Wow. That was the hardest 4.5 mile race I’ve ever completed. We did at least 6,000 feet of climbing, most of it in the last 2 miles. Brutal on the legs would be an understatement. Oh, and did I mention that there were 21 obstacles to complete throughout the course as well? Oh yea! My official time of 2:28:33 (yes 2 hours for 4.5 miles) was good enough for 463rd place (out of 822) overall, 376th man (out of 574) and 62nd (out of 100) in my age group (30-34). The winner was a 34 year old man named Ryan Samson who finished in 1:13:41. My sister and I ran it together! She placed better than I did in the female and age group categories. We finished 1 second apart (my bad…)
I didn’t do much specific training thinking that my Crossfit workouts and running would be enough to get me through. Well, it obviously got me through, but I’ve got some things to work on. Like running more hills! Seriously though, I had some surprises and some disappointments.
I was surprised, was that I successfully threw my spear into the hay bale! Yay!! That was obstacle number 13 and most people were missing and having to do burpees. Each failed obstacle required 30 burpees as a penalty. I was generally surprised at how relatively easy some of the obstacles were, especially if you were smart about them.
My biggest disappointment was the rope climb. We do rope climbs somewhat regularly at Crossfit and I’m able to climb the rope and touch the top of the rig. I’m usually good for a few climbs in any given WOD. Granted the Spartan rope climb was way harder than anything I’d done I figured I’d be ok with it. I couldn’t get out of the 4 foot deep water pit and even try to climb the rope. I think I just wasn’t able to get a good latch with my foot (slippery shoes) and the exhaustion by that point (Obstacle 19) just made it impossible.
I was generally disappointed at how hard it was to climb the hill and how easily my heart rate went up and wouldn’t come back down. My sister did a much better job repeatedly going up the hills and she’d stop and wait and then we’d keep going. Lots of people were struggling with the hills and the sun/heat (hardly any shade on the ski hills) so I wasn’t abnormal, just disappointed that my cardio wasn’t there when I needed it most.
My sister and I ended up with same number of penalties throughout the course. We each failed 3 events (though we realize now the errors of our ways) and yes we each did 30 burpees for each failure (sure). She failed the spear throw, while I failed the Z walls. We both then failed the rope climb and Multi-bars. Our error was in not helping each other more. Obviously we couldn’t have done much for each other on the spear throw (I got lucky) or the rope climb (maybe climb up each other to start?). But on the Z walls, she probably could have helped hold me on the wall and to make some of the harder stretches. When we did the monkey bars the volunteer was telling us to help each other, so we could have done that for the multi-bar as well.
Probably the hardest obstacle I completed successfully which didn’t require a little bit of luck was the atlas lift (obstacle 12). We had to pick up a huge (70 – 100 lbs) stone, carry it 10 yards (under a 3 or 4 ft rope), do 5 burpees, and return the stone to its place. I seriously almost couldn’t lift the ball off the ground the first time.
I think being a parent of a toddler and pre-schooler helped with a couple of obstacles. Obstacle 7 was supposed to be a hay wall, but instead was a sandbag carry. I got a 40 lb bag (some people were forced to carry two bags as a penalty for not running between two hills, but it really seemed arbitrary). The problem with this was that you had to carry it for maybe 50 yards, but it was down a steep hill over and then back up the hill. The other was obstacle 9, bucket brigade. Don’t get me wrong, this was hard. We had to fill a 5 gallon bucket with rocks then carry it up and down a hill for about 50 yards. Without the handle! I started out carrying it from the bottom and then part way up shifted to carry it at a little bit of an angle more like I might a screaming toddler! That seemed to work okay and I didn’t spill too many rocks!
I’m not going to write about all the obstacles, but I think 2 that required a little bit of thinking or knowledge to be successful involved moving heavy weights around. Both involved moving weights by pulling a rope. I think some people were trying to pull them hand over hand (like belaying) which actually requires a lot from your upper body. Both easily allowed for use of your whole body to help move the weight. The plate drag (obstacle 3) had a sled with 80 pounds on it that needed to be drug about 10 yards by a rope and the pulled back using a short chain loop until the rope was taunt against the stake. I had to pull hand over hand for the first few to get enough rope length on the slack side, but then once you get a good grip you can just pull and walk it back until it hits the stake. The other is the herculian hoist (obstacle 10) involved pulling a 150 pound bag up about 20-25 feet using a rope and pulley, you also had to lower it to the ground carefully. Some people were also trying to pull hand over hand on this. It is easier to get a good grip, pull and lower your body to the ground, climb the rope and repeat. This required using the leverage of the log on the ground, but worked pretty well. Lowering it was a little harder, but required pretty much the same technique.
A lot of the obstacles involved climbing up and over a variety of things and those vary in difficulty but really come down to more about being comfortable on the various nets or walls. I think most people can climb a cargo net, but the fear of heights and the tension of turning yourself around and over the top can be a challenge. Pulling up and over the walls can be a tough challenge and I don’t have any good thoughts on that. I slammed my toe really hard on the 8ft wall and it still hurts over a week later. For awhile I thought I might have actually broken it.
My sister and I both wore sunscreen, but still got burnt. We were grateful for 3 water stops to drink water from and several “cooling stations” were water was spraying down on the course. The last few mud pits felt really, really good!
I guess I should make a note of what I wore. It was a tough decision… I ended up wearing a Under Armour compression shirt (wouldn’t snag on barbed wire as easily), with a pair of triathlon shorts (same thing wouldn’t snag). Both also would dry out and not require me to carry a bunch of extra weight. I ended up wearing a pair of triathlon socks (I think they are actually Ironman brand, but not sure) and a pair of North Face trail running shoes that I’ve had for awhile – they don’t have any style marking so I’m not sure what they are, but I think the Cardiac.
I wanted a shoe with the traction of a trail shoe, but not one that would retain a lot of water and mud. Gore-tex shoes would repel the water off the wet grass or small amounts of mud, but would retain it when submerged into a moat. A full on mesh shoe would retain the least water but probably wouldn’t be sturdy enough for the trails and definitely would make rope climb hard.
The last thing I wore, besides my required headband/bib, was a pair of gloves. I bought a pair of Under Armour CTR Trainer finger-less gloves. They provide a little bit of protection on the palms with a lot of mesh on the back of the hand. They are also usable for me at the gym, etc. I did a little bit of research on the gloves and the ideas ranged from man-up and go gloveless to wearing a specific pair of gardening gloves. I also wore my gloves the whole race and a lot people took them on and off. The only complaint about the gloves was that I slipped right off the first monkey bar obstacle. It was a combination of wet gloves and a wet bar, I’m sure. Ok, and maybe some grip strength problems! For the second I grabbed some grass to try my hand a bit first and that helped a lot.
As we were leaving the Spartan Festival Grounds at Welch Village, I heard someone say that he’s done a bunch of Spartan races and this was the hardest one he’s done. His reason – the terrain! Should I do it again next year? Only time will tell.