Blog: Spartan Race

RSS Feed
Spartan Race - Sunday, August 22, 2021
Yesterday I finally got my wish and did a Spartan Race for the first time.

At the end of 2019, I signed up for a Spartan Trail Race half marathon which was supposed to happen in June of 2020. Then because of COVID, this was pushed back a few months to November. Then last July, it was announced that the entire rest of the 2020 season was cancelled. Those affected received a deferral code to use for a new 2021 event, as well as a bonus code for another event of their choice.

So I used the deferral code for a new Trail Race for September, and the bonus code for the Monterey Spartan Super 10k in August. I wanted to use the bonus code for another Trail Race, but I was unable to make that happen, as registrations for Trail Races vs regular Spartan events are handled by two different platforms, and the bonus code only worked for a regular event. So I chose the Super, as I thought the Sprint would be too easy and the Beast might be a little too challenging to start with. Anyway, based on how things were going with the company and on the global stage, I had little hope that the events would actually happen or that the company would even still remain solvent.

But gradually the situation in the US improved, events reopened, and finally the Monterey Spartan Super and Sprint events kicked off at Toro Park in Salinas yesterday. I didn't really give much thought to the difficulty of Spartan obstacles until a week before the event day; I've done three Tough Mudders and they seemed pretty manageable, so I thought I would be ok. But once reality dawned on me and I started researching Spartan obstacles, I realized that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

So for the last few days leading up to the event, I was working on my grip strength at UFC Gym (my Fitness 19 membership got transferred there after they went out of business) and binge-watching YouTube videos on Spartan obstacles. Two days before the event, Spartan released the course map showing all 20 and 27 obstacles on the Sprint and Super courses, respectively. This helped me hone in on exactly what to prepare for. I knew that I wouldn't be able to muscle my way through the obstacles, so I had to conquer them through better technique. I researched every obstacle on the route and picked up some good hacks, otherwise known as techniques for getting through obstacles using less effort (and sometimes more quickly as well). I guess it paid off, because I failed only one obstacle (the Spear Throw) and that involved just a penalty loop, so I ended up doing no burpees! Me being not that heavy undoubtedly helped on a lot of obstacles as well.

Compared to what I've researched, it seemed that the Monterey Super Course was dialed down in difficulty. For instance, mud and water were only present in two obstacles and they were near the end, so most of the obstacles were easier to complete than in venues where people are all muddy when doing them, either due to weather or course design. Going easy on us weak Bay Area people, maybe. ;)

So here are all the obstacles on the course and my personal notes.

Over Walls (4' Walls): Pretty much just a warmup.

6' and 7' Walls: The heel hook technique made these effortless. No 8ft walls like on some other courses. The 8ft walls would probably require a running jump, making them a good deal harder.

Olympus: A lot of people had trouble with staying on the wall. I mostly used the holes and made sure to sit my hips low, which kept me on the wall without too much sliding. Nonetheless, this obstacle was still difficult and was hard on my hands. The chains had the balls attached to the ends, making that part easier for those choosing to use them.

Bender: After grabbing the first bar, I swung my legs up onto the bar as well. This made it easy to reach up and climb the rest of the way.

The Box: A lot of people were having trouble getting up the rope. Despite there being knots on the rope, I couldn't get a good grip with my feet. But somehow I was able to pull myself up the rope, get my hands on the flat part at the top, and hoist my way up without too much effort.

Stairway to Sparta: It wasn't too difficult to hoist my way up and start climbing the rungs. Pretty much all there is to it.

Pipe Lair: This was on the map but didn't appear on the actual course. Grr.

Twister: Doing this facing backwards (as one video suggested doing) made this almost effortless. The obstacle consists of handles arranged in a spiral along two rotating bars, with the bars separated by a truss in the middle of the obstacle. I made sure to pick a lane where the second bar had its first handle oriented downwards in order to make the transition to that section easy.

Beater: Monkey bars with a twist, literally. The bars were spaced somewhat far apart and I didn't know if I'd be able to do them in the traditional way with palms facing forwards. So instead, I did them sideways with my palms facing each other, and this made the obstacle pretty doable.

Inverted Wall: Not too bad. One thing that made this easier was that there was a gap between the rungs and the wall that provided extra room to grab onto the rungs. I've seen videos both where there is and is not a gap, so I guess it's just a matter of how hard the course designers want to make this particular obstacle. On the way down the backside, I got sloppy and banged my ankle. Fortunately, it didn't seem serious and the pain wore off after a few minutes.

Z-Wall: Pretty manageable. Just maintain 3 points of contact and don't rush.

Barbed Wire Crawl: I found myself rolling more often than not, since I was impatient and too lazy to want to crawl. But this did make me dizzy and I still had to wait for the people ahead of me, since there were a lot of people and they were all crawling. I got a lot of burrs stuck in the back of my clothes, so I guess that's one disadvantage to rolling.

Bucket Carry: 80lb bucket for the men. The first section was straight up a hill. This obstacle was more cardio than strength, and I was definitely breathing hard and had to stop to rest a few times. I rested the bucket on a bent knee, as I learned from a video, which made it effortless to support the bucket. I alternated between bear-hugging the bucket and supporting it from underneath.

Hurdles: Pretty easy to get over.

Sandbag Carry: Carrying a sandbag for around 1000ft with a little bit of elevation. The men's sandbags are supposedly "only" 45lbs, but the bag felt fairly heavy to me and I lacked the strength and/or technique to get it over both shoulders, so I clumsily alternated it between shoulders. Not as difficult as the bucket carry, but I was still straining.

Rope Climb: I originally planned to use the J-hook to support my legs, but I had a lot of trouble positioning the rope with my feet when I was in the air, and I failed to make progress after a few starts. A volunteer suggested using the S-hook, and that did the trick. But getting to the top was hard on my hands, and I found the side of one of my fingernails bleeding. The volunteer was nice to give me a wipe and bandaid.

Spear Throw: Despite trying to follow tips from several videos, I failed when the spear tilted backwards after the throw. I tried again since it wasn't that busy, and on the second try, the spear tilted backwards again, though not by as much. This was one of two obstacles that involved a penalty loop instead of burpees, and the loop was very easy and took just a minute.

Hercules Hoist: 90lb weight for the men. I found it difficult to pull the rope down while standing, so I followed others' example of lying on the ground and bracing my feet at the bottom of the gate, and then using the weight of my body to pull the rope. Found another finger bleeding after this. Grip strength needs work!

Multi-Rig: Rings, then a horizontal bar, then rings again. Using the rings was simple enough, and the transition to and from the bar wasn't too bad, though I somehow managed to hit my head during the first transition and dismounted the final ring with pretty bad form. Wish I had a place I could practice rings.

Atlas Carry: 100lb stone for the men. While kneeling with one leg, I rolled the stone onto the other leg. This allowed me to get it in my grasp without too much straining. Carrying the stone the short distance wasn't too bad.

Vertical Cargo: I've seen some heavier guys struggle with this, but I had no trouble jumping and hoisting myself up onto the platform. From there it was just the simple act of climbing up and down the vertical cargo net, maintaining 3 points of contact.

Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall: Pretty straightforward. This was the only mud on the course. I got entirely drenched when dunking my head and body under the Dunk Wall, but this also washed off most of the mud that was on me. It also washed off the blood on my fingers as well as the bandaid. Oops. Sorry, people.

Slip Wall: This was right after Dunk Wall and I was worried that it'd be difficult to get up with wet hands and shoes, so I waited a few minutes. It was pretty manageable after that. Maybe I should've just gone for it right away, since some others seemed to be doing that.

A-Frame Cargo: Just 3 points of contact and don't be hasty - you know the drill by now.

Monkey Bars: Similar/same spacing between bars as with Beater, so I did these sideways as well and that worked just fine.

Helix: The final obstacle. Not too bad; just be methodical and watch your step, especially where it's a little wet and muddy due to other racers' footwear.

And no fire jump before the finish line. Understandable, with California being in an extreme drought and with fires like the Dixie Fire (the largest single wildfire in the state's history) currently raging.

So I finished a Super having to do only a penalty loop and no burpees. Sounds awesome, right? Well, I did take my time (sometimes up to 10 minutes) at most of the major obstacles in order to recover arm/grip strength. I could've gone faster, but I didn't have a concept of how hard the obstacles would be in practice and I didn't want to get fatigued. My official time was 3:12:01, placing 1534/2154 overall, 1224/1577 for males, and 216/273 for my age group. A pretty slow performance, but now I know what to expect. The median time was 2:48:10 for all racers.

Overall, I had a great experience and am glad that I did this. The event was run pretty well. Water and bathroom placement on the course was good, check-in was extremely quick, shuttles were ample, and there were plenty of showers with strong water pressure. The shower water wasn't warm, but it wasn't very cold either. Signage could've been better; the location we were told to park at was actually a few miles up the road from the actual parking lot. I had Priscilla drop me off at the venue but I took a shuttle back, and she almost couldn't find the parking lot because there wasn't too much signage on the road.

So for this trip, we took Friday off and headed down to Monterey. We got there a bit later than planned because of traffic; we should've realized that leaving at 2pm is not sufficient to avoid traffic on the 101, especially on a Friday. Once there, we headed over to the Beach House Restaurant in Pacific Grove for a happy hour dinner. We found that the happy hour menu is only for locals (not sure if it was always like this), but our waiter was nice to give it to us anyway. Dinner with tip was still $60, a bit much for happy hour, but you're paying for the view here.

We walked around Lovers Point and along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and walked around Cannery Row before heading back. On the trail was a sea lion lookout where we watched a group of 4 sea lions for 10 minutes. They were on the beach but apparently were waiting for the right time to get back into the ocean. When a wave came in that was high enough for each sea lion to start floating, it floated down the shore towards the ocean until it was able to swim away. Sometimes it took a few rounds of riding a wave ever so slightly down the shore until the sea lion was completely in the water, and until then, being stuck on the beach essentially unable to move. It was quite comical and interesting to witness this behavior.

Afterwards, we just headed over to the Lone Oak Lodge for our Friday night stay. The lodge had useful amenities, looked well-kept, and provided good value overall. We were pleasantly surprised. The rest of our low-key trip just involved getting ready for my race. While I was running, Priscilla went back to the lodge to do her devos until check-out time, then went to the local Safeway to get us food and to the Starbucks in the Safeway where she did some studying until I texted her to pick me up. We just headed back home afterwards.

I really enjoy obstacle course races because they combine things that I enjoy: running, strength, challenging oneself, and finding ways to do things better. I'm a sucker for race medals and headbands as well. I don't particularly care for getting dirty, but I enjoy the elaborate obstacles and the camaraderie at Tough Mudder, and I enjoy the physicality and technical aspects of Spartan Race. I'm trying to drum up some interest among people at church to do a Tough Mudder or Spartan next year. I'm already thinking of doing the Spartan Trifecta next year, and I intend to train more rigorously for it.

So... things to work on for Spartan:
* Grip strength
* Rope climbing technique
* Spear throwing technique
* Cardio

And of course I still have the Spartan Trail Race next month in Saratoga. I'm super excited.