The day I did my first Spartan Race. It was the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, Massachusetts. A 5k up and around a big old sledding hill where snowtubing is all the rage when snow is on the ground. I hauled up that hill, jumped over walls, trudged through puddles, fell off the monkey bars, and failed to get up the rope climb, but I finished with my friend Stephanie at 2 hours and 36 minutes.
Not the best time in the world. Not the worst. We spent a lot of time walking and chatting and sitting on our butts getting a sunburn while we recouped from burpees, or while Steph raged against forward momentum out of spite. We are very similar in that respect.
When I saw the time it took me to finish that 5k, I wasn’t worried or ashamed. I knew I could go faster. Not only that, I was determined to prove to myself that I could go faster.
That’s when I signed up for the Vermont BEAST at the end of the month – a half marathon at Killington Resort, a place I skiied as a child, a place I loved as a child. Now, Killington is looking forward to trying to bury me.
I hear you saying, but Caitlin, isn’t the Beast a GREEN medal?
Why yes it is, you fucking show off. Which brings me to my point, which I was getting to, thank you very much!
The Green medal, the Beast, is the hardest of the three Spartans – Sprint (5K), Super (8+ miles), and the Beast (13+ miles). I was signed up for the most diesel of the three, and I was a little intimidated by all the talk of my fellow New England Spahtens and other Spartan Chicks I was growing so fond of. There was one Super scheduled between the Sprint and the Beast – the Tri-State Super in Vernon, New Jersey.
So a week and a half before the Super, I signed up online, and hauled my ass the four hour drive to NJ late Friday night to take on the motherfucker early on Saturday morning.
I am about to confess details that I’ve kept to myself, for the most part.
I pressed my snooze button repeatedly in the morning, not out of desire for sleep, but because I was scared. Fucking. Shitless.
I didn’t want to go. I was overwhelmed, scared, afraid I’d overestimated my abilities, that I was still too weak, still too heavy, that my asthma would win, everything.
I finally hauled my ass out of bed, an hour late, and as a result missed my race time. Better yet, due to my desperate run to the starting line, I didn’t just miss my race time of 8:45, I also missed breakfast. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I took on a fucking Spartan Super on an empty. Fucking. Stomach. I’m not a smart man… but I know what love is.
I ended up starting with Team Braveheart, a group of kilt wearing hooligans who I had just hooked up with the night before. They were silly and fun, but despite that my spirits were about to get fucking brutalized. Our go time was 9:15, the MC hollered his “They will never take our freeeeeeedom!” speech and we were off.
Here’s where the Super tried to break me.
That starting line was at the bottom of a steep, rocky, bitch of a hill. I scaled it and kept pace. Then from the top of that hill, I realized there was another bigger one up ahead. I scaled it, slowing down bit by bit. At the top of that one, I jumped a 5′ wall, climbed under some net, then saw the next hill, still spiring up into the fucking sky like a monolith of seething hate. My legs didn’t hurt yet, it was my brain that was mad. I’d heard that the recent Virginia Super had been hill after hill after hill after hill, and as I managed to make it halfway up JUST that first hill, I decided silently to myself, there is NO FUCKING WAY you are going to do the Beast. You already would give anything to not be on this hillside.
The first mile of that race was my nemesis.
I hopped over a 7 1/2′ fence, BY MYSELF!
I scaled up steep hillsides in the woods where an unsure foot would result in roaring tumbling death.
I ran over roots and stones, keeping a pace that I’d bartered with my mind to keep – run for sixty seconds, walk for sixty seconds. Looking back, I wish I’d started that pace earlier.
Then I hit the water obstacle – swim across the pond to a dock, climb onto the dock, then jump back into the water on the other side. Well, ladies and gentlemen, climbing onto a dock has ALWAYS been the hardest thing in the world for me. And this dock was extra bitchy – well over a foot and a half ABOVE the water line, just a whore, really. I couldn’t do it. I called to the dudes on the dock for help. They seemed oblivious to me.
Then the devastatingly (I mean, FUCKING DEVASTATINGLY) handsome motherfucker climbing out beside me turns all shirtless and bearded, grabs both my hands, and just fucking plucks me out of the water. If ever there was a moment for me to swoon, this was almost it.
Yes, I’d conquered it with help, but I’d managed to fuck myself at the same time. While sizing up the dock, I pointed my toe in the murky water to see if I could touch bottom. As a result, my calf seized just slightly. Just slightly, I knew, would be a problem later.
I bombed at the spear throw and the log traverse, doing burpees all over my face. Still, my pace was good and I managed to hit the 5K mark at 1 hour and 35 minutes. I’d shaved an hour off my Sprint time, I felt good, I was moving. I was over a third of the way! AND I fucking hopped over a seven foot wall despite there being NO ONE around to help me when I arrived. That moment, I felt certain I could survive zombie apocalypse – moreso than usual.
Yet, the calf was beginning to haunt me every few minutes – just subtle reminders of what I’d done, nothing to slow me yet. Still, I wasn’t even halfway.
There were more hills, more obstacles, puddles to trudge through, ditches to wade, mounds of mud to climb. My calf only bitched when going downhill.
Then I got to the eight foot wall. I looked at the fucker, with its little slats for the ladies to use if they need help (which I did), but I couldn’t even grab the top of the wall, and I knew it. I turned to the crowd of fit, shirtless athletes preparing to take on the fucker and I asked the man I found least intimidating if he would give me a boost. He seemed confused. “What? Oh, ok. Sure. How do you want me to do it?”
I thought boosts were pretty universal, but I explained to him quickly the locked finger weave, but before I could put my foot in his hands, I felt a presence at my back. I turned to find a six foot something shirtless adonis in sunglasses standing at my back. I startled as he smiled at me.
“I’ll be right here to catch you in case you fall.”
You know how I said that dock moment was almost swoon worthy? Yeah, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. THIS was the swoon moment! They tossed me over that fucking wall like a sack of cotton swabs.
Well, I was riding high, feeling good, tired and sore and angry at mountains, but I was still moving. Then that inverted wall came up, and I almost cried when I saw it. Seeing another woman struggling to get over, I offered her my shoulder to stand on, my leg to hold her – I was gonna do everything in my power to help her over. She gave up, and instead offered to help me. I braced myself for the hardest thing in my life. My legs were exhausted, my quad was now trying to cramp on me, Camelbak was low on water, I just wanted a fucking nap. Still, I grabbed on and started climbing, the woman at the ready for when I needed a final boost. Suddenly, I was sitting on the top of the wall, staring down at her and the volunteers with a look of complete shock. I’d scaled the fucking thing without help. Holy shit, I could have pooped diamonds at that moment and I wouldn’t have been more surprised.
It was the second (or seventh, let’s be real) wind I needed. I trudged under barbed wire through mud, finally acknowledging that the mustard packs, energy jelly beans, and 70 oz of water weren’t enough to keep my body functioning properly when my quad and calf officially went into FSU mode, but more troubling than that were my hip flexors. Suddenly they went from silent workhorses, to dead donkeys floating in the river. Still, I was at mile seven by then, there was no fucking way in hell I was stopping.
I made it up the last hill, I flew down the waterslide into the muddy water, then arrived at the rope climb. They’d saved it for fucking last.
Despite my entire body being done – I mean that in every sense of the word, done – I chose my rope and I gave it all I had. Yet as the rope began to inch through my fingers slower and slower, I saw the bell another seven feet above me. I gave up. I’m kicking myself now, too, because when I started to climb back down, I realized I was over halfway and still had my strength. I could have made it. It might have taken a long time, but I was capable. Fuck you brain!
I admit, without any exaggeration, my body and my mind were totalled by the end of that race. TOTALLED!
It took me five hours (I thought) despite their estimates saying the slow pokes should take around four hours, my hips were crippled, my leg was cramping, I was beaten up and battered like I’d never been before.
Then I scaled the last wall, jumped over a huge bonfire, took two gladiator Q-tips to the body, and received my medal with a huge smile on my face.
I wasn’t first. I wasn’t fast. But I fucking finished.
Yet since the end of that race (and the desperate search I went on for an Olive Garden thereafter because all I could think about was a massive bowl of pasta), I’ve done some serious soul searching, and I’ve discovered details about myself and my experience that I didn’t know before.
1) I am fucking capable of anything. If I managed 8 miles in the mountains on an emtpy fucking stomach, how dare I think I can’t take on the Beast and complete it (in two weeks, jesus fuck)? I might need to start at dawn and take a couple naps along the race route, but I can do it.
2) My head gets in my way… a lot. Not only did I quit that rope climb due to mental exhaustion more than physical exhaustion, I also deliberately only sought help from gentlemen that I personally didn’t find attractive. I’m not a shallow girl, by any means – a big bellied fella with a smokey smooth voice can inspire my affection as quickly as a kilted lumberjack if the spirit is my kind of sexy, but it’s the initial knee jerk judgment call that I make when I’m about to beg for help that leads me AWAY from dudes that I think are devastatingly handsome. It’s as though I assume a sexy motherfucker won’t WANT to help a girl like me, so I ask the dude that isn’t my idea of a sexy motherfucker – then I’m blown away when he acts all put out by my request that he be a gentleman, but even moreso blown away when the sexy ass mancakes comes gallantly prancing to my aide. Something seems to have shifted in the cosmos. I’m not sure what it is, but I think I’m beginning to acknowledge it, if not understand it.
3) I’m learning to ask for help when I need it. I’m learning to allow myself to be a damsel after a life time of desperately trying to prove that I could do things for myself, that I didn’t NEED anybody. I do Need somebodies, and that is okay… especially when the somebodies who come running make me want to run my fingers through their exceptional manes.
4) I should be gentler with myself. I should have NEVER taken that fucking race on with an empty stomach. EVER! Yet, there I was, stubborn as hell, unwilling to ask for a later race time because I was so scared I would take too long.
5) And in the midst of these life altering discoveries, I also found out I overestimated my race time by a full hour.
I finished 8+ miles at 4 hours and fourteen minutes. I halved my pace time from the Sprint to the Super. HALVED it.
I feel accomplished. I feel tired and worn out, most assuredly, but I also feel determined. I don’t want to back down from a challenge in this life, not ever again. The Beast is still cooing softly in my ear, however sharp its teeth may be. I believe with the right dietary preparation, and the acknowledgement that it might be the hardest and slowest trek of my life, that I could beat the Beast. So, as of this moment… I think I’m still going to try.
Here’s to crazy people.