I’ve been fortunate over the years to earn some medals here and there for races I’ve run in. It’s never been for anything overly flashy, just a few local 5K races where I managed to place first or in the top three for my age group. I’m proud of all those medals, but there’s one medal I can’t stop staring at.
I got it when I completed my first Spartan Sprint obstacle course race in May. It wasn’t for placing first or anything like that; in fact, all finishers got one for surviving the five-mile, 15-obstacle course. I truly felt like I won, though, and as I sat there after the race staring at the medal I couldn’t help but tear up (just a little bit guys) and think back to everything it took to get there.
My buddies and I decided we would give it a shot nine months before the actual race. Mind you, we are in our mid-30s and at the time looked more like a bunch of weekend warriors trying to reclaim some of the glory that had since passed us by. I was probably the most skeptical and nervous of the bunch. I was hampered by shoulder, lower back and minor knee issues – none of which were bad enough to keep me from doing the aforementioned races, but the question for me was: could my body stand up to the rigors of this particular race?
After watching all these videos online about the Spartan races I quickly realized everything I had been doing was mere child’s play in comparison to what I needed to be doing by race day.
For anyone who knows about or has competed in obstacle course races, you just don’t show up and do one on a whim. I’m sure some of you diehards may disagree, but I’m sure I speak for the majority. Instead of doing a typical 5K that allows you to focus on one skill like running or a triathlon where you run, bike and swim, Spartan races demand you to run, swim, climb, slide, dodge, jump, carry and throw. No two races are designed the same, so obstacles can be anything, including but not limited to, climbing rope, monkey bars, carrying rocks up steep hills, wading through rivers and crawling under barbed wire.
There are plenty of obstacle course races out there, but I always felt Spartan races were the most intense because if you fail at an obstacle, you must do a set of 30 burpees as punishment — and nobody wants that. So basically, I was 36 (at the time) and had to start training like a Navy Seal?
Luckily, I don’t back down from challenges, and that’s where things truly changed for me.
For starters, I had to train my mind, my eating habits and my entire body from the ground up. I had to put aside the notion that my workout routine prior to all this was enough to put me in top shape. It served its purpose – it wasn’t like I was a total loser in the gym — but it was also the same workout every time and the body can quickly get used to any routine. As a result, you will only improve to a point.
So when it came to the weight room, I went from worrying only about how much I could bench press to focusing on how many chin ups I could do (none at first). For cardio, it was suddenly all about balance, core strength, stability and placing total emphasis on varied workouts to train myself the right way (resistance, strength training, high intensity interval work, long distance runs and shorter bursts of speed).
I also did a lot of trail runs, kickboxing and agility classes and managed to seek out running routes with more hills as opposed to flat distance running. There was also plenty of stretching, lots of stretching.
I’m not claiming to be a professional. If anything I was a misguided fool who has since found his way – and the improvements have been encouraging. I went from focusing my efforts on smaller 5K races to regularly logging 6-10 miles of running per workout. And over time all those little aches and pains that seemed to drag on forever, vanished. I was so ahead of schedule that I ran in a smaller obstacle course race in April as a trial run to the Spartan Sprint.
Bottom line, I continually found different ways to push myself. I’m not going to sit here and say all of that training made the Spartan Sprint feel more like a cake walk. Oh no, that race was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through and there were times where it made me question my sanity. But I finished that race – jumping over a pit of fire before finally crossing the finish line with my buddies.
Three days after the race I was back out there training like a man possessed and I haven’t stopped since. In fact, I’m about to sign up for the Tough Mudder event coming to Dallas on October 26-27.
That one medal — even if just a token for finishing the race — put me at a point now where I can’t imagine ever going back to where I was before. I’ve come this far, why not keep going?