I’m always looking for a new challenge and when I heard about the Spartan Race series, I knew I had to experience it.
So at the crack of dawn, in early December, I headed to Malibu for my first Spartan Race! I had signed up for the Spartan Sprint — an obstacle course race that covers about 3 miles. I am 1000% not a morning person and when I learned that I had to be at the race an hour and a half before my wave start (aka 6:30 a.m.), I was not thrilled. Especially since I voluntarily chose an 8 a.m. start time so that I could run the race with my friend Michele. THANKS MICHELE! Thankfully, my mom agreed to drive with me, keep me company, and serve as the world’s best photographer. I love her so much! We were up at 5:30 and in the car by 6, on our way to Calabasas (where we would park before being bussed to the race site).
We arrived at the designated lot right on time and met up with Michele and her boyfriend, Colin. He decided to join us on race-day. Luckily, there was still room to sign up. It was cold and foggy as we made our way to the busses.
The ride to the race took about 20 minutes and I spent my time munching on an apple, questioning Michele’s decision to sign up for the earliest wave, and taking pictures of the beautiful scenery.
We arrived at the race site and headed to packet pickup and registration. The Spartan Race was incredibly well organized. I was needlessly worried about how long it would take get our packets and prepare for the race, etc, but everything went perfectly. We made it to the expo with plenty of time to spare before our race.
We walked around a bit and took some pictures. The three of us had no idea what to expect. I had begun to read up on the possible obstacles the night before the race. But then I began to panic and so I immediately stopped ready. I slightly (ok kind of intensely) began to panic and immediately stopped. Ignorance, I decided, is bliss! I did know the race was around 3 miles long and that some obstacles could involve water. Wonderful. As our start time neared, we tried, without success, to calm each other.
We clearly took a ton of pictures…
At 8 a.m., race officials announced our wave could proceed to the start.
And reality set it immediately because before we could even GET TO THE START LINE, we had to climb over a wall. Colin popped over the wall like it was nobody’s business (thanks for the help, bro). I managed to pull myself up over the wall with my arms, bruising a boob in the process. (#OUCH) And some awesome guy allowed Michele to use his hand as a step to help get her up and over.
Once we were at the start, we chatted for a few minutes with some other people in our wave. We quickly realized that this race was all about camaraderie and being a team. Suddenly, the gun blared and we began our first first Spartan Race!
The beginning portion wasn’t bad. The weather was perfect (about 55 degrees) and running on a trail felt really good on my knees. But almost immediately the course went uphill. At the time, it seemed like a fairly steep grade (and pretty damn muddy), but later in the race, we would realize that ascent wasn’t a hill at all (ignorance was truly bliss, at this point).
We jogged along, alternating with walking breaks when the uphill got steeper. When we stopped to walk the first time, I was disappointed because I HATE walking during races. But, as the hills got steeper, I realized this was not a NORMAL RACE. Yes, I probably could have run most of it. But we sort of just followed the lead of everyone around us, running the downhills and walking/jogging the uphills. It’s probably smart that we did that, though, because the course got WAY HARDER. Michele was shocked by the mud and about 3 minutes into the race yelled out, “OH MY GOD is this poop?!” Everyone around us burst out laughing! Her commentary provided some great comic relief!
During the first mile, we focused on finding a rhythm. We planned on running the entire race together, so we all made sure that we weren’t running too fast on the downhills or pushing the pace intensely on the uphills. A bit before the 1-mile mark, we hit our first obstacle — a sandbag squat and press. To be honest, it was underwhelming. We only had to perform 10 reps before we were on our way.
At this point, the fog had cleared, the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day. As we climbed higher, the views were stunning. But the course got progressively harder and even briskly walking the hills became more and more difficult. We were shocked there was so much uphill! It was a fun challenge though, and we stopped, in unison, to take the occasional break because TEAMS STICK TOGETHER. What was really bizarre about the race was that many times (especially during the first half of the race) it seemed like we were the only people on the course. I’d like to thank Michele and her early start time for that privilege.
We climbed and descended, climbed and descended, for what seemed like forever. We were literally crawling through bushes and using our hands to descend down across steep rocks. My knee hurt a bit during the downhill, but nothing to force me to stop. But it was obvious that if we weren’t careful, it would be easy to hurt ourselves (twist an ankle, etc). However, the off roading was SWEET and kind of made me feel like I was in the Hunger Games or something!
The second obstacle was a sandbag carry. By this point in the race (a little over a mile), our legs (calves and quads especially) were feeling it. Females carried a lighter sandbag than the men, but it still felt pretty damn heavy to me. Michele and I took our time and Colin sped ahead of us.
After we dropped the sandbags off, the course got real muddy. To the point where even if I wanted to run, I couldn’t. My feet were sinking 6 or 7 inches with each step. We sloshed through the mud, climbing over tree branches and rocks. At one point, I lost balance and fell flat on my ass into the mud tundra. We both burst out laughing as we made our way forward on the course. There were the occasional super-athletes who sped through and we politely moved to the side to let them pass. By the time we made it out of this insane portion of the race, we were COVERED in mud. We met up with Colin and continued on.
Then we encountered our first barbed-wire obstacle. Basically, we had to climb down a hill and then back up, all under the barbed-wire. it wasn’t too challenging and soon we were back running again.
We slowed our pace a bit at this point because our shoes were so muddy that we had no traction (THAT’S WHAT WE GET FOR NOT WEARING TRAIL SHOES LOL). We were having an absolute blast, though, as we jumped over some hurdles and passed a volunteer who told us we were halfway through the race. We hadn’t experienced many obstacles during the first half of the race, and we told each other were disappointed. Turns out the second half of the course was brimming with obstacles. We would not be complaining by the end of the race.
It’s tough to remember specific details of the course, but I do know that shortly after the we hit the halfway mark, we experienced our first uphill rope climb. Basically, you use a rope to climb up an incredibly steep portion of a hill. Colin went first and helped pull us up once we reached the top. But let me say this: scaling a mountain makes you feel BAD-FREAKIN-ASS.
At this point, we reached the first obstacle that Michele and I (for lack of a better word) failed. It was a sandbag-pulley-type-thing. To explain it as simply as possibly, you use a rope attached to a pulley to pull a sandbag to the top of a platform (about 30 feet high). I’m pretty sure that if I understood the technique, I could have done it. But I basically gave the rope one pull and opted for the 30 burpees that you are required to perform if you can’t complete an obstacle. Michele and I broke the burpees up into sets of 10 so we wouldn’t tire ourselves out for the rest of the race (since at this point we realized the obstacles were starting to get hardcore and we weren’t sure how many more burpees we would have to do).
We continued running a bit more before we hit another uphill rope climb, which made us (well, me at least) feel like a beast. At the top of the hill there was a triangular structure that we had to climb up. The Spartan website refers to it as the “Big Cargo Net.” It was pretty easy and reminded me of those McDonald’s playpens. Michele and I stopped to take a picture at the top.
Post-Big Cargo Net, there was more steep climbing (at this point we were walking up most of the steep hills), precarious descending, and rope-mountain-scaling. Soon, we hit our next major obstacle…monkey bars. I took one look and ALMOST decided to not even make an attempt. My arms were exhausted and my hands were sweaty. I was convinced that I was destined for 30 more burpees. Colin went first and flew along the monkey bars with ease. Next, it was my turn. I dried my hands as best I could and stepped up onto the platform. I was super nervous. The bars were spaced far apart (#LittleArms) and I realized that they weren’t all on the same level (some were higher than others). But I knew I had to try.
I grabbed onto the first bar and began making my way across. Everyone was SO SUPPORTIVE. I think people realized that I was nervous and before I knew it, I had a whole group of people cheering me on!
I took my time, so as not to lose my grip. I also used my momentum on the bars that were spaced far apart.
Breathe and focus, Dempsey. You got this.
I listened to the crowd of Spartans cheering me on and took it one bar at a time.
I swung myself onto the last bar, planted my feet on the platform, and threw my hands in the air. Colin, Michele, the other Spartan Racers, the volunteers, and even the photographer cheered and congratulated me. I was on top of the world. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could complete that obstacle. Talk about an endorphin high.
Next, it was Michele’s turn and I made sure to give her the same support she gave me. She’s taller than me and took a totally different approach to the monkey bars — go as fast as possible. At one point, she lost her grip, but was able to recover and made it to the end! Then, we were back on our way!
There was a lot less running on this part of the course. And a lot more obstacles. The first one we hit was a spear throw. Basically, you had to throw a spear about 15 feet and stick it in a target on a haystack. When we reached it, we saw a sea of people doing burpees. GREAT SIGN. We each tried and we each failed. We each did 30 burpees. This put Michele and I at a total of 60 burpees… our arms were starting to feel it.
Then we proceeded to a downhill climb under some rubber ropes (similar to the earlier barbed wire climb) that made my legs feel like they were going to fall off. I opted to shuffle sideways down the hill, but my quads were shaking at this point… thanks for pointing that out Michele.
We ran a little more and as we approached the next obstacle, we looked to the right and saw my mom! There was a little cheering section with about 50 or so spectators and my mom was standing there waving and yelling our names. We smiled and waved before scaling this bad boy…
Less than 50 feet later, we hit a wall…literally. Colin got a running start and managed to use his momentum (and HEIGHT) to pull himself up over the wall (which was around 10 feet high). Michele and I just sort of stood there and stared, trying to figure out a way up and over. There were two little steps (that were insanely slippery) that we used to help us climb over, but it wasn’t easy. This was the scene of boob bruise number two.
Once I had made it to the other side of the wall, I heard my mom yelling at me. “Dem! Dem!!! Go REALLY slowly on the parallel bars!” I gave her a puzzled look and nodded my head. Parallel bars…that doesn’t sound so bad. 50 feet later, I encountered it. This obstacle is officially known as the Dip Walk and it is no joke: a series of bars that you had to climb across, legs dangling below you, using only your arms. Colin made his way across with ease (typical). A volunteer advised me to go in the middle land (the bars were slightly closer together…quite helpful for someone with a short wingspan). I watched a girl with a back similar to that of the hulk hop on the bars, take two “steps” with her arms, and proceed to fall to the ground. Hmm maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
My mom was right about taking my time. And I REALLY took my time. The volunteers kept telling me to use my hips to propel me forward, but I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I made very small movements with my arms, keeping them locked out, and only proceeding forward about 2-3 inches with each movement. Halfway through, there was a little platform that you could rest on, which I really needed considering my tricep had cramped on me. I took some time to stretch my arms as Michele made a valiant attempt at the parallel bars but quickly fell to the ground.
The second half of the parallel bars was mentally and physically grueling.
My right tricep had cramped up and my arms were shaking. But I had come so far, I SIMPLY COULDN’T FALL. I continued forward, slowly but surely.
Michele yelled at me to stay strong, and I focused my attention on the platform at the end. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. I took one of the final arms steps. And lost my balance. No!!! I somehow managed to throw my legs towards the platform and drag my body up. I had conquered the Dip Walk!
“Damn girl! That’s the coolest thing we’ve seen all day!” A volunteer gave me a high five. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty darn impressed with myself. I was centimeters away from another 30 burpees. Our group decided to split up Michele’s 30 burpees and we did 10 each before waving to my mom and continuing on our way.
Next up was a gnarly uphill barbed wire crawl (essentially climbing over a hundred yards up a very steep hill under some really sharp barbed wire…#GetAndSTAYLow). This was one of the few obstacles that favored short people (THANK GOD) and the climb really was not that difficult for me. I started off by rolling up the hill sideways. When it got steeper, I switched to an army crawl tactic. A lot of people (notably, tall, muscular dudes) were struggling during this portion. My only complaint was that the mountain smelled like poop and no one likes the smell of poop.
Once we reached the top, we began the final running portion (about a quarter mile), all downhill. Colin did NOT enjoy the barbed wire climb and his legs were cut from wearing shorts. Michele and I didn’t mind it at all.
We reached the bottom of the hill and realized we were super close to the finish line. Music was blasting, and there was tremendous crowd support.
The next obstacle was one of the most challenging. I will do my best to describe it. Basically, you waded into waist deep water before climbing over a wall that was slanted towards you. In other words, it was nearly impossible. Michele and I jumped in the water and stared up at the wall.
“Do you have any idea how to do this?” she asked.
“Nope. Do you?”
Oh, I forgot to mention that Colin had already made it over the wall and was on his way to the next obstacle. As I made my first attempt up the wall I got about halfway up, arms shaking and clinging to the top of the wall, before I realized that I simply wasn’t tall or strong enough to pull myself up. I carefully made my way back down into the water. Michele took a much riskier approach. She tried to throw her body to the top of the wall, lost her balance, and plunged into the water below. Once I realized that she hadn’t broken anything, I burst out laughing. A volunteer to our left said we could skip the obstacle and opt for the burpees, but I wanted to give it another try. I climbed up closer to the middle of the wall and used a pillar that was holding the wall up to help me. This was by far the scariest obstacle that we had encountered so far. I knew if I lost my balance I would fall and it would hurt. I managed to use every last bit of strength that I had to throw my body to the top of the wall (BOOB BRUISE NUMBER 3) and carefully hopped to the ground on the other side, heart racing. Michele followed my path and also made it over! We were both stoked!!!
The next obstacle was only feet away and Colin was standing at the top of it waiting for us (WE COULD HAVE USED HIS HELP ON THE LAST ONE!). We used a rope to climb up a fairly steep wall and Colin helped pull us up to the top.
Whenever I see this picture, I think of the quote from Lilo & Stitch… “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
We climbed down the other side of the wall and soon we reached our final obstacle—The Rope Climb. I kind of just stood there for a few seconds wondering if I should even attempt it.
My arms and back were shot. But I decided to try. I hopped in the water and waded over to a rope. Hands tight, feet clasped, pull!!!!!! And nothing. I literally couldn’t move my body up the rope at all. I looked back at Michele who was staring at the obstacle and laughing hysterically at my feeble attempt. I waded out of the water.
“You have to wrap your foot!” my mom yelled from the sideline.
Cool, I have no idea what that means. At all. Michele and I jumped back in the water and tried again to no avail. What was 30 more burpees at this point anyway??
After our last set of burpees (which put me at 100 total), Michele, Colin, and I prepared for the finish. We only had about a 100 yard sprint to the finish line…which of course was broken up with a fire jump. Casual.
We waited a second to make sure my mom was in place with the camera (best mom ever) and then sprinted, leaped (not so gracefully) over the fire, sprinted the few final yards, and crossed the finish line, fists in air. We were SPARTANS!
We completed the usual post-race routine—receiving our medals, turning in our time chips, nomming on free food, and of course, taking pictures.
Overall Results: 1:23:24
21 out of 242 Age Group // 165 out of 700 Females // 1083 out of 5269 Overall
As I mentioned before, I really didn’t know what to expect going into the Spartan Race. It was challenging, painful (at times). But so much fun. I loved the camaraderie. It was much more interesting than your average 5k. Not going to lie, I felt pretty damn badass when I finished. I will definitely be signing up for more Spartan Races in the next year. I mean, they give you a free beer when you finish…