A month ago, I had the opportunity to run the Pac West Spartan Sprint. Oh. My. Goodness. This was definitely the most fun that I have ever had at a race in my entire life!!!
I was a little nervous about the race. While I’ve wanted to do this race for a long time, I knew that it included obstacles that I most likely would not be able to complete. Most people complete the Spartan with friends, and have each other to help them over walls, etc. I was flying solo, and didn’t know anyone else at the race. I anticipated that I would either 1) have to frequently ask strangers for help, or 2) Do a lot of burpees (burpees are the punishment for not successfully completing an obstacle). Since I’m in marathon training, I knew that cardiovascular challenges would be my strength. Since I lack upper body strength and balance, I knew that everything else (uh…like all the obstacles) would be tough. I was worried about scaling tall walls on my own, I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to complete a javelin throw, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to climb a rope (I’d never tried to climb a rope in my life), and finally, I was scared of getting knocked over by gladiators.
Despite all my worries, I was pretty excited about the race the night before. I decided to wear a Wonder Woman costume that I made for a race that I never got to run because I got injured. I figured that strangers would be more willing to help Wonder Woman than they would be to help lil’ ol’ me. When I arrived at the race, I was super embarrassed and didn’t want to wear the costume, but sucked it up and put it on anyway. Soon enough, strangers were complimenting me on my race attire.
I arrived at the race early, which gave me time to hydrate, eat, and look around a bit. I got to see some elite runners run through the finish – they looked like super gritty Greek gods! I also got to watch some of the waves start. I was surprised to see that there appeared to be an obstacle before the race even began! A five foot tall wall was set up, and in order to get to the start line, competitors had to scale it. Gulp. It looked tall. I watched other women getting over and failing to get over. Some women looked confident and sailed over. Some struggled but did it on their own. The lamest attempted and then made their husbands/boyfriends help them. As I watched them, I realized that I was actually excited to be doing this race on my own. If Husband Saign were with me, I definitely would rely on him to get me through the tough obstacles, and he definitely would pressure me to go FAST. Since I was by myself, I would have the opportunity to run my race…you know, as long as I could get over that 5 foot wall to get to the starting line!
Soon enough, my heat (the 9:30 heat) was on deck for start. There was a nervous energy in the air. I hate how anxiety seems to be contagious! I chatted to a few people around me as we waited for our turn. Finally we were called to jump the wall. I approached the wall and easily sailed over! It was a perfect confidence booster! I could do this!
Once we were made it through that first hurdle, we were led through a series of chants, such as, “Who are you?” “I’M A SPARTAN!” and “Aroo, Aroo, Aroo!” It was a fun way to get a race started. Soon enough, we were off! It started off with an incline on dirt trails, which was quite welcoming to a trail runner such as myself, and was a nice way to get the crowd spread out so that we weren’t all on top of each other. I followed my breathing – on the uphill if my breath got heavy, I walked. On the flats I walked until my breathing was calmed to my normal long slow distance breaths, and on the downhill, I ran past everyone. Not joking. People hate downhill!
Soon enough, we were at our first obstacle:
- Hurdles. These were just short little walls dispersed along the running trail. They all seemed to be 5 feet or shorter. Even better, I aimed for the sides where the dirt was higher, and therefore the walls were shorter. Throughout this race, I aimed to work smarter, not harder!
We ran just a little bit more until we came to a clearing where there were:
- Taller walls, ending with…an 8 foot wall with no rope. Just a plain old wall. Gulp. This was exactly the type of obstacle that I most likely could not do on my own. Thankfully, the walls were all on stands, and there were no rules against climbing up the stands for this particular obstacle. I used this to my advantage, and quickly got both foot hoisted over the top of the 8 foot wall. I did it! I was so proud! Um…until I realized that I couldn’t quite get my body over. There I hung, my shins and feet on one side of the wall, and me hanging by my knees with no hope of getting myself over. Thankfully, a stranger asked me if he could help. “Yeah you can help me, but I’m not sure how…” I said. He pushed on my butt. It was not enough to get me over. Remember, these were 8 foot walls, I was above the poor guy’s head! He didn’t give up though! It was hard for me to see him, since he was under my butt, but I recall him looking visibly stressed as he helped…poor guy. He kept pushing on my booty, above his head, until I was able to get over. Thank you, kind sir!
And I was off again! So…this is what the Spartan Race is all about! Getting help from the community! How wonderful! After this, I felt really confident that I was going to have a great time and would have all the help that I needed to get this thing done! I ran along a bit more, chatting with the people around me, and then we came to:
- An Inverted Wall. I actually don’t remember this obstacle very well. I think that there might have been ropes hanging down, with some ridges on the wall so that you could pull yourself up the rope and your fit could climb the wall. It was relatively easy.
More running, though this slowed when I saw that there was a line to the:
- Lattice bridge. This was just basically a rope ladder made with a bunch of squares. The big challenge is that it moved around super wonky. People who were with friends had friends trying to hold the ladder still while they climbed. Soon enough, there was a spot for me, and I climbed to the top. There was a girl next to me screaming her head off at the top, as she couldn’t figure out how to get over the top without falling. I attempted to swing my leg over the top, and – WHOA! It swung all over the place, and scared that girl AND me! A stranger ran up and said, “I’ll hold the bottom for you!” and he did his best to hold the swinging ladder still while I got over the other side and climbed back down. Thank you, stranger!
More running – and perhaps a water stop, I can’t remember. Then we got to:
- Water pits. This seemed simple. It was just two pits with water and a volunteer spraying us with the hose. However, it got a little complicated when I tried to step in. It was a sudden drop, and my ankle rolled a little. Oh well, no big deal.
My shoes felt heavy when I got out of the water, but I just ran along. Then I came to another line for the:
- Traverse Wall. This was one that I was a bit worried about. Basically there were walls with little square two-by-fours screwed to the top and bottom. We were to climb across the wall without grabbing the top and without falling. I’m not the most agile creature, so I didn’t particularly think I’d do well on this. When it was my turn to go, I was surprised to find that I was better at it than I thought I’d be! “You’re stronger than you think!” I thought to myself. The biggest problem here was that you could only go as fast as the person in front of you, so there was quite a bit of somewhat uncomfortable waiting. However, soon enough the men in front of me had fallen off. I climbed along and then…lost my footing just a few feet before the end!
As a punishment, I had to do burpees. Thirty of them. My arms started to feel a bit tired, but I got them done! Then I ran some more, and came to:
- Ladder Ascent, platform, ladder descent. I don’t really know how to describe this one. It was pretty simple – climb a ladder, run/walk across a platform, and climb down a ladder. It was fairly simple, except the platform had gaps, so I chose to walk instead of run across the top.
I ran a little more, and came to another:
- 8 Foot Wall. This wouldn’t have seemed too bad, except that on this one, they strictly told us that we could not use the platform sides to help us climb. The platform had two strips of wood on the bottom four feet, which offered a little assistance. I climbed those, and I think someone must have given me a boost. Thanks, nice booster friend!
My arms continued to feel tired as I ran along, so I was disappointed when I came to the:
- Herc Hoist. Basically this is where there are large sandbags tied to a platform 12-or-so feet in the sky. Participants have to pull a rope till the bag reaches the top, and then have to slowly let the rope back down. Thankfully, they had different-sized sandbags for men and women. It was heavy, but obviously this was an activity in which you could really use your body weight to your advantage. I passed another obstacle!
I did a bit more running, and came to a choice:
- Tires – either pulling or flipping. We got to choose to either flip a tire 3 times, or pull a tire to the end of a rope, and then pull it back into place with the rope. I have never attempted tire flipping, so I went for the pull. It was harder than I thought it would be, but I got it done! (They also had girl tires and boy tires on this one). I found that when it came to using the rope to pull, it seemed to work best to sit on the ground, grab the rope, and fall backwards, using my body weight to move it along.
I did more running and ended up at:
- Bucket Brigade. For this, we had to fill a bucket with rocks and then carry it around a track. Girls got to fill the bucket less full than boys. The two things that made this task difficult were 1) Trying to fill the bucket with rocks…it just took longer than I thought it should. 2) gripping the bucket…it was just plain uncomfortable. I ended up taking two rests, in which I rested the bucket on my thigh, since I didn’t want to have to lift it up again!
We got to do some super fun trail running then! The problem is that Spartan racers are not trail runners, and don’t seem to know simple etiquette rules such as staying to the right when someone says, “On your left,” but I had nice stretches in the woods in which I was far away from others and got to speed along! Eventually I got out of the woods, and found the:
- Rock Pull. Ugh. This was basically a brick tied with a chain. We had to drag it around a little track. I couldn’t seem to get a rhythm on this one, and feel like I was passed by quite a few people!
Once that was over, I ran up a hill to a platform. Oh! It was the:
- Slip – N – Slide. It sounds so fun and nice! It all seemed fun and nice…until I saw people FLYING off the bottom through the air in uncomfortable positions and smashing awkwardly into the muddy water below. For safety reasons, we had to wait in line on this, and couldn’t go until we were given position. When I was on deck, the volunteer told me to pull my headband down around my neck because, “You’ll definitely lose it otherwise.” Okay! So I took off, down the slide, and it was going really fast. So fast that there really wasn’t much time to worry about position as my body hurled into the air and then into the muddy water. Thankfully, I was able to plug my nose. Hitting the water was just…shocking. It wasn’t cold, but I just hit it so hard! My contacts felt out of place, my shirt was not covering my belly. I did the best I could to get re-oriented and out of the water. Then, as I was trying to put my headband and tiara back on, I realized…I had hit the water so hard that my bra was no longer covering my breasts! I quickly pulled it down.
Almost immediately, I was at the next obstacle:
- Super Muddy Barbed Wire Hills. This was a funny one. It was just a lot, lot, lot of mud and barbed wire with little hills. The best method for this seemed to be to stay to the sides, because the barbed wire is run from posts on each of the sides, so there tends to be large sections with several wires coming in , and then large sections in which there is no barbed wire. I clawed my way through, doing the best I could to keep my tutu on.
When I got out of the mud, my skirt weighed approximately 10 pounds, and had no desire to stay on my waist. I left it behind and ran on. Some people stopped at a hose to rinse off, but I didn’t quite understand this – clearly we would just be getting dirty again. Next up:
- Sandbag Carry. This was a nice easy one! Grab a sandbag, carry it up a big hill and back down. No prob!
It was a short little jog to the worse obstacle of all:
- Barb Wire Crawl Up Hill. This was a muddy mess of a traffic jam. I honestly think I spent 20-30 minutes to make it up this stupid hill because of waiting behind other people. At around 15 minutes, I saw people walking up the hill, planning to do burpees. Um. Brilliant. That was definitely a much faster option! However, I really wanted to complete all of the obstacles that I could! An eternity latter, I made it to the top!
I ran down the hill to find my most dreaded of obstacles:
- Rope Climb. Basically, we climbed into a pit of water. Then we were supposed to climb a rope and ring a bell at the top of the rope. As I said before, I’ve never climbed a rope before. I gave it a try, but found that I had no technique, and opted for the burpees. The only problem? I couldn’t get out of the pit! It was a really steep drop! I eventually went to the outer corner and managed to claw my way out.
Thirty burpees later, It was just a short walk to the:
- Spear Throw. Not much to say with this. I had no concept of how to do it, and we each got only one try. I hit low, and missed.
It was more burpees for me! Then, around the corner, I got to a:
- Slip Wall. Basically we had to crawl up rocky wall with barbed wire, slide down into water, swim under a barrier, and then climb up a slanted wall with a rope. The climb up was hard because the rocks were sharp. I panicked when I saw the wall in the water, but then found the bottom of it with my hand, and learned that it ended just a few inches under the water. It was no big deal to dip under and to the other side. The guy next to me counted with me and we dove under together. Climbing up the slanted well went fine-ish. I got to the top, grabbed it with my fingers, and flailed about trying to pull myself over. I then slid back down in failure, which was painful. Thankfully, a volunteer had pity on me, and held on the rope next to mine, offering his feet as steps so that I could hoist myself over. Thank you, kind man.
And then it was here! It was here!:
- Fire Jump. I saw the photographer, and tried to smile, but the fire was putting off such terrible smelling smoke, that I’m afraid that I looked more like I was choking.
I grabbed some finish line food, and went to my car to get my camera. I asked a stranger to snap a photo of me in all my dirty glory. I got my finisher’s t-shirt, and headed for the showers. I did my best to shower down, but found that I couldn’t seem to remove the mud (I was still tinted mud color). I did the best I could, and was about to leave when a stranger told me that I still had mud on my face and chest. She helped me get cleaned up. I then took a few photos of the course for the blog. It was pretty entertaining to watch! Finally, I went to the beer gardens and got myself a beer. I asked some strangers if I could sit with them, and found myself amongst a number of friendly people, two of which had just competed the last race that they needed to complete the Spartan Trifecta – this means that they completed all 3 race distances (sprint, super, and beast) in one year. I thought it was funny that they finished with the easiest distance! After some pleasant conversation, I headed home.
I can’t believe how wonderful this race was! The themes for the day were, “You’re stronger than you think,” and “People are kind.” It was amazing to be out there, having a blast, running at my own pace, but then continually coming across kind people who were willing to help me! I never had to ask anyone for help, and I had an absolute blast laughing with strangers all day!
Have you ever had kind people help you out on race day?