Six months ago, my husband turned to me and said “hey, want to sign up for a Spartan Race?”. I immediately said, “Sure!”, thinking I know people who have done those - they look fun! And I have 6 months to train, so I’ll be in awesome shape by then anyway!
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when panic struck. Holy hell, that race is only a week away and all I’ve done since last year is yoga. I’m no stranger to anxiety, and that familiar feeling was back: clammy hands, disorientation, and the worst part - feeling like a giant fist had enveloped my heart, and was slowly starting to squeeze. My first instinct was to back out. I had failed myself by not planning ahead and getting more training in, and I wanted to abandon ship. The more I googled “what is a Spartan Race actually like”, the more I started to freak out. (Moral of the story: when you’re feeling anxious, do not try to find solace on the internet.)
When I get freaked out about something, I tend to talk about it. A lot. I told my friends, my coworkers, and my husband how scared I was, sometimes to the point of being really annoying. They were all really supportive, and reminded me to breathe and work through my feelings. I journalled and meditated on it (2 things that really help me when I’m stressed out), and decided to go for it - let go of expectations, and try to just enjoy myself.
I was still nervous when Jason and I showed up to get the shuttle to the top of the mountain (where the race was). As I was walking to get in line, I saw a familiar face. It was my friend Melanie, whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years! She was there with her boyfriend, her sister, and a few other friends. We hugged, caught up, and they invited us to join their team and do the race with them. After my disclaimer of “I haven’t trained for this…”, she said “neither have any of us”, and we decided to go for it.
Nervous, but excited before the race
I could not have been more grateful to have a team to work with throughout the obstacle course.
It started off with a run, and 2 minutes in, we hit snow. We were going uphill, and I was already winded. I wasn’t the only one. The entire team decided to slow the pace and work together. We got to our first obstacle course (jumping over low walls), and everyone made it over on their own. Soon, the walls got higher, and while some people could scale them without help, a lot of us couldn’t. So the guys boosted us, and we were on our way once more!
A lot of the course was through snow, and it was actually fun, because you could slide down hills instead of running them. It was warm enough that if you kept moving, you were just fine. After about a 1km hike uphill, it was time to carry sandbags. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I ended up hauling sandbags, pulling cinder blocks by chains, and I even lifted - and carried - a 75 lb rock! (Definitely never done that before.)
There were a few obstacles I couldn’t do, so I did my penalty burpees and moved on. It was a bit of a blow to my ego, but I definitely wasn’t alone in the “burpee pit”, and it felt good to be going through them with my teammates. We were in this thing together, for better or worse.
And so was everyone else! We saw people that were young, older, overweight, and even missing limbs. They were there with their teams, cheering each other on and moving forward, even if it was at a slower pace. Everywhere I turned, I saw people helping each other and encouraging them to keep going. It was inspiring to see people from all different walks of life working together and accomplishing their goals.
The entire experience ended up being a lot more fun (and casual) than expected. I was so worried about being “good enough” physically, when really it was more about the teamwork, the adventure, and the fun of trying something new. Now I know that 1) I’m stronger than I thought I was, 2) I can still do the monkey bars!, and 3) it’s more than worth it to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. It may have its ups and downs, but you’ll always be proud of yourself for trying instead of backing out. So next time that familiar feeling of fear comes up, acknowledge it. And then move forward anyway. In my experience, it’s always worth it.
The well-deserved medal
If you’re thinking of doing a Spartan Race (or something similar) of your own, here a few tips I have for you:
1) Go with a team. I know some people do these things on their own, but I found it infinitely more rewarding to be with a group of like-minded, helpful people.
2) Wear old shoes. We were running through snow, mud, and everything in between. Mine are trashed, and I will likely be donating them rather than wearing them again.
3) Dress in layers! We thought it would be nice and warm by June, but it was still on a mountain - in Canada. And that meant there was snow on the ground, and temperatures were just above freezing. It helped to wear old workout clothes, and lots of layers.
4) Train. I came into it with a decent physical baseline, but as most people know, my main workout is yoga. I would have spent more time running (especially doing hills), and weight training. Some good exercises to try are burpees, pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and lunges. There’s a lot you can do with just your body weight, and I definitely would’ve started doing more cardio and weights about 6 months out (had I planned better).
5) Have fun! Try not to stress about it, and go in with an open mind. Yes, these races are physically tough, but I would say they’re more challenging mentally. Encourage yourself to push through the boundaries you thought you had and keep going. You might just surprise yourself!