I’m not sure what the residents of the leafy, chocolate-box-Surrey village of Nutfield thought last Sunday morning, as their rural community was overrun by swarms of semi-clad men and women, who whooped, hollered and puffed up their chests like wild animals ready to fight to the death.
This was no normal Sunday….
This was a Spartan Race Sunday.
The Spartan Race, originating from America, is an extreme race that covers 5 kilometres of terrain, combined with a range of challenging obstacles. Before I actually read up on the race details, I imagined the ‘obstacles’ would be similar to an ‘It’s a Knock Out’ competition, think giant inflatable’s designed to be clambered upon and slippery rotating balance beams positioned under a pool of shallow water.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The race waiver I had to sign, before taking part, pretty much summed it up: “The risk of injury and/or death from the activities involved in the Spartan Race and its related events is significant including, but not limited to the following: (i) drowning; (ii) near-drowning; (iii) sprains; (iv) fractures; (v) the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death.
The list went on.
I signed the waiver anyway.
I asked my best friend, Priscilla, if she’d like to take part in the Spartan Race with me. I scooted around the important details, mainly the death part, and so she willingly signed herself up. On Sunday morning, as I travelled by train to meet her, I checked my Facebook feed, and saw that Priscilla had updated her status; the following ensued:
As I said, I did scoot around most of the details….
Upon arrival at the Spartan Race, we queued up to receive our timing chips and hand in our waiver forms. Priscilla started to look a little pale, and I noticed that her eyes darted left to right as she scoured the scene that played out in front of her. “Nobody looks happy, Liz”, she said, as she pointed to the throng of competitors who has already completed the race. “I’m sure they’re just tired”, I replied reassuringly. However, I’m pretty sure my face told a very different story.
At 12.30, we entered the starting area of our ‘competitor heat’, and were led through a warm-up routine by a man wearing a Roman headdress, velvet cape and a fringed, leather skirt. I detected some subtle homoerotic undertones, but thought it best to not mention it to Priscilla, as she seemed to have developed a steely resolve and I didn’t want to break it. We chanted and chest-bumped and punched the air like battle-ready Gladiators, sombrely slapping each other on the back whilst promising each other that we’d stick together, NO MATTER WHAT. It all got very serious.
The race started with an uphill sprint, which is exactly what you want for the start of a race, right? No? At the top of the hill, as we caught our breath and slowed down to a walk, we realised that we were at the bottom of yet another hill. Rinse, wash, repeat 3 more times, oh, and throw in a wooden fence to launch yourself over and an uphill cargo net to crawl under, and you get the picture. I also saw a girl throwing up, which was nice.
Next, we entered a wooded part of the course and queued up behind the other competitors, awaiting our next obstacle; it was all very British, there was no pushing or shoving, just polite nods and gestures of “after you”, “no, after you”. The camaraderie amongst us all was full of respect and compassion; people helped each other; providing leg-up’s over the high walls, holding ropes taut and so on. It was a pleasant change from the other races I’ve been part of, where an elbow to the face, or being cut up as someone pushes past you, is a common occurrence.
At this stage of the race, we hadn’t encountered any of the mud pits we had heard of from previous race reports.
That was until we turned a corner and were presented with a mud pit.
A mud pit with low-hanging lines of barbed wire zig-zagging above it. Like this:
As I commando-crawled through the sticky sludge, I turned to the woman next to me and said, “surely there are better ways to spend your Sunday, right?” I think a saw a little tear roll down her mud-caked face, as she, quite literally, attempted to crack a smile.
One of the Spartan philosophies is, “A Spartan knows their flaws as well as their strengths”, – something I kept repeating to myself as I attempted to shimmy like a monkey up a rope hanging from a tree. Priscilla didn’t even bother. After the third attempt, I collapsed to the floor in a pathetic heap, at which time a helpful Spartan volunteer informed me that I didn’t have to do it. Relieved, I got up from the floor and happily scampered away, before being called back by the same volunteer who explained that yes, I could forgo the rope-obstacle, but only if I did 30 press-ups. I did my very best not to cry.
Over the course, we each carried a heavy car-tyre up and down a hill, (have I mentioned the hills?), successfully threw a large wooden spear at a target (if a zombie apocalypse takes over London, I’m your girl), dragged our bodies through a narrow tunnel full of mud, jumped over a wall of fire (Priscilla was very brave), carried a bag of stinking manure on our backs, abseiled down a muddy incline, jumped over and under an array of wooden walls and got ‘Gladiator Hit’ by two men brandishing what looked like over-sized cotton buds.
Oh, and hi! We also had to crawl through a pit full of ice cubes which had wire threaded over the top of it. The wire was charged with electricity.
Another Spartan philosophy is ‘”A Spartan proves themselves through actions not words”. Which is a good thing, as the words I uttered as volts of electricity pulsated through my body, proved nothing other than the fact that I have a mouth like a drunken trucker.
Would I take part in another Spartan Race? YES. Would Priscilla? The jury is still out.