Spartan Endurance Agoge 001 — Part I: So it begins
Much like the other events I’ve done this past year, the Spartan Endurance Agoge wasn’t something I planned on doing months in advance. It was another last minute decision — similar to my introduction into the Spartan Race world late in the summer of 2015. Although, like then, I didn’t necessarily feel that I wasn’t prepared, just uncertain of what to expect.
I was confident I would succeed based off grit and my ability to endure pain rather than being the strongest or fastest guy in the field. Although, that wasn’t the case for the Spartan Race staff; they prepared for and executed an extremely challenging event successfully while maintaining the right amount of enjoyment. And if you’re reading this recap, it’s more likely that your definition of “enjoyment” is slightly different from the everyday person’s interpretation. Hopefully, my experience will help you to be more prepared than I was, because Agoge is far from a walk in the park.
With 12 years of military experience, I have completed numerous schools where my physical and mental capabilities were tested to the limit, and you would think that would be enough. What I experienced as a PFC at Calvary Scout Basic training, a year being a Knob at the Citadel, 61 plus days at Ranger School, a 12 month combat deployment to Iraq, and almost two years at the Special Forces Qualification course certainly had me questioning the experience I could gain by partaking in the 2016 48-hour Winter Agoge. However, looking back at some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, they were at a time when I wasn’t fully prepared or knew what was coming my way. It’s in those moments when you have to dig deep, think outside the box, understand your environment, and make a plan using only the resources you have available. Despite all my past experiences and knowledge of survival tactics, I was solely focused on Agoge 001. I knew it was going to be difficult, and it was about to be game on.
An important factor to realize about the military and team building events like Agoge is the process of making standards difficult to appropriately select the type of person you want to be working or fighting alongside you. Being a strong individual makes all the difference when being a part of a team. I would not feel comfortable going to war with someone who couldn’t carry his/her own weight and who always requires the assistance of others. The purpose of a team is to work together, but when you are holding the team back because you aren’t individually carrying your weight or doing the right thing, you often put others on your team at risk.
Initially signing up for Agoge 001, all I could think about were the stressful situations I was subjected to under extreme sleep deprivation during Ranger school, and that I could probably expect to have somewhat of a similar experience during the 48-hour challenge.
After doing a bit of online research about the trial run of Agoge 000 and Death Race, I was starting to question why I wanted to or should put myself through yet another cut you down to bring you up event. However, as part of the Agoge experience, you must first complete the Spartan X training program online. I started the modules thinking that the information being taught was already implemented into the way I live my life. The principles of setting and accomplishing goals, doing the right thing, and being committed were instilled in me not only when I was raised by my uncle, but also during college at The Citadel and through my military career. But what I failed to do in the past, and what I was learning from the Spartan X program, is not how I have successfully implemented finding true north in my life, but rather how I could use my knowledge and experience to help others on that quest.
Going into the Winter Agoge 48 during the coldest temperatures Vermont has seen in decades seemed fitting since 10 years ago, Feb 2006 is when I graduated Ranger school during one of the coldest classes mountain phase has seen. As a Special Forces detachment commander one of our main tasks is to train forces in remote rural areas while living off the land and surviving in the elements. I set a goal to help my team during Agoge in any way possible and to share my experiences with them.
0600 — RACE REGISTRATION:
I arrive at Riverside Farm on time, with my equipment packed and ready to go. I used a mix of civilian gear and issued military equipment to meet requirements set forth in the packing list. There wasn’t a known or set schedule for the next 48 hours and you could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that no one was sure what to expect. The frigid air and initial silence set the tone until the krypteia (Spartan cadre) started to address us and give guidance. Right from the start, there was a sense of commitment as each person walked through the barn doors one by one to start Agoge 001. There were people from all different walks of life: military, fitness trainers, death race veterans, pilots, teachers, Spartan staff, and even one person all the way from Singapore. To even be standing at those doors ready to face the challenge that lied ahead, each candidate who applied and was accepted into Agoge had to successfully complete some type of vigorous endurance event in the past.
The event officially started at 0800 so, during the first two hours, everyone registered, received a medical screening, conducted equipment checks, and started numerous physical activities. Some participants arrived late or without the proper gear, which at a normal military school they would have been dropped right there on the spot. These “candidates,” as the krypteia called us, lucked out, but everyone didn’t get a second chance. To my surprise there was one individual who didn’t bring everything on the packing list; he was immediately sent home. The key take away — adhere to the packing list and come prepared knowing how to use your equipment. The items are for you to use and are what you need to physically survive during Agoge. I would tell you exactly what I brought and recommend, but, to be honest, it wouldn’t work for everyone so my best advice is to find what works for you.
After the packing list layout was complete, the krypteia kept us warm by conducting some physical training. The events included numerous iterations of suicides, 500 jumping jacks, roll overs, and burpee long jumps over a distance of about 400m. Once everyone completed those tasks, we started the first team building event in which we had to roll over each other in a long line and give introductions. A few people threw up during this process from the repetitive rolling around, but all-in-all it was designed to have a purpose, not just to mess with us. That was one of the immediate things I started to realize; the krypteia didn’t tell us to do anything without also explaining the purpose behind it. They said time and time again, “This is not Death Race,” which I think the endurance veterans in the group were expecting, and you could kind of tell that by their actions as well. During the hours of breaking us down, I could tell how some were actually working hard while others were just trying to survive and play the game of beating the clock, since eventually we would have to move on to another task.
TEAM ASSIGNMENTS AND OUR FIRST TASK:
Each team included eight Spartan candidates (our group members included Amy, Albert, Tyler, Mitch, Brandon, David, Derek, and me), and we were immediately given our first task — to build an apparatus from two round table tops and the one inch tubular rope from the packing list. The apparatus not only had to carry all of our equipment on top of it, but also our heaviest team member, and it had to be lifted off the ground to be moved. Our team quickly worked together and decided it best not to build something as fast as possible, but to make sure it wouldn’t fall apart half-way to our objective. Some members worked on putting handles on the rope, others fed the rope through the holes in the table, and the rest tied knots for the carrying handles. We certainly weren’t the first ones out the gate to begin movement to our objective, but it quickly showed that the extra time spent building a solid apparatus was worth it. Our solid construction combined with our rotation plan working as a team paid off when we quickly started to pass other teams. For this reason we earned the group name of “Team Ferrari”.
All the groups moved as a team moving their apparatuses around the perimeter of Riverside Farms stopping at five stations along the way. At each station, a different skill was taught that would be used later during Agoge. Most of the classes were focused on winter survival given the season and weather we would be subjected to during the 48 hours (-20 deg temperatures). These classes were very professionally given and provided us with the knowledge needed to get through the weekend using not only our gear, but the environmental resources around us as well. The stations focused on: frostbite/hypothermia, fire making, shelter building, true north and commitment. I thought it was important to see that the staff hit the nail right on the head with their craw, walk, and run method of teaching us. Although, this came as no surprise to me knowing that former members of the military like Spartan VP CSM (R) Frank Grippe were not only part of the planning but were also on ground with us. With other key staff members like Tony Matesi, Charles Piso, and Peter Borden working hard behind the scenes as well, the first 12-hour period was already coming to a successful end.
If the first 12 hours were any indication, Agoge 001 was going to test us all…