It was, oh, about December 2012 when my co-worker, Russ, tossed this comment over the cubicle wall, “Hey Mike, ever hear of the Spartan Race?”.
Uh oh. Russ had apparently been bit by the fitness bug that seems to hit us guys in our 40’s.
I had been fairly active running since 2006, but outside of one 5 miler (Warner, NH) they had all been 5k (3.1 miles) road races. I can’t say I was bored of the road race, but something a little offbeat would be welcome. For the summer of 2012, my goal was to hike Mt. Washington, which I completed. What would I do for 2013?
The Spartan Race was something else all together. It was, best as I could tell, a 3 mile boot camp You weren’t simply going to run, you were going to jump, wade, swim, duck, throw, drag, carry, lift, hit, climb, and above all, sweat. This promised to be a total body workout. I watched the promotional videos and I was hooked.
Sometime, I think February, I signed up, as did Russ. Immediately we were sent the Spartan Race handbook, which I read cover-to-cover on my Kindle. The exercise program in the back seemed good, but perhaps excessive. Mistake #1: It was more necessary than excessive.
In any case, I began training, but I much preferred the running, which I was good at, over the upper body workouts. I also managed to drop about 10 pounds over the training, which helped. Unfortunately, I cracked a rib (long story, but it involves my children and a playground) in mid-April and I had to lay off upper-body workouts for a month, Doctor’s Orders.
By mid-May I had lost everything I had gained in strength, but my running did not suffer much. Still, thought I, there was time.
The weeks and months fly by and suddenly it is August 11th, 5AM and I am getting out of bed for the Spartan Race. Russ, who purchased the VIP parking upgrade, kindly offered to give me a ride to the Race. Did I mention what a great guy Russ is?
We arrive at the Amesbury Sports Park about 8AM, our race time was 9:15. The air was surprisingly cool for the second week of August. Russ notes that there was an awful lot of ‘up’, but I thought, no big deal, I run alot of ‘up’ at home. Mistake #2: ‘Up’ matters.
We get our bibs, numbered headband, timing chips and bib number black markered on our arms. Fresh, full of energy and clean as we line up for the 9:15 start with about 200 other racers (total of more than 12,000 racers over the two days!).
After a 3 minute ‘pep’ talk, WE ARE OFF: Uphill, in a big way.
The first observation was that the trail was not like a road race: muddy, slippery, unpredictable. Long ago, I used to run almost exclusively on trails and I had learned that you had to pay attention to the terrain. After 7 years of road running, I had forgotten this skill, as I would learn down the
road, errr, trail.
The first obstacle was, I think, designed to boost confidence: over a 6 ft wall, under a low gap in a wall and through a ‘window’ in a wall. Easy Peasy. I was even a bit amused I made it over the 6 ft wall. OK, rolling on….
Then we came to a long trail run (maybe a 1/2 mile? As you might guess, I twisted my ankle good, bent about 90 degrees and I felt a sharp pain. I had taken some ibuprofen before the race, so I did not feel this pain too much, and kept going. Just limping now as I ran.
Then it started to go downhill from there, meaning the hill was going up, but my limited skills were going down to crushing defeat. You see, if you come to an obstacle, you must try at least twice. If you can’t complete the task, you must do 30 burpees. Now one burpee may not seem like much, but I want you to try doing 30. Go ahead, make my day.
I don’t want to tell you just how many burpees I did by the end of the race, but you’d probably agree 180 burpees was a tad bit excessive for someone who is running up and down hills for two hours.
So here is a summary of the events as I recall them. I’ll start with the failures:
- Rope Climb: you start in 4 ft of water and have to climb about 15 ft up. the rope had knots, but that was of little use to me. I got up about 3 knots and simply could not make it after about 10 tries. 30 burpees.
- Traverse Wall: This is going sidways on a wall with slivers of 2X4 to support your feet and grab with your hands. Never made it past the second set of blocks. I could blame this on my ankle, but I probably could not do this anyway. 30 burpees.
- 8 Ft wall: I tried about 5 times, I could jump up and grab the top, but could not pull up, nor get enough traction with my sneakers to get my armpits over the top. 30 burpees.
- Inverse Wall: (are you noticing a trend with walls yet?) This is a wall that leans towards you, and you have to climb up and over the other side. I only tried twice, never made it past the first or second wood rail. 30 burpees.
- Monkey bars: Yah right. Not done these since I was 8. 30 burpees. (Heard one woman broke her leg on the money bars!)
- Javelin Toss: This was stupid. No reason why I could not have completed this, aside from basic physics. This was the one station you had only ONE attempt to stick a javelin into a bale of hay. I tossed my javelin with enough distance and power, but the javelin turned to the side and deflected off the bale. C’mon! I mean I bet they knew about arrow fletching in the Spartan days! simply a matter of aerodynamic stability, folks. 30 burpees. sheesh.
So what went right?
Over-Under-Through, tower climb, Kettle bell pull (I actually ran with the kettle bell, sprain and all), slippery wall, Hercules pull (lifting 100 lbs about 20 ft up with a rope and pulley), bungee cord crawl, sand bag carry (was able to balance the bag nicely on my head and neck), then the grand finale…
The last part of the three miles was the barbed wire crawl, the fire jump and the gladiator pit.
The barbed wire craw was real barbed wire, with terrain of mud, rocks, and very , very brown water. It was about, I dunno, 50? 100? yards of belly crawling under the wire. Everywhere I looked, there were bibs that had been torn loose from their safety pins as racers got too close to the barbs. If I was a beer drinker (for the bibs had free beer tix attached) I would have been a very happy man with bulging pockets. Half way into the crawl the terrain plateaued and most of us were able to roll over the mud/rocks while staying under the barbs. Until….
Until we came to this great gully full of water. At first, effortlessly floating on the cool water, barbs smoothly passing harmlessly overhead, was a welcome relief, until… until we suddenly realized that we had to swim under the wall dead ahead, down into the murky depths. (One racer joked, ‘Is this a good place to pee?’) A last look at the wall’s proximity, a deep breath, and down into the brown I went.
When I came out the other side, I opened my eyes and saw…. brown. I don’t mean everything had a brown tinge, I mean all I saw was sickly brown! Wiping my soaked shirt on my eyes did not help. I had to squeegee my eyes with my hands and even then I could barely see what lay ahead. But I could also see that I was just covered in mud. Head to toe. I realized had made the complete transformation from an innocent, first-timer Spartan to a ‘I get it now’ Spartan.
But I was not done yet.
There was still the run up the hill then down to the Fire Jump and the Gladiator Pit.
From the top of the hill to the fire jump it was so slick (mud and rocks) I just sat down, threw up my arms and rode this coaster about 30 yards to the next plateau. Whee! But the fire lay ahead. That fire was much bigger than it seemed on the videos. The wind was blowing the smoke and flames toward us racers, and there was a small passel of them standing 10 yards away, quite reticent to jump. I worried that my, now twice twisted right ankle, would land me squarely in a very painful place. I was exhausted, but much more afraid of landing on the hot coals.
I paused, picked my spot (lowest logs) ran and jumped with whatever might I had left — perhaps with more ‘fear’ than ‘might’. I landed just a hair past the coals on the far side. I pumped my arms to the sky, I was almost done.
The Gladiator Pit stood between me and the finish line. After all this – mud, water, ankle, sweat, exhaustion and grime where the sun don’t shine – I was not going to let three massive thugs stop or embarrass me, as so many obstacles had done before. I ran pretty close to full speed (considering the ankle) and took the shots, but fell not. With arms raised, I crossed the finish, grabbed my medal and placed the lanyard over my head. I completed my first Spartan Race.
On many counts, I had failed. Not the least of which was that I was not as prepared as I should have been. But I finished, and that is, for now, sufficient success.
Will there be another day on the Spartan Race course?
Ask me later.