here is the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win."
-Tyrtaeus, Spartan poet and military man, whose poems were sung to inspire his men
February 23 marked the peak of my race season-- the Florida Super Spartan. It was Spartan's third Super at Oleta River Park in Miami. It was also my third Spartan Race. If you are unfamiliar with Spartan Race, check out their website. I have incredibly mixed emotions about the race this year and my performance. I'll do my best to recap the course itself, my performance and give some final thoughts.
This year's course was virtually the same route as 2012's (8.3 miles seems to be the consensus), a longer route than 2011's course. The first year I ran it, I found it challenging; last year, considerably more challenging. This year there were some differences in obstacles. I won't say, as many have said on Facebook, that the course was easy. There were several 8 foot walls, 2 separate "over/under" and one "through" wall. There were monkey bars, a section of muddy trenches, a short swim/pull yourself through the water by rope, a long wade hip deep in water, sand bag carry, drag a concrete block through sand, tire flip, 5 burpees, cargo net climb, hoist 3 buckets full of water up @ 10 feet and into a trash barrel and dump, Herculean hoist, knotted rope climb, traverse wall, mud crawl under barbed wire, incline wall climb and jousting Spartans. At least, those were the obstacles to the best of my memory and in no particular order. I did not at all miss the balance beam thingy, the stump jump, spear throw, nor mountains nor hills that many Spartan races feature.
My Performance and Experience:
Although I ran the competitive heat last year, the 2013 race provided a much different experience. The elite women's heat began 20 minutes after the men's elite heat. I must say, the split heats were a little intimidating. I knew exactly who were the women to beat. There was no guessing. This year there seemed to be no slow females to pick off. The competitors came to win (duh). I also came to the race alone. No running buddy to encourage me along the way.
We went out fast. I'm Garmin-less, so my best guess is that I started at about a 7:30 minute mile pace. Really fast for an 8 mile run for me. I would say that the front runners were running even faster than that. I found that I was playing leap frog for the first half of the race with a few women-- they would pass me on the run, and I would catch them at the obstacles. By about mile 6, I felt the first twinge in my calf. While I had already slowed my running pace, I knew at that point I needed to back down a little more, or risk not finishing at all-- last year on the last obstacle I went to jump and my calf locked up completely, and I was forced to the ground, waiting until the cramp subsided. My legs were really spent at that point anyway. I felt that they had nothing left to give. I walked between and after the last few obstacles-- NOT in my plans, but again, my legs just were not responding. Really, my competition had ended at mile 7. (English teacher side note-- it was an Old Man and the Sea moment: darn you, legs! Why must you cramp?! "Come on [legs]. Please come on.")
It is heartbreaking to know that my body had given all it had to give, but that was simply not good enough to place in the top 10. However, I am very pleased to have successfully completed every obstacle-- no penalty burpees for me. My mile pace was 2 minutes faster than last year's race pace-- I finished in 1:37. Still the "what if's" haunt me... was it really that my body was spent or was my mind playing protector and limiting my body? Should I have rested more the week leading up to the race? Should I have run more and lifted less? Did the extra few pounds of muscle I've put on in the last months slow me? And on and on.
That seemingly blank look on my face? I'm looking through the jousters to the finish line.
I've seen many Facebook comments about a detour in Saturday's race, elite men who were DQ'd, elite men who got lost, and the ease of the course. I only know the course that was in front of me, the race that I ran. Spartan Races have the reputation of being among the toughest, if not THE toughest of obstacle course races. From my experience, I believe they are the best OCR company out there; they've helped OCR's begin the transformation into a professional sport. But each event is different and each event has its unique challenges. I'm not sure why people are surprised that the Florida course was flat. It's South Florida. Spartan Race is good, but they can't manufacture a mountain out of sand.
Finally! The finish was just steps away.
I will say that I wish Spartan had made use of all the water around the park to create a rowing or paddle board obstacle. That would've made the race really stand out and given it a unique twist. Maybe next year.
My big take away from this race: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. I just can't seem to learn this. When I compare this year's me to last year's me, I'm really happy with how strong I've become and how far I've progressed. When I compare this year's me to the 17 women who placed in front of me, I want to throw myself the most pathetic pity party ever.
And another big take away: the importance of team. Ugh! I am ferociously independent. However, it's very hard to do an event like the Spartan Race without the benefit of a team or a friend out on the course. I'm very thankful to the woman who high-fived me on the course in celebration of our victories over the monkey bars, as well as the woman who both encouraged me by complimenting my pace on the trail and then gave me advice on how best to drag that big stone. But the festival was not very festive without someone to debrief with.
This post would be utterly inadequate without an enormous THANK YOU! to my husband and trainer Craig Lawson. While I admit that I equally loathe and love his workouts, he has encouraged and endured me. He has helped hone my strengths and strengthened my weakness. He pushes and puts up with me; never quits on me and never lets me quit. I could not be who I am today without him.