Down here in Austin, we’re generally pretty sheltered from crappy weather. It gets cold in the winter, but not for long. Like, not even for the whole day. The week leading up to the Glen Rose Spartan Beast was different. Most of Central Texas was being treated to a frosty holiday surprise, complete with things like ice pellet storms and city-wide school closings. Austin didn’t get all that, but 3 hours north all my friends and family in the Dallas area were frozen into their homes with streets iced over and temperatures dangerously low for at least a solid week. But it is Texas after all, so the way it’s supposed to work is that when it’s cold and crappy one weekend it should be unseasonably gorgeous the next. By my not-very-scientific calculations, the weather for the Spartan Race should have been perfect.
I was off by a day. Glen Rose, Texas was perfectly gorgeous on Sunday. My race was Saturday.
The high that day was around 41 degrees. Not terrible…. til the cold front came around mile three. Biting 20mph winds pushed back against us as we ran, and stole function and feeling from cold fingers. We climbed up higher… I didn’t realize Texas hills could offer such climbing. I figured this race would be an actual walk in the park after the mountain in Vermont, but of course they found tricky steep hills for us to climb and sent us up and down them in the most treacherous possible ways- much of the time while carrying sandbags, dragging cement blocks, or lifting buckets filled with gravel.
It had rained all day and night the day before, so everything was a mudslide… and icy. There was ice and snow along the trail as we slipped and slid up and down slick hills of mud and rocks and occasional snow. It was perfectly crappy. The weather and mud were creating extra obstacles for us like Mother Nature was in on the joke.
This shitty weather has been brought to you by Reebok!
I was layered like an onion: 3 tops, 2 pairs of pants, hat and gloves… but none of that mattered too much when we reached our first water obstacle.
Mercifully, they decided to cut out the main swimming obstacle from the course for safety reasons. It was THAT COLD. But we still had to get in the water several times… we just didn’t have to swim. There was a lot of wading in water that was so cold it somehow burned. And then more running to heat those cold muscles back up again.
Yeah, so my calves did not appreciate that particular back and forth on top of all the other effort, and they let me know with the most extreme charlie horse pain I have ever felt in my life… in both legs at once.
At one point, maybe about half way through the race, I went down in so much pain it looked like I was done for the day. All I know is that I had started jogging a little faster and suddenly I was on the ground screaming bloody murder in a most undignified manner. When I opened my eyes, five or six other runners and two staff guys with walkie-talkies were surrounding me asking what happened.
When I held my calf it was spasming so hard I could actually feel the muscle thumping against my hand like an alien was trying to bust out of there. One of the guys was on his walkie-talkie calling for a “pick-up with medic”.
Let me rewind a bit for a minute…
One of the first obstacles anyone has to deal with when facing a major challenge of any kind is doubt. Even when you think you have dealt with your own there is often someone else standing by waiting to share theirs with you. I had plenty of anxiety and nerves going into the race of course, but once I made up my mind to do it I didn’t doubt that I’d finish. I did need some encouragement at one point, though, so I asked a friend for some uplifting words. Instead I got a list of all the reasons I shouldn’t be doing it. What may have come from a place of loving concern ended up being a straight up insulting bummer:
Do you really think you’re still in good enough shape for something like this?
Have you even thought about how cold the water is and how dangerous that could be?
You haven’t been training like you used to. This is going to be a lot harder than you realize.
What if you get too cold? What will you do if you get hurt? What would make you quit?
That little pep rally actually made me cry. I was already an emotional landmine this weekend as it is the anniversary of my son’s birth (and passing), which is why that race on that date was so important to me in the first place. So while the majority of people who care about me were either cheerleading, you-go-girling, or keeping their mouths shut, there had to be one last ‘voice of reason’ to try to burst my bubble and throw me off course. Just another obstacle. It was a disappointing moment, but I realized that if I couldn’t get over a few disappointing words I probably couldn’t get over a mud covered 9 foot wall, or much else.
When you start to float up too high out of the realm of what others understand, they want to pull you back down into their comfy world of can’ts and shouldn’ts. I have never belonged in that world.
Fast forward back to the middle of the Spartan Beast. The temperature is dropping, my hands are numb even in my gloves, and I’m in fetal position in the dirt while someone calls for a medic to come pick me up and wheel me away to safety and warmth and told-ya-so’s. I remembered the words of my doubtcaster from before: What if you get too cold? What will you do if you get hurt?
What will I do? Exactly what I have always done and exactly what the hell I came here to do:
OVERCOME IT, and keep moving.
I took a deep breath (or two or three… or twenty) and told the nice men with the walkie talkies that I did not need a pick-up. I was staying, I just needed to roll around screaming and swearing for a minute. There were two guys on a team together who were running the race in full wetsuits to guard against the elements. Their wise wardrobe choices made them look a little like superheros…which they were. They stayed with me and tried to get me to flex my feet the right way to calm my calves down. When I was ready they stood me up and fed me salt tablets and added electrolytes to my hydration pack. This was a race we were running, but these two dudes cut at least 10 minutes off their time to babysit me and make sure I was going to be alright on my own again. They held my arms and made me walk on my heels for a while, to keep my calves stretched and happy. I know I asked their names at some point, but I think they answered when I was still screaming and crying so I don’t remember. One of them was Justin, I think…. (Thanks, Super-dudes!)
A few miles later I was jogging again and a guy said, “Hey! Aren’t you the girl who went down with a leg injury back there?” “Yeah, that was me.” “So then how are you passing me right now?”
The rest of the race remained brutal… and they added distance to it since they took out a swimming obstacle, so all told it was around 15 miles. Oh, and if there’s a hell, I bet they’d make you carry 5 gallon buckets full of gravel up and down a steep muddy ice covered hill. But even in hell you’d probably only be forced to do that crap once. We did it twice.
I did lots of burpees that day. (For the uninitiated, 30 burpees is the price you pay for any obstacle you fail in the Spartan Race.)
Lots of people were doing lots of burpees due to the cold. A lot of the obstacles like the monkey bars and the rope climbs require grip strength, or at the very least the ability to feel your fingers, which a lot of us could not. I surprised myself by what I did accomplish as much as by what I didn’t though, so all in all it was still satisfying. And even though my legs started seizing up again toward the end and I was fully limping by the time I jumped the fire, I jumped that fire.
I did it.
Stats-wise my time of 5hr 56min was pretty average. I was right at about the 50% mark across the board (Overall, Gender, and Age Group finish times), but that’s pretty good for a Beast. Pretty good for the girl they wanted to cart off the course at the half way mark. Pretty good for a lazy winter Saturday morning. Pretty damn good.
One of the things I love about Spartan Races is that they show you very clearly what all your weaknesses are (physical and otherwise). You can be bummed out when you see all your own weaknesses, or you can go, “Awesome! Now I know what to work on next!”
I definitely feel stronger after every race. Well, alright let me be honest: first I feel like exhausted crap-sandwiches for a couple weeks and then I feel stronger. I’ll give my legs a little break to recover, but when I do start running again I will be faster. It has happened every time.
And my mind and spirit get stronger too. Big dirty obstacles on the race course make little pesky worries of day-to-day life so much smaller. The amount of crap I am willing to take gets smaller, too. And the list of things I think are impossible is disappearing faster all the time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it seems I have a movie to make….