I’m a running purist. I’ve earned my stripes running on road and trail, at distances ranging from 5K to 60K. And through simply running those races, I’ve encountered a multitude of unexpected, uncomfortable, and sometimes unsafe situations, all of which have taught me something about myself, and made me stronger as a result.
As a rule, I stay away from races that involve costumes, tutus, cloudbursts of paint, zombies, or obstacles. I’m not even attracted to the more “hardcore” events that promise to challenge with muddy water plunges, barbed wire low-crawls, and maybe the occasional electrocution thrown in for good measure. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate the role these events play to make running a fun activity for family and friends to enjoy, often for the first time - but, I’m not comfortable inviting gimmicky elements into my running experience.
So, when a group from my CrossFit gym signed up for a Spartan Super challenge, I considered it carefully. Of course, there are countless ways to hurt yourself at any time, but signing up to endure a total of 28 obstacles over 8+ miles seems an open invitation for injury. The last thing I want is to break a toe because I miss a hay bail jump, or something equally pointless, that takes me out of my running routine unexpectedly.
A few years back, I read Spartan Up about Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena, whose original endurance event “Death Race” had been formulated as an extreme challenge designed to take its few elite participants way out of their comfort zones, mentally and physically. The 24-48 hour Death Race included challenges like “crawling through mud and barbed wire, running two miles through moving water and climbing hills while lugging bicycle frames and tree stumps…they’re also forced to perform various mental feats, such as memorizing a list of U.S. presidents or reassembling a bunch of Lego pieces in a precise configuration.” And since the challenges were kept secret, participants could only train generally, and hope for the best on race day.
Spartan Race is DeSena’s evolution of Death Race for the masses. And though it’s still an incredible physical challenge, obstacles can be skipped in exchange for 30 burpees, the course includes frequent aid stations, and photographers dot the event to capture participants working their hardest.
I found that the obstacles along the course were a nice complement to the movements practiced in CrossFit - lots of climbing, hanging and pulling up - mixed with short spurts of trail running. Though somewhat skeptical at the start, the traditional runner in me actually welcomed the mental break each obstacle presented, and the novice CrossFitter in me was pleased with my ability to complete most without assistance.
Surprising myself, I finished the event feeling open to doing it again, keeping these things in mind: