I am … SPARTAN!
It’s Sunday morning and I am up with the birds. Today is the day. Spartan.
When I signed up for the “Super Spartan” in Italy slated for April 2018, at first, I hadn’t a worry in the world. Then I thought – “heck, I’ll go for the trifecta”. Common sense said I should run a Spartan Sprint before flying around the world to attempt a Super. The closer the Sprint came on the calendar, the more concerned I was about preparation.
I had been running at a great pace, typically 6-8 miles half a year earlier, but a sprained knee and ankle took me down for a month or so. I was able to get up to speed on the bicycles, but it took more time to get out running. As the race got closer, I began to focus my runs on single-track uphill stuff rather than simply running… super glad I did that much.
In my mind, I pictured today as a family day. Haydon had a pass to run the kid’s race, I would run the Sprint, and the ladies would cheer us on. Not so. Haydon is home, sick. Momma is taking care of him and Rainey is in her own world – like a 13-year-old princess. Just as well. As I pull into the gravelly dirt parking area, its a giant plume of dust and blowing debris. The winds have picked up a lot since leaving the house (only 15 miles away). Easily blowing steadily at 40 MPH with gusts well exceeding that, I make a quick Facebook video and head out into the elements. It’s a special miserable.
I must say, signing up for Spartan and spending the money on their site – easy… trying to find information, or get customer service for any changes – near impossible. Spartan uses third-party plug-ins to handle some of the backend gymnastics of memberships and events, and the process for the customer is cumbersome. There is not a single sign-on process, so now I have multiple accounts with this franchise and zero hope of getting Haydon’s paid for race rescheduled.
The wind was so bad, and with Haydon home, sick, I was very close to bailing. I instead got through onsite registration where my online start time of 1:15 pm got pushed back to 1:45 pm. So glad I got confused using their website and drove over to see what was going on — people that arrived just after me, were pushed back until 3:00 pm! According to the statistics, about 6,000 people ran that day. I know its gotta be tough herding that many cats.
Once inside the park, I noticed all the vendors. Good beer, bad beer, overpriced tee shirts, supplements, soap, a DJ, and some exercise display areas for rope climbing and hurling one’s self over the wall. I heard the commotion in the background of a hype man and crowd. I decided to check it out. Sure enough, it was the start of one of the Spartan waves. I got right up front to see the process. On one end was the hype man. Dang, he’s good.
Who are You?!?!
We – Are – Spartan!
Who are You?!?!
We – Are – Spartan!
Aroo Aroo Aroo!
In the back of the crowd awaiting their start, a coach from 24Hour Fitness is warming up the next wave. Right then, Angels came down and stopped the wind. A calmness overcame the park and me. All the frustration of the Spartan website maze left me and I became part of the Spartan event.
I had about an hour and a half left to kill so I found some shade and went into people watching mode, which turned into small talk mode. I managed to meet a few nice folks, then went to check my bag. I had a Camelback with me but decided to not wear it for the race. I wanted to keep my running weight down… so I waited to check my bag(s) so I could hydrate the most prior to the event.
As my wave was coming up, I positioned myself near the front row. The hype man is doing his thing, and people are excited. Stretching, jumping, AROO AROO AROO!, clapping… and there I am – the retired road racer back in my calm. When I used to road race, in the beginning – I was too excited, so over time, I taught myself to be calm. So now I am in the front row of the Spartan wave, calm as a cucumber, waiting for the “GO”.
We take off. I am running down the right side of the path. Out of my left peripheral, I see a man sprinting to take the lead. in the first curve, I am still in second. By the first obstacle, a set of four-foot walls, I am about fifth. I am keeping a steady pace – but wondering where everyone is. By the second set of walls, another eight to ten people have passed me. Over, Under and Through I go… keeping pace. Then I hear a faint “theme music” in my head — nope. It’s a younger runner next to me with a speaker in his Camelback. This dude just became my DJ and my pacesetter.
With two more “over the top” obstacles to go before Army crawling, I begin to sense “I am killing this thing!” Then we come upon a 6.5-7 foot wall? I see dudes jumping toward the wall, hand over the top, foot halfway up the wall and a kind of spring over the top and leap to the ground. It both looks intimidating, but not hard… I try. I fail. I decide to watch a few more do it from the side. Then a heavy dude, just a little bigger than I was a year ago, runs up to the wall and flattens himself into it with his arms over his head – like a cartoon. Did I just see that?!?! Another Spartan squats next to the wall and gives the pudgy guy a step, then asks me if I want to step. With just three obstacles behind me so far, I can’t stand the idea of needing help so soon into this thing. I politely decline and woosh… over the wall he goes.
A Marshal (Volunteer) offers me some advice after three failed attempts. He says I am almost there. I just need to get my armpit locked in over the wall, confidently swing my opposite foot over the wall and then pull myself over using my leg. Well, I made it. It took a lot out of me, but I made it over. Just four miles left to run and a dozen or so obstacles.
As we came upon the Army crawl, I began to notice there were more people on the course. I started looking at armbands and realized, these are Spartans from the 1:30 pm wave! I am running through time zones! Going through the crawl, under the barbed wire, a Spartan next to me kept getting his Camelback stuck on the wire. I would unhook it for him, but in my mind was thankful I didn’t wear my own.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we had made it back to the festival area of the park. Here is where they had some of the key attraction obstacles to get through. The first was the handhold wall, a series of holes, mountain climbing holds, and short chains to suspend yourself on a slanted wall… but nothing for your feet. I watched a couple of folks fail. I saw a lot of teamwork, holding folks up on the wall as they traverse the hand-holds to the left. I saw a few successful “climbs” as I waited my turn. Somewhat tentative, I grasped a chain and stepped to the wall. I managed to get both my feet under me and stuck on the wall. Now to switch handholds to the left and step to the left without falling off the dang wall! Each time I let something go, the pressure from my legs would try to pivot me on the one arm still holding on. Instead of being able to spread my arms to the next hold, I seemed to be struggling and getting both hands stuck right in front of my face, centered. It was painful, but I managed to work my way about 60% down the wall. I could hear people cheering me on. I rested on my ankles which had been pinned under my butt, arms, and shoulders shaking. The cheering pushed me. I managed a burst of energy for another step left. But then at 80% of beating this wall – I fell.
As I peeled myself off the ground from my thirtieth burpee. My legs were shaking, my arms & shoulders were shot and I was light-headed. I just went from “Killing this Thing” to “I need to pace myself and finish”. I started to jog, but felt more like stumbling so I concentrated on getting in the fresh air with long breaths and telling myself “it ain’t no thing”.
That lead to the tire flip. Now I am told these things weigh four hundred pounds. The object is to flip the tire one way and then back to the original location. Generally, these types of power exercises are right up my alley, but my body was tired from falling off the wall and knocking out the burpees. As luck would have it, I stumble into a guy that is beyond struggling to even get a hand under the tire. I help him, then enlist his services to assist me – another obstacle down. What do you know? It’s right here in the festival area – another strength test.
The Herc Lift is a test of pulling strength. There is a rope tied off to a barrier in front of the Herc Lift frame. I am guessing this frame to stand 20-25 feet in the air. The top of the frame has a pulley and at the other end of that rope… a sandbag in the two-hundred-pound range. I give it a tug and the bag begins to lift. I reach up high on the rope and allow myself to fall back onto the ground, giving the bag a tremendous head start on the upward journey. Now I do not want to do any more burpees right now, so I take my right arm and loop it through the rope. You see, even if you get to the top of the frame, you must not let the rope go. You need to gently land the bag back on the ground with control. Up I go with just a little slipping on the way… When I got to the top – I wasn’t really certain it was the top, so I gave it a good tug.
Next was the release. The first few hand over hand went alright, but I could feel a looseness developing with just one hand in play… I decided to try to work the hands up and down on the rope without really releasing the rope – mistake. The rope began to slip. The heat on my hands was intense, but I was not letting go! Then I felt the tug and burn on my bicep. Yep, my anchor had taken hold. It lifted me off the ground a little, but the bag stopped and I was able to get the bag safely to the ground from its 1.5-foot perch. “Now that’s commitment” I hear from behind. A marshall had seen the whole struggle. I smiled and thanked him “I’d gladly change a rope burn for 30 burpees!”, and off I jogged.
This served as the halfway mark in my mind. The course, for lack of better description, is like a butterfly. We ran from the body, around a wing back to the body – now we need to run around the second wing. In this second half are the Spear Throw, Bucket Carry (a 5-gallon bucket full of gravel), Sandbag Carry, Army Net climb, Rope Climb, and mud swims. Silly me… I’m looking forward to it.
Cognizant of my depleting energy level, I gear down to a trot over a jog. I am still passing a fair amount of people so I feel pretty positive. I am getting my confidence back. I get through the Bucket Carry no problem. In fact, I was super surprised the buckets were already filled and had lids on them. On YouTube you see people filling their own buckets. I grabbed and one and set myself to just walking and carrying the cargo without stopping. I figured the stopping would take its toll on my upper body. Then right in front of me, a fit younger person turns funny on the slanted hill – POP! He’s down with what appears to be an ACL. Within a few seconds, help is all over him and I continue on. However, this is the second injury I have seen so far and both people were notable more fit in their appearance than me. My silent – ok not so silent – prayer… Lord, keep me strong, keep me safe.
Right into the Sand Bag carry – no worries. I decided to do the one-shoulder hold and switch shoulders as it got tired. I saw others straddle the bag over both shoulders. Again, I was careful about foot placement to avoid a twisted ankle or knee, but in reality, this is what my legs felt like all the time prior to losing the weight in 2017. As I deposited the bag back into the box at the end of the sandbag hike, I felt like I could slam dunk a basketball. I felt like I was jumping on the moon. The good news, my DJ had caught back up to me so I had tunes back!
Throwing a spear is not in my wheelhouse. After waiting about 20 minutes to throw the thing – whiff! It’s burpee time. My DJ and his friends had burpees to do to, but I took off ahead of them into the silence. After the rest in the spear line, even after the burpees, I felt like I could jog again, so I did. Drag the tin bucket with sandbags by a rope? Yep. Climb the A-Frame with the Army Net? Yep. What about the Rings?
My mental nemesis awaits. Any activity that has me hold my fat butt in the air is fair game for burpee time. I watched a few folks go through. I watched a few folks fail. I was beginning to psych myself out rather than up so I jumped on a podium to start the task. I grabbed the first ring. Swinging to the second ring, I felt oddly at peace with things – no panic. With a firm grip on the second ring, I pulled myself side to side against both rings. As I swung like a pendulum, I released the first ring and swung smoothly to the third – only 5 to go. I was taking my time and being very purposeful in my use of energy but I was realizing something very surprising. I am left-handed, but my grip on my left hand was not nearly as strong as the grip on my right. I could feel my left beginning to slip. My right hand was solid – this is causing me to balance my motivation. Stay calm and metered so I don’t make a mistake and fall – hurry so I don’t fall. The other mental game here is that I am only a foot or so off the ground, so mentally I am thinking “I’m not going to make it, I could just pop down and do the burpees”.
NO MORE BURPEES!!
Somehow, I managed to get the last left-handed hold done and swing to the right. This is almost done! I swing with my right hand – hit the bell and just like that… I am in third grade again. I am so excited and happy to have made this exercise. Faced with doom and gloom and 30 burpees… I managed to conquer the exercise that would have, should have eaten my lunch. Now onto the rope climb.
You guessed it — 30 burpees.
While some might not like the idea of a mud bath, I was really beginning to feel overheated. This plus the mental notion that some ladies pay a bunch of dough to submerge themselves in mud motivated my success. I scoped a clean entry on the right and picked my line. The goal was to get in and get out. As I got out, I noticed people kind of taking shifts to assist those behind them get out of the mud. I decided to stay a while and lend a hand. This was entertaining until a well-endowed young lady coated in smooth shiny mud presented herself – time to go.
There was an angled, muddy wall to scale with a rope to help the climb. Competitors next to me referred to it as the “Slip Wall”. Great name. It took about fifteen minutes to get my hands on the rope. What I noticed watching others was that if you leaned back on the rope, making your legs more perpendicular to the slip wall, you could muscle up it. If you leaned forward, down you’d go. The technique worked and I made it first try. Next comes the backward wall to scale, and its over.
As I approached this last obstacle, I carefully viewed others that preceded me. It seemed like an awful lot of competitors had made alliances that allowed them to work together to get over it. Here’s the deal. You are covered in mud. The wall is about seven feet high but angled toward you instead of away from you like a ramp. There is no rope. What you have is a couple of horizontal strips of wood also caked with mud for grip. As I stood there trying to gather my thoughts. A tall young lady popped up next to me. I invited her to go ahead as I was still working a strategy. Turns out – she had tried and failed, but was back for another try.
An alliance has presented itself. I told her I would give her a boost and offered her cupped hands to step into for a lift. She was clear that the cupped hands would maybe not be enough and if I had to touch her butt – she understood. Note to single guys – mud runs are fun! As I boosted her over the wall, I was able to lift her by the waist ala “Dancing with the Stars” and then a final push from the bottom of her thighs, booty avoided. She agreed to come back around the obstacle to help, but I had begun to try it on my own. Then, almost audibly before physically, I heard her hands sink into the mud on my butt and she shoved me over. Yeah!
Hillary and I finished together and received our medals. Turns out she has a great triumphant story of fighting for normalcy in a world twisted by Type One Diabetes. I had seen her previously on the trail as I recognized the automatic medical pump taped to the back of her arm. Post-race, I met lots of folks that have had a lifestyle change accented by participation in the Spartan events. Finishing this event did change me for the better and I look forward to many more and meeting warriors like Hillary. Aroo, Aroo, Aroo. I am SPARTAN!
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