In the spring of 2016, I was going to New York City for work and had asked to stay with one of my best friends, Mack. She and I had dated briefly when we were 17—it was real cute. We then tried again in college and again after college—that was less cute. With this type of history, what could possibly go wrong playing house in a small Manhattan apartment for a week? Actually, nothing. Mack and I have zero drama and we will probably share a room in the assisted living community we move into in our 80s. I trust Mack with my life. Though, sometimes I should ask more questions before saying yes to the “adventures” she suggests we go on, as illustrated in the story I am about to share.
One day, about a month before I was headed to New York, Mack called me.
“Hey Jay, I forgot that I promised I would do an obstacle race with my client and friend Patrick1 on the weekend you’re here. I think you should join us, it’ll be fun.” Mack said.
“An obstacle race? Like a mud-run?” I asked, unsure.
“Yeah, it’s a Spartan Race, it’ll be great and I know you’ll rock it.” She replied.
“Sure. Why not?” I said. The year before I had done a 5k mud-run and had fun. This would be fun, too.
Mack sent me the link to sign up and told me which start time to choose so I could be in their group. And then the confirmation email hit my inbox. Inside the email there were links to videos and training courses. I thought, “This seems intense for a little ol’ obstacle race. These Spartan people take themselves really seriously.” And then I read on; “Are you ready to unleash your inner beast and go to places you never imaged? The Spartan Beast is waiting. With 13+ miles and 30+ obstacles between you and the finish line, the Spartan Beast will test everything you’re made of: your strength, your endurance, your resolve. The unpredictable terrain and Spartan Obstacles are masterfully designed to push you deep into your discomfort zone, and well past those self-imposed obstacles you once considered your limits. Beast mode: on.”
Ummmmm. Here’s the thing. My inner beast did not need unleashing. In fact, I was pretty sure my inner beast was a baby sloth. It needed a nap and a snack. Also I thought I was signing up for a 5k obstacle course not a 13+ mile race on steroids! So I did the only reasonable thing—I started training. This baby sloth was going to get uncomfortable and push past my limits. And hopefully impress Mack.
The morning of the race, Mack went to pick up a rental car (because New Yorkers don’t have cars and the subway doesn’t go to the mountain this idiotic race took place on. Oh yeah, this race was on a mountain!) Things did not go as planned and Mack got delayed getting the car so I met Patrick at the pick-up point and we waited. By the time Mack was able to pick us up there was no longer time for breakfast. NBD, I was so nervous, I’d have probably puked it right up. Off we raced to the New Jersey ski mountain. We arrived 5 minutes before our start time. Perfect, no time to get nervous.
I walked to the starting area which required jumping over a 5 foot wall to reach. Once there I realized the race began up a steep hill. Regret set in. Patrick and I started (Mack’s starting time was 15 minutes later.) We arrived at the first obstacle—a log carry. I grabbed my log, which weighed 30 pounds and headed up the hill. As I rounded the top to come back down I slipped on mud and dropped my log which landed on my calf and started rolling down the hill picking up speed and headed towards other racers. I sprinted down and jumped on it to prevent it from taking anyone else out. This was not a strong start. I dropped my log off and looked up—there was Mack all smiles picking up her log. How the hell did she catch up already?
Patrick and I continued running towards the next obstacle; monkey bars. I successfully made it across and went to ring the bell and missed by a centimeter. The referee told me it counted as a fail and pointed toward the penalty area. In the penalty area you had to do 30 burpees before moving on. I was only two miles in and ready to quit.
I breezed through the rope climb, over a wall, over a net, through a river and a dozen other obstacles. Around mile six, as we were running through the woods, Mack turned back “Ask me if I’m in heaven, Jay?” she smiled? “I don’t need to—“ I huffed. “I’m so happppppyyyyy!” she sang. As we rounded a corner I saw a hill and I looked above me and saw a ski lift. Well that’s just rude to make us run underneath a lift. After the hill came the Bucket Brigade obstacle, or as I call it; my nemesis. You fill a bucket with rocks until it weighs 70+ pounds and then you carry it in front of you up a hill and then down that hill and then you lift it above you to empty it back into the same bin you first filled it from. It’s a sick form of torture.
As we approached mile 12 a dude with a mega phone yelled “It is now 6pm.” This meant we had been running for almost six hours. He continued, “Any athlete still on the course at 6:30 without a headlamp will be pulled from the course. You have 30 minutes and three miles left.” I had two thoughts: 1) Like hell you’re pulling me off this course when I’m almost done. 2) Wait, did this asshole just say THREE more miles…12+3 is not 13. I thought 13+ was a cute way of saying 13.1.
I picked up my pace, grabbed a 40-pound sandbag from the bin of the next obstacle and started passing other racers. I was going to finish this torture course and nobody was pulling me before I crossed the finish line. Two miles later I could see the finish line…it was a line of fire. As in real logs on real fire. Before I could cross it I had a few more obstacles, the first being the Hercules Hoist which is a 150-pound sandbag on a rope and pulley that you have to hoist up. I used all of my body weight and the sandbag didn’t even move. I cursed loudly and went to the penalty area to do my 30 burpees. Then I ran towards the finish line, through a muddy pool of water and up a tiny hill. I took a deep breath and jumped over the fire finish line.
I felt like I was dead. I finished almost 15 miles and 30 obstacles and 120 burpees in a little over 6 ½ hours. I placed in the top 100 of my age bracket. And I have no desire to ever do one again. But I will tell you about the one Spartan Beast Race I did finish as many times as you will listen to my story. And I would never have finished it without Patrick and Mack by my side.
1 Patrick told me to inform the readers of just how awesome he is. On a serious note, he actually is pretty awesome. Patrick is the founder of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ensuring the safety and inclusion of all in sports—including LGBTQ athletes, coaches, and fans. Learn more at http://youcanplayproject.org