Surviving the Spartan Sprint After 60!
When hubby and daughter-in-law excitedly signed us up for the Spartan 5K Sprint, I felt nervous.
Hiking uphill through rough terrain, crawling under barbed wire, climbing walls, jumping over fire, throwing a spear, and dunking under a wall in a mud pit?
That doesn’t sound like me. Especially 61-year-old me.
But I did that and more.
What is a Spartan Race?
Spartan races are well-known obstacle courses and the fastest growing participation sport in the world.
If you’ve seen photos of your friends on social media with muddy faces leaping through fire, there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to this latest fitness phenomenon.
Spartan races have different levels: the Spartan Sprint (three to five miles with about 20 obstacles), the Spartan Stadium Series (similar to the Sprint but in a stadium), the Spartan Super (eight to 10 miles with 24 to 29 obstacles), the Spartan Beast (12 to 14 miles with 30 to 35 obstacles) and the Spartan Ultra (especially brutal at 31 miles and 60 obstacles).
Since the Spartan Sprint is the shortest distance race and best for beginners, that’s the one we obviously chose. But if you ever do this race, don’t think you’re getting off easy. The race was the toughest three and a half miles I’ve ever encountered.
Is It Life Changing?
Promoters of the Spartan races promise the challenge will “change your life.”
I may not go that far, but when you complete the race doing things you never dreamed you were capable of – it does empower you.
Finishing the race builds your confidence. Instills self-respect. Reveals your potential. And gives you an awesome rush and feeling of pride when you cross the finish line.
Okay, maybe the race does have the ability to change your life – your outlook on life anyway.
Spartan races are meant to test your limits physically and mentally. And on that level, they certainly succeed.
Are You Ready?
Their website claims that “virtually anyone with heart, determination and a never-quit attitude can complete a Spartan race.” Since I don’t consider myself an athlete, perhaps this is true.
The good news: Unless you are an “elite” Spartan who races competitively for prize money, you are not required to complete all the obstacles. You can even choose to go around all of them if you want. And you’re not required to complete the infamous 30 required burpees you may have heard about when failing an obstacle before moving to the next one.
Believe me, I asked Chris and Johnni about this before we signed up.
We participated in an “open heat” which is for “weekend warriors, novice athletes, first-time racers, and teams.”
If you’re a rookie like me, try and get some training in beforehand. In fact, give yourself at least eight weeks to train.
My husband, Scott, and I had been taking a lot of hikes, including a few with steep climbs to get ready. I did some weightlifting as well. After all, experts claim you can turn the clock back 20 years with exercise as I pointed out in an earlier blog. But we should have done a lot more to prepare.
The more cardio, squats, push-ups, weight-lifting, lunges, etc. you do beforehand, the more enjoyable the race will be for you. Focus on upper body strength to complete many of the obstacles.
Also, run in a team. My youngest son, Chris, and his wife, Johnni, are experienced Spartan racers and were kind enough to stay with us throughout the race. Their support and advice was invaluable.
And We’re Off!
The minute you arrive, you realize the Spartan Race is a huge event complete with music, spectator challenges, and food vendors. I loved the atmosphere.
But then I noticed before you even get to the starting line, you’re required to jump a wall. As if my race jitters weren’t bad enough already.
Of course, others were vaulting over the four-foot wall like Superman soaring through the air.
Chris offered up his knee to help me hoist myself over the wall which I gladly accepted. Thankfully, I eyed a few others using this method.
Even so, I wasn’t exactly graceful as I swung my leg over and bobbled at the top. Did I mention I’m a bit of a clutz? Even worse, when I jumped down on the other side, I toppled forward and landed hard on my knees. Ka-womp!
Just like Humpty Dumpty. Oh, the humiliation! I failed the first obstacle before even beginning the race. Wasn’t that a bad sign?
Thankfully, a funny, enthusiastic guy was there to give us a pep talk and pump us up for the race, making me feel a bit better.
And then we were off!
I’m not a runner, but I’d be darned if I was the only one walking at the starting gate. I bravely started jogging on the rocky, jagged trail.
That didn’t last long though.
Much of the course is uphill on rough terrain. I felt cardio challenged immediately. The other racers, including a few older than me, kept right on trudging up that first hill. Maybe because we were still in sight of the spectators?
Johnni said some of those people would be seen on the side of the trail with leg cramps later and I believed her. I knew that to endure the race, I needed to walk up the steep inclines. So, I did.
We were in last place at that point, until we passed two men. One was helping another man with leg braces. Talk about inspiring.
What Did I Get Myself Into?
The hills kept getting steeper and the walls kept getting taller. With my son’s help I managed the second one without falling over this time.
Okay, maybe this was doable after all.
Then we came up to a steep slide on a rocky mountainside. The only way to continue the race was by sliding down on your butt. Think Romancing the Stone.
After the whole embarrassing falling over the first wall incident, I had visions of my pants ripping wide open on the rocks, leaving my pudgy posterior hanging out for all to see.
Miraculously, that didn’t happen.
Actually, it was kind of fun.
By the time I hit the one-mile marker, I was huffing and puffing and watching my Apple watch to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it.
When I saw the next wall, I thought, are you kidding me? I didn’t even try to attempt it. Hey, I don’t have the skills that allow me to scale crazy inverted eight-foot-tall walls at my age.
And that’s okay.
Ditto the rope climb – something I failed at even as a teen in P.E. – the Atlas Carry which required carrying a 75-pound stone, and a few other obstacles. I know my limits.
But I am proud to say that I at least attempted many of the obstacles and succeeded at some.
And the second half of the race seemed to get easier cardio-wise as we walked between obstacles and had a chance to catch our breath.
I Am Warrier!
Well, not really. But I was proud of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
I rolled under the barbed wire down a dusty hill, climbed vertically on a series of slanted walls to ring that darn bell, trudged through sludge and mud, and threw a spear. Not well, but hey, I threw it!
Although swearing I wouldn’t do this before the race – thanks to peer pressure from my family – I dunked under an inflated wall in a mud-filled pit. Scary, by the way, because you can’t see the other side as you dive underneath. And the watery mud was freezing.
Finally, with hubby by my side, we completed the fire jump, a Spartan rite of passage.
Scott and I didn’t give up and proudly crossed that finish line! On a high, we all hugged each other, feeling incredibly accomplished.
We finished the race in two hours and 18 minutes. Thankfully, we were not the very last to cross the finish line – near the end – but 111 people were behind us. Not great, but I’ll take it!
By the way, warrior wounds showed up all over my body later, including scraped-up, bruised knees. And my muscles were so sore, I could hardly walk the next day.
But it was an experience of a lifetime. And you bet, I’m wearing my medal proudly!