My weekend involved a couple of blog-worthy events- on Saturday I took part in my first Spartan Race, and on Sunday I attended the Swift Health & Wellness Summit. I’ll write about the summit later, but I thought I’d kick off the week by writing about my Spartan experience.
I should start this post off with two disclaimers:
- I’ve been sick recently. I didn’t fast on Friday, and I woke up on Saturday unsure about whether I was in any kind of shape to do the race. I did it anyway.
- This is my second obstacle race. My first was The Stampede, late last year. Having done both, I’m finding myself comparing them quite a bit.
So, Spartan. After completing the 10km Stampede event last year I was certain I wanted to do more obstacle racing, and the 7 km Spartan Sprint is the first opportunity I’ve had. Each of the different obstacle races out there have their own unique approach (some would call it a selling point). Some claim that you might die, and they don’t care (*cough*Tough Mudder*cough), some provide you with cammo gear and tell you to make like a solider (Operation Blackhawk), some are about pushing boundaries while keeping it supportive (The Stampede). Then there’s Spartan, who’s war cry is “I AM SPARTAN”. They’re tough (but not as tough as Tough Mudder), they’re warriors (but in a more Gladiator style than Operation Blackhawk), and while like Stampede they tell you you’ll need a team, they really don’t push the teamwork aspect.
I hate the ‘festival’ concept for these events. Reality? They’re a bunch of food stalls with some merchandise tents. This festival was particularly annoying. It was completely unclear from the outset where we were supposed to go to get our race kit or where we were supposed to line up to start. Perhaps unsurprisingly the festival area was already so muddy when we arrived at 10:30 that we were in ankle deep mud – although it was amusing seeing spectators traipse through the mud! Less amusing was post-race, where there was absolutely zero signage pointing to the showers. At least at Stampede these were obvious, and easy to access.
I’m never one for pre-race antics- I very much dislike the DJ yelling over blaring music telling us all to stretch, to give your neighbour a shoulder massage, and trying to keep us excited for the 15 minutes we’re required to marshal before the race. Major fun runs do it, Stadium Stomp does it, and it seems that all obstacles races do it. To compare Stampede and Spartan, at Stampede these pre-race antics were received reasonably well by the crowd. The voice booming down the mic made some jokes, spoke to people about costumes, and overall the crowd seemed to be smiley and super pumped. Spartan was somewhat different. I don’t know if it was a rain that was starting to drizzle on us, or the fact that one of the hardest obstacles on the course was sitting right next to us with people failing to complete it left, right and centre, but the crowd was considerably more demure. There were some genuinely scared faces in that crowd.
In my experience at fun runs/obstacle races/stair climb events etc, once the siren goes the crowd normally sprints. You can’t help but run along, for the first hundred metres at least, before a bottle neck begins. Not here. We walked, as a group, to the first obstacle where we all politely helped each other under a net without much ado at all. Which brings me to the obstacles…
Spartan’s obstacles genuinely ranged from 1 (so easy. So so easy) to 10 (could not even attempt) on my scale. They also ranged from 1 (hated it) to 10 (loved it) in terms of engagement and enjoyment for me. I’ve really got no idea how many obstacles, or indeed how many of the obstacles I encountered were official or just part of the terrain (Spartan does not publish race maps or obstacle lists), so I’ll list some below and rate them on my Difficulty and Enjoyment scales. In no particular order:
- Atlas Carry
Carry a dead ball around a (seemingly very short) circuit. Men 50 kg, women 35kg. Difficulty: 6 (35kg is slippery when you’re covered in mud), Enjoyment: 9
- Barbed Wire Crawl
Travel approx. 40 metres in mud under barbed wire. Commando crawling and rolling seemed to be the two methods of choice. I chose rolling, and it worked incredibly well. I got speed up, it was sustainable, and I didn’t tear any clothing. Difficulty: 4 Enjoyment: 8
- Fire Jump
Literally jump over a fire. This is a very small obstacle, and there’s not much to it besides a photo op. Difficulty: 1 Enjoyment: 2
- Cargo net crawl
Cargo net is layed out on the ground – in this obstacle, you crawl approx. 10 metres under the net. Difficulty: 2 Enjoyment: 5 (it was an easy first win)
- Hercules Hoist
Pull a kettlebell attached to a rope up a pully (maybe 5 metres up?) then lower it slowly. Men – 35 kg, Women – 20 kg. I feel like my pully was a bit caught up for this one – this made it simultaneously easier and harder. Either way, lots of fun. Difficulty: 7 Enjoyment: 9
- Over Under Through
A series of walls probably 1.5 – 1.7 metres tall. Climb over one, under one, and through the third. Lots of satisfaction in completing this one after watching plenty need help in getting over and through! Difficulty: 7 Enjoyment: 9
- Rope Climb
Climb a rope and ring a bell at the top. Probably 5 metres tall? I really wanted to ace this. I’ve never climbed a rope before, but I studied the technique, and I really hoped that I’d miraculously smash it. I definitely didn’t!! That’s ok. One to actually practice for next time. (note: Stampede had an unanchored rope ladder alternative for this, which was great for those of us who genuinely have nowhere to practice climing a rope) Difficulty: 10 Enjoyment: 1
- Tractor Pull
Drag a lump of concrete attached to a rope around a course. The concrete was, seriously, way too light. This was easy. However I did hear people complaining about how hard it was on their grip at the end, so you never know! Difficulty: 3 Enjoyment: 5
- Deadball throw
Throw a deadball over a 3 metre (?) wall. 12 kg for the girls, 20 (?) for the guys. This took me two shots, but it shouldn’t have! Difficulty: 5 Enjoyment: 8
- Incline Wall
The wall is on a 45 degree angle, like an A frame, with ropes hanging down it. Everyone’s muddy, so the surface is super slippery. Your job is to climb the wall. I’ve done this one before and succeeded, at Stampede, but this time is wasn’t happening for me. Twice I got to the top, twice I let go of the rope and grabbed the top of the frame, and twice I couldn’t get the foot grip to get myself up and over. So twice, I slid down the wall on my belly. I left this one with tears in my eyes, and without the mental energy to go back and try for a third time. Difficulty: 7 Enjoyment: 2
- Dam Swim
The location for this Spartan, Lake Dewar Lodge, has a man made lake on site, which we had to cross three times. Getting in the water that first time was hard, but the really hard bit came when your chest hit the water. My breath left me completely, and with a couple of slow movers in front of me I really struggled. None the less, it was a great mental challenge having to just push through. After all, you can’t just stop doing the obstacle when you’re half way through a lake! Difficult: 9.5 Enjoyment: 4
- Monkey Bars
It’s literally a series of (very wide grip) monkey bars, perhaps 25 of them, with some rings at the end. Cross them all and ring a bell to complete. Hanging is not a strength of mine, so set myself the goal of getting across five of the bars and made it. It’s something to work on next time, but I was please with it. Difficulty: 9 Enjoyment: 6
- Wall Jump
Approach the 4(ish) metre wall. Get over the wall. Simple. J and I approached the wall apprehensively, realising that our team of two was not enough to get over this wall. We ended up buddying up with two others, and completed it easily. I got a boost up, stood on the side support (pretty sure that’s not allowed), and boosted myself over. I then hung out up the top and pulled someone else up, and returned to the original side to boost the final person over. Difficulty: 5 Enjoyment: 9
- Wall Traverse
This is the penultimate obstacle, and it seems to be a Spartan staple. There’s a wall, maybe 8 metres long and 3 metres tall, with small bits of 2×4 wood across it like a rock climbing wall. I genuinely thought I’d have no chance on this, but I gave it a shot at surprised myself. I actually made it to the literal halfway point and was feeling like I was doing really well, when I got distracted. The lapse in concentration meant that I was off that wall in an instant, and by that stage I just had no mental energy to go back and give it another shot. Difficulty: 8 Enjoyment: 8
- Final challenge
I have no idea what this was called. Effectively, you had to climb up a negatively inclined wooden wall with bits on 4×2 on it, up the side of two stacked shipping containers, then cross a stretch of cargo net and climb down cargo net on the other side. This obstacle was incredibly disappointing – as the final obstacle, literally metres from the end, it was what I would consider to be the second hardest obstacle on the course. It was clear that maybe 30% of participants were actually succeeding, while the rest were trying and failing, and walking around it to the finish line. It left a pretty bitter taste in the mouth at the end of the race. Difficulty: 9 Enjoyment: 0
Despite the major let-down of the final obstacle, the finishing line was well manned. Unlike other events I’ve done where people are handing out medals still in their plastic bags from boxes, here there were people waiting to hang them around our necks. And I should say, these medals are massive. There’s a large Melbourne 2015 Sprint medal, plus the ‘pie piece’ that fits into the trifecta medal if you complete all three distances. Beyond the medals were people handing out water, coconut water and tshirts. I’m yet to try my tshirt on, but J reckons they’re nice to wear.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the disappointing thing post-race was the lack of signage to the showers. We ran past them several times on the course, but for some reason we just couldn’t find them again when we needed them. We ended up heading to the car, towelling down and getting changed, despite still being covered in mud. Most cars around us had people doing the same thing.
Here’s the thing. This race broke me a little bit. I attempted every single obstacle except for one, and I reckon I completed about two thirds of them. But it was the ones that I failed that really got to me. I knew going into this that there’d be things I couldn’t do, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to race it while sick. It meant that I didn’t go back and have a third go after failing obstacles a couple of times. It meant that when I walked away from those obstacles, I couldn’t laugh it off. It upset me, and it affected my performance, and it affected how I felt about the event.
I walked away from the Spartan Sprint glad that I’d done it, but certain that I wouldn’t do it again. But then, as the days have passed, I’ve decided I want to give it another shot and do it better. I want to train for the obstacles I couldn’t do, so that next time I can give them a better shot. In December, Spartan is holding a Stadium Sprint in Geelong. Although it’s a similar distance, the emphasis really seems to be on obstacles rather than running (not that there was heaps of that on Saturday). So anyway, I think I’m going to give it a shot. If nothing else, just to do a Spartan while (hopefully!) not sick, but with any luck I’ll be able to up the training and hit it harder.