by Carrie Adams
[Check out the full version on Carrie's clean-eating blog, www.keepingitclean.org.]
Spartans are a different breed. I know because I’ve met them and raced beside them. I ran the SoCal Super Spartan, a brutal 8 mile obstacle race on February 25th in Temecula, CA. I found out first hand that Spartans don’t break when things get tough or when there seems to be no hope. They certainly don’t run from a challenge, even when it’s cold and wet, and the worst weather in nearly 200 years in Southern California. They face it and they overcome.
The morning of the race was demoralizing, even for runners who are used to chilly and sodden outdoor trails. I sat in a parked car, my arms crossed, with the heat on full blast aimed directly at my soaked shoes. I was shivering, cursing the skies, and wishing only for dry socks.
Given the climate and the conditions, I thought that maybe turnout would be low. I didn’t know what a bunch of runners from Southern California used to the warm weather would do when faced with a day like this. At first, my assumption seemed correct. The early registrants were sparse, but soon the line of cars grew and so quickly more volunteers were needed to route traffic. The runners came and the valley filled with people huddling together to stay warm but committed to running regardless of the circumstances. I was beginning to feel inspired. Maybe these athletes would be tough after all.
Before the event started, I had the privilege to meet a few of the other competitors. There was the guy I called “Lightning” Thomas Gunter, a charismatic Southern California man with curly, blonde, flowing hair. He had barely survived a horrific electricity accident and had just been cleared by his cardiologist to compete. Hobie Call, nicknamed “the Winner,” who I can only describe as a man in constant motion, a boundless ball of energy, was stretching and jumping all over the clubhouse before the race with a huge grin on his face. He had set his mind to win every Spartan race including the Death Race, thereby earning himself a $100,000 prize. I didn’t let the smile fool me. I knew he was there to win.
There was Rodrigo, a law enforcement agent, donning a Spartan-inspired cape and his coveted Vibram running shoes, a camera in a waterproof sleeve around his neck. He was quick with jokes and encouraging words, as he shot footage of the venue, the other racers, and the weather. He finished about every sentence with an enthusiastic, “Oh snap!”
I met Ben, a quiet forty-something marathoner who had grown tired of pavement and was doing his first Spartan race to “see what he was made of.” We ran a lot of the race together. When we connected at mile six on the course, heading up a steep trail, he asked me to pass him so he could chase a girl down the mountain.
And then there were the two 20-year-old college students from San Diego State University who I noticed laughing nervously at the start. They were excited, but seemed, like many of the first-timers, a little anxious about the race. They wore old tennis shoes from high school that had logged over 300 miles thus far. Unknown to me at the time, those girls would be the source of some much-needed encouragement to me on the climbing wall later that the day.
In a competitive run, you are in frequent contact with the other runners. For me there was the unseen hand from a fellow runner that outstretched and grabbed the back of my jersey when I fell on a ridge. My secret angel kept me from toppling over the side. Then there were the cheers of another racer at the cinder block challenge that motivated me as I painfully hoisted it 50 feet in the air.
And the two SDSU students I saw at the start were all confidence and encouragement helping me cross the sideways climbing wall. It was a hellish obstacle, with strict rules about not touching the top or falling off. One had to navigate across the randomly placed hand and foot holds. There was no nervous laughter coming from them now. I saw women, tough and strong, passing men all along the course charging forward with a resolve that gave me chills and more than once prompted me to say, “Get after it, girl.”
I watched “Lightning” finish. He had started after me in a later wave. He was shirtless, arms up, huge smile on his face, with no trace of the trauma his body had endured. Dead for nearly two minutes after his accident, his being alive was a miracle, as was his running a brutal eight-mile course on this morning. Hobie also finished, but long before I did and in first place, one step closer to his coveted $100,000. And Rodorigo, exhausted and muddy, still found a moment to take a picture with me and talk about his race, how he couldn’t wait to do it again, and “oh snap” his awesome Vibrams.
With countless others I shared a nod, a knowing smile, a laugh or a story about the run. I stayed and watched some of the other runners cross. Some came across at a dead sprint, heads down, others with arms outstretched overhead with smiling faces. There was often laughter on the runner’s faces and even a few tears. Some limped across the line and others walked, several sitting immediately to rest. Regardless of how they did it, when they crossed that line it was something to be proud of, something earned. James, who commented on the Spartan blog, may have even summed it up best: “I came, I saw, and I left blood on the course.”
I saw the faces of SoCal Super Spartan racers that day. Men and women who came together for a few hours on a dismal Saturday morning to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We all would leave a little stronger that day. In the trails of Southern California I saw their faces strained, their brows sweaty, and their bodies covered in brush, dirt, leaves, and muddy water. I saw them cross the finish line and I finished with them. I know what it takes to be a Spartan, I’ve seen it. What about you?