I have loved the study of the Sparta Culture…and the 300 Spartans that fought to the death at Thermopylae…annihilating the tens of thousands of King Xerxes’ illustrious army. I have read Steven Pressfield’s account of the battle in the “Gates of Fire”… now required reading for all U.S Marines.And thus, a company has marketed a series of races around this Spartan Warrior Ethos…an adventure race with full body fitness in mind… the Spartan Motto: Return with your shield; or on it. Legend has that the mother of the Spartan warrior uttered these words to her son when she presented him the elements for battle.
In late August after Hotter N Hell 100 mile cycling event, my work out partners, Michael, Amber and myself discussed this Spartan Beast race. We talked about how it was 13+ miles long…that there would be 30 obstacles…that it would take place in early December when the weather would be unpredictable. We agreed to do it as a team...and thus the training began. The details of the obstacles are not given…the race organizers want the element of surprise. But what is known is that not only do you need the stamina and endurance to run 13 miles across brutal terrain…but enough core and upper body strength to negotiate the unknown surprises.
So the training commenced…building up the run on the weekend…some cardio during the week…and heavy weights…5 sets of 5 reps to failure…all muscle groups…chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs…I remember getting up from the leg press…after 50 total reps of 350 lbs…and uttering to Amber, “I can’t walk.” It was her leading the way in the weight room…incredible strength. We did core…we did pull ups…we used kettle bells…we did bricks…run a mile…then 4 heavy weight exercises to build strength and endurance…we did “Crossfit” work outs every Wednesday…heavy weights done quickly with no recovery…station after station for an hour. Since Marine boot camp, I had not been in this good of overall fitness. On problem though…somewhere along the way I had hurt my lift side…I think it happened when I was bear crawling while lifting two 35 lbs dumb bells…moving the 70 lbs across the floor…near the rib cage…maybe an oblique muscle…it seemed not to be too bad…but I could feel it.
Michael, Amber and I were driven by our buddy Don “the Sherpa” to Granbury early on Saturday morning…a 2 hour jaunt from where we live…for our 8:30 AM Start.
Michael and I press on…and the next obstacle …a 100 yard swim in 54 degree water. Michael is a swimmer…and me…well…I got across but it wasn’t pretty. Now I had a different problem… about 10 minutes after the swim….Michael was shivering uncontrollable…his lips were purple…and the preliminary symptoms of hypothermia were showing. We come up to the next obstacle… a rope traverse…over more water…and Michael wasn’t looking any better. He looked at me and stuttered through shivering lips…I really don’t want to get in the water again. I said, “Michael, go take the 30 burpee penalty for not successful completing and obstacle and maybe that will start to warm you up.” I missed ringing the bell on the rope traverse by about 10 feet…so I got wet AND had to do 30 burpees. (all of us had to do the burpees only a hand full of times for failing proper negotiation of the obstacle...most obstacles were successfully completed) We started down the road again and I noticed that Michael’s condition was improving…and he seemed to be doing better. I didn’t tell him how close I was to calling Medics over and having him withdraw from the race.
More running…more obstacles…rope climbs…flipping tractor tires …farmers walk with 100 pound concrete blocks …more 8 foot walls to scale over…wadding through watered trenches…relentless…and with each obstacle my side screamed to quit…NO MAS!…I remember at one point looking at Michael and asking, “Have you ever had to dig this deep?” He replied, “I don’t think so.” “Isn’t it AWESOME!” I exclaimed. I meant it too. I don’t know if he agreed as he looked at me like I had lost it. On we continued…more water…more mud…jump over the fire…face the Spartan Warriors with Pugil sticks at the finish line. I was spent completely…bruised…battered…We were Done!
Pound for pound…mile for mile….this was the most brutal of a race I had ever done.
Now I had another issue…somehow I needed to pull my body together for the next day. Five days early I had received a call asking if I could fill in to run the first 5 mile leg of the Dallas Marathon Relay. I replied sure…it’s only 5 miles. What I didn’t take into account was how beat up I would be from the Spartan Beast…and I definitely didn’t count on my rib/oblique’s having such acute pain. At 5:30 Sunday morning, I find myself up and getting ready for the Marathon Relay. I ran it…nothing epic…shuffling as fast as I could with shallow breathing (breathing deep hurt too much)…honestly I was physically and emotionally spent…so when I handed off…at the 5 mile marker 49:37…I just kneeled and prayed…for healing…for being blessed to do this stuff…and now off to make a ginger bread house with my daughter…that is good start to recovery. And So WE PRESS ON!
cleaned up and going home
P.S. My 11 year old son Luke, performed his first Repel this past weekend…a 125 foot drop off of an abandoned grain silo…at night...In the dark. Looks like he is well on his way to being “High Speed”…which makes me happy happy happy!
All pics courtesy of Don Westbrook and Spartan Racing