As I stated in an earlier post, I had high expectations for the Spartan Sprint. Not only did my parents make the 7.5 hour drive up with me, my wife and daughter shed their sparkle for Spartan Chick status.  Race day welcomed me after about 2 hours of sleep due to a snoring family and a 4-hour Hurricane Heat in the cold, most of which was after my normal bedtime. I ran in the first heat (competitive) of the day, so fortunately there wasn’t a lot of time to become anxious about it. I got in race line with a couple of new Spartan friends which helped ease my tension prior to the race. I usually race alone and am left to deal with all sorts of mind games that I play with myself. As soon as the race started I immediately went into “Racing Jeff” mode by shutting out everything around me except for the next few feet in front of me.

This was the first time I had entered the competitive heat, but based on my results from previous races, I wanted to race against the best and see what I was made of. Take note that I had no aspirations whatsoever of winning or coming even close. I’m 40 afterall, and excluding a 5K last September, I ran my first race in June this year. However, I did want to finish somewhere near the top even if it meant I had to outbattle runners 18 years younger than me. As with all of my races I learned something new with this one. I lined up too far back in the pack, even though it was the competitive heat. With approximately 75 people in front of me I was clock-blocked not far out of the gate. The terrain was muddy, slippery, uneven, and sometimes narrow meaning that I got stuck behind some slower runners for awhile. The first “surprise” of the day came at the first waterhole. I had been through that same pool the night before, but this time I was in the outside “lane” trying to pass some of the slower runners. I jumped in the muddy, ice cold mess expecting to hit bottom when the water was about at stomach level. Little did I know that it was deeper on the left side and I plunged in all the way up to my neck. Not only was breath zapped from my body, but I was almost stuck and had to claw my way out.   Oh yeah, it was about 48 degrees at that time, which added to the effect.  That was not the last mishap of the day.

From that point on, I’m very hazy as to the order of things, so if I get things out of order — my bad. I was in my little world tackling one footstep and obstacle at a time and paid no regard to anything else. The pack was soon running along the bottom of a ravine. It was the most technical part of the run and a little dangerous as the fallen fall foliage masked the stones, roots, logs, water holes, etc… The pack in front of me slowed down, but a smaller fairy-like Spartan Chick was a few yards in front making her path around the pokees. It was almost like she flitted from foothold to foothold. I quickly decided to follow in her path, although it was not with as much grace as her. We probably passed 10 or 15 people along the path, but somewhere along the way I passed her. Thinking back I don’t remember passing her so it must have been at an obstacle.

I felt the effects of the Hurricane Heat at the first wall climb. I usually jump, grab, and scurry over without much difficulty. I went at the first wall with that same mindset only to find that I didn’t have the energy that I normally do. For the first time I had to regroup and make a second run at it. The barbed wire crawl was pretty early in the race and is actually one of my favorite Spartan obstacles. I moved through it somewhat quickly, but I’ve yet to perfect my form. It was here that I earned a nice little war wound. I remember thinking at the time that I probably left some blood on a barb, but forgot about it until long after the race was over. After scurrying under the wire, a wall was next. Made it over the top to discover that there was another 40 or 50 feet of wire. Nice move, Spartan Race designer! Very nice!

I think it was around this point when I cleared most of the slower racers. After that point, I don’t think I was passed by anyone (except during penalty burpees). There were some runs through water, dragging a cinder blog, hoisting cinder blocks up a pulley, a cargo net crawl, buckets of stone carries up and down a muddy hill. Those all went well for me, as did the rope climb out of mudhole and the climb up the slippery wall. What didn’t go so well was the spear throw. I was confident with my throw after nailing it at the Beast, but this one went awry leading to my first set of 30 burpees. The first 30 yards of running after the burpees were rough for me, but I finally gathered my breath and picked up the pace. Another mishap occured with a tire carry down a slippery hill. There was a steep drop-off point where I lost my footing and went sliding down on my butt, bumping stones and logs along the way. The effects of that fall still linger on my left knee and right arm today.

I wore my new Inov-8 X-Talon shoes during this race and they were outstanding! After running through water I could feel and hear the water expelled from the shoes and it didn’t take many strides before they were light on my feet again. The best part during this race, however, was how well they gripped when running up steep, mud-slicked hills. I can’t tell you how many people I passed on these hills, but it was at least a dozen. Those guys dug in and away I went! They weren’t so great for the narrow balance board walks, but neither were my other shoes. I actually thought I was going to make it this time, but as soon as that thought entered my mind, a foot went down. Thirty more burpees!!! Arrgghh! That really aggravated me because we were near the end of the race and 3 or 4 people who I had passed several minutes earlier went running by me after they completed the obstacle. Soon after that I made the final turn, scooted across the horizontal traverse wall, and headed toward the fire. The flames were low-burning, which was disappointing, but one of my favorite obstacles nonetheless. Then it was time to face-off with the gladiators. There was no one in front of me so they were eagerly awaiting me – pugil sticks in hand. This part is just so fun!!! I made a little stutter step move on the first one and bullied my way past him with the end of the pugil stick in my hand. The second gladiator was prepared though and absolutely nailed me in the chest with his stick. Fortunately, it spun me around like a turnstile and I sprinted to the finish line. I wasn’t posterized, which is always my goal when battling them. I found my family waiting for me, but my daughter hesitated on giving me a congratulations kiss as she grimaced at the mud covering me. It took me 1:04 to finish the race, which surprised me that it was that long.  It was such a fun course that it only seemed like 45 minutes or so. The official results had me at 24th place out of 309 runners in the competitive heat.  I was absolutely thrilled with that!! Even with that finish, the best parts of the day were yet to come with my wife and daughter racing later. Stay tuned for that recap. In the meantime, read about the event at the Spartan Race Blog.