…or be catastrophically injured.
The warning in bright red, bolded and all caps.
My second Spartan race. The week leading up to the race, I was more nervous than I had been for the first. My first race was care free and FUN. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t do an obstacle, I had never even attempted any before. It didn’t matter what my time was, I had no expectation of how long it would take me to get through something like this. So I just enjoyed myself all the muddy way.
But this time. I had already done it. I had faced all but one of the obstacles that would be on this course. I had failed obstacles, and I had passed obstacles. I had a time to compare a new time to. All of these things drove my competitive nature into high gear the days leading up to the race. The night before the race, the weather turned and we had thunder and lighting and the rain fell heavily from the sky. I knew the course would be muddy and more difficult to maneuver. The idea that I could lower any expectation of doing better than before flitted through my mind, but those thoughts are not the type that I allow to keep around. It was gone, and my determination remained.
The morning of the race came, wet and cool. A constant drizzle fell as we drove toward the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center. The closer we got, the more my stomach knotted. We eased through packet pick up, spectator sign in, put on my body glide and cheered the female elite start. I hopped over the wall into the starting chute and my nerves made me wonder, ‘Why did I sign up for another one of these races. When I am done with this one, I don’t have to do it again.’
Then the announcer sent us through with an “I am SPARTAN” and all of those nervous feelings were left behind at the start line. It took mere seconds from the race starting to remind myself that I love this shit. I love running. I love challenges. Why would I say I don’t want to do this again? I remembered that I was there to prove to myself that I could work hard and get a little better every time.
So I set off, at an easy pace. Running along the gravel road, listening to the crunch of my footsteps and the breathing of those around me. The first obstacle approached – an overwall – without hesitation this time, without having to think about how, this shorty just up and overed it. Same with the next and then the hurdles. No faltering my pace or my mindset. I was delighted to feel smooth, strong and more capable than before. The obstacles continued in this fashion. This time around, instead of concentrating on what in the world was going on, I could focus on enjoying myself. Smiling, soaking in the perfect race temperature, the beautiful surroundings, and the sweat starting to bead on my forehead.
This race course was so great in the way that it had obstacles grouped together, which made the running portions longer. I felt like I could get into a groove and stay in my element. Bounding up and down the rocky, uneven path. The first mile was mostly uphill and through moss covered trees. We came out of the thicket and encountered the next group of obstacles, lead by the bucket carry. The rocks inside the red bucket rattled as I hoisted it up onto my shoulder and took off, trying to keep a brisk pace. The winding path up and down the gradual incline of the side of the hill seemed to take forever and go by quickly all at the same time. I carefully placed the bucket back onto the stack and jogged to the inverted wall, where my first hesitancy was – ‘are my arms too tired to pull myself over this?’ But my body didn’t hesitate as my mind did – up and over I went.
My muscles were warmed up, I was determined and ready to begin to tackle some of the more tough obstacles. We ran back to the forested hill, and began to climb again. The climbing excited me for the potential of more downhill running, but the downhill did not come as I assumed it would. As the opening in the trees came, the barbed wire was there in front of me. A long mass of scary, pokey metal waiting to scrape me up as I crawled under it. Instead of focusing on the scary factor, I focused on the fun factor. Remember when you were little and you saw a grassy hill? How you would lay down and just roll down it? That was me, and after I got over sticking my hand into a bramble, I laughed. A lot. And got dizzy a lot. And felt like a little kid a lot.
Stumbling past the camera man I worked to shake off the dizziness. I laughed with another Spartan and agreed that it was a great thing neither of us drank the night before. Jogging over the hoof printed and divoted ground we made our way to the rolling mud hills. They were slick with the storm the previous night and I chose a lane created by the elite racers who went before us. Somehow, being mid race, erases the toe testing feeling of getting into cold water. Without pausing, I plunged in, trying my best not to slip and fully submerge. Gripping at slick mud with my hands, I climbed and slipped my way out of the first mud pool and then over the second rolling mud hill plunging into the second mud pool. Taking a deep breath, I lowered my entire body into the muddy water, squeezing through the small gap between the marshy ground and the dunk wall, then pushed myself up on the other side. Now completely slick, it was time to tackle the slip wall, balancing my weight, I gripped the rope and pulled myself up and tossed my legs over.
Another set of obstacles I had completed. My body felt even better. More powerful. I zipped through the Z wall and moved on to the monkey bars.
Approaching the monkey bars, I had to get my mind right. An obstacle I know I can get through, not a difficult one that I have practiced. But one that I did not complete at the Portland Sprint. Without too much thinking, I jumped up and thought ‘Just go for it!’ So I did. I reached out ahead of me and grabbed onto the second bar, the momentum of my body began to carry me forward, letting go of the first bar I allowed my body to transfer my weight to the slick, wet metal, and unexpectedly dropped. The wet bars defeated me again. Hustling to the burpee zone, I gave my headband to the volunteer to record my number and began my 30 burpee penalty. My soaring mood and strong body both instantly felt heavier. I wanted to make this obstacle, but it was not the time to dwell on the failure. Shrugging it off. I moved on to the spear throw.
I adjusted the spear in my hand. Took too many seconds to prepare and threw. To no success. Another 30 burpees in the burpee zone.
60 burpees. Back to back. It didn’t feel good. My lungs were working hard. My body felt more like lead than muscle. Mentally, I knew I had to shake it off. During those last 30 burpees I cleared my mind. I hit the target, on my second ever spear attempt. Soon it would stick. I am ok. There is more to come in this race.
At the Portland Sprint, the obstacle that was most difficult for me, was the rope climb. Three failed attempts to get up, and I still had to do 30 burpees. I was tired – physically and even more so, mentally – after that. With the little form I had been able to acquire and practice time I had in the four weeks since the race, I was determined to hit the fucking cow bell at the top. I walked to loosen up and get my mind right as I approached the rope climb. Jon and Pierre, knowing it was my focus for this race, cheered me on and encouraged me.
“Which rope has been the luckiest?” I asked in jest to the volunteer.
“Today, not one racer has yet missed the rope climb. And neither will you.” The volunteer replied to me. This gave me so much courage.
It felt like it took forever. Swinging the rope around my feet to figure out the grip, pushing up with my legs and pulling with my arms. Each effort seemed to barely move me forward, only inches. But what mattered was – that I was moving forward. I kept moving forward, until the cow bell was within my reach. I barely remember the sound of the cowbell because I was distracted in my mind with the feeling of accomplishment. Hearing Jon cheer, knowing how much we both wanted me to succeed at this obstacle made my pride soar. ‘Remember, you CAN do hard things!’ I told myself.
As I jumped off the rope, I waved to Jon feeling ready to take on everything else this course had. I passed a Spartan who sounded nervous for her attempt up the rope. I gave her words of encouragement, knowing inside that she could do it, and headed on to the Helix. The new obstacle I had no idea how to attempt. Swiftly finding my footing and scooting across I realized that it was more fun than difficult, rang the cowbell and was ready for some more running.
Back up in the misty woodland, through more incredibly uneven terrain, up a steep hill, I realized I was on the last third of the race. I carefully maneuvered the cargo nets, watching as Spartans starting their open waves ran underneath the A frame. The sandbag felt heavier being rain soaked and carrying it up the hill and back down made me feel strong. The atlas carry was great without the burpee break. My energy was continually being boosted by each completed obstacle and the finish line music. There were only a few obstacles left – I was going to do it! Complete my second Spartan. I felt stronger than my first time and more sure! I had also done only 60 burpees, which was less than before. My pride grew with every step that I took.
I approached the Rig and knew that it was something I could do. I swung myself onto the first ring, and reached out for the second. Surprise took me over when my body started to fall to the gravel. ‘How? I can do this!?’ I had forgotten about the slick state of the equipment because of the constant drizzle that morning. The rings were so slick. My heart fell. 30 more burpees in wet, muddy gravel. Pushing my body off of the gravel as it slid around and tried to keep my feet in the mud was more and more difficult with each burpee I had to complete. But complete them I did.
I hustled to the Herc Hoist and hand over hand pulled the rain soaked bag up to the knot, slowly lowering it back down. Then I was done! A huge grin spreading across my face, I ran toward the fire jump, my grin get larger hearing Jon and Pierre cheer for me through the finish!
I had done it. Finished my second Spartan Sprint feeling elated, despite my failed obstacles and burpees, despite the briar poking my finger, despite the times it was hard. Jon ran to the finishers chute to high five and hug me over the barrier. Judging by the time of day, he knew that I had PRed at this race. We went to the results booth to see what my time was – 1:00:35. A massive PR of 7 minutes for this race! So close to breaking an hour. The bigger surprise? Reading that I had placed 3rd in my age group! I could hardly believe that it was true! My second race and a podium finish.
Hard work. Truly putting in the work. Not just the physical and nutritional work, but the mental work. Of pushing past what you think you can do. Pushing past when you feel disappointed. Letting yourself truly believe that you can accomplish something. That you can do hard things. That hard work gets you the rewards.
I am so excited to continue this hard work and continue running Spartan races. They are organized and efficient. Obviously fun and challenging, and the volunteers are stellar both with information and encouragement!
Now it is time to get stronger and faster and come back to a new shiny PR in 2020. Who wants to come with me?