Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Spartan experience

It's now been a full week since my Spartan Race, and the bruises are finally starting to fade.  No, seriously, I got a mother on my upper right thigh from hauling my ass ungracefully over a wall.  First it was purple, now it's at that lovely yellow-green stage.  Might be recovered enough to wear shorts next week without people giving weird looks to my husband. 

The Spartan folks have finally gotten around to posting the race results and I have to say, I'm pretty happy.  I finished the race in just over an hour and half, which puts me almost exactly in the middle of the pack.  I just barely squeezed in to the top 50%.  Not that I'm competitive or anything, but it's kind of nice to think that my time was at least sort of average.

 None of this looks fun.  What was I thinking?

There's really only one thing to know if you're planning on running one of these races.  And that thing is: the Spartan people lie.  They tell you you're signing up for a 5k race with 12 to 15 obstacles.  Well, I hope the race organizers' pants are flame-retardant, because the race was actually much closer to 7k.  As someone who has run her share of trail races, I totally get that you can't really accurately measure a race course in the woods, and a "5k" race is much more likely to be closer to 5.5 or 6k.  But 7 is just mean!  And our 12 to 15 obstacles?  More lies!  By my count (which may admittedly be clouded due to amnesia caused by post-traumatic stress disorder) we did over 20 mother effing obstacles.  Trust me, when you're getting tired and you're counting the obstacles as you go as a measure of your progress, it matters when you hit 15 and realize you're still not done.

So, what kind of obstacles did we do?  Here's my best recollection (not necessarily in order, although I can remember the beginning and the end well.  In the middle it just all runs together):

1. Wall jump - A wooden wall about 5 feet high.  It was low enough that you could kind of jump and use your hands on top for leverage to get up and over (like getting out of a swimming pool) but I'm ashamed to say it took me two tries.  Not off to a good start!
2. Kettlebell raise - A kettlebell is tied to a stick with a long rope.  You hold the stick above your head and twist your wrists to coil the rope around the stick and raise the kettlebell, then lower it to the ground again.  Easy peasy.
3. Ammo carry - Carry two ammo boxes (I estimate 25 lbs each) around a short loop.
4. Weight hoist - Using a pulley system, hoist a huge concrete weight about 15 feet from the ground and lower it again without dropping it.  They had separate weights for men and women here, but the mens' was only 6lbs heaver than the womens' (96lbs versus 90lbs) and the lineup for the girls' side was crazy, so I did the mens' side.  Like a boss!!
5.  Cargo net - Climb up and over a cargo net strung over a metal v-frame.  No problem unless you have an issue with heights.
6. Military crawl - Crawl army-style (on your elbows) under camouflage netting.  Easy enough, but the crawl was surprisingly long and your elbows and knees can get kind of beaten up.
7. Jerry cans - Carry a jerry can filled with water (two for guys) around a short loop.  They actually ran out of water at the ski hill by the time my afternoon heat came around, so there was no water at the water stations.  People were carrying the jerry cans through the obstacle and then opening them up for a drink.  Sharing the rim of a jerry can with dozens of sweaty strangers?  I'll pass, thanks.
8. Over, under, through - This one consists of three walls.  You climb the first, go under a thin gap on the second, and go through a hole in the third.  I say climb, not jump, as the first of the three walls was at least 7 feet high.  I needed a boost from a friendly gentleman running near me to make it over this one.  Chivalry is not dead!
9. Sandbag carry - Throw a sandbag over your shoulder and carry it around a short loop.
10. Dip walk - This is the first obstacle I failed.  Using parallel bars (like in mens' gymnastics), you were supposed to grab the bars with straight arms and then walk using your hands along the length of the bars.  If you touched the ground you were out.  This was surprisingly hard and made me realize that my upper body strength needs work!  Penalty: 30 burpees.
11.  Mud river - Yeah, this is as gross as it sounds.   You have to wade through a river of mud while avoiding barbed wire strung overhead.  Although initially the river was just kind of black water, by the end of it we were slogging through pure mud.  This is where I got most of my bruises, as the river bottom was very uneven and had logs in there that I kept barking my shins on.  I also hadn't accounted for the 10 extra pounds I would be carrying for the second half of the race, in the form of mud clinging to my running pants.  Luckily my pants tied at the top or I would have been in serious danger of mooning the whole race as my pants sagged.

 My actual face in this photo looks terrified.  It's hilarious.

 12. Tractor pull - Another big concrete weight on a chain that you have to drag along the ground for a short distance.
13. Fire jump - This one had the potential to be really cool, but unfortunately the aforementioned water shortage meant that the firemen put this obstacle out before my heat had a chance to do it.  I jumped over lukewarm coals instead.  Bummer.
14. Over, under, through - Another one???  And this time my gentleman friend was nowhere to be seen.  Thankfully I noticed some girls using the wall props as footholds to get over, and was able to scale this one myself.  Although I fell on my ass on the other side.  You win some, you lose some.
15.  Spear throw - Toss a spear and hit a hay bale.  Yay!  I did 15 obstacles!  The race should be over soon, right?  Wrong.  Think again, loser.
16. Tunnel crawl - Crawl military-style through a long tunnel made of hay bales and wood.  Very confining and hot, and would not be fun if you have any kind of claustrophobia.  
17 - 19. The trifecta of crap I can't do:

My nemesis

This one was a doozy!  It's three obstacles in one.  And I count it as such, since each section has its own 30-burpee penalty.  On the furthest side were monkey bars, which you had to hang from and traverse.  Just like in grade school, right?  Except I'm a lot heavier now, and my arms gave out.  In the middle was the rope climb, which I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to do but gave it a halfhearted try.  Nope, I was right.  Finally, the near side had gymnastic rings which you again had to hang from and traverse.  No fucking way this was happening if I couldn't even manage to do monkey bars.  I walked on through.  Total penalty: 90 burpees.  Total burpees completed?  Like, maybe 10.  No one was looking at at this point I was damn tired and wanted it over with.  Everyone was skipping, Mom!  Anyway, on to the finish...but wait!  More obstacles!!

20. Hay bales - Climb over a few piles of hay bales.  OK, this I can do.
21. Ice bath - Jump into a pool of ice water (no kidding, I saw those sadistic assholes put ice cubes in it).  Joke's on you, jerks!  I'm overheated and this feels like a freakin' spa!!
22. Gauntlet - Just like American Gladiators!  Run past two other Spartans who are trying to hit you with those oversized Q-Tip thingies.
23. Slip ramp - There's a picture of this one at the top.  Using a rope, climb up a steep ramp that is covered in mud.  Once you get to the top, it's a straight drop to the bottom using only a rope.  Lucky for me there was someone at the bottom telling me how to do it, or this could have ended very badly.


I has a dirty.

After it was all over, I headed to the showers.  But given the lack of water, what ended up happening was that the firemen used their pumper truck to hose us all down instead.  Luckily they didn't turn it on full force all "Get out of here you hippie protestors!"-style.   I'm pretty sure turning his fire hose on a crowd of sweaty, sports-bra clad 20-somethings may have been the highlight of this dude's career.  I ended up far from clean, but I was ready to get the hell home!

So, what lessons did I learn?  Well, apart from Spartans lie, I learned that my biggest weakness was upper body strength.  I would have loved to complete all the obstacles, but it just wasn't gonna happen.  Next time (if I'm crazy enough / not pregnant enough to do this again) I'd focus a lot more on upper body training before the race.  Cardio-wise I was fine, although there are a lot of breaks as you wait for obstacles to clear, and there's also a fair bit of walking (up hills and such) when you run out of steam.  You just kind of end up following the crowd and running some and walking some.  I also learned that it would be much more fun to do a Spartan as part of a team.  I ended up running some parts with other folks and chatted a bit (mostly along the lines of "Holy hell, has it been 5k yet??") but I also did a lot solo.  Sharing the agony with someone would have been a lot more fun.

All in all, it was a great fitness challenge and a lot tougher than I expected.  But I'd do it again.  Free beds for anyone who wants to come to Toronto next year to try with me, first come first served!


  1. You are brave, lady! I am nowhere near in good enough shape to attempt something like that, but I'll gladly come cheer you on next year!

  2. Congratulations on this accomplishment! I feel like this is something that would have been on MTV's The Real World :) xo

  3. That race looks pretty cool. Good Job!

  4. Wow... the only thing I could think of... Super Woman! And.... the other thing... I admire you for doing this..... coz I don't think I'd ever be able to even jump over that 5 ft wall and would fail the first course!

  5. Reading all those obstacles caused by jaw to drop further and further open. I'm completely with Isabelle: you are official Super Woman/Wonder Woman (take your pick). And I completely agree that telling you there's only 15 obstacles and then throwing in 7 more is cruel. I would have been so pissed by the end.

    All that said, you did it!! You got out there, did your best and completed the race. That deserves celebration and so nobs of respect from coworkers/friends/family/complete strangers on the street. Well done!!!

    1. I pick Wonder Woman. I always liked her star-spangled undies. :) Too bad there's no Canadian version. Red hot pants with white maple leaves, perhaps?

  6. You know, I have heard of these and have seen people on Facebook bragging about doing them, but I never really knew what it was all about. Thank you for enlightening me (and also ensuring that I will probably never, ever participate). You are one bad-ass chick to have survived that, and even finished in the top 50. Congrats.

    1. 50 percent, not top 50. Those people are animals. I think the top finishers did it in like 40 minutes or something. Cray cray!

  7. Wow! I totally commend you for going through such a grueling race. You did an awesome freaking job!

  8. Great job! I think it sounded hard enough just as a 5K and with 15 obstacles! Little did they know, handling extra challenges that life throws at you is routine for you...

    1. Hah! I love this way of thinking about it.

  9. Congrats on finishing! It sounds like a difficult race but one that would be a lot of fun (once I'm back into shape of course).

  10. You had me giggling and horrified all at the same time. You are a machine and I could never live up to you ;) Nice job!

  11. Whoa... I can't decide if this sounds like a ton of fun or just a ton of torture. The wetness and mud really doesn't appeal to me, although jumping over walls and swinging on monkey bars seems kinda neat (in theory, at least). And of course, that huge smile on your face at the end proves it's worth doing! ;)

    I'm the same with you re: upper body strength, though. I can't even do a single push-up, let alone chin-up, let alone all this other crazy shiz. But I'm sure doing it with someone else helps immensely when it comes to having the right mentality to get 'er done, so who knows, maybe I'll join you next year!

  12. Wow... Just in awe. You are amazing. Hope you had a good long weekend.

  13. OMG, that looks CRAZY!!! Congrats, you totally rock!

  14. Awesome. Pure awesomeness.

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