by Beth Connolly

What is the definition of a true Spartan athlete?  To answer that question, we look to you, our Spartan racers.  I was lucky enough to get a good idea of an answer to that question after I spoke with Georgia native Terry Nelson, who competed in our Atlanta Spartan Race on April 30, 2011.

Terry started his career in the US Army Infantry, where he proudly served for seven years.  But when he was 23, his heart valve became infected.  When his body tried to fight off the infection, a calcium deposit broke off and lodged itself in his leg.  He became extremely sick, and his illness did not respond to antibiotics.  So the doctors decided to operate and remove the blockage from his leg.  Just one week later, Terry had heart surgery, in which doctors replaced his aortic valve with an artificial one.  The whole ordeal kept him in and out of the hospital for nine months, and he left the army afterward with an honorable discharge.

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[Editor's note: I came across Niki's blog over at www.andthisislifeilove.blogspot.com and I wanted her to share her experience training for her first-ever Spartan race, coming up April 30 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Here's her story...If you want to share yours, send an email to BethC@spartanrace.com]

by Niki Kenney

Niki Kenney

My friend DP has been trying to get me to sign up for races with him for months.

Considering I spent the greater part of last summer on the couch, due to a serious burn injury, I continually turned him down.  I had fallen out of shape and just couldn’t find the courage to train again, lift again, and put in the grueling effort of caloric maintance and protein slamming.

But, DP knows what it’s like to love running.  Knowing that before my annoying injury last summer, I loved running too, he never gave up asking to join him in a race.  Somehow, one day, he convinced me.

He asked me to sign up for a Spartan Race.  It was “only a 5K” and I was “perfectly capable of handling it.”  He even threw in that I could race for free if I volunteered to help with the race.  Free t-shirt, free race, helping out afterwards and watching other runners finish.

What doesn’t sound awesome about that?

I told myself I could use training for a 5k as an excuse to get my couch-shaped rear back into running shape.

My boyfriend and I joined the local YMCA, where our good friends regularly attempted to tone their bods. We made plans and promises to support each other in this newly acquired get-fit challenge.

I was PSYCHED, energetic and hopeful.  I had a run in my future.  Alongside my closest friends, I had a gym schedule loaded with spin, running, lifting and random other classes, each prepared to rock my world back into shape.

At some point during the second week of 5 A.M. spin classes, I contacted the Spartan Race volunteer director to officially sign up for the Spartan Race and offer to help out for free entry.  I had mentioned the run to my girlfriend at some point, and being that she had never raced before, she had casually agreed it would be a fun adventure for us.

Disregarding a final approval, I accidently tossed her name into the email as a fellow runner/helper.  Following the sign up email, I googled the race while at the same time gchating with my friend quickly to inform her that she would be getting contacted re: racing and volunteering.  I went back to the googled Spartan Race video window and my jaw dropped.

WHAT THE HECK DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!!?

I quickly cut and paste the url box into my gchat window, but totally played it cool (as if I hadn’t just witnessed a race like no other). I let her know that she was already signed up for the run, but that she should watch a video about it as soon as possible so she knew what she was up against.  Without waiting for a response, I went back to Google and began looking for a slice of sanity in this seemingly impossible endeavor I had unknowingly signed up for.

I figured, after about ten minutes of abusing “the Spartan race” in my Google window, that I was going to have to back out.  There was no way I could possibly compete in this sort of race.  Mud? Water? Barbed wire? Obstacle course? All I wanted was a 5K! NOT a death wish! (insert kicking and screaming).

Minutes of googling turned into days, and weeks.

I didn’t back out.

I watched video after video of the “not your typical 5K.”  I didn’t see a torturous race. I saw fun; I saw smiles; I saw the high of finishing such an incredible, different kind of race. I saw Spartans.

I read testimonials and of competitors and comments by supporters.  I didn’t read regret or anguish. I read positivity, happiness and excitement. I read about Spartans.

I emailed handfuls of questions to Spartan race veterans.  Their responses were not to train like I’ve never trained before and give up if I wasn’t in shape in time.  They encouraged me to prepare safely and excitedly for an invigorating, “helluva good time,” won’t ever forget it, run. I heard back from Spartans.

I became enthralled with running blogs and supporters of health, exercise and eating well.

Somewhere in there, I even convinced my boyfriend and another friend to sign up for the race and volunteer.

I’ve spent nearly every single day in the gym. I’ve blogged about the workouts, and the burn. I’ve hated life when my alarm went off at 5 A.M. and cursed at my own legs when I didn’t think they could possibly carry me any longer.  But I still keep on training to get back in shape.  I work at it every day for my journey to Spartan.

I received confirmation from the run volunteer this week that I would be running in the first heat.  Remembering that I had read at some point that the first heat was when the fierce “elite competition” usually races, I quickly shot back an email asking her if this was true.  Spoken like a true Spartan, her response: “I’m not sure. . . things have changed slightly, and I haven’t been filled in on all the details . . . Don’t worry about it though, all the volunteers are elite in my mind :) ”.  I was at ease.

I am by no means in as good of shape as the competitors highlighted on the Spartan site.  I don’t run as far as my new blogger friends. I wouldn’t consider myself completely back to being fit. But I am different than I was a month and a half ago.  I’m a new person, with a new attitude and a new outlook on fitness and physical challenges.

This is corny, and probably only the thousands of Spartan racers would really understand, but I’m Spartan strong.

And in a few short weeks here, I’ll be able to call myself a true Spartan racer.

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