Reflecting on my first Spartan Race experience, I have a billion thoughts going through my head. My first thought being “I had a blast” then second thought “You completely blew it!!” Reality was my fun ended very early. A disappointing (distant) 4th place for female was not what I had showed up for. Yes it was my first time, but I expected much more from myself. I heard about being haunted by failed obstacles in your dreams by friend Brakken Kraker but didn’t get to experience it first hand until the early AM hours into Saturday and Sunday. This past weekend on February 7, I took part in the Arizona Spartan Sprint. It ended up being the longest “sprint” of my life, with over an hour spent on the course.
Rewind back to Saturday morning- 14 minutes into the race I was chasing close behind leader KK Paul. We had just gone thru a 300m section of sloppy sand where I had thrived with my signature shuffle stride. Entering into the festival grounds I joyfully hear Alan and Joanie cheering me up the rope climb. The 3 previous obstacles were relatively easy, but my lack of experience was clear and all I could think of was “she’s good” – referring to KK’s expertise. For every 2 seconds I took going up some swaying cargo net, she took 1.
On the rope I had no problem getting the bell, but KK dominated me easily gaining a good 8 seconds (video to prove that stat) until I regained some ground on the run. The next one should have been relatively easy. The transverse wall – one I had practiced recently at the one of the coolest gyms on the planet- Phoenix Evolution. It consisted of small wooden blocks to place your hands and feet with the goal no touching the ground.
I was not expecting my feet to be wet and I felt the nervousness creep in that this was not going to be as easy. I also saw that the wall wrapped around and another doubt hit me. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, my stupid mind got ahead of me and I began to wonder how fast KK would be on this, and could I keep up…Before I knew it in one split second my foot slipped off the wooden wall block landing less than a foot to touch ground, to hear the bell ding for KK as she dashed off (the last I’d hear/see of her all day) and I was sent to the penalty box for my first round of 30 burpees, costing a solid 2 minutes as another 2 women passed to get a good solid 90 second lead. I knew my chances for the win were likely crushed, but still assumed I could possibly make up that ground over the next long 3 + miles.
Long story short it didn’t happen and I ended up blowing another “easy” obstacle early on, one requiring zero skill and all brain power. .
You can run fast… but you can’t can’t until you do these burpees!!!!
After fail 1 my mind was set on 2nd place. I was happy to be successful through the giant hurdles, plate drag, monkey bars and a bunch of others I don’t even recall. One obstacle I thought I nailed was the Memory Test. At the top of the hilly section we came to a giant board with numbers. I didn’t even take the time to know my own race number, so this added one more thing for me to remember. The board read the last 2 digits and matched a name, 3 digits and another 4 digits. Your job- remember these a mile later and recite them to avoid another penalty. I was confident I had it. I was closing behind the 3rd girl and passed her up in a series of 3 (quicksand like) mud pits. People were literally getting stuck trying to climb the sides and it almost happened to me.
I get to the crest of the next hill and confidently stated – #92 – OSCAR 139 (a world record 800 time) 69 74. (Easy number to remember 😉 74 times).. only it wasn’t (69) It was 61. I failed to see that and when I went to recite I was WRONG. 30 more burpees and from that point I knew I was toast. 3rd place flew ahead of me and my frustration only increased knowing I hadn’t even hit the “spear throw” or the “multibar”- the one obstacle my weak-ass distance runner arms could only conquer if God himself came down and provided a miracle. What place was I in? For all I knew I could have been 10th. My running abilities meant absolutely nothing at this point and I was getting a severe beating rightfully by women who if put in a boxing ring, most likely would have completely knocked me out.
The obstacles came more frequently as the finish approached. I actually enjoyed the bucket carry because I was passing guys left and right (women carry less rocks). It reminded me of carrying a not willing to cooperate Joanie across a big parking lot. Little did I know Alan was doing that exact activity simultaneously so he could go to the bathroom (his fault he didn’t look in his trunk to see I packed him the stroller!!) After his “bucket carry” Alan was watching the top girls emerge into the final sequence of obstacles all just outside the festival area (multibar, rock crate drag, hercule hoist, spear throw, rope swing, barbed wire, fire and final mud pit).. as I was no where to be seen. His thought- I got injured and dropped out. Post race he even doubted my 4th place finish and texted my mom “I think she was 10th”. Still high into the desert hills I wasn’t seeing the end in sight. I started feeling bad that Alan had gotten up early to watch in a race I wasn’t even remotely competitive. I had let JoJo down as well!!
The Final Ring of Obstacle Hell
When I emerged to the finish area, I tried to think positive but my gut knew I had more burpees waiting for me. 5th and 6th place women were within sight… but if they failed too, I could possibly hold my place. And failed I did.
The multibar consisted of a wobbly bar leading to 3 hanging rope knots to another wobbly bar. Even in a fresh state the day before I got a sneak peak at this and my amazon woman-acrobatic Tarzan skills were definitely not up to par. I made it a little over halfway, my wimpy grip slipped and submitted to 30 more burpees. The next 2 women came and also were sent to burpees. Next came the Hercules Hoist (pulling a weight down and then returning it to the top). Success.
The spear throw was next. What I believed would be the last possibility for burpees. I nailed the target with the spear going straight in, and then falling out. Not enough muscle which isn’t surprising considering all I had done. 30 more burpees and somehow no one had passed me. A 50 m run to the next “double up” obstacle – 2 thick high bars you had to get over. I loved it as I used the years I had played on the bars in gymnastics and swung up, climbed over and ran down. 50 more meters and I was at the rope swing. Alan, Joanie and Shane (my athlete who had finished the men’s race 5:44 faster than me) were cheering and yelling advice. In my fatigue I couldn’t even comprehend anything, but thought all I had to do was land on the other side. My feet hit the water. (Buzzer noise) That was against the rules, so 100m from the finish line with the barbed wire next, I was ordered down for 30 more of the ugliest set of burpees I hope I ever do in my life.
The final mud rolling and crawling was a highlight passing under the bridge where I waved to Joanie cheering me on. Some how I must have failed just as miserably as the next few girls, and crossed the finish in the 4th spot, far far from the top 3. I had been out there for over an hour, about 10 minutes longer than I had estimated. Wow.
This race left me so hungry for more, yet also humbled me knowing that running is only a small factor in these races. This ain’t no Warrior Dash, where I’d say any person who can do a single pull up and a set of maybe 10 pushups could likely succeed without a “fail”. This definitely exposes all weaknesses and glaring obviousness that I don’t spend enough time in a weight room. (For the record, my typical lifting schedule is nil, I do all body weight strength stuff mostly in my living room). I know I have a ton of room for growth (a high rate of improvement I would hope after hitting the ground 150+ times for burpees (I say + because I was too tired to even count accurately on some and likely did a few extra).
Final results as shown I ended up a whopping 10:42 behind winner KK Paul (pretty certain she did her homework preparing and it paid off as she completed 0 burpees). 150 burpees (my rate of 2:00+ for each set)= 10 minutes of penalty plus extra fatigue. 😁
I would have loved to come back the next day for a redo with so much gained wisdom (even in my fatigued state, I’m certain I could have at least nailed 3 of the 5 fails) …. but I had business to take care of. Alan had a local race and Shane needed to get back to the airport. Now I have months and months to wait til I get another shot. And months and months to get my butt in the weight room. (Note – 3 of the top 6 girls returned on day 2 and all improved their time the following day!)
The take away is that I couldn’t have asked for a better challenge. That’s what runners love and need. Challenge. If I continued to run the same races with 5 second improvements here and there, I really wouldn’t experience as much growth as what the whole sport of obstacle racing is all about. Sure, many runners look down upon it as a joke, but don’t knock what you don’t try. It definitely isn’t easy and just that statement alone makes me want to see how good I could get. I know I can’t get by on my lack of gym time. I’m not going to go cross fit on anyone but I definitely plan to put some energy into getting better at pullups!!
Thank you Spartan race for giving “runners” like me the ultimate challenge and butt kicking. I accept a lack of respect from fellow runners who think I’m just trying to cherry pick a much less competitive sport. My challenge is to any runner with that attitude (and without a shoe contract that doesn’t restrict them from participating) is to try it! You might be like me and totally get hooked. And likely you might just end up doing just as many burpees than me (and see someone with a 21:00 5K PR fly by you)!
Prize money offered or not, I loved every second of this competition. The total exhaustion and challenges to jump a 9 foot wall after you’ve already just gone over a 6 and 8 ft and recently carried a 30 pound bucket of rocks up and down a hill before running up a steep hill is AWESOME. The last time my body soreness hit that level was day 4 at summer basketball camp in high school. So thank you! There will be a next time and all the strong girls better watch out … I got my homework to do and plan to get to it.