Yes, You Can Die. Find a Workaround: How to Successfully Complete a Spartan Race

Insights on How to Overcome Any Challenge

Spartan races are extreme athletic endurance events that combine running with challenging obstacles. Founded in 2010 by New York Times best-selling author Joseph DeSena, Spartan Race is one of the most innovative endurance challenges with more than a million participants competing in over 170 events in 25 countries.

When I signed up for my first Spartan Race, admittedly, I was a bit intimidated. I was taking on a seemingly impossible challenge that would test my courage, commitment, strength and perseverance in ways I have never experienced. I was not disappointed.

Spartan Races are designed to have surprises. There was one certainty with this race; it was full of uncertainties. The first surprise was that the race was going to be 5.5 miles with 22 obstacles. I knew the race would be 3+ miles; I just wasn’t expecting 5.5 miles.

Here are insights on how I was able to successfully complete a Spartan Race.

Override Your Fear

If you are afraid, blame your amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is involved in motivation, emotions, and survival instincts. This part of the brain determines what and where memories are stored based on the magnitude of emotion an event triggers. The amygdala coordinates the automatic ‘flight or fight response.’ Once the amygdala is triggered, there is not much you can do. The key to overriding fear is to preempt it with your thoughts and perceptions.

Many of the obstacles were downright scary. But to preempt the fear, you can’t allow yourself to think that way and dwell on it. For example, one of the obstacles involved crossing a series of three trenches of muddy water of uncertain depth. When I went through the first cold pool, the water came up to my thighs. “Aside from the cold, it’s not so bad,” I thought to myself, so I boldly stepped into the second trench and fell in nearly up to my neck, which caught me by complete surprise. The third trench had a wooden wall immersed in the muddy water. You had to go completely under the wall in muddy cold water or you fail the obstacle. It was scary. I told myself, “Take a deep breath and just go for it.” And so I did, into the freezing cold murky water under the board. It was shocking. I stumbled on the other side a bit disoriented and completely dripping in icky grog. “Well that was refreshing,” I joked to myself, and just kept going.

If all else fails, Kiai!

Obstacle course racing requires creative problem-solving. There were many walls to scale. I will never forget running up to an impossibly tall wall… I’m guessing it was 10'-12' high. Next to the wall, a huge, incredibly fit man was doing 30 penalty-burpees because he failed to climb over it. That visual alone could psych me out, if I allowed it. So when my mind went, “Aaack!” I redirected my thoughts to try ignore the fact this big guy could not do this obstacle and focus on what wimpy little me could do to make it happen.

“Just try!” I told myself as I got a hold with both hands on the top of the wall.

Out of nowhere, in the silence of the mud and rain, came this Kiai, a shameless, primal, guttural battle-cry, as I gave it everything I got to hoist my right leg as high as I could to get a foot hold at the top.

And after that all-out effort, I was just one inch short with all my body shaking… just one inch away from success or failure. The unwelcome thought of, “Are you kidding me?” marinated in my mind.

And here, friends, is where reading pays off. From entrepreneur Jesse Itzler’s New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, “Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet,” I remembered that even if you think you are giving 100% in a physical endurance challenge, you can still go beyond your perceived limit by 60%. I put that to the test.

With that in mind, body shaking from the all-out effort, I watched my right leg rise a half-inch more… and then a bit more. To my surprise, the heel of my foot reached the top while my entire body burned from the effort. That was all that I needed to hoist the rest of me on top of that impossible wall, then over.

Yes You Can Die, Find a Workaround

With every Spartan Race, if you fail to complete a task, you have to do 30 burpees as a penalty for every obstacle that you fail, unless they are mandatory obstacles that you have to complete or forfeit the race. The ‘A’ frame was one of the mandatory obstacles that did not have the burpee penalty option. It was a super-tall structure with netting of wide holes.

As I started climbing the slick, wobbling net in the rain, the image of the waiver and all its warnings of how you could get injured or die came to mind.

“Yes, you can die, find a workaround,” I humored myself as I redirected my thoughts on how I was going to accomplish this task.

I focused my eyes on the next rung I would have to take to make it up. The obstacle was so high that I didn’t allow myself to look down or my legs would turn to jelly and I would get paralyzed with fear. As other racers climbed the net, the entire structure shook, making it even more challenging to put your foot in the wet net holes. As I got to the top, I wrapped one arm around the slippery wet bar and slowly climbed over the summit to the other side, then down. And I was off to the muddy trails again.

Enjoy the Journey, and you will Prevail

A muddy run in the rain is a beautiful thing. I will never forget the breathtaking views from the summits of the green hills with tiny dots of runners on the different elevations. The bone-chilling rain added a unique dimension to the patina of the amazingly challenging experience. As tough as the Spartan Race was, I enjoyed every bit of the unforgettable adventure.

My proudest achievement was hitting the mark with the spear throw, a challenge with an 86% failure rate. Whether it was the Kiai, visualization, five-weeks of upper body weight training, beginner’s luck or a combo thereof, it did not matter. I was excited to see the spear stick in the hay bale.

One of my favorite experiences was the upper-body traverse combo of rings, ropes and a pole. Every obstacle prior required solo completion except for this one. That was an unexpected twist. A racer turned to me and said, “Would you like to partner on this one?” I answered, “Yes” and randomly asked another racer to partner with us on the spot. Two of us grabbed a leg and carried the third person as they grasped the obstacles with their hands. So I basically carried half the weight of two men before it was my turn to complete the obstacle. The immediate camaraderie with fellow Spartan racers was moving. When I completed my turn, I remember being a bit shocked at what I saw next.

“Oh wow,” I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’ve reached the final obstacle!” All that remained was jumping over a burning pyre of wood. “Hope I don’t catch on fire!” I mused as I mustered all my courage, made a running leap of faith, and soared to the finish.

Copyright © 2017 Cami Rosso All rights reserved.

Originally published at on January 31, 2017.