(Note: Today’s guest post is written by certified fitness instructor and FemSport competitor Jen Hamel.)
On Aug. 17, we loaded the kids into the car and were off to Calgary for the weekend. But this wasn’t to be any ordinary weekend. This was the Spartan Race weekend! With so many friends going to be there and many family fun activities planned, it was sure to be a weekend not soon forgotten. On the drive down to Calgary, many thoughts were running through my mind: What if I can’t do an obstacle? What if I get stuck in the mud? What if my shorts don’t hold up? How fast will my time be? Will my family be able to see any of the course? What will the obstacles be? As these “what ifs” raced through my brain, I felt excitement, nervousness, anticipation and, let’s be honest, a touch scared. After all, this was my FIRST TIME and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
So what is the Spartan Sprint, you ask. It’s an obstacle-course race where you are tested on speed, endurance, strength, stamina and strategy. The course was 3.1 miles long with more than 10 obstacles throughout the race, some harder than others, but you only get one chance at each obstacle and if you fail, you must complete 25 burpees before moving on. This race is held all over North America and now even in Europe. In this year’s Calgary event, there were 2,225 competitors spread out throughout the day in different heats. A heat is a large group (up to 250 people) that all start together and every 30 minutes they release a new heat of fitness enthusiasts to try to claim the title of Spartan warrior. I was in the fourth heat of the day, racing with 79 other individuals, including a friend of mine, Tricia, and her husband, Kyle.
Everyone always asks what are the obstacles? Do you know beforehand? The answer is NO. You can watch videos on the website www.spartanrace.com, but every race is different so you never know what to expect.
Here is a list of the obstacles that I tackled on that sunny Saturday morning.
- The leap of fire — this seems to be a Spartan staple, which I was very excited to do. When you tell people “I jumped over fire,” it sounds really cool. But because of a strong breeze that morning, it was more of a hop than a leap, but still fun.
- Around the corner to the over, under and through walls, a series of wooden walls you had to manoeuvre through.
- Next was a trek through a BMX course, which featured fallen tree trunks, tractor tires half buried in the ground and a small jaunt through a mud pit. It wasn’t so bad, but the feeling of running with wet, muddy sneakers took a little getting used to.
- Then the first obstacle where you had the potential for burpees. This was a field of tires that you had to bunny hop (two feet together) through.
- Once on the other side of the tires, we started the many, MANY hill runs, running single file down and then up very steep hills with tall grass surrounding you. I felt much better than I expected here but was slowed down by others who were already feeling tired and there was nowhere to safely pass them.
- After about two of the many, many, many hill runs, you had to cross a series of very narrow balance beams. This is where I felt the first sting of defeat as I tried to cross too quickly and fell off. *25 burpees*
- Once the hill runs were done, we ran up to a bridge where you had to pull up and down a rope with tires attached to the other end
- The first of many climbing challenges was the cargo net climb. Over and down and then up a hill. At this point I was happy that I’d practised this when playing with kids at the park.
- Hey, if running up and down steep hills sounds fun, why don’t we add a 40+ lb sandbag to the task and have you run down and then up ANOTHER steep hill before moving on to the next obstacle?
- After ditching the sandbag at the top of the hill, we ran over to a horizontal wall climb. Again the potential for burpees was there but with style and grace I managed to keep my composure and was off running through the culvert and on to “The Bog” as I call it.
- The Bog was a muddy pond that I slid into and waded across about 50ft of mucky, stinky water. This is the first place where I almost lost my shoe.
- After inhaling a small amount of mud flung from a fallen competitor as I crossed another mud pit, I found myself in front of the wall climb. I waited patiently for my turn and then it was up and over and I was off running again.
- I felt my second wind kick in and I started passing people on the way to the next obstacle: dragging a cinder block attached to a rope for about 75ft.
- As I raced around the corner I could hear my friends cheering me on. I knew I was getting close to the finish but what would the Spartan be without its trademark mud crawl under the barbed wire. Yes, it was real barbed wire. I crawled through with relative ease, hearing my husband cheer me on as my family stood over me watching and cheering as loud as they could. When I heard my son cheering “Go Mom, go!” it filled my heart with joy, pride and well, it still brings a tear to my eye.
- After the mud crawl I made it to a series of two triangle walls. The first, climb a net, over and slide down. Easy. The next, climb the slide with a knotted rope to help yourself over. I was almost to the top when the 2½ inches of mud stuck to my shoes had a better idea and my feet slid out from under me. *25 burpees*
- Now there were only two obstacles left. Next was the javelin throw, which almost NOBODY was getting. As I crossed the line of muddy people doing burpees, it was my turn. I grabbed the javelin in my hand and threw it with all my might. It flew straight and hit the hay bale. YES! But didn’t stick in. *25 Burpees*
- Burpees are done and the only thing left to do was make it through the Gladiator gauntlet and cross the finish line. As I approached the Gladiators, they gave me a light tap but I gave each one a good shove back in return as if to say, “I might be tiny but I’m strong,” and crossed the finish line with the euphoric sense of achievement and great pride in what I had just accomplished.
The Spartan Race was only ONE of the “Are you crazy?” events that I’ve done this year. Others include FemSport, skydiving and running the Underwear Affair. My friends and family may think I’m nuts, but they are very supportive of my endeavours and most say that I do things they could only dream of. I say you CAN DO ANYTHING if you put your heart and sweat into it. I am happy to say that I finished the race in under 46 minutes and not only will I do it again next year but I hope to have my husband Mike not only cheer me on but compete alongside me.
To all those Spartans out there: we ARE everyday warriors.
Jen Hamel, owner and personal trainer, On the Go Fitness