As a little girl, I daydreamed. A lot. Instead of paying attention in school, I would stare out a window, or at a wall, or at Mrs. Farmer’s gray hair, and dream. In my dreams, I could leap like a deer. I could clear a fence and hit the ground running. I could climb a tree like a squirrel and leap to a rooftop.
Now I do Spartan races. Coincidence? I think not.
The road to Hawaii was a long one.
And there was also that plane ride.
But I’m talking about the other road… the metaphorical road. Or symbolic or figurative, whatever you call it. I’m talking about the training, the planning, the financing, and the training. The major family events (two babies!!) that postponed the trip for a whole year. And the training.
In case you don’t know about Spartan races, or confuse them with the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge that you may have seen on television (same organization, totally different race) let me explain:
Spartan races come in four distances: Sprint (3-5 miles, 20-23 obstacles), Super (8-10 miles, 24-29 obstacles), Beast (12-14 miles, 30-35 obstacles), and Ultra Beast (run the Beast course twice). One of the goals of Spartan racers, after #1-not dying, and #2-finishing, is to complete the three distances in a calendar year, earning your Spartan Trifecta. The Beast and/or Ultra Beast both count as a Beast for Trifecta purposes.
Some athletes complete several Trifectas every year, but my husband B and I have made it our goal to complete at least one Trifecta each year. The necessity of travel to races puts some constraints on us, plus we don’t want to lose the childlike joy that the races give us. No, that was not sarcasm.
Last year, we planned to go to Oahu for the Spartan Trifecta weekend. This was a convenient, and certainly beautiful, opportunity to get our Trifecta in a single weekend! Our younger daughter was expecting her first child in June, so the August race date would be about right for our mutual comfort levels.
So, let’s do this!
As my cursor hovered over the airline “PURCHASE” button, someone knocked at our front door.
We are generally anti-social and don’t get many visitors, so we gave each other “that” look. The look that says, “I don’t want to get it, YOU get it.”
B got it. As soon as he saw our daughter and son-in-law, he knew they were coming to announce their pregnancy. I’m a little slower, but I got it eventually, after it was clearly explained.
Their baby was due in August.
So. One year and two granddaughters later (TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!!!) we start planning again. We irritate both daughters by making them confirm repeatedly that they are not pregnant before we book every little thing.
I suspect that completing all three race distances in two days will be the most challenging physical feat of my life. I’ve done some difficult things. I’ve run through rain and snow and ice and limb-sucking mud. I’ve fallen hard on my ribs and made it two miles back to my car while my ribs clicked with each step. I’ve made it ten miles with an open gash bleeding from my elbow.
The previous year we completed the Seattle Beast on Saturday and the Seattle Sprint on Sunday. I recalled the full body pain on Saturday night. I couldn’t sleep because of the aches. And I couldn’t sleep because in the morning I had to get up and do it again.
This will be the same, except the courses are said to be much harder, and we are running the Super distance on Sunday morning, and the Sprint on Sunday afternoon. That is, if we complete the Super on time…
Spartan races begin with a rousing starting chute speech. As if we need to be pumped up any more. My heart is already pounding long before our final “AROO” fades away. Almost immediately, I’m plunged into a slippery, cooling stream. Then the climbing begins. The climbing is broken by a few walls, a five foot, a couple of six foot, then a seven. I’m relieved to start running again, with no other walls in sight. Next are some Spartan standards, the Atlas Carry and the Bucket Brigade. As I start up the outrageously steep hill with my bucket full of rocks, I see B just reaching the end. We are running separately today, and together tomorrow. I holler and wave like a fool until he sees me. That’s the last I see of him for many hours.
The uphill continues. I pass Jurassic Park Gate and across the valley I see King Kong’s skeleton littering the hillside. Yes, this place has been the star of several movies.
After the monkey bars and the beginning of the memory test (remember a word and a series of numbers for many miles and seven obstacles) I reach the jungle. Really. Real jungle, with vines and water, slimy mud, and heavy foliage that completely blocks out the sun. My pace slows to a literal crawl in many places. Some of the slopes are so slippery that ropes have been strung from trees uphill, but the ropes are so covered with mud that they slide from your hands. Groups of people are trying to get up, struggling for every step. I finally go around, using the trees and vines to pull myself up through the jungle alongside the trail and pass the slimy groups. It’s thick and scratchy, but at least I make progress.
In this jungly, slow and slimy section, which lasts about five miles, the obstacles come as welcome breaks. There are some heavy carries, two with logs and one with tires. There is a very muddy Z-wall where I am convinced that only my bouldering training at the climbing gym saved me. Both feet slipped off but I held on with my fingertips until I could get my feet secure again. After I ring the bell, I realize I’ve torn the palm of my hand, which presents a challenge for the rest of race.
There is the hardest Tyrolean Traverse I’ve done so far. That’s a rope strung horizontally across the ground. As you move along the rope, it sags under your weight so that you must climb in order to reach the bell. There is the first of two barbed wire crawls and an eight foot wall. I pass my memory test and start to run downhill. Downhill!! Not for too long, but the jungle seems to be slipping behind me now and the going is much easier, even if it is still mostly uphill. I start running with some Ultra Beast racers. I’m able to keep up only since it’s their second loop. A lot of people are walking now, blocking the singletrack, but they’re letting the Ultra racers pass, so I just tuck in behind them.
Next I face a couple of obstacles I’ve never tried before, The Bender and The Twister. The Bender is made of pipes starting about six feet off the ground and slanting overhead so that you have to climb awkwardly over the top while you’re pretty far off the ground. Then The Twister. I’ve watched videos of this one, mostly of people falling off before reaching halfway, and that’s what most people are doing now.
“Go backwards,” someone yells. I go backwards. Nope, that is not working. I swing around and go forward, grabbing the pipe as it twists downward. I hear a voice, “you’ve got it! All day! All day!” I don’t know what that means, but it is very motivating. I make the halfway transition and I start to slow down. I’ve been skipping a section each time (watch a video of it, it’s really hard to explain) and now I slow to a stop. The voice is still yelling. I start going, not skipping anymore, just going, until there is suddenly a bell in front of me. I slam it with unnecessary force and drop to the ground, celebrating like I just won the lottery. I yell a ‘thank you’ to the voice, and start running. I was worried about that one. So far I’ve run clean, completing every obstacle without the dreaded thirty burpee penalty.
There are some more Spartan staples, the second barbed wire crawl, the Hercules Hoist, and the most brutal sandbag carry I’ve every done. The sandbag carry is usually pretty easy, but I know I’ve just been lucky and that some are even harder than this one. This sandbag is heavier than I’m used to, and the course goes up and down three hills. The course is littered with bodies and sandbags. I put my sandbag on one shoulder, then the other shoulder, then I carry it with both arms like I carry the bucket. I put it down, gasp for air for a minute, pick it up. Ugh. Finishing is such a relief. I try to ignore that horrible voice in my head that reminds me I have to do this twice tomorrow.
Next is the Plate Drag. Then the Spear Throw. I approach the Spear Throw with a sinking feeling. Funeral music is playing in my head. No, it’s fine! I practice all the time!!
Okay, I miss ninety percent of the time. Even at home. Key the funeral music.
This Spear Throw looks longer than usual. B later agrees that it is. Maybe that’s why my throw is about five feet short. I walk to the burpee area after a small, inappropriate outburst which is being echoed all around me. There’s a reason they call it the burpee maker. I can hear the festival area as I do my burpees. The festival area is obstacle heavy, since that’s the easiest place for spectators to watch. The burpees are wearing me out and I’m thinking of the Olympus and the multi-rig and the rope climb. Then I give myself a mental slap and remember my training. I’ve worked SO HARD. Burpees are nothing, I do them all the time. I finish up and start running. I’m almost done and I’m going to run clean the rest of the way!!!
As I run down into the festival area, I hear someone yelling my name. I see B standing at the fence and I run over to give him a high five and say some incoherent, adrenaline-filled words.
Then I run to the dreaded Olympus. The Olympus is also hard to explain, it’s basically a slanted board with varied grips for your hands, including chains and climbing grips and holes cut in the board. To get through, you have to keep your feet off the ground and traverse the board, using your choice of hand grips, to the bell. The one I pick is muddy already, but I climb up, trusting my Salomon’s to give me some grip. In Seattle, this thing about killed me. I failed it on the Beast and barely made it through on the Sprint by smacking the bell as I was falling, hitting it just before my feet touched the ground.
So, yeah, I’ve been worried about it. I start moving. I’ve been climbing, these grips are familiar. I can hear B shouting. I’m moving at a steady pace, OMG I’M MOVING AT A STEADY PACE. B is shouting, his voice is echoing my own excitement. I finish easily, slamming the bell so hard I’m surprised it stays put.
Again, lottery-winning-style celebration.
There is a high bridge thing that I climb next, it’s not hard but I’m tired, so I go pretty slow. Next is the multi-rig, but it’s not really a multi-rig because instead of a variety of rings and pipes and ropes, it’s only rings. It seems easy, but I’ve learned to never underestimate an obstacle, plus a lot more people are falling off than are completing it.
Huh. It IS easy.
Next up, rope climb. The ropes are new and they seem pretty slippery. They ARE pretty slippery. I struggle up the rope. It seems to take about a hundred pulls, since I’m making very little progress. Only my severe burpee-aversion is keeping me going. I inch up, looking at that far-away bell. One more pull. I reach for the bell… nope. Just one more… got it!!
Now the Inverted Wall and the Fire Jump, that’s it!
The Inverted Wall has always been easy for me, but it’s never been at the very end of a grueling Beast. I struggle over it, every muscle saying noooooo! Video of me going over the top would probably be very amusing and embarrassing, but I don’t think any exists, so I don’t care. Then I run. Run!!! Jump over the fire and run over the finish line. I forget every bit of exhaustion and pain, at least for a moment, as a medal is hung on my neck.
B finished more than an hour before me, running entirely clean!
The Beast was 34 obstacles and 13 miles. Tomorrow will be even more. Plans for grilling a steak quickly dissolve into ordering a pizza. We shower and wash our clothes. I take inventory of my bruises and try to clean up the cut on my palm. Then we sleep. I notice, as I drift off, that I don’t feel that horrible pain that I remember from Seattle.
Good. That’s good.
In the morning, we get an early start. Our Super start time is 8:30 a.m. and we need to complete it to make our Sprint start at 1:15 p.m.
We run together, which makes it fun. We’re pretty fatigued at the start, but we start feeling better as we go. B slips in the stream near the beginning and slams his shin pretty hard, but after walking for a bit he seems to be okay. We climb all the walls and get to the bucket brigade. I’m not too excited about doing this again, and it dawns on me that my training didn’t include enough heavy carries. I make a mental note to fix that. I struggle up the steep hill, resting several times. I struggle down the steep hill, resting once. B is waiting at the bottom. We run for a bit until we reach the Monkey Bars, then continue for a while before we realize we are approaching The Bender already.
“We bypassed the whole jungle!” I tell B.
We are thrilled about this. It was fun and challenging, but exhausting. We knew this course was shorter, but it didn’t occur to us that we weren’t going to struggle through the jungle at all.
So we are feeling good. We complete The Bender and The Twister, crawl through barbed wire and do the Hercules Hoist and that nasty sandbag carry again.
I’m feeling good about the Spear Throw. I think I can make it. I’m feeling positive. This time I hit the bales of straw, but not hard enough to stick. I don’t even bother swearing. Then B misses his throw.
We do our burpees and head to the festival area. The Super is almost nine miles long, but after completing the longer course yesterday, it seems really short. We’re still feeling good when we complete the Olympus and climb over the bridge. We complete the rig and the rope. Even the inverted wall doesn’t seem too bad today. We jump over the fire together.
We have plenty of time before the Sprint. We have a shaved ice and change our clothes.
My adrenaline is severely depleted in the Sprint starting chute. We’ve completed almost nine miles and twenty-five obstacles so far today, with four miles and twenty obstacles to go. At this point we figure we should finish. That was definitely not guaranteed when we started this thing yesterday, so I try to get excited about this last race.
One challenge with Sprint races is that a lot of people do them. A lot. A lot of people are here because a family member is running the Trifecta, and they’ve decided to do the Sprint. A lot of people do the Sprint that haven’t trained at all. Nothing against them, it’s very brave to sign up for something like this, but it does tend to clog the course up a bit.
We spend a lot of time waiting on singletrack where NOBODY is moving. The trail has become slippery, and without good trail technique, probably pretty scary. Eventually the course widens and everybody is able to run at their own pace. And we do run, surprisingly, for most of the race. This course is much shorter, but many of the difficult obstacles are still here, including the bucket and sandbag carries. The spear throw comes up quickly, and I miss.
I haven’t missed any obstacles, except THREE SPEAR THROWS!!!!
B makes his spear throw and waits while I do burpees.
“How many do you have left?” he asks at one point.
“I got ten of them,” he says.
“No, I got it.”
“For your birthday. It’s a birthday present.”
Did I mention that today is my birthday? His argument seems valid.
Then we head to the festival area and complete the Olympus, rig and rope climb.
The inverted wall seems impossible. I’m struggling and struggling and just can’t get over it. Finally I get a foot hooked over the top and drag my suddenly very heavy body over. The other side has been baking in the sun and is shockingly hot, so I slide off quickly.
I grab Bs hand and we run for the fire jump, leaping over in unison.
Unlike yesterday, the exhaustion doesn’t slip away, but it doesn’t matter. We did it. Twenty-five miles and 79 obstacles, 5300 feet of elevation gain. B failed one obstacle all weekend. I failed one obstacle each race. It was as difficult as we expected, but our training got us through.
That’s my advice, if you want it. Do the training. Work as hard as you can. Do a wide variety of things so no part of your body gets left behind and your mind doesn’t get bored. Use your body weight and buckets and sandbags and swing from everything you can find. Have fun and pretend you’re a wild kid that can leap over anything.
That’s what we do.
But now we have to find something even harder to do next year.