How I became one of the machines I aspired to be.
By David Coburn
When I initially started my journey with Spartan in Barre, MA, in 2016, I would have never thought that this brand would have taken me across the country and, literally, into other countries to participate. It has become a huge part of my life and, as of recently, the endurance aspect of it has taken priority. I want to share my story with those of you who are apprehensive or nervous about branching out and participating in an endurance event and let you know that I’ve been where you are.
My first experience with a Spartan Endurance event was the morning of the Lake Elsinore Sprint, out by Los Angeles, California in late January. I vividly remember standing by the start line with my friend, watching these “inhuman machines” running to the finish line to check in with Cookie after their final time hack. Watching this small group of guys and girls was awe inspiring, to say the least, and I never would have been able to see myself in their shoes. I never saw myself participating in an event I believed was reserved to the highest tier of elite athletes.
Six months later, I dabbed my feet into the water of Spartan Endurance with the Hurricane Heat, Class 111, at Tuxedo Park, NY. This event was my first endurance team event outside of the military, and as much as it sucked, we all had a blast. Over four hours of fun brought out some of the best and worst of people, allowed natural leaders to take control of groups of people, and above all else, reminded me how much a group of determined people can do so long as they are working together. The big thing to take away from a Hurricane Heat is the teamwork aspect. After doing a Hurricane Heat, take what you learned and apply it to your next Spartan Race, your next event, or into your daily life.
There wasn’t much contact between the participants prior to the event, just a default gear list was provided, which added to the suspense as to what was going to happen. No special items were required and there was little information put out other than the start time and where to meet. Again, the main focus of a Hurricane Heat within the warrior ethos, is the fourth line, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” The primary lesson learned in this event is the importance of teamwork and not leaving anybody behind.
I wish I had more ways to tell you to prepare for a Hurricane Heat, but it varies class by class. Train as you would fight, “prepare for the worst, and expect the worst.” Days prior to the event, ensure you have all the required gear and make sure everything works. Print out extra waivers just in case someone forgets theirs. Perform another inspection the day you leave for the event to make sure you have everything. And, again, bring your waivers. No one likes group PT, but it’s going to happen anyway, but don’t make yourself look like the reason it is happening, y’know?
A month and a half later, a group of those same people I met at HH 111 convinced me to participate in the HH12HR, Class 034, in Palmerton. A Facebook group was created for participants to post introductions, live videos of them 15 minute planking (which was planned for the event), and to assist each other in finding gear. Some people needed weight for their rucks, others needed beanbags, and another guy needed a signal mirror. All 104 people made sure everyone was squared away prior to stepping off at 7:30 PM that Friday night. Along with that, we were given instructions on the “haka” to be performed by the finishers of the event at 8:00 AM the next morning.
The main difference between the HH and the HH12HR is the time hacks associated with the HH12HR. With the HH, as long as you are able to move by the end of the event, you will be labeled a finisher and a valuable asset to your team and your whole class. With the HH12HR, there is no 100% guarantee that everyone will finish the event. Time hacks for my HH12HR, HH12HR-034, included a ruck run, a silent stand on buckets for half an hour as exhaustion began setting in, and another ruck run doing laps for time. These vary event to event, Krypteia to Krypteia, so, “prepare for the worst, and expect the worst.”
I woke up at noon in my friend’s house, who I also participated with in HH-111, nervous, anxious, and worried. The main thing running through my mind the entire lead up to the event was my friends or myself getting cut by a time hack. I received some really good advice from a Krypteia from 111, and a participated in 034. “Forget about the time hacks, just give it your 110% and that will be what you take out of the event.”
And that’s the mindset I showed up with. Give 110% at all times and push myself to the limits and earn it. The 12 hours were spent going up and down mountains, in and out of water, tethered to each other in various ways, a 10 minute plank (due to time constraints), rain, and a 5:30 AM snack with one food item. In the end, 46 people were labeled finishers that had completed the final time hack of HH12HR-034. But after the cuts began, people who had finished, myself included, went back to assist those who were left behind. We brought everyone out of their final lap through the lake and to the finish line. Due to the camaraderie and no one being left behind, everyone was declared a finisher. There was no way our team was being broken up. Two people dropped throughout the night for medical reasons, so we finished with 102 in total. Those were both unavoidable and at no fault to anyone.
With all that being said, I can relate and empathize to some people and their feelings toward the HH and HH12HR. It’s the unknown of the Spartan brand, it’s an uncontrolled environment. There isn’t a course map with set obstacles, there isn’t water stations set at specific points, there aren’t people along a route cheering for you and, most of the time, the festival is closed with only two medics on standby for the crazy souls out through the night. The only people that you have to rely on for motivation, for support, and for your success are the other people around you in black shirts with the same mentality as you: to approach the unknown.
How is a house built? The foundation is first. My recommendation to you would be to participate in a Hurricane Heat for various reasons. For one, this type of event may not be your cup of tea and you may not like it, which is completely understandable. Along with that, the Hurricane Heat will provide you the foundations for teamwork, the embodiment of the warrior ethos, and will put you in a dynamic environment in which you will have little control over. These are important for a HH12HR, and will better prepare you for when you decide to make the jump and are knee deep in water at 2 AM with your new family.
If you decide you’re going to do an HH12HR, remember that every line of the warrior ethos applies, but the primary one in this event is always placing the mission first. There were times during our final time hack, especially on the last lap, I felt the urge to stick around and assist people over walls and up hills, because I’m in the military and that’s how we do it. Then, I was reminded to finish and help pull people through after that. If you’ve ever been on an airplane, they say to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. It’s the same concept here. When it comes down to it, get what you need to get done first, then go back and help everyone else.
If you recall in my first paragraph, I referred to the guys who I saw at Lake Elsinore as “machines,” pushing way behind limits that I thought I didn’t have. For six months my only impression of Spartan Endurance were these rugged, burly guys, running around with rucks for 12 hours through the SoCal heat. Never would I have thought that, in the middle of the summer, I’d be doing the same thing AND finishing the same thing with a group of people I love and keep in contact with to this day. I don’t want to say you don’t need to be physically fit, but if you have the heart and the drive to want to complete an event like this, the only thing stopping you is yourself. Other than the rain and cold during the night of 034, the hardest part was buckling down and registering for the event. Fears and doubts of not finishing, the idea of getting hurt, falling asleep, letting my friends down, were all running through my head. You’ll never know unless you try.
The Spartan Endurance Facebook group has loads of endurance athletes who have been through loads of events, with tons of experience and guidance to assist, motivate, and send you in the right direction. Questions about gear, food, and testimonials can definitely give you an idea and tie up any loose ends you may have before an event. But, at the end of the day, when it comes to the Hurricane Heat and the HH12HR, they’re both the equivalent to the unknown, and the only real preparation is being prepared for anything. You have nothing to lose, but you will gain lifelong friends and lifetime memories (and a whole lot of suck but that comes with anything Spartan).
What are you waiting for?