Within the first mile of this course, I had already come up with the title of my review. For obvious reasons.
Last weekend, Spartan Race hosted another Super/Sprint weekend just outside Littlefield, Arizona (though it was named the Las Vegas weekend, so it’s unofficially been dubbed “Vegazona”), and they threw everything at us. Thick sand, water, more sand, heat, and hills.
It was a rough one, even for many elite racers.
I had been warned about the sand, but even still I underestimated it. Thick, dune-like sand that covered the trail completely for the first several miles of the Super had everyone drained before we even reached the halfway mark.
I knew it was tough on everyone when, within the first mile, I could still see some of the top elite women up ahead, women that I typically lose sight of within the first half mile as they take off.
For the first few miles, we trudged along pretty much in single file, slowly running through the sand and trying to maintain a rhythm, which is exceedingly difficult when every step lands differently. Our only saving grace was a short river walk in mile 2, and the fact that we ran early, before the real heat of the day kicked in.
There weren’t many obstacles to break up the running in the first half either. Though the walls, Atlas, Olympus (which they made longer this time), and Herc Hoist were all fairly early on, most of the first half was just that endless, relentless sand. We would get moments of relief from patches of hard-packed earth, then right back to the sand.
The back of the course was the best part of the Super, in my opinion. Flat, somewhat sturdy ground, and a few solid obstacles like the multi-rig and the (first) barbed wire crawl.
That’s where the water came in again. My typical approach to the barbed wire crawl is to roll, but this first one was stretched over a big patch of shallow, cold water (which was welcome relief from the rising heat). I took the crouch and slide sideways approach, which actually worked out pretty well. I was able to get through it quickly without the dizziness that rolling brings, and I was up and trudging through the rest of the water.
That lovely flat, sturdy back half didn’t last long. As we headed back towards the festival area, we headed up into the hills. They weren’t incredibly long, but they were certainly steep. We were taken up and down the hills, only broken up by obstacles like Z-Wall, the sandbag carry, and Bender.
Then there was the last mile and a half.
In most races, when I can see the festival area, I’m filled with hope, because the end is literally in sight.
With this one, as you descended the ridge (then back up a hill, low crawl, back down), you still had well over a mile to go, and that mile was loaded with obstacles.
Another barbed wire crawl, split into two back-to-back sections, rolling mud, dunk wall, slip wall, inverted wall, bucket brigade, spear throw, A-frame, the “water tube” flip (160lb. and 90 lb. tubes in lieu of tires), rope climb, sled drag, Twister, monkey bars, fire jump, and finally the finish.
Now normally, I would love that set-up. I’m one of those people that prefer more obstacles and less running. However, after the grueling first half, then the hills in the second, combined with the blazing Arizona sun, I was beat. I felt run down. One by one, I tackled each obstacle, thinking the end would never come (Twister was the only one I missed in that set, so I also had an additional 30 burpees on top of everything else).
I had met up with Jay at that point, and together we crossed the finish line, exhausted and beat. I turned to Jay, and told him that this was the first race in a while where I’ve felt this terrible afterwards.
I had drank plenty of water all week, but even still I was dehydrated, my back was screaming in pain, and I was sure I was covered in hundreds of bruises.
As I went to sleep that night, I thought there is no way I’m running that Sprint in the morning.
But sure enough, I dragged my ass out of bed at 5 in the morning, got dressed, and got ready to run again, already regretting it.
However, I was pleasantly surprised with the first half of the Sprint. Though there was still those first two miles of sand, much of it had been beaten down by the thousands of runners the day before, so there were many more spots of solid-ish ground to run out. I was sure to beat feet on those stretches, because I knew I would be slowing down on the hills to come.
The Sprint course cut out a giant chunk of that sand-running, and after the first two miles pointed us right towards the hills. As I descended towards the festival area, I remember thinking about how incredibly quick this race felt compared to yesterday.
But once I reached the bucket brigade, I was reminded how exhausted my body was. I finished the bucket brigade and trotted over to the spear throw, nervously realizing that my arms were aching with exhaustion. I had made the spear throw the last three races, and I was making such good time today, and I so didn’t want to miss it. But I didn’t give my arms a big enough break, and sure enough, I missed. My heart sank as that spear flew low and under the hay bale.
30 burpees. Onward through the rest of obstacle row. Missed Twister. 30 burpees. Then the monkey bars, the last one, the obstacle that’s become so easy to me in the past two months: fell on the very last bar.
That one hurt. I had to take a second to collect myself before I started my burpees. With every race, I feel like I’ve been getting stronger and faster, and missing that obstacle just made me feel like I had taken two steps back. I did my burpees with what little strength I had left, holding back tears of exhaustion and frustration. And I finished.
And I realized when I finished, that it was not defeat. First of all, I was only one minute slower than my Sprint time from last month’s burpee-free Arizona Sprint. Given the difficulty of this course and all those extra burpees, that showed me that I had gotten faster.
Second, I got up that morning, I ran it, and I finished it.
That alone is a victory. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve done 10, or 20, or even 50 Spartan races, and your goals change and get bigger and grander.
But it’s what drew me to the sport of obstacle racing in the first place.
The idea that no matter how tired or sore we are, no matter how much we want to give up, we keep going, and we finish. We push ourselves and realize that we’re capable of exceeding our own limitations, and to me, that feels like a pretty solid accomplishment.
Sure, there’s a lot I need to work on. I have a long way to go, and I have big goals I am 100% set on achieving this year. But I’m not going to get down on myself for having a less-than-stellar outing this weekend. I’m going to recognize what I did well, and focus on what I need work on so I can come back and conquer it next time.
–That SAND. Not as intense on Sunday, but boy was it an energy killer on Saturday. It’s definitely a great equalizer and provides a whole new level of challenge.
–That HEAT. Thankfully, I didn’t get the worst of it running the morning, but it took out a lot of runners in the afternoon. As I hung out in the festival area after I had finished, I must have counted at least 4 or 5 ambulance trips, and many sightings of the medical team bringing runners back to the tent. I haven’t seen something like that since Diablo Grande last summer, and it’s never a pleasant sight.
Everyone, PLEASE make sure you hydrate properly before, during, and after the race. If you think you’re dehydrated, stop and take a break at the water station. Bring a hydration pack. I say this with absolutely zero judgement, because this was a huge struggle of mine last summer, and I almost got medically DQ’d from a race for heat exhaustion.
Be safe. Your course time is nowhere near as important as your safety.
–Those obstacles! What I have now dubbed obstacle row was both wonderful, and terrible. Wonderful, in that I love doing obstacle after obstacle, but terrible in that I was totally drained by the time I made it there. Just have to work harder to have more energy next time, then I’ll totally love it.
–Running a race weekend like that after being sick for a week is probably not the smartest decision.
What were your takeaways? Let us know in the comments!
Saturday’s Super Elite Podium
Sunday’s Sprint Elite Podium
Thank you to Leanne Simons for hooking me up with the photos!