A little more than 18 months ago, while spending some time researching some ideas to expand the uses for my MovNat skills, I stumbled upon a quaint obstacle racing company based out of the New England-area that goes by the name Spartan Race.
Turns out, these guys are pretty popular, voted the best of a variety of obstacle course races that are put on every year around the country. In 2014, more people (over 4 million) ran in an obstacle race course than the number of people who ran 10Ks, half-marathons, and marathons combined.
As I dug deeper into the details of what Spartan Race is, I discovered it was a perfectly designed athletic intersection of all the things I train for and like to do: a little bit of hiking, running, lifting, throwing, crawling, carrying, climbing, jumping, and getting really dirty. I was sold.
So one year ago, J.C. and I traveled to Nashville for my first Spartan Race. I completed a 4 mile Sprint course (the Spartan Race distances: Sprint (3+miles), Super (8+ miles), Beast (12+ miles), Ultra Beast (26+ miles), Hurricane Heat (3-4 hour team event), Hurricane Heat 12 hour (12 hours of team and individual competitions), and the Agoge (a 60-hour team event). By the end of my first race, I knew I’d be back for more. It took me just over 90 minutes to finish the 4-mile course.
Fast forward to summer of this year and I was itching to get back into another Spartan Race. Enter the Tri-State New Jersey Super. The site of the race was at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, New Jersey. The course spanned 8+miles up, down, and around Mount Vernon, the largest ski mountain in New Jersey (1,040 vertical feet, 1,480 feet of elevation at its peak).
Last year, I knew I wouldn’t be running more than a mile at a time and the elevation changes would be minimal, so my training consisted of basic strength work: the power lifter’s trifecta of barbell squats, deadlifts, and presses with some accessory lifts sprinkled in, along with some sprint and running intervals to boost my aerobic/anaerobic base.
This year, the increased distance, time to finish the race, drastic changes in elevation, and lack of sleep inherent in raising a newborn forced me to get a little more creative with the training plan. So I lifted weights once a week, did a body weight workout for increasing time once a week, performed one H.I.I.T. session with my Training Mask each week, and 1 long run on Saturday mornings. (We’re planning on releasing a video soon on our YouTube Channel detailing how I trained, for those interested)
Come race day on Saturday, October 22, 2016, I felt confident. What I wasn’t feeling was warm. I flew into New York City the day before to sunny, 69-degree weather. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was raining and 46-degrees. That was the high temperature for the day Saturday. There are plenty of ways to prepare yourself for an endurance race, but that day I was reminded of two things: 1) you can’t fake mountain elevation and, 2) you can’t train for every weather condition.
In the Spartan Race series, there’s a phrase you’ll hear pretty often: “Spartan Up!”. It’s more than a macho phrase to get you fired up to do things that you rarely encounter in modern day life. It’s more about dealing with any challenge or adverse condition with the confidence that once you enter into it, you have a greater depth of resolve, mental fortitude, and physical strength to apply to that situation than you are even aware of.
Such was my experience in the Spartan Super on Mount Vernon. The starting line was strategically placed on the steep incline of what doubled as a black diamond slope during ski season. I stopped counting after we had gone up and down the mountain the fifth time. After mile 2, I started stopping every 30 minutes or so to slap my legs as hard as I could to keep the blood flowing to my lower extremities. I was shaking, squeezing, and clapping my hands to keep enough sensation in them to handle all the carrying and climbing needed to beat the obstacles on the course. It rained off and on throughout the race, making some sections of the course barely passable (at one point I found a deviation on the course to take the high ground and avoid what looked like a mud pit. About halfway across, I looked down and saw a fellow racer stuck waist deep in that mud pit). The last quarter mile included an uphill bucket carry (a five gallon bucket filled above the handle holes with gravel), a giant monkey bar climb, a 20-foot rope climb, and the dunk wall (you go under water as you traverse under the wall), and finally, mercifully, the fire jump to the finish line.
When I crossed the finish line (3 hours and 56 minutes after starting, for those scoring at home), I was dripping wet, beyond cold (it was 40-degrees outside by the time I finished), ravenously hungry, and completely satisfied. I finished. I won. I had conquered the course, considered by some one of the five hardest Spartan Race courses in the U.S. There’s a measure of satisfaction in doing something hard that surpasses any gift that you could be given. I am beyond grateful for all of the gifts that I’ve been given over the years. But the things I savor most are the things I have earned and the experiences I’ve had where I went in not quite knowing how it was all going to work out and came out on the other side better for it.
That was my experience in Nashville. It was the same at the base of Mount Vernon last month. And it’s the main reason I’ll keep training and competing.
So what will you do if you decide to jump in a tackle a Spartan Race? Hopefully you’ll train smart and hard. And enjoy the process, the grind, the satisfaction that comes from seeing the results of your hard work. And give me a shout if you need a partner to tackle the course.
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