Tomorrow I'm going to climb walls & crawl under barbed wire so it's like my family escaping death camps in WWII but I paid $75 to do it.— Nina Bargiel (@slackmistress) December 2, 2012
On Sunday, December 2, I ran the Malibu Spartan Sprint.
It was cold. It was raining. It was muddy.
But I finished.
(In the top 90%.)
However, I thought the Spartan Sprint was only 3.1 miles (5k) and the Mudder was nearly four times that. So how hard could it be?
Sunday we woke at 5:30. It was cold, it was raining, and I knew that the course was going to be muddy because the race started on Saturday. I wanted to stay in bed, but we were picking up our friend Ami. We loaded our gear in the car and drove to Culver City.
When Ami got in the car I realized I had left my wallet at home. The wallet with my Driver's License that I needed to pick up my bib and timing chip in order to complete the race.
With a detour back to Hollywood, we were finally pointed towards Malibu again. We were scheduled for the 8:30am heat, but we realized we could just slip into the 9am heat, no problem.
All was not lost.
We parked at the beach and piled into tour buses that took us up the hill. Twenty minutes, which meant the bus trip back down was probably going to be miserable. I shook it off, ready for the race adrenaline to hit me.
We collected our bibs and marked up our faces (so they can identify you in race photos, or your body if you're not lucky enough to make it off the course) and got in the corral at the starting area.
Nerves jangled around in my brain. I'm not ready, I thought.
But the race began and it didn't matter.
I could go through the obstacles, one by one, but you can check out the photos here.
It was muddy, it was cold. As we waded through freezing chest-deep water I reminded myself you wanted to be here. SO BE HERE.
I never did hit my groove. But I started to realize that part of being an athlete is that you show up and get it done whether you want to or not. It's sort of like being a writer in that way. You don't wait for inspiration. You do your job.
It was difficult to see Will struggling. He's a great endurance athlete, and he mostly trains that way. These races are all about expanding huge amounts of effort with short periods of recovery. It's more like heavy weight training + intervals, which is how I train. I can't run a marathon but I can billy goat may way up a mountain for hours. I'm slow, but I will always get to the top.
I still lack the upper body strength to pull myself up, so the monkey bars are my nemesis. Again. However, there were a few obstacles I had no problem with - specifically, the Weight Pull, which required you to haul a weight up a pulley and then set it down without letting it slam to the ground. There was a women's section (lesser weight) and a men's section where the weight was I BELIEVE 100 pounds. So the women's was around 50? 70?
I waited for the women in front of me to finish. There were two of them, hauling the weight upwards. I looked around for a partner, but no one was there. I grabbed the weight and pulled. It shot up.
It was easy.
I tried to remember that as I hit my dark night of the soul - the barbed wire crawl. Every obstacle course has them. Every obstacle course doesn't have them for 50 yards. Uphill. Through rocks.
The one thing I tell myself during a race is don't stop. I can recover, but I have to be moving. The only reason to ever stop is because you're waiting for someone, or letting someone ahead of you. But in the middle of the barbed wire, dragging my elbows and my knees over the rocks, I thought what am I doing? You don't like this. You shouldn't have come.
You don't belong here.
What felt like years later, we emerged and after a slippery, muddy descent, it was time to leap over the fire, get pummeled by the gladiators, and cross the finish line.
I have never been so happy to be beaten by a couple of shirtless dudes in my life.
We got our medal (and our banana), then hosed ourselves off and headed for the shuttle buses.
The difference between the Spartan and the Mudder (for me) was that the Spartan has more obstacles you can do solo, while the Mudder almost requires teamwork. That's not to say that I didn't have a boost or a hand up (thank you, Ami!) There are also people who are trying to fly through the course, and unlike the Mudder, if you can't finish an obstacle, you have to do 30 burpees. I ended up doing 90 on Sunday. (Monkey Bars, Javelin Toss, Side Wall.)
On the bus ride back to the car, as my body cramped up and the rain fell and my teeth chattered and I picked mud out of my braids, I wondered why I was doing this. Was it fun? I couldn't remember.
The only thing I remember is that I had to finish.
On Monday, I went over my wounds - I'm less sore than I was when I did the Mudder, but I have a lot more scrapes and cuts from the barbed wire experience. I sat in front of the TV and told myself that I could take a day off. Yeah, I was signed up for the Super Spartan eight weeks from now, but I didn't have to do it. I didn't really want to do it.
Except then something weird happened.
I went to the gym anyway.
As I lifted, I thought about the weird, 40-year journey I've been on with my body. Women spend a lot of time avoiding our bodies. It doesn't matter if you're fat or if you're thin or if you're an elite athlete or a couch potato, we spend a lot of time criticizing what we look like.
We don't spend enough time thinking what our bodies can do.
I got up a mountain. I hauled a weight in the air. I traversed walls. I slogged through the mud.
I look at someone like my friend Solo who is like, a Spartan rockstar. When she did the Tough Mudder if wasn't difficult enough so she ran the course twice. I look at her and think well it's so easy for her because she's a gifted athlete but the reality is that she also trains to be that way.
While I'm not a gifted athlete in many ways, I am strong and I am pigheaded. It may take me forever to do something, but if I start, I'm going to finish. While I may never be elite, I can always get better.
I said to a group of people who I'm running the Ragnar Relay with that I like running because it's hard for me. And I think that it's good to do things that are difficult. I have spent most of my life doing things that were easy. Avoiding anything that I might be bad at. Or look silly at. Or would come in last at.
Obstacle racing is hard. And I don't imagine it getting any easier. But I can get better.
Next time I'm finishing in the top 89%.
See you at the Super Spartan.