Hills, Hills and More Hills: What the South Carolina Spartan Beast Taught Me

It’s Saturday morning, 6:00 am. My alarm clock rings and I reluctantly get out of bed. Having just arrived at the Hampton Inn in South Carolina at almost 11:00 the previous night, I wasn’t really looking forward to an early morning start Saturday. I was equal parts nervous and excited to run my first Spartan Beast at the Carolina Adventure World. After getting ready and grabbing breakfast from the hotel, we got in the car to begin the half hour drive to the race site. We were behind schedule, or at least behind where I wanted to be, so my boyfriend dropped me off closer to the start area and parked the car to make sure I was able to join my team at the start line. Right before I jumped in the first corral, I ran into a fellow MudRunFun member, Rich, and handed him my jacket while he helped me get my headband and timing chip on.

Upon arriving at the start line at 9:10 (my wave was at 9:30), I was immediately greeted by shouts of “Montana!” and “MudRunFuuuunnn!” by a group of about 10 other members of my team who were joining this wave. Before jumping into the corral, one of the volunteers tried to tell a member of my team she would be disqualified because she was running in a start wave different than the one printed on her wristband. But this was our team, and this was our wave. She went in anyway.

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It seemed like no time at all before the start line speech and the countdown when we were sent off on what would be almost an 18 mile adventure through the woods. I had decided early on to utilize the run/walk strategy I had been training with; in hindsight this was a good move as it kept me feeling pretty good until about mile 10 of the race. The terrain was pretty cool to start with- lots of woods and hills- serious hills- throughout the South Carolina countryside. Someone had told me the South Carolina Spartan was flat but it definitely wasn’t. However, I remained strong throughout most of the first half of the race.

The first few obstacles were smaller walls and hurdles, followed by the sandbag carrie(s), two for those running the Beast and one for those running the Sprint. The first major obstacle I came to was the monkey bars around mile 3. I’m happy to report that I was able to crush those bars! Previously these have been an issue for me due to the space between the bars (without swinging for momentum, I couldn’t reach from bar to bar, making this one of the hardest sets of monkey bars I’ve completed), but I was able to continuously swing myself from bar to bar this time. I celebrated my victory briefly before moving on to an almost 10 mile trek through the woods.

The wooded part was the longest and hardest part of the course. There were miles and miles of hills (literally) and the obstacles were few and far between. We encountered the atlas carry (a giant concrete ball weighing about 75 lbs for women that we have to pick up, carry a few yards, drop and do 5 burpees, and then carry back to the start area), a couple low crawls (those killed my knees with all the rocks), the second sandbag carry, a cargo net cliff climb (one of my favorite obstacles), more heavy carries and finally the Tyrolean Traverse (a long rope suspended, usually over water, but this time between two wooden posts, that requires you to traverse using only legs and arms hanging upside down). The traverse is where I met my first set of 30 burpees. It’s much more challenging to traverse the rope when you’re not in water, helping take some of the weight off your legs and arms.

Soon after the traverse we finally came out of the woods and saw the A frame cargo net. Typically one of the more challenging obstacles to me due to my fear of heights, I was able to clear this one with fairly low difficulty levels before hitting the Z Walls.

About to hit the bell on the Z Walls
About to hit the bell on the Z Walls

After almost five hours on course at this point, seeing my boyfriend waiting for me was like a godsend. It really gave me the heart and strength to keep pushing when what I really wanted was a hot shower and a bed. I conquered the Z Walls and moved on to the 8′ wall, which I made it over with some assistance from random strangers on the course. I say random strangers because, for as much as I love obstacle racing, I believe Spartan has an “every man for himself” effect on racers. Very few people I met on this course offered assistance or encouragement to me unless I specifically asked them for it. Unlike other races I’ve done where people go out of their way to help and encourage other racers.

We hit the plate drag, which I needed help with due to the plate getting stuck on hilly mounds. Then came the multi-rig: I really tried this one, but couldn’t swing from the rings to the bar without dropping. My second failed obstacle resulting in 30 more burpees. In quick succession we came to the rolling barbed wire crawl, the inverted walls and the dunk wall.

Coming over the mounds of mud leading up to the Dunk Wall
Coming over the mounds of mud leading up to the Dunk Wall

Typically I enjoy doing the inverted walls, but these were slippery from all the wet, muddy racers and I fell the first time I attempted this obstacle. After getting some help from another racer on course, I was able to make it over the inverted wall and move on to the dunk wall. The dunk wall is another one of my favorite obstacles. It’s thoroughly disgusting dunking your head in all that muddy water, but so much fun at the same time!

Being helped over the inverted wall
Being helped over the inverted wall

Finally we were nearing the end of the course. We came to the rope climb, which I failed because I couldn’t grip the wet, muddy rope. Another 30 burpees. Then the spear throw- I pretty much knew that I was going to fail that one because I have horrible aim. By this time I caught up to some other people from MudRunFun and we all decided to skip our burpees because we were really wanting to be done with the race. So we moved on to the slip wall. I picked the area of the wall that looked least muddy and climbed up. After waiting for the others to get done with the wall, we all jumped the fire together and finished the race. I think that was the happiest moment of the entire course for me!

Rolling under the barbed wire
Rolling under the barbed wire
Last obstacle before the finish...the fire jump!
Last obstacle before the finish…the fire jump!

Going into the Carolina Spartan Beast, I seriously underestimated the course. My Garmin’s final data showed 18.11 miles (others said it was shorter, but that’s what my GPS showed) and over 2600 feet of elevation gain. For a Florida girl who isn’t used to hills, that was a lot of elevation. My race plan was to remain strong for as long as possible and then give it my all to the finish, which is exactly what I did. I didn’t really start slowing down until I was around mile 13 (according to my GPS- mile 10 according to Spartan’s mile markers). I feel like I did pretty well in that respect. Spartan’s slogan is “You’ll know at the finish line.” It’s very true- I do know that I AM a Spartan. I worked damn hard for that medal and the bragging rights that go along with it. I left all of my energy out on course and finished absolutely exhausted and close to tears, but I did it.

Finisher pic with my buddy's medal and my medal
Finisher pic with my buddy’s medal and my medal

Some important lessons were learned on that course. First of all, rely on no one but yourself. I know this sounds contradictory to my claims that obstacle races are team events and that everyone helps everyone else. But one thing I’ve learned from many Spartan races is that it creates an “every man for himself” attitude among racers. I’m not sure if it’s the competitive nature of Spartan race, but people seem to be in their own little world. Like I said before, I didn’t get any help from anyone else on course unless I asked, which is normally not the case. I know several people who just walked or ran right past people who were clearly struggling without a thought as to how that person was doing. It really speaks volumes about people when I see them do that. After experiencing several different Spartans, I really just feel like the events are NOT team focused at all. Honestly, this is why I prefer races like Tough Mudder and Savage. Unlike Spartan, at those events, people will stay at the top of walls for several minutes in the open waves and help others, even people they’ve never met before, conquer obstacles.

Secondly, I learned that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think! Yes, I know this is a Winne the Pooh quote. But doing extreme events like this make it absolutely true. At most of the Spartan races I’ve done, I’ve been alone. I haven’t had the majority of my team with me. It’s taken a lot of mental grit and inner strength to do things like face my fear of heights without anyone to encourage me, or get myself over obstacles without anyone to help me out. And it took extreme amounts of mental grit to keep going when I passed the longest I had ever run in a race or training period (13 miles) and really wanted to quit.

Finally I learned that you can do anything you put your mind to. Because you can. I did. I never would have imagined that I’d be running Spartan races- especially long distance ones out of state. But now that I have, I can’t imagine my life being any other way. And now I also kind of want to try this whole “race in 50 states” thing. Not that I want to do Spartan races in every state- I’ll probably mix some half marathons and other obstacles into the mix. But having raced in Georgia and South Carolina I’m realizing how beautiful racing out of state can be.

Side note: Spartan always takes really crappy pictures of me. If anyone from Spartan corporate reads this, for the love of all things obstacle racing please hire some decent photographers!! 

Linking up with the ladies of Wild Workout Wednesday!

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