A few days ago, I ran my first Spartan race. If you aren’t familiar, Spartan races are adventure-type obstacle course races of varying distances held all over the country. Spartan races are designed to test your mental and physical strength, determination and endurance. There are three main types of Spartan races: a Spartan Sprint is 3 + miles with 20 + obstacles, a Spartan Super is 8 + miles with 28 obstacles, and a Spartan Beast is 12 + miles with 30 obstacles. As crazy as it sounds, I started with the Spartan Super because it was held in my town of Asheville, North Carolina. Oh, and a friend of mine convinced me to do it. The night before the race I was totally nervous and had a tough time sleeping. When I crossed the finish line the next day, it felt like triumph. Here’s what I discovered along the way:
There is power in teamwork.
There is no way I could have accomplished this race without my team of four. Yes, I trained. I ran every other day and went to muscle pump classes at my gym two times a week. I did lots of Chris Freytag’s workout DVDs, exercise workout videos she shares on Facebook, and our Get Healthy U monthly challenges. Physical training, however, can’t coach you up a cargo net if heights freak you out a bit. But your friends can. One of my friends wasn’t so keen on dunking her head into a murky mud pit to go under a wall, but we coached her through it. We stayed together for the entire race, looking out for one another and offering encouraging words when needed. Strangers helped and cheered for other strangers–which is all part of the culture of Spartan races. You don’t leave anyone behind. Our teamwork made us strong, made us closer friends, and led us to the finish line.
Fear doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
I am not a big fan of the unknown. I became a journalist because I have a natural curiosity about things and I like answers. So signing up for a Spartan Race where they pride themselves on some classified obstacles, was downright scary. What obstacles would I face? What if I held up my team? What if I became frozen in fear? I had to let go of knowing (there is only so much you can Google) and just trust my training and my team. An amazing thing happens on race day: Adrenalin takes over (even if you are only competing to finish, and not for a medal) and you become who you want to be. (If you can’t do an obstacle, you have to do 30 burpees. That alone is quite motivating to do the dang obstacle.) My teammate and friend Hillary put it best: “I don’t recognize myself today. I keep wondering, Who is this girl?” She was facing obstacles that scared her and she kept doing them anyway. We all surprised ourselves.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To HIIT
You’ve got to have a power phrase and you have to laugh.
My G-rated power phrase was: “Let’s do this.” (Use your imagination for my less family-friendly phrase, but it begins with F.) I know how a few powerful words can pump you up, and kick the “I can’t do this” to the curb. A lot of people in the Spartan community (the races are addictive) use #SpartanUp. (i.e. “If you see me sitting on the log I am supposed to be carrying up a hill, tell me to SpartanUp.”) I also know I overthink things, so I told myself to: “Just do; don’t think.” It helped. As we traipsed through a reservoir, climbed over haystacks, plodded through mud pits, and ran up a gravel drive through the mountains, we kept our sense of humor. We’d see a stick and ask, “Is this an obstacle?” We joked about using some of the mud for a facial. When we were running through a stone quarry part of the course, I told my friends I felt like we were in an episode of The Hunger Games but instead of trying to survive, we were trying to kill ourselves. (Kidding.) We all agreed: the port-a-potty pre-race was the worst obstacle.
Setting a goal can transform your training.
I had three goals:
1. Have a pulse at the end.
2. Don’t break anything.
3. Finish without wimping out on any obstacle.
In the end, I met those goals, but what was transformative for me was signing up for the Spartan race six months before race day. Setting a goal to run a Spartan super-charged me. For half a year, I told myself I was training for a Spartan and that made me feel like I needed to go the extra mile. I’d add a mile to my run, use heavier weights, or practice some push-ups or mountain climbers at home. I’d do bear crawls around the house with my twin girls. I used the deadline of the race to stay committed to my workouts and give it my all. I even signed up for some Insanity classes at my gym and now I’m hooked. You think race day is your goal, but it’s your day-to-day training that transforms your body. Having a goal on the calendar can be a huge motivator. And never discount the power of your associations/friends. I’d see my teammate Hillary get back from a mountain-to-sea trail run. I’d hear about my teammate Dana’s high intensity interval training workouts and I’d often go to a group fitness class for strength training with my friend Lynne. Collectively having a goal made us all feel like we are in this together—my fitness tribe.
My fitness is still a work-in-progress. I ran the Spartan Super to prove to myself that I could do it. I didn’t run the Asheville Spartan Super as an elite athlete where I do it for time and go for a medal, but I still feel like a champion because I faced a scary new challenge and finished! I improved my ability and fitness level in preparation for the race. I may need a boost from my friends to get over an 8-foot wall, but I can train with some plyometric exercises and pull-ups, and see if I can improve for next time. I want to change the stereotypes of what 45 is supposed to look like. I want to be a good role model for my twin girls. The sense of accomplishment after achieving hard obstacles totally fuels you for the obstacles ahead—during race day and beyond. And as Spartans say: Aroo!