You Think You Want To Do A Spartan Race? (Oh look. I left my balls at home.)
By tinaplant on July 18, 2012
"YOU MAY DIE OR BE CATASTROPHICALLY INJURED." See, I was warned...
My fingers are reluctantly tapping the keyboard to write this race report. I decided it would be fair to wait at least 24 hours from our start time to try and assess and process the entire Spartan Sprint experience and attempt to pound it into words that fellow humans can comprehend. Throughout this "race" my emotions were on an extreme roller coaster. Don't mistake that for dramatic hysteria. (Un)Fortunately, my upbringing trained me very early on to be very comfortable with behaving as though all is right in the world even when it is shaken and turned upside down. I realized that this experience directly reunited me with my "inner child" (ugh) as the only thing that I could compare my mental and emotional state to was my helpless, uncertain, fearful existence as a little kid living in an unpredictable, unsafe environment. How crazy is it that a race that I willingly signed up for brought flashbacks to childhood trauma?
Just to prove that I am not a complete wuss vying for a cyber pity party, let me spew out some of my bad-ass credentials. I have run four marathons in one year. (that's 26.2 miles for those of you who assume any "race" is a marathon) I have tattoos. I have birthed three children without pain medication. The first one was over ten pounds. The second followed a home labor that was nearly 36 hours. (and was nearly delivered in the front passenger seat of a car) The third was induced. Women who have had induced labors know that induction can cause off-the-chart contractions and pain that is indescribable. And as I implied in the previous paragraph, I have witnessed pretty scary, violent stuff as a child (that's for another blog) so needless to say, my durable, strong, shatter-resistant spine is intact.
Without boring you with back ground details, I should emphasize that I did not know I signed up for 5 miles of unsteady ground. The site advertised a challenging course that was to be about 5k. And based on my finish time (unofficially 3.5 hours) I suspect that it was more than five miles- I had a team of seven reasonably fit individuals- four of whom stayed with me. In fact, I had boasted that we had four marathoners, two half marathoners, and a triathlete on our team on a few occasions...
I have a hard time believing our efforts yielded a 42 minute-per-mile pace. And while I knew that the Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint was to take place at a ski resort, I never imagined that I would be traversing such dangerously steep slopes in both directions. (up and down) I was not prepared for the loose rocks, the dry crumbling dirt, and the narrow paths that sloped so dramatically downward that looking at the bottom made us queasy. I expected brutal uphill climbs but I did not expect slippery terrain that made you have to choose your greater fear: tumbling down this steep mountain or twisting/spraining/breaking your ankle by moving too quickly.
Through the beginning of the race, one of my teammates kept saying he'd rather run a marathon. This was during our first of very very many ascents. I emphatically disagreed- I was fine with the hill climb... just fine. And five miles with obstacles wouldn't POSSIBLY require half of the mental strength required to willingly run for 26.2 miles... right?
Right... because for me it required 5 times more.
I am pretty sure I spent this entire race rattled by anxiety. I have a pretty impressive fear of narrow heights and downward uncontrolled motion. (Disclaimer: I do not blame the race director/committee/management/etc for any of MY PERSONAL issues- only whiny wimpy people do such things. I am aware that I am responsible for my own choices and actions and that no one forced me to sign up for, start, continue through, or finish this race but myself...) I expected to only have one or the other of these fears come at me here and again on this course- I did not expect to constantly be braced for major downhill slopes on foot where neither stopping nor continuing felt safe. Who could have guessed that this was no race at all- this was a long long trudge through dangerous terrain with a bunch of ego boosting and/or humbling obstacles thrown in just to shake things up.
You probably expect me to agonize over the obstacles. While they were challenging (rope climb, wall climbs, sand bags uphill and downhill, javelin/spear throw) these challenges were anticipated. While some were crazy and sadistic (cinder block on a chain through water and uphill, barbed wire crawl/roll, bucket of rocks up hill and down hill) they were expected. And yes, the height of some of those walls and nets we climbed kind of freaked me out. If the obstacles were the most difficult part of this race, I would not have needed cocktails at 11 am the very next day in order to cope with what I had just done to myself. (Yeah I know. But it's not every day that I do a Spartan Race, either, so hush...)
Mojito and Old Fashioned- our cocktails before breakfast on Sunday morning.
The more time we spent on this course, the more my very literal and logical mind had trouble piecing together an answer for a simple question: why? Why would you enjoy this race? I mean, what is the appeal to ascending and descending hills that are steeper than roof tops? What purpose does it serve all these participants to know that they successfully traversed dangerously unsteady terrain without spraining an ankle or breaking something? What does this prove to the average participant? Are they proud? Do they feel like they've increased or exercised their mental toughness? This aspect of the race did NOTHING for me. All it did was make me feel irresponsible and at risk. All it did was make me aware of and annoyed with the fact that I willingly put myself in the path of danger and that the only way to escape that path was to keep moving on it. It was a violation of my comfort zone and an intense exercise of mental strength. I suppose quitting was a viable option, but I knew I was physically capable of finishing and I had recruited six other people to join my team. As I said before, I expected hills. I do not mind hills. I do not mind having my ass handed to me by lots and lots of hills. The dangerous downhill narrow rocky paths that made me question my intentions. Why would I put myself at this much risk? What am I proving? If I prove that I can spend hours brimming with anxiety, uhm, how on earth will that enhance my life? If I want heaping piles of fear and doubt and concern in my brain, I can find safer, more productive ways to do that. I can think about the state of the world and how it will impact my sons' futures. I can mull over big mistakes I made and try and figure out precisely how and where I went wrong. I don't need to risk BOTH my physical and mental health, do I?
I know that the views from the top of this mountain must have been stellar. I know there might have been a moment at the top when I could have looked down and been impressed with my accomplishment. My husband was with me the entire time- perhaps we could have shared some memorable tender moment??? Well, I missed all of that because the of the unshakable fear of the inevitable descent down that mountain. Looking up at that mountain when we were through just brought relief. I was relieved that it was all over and that there were no more surprises. I was relieved that I was off of that terrain.
I am not all that bitter- I will reel back a bit and describe some of the great aspects of this race. I watched my teammates shock THEMSELVES by conquering obstacles. There were kind-hearted strangers on the course who offered help without reluctance. One obstacle required us to carry sandbags (25lbs. for women and 40lbs. for men) down a steep hill and back up again and every single person on that hill gladly went around any participant who was kneeling or seated while trying to regain their strength. No one's ego was so large that it made them forget to be genuinely concerned for the well being of everyone that surrounded them. I was hoisted and caught by friends and strangers all day long. I refused to truly suffer or feel like a victim of this arduous torture- this is nothing compared to what others suffer daily without a choice. Whenever my emotions started to fold to the anxiety, I reminded myself about how blessed I am to be able to CHOOSE this form of torture. I have room in my life to aspire to health and fitness. I have funds to support it. I have people who support and encourage me. There is no room for a pity party on this double black diamond mountain, darnit.
This obstacle felt like a spa treatment compared to navigating the downhill portions of the race...
Am I glad I did this race? I still don't know how to answer that. I am glad for the new found (even greater than before) appreciation and awe I have for my friends. I am glad that my husband and I did this together- that he finished alongside me. I am glad that this gave me a closer glimpse of human kindness. You don't see this type of unity in a marathon or a road race of any distance. I did not feel any sense of accomplishment upon crossing the finish, however. I was already confident in my ability to slowly and carefully traverse unsteady terrain. I did not need to spend 3.5 hours on a mountain to challenge my skills in slow, careful movement and I certainly did not need to pay id="mce_marker"00 on such challenge. But it's done.
My children should thank each one of these men for helping to make sure their mom did not come home in a million pieces.. (note: there is an advantage to having no hair when mud and murky water is involved)
We showered together, (and with strangers out doors) claimed our free beer, and toasted our survival.
Another disclaimer: This is merely my own personal perspective of a Spartan Race based on my own priorities, fitness goals, and emotional baggage. If this type of event is YOUR type of event, I have great respect for that and would like to be clear that in writing this race review, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from their efforts or passion for this type of race. I thought this race was well organized. The volunteers were helpful and everything seemed well put together. I chose to participate in spite of my issues, and therefore have no qualms or complaints about the event itself. I now know that races like this are more like a careful hike in the woods for me. And I would rather do that at my leisure for free. Spartan Race typically has amazing discounts on their races- right now the Pennsylvania Spartan Sprint (or hike, if you are someone like me) is 50% off it's regular early registration price. So if you are interested in one, know that you will find yourself a good deal. I believe ANYONE can complete this race. If you are sitting on your couch watching reality TV and longing for something to rattle you out of your skin and make you get the heck over your self, I would suggest signing up.
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