The car stops, causing an engulfing plume of fine rust colored dust to rise. The warm Southern California sun pushes through the dirty cloud, casting intermittent shafts of light and shadow. Another car comes to a stop, parking beside us, sending up more plumes of obscuring dust. Stepping out of the car, I'm instantly covered by a fine layer, however, it doesn't bother me even for a second. I am too focused on what will be happening in the next hour — my first Spartan Race!
Walking toward the brightly colored cluster of tents, and away from the dusty field where we and thousands of others have parked, I sense an intense feeling of excitement fill the air.
"This is going to be crazy!" is all that I can think as we get closer.
To say that this race is popular is an understatement. The staging area, the spot where both the start and finish lines meet, is completely packed with thousands of people. The crowd is mixed with competitors who have just finished, and with people yet to run. It's easy to recognize the finishers. They are wet, muddy, and tired, but are jumping around, giving everyone excited "high fives." Then there are people who have yet to race — like us. They are dry, clean, and look a little concerned, if not nervous.
We queue in line to pick up our race packets. Looking around, I quickly notice something interesting. The crowd of participants is incredibly diverse. Next to me, I see a mom of three. She looks slightly looking nervous as her husband secures a race bib to the front of her shirt with safety pins, while her boys jump up and down, saying, "You can do it mom!" I see a group of kids, who we later learn to have special needs, excitedly picking up their packets. Not surprising, there are a group of people who look like they do P90X before Crossfit and live only on protein shakes and egg whites. I overhear some people say that they started working out as a New Year's resolution, and in an attempt at reversing their developing office butt. Also, there are students from all the nearby universities. I see a group of sun deprived grad students from UCLA looking way too happy just to be outdoors and in the sun—Grad Student Problem. I see people like me, and people like you — everyone!
However, don't let the fact that you don't need to be a professional athlete fool you. The Spartan Race is just as much of a beast as it was the day it was unleashed upon humanity. This race takes no prisoners. You either pass or fail, but failure is not an option — you won't fail. You can't fail. The other participants running beside you won't let you fail, just like you won't let them fail either.
Our wave of about 300 takes off. We run under the blow up arches that read "START" in big white letters. People are already sprinting, but we still have 8+ miles to go with obstacles, so we decide to ease into a quick jog. Dropping down a small hill only a quarter of a mile in, and we're faced with our first obstacle. For the next few hundred feet, there's nothing but knee deep mud with 4 foot high wooden barriers at varying intervals. Everyone struggles through the mud. Dozens of people get stuck, nearly losing their shoes below the mud. We reach solid ground on the other side — covered with mud from head to toe. The Spartan Race has just welcomed us into it's gauntlet with a muddy slap.
We run through a creek and at times falling into waist deep water. We jump over branches and slide down muddy embankments. Picking up speed, we run through a dry, wooded area before emerging at the of base of a very... very... steep hill. I need to mention the dirt, all the way to the top, has the consistency of sand, making the phrase, "two step forward; one step back" our immediate reality.
Our legs are burning as we get to the top, only to look out into the distance and see the trail go up and down further into even steeper terrain. By the time we pass the 3 mile marker, we've already trudged through mud, ran through a creek, survived three hills, carried weights and sandbags, and waded through a very cold lake. Everyone is breathing hard.
As we pass the 4 mile marker, we find that we've looped back around to the start of the race. It's flatter here, but no less intense. There are a number of obstacles, one right after another that are meant to test our abilities. While one obstacle tests your already tired body in one way, another obstacle pushes your limits in another. Thoroughly tired, we leave the cluster of obstacles, and take off running down the path which leads to even bigger hills.
We reach the base of a hill, and of course, there is a another cluster of obstacles that are designed to push our tired bodies even further. We carry 60 lb. sandbags up and down small but steep hills. We drag and flip huge truck tires, and then haul buckets of gravel a quarter mile. Everyone is sweating and breathing even harder by the time we begin tackling the hill.
Only half way up, and I realize something. I realize that the payment for becoming a Spartan is not in money, or in the cuts and bruises that you will acquire along the way. No. Looking at the summit which still has to be a mile away, I know that the Spartan gods enjoy payment in the form of the unholy burning that happens in your thighs, calves and butt after agonizingly trudging up so many flippin' hills!
We reach the summit. The payment has been sufficiently extracted by the Spartan gods. At this point, my legs could have actually been on fire and I wouldn't know the difference. At the top, we have to pass through two more obstacles which involve a lot of climbing. We survive, and begin our descent down.
The final 1/2 mile of the race is the wettest, muddiest and funnest part. While being sprayed with a firehouse of freezing water, we slide down mud hills into troughs of cold muddy water. We dive under barriers, and climb up a 20 foot rope to ring a bell, or do burpees if you can't make it.
After making it through the mud, the water and obstacles, we only need to jump over fire and to run through a gauntlet of Spartans ready to give you the ceremonial hit with giant padded Q-tip.
Exhausted, we jump over the fire and take a hit before we cross the finish line. We're tired, but not tired enough to miss out on all the "high fives" going around. I "high five" everyone, the mom of three, the kids, Crossfit guys, the office workers, the grad student, my friends — everyone.
All that I can think is that "we did it... WE DID IT!"
As our medals are placed over our heads, we look down at the red wedge-shaped emblem. We quickly realize that it's a piece of a bigger medal — is part of the TRIFECTA.
We learn that to complete the TRIFECTA, you must run a Spartan Sprint (3+ mile), a Spartan Super (8+ miles), and a Spartan Beast (13+ Miles).
Looking at each other, it becomes very clear that our Spartan experience is long from over. We may be Spartans now, but will we have what it takes to complete the TRIFECTA? Can we conquer what the race will throw at us? There is no doubt that we will step up to the challenge. We have survived the super, and we will survive the sprint and the beast. We know that we will survive because WE ARE SPARTANS!