5 things I learnt from my second Spartan Race (‘Super’ in Brisbane)

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Lion City Spartans – Brisbane Super 2015

The last time we met, I had written a blog post about “My first Spartan Race – and 3 things I would have done differently”. Now, I have never understood the addiction some have for pain. But here I was, a few weeks after putting myself through the rather challenging Spartan Race Sprint in Perth, signing up for the longer ‘Super’ in Brisbane. Why? Perhaps it was peer pressure, or perhaps it was a quarter-life crisis. Whatever it was, I had already committed to it and there was no way I could back out.

1) It’s ok to be afraid
A wise Jedi once said, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate… leads to suffering”. Well, that basically means “Fear leads to suffering”. Right?

“Are you sure you can do this? It’s twice the suffering of the first one. It’s going to be freezing in August and can you imagine the pain you’d be going through again?” Were just some of the doubts that kept looping in my mind. You see, I’m kind of a wuss, a chicken, a “I don’t watch horror movies because I’m afraid of the dark” kind of guy.

But fear is good. It motivates you. For some, fear motivates them to quit. But when you face up to it and begin figuring out ways to overcome it, fear becomes useful. And when you have the support of fellow weirdos who were equally foolish to sign up for more pain, getting over fear becomes easier. I guess that’s what pain builds – a sense of camaraderie when you have several like minded people standing by each other, gritting through the same stresses.

2) “Men have nipples too”
Talking about fear, I was pretty worried about the cold we would be facing. The kind of cold weather that “…makes you realize men have nipples too” (Robin Williams).

Geographically, Brissy has a warmer climate than Perth but the ‘Super’ was going to be held in winter. I scanned weather forecasts for the region before we left Singapore and discovered that the weather could have potentially be colder than Perth. Travelling to the race site, we discovered that the local weather was 3℃. Yes, you read that right 3℃. As we watched the cold morning fog roll along the countryside around us, spilling onto the road, I lamented (yet again) about how cold it was going to be. Thankfully though, as we rocked up to the race site and the starting line at 8am, the rising sun warmed the course up. And doubly thankfully, there wasn’t any of that cold wind we experienced in Perth.

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Rope burn and bruised shin

However, I could not say the same about the creeks we had to jump into. Nothing can prepare your body for the shock. You take a breath, jump and brace. For a split second, your nipples become hard as diamonds and men, remember that they have those too. But the cold eventually takes over everything, and you lose all sensation and feeling. So much so, that I didn’t even know that I had bruised my shin until my body warmed up at the next obstacle.

3) March Uphill, Run Downhill
I had learned from scaling ‘Little Killington’ back in Perth, that trying to run uphill is an uphill battle (pun intended). While preparing for Brisbane, I came across a post by superhuman fitness guy Ben Greenfield and his post on “Top 10 Tips To Race A Spartan Beast”. In his post, he had expressed his frustration of seeing runners he had passed while running uphill, only to be overtaken by them on the downhill. I knew I wasn’t a strong uphill endurance runner, so running uphills during the race would be pointless. And I strategised by slowing to a ‘fast march’ instead of running on the uphill slopes, then I would pick up the pace and run on the downhill. At a point in the race, Shrek and I were shoulder to shoulder and I would use this technique on the uphill and downhill. We played this leap frog game for a bit as he would overtake me uphill and I, on the downhill. I I found this technique worked better for me because I wouldn’t feel as ‘gassed’ trying to run uphill. But do note, it does put a fair amount of stress on your ankles, tibia bones and tibialis muscles.

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Fire jump (photo by Aurora Images)

4) Cramps f**k everything up
The Brisbane ‘Super’ was essentially more of the worse of the Sprint we did in Perth. Twice the distance, twice the pain, with more obstacles.

Four months ago, we went in blind not having a clue to what obstacles we would face in the Sprint, but now we had some expectation of what were ’standard’ obstacles. Barbed wire crawl, Hercules hoist, rope climb, wall traverse, wall jump, spear throw plus a few others obstacles are now listed on the Spartan Race website. I knew what were my weaknesses and trained for strength to get through the ones that would require the use of my skinny man muscles. I guess the training paid off, because I felt much stronger and clearing the obstacles that needed heavy lifting was easier this time.

For the seasoned runner, 14km is mid-distance run, a walk in the park for some. But Spartan Races aren’t just about running set distances, or just about clearing obstacles. It’s the combination of the two, over undulating terrain that punishes you. Somewhere along the course, I gained along side a couple where the husband was obviously cramping. We began a game of leap frogging – he would stop to stretch, I would overtake, he begin running again, overtaking me, then stopping again to stretch and then I would overtake him again. I had packed some electrolyte gels and offered the couple a packet of Gu, went along my merry way and hopped I didn’t end up like him. But…somewhere towards the end of the 3rd quarter of the course (I hadn’t worn a watch, so I lost all concept of time and distance) my quads, hamstrings and calves started cramping. Cramping bad. Visualise this – watching someone roll on their backs grabbing their ______ (select body part here – thigh, calf, butt, groin) and then have another runner push up against their extended legs. Now, replace said runner’s face with mine. That’s a pretty funny sight right?

While I stayed hydrated and took electrolyte gels along the way, I reckon I wasn’t conditioned well enough for the distance and terrain. The cramps affected my performance enough that I slowed to a walk. And cramping midway in an obstacle is pretty bad news. Hanging upside down and halfway across the Tyrolean Traverse, my calves cramped. Despite me hanging on, waiting for the cramp to release, I let go and faced 30 burpees. Cramps f**k everything up. I’m still figuring how to deal with it for the Beast.

Cramps aside, Brisbane introduced a few of new obstacles like the Leap of Faith. This required you to climb atop a shipping container and then leap into a cargo net, climb up another set of shipping containers almost 2 storeys high and climb back down again. I’d like to say for the record, I almost crushed my family jewels on this one. I miscalculated the leap and landed legs through the gap between the nets, using only my groin to break my fall. Go ahead, laugh at that clumsy move, but at some point during the race we heard that this obstacle was closed because a couple of serious injuries occurred.

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Balance beam with dead ball. I paid burpees for this. (photo by Aurora Images)

The Cliff Hanger and The Fortress were new obstacles for us. Very Ninja Warrior-ish, something I imagine rock climbers would enjoy.

5) Spartans never leave their own behind
As we climbed down the cargo nets in the last obstacle, Darren, Nic and I, with arms around each others’ shoulders, crossed the finish line together. We were greeted by Shrek who had finished the race before us. Coconut water in hand, we cheered each other, took some photos and headed to wash, rest and eat. We hung around the arena area, relishing in the festivities, watching other Spartans complete the race.

We were fortunate to meet Max and Paul of Spartan Race Australia again, who recognised us as the ‘guys from Singapore’. “We’ll be in your neck of the woods in November clearing the Singapore course with you guys!”.

Selfies and wefies were taken and we headed back to our rented car looking forward to a celebratory meal together. The Spartan Gods might have taken some off time, because the car refused to start. Without mobile coverage in Peaks Crossing to get in touch with the rental company, we trotted to the festival area for help. Fortunately again, we found Max who made an announcement over the PA system “We have some fellow Spartans in need. If anyone has jump cables to help…”

And barely 5 minutes later…

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Thank you.

“Once more into the fray”
With our rented car back on track, we stopped by a cafe for some food and coffee. “So, how about it? The Beast?” Nic asked.

While the goal was to complete the Trifecta, I was always unsure if I would actually want to complete a Beast. Though I signed up for the Super pretty early on, I was never sure I would actually complete a Beast. I mean, how could I go through something 3 times more than what was already a challenge in the Perth Sprint? It was always on the back of our minds, but we clearly were taking the stance of “Let’s see how we fare in Brisbane first”.

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With Spartan Race Australia CEO Max Delacy and Race Director Paul Harwood.

“So how?” A beat. “Hmmm…” Another beat. “Ok la. Let’s do this!”

And with that, right there in a cafe in Brisbane, a few hours after we had just completed the Super, Nic and I booked our flights to Melbourne for the Beast.

In two weeks, we travel to Melbourne for the Beast followed shortly by Shrek and Darren in Vermont and the UK respectively. I’ve been so fortunate to have drifted into the lives of these guys who have inspired, motivated and supported me (and each other) to complete these so called ‘Spartan Races’. I’m not sure I can build again with any other group of guys. I’m thankful to them for showing me that sense of adventure, grit and determination.

I’ll admit, the thought of completing a punishing a 21km obstacle course still very much scares me. But I’ll quote running Coach Fai, who put it in perspective for me, “Think about it, the Super is really your training run for the Beast. Completing that puts you pass the halfway mark of making the Trifecta”.

So here we go again, “once more into the fray”.

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