If you know me (or have been following me), you know the back story. If this is your first time reading my blog, let me fill you in on how I got involved with this race. I had my second child on March 18, 2015. That was almost exactly 17 months after having my first. I stayed in great shape during both pregnancies, however, I found it more difficult the second go round to lose baby weight and get motivated. My lifestyle had changed, my body certainly had gone through a traumatic transformation and I was so tired that I really was having a hard time getting excited about exercise. My husband suggested that I sign up for a race – the Asheville Super Spartan race that is. I had my doubts (along with so many others), but being the competitive person that I am, I decided to take the plunge.
If you are not familiar with the Spartan race series, there is essentially a race every weekend of varying levels of length and difficulty. The “Super” race series is classified as a race in which the mileage ranges from 8-10 miles and includes 20 or more “obstacles”. You can compete in the “Open” or “Elite” sections. My husband and I opted for the elite section. There are some serious differences between the two, see below:
- Elite heats run first thing in the morning – first thing means less foot traffic (both good and bad). Low foot traffic means obstacles have less mud on them, making them less slippery. Less foot traffic also means trails are less packed down (making it difficult to run on some of the freshly chopped trails).
- Elite heats are more expensive – Not by much though.
- Elite athletes are required to complete all obstacles unassisted (OR receive a penalty/disqualification) – Yea, that 8 foot wall, you have to clear it yourself (or do 30 burpees). In the open section, you can have help. This makes a big difference.
- Elite can earn prize money – Depending on the race type, whether it is televised and various other factors, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place can receive a cash prize. Hence, the requirement to complete all obstacles on your own.
- Elite athletes typically know the rules, are not afraid to call out people who are not following the rules and do not want people to get in their way – believe me, I saw this in every instance while I was on the course.
Knowing all of this, I trained hard for this event (see prior posts). Ultimately, I also lost my baby weight through the preparation, and reached a point that I felt confident in my decision to pick the elite heat. I had never done a Spartan Race, but I studied obstacles, watched the races on television and decided to really take this thing seriously (we don’t do mediocre). It’s a part of my personality that I wish I could turn off sometimes.
We made a couples weekend out of the trip. We don’t go away much, so we decided to head to Asheville on a Friday night and stay Saturday (after the race). The course location was right off the interstate on our way in Friday evening. I made my husband veer off course to get a glimpse of the location. In my preparation, I like to be able to visualize where I will be competing. We used to do walk throughs the day before a track meet. You ran a lap, stretched, felt things out. I guess that’s what I’m used to. We couldn’t get in, but we did get an amazing sunset picture and view of the quarry that we would be hiking up the next morning (see pictures above).
I’m not going to lie, I had trouble sleeping Friday night. I was anxious and our hotel was loud. My husband launched at 7:30AM and my heat went off at 7:45AM. The gates to the facility opened at 6AM. We got there around 6:15, and the parking lot was already packed. Spartans were ready to go! We checked in, at which point we had an opportunity to check out the course map (see above). I will go over the race obstacles below. Here are the exact details about our race – 8.5 miles, 1,800 foot elevation gain, 28 obstacles. That is a lot of obstacles for a Super. This works in my favor. I can run, but I can’t go out and run a road race and finish in the top of my age group. I can run, pick up something heavy, run, pick up something heavy, over and over. I would like to think, this is a more “functional” race.
My biggest piece of pre-race advice – warm up appropriately. See that wall above? To get to the starting line you have to jump over it. Prior to this race, I had never jumped over a wall in my life. I was intimidated. This wall must be somewhere around 5-6 feet tall. If you can’t jump over this wall by yourself, don’t sign up for the elite heat. The walls only get higher. ALOT higher. This is an open section (see the ladies to left helping each other?). I actually looked for a way to get around the wall from the get go because I was afraid of failing before it even started. Thankfully, I made it over. However, I watched several women struggle.
Once you clear the wall, you are in the chute to start. Lots of instructions, warming up, and pumping up. They have a DJ/MC, race director and flares going. It’s intense. If you are not amped up at this point, you are more relaxed than most people I know. For some reason, I anticipated a lot more running before we hit the first obstacle. Boy was I wrong. After what seemed like a dead sprint start, we hit the first obstacle within the first 400 meters:
- Moats – in other words, trenches. Jump in the deep trench, get out. Do it three times. Within the first two minutes, I was soaking wet. Welcome to Spartan Asheville!
- Tip – the trenches are deeper in the middle, stick to the edges where the water is not as deep and you can move in and out faster.
2. Hay Wall – Exactly as the name implies, jump over bales of hay. Two times. This simulates a wall jump. I did not warm up my upper body for this. I’m pretty sure something popped out of place for a second. I used the ropes that hold the hay together to heave myself over.
After the hay wall, we went straight into a creek. We spent at least a half a mile wading through rocks and water as deep as my thighs. It was cold. We had to literally climb in and out of the banks of the creek. I am not exaggerating. I was shocked at how steep the grade was. I was reaching for any branch, rock or other piece of debris that could aid me in getting up and down.
3. Wall Jumps – After that long chuck of being in the water, I made up ground over a decent run before heading up a hill and straight into three ridiculously tall walls. I think my heart dropped for a second. This was one obstacle that I had not tried yet. The first, and shortest wall, must have been 7 feet. I had watched videos on the best way to clear.
- The first step is to jump up off the wall and grab the top. My first try? Missed it. I think I even said out loud, “well, that didn’t work.”. Second try, I snagged it.
- Tip – If you can hook one leg over you can likely get your arm (and the rest of your body over. This is not a fluid (muscle up movement) for me. I grabbed the top. Straightened my arms. Walked my feet up the wall, knees bent, as far as I could with my arms straight. When my feet got high enough, I flung my left leg over. Proceeded by my left arm. Followed by the rest of my body. Careful on the way down.
I continued this process over the next two walls, which got progressively higher. I made ground on several people here. I actually ran into guys from the elite heat here. ALOT of people did burpees on this obstacle. Perfect time for me to introduce the penalty for not completing an obstacle.
The “Burpee Zone”. If you fail an obstacle, you have to complete 30. No cheating. They video the elite heat. They yell at you to count out loud. A Spartan burpee is chest on the ground, both feet off the ground when you come up. I don’t know what is more miserable – the burpees or watching people pass you as you complete your penalty.
4. Multi – Rig – I wish I had a picture of this. You can google it. Think of a playground for adults, similar to the monkey bars in this picture below. The rig that we had to clear was a PVC pipe that you had to slide across, followed by several ropes that you had to swing across and some gymnastics rings. After wading in water and mud, my hands were soaked and I dropped almost immediately. Burpees for me! Burpee count at this point = 30. I did not see many people clear this obstacle.
5. Bucket Brigade – After 30 burpees, I was tired. I surprised myself at how quickly I recovered. After a short run, we hit our first heavy carry obstacle. The bucket brigade. I was over confident in this event. I trained hard for this. Remember our homemade bucket?
I was upset how short the carry was. I was surprised how hard this was for some people. I didn’t stop once. I didn’t set my bucket down once. I actually recovered through this event. I was disappointed that this event was not longer.
6. Atlas Carry with Burpees – Not far from the bucket brigade, we hit the atlas carry with burpees. Exactly as the name implies. Pick up a big stone, walk with it about 25 feet, set it down, do 5 burpees, walk back with it. Heavy, but manageable. Do those heavy squats ladies! Best part about this obstacle was the turnaround. You could check out how close your competition was behind you!
7. Hercules Hoist – We got a decent downhill run after the two heavy carry obstacles. Great recovery for the next obstacle. Hercules Hoist is a weighted pulley system that requires athletes to pull a rope that raises a very heavy weight off the ground. You also have to lower it slow. I was caught off guard by the weight. I also hadn’t ever attempted this obstacle. At first pull, I had the sunken feeling that I might fail (that’s how heavy it was). Once I got in a groove it got easier. I could have used the help here, but I made it through.
Tip – Leverage one foot on the gate, while keeping one foot on the ground (that’s the rule). Reach as high on the rope as you can before using your lower body and core to sit down. You don’t have to make this all about your upper body. Repeat the process until you get to the top.
8. Z Walls aKa Traverse Walls – Yep, nothing easy about this. I failed. I watched videos about how to do this. Keep your body close to the wall. Feet turned out in opposite directions the entire time. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Keep three points at all times. I lost focus. I failed. My husband failed. 30 burpees for me. Burpee count = 60. I lost ground here. Several seasoned Spartans made it through without penalty.
9. Labeled as classified on the map (and honestly I can’t remember) – I guess I did it. I didn’t do burpees.
10. Tire Flip – I could do this all day. Flip a tire over two times and back. It was not heavy. I was surprised how light it was. Why couldn’t we flip it 100 meters?
At this point we were in the clearing of where the start/finish line was. We had a crowd watching us complete obstacles 10-12. Commentary and cheering was readily available.
11. Spear Throw – Throw a spear into a bail of hay. See picture below. I didn’t practice this. Sponsored elite athletes fail this all the time. I failed. I missed to the left of the bail. I was dead on distance and height. Talk about an ego blow. At obstacle twelve, my burpee count was already 90!
12. Log Hop – This obstacle was situated right beside the burpee zone for the spear throw. I watched people fail left and right as I did my burpees. I have to admit I was terrified. I did not even want to think about how hard it would be to do another set of 30 burpees almost immediately. I watched a short girl (like myself) take one route and fail because the distance between the pegs was too hard for her to reach. Lesson learned. I didn’t take her route.
I took the route right in front of the two volunteers on the left. They cheered me on as I went. Thank you SmartCore Fitness! I completed this, and I know it was because of some distinct exercises that we do there. I finally was separating myself from some of the additional women that I started with.
Tip – Don’t ever try to get both feet on one of those stumps. It is too hard.
13. Sled Pull – Once we cleared obstacle 12, we were back in the woods. Over/under creek beds and tough terrain. We cleared the brush and hit a road clearing to the rock quarry. It was steep. I must have made it 3/4 of the way up before I started running 10 steps, walking 10 steps. When we reached the clearing (see picture below), we were required to pull a heavy sled towards us before dragging it back to start.
14. A-Frame Cargo Net – As the name implies – two steel beams form an A-Frame. A cargo net is draped over the frame. Climb up one side and down the other. This is no joke. It’s not hard, but it is at least 30 feet in the air. If you fall, you are likely going to get hurt. Don’t rush. Pay attention.
15. Barb Wire Crawl – Down and dirty. Ours was uphill. Probably 50-100 meters. I attempted to roll a good portion in between sliding sideways. I got dizzy. Pick something to focus on to prevent that. I learned that post-race. This is the only time in the race that an event favors a short person. I could crawl through certain parts on all fours.
16. Hurdles – Suspended beams about five feet off the ground. First attempt, I tried to go over it like the wall. Fail. Restart. I have no tips here, just figure out a way to roll over it. There were two of them.
17. A-Frame Wall/Ladder Climb – (“Spartan Stairway?”) Hopefully, I can find a picture. This was the top of the mountain. I walked, yes WALKED to the top of the mountain. It was faster and more efficient for me to walk. Walk backwards! If you turn around, you will hit your hamstrings and give your quads a break. Seriously. I didn’t do it. I wish I would have. I passed a lot of people just because I didn’t stop. Just don’t look up and keep going. Heavy step ups and lunges are an important piece training for the terrain of any Spartan Race. I haven’t even talked about the obstacle.
- Before climbing a ladder made of 2×4’s that spans almost 30 feet in the air, scale a wall that is approximately 5 feet tall. This seemed easy compared to the walls that we encountered early on in the race.
18. Sandbag Carry – Again, another heavy carry event that I prepared for (see below). This event crept up on me. The bags were not necessarily super heavy, but they terrain was steep. So steep, I slipped and actually dropped my bag. There was literally only one person (a guy) within visual site of me at this point. We were on our own. Grit it out. Don’t set it down. Just keep going.
19 . Log Carry – It was downhill from here literally. What goes up, must come down. We hit a steep downhill run before running into another heavy carry event. Yes! Pick up a log and walk. I threw the log over my shoulders like a squat bar. This evened out the weight on my shoulders and made it easier for me move. I didn’t stop. Again, just keep going.
20. Inverted Wall – Again, run downhill. Steep. I need to practice running downhill better. I actually got passed by a girl on the downhill. I was afraid of falling. I had made friends with her earlier in the race when she fell on the trail in front of me. As she ran by she said, “Come on girl, we still have plenty of guys to beat!” Love that.
- Knowing I was in the home stretch, I cruised through this. Inverted means, the wall is leaning towards you when you come up on it. There are 2x4s to grab on to that assist you in going over. Slide down the other side. It’s quick.
21. Monkey Bars – I know what I need to work on for my next Spartan. Yet another “rig” system that I just couldn’t get through. The large gaps in the bars, coupled with my wet hands, made it unbelievably difficult for me to get through this. I fell. I failed. Burpee count = 120. I got passed by two girls as I worked through my penalty. Two rigs failed. I now know my weakness.
22. Vertical Cargo – Cargo net is suspended from a rope hung between two trees. What makes this harder is that it is not tight. It collapses as you put weight on it.
- Tip – Go up one direct lie of the net. Don’t reach all over trying to move sideways. Start with one line and keep your hands and feet in that line the entire way. It will tighten itself for you and make it easier for you to go up.
23. Don’t Remember. Don’t Care. It was undisclosed on the Race map. I was too excited about seeing the “Mile 7” marker that I am not really sure what was happening (other than I was about to be done).
24. Rope Climb – The event that I was most nervous about failing. It was in a location that literally everyone could see. When I came out of the woods (into the clearing), all of the last five obstacles were visible. My husband spotted me and was literally yelling at the top of his lungs “Go Jen!!! Jen! Come on Jen!” over and over. Elites have to use the unknotted rope. I picked one that didn’t look wet. It was wet. I had practiced a technique that was more leg based, and it worked. This was the most physically exhausting obstacle of the entire course for me.
When I got two thirds of the way up, I thought about quitting. I rested. I paused for a second. My husband saw it. He yelled. I looked up. I thought about my five month old. I heaved. I hit the bell. I was so tired, I rope burned my inner thighs from being so out of control sliding down. I walked out of the muddy water and could barely lift my feet.
25. Rolling Mud with Dunk Wall – Thank goodness the rest of the race was relatively low intensity and didn’t require a lot of running. Dunk wall = swim under one of those walls that you had jumped over earlier in the race. Yes, your entire body (including your head) will be under water in mud. Consider it a rinse before the infamous fire jump picture that every Spartan gets.
26. Slip Wall – The wall is tilted away from you. It is soaked with water/mud. There is a little rope. Use it to walk yourself up and over. Be careful. I can only imagine that this gets harder as the day goes on.
27. Barb Wire Crawl 2 – Roll, crawl, do what you need to do to get through it.
28. Fire Jump – The infamous picture and obstacle that every Spartan finisher must clear to say they finished. Wouldn’t you hate to do burpees because you couldn’t complete this?
I ran through the finish line with next to nobody around me. I was done. There were times it went by faster and times is went by slower than I expected. I remember more and more about the details every hour and that’s because my husband and I have participated in something so empowering we can’t stop talking about it. He does these types of events on a regular basis, but I haven’t really ever gotten into them. That said, I couldn’t imagine a more fun way for us to do something together.
We hung out. We cheered on others. We took pictures. We had beers. We really made the most out of our weekend away. That said, this is just the intro to the race. I look forward to sharing with you details on gear that I would recommend going forward, pre and post race eats, the rest of our trip to Asheville and of course the exercises that got me to the place that I finished on Saturday!
- Jen – 2nd Age Group, 13th Overall – 2:04:03 (120 burpees – If I can clear those rigs, I can definitely improve my time)
- Jeff – 9th Age Group, 25th Overall – 1:40:42 (60 burpees)