I’ll just start with a brief review for those who just wanted a quick synopsis of the race.
Brief : Race pack collection for the Spartan Race 2016 was fast and efficient though there was a long queue when I reached. The pack is ‘spartan’. The race itself was held at Tampines Ave 10, a new venue from last year, more challenging terrain (promised by organizer to be rougher, tougher landscape featuring dense foliage, wildlife and a lot more mud – turned out true but the degree of wildlife and mud depends on individuals and the timings as they ran the course). I heard birds and quick scattering in the dense grass at certain stretches but didn’t encounter any snakes or lizards or wild boars. I participated in the Spartan Super, 13+ km, 30+ obstacles. Simple rule : 30 burpees per obstacle failed.
Preparation wise, participants do receive regular monthly training ‘guides’ but they were simple written guidelines and onus is on individuals to take note and work out a regime themselves but it gave me a level of the difficulties of the obstacles to be encountered. They could also try their luck to attend the weekly weekend Spartan Mass Workout sessions organized but slots were very limited. I only managed to attend one session and found it useful, but regular attendance should be encouraged to build to the level that is required for the race and also to get to know other participants.
Participants could opt for the elite sessions held in early morning or Open categories throughout the day. I chose the latter (of course). Starting point was the same for both Sprint and Super race participants. At about 4 km, they branched off in different directions. Hydration was adequate for Spartan Super, energy drink plus water were provided. Photographs were taken at certain obstacles : barbed wire, sandbag route, fire jump and victory wall where you can choose to pose after you collected your medal and finisher Tee. But there is no guarantee you will find a picture of yourself in the obstacle routes.
High level of accomplishment guaranteed as you collect your medal, and perhaps the degree depends on your own capability and how you overcome the obstacles in general and also the journey you went through to get here. High level of fun too for those working in teams.
Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to challenge himself/herself both physically and mentally. Highly recommended too to have adequate training before attempting Spartan Super Race. Definitely race where you have bragging rights too especially if you have colleagues who are deskbound (most of Singaporeans). Seriously, though, it does offer you a great opportunity to get in touch with yourself, ‘enjoy’ nature and listen to your body.
My Spartan Race Adventure : Read on for details… November last year, I participated in the inaugural Spartan Sprint. I was just into my first year of running and thought I would just do the Spartan Race to challenge myself and also give myself an incentive to improve my fitness. Besides the running (most weekdays), I tried to add on other exercises : 100 push ups a day, planks, cycling. The vertical marathon and the other ‘intermediate’ aquathlon races had given me some confidence as well as the ‘training’ my body needed. I unfortunately couldn’t still do a single pull up then. I tried doing the burpees but found that they hurt my ankles so my ‘strategy’ then was to ensure I do the minimal burpees, which meant I had to ‘pass’ as many obstacles as I could. I tried to research the different obstacles googling Spartan obstacles. In my runs, I started to clamber up short walls and fences since those appeared to be the staples. I also started to practise for the fire jumps by jumping over the columns near my home. I tried to pull up weights at the gym, up to 8 kg then doing 30 times each session. I swam and cycled too. So my regular morning ‘training’ last year increased in intensity. I figured too, that it was good, because I was also gearing up for the full marathon end of that year (my second within that calendar year).
I completed the 2015 Spartan Sprint (6 km and 15+ obstacles) in 2:13 hours, again not fast by any standard but meant a lot to me, a common Joe. It was a great experience and gave me such a high, (though I got several injuries) that I signed up almost immediately the moment they enticed me with an early bird for Spartan Super held in Singapore. There was also a possibility of a ‘Trifecta’ qualification for us in Singapore. You see, a Trifecta award is given only if you can complete all 3 : sprint, super and beast or ultra in a calendar year. Spartan Super was on 7th May 2016, another calendar year from the Sprint.
I thought it was fine since I had continued running regularly and kept up some of my exercises. Intent was to increase the intensity of the sessions I had last year in the 4 months or so leading to the date. Instead, I had decreased intensity somewhat due to time constraint this year as well as the injuries I was getting recently. It probably started with acquiring black toe nails after last year’s marathon, my ‘wrong’ shoe choices, my decision to change my stride too quickly more recently, and a host of other reasons. I ended up doing much less ‘training’ in terms of running as well as the training at the gym. I had cut down my push ups, barely done any planks but I was pulling 10 kg at the gym, though not as often. I could do 2 pull ups finally but knew that they were still inadequate. Weeks before the Spartan Super, however I was already starting to rest my feet because I was experiencing the symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis as I had suffered that for two years, some years back. In short, not in good condition to complete any high intensity race, not to mention a Super.
Still, I felt good enough to go for the Performance Series inaugural 10 km race, after the two half marathons. Didn’t do a PB for 10 km races but did within my usual pace despite the injuries. I figured I could last 13 km and 29+ obstacles but had to slow down, and be cautious of the terrain and ensuring I don’t hurt myself more with two weeks to go.
Race pack collection saw the usual crowd though processing was fast and efficient. I even requested for a change of T-shirt size as it turned out to be huge L so I settled for M size.
Race Day : Was similar to last year except I managed to get a slightly earlier start, at 7.45 am. Collected wrist tag, got a drink tag as well. As usual, before you can even make it to the starting line, you have to climb over a low obstacle. No sweat, if you have problem, then probably you know that you are going to be in for a very tough time throughout. So the race began as we ‘Arooed’ our way. Down on our hands and feet as we went through the low obstacles a few times, up and down. In my rush, I even kissed the ground. As I spit out the dirt, I quickly reminded myself I better run this race as mentally planned.
The obstacles were many and basically I lost count after the 8th. (What I described here is not in order of access.) The terrain was much rougher (slopes, ditches, uneven ground, muddier even on some stretches) than last year. Weights were much heavier. Hercules Hoist : when I pulled last year, it was not really a strain. This year, I couldn’t lift it up initially, then I had problem trying to pull it higher. But I managed to plant my two feet on the ground and hoist weight up all the way and then slowly let it down again. When I turned to go to the next obstacle, the volunteer cheered.
Atlas Ball remained just that, a solid (I think 50 kg) ball on the ground and though I tried to coax it up in my arms, I couldn’t. First 30 burpees for me, early in the course.
Sandbag carry was very challenging this year, up and down slopes. If one was not careful, one could come sliding down. I carried it through without resting adopting same strategy as last year. Merely because I knew if I rested, I wouldn’t have the strength to continue. The bucket carry was very taxing too but like last year too, I carried it without stopping for the same reason as the sandbag. Sometimes I think the tough part was also trying to scoop the pebbles of granite onto the bucket by your bare hands. My heart was pounding in my ears somehow when I finally lowered the bucket of gravel back.
The tires were very different this year too, size and weight. Tire Drag : I thought I had to do another 30 burpees when I tried to pull the tire towards me and found that it didn’t move at all. I stood there and watched the others. Then I tried again – still it didn’t move. I decided to coil the rope round my arms and pulled again. It started to move. I pulled and pulled. Last year’s sprint, I don’t remember the tire as this heavy. But after pulling the tire to your end, you have to grab the tire by your bare hands and pull it back to where it was. I bent my legs and pulled. Didn’t move again. Oh man, I wasn’t going to do burpees after having done this half way. I again looked at the others. Some were stuck and gave up. Some were pulling – big hunks. I tried again. Moved a bit, but progress was very slow. I then grabbed and started to jump backwards tugging the tire. Guess my running helped gave me the strength in my legs. I don’t know if it was considered as cheating, but my bare hands were still on the tire and the tire was moving much faster now. Then I heard someone tapping me behind and said, ‘okay, reached already’. I smiled sheepishly and continued my ‘journey’. (Afternote : according to elite standards, pulling by the rope requires the butt to be on the ground so I think all those I saw, including myself would have failed miserably.) There was also another tire obstacle which I found easy by comparison. It looked formidable in size. But I could lift it up, flip it once, twice, then back once and twice with some efforts. The trick was to squat down low, and lift borrowing strength from your legs (I watched the video last year).
Barbed wire obstacles were aplenty but not as many as last year’s. Rolling was a better option than commando crawl though you get all muddy and giddy as well. One way would be to switch your body around and then roll again but usually there wasn’t as much space. Just taking a breather before you go off again to next obstacle would clear the merry-go-rounds in your head after all the rolling. Another new obstacle which appeared a few times were the low criss-crossed ropes strung tightly across certain parts of the trail path, waist height or thereabouts, where you basically needed to do ‘ape walk’ ? or similar – bend your body at about right angles and walked. Well, the angle depends on your height, guessed it was much more difficult if you are tall. Test your legs and back. But these were the easier obstacles by comparison though I belonged to the taller category.
I enjoyed climbing most though the walls were higher and varied, sloping, walls, metal barred steps, net, etc. So they were the ones that I could also take some breather. Another challenging new obstacle was the Tyrolean Traverse. Two ways to cross them – either you crawl on top or you hung below. Women preferred to crawl on top of the rope, one leg hooked at the ankle, the other leg hung down. Men preferred the other. I had done them back when I was just 18 years old, both ways in Outward Bound course. But when I tried to do the top crawl, I found that I was no longer 18 years old again. I switched to hanging below. But I got a sharp cramp on my leg muscles then, tried to move, but couldn’t and I knew that I had to give up. This was towards the end and I knew that if I tried to attempt again, I might pull something, muscles or tendons. I had to make my way humbly to do my burpees again.
There was also the mud and water (but Singapore’s sanitary version) where you have to dunk yourself to get to the other side of the man-made ‘pond’. Because of the intense sun’s heat, this was something which I did enjoy. I dipped in twice in fact, refreshingly cold, though I was careful not to gulp any water in. They don’t look that clean, given by then, everyone’s shoes and sweat have been dipped in as well. The moment when you got yourself out, that was when you felt, oh, I was still wearing socks and shoes. They squelched uncomfortably (I was wearing my normal running shoes NewBalance 890) – not exactly recommended for such course. And that was also when I discovered, my wrist was bleeding. Thinking back, I think I hurt it early on when I wrung the rope round my arm for the tire pull – the rope was covered with grains of sand and dirt. But this was near the end, so after that brief moment of realization, I went on, trying to mask out the sting from the water. When I reached the next obstacle, I had forgotten the cuts.
Overall, I still enjoyed myself. The distance was longer, twice last year’s and the obstacles were more difficult. I made some progress on most obstacles but couldn’t make it for 4 of them though I did make some progress on two of them, half done. I didn’t count the spear throw because this was purely based on your perfection of the technique or what others called ‘luck’. One try and you have to hit to avoid burpees. I did my burpees and asked to try again the spear throw. As the participants were still making their way across other obstacles, I did a couple more. On the third throw, I just missed by less than an inch so I knew I should be able to make it if I only have the location and weapon to train. This was one of those strange principles that maybe Spartan practise when they only allow one try – the other obstacles, you could try till you admit defeat or get through. Reminded me of the Chinese idiom “百发百中(bǎifābǎizhòng)” literally means “to shoot at the target a hundred times without missing it once.” Only that way ensured you don’t do your burpees at this station.
One more station which merit mention. Depending on the last two digits of your bib number, you have to memorize the statement that was printed on a big board early on in the race. I was alright as I remembered and repeated the statement, consisting of words and numbers when asked near the end of the race. So this was ‘mental’ testing. If you get it wrong, 30 burpees too.
I made some conversations with other solo participants along the way. A couple of them were armed with cameras, one of them with a ‘professional’ pack behind him. Both also had done their sprints last year. Folks did help out each other when necessary or when you asked for help, for example at the high wall when you need a push or in some cases team helped to carry their members through the monkey bars (see photos). There was generally good camaraderie amongst the folks, even those who were strangers.
There was a lot more hydration points than last year’s – I only stumbled upon one last year but the course was short. There were stretches where it was just running or walking fast, up to you. I completed the course, jumping over the fire and then receiving the hard earned medal, my favorite blue color. And as I collected my finisher Tee, I also told myself, this should be the last Spartan Race. I was worn out. My body felt like they had grown muscles in parts where I didn’t notice. I added about an hour to last year’s sprint time. I didn’t feel as painful in the legs like after a full marathon. I’ve gotten a few scratches on the legs but not as badly as last year. I got a blister on one toe but unaware of it till much later. My troubled foot was not hurting (yet). Pain wasn’t overbearing. I wished I had conquered all obstacles and not done a single burpee. Still, I felt proud to have challenged myself again this year. But Spartan Beast was the furthest from my mind. I just wanted a cool shower immediately.
After about 3 days, I received a Spartan message. Qualify for a Trifecta, do the Bintan Spartan Beast race in November this year for a discount, register early… Really ? I must say I am tempted though. My feet is still hurting though I had recovered from the soreness in other parts of my body but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Still….
(Photo Credits : Spartan Race, Running Shots, Spartan SGX Singapore Community Timeline Photos)