I had no intentions of running a Spartan Race but then we had Joe De Senna on the podcast in July he threw down some free race entries and the gauntlet was passed!
Spartan Beast Recap
My first Spartan race was the Super in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, and after the soreness subsided, I decided to go for a Spartan Trifecta.
To earn a Spartan Trifecta you must complete each distance -Sprint, Super, and Beast in one calendar year. Big thanks to Joe and the team people for making this possible! Everyone should try a Spartan race at least once.
South Carolina Spartan Beast
A Spartan Beast is 12-13 miles with about 37 Obstacles. Running is the easy part.
I drove about 8 hours down to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and checked into my hotel -immediately seeing people covered in dust and mud. At this point I didn’t know anything about the course so I tried to gage how hard it was by how dirty people looked.
The next day I drove about 5 miles to the University of South Carolina Spartanburg Campus where the race was held. For being in town there seemed to be a plenty of wooded acres to run through. In that part of the country there are gnarly thorny vines that grow along the ground.
I was in the last open heat of the day (since I love late starts). You get into the starting area by climbing over a 4 foot wall. If you can’t scale this wall then you’re going to have trouble with the rest of the course!
They always have a pre-race speech to get you fired up.
“Will you chase glory on this day? Who am I?”
“I AM A SPARTAN!”
Interestingly I saw/heard the same staff announcer at each race.
In the first couple miles we had a wall or two to climb over, (nothing too bad) and some very deep mud -which I managed to mostly avoid (unlike a fellow racer who was stuck waist deep).Then came the water plunge. There were huge trenches full of muddy water and the last trench involved dunking under a wall.
The dirt in South Carolina is red clay (some people call it gumbo). When I posted the below photo on Facebook my own parents literally didn’t recognize me.
After climbing out of the water we had to army crawl under barbed wire (through mud) then rope climb over a slanted wall. Next came the spear throw which I failed. 30 burpees.
The rest of the race involved running 10 more miles through the woods -trying to deal with rocks in my shoes, crossing the same creek over and over, scrambling up its muddy banks, and all the obstacles one comes to expect at a Spartan race.
In no particular order here are some of the obstacles I recall:
- Hercules Hoist
- Log carry
- Bucket carry
- Sand bag carry
- Rope climb
- Olympus Wall
- Atlas carry
- 5 and 7 foot walls
- A-frame cargo net
- Barbed wire cral
- Slanted wall rope climb
- Monkey bars
- Multi rings
- Tyrollean Traverse
I managed to pass every obstacle except for the Spear Throw and the Twister. The Spear Throw I’ve now failed at 3 separate races.
I passed the Twister in my other races but this time it was especially slippery and everyone was failing. I had plenty of time to watch people try it while I performed my 30 burpees. 100% of the people failed.
One great thing about a Spartan race is the sense of camaraderie you gain with your fellow racers. We were all in this together. At one point I ran past some ladies (probably 10-20 years older than me) and their leader said,
“Alright ladies let’s catch up to his ass. Follow that ass! Follow that ass!”
There is not much there to see.
When you jump over the burning logs they give you a medal, water, banana and Cliff Bar. You also have a ticket for a beer. I finished in 3:20:39 (101st out of 645).
The course did not include any gnarly hills so I found it easier than the Pennsylvania Super. The course was well marked and the weather was perfect. They had plenty of water stops but not many outhouses so take care of your business before race start. The staff and volunteers did a great job keeping things moving.
It feels great to fight through to the finish of a Spartan Race!
Earning My Spartan Trifecta
I have now done three Spartan races in one calendar year. Here my races and times:
- Spartan Super in Palmerton, PA, 7/8/17 4:17:44
- Spartan Sprint in Breckenridge, CO, 8/27/17 1:40:54
- Spartan Beast in Spartanburg, SC 11/5/17 3:20:39
Most Challenging Moments
Every race presented unique challenges. Let me share what I found to be the hardest part of each race..
South Carolina BeastI was cleaning mud out of my ears for days[/caption]Going through the mud at mile 2 and running like that the rest of the day was the hardest part.
Sometimes they are merciful and make you go through the water near the end of the race. Not here!
I had grit in my socks for 10 miles.
Colorado SprintThis race was only 4 miles but the high elevation and thin air in Breckenridge slowed down my running. I remember walking all the uphill sections.
However, the worst part was wading through waist deep freezing, nut-shrinking, feet throbbing cold water. This for me was the hardest obstacle of all my Spartan races.
I ran the CO Sprint with Aubrey Kincaid who is one of my oldest friends. If you have chance to race with a friend do it. You can team up to get through obstacles if needed. And, the race allows you to do part of your friends burpees for him. At least . . . that’s what Aubrey told me. 😉
Pennsylvania SuperI’ve heard from other Spartan races that the Palmerton, PA, venue is one of the hardest courses. I’m glad this was my intro to Spartan racing because it made subsequent races seem easier.
In Palmerton we were either running up or down a ski slope for 8 miles. The sand bag carry and bucket carry are exponentially harder when a ski slope is added to the equation. It took me over 4 hours to go 8 miles. I’ve have never been so sore.
The Palmerton Super is a meat grinder of a race!
How my marathon fitness translated
As a marathoner I felt that my endurance held up well and I was able to run all the “run-able” sections of the course. Running was the easy part. I also found that my normal marathon fueling and hydrating strategy worked for these races. Overall, I still find running a marathon to be harder than a Spartan Beast.
If you are thinking about doing a Spartan Race (and I think you should) here is what you should work on fitness-wise. Assuming that you are a runner already here are a few things that will make a big difference.
- Practice your rope climb technique, you can’t rely on arm strength alone! I used the J wrap technique which works like a charm.
- Do lots of pull ups and get comfortable dead hanging on monkey bars.
- Anything that will improve your grip strength.
- Trail running. Spartan races are very technical.
- Get some knobby trail shoes.
- Get technical shorts with a liner, you don’t want to be running around in cotton.
- Get some fingerless gloves.
- Carry water and fuel. I used a Nathan SpeedDraw Plus Flask which comes with a pocket.
- If you wear glasses like me you might want to bring a glasses clearer wipe.
What I’ve Learned
There was a time when running scared me. Then I became a runner. There was a time when running a half marathon scared me. Then I ran a half marathon but running a full marathon was unthinkable. At this present time I’ve done 14 marathons.
I have enjoyed pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. The things that are outside of my comfort zone at a Spartan race -like plunging into cold water – are things I can gradually build up an immunity to.
Joe De Sena talks about obstacle immunity in life -when you are so accustomed to ‘doing the hard thing’ that you don’t trifle over small things. It’s ok to take the stairs, run on a cold day, endure a terrible night’s sleep, or even do mind numbing work on your computer.
What are the things that I’ve allowed myself to call “hard”?
Is anything in my life really “hard” in comparison to what others are enduring around the world?
The beautiful thing about running marathons, Spartans, and other endurance challenges is that you have a new appreciation for how easy most of our day-to-day lives are. #WeDontHaveItHard