Tough Mudder. Spartan Race. Warrior Dash. Mudfactor. The Color Run. Now there’s a Neon Run. A Run for Your Lives Zombie run, A Chocolate Run–even a Del Taco Run! I am not kidding, except about Del Taco. Although after every race I’ve completed, I celebrate by going to Del Taco.
Running these races can lead to identity confusion. Run the Tough Mudder, and you’re part of “Mudder Nation.” Run a Spartan Race, and you make a special noise: “Aroo.” Warrior Dash? I think you eat hunks of chicken washed down with mead.
Feels like middle school.
On a Saturday in January, I ran the 8 mile “Super Spartan” in Temecula, and because no one was able to attend with me, I must tell my story to you.
“…so I was in frigid water, the rain pelted down like tears from a wounded sky. My breath came in ragged gasps as first one knotted leg, and then the other cramped into a curling couple of feeble hooks. One hand clutched my tattered shoes, and while the other clung desperately to a strand of rope. The icy water ripped each breath from my chest as I used my free hand to pull myself 30 yards back to shore. If it wasn’t for the lifeguards in canoes and nearby flotation devices, it may have been a near death experience!”
I was at the snack table at church, recounting the last mile of Spartan Race to my dad. A friend walked up mid-conversation. “Wow. That happened to me once. In a bad dream.”
“Yeah,” I protested. “But I made it out eventually, then I climbed a rope, jumped over some fire, and got beaten up by some large men with padded sticks!”
“Like I said.”
All I ever wanted to be was a fast buff guy with endurance. Lots of racers sported shredded abs and ripped physiques, but I’d heard some smack that the guys with muscles couldn’t hang with the “legit” runners. I glanced around the starting corral at a bunch of Ryan Gosling six-packs. I had my sleeveless grey shirt that showed my guns for a bit of intimidation factor, plus my thigh-high bright orange weapon shorts for camera visibility. But next to these guys, I looked like a lumbering meathead. 8 miles lay ahead, and only two days ago I had set my personal record of five miles (which was really stupid to try two days before the race because now I had a fat blister on each foot).
Could I hang with this pack of Abercrombie models?
I took a spot on the right and eased out of the starting gate. A hundred yards of grass stretched out ahead, and I was right in the middle of the pack. Then Mount Doom #1 loomed, and 50 more yards of single track up the mountain slowed almost everyone to a walk. I passed a couple of skinny guys, including a few Goslings. Crush the opposition with raw power!
I pushed past another guy. Then there was just one. We crested the hill of doom, and I chased him into a straight away. BOOM! First obstacle– monkey bars– and I blasted past him like a chimpanzee! Victory! I was in first place! Mile one was done, and no one was getting past me! I love Spartan Race!
Little did I know, my lead was shrinking. A six pack beast was on my tail as we hit the first mud pits. My five-finger shoes are old and stretched out, and these mudpits threatened to suck them away forever. I made it out of the pits, and onto a mini obstacle course you had to navigate by bunny hopping with a rubber band around your legs. This is where I started passing people from the previous heat. Out of the bunny hops, first water station, and then more hills with single track. The trail was starting to get crowded, and I had a small army of abs right on my heels.
Squeezing my way past clusters of racers from the previous heat, I heard footsteps behind me. Heavy breathing. I was slowing, and suddenly a set of washboard abs burst past me on the left! Then another. Their slender legs skipped up the hill like blue people from Avatar. My lead had been stolen by a couple of Calvin Klein has-beens! Back in third place as we passed mile marker three, and I needed to do some damage on the next obstacle: tractor tire drag.
I grabbed a huge tire, dragged it for about 15 yards, and then pulled it hand over hand back to the starting point. Courtesy of my brute strength, and my sessions at Invicta Fitness, I was back in the lead! The obstacles were working in my favor.
One mile of trail running, and the ripped cardio men were back in the game. We were approaching the starting line and the second half of the race, facing a few wall climbs, which I hurdled with ease. Ab twins, I’m gaining on you. Then came the sand bucket refill.
This nightmare required us to dig up some dirt with our bare hands and fill up a five gallon bucket with no handle. We then had to carry the bucket around a hill, UP A HILL, back down and around before dumping the sand. This was pure misery, but at least I was nearing the half way point.
Enter the wall traverse.
Twenty foot of wall with a few handholds spaced evenly throughout=piece of cake. Except the wall and holds were slathered with mud, and I fell off immediately. Obstacle fail, and I was down on the floor for 30 burpees with almost everyone else. I lost track of the leaders at this point, since we were in the thick of the previous heat.
Back at the starting line, it was another sprint up the grass, this time to a sand bag carry. I grabbed a bag, hoisted over my shoulder like a champion, and slogged my way up a slight hill and back around for a tidy lap. Dump the bag, and up another mini mount doom. By this time the trail was clogged, and I pardoned my way past fifty or so runners up to the top the mountain. Bask in the glow of the ridge for a few hundred yards, then descend into the team tire flip: an enormous tractor tire flip that required two people to lift. I found a muscular dude from the previous heat, and we manhandled that tire on the way to chapter 6.
The trail at this point was an absolute mess, with runners from three different heats mingled together. The next obstacle was a huge stone carry, with 5 burpees mixed in. Thankfully I still had the stones to carry my stone, and I handled this obstacle with ease. Back on the trail, to the concrete block chain drag, where we dragged a huge piece of concrete around a muddy loop. Dump the chain, up a few mini hills, a quick descent, and then a mountain of absolute despair loomed in the distance.
Somewhere in this carnage I passed the leader from our heat. First place again! Buff guys can run races too. But as I pushed up the mountain, nightmares of Hollister and GAP danced in my mind. My left groin started to cramp (an incredibly uncomfortable sensation). Then a beautiful set of rectus abdominus flashed before my eyes, and I was passed again! Dang you cardio beast! I stayed with him stride for stride to the summit, but both legs started to go. First the inside of my right hip. Then the left. Then both. Then a calf, then a quad.
I was hobbling like the little girl crawling out of the well in The Ring as we began our descent. I tried running backward, sideways, skipping, ANYTHING TO STOP THE CRAMPS. It was all in vain, as I hobbled to the last set of walls.
I hurdled the 7ft. walls with sheer upper body power, and as I swung my leg over the top, my right groin burst out of my hip, Alien style.
I’m exaggerting about the groin-burster, but I literally dragged my legs down the last descent approaching a…balance obstacle? !! My legs are about five balls of cramps at this point, and as I leaped from cylindrical fence post to post, the right calf seized, and I let out an unspartanly squeal as I topple to the ground, almost taking down the girl next to me.
30 more burpees.
This is it! All that waited was a rope climb, a wimpy firepit and the Spartan beat down!
Walk out on a dock, and plunge into the TEARS OF PAIN– my quivery little legs locked up like a dehydrated black widow in the corner of the garage. I held theVibram’s in one hand while using my other to pull myself using a buoy rope while my legs dangled uselessly. I am a strong swimmer, but I couldn’t even manage one stroke. Even slightly moving my legs caused awkward hip thrusts and thigh spasms. At least I was underwater so no one saw.
Out of the water, dragging a tangle of old fishing line I picked up in the lake, then through some mud. Like a true natural man, I was running the last mile barefoot. I missed the funny little man made of hay (target on the spear throw), as did EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERSON I saw. 30 more burpees, for a grand total of 90.
The rope climb was challenging and scary because my entire body was now spazzing out at random intervals. I pulled myself to the top using raw lat power, but my dainty feet clung tenderly and uselessly to the ascending knots. Ding the bell, jump over the fire, and the fellow meathead at the finish line smashes me in the guts with his beat down stick.
No one was there to see it, and I could lie and say I took first in my heat. But 12 ab muscles would say otherwise, and I had to settle for third in my heat, 12th in my age group out of 800, and 78th out of about 5,000 racers overall.
The blisters had sprouted blisters, and my calves and hip flexors screamed for mercy. But I finished third in my heat, and I proved that men with muscles can hang with six pack-wielding trail runners. I was defeated by Abercrombie, and Fitch beat me by a few minutes, but I had bested countless Gosling look-alikes, proving sometimes six-packs don’t stand a chance against brute strength.