After scaling a bunch of 6 and 7 foot walls, carrying 5 gallon bucket filled with pea gravel up a steep muddy hill, climbing 25 foot high rope ladders, crawling under barbed wire and swinging across a 20 foot long set of monkey rings, I trudged through ankle deep mud into waist deep water wondering why anyone would actually pay to do something like this….
I hadn’t paid to do it myself. I received a free entry into this past weekend’s Chicago Spartan Sprint thanks to a recent sponsorship deal that the race organizers signed with the company I work for. The offer for a free entry came just a few weeks before race day so I really didn’t have any time to train other than the standard running I had been doing already. I didn’t really think much about it though – I had heard that Spartan races were intense, but I had done a few mud runs before and didn’t think it could really be that much different.
It was very different.
“Extreme” is the best word I can use to describe the experience of running a Spartan Race. While some of the smaller mud runs are mainly about jumping over a few small obstacles, getting dirty and then drinking beer with your friends at a big post race party, a Spartan Race is an intense mixture of rough muddy terrain and the types of obstacles used to train advanced military personnel. The course is so tough that there’s actually a warning on the back of the race bibs stating that participants have a real chance of being killed or catastrophically injured… and it isn’t a tongue in cheek warning. People really have died and gotten seriously injured during past events.
After having to swim through a small pond of muddy water underneath a wall and then running through ankle deep mud so thick that some of the people around me were losing their shoes in it, I cursed the race organizers for making the course so hard just to fuck with people and swore I would never run another one of these. But then something funny happened. I finished a couple more obstacles (one involving pulling on a muddy rope to lift a huge bag of sand about 20 feet into the air and another involving throwing a big spear at a pile of hay bales), I ran through a clearing and saw that the finish line was plainly in sight. There were a couple more walls to climb and then a fire pit to jump over but I found myself crossing the finish line and thinking “Damn I am pretty badass for being able to do all that stuff”.
Having never done a Spartan Sprint before, I’m not sure if my finishing time was good or not. When I crossed the finish line, I looked around and noticed that a lot of the people who started when I did seemed to be finishing at the same time too so I figured I did at least average. And I was right – my overall finishing time was almost exactly in the middle on the results list. I finished the race covered in mud, scrapes and bruises and enjoyed one of the best post race beers of my life.
So now that I’m actually done, would I do another Spartan Race? Hell yeah! In fact, I might even do one of the longer distances next time (there are three Spartan Distances – a Sprint is 3-5 Miles with 20 obstacles, a Super is 8-10 miles with 25 obstacles, a Beast is 12-14 miles with 30 obstacles).
I know I need to increase the amount of strength training I’ve been doing so I can build up my upper body a little more for the obstacles, but truthfully, I should be doing that anyway. All of my race PRs at every race distance I’ve ever done came when I was doing about an hour of strength training 2-3 times per week in addition to running. Admittedly, I’ve been slacking in that area over the past couple years and it shows in my finishing times even in road races. So now I have some good motivation to get back into it.
I ended up with a pretty cool looking finisher’s medal too – I earned this one for sure.