In the middle of my first Spartan Race there was a guy who dodged past me on the part of the trail that wound through the woods. I noticed he had a big hole in his shorts exposing his right butt cheek. The torn fabric flapped gleefully with each of his strides, drawing attention to the fact that he chose to go commando that day (for better or for worse)…but torn shorts guy wasn’t going to let that defeat him. I mean, what Spartan should be defeated when experiencing a casualty such as this which was brought on by crawling on muddy moguls underneath 100 feet of crisscrossed barbed wire? Torn shorts guy ran a good race and left a proud Spartan. I finished the race with no broken bones and all my clothes in tact so why did I leave feeling defeated?
What is the Spartan Race?
The Spartan Race is voted the world’s best obstacle race and is the fastest growing participation sport in the world. There are three types of Spartan races, the Sprint, the Super, and the Beast. I signed up for the Sprint which is billed as “3 Miles that Will Change Your Life” but they also say it’s perfect for new racers and that there’s no talent required (not sure I agree with that 😂). The Spartan Sprint spans anywhere from 3-5 miles and includes 20-23 obstacles.
I am Spartan 7-6-1-9.
I workout consistently and have for years now. I’ve trained with trainers, trained independently, participated in boot camps, group fitness, running and endurance. I thought I’d be somewhat ready but that was mixed with a healthy dose of, “We’ll see what happens when I get there” since I had also never done an obstacle course (but I’ve watched plenty of Ninja Warrior haha). I didn’t have techniques in place for getting over a 5 foot wall let alone a 7 foot one. I had never climbed a rope. I was definitely choosing to run with known deficiencies. I knew I’d struggle but also that I’d figure out a way to get through it.
There’s a wall obstacle BEFORE the starting line.
Did I mention I’ve never jumped a wall? I had pre-race jitters at the starting line which is not uncommon for many athletes but I’ve never learned to use this adrenaline dump to my advantage and is why I don’t usually enter organized races of any kind. That combined with watching other hard bodied athletes run shuttle sprints and jumping furiously to warm up their muscles got me rather psyched out. I entered the age group bracket and I immediately began to compare myself to them thinking they possibly should have entered the elite category. As I watched them bounding with energy, my mind was telling me I needed to conserve mine because well, I’m old and not elite and…I was staring at the start of the course which was straight up a muddy incline that diminished into the distant trees.
My cardio endurance was challenged straight off the top. So much of the course was uphill along with rugged terrain, that when I finally came upon the “Mile 1” sign I thought… are you kidding me?! There were a few rigorous downhill stints that challenged my footholds and quads. The “running” part of the course was definitely interesting and included various types of terrain which kept my brain engaged at every point along the way.
Because the Spartan Sprint is anywhere from 3-5 miles, you’ve got to be prepared for at least three or as many as five. With the terrain being anything but flat, these aren’t going to be easy road miles. Both running and incline training matters in the outcome of this race. I had not been consistently training for cardio endurance. There have been times on my fitness journey that I trained for distance and endurance but I had not been in one of those cycles. My lack of cardio strength created a conflict for me in the first few minutes of a course that ended up being a total of 4 miles.
So, what about the obstacles?
As I mentioned earlier, I had never run through an obstacle course with the exception of the inflatable one at the indoor bouncy house park. I’ve jumped over short fences and ducked under ropes before but that’s not the same as being prepared with some kind of techniques for obstacles that are going to be higher, longer, heavier and require more upper body strength. Being a natural athlete as a kid or having some experience in track and field or gymnastics would definitely have been helpful. I had none of those in my favor. I did play high school basketball though and still have a decent outside shot…don’t think that really helped.
I was feeling intimidated before the start of the race while looking around at all the athletes, but there were also some people who looked like they probably hadn’t trained for a race like this at all which gave me hope that I’d land somewhere in the middle of the pack. When I approached these walls that I had to get up and over, I couldn’t help but think…”Did some of these people who blew past me seriously make it over this?” and that’s because I was struggling SO HARD.
Have you ever done a burpee?
One of the rules in the Spartan race is that if you choose to skip an obstacle you are required to do a 30 burpee penalty. A proper burpee takes a lot out of you so I also had to imagine that those taking the penalties would be worn out and have finishing times that suffered. There were a total of 21 obstacles during my Spartan Sprint. I accomplished all but 5 of them. That means that even while I was able to complete most of the obstacles, I had also done 150 burpees before I crossed the finish line…actually make that 155 because one of the obstacles included 5 burpees. I didn’t finish last but I was disappointed in my personal performance. I knew I’d struggle throughout the race but I struggled even more than I anticipated. Making multiple attempts to get over walls, slipping in mud, moving inefficiently, walking when I should have been running, getting passed up by a lot of people…all left me feeling defeated.
I’ve since done a bit more research on the Spartan Race and some snooping in online forums where other athletes have shared their experiences. I’ve read that some competitors enter the race with the intention of skipping obstacles and performing the burpee penalty instead. I entered the race to overcome the obstacles and only perform the burpee penalty if I legitimately failed. I also realized that not everyone who enters is honestly completing the required penalty which is a bummer for those of us who are. In any case, none of those things are relevant to the amount of my personal struggle during the race or to the disappointment I experienced in my own performance.
I realize that some of you might be thinking…come on Dawna! You ran a race that most people wouldn’t even consider entering and you crossed the finish line so what’s the problem?! I definitely understand that thinking and it does hold value. I could have quit or cheated but I didn’t AND I finished. My defeat came out of having a higher expectation of myself and the outcome being different than what I expected. The biggest takeaway for me after running my first Spartan Race is that I have a lot of room for growth and improvement and a lot of ways I can push myself. My struggle is often just as much mental as it is physical (more on that in another post) but I’ve also learned that there is a strong, supportive community amidst the Spartans. Until next time I’ll train harder so that I can be more like torn shorts guy and leave a proud(er) Spartan. Aroo!