Have you ever dreamed of crawling through mud and under barbed wire, scaling 10 foot walls, carrying sandbags up and down hills, throwing a javelin, or climbing a 20ft rope out of a pool of freezing water? No? But I thought that was everyone’s idea of a good time! Well, I suppose I always have been a little strange, because from the first time I’d ever heard of the large-scale obstacle mud runs that included daunting tasks like these, I’d wanted to do it. I finally had my chance this month when the Reebok Spartan race came to Seoul on November 3rd–and it didn’t disappoint.
A group of nine of us traveled up to Seoul the night before to “carbo load” on some yummy pasta and get a good night’s sleep before the early morning wake up call. The race was actually in Goyang, a city about an hour outside of Seoul, and had been set up in a large fielded area. The sky was overcast and a bitter chill clung to the air from a storm the night before when it had rained and properly muddied up the course. We checked in and nervously awaited our start time, wondering if this was actually a terrible idea.
The race was a 5KM run infused with 15 obstacles throughout its course. The Spartan race varies from location to location so we didn’t know exactly what obstacles we would be up against, though we knew it would likely include a lot of mud, ropes, and walls.
I hadn’t trained at all. I was still nursing a sprained ankle from the month before, I have a bad knee that I’m actually not supposed to run on, and I’d been fighting a fever for the last few days. Not exactly the most ideal conditions for a race of this caliber but I was determined to do it anyway. Luckily (for me) some of the others had been dealing with nasty colds as well, so we were all on a similar pace.
A few minutes before our heat we headed to the starting line, only to find a six foot wall blocking our path; apparently, all racers had to hop over this wall before even beginning! It was the start of what would be a team effort throughout the race, as it turned out that a couple of the obstacles were nearly impossible to complete without help. We offered hands for each other to step on and helped hoist each other over the wall.
A man up front pumped up the crowd by having us yell “THIS IS SPARTA!” at least 75 times and then the starting gun fired. We took off running in a large herd, rounded a bend, trotted up a slope, and suddenly found ourselves stumbling down into the first obstacle: a ditch of chest-high, ice cold muddy water. We clambered out of the water, ran up a slope, and then were faced with the same thing again–and again. After several rounds of wading through the chilly waters, we continued on to complete the remainder of the race completely soaked.
Several of the obstacles were walls, and their height increased each time. We crawled under things and jumped over others; we flipped over giant rubber tires and pulled heavy cement blocks into the air with rope; we carried sand bags on our backs up and down hills, and swung across monkey bars. If you couldn’t complete an obstacle, you had to do 30 burpees.
About a third of the way through the race, my knee gave out. It always seizes up and reaches a point where I can’t bend and straighten it without extreme pain, so the only way to keep up with my friends was to gallop. Have you ever galloped for a couple miles covered in mud and soaking wet? I can’t say I recommend it. Not only is it awkward, but you look pretty stupid, too. I don’t know why I thought I could make it through this race without knee problems as I generally can’t run on it for more than a mile. Silly me.
Just when I was started to think I couldn’t possibly gallop any more, we saw the finish line up ahead with only a few obstacles left to complete. Perhaps the most challenging obstacle of all lay in front of us: the rope climb. But to get on the rope you had to wade waist deep into more frigid muddy water and hoist yourself up, weighed down by all the water and mud. Considering I used to climb ropes on a daily basis–for fun!– in the aerial studio, I had envisioned the rope climb as being a piece of cake. After all the obstacles and having just finished 30 burpees because my javelin wouldn’t stick to the target, however, the rope suddenly seemed a lot more daunting.
The others in our group tried to give it a go but quickly decided they’d stick with the 30 burpees. I was determined to conquer this rope, though. I don’t know why it felt so personal; maybe it’s because I’d been saying all along how “I’d climb a rope any day” and that was the obstacle I was most looking forward to. Maybe it’s because I desperately miss aerial dance and feel my identity as an aerialist slipping away, and getting to the top of this rope could somehow rekindle that part of me. Regardless, this rope was mine.
Getting onto the rope and out of the water was the hardest part. The mud was slippery and made gripping the rope with my feet difficult. But I wrapped my foot around the rope the way I had so many times before and forced my now-feeble arms to heave my body out of the water. I climbed slowly; my foot shook uncontrollably, my burning arms threatened to give out, and the coarse rope chafed the side of my leg cruelly. But eventually, I made it to the top and rang a bell signifying that I had climbed the rope.
As I hung at the top of the rope reveling in my victory, I looked down expecting an audience to erupt into applause at my amazing feat and maybe even throw some roses my way. Of course no one was even paying attention and my friends were too busy with their burpies to see. But nevertheless, I rang that damn bell and made it to the top and for some reason it made my whole day.
The remainder of the race included crawling through rocky mud under a web of barbed wire, climbing over another wall, jumping over fire, and dodging some large men who tried to knock people over with large pads just before the finish line. But we made it and we all jumped for joy and exchanged ecstatic muddy hugs while we were given our medals.
And, of course, they couldn’t help but film us as the token foreigners– and Lolly and I made it into the official Spartan video! Check out this video with footage of our actual race, you’ll see us at the very end looking like hardcore dorks.
(can’t embed the video for now so check out this link.)
We were sore for days afterward and continued to discover new bruises throughout the week. My leg is still scarred from the rope, but the taste of victory at the finish was totally worth it.
And that is my tale of the Reebok Spartan Race, Seoul 2013! Have you ever done an obstacle course mud run?