RACE REPORT: Spartan Beast, Sacramento – Max
Saturday morning 4.30am, I meet up with the Spartan Crew and drive out to the site. It’s cold, wet and windy. Not ideal racing conditions but as Joe D would say, “STFU”.
5.00 – 7.30am I help get the course and festival area ready to receive 4500+ racers. Before first light they’re already streaming in, unfazed by the relentless rain. Spartan tough.
8.00 – I am standing on the start-line of the elite wave next to Hobie Call, who seemed slight and timid when I met him at the hotel, but now, he’s bare chested and restless with predatory energy, waiting to be let loose on the beast.
Max – second from left with goofy grin
With little fanfare the MC counts down three, two, one, GO! I tear off, eager to get moving and get warm. Within a km we hit the first set of moats. I’m glad to be in the front pack as the edges crumble easily and soon the gap to jump will be 3m instead of 2.
I settle in to a good rhythm, ignoring the sleet that is now stinging my face and arms. A few grunts as the sleet becomes more intense, but no comments or funny remarks. Everyone is saving their energy.
Over-under-throughs come and go, and then the balance posts. The row of runners doing burpees looks ominous. I try to scrape as much of the clay mud off my inov-8 and step on to the first post. It is about 2 feet high, and smaller than the cookies they give out at the hotel. A big gust of windy sleet hits me as I take step #3. No chance. I drop off and join the line. 30 full push-up burpees. It’s going to be a long day.
The barren, rolling hills throw up obstacle after obstacle, ditches, barbed wire, boulder carry, tyre flip, concrete block drag, I find myself back at the festival area facing the first of 2 rope climbs. The rope is an eel, wet and slimy with mud. I get up to within 5mm of the bell, holding on as the wind swings me violently. I keep trying to reach it, I can feel it at the end of my fingers but I need another 2mm to make it ring. Won’t cut my nails next time. I keep trying but hanging takes its toll and I fall 6m straight into the water ditch below, hands stinging. I wade out, looking at the volunteer hopefully to see if she saw me ‘kind of’ touch the bell.
‘Thirty burpees please’ she says as I climb out of the ditch. Crap.
More, icy running, the brutally low barbed wire (too low to roll in most places) is stretched over rocky ground with little mud. My elbows and forearms are copping it, raw and bruised. Just keep moving, the cold is always there waiting to pounce as soon as you stop. By 15K, I pass a few racers walking and shivering, muddied and bloody. Some stop and sit, unable to continue, too cold or too tired, waiting for Spartan staff to rescue them. The pot holed, uneven terrain claims its victims. I see numerous racers hobbling on with sprained ankles.
There are 4 of us now running as a group. No doubt we are racing, every time the front guy slows someone else takes the lead, but when I slow to a walk on a steep section of hill the guy behind me barks and I run again. As we swap glances going up and back down the block drag or the sandbag carry, there are determined nods and the odd grin. I love this. We’re racing, but also working as a unit and pushing each other forward.
I try to pick up the pace in the last 4K, and hit a run of obstacles, the second rope climb (nailed it this time), another barbed wire crawl (nooo) and a zig zag balance beam. Thin as a tightrope, it looks long and unforgiving. I make it half way, then begin to loose it, I hurry hoping momentum will see me through. No chance. 30 burpees. I am past caring and just get on with it. The 19K marker looks sensational, but the high is short lived as I come around a hill and run into a set of 8 foot walls. I am the only racer here, so no helping hands. I manage a half sprint and jump. Hands hook the top, I get one forearm then the other onto the edge and take a moment to catch my breath. Then work my way up and flip over. The drop on the other side is far enough to give me time to worry about the landing. All good. The second wall is a struggle, no space for a run-up, I barely make it, but barely is enough.
The finish area appears as I crest the last hill, and it looks like the promised land. Not quite there yet though, as we run in we come up to the spear throw. One shot at it, the spear needs to stay stuck in the straw target. I should have taken my time, watched someone else throw, worked it out, but I grab a spear and throw. It’s not a bad effort but the trajectory is too flat, so the spear stabs the target, then clatters to the ground. A more curved throw, where the spear hits the target going down not straight has a much better chance of staying lodged. Next time.
Today, it means one last heart breaking set of burpees, with spectators cheering me on. I grab the rope and walk up the slippery wall (the x-talon 212’s sticky tread holding true). I sit on the top and take it in, the rain, the festival area, the fire below me. It looks truly medieval. Then through the smoke I lock on to a pair of eyes, looking straight at me. The gladiator area beyond the fire comes into view, and I see Ian, the Chicago ex-gang member man-mountain I hung out with at the hotel last night glaring at me, finger pointing accusingly. He is not smiling.
As I climb down and face him across the flames, he shouts to the other two monsters in the arena with him and they all put down their pugilist sticks and beckon me forward. A free pass for buying Ian a drink last night perhaps.
I jump the flames and charge them, screaming as I go. The first gladiator goes in for a takedown, but his chest is so big that before he gets his arms around me I bounce free, take another step and drop my shoulder before running straight into Ian. Now he’s grinning as he drives me back and shakes me off my feet. I give it all I’ve got and manage to spin him off balance, at which point he roars with laughter and lets me go to run through the finish arch.
The beast has been conquered! But she left her mark. I am cut and bruised but not completely broken. The festival area is a mud pit, but I don’t care. I make a beeline for the food vans and fill up on chicken, beans and rice.
I go back to talk to Ian at the gladiator arena, and the Spartan staff there ask me if I would do a stint to give the gladiators a break. It wasn’t what I had in mind for post-race recovery, but when they say I need to wear a pair of the awesome Spartan UFC style shorts, I get with the program.
I was in the arena as a gladiator for almost 3 hours. Lots of fun, but by the end I was destroyed. Some of the racers come over in groups of 8 or 9 and charge the gladiators. I take 1 huge hit to the ribs and I’m hoping it’s intercostal bruising and nothing more. Bloody sore to breathe, but it will heal. I would not change a thing. Getting in the arena as a gladiator rounded off an amazing day. I am at LAX about to get on a plane back to Sydney with a notepad full of ideas, observations and advice that will help ensure the Sydney and Melbourne Spartan races in March are the best Australia has ever seen.
Oh, and Ian (who believe it or not is an architect) has said he’ll be booking his holiday to Aus in March to ensure you will all get to meet him in the gladiator arena! Aroo!