“Are you okay?”, said the lifeguard as I traversed the deep brown muddy water 50 meters from land. The cold filthy water soothed my bruised, torn and aching body.
I was halfway through the greatest athletic challenge of my life: The 2014 Spartan Super in Marseilles, IL. The course was set on extremely muddy and hilly terrain made for ATV’s. The goal of the race for me was simple: finish the 8+ mile, 25+ obstacle race.
The only training I did was a couple months of running and calisthenics where I ran 8 miles exactly one time. The first obstacle, an 8 foot wall, had to be scaled before the race began with the help of a fellow racer I managed to vault my 5’9, 200 pound, 20% body fat, body over the wall. As I looked at the other 100 racers in the heat I saw people of all kinds; from old men to conditioned athletes to soccer moms. The first obstacle, before the race even started, made me understand that the organizers weren’t fucking around, this race was going to be long, painful, and hard.
REMEMBER THIS DAY, MEN, FOR IT WILL BE YOURS FOR ALL TIME!
And with a fitting line from my all-time favorite movie, we were off. I was pumped, fearless and ready for the pain ahead. The course started out smooth with a couple easy yet muddy obstacles and then the nightmare started. Unfortunately I managed to fuck myself over before the race even began by wearing the wrong shoes. You see, for muddy course you need shoes that will create traction for you and mine were smooth five-toe, weight-lifting shoes.
The course was laden with steep, muddy 30% grade hills. My shoes had zero traction which forced me to search for even the smallest foot hold, branch, or helping hand. Often after climbing a hill there was another hill and another hill. I recall seeing my salvation in a tiny thimble sized root, grabbed it and used it to pull my entire body over a hill, other times the roots or branches would break and I would come within a hairs breadth of tumbling down the hill and probably breaking an arm or leg.
The hills often preceded travel across some difficult and dangerous terrain. I can’t count how many times I fell jumping across natural obstacles like creeks. There was actually a ravine that was 20 feet deep and 15 feet across that I managed to clear by the skin of my teeth. 2 miles into the course I felt like I had run an entire 8 mile race. “What the fuck, I didn’t train for any of this!”, I thought but still I stormed on. The obstacles were challenging and varied, from rope climbing and spear throwing to pulling 150 pounds upward with a pulley and burpees. Every time and obstacle was missed, 30 burpees were required. I probably did around 500 that day.
After mile 2 my injuries began to pile on; severely strained both IT bands, numerous cuts, blisters on feet, sprained, ankle, knee, and shoulder. I actually purposefully dislocated my own shoulder to scale a 10-12 foot wall and popped it back in place, such was my pain tolerance at this point. Crazy enough, I didn’t think to bring any electrolytes with me and the course only supplied water, I would stop dead in my tracks several times due to cramps and dehydration, racer upon racer looking at me in pity asking me if I was okay.
I would finish the race in 4 hours having limped for 6 of the 8+ mile course through brutal, punishing , and unforgiving terrain. I jumped 10 feet across the firey coals and met a throng of spectators and race staff.
I was a little more than dazed, confused, tearful, and in total disbelief that I actually made it. The feeling was euphoric, “So this is what they meant when they said ‘You’ll know at the finish line'” I thought. I shared my joy with my fellow racers crossing the finish line and practically swallowed the most delicious banana I’ve ever had in my life; shit tasted like fucking ice-cream!
And it was over. Recovery from the race would require a couple months of physical therapy and a bout of fever a couple days after the race. However, since the race, to quote the Spartan Race founder Joe D. My frame of reference was “reset”, life just didn’t seem so stressful or hard anymore. I became the toughest guy I know. I know what true mental toughness is, having experienced the shit-fest that was the Spartan Super
1. Your mind will often give in long before your body does. Even “injured” your body is one tough motherfucker. Your mind will rationalize quitting to ensure its survival…Don’t let it! Focusing on staying in the moment and the task in front of you is the only way to overcome an extreme level of adversity.
2. Proper training and preparation could have prevented all of my injuries and resulting therapy, hell, the right footwear would have prevented most of my injuries. If you are going to do an OCR (obstacle course race), get appropriate OCR shoes and at least a belt to hold some electrolyte bottles.
3. Training regimen for an OCR is way different from a traditional race, I recommend Martial Arts, MMA, and/or functional training in addition to a weight training and running regimen. No high-rep bloated muscle body-part isolation bullshit, you need a fair amount of strength and muscular endurance. Here’s some resources that will get you started:
Body Of A Spartan
Official Spartan Race training guide
Do not start with a Spartan Super unless you are in excellent shape, train hard for at least 3 months before attempting an OCR.
Good luck friend. Finish a race like this you too will understand the meaning of…
THIS IS SPARTA!