This weekend, I was a spectator at a race for the first time. And it was no ordinary race — it was a Spartan Race, and a Beast at that.
If you’ve never heard of a Spartan Race, first I have to ask how that’s possible. But basically, a Spartan Race is a dirty, muddy, wet, nasty obstacle course. Runners get no course map ahead of time, no heads up about the types of obstacles they’ll face. Heck, they don’t even know how long their particular course is going to be — they just know whether they signed up for 3+ miles (a Spartan Sprint), 8+ miles (a Super Spartan) or 13+ miles (a Spartan Beast). They added an Ultra Beast this year, which is a marathon with obstacles and is so tough you have to apply to enter. It all started with the Spartan Death Race, which was/is just… wow.
Runners can participate on their own or in teams. People in teams don’t have to stick together the entire race. But from what I can see, the attitude is simple: No dude or chick left behind.
As a spectator, I was happy to carry a change of clothes around, follow my Spartan For a Day around taking pictures and put in about 10 miles of walking on my own. The Sacramento Spartan Race group made a spectators course, which was awesome even though it was poorly marked and left us non-Spartans For a Day wandering around lost a lot. (Thus the 10 miles of walking.) We didn’t get muddy, but we got dusty and sunburned. And we made quick friends, wandering together on this farm in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, the idea of being a Spartan for a Day is a heady one. When I saw my Spartan climb over the wall to the starting line (yep, you have to climb a wall to be able to START this race), I couldn’t help but think of the famous quotes from 300, and in that moment I think I even said, “Spartan, come back with your shield. Or on it.” The emcee at the starting line quoted (and misquoted) 300 as well, and there were plenty of runners in costume — I saw Leonidas and Gorgo leave the starting gate with my Spartan.
I had a lot of time to think during the 5 hours from that starting line until my Spartan crossed the finish. First, I thought about the oddity of this event. This is a race based on a movie that was based on a comic book that was based on a movie that was based on a historical event. (Go ahead, think that one through.)
Then, I thought about what was making these people put themselves through this. And as I watched them trudge through mud, climb ropes and hills and all sorts of things, I realized — I wanted to join them.
Maybe it was the men and women in far worse shape than me, trudging their way under barbed wire through mud and over slippery walls. Maybe it was knowing I am capable now of the running part of the beast, which means I could keep up my running and train for something new. Maybe it was the primal nature of the thing — these people were risking real barbed wire, real mud, real water that was, in some cases, 6 feet deep and full of mud, even real fire.
Whatever it was, I knew I wanted it. Well, I wanted SOME of it. I didn’t want the beast, not yet. But I realized that I want to train for a sprint. I want to find out what it’s like to be a Spartan For a Day, not just a Spartan Spectator.