ten must-know facts about Spartan races
I am a Spartan – I can say that now! What on earth is a Spartan I hear you ask? In short, modern-day terms, Spartans are a group of committed individuals who like to be fit, strong and challenge themselves. Another way to look at them is for what they are – a crazy group of muscled up, oiled up, burpee freaks who like to whip themselves into frenzies in parks whilst rolling around in mud and yelling “aroo, aroo aroo” a lot. And so, as I was surfing the net mindlessly one evening I found myself saying to Lovely Hubby “Why don’t we become Spartans!” whilst popping another wedge of chocolate into my mouth after dinner.
Now, what would posses me to suggest that we join such a group as this? I believe it could be that non-thinking tendency I have to say whatever comes into my head (part of being an Aussie you could argue). And I think in my head at the time was this image of fit, strong Emma with bronzed limbs, ripped muscles doing one-armed push ups to the tune of ‘sweat’. It’s unfortunate that the reality most of the time is sleepy, lazy Emma lying on the couch in her snot stained pyjama pants with her woolly socks, slimy hair and hairy legs. But I can tell you that the imagination is a very powerful thing. For those of you out there considering a similar course of action, I feel it is my duty as, now an official Spartan, to introduce you to the top ten things you need to know about this crazy adventure…
1. Spartan training helps (but leave the kids at home)
Friday morning and we’re off to Spartan training. Now in my moment of weakness, not only have I signed up, but I have signed up lovely hubby and Miss Sparky to be participants as well. So we’re off to the training park to the tune of whingeing, sooking and cries of “why do I have to do it” and “Can’t we just go to brunch?”… and that’s just hubby!!So we get to the park.. it’s a glorious morning and there are crowds of people milling around all in matching black “Spartan” t-shirts – well that is those of us with shirts on. There seem to be a disproportionate amount of extremely buff men, many of which with either excessive body or facial hair, walking around flexing their muscles and grunting a lot as they effortlessly climb rope poles, execute hundreds of chin-ups and pump out push ups like they’re getting out of bed. We line up to start the “warm up”…
Now I’m not sure what actually constituted the warm up part of the hour-long flogging. All I know is that I have never been so puffed nor done so many burpees in all my life. “F*&% me” puffs lovely hubby after his third round of mountain climbers, on the back of his third round of pushups and third round of star jumps. “If that’s the warm up, I’m outta here.. this is f&$%ed. Why are you trying to kill me?” I manage to talk him down and we execute the rest of the workout without actually vomiting, before stumbling over to where Miss Sparky and little Chubs are sitting watching with bemused faces and wondering why mummy and daddy are sucking down water, vitamin drinks and lying on the grass in a pool of smelly liquid. “Wasn’t that fun?” I manage to splutter out before promptly stumbling over a blade of grass getting up.
We managed to make it along to a couple more training sessions in the lead up to the race, and admittedly, each was a little easier than the previous one as our tired, sad old bodies reluctantly managed to process that oxygen a little bit quicker and we slowly built some semblance of fitness.
2. Sick is the only legitimate excuse
Race day is a hot and dusty morning and I am all fuelled up with my nuts and water, ready for some torture. Lovely hubby managed to organise with someone the week prior to breathe on him badly, and he had contracted a case of tonsilitis. I think sensing the inevitable ribbing from his wife and daughter, he had wisely trotted along to the closest clinic where somebody would write him a medical certificate so that he could “legitimately” withdraw from the race – I know I saw a flicker of a smile on his dial as I pressed the enter key on the Withdraw screen…. I’ve never seen someone so content with being under the weather.
3. Choose your partner wisely
So, my brave support crew come along trailing the little chubs who supported by promptly falling asleep in his pram with his water bottle hanging out of his mouth. We had recruited a little friend for Miss Sparky and especially chosen someone we thought had a good strong constitution that would help pull her out of her whingeing, sooky funk and inspire her to Spartan glory. This proved to be somewhat of a backfire as it turned out her little friend wasn’t as sporty as she initially let on and we were left with a symphony in stereo of sooking and whingeing with repeated calls of “why do we have to do this” and “whose stupid idea was this” all the way to the starting line. This even carried on past the finish line as apparently no amount of adrenaline and glory as you cross the finish line with your family cheering you on and crowd of people yelling “aroo” can make up for the fact that you got mud all over your shoes and you messed up your hair as you climbed under the rope!!
And so, it is with a sense of foreboding that I line up at the starting line to execute the actual race. I have my long-suffering race pal with me who had flown in from overseas the day before, has been ill with flu the week before and hadn’t trained at all for the event. We are pumped – Spartan glory is ours!!
4. Start early!
And it was then that we hit our first obstacle – we weren’t allowed to start. I do recall when I was registering at the entrance, a lovely little lady asking me “you want to start 11am?”.. I said “can I start any earlier than that?” She replies “you want to start 11am?” I reply again, “it would be good if I can I start a bit earlier than that”… she replies “you want to start 11am”… I ask again “what other time can I start?” and she replies “you want to start 11am?” “Okay… how about I start at 11am?” I reply, thinking there must only be one start time? Or this lady only knows one sentence – not sure which…
So here I am at 10:45, it’s hot, the kids are still whingeing, little Chubs has woken up hot and sooky and I just want to get this damn thing over with. “At least it will get me away from the whingeing for an hour or so” I think. But no… the Dubai adherence to rules was slapping me in the face as I jostled at the starting line with hundreds of other pumped up, hot sweaty Spartan wannabees. “You start at 11am” says the slightly harassed starting line attendant in between getting high-fives and butt slaps from pumped up, excited Spartans all trying to leapfrog over him”. The thought of waiting another 15 minutes is too much for me and so, without shame or dignity, I start to beg. “Please.. can I go in this group? My children are hot and I have a small baby I have to get back to take care of… please Sir… there must be room for us…” On and on I go until finally a lady comes over, looks at my desperation and goes “fine, you can start but you have to stay at the back and let the others do the obstacles first.” Absolutely no problem with that lady!!
5. Expect pain… and sand
Off we go… straight into our first pit of mud, followed swiftly by a run for 1km in soft sand dotted with sand jumps and limbo-type barriers. It’s damn hot and there’s no water in sight. We keep running, breathing in sand, dust and mud flecks as we dive to go under our first round of barbed wire. This turns out to be rope thank goodness, so I crawl through, butt in the air thinking, this is pretty cool. I hear the dude next to me yelling to his friend “this should be barbed wire.. this is so soft!” Yes, absolutely. its soft and I’m loving it!
We keep going through the soft sand, through more gates, over walls, across moguls, climb a hill carrying 40lb bag, all the while my brain is starting to shrink and my tongue has tripled its size and is getting stuck on my teeth as my mouth is so dry. We finally reach a water stand where we pour water on ourselves as well as down our throats before heading back into the sand. Trudging along, we come to the next big mud pit and this time, Mr crazy from earlier will be excited, barbed wire! No cheating this time with butt in the air… it’s flat on the belly, face in the sand, pulling along with elbows and knees for me. Foot in the face, mud in the lungs and barbed wire rip in the pants for me, as I pause for a moment to marvel at the different styles people choose to get through this obstacle. I can see one guy rolling, one chick lying on her back pushing with her feet, even some guy (apparently ex military) standing yelling at his partner as she’s struggling to pull herself though the pit “kiss the dirt! You know it! Get that face down!” Lots of love in the air among Spartans clearly!
6. Practice soft-sand burpees
Without a word of a lie, we go through four more of these damn barbed wire pits whilst scaling a ten foot high wall in between each one. I pause for a moment at the base of one of the walls waiting for my partner to heave her way over the top and promptly receive a big blob of partially dry mud in my eye. Still no water in sight, I madly blink and shake my head before launching again into the mud to cover myself in more mud. We get to the climbing ropes and I can see a couple of ladies being briefed on the skill of rope climbing and think “I can do this…” And “I am awesome”… I get up one knot… then reach for the second – ahhhhhh… rope burn!! I’m sliding back down the rope and have to admit defeat as I trudge over to complete the mandatory 30 burpee penalty. Let me tell you too, I never trained to do a burpee in soft sand and it is actually a tricky exercise. Your feet dig little holes as you keep sliding backwards and your arms slowly slip to the sides. I had to keep trying to move spots so I didn’t dig any craters that would cause others to sink! We keep running through the sand and it’s starting to look a bit like a battle field with casualties… there’s a girl sitting on the side of the dunes sobbing with her partner sitting next to her, apparently without the strength to even offer her a comforting arm. The trail is littered with people trudging, standing with their hands on their knees, lying down sobbing. I hear one exchange “c’mon… it’s harder to walk in sand than it is to run” he says. The only part of the reply I hear is “you know what you can do with your…”
7. Never expect the last obstacle!
Finally, we see the big rope climbing wall up ahead and figure we must be smashing this thing. Quick pause for some happy “we’re nearly at the end” snaps and we continue onto the next climbing obstacle. This one is a huge bridge that they have slung with ropes and netting and you climb across the top while people walk underneath you. It was actually pretty high off the ground and I have to really talk to myself to convince myself that I’m not going to die! Suddenly, all the disclaimers they make you sign about “Serious Injury” and “Potential Death” come flooding back to me as I inch centimetre by centimetre across the top. Then, this dude come from behind me, actually running across the ropes in big leaping strides yelling “aroo!” It’s then that I remember that I’m supposed to be a spartan, not a wussy, sooky white chick crying her way across some damn bridge. Up I get, power across and down the other side and on we go.
“It’s gotta be just over this hill I reckon”. Yes, it’s more stupid words coming out of this unfiltered mouth which have guaranteed that there’s no way we are anywhere near the end. I even say to my long-suffering partner “why don’t we do a big dash to the finish?” to which she responds something unprintable and we continue to shuffle our way through the sand down to the next obstacle.
This one is monkey bars. No ordinary monkey bars though of course, that wouldn’t be Spartan! No this one is rings, ropes and tennis balls. And not ropes as in loops that you swing across but single pieces of rope hanging that you have to some how grab onto and hold your entire body weight. Off to the 30-burpee station for me before heading to the next obstacle, the javelin throw – yep, another 30 burpees later and we start running AGAIN!
8. Don’t waste valuable energy competing with teenage bunny rabbits
“This has got to be near the end?” I gasp as we keep shuffling through the sand towards a hill. A buff, young blondie with his shirt off and his little ripped abs comes trotting up alongside us. “C’mon ladies… let’s smash this thing! We are Spartans! We can do it…” On and on he goes.. I can feel my partner’s irritation levels beginning to rise as we are both willing this dude to shuffle on and kick our butts already. Perhaps it was a desire to protect her from further irritation, or perhaps it was my irritation at the term “ladies”, but I thought, “I’m gonna kick this dude’s butt and shut him up!”
“Let’s go then” I yell to him and start to run up the hill. He runs with me and to my great delight, I manage to stride ahead of him and comfortably beat him to the top. “Yeah” he yells between sucking in the big ones “that’s awesome… let’s go!” and we both turn to the exceptionally painful site of yet more sand stretching off into the distance with those damn black arrows guiding us ahead. “Ohmigosh… when does this ever end??” I yell as he yells “yeah” in unison. He heads off like a damn bunny through the hills while I finally realise that yes, I am old and yes, there is a lot of sand in the desert!
9. Embrace the mud
Finally, we get to the last obstacle and I can finally believe that it is the last obstacle, not a mirage in the desert. We are greeted by the sight of yet more mud – by this point we actually look forward to the mud as it’s cool and wet.
I trudge slowly through the muddy water, debating whether to just fall down and die in it, before I haul myself up the plastic wall and perch on the top looking back to see how my fearless partner is going. She has stalled… she’s stuck mid-wall, legs no longer able to work, arms unable to let go of the rope as exhaustion is settling in. I reach out my hand, not really sure what I can offer as I am totally spent, and she grabs on, equally unsure how to proceed as neither of us have the strength to actually move. Somehow, we make gravity work for us and she inches to the top and we both tumble over the side, only a small pit of fire separating us from that finish line!
People around us are cartwheeling, backflipping and leaping their way over the pit, as we both muster up our last bit of strength to lob over the pit landing with a dull thud on the other side. We stop for the obligatory crossing the line pic with lovely hubby and now happy (and clean) smiling children cheering us on as we take a moment to thank the universe for giving us the strength and the will to finish and for providing bananas and water within one metre of the finish line. They have obviously worked out that no ordinary person has the strength to go any further than that by that stage of the race!
10. Sand and sinuses don’t mix
And so, here I am, infected sinuses, throbbing headache and sand clogged lungs, but a very proud, happy little Spartan wearing my medals of achievement! And I think that Miss Sparky, much as she may not admit it, is also very proud of her achievement and enjoyed watching so many grown ups rolling around in mud, yelling and crying and doing other strange activities normally left for the crazy boys at school or animals out in the wild.
Would I choose to do it again? You betcha! What better way to feel alive than to almost kill yourself running around in the sand with a bunch of crazy people on a weekend! I might just do a couple of things differently like start before the temperature hits 39 degrees, actually do some proper training, drink more water and of course, try not to actually breathe the damn sand! Definitely worth taking the plunge though.
As that crazy oddball Shia Labeouf would say…. “just do it!!”
Sign up for next years race here. Hope to see you all there! Fellow Spartans – love to hear your top tips for the un-initiated as well!
Have a great week…