Lessons Learned After Becoming A Spartan

Back in September of 2015 I ran a 5k Obstacle Course Race called a Rugged Maniac. Prior to this race I had felt a slump in my workout that made it really difficult to find the motivation I needed to train.

Running this Obstacle Course Race(OCR) ended up being just the rejuvenation I needed to push myself back into Parkour and Endurance Sports. Immediately after I ran my Rugged Maniac I thought to myself, “This felt pretty easy, I bet a Spartan Race wouldn’t be so hard”.

This led me to signing up for a Spartan Sprint, which ended up being a whole another ball game than a Rugged Maniac. At the end of my Spartan Run I was bleeding, dirty, sweaty, and bruised. But more than anything, I felt a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled to anything I’ve done before.

You see, running a Spartan Sprint not only gave me a much better idea of my physical self, it also taught me 5 very important lessons I will be taking with me for both future races and towards my own self-growth.

Lesson 1: Be Positive

When you are putting yourself in a situation that demands you to go beyond your limits, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained beforehand or how much energy your body has. All of this can be useless if you do not face the obstacle with a positive mindset.

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During my race I was faced with a seemingly easy obstacle known as The Z-Wall. I’ve done much more difficult rock climbing routes a thousand times before so I thought this would be a piece of cake. Halfway through the Z-Wall I found I had to really stretch out my leg to get my foot placement onto the next block. My leg ended up cramping up on me, shocking the pain through the rest of my body. I lost my grip on the wall and went down like a ton of bricks.

Despite the pain I gave myself a moment of rest before limping to the Peanlty Zone to do my 30 Burpees. This was a set-back but by no means was this going to send me down a Downward Spiral. Instead I looked at this optimistically, “I can still stand on my feet, and it’s only 30 burpees”. I knocked out the burpees then continued the race with a smile on my face.

This positive attitude is just not something you should do for yourself, but for others. My start time had many of the racers run in 90% humidity and 90 degree weather. It was miserably sunny out and many people weren’t running at their ideal performance.

At mile 2 I saw a team of two trying to hoff it up the hill. At one point one of the runners sat down in the shade and told his buddy, “I just can’t do it”.

His friend knelt down next to him looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Yes you can. You’ve already made it farther than you thought you could. You can keep going”.

Meanwhile, a passing runner past by the two, flashed a big smile to the first guy and told him “You’re doing great!”. I didn’t see these two guys again until mile 4, both of them running downhill with smiles across their faces. Seeing these two inspired me to give positive energy to my fellow racers as well.

Some of us are going to hit our limits and something as simple as a “Good job”can be all we need to keep pushing.

Lesson 2: Don’t Underestimate The Course

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Initially when I signed up for the course I didn’t think of it as a big deal. I thought, “It’s only 5 miles, that’s just another light run but with a few obstacles in between”.

Because I didn’t go at it with the same mindset I normally do with my races I ended up committing several runner’s sins:

  • No Carb Loading
  • Improper Warm-Up
  • Didn’t Tapper Prior To Race

All of this resulted in me performing at my worst throughout the race. By mile 3 I was already half an hour into the race and I already drained the energy in my body. I was hungry, weak, and all I thought about was how good pancakes would be right now. If I just spent the time to properly carb load I know I would’ve been at a much better physical state throughout the race.

For my warm-ups I did essentially the same routine I do before I do my regular runs. I did no research on the average time it takes to finish a Sparta race so I shot for 10 minutes slower than my usual 5-mile runs. My expected finish time and my actual finish time ended up being vastly different:

Expected Finish Time: 50 min
Actual Finish Time: 2 hours, 28 minutes

If I planned my race a bit smarter and did more research on how long it takes to complete a Spartan Race, I would have definitely spent more time warming up. I also wouldn’t have put in 15 hours of working out the week of the race.

I’m not sure what would’ve happened if I took this race more seriously and treated it like my other races, but I guarantee I would’ve ran that race far less fatigued, sore, and hungry. It may have also avoided some cramping the occurred throughout some of the obstacles.

Lesson 3: Remember To Pace

Along with the 3 runner sins mentioned in Lesson 2, there’s another big mistake I ended up committing during my Spartan race: Being impatient.

Taking away from my experience running my Marathon last year, I made sure not to push myself to run faster when I’m already doing well. Although, one mistake I did end up repeating was trying to compete in a race I wasn’t initially planning on being competitive in.

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When I started my Spartan Race all I cared about was finishing. All I wanted to do was see if I could complete a Spartan Race and learn just what my body can do. If I didn’t reach my expected finish time, that was perfectly okay.

With that being said, I experienced Deja Vu during my race. Much like my marathon I got to the race a bit late. At this point, many of the runners who started earlier than me are well off into the course. Remembering to keep it slow, I ran at my normal pace.

After mile 1 I started passing racers who started a little earlier than me. Eventually I started passing racers who started a good 1-2 hours before I did. At this point, I grew a big head that nearly ruined me for the rest of the race.

Instead of just finishing it I was thinking of ways I can finish it faster. If there was an obstacle that had too many people ahead of me, I would just skip it and take the penalty burpees. Even if I was drenched in sweat from the blaring hot sun I would not stop to rest by the water station but instead drink 1 cup and move on.

Then by mile 3 my body hit that point where I struggled to do obstacles I know I could do easily. I was exhausted, sore, and was losing stride. At this point I realized I needed to just slow down, a decision I was grateful to have made. While I took my time going through the obstacles there were some people who seemed to have the same idea as I did and rush through the course.

These same guys trying to rush through were soon found either collapsed on the ground or slowly limping along. Meanwhile, other racers taking a slower pace were briskly passing by them.

Lesson 4: Adapt to Anything

One of the things that makes a Spartan Race so challenging is that it has you use your body in ways you aren’t normally use to doing at a gym. Sure carrying a 50lb object may be easy enough for most athletes out there. Heck, some of you are probably hitting higher weights for your regular workouts. However, 50lbs becomes a whole different story when that object is in the form of a 5 gallon bucket, filled with rocks, and needs to be carried up and down a steep hill.

When I looked into some of the obstacles typical in a Spartan Race it seemed like I would be working my body in some unusual ways. At first I was fine with this. Being from a Parkour background, adaptability is what I strive for. Although, while I was able to make it up the walls and across the monkey bars with ease, I was not prepared for some of the more awkward obstacles out there like the atlas ball.

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The atlas ball has been estimated to be 100lb for the guys, and about 60lb for the women. At first, this didn’t seem like a problem. When I went to the gym with my friend I spent some time lifting and carry 100lb weights until I was confident enough for the course. Then when race day came, I bent over and reached for the ball and… I couldn’t lift it. The ball was too smooth and slippery from the mud making it difficult to get the grip I needed to lift it.

Other racers around me seemed to be in the same boat. When we couldn’t lift the ball we asked some of those around us if they can help us grip it just so we can lift the damn thing.

Then there is the infamous Spear Throw obstacle. This obstacle is known as the Burpee Maker. Not only is it difficult to stick a spear 20 feet away, but you only get one shot to do it. Most racers aren’t going in it with a degree in spear throwing so you can imagine the number of people in the Penalty Zone.

When I first learned of this obstacle I decided I was not going to be one of the many who fall victim to this obstacle. So, a month before the race, I crafted a spear using a stick, some rope, and a pocket knife. I then spent a good 3 hours throwing it at a wooden board in my backyard. It took quite a while until I was able to stick the spear consistently, but when race day came I successfully stuck that spear on my first try.

The point I want to drive home is that if you are going to run a Spartan Race, look at the obstacles you’ll likely be doing, then train for them in a simulated environment. If you can do pull-ups, work on different grip strengths by changing your hand position or using a towel hanging from the bar. If you’ve never carried 50lb bag over long distances before, make your own then spend some time walking with it.

Keep in mind that your body is going to be doing things it may have never done before.

Lesson 5: No Such Thing As Quitting

Unless you are one of the Elite Spartan Runners, you’ll probably not running a Spartan Race for competitive reasons. You are doing it to see if you can do it.

"The hardest part is showing up. 40% don’t. Don’t be part of that 40%" 
-Tony Matesi, Spartan Race Director

By being at that starting line you have already past the first and most difficult obstacle, just being there. Remember that the human body has always been capable of doing the impossible. Before Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, researchers were convinced it was not physically possible for humans to do.

Marathons are often thought as the most ultimate feats of endurance, but then we learn there are Indigenous tribes out there who can run 200 miles non-stop.

 

Runners don’t cross that finish line because they ran until they started feeling tired. At some point it no longer becomes a test of the body, but a test of the mind. If you want to complete this race you need to remove the word quit from your vocabulary and think that the only stopping point is at that end.

Remember that once you are out there is just you against you.

Conclusion

If there’s anything you should take away from this it is that you should plan smart, train smart, and keep your will strong. There is no telling what you are going to be able to do until you do it.

"Only those who endure the hardships of training can attain glory" 
-Hiroshi Yamanka, Gash Bell

 

At the end of my race I was well past my exhaustion point. My fingers were cut up, my shoes were torn to shreds, and I had bruises throughout my body. My girlfriend asked me, Was it worth it?

To which I responded:

Not only was it worth it, I am already waiting for registration to open up for next year.

 

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