The hill is steep. Not the steepest of the day, but everybody has slowed to a walk. They don’t look down, like one often does when the hill is too steep, they look up, at the looming obstacle perched on top of the hill.
I trot past them and stop at the base of a wall. The wall is about six feet of solid wood topped with maybe twelve feet of scaffolding. I stare. I try to plan something, but I don’t have a height advantage, I don’t have the advantage of experience, and I don’t have a plan. I stare some more. Staring doesn’t help, so I decide to fall back on my training and hope for the best.
I run to the wall, grab the top of the solid section with my fingertips and start pulling. It’s working! I almost have my right foot hooked at the top of the wall when I feel a hand under my left foot, giving me just enough of a boost that I’m up.
“Thanks!” I shout to the unknown friend below me. As me and a bunch of other competitors climb the scaffolding section, the whole thing starts to move. A guy next to me swears.
“It’s safe though, right?” I reassure him, “Isn’t that what it said in the waiver?”
“Yep! Safety third!”
Actually, the waiver states very clearly that you might die. You could fall, drown, get a nasty infection from barbed wire, and who knows what stew of bacteria/parasite/piranha are living in the mud bogs.
As far as downright dangerous, this scaffolding/wall thing is probably the worst obstacle. Climbing over the top, the ground is very far down. My lack of fear surprises me. I hold on tight and swing a leg over, climb down the other side and run.
My first Spartan race is the Socal Sprint in Temecula, California at beautiful Vail Lake Resort. Wave starts continue into the afternoon, but I was lucky to get a morning start time. Even so, the temperatures reach the upper 90s before I finish.
The race starts with a fast-talking local DJ reading the legal fine print (about the many ways we might die) so quickly that I miss it all. To his point, nobody listens anyway. Then he gets all our blood pumped up by shouting, “WHO AM I?”
To which we all respond, “I AM SPARTAN!!”
Then, with a final “AROO! AROO! AROO!” we are off.
About one minute in (they don’t waste time) we reach a mud bog. Just a little one, although I didn’t know it was a little one at the time. Then uphill. In most trail events, I gradually lose ground to stronger runners on the uphills. But in this case, I’m gaining, passing! It’s wonderful! Apparently most Spartan competitors don’t run a lot. At the top of this hill are some chest-high hurdle-type walls to go over. Then a lot more running.
The Plate Drag isn’t bad. Then I reach the Sandbag Carry. I grab my sandbag and think, “Yay, this is pretty light!”
The Sandbag Carry course is steep and loose, and people struggle to keep moving, sliding backwards and resting on rocks. A group of men are on the hill, taking time from their race to shout encouragement to those struggling. But I’m in my element and I run up the hill, hugging the sandbag in front of me, then tear back down the hill.
Most of the trail is loose and difficult, so trail technique is very helpful. One section is a long downhill of finely powdered dirt. It brings a lot of competitors to a desperate crawl, but a few of us (probably all from cold climates) treat it like a snow run, bounding down through the shin-high powder.
Mud bogs!!! Not one, but three or four in a row. Deep, slimy, no getting out without help. My Salomon Fellraisers, purchased just for their mudding abilities, aren’t much better than any other shoe once they’re coated in muddy slime. This is where the camaraderie really kicks in, you get a boost out of the mire, then you give a hand up from the top. The last mud bog has a wall at water level that you must go under, just to make sure you get a good dunking. The feel of mud heavy on my eyelashes is a feeling I won’t soon forget.
Sometime after the mud bogs (the obstacles are all muddled together in my mind) comes the barbed wire crawl. The wire is pretty low to the ground. A lot of people just roll, but I do a sideways crab crawl. I get caught once, but free myself before I do any damage. The second half of the crawl is downhill, so I just slide down on my belly. Like an otter. Or a penguin.
Then downhill! Racers screech to a halt at the tops of hills and move gingerly down. I tear past them, running at top speed, fancy-footing it down the loose spots, thanking the Spartan gods that I am a trail runner.
Cliff Climb, Inverted Wall, Spear Throw… I’d practiced the spear at home with very limited success. But I almost make it. The tip of the spear sticks in the bale of straw, but the handle hits the ground.
The next obstacle is the Bucket Brigade. I’ve done this a million times at home. No problem.
In my perfect world, excessive cockiness would never go unpunished. It would always be swiftly followed by some humbling experience. I don’t see this happen much in life, but it happens to me on this day.
Remember the light sandbag? Remember me running like a gazelle up the hill carrying my light little sandbag?
The bucket brigade is not like that. The bucket I carried at home was waaaaayyyyy lighter than the one I have to carry in the race.
I do it. I carry it up the hill. I carry it down the hill. I don’t even put it down. But it is heavy. It is very heavy. I feel like my arms might come right off.
Next is an a-frame cargo net. Compared to the last two obstacles, this is a breeze. You climb up it, you climb down it.
Then the Z-Wall. Okay, I practice the Z-Wall at home. I have blocks of wood nailed to my barn and I practice it a lot. I never fall off the wall at home. Ever. Piece of cake. I’ve got this! (Please refer to previous comments about cockiness.)
I make it around the corner of the wall, which should be the hardest part, and then on the straight section my hand slips and I find myself standing on the ground. Stunned. What?!? I have to do burpees on the Z-Wall obstacle? No. Way.
Okay. I start doing burpees. By this time the temperature has climbed, and although I’ve only gone four miles, I have gone through the entire 70 ounces of water I started with. My husband and daughter are nearby, and they throw me a bottle of water while I do burpees.
Next is the Multi-Rig. This is like monkey bars, except there are knotted ropes, rings, one long bar and more ropes. I’d watched this the day before (during the Beast length event) and I know there is a long stretch from the last ring to the long bar. If I can make that transition I have a good chance of making it. I miss, but I refuse to let go. I try to get my body swinging, but somebody bumps me and now I’m swinging the wrong way. I hold on. I hold on as long as I can.
Then I let go.
Damn. More burpees.
Next is a lake swim! It’s shallow enough to walk, and almost everyone is walking, but it feels so good to swim! The water is cool and clean and refreshing. When the water gets so shallow that I beach myself, I stand up and walk.
Next up, Slip Wall. This is a slanted wall that would normally come out of a mud bog, but there is a drought in the West and many obstacles that would normally be wet are not. They are counting on the fact that we just came out of the swampy end of the lake and ran through mud to make the Slip Wall live up to its name. It does. I watch a woman climb almost to the top, her husband reaching for her, when she slides all the way back down and lands pretty hard.
My Fellraisers do justice on the Slip Wall. The only scary part is right at the top where I’m expecting something to grab hold of. There isn’t anything. I hook my elbow on the top and manage to drag my leg over before I fall.
Rope Climb! Like the Slip Wall, the Rope Climb is normally done out of muddy water. Not this one. There are bales of straw. Looking at it the day before, I was a little disappointed that they made it so easy. I can easily climb a dry rope.
Except, the thing is, the ropes aren’t dry. Over the last two days, hundreds and hundreds of muddy, slimy people have climbed, or attempted to climb, these ropes. Also, refer again to “cockiness” above.
I take my time. I rub dirt on my hands and the top of my shoes in an attempt to dry some of the slime. I pick my rope. I start up, my hands slipping from the start, my feet not holding in spite of my magical rope climbing shoes. I won’t give up. I won’t give up. I… slide back down the rope.
Burpees on the Rope Climb? The Rope Climb is one of my “sure things”.
After the Rope Climb is only the Fire Jump and then the finish line, so I try to burpee really fast. But I’m soooo tired. I make my breaks short, I start again before I’m ready.
I finish my burpees and run. I jump over the fire, I run across the finish line. Somebody puts a medal around my neck even though I’m covered in mud and protozoa and previously undiscovered lifeforms.
I can’t stop smiling. I’m smiling so hard my face hurts.
My carefully selected bright blue socks and shirt (so my family could spot me) are the same color as my black capris and shoes, a grayish brown hue that matches every other person at the finish line.
After 5.1 miles,120 burpees and 20 obstacles, I finish in 2 hours and 27 minutes, 3 minutes under my goal time.
Spartan races are dirty, dangerous and painful. I have bruised knees and elbows, cut and blistered hands, and a rash on my arms. I don’t know why.
I am too old for this.