This past weekend, I ran and completed my first Spartan Race with the goal of getting my Trifecta this year. While I’ve decided to take on the Spartan challenges in order, I’ve learned something very important this weekend: Spartan Race is no joke, and I’ve got a lot of work to do.
I took on the Sprint in Miami, the shortest of the Spartan Race series. This one was approximately 3.2 miles with 22 obstacles standing between me and my Trifecta wedge. I ran at 11am, later in the day than I’d prefer, but that was fine. The weather was nice and there was a constant breeze that kept it from being crazy hot.
I have to say that I saw within the first two miles that training and past races were starting to pay off for me. In Warrior Dash this past February, I completed their 5K distance in 47 minutes. And even though I didn’t have a watch and couldn’t keep track of time, I genuinely felt like I was setting a personal best. I was going through the first obstacles with near perfect precision. I got over the hurdles and walls with ease, even rearranging my technique a bit to take stress off my arms. Even a challenging cargo net climb felt easier to take on. And I was jogging through most of the first two miles, sticking very well to my pace.
Perhaps the first big success came at an obstacle pretty much only Spartan offers: the Bucket Brigade. For those reading this post and knowing nothing about the obstacles, the Bucket Brigade is a simple challenge in which each competitor takes a 5-gallon bucket, fills it with rocks, then carries it around a small loop, approximately 200 meters (if I were to guess). Now, despite my screw-up of grabbing the wrong bucket (they had black buckets for men and red for women; I grabbed a red one…though I didn’t hear anyone say I was supposed to get black and no one else corrected me), I managed to go around the loop without stopping, something I saw others unable to do.
Because I didn’t have the proper means to train for this, I followed the advice I have heard a few Spartan Pro athletes suggest for carrying the bucket. As it turns out, it worked pretty well, and I was able to finish the obstacle. However, this is also incredibly deceptive. While the premise itself is simple, the act of carrying a bucket that, all told, is probably close to 60 pounds or more, and then doing a lap is an incredibly draining feat. And while I got through it, this is what led me to have more difficulties later on.
The first big challenge hit me right at the Mile 2 marker: the Atlas Carry. Again, for those unfamiliar, this obstacle requires athletes to pick up a large concrete sphere (for men, it was about 75 pounds), carry it a 10-yard distance, put it down, do five burpees, then carry it back. Here, I hit my first big road block. I didn’t know the proper way to pick it up, and within a few minutes, it seemed obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. And here’s what makes Spartan especially difficult: the penalties. Because I was unable to complete Atlas Carry, I had to perform 30 penalty burpees. And, I’ll admit, I lost count at 15. So maybe I did more, maybe less. I couldn’t tell you.
From here I went on to the Monkey Bars (which are not your average Monkey Bars). Despite my arms still being pretty tired from the bucket carry and the burpees, I got through this. But then I hit the Rope Climb. This is where things took a tough turn. I’ve completed rope climbs before, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get my technique down. I wasn’t able to get the rope wrapped around my leg. I didn’t have the arm or grip strength left to pull myself up. I couldn’t get off the ground. I spent about twenty minutes at this obstacle, cursing at myself (both in my head and out loud), because I just couldn’t get off the ground. At this time, I had been on the course for an hour, and was getting way behind my time. After about 10 tries (no exaggeration), I took defeat, and had to do another 30 burpees. These I couldn’t count at all. I think I did 30. Again, I couldn’t tell you.
Following the Rope Climb was Olympus, a slanted wall with three types of grips. My first try, I made it over three-quarters of the way before my leg gave out and I slipped. I walked back to the start, getting incredibly frustrated. I tried again, but couldn’t even get halfway. I slipped again. I gave it one more attempt, but again, didn’t make it to halfway. So, for the third time in four obstacles, I failed at completing the obstacle, and suffered my third set of penalty burpees.
At this point, I was on the losing end of another very important battle: the head game.
Getting Out of My Head
Before I continue on my recap, I wanted to discuss this part of the OCR game that isn’t often discussed. This sport is not just about pushing their athletes physically. It’s also about pushing them mentally and, to an extent, spiritually. Well, after my third failed obstacle in the Spartan Sprint, I was in my head, convincing myself that signing up for the Trifecta was a mistake. Convinced that I wasn’t going to finish. That I didn’t deserve my medal, my T-shirt, or my wedge. I wondered if Spartan would refund me a portion of my Trifecta pass to cover the one race I did and call it even.
This was, without questioning, the lowest I had ever felt in the middle of a race. I walked the rest of the way, only picking up to jog once or twice. When I got to the Sandbag Carry and the Barb Wire Crawl, instead of knowing that I’ve done these before and that they were easy, I struggled the whole way through, wishing that there was an end in sight. And even when I saw the end, I didn’t feel any closer to it.
I’m sharing this because it’s important to know that this is a part of the OCR lifestyle. There will be times in races where you might question yourself. Question if you can do it. Question if you can finish. One of my biggest problems is getting in my own head. There were no reasons why I shouldn’t have finished those obstacles. But I didn’t. And it’s because I let it get to me. I’m still working on this. Hopefully I’ll figure out a solution soon.
Getting Back on Track
At the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag lift through a pulley, I was still stuck at the mental wall. I gave a rope two pulls and was done. I had turned my back and started walking away when, as cheesy as it sounds, I was reminded of why OCR is the great sport it is. Two strangers, guys I never met, didn’t get their names, and never saw after that obstacle, stopped me before I walked away. They refused to let me leave the area without giving it another chance. They stood on either side of me, talking me through it. I pulled the rope and got the sandbag up a foot or so. They helped by holding the rope, but never helped me pull. They stood there encouraging me, talking me through it, and after a few minutes and several more pulls, the sandbag got to the top of the pulley. They helped me lower it down, helped me off the ground, and congratulated me. To those two guys, I don’t know if you’ll come across this post, but thanks. I really needed that.
After that, I hit the last few obstacles without any problems. I was up and over the A-frame cargo net, down through the Dunk Wall, easily up and over the Slip Wall (with no slipping), and blasted through the Multi-rig. With the last push I had, I leapt over the fire and crossed the line. Finally, my first step toward my Trifecta was done. It took me way longer than I wanted, just short of two hours. But as they often say, it’s not about how you finish, it just matters that you finish.
My next move is to bump up to the next level in the Trifecta, which would be the Spartan Super, the middle distance at 8-10 miles. There is one taking place in Florida, but there isn’t enough time to properly prepare for that.
So I have a couple of options moving forward:
- Focus on training for Spartan Beast in December, and then find the most convenient Super that’s along the way. The options are currently the Asheville Super in July or the Atlanta Super in October. (The only issue I have with Atlanta is I don’t know what the weather will be like at that time of year, so that’s something else to consider.)
- Pick a Super and go for it. The best candidate right now is Asheville. Not only is it a relatively short drive, but I have a friend there who may let me crash on his couch. It’s already going to be a long and expensive trip; avoiding extra costs is a smart move.
- And this, by the way, is the option I would hate to go for, but an option was been presented to use my Trifecta pass and just run two more Sprints. I would hate to use the pass on doing races not adding up to my Trifecta, but with how much the first one burnt me out, it is an option to be considered.