I am still a little overwhelmed this past weekend, Jessie, Corey, and I finished our first trifecta together with the Spartan Beast Dallas race. At the start of this year, I truly never would have thought myself to run any Spartan races, much less complete a trifecta. This particular race wasn’t without its highs and lows, but I know that I would have never made it without my two teammates.
We arrived at Rough Creek Lodge about an hour and a half prior to our 9:45 start time for the open division. We finished gearing up, getting packets, checking our bags, and perusing the festival area and still were about 45 minutes until go time. Jessie and Corey were both a bit antsy and ready to go. We had settled at the starting line area and Jessie got to investigating and found out a way for us to legitimately start in an earlier wave. I won’t name names or give anything else away but our way into the earlier wave was perfect for our team a la the Winter Soldier.
So before I knew it, we were toeing the start line at 9:15. I had 30 less minutes to fret and contemplate the thing I was about to attempt and ultimately accomplish. We went through the customary kick-off chants “I am SPARTAN!” and “AROO!” in response to the MC’s questions and then we were off. I was feeling good at first as we began a slow run/quick jog on our way to the first obstacles. I had forgotten to turn off the pace alert on my Garmin so I was going to get the fairly steady beeps when my pace was on and behind where I had set it as one of my devices for my 100 miler attempt nearly 2 months ago. It was nice to know when on the running sections I was keeping a decent pace but it got annoying when I would slow down during obstacles.
Our first sets of obstacles were walls starting with the base 5 ft. walls and then some walls made out of round hay bales. Neither of these were especially hard but I hadn’t considered the difficulty of trying to get over walls in my hydration vest and so I would end up getting a boost for all of my wall scaling during this race. It didn’t really matter as our team of three had gotten wall scaling down to a fine art by this point. After those first two sets of walls, it was down to the swamp bank for a bit of muddy mucking about. Most people were clinging to the left wall to avoid getting shoes submerged this early in the race (we weren’t even a mile in yet!). However, as we got over the next hill we realized that had been an exercise in futility as the second portion was not so easily avoidable.
Now that we had our feet wet and muddy, it was on to the Over-Under-Through obstacle. I was happy to learn that this was one of the first of the nine “Classified” obstacles on this particular race and day. We got through very quickly and were running back down the trail and reaching the first mile marker in no time. The we crested the hill to a new level of nasty as we approached the Swamp Run. This was about a quarter to half mile trek through chest deep “water” (I am not sure water has that greyish brown coloration). The mud had been stirred up so thick into the water that even the carp were floating belly-up in this nastiness. We slogged our way through and made our way around to the A-Frame Cargo Net.
I always feel confident after the cargo nets but my confidence sunk a little as we approached the next obstacle, the Monkey Bars. I have never been a fan of these things even when I was a kid in grade school. Rather than waste the energy on these, I opted to go straight for the burpee penalty zone. Trying to remain in good spirits, I joked to my teammates “If you need me, I be over in my office over here!” I only managed to get to 12 burpees completed before my teammates had completed the obstacle and jumped in to help me finish my penalty burpees. From there, we had just barely gotten moving before we reached the next obstacle in the Log Hop. I had never faced this obstacle but it seemed simple enough. I was carefully stepping from post to post though still winded from the burpees earlier. As I got within three posts of the end, Jessie started shouting encouragement that was about to make me laugh and I had to tell him to cut it out as I was trying to concentrate. A tenth of a mile and a couple of Tire Flips later and we were back off to running.
We passed the second mile marker before we reached the next obstacle, the Rope Climb. This was my second appointment with the burpee zone, but I only managed to get 10 done before my compadres were there helping me knock the rest of them out (so through two penalties, I had only done about 22 burpees at this point). About a quarter mile later we came up on the 6′ Wall and managed it without any problems. We ran on a little farther and rounded the next corner to find the Spear Throw. I was nervous about this one as I hadn’t thrown any since we had completed the Super and Sprint back in April. Jessie threw and the cord snagged on his tricep and ended up going wide left so he headed off to start burpees. Corey had been waiting in line for a particular spear but by the time he got to the throwing position, the spear was so bent that he ended up switching to a different line. I decided to jump to that station before my nerves psyched me out. I used some of that nervous energy to straighten the point and then got into javelin throwing position with my arm back. I remember quickly thinking “Just throw the stupid thing! You either make it or you don’t!” and I let fly. The spear sailed directly into a center bale hit and didn’t even act like it was gonna fall back out. YES! I gave out a shout of celebration as I made my way over to the pit to repay the favor for some of the burpees my teammates had done for me and managed to get three in for Jessie before Corey rejoined us from his spear throw and we continued down the trail.
It was over another half mile before we reached the next obstacle as we had now left the part of the course that overlapped with the Sprint course and were now in Beast territory proper. In typical fashion it was another wall. This time a 7 footer that we made short work of before continuing down the trail to another pair of water crossing obstacles that seemed considerably colder than our earlier swamp crossing. The obstacles were becoming much farther apart at this point and we were nearly dry from the crossings by the time we reached the Tyrolean Traverse. Jessie and Corey had already completed the obstacle by the time I arrived and had hashed out a strategy to get me across penalty free. Jessie assumed the Facing the Giants death crawl position and had me lay back to back with him as a stop gap so I wouldn’t touch the ground as I proceeded to wrap my legs around the rope and pull with my arms to make my way to the cowbell on the other end. I started with the locked at the ankles method that I had seen many people employ up to this point but quickly realized my legs were going to possibly fall when they got tired and switched over to laying the back of my knee across the rope and alternating when one would get tired. It seemed like forever but I finally reached that bell, rang it, and we got back after it. Later, I would discover I had given myself a nice rope burn on my left Achilles during this obstacle.
After passing mile marker 5 (or was it 6 by this point), we came up on the Stairway to Sparta and made quick work of it. The next obstacle proved to be considerably more difficult than in our previous experiences. Rolling Mud in our previous races had almost stair step grooves that had been worn into the hill coming up out of the mud pits and it had been more like a slip and slide then climb up for the next mud slide. Here at Rough Creek Lodge it was more like slide down a hill into a mud pit and then try to climb back up a surface that was just as slick and smooth as the surface you just slid down. Jessie and Corey were about two pits in when I reached the obstacle. However, the difficulty of this one in particular was a great equalizer and we ended up finishing this one about coincidental.
The Spartan Sled was another new obstacle for me. It consisted of a metal “sled” (very similar to the plate drag metal apparatus) that was attached to a chain and pipe with which you were to pull the sled behind you. It wasn’t especially hard as a strength challenge just kind of cumbersome and unwieldy to get the right angle to get good momentum out of your pulling force. With the long expanses between obstacles, the course designer got the maximum mileage and elevation gain out of the surrounding hillsides and small mesas. After about a slow and painful mile and a half of “running” after Rolling Mud, we could finally see the beaten down souls marching up similar hillside elevations toting sandbags and knew the Sandbag Carry was in our immediate future.
The Sandbag Carry involved a steep ascent up a trail of loose dirt, rock, and scree with a 40 lb sandbag on your shoulders. It was about this time that my iliotibial band of my left leg started to act up during descents. So this and the following Bucket Brigade would be slow progress of elevated heart rate on the ascent and increasing hip/knee pain on the descents. I could still manage to get decent speed on the flat portions that were few and far between at this point. However, on the end of the sandbag carry, I was behind a line of people that were barely tiptoeing their way down the last portion to where we would drop the blasted thing back off. I got impatient and saw a line down the side, announced, “I’ve had enough of this mess!” and proceeded to speed down past about 4 or 5 folks because I was ready to be done with that stupid obstacle. Bucket Brigade did not seem to be as steep as the sandbag portion but was still having leg troubles on descents that made it especially frustrating.
This course seemed to do a lot of attacking the same muscle groups and systems repeatedly as immediately following the Bucket Brigade was the Atlas Carry. My arms and shoulders weren’t thrilled with the prospect but I muscled through and got done fairly quickly and we were back off down the trail to the barbed wire crawl. I opted for the rolling side of the obstacle since my hydration pack was getting close to empty at this point and rolled on through with no problem except for a brief moment of dizziness. As I got out from under the barbed wire, I saw my teammate Corey and accidentally bumped into him in my dizzy state. Once I recovered and started to get up, I noticed Corey was still having trouble recovering. I stayed back with him as his dizziness had led to some nausea and I walked with him through much of the rest of the course to make sure he was okay.
After all the earlier strength and lifting challenges just prior, I really thought the Inverted Wall was going to be my next set of burpees but Jessie had come back to meet us and was stubbornly insistent I was going over that wall even if he had to shot put me over it. I was amazed when after a step boost and a little push from Jessie, I went right up and over the thing. We helped Corey over as well and made our way around to a SECOND BARBED WIRE CRAWL!!! I tried to go through this one with Corey to make sure he was alright considering how much the first one had taken out of him but my triceps were starting to cramp up and I knew I had more upper body obstacles to come so I finished out by rolling and waited for him at the obstacle exit with Jessie.
Once we all got going again, we came to the obstacle that gets my vote for the most deceptively difficult, the Farmer’s Carry. It looked like just a bunch of old logs with chain handles attached that were to be carried a distance similar to the earlier atlas carry. However, when I started to lift those logs, they seemed like the heaviest strength challenge we had encountered up to that point in the race. Easy enough to do but a terror on one’s grip strength when you are pretty well beaten down already.
All of our team would face their final burpee penalties at the Multi-Rig. This system of truss work designed to bedevil all those ninja warriors in potentia out there was another that I just made a beeline for the burpee zone again. Jessie and Corey to their credit both gave it a strong attempt but lost their grip and ended up doing burpees with me. I did manage to get the full set of burpees done and we were both able to help Corey out with his. From there, we continued on and over the 8′ Wall and the Z-Wall.
The Plate Drag was similar to the sled but instead of dragging it behind you, you pull it towards you using a rope. My triceps were burning and really wanting to try and cramp up after the burpees but I pulled that plate in quickly and was off with my compadres to face the last few obstacles within sight of the finish line.
We conquered the Herc Hoist as a team by pairing up and lifting the 100 lbs of sandbags 6 times (twice for each team member). Then it was on to the last mud pit in the form of the Dunk Wall which gave us one last bath in muddy water before the Slip Wall and the ceremonial Fire Jump. I remember thinking this thing was in the bag and we were gonna coast into the finish as a team.
I had completed the Slip Wall no problem at my previous two Spartan races so I guess I underestimated it on this occasion. Jessie had already made it up the wall and was waiting to help me or Corey over at the top of the wall. Corey made it over just fine and I started on my first attempt. The fresh mud and water made the rope and the wall remarkably slipperier than my previous two races and I lost footing and slowly slid back down the wall. I readied myself for a second attempt and opted for a rope with a knot near the top for a assist against the slipperiness of the ropes at this point. I got within a plywood sheet of the peak and tried to make the grab for the top but misedd and slid down hard on my second attempt. At this point, I was LIVID! I had completed this first time in both my previous Spartan races only to be conquered within the last tenth of a mile by THIS STUPID WALL! It was then that one of the volunteers was trying to be helpful and provide a bit of tough love encouragement by telling me I had one more chance to get over this thing. It was then I just started mentally breaking down. 14+ miles of distance and 30+ obstacles only to be defeated by this one stupid wall. I even asked if I could just do thirty burpees and get on with it but burpees are not allowed on this particular obstacle. So I readied myself for my third and apparently final attempt. I walked it up to that same point I had gotten to twice before and felt that same fear coming right back but then I heard Jessie tell me to keep walking my feet up and I got the idea that he was going to grab my ankle and make sure I didn’t slide back down this time. He grabbed my leg and I made a lunge for the peak and caught it as some other fellow spartans grabbed my arm and wrist. I yelled out as I gave every bit of strength I had to stretch out and grab some part of the wall I could pull myself on over with. I finally reached the tipping point where I was no longer going to slide back down and eased over onto the ladder steps and stepped my way down.
I have run a lot of races of varying degrees of difficulty with quite a few of them feeling emotional about the finish but this was the first time I nearly broke down in tears when I got over that wall… We still had the fire jump to go but I was just so overwhelmed by the experience of “risking it all” on one final attempt at an obstacle. We cleared the fire jump and our first trifecta was complete!