First Spartan Race – Minnesota Sprint 2016

Spartan Racing – the Senior Version!

As some of you know, I participated in my first Spartan Race last June, 2016. Prior to that, I could not have told you much about the sport of obstacle racing or how many different versions and brands there are. To me, it was a simply a new experience to do with fun friends who were already planning a road trip to Minnesota. Since I have family there, it seemed like a good plan – run a race and a then have a mini-reunion. No big deal.

Maybe you know someone who has shared pictures of themselves covered in mud, or climbing a net or rope, or crawling under low hanging barbed wire. Or, perhaps you saw parts of the new show – Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge – depicting various groups competing for prize money and working together to overcome obstacles surely designed by a cruel sadist. Whether you compete as an individual or as part of a team, obstacle racing is a growing niche for those who want to test their strength, balance, and agility, while overcoming fears and enduring harsh environments.

So, how does one prepare for something like this? I was already running a couple of times a week and taking Jazzercise classes for strength, balance and coordination. However, these activities would not develop the muscles needed to help me carry a bucket of rocks up a steep hill or launch my body over a tall wall. Forget climbing a rope! I’m not sure I ever accomplished that, even in high school gym class. Clearly, I needed to add some specific workouts and thankfully, a local facility conducts Saturday trainings and Boot Camps to help wanna-be Spartans and other fearless athletes train specifically on common obstacles. Where else can you practice throwing a spear or flipping a tractor tire? The first Boot Camp I attended was a week before the race and it kicked my booty, hard. Two-plus hours of drill sergeant orders guiding us in creative ways to exhaust every muscle, then sprint, then hang from your arms, then high step over barbed wire, then balance on logs planted in the ground. And I paid $5 for this! LOL. It was obvious who the elite athletes were, but all were encouraged to simply do their best – and maybe a little more. Age didn’t matter, but I think I was the oldest one there.

On race day, our team assembled: not a one of us under 40, two with prior Spartan Race experience, and three clueless rookies. It was over 100 degrees and humid and we had a midday start time at the base of a small ski area. Being from Colorado might have helped with the hills, but not when they saturated them with water and turned trails into mud slides with roots and rocks sticking out. That’s when people started slipping, falling, cursing, and laughing. Our wave of competitors would slog through all sorts of messy things, preplanned and orchestrated by the course designers. Though our team was newly formed, we bonded and helped one another through each obstacle. The strength of the men would help propel us up and over walls; the extra water and snacks shared by the women would keep us from dehydrating and bonking. Mud-crusted energy chews? You bet. Surprise spigots of clean water along the course for rinsing off and drinking? Hallelujiah! That extra hand up? Thank you! Encouraging words and joking kept our spirits up when what we wanted most was to be done, off that mountain, and in the finisher’s area getting our t-shirts.

We pushed through frustration, exhaustion, dizziness from the heat, muscles that cramped, skinned knees, ripped hand callouses, and bruised body parts. I’m pretty sure I lost my estrogen patch in the mud pit and more than one discussion amongst racers involved mutterings about mud in their nether regions. Near the finish line, spectators could watch the spear throw, the rope climb, and the Rig – elaborate monkey bars with other upper body challenges thrown in. Some of us opted for doing burpees instead of attempting the rope or rig. By then, my arms were toast, my legs were shaking and jumping over fire was nothing compared to what we’d been through – out of sight from the crowd. We did our best to leap together over that final obstacle (see pictures below) and enjoyed the sweet victory of completing (or at least attempting) 28 obstacles in about 5 miles. It took us around 2 hours, 50 minutes to complete.

Post-race festivities involved free beer, food, photos, a hose-down station, changing tents and much cleaner athletes walking around with medals around their necks. Thank you, Welch Village Ski Resort, and our Spartan team (Suzanne, Clareese, Jonathan, and Scott), for making this an unforgettable experience.


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