Around this time last year, I decided to push my personal limits in the world of obstacle course racing by shooting for one of the ultimate prizes in the sport: a Spartan Race Trifecta.
Here’s what that means for those who have been living under a rock while in OCR (or just getting to know the sport): Spartan Race has three distances: the 3-5 mile Sprint, the 8-10 Super, and the 12-14 Beast. Complete all three within a calendar year, and you complete the Trifecta.
Spartan Race tried every part of me at the beginning. The Spartan Sprint, the shortest distance, took place down in Miami in April. I went into it incredibly confident. After all, I’ve done three Savage Races at that point (7.5 miles), so there was no way I would have a problem with the Sprint. However, I was mistaken. The penalty burpees drained me of my energy and my confidence, and it took close to two hours to complete the 3.2 mile course.
In September, my girlfriend and I took an 8-hour drive to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for the Spartan Super. 8.3 miles, and I was much more successful in this effort. I completed the course in just under four hours (about 3:48), which comes out to about 27 minutes per mile. I also beat several obstacles that I was unable to complete in the Sprint, including the Rope Climb and the Atlas Carry. I still had to complete penalty burpees, but I didn’t take on the first one until after the 8-mile mark, nearly completing the whole course with no penalties.
Finally, I counted down to December 9, and the final challenge of the year: the Spartan Beast in Mulberry, Florida. This 13.5-mile, 33-obstacle behemoth of a course was the last step between me and my Trifecta. I have never gone double-digits in miles before in any OCR I’ve done, so this was a challenge I had to look at in pieces.
Let’s walk through the little journey leading up to this day:
First, I looked at my start time. Now, even though I had my Trifecta pass, I procrastinated on getting my time secured. (Major lesson of the year, in OCR, and life altogether: NEVER PROCRASTINATE!) By the time I signed up, all of the morning slots were sold out, and I had to choose the afternoon. When I finally got my start time, my heart sank a bit: 1:45 in the afternoon. FYI, the last wave to go out for the Beast was at 2:00pm. So I was in the second-to-last wave of the day. And, since I was looking at how much time it’d taken to complete each race, I’d assumed I could be on the course for nearly six hours. Which meant I wouldn’t cross the finish line until after the sun went down.
So, I had to consider the course. When my fiancee and I looked over the map a couple days before race day, she made a very important observation: the bulk of the miles (somewhere between Mile 3 and Mile 11) had only a handful of obstacles. By my count, it was about 11 obstacles that went out in the middle of nowhere. So, she suggested, that I just had to keep my jogging pace going. As long as I didn’t slow down to a walk for the majority of the course, I was going to be fine.
The next thing to look at was what I was taking on the course. Normally, it’s just me and what I’m wearing. This time, since the race was getting harder, the needs had to be more abundant. First, I picked up some extra clothes. Since it was going to be a cooler day, I got a pair of compression pants and long socks to keep warm. Also, I purchased a hydration pack. It holds two liters of water when full. After a couple times practicing with the pack, I felt comfortable wearing it for the entire course. I also looked into my biggest problem when it comes to distance races: cramping. My pack has a small pocket on it, so I carried Gatorade chews with me that could give me a burst of electrolytes if cramping became a problem.
After all was looked at, the day finally came. My fiancee was set to volunteer in the afternoon, so she wouldn’t just be waiting on me to finish the course. I asked when arriving about starting at an earlier time because I was afraid I would be out on the course until much after dark. Unfortunately, they told me that was a no go. I figured that’d be the case, but it wasn’t going to hurt to ask. I had packed a headlamp at the recommendation of Spartan, so if the sun did go down, I could still at least see in front of me.
So my plan of action was set: Keep a good jogging pace throughout the bulk of the race, stay hydrated using the hydration pack, and use those Gatorade chews if cramping occurred.
At 1:35pm, I entered the start line, did some last minute stretches, and mentally prepared myself for the journey ahead. As stated before, I’ve never taken on a race this long. So I had to be in the right frame of mind. As the Sprint showed me, the second I lose that, that’s when I fall behind.
10 minutes later, the race started. Despite the extra weight on my back, I was off to a comfortable start. I was making good time through the first couple obstacles. At the one-mile mark, I asked a volunteer for the time. Only 20 minutes had past. I knew if I could keep that pace up, I would be in very good shape.
As predicted, after passing the second mile, we entered No-Man’s Land. I have lived in Florida my whole life, but I’ve never been out in such quiet, untouched areas of the state. It was admittedly fascinating. Also as predicted, there was only about one obstacle per mile after getting into about two or three miles. I took on those obstacles like a champ, including a few I hadn’t done before. Every couple of miles, I took a chew from my pack and took it down.
At Mile 8, things got complicated. I’m more than halfway through the race, making great time, when during a sandbag carry through some thick mud, my calf started to cramp badly. I almost dropped the sandbag and definitely had a hard time walking in the mud. Once I got through the obstacle, I took down an extra chew and did some stretching. But it wasn’t enough. After eight and a half miles completed, I could not get up to a slow jog without cramping.
I didn’t want to get stuck there. I still had five miles to go. I pushed through as best as I could. Remember: I just had to finish the race. I even managed to get over a couple of more obstacles. But after hitting 12 miles, I had a major cramp while going up a hill. That cramp was so bad that others passing me stopped to make sure I was okay. I stood for a moment trying to stretch and warm up my leg. After a short time, another runner stopped and offered me his Gatorade (all he asked was I didn’t toss the bottle in the woods; I was happy to oblige and made sure that the bottle found the proper receptacle). I limped through a couple yards before my leg was comfortable enough to walk normally. At this point, I made the sad decision to give up on remaining obstacles, including a cargo net climb, the rope climb, and the Atlas Carry. I don’t like skipping obstacles, but I didn’t want to risk worse injury from being stubborn.
Then, shortly after the sun went down and I took out my headlamp, I crossed the finish line. I got my medal with the green band and the final piece to my Trifecta Delta. I was cold. I was wet. I was tired. But I finished. After completing the course and before picking up my bag, I went to the timing booth to see what my time was. Here’s what I found:
So, upon doing the math (something I normally don’t enjoy doing), I found that I completed the Beast at my fastest pace of all three races: about 20 minutes a mile. So yes, I was tired. Cold. Really cold. (Seriously, it was about 55 degrees when I arrived at noon.) And I finished at a great pace.
So what comes next?
Well, 2018 has a lot happening for me. I’m getting married (did you catch that up there?), and I’ve started an OCR Club at the school where I teach. In a comment from Robert Killian (Spartan superstar and the man who finished the same Beast I did three hours faster and collected 34 pounds…POUNDS…of medals in 2017) suggested I go for two Trifectas. I can’t say I’ll get to start that before I get married, but there’s still a lot of time left in 2018 after that.
So how do I finish off this first journey to Spartan glory? There’s only one thing I can say here: