Craig Wisner

Spartan Race, 12/12/10

I originally learned of this race through one of my students, Juan, a Navy SEAL recruit, who in in turn heard about it through some of his instructors.  The idea floated around that we should start a school team to compete; most that we invited shied away.  The final lineup became Juan, his father Luis (we all ran the 2009 LA Marathon together), another fit student, Colin, and myself.  I’m very proud of everyone’s effort, especially Colin, who despite his obvious fitness, was pretty psyched out as it was his first event and he’s not really a runner, doing mostly cross training/martial arts.  Turned out Colin led much of the race….

A great race it was…What started out looking like a “fun” 5k full of obstacles and silly looking challenges turned out to be one of the hardest races I’ve run in a long time.  I didn’t train specifically for it, just doing my usual running and climbing, figuring I’d just go out, take it easy, and get left in the dust by the kids I was running with.  But it turned out I’m not as old and tired as I thought, all of us finishing together, literally in order, without waiting for each other.  My finish time was a little over 44:58, placing me at 14th in my heat of 100 people.  Overall, I placed 150 out of nearly 1,400 entrants.  I was honestly shocked, given how many very fit looking folks were out there with us.  Colin was right in front of me at the finish, Juan right behind.  His father was a bit further back, around ~27th place in our heat.

At the start: Colin, our Spartan MC, myself, Juan.

At 10:30 we gathered in the starting corral, nervously waiting to get the go ahead.  After a countdown, the race was on.  Within 50 meters of leaving the start, we were sprayed with fire hoses; completely soaked, head to toe.  50 meters later, we’re  jumping one of the first “fun” obstacles, a wall of 3 foot flames in a trench.  WHile not hard, it was a nice psychological touch to begin the race.

Everything is going great for the next 100 meters…until we turn the corner onto the first climb…suddenly realizing it was all going to be uphill.  All of us assumed it was a fairly flat course.  There were some serious grades in this race.  Within 5 minutes 50% of the field is reduced to walking.  I was dizzy at only 10 minutes in, realizing that this was going to be far more than the “fun run” I thought it would be if I wanted to finish decently.  I’m no stranger to running hills…but not at 5k pace with obstacles.  Most of the running proved to be stacked up front;  steep climbing, followed by steep descents.  I lost Colin and Juan at this point, someone stepping on my shoe and pulling it completely off (but only costing me a second or two.  I was  not sure I’d see them again, resigning myself to being the last across the finish from our group.  SO I settled into as good a rhythm as I could.   However, as I suspected (and hoped)  might happen, I caught them a little while later; they had gone out too fast and slowed considerably on some climbs.  We stayed together for the remainder of the race, Colin maintaining a 50 meter lead until the very last obstacles.

At one point we were pretty much off trail, bushwhacking down a canyon, ducking limbs and jumping off ledges.  I saw a guy that pretty certainly rolled and broke his ankle here.  After about 25 minutes of running/hiking the hills, the obstacles started becoming more frequent; some of the first were ~4 foot walls that had to be hurdled.  This led to more climbing and scrambling, through terrain steep enough to require use of all four limbs.  I believe the first main obstacle was a balance section: a maze of 2x6s to negotiate.  If you failed, you had to do 25 squats.  I was set on not failing; right when you you finished the balance section you had to climb the steepest hill of the event…I did not care to do it after 25 squats.   More running now.

After the race: Luis, his son Juan, Myself, Colin

After descending on a fire road, we hit our first crawl, about 30 yards underneath a tarp tunnel that was about 2′ off the ground.  I resorted to hands and knees, scraping myself up pretty good.  Juan was just ahead of me going spider-style, low on all fours.  Colin had finished about 30 seconds ahead of us.  Juan’s dad was somewhere further behind now.

Now more obstacles were getting thrown in, I forget the exact order.  A cargo net climb (after a steep hill), followed by another  steep descent ending in an 8′ tall wall to be climbed.  The wall thwarted quite a few people; all of us were over in a single leap and mantle.   Descending further, we now were hitting the canyon bottom for our first swim.  I’d say it was about 50 meters, a freezing cold pond about 5-6′ deep, totally unexpected.  Out of breath from the cold, I waded the first part but ended up swimming freestyle through the rest.  I saw many people panic here; poor swimmers, caught off guard by the cold, some were franticly grabbing for their partners when hitting spots over their heads.

After a bit more running  was a 10-15 yard mud crawl under barbed wire.  Things were getting filthy now, I was completely covered in black, sticky, smelly pond-scum type mud.  Another crawl was ahead, this time through 1′ – 2′ deep muddy water and ropes, my knees trashed at this point.  50 yards beyond this was a climbing traverse of about 30′ on artificial holds- all covered in mud from previous racers.  I cruised it quickly, climbing experience coming to my aid, egged on by my students yelling “You’re a climber, you better not fall here!!!”.  Colin and Juan both fell.  I believe they had to do 25 pushups and 25 crunches to continue.  Up next was a sandy maze area; I got backed up behind a slow group here and lost good time.  It was composed of 6′ high piles of loose sand that had to be navigated- over, between, whatever was fastest, all within the confines of roped-off maze walls.


Colin and Juan, finished.Surpised I kept up with these lean youngn's!

And finally, the home stretch; a spear throw (I overshot the target and had to do 15 pushups here) and the inclined slippery wall with rope.  The wall was easy for all of us.  Leaning back, it was a simple hand over hand climb up a rope.  Poor technique, however,  thwarted person after person here, many slipping back to the bottom.  And now the finish, guarded by two Spartans with padded staffs trying to knock you down.  I hurdled the first, got hit,  and then shoved myself by the second.


Unfortunately, no photos during the event, but a few before and after shots I took.  Definitely worth it, a very fun race, far different from what I’m used to.  My heart rate was completely jacked up from start to finish, head spinning, out of breath.  I’m far more used to the pacing of distance races…settling in and hitting a groove.  No such thing here.  The organizers did a great job of throwing in just the right obstacles at vulnerable moments, keeping you continuously worried you’d be reduced to a crawl at any moment.

I think I’ll be looking into doing the Super Spartan at the end of February.  Same idea, ~9 mile course.  And then there’s the Death Race, the big brother of them all, something I’ve had my sights set on for some time.



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