by Carrie Adams

Read the full version from Carrie’s blog: Leaving a Path.

After the Race

On a cold, dark, wet morning, over a thousand miles from home, while horribly under-dressed and with a fractured foot in the mountainous trails of Southern California, I began an experience that would help define me as an athlete, would challenge me with every rugged step and ragged breath, and would earn me the right to proudly proclaim myself a Spartan.

Race morning was cold, and I’m from Nebraska, so I’m used to the cold.  In the backdrop of the Vail Lake Resort grounds in Temecula, California, mist rose off the mountain peaks.  That meant snow was falling.  I knew that my thin thermal gear would not be enough to keep me warm in this weather.  I’d have to rely on my own speed to stay warm.

On top of the cold, it was miserably wet too.  The rain fell in sheets, then in a mist, then in sheets again.  There was even hail, and the grass was a puddled mess.  My feet were soaked long before I got near a water obstacle, and my light unstructured shoes were an obvious miss for a tough trail run.  If the mountains were as brutal as they looked from the valley, I might in trouble.

Waiting for the start is a dangerous time if you let your thoughts wander.  The gravity of the unknown began to sink in for me and an unfamiliar feeling crept into my consciousness: uncertainty.

I was thousands of miles from my familiar trails, running a different kind of race. I was on my own and unsure whether my training had been enough and whether the recent news of a stress fracture in my left foot would prove problematic.  I pushed all that from my mind and headed out to the start line.  After all, as of late, I run six days a week, 16 miles or more every Saturday.  Despite the conditions, and without knowing any better, I was confident.

At the starting line, I met up with Joe Desena, creator of the Spartan Race.  Inexplicably, he held an axe in his hands.

“I’ll be out on the trail all day,” he offered by way of explanation.  ”I’ll probably run it backward at least once.”  This prediction proved accurate, as Joe spent the day on the trail running, directing traffic, and motivating runners, a garbage bag acting as makeshift poncho in the downpour.

After the starting whistle blew and we took off, I had the ominous feeling that this was like no race I’d ever done before and I was about to find out firsthand just how much I could handle.

Despite the picturesque backdrop of a mountain lake surrounded by beautiful hills dotted with green bushes, thickets, and small pines, the course was brutal, demanding, and not to be underestimated.  Admiring the view for too long could prove dangerous, as the trail wound along steep gradients.  Even though I am a fairly experienced trail runner, I realized immediately that this course would be daunting.  Treacherous hills reached up into the clouds, and steep, slippery gradients led back down to Earth.

At the base of a deep hill and around a bend stood the first challenge, narrow balance beams in a zigzag.  As a lifelong dancer with excellent balance, I thought it would be easy– but only after three unsuccessful attempts and 30 penalty push-ups did I finally get across.  As I passed Joe, who had been watching me struggle through it, he called out to me, “Not as easy as it looked, huh?”  That set the tone for the rest of the course.

Dizzyingly steep at times, the hills never let up.  The rain made the trail muddy and sloppy to navigate without spikes.  Stretched between the monster peaks and dense trails were brutal obstacles, one more intense than the next.  They required more than strength – balance, dexterity, problem solving, and speed.

Creative and sadistic, each challenge was designed to test the competitor.  I struggled in exasperation as I hauled my frame up and over walls, through tires, under fences and even through 100 yards of muddy water on my belly.   After hoisting a cinder block fifty feet in the air, I was instructed to fill up five gallon buckets with water and haul them through waist-deep water.  This was after 100 yards of a barbed wire path so low that my cheek grazed the muddy ground.

At the end of the course, I had to solve a Rubik’s Cube before climbing up a slippery wall with a knotted rope.  If I failed any of the obstacles I faced penalties, usually push-ups, and after paying my penalty I had to try again until I successfully completed the obstacle.  There was no easy way through.  But even though the race was competitive, racers encouraged, collaborated, and pushed one another forward.   After all, forward was the only way to go.

Although I’m a seasoned racer, I have to admit that I didn’t know how to begin to tackle some of the obstacles in the course.  I struggled to pace myself in between them.  I was constantly in new territory, always recalibrating, thinking quickly, and making adjustments on the fly.

About halfway through the trail I felt my injured foot buckle.  Wincing through the pain, I knew there was only one way off the mountain and I had to just keep going.  I pushed forward and I went faster.  If I didn’t attack the trail I knew it would eat me alive.  I couldn’t help but respect the harshness of the course the deeper I went into the event.  It was like a living breathing monster that nipped at your heels, always pushing you harder and faster.

As I came screaming down a hill through the fog at the edge of the lake, the finish line finally materialized.  Calling on one final burst of speed I was past the last obstacle – Spartans with clubs that stood between the runners and the finish.  In a heartbeat I was over the line.

I was exhausted, my chest heaving, my pants torn, mud across my face and underneath my fingernails.  I barely felt the medal placed around my neck.  Bruises were already rising on my shins and knees, and my shoes were destroyed, but I was done. I was exhilarated and I was humbled.

I sat in the wet grass, and let go of a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding since I finished.  For most races, the finish is just a flash, often anticlimactic.  Today was different, because today’s race was different.  I didn’t just make it across the finish line on the race course– I made it across a barrier inside myself, invisible yet more significant.  I didn’t just overcome senselessly difficult obstacles in Temecula, California–I overcame my own fear of the unknown.

I showed up that day a runner, a racer from Nebraska.  I left that day a Spartan.

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14 Responses

  1. avatar

    Rubics cube? Really? The last time i “solved” one, i ripped it apart and reassembled it before my brother noticed it was missing. Im signed up form the race near me, im just hoping it’s a warmer experience than you had…

    Well, off to train!

  2. avatar

    Way to go, Carrie!!

    How is the fractured foot after that beating?!

    • avatar

      Becki,
      It’s holding up! I did a little damage that day so I’m off the foot for a while but I have a half marathon May 1st and a Triathlon on the 22nd of May so I can’t be sidelined too long!

      When are you going to race a Spartan?

      Carrie

  3. avatar

    Holy crap! What have I gotten myself into!? I’m excited and terrified of this experience. Thank you for sharing yours! Although I think if I had to solve a Rubick’s Cube I would still be on the mountain…

    • avatar

      Jennifer,
      If I may be totally honest here, I did the 50 push-ups during the Rubik’s cube challenge! It was the hardest part for me! You will love every heart-pounding moment of the race! I assure you, it’s like nothing you have done before or will do again. I hope to hear about it!

      Aroo!

      Carrie

  4. avatar

    I did the Temecula race too but cannot possibly put the experience into words. I am going through a divorce, bankruptcy, and had been hospitalized for anxiety, PTSD, and depression, leading to my military discharge. My girlfriend saw the Super Spartan race online and “dared” me to do it…. I am 20 lbs overweight and completely out of shape but I decided that I am taking my life back. I joked with her about probably not being able to finish it but I knew I would do whatever it took to cross that line. I had to prove to MYSELF that I could get off the couch and stop feeling sorry for myself…I ran, walked, climbed and crawled my way to the finish line of the Super Spartan race and for me it was a life changing day.
    I came-
    I saw-
    and I left blood on the course.
    James

  5. avatar

    The rubik’s cube was to be solved one-side white, and it was 2x2x2, so not the classic cube (that would take anyone who hadn’t seen one a long time to solve…); also they were saying you should be able to do it in two moves but by that time my brain did not understand verbal instructions…

  6. avatar

    I assume you are a writer by profession? I have to use your piece as an example in a graduate writing course I’m teaching! Wow! It was hard for me to concentrate on your race because of your amazing writing skills! Congrats… Carry, you are a Spartan!

  7. avatar

    i am attempting the spartan race on nov. 17th im scared! im overweight just recently started bootcamp workout programs to get me started in shape but no where near ready. i plan on finishing it what ever it takes im definatley using this as my starting point of a new life im 21 about to be 22 on race day. this is my first race of any kind ever any advice as to how long do i have to finish? what if 3 hrs go by and im still doing it lol im really nervuse but im determined to finish

    • avatar

      I don’t know the cutoff time but take some reassurance knowing that the second you complete it at whatever time, you will feel so proud that you completed it that you will be able to use this new found motivation and apply it to whatever your next goals are. I did my first spartan sprint 2 years ago and on completion I barely broke the hour mark while my friends were between 45-55min. This didn’t discourage me but motivated me, I couldn’t get my mind off the race and I immediately registered for the next year. I started being more healthy in eating and exercise habits and with no major changes I managed to cut 10 minutes off my time the following year. Next year (2013) I have a season pass and have the spartan fever burning through my veins. I will be completing the trifecta (sprint / super / beast) and have managed for the first time in my life to maintain a busy exercise schedule. Don’t expect to change over night but never turn down a challenge, spartans are built brick by brick, it takes grit and determination but there isn’t much else in life more deserving as a goal.

  8. avatar

    Great story Carrie! Rubik’s Cube huh?? Guess I need to alter my training for the upcoming Temecula race!!

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