I had a freakin’ blast at the Super Spartan Race which took place over the past weekend at Vail Lake in Temecula California. My team, appropriately named Got2bFit, comprised of seven women ranging in age from 34 to 54, raced on Sunday. Our 10 a.m. start time made for a perfect beginning on a gorgeous sunny day with temps in the low eighties.
The night before we all met, most of us for the first time, at an Italian Restaurant at 8:30 p.m. (that’s me on the left with the dark hair!) It was late for carbing up before a race, but we weren’t racing for 12 hours. Still…
We agreed to met at the Hampton Inn Breakfast area at 6 a.m. I thought that was too early, but since I was part of the team, I forced myself to rally. Personally I don’t like to eat much before a race and I like to eat about an hour and a half before race time. Four hours prior meant I would want something else before we embarked on what I had imagined to be a race beyond my physical capabilities. I kept the meal pretty close to my usual pre-race fuel, a home-made waffle (they were delicious!), and some peanut butter spread on it. I saved my banana for an hour before the race. I was still pretty full from the previous nights pasta dinner.
I had read another woman’s blog last week about her Super Spartan experience in North Carolina and it had me shaking in my new Nikes. For the last week, I tried to put it out of my mind. Although I had the running part down, I had only picked up doing push ups, pull ups and heavier weights the past week and a half. Even though I practiced doing burpees… I could do maybe ten straight. I had to get some under my belt since I wasn’t sure I would finish the obstacles-a 30 burpee penalty. Boy was I wrong!
We arrived at Vail Lake around 7:30 a.m. The parking lot was a mile walk to the race start and festivities, but we knew this prior to getting there. You could feel the electricity in the air of the events about to take place. The mile walk flew by especially in comparison to the post-race tired, hot, sweaty haul back to the car.
The festival area was a grassy meadow that fronted Vail Lake, surrounded by a mountainous terrain. The temperature was warming up, the crowds of participants were growing and getting anxious, there was a Spartan man loudly announcing the waves of runners. We assembled our bibs, wrote funny sayings on our backs with Sharpies and took tons of pre-race photos. We were fired up!
Our race began with a run through a smelly smoke bomb, that the wind was blowing away from us, towards a hillside which we started running up but were then reduced to walking because it was single track and quite a climb. I get pretty caught up in the excitement at the beginning of a race, especially since I had just downed half a 5 Hour Energy drink (I gave the other half to my team mate Beth), and to stop the momentum so quickly was tough for me. I sucked it up though and thought of the overall race. Might as well relax now, while I can. Who knew what was in store for me? I also thought we were going to be wet from the start. So far, so good.
Once atop this first elevation climb (and there were many to come!) it was a nice trail run for about two miles until the first of obstacles. Even though I had been dreading them, the obstacles turned out to be the FUN part of this race. The introduction was mild, crawl under a net, over a five foot wall, under a fence. Run on towards a hay bale stack, climb it and jump down the other side into a pile of hay. It was maybe a five or six foot jump. The volunteer said make sure you land with your feet apart. We ran a little further, than up a cargo net across a storage container and then… an eight foot (or maybe more) jump down. The day before this race Beth took me horseback riding and I applied the ‘get off the horse’ method she showed me on this one. On my belly, I hung my legs down the side while holding the ledge, hang and then drop. It’s funny how life prepares us for situations.
The next part entailed running down a creek. At least I thought it was a creek, but it was bone dry. Sand and river rock were the only obstacles. California hasn’t had a very wet winter. I had my head down watching the pathway and got poked in the corner of my eye by a tree branch. Jeez, I thought. Michele gets taken out of the race in the first 2 miles because she poked her eye out. I raised my head and vision from this point on, but not much. One of the tricks I played on myself was to never look at any of the obstacles beyond the few feet in front of me. On the steep hill climbs I never looked how far up I had to go, just at the steps the previous shoes were taking.
When we emerged out of the dry creek, the dreaded barbed wire exercise greeted us. Wet sand – uphill climb. Time to get dirty!! Finally. I thought we would have been dirty from the get go. The moment I went under the wire I caught my hair. I pulled it free and crawled my way through mostly on my forearms and elbow. See my scrapes? Not too bad. But they hurt in the hot shower later.
Apparently I had my rear in the air, because I caught the seat of my pants a few times on the barbs-fortunately just the fabric! As we scrambled our way along the ascending wet sand a large tank truck slowly moved back and forth along the side line spraying us with icy cold water. A chorus of shrieks, squeals and groans announced our displeasure… or delight.
Once freed from the crawl we high-fived and ran on a short way to a series of walls to jump over, crawl under and slip through the middle holes. Run some more. The next one was a balance beam. A zig-zag of two by fours about six feet long maybe six times. Just barely off the ground and we had to balance on the two inch end. This task took total concentration. I was thankful for my ice skating days and balancing abilities. Only one of our team fell off near the end, a 30 burpee penalty. We waited.
As we closed in on the portion of the run that would have us near the start of the race, about four miles in, we came across the monkey bars. This was something I had been dreading. A week and a half prior to this race I bought a pull up bar to hang in my doorway. I couldn’t even do a pull up. I worked on assisted ones and tried to do them everyday before the race. The bars on this obstacle were high up and far apart. Tracie, another team mate I met the night before went ahead of me. She used the swing one arm onto a bar and play catch up method. I copied her. There must of been 10 bars across. I followed Tracie and couldn’t believe I made it all the way across. I hung onto the bars as if there were crocodiles below. A never give up and hold on for dear life approach. The monkey bars were my pièce de résistance. I was so proud of myself. The adrenaline was pumping.
The next two tasks were my only two failures. The javelin throw (I hit the hay target, just didn’t pierce it) and the sideways climbing wall. My finger strength just couldn’t hack it. Next time I will approach the wall differently. Two sets of 30 burpees back to back. UGH! I was not planning to do that (burpees) again! Directly after this I had to scale an 8+ foot wall. Climbing would be a repeating scenario in this race.
The race continued on with carrying a bucket filled with sand up and down and around a hill, climb up another hill, carry a car tire down the hill, bring it back up. Then run down the hill and then up, jump another wall, climb a cargo net up about 15 feet, then down the other side.
Run to the next and third water station. Here is where our team stopped and sucked down a GU. I recommended this to the team given my running experience. I knew I was going to need it and everyone was glad to get some fuel.
I honestly can’t remember if there was another water station after this point, around the five mile marker. There were at least three more miles to go and a lot of elevation climbs. All I know is, by the end of the race my mouth was desert dry and I quickly had to down a few cups of water before I had the free beer.
With the added fuel and water in our bellies we ran on, back on the dry creek, to the next obstacle where we had to pull a filled bucket up to the top of the rope. I sat down and pulled. Onward and then we finally got our feet wet! The creek had some water! I was surprised it took this long into the race to get really wet and dirty-over 5 miles. I was actually thankful I guess, as it made the race fairly tolerable. We ran splashing our way down the creek and then turned into some heavy muddy gunk, the kind where if you sink a little too deep you could be saying good-bye to your shoes. It smelled pretty rank too. We came out of this and began an intense climb and descent you see pictured at mile seven above. Steep. I just put my heavy mud soaked feet in the same spot as the person in front of me, in this case, Tracie. We never stopped walking up this hill (or any of them). Passing people, especially dudes and twenty year old girls was a definite motivator. (everyone had their age written on their calves.) I’m a little blurry here, but I think at the top of this peak there were a series of walls to traverse. I just remember the volunteer telling us to stretch our calves before the steep decline. As I started running down the hill she yelled, “did you stretch your calves?” I shook my head no and laughed. For the first time in a long while, my calves actually didn’t hurt. Weird. I thought the numerous inclines we scaled would have by calves screaming in pain, but no. The guy running next to me laughed too.
We passed a ton of people on the hills. The whole time I was thinking, “didn’t these people prepare for this race?” I really didn’t feel like the race itself was overly hard. Sure, there were a number of challenging obstacles, but I felt they were all doable. Of course, I did prepare. I’ve been training for a marathon, which is in less than five weeks, so the run portion was not really a problem. I’ve also been working out with weights and crunches for months. Coming into this race, I thought I was going to fail miserably and be laying on a stretcher afterwards. I am glad I wasn’t and know that I would never have been able to do this at any other time in my life. I would have been the twenty year old gal or the slightly over weight dude standing on the side of the sloped trails hands on knees with my head between my legs. Panting. Dying.
At last we had finished our last climb and it was all downhill from there. Or, that is what it looked like. We could see the grassy festival area in the distance. We ran along the fire road and there was one more wall to hop. The volunteers encouraged us ladies to go for it and do it the hard way, jump up and throw our bodies over it. I got up to it and my tired arms hoisted me halfway and then I fell to my feet. My other team mates, Kristy, Renee, Tracie and Beth tackled it like military men. This is where I fell behind my group. Um… aren’t you guys going to wait for me??? I grabbed the side of the wall and hoisted myself over in a climbing fashion. The volunteers did an “aw, you should have tried it again”. I said, “You’ve got to know your strengths, and mine is running!” I leapt down and tried to catch up to my team. Down the hill I went and I could see them at the next obstacle. Drag a cement anchor. I followed the others and dragged it behind me. It was heavy. Then we hit the lake and had to pick it up and carry it through the water to get to the other end of the cones and back to the start. I could have dropped it and dragged it back, but chose to carry it the remaining twenty feet or so. That is probably why my lower back was killing me later that night making me take 3 ibuprofen.
Directly after the anchor drag, was a set of ropes hanging in the lake. I have never climbed a rope before-ever. It was intimidating and my arms were already fatigued, especially after just carrying a forty pound cement anchor about 50 yards. I knew the key would be to get my feet on one of the knots, so that’s what I did. But still needed to get up high enough to ring a bell. I honestly don’t know where I found the strength to climb this, but I heard my team mate Kristy ring her bell and somehow cinched myself up there. Ding ding ding! Thank God! Remember that adrenaline? It was pumping now.
I honestly don’t remember what came next, but I think it was the series of mud pits we had to climb in and out of. This was the first time I had thick goopey mud up to my waist. They weren’t too challenging, unless you wanted to jump over the pits… I think some of the badass Spartans did, but otherwise it was climb into the muddy water and climb out.
Next there was a second barbed wire area. It must have been about 20 or 30 yards long. The wire was very low this time. So low that crawling didn’t seem like a good option. The guy in front of me decided to roll through. I followed his lead. I had my arms pressed against my sides and used my hips to get the motion going. As we made our way talking each other through it and laughing, I started to get pretty dizzy. I felt like a kid rolling around in the dirt. Every few feet the barbed wire progressively got lower.
I came out of the barbed wire and thought… Where did my team mates go? Suddenly our group of five became a group of one… me! Man… they blew through here. Up ahead was the infamous fire jump. I was so worried about this prior to the race. My son had said that if it was dangerous they wouldn’t put it there. I love a teenage boys prospective! They have such a great attitude when they want to. This fire jump must have been roaring earlier in the day and maybe the Spartan crew was not up for stoking the flames. It felt like I was jumping a few duraflame logs. Easy.
And lastly, well, last to me in that it had a certain degree of difficulty, was the slanted wall rope climb. It reminded me of an Officer and A Gentleman… “Cigar… you climb that wall!” I tackled it with a running start and as I approached… what was this? A volunteer threw a bucket of soapy water on the wall in my path! Surprise. Crap. I did a run up the wall grabbed the rope and then stopped. When I took a step, whoops… my feet slipped right out from under me. God Damn it! I am not letting go of this rope. I tried to stand up and there was just no traction. What to do?? I was so close to the top… a few feet away, like the guy in the photo. I did the only thing I could think of as my upper body strength was taxied at this point. I swung my left leg up and somehow threw my foot over the top and slowly pulled myself up and over. (I have a fair sized black and blue on the back of my left leg to prove it!) This took way longer than I had hoped. I made my way down the back open slats of wood and ran to the second-to-last task. It was a rowing type of machine. We had to pull two cords, one in each hand down until a counter went from 200 to zero. It took about sixty pulls for me to do this. I just told myself to go slow and steady. That was pretty much my motto for the whole race. Slow and steady wins the race.
With the finish chute in site, about twenty yards away, I just had to get past the hot, hunky and minimally dressed gladiators. They were swinging those padded ended sticks (what are those called?). I got up to mine and gave him a look that said… Are you really going to hit me with that thing? I guess he felt sorry for me. He gave me a few love taps to the body and as I passed him he bopped me in the rear. I ran under the red inflated arch and was done! 2:56:57. Woo Hoo!!
I had so much fun at this race, as did my teammates, that we have already signed up for next years 2013 SoCal Super Spartan. I would say this race was challenging and at the same time kind of easy, and this is something else I repeated over and over in my head during the race, a piece of cake. I mean, I really didn’t think it was THAT hard. Which makes me think that 1. there was not enough water hazard due to lack of rain, or 2. I am actually in pretty good shape, or 3. Um… I am ready to tackle the Spartan Beast??? I don’t think I’ll get too ahead of myself there. Think I’ll stick to next year’s race and then reassess that last remark. 🙂
Aside from the immediate lower back pain that night, which went away, I got a few scrapes, a few bruises. One knee was bloody at the end of the race, but only a dime size scrap. There is one blood blister on my foot, which I almost forgot was there. All in all, not nearly as bad as I expected. I was kinda disappointed I didn’t have more war wounds. Oh, I did get delayed muscle soreness in my quads 2 days later… from all the downhill running. Yeah, I would say my legs were trashed and I took a few rest days. They are actually still quite sore after running seven miles today and five yesterday. Still… it was worth it.
The Spartan volunteers/participants were great… motivational and nice. It was a very well organized event. I can’t wait for the official photos to get posted. Maybe then I can replace the ones I used here.
If you’ve read this far and did the race, I’d love to hear about your experience… please leave a comment!!
This is what I know.
I know I had a blast.
I know I can do anything I set my mind to.
I know I am tougher/stronger than I think.
I know it’s okay to get dirty once in a while.
I know I will do this again!