Spartan Elite – Trails, Obstacles, and all the Burpees

My training for Spartan mostly involved ramping up my mileage to account for the 13km+ trail running elements, and CrossFit workouts to help with the 29+ obstacles that would be on the course. A large part of which consisted of working on my (lack of) shoulder strength – stemming from a few too many sport related dislocations.

The week before, I felt strong – if not a little damaged. My ankle was still a little tender and puffy, but not overly painful, but I’d sprained my wrist trying to do a heavy (just the bar) snatch. I like to think I had just been way too explosive in my movement…but it was most likely just bad technique.

As a result, I hadn’t trained as hard as I wanted, but I was happy.

My aim was to get top 10 in the Elite Female Super to qualify for Spartan Regionals. And top 5 to qualify for OCR World Championships, both next year.

Yikes.

The Sunday before, I thought it’d be a good idea to get out on the Merri Creek trail and do a 20km run.

Righto Jess.

At around 15km I felt a few twinges in my ankle (not just the blisters from the support I was wearing). And then at 16km that all to familiar knee pain flickered through my left leg.

I stopped. Stretched. Carried on – mainly because I had to get home.

The pain began to increase but was still bearable.

Just.

I got home. Rolled out (everywhere). Iced (everywhere). Then spent the day trying to stretch and walk it off.

The next day I woke up. Pain.

I couldn’t get out of bed.

If anyone had to describe ITB pain they would probably relate it to feeling like someone was hacking at their knee with an axe.

It’s unpleasant.

I could barely walk without shooting pains – let alone run. There were long periods at work of just spending a few minutes bent over with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath after the pain struck.

Sorry work. And people who may have seen me.

Same again on the Tuesday, and I wondered whether I’d ruined my Spartan race.

I booked in to see a Physio – the head physio for Melbourne Victory Women’s team. He looked at me, at my ankle, then felt my knee and shook his head.

“All related”

I told him about that Spartan race in four days.

He left the room and came back with a cupping device.

Oh golly.

My ITB got ‘cupped’ – the toxins literally sucked out of the muscle.

It doesn’t even sound aggressive, but it is. Not quite as painful as dry needling. But still borderline scream worthy.

Then he put me in to a leg recovery pumps (like zip up trousers that sporadically fill up with air to flush out inflammation in the legs). I wondered what it would be like to dance in them.

Then I remembered I can’t dance.

I left with a black and blue quad, but the pain had lessened significantly.

I saw him two days later for more of the same. Less swelling, less pain. I mentioned Spartan again, and he looked at me, I couldn’t tell whether it was admiration, or sympathy. He told me I would need to strap up both ankles, tape my wrist, and monitor any pain in my knee and adjust my pace accordingly.

Was top 5 still possible?

Either way I was grateful to be walking.

Always grateful.

I drove to Bright on the Friday afternoon, in preparation for the 7am Elite race the next day.

I love Bright. It’s magical. Even if injury had completely ruled me out of racing, I’d have still gone up.

I picked up my bib, drank wine with other runners and generally just enjoyed being in Bright.

We checked into our Airbnb in Tawonga, laid out our race gear (I think I was the only person who did that) and drank more wine.

4.00am arrived. Yikes.

I was up. Eggs, sweet potato and beetroot.

Coco coffee.

I rolled, everywhere, but mostly my knee. Then strapped up both my ankles, and my wrist.

I was nervous.

I drove the winding 30 minutes over Tawonga Gap, listening to a Nike Trained podcast.

“Stop and breathe, take ten seconds to focus. And be where your feet are.”

So I did. I stopped at the top of the mountain, looked out over Bright.

Deep breaths. Focus.

I could only do today what my body was capable of. That would be enough. It would have to be. I was grateful.

I got back in Betsy. Less nervous.

The race festival was a mixture nervousness and excitement.

And seriousness.

People looked serious. This was Elite.

6.55am. Gel.

To get to the start we had to jump a 5ft wall, of course. I ran at it, didn’t quite make it, slid down.

Fail.

I laughed at myself and remembered to focus.

Second attempt. Easily over.

I had no race watch (we were encouraged to not use technology – but everyone else was wearing them), no headphones (I read the rules at least ten times) and no race vest – in case I got stuck in / under obstacles. Just me, two gels conveniently stored in my sports bra and at least one whole roll of sports tape to keep me in one piece.

The count down began, and we were off.

Straight over three small walls and then into the mountains. The trails. Single track around the mountains of Bright.

I was happy, my knee was happy.

I overtook a few people. Race etiquette was different to trail running, I tried to pass a few guys and they appeared reluctant to let me.

I had no idea where the girls were but knew there were a few that had flown off at the start.

First obstacle – crawling under a cargo net in mud.

Caked.

Across rivers.

Soaked.

I saw a woman, overtook, Then the next up ahead. Pigtails. Game on.

We went up into the forest, still single track. Our first significant obstacle – we had to carry sandbags up through the mountain, then back again, drop them off then continue on our run. I picked mine up, carried on running. Not sure why people were walking with them. I passed pigtails.

Beautifulness. Then uphill – the sandbag became heavy, but I refused to walk.

Downhill, careful. Aware that that’s when knee pain might kick in. I squealed a little and threw my sandbag across each shoulder to split the weight. This was fun. Exhaustingly fun.

Back to where we picked them up, I threw the sandbag down, grateful for the freedom, then continued.

More walls to climb over and a river to run along, not over, along.

Caked and soaking again.

We came to a clearing, back near the start of the festival.

I had no idea how far we’d gone or for how long – but was quite enjoying not knowing, and surprisingly enjoying not have music.

Even though Slash would have been a great soundtrack.

The Traverse Wall. My least favourite. A wall you had to climb sideways, with only awkward circles for hand holds – nowhere to put your feet, you just had to get them high enough to provide balance, and try and shuffle across.

I watched a guy do it, quite easily – tried to copy. Got my hands into the holes, and jumped my legs up, then fell almost straight away.

I knew what was coming.

The Marshall took me to the side.

“30 burpees, full hip extension and hands over your head at the jump. You’re being filmed so make sure you do them all properly.”

Yikes.

I began, and saw pigtails complete the traverse wall. Damn it.

20 burpees in quick succession is quite an acceptable number, 30 just pushes you into the hating your life zone where your body generally questions what the bloody hell you’re doing.

I ignored it. Done.

I ran on to the next obstacle where pigtails was. The barbed wire crawl. A zig zag of ankle height barbed wire to get through . I got down, crawled, rolled, scrambled through. Trying to make up ground.

I felt something in my knee, a flash of pain. Barbed wire of course. I looked down and suddenly there was blood everywhere. I tutted at myself. Inconvenient. I pulled up my knee sleeve and continued on.

Out the other side.

I continued, through wooden tunnels, over cargo nets – no burpees.

Then the route took us away from the obstacles, and back into the mountains.

I knew what was coming.

Mystic hill.

It’s not a hill. It’s a damn near-vertical never ending mountain.

I was probably the only one excited by it. This was my jam. I could gain some ground here. I also knew that the hill was 7.5km into the race. Halfway.

I began. Couldn’t even see the top. The sun beat down on us.

Aggressive lunging.

Now I could hear my own breathing. Now I wanted a soundtrack – or anything. I considered singing. But settled for talking to myself about…anything. Most likely which Prosecco I would be buying afterwards.

I refused to stop. 2km of uphill. I managed to pass people.

It was beautiful.

The top. A perfect picnic place. With my Prosecco.

If only.

I took it in for a second, you could see the whole of Bright, maybe even Victoria. I was happy.

And in a race. Oops.

I took a gel and began running along the path, grateful to be at the top – heavy legs and arms.

In the distance I could see a large wall. Like, twice the height of me. Maybe 8ft? Really tall.

Blimey.

The Marshall there was chirpy, and could clearly sense my unease. And probably the terrified look on my face.

“You can do it, you can take a run up”

So I did. And I jumped, pushed off and caught the top. It felt like I hung there forever.

Pull yourself up Jess.

So I did, and I growled. Climbed my feet up, got one elbow over, and a boob. Then the other arm and boob. I worked myself onto the top. This was not glamorous. I squealed – and I think the Marshall did too. Then jumped down.

Hello downhill.

I began carefully, then realised it would be better for my knees to not jar them with the stopping action. So I let go. And flew (probably slow motion to most).

All the way down into forest single track. Heaven. Flying.

An opening, and another obstacle.

An uphill tyre drag.

I grabbed the rope and began to run, the rope over my shoulder pulling me down. It was probably 500m of up before I saw the place we could turn and go back.

Lungs and legs aching.

I dropped the tyre off and continued down. Back towards the festival area – for more of the major obstacles.

I saw pigtails ahead of me on an A frame cargo net. I picked up my pace and threw myself into it. Onto it.

Another cargo net climb, trickier.

Then a rope climb.

I looked at the top and jumped up, pulled my legs as a high as I could and climbed, before my body could complain how tired it was. I hit the bell at the top and lowered myself down. Thank you Crossfit.

Then a sandbag attached to a rope you had to pull upwards to the top of the frame it was on. I lay down and pulled, no stopping.

Back to back obstacles.

The the atlas stone – I’d caught pigtails. We had to carry it about 20 metres, do five burpees, then carry it back.

I lifted the stone onto my knees and rolled it up my body, walked it to the other end, five burpees. Then picked it up again and walked back. Not too bad.

We both got to the next barbed wire crawl together – this one was a horse shoe shape, but you had to carry a 14kg 1-metre long torsion bar with you.

We began, scrambling, rolling. Dizzy, dirty. The end could not have come sooner.

A guy watching, filming, told us we were fourth and fifth girl.

I was top 5.

We were out at the same time and onto the zig zagged balance beam – surely not too hard.

I didn’t stop, didn’t take my time and literally jumped on and fell straight off. The wood was thinner than it looked, my legs were not as responsive as I thought they would be.

Silly Jess.

30 burpees whilst I watched pigtails take her time and complete the obstacle.

Silly.

Burpees over, I ran on to the next obstacle – wide monkey bars. I died inside. I had practiced monkey bars, but not ones that were almost a metre apart.

I jumped up to the first bar, the second one looked like it was a mile away.

I began to swing, to attempt to jump.

What if I caught the bar and my shoulder dislocated? Race over.

I dropped to the floor.

More bloody burpees.

Two failed obstacles in a row. 60 burpees, six minutes.

Dang.

Next, another traverse wall – this time with leg holds. Thank golly gosh. I took my time, rung the bell. Happy.

One final obstacle before we went back into the mountain – the bucket carry.

We had to fill it with stones, carry it across rough terrain then around a maze and back again. No dropping, no spilling, and front carry only.

The guy told me where to fill it too and said if the stones had sunk below the line by the time I got back I’d have to do it again. I filled it to the top, to the men’s line.

God damn it was heavy.

I began, as fast as I could. Tired arms, this was uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.

Any technique went out the window I just had to not drop it, that was hard. I may have cried for a few seconds.

Heavy breathing, arms aching. I was on the return.

Back to the start, I emptied the bucket and the guy commented on how full it had been. I stared at him, dazed.

Back to running. Rolling single track.

My arms were fried, everything hurt, the terrain was rough.

I was aware that if I was tired my form might be suffering and the last thing I needed was my knee to flare up. I was careful, purposeful. There was no sign of pigtails ahead or anyone behind me, so I enjoyed. The feel of running with no pacer and running with no music. Just me and Bright countryside, my favourite. Heaven.

Exhausted heaven.

Then.

A flicker. Some pain in my knee. I slowed, stopped, stretched. Pleaded with my knee to be ok.

Cautiously, I continued.

The trail took me back into the festival area, for more obstacles – then the finish.

I had no idea how long I’d been running for, or how far I’d gone.

I saw the festival area.

First, three walls each about 6ft high, one you had to climb over, one under (there were holes), one through (a raised hole).

Over and under – easy.

The ‘through’ wall. Well, I must have been delirious. An elevated hole – most people would’ve grabbed the plank above the hole and swung their legs through. Me? Well I grabbed the plank above it and tried to get my bottom through first.

I must have been stuck for at least ten seconds wondering what the bloody hell I’d been thinking, before I somehow managed to get my legs through.

No idea.

The Marshalls laughed “Never seen that before”

Confirmed. I was delirious.

We laughed.

The next? Hard to describe. Two vertical poles with 5 horizontal poles between them, starting from about 6ft high about half a metre apart. The whole structure leant back towards me. Just that little bit trickier.

You had to scale and climb over. But jump up to first.

Two of them.

Eek.

This is where my wrist might struggle. I breathed, focused.

I could do this.

I jumped, for the bottom bar. I swung, lifted my legs up and caught the bar with my feet.

Cramp threatened in my calves.

I pulled myself up, grabbed the next bar up, then the next. Two more. The top.

More squealing. I did this.

I climbed over and down, conquered the next one the same way.

So happy.

More running. Flashes of familiar knee pain.

Just flashes though.

Then I saw the next obstacle, monkey rings. Damn.

I tried to push down the fear of more burpees.

A guy started to shout encouragement, much needed.

“Take your time, just swing.”

Kind of useful. Technically correct.

So I did just that. Grabbed one ring, swung, the next, swung. Shoulder felt ok, wrist felt ok, I continued. The bell.

I made it. I did a little jig, High fived myself.

It happened.

Next? The spear throw. Literally. You throw a spear at a circular target about 10 metres in front of you.

How do you practice a spear throw? I don’t know any….javelinists? And I definitely don’t own a spear. Yet.

I steadied myself, I could see the finish line.

I had even watched a you tube video, raised my arm to aim, and threw.

Just short.

I missed.

The Marshall “Damn that was close”

I know.

“30 burpees”

I know.

I could see the finish line.

I smashed them out (probably didn’t)

Then, one last obstacle – ten metres of cargo net that was literally pinned down to the ground. I struggled to even get into or under it. This would take my last remaining energy.

I felt claustrophobic just moving through it, the resistance of it pushing me to the ground.

I struggled through, spurred on by the cheers, by the finish line.

Rope burn, everywhere. I continued.

Then suddenly I was free.

The finish.

I literally threw myself over.

2 hours and 9 minutes.

Happy.

Delirious.

Deliriously happy.

Grateful.

“Cider?”

Anything.

My legs, jelly.

I checked my placing.

5th Female, Elite Super.

I’d done it, the minimum to qualify for the OCR World Championships, and Spartan Regionals.

Despite all the hurt, the setbacks.

Despite everything.

I would be able to recover, regroup, retrain. And give Regionals and Worlds a proper shot next year.

Thank you body.

I drank my cider and watched everyone else race.

So happy.

So exhausted.

Then I rememberd. My knee, the barbed wire. I rolled down my knee sleeve, and went to the First Aid tent

“Oh gosh, that needs cleaning and closing”.

I didn’t disagree.

Three butterfly stitches and I was done.

I ate, everything.

Drank, Prosecco. Then everything else.

And next?

Two Bays is on the horizon. Maybe.

But for now I’m switching my training to focus on The Speed Project 5.0 in March 2019 – a team of six female runners running in relay from LA to Vegas.

550km.

Non stop until you get there.

Sorry legs.

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