Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I am Spartan: Texas Spartan Beast 12/15/13

I finished the 15+ mile 12/15/13 Spartan Beast, my first Spartan Race, in Glen Rose, Texas.

I am a Spartan.

I'm also a crier. It hurt a lot and I cried. I cried when I kicked a rock in the second mile and when I tripped just after the second aid station and fell on my bad knee, bruising it deeply enough that I know it will last for over a month.
(Cell phone picture of my bruised knee)

I cried on the second bucket carry when my elbows strained against the weight and extension and were surely overworked. I finished that obstacle by myself.

I finished the race with a lot of help on many obstacles. I finished my 180 burpees (on my knuckles because of a sprained wrist) for the three rope climbs I didn't attempt and the three obstacles I failed altogether. I finished the Spartan Beast in 6:59:52, just barely before dark.

(Dim cell phone picture of me and my finisher's medal)

And I don't honestly feel very proud, accomplished, or excited that I finished. Neither do I feel inspired to do better next time. I've run so many races that they're not all fun and enjoyable. (Update: This might be anhedonia.) All I feel is hurt and fatigued, and even my brain feels slow. I'm struggling to compose a narrative about the race that is organized in any logical way, because the retelling is at least fun. I'm also excited for race photos to be posted.

I had planned to run a 4- to 5-hour 12-mile Spartan Beast. I had run a 1:47 10k (6.2 mi) trail race in October in soul-sucking humidity with some of the fiercest hills I've ever run, so I knew that I could make it through half the Spartan. And knowing my body, I knew I could make it to 8 or 9 miles. From there, it would be a good chance I could berate and shame myself to the end. That was my game plan going in. It may not sound healthy, but when the goal is only to finish, it would at least work. I was misinformed; the Texas event had apparently been touted as 13+.

(Image of Spartan Beast banner advertising the 10- to 12-mile race)

Putting on my Vibram FiveFingers, I spied a new hole in one.* That did not bode well. Walking from the parking lot to the event, I was told the course was 15.2 miles. Welp, there went all hope of finishing. The 2-hour drive had me already in a foul mood; it was going to be a rough day.

Participants have to scale a 5-foot wall to enter the Starting corral, and I couldn't even manage that without help. It's something that used to be easy for me, but I just couldn't get any height and accepted a boost from another runner.

I told the two women I was running with, whom I met from Meetup, that I really didn't think I would finish. But they were stubborn bitches who had already decided we would finish together and told me I was wrong. One of them was much faster, and we encouraged her to take off around the fourth mile because we two were otherwise keeping pace with one another. She finished in about 5 hours total.

I really wanted to quit in the fourth mile. Running on the injured knee was awful. The 20-pound sandbag carry up and down a steep hill surprisingly wasn't. That might have been my favorite obstacle, which should tell you a lot about the others.

(and so should the look on my face)

The worst, by far, were the bucket carries. We had to fill a bucket with gravel and carry it up and down a steep hill with no handle. I'm still incredulous that I didn't injure my back. I hoisted the bucket up, managed 10 to 20 paces, dropped it heavily, sat for a minute or two, and repeated over and over. There were two of these obstacles, and though the second had a kinder slope, I whimpered, moaned, and cried through most of it. And I finished.

(Bucket carry image from internet)

I've always been a crier when I'm hurt, upset, sad, stressed, tired, angry, overwhelmed, or whatever else. It caused me a lot of frustration throughout most of my life and well into adulthood because it was/is easily triggered and I couldn't control it. Nobody wants to be the kid who cries. But now I accept it. I no longer fret about doing it in public but manage to say to strangers who ask if I'm alright, "No, but I will be. I'm just very tired (or in a lot of pain) and need to cry right now. And then I'll get on with it." Crying doesn't have to be a big deal, or shameful, or a sign of weakness. It just is. I cry and I get on with it. That's how I cope.

I had really been looking forward to testing my strength and skill on the tractor tire flip. I squatted low, eager to hoist the tire up and over . . . I couldn't budge it more than an inch. I tried two or three more times to no avail and resigned myself to 30 penalty burpees. This was perhaps the most disappointing obstacle.

(Tractor tire flip image from internet)

I gave a good run and a clean, straight throw at the spear toss, which fell short of the target but I was very pleased with the attempt. Others' spears had helicoptered through the air to strike the targets along the shaft and fall to the ground. Few succeeded in striking the targets.

The Tyrolean Traverse is an obstacle that looks both simple and complicated. A long, heavy rope is strung across a pit of water with a bell hung from the middle of the rope that you must ring. I climbed on top, hooking my left foot over the rope and letting the right dangle as a counter-balance, and I slowly pulled myself forward, focusing only on the rope. I made it over a third of the way before the roughly 8- or 10-foot drop spooked me and I fell into the water. Though I'm satisfied with my effort, I'm a bit disappointed because I think I really had a shot at succeeding on this obstacle.

(Tyrolean Traverse image from the internet)

We were feeling good and ready to finish when the course looped through the festival area and my running partner thought we were near the end. I knew better and stayed silent, letting her high hopes buoy us forward. We still had a long way to go. I am so lucky that the weather was glorious, and I think that's the only reason I finished. Much of the afternoon was a pleasant hike to my mind and I focused on enjoying that and silencing all thoughts of upcoming obstacles. Throughout the day, my body temperature was always comfortable.

(me rolling under the barbed wire)

There had been an icy lake swim planned, but it was canceled because the water was so damn cold and replaced instead with a long trek around the edge of the lake in knee-to-thigh-deep water.

"Oh, how it burns us, Precious!" I exclaimed throughout the trek, breathing deeply and steadily pushing forward. Many participants stopped halfway and climbed out before continuing, but I knew I needed to keep up my momentum. I heard later that some of the volunteers required burpees of the breakers and was glad I kept on. I was lucky, too, that my Vibrams dried quickly and I never lost feeling in my toes. My running partner, though, struggled with numb feet in her sneakers that trapped the cold water.

I can't remember any more the order of the obstacles. I worried about the pulley obstacle because the descriptions I'd read made it out to be pretty tough. You have to pull a rope with a weight on the other end so the weight rises to the top and then lower it without dropping or slamming it. I'd read that the secret was to put your foot on the rope to control your speed. The cement blocks didn't look like much, but it required most of my body weight to lift it on each pull, and my running partner offered to help. I declined, telling her I just needed to take it slow. Walking it back down was definitely easier.

(Rope pulley image from the internet)

Daylight was fading fast on the last mile, and we slowly slipped through creek crossings near the end. I didn't pause to free and light my headlamp; we were so close. Folks were cramping up all over the course. I usually suffer pretty stiff calves when I run, but I wore compression sleeves this time and was A-OK.

The final obstacles were back-to-back. I walked around the rope climb, did my burpees, rolled under the barbed wire, walked around the muddier rope-wall climb, did my burpees, and lined up to leap the fire. I ran forward, quickly slowed to approach the hurdle at a walk, and eyed it closely. These logs were piled twice as high and deep as any other fire obstacle I've done. Spectators called out to show me where it was lower and narrower that I couldn't see. I lined up a second time and easily cleared the jump, though not with room to spare, and ran through the Gladiators with a smile on my face, happily checking both and chuckling when the second swung around to swat my bottom.

(Fire obstacle image from the internet)

(Gladiators image from the internet)

I crossed the finish line, got my medal, and drank deeply of the hot chicken broth handed me: glorious manna of the gods!

I got my first cramp while trying to put on dry clothes; my left foot betrayed me. Useless foot. What has it ever done for me? Oh, right.

Then I had to find my car, having failed to make a mental note of where I'd left it. I knew which side of the road it was on and that it had seemed a solid walk from the lot to the festival grounds. I walked slowly in the near dark, clicking my beepy button hopefully, and found it without too much trouble and without passing it. I inhaled the cold half burrito that had sat there unfinished since breakfast, and it was delicious. The two-hour drive home seemed another obstacle in itself. I was near to dozing in the last half hour, but once I made it home, my friends took me out and fed me.

The pain, stiffness, and discomfort have been waking me every night since the race.

(Image of bruises on my arm)

I hung out naked or near to it at Spa Castle for several hours the next day, covered in bruises below the neck and looking like nothing so much as a victim of domestic violence. Awkward. Nobody said anything to me until after I was dressed and about to leave when a young woman commented on my medal and asked if I'd run the Spartan Beast. I told her I'd done it yesterday, and we chatted briefly about her running the Spartan Sprint (5k) earlier in the year and her dad's running the Spartan Beast another time. "I'd be wearing that medal everywhere, too, if I were you," she remarked. Indeed. I wore it again to work two days after the race.

(Image of bruises on my leg)

The rankings are posted but photos aren't yet. I wasn't last. My percentile rankings are 89/85/89, easier numbers to digest than the ones I was given:

Pace 34:59, Overall: 1231/1369, Gender: 263/307, Age group: 82/92

This pace and finishing time would put the course at exactly 12 miles, so I assume the computer is only configured for a 12-mile race. Too many other sources put this event at 15 miles, in which case my pace was about a 28-minute mile.

*Wearing Vibram FiveFingers for long races: It doesn't work for a lot of people, but it was the best choice for me. I get wicked blisters from socks and sneakers on even the shortest runs. I know where the Vibrams typically rub too much and coated those areas with liquid bandage before the event. I have one blister to speak of, which I didn't even notice until the next day. The Vibrams are no fun on rocky trails, but our course was mostly dirt and my feet weren't as sore as I expected them to be at the end. These get much better traction than sneakers and are ideal for balance obstacles, slick hills, and so on. I wore the KSO Sprints, which don't collect much water and do dry very quickly after water obstacles. The fresh hole in the fabric didn't give me any trouble on the course. I stumbled a few times because I was tired and my vision is weak. It does hurt like the dickens if you do stub a toe on a root or rock.

1 comment:

  1. it might seem like you didn't do well, but in context you finished (great init's own right) one of the most difficult races a straight thinking person can do, and you did it faster than 99.9% of your country men and women.