I’ve been meaning to post about my very first Spartan Race that I completed last month, on August 2nd. What was it like? Tough. Very hard and different than anything I’ve tried before. It was set in the hills along the Washougal river.

When I got there it was obvious that there were lots of people. Many acres of rolling green pasture became an enormous parking lot for the thousands of racers and spectators showing up. Everyone seemed to be having fun.

The racers were grouped by start times. I was in the 9:30 AM group, which actually got going closer to 10:00 AM. Right at the start, to get in the race chute, you had to go over a 4′ wall. A loud DJ and announcer then worked to pump up the group of racers before sending them out. Each group was broken into waves of probably twenty or thirty people.

The race started and I ran out with the group and immediately went right up a steep hill. It’s a rocky trail climbing up the hill and pretty quick most of the people are walking. I haven’t been running many hills so it didn’t take long for my slow run to become a walk. Then the trail turned and got even steeper. That went on for quite a distance, working up the hill. Some of it beneath trees, other sections out in cleared areas.

When the trail leveled off on the ridge it went back beneath the trees and I reached the first obstacle – a series of four or so walls like the one at the start of the race chute. I climbed over those without any problem and pressed on. After that the trail started down hill and continued on. A large part of the race was this continual up and down run (mostly walking on my part) trail. Very steep, Lots of loose rock. And then every so often the other obstacles:

  • Over, under, through walls. The walls got taller and varied. We had 6′ walls, walls to roll under and then a wall with square openings to go up and through.
  • Inclined wall. You’ve got to come up underneath it and have to climb up and over. That wasn’t much of a problem.
  • Up and over the rope climb. Giving racers a preview of the rope climb, this was climbing up and over the high twenty-five feet or so rope climb structure. Easy to do unless you’re afraid of heights. The top of this wasn’t solid, so you did have to watch your steps and could see through the gaps to the water below.
  • Water pits. Muddy water pits. This was a nice chance to cool off and it was the first time that you got wet and muddy. There were several pits to wade through.
  • Traverse wall. Long wall with hand-holds and foot-holds. You had to move across the length of the wall, fall or grab the top and it’s burpees. Ring the bell at the end. Not easy, but I made it across. I wasn’t too sure about this one, so I felt good that I’d done it without having to do burbees (penalty for failing any obstacle is 30 burpees).
  • Cargo net climb. Cargo netting strung between trees. I thought this was fun and easy, maybe 15′ high, or a little more.
  • High wall, 8′ tall.  Another obstacle I wasn’t sure I could do, but I managed to jump up, catch the top and pull up enough to get my leg over the top and lower myself down the other side.
  • The hoist. Bags full of sand ~100lbs tied to a rope, up over a pulley attached to a metal scaffold at least twenty feet tall, maybe taller. Racers were expected pull it up to the top and lower it back down. Penalty for failing any obstacle: 30 burpees, full chest down to the ground, jump up after burpees. My first attempt to pull the rope I thought my feet were going to leave the ground even though I’m not that light. Then I leaned back into it and managed to get the bag up. I got it about halfway up and simply couldn’t move it any more. Lowered it down and accepted my 30 burpee penalty.
  • Tractor tire flip or tire drag. Racers had to choose. The flip was a very big, heavy tire you had to flip over four times, two times one way, two back. The drag was dragging a big tire (not tractor-sized) out twenty or so feet and then drag it back with a rope. Given the difficulty I had with the hoist I went for the flip figuring my legs were stronger. Very big, very heavy, but I managed to get it up and flip it all four times.
  • Bucket Brigade. Fill a big heavy duty plastic 5 gallon bucket full of gravel up to the top and then carry it up and around a washboard area of track. Very hard, uncomfortable to hold. Had to keep stopping. If you spilled the gravel then it would be burpees. Eventually made it.
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
    • Block drag. Heavy concrete block attached to thick chain dragged up the hill and back down. Very heavy and steep. This section looped so you left the block where you collected it.
    • Culvert. Not really an obstacle, just a big culvert that you ran (or walked) through and then back uphill to the top of the water slide.
    • Water slide. Very high. Very steep. The end shoots racers out into the air and drops them into a big pit of muddy water. They recommended keeping your arms crossed on your chest, sitting up so that you’d hit the water feet first. And pulling down the headband around your neck because people were losing them. There was a bit of a line here, and I saw the Unbreakable Jones on one of their later laps, doing this tied together. You end up going very fast! Hit the water so fast that it ripped off my Road ID bracelet. The water was pretty much shoulder deep until I waded up to the end and climbed up the muddy hill to get out. Once up and out I realized the bracelet was gone. I wasn’t happy about that! Still had my timing bracelet at least. No way to go back and look for the Road ID.
    • First mud crawl. Washboard area so racers have to crawl, roll, scoot up and over small slippery muddy hills beneath barbed wire. Preview of harder things to come.
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
  • Sand bag carry. 40lbs Big neoprene “Sandbell” bags made by Hypewear. Carried up a steep hill and back down. That was harder than it looked.
  • Big Uphill Mudcrawl. Under barbed wire up a very steep, very slippery hill. Hardpacked ground beneath the mud but extremely difficult to get purchase squirming and scooting, clawing for grips. Muddy, but also rough and hard on the arm and knees. The whole thing was a mass of people so sometimes I couldn’t even move but other people did help by bracing each other when they could. Eventually get to a steeper section with a rope in the mud. Hard to climb up it at a steep angle, muddy and slippery, but somehow I got to the top.
  • Rope climb. Back to the rope climb obstacle from the other direction. Now to climb the high rope to the top. Down into a chest-deep water pit. I barely got up on the rope. Tried hooking the rope between my feet to brace and climb, but it was wet, muddy, slippery and I had no strength left. Hard to climb up the muddy hill out, but managed and did my next set of 30 burpees. Very tired, but getting close to the end by now.
  • Spear throw. One attempt, throw spear and stick it in the bales of the target. My throw went a bit wide and glanced off the bales. 30 burpee penalty.
  • Underwater wall. This was a short crawl up a hill under barbed wire and down into a pit of water with a wall across the water. You had to duck under the wall and come up on the other side.
  • Slippery wall. Inclined wall with no grips except a rope. Using rope walk up wall, lunge to grab the top and climb down the ladder-like other side.
  • Fire jump. Right before the finish they have a fire burning across the course that you jump over.

I ran to the finish, got my finisher’s medal and turned in timing chip. Picked up food/beverages at the end and somehow missed the race t-shirts. I completely missed the showers and t-shirt area (the great support folks at Spartan Race mailed me my finisher shirt after I emailed them when I was home). I had brought water and towels and stuff so I got cleaned up a bit and changed out of my muddy, wet race clothes before leaving.

 Thoughts

I found the race very challenging. About 4.75 miles long, there’s a lot more running than the obstacle list indicates. It was hills, trail running, and I lost a lot of time just because I wasn’t up to running the distance.  I had a lot of muscle soreness afterward, pretty much everywhere. Plus scratches on knees and arm, mostly from the big mud crawl. Some bruises. Peeled back the toenail on my right big toe trying to get up that big muddy hill, digging in my toes. I was pretty worn out. I definitely need more upper body strength, as well as needing to be a stronger runner with good hill endurance.

Despite my relative lack of serious training, I managed. I finished even though it took me 2:45:52 to do it, and 90 burpees. I could have cut the time down a lot if I was just up to running on the hilly, trail parts of the course. More strength would have made things like the gravel, hoist and sandbell carries go faster. And if I had the strength to do that, I might have managed the rope climb.

Future Races? AROO! AROO!

Right after the race I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something I wanted to do again. A few days later I was thinking about the next race. I want to get in better shape, be able to do more.  Simply improving my running fitness, endurance and ability to run hills would have knocked a lot of time off the clock.

I didn’t train particularly well for the race. Now that I have a better idea of what’s involved, I plan to start training more for the next race. Although it’s tempting to think about doing the trifecta (a Sprint, Super and Beast in the same year), I think I may just aim for doing this race again next year. If I’m doing well at that point then maybe I’ll consider a trifecta for the next year. Plans can change, but the main point right now is that I want to get in better shape.

Before the start of the race...
Before the start of the race…