This is Spartaaaaaa! – Spartan Sprint Race Recap

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OK, so I did not yell that as I crossed the finish line, shaking my fists and channeling a really irate Gerard Butler. I was too bloody tired. But I wanted to! I did, however, exclaim as we rounded the corner to the Gladiators with their Pugil Sticks “Those who are about to die; We salute you.”

I’m sure it was not the first time the very handsome young fellows holding massive foam Q-tips have heard that, but hey, it seemed fitting. Heh…

This past weekend (June 15th) was my first Reebok Spartan Sprint, and my third obstacle course race since May 11th (I am officially nutty, and ready for a break). I went into the race worried about my legs, specifically my hips and my right shin splints. I was sad because I had hoped more of my friends who were running could have ran in the morning with me (most had heats in the afternoon, or on Sunday). So I was alone for my start, along with 250 other participants, most in teams. My husband ran at 9:30. I ran at 10. He wanted to be competitive, or at least get a decent time, and I knew I would hold him up, so I encouraged him to run without me. I regretted that a bit, missing him.

I will say this as a summary: I absolutely loved this challenge. I felt empowered, I had fun, I accomplished some pretty bad#$% things. I ran where I could, I climbed some steep hills, and descended down them again. This race had tougher elements than Tough Mudder, and easier parts too. It was way less muddy than Mud Hero (I think any other race would be, to be honest), and yes, burpees suck.

This was the best obstacle race I have run, so far, in my short yet packed OCR journey. I recommend it to everyone. I mean it. You will be challenged, and you will be tired, and you will be extremely proud of yourself at the end. The slogan for the Spartan races is “You’ll know at the finish line”. Yup.

The fastest time of the day was 49 minutes, which is freakishly fast, if you could understand how rough and steep some of the climbs were. Freakish. My time was almost 3 hrs. Yes. Slow. But I did not care about that. What I cared more about was finishing, being proud of my effort, and coming away with a positive experience. Which I did. My husband’s time was roughly an hour and a half, and he wasn’t as pleased with that. He was tired going into the race for some reason, and felt off. I think he should be proud of his result, but that is just me. I believe that was a very good average time, given the challenging climbs.

So, below the cut, please find my (really LONG) recap of the Ottawa Spartan Sprint, held June 15th, at Edelweiss Ski Hill in Wakefield, QC.

Getting There

We started the day early, leaving the kids with a sitter for the day before 8 AM, which was the right call to make. As I was getting dressed, I was just as excited to spend some time with just my husband as I was to be running! I think this kind of thing may become our way of getting away without the kids, and doing something fun. I know, crazy. “Let’s go away for the weekend and run around in the mud, climb walls and stuff!” Why not, eh?

The first “Doh!” of the day was when I went to put on my socks. My beautiful red and black skull socks bought as a gift for me by a good friend for finishing Tough Mudder. I love them, and couldn’t wait to wear them, having squirreled them away as soon as I received them, keeping them especially for the Sprint.

They didn’t fit. I couldn’t get them up my gynormous left calf muscle. I nearly cried. (Turns out they are a perfect fit on my arms. I may take the foot off of them, sew the ends, and make arm warmers out of them! HAH! take that manufacturer who thinks skinny people are the norm.)

Instead, they got re-squirreled away, and the trusty Rainbow socks got pulled on. Was I glad for them later!

We got to the hill with lots of time to spare, parked easily for $5, and my husband went off to the season’s pass line. I stood in line for a good ten minutes waiting to get checked-in. Thankfully I had my online check in done so I was through quickly. We did not get the email for the online check-in until the day before, so a lot of folks did not have theirs, or came completely unprepared to check-in. *grumble* The bibs are hand numbered, and quite flimsy. The chip (which seemed to be supplied by the ski hill) was zip-tied to my shoe, which I thought was brilliant. No unlacing of my shoes required, which is a pain. I got sharpied on my arm. A lot of folks got sharpied on forehead, leg, and arm… It was a tad ridiculous. However, you had an option not to wear the bib so… When in Rome… errr… Sparta?

What I was surprised at was that bag check was $2! We had to pay for it. That was a first. We pay a not-so-inexpensive fee to come run these races, pay to park, and then you charge us for bag drop? It was only $2, and worth the convenience of not having to trapse back and forth to the car, but it was kind of a money grab, and a little off-putting. I am hoping the money at least went to charity, or was a fund-gather for something other than profits.

Start it Up!

We visited the enormous bank of washrooms (no lineups!) on the far side of the chalets, and took in the scene. My husband was amping up for his heat, so off we went over to the start box. The MC (who again, is no Start-Line Sean, that man has ruined me for all other OCR starts, ever.) was tall, and dressed in a quasi Roman/Spartan uniform. I had expected him to be carrying a replica Dory (http://www.ancientmilitary.com/spartan-weapons.htm) , but instead, he carried what looked like a straight-shaft cudgel. Likely for convenience? I don’t know. He was wearing a fairly representative Spartan Hoplite helm, minus the plume and some other accoutrements.

Ok, I think I might be officially geeking out a little. Where was I… *ahem*

He tried to rev the crowd, but most folks never stopped chatting or doing their own thing. The sound system was atrocious, and it was hard to really catch what he was saying. Maybe this is an Ottawa thing, or maybe Tough Mudder really does have the formula right, but the start box was really, really underwhelming, with a lack of excitement coming from the crowd. Both my husband’s send off and mine were kind of anti-climactic.

I was really, really calm in the start box. I stood, simply taking in the hill in front of me, the people around me (including the crazy costumes, fun chatter, and yes, nerves from others), and took some deep, cleansing breaths. I felt good, I felt energetic, but there was no nervousness. My normal corral M.O. was in place, which was a good sign.

There was no gun, no Spartan battle horn, nothing other than a “Go!” and the herd moved off.

Straight up a hill. This would become a theme.

Climbing

The first thing we encountered was the mountain itself. Edelweiss is known to be one of the steepest hills in the Gatineaus, so I was quite unprepared for the path all the way to the top of the hill. I paced with some other folks who were red-faced and puffing, just like me. Yeah, I was slow, but I didn’t care. I reasoned with myself as we climbed that I was pacing myself, doing my best.

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The first obstacle was some cut-in-half corrugated pipes to step over, halfway up the first stage of the first climb. I hopped over those with some difficulty (Being short sucks sometimes, and other times it rocks) Then it was just climbing until we got to the top. take 50 steps, stop, catch breath, then take 50 more. One step at time. In all, we climbed up and down that mountain three times over the course, starting on a gentle slope, and ending on the black diamond, which was (with only slight exaggeration) straight up and straight down. I slipped a few times, but was able to stay on my feet for all descents. I caught up to a new friend on the last descent, and she did a reverse bearcrab crawl down a slope that was extremely loose with gravel, and really steep. It was neat to watch her so adeptly maneuver her way like this. She does a boot camp called Soldiers of Fitness, and I think some of the training there came in handy for her.

The terrain, if you want to label it, was rough. Tough Mudder had fairly well groomed, wide pathways, whereas our path at Spartan was over rocks, through gulleys, over ditches. Sometimes you were scrabbling in brush, other times scaling a wee bit o’ the Canadian Shield itself. Spartan course designers, you really outdid yourself here. The mountain WAS the obstacle. I tip my Tough Mudder hat to you. It was really difficult, but I loved the challenge and in the end, was appreciative of what I had done. Plus, the views from the top once you got there were stunning on such a clear, sunny day. The reward for the effort, I suppose.

This is where I mention the second and third “Doh’s!” of the day. I did not bring hydration. There was only one aid station, halfway through the course, after the second climb. This was not enough fluid for this kind of exertion. I was beyond thirsty at the end, and drained my water, and drank a Gatorade as well, which I normally do not allow myself. I should have brought my fuel belt, it would have survived the mud just fine. I also only brought one gel, my emergency one, that I always carry on 5k runs in my trusty SPI Belt. I used it at the aid station, and realized I should have brought two, not even thinking that the climbs and the time I took on course would be like this. I was very thankful for the intake of calories, and I had several strange stares, and several comments of “I should have thought of that!” as I sucked it back. It tasted amazing.

It helped immensely, along with two cups of water and a five minute pause before the deck block drag to let my stomach process some of the water through. I hate stitches.

Oh, there was also a water cannon to walk through at one point, right before the water station, which I was unsure of, but then wished for more. It felt amazing, and I stopped to stand in the cold mist for a moment, cooling off, rinsing some mud from my face. The other refresher was their version of the Arctic Enema. It was not too cold, and I wanted to stay in to soak my shin splints a little. I was not allowed. *insert sadface* I did get to rinse my gloves off! That was nice. Big difference from a dumpster full of bone-chilling reefer truck cold water.

Just remembering that Tough Mudder obstacle is giving me chills. *brrr*

Lift, Carry, Pull

My favorite obstacles of the entire race were the ones where we had to lift, carry or pull something. I know… Huh? Most people would groan at that, and I wasn’t sure what to expect but as we progressed through the race, I looked forward to them. I felt very good about myself while doing those obstacles, feeling my strength, seeing others struggling (including really fit guys… whaaa? Yeah, one dude dropped his Jerry can saying “This thing is heavy, man!” while I carried mine on my shoulder). These obstacles were empowering, and I completed them with, well… What I felt was ease.

The first one I encountered was simply to roll a tiny kettlebell up on a dowel and let it out again. I got my first “better than a guy” comment here. It seems I am adept at winding stuff on a dowel? All those years of re-rolling polo bandages came into play on that obstacle, my horsey friends. So don’t grumble next time you have a pile to do, k?

The Sandbag “pancake” carry was a lot of fun, and considerably lighter than a feed bag. One beef though… Why in %^&$ do women get a lighter sandbag than the men? I suppose I could’ve just grabbed a guy one, but I followed directions and picked up a girl’s bag. Next time, I will not. The women’s sandbags were considerably lighter, from the looks of it. I want to find out where I can buy one of those sandbags. They would be a lot of fun to train with.

The ammo box carry was just like hefting two buckets of water. I have no idea what was in ’em, but they were solid little boxes, and since you had two, that was the easiest carry of the race, balanced out. The Jerry can carry was difficult for a lot of people, since they were half full of water. Simply put it on your shoulder, tilt it back, and hold the handle. Let the water sit in the bottom of the can, it won’t slosh, and you balance it for the duration of the carry. Easy-peasy. It was amazing how many people could not figure that out.

My favorite of these, hands down, was the pulley weight-lift. It was a concrete weight, on a rope, that you had to pull up through a pulley to the top of a frame, then let it down again. I was scared a bit going into this one, thinking “I might not be strong enough to get this”. I watched a bare-chested, well-muscled guy start his pull, and he had trouble with it. Uh-oh. Then I remembered my physics. Gravity, weight, and pulleys all work together well. While muscle-dude was grunting and pulling bent forward with just his arms, I planted my feet wide, grabbed that rope, leaned back, and simply hand-over-handed it to the top. Then I let it fall slowly, my gloves cushioning any rope burn. I started after him, and finished before him. I got my second “Better than the guys!” comment from the volunteer there.

I left that obstacle feeling absolutely friggin’ amazing.

No Wall too High

I completed all of the walls. I had help on them, of course, being that I am 5’1″ and require help to simply reach the top. But I did them all. The tall one right before the Monkey Bar rig was a bit shorter than the Berlin Walls at Tough Mudder, but as I sat on the top and looked around quickly, I felt really, really vindicated and let out a “WHOOP!”. Next year, when I do Tough Mudder (and yes, there will be a next year) I am doing those walls. No excuses now!

I also did the Cargo Net, which was very similar to Mud Hero, with the exception that the net was not secured to the bars in the A-frame very well. As I climbed up, I was talking myself through it out loud, feeling the net shift and move as people clambered up. Eep! It was disconcerting, and I had to adjust my grip to not have fingers caught between a frame pipe and the net several times. As I was descending the other side, I set my foot on a bar, only to have the net sink down over it and start pressing, as three people went down past me.

I could feel the bones in my ankle grinding. I called out “My foot is stuck! My foot!” and two large guys on either side of me stopped to help. The pressure at that point got worse and I said “My foot is breaking! It is BREAKING!” feeling the bones beginning to twist. So they simply armpit lifted me, wiggled my foot out of the slack rope, and set me back on the net in a split second. All at, oh, about 15′ in the air.

Gah… Can you say heart rate through the roof?

Thank God for you, fellow Spartan racers, and your help. My shoe prevented a large bruise, and I am no worse for wear. Wish I had gotten your name so I could look you up and kudo you properly. Their ability to simply stop their race, help, and not worry about their time is what OCR’s are about. Help your fellow racer. Accept the challenge of good sportsmanship as you compete, balancing it with a competitive spirit. This is paramount for me in all sport (which is why I really dislike fighting in hockey, it feels wrong to purposely hurt your fellow sportsman), but particularly here.

I will never, ever take my course time over helping someone on one of these races. I will always put helping someone cross that finish line, if need be on my shoulders, over my own finish.

Many times I stopped at touched a shoulder of a slumped climber, or simply asked a prostrate person “Are you ok?”, getting their response before moving on. I can’t tell you how many hands I grabbed to help folks out of tunnels, mud, or steady on slopes. I also can’t tell you how many people I met who encouraged me, whom I encouraged, or who we simply helped one another with kind words and “you can do it’s!”. The girl next to me in the hay tunnels was having a panic attack, so I talked to her the whole way through. We came out on the other side, I looked at her, said “You did it!” and she smiled the biggest smile! Apparently that was her boogeyman, claustrophobia.

That made my day.

Strength

It took me a good twenty minutes to do my first set of 30 burpees. The parallel bars were much, much too wide for me to even think about finishing the obstacle, so I opted to the side to burpee it out. I bit them off in chunks of five, resting, then doing another five.

I am fully aware my burpees are rather pathetic and sad looking. I am ok with this. It got me through the day. I have until the fall to get better at them. My husband, who is as fussy about exercise form as his Crossfit coach (yes, dear, you are), told me he found it humorous watching people do burpees so horribly wrong. I am glad he said that in the car, and not around anyone else.

That might have got him decked.

I did not attempt the rig obstacles. I know my upper body strength is not enough to hold my 180 pounds right now, so I opted for burpees. Evidently, so did most other people. There was literally no room to burpee! We were ok’ed to do jumping jacks, so myself and my new friend, whom I had caught up to at this point, as well as two other racers, did our penance like high school gym class.

I did 60 straight. I am hard core. Sign me up for SEAL training, yo.

The spear throw was not long after the rig, after the fire leap. Now, the fire leap looked kind of hokey, and I was not worried about it. But I tell you, running and leaping that flame was kind of a fun thing to do. I felt empowered and bad *&^, feeling the heat as I passed over the low line of burning wood. It was not by any means a big leap needed, and there was only one leap. I was hoping for multiple lines of fire, but I am sure there was all kinds of concern for keeping the fire to just the concrete, and not taking the whole resort with it.

My spear throw, expecting to be pathetic, was awesome. I picked a short spear (which is really a shovel handle with a spike on the end) I threw it like the javelin I sort of learned how to throw in high school (in which I was never any good), and it thunked, with much satisfaction, into the wood just underneath the straw bales. I looked, not believing my eyes, when it stayed put. The volunteer was appropriately impressed, and I wish I could have taken a picture.

I felt strong as we made our way to the end of the course. Strong, capable, and in control.

20130621-123009.jpgThe End?

The last obstacle was a climb up a slippery, rubber-coated wall, using a rope. On the other side, you had to slide down a rope. I climbed up the sloped wall easily, really excited to be done, and really excited that this felt easy.

Of course, the knots in the rope, and the trail shoes I was wearing kind of helped. I mean, come on, I am not a spider. *ahem*
Remember when I said I was glad for my socks? Yes, this was that moment. No rope burn for me as the volunteer helped me wrap the rope around my leg to help my descent not be too fast. I was a tad worried about it, not wanting to land on my broken tailbone and hurting myself literally feet before the finish line.Yeah, cuz that wouldn’t be embarrassing at all.

Looking at it now, I suppose having shin protection on the course is quite necessary, and I won’t do a race without it. I may be a tad warm in full leg coverage, but man, no bruising, cuts or scraping on my legs is quite nice.

Plus, rainbow knee socks are awesome. Jes sayin’.

My husband was waiting for me as I shuffled through the water and T-Shirt line, dirty, tired, and wearing his own medal. I saw him and waved. He was craning and hopping, looking for me. Apparently he had gotten worried since he thought he might have missed me come in. Awww… I assumed he would already be passed out in the shade somewhere, napping, a burger already digesting in his tummy. Right behind me, our next door neighbour, who Crossfits with hubs (Crossfit, yo!) came in to the finish. I am super proud of him too, he really did well with his time, and loved it. *high five* Sir! Glad to have shared some of the day with you.

There was no food given out at the finish, just water, and as I lifted my foot onto the box for a volunteer to cut off my timing chip, I felt the sides of my stomach flap together. I was HUNGRY! Feed. Me. Now. Once I had retrieved my bag, we stood in line for food, and I had a cheese burger. Screw the calories, I needed sustenance, and I was not about to have a salad. Are you kidding? Meat. Carbs. Grease. OMNOMNOMNOM.

Also? No blood sugar lows on course. No wibbly-wobbly’s. I think my cardiovascular fitness and my Diabetes control is getting better. Win.

Proud

I am really ^&*%ing proud of my achievement. I attempted all but one obstacle. I completed all my attempted obstacles except one. I conquered that mountain. I lifted and carried ^%*, I climbed walls, crawled, ducked, ran, jumped… It was kind of like playing, but with a big crazy goal, not just for giggles. I had a true endorphin high after finishing, and all the way home in the car, was bouncing a little. I an quite certain my husband thought I was certifiable. I kept looking at my medal and smiling what felt like a massive, dorky, goofy grin.

As I said, it was the best obstacle race I have done, and I want to do another one. Spartan may be a tad disorganized when it comes to their website and registration, the obstacles may not be as mentally challenging as Tough Mudder, and the start line a little ho-hum… But I absolutely loved the race itself. I owe a thanks to the course designers for giving me a much needed boost to my confidence, and showing me that even though I have a long way to go to being optimally fit for this, I can achieve awesome things with the body I have right now.

I am seriously contemplating making the Trifecta a goal for next year. Not sure about the Beast, since it is literally a half-marathon with obstacles, but…

…Remember in a previous post that I didn’t know when my first Half would be (https://mustangsabby.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/the-heavy-half/)? Next year, this might be it.

Stay tuned.

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