In April I took part in my toughest ever challenge – a Spartan Sprint Obstacle Course Race. My fiancé Michael takes part in obstacle course races (OCRs) all the time and he blogs about them over at theurbanchallenger.com. His medal collection is starting to take over our bedroom and he’d been trying to get me to do an OCR with him for ages but I’d always protested. One day he came home and told me he’d signed me up to a Spartan Sprint, a 5km+ race with pretty tough obstacles! That was it, I was doing an OCR whether I wanted to or not! Michael’s sister and my bridesmaid, Mary, was also signed up and would be joining us for her first OCR too.
I’ll be the first to admit I was dreading the Spartan race. If Michael hadn’t signed me up, I definitely would not be doing it. I’ve gained weight and I’m probably the most ‘unfit’ I have been for a long time, so what a great time to be doing my first Spartan, eh?! I was dreading the running between the obstacles more than the obstacles themselves! I’m not a runner and just don’t enjoy running, so the idea of running over 5km filled me with dread. Plus the fact that Michael is a pro (in my eyes) at OCRs and Mary runs often, I thought I was going to be left behind, letting the team down. However Michael had his first marathon the weekend after the Spartan Sprint so he promised me he would ‘take it easy’ and stick with me throughout the course.
I’d looked up a few of the Spartan obstacles ahead of our race and felt quietly confident about some of them but with others I’d knew I’d be doing the penalty of 30 burpees when you fail to complete an obstacle. Namely any that relied heavily on upper body strength, like monkey bars and a rope climb. I can’t say I was looking forward to anything about the race because I didn’t want to do it in the first place. I think I was so apprehensive about it all that I just couldn’t get excited about any part of it.
My Spartan Kit
Michael told me to buy trail shoes so I bought the Tempo 5 Trail Running Shoes by Karrimor as they were really good value from Sports Direct. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to do another OCR so I didn’t want to invest in expensive shoes. Other than that I made sure the clothes I wore were quick-drying and not cotton incase I got really wet or muddy. I wore my Zero Gravity leggings by Sweaty Betty, a technical vest top by Adidas and an Adidas t-shirt that Michael had from one of his previous races but was too small for him.
Michael also advised me to pack a change of clothes, underwear and shoes so that if we were to get covered in mud, we’d have clean clothes to change in to. Plus warm layers to put on after the adrenaline leaves you and your temperature drops! I’m so thankful Michael was able to advise me because what I wore was perfect for the race and being able to get changed and layer up afterwards was a Godsend. If you’re thinking of doing a Spartan or any OCR, I’d definitely recommend you do the same.
What I thought of the Spartan Sprint
I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it! As I said before, I was dreading it in the lead up to the Spartan. Even on the train on the way to St Clere I was telling Mary how much I didn’t want to do it. However all that fear and dread went away as soon as we gathered in the start pit and the announcer, dressed as a Spartan warrior with a 6 pack to match, got us to all lie chest down in the thick mud, told us we were all Spartans and could conquer this race. The atmosphere was a mix of determination, apprehension and excitement and off we went to the yell of the Spartan battle cry “AROOOO”.
It became pretty clear early on that we weren’t going to be able to make a run for it because the mud was so thick. It had rained overnight and left the course a muddy, slippery, hilly mess, which actually made me happy because it slowed us all down and my fear of being left behind went away. I loved the atmosphere. The majority of people were tackling the course in teams, helping each other through the mud. Whenever someone stopped for a breath up another steep hill, the people passing by would encourage them to keep going. The volunteers on each obstacle would offer tips on how to tackle the obstacle and motivate you when you struggled. Throughout the race there was always this team spirit.
There were some obstacles I loved (rolling down the hill under barbed wire), some I found easy (carrying a sandbag through a muddy trail), and a lot that I struggled with (where do I start?!). No matter how difficult I found some of the obstacles I enjoyed giving them all a go, learning new skills like how to climb over walls that are taller than me and challenging myself like never before.
My Favourite Obstacle
My favourite obstacle was actually my biggest challenge. You had to walk up this very slippery wooden board, holding onto a length of rope to stop you slipping. We had just come out of this watery, muddy swamp pit so everything was wet and slippery. It was also near the end of the course so by this point I was tired and running on reserves. As we approached the obstacle we saw a girl slip and fall which didn’t fill me with confidence. I held on to the rope and with very slippery feet, managed to struggle my up to two thirds of the way. Michael was sat at the top, ready to grab me when I got close enough, but that last third was a real struggle. Mentally I could see myself slipping, hitting the board and falling down. Physically my feet were slipping all over the place and all my strength and energy was quickly leaving me. I had nothing left. Only Michael reaching out for me, telling me that I could do it and the volunteers on the ground yelling up at me to keep going. I realise I am making this sound quite dramatic, but honestly this was so difficult for me. I finally made it to the top and I can’t tell you how proud and relieved I was. I pushed through the struggle and I completed it!
My Least Favourite Obstacle
For me it had to be anything that required upper body strength, because I have none! The monkey bars, the twister and the rope climb all had me doing a lot of burpees in thick, sludgy mud. It’s definitely shown me that I need to work on my upper body strength more in the gym, so I will be practising lots of push ups, pull ups, dead hangs etc in the gym from now on!
That’s one thing I really liked about Spartan – no matter your fitness level or what you can or can’t do, you can still complete it. The race will show you what you’re good at and what you need to work on to get better.
Would I Do A Spartan Race Again And Would I Recommend It?
Honestly, when I finished the race I was so happy and proud that I’d completed it, but I was ready to hang up my trail shoes and not sign up to any more races. I really enjoyed myself on the day and despite it being difficult, I enjoyed challenging myself and seeing exactly what I’m capable of. However I had no desire to want to do it again. OCRs are just not my thing. Michael loves OCRs, that’s his hobby and I’m glad I’ve now got to experience it with him, but I’m not going to become his OCR sidekick anytime soon.
Having said all that, since sitting down to write about my first Spartan I’m now tempted to sign up to one again, just so that I can see how I’ve improved over time. As I said, Spartan is great at showing your strengths and weaknesses and I’ve come away from the race with an action plan in the gym and a sense of pride in myself that I didn’t have before. Pre-Spartan I found it too easy to make excuses as to why I couldn’t train. You know, the usual ‘I’m too tired’, ‘My legs are still sore from my leg workout 2 days ago’, ‘I need to eat first but then it will be too late’ etc etc. Now if I try to make excuses, I tell myself ‘You did a Spartan race!’ and my excuses just don’t hold any weight anymore. I’m now more aware of what my body is capable of and I’m enjoying pushing myself in the gym, feeling stronger than my mind had let me believe before Spartan.
So would I recommend doing a Spartan race? Definitely! Sure, it’s fun on the day, you’ll have people supporting you, be faced with challenging obstacles and get a cool medal at the end, but really I would recommend you do a Spartan for the mental benefits. It’s given me such a motivation boost to become my best, badass self so watch this space! You’ll never really know what you’re capable of unless you try.