"So, this Saturday I'm going to get up at 4:00 a.m. and drive three hours so that I can spend 5+ hours on Mt. Killington, running a 13.1 mile obstacle course. I don't know the course map, the layout, and really anything about the course, and there is only one aid station and no mile markers. They say you have to climb the mountain 4 or 5 times, meaning there is probably at least 5000 ft of vertical climb. I do know there is a tyrolean traverse over a body of water, a swim, and some of the usual suspects - fire jumps, wall scaling, horizontal climbing wall, cargo net, barbed wire mud crawl...etc. It'll be fun."
If you are visiting my blog, you know that about three years ago, I made a commitment to my health and fitness. I was 25 and was in fine health, but had a vision of what I'd look like at 30...and 35, and 45...if I kept up what was an enjoyable, but sedentary and unfocused life. I bought P90X off the infomercial, lost 20+ pounds I didn't even think I needed to lose, and increased my pull-up number from 1 fake pull-up to 15 real ones in just 90 days. After the 90 days, I was, for the first time since High School, able to focus on something I once loved but had lost serious ground on - running.
I've since completed several 5k's and a half marathon. Not to brag, but my 5k's are close to my High School times, in the 20's and I ran the half at 7:30 pace. Last year, I ran my first Spartan Race - twice. I showed up for the 5 am "Hurricane Heat" on Staten Island, which included the normal 8 mile course with some other fun body resistance exercises thrown in, including completing every obstacle, AND doing the 30-burpee punishment afterward. I then ran the course again for my normal heat, leaving Staten Island that afternoon muddy, happy, and exhausted.
While I was running the second heat, I realized that I hated obstacle racing, but at least I got some sweet pictures, two finisher medals, and a good story. I told myself I really didn't want to do this again, for a long time. The next week, I signed up for the Vermont Beast seeing as it was 364 days after my Staten Island race, I would probably forget I didn't like my experience on Staten Island (then again, is there such a thing as a good experience on Staten Island?) and could at least get some new pictures and a shiny green finisher medal.
Since September of 2011, a lot has changed, including the fact that I threw in a short Spartan Sprint race at Amesbury, MA in August. First of all, the Amesbury course was phenomenal. You might not believe me, but it was a more challenging course than the Staten Island course, even though it was half the length. In general, it was just a better designed course, but mostly it was cool because in the past year I've gotten to meet some other Spartans online and connect with them. When I did NY, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. When I went into Amesbury, I at least had a clue and the hype alone helped me get through. I also was able to share the race with a close friend and his 19 year old son. Driving up with 2 others made a huge difference!!
But now to the point. Somehow, I have grown to love obstacle racing even though I've only run 3 races. While I left Staten Island saying I'd need at least a year before I do this again, I left Amesbury wanting to do every Spartan Race left on the 2012 calendar. If only there was time and money! And here I am on the eve of the Spartan Beast, a 13.1 mile obstacle course from hell, and am nearly giddy with excitement. I am excited for the physical challenge, encountering the sense of the unknown, testing my limits, and of course more sweet pictures and funny stories to tell at parties. But I'd like to list the top 5 reasons why I believe I love obstacle racing.
1) It puts fitness to practical use
You need endurance, anaerobic power, upper body strength, grip strength, and mental toughness to complete any Spartan event. Aside from cross fit competitions, and American Ninja Warrior, which I wouldn't even know how to qualify for, obstacle racing is one of the only things out there that really tests your physical and mental skills. I can hang with Shaun T on an Insanity DVD now, but that is in the privacy of my own living room. If Insanity is the practice, Spartan Racing is Gameday for me!
2) It makes you feel like a kid again
You get to roll around in the mud, and do hilarious things, like jump over fire and scale 9-foot walls. When we were kids, we all wanted to be Ninja Turtles, or super heroes. When you do an obstacle race, you become a super hero for a few hours.
3) The community
I have met a lot of amazing people that understand what this is all about - people that will drive 2 hours just to meet at a state park to run hill loops, people that will meet up at a playground and do 100 pull-ups and 100 burpees with their children running around playing in the background, people that when you ask, "What is your preferred technique for doing the barbed wire crawl with a CamelBak on?" you get 20 unique answers. These are people that will push you, inspire you, and train with you. They have families, and jobs, but have a small slice of their life dedicated to this.
4) The bling
I've done crazier things for a free t-shirt, but seriously - getting an awesome, high quality finishers medal, a t-shirt, a free beer, and free digital photos of your experience could arguably be No. 1 on this list, not to mention the bragging rights and swag.
5) Personal growth
There's a sort of "get er done" mentality with Spartan Racing. This isn't a road race with tons of people cheering you on, people wearing costumes, lots of water stations and mile markers. This is, you show up, you congregate at the starting line, and you have no idea what is going to happen to your life for the next...well you don't even know how long. The only guarantee is that you will probably have to do at least 60 burpees for punishment because there will always be a spear throw. This is like trying to throw a ballpoint pen into the side of a brick house. There will be some other obstacle that you second guess and fail as well.
In a society driven by entitlement, over preparation, and shying away from challenges, this is the ultimate way of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and showing up in a world of the unknown. You can prepare physically, but there is no way to prepare for the moment when an obstacle is in front of you and you must get through at all costs. Not to sound preachy, but translating this mentality to your daily life will lead to greater personal success. What obstacles do you face with your job, your relationships, and your personal growth daily? Do you attack them like there is no other way to avoid them but going through?
So wish me luck on Saturday, though I don't need it. Well, maybe for the spear throw. None of us can finish the Spartan Beast on luck alone! Aroo!