle directly in Lachance's path at the end of last year.
"I was diagnosed with a lump in my jaw last December," he said. "It came back positive for skin cancer and I had surgery to remove it after Christmas."
Not only did the radiation and chemotherapy treatment, which Lachance started undergoing in January, cause him to lose around 50 pounds, it also kept him from running Spartan Races.
"I kept bugging the oncologist about letting me run," he said. "But he wouldn't let me."
While the treatment took its toll on Lachance physically, he gained strength in other ways,
"I know I'm a little slower this year than in past years," he said. "But mentally I think I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm more resolved now to get these five Trifectas done this year."
Doing so will be no easy task.
Lachance completed a Super (eight-10 miles with 24-29 obstacles) and Sprint in Jacksonville, Florida in April and followed those up with another Super and Sprint weekend at Fort Carson in Colorado. He picked up another Super in Austin, Texas in May before a thunderstorm forced the cancellation of the subsequent Sprint.
The races at Grove Stone & Sand will get him almost halfway to his goal.
"My body will let me finish strong," he said. "I'm in the best shape of my life right now. I've been training with a Spartan coach the last few weeks and I can feel my body mending itself."
In fact, Lachance has seen a significant reduction in the amount of medication he needs in the wake of his quadruple bypass surgery following his heart attack.
"Doing these races has given me a whole new outlook on life," he said. "In a lot of ways I feel like I'm a better person than I was before."
His experience makes Lachance want to encourage others to try one of the races.
"I had a guy tell me 'I need to do one of those one day,'" Lachance said. "I told him he only needed two feet to get out there and try."
It's not about your time, Lachance added, it's about the sense of accomplishment.
"I'm a very slow runner, but at least I'm out there," he said. "At the end of the race I get the same medal and banana that everyone else gets, but there's no better feeling than crossing that fire line at the end."
Fred McCormick, Black Mountain News