This is a repost of a blog I wrote for the Power Jam Fitness blog shortly after finishing my first Spartan Race in December of 2015 - the Spartan Sprint at Castaic. On the eve of my one-year anniversary of that race, and as I get ready to run my first Elite heat race at the same location, I thought it would be a good time to repost that blog over here. If you are about to run your first Spartan Race or are considering running a Spartan Race, I hope you find this to be helpful!
Last weekend I ran my first Spartan Race. This was the Spartan Sprint, which is the shortest of the Spartan Race series at about 5 miles. But allow me to be clear - with brutal mountainous terrain, multiple heavy carries and a 30 burpee penalty for any failure at one of 24 obstacles - this race was NO joke. At the end of the day, it took nearly three hours - and 150 burpees - to earn my finisher’s medal.
Along with that sweet medal, though, I took away some valuable lessons that I believe can be quite useful in a world that isn’t constantly forcing you to swim in the mud, climb over walls, and throw a spear into a bail of hay. So now, with a grand total of one race under my belt, please allow me to share these Valuable Life Lessons Learned From My First Spartan Race in a way that only a grizzled Spartan Race vet like myself can:
Trying new things is ALWAYS worth it.
There were a couple people on my Spartan Race team who were terribly afraid of heights. And wouldn’t you know it, one of our earliest obstacles involved climbing over a tall wall. One of our height-averse team members opted to skip the obstacle and knock out 30 burpees. But what he didn’t yet know is that we’d hit several more tall structures we’d have to climb over along the course. Eventually, he realized that he could either keep going straight to the burpees every time, or he could face his fear and attempt the obstacle. He ended up choosing the latter, and conquering his fear over and over again for the rest of the race. In fact, all of our team members who experienced anxiety regarding heights faced their fears head on that day, and came out stronger for it at the end of the day.
The race course is designed to test you. It tests your fear threshold, it tests your stamina and it tests your strength. There are three things that can happen at any obstacle: you complete it, you fail it and do burpees, or you skip it and do burpees. Only one of those outcomes does NOT involve burpees, and that’s the one that DOES involve making an attempt. So you may as well try everything - even things that may seem impossible - because you may surprise yourself and succeed.
You can’t go wrong with old fashioned TEAMWORK.
In the early part of the race, I really wanted to try every obstacle on my own. I was able to hoist myself over the short walls, climb rope ladders and roll under barbed wire with the best of them. And then I reached a lateral traverse along a Z-shaped wall. While my teammates were helping each other out, I proceeded on my own. I hung on to that thing for dear life and made it about two-thirds of the way through. Then I reached a point where I couldn’t for the life of me find my footing. Meanwhile, my teammates were on other walls helping each other out (which is allowed in the race), and with nobody there to help hold me up, I tumbled to the ground. An alarm sounded to signal that it was time for me to shuffle off to burpee purgatory while the rest of my team high-fived each other for a job well-done.
As we got further along in the race, the obstacles got harder and harder and I started to really understand and value how important teamwork can be in this scenario. I enjoyed lending a hand to those who needed help lifting or pulling or hoisting a heavy sandbag or two. And I valued the help given to me. In the end, my team crossed the finish line together because we took turns giving each other a helping hand at various points along the race course.
Yes, it can be incredibly beneficial to try to conquer new challenges on your own. But it can be equally, if not more rewarding to work together to overcome obstacles as a team.
Especially with thirty burpees on the line.
KINDNESS is contagious.
There is something pretty magical that happens along the Spartan Race course: everyone is nice. I don’t know what it is, but something about sharing an experience that is supremely difficult for so many people fosters an environment of helpfulness and giving. It’s not just your own teammates that want to help you succeed - EVERYONE does. And you want to do the same for them. Mile after mile, strangers could be found helping strangers over walls, offering encouragement when someone was afraid, and giving congratulations and high-fives.
The world is full of roadblocks, walls, and heavy items that must be pushed, pulled, hoisted or held. You can never go wrong offering a helping hand, even if it’s to someone you don’t know. You never know how much a small act can touch someone’s life.
Especially if it helps them avoid doing thirty burpees.
FAILURE can create OPPORTUNITY
Completing an obstacle - whether on your own or with the help of a buddy - is always satisfying. And then there’s that ONE. The obstacle you want to conquer because you know it’s the hardest one. The one that taunts you with its very existence.
For me, it was the rope climb.
I felt fairly decent about it because I understood a technique that recruited both my legs and my arms to get me up there. But I didn’t have much of a chance to practice, except on some small ropes. The entire race, all I could talk about was how much I wanted to get that rope climb. I didn’t care if I failed everything else if I succeeded at the rope climb.
Toward the end of the race, I finally got my shot. The rope was long and didn’t have knots in it, which was disappointing as I knew knots would be helpful to support my feet on the way up. I brushed it off and went to face my foe. I started climbing, and was making headway. My strategy was working and I shimmied about halfway up the rope, hearing my team cheer me on the entire way. And then...I lost my footing. I couldn’t get the rope wrapped around my foot in a way that would allow me to push off of it while I pulled myself up. I looked up and the top seemed so far away. The less my feet were able to grab, the more I had to hang on with my increasingly tired arms. And then it sank in that I didn’t have any gas left in my arms, and I had to lower myself down. I was filled with disappointment as I headed over to the burpee zone to pay my penance.
But as I completed each burpee, a hunger began to grow.
Now I’m determined to climb the rope. I want it more now than I did then. Now that the race is over, I’m actually quite okay with not achieving my goal because now I have something perfectly clear to work toward. I’m no longer sad that I didn’t climb that rope. I’m more determined than ever that someday I will.
I look forward to the thrill that this success will bring.
That, and not having to do thirty burpees afterward.
UPDATE: I completed my first successful rope climb in Temecula in January of this year, just six weeks after my failure in Castaic. And I now count rope climbing among my more solid skills. Which is good, because if Spartan is known for anything, it's creating new and exciting obstacles designed to be the next beast you have to figure out how to conquer!