July 8th. I was at the obstacle park in Bridgetowne, Pasig. It was only a quarter past 9 in the morning and already the sun was hot enough to cook eggs on a concrete pavement. Thank God I had slathered on some sunscreen.
My husband Dex and I had signed up for a Spartan community workout, exactly one week before the Spartan Stadion event, to give everyone a feel of what the actual race would be like. We were surrounded by several young, very fit-looking people, and I felt like I had been cast for that Netflix show, Physical 100, as one of the old underdogs.
The Spartan Stadion was to be only my second Obstacle Course Race (OCR) and my first in six years. I was excited to be back. A Preview of Things to Come
The workout started off with a sprint, and -- as expected – most people shot off at full speed, like horses who had been chomping at the bit and couldn’t wait to get out of the gate. A bunch of them collided with each other and tumbled to the ground. A quick check confirmed that Dex wasn’t one of them, so I kept going at my I-really-needed-a-warmup-jog-first-but-I-don’t-want-to-look-super-slow pace. Unless you’re aiming for a podium finish, there really is no point going at 100% from the starting line, because you really don’t want to burn out so early in the race, and everyone ends up waiting in line for their turn at the obstacles anyway. True enough, most of those who had sprinted like crazy at the beginning were just walking or jogging slowly by the 2nd round.
Heat training is something I didn’t really think about, but there is indeed a huge difference between training in an airconditioned gym and training in blistering heat. Dex and I had brought the hydration gear we intended to use for race day, and his Camelbak was leaking even before we left the car so he kept drinking from my bottles – one 12oz and one 6oz bottle – the only things that could fit in my Flipbelt. Barely enough for me, let alone two of us. Hay nako. On the bright side, there was time to fix the problem. THIS is why you need to road-test your gear.
You’re Never Alone in a Spartan Race
The Atlas carry is -- for me, at least – one of the toughest obstacles. It requires you to lift a heavy spherical stone and carry it 10 meters before setting it back down. For that day’s workout we were using a 65-lb stone, which was over 2/3 of my weight. Like the Herc Hoist – where you pull a rope to lift a weight up 24 feet in the air and then carefully lower it -- being petite was my disadvantage. But somehow, I was able to roll the stone onto my thigh and get a good grip on it with both hands, pushed with my legs to stand and started walking. When I reached the halfway mark, the girl who had just completed her round ahead of me shouted “Go, girl!” and somehow that helped me through the final steps. That was hard. I needed a moment to take a few deep breaths and get my heart rate down before heading off to the next obstacle.
A Spartan Stadion event involves running a 5 km course up, down, and around a stadium lined with 21 obstacles including climbing over all manner of walls, swinging on rings or monkey bars, climbing a 16-foot rope, and many other fun stuff. It’s never boring, but it isn’t easy. It requires endurance, strength, agility, technique, and quite a bit of courage.
There’s an elite category for the uber-competitive and an open category for those who just want to try it out or aren’t quite ready to go elite. In the open category, helping each other out is allowed, so you’ll see people assisting fellow racers up some hurdles or giving strangers an extra push up an inverted wall.
One of the things I like about OCR is how everyone is so supportive. I think it comes from knowing that we are all taking on something very challenging and difficult, so that every time someone successfully completes an obstacle, it’s something to celebrate, and when you struggle there’s always someone calling out a word of encouragement.
It had been raining hard in the days leading up to race day, and I realized that while we had trained for the heat, we hadn’t trained for rain. Haha. I thought a stadium-based race meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about mud, so I wore my regular training shoes instead of trail shoes. What a mistake.
The obstacles were all wet and slippery, and when I was one swing away from completing the rings, the marshal called out, “Isa na lang, ma’m!” and as my hand closed around the final ring it felt extra slippery and I almost let go. In my head, I was yelling, “NOOOO!!!! I will not fail now!” and was so relieved when I was able to tap the bell.
All things considered, Dex and I did well (though my definition of “doing well” in an OCR means finishing in one piece). I even placed 4th in my age group in the open category (and might have placed 3rd had we not stopped to take photos before crossing the finish line).
And yes, my spear fell short of the target (but my aim at least was good haha), and the mud-covered Atlas stone was so slippery I couldn’t lift it out of the mud that it had decided to burrow itself in, and even the monkey bars (which I was confident about) were so wet and slippery I could barely grip them at all. Lots of muddy burpees for me. By the time we were done, Typhoon Dodong was dumping rain on New Clark City, and we joined hundreds of drenched but happy Spartans, holding their hard-earned yellow medals high and yelling, “AROO! AROO! AROO!”
Is it worth it, to put yourself through what others would never dream of doing? Is it worth it, to put yourself at risk of injury? Is it worth it, knowing you may fail to return your formerly-white-but-now-very-brown socks to their original color? I know many people don’t get it, and that’s ok. I mean here I am, inching closer to 50…what do I get out of it aside from a bad case of DOMS?
When you’re running up and down the steps of the New Clark City stadium with a 40-pound sandbag on your shoulder, carrying a 19kg jug of water (two for the boys) through the mud, or clambering up an inverted wall slippery with lovely brown residue from all the racers who came before you, that’s when you really get to know yourself and what you’re capable of, when to push harder and when to slow down. Can you run up the stairs just a little faster? Do you need to take a moment and wait for your heart rate to settle? Are you able to shove aside the butterflies in your stomach and tackle an obstacle you’ve never tried before? When your arms feel like they’re about to fall off from the Jerry Can Carry, are you able to dig deep and keep on moving? It truly does test your limits.
That’s what I appreciate the most about OCR, even in my late 40s. It reminds me that I CAN. It brings me to the edge of what I think I can do and pushes me to go just a little bit further. It’s a wonderful feeling, and one I hope I can experience for years to come.