Review: Spartan Race (Sprint – 7km), Melbourne 2015

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The ‘festival’

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.

Pre-Race

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…

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

Post-Race

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.

The Verdict
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.

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The Challenge is over… and a new countdown!!

Well, my 12 weeks challenge is officially over, as of today. I’ll be weighing myself tonight to find out how I’ve done, although I suspect my final number may not reflect the true amount of change that’s taken place. I know I’ve lost more fat than the scales will indicate, because I know I’ve gained a whole heap of muscle and strength over the past few weeks. Despite that, I think my total weightloss for the 12 weeks will be somewhere around the 6 kg mark which I’m really happy with. I had great weeks and I had weeks where I didn’t do so well, but overall I feel like I’ve lost weight at a safe and sustainable pace, in a safe and sustainable way.

My real challenge now is keeping focused when it comes to eating. I’ve been slipping a bit recently, and letting any old excuse do. That can’t keep happening- I know I’ve changed some habits, but I’ve got some more to go, and I don’t want to let the hard work be undone. This is permanent.

I’ll update with the final numbers in a couple of days but in the mean time I’m about to remove the Challenge countdown and put up a new one, counting down the days until The Stampede. I’m 6 weeks out, and I’ve signed up to do the 10km event (eep!!). I think the thing I need to work on the most right now is my running (blegh), but 6 weeks is enough time to get that up a bit. I’ve found the Stampede’s recommended pre-training, so I’ll start doing that once a week when I can. There’s a few things I’ll need to alter in there, but I always knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it all. The great thing is that I feel like I have that capability and know-how (and confidence!) to alter a training program myself now, so I can get out there and just do it.

Progress and goals

Today marks Day 3 of Week 8 of the Challenge. Week 8- where have those last two months gone?! In some ways it feels like I’ve been doing this forever, and in other ways it feels like it’s been a very very short time.

As of Monday (two days ago) I have lost 5.5 kg since the challenge started, which I’m pretty chuffed about!! I do look back and realise that I’d lost four of those kilos in the first four weeks, but then again, I did get sick in there which really threw me off. I’ve had a last 7 days in terms of weigh loss and exercise- my food’s been a little bit out, with some fish and chips and cake making its way in, but exercise seems to have well and truly made up for that.

Over the weekend I did a 16km walk- not the longest I’ve ever done, but certainly getting up there. I was hurting by about the 7 km mark, and it definitely got worse as the k’s went on, but my recovery was a lot better than I’d anticipated. Sunday I was stiff but not ridiculously sore, and by Monday I was fine. I’d worried that the sore muscles would carry over for longer and I’d be left with a sub-par performance during PT sessions later in the week, but it just didn’t happen.

Today I joined a fitness group at work for the first time. I’ve been hearing about it and receiving the calendar invites for a while, but I just hadn’t got around to going. It’s free and run by a colleague who figures that if she’s going to be working out in her lunch time she may as well be running a bit of a group session for her co-workers. I was definitely apprehensive about it heading in- exercising in front of people I know is always a stress point for me, as is putting myself into new situations where I will need to push myself physically without really knowing what I’ll have to do and if I’ll be up for it.

I was up for it. We did running warm-ups, and I was fine (albeit my usual slow plodding self). We did pyramids, doing one burpie then running, then two burpires then running etc, and I was fine. We did the same with push-ups and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was doing correct pushups, all the way to the ground, and I didn’t feel like the weakest person in the group (I was on knees, but that’s ok. I know I’m working up to full ones, and they’ll come soon). We did a range of body-weight exercises tabata-style, doing 45 second exercises then breaking for 15 seconds. I could do all of the exercises, I knew how to modify them so I could do them safely for my shoulders, and I didn’t slack off and stop before the end of the reps.

I have come a loooooooong way in the last 12 months with my fitness. That I could do today’s class and feel good (maybe even great?) about it is proof of that. Now that I’m eating right and putting in the extra hours exercising each week, I’m starting to see results in my body rather than just feel them. While I still feel that I’m not losing much weight off my hips, I know my arms are slimming and so is my face. I can see that . And I do that know despite not being able to see it on my hips it is slowly happening, because my clothes are fitting better.

In today’s workout my colleague talked about setting fitness goals. I have a couple. I’m a little hesitant to put timelines on them, but I have a rough idea in my head. Here’s the three that are currently at the top of my mind:

  • I’ve lost 5.5kg. I want to lose 7 (ish) more to hit the weight that my PT and I discussed as being a good healthy weight for me
  • I want to do full push-ups with legs completely extended (no knees)
  • I want to dead-lift 60 kg (currently sitting somewhere around 45 I think?)

Dadspiration

I had a conversation today with my dad. While we were chatting the topic rolled around to diet and exercise, as it so often does. I’ve definitely inherited (learned?) some of his habits and attitudes when it comes to eating and exercise, both good and bad, so it’s very easy to relate to the stories he tells me and to talk to him about the challenges I face.

Today we were talking about celebrating the small wins. We talked about changing tastebuds- he told me he had a lunchtime win the other day, bypassing fast food for a bowl of homemade soup, and I told him about my win at work today.

I didn’t think it was worth blogging about, but talking to him reminded me that that’s exactly  why I set this blog up- to celebrate the small wins, as well as talking through the tough bits.

Today I was at a work function with a fully catered morning tea featuring delicious looking sandwiches, amazing smelling pies and sausage rolls and pies, and an assortment of sweet stuff. Normally it would be the pies that would get me, followed by the sweet stuff (I have serious FOMO when it comes to food- gotta get to the sweet stuff before it runs out!) closely followed by the sandwiches.

Today I had a coffee, then after half an hour of smelling the food (it was lunchtime!) I had one small quarter sandwich because I was starving.

Yes, I had a small sandwich made of wheat bread when I’m trying to avoid it, but I also chose (chose!) not to eat any of the pies or sweet stuff- and I didn’t got back for another sandwich either. I let that one sandwich that I ate ‘go down’, realised that it was enough to get me through to my pre-prepared lunch waiting at my desk, and left it at that.

That’s a win.

Measuring Success

Text: it takes four weeks for you to see your body changing. It takes 8 weeks for friends and family, and it takes 12 weeks for the rest of the world. Keep going.So, I’m more than half way through week four of the challenge. The image I’ve posted is one that’s been floating around Pinterest and Facebook for years, and I’m not entirely sure of how true it is, but it’s something that’s stuck with me. Given that four weeks is nearly up, I’ve started to reflect on my own change. Is it really there? Am I imagining it? What changes am I actually noticing?

Over the past week I’ve started to consider how I’m actually measuring success in relation to this challenge. At the start of the challenge I weighed myself and had a (very confronting!) photo taken of me, but I didn’t take my measurements. Perhaps I should have, because I suspect that’s where I’m going to see the biggest change given that I’m continuing to build muscle. This morning J took a second photo of me- a ‘week 4 progress shot’ (it was required of me by the Challenge organisers). I don’t think a random person would see the differences between the two photos, but I did.

So, having had the photo taken and done a bit of self reflection, here’s how I know I’m succeeding at the four-week mark:

  • I have lost approximately 4 kg
  • My jeans are feeling looser
  • I have gone down three belt notches at my waist
  • My friends commented on how tiny (ha!) my waist is getting over the weekend
  • I can no longer feel the skin/fat folds on my back rubbing against other skin- the folds are shrinking
  • The bulge on my hips is no longer an easy handful- it’s shrunk
  • Looking at the photo, while my shape hasn’t changed much at all my skin’ s looking different. A little less ‘flubby’ on my stomach and legs perhaps?

And of course this challenge is not all about losing weight for me- it’s about changing habits too. I’ve been successful in that so far- but I’m definitely still in the stage where I have to work hard to continue the behaviours I want to set as new habits, and I still have to fight hard against the old habits. Here’s some recent successes I’ve had in terms of all of that:

  • I haven’t had refined sugar since I started. The closest I’ve had has been honey and fruit
  • I’ve had practically no wheat. There’s been a couple of bowls of minestrone that’s had a spoonful of pasta in it, but that’s it. Wheat’s gone (for now at least)
  • I’ve maintained a healthy relationship with starchy vegetables- if someone else has cooked me something with potato/sweet potato etc I’ve not felt bad about eating it, but at the same time I’ve not actively cooked it for myself
  • I didn’t eat any cheese in a social situation filled with cheese (cheese, of course, being my favourite food. It’s not gone forever- just for now)
  • Having said that- I’ve also maintained a healthy relationship with cheese. If a salad comes with some fetta or goats cheese, well heck, I’d better eat it!!
  • I’ve turned down delicious looking cakes and slices at an afternoon tea- because I knew they weren’t good for me, and I was still full from lunch!
  • I’ve made the right choice when it comes to quick lunch on-the-go. Where I would have had McDonalds in the past, in the last week I’ve had two in-car lunches consisting of cut up fruit, veg, a little bit of cheese and one occasion a bag of shredded chicken from the local deli

So, I’ve got a long way to go. there’s 8 weeks left in the challenge, and it doesn’t stop once I get to that point. The real goal here continues to be the squashing of some bad habits and the introduction of some new habits, and I think that it’s going to take some work once I finish this challenge to maintain them. But that’s a hurdle for another day- for now I continue to focus on exercising at least four times a week, and as much as possible eating food made from fresh meat, veg and fruit. Baby steps.

What’s that countdown?

If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll have seen that I’ve been counting down to something. Well the countdown has finished, that ‘something’ has arrived, and a new countdown has begun. Today marks the first day of a challenge I’m taking. It’s a 12 week challenge (but don’t worry, it’s not Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation. I’m not paying $19.99 a week for this one). The challenge is affiliated with a brand, but seeing as I have pretty much no intention of buying their products at this stage, I’m not going to name them here. That only seems fair. The challenge is free (because presumably they’ll make a heap of money from entrants purchasing their products along the way), but it does provide eating and exercise plans along the way.

could take their eating and exercise plans and follow them to the T, but for me that doesn’t seem particularly sustainable so I’m going to be adapting and changing things up as I go along. Having said that, I’m going to stick to the basic premise of the meal or workout as much as I can, just making changes to suit my tastes and preferences. To me, if they’re saying “eat 100 g chicken with steamed veggies”, I’m reading “eat 100 g of lean protein, with vegetables in some form”. So I might go a chicken stirfry.

So, why am I doing this? If you’ve read my first couple of blog posts you’ll know why I’m taking action, but why am I doing this particular challenge? The answer is this: I am a creature of habit, and I have some habits I need to kick. By committing to a 12 week program of eating and exercising (and committing to write about it on this blog), I’m giving myself a chance to change some habits for good. They say it take a minimum of 21 – 66 days to begin to form a habit, so I’m giving myself 84. 84 days of great eating, and as much exercise as I can.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, food’s my big problem- so food is my focus. I already do three sessions a week at the gym with my PT (leg day, arm/back day, bit of everything day), so I’m going to make a concerted effort to add as many cardio sessions as I can per week. I’m not a huge fan of cardio machines in the gym, especially treadmills, so I’m going to mix it up a bit- probably a mix of rowing machine, cross trainer and the stair machine thingo that I’m not fond of at all, but which I know is good for me. So I already have the three-a-week habit when it comes to exercise- if I can increase that to a steady 5 days per week with a sixth thrown in there when I can, I’ll be really happy. Especially if that’s a habit that I can maintain post-challenge.

In terms of food, I need to go all-out. Lapsing is not an option for me. I’ve formed some terrible habits, and I really need to kick them. Honestly, if I can kick those habits and pick up just a few small new ones, I’d be happy (although I reckon I can do better than that). Habits that will be kicked in the next 12 weeks include:

  • The 3 pm chocolate bar at my desk;
  • The ‘because it’s easy’ focaccia from the cafe at work;
  • The “because I brought my own lunch and need something to do in my break” vanilla slice;
  • The constant defaulting to eating out at dinner time
  • The ‘inability’ to find time to purchase and prepare decent food
  • Food FOMO (aaaaaaaaalll of the food fomo)
  • Saying yes just because it’s there/offered to me (hello Mum’s fruitcake. I don’t even like fruitcake)

I think the biggest barrier I’m going to face over the next 12 weeks (gosh that sound shorter than 84 days, doesn’t it?!) is time and convenience. I’m a really busy person, and it’s so much easier to pop to the cafe downstairs and buy a focaccia than it is to buy and prep my lunch the night before. Same goes with dinners, and mid-afternoon snacks at work. If I can get a handle on that stuff, I think I’m going to be ok-ish. It’s not going to be a breeze, but I can handle it.

Has anyone else out there in blog land ever done something like this (what a silly question! Of course you have!). How did you find it? How did you keep a healthy balance between kicking the bad habits and forming the new ones?