My first Spartan Race and why Obstacle Course Races are valuable
On the weekend of May 13th, 2017, I participated in my first ever obstacle course race, and more specifically, my first ever spartan race. The Spartan race that I attended took place in the beautiful Glacier Park in Montana. Spartan races are known for being tough, muddy, and uncomfortable ordeals. Joe De Sena characterizes the ideal Spartan obstacle course racer as someone who possesses grit, endurance, and is physically fit. De Sena defines grit as a sort of mental toughness one acquires by purposely placing oneself in uncomfortable situations, like a Spartan Race. De Sena can be quoted as saying, “No adversity has been confronted and handled because everything came fast and easy. When adversity does arrive, and it always does, someone who has never encountered it before will have no clue what to do in response.” De Sena argues that by placing oneself in uncomfortable, or tough situations like a Spartan race, that person will then be much more capable when dealing with other uncomfortable or difficult situations that may come down the line. After watching lots of videos of previous Spartan races, and then having attended one myself, that mindset, the Spartan mindset, is what describes the Race brand and all its followers to a tee, and that mindset is on display from the moment you arrive on race day.
When I arrived on race day, it was a brisk morning, and the slight anxiety I had been building up in anticipation was wanting to grow. The race was a Spartan beast, which was at the time the hardest category of Spartan races. After walking the festival grounds and seeing what the whole event had to offer, I proceeded to begin warming up, making sure my shoes were tied nice and tight, and ensuring my hydration pack was filled. Soon, it was race time. Myself, and the hundreds of other racers who were in my heat proceeded to the starting line, where we were greeted by a hype man of sorts, someone to get us all pumped up and excited for the mammoth task that lay before us. Finally, with a group chant identical to the scene in 300 where King Leonidas asks his Spartans for their profession, we chanted three “Aroo’s” and we were off!
The duration of the race provided an emotional roller coaster. One moment you think to yourself that you are doing well, keeping a good pace and that the race really isn’t all that difficult, at which point you arrive at mile marker number one and realize you still have thirteen more long miles full of obstacles and the harshest of terrain to go. At other moments, you stand upon a beautiful hillside and gaze out upon the beautiful scenery and realize that the view really was worth the climb. A certain human quality absent from our daily lives begins to come back out in people, a certain unexplainable characteristic that just emanates from people as they run side by side with you through that enormously difficult challenge. That shared struggle with one another just seems to bring out the best in everyone.
I believe I did well in the race, clocking in a finishing time of just over five hours for the 35 obstacles, 14-mile race. I ended up having to do 120 burpees in total. Burpees are the Spartan penalty for failing, or choosing not to do an obstacle. I was proud of my 120 burpees, both because I grit my teeth and did them when I failed, and because the fear of having to do more pushed me beyond my limits on obstacles such as the rope climb, where under normal circumstances, I think my brain would have told me to just “give up.”
It may sound cheesy, but I did in fact learn much about myself in the preparation for, and during the race. I learned that when I really want to do well at something, I become obsessed and very driven. I learned also that when your mind tries to tell you to give up, or that you’ve failed, go right back and give it another shot. The mind seems to want to always take the easy way out, and the value of events like Spartan races is that you re-wire that instinct to instead get up and try again, to grit your teeth and make it work. This is a powerful takeaway, that, like De Sena has said many times, will pay major dividends in the rest of your life.
Spartan races, and obstacle races in general, are truly a great way to not only get back or stay in shape, but to join a community of extremely talented and driven people, make business and personal connections, and to learn many things about yourself that you can only learn when you are waist deep in thick mud carrying an 80-pound bucket of rocks on your shoulder.