Having not raced since Tough Mudder I was equally excited and scared for today. This was my first Spartan Race, and it wasn’t until quite recently that I had started to wonder just exactly what I had let myself in for. When I signed up way way back in January, I took the choice of the Beast over the Sprint, mainly because I saw the 5km distance for the Sprint and assumed I would be ‘over’ running such small a distance come July. Having watched people come over the finish line at the Sprint yesterday looking absolutely broken I woke up this morning filled with absolute dread about what I was about to endure.
We raced in the 8:40am wave, Audrey and I. Our friend Craig was in our wave as well however we kept pace with him for roughly 3 seconds before he was off, all long legs and rapid pace. It was raining and it was misty, as is typical for the Pentlands, however as we were set off by a extremely delightful looking Spartan with shouts of AROO AROO AROO, we were jovial and ready for whatever this ‘Beast’ could throw at us. We had heard stories, OCR Chinese whispers if you like, of average finish times of 6 hours, of distances of around 17 miles (it’s advertised as 21KM so clearly Spartan are taking notes from Deer Stalker when it comes to fibbing about distance), of 30 burpees for each obstacles failure.
Ok so this one WAS true. Each obstacle that was failed (you had to attempt ALL obstacles to avoid disqualification) incurred a penalty of 30 chest to floor burpees. Easy enough right? Well there was 40 obstacles today so that’s sh*t load of burpees if you were to fail even 10 obstacles. But regardless, we were pumped and we were ready.
I have started mentally telling myself that there won’t be anything in a race that I haven’t experienced before – and I’ve done a lot of OCR racing this year. Well the beast took that mantra, chewed it up and spat it right back at me today. You sort of get a feel for what you’re in for when you’re 0.3 miles in, you’re already walking through dense forest and everyone around you is silent. Also, I’ve never been handed a cement block attached to a metal chain and been instructed to drag it half a kilometer up and down a hill before. And here is where I experienced my first ever OCR injury. The man behind me tried to be smart, and he tried to overtake me. In doing so his cement block swing out over the very wet grass and took my left foot right out from underneath me. Cue a lot of swearing from me, and a pretty nasty gash right down my achilles. BUT this is Spartan, and quitting isn’t allowed so on we went. We had three goals for today; 1. Don’t die. 2. Don’t get hypothermia and 3. Finish. So regardless of what was sore and what wasn’t, we were carrying on.
My first (but not last) failure of the day came at the first transverse wall. A rope for your hands to maneuver yourself diagonally along a zig zag wall with no footholds? Yeah, 30 burpees for me, I deserved them. And then directly after that another failure, at the multi rings. Our friends Tina and Kirsty were marshaling at this obstacle and were on hand to provide much needed hugs and jelly babies. Another 30 burpees down and we were only 4 miles in.
There is one thing that Spartan does very well – barbwire crawls, and weighted carries. The bucket carry that presented itself at mile 4.5 (ish) was absolute hell. Out of all the obstacles today this was by far the worst. Around a mile of carrying a bucket filled with 30kg worth of stones, without putting it on your shoulder or loosing any stones. Because I am blessed with quite long limbs I was able to interlock my fingers and sort of cuddle my bucket all the way round. Audrey however wasn’t so lucky. That, coupled with a bad lower back and she struggled, and we had our first tears of the day.
Onwards we went to the swim, which was welcomed, and not as bad as I was expecting. A couple of dunks under some walls and that was it. The spear throw (another fail, missed it by miles meant another 30 burpees) was fun and not nearly as bad as I anticipated. And suddenly we were half way there. And it had taken us 3.5 hours. At this point I started to wonder if we would actually finish before the ‘average’ 6 hour time frame.
There was a point, between the second swim and the A Frame that I wondered what the hell I was doing. The climb was brutal, it was raining hard and it was slow. When you’re at 1300ft the last thing you want to do is crawl under barbed wire up a hill, but we did. Again and again. And then there was an A Frame. Looked simple enough, a rope climb up, swing your leg over the top then a cargo net down. Surprisingly I scaled it very quickly, I got to the top and mentally congratulated myself at not freaking out. Then I went to swing my leg over the top and I don’t actually know what happened but suddenly I was airborne and desperately trying to grab the rope and then I was on the ground, dazed and sending the volunteers into panic. Thankfully I escaped with only a rather large friction burn on my arms and dented pride. The volunteers were keen for a medic but when they informed me that I only had ‘one more hill and horrible obstacle’ to go before the descent I found a second wind and was up ready to go again.
The ‘horrible obstacle’ was indeed pretty shit. 6ft walls, normally easy enough but at an almost 45 degree angle going up a hill are almost impossible. Nevertheless, over and onwards, up another hill to the Atlas Balls whereby we were informed we had to carry the roughly 30kg balls about 50m, complete 5 burpees, then return our balls back to the start. Which is all well and good except your hands are wet, the balls are wet and the thought of anymore burpees makes you want to throw up. But, this is Spartan so you just sort of get on with it. Then it was all downhill. To yet another barbed wire crawl, seriously enough already!! I’m pretty sure there wasn’t Barbed Wire in Ancient Greece.
My watch had decided to run out of battery before we got to the bottom of the last hill, where a lovely lady informed us that we only had 4km left, just one more log carry and then we would be on the home stretch to beer and victory. And what a log carry it was! Spartan does nothing in half measures and this one saw us carrying our logs through woods, over and under fallen branches, through very small spaces and back to the start again.
The end was in sight…we could see the event village, it had stopped raining and we only had a couple of more obstacles to go. The weighted pully was next and was surprisingly easy, even at this stage of the day. Then we rounded the corner and there was a balance beam. Now, I have this fear of things that I might fall off. Which is bizarre given the stuff that I do. But it really threw me. And I really didn’t want any more burpees. I walked up the beam and froze. But with some encouragement from Audrey and the volunteers I made it across, albeit very tentatively.
The next two obstacles resulted in fails for me – the monkey bars and the rope climb. Audrey nailed the rope climb and we were four obstacles away from the end.
I had a mile 19.5 moment at the top of the climbing wall. Flashbacks from the A frame and general tiredness had sunk in, and the second lot of tears of the day presented themselves, this time from me. I just couldn’t get myself down. But as soon as the volunteer guided me onto the first rung I was fine. I flew down it and onto the second transverse wall. Which I completed, much to my surprise. Two more obstacles to go. But when they include Inverted walls (8ft Inverted walls, three of them) you are reminded of where you are. And then two 10ft walls and one fire jump later and we were done.
The feeling of absolute achievement at crossing that finish line is incomparable to anything I have felt this year. It doesn’t get much more challenging the the Spartan Beast. The way I feel now is not something I expected. And I don’t think anyone can really appreciate it until you experience it for yourself. It really is quite something. We are Spartans. Today was OUR day, we sweated, we bled and we cried and we came out the other side victorious. We climbed 4780ft, I burnt 4092 calories and we ran roughly 14 miles in 5.5 hours. Oh and I did 155 burpees. But it was all worth it. I finished 14th in my category so I’ll take that!
This race gives you everything you will ever look for in an OCR. There are hills – lots and lots of hills. There are a bucket load of challenging obstacles – inverted walls, rope climbs, log flips, swims, carries, more walls, monkey bars. There are the volunteers who endured horrible weather to keep us all smiling and watered and fed today and it comes with the BEST medal that I have in my collection so far. It really is the ultimate of all the races.
There are only two pieces of advice I feel are worthy of this epic battle;
- Wear trail shoes. Your normal road trainers just won’t suffice.
- Keep moving, preferably forward. Otherwise the beast will devour you and have you for its own.
Onwards – to the Trifecta. I have the Spartan bug now, nothing short of three medals will do.