Last weekend (Sept. 17), I endured probably the toughest race, competition and event I’ve ever participated in; the Spartan Beast was a mentally and physically challenging, BEAST of a run.
Despite a minor hip injury and recovery training, I headed out to Pala, Calif., where the race was held. Pala Raceway was like nothing I’ve ever seen; it was a motocross track surrounded by mountains, and it was absolutely beautiful. But, I’d very soon after realize how much I was going to hate the “scenery.”
Each race starts with entering the start line by climbing a six foot wall, and went simple enough. The MC completed the signature Spartan send off which oddly enough really pumps you up for what you’re about to put yourself through. “AROO! AROO! AROO!” And off we went – straight up a hill that made the treadmill’s 12 percent incline look heavenly. The hill leveled off and moral was back to its high after pledging to either get back home wearing my shield or returning on it. We wound through what seemed like desert and finally hit the mile marker, which felt like the longest mile I’d ever run.
As the sun beamed down on one of the hottest days that SoCal has had all summer, and as we’re used to heat in Chicago, this heat was extremely dry and gave that feeling of running an indoor race down your throat. I’m not sure the exact distances throughout the race, but between miles four and five, we began the most intense climb up this mountain I’d ever experienced in my life. Not only was the pitch steep, but the grainy gravel made it difficult to sink your feet into in order to leverage yourself for your next step. As I passed slower walkers up this mountain I looked around and saw people literally crawling up as the ground was right in front of our faces.
When I got up to what seemed the end of our climb, the path I’d been waiting for was directly in front of me – after a solid half hour of climbing, we were finally about to descend, and I had every intention to hit this trail as quickly as I could. With a cross-country background, I quickly found the most efficient way to get down a hill (mountain in this rare case) was to let gravity do its. Oh man, I wish you could feel exactly how relieving it was to just let go and fly down this mountain. I was cruising and it felt great … Of course, until I lost sight of the path as I was right on another racer’s tail – the descend zigzagged pretty aggressively.
The path was also quite narrow so being right behind someone meant you trusted their steps to be replaced by your own and I lost focus for a brief moment and I went straight into some bushes and dried up trees as the path cut back left while I kept right. All I could do to slow myself and attempt to keep from continuing down this mountain uncontrollably was grab onto whatever I could and that’s what I did. Cut up my knees, ankles and gashed my thumb as I felt I needed to grip that dry shrub with my lifeI made my way back to the trail and tried to forget it ever happened.
Mile six, there it was … Oh, and the bucket brigade which has been a bit of a fear of mine as one of my good friends and workout buddies injured his wrist back in June completing this obstacle two days in a row. Grabbed a hold of this bucket filled almost fully with pebbles and off I went. We trekked about 200 meters with this five gallon bucket up a slight incline, and my lower back becoming more and more tight with each step, I probably put it down five or six times. Finally, I got back to the start of the obstacle and went to hoist the bucket over a small wall in order to pass it along to another racer and BOOM, my first cramp of the race and man, was it a doozie!
My left leg cramped as I “power cleaned” the bucket up and my toes curled under my foot. It was one of the most intense cramps I’ve had as you could see what looked like a rock protruding in my shoe. A team of laser taggers noticed my pain and offered to stretch me out. Thankfully I was able to stretch it on my own as these ladies and gents were offering to hold me down and pull my foot into a flexed position in attempts to relieve my calf. I shook it off and kept on.
The rest of the race blurred all together as it was one of the longest I’ve ever completed. Throughout the race I was able to meet a few Spartans and we had a chance to share some of our stories. Troy, this racer in his early 20s, was crushing the race, and it was also his first Beast. We started in the same heat and I’m quite positive he finished a ways ahead of me.
Some noticeable obstacles that really stood out were the barbed wire crawl that was up a muddy motocross ramp. At this point, my knees and hands were already cut up, and I had to crawl up a muddy hill on my elbows and knees, my butt hugging the ground because I’ve been caught by the wire before and that was an experience I could’ve lived without. After two failed attempts to reach the top while getting some assistance I jumped up and there it was; the “Herc Hoist” was rough as you are to pull a rope to get a 50-pound sandbag from the ground to an 18 foot target using only your own body weight.
One of the things I really noticed throughout the race was that even though hundreds of people signed up as individuals, everyone was there to support each other. The Spartan Community is noticeably similar to that of CrossFit and running, where everyone is cheering each other on, and if someone needs help through an obstacle, whether through guiding them verbally or physically helping them over a wall, they’re there to help. It was really heartwarming to be a part of it; so many people were going through the same hardships at the same time, and everyone so eager to help out. For example, shortly after I gashed my thumb on my short tumble down the mountain, one of the athletes helped me wash and bandage it up so as not to get infected throughout the next 10 miles.
This was a great experience and I can’t wait until next season to hit these races again. This is Dave Lopez from CrossFit Illumine OCR, I’ll see you on the course!