At 8:40 am, I took one last swig of my favorite pre-race mix (Amelia Boone juice) and bounced around at the head of the starting line trying to stay warm with hundreds of other runners braving the cool 50-degree morning air. We’d all pinned on our racing bibs, marked our bodies with our numbers and were waiting anxiously for the smoke grenade that would mark the start of the 8:45 am heat.
Earlier that morning, I watched the mist rolling through the Temecula hills as I drove from my hotel to the course at the Vail Lake Resort. I had planned on running the race without a shirt on and was seriously questioning whether that was the smartest decision. Arriving and seeing most people with some form of synthetic top on didn’t make me feel any better, but it was too late now. Running with a cotton shirt on was out of the question because of the water retention, which would probably end up making me even colder. It’s funny to think that this was my most pressing concern at the time and not the 8+ miles course and 20+ obstacles that I’d soon be tackling. Over 8 miles of grueling quad burning uphill and knee testing downhill terrain snaking through the Temecula hills made more dangerous by the rain that turned the normally dirt trails into mud trails. But it was perhaps this distraction that made it easier for me to just run the course and take each obstacle and mile one moment at a time.
This was my second Spartan series race having completed the Spartan Sprint in Malibu in December and getting my first taste for this addictive sport. I’d made it a bucket list item of mine to complete the Spartan Trifecta, a feat achieved by running a Sprint, Super and Beast race all in one season, each one longer and harder than the last with the Beast coming in at over 12 miles with 25+ obstacles. But before I’d get there, I’d have to complete this race. Based loosely on last year’s average completion time of just over 3 hours, I aimed for a 2:30.
So at 8:41, with my fellow Spartan runners, who’ve come from all over, I was as ready as I could be. Then I needed to pee. This wasn’t a bad thing as I jogged to the porta potties and got the blood flowing before the race.
At 8:45, the air horn sounded, the smoke grenade was thrown and I rushed towards the first obstacle. The next 2 hours and 10 minutes (Spoiler alert: I beat my goal) was a blur, but what a beautiful blur it was. As I ran through the rain, sloshed through mud, rolled and slipped under barbed wires, I didn’t think about any projects I needed to finish, or the taxes that I’d have to file before taking off for my travels. All my mental facilities were trained on how to most efficiently approach each obstacle and the amount of energy I needed to expend or conserve to make it through without tiring myself out before the finish line. Running up the hills, I didn’t look up to the top to see how far I had to go and instead just looked a few meters ahead and kept pace with the closest guy to me. At the top of one hill, I looked down on the narrow trail weaving back down and understood why people choose to summit tall mountains – the view from above is just truly breathtaking.
There’s a more detailed obstacle by obstacle recap below, but let’s just say that some of them were quite punishing and definitely pointed out the muscles that I need to work on. The toughest was the sand bucket carry. You fill a huge bucket up to the top with wet sand and had to carry it up a hill and then down the other side. I’m guessing it’s about 70-80 pounds that does a number on your lower back because of how you have to carry it. The lake crossing wasn’t really that far. I’d guess about 50 meter, but the water was freezing and I found myself struggling to breathe more than to swim. I actually really enjoyed the barbed wire crawl since I started in an earlier heat and had a near empty stretch to roll through the mud and under the wires. There’s just something primal about rolling in mud and rocks and I loved it. The tire flip and Herculean hoist definitely favored bigger racers since they were definitely strength based feats. Overall, I thought the curriculum of obstacles were pretty balanced with some obstacles being easier if you were smaller and more agile while others were geared towards making it hell for smaller, weaker competitors. At 5’6 and 140 lbs, you can guess which camp I belonged to.
Somewhere along the way, you will probably get scraped up, bruised or possibly even worse – but you push on. The determination to finish is strong. I saw someone slip off the log hop and fell rib first onto the log jutting from the ground. It looked painful and race-ending, but he calmly made his way over to the penalty area and started doing his burpees. Towards the end, I saw others cramping up and bent over grasping for air, but even they eventually limped to the finish line. There were many other inspiring moments on the course. I saw a runner helping another runner over the 7-foot wall even though they were strangers and friends encouraging slower members of their group to push on. The best I could do was offer my spare Sports Beans to a runner who was on his knees looking like he had run out of energy going up one of the final hills. It may have taken a minute out of my final time to stop and help him out (I was fumbling to open up the packet with my muddy fingers), but it felt like the right thing to do and I certainly wasn’t going to beat Hobie’s time of 1:13:20 anyway. Later that day we found that the car battery had died because the headlight was left on and quickly found another Spartan finisher who was happy to jumpstart our car. It’d seem like a ridiculous turn around time for karma, but I think that spirit of helping each other out is something that’s pretty common with the Spartan community.
I was lucky to have my brother and cousins cheer me on, waiting in the rain until I came back around those the spectator area. They even ran the last stretch of the race with me yelling and screaming the entire way.
At the finish line, I really felt like I earned that blue Super Spartan finisher medal and that getting the green Spartan Beast medal in Monterey later this year and completing the Trifecta will feel even better. Until then, this guy will be getting right back into training for the next race. Let’s just hope I can find a way to stay in shape while I’m traveling through Europe, India, Nepal and the Middle East for 3 months.
Obstacles (In no particular order)
Under Over Under Over Under: A series of walls and nets that you had to jump over and crawl under. It was the first obstacle and I just hopped over and threw myself into a tumbling roll to get under the net as quickly as possible.
Hobie Hop: You tie an elastic band around your ankles and have to hop to and over a series of hay bails. This is where the box jumps in training really paid off.
Monkey Bars: Just like the ones you played on in the playground, except wet, muddy and slippery. If you fall, it’s 30 burpees. I moved through this as quickly as possible reach out as far as I could each time to avoid draining my upper body strength.
Tire Pull: You pull a heavy tractor tire across the dirt until the rope attached is extended and then you pull it back. A killer workout on your lower back and legs.
Concrete Pull: It’s like walking a dog, if Fido was a 30-40 lb chunk of concrete attached to a chain that you pull around a big circle. Momentum will help a lot here.
Concrete Carry: Similar to the concrete pull, except you carry a heavy concrete block across the course, do 5 burpees and then carry it back.
Bucket Brigade: This was the toughest obstacle for me. After you fill up your bucket with wet sand to the top, you get to carry it up a steep hill and then right down the other side. The size of the bucket made it awkward to carry and put all the stress on your lower back and legs. The worst part is if you don’t fill it up to the top or you fill it up too loosely and the sand compacts down by the end, you have to do 30 burpees.
Cargo Net: This is fun, but I can’t imagine you’d agree if you lose your footing and slip through the cargo net. It goes up about 20 feet or so, so those with a fear of heights might not want to look down.
Slippery Wall: You use a rope to pull yourself up a slippery 45 degree way. Good footwear will really help here. I’ve seen people slip and fall right on their knees. Ouch!
Barbed Wire 1: A long stretch of crawling on your stomach under barbed wire that at one point got as log as 8 inches off the ground. I had to find a slightly higher clearing at that point. To make it more fun, they spray you down with a fire hose while you are trying to get across. It’s muddy and this is probably where you’ll get at least a few scrapes on your elbows and knees. The first time I did this, I actually wish I had a shirt on.
Barbed Wire 2: Another set of barbed wire to get under those the end of the race.
6 Foot Wall: A series of 6 foot walls to get over and through.
7 Foot Wall: Add a foot to that last obstacle.
8 Foot Wall: Add another foot and watch it get that much more difficult to get over.
Traverse Wall: My favorite obstacle. It’s a series of 2 x 4 blocks nailed to a wall that you use to traverse across horizontally with your body pressed into the wall. It’s just like rock climbing. Those who can shift their weight easily and/or have excellent grip strength will find this to be a breeze. Of course, overconfidence can make you slip off the wall and right to the penalty area for 30 burpees.
Log Hop: This would be a ninja’s favorite obstacle. A series of thin logs buried into the ground that you have to walk across. Hard enough when it’s dry, even harder when it’s muddy and the logs are no longer buried firmly in the ground. Fall off and it’s 30 burpees. Remember that burpees hate you too.
Tire Flip: Another one of those lower back breaking obstacles making you wish you did more deadlifts and power squats at the gym before coming to the race. You have to flip a big heavy tractor tire over and then flip it back. You can do it in pairs and do it twice. I came to the obstacle alone and had to lift it by myself. Not fun, but so fun.
Water Crossing: As a swimmer, I enjoy the water obstacles, but that quickly disappeared half a second after entering the water and realizing that it’s really f*cking cold in there and you can’t swim as fast with shoes on.
Mud Crossing 1: A series of mud pits that you wade through and then crawl out of. Then you get to continue running completely wet.
Mud Crossing 2: Similar to the first mud crossing, but a blessing since the water felt so much warmer after the lake crossing.
Herculean Hoist: You pull on a rope and pulley system with a big concrete block attached to the other end.This is where bigger competitors excel while people under 150 lbs find themselves struggling just to not be lifted off the ground by the concrete block, especially when the ground is muddy and slippery.
Spear Throw: How much more Spartan can an obstacle get? You get one attempt to launch a spear (it’s really more of a broomstick with a sharp point at the end) at a hay bail. If you’ve managed to avoid doing burpees up to this point, odds are you’ll end up doing it here. I’m now 1 for 2 with spear throw.
Rope Climb: After about 20 obstacles, you get to jump into a muddy pit and climb your way up a rope to ring the bell at the top. And then get yourself down safely. I saw someone fall off after ringing the bell and it did not look like he landed on a bunch of pillows.
Fire Jump: Jump over this smoldering set of logs on fire and you’re almost at the finish line. After 8.5 miles, I almost cramped up when I tried to jump really high into the air here. That said, how else are you going to get an awesome photo?
Gladiator Pit: Consider this a rite of passage. 4 Spartans stand between you and the finish line. You can see the water and the volunteer holding the bananas waiting you, but you first have to get through this gauntlet of gladiators as they try to knock you down with their pugil sticks.
Use this as a guideline for what you can expect to the face, but the beauty about the Spartan Race is that every course is different and they love to throw in surprises to catch you off guard. Not knowing what the course is like beforehand makes it all the more fun. Train hard and I’ll see you at the next Spartan race. AROO!!!!!!