I thought, after doing the “Zombie Run” (review here), that I could tackle a Spartan Race with the same casual, easy-going attitude. Oh, how wrong I was…
Spartan Race was started in 2005 by “seven insane ultra athletes and a Royal Marine.” It’s a mud run and obstacle course, but it’s also a test of strength, both physical and mental. They don’t provide a map of the course ahead of time or a list of the obstacles; they’re a surprise. They also race in any weather, barring a catastrophic storm or calamity. To make sure they maintain their status as the toughest obstacle race, there are several tiers. Essentially Short, Medium, and Long, but with such names as Spartan Sprint, Super Spartan, and Spartan Beast, these distances range from about 3 miles to over 12 miles for the long version.
In the first week of December, I participated in a Spartan Sprint–just over 3 miles. It took place in Malibu’s coastal hills, so I expected a lot of the course would take advantage of the terrain. Beyond that, and the traditional fire jump, I didn’t really know what to expect, as they intended. Of course, it happened to be the only day of the week that it was raining. It was already very cold, and the rain only promised to make things colder and much, much muddier. I was shivering before the race started but didn’t dare back out. What kind of Spartan quits a race because of cold and rain? Luckily, the clouds parted just in time for my heat, and we got some sun. The rain had done its damage though. Not five minutes into the course and my shoes were probably carrying an extra pound of sticky mud on them. I think Spartan Race probably prefers rain, come to think of it. It makes the courses that much more challenging.
Everything was fine at first. I slogged up a steep muddy hill, climbed over a tall cargo net, went over, under, and through some plywood walls and then came to the first real test. We were given a sandbag that weighed 40 or 50 pounds and told to carry it for the next leg of the course. I had no idea how far it would be, but the longer it went, the heavier that sandbag felt. There were a couple moments that required tossing the sandbag onto a ledge, climbing up, the hoisting the weight once more. I was proud that I finished the segment without much trouble. Which naturally meant that the easy portion was over.
The next obstacle was monkey bars, like on grade school playgrounds. Seemed easy enough, until I slipped off on the second bar. Blaming my muddy gloves, I did the penalty of Burpees for failure. Oh, right, did I not mention? Spartans face a penalty of Burpees for every failed obstacle. Getting flat on your stomach and jumping back up isn’t easy on a good day, let alone one where every inch of ground is covered in mud. After that, things blurred together in a haze of partially completed obstacles and Burpees. There was a 7-foot wall that I scaled with a boost, and an even taller wall I got over with help from a volunteer. Spartans can help each other! There was an inverted wall climb that made me feel like Spider-Man, and a section where my feet were bound together with a giant rubber band and I was made to hop around (and through) a giant puddle. And a swim through a pond which I swear was as cold as melted snow, despite being in Malibu. These partial successes were mixed with more failures like the rope climb, Hercules Hoist, spear throw, and a traverse wall that I thought would be a piece of cake, but I fell off–I blame the mud!
After more Burpees, I could finally see the end. Thank goodness, it was nigh-impossible to fail the last 3 obstacles. Ducking under a submerged wall in more icy water, emerging to hurdle a fire pit (something I do on my own time anyway), and running through a gauntlet of American Gladiator-style padded bats, I crossed the finish line in an hour and 50 minutes. For 3+ miles. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of running between the obstacles.
Compared to the Zombie Run, this was MUCH harder, but with a different focus. The Zombie Run was a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends. The Spartan Race is for people who want a real physical test. It’s HARD. It’s still fun, but in a different way. I confess, I didn’t do all the Burpees that I was supposed to do. When I finished, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve the medal I was given. An odd feeling, getting through all the mud and weights and effort and still feeling unworthy. On the other hand, it actually made me want to do better. I know now that this race requires some real training if I want to improve. My upper body strength needs work if I’m going to be a true Spartan.
I think I’m going to do this again next year (they do one every year in Malibu). I’m going to work on my deficiencies from this year with a goal of having more completed obstacles in next year’s race. Of course, it will be different in some ways, but any training will still help. If any readers would like to do this with me next year, let me know! We can create a team. If it’s just me again, though, I bet I can cut 30 minutes off my time. It’s a steep goal, but that’s what Spartan Races do to you. They inspire you to be better. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a real challenge while having way more fun than going to the gym. Of course, the difficult nature means this race isn’t for everyone. Only a few can be Spartans. Can you?
There are Spartan Races all over the country and throughout the year, including one on January 25th in Southern California. The earlier you register for a race, the cheaper it is. Find more information and the schedule for 2014’s races at Spartan’s website. See you in Malibu next December!