My first Spartan Race is in the books and I feel great. This past Saturday was an event that blew my mind. I had been preparing for it since December and after I crossed the finish line all the months of tension, wondering, and hoping flooded from my body and euphoria took its place. Though I am sure there are moments in life when I was more proud they seem distant compared to the accomplishment of crossing the finishing line Saturday morning. I finished, I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t a bloody, beaten, bruised mess, my head was held high and my face filled with a grin.
While I say that there were no surprises on the course, it was challenging and humbling. I am extremely grateful for the months of training I put in leading up to the race. My upper body strength and aerobic stamina enabled me to complete all the obstacles on the first try; and without drama. I slipped a few times on the rope climb, had to do Burpees after my spear slid out of the hay bales backwards but I finished them all. There were many gut check moments on the course but I decided to take each test head on without hesitation or doubt.
The course had been advertised as around 4 miles with 10-12 obstacles. I’m thinking it was more like 5-6 miles and I know there were a total of 18 obstacles that had to be mastered before crossing the finish line. I will not list them all here, for one thing I cannot remember them all or the order and I don’t want to give away what is in store for those about to compete. I will advise that if you have weaknesses in your upper body strength, especially grip; I’d focus on that in the coming weeks. Also the course was interlaced with several trail sections through the woods, up and down hills, and through thick brush. These quickly filled with people struggling to catch their breath.
This brings me to another point to consider when running my next race. I had started near the back of the pack in my heat. Being my first race I knew I wasn’t trying to place but still figured things would thin out after the first half mile or so as people tired and I’d be able to charge through the pack. That didn’t happen. The trail was so narrow and filled with choke points that I soon got stuck behind a large crowd at our first water crossing. People were actually stopping to take pictures in the middle of a small creek while those behind them shivered and grew increasingly irritated by the delay. This would repeat itself several times and after a while I just decided to have fun and do all I could to be careful, help my friends and finish each obstacle. Finishing quick was no longer an option.
The first half of the course before the barbed wire crawl was a blast. Even the walls were fun and everyone seemed to breeze through them. That mud filled hell of barbed wire, rocks, and water was the turning point of the race though. From the starting line it was impossible to see where it began. It already looked long but would turn out to be 100yds in length when it was all said and done. There were many dips filled with deep orange water, and even early in the day in the second heat it was insanely slick. Towards the end I opted just to slide along otter style and use my momentum to save me from having to pull myself along.
The rest of the course is still a blur to me. There were several more walls each higher than the last. A concrete block carry, a weighted bucket pull, and a sandbag carry up an especially steep grade. Sometime after that we came to our second water crossing, or should I say muddy wade through a hundred yards of swamp. The cold water woke me from my fatigued stupor here and by the time we made it to the ropes and ninja wall I was back in reality. Coming out of the woods at the spectator area to the cheers and roar of the crowd was exhilarating and I instantly forgot about the warm mud trickling down my legs, or at least I hope it was mud. We crossed up and over the starting gate and made a mad dash past the gladiators to stumble into the finish line. I was able to dodge the hard blows as I got behind two shirtless screaming college kids and let them absorb the hits and hurdled over their collapsed bodies as they were pummeled to the ground, once again proving that this new generation is at least good for something.
I spent the rest of race day volunteering at the baggage claim tent. Those few hours on my feet were sheer punishment after running my morning heat and next time I will ask for an assignment out on the course. I am still amused by the all the shell-shocked mud covered racers coming up to me that afternoon; telling me how bad it was, or nasty, or awesome. Even though I stood there with the same dazed look on my face as them; finisher’s medal hanging around my neck. I was clean from a quick shower after my heat and many assumed I was like many of the volunteers I talked to that day; just a spectator.
Altogether it was a great experience. For the most part things were well run, but I was not impressed that no one checked ID’s and it would have been possible for anyone simply to steal a bib packet and run the race free of charge. Unlike many volunteers my group and I paid to be there that day and do not take much amusement in gate crashers. I would liked to have had some time to recover after my heat but next time I will try to space it out more. My gear did really well in the race. The morning started out with temperatures right around freezing and the cold weather compression gear did a great job of keeping me warm even though I was wet. It also spared my legs from some nasty bruises, cuts, and rope burns. My shoes also held up great. I had phenomenal traction on the walls and course. My only issue came at the end on the rope climb. The rounded edges of the soles could not grip even the knots on the rope and I had to use my old Marine training and lock my legs while my arms pulled to get to the top.
If you’re going to a Spartan Race, arrange to stay the whole weekend. The drive home Saturday night was murder on my back and legs. Also run with a team if possible and split costs for food, gas, and lodging. We got there the night before and were able to scope out most of the course ahead of time and get our race packets. The lines on event day were quite long so arrive early if possible. If you check a bag don’t be like most people and leave a 70lb duffel at the table. Once you’re paid and registered you will receive a bracelet that allows you to enter and leave the site anytime you choose. Only bring the bare minimum and leave the rest in your car. You’re a Spartan for Christ’s sake if you can’t walk back to your car to get your bag what’s the point?
Train hard, run harder, and have fun. This race will hook you. I’m already planning for my next event.