This weekend I did my first Spartan Race, which was billed as a “Sprint” but ended up being 3 hours (3:00:55 exactly), 5.2 miles, up and down a ski-resort mountain 5 times, with 21 obstacles, including my least favorite: getting under about 200 yards of barbed wire strung at 18″ off the ground. The best way to do it: roll. Uphill. On an elbow that I had already fallen on twice. I have deep bruises on my hip, butt, and elbow, and a peppering of little bruises everywhere else. I was so wiped out afterward that it took me 3 hours to eat the dinner I’d ordered when I got home.
It was pretty great.
The last 3 years or so I’ve been training Strongman and competing in Strongman competitions pretty exclusively, and this summer I decided to expand my fitness pursuits a bit to obstacle racing. I had planned to wait until later in the summer, but a friend of mine was doing this one, and I thought it would be an “easy” way to check out the sport.
(I won’t say I couldn’t have done it without him, but he stuck with me the whole time, cheered and encouraged me, and never once made me feel worried about my speed–it was really fun to do it with a buddy. I can’t wait to be someone else’s buddy on another race in the future.)
I’m pretty athletic these days–I lift weights or do Strongman for 90 minutes 4 times a week, and run 10 miles a week. I can do 8 strict pull-ups in a row, dead-lift over 300 pounds, and run for 60 minutes without stopping. I’ve won local Strongman competitions and I qualified for and competed at Strongman Nationals last year.
But this was still a serious challenge. Unlike a Strongman competition where each event never takes more than 90 seconds, this took a long time, and my strength was never the issue. By the second half of the race, I would have done any number of obstacles rather than go up another hill. I would take ten steps up a 50% grade slope, and then have to stop and catch my breath.
The first 75 minutes of the race I felt great. I jogged a bit up and down some of the hills, even on rough terrain. My partner and I helped each other out getting over the taller walls–even being able to do pullups, it’s good to have a push to get from a chin over the wall to shoulders over the wall. Then we had that 200yd barbed wire roll, and my energy level plummeted. No more glycogen in my legs, every uphill step made me breathe hard.
It was harder than I expected, but I also did as well as I hoped, and as well as I expected. I expected to hit a wall at some point, though I was hoping it would be further along. I expected to cry at some point, and I did when I fell off a rig with very slippery rings and landed on my elbow, which I’d already deeply bruised earlier in the race. I go into this sort of stuff for the challenge, though. There was still 2.5 miles more racing to do after I fell, and it was rewarding to pick myself up and go on.
I hoped to do the rope climb successfully, and I did, carefully, and with perfect form. I had such a good leg wrap that I could sit on the rope and rest my hands. I heard someone from below tell her friend to “look what she’s doing–that’s how you climb a rope”. I hoped to do the monkey bars successfully, and I did, even though it was after I hit the wall. The bars were at least 2 feet apart, and some were higher and lower than others, but again, I did it carefully, and made it across.
I never even considered quitting, which is good–and it helped to have a partner there for that.
In some ways, it was easier than a Strongman competition, though. Aside from the bruises, it didn’t make me sore. I didn’t have the intense nerves I have to manage in Strongman, or the intense disappointment when I don’t perform as well as I’d like. In this case, my overall goal was to keep moving and finish the race. I knew I might have to face some challenges to get there, but that, barring major injury, I would. I loved being outside in the woods for so long. At one moment when we were going downhill, the view opened up in front of us, green trees on valleys and hills as far as we could see. I get that so rarely living in New York City.
I do hope to do another obstacle race in the future And what I need to do to prepare is greatly increase my running endurance, and do more hill climbing. The obstacles are not a big problem, and are not my limiting factor at this point. 3 hours of exertion, dehydrated and underfed–that’s what I need to manage next time.