If you had asked me a year ago, if I would ever participate in an obstacle race such as the Spartan Race, I would have looked at you as though you were crazy. But just a few weeks ago, I found myself crawling on my hands and knees under barbed wire through rocks, being sprayed with a hose as the ground beneath me turned into a river of mud. I just laughed thinking about the fact that I paid money to do this and thought to myself, How did I get here?
I never understood the thrill of such a race, but after a summer and fall of hiking and intense workouts, I decided it was a challenge I was up for. My motto has been to try everything once to understand the obsession behind it. If I live this way, I feel that I’ll be better able to understand the world we live in, as well as the people in it. If I love the activity, I can do it again, and if not, at least I tried it once. In my mind, this is the greatest way to live. With a few friends at work signing up for our friend’s birthday, I decided this was my opportunity to give it a shot, and that’s how I found myself surviving the Spartan Race just a few weekends ago.
When I signed up, I was hiking on the weekends and alternating yoga and running each day, along with aerial yoga once or twice a week. But, halfway through the winter, I got sick with a sinus infection, and it slowed me down quite a bit. I was still doing yoga and aerial, but cut out the running. I also hadn’t hiked since the fall. Let’s just say I wasn’t as in shape as I should have been, especially because the three days prior to the race, I was on a field trip to Washington DC with my 8th grade students. To say I was exhausted is an understatement.
Still, two of my other friends had also been on that field trip, so I pulled myself from the comfort of my bed on Saturday morning and got ready to survive the day. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I looked up at the mountain, I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been.
But, there I was, ready to take on the mountain, so I made the best of it. We registered, took a before picture or two, checked our bags of clean clothes for after the race, and headed to the starting line where we stretched and watched some of the competitors tackle the obstacles. This is where I began to realize I would be in a bit of trouble. Before even beginning, there was a wall we had to hop over, and I knew that my arm strength wasn’t exactly where it needed to be. I was worried, but knew I’d be okay with the support of my friends.
While I did need a boost over the wall, I landed on my feet on the other side ready to take on the huge hill ahead of me. My spirits were high and as the smoke billowed through the air, I ran uphill confident I’d finish the race. Of course, I didn’t fully realize what was ahead of me; sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.
The race continued up and down the ski mountain in what seemed like a pattern that would never end. There were long stretches up the mountain, which I think I hated the most, and others through the woods that I enjoyed more. I tried to think of it like hiking, except while hiking I had time to stop and enjoy nature, resting here and there to rehydrate, catch my breath, or enjoy a snack. I’m sure if I prepared better, I could have done a bit of that here too, but I only had water at the few hydrating stations that were available.
Every so often, after a long stretch of running, there was an obstacle. Anything from a wall or cargo net to climb over or a bucket of rocks or sandbag to carry up and down the mountain. Some were easy enough to do, while others I decided to do the burpees instead, though I’ll be honest, I rarely did all thirty.
What I did find was that there were so many people willing to help. Some offered words of encouragement, like when my friend, Kim, and I had a hard time with the obstacles that involved heights. Others offered a helping hand getting down a difficult area on the mountain. It was incredible to watch strangers helping each other, every single step of the way.
For me, the biggest help was my friend, Jamie. On some of the obstacles, she not only offered words of encouragement, but sometimes she had to physically help me lift one foot after the other down the other side. Without her, I know I could not have finished the race or pushed myself through my fears. Through each rope swing, spear throw, or barbed wire crawl, I relied on the encouragement and support of those around me, and I know, I would not have survived without that.
The final obstacle was to jump over fire, an activity that seemed appealing until I actually saw it. Still, I knew that on the other side, I would finally be finished. I put the fear of falling into the fire aside, ran down the mountain, and across the finish line.
When I was done, I was immediately rewarded with a medal, but more importantly, a banana, protein bar, and protein shake. I’m not sure I’ve ever inhaled food the way I did right at that moment. Then we took a photo at the Victory wall and headed for our free beer, although I’ll admit it was the last thing I wanted at that moment.
We took a few photos, grabbed our t-shirts, and headed to get our bags. There’s a shower area that’s just a wooden plank with hoses on it, but it felt so good to get off as much dirt and mud as I could, even if it was freezing cold and felt like the final obstacle of the day. Then, we changed and headed home only a few hours after it had all begun.
From this experience, I had a better understanding of why people race in such events. I also learned that no one was going to push me to complete the race, it all had to be the determination I had in myself. Sure, I had friends to rely on, but it was about wanting to challenge myself and prove that I could accomplish something I never believed I could. I may not have had the best time or completed all obstacles, but I finished and learned that I’m capable of much more than I believe sometimes. That’s reason enough for me to feel proud.
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