I've done four obstacle runs now: The Merrell Down & Dirty 10k, the 12-mile Tough Mudder, a 4-mile Spartan Sprint and the latest, a, 8.85 mile Super Spartan.
At my first obstacle run, I didn't know what to expect.
At my last obstacle run, I stopped expecting things and just showed up as prepared as I could be.
Fear is the Mind-Killer
I was incredibly nervous for this race. Maybe because it was the first that I was racing without Will, although my obstacle-racing-partner-in-crime Ami would be there. This was my third race with Ami, so I knew that we made a good team. We were joined by my friend Tim, who is training for the Ironman but wanted to try something a little different. I was confident that we'd make a great troika. I wasn't wrong.
While the Spartan Sprint was a wet, cold trek through the fog, we were greeted with a sunny but cold day. Ideal racing conditions (minus the freezing cold water obstacle.) I don't know why I was so jangly, but I was.
We got to the parking lot around 8am, walked the quarter mile to the venue, then retrieved our bibs, our timing chips, and got marked up (in case you lose your bib, which happens when you crawl through mud and swim through frozen lakes.
We lined up for the 9:30am heat, itchy to get started. Because that's the only way you finish. You gotta start.
We were off and through some easy tunnels and were greeted with our first hill. A fast job turned to a slow jog turned into a brisk hike. I don't remember what those first obstacles were - maybe some walls, an over/under/through (where you go over a wall, under a low wall, then through a small opening in a wall. Makes sense, yes?) or a sandbag carry. What I wasn't expecting so quickly was my nemesis:
The monkey bars.
The Super was my fourth mud run, and the third that had monkey bars. While I had practiced (some) grip work and (some) hang work, there was something terrifying about the monkey bars. I could cross 'em when I was a kid, but as an adult, I hung there.
Last time I didn't even reach for the second bar (they're spaced more widely apart than a normal jungle gym) but this time I promised myself I had to at least try. I hung there, I psyched myself up, and as I swung to the second bar I thought
I can't do this.
I crashed to the ground and headed over to the side to do my 30 burpees.
I have climbed over walls and crawled through barbed wire and carried a contractor's bucket of wet sand up a hill and down a hill and dragged a concrete block on a chain and flipped a giant tire but the monkey bars still elude me.
Watch for me on playgrounds near you.
The Path of Least Resistance Isn't
The stump jump has you stepping from log to log, each post just slightly out of reach. I looked at each row of stumps and chose to start with what I thought was the easiest - the first few stumps were low to the ground. I did one, then two, then three. I was more than halfway across when I hit the fourth stump and realized it wasn't stable in the ground. It started to wobble. I started to wobble. You need a stable base to move forward.
No points for halfway. 30 Burpees
I Trained For This
We were heading up the last hill. I was pretty sure it was the last hill, because we only had two miles left.
My quads were burning and my calves were pinging and every few steps I'd see someone bent over in pain. Are you okay? I'd ask and they'd wave me off with I'm okay, it's just a cramp.
I don't know what made me stop when I saw her. Probably because she didn't look like someone who normally runs these races. Much like I don't look like someone who normally runs these races. She was crouched over and looked destroyed.
Are you okay? I asked.
I've been training since October, she told me. It's hard.
I smiled at her. It's supposed to be hard.
I just didn't think it would be this hard, she told me.
I've done four of these races, and each one has what I call The Dark Night of the Soul. Where you wonder what the hell you're doing here. You don't belong here. You can't do this.
You ready? I held out my hand.
I don't want to slow you down.
We're going up this mountain, I told her. Just put one foot in front of the other.
We trudged up the hillside in silence, with just the sound of our labored breathing marking time.
We got to the top, I rejoined my teammates and wished her good luck.
(She didn't need it.)
Never Leave a Man Behind
I was hoping to finish in around four hours. We did the four-mile Sprint in 2:10, so I was hoping to shave a little bit of time off on the 8.85 mile course. We made it to the halfway point at one hour, forty-five minutes in. We were tracking for a sub-4 hour finish when Ami's knee gave out.
You guys go ahead, he told us.
Maybe I'd feel differently if I was an elite athlete competing to win, but when your teammate helps you over walls, you help them through the terrain. Period.
We finished in 4:20.
Two Steps Forward, One Lean Back
Except that the higher you go, the more you need to lean back or you'll slide back down.
And when you get to the top, you have to pick the right second to throw yourself over the side and hold on for dear life.
Because getting to the top isn't enough. There's always one more hurdle to get over.
The Dark Night of the Soul
While I have decent upper body strength compared to the average woman, I still can't do a pull-up. However, my legs are strong like bull. I can pretty much gut out anything that requires some leg drive (tire flips, dragging blocks of concrete, walking up a hill with a contractor's bucket of wet sand.)
At the Spartan Sprint, there was a weight pull that required you to haul a weight up on a pulley. It was the easiest part of my race. I bragged that I should try them men's weighted pulley next time.
The second (or third?) to last obstacle was the weight pulley. I was so relieved.
Until I grabbed the rope and started to tug.
And realized that the last 4+ hours of grueling work had taken its toll.
I gutted it out until the weight was about a foot from the top. I leaned back, I gritted my teeth, I drove with my legs.
It wouldn't budge.
I positioned my body weight over the slack part of the rope and held it down, as my weigh wobbled in the air. I could hear the spectators cheering me on. I took a deep breath and pulled.
It didn't budge.
I help it there, frozen. I finally knew what it was like not to have a single ounce of anything left.
But I still couldn't let it go.
Ami came around and asked me what I needed. Just grab the rope, I pleaded.
We hoisted the weight those final inches, then I lowered it to the ground, solo.
After attempting (and failing) the rope climb, we did our last set of burpees and headed toward the fire and the gladiator pit.
While the Spartan Sprint almost killed me, the Super Spartan reminded me that that feeling is just a part of the fun.
And I will conquer those #*$&*@#^$@#&@!*# monkey bars.
Thanks to my teammates Tim & Ami, to Desiree (who took all of these pictures) & Elizabeth for being our personal cheerleaders, and to Will who puts up with me and my crazy idea that fun includes slogging through miles of barbed wire and mud.