Race Review: Sacramento Spartan Beast
For years, I’ve been a runner. I’ve run 3 full marathons, 2 half-marathons, and a variety of 10Ks, 5Ks, and the like. At this point, I’ve got my running routine down pretty well, and my body is accustomed to the rigors of a race. In the spring, I decided to run the Bay 2 Breakers race here in San Fran. It’s only a little over 7 miles, so I didn’t feel the need to put in too much training; I knew I could easily nail that distance. At the conclusion, I looked at my time and was generally pleased. It was a little slower than I might have preferred, but nothing I thought I should worry about too much.
Then the official race pictures became available. Holy. Cow.
What I saw in those photos from Bay 2 Breakers killed me. What I saw was a fat guy running. Yes, I ran at a solid pace. Yes, I finished in the top 20% of racers in my overall/age/gender brackets (which, honestly, wasn’t hard at an event like B2B since most racers treat the event as simply a drinking experiment). The truth, though, was that I saw a guy with a very large, noticeable spare tire. That’s when I had to face up to some hard facts: I was not in shape.
Despite my consistently running for the past decade, I had spent the last year or two letting my physical shape deteriorate. From the time my daughter was born in March of 2012, I used every excuse: “I’m sympathy eating with my pregnant wife”; “I can’t really go exercise, I have to watch the baby”, etc. The cold hard truth was that I had gained at least 10 lbs since my daughter was born, and that was from a starting point that was probably already 15lbs heavier than what I should have been.
So in May, I made up my mind that I needed to get in serious shape. To facilitate that, I knew that I needed something to motivate and drive my workouts. However, I knew just running wouldn’t do the trick (I already knew how to run and still eat unhealthy). So, I started looking at the latest trend: obstacle races.
The cry of Sparta
I started out doing a general search of upcoming obstacle races. I looked at Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and other smaller outfits. Soon, though, I came upon the Spartan Races. There was something uniquely appealing about the description of their events, and the videos alone already had me wanting to pound my chest. I looked at the calendar and saw that their would be a race in October near Sacramento. The location was right, the timing was good (it would give me about 5 months of training/weight loss), and the distance was what I was looking for to really push me. This specific race was to be a Spartan Beast, the longest of their three main races. A Spartan Beast is at least 12 miles, and at least 25 obstacles. That meant I had to train to run at least a half-marathon, but would also have to really focus on developing my upper body and muscle stamina. I signed up almost immediately.
What followed over the next 5 months was nothing short of a blessing. The next day, I started receiving Spartan WOD (Workout of the Day) emails. Each one was a perfect mix of upper body development combined with 2-5 mile runs. Within a few months, I had already lost 10 lbs. By the time September rolled around, I was down 20lbs+, and for the first time in my life, I had a noticeable six-pack. That wasn’t to say I had attained perfection, not by a long shot. The entire process, though, had been exactly what I had hoped for; it had motivated me to get into actual shape. However, that left one checkbox to still be marked . . .
Race Day in Sparta
The actual day of the race was at times exactly what I expected, and at other times much more than I could have imagined. The race event was held on a sprawling ranch to the southwest of Sacramento. It was, for all intents and purposes, in the middle of nowhere. Compared with other big marathons I’ve run, the facilities and vendors around the race were . . . well, Spartan. I was checked-in in a manner of minutes. This left me about 20 minutes to mill about and start getting mentally ready. I watched two waves of races start ahead of me. Seeing them be lead in a kick-off cheer by the MC, I started getting excited. Soon, I was crossing over the start wall myself. At 9:15 a.m., my wave was released from the starting gate, and my race began.
The first couple of obstacles were what I had expected – walls to climb, walls to crawl under, monkey bars to swing from, etc. I was immediately caught off guard, though, by just how much emptiness lay between the obstacles. Having mostly run city races, I wasn’t prepared for the long stretches of lonely, cracked earth between each obstacle. However, in the early stages, I was handling everything pretty much as well as expected.
About 45 minutes in, I hit the first challenge that really mentally pushed me – the first barbed wire crawl. You see, I expected a stretch of mud under wire; what came before me was a seemingly 20-yard stretch of gravely rock-filled pools of water. I was soon scraping myself against rocks, trying to keep the muddy water out of my mouth, and hoping to stay low enough that I didn’t snag my clothes (or skin). By the time I was done, I was soaked and cut from head to knee (my long socks and shows would save me a few times that afternoon). The race proceeded in much the same way, with each obstacle seemingly getting harder and harder.
One pleasant surprise was the rope climb. While I hard done arm and upper-body workouts, I had never found a rope to train on. So I approached the rope climb with some trepidation. However, I was happy to find that I was able to quickly ascend the rope and hit the bell. “Was that the hardest thing the course had to throw at me?”, I wondered, stupidly. Of course it wouldn’t be.
One of the toughest obstacles was a suspended rope crawl, upside down, over a large pond about 4-feet deep. thanks to my socks, I was able to hit the bell in the middle and finish the obstacle; however, you still had to drop down in the middle of the lake and paddle the rest of the way to the other side of the pond. Again, I was drenched. My shoes alternated between dry and concrete throughout the race.
I was motivated to finish each obstacle because of fear of the penalty for obstacle failure: 30 penalty burpees. Burpees can drain the energy from you quickly, and so I didn’t want to do them if I I could avoid it. At the end of the day, there were 29 obstacles, and there was only one that forced me into the penalty box. On a obstacle called the “Hercules Lift”, you were required to use a rope and pulley to elevate a 20 galled paint bucket filled with gravel all the way to the top. I approached it in a haphazardly manner, and soon I had dropped the bucket well short of the goal. Oh well, 28/29 ain’t bad on your first go round.
In the end, I finished the race just a few minutes of my own personal 4-hour goal. At 4:08:08, I finished my first Spartan Race in the top 13% overall, and the top 15% in both my age and gender brackets. Considering some of the in-shape, chiseled, obviously Cross-Fity types that I was running the race with, I considered this a huge personal victory.
I am now addicted to the Spartan Races. I’ve already talked Hol into running a Spartan Sprint with me in January, and my goal for 2014 is to complete a Spartan Trifecta (completing a Sprint, and Super, and a Beast in the same calendar year). Better than that, though, is the feeling that at 31, I am in the best shape of my life, and i don’t ever want to turn back.
I AM SPARTA. AROO! AROO! AROO!