Mid-Atlantic Spartan Race: Why Did I Sign Up for This Punishment?


In following along similar lines of my last post, one of my goals with my exercise routine is to shake things up a bit. You can run, go to the gym, lift, swim, whatever as often as you want, but sometimes you need to mix it up. Sometimes, you need an Elliptical Bike. Sometimes, you need to participate in an "adventure" run.

This past weekend, I chose to participate in the Spartan Race with three friends. The gist was simple: it's a 5k with obstacles on it. Fashioning myself as in reasonably good shape and a burgeoning runner, I didn't think anything of this. Last summer, I participated in the Run A Muck race, a 5k trail run with some mud and obstacles thrown in. Two members of my team competed in the Warrior Dash about a month ago - a 5k with some obstacles thrown in. It's 3.1 miles, how intense can it be?

The answer: very intense.

This race was absolutely brutal. It crushed me physically, emotionally, and it broke my will. As I said, I fashion myself to be in decent shape. I run about six to eight miles five times per week. I posted a respectable (at least I thought so) 78 minute time in a 10-mile race a few months ago. I work out most days of the week and push myself fairly hard. But in no way was I prepared for what the Spartan Race would throw at me.

I was so miserably wrong it wasn't even funny. The pre-race stipulation was that you didn't know any of the obstacles in advance; just that it was a 5k race with 18 obstacles. You just had to do it. But the organization that puts this on says that 99.9 percent of people finish this run, so it can't be too bad, right? Wrong.

We start with a run into the forest, followed by the first obstacle, jumping over fences about five feet high, then under another barricade, then through a hanging tire. We went through probably three iterations of this cycle, then onto another short dash before reaching the second set of obstacles, which was a trail with toppled trees and trunks obstructing the path. You had to climb, jump or vault over these fallen trees, probably about 30 in total. Then, another short run.

Obstacle three was a cargo net. No serious problems there. Dash to the next obstacle (number 4), where participants had to drag a cinder-block attached to a rope for about 50 feet. Though tiring, it wasn't the worst you could imagine. About one-quarter of the way there, and we were probably only about eight minutes into the race.

Then we approached the 400 foot (yes, 400 foot) barbed wire field. You had to army-crawl under the barbed wire - through disgusting, smelly mud, no less - for 400 feet. Have you ever imagined army-crawling across a full football field, then another 100 feet? Imagine it being face-down in what may have been manure with barbed wire hanging about 18 inches above your head. This was hell on earth. This obstacle alone may have taken 10 to 15 minutes. When you finished, you were covered - quite literally - head to toe in mud, soaked in sweat and exhausted.

And yet, there are 13 more obstacles to go. Next up was a set of monkey bars. Fall off, and you were required to do 30 "burpees". Monkey bars may not seem so bad, but when your hands are covered in mud and you are sweating profusely? Burpees were my fate. Then onto obstacle number seven: filling an industrial-sized bucket to the brim with gravel and carrying it up a hill, roughly 100 feet. As if your muscles weren't burning enough.

Then off to another short run, hopping over five fences along the way. Balance beams were next, with a penalty of another 30 burpees for anyone who lacks balance - including myself. At this point, complete exhaustion has taken over and I am contemplating quitting. Urged on by a fellow competitor, I soldier on through another set of log obstacles, this time walking between them rather than running. I have to stop several times for fear of ... well, whatever happens when you're so tired that your body just quits on you. That or just plain-old regurgitation.

Finally, a participant reaches some potentially surmountable obstacles - firing a paintball at a target (but 30 burpees for a miss - and I missed), lifting a cinder block 15 feet in the air via a pulley system, and another army-style crawl through a chute while sadists fire paintballs at you. At this point, my body was all but shutting down on me. It was 90 degrees, I was dehydrated, my muscles ached and "exhausted" would have been the understatement of the century.

But you have to continue. You can't be that .1 percent that doesn't finish, right? A short run, then over a 20-foot high cargo net. Round the corner, and you see the finish line with four obstacles to go. The first, a javelin throw, with the punishment being 30 burpees. (Thankfully, my javelin stuck in the hay bail, but I was of the 20 percent or so who succeeded at this task, according to the guides).

Then came the six-foot, eight-foot and ten-foot high walls to jump over. Six feet wasn't impossible. Eight feet plus extreme fatigue proved too much for my frame. The ten-foot wall wasn't even approached. My penance? 30 more burpees. Then finally, participants (masochists?) had to climb a 15-foot high pyramid with the assistance of a rope ... except that the entire structure (and the ropes) were soaked in laundry detergent to make them unfathomably slippery. Five tries and five hard falls later, it was more burpees for me.

And just for fun, before finishing the race, you had to run through two "gladiators" wielding pugile sticks trying to stop you from reaching the finish line.

Final time: 54 minutes. And collapsing after crossing the finish.

As I said to the guides along the way, this was the single most difficult thing I have ever participated in. I would rather run a marathon than do that again. And I demanded to know what kind of sicko would dream this up. But 15 minutes after completion (and attempting to replenish both fluids and lost dignity), I knew I had completed something. No style points. No gracefulness. Certainly no speed. But it was over.

And as for that 99.9 percent completion rate? Well, not quite - only 81 percent of the 2200 challengers completed the course.