Time has certainly flew by since I last posted about my pre race preparation, fears, and excitement leading up to the 2013 Texas Spartan Beast. I never got around to publishing a follow-up, or any posts whatsoever until last week, due to my new job and the demands required of me (another post on this to come).
All that aside I want to share what it was like that fateful day—December 15th, 2013.
What was it like?
My first Spartan Race really blew me away. These races are large-scale undertakings, and nearly a festival atmosphere. Music, food, merchandise, and ongoing fitness challenges throughout the main event area, along with a great view of the finish line and last few challenges. You see the apprehension and nerves on competitors about to embark onto the course, and you see the look of exhilaration, satisfaction, and exhaustion on those who have already finished. Arrive and pick up your race package…with the warning YOU MAY DIE in loud bold print. The contents includes bib/number, tracking and timing bracelet, headband, and other pertinent race day documents/items. I’ll never forget lining up at the start line and seeing those surrounding me with the mix or excitement and trepidation. A master of ceremonies ignites the crowd with a Spartan speech enticing “Sons and Daughters of Sparta” (racers) with glory. A loud response of “AROO!” is given in reply. A remote control aircraft with GoPro camera captures the action for promotional and social media purposes. The MC then pops the tops on a couple of smoke grenades and throws them directly in what will be the first few steps of a 15.5 mile journey. The signal is then given that the race has begun and the first obstacle is the obstructed vision from the grenades. Once out of the starting gates the strong runners and those who chose to be at the front quickly separate themselves from the pack of average racers. I was advised (and thankfully so) to maintain my own pace, and not get caught up in the foot race aspect of this event. It will be a long day and my energy reserves will be needed for the last miles. I am keeping a decent pace, fueled by adrenaline and the substantial nutrition packed fuel I’ve ingested. Others pass me, I pass others as we enter the first real obstacle. Balancing on small tree trunk sized logs and jumping between them. My shoes are already pretty muddy, and the poor fellow in front of me looks to have the same problem. He makes an awkward attempt to leap from one log to the next and slips out sideways…impacting his ribs on the log as he plummets. Wow, I think to myself…too early in the game to hurt myself like that. Once I’m up on there and noticing traction problems myself I’m quick to jump down and voluntarily take the 30 burpee penalty and not potentially end my race 3/4 of a mile in. Running after those first burpees was tough, but I soon regained my steady pace. The next few miles were some of the toughest in the race when it came to running…about 5 miles of hill climbs and descents over treacherous terrain. To me the hardest obstacle of the day, and what really killed me was at the end of the hill section. The Bucket Brigade: fill a 5 gallon bucket to the top with around 75 lbs of gravel, then ascend a steep muddy hill, and descend another route. I messed up on this, and due to the non honest nature of another racer ended up having to repeat it (30 burpee penalty not an option). At the top of the hill it was common practice to put the buckets down and catch ones breath before the downhill portion. I witnessed some people with less than allowable levels of gravel grabbing dirt and sticks and anything they could find to add to their buckets to reach the permissible level. At the time I thought little of this, due to being quite tired, and aiming to recover. My bucket was then grabbed by one such racer, and I was left with a less than full bucket. I didn’t notice until the bottom when I had to repeat due to a level of gravel that wasn’t acceptable. I was totally pissed off because I knew mine was full when I started. (Pro Tip: Sit on your bucket to avoid this) Repeating this obstacle probably took me 25- 35 minutes and drained plenty of my energy. All I could do was to push onwards. However, the hill section also held one of the coolest obstacles of the day…the memory challenge. Based on the racers bib number they must look up a code on a large board, and then memorize it for later recital. I saw other racers bust out the pen and paper to help them, but I chose a different approach. I would recite the code sequentially the steps I took and my breathing. I ran nearly the next 8 miles expecting to have to recite it, and eventually gave up, annoyed by constantly repeating this code in my head. I figured it would be a few miles after the board, maximum…but it was around 10 miles later. Many miles and obstacles later I came across and open area where people were doing burpees for what looked like no reason. No monkey bars, no gravel buckets, nothing that gave an indication as I approached. “What’s the password?” No way. Really!? I just tried to stop reciting it about 3 miles ago and now I’m prompted to remember. Somehow I remember it and pay no penalty. Great! I did well on most obstacles…failing only 2 entering the home stretch—the first obstacle of the log jumps, and then I failed the rope traverse (next time I’m letting my arms recover after the Hercules Hoist). Another bucket brigade of a less dramatic incline was included in the last few miles and that was a tough one! I ran through a creek bed with water in it and was wondering how much longer this was going on for when suddenly I popped out and could see the finish line…but some of the toughest obstacles remained between me and my medal. The traverse wall, and climbing a rope from a submerged in water starting point. I failed both, the traverse wall—30 burpees!(I just had bad technique as I’d later learn). I also had bad technique on the rope climb and was forced to dyno for a higher knot but failed to grip the rope, so I plummeted into the muddy waters below. Disoriented and exhausted I emerged to do another 30 burpees doubling my previous total in the last 500 feet to the finish. I was dragging and suffering at this point. Then something happened. I heard a faint voice of encouragement from the crowd: “Do it for Canada!” I suddenly spun around to see my friend and race mate standing in the crowd watching me. A few things all flowed through my head “how long has he been waiting for me?” “he certainly must have had an easier time then me.” “How long have I been out here on the course?” but overall the encouragement powered me through the last half of the burpees and then it was on to the finish. Pretty simple obstacles of the slippery wall and the fire jump stood between me and the end of a hard day. As I was climbing the slippery wall a volunteer offered his hand to help me overcome the obstacle…I refused, determined to use my gumption to get to the finish or pay the penalty. I drew up the last of my reserves and beat the wall, jumped the fire and sprinted the rest of the distance to the finish line.
5 hours flat was my time.
My friend placed 6th overall in the open category beating me by 2 hours with a time of 3 hours flat. A medal and a banana were pressed in my hand as I crossed, and I couldn’t help, but think of the branding Spartan Race has used—“You’ll know at the finish line.” That is the most apt description of how I felt. I definitely knew. I realized I had much more capabilities than previously known, and I also knew that this wouldn’t be the last time I finished a spartan race. And it hasn’t been…