I recently put my training to the test by running my first obstacle/mud run, a Super Spartan Race, on the southern portion of Staten Island in Wofle Pond Park. It was an amazing experience for many reasons, primarily because it was a REAL event to put my recent cross training to the test. Additionally, I met some amazing people that had similar interests to me, and have been introduced to what I can only call "Spartan Culture," which is a whole world unto itself. These people are a new level of extreme, as you will soon see. They enjoy pain and getting dirty, and will go to extreme levels to meet up and run their race.
I first heard about Spartan Race through Carrie Adams, the company's brand manager and someone I had met through a mutual friend on facebook earlier this year. Carrie and I found out we had a lot in common and similar goals of sharing our love of fitness and nutrition with others around us; in fact I have a permanent link to her blog (actually one of MANY blogs she keeps) on my site on the bottom left corner. I've always believed Spartan Race and Beachbody have very similar goals, getting the average person to get off the couch and be active, so it was a natural partnership. Anyway - as she became more involved with Spartan Race this year, I read more about it and figured this race was the nearest one to me and I would give it a try. I was working on the DVD program Insanity: The Asylum, which is a sports performance based workout program. I was excited for it, except that I had nothing that I was actually training for - it was just an end unto itself to complete Asylum. As I read more about Spartan Race, I knew this was the perfect challenge to put my Asylum training to the test. It was a test of endurance, mental toughness, and strength all in one - and I didn't even run the hardest race in the series (aptly called "The Beast")!
This became a goal for me. An OBJECTIVE based goal. I often talk about goals that include a number, and goals that involve completing something. I feel like people often get caught up in numeric goals: I want to be X lbs., I want to get X amount of pushups, etc. These types of goals are great, but once you achieve them, you will just want to keep going, which can be both good and bad. A goal that has a finite objective is a great test of achievement, and often after completing an "objective" you will want to train for something else completely different, instead of obsessing over a "number." Nonetheless, this is how I trained and prepared for it:
1 Month out
-Started Asylum, a 30-day cross training program
2 weeks out
-Started doing weekly track workouts, mostly speed work with additional physical challenges (push-ups, Shaun T moves, burpees, etc.) Began a 2-week carb load and taper
1 week out
-Eliminated processed foods, drank a lot of water, tapered my carb load for the last few days. Ate pretty much only raw foods the day before, just to avoid stomach issues!
Just to get ready for race day was a mental challenge! Spartan just started a new tradition called the "Hurricane Heat" in honor of a group of 100 or so insane racers who met at 6:00 a.m. the morning of Hurricane Irene to run their heat since the race day had been canceled. This hurricane heat was to meet on Staten Island, NY at 5:30 a.m., and run the entire course (8 miles, 21 obstacles) in a team challenge format with additional physical challenges. We had some extra obstacles, and had to do 30 burpees 6x throughout the course, and 100 crunches before the last obstacle, and jumping jacks while we waiting for our team to catch up if we got ahead! Then, many of us would run our actual race heat later in the day. I made it a goal of mine to just FINISH both heats, I knew even that would take a lot of effort.
So my problems were: I needed to figure out how to get to SI at 4:30 a.m. for the call time, pack enough clothes and shoes to get through 2 wet and muddy races, and also have enough food, energy, water, etc. to get through the entire day. On top of all this, Friday was an extremely taxing and late day at work, including a choir rehearsal I had to attend from 5:30-7:30 in Hartford. I didn't get home from work until 5:00, so would have to wait till AFTER the rehearsal to pack and prepare all my food.
I packed everything and left Hartford around 8:30 p.m., I would be crashing at my friend's house in Westchester County and would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make the last hour drive to Staten Island. Little did I know that my friend would be helping a singer master her new vocal album (which sounded amazing!!) - so I didn't get much sleep that night, but laid awake in a dream state surrounded by really heady new music.
For food, I pre-cooked some oatmeal for early morning, had two gallons of water, a CamelBak for the Hurricane Heat, 4 carb gels for "during", 2 cliff bars and an apple for snacking, a mixed up thermos of Shakeology for my "meal" in between heats, and a bag of recovery drink powder for directly after the Hurricane Heat. For equipment, I had 2 pairs of shoes, 2 of everything (new gear for wet and humid!), and a head lamp. I also though a giant garbage bag for my wet clothes and an old towel would come in handy :).
Well, the day didn't disappoint, I arrived at 5:00 a.m., and Carrie spotted me in the dark before I even got out of my car, which I'm not even sure how she found me in a sea of 150 people but it was a great way to start the morning! We traversed the course in about 3.5 hours, taking time to slow down at times and of course because we had additional challenges! Many people decided to lug along heavy objects like logs or other team members along the way for added fun. Our team was made of about 22 people, but 5 of us seceded from the team to finish faster and called ourselves "Team Evil" which kind of cracked me up. All 150 of us crossed the finish line around 8:45 a.m. It was quite the experience!
I hydrated, rested, ate my Shakeology and decided I would do the next heat at 10:30. I didn't want to wait too long and cramp up. However, there was a moment when I was sitting in my car, in new dry clothes with the air conditioning on sipping my shake that I thought "what if I just went home?" I mean, I did just do the entire course+, hadn't slept the night before, and was probably about to die if I ran the whole course again. What did I have to prove?
Well - I did have something to prove. I had gone down there to FINISH twice. And so I did.
I watched the 10:00 heat start and immediately went to the starting line, I wanted to be up front to avoid getting trampled in the mud. I was already familiar with the course, the test would be in my endurance.
I was near the front of the pack for most of the race, though I haven't seen the results yet, I felt good most of the time. I jumped over and under walls, ran in the sand, in mud, in streams, and underneath the highway in a long tunnel of chest deep water. There was a cargo net, strength challenges, climbing walls, and the final obstacle was a steep incline ramp you had to ascend by rope - but the incline was doused in wet soap! And finally two Spartan gladiators clobbered you with sticks as your crossed the finish line. Many of these are staples of the Spartan repertoire, but they were all new to me!
I bonked pretty hard around mile 6, even with gels and a powerade station, and had to walk the second time we hit the beach. I was proud that after mile 6, nobody passed me though, I had gotten far enough ahead of the crowd - I must have been at the "back" of the lead pack. I struggled on the last couple of challenges, as I "missed' in the javelin toss, which meant I had to do 30 burpees. I also fell of the spider climbing wall because I just had 0 grip strength left after completing the course twice, and so had to do 30 burp's again. I ended up finishing in about 93 minutes, and was in the top ten in my heat.
The bottom line is - I set a goal and had to do A LOT to achieve it. It was a goal that tested my "functional fitness" which had been improving slowly over 3 years. Yeah, I can do Insanity, but what can I do outside in an obstacle racing course? I would encourage ALL of you to set some goals immediately, not necessarily a Spartan Race, but find some kind of competitive event that will PUSH you and decide your goal is FINISH it at the best you can do it. You will learn so much about yourself and your ability, and in the process you will be chipping away at the number based goals. What are you training for, to look good, or to feel good? Or is it both? If you FEEL good first, you will have more success getting the body you want - change the inside first, set OBJECTIVE goals that have a beginning and an end, and then the numbers will fall into place.