It’s been about 10 days since my brother Brian and I both participated in our first Spartan Sprint. A 5 mile grueling test of stamina and mental fortitude – I like saying it that way because it makes what we did sound cooler!
Kidding aside, the Spartan Race PA was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve learned two invaluable lessons about myself. Lesson one, I haven’t been pushing myself as far as I can truly go. Lesson two is that my heart is in sound condition – I just gave it a 4 hour stress test that would put to shame any stress test you might encounter at your local cardiologists office. Yes, the ticker is fine. I don’t think it got back to a normal beat until an hour after I stopped.
My reasons for this new found hobby are detailed here but I didn’t truly understand how tough this would be for me. While I never considered quitting (I had my brother there to make sure of that) I did think that I might just collapse a few times. All around me, people of varying forms of physical soundness, were falling/stopping/cursing. After the first 2 miles the race became a Spartan Plod rather than anything resembling a Spartan Sprint. That actually helped me a bit for as they say, “misery LOVES company” – I had brothers and sisters in every direction!
We started in the 4:00 PM heat and 20 minutes into it I was in trouble – the good news was that while I didn’t know it yet, I only had about 4 hours to go! For two of those hours, I couldn’t really catch my breath – my heart maintaining a heathy elevated pace the whole time. In my past two races ( I can’t even call them races now – walks in the park really) my legs failed me in the form of shin splints. Not this time! What pre-race training I did do was devoted to leg strength and conditioning. In that sense, this race was a big victory for my legs and a failure for my lungs.
The term ‘uphill battle’ REALLY applies here. The first 3 miles are up the Blue Mountain Ski Areas DOWNHILL runs with the short down hill loop to get you over to the longest trail of the course. Most of the trails through the woods are narrow with room for only two-three runners at a time – if you choose to run at all. The wooded trails were very rocky, mud coated or a combination of both. I saw a few competitors running through these trails like human jack-rabbits … for us and many others it was enough to move at a brisk walk to assure you didn’t turn an ancle or worse.
Brian and I got to the top of the mountain. I kept thinking its “all downhill from here”. Not really.
After going over a cargo net on yet another rocky trail and emerging at the top of the ski-run we were told that the water was just a half-mile away. As we got near where the ski-lifts let off their riders, it was apparent that we were headed for water – just two obstacles stood in our way. So began the longest hour of my life.
Everyone had to take a ‘Spartan Pancake’ – a soft covered 40 lb ( 20 lbs for the ladies) bean bag – and walk down a loose gravel/rock trail called “Nightmare” and then over and up a trail called “Razors Edge” – both double black diamond runs when snow is on the ground. This is where I expected to collapse. While walking down Nightmare wasn’t too hard ( you just had to really watch your footing ) walking up Razors Edge almost broke me. The steepness of the slope combined with loose footing and the fact that I was spent was the worst physical point of the day. Given that this was a day filled with ‘worst points’ – that is saying something. My brother actually came a third of the way back down and asked if he could help but I resisted. I would carry my own sandbag. When I finally got back to the top and dropped the pancake, I started feeling better. We could see the water station just beyond my nemesis – the frackin’ monkey bars!
I guess I should have at least tried but I didn’t have any energy. I skipped the monkey bars and just did 30 burpees. I didn’t want to get halfway across the monkey bars, fall off and then have to do the 30 burpees anyway. I considered this an accounting decision. My debits were far in excess of any credits on hand. “Next year”, I thought. On to the water.
I was conscious not to drink too much water but I did take a lot in. We also got some last minute tips from the people manning the water station. “Your just one and a half miles from the end and it’s all downhill”, we were told,. I believe both comments were bold faced lies but why argue? Onward.
The next obstacle was a strength test – a rope tied to a weight (50lbs ?) that had to be hoisted about 30ft into the air (over a pulley) and lowered back down. As tired as I was, this was easy and we proceeded down the mountain. For what seemed like forever, we descended through narrow rocky paths. It’s truly amazing that no one broke an ancle. There were a few obstacles like eight foot walls but the most enjoyable was the 150 ft slip & slide. Jumping feet first, you slid down the bank of a man-made lake filled with muddy water. You then have to swim/walk about 150 yards to the other side in chest high water while going under a few sets of floating barrels. After exiting the water I felt a little better and we proceded through some trails to the next obstacle. We were certainly making better time but it was evident that the sun was starting to set – we had been at this for over 3 hours!
After a short drag of a 30 or 40 lb chain attached weight down a muddy path, through some muddy water and back up a equally muddy hill ( can you spot the trend?) to the start we were almost to the mud crawl. The idea is to roll through the mud while being periodically sprayed with a hose. Suspended above the mud about 18 inches was barbed wire. The only issue ? No mud (!) – it had all washed away. It was really a roll/crawl over shale and embedded rock which resulted in a bruised rib for me. Over a week later, my rib is the only thing that still hurts but hey, Spartans don’t complain.
Now only a few hundred yards from the end we made short work of the tire flip and the horizontal wall climb. In flipping the tires though there was none of the suggested, “lift with your legs” since there wasn’t anything left in my legs. No strength whatsoever and they were starting to cramp. My brother and I just flipped the tires twice and it was on to the horizontal wall climb which didn’t take more than a few minutes. Just three more obstacles ( about 100 yards ) and we were done. Next was the spear throw and true to the way my day was going – I hit the haybail with the spear but it didn’t hold. 30 more frackin’ burpees. In my mind I did all 30 but my math abilities were diminished at that particular moment. The final push …
After a jump over a low fire and a final angled wall climb with the obligatory fire hose hitting us, we crossed the Spartan protected finish line – 2 or 3 ‘Spartans’ with pugo sticks are supposed to hassle you as you take the final steps across the line. I don’t know if they ( the Spartans ) were too tired or they just looked upon my with sympathy but I didn’t get my more then a tap as I passed. No matter – we were done!
YOU’LL KNOW AT THE FINISH LINE – the Spartan Race motto
… and yes I did! I had originally thought that this was a 2.5 hour race (max!) for my brother and I. When I found out we were in at 4:12, I immediately thought that we should have done better. Still, I had finished and that was good enough – this time. While I’m sure my brother could have done much better if he wasn’t waiting for me, a mark had been set.
I overwhelming recommend trying a Spartan Race if your looking for a challenge. According to the Spartan’s themselves, the Pennsylvania race is billed as their toughest sprint – comparable to a mini Spartan Beast. I’ll be running in the Miami Super Spartan this coming February 2013 so I’ll have something to compare it to. As I get more into this weekend warrior over 40 type stuff, I’m finally starting to feel a change in my health. I know that I’m on the right track because brother Brian asked right after, “ready to do it again next year?” – I said yes without hesitation. In fact, I’ve already paid for my registration for the Pennsylvania 2013 Spartan Sprint Race and I intend to take an hour (or more) off my time. One of my little sisters and my niece have also committed to running so it will be a family challenge next time.
It’s important to keep going in whatever you try if you feel the end result is worth the journey. If I keep on this path ( a rocky, mud-coated, up-hill path ) I imagine that I’ll be a different human being this time next year. Healthier and (hopefully) happier with myself. This isn’t about how I look but how I feel. I already have friends calling 40’s when I mention something like a Spartan Race or other seemingly pointless race. For me, the point is that for as long as physically possible, I never want to not participate because I’m unable, unhealthy or unsure of myself.
Get out, get up and fight for continued youth. As much as life can suck – it WILL suck that much more if you can’t get out of your own way.
Video: Spartan Race Pa – 2012
Spartan Race Website: www.spartanRace.com
*Unless otherwise noted, photo credits : The Spartan Race & NuVision Action Image