My mid-life (OK mid-30s) fitness journey has taken me some places I never thought I’d be: completing The Broad Street Run, entering CrossFit Competitions, hiking backwards up a mountain. I’ve been crossing things off the Bucket List left and right.
So a Spartan Sprint seemed like a highly achievable goal. I’d done the Merrell Down and Dirty Obstacle Race which was a 40-minute cakewalk. The obstacles were things like stepping on some tires and crawling through the equivalent of my kids’ play tunnel.
Don’t get me wrong – I knew the Spartan would be harder. I knew I would be doing 30-burpee-penalties several times. I can’t throw a spear to a target or traverse Ninja-style rings. But it’s advertised as a three mile beginner’s course. The average sprint takes an hour and a half. No sweat.
Fast forward to the starting line where the announcer states, “by the way, this is like a 5 mile race and it’s pretty much a Super so good luck.”
Now, before I take you on this journey, let’s note that it is 11:45 a.m. and about 90 degrees. I am with my husband, Mike, who has one Tough Mudder under his belt, and our friend, Danielle, who has never done a mud run but is an avid Crossfitter.
We begin by sprinting up a hill with around a 70 degree incline. Halfway up the hill, every single person started walking. This was the beginning of a hike that would take us up 1700 feet. For perspective, the top of the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet. Also bare in mind that this is some rocky, unkept terrain that is not regularly hiked by humans.
From another reviewer, “Norm, the course designer, had full access to the terrain and would send runners through parts of the terrain that no skier or person had probably been on for years. We crossed more hiking trails than actually used them.”
Along the way we climbed over some pretty high cargo nets, where I was very pleased with myself for coming down without panicking (I generally don’t like to go down stairs without a railing). I hoist myself over some walls and have my husband push my ass over the higher walls. We make it to the top of the summit exhausted and incredibly thankful we listened to a friend who suggested we bring a hydration pack as there is no water for a good 1.5 miles – and we are only moving about one mile per hour. (I bought this cheap Teton Hydration Pack on Amazon and it was perfect).
Then the obstacles start to come hard and heavy. The monkey bars were wide both in grip and space, so that was a fail (30 burpees). The spear throw was an expected fail for most people (30 burpees). Fortunately we were permitted to help each other on obstacles like the Hercules Hoist (not too terrible for the women but apparently awful for the men); the Tyrolean (rope) Traverse (I felt like I was pretty good at this, but can’t say for certain, as Danielle was cradling me the whole time); and the Z-Wall (If I had like 20 tries I could have nailed this. But I had one so Mike held me up against the wall).
At one point we saw what must have been a 20-foot-high blue metal wall in the distance. Everyone panicked. But as we got closer we realized it was not an obstacle – it was a random hunk of metal that probably had something to do with the ski slope.
The mud trenches are a necessary evil at these things, but these smelled worse than any I have experienced. Truly like trudging through sewers. And at the very end, you are forced to go completely under the muddy water to go under a wall. Which is an awesome way to get flesh eating bacteria. Fortunately my skin is still in tact.
Then there were the “carries.” First the Sand Bag carry, which at first felt like an easy 20 pounds, considering I am regularly made to run with a 20 pound slam ball in CrossFit. And this was like a comfy pillow! But try carrying it downhill for about 300 meters and then back UP a hill so steep it would be difficult to walk it empty-handed.
There was also the Bucket Brigade where women were asked to fill a bucket with more than 70 pounds of rocks, carry it down another long hill, and then back up the steep ass hill. You weren’t permitted to carry on your shoulder, which would have been easier but hazardous, so you had to find some way to cradle it. This was the only point in the race where I said out loud, “I don’t think I can do this.” Of course, because it is Spartan and awesome, some random dude said, “Yes you can!” So I did.
I was really looking forward to the rope climb, a skill I have perfected through CrossFit. However, when a rope is soaking wet and covered with mud, it is almost impossible to get a foot grip. Here is where I saw plenty of ripped dudes taking their 30 burpee penalty along with me.
And then there was the part that everyone said would be the worst: The Barbed Wire Crawl. Rolling makes me totally dizzy and nauseous, and I know I am not the only one. So after a couple of rolls I had to find other ways to get through this roughly 300 meters of hell. Using my knees was out of the question because they were already jacked up and burning. So I did sort of a crab-walk-limbo. Toward the end of the muddy uphill climb, grown men were just lying there, waiting for someone to kick them so they were forced to move forward.
Once I came out of that I finally hit a mental wall. This had to be close to finished. And thankfully it was. Just 30 more burpees for the ninja rings, a submersion in muddy water, and a jump over the fire to the finish (I was initially really worried about the fire, but it was by far the easiest thing I did all day).
At the end, we had absolutely how long we had been gone. And we were shocked to find that it had taken us almost four hours!! Our team time was 3:53, which was not great – like 79th percentile. I was pretty surprised because we definitely saw plenty of people stopping for full-on picnics.
But if I’m being honest, we weren’t exactly racing for time – we were just trying to get through the damn thing. There was not more than about 100 feet where you could actually run with any sense of self-preservation. We stopped so Danielle could pee and then stopped so Mike could have a snack. My teammates waited while I spent 15 minutes trying to climb the rope before I accepted defeat and took my burpees.
I’m further content with our time after seeing a bunch of posts on social media about how many people truly cheated – perfectly capable people skipping obstacles and not doing the burpees. While I applaud anyone who wants to try the race and simply can not finish, it sucks that their times count against people who followed all of the insane rules.
At the end of the day, I will say this: that thing was no sprint. When it comes to the Blue Mountain Spartan, the Sprint was a Super, the Super was a Beast, and if they had a Beast it would be some unnamed act of Satan. Mike said it was just as bad, if not worse, than Tough Mudder.
And now, for better or worse, I know I’ll have to eventually give the Super a try at a different location. Because after that race I know I can rock at least 2/3 of the Trifecta. Aroo!
A couple quick points of advice:
1. Groupon often offers great deals on Spartan Races but they are only for the afternoon heat. They are strict about your start times and they will check. So if you want to be sure you start before noon, skip the Groupon and search for another coupon code.
2. I forgot to wear high socks and they were sold out at the merchandise booth. They would have been helpful with the ropes. Buy yourself a nice, cheesy pair.
3. I accidentally checked my gloves with my bag and almost cried when I realized that at the start line. But in retrospect I’m not sure how helpful they would have been. But if you want your best fighting shot at those monkey bars, try a pair.
4. Wear sneakers with grips – no minimalist shoes. This is not a CrossFit WOD – it is a hike. If you don’t have an old pair of sneakers with treads that you never want to see again, check Craigslist, Yerdle, or your local Buy Nothing Group, which is where I got mine.
5. Bring a hydration pack! If you are lucky enough to have a partner you can use as a sherpa, make them wear it (husbands are excellent for this). One is enough for the whole team since you can refill them at the water stations.
Thanks to the good folks on the Spartans of the Northeast page for some of these images!