Spartan Race: After Action Report
So last weekend (the 15th) I ran a Spartan race. The Spartan Sprint to be precise. It was held at Eidelweiss ski hill over two days. I have had a bunch of people ask me what it was like, so I thought that I would throw up a blog post describing the race.
For those that are lazy, here is the tl;dr version:
- Balls hard
- Dangerous at some points
- Lots of fun
- Probably going to do it again next year
Last summer, a friend of mine (Marie-France) who invited me to do the Army Run half marathon with her last year (but who bailed on me!!) did the Spartan Run. It is a 5km course with obstacles that was held last year, at the Rideau Carleton Raceway. One of my wife’s co-workers at school decided to run it this year and invited a whole bunch of people. I got invited and decide that it sounded like a whole bunch of fun so paid my registration fee and signed up.
I was all mentally prepared for it to be held at the Rideau Carleton raceway this year when the organizers changed the location of the race. It would be moving to Eidelweiss Ski hill. Edielweiss is not that high, only about 630 feet of vertical drop, but it is steep. As in, you stand at the bottom, look up the hill and go “Holy fuck is that steep. And I paid for the chance to run up it.” Your brain then follows that up with a “Dumbass.”
Got there with only a little problem in that Google maps originally told me that the race was on the wrong side of the river. So, despite me leaving early, I ended up getting to the race about 30 minutes later than I planned. I may or may not have taken the speed limit as a guideline as opposed to a strict limit. Luckily, the radio station was playing some good cruising music.
Got there, parked, made my way through the registration line, (Pro-tip for other races, your volunteers will make or break your race in the end. The volunteers for the Ottawa Spartan Sprint really kicked ass.) and found the rest of my team. Looking at everyone, I think I am about mid-way by way of physical shape. We have a triathalon runner as well as some others that are in top shape. We have others that are, well, in not so good shape. But, we are all in a great mood and are looking forward to it. We are in the 10:30 heat, which means that we will be starting before we see many people finish. The first heat took off at 9am. The elite runners finished in about 50 minutes, so they would have just been coming down the hill as we were starting to get lined up.
Up and down (The first time)
We got to the starting area and there was some guy with a megaphone who was trying to get us all pumped up. He wasn’t doing that great of a job. I don’t know if it was simply due to the general level of apathy that you get from living in a town where the largest single employer is the government, or if it was because he was speaking in english, and we had a lot of french people there. It ended up, to me, fading into the background like Charlie Brown’s teacher, although cooler, with a little bit of dubstep thrown in for good measure.
The timer goes off and we start. I am near the front part of the 200 people in this heat. I start out up the mountain at a decent jogging pace. (Mistake #1 – I should have started out slower) The first obstacle is a couple hundred metres up the hill and is a couple of plastic culvert tubes (the ridged ones that are about 1 or 2 feet in diameter.
They are buried halfway into the dirt. and do a good job of completely killing any momentum you have gained. Not to hard to go over them, but given the steepness of the hill, it is surprisingly hard. 3 or 4 sets, with the last set being doubled up. Note that you *always* have the option to skip an obstacle, but it will cost you a penalty of 30 burpees. For most cases, the burpees are by far the worst option.
The culverts really spread out the pack. This was good, because the next obstacle, another couple hundred meters up the hill, would have caused a serious traffic jam if they had not done so, as it was the first of the barbed wire crawls.
This was not really a problem, unless you had your hair up in a high ponytail. Barbed wire lurves getting snagged in hair. Elbows and the inside of your thighs is what you use here if you want to be safe. If you are on your hands or on your knees, chances are good that you will end up snagging on the barbed wire. From my time in the military, I have been scratched by barbed wire more often than I can count, so I went on my hands and knees. Saw a couple of racers, after the barbed wire, adjusting their ponytails. Probably a smart idea.
Once this was done, we continued up the hill.
And up the hill.
And up even more hill.
Along the way, I encountered something that I had only seen previously in Gagetown during my Officer’s Training: A pit of mud on the side of a hill. Saw a lot of people who were going through a great deal of effort to go around the mud on the grass on the edges of the mud pits. Protip: Muddy grass is really slippery and a pain in the ass to walk up. The thick mud offered some traction and made it easier to get up. Lots more stability, plus, my shoes were already mud-covered, so it is not like I needed to worry about getting them dirty. I think I passed about a dozen or so people over the course of the race just by going through the mud as opposed to around it.
Well, that plus a 3 or 4 pound weight at the end. You have to roll it up, and is not as easy as you think it should be. The trick is to not stop and keep the momentum going. Finish that, and it is time to head down the hill.
The way down is a couple of obstacles. Remember the barbed wire from the way up? Its twin is here. Not hard as long as you remember knees and elbows. Next is a 6-foot wall that is over a pit of mud. Your path takes you under the wall through the mud that is about 2 or 3 feet deep. If you weren’t muddy after the first two trips through the barbed wire the first two times, you will be now.
The next obstacle is the parallel bars. About 10-12 feet long with a rest position in the middle. You have to make your way along them holding your body above them. Lock your elbows and shuffle and you will make it. This is the first spot where I almost did burpees, but I managed to make my way along. As the days go on, I would expect the bars to get slippery, and in the rain I would expect it to be an almost guaranteed 30 burpees.
Then it was a long, long downhill that took us through a bunch of old trees and logs that were stacked on top of one another before we came to the next obstacle, Through the Hole/Over the wall. This is a 6 foot wall with a hole in the middle followed by a 6 foot wall you need to climb over. There are three sets of these. They aren’t hard to get through unless you are short. Some arm strength is needed to pull yourself up here.
The end of our first trip up and down the hill brings us to the Hercules Hoist. A simple pully attached to a weight that you have to bring all the way to the top. The easiest way to do this is to use your body weight to pull the weight up a couple of feet and then as you stand up, to “climb” the rope with your hands. Lather, rinse repeat.
Up and Down, the second
Back up the hill. At this point, my legs are kinda sore, but not too bad. I am kinda muddy, but nothing extraordinary. Also, and here is the important point, no pain!! Back up the hill a couple hundred meters brings us to some tunnels. These are dark, small, and kinda claustrophobic. You are not, unless you are really tiny, going to be on your hands an knees for this. You will probably be belly crawling, using the sides of your feet and your elbows to move you forward.
The next thing is the Coors light Ice Bath, although by the time we got to it the water was not so much ice as it was cool. I was thirsty enough at this point that I was *almost* tempted to take a sip of it. However, it was a rather unhealthy-looking green colour at this point in time. (Note, I am unsure how water + mud becomes green. My extensive experience, both personal and through my daughters, tells me it mixes to make a nasty brown colour.)
As you can see, I am pretty muddy at this point in time after a couple of barbed-wire crawls, a hay tunnel crawl and a dip in a mud-bath while crawling under a board.
We keep on going up the hill and then we come to some sand bags. You have to go up the hill (about 20-30 metres) and back with it on your shoulder. If you are kind and follow the Spartan Spirit, you hand it off to the next person waiting. If you are a douchewaffle, you just drop it on the ground at the feet of the next person.
Then, like the beginning of The Friendly Giant, you go “ up, waaaaay up!” This is a long trip up the hill, and is fairly steep. Just lower your head, don’t think to much and keep on going. As you get near the top, there are a couple of volunteers telling you that there is water at the top. Then you turn the corner and there is some water, of course it is at the top of a 50-foot long mud puddle on the side of the hill. Did I also mention that the water is being blown in your face by a snow-gun? Still, it was refreshing.
Get past this, and there actually *is* water. Granted, there is a lineup of people to drink the water, but there is real, cold water. Ho. Ly. Crap. So awesome.
The next three obstacles are all variations on a theme, and are spread pretty regularly along the way down the hill. The first obstacle we come to is the Tractor Pull. Pull a deck block about 30 feet and back along mostly flat ground. Nothing hard here. Some single track running and going down the hill brings us to the next obstacle, the Ammo Box carry. Like the Tractor pull, but instead of pulling a deck block, you are carrying two ammo cans. This is, thankfully, on a flat portion of the hill. The last one has you carrying a jerry-can full of water 30 feet up a steep portion of the hill and back.
At the bottom you come to a pyramid made out of a cargo net that you have to climb over. Pretty trivial unless you have someone step on your fingers, so don’t lollygag at the top.
Up and Down, the third trip
Heading back up the hill, we come to a 5-foot wall. Not too hard really. The we go a fairly long stretch up the hill. Then we come to what was, for me, the most demoralizing part of the race. You are going up the hill, and then you turn back down the hill through some trees. “Yay!” you think, back down. But no. It then turns back up the hill, and you come out of the trees faced with a mud puddle about 50 feet long and thigh deep, followed by a hill. Wait, let me rephrase that…followed by a “HOLY F*CK THEY WANT ME TO GO UP THAT!?!” Here is where your endurance really kicks in. There are plateaus every now and then, but otherwise, you are climbing and climbing. I saw lots of people taking breaks every now and then. I know that I did.
Once you got past that, it is a quick turn and back down the hill, for real this time. No obstacles on the way down at all except for what Mother nature put in your way. Some rocks, some streams, some natural mudpits not encouraged by the Spartan Run staff to be bigger and deeper.
We then get tot he bottom of the hill and come across the last couple of obstacles. The first 3 are all connected and a great opportunity to gain some time on people. You have monkey bars (about 10 or 15), followed by a rope climb (probably about 20 or 30 feet) and finally the rings. The monkey bars, due to their square nature and slipperiness, were 30 burpees for me. The next is the rope climb. The trick here is to use your feet to clamp the rope and push up. Hold your position with your hands while you lift your feet and clamp again. Finally the rings. In the rings, momentum is everything. Grab one and swing to grab the next. Let yourself swing back, and then on the forward swing, let go of the back ring and grab the next one. Repeat until the end. If you stop swinging, you will make your life a whole heck of a lot harder.
You get off the rings and you have a short distance to gather up speed to get to the Fire Jump. This was well done. They had a nice gradient of fire, one end had flames, the other was more embers and stuff. Also, if someone had a bad knee or something like that, they were allowed to go around and I didn’t see them get the 30 burpee penalty. That being said, it being on a downhill slope made it trivial to jump over. I am disappointed that there wasn’t a dude taking pictures here.
Quick uphill and you have to go through the gladiators with their giant Q-Tips. Didn’t like this obstacle much, as they seemed to be aiming for the…ummm…crotchular area. Was a rather unpleasant surprise. From this We carried on to the Cargo Net Crawl, which was about 10 metres under camouflage netting. Pretty easy if you go on your hands and knees and arch your back to push the net up.
Last obstacle, the slippery wall. This looks hard and intimidating, but ends up being pretty easy. Grab the rope and keep your body at a 90 degree angle from the incline. From there, it is just a matter of “walking” up the wall.
Once you are up the wall, you slide down the rope on the other side and push the last 5 metres to the finish line.
My official finishing time was 1 hour, 40 minutes and 28 seconds, which put me in at 2200 out of 7565 people. I am quite happy with the result. I think I can probably cut around 5 or 10 minutes off of that time (which would have moved me up to somewhere between 1400th and 1800th place this year) with a little more hill training and endurance. Not the endurance you get from running half marathons and such. But the kind you get from running hills, doing squats, lunges, etc.