Saturday, Pre Race
I woke up Saturday morning a bit frustrated. It was still raining in New York City in small spurts through the night. On Friday, I got caught in a downpour after leaving the gym for my last Spartan training session. It didn't help that I was wearing the trail sneakers that I was supposed to wear for the Spartan Super. As many things happen in life, the show must go on. After canceling the second alarm, I decided to go about my pre race morning ritual. Three scrambled cheese eggs, two slices of buttered toast and tea. Light shower. Left all of my nerves and bowel movements in the toilet. Made two days worth of lunch and dinner for my family. Triple checked to make sure that I had everything needed, even with being packed up over two weeks ago. Shortly after, I darted out the door to the train station.
On the ride, I remember how nervous I was because of the weather conditions. I am no stranger to racing in the snow, rain or cold but to essentially do ambitious trail with over 20 obstacles in it made me exceptionally nervous. My fun time at the indoor rock climbing class didn't prepare me for a Spartan of this calibre, as I was going to be doing this at the Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ. From what I researched and remembered about the resort, the elevation is over 2700 ft, which makes a city slicker like me exceptionally nervous. Trekking up some unstable rocks can make you think twice when the only boulders you ever dodged were slow walking narcissists on 34th Street during rush hour when you're trying to commute and an occasional irrational drug addict yelling at you about the self-inflicted atrocities of his life.
Alas, I made it to NY Penn Station, transferred over the NJ Transit and scooted my way down the center car towards Newark Station. Fortunately, a dear friend and model friend of mine, Asha, picked me up from this point and she really eased my nerves for a little over a hour. Sometimes, pre race, you want to talk about anything BUT the race itself. I find that to be me more these days when it comes to higher distances because your nerves are already buried next to Jimmy Hoffa's dead body. After a few minutes of discussing the jitters, we talked about everything feminine under the sun. It felt good to just unwind a bit and have that girl talk before awaiting my murder for hours. Once we reached the resort, you can see an army of colorful ants scattering from one area to the next, some wearing finishing medals and others awaiting to go onto the course. Inside of my mind, I hated the finishers for a few minutes but the rational side of me was overwhelmed by excitement. Perhaps I am crazy but I was actually looking forward to the struggle, light bruises, being covered in a little bit of dirt and embracing the long journey ahead.
So It Begins...
Bib pickup was fairly easy. The Spartan races are very clear and to the point. Essentially, you fill out this waiver acknowledging that Big Brother can take pictures of you as you sacrifice your blood to the course, show a volunteer your identification and pick up your packet. Simple enough.
I placed my monitoring/timing chip tag on my right arm, glanced at my already parted 12:15 pm wave run into the sunset and told myself that I could use an extra 30 minutes before I go onto the course. I used the port a potty once more, checked in my backpack with another Spartan volunteer and huddled with the 12:45 wave. When you're awaiting your death, you can't help but acknowledge the rippling motion of nerves in the air. Some people are smiling, others who boast about their ideal times and some who are like me, taking selfies and doing videos before the announcer give us this fight to the death speech. I jumped over a five foot wall, started my Nike + app, Strava and Fitbit and less than a minute later, I was on the course.
What I learned from doing this course back in June with two of my friends is to avoid looking all the way up the hills. It's a depressing, torturous thing to do it at the very beginning. You'll find yourself asking why did you spend $79 on that Groupon to get bullshit energy drinks, a beer that you'll probably be too exhausted to finish, a banana and oh...this shiny medal that cannot talk to you. If you happened to pay full price for this dirty adventure, then you're probably driven to finish the course for the sake of being a cheapskate, as these events can run as much a few bucks over $200 a pop according to demand and time. The key is to preserve your intention on why you wanted to set foot on the course. Please bare in mind that your intention may not be the same as another and that is perfectly okay. Some folks go out there to improve their time; others are seeking a purpose. I happen to be a medal whore who loves adventure, epic stories of the journey and finding out something new about myself along the way. It takes a lot to acquire a certain type of physical strength but there's something empowering about putting my feet on the pavement or in the dirt. People can take a lot from me physically but there's this sense of pride that I get when I know I earned something. The course gives this and so much more. Doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be pretty on the journey.
Miles one wasn't so terrible. It was a nice introduction to the trail ahead of me. Around this point, I was still semi clean and the rain was very minor. I was happy to not see so much mud on the trails and thought to myself that perhaps it will not be so bad. Around this point, I only jumped over a post, maybe over one wall and got acclimated to the gradual elevation. The views on the trails are beautiful. Considering that I used a pair of all terrain New Balance Sneakers that I didn't wear for almost two years, I was really surprised on how well they treated me. A classic rule of thumb for many runners is to NEVER use new running/trail shoes. Although these weren't new, I trained in my black Fila sneakers and my Salomon's XR Shift Trail Running shoes for close to two months so I wasn't sure on what to expect through these sneakers.
As I continued to go on, the steep hills were starting to whip my ass as if I called out the government name of the leader of a gang. You never call out his real name in front of his enemy. Think about it: Crazy Killa might make you think twice but Leslie Jenkins from the suburbs doesn't exactly make you flinch. Now poor Leslie has to whip your ass twice as hard so you'll never say his name ever again. I found myself contemplating bashing my head on one of the broken branches out in the woods or continuing on somewhere close to mile 3. It wouldn't have been so hard if my viral and sinus infection was not being an asshole at times. I have been taking amoxicillin for over a week and this smart brown girl decided to take a swig of promethazine with codeine a hour BEFORE the race out of desperation to suppress the ghastly bronchitis cough that I have been harboring for a month.
By mile three, you start to get a feel of what the NJ Spartan Super at Mountain Creek was all about: Hills. It made the obstacles seems like the least of my worries. Please consider that I love the cargo net and anything that requires me to lift things up and put them down. 3.5 miles in, I quickly realized that I didn't give a shit about getting dirty if it meant that I would be injury free. It's very interesting to see different tactics while navigating the course. For me, I found that side shuffling on my left side wasn't terrible but doing it on my right side irritates my soul. It's probably because of my sciatica and herniated disc in my lower back. I took advantage of running on semi flat, dry patches or down hills whenever it was possible. Thanks to the on and off rain, my sneakers were filled with mud about a hour into the run.
As observant as I was, it took for me to get in a few miles on the course to see that there's more one way to skin a cat. NOTE: That is such a horrible expression but it's appropriate for the moment. I watched others find alternate routes that allows your feet to stay semi dry but you may encounter more branches, moving rocks and all things imaginable. It's all about your comfort level. Around these miles, I did the log carry uphill, which was kinda of a bitch at one point. I remember trying to catch my air a bit around this point because my nose started running. The fresh air helped clear me out a bit but the running made everything loose. Before reaching mile four, I had to relive a sadistic form of childhood by doing the monkey bars. I attempted to do them twice, almost making it across the second time but I lost grip. Unfortunately, I forgot my gloves in my backpack at check in and experienced some burning after it. Touching mud actually relieved the pain a bit but I kept up my pace. The barbed wire crawl was approximately a quarter mile and that's when everything that was clean became obliterated. I chose to do a military crawl, as I did not master the rolling technique and alternated by crawling slightly bent more onto my right side. My dreadlocks were filled with dirt on one side and at times, would get tangled in the barb wire. There were some really nice people on the course who offered to lift up wires for each other or untangle you from being caught in an orchestrated hell. Once I pushed through, I had another short log carry around an orange post with two larger logs with chain attached this go round.
Mile 5 and 6 threw me in for a bit of a loop as I saw a section where I had to cross the water. Many may not be aware of my fear of swimming but please note this day and time that you have been warned. Yet again, I contemplated getting a DNF (did not finish) for water that came up to my waist. A man wearing neon pink attire befriended me on the route and told me that I couldn't quit because my shirt kicked all sorts of ass and kept him motivated. At that moment, I reminded me of what I love about the human spirit and the Spartan races. I love the notion that I could bond with a complete stranger, learn a little bit about their life and for a few moments, I could exchange experiences while going through the course. I latched my hands onto his shoulders and he warned me when the water would take me in deeper. Despite how cold the water is when you get in, it's really not that terrible once you get past the shock. You just have to keep moving.
Along the route, I didn't feel bothered much that I decided to do the Saturday Spartan race alone, as I had a decent balance of quiet time to either take in the views or listen to my inner demons and motivations and a healthy blend of getting to know strangers on the course. The course taught me that I tend to gravitate towards people with a military background. Although I knew a portion of this quality of myself, I take into consideration that I am too defiant to be enlisted in the services. The notion that someone could drop kick my ass into submission for not doing 20 pushups would kill all parts of my joy. I just admire the work that so many who sacrifice their lives to protects others daily. I learned about the complexities of the Ultra Beast and benefits of fueling even when you don't desire. I listened to nightmare filled stories about doing races in places like Killington, VT or Palmerton, PA where the hills seems to never end. It beautiful to watch a person fully blossom while reflecting on the experience, whether they completed the course or not. Such things were healthy reminders of why I love this sport.
Mile 7 and 8 were a lot more forgiving at certain areas, specifically for the down hills and flats, a decent blend of obstacles strategically placed on the map and an ability to catch your second wind. Around this point, I did a sandbag carry, which was heavier than usual thanks to the rain adding on additional weight. I chose to balance mine on my head to give my hands and arms a bit of a rest. Some folks looked at me rather oddly but this technique has worked for me since day one. By this point, approximately every third of a mile, there was another obstacle. I encountered another section with barbed wire that included climbing up an inverted rope wall and coming down the other side of a straight wall with steps. The Atlas Carry, which is essentially a boulder carry, was one of my favorite areas even with the five mandatory burpees. Along the course, you lift up what seems like the weight of a two year old in a duffel bag and bring it to the top, which is also tied by rope.
Soreness kicked in severely around this point because my body was accepting that I was pulling in yet another race that my doctor would be against practicing. My sciatica greeted me several times on the course but it started getting bad around mile 8. Thankfully, by this point, the hills practically go on strike and it was completely down hill from there. I picked up my pace, breathed in two and out for two and dashed in safe areas to get me to the finish line.
When I saw mile nine, my eyes welled up with light tears. It is finally going to be over. Unfortunately, I thought it was going to be over at 9.1 miles but I was sadly mistaken. Spartan specializes in not telling you the exact miles of the course. You just kinda find out along the way. I could hear and see the finish line festival. My heart raced with anticipation and as I glanced over the to the right, I realized that these bastards crammed FIVE more obstacles onto the end of the course.
The bucket carry tends to be one of my favorite obstacles but with it being so close to the end, I wanted slit its plastic throat and ask who wants next. I carried the bucket filled slightly above half with rocks, chugged it up the hill and ran over a few feet to the next obstacle. There was another set of monkey bars. Fuck. I knew it wasn't happening this time and I will shamelessly admit that I did not do a single burpee in this area. I looked at the muddy rope, looked down at my shirt and followed the instructions: "How About No". I adhered unapologetically, marched over to dunk wall and chuckled exceptionally hard as I walked around it. It took every ounce in me to jump over the fire logs. I looked at the aerated Finish Line balloon and smiled lightly.
"I'M DONE. I DID THAT."
Latoya Shauntay Snell
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