After months of training, it all culminates on this one day – race day. Team Jungle Babes lost a few members to injury during training and other things, but we made it in the end. We were registered for the elite category – why elite? Because we didn’t want to race in the sun. Turns out it was a good move because that sun was a killer towards the end. Best of all, we weren’t even the last to finish in the elite category!
We had a few “what have I gotten myself into” moments when we saw the completely ripped elite racers standing around us. Every one of them looked like they could have single-handedly taken down Mount Olympus and here we were standing among them. What were we thinking? Oh yeah, the heat.
Still looking fresh as daisies before the race:
In the Spartan Sprint, there are 20-23 obstacles and 8km of running. Until the day of the race, we won’t know what obstacles lie ahead of us, but we can guess. They are usually a combination of any of these:
And here’s what we got on race day (or as much of it as I can remember in my delirium – the order of obstacles may or may not be correct). The running trail was also riddled with killer inclines to rival the “heart attack slope” at Bukit Gasing. If their plan was to kill us before we got to each obstacle, well, they succeeded with me.
- Over and Under
- Over, Under, Through
- The Wall – this was not the 8 foot wall, but it was a wall to get over.
- Bucket Brigade
- Rope Climb
- Sandbag Carry
- A-Framed Cargo Net
- Sled Pull – which was the equivalent of the Tyre Drag but with a sled instead.
- Inverted Wall
- Herculean Hoist
- Rolling Mud
- Spear Throw
- Another Wall
- Monkey Bars
- Barbed Wire Crawl
- Another Wall
- Dunk Wall
- Swim Out
- Slippery Wall
There were also a few natural features in there that were quite fun, like hiking along the stream, river crossing, and wading upstream over a rocky bottom you can’t see.
Okay, now on to the blow by blow…
The first three obstacles were easy, so I won’t talk about them. The Bucket Brigade was even okay. I could power on to the end without stopping. Although I do wonder if I should have been wise to rest like the others so I didn’t blow my arms for the rope climb.
The Rope Climb
Now that was just nasty – putting the Rope Climb right after the Bucket Brigade has tanked our arms. I can barely do the rope climb when I’m fresh, so I guess it was no surprise that I couldn’t get up any higher than a meter off the ground.
The whole purpose of doing this race was to challenge myself and see if I could complete as many of the obstacles as possible. Admittedly, I might have saved race time if I had just gone straight to the burpees. But then, that would have defeated the purpose of doing this race in the first place. I went in there with the sole intention of finishing obstacles. Race timing never ever factored.
I do feel that the rope climb is something I could do with enough training. I am a muscle memory person. I need to have the movements nailed down, not just an idea of what might work. I knew I could climb it if I was fresh enough, but therein lies the whole challenge of Spartan – completing the obstacles when you’re tired.
A friend once said this of the Triathlon – it’s one thing to be able to swim, run and bike, but another thing completely when you have to do them all together. Likewise, it’s not enough to be able to do the obstacles when you’re fresh, but to do them one after another with other fatiguing activities in between.
This was okay until we hit that evil slope at the end, but I made it. Nothing really to add except that I clearly need to work on endurance and slopes.
A-Framed Cargo Net
The trick to this is to descend facing forwards. It’s definitely easier than turning backwards and coming down like a ladder. You can slide your behind on the vertical strap which is obviously more energy conserving.
We had to sit on the ground and pull the sled towards us using a rope. That was easy. Then we had to drag it back out for the next person.
I was quite pleased with my efforts on this. The training at the Playground really paid off and suddenly I could see the purpose of those horizontal pull ups.
Admittedly, there was a moment when I wasn’t sure I could make it over. I had my arms over the top but was struggling to swing my leg over the side so I had to edge my body up until it was enough to get my left leg over.
This would have to be the obstacle I was most disappointed with. I completely forgot all my trainer’s advice and tried all sorts of nonsense methods to hoist the bag. None of them worked. In the end I had to submit to 30 burpees.
It was disappointing because I should have been able to make it. Of all the obstacles that my head keeps running back to, it is this one. I keep thinking of what I should have done and how I might have made it if only I had done that.
I never actually researched this one, but it was just a series of small hills separated by trenches of muddy water. You had to climb up and down the hills and wade through the muddy water to get to the next hill. There were three mud trenches in total. Nothing difficult, but the fatigue really gets you here.
This was the one I did the most research on. I watched videos and even got pointers and and a chance to practice at the Playground. My trouble was always distance and accuracy. If I could get the distance, my accuracy would be out. If I was accurate, it wasn’t far enough.
On the actual race day, I forgot to do the running start. That might have helped me get more distance with the spear. Unfortunately, you don’t always remember everything when the pressure is on.
There were three walls scattered through the course. The first one was easy, but by the end, I was struggling from fatigue. I made it over all three in the end, but only the first one was legit.
I would really like to try this again. After the Herculean Hoist, this is the second most thought about obstacle in my head. I knew from the moment I saw the pictures of it that the biggest issue I would have is foot grip. Trail running shoes are not made to give you grip on an inclined wall like this.
This was another obstacle I think I could have nailed with more training. The hand holds and holes are all usable and they’re juggy holds as far as rock climbing holds go. I keep wondering if I had brought my feet up higher for a more 90 degree contact, would that have helped? I can’t tell.
The other thing I wondered was whether I would have been allowed to use rock climbing shoes. My pack was empty and rock climbing shoes are fairly light. I could have brought them and changed my shoes just for this obstacle. I’m pretty sure I saw nothing in the rule book that disqualifies this action. Something to think about for next time perhaps?
So I have been training on the monkey bars at the park and doing quite alright. The Spartan Monkey Bars, however, are no “playground monkey bars”. They are nasty, nasty monkey bars!
Firstly, the bars are fat – I can’t even touch my thumb to my fingers when I wrap my hands around them. One of the tricks you can use to strengthen your grip on the bars is to press your thumb over your fingers. That’s virtually impossible with these bars unless you have Hagrid’s hands.
Secondly, the bars are really far apart – like, the space of every alternate bar on a regular playground monkey bar.
Thirdly, the bars are at an uneven height. Not only do you have to reach farther, you have to reach up for the next bar, then down, then up, then down, and so on for the first half of it.
Finally, they have this spinning bar somewhere in the middle of the monkey bars that you have to cross. The rise from the bottom of that bar requires you to do some killer one arm pull up to get back onto the main monkey bar.
So yeah… I don’t think too much about this. There was never any chance of me completing it. Not even in a long shot. I might die before I ever get strong enough to do this.
Barbed Wire Crawl
Rolling is the way to go. It is a heck of a lot easier than front crawl or back crawl. The only problem is that I had to stop from time to time because I was getting dizzy. The sun shining in my face didn’t help but even when I closed my eyes, I could feel the earth swinging wildly around me.
When DH saw this, he said, “Yep. I’m never doing this.” We had to get into a very dirty river and dunk our heads under the wall. All I could think about was – “don’t get any water into your mouth!”
You can see the dunk wall in the background of the “Swim Out” photo below.
This was actually quite relaxing. They give you life jackets which you can wear if you want to. It was probably the nicest obstacle of the lot because the water was refreshingly cool after the heat and it was nice not to have to hold my body weight for a while.
If you’re wondering what’s up with that face, it’s my “I’m trying not to get any water in my mouth” face. I’m also really grateful for the warning at the end when I was getting out. It seems that a few people hit their shins on the steps that were hidden under the murky water.
The multi-rig obstacle was always going to be touch and go because I could only ever get to the second ring. And that was when I practiced until I developed a blood blister on my right palm. I was hoping to at least do that much at the race, but then they have to throw in this ridiculous horizontal bar before the first ring?
See that expression on my face? It’s my “WTF?” face.
Once you get on the bar, you have to move to the other end and swing it so you can reach the first ring. By this time, I had no grip left in my hands. I fell right off when I tried to get onto the bar. My gloves were soaked through and they did not provide me any assistance at all. I definitely need to re-think the glove strategy if I do this again.
This wasn’t too bad. I had initial doubts as to whether I would make it after failing the Olympian. Then at the top when I slipped, I got a bit worried as well. It was only when I got my left leg over that I knew I was home free.
The Fire Jump
Finally, after 3 hours and 26 minutes, Team Jungle Babes crossed the finish line together.
Hmmm… Maybe we would have timed in faster if we hadn’t hung around to take photos just before crossing the finish line:
I want to thank my team mate without whom it would have been that much harder to get over that finish line.
And also my supportive DH, who waited for me under the sun for over two hours.
Last but not least, that shiny piece of metal that made it all worth it. And the RM200 t-shirt we would have had to buy if we didn’t complete the race. That was definitely an incentive to power on when all I wanted to do was lie down and die.
For Future Reference
I have to admit that when I was racing, I had strong reservations against ever doing Spartan again. I mean, who in their right mind could think about repeating all that? Every time I put my chest down to the ground for a burpee, I wanted to close my eyes and never get up.
Now that it’s all over and I can think about it, there is a part of me that wants to try to do better the next time around. Should that part of me prevail, then these are the notes I would like to take forward with regards to training and preparation:
- Definitely more endurance required. There were a lot of familiar hiking slopes that I could always power through when we’re hiking. During the race, it was all I could do to keep moving and not throw up.
- Cross-training. I think my weakness is doing different activities that push different parts of my body at the same time. Like I said, you can run, swim and bike, but can you do them all together? Same goes here – carry that bucket then climb that rope. Saying you’re too tired to climb the rope because you carried that bucket is not an acceptable excuse.
- Slopes! Definitely more training on slopes. I should have done more speed training on the Bukit Gasing “heart attack slope”.
- Obstacle training – this is probably the hardest to fulfill. If possible, practice each obstacle in an environment that is as close as possible to race day. For instance, practice climbing a rope that is the height of the race day obstacle. Practicing on a rope that is only a couple of meters isn’t enough. Also practicing in race day gear.
- Hand strength – I definitely need to work on that grip.
- Burpees – I should target being able to complete 150 burpees at a time and expect to do as many as on race day. I didn’t do nearly enough burpee training.
- Regular training activities – I would add in more hiking, rock climbing, hill runs, and weight training. I would also throw in some trail runs because the ground was often rocky and uneven. That’s a sprain waiting to happen if you’re not agile on your feet.
Equipment and Gear
- Hydration pack – Initially, I wondered if I had gone overboard when I noticed only three of us carrying water at the starting point. Now, all I can say is that I don’t know how the rest made it without it. I took 1L and it was not enough. I even tried to conserve, drinking at the water stations and I still ran out before the end.
- Energy gels – I brought two with me and took them towards then end of every hour. If I ever go again, I will bring four and take them at the end of every half hour. This race felt tougher than the marathon and I brought way more gels for that.
- Gloves – I deliberated over these right up until the last minute. In the end, I picked the water sports gloves. Regrettably, they didn’t work out at all. Would any of the other gloves have worked any better? I don’t know. I will have to consider a different strategy for next time.
- Clothes – definitely a lighter colour because black really soaked up the heat.