Now THIS is the race I came to Scotland for.
It is sometimes said amongst obstacle course racing athletes that a certain race is an “obstacle race” (a race balanced with both running and obstacles, requiring a definite balance between endurance, strength, and agility) while other races are merely “races with obstacles” (running-heavy races with a few obstacles thrown in, so that the heavier emphasis is put on the running aspect rather than the need for upper-body strength). Neither one is necessarily better than the other—just a variation of racing styles within the OCR world, leaving the racers themselves to decide which they would like best. And while this Edinburgh Spartan Beast most definitely fell into the latter of the two categories (a “race with obstacles”), I would argue that the course itself was in fact an obstacle in itself, unleashing a whole new kind of pain that I haven’t experienced since the Spartan World Championships in Vermont back in 2014. So yeah, it’s safe to say that it was a pretty awesome race.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up.
Just last week, I was already settled into to Edinburgh and everything, doing plenty of sightseeing and looking around Scotland when I saw Matt “the Bear” Novakovich post that he was headed to Scotland for the Spartan European Championships. WHAT?! I had thought. When I had signed up for the Elite races here in Edinburgh, I had only assumed that they were regular races, knowing nothing about this “European Championship” he spoke up. All of a sudden a whole new weight came upon the race, with me knowing that the difficult of the course went up that much more.
Luckily for me, the Euro Championships was a separate race from the Elite race, and since I had never run a European race before Saturday’s Sprint, I was not qualified to run in the Championship. So while we would all take on the same course, I would be running instead in the Elite race, which was still taking place nearly an hour after the Championships took off. So that was good.
I’m going to skip all the warm-up details, because in all honesty I feel like we just need to get straight up talking about this race, which was loads of fun (though I wanted it to end all the way from mile 4). We blasted off at 8:00am, a slightly awkward start that involved us – the entire heat – walking across the starting line before taking off, following some bagpipers and only beginning the race once their song had concluded. It was a very strange and unneeded start, but not exactly important to the race itself. The point is that we were now on the course, which was rumored to be roughly 17 miles.
The first 2.5 miles were straight from the previous day’s Sprint course, with the lot of us passing through the Hay Bale Hurdles, the O-U-Ts, the Delta Cargo, the Mud Pits, the back-to-back freezing cold Dunk Walls, the Sandbag Carry, and some 4’ Hurdles. Nothing of too much consequence, just stuff to allow everyone to set some distance between one another. I found myself once again struggling to maintain my strength on the hills, which made the race that much harder because even 2 miles in, I had to come to accept the fact that even though I had dialed the pace back in anticipation of the 17-mile long race, my legs were already burning from exhaustion.
Upon completing the Hurdles, we were branched off from the Sprint course and found ourselves running along some rolling hills for a while, hopping some fences as we soon approached the first Log Carry of the day, one that didn’t seem too difficult at first (thanks to most of the course being lost in the mist, which was especially heavy today), but proved to be quite crazy, in fact, as we were forced to not only hoist our [heavier than usual] logs along the muddy, dirty, rolling hills, but down one particularly steep hill that was hard to not lose one’s footing on, and then back up that same hill, a quite difficult task if I may say so myself. Nevertheless, after about 500-600 meters, we were finally allowed to deposit the logs back into the stack and move onward. Glad to have that done, I was thinking. All the weighted carries here in Europe were no joke.
One aspect I feel I should mention really quickly is that today was your storybook Scotland day: it was cold enough to easily see your breath, there was a chilling-but-not-too-strong wind, and a constant, piercing-cold rain fell upon us as we continued throughout the course. Every time we would enter the water our bodies would go numb for the next half-mile that followed, and every time we summited a hill we would be lost in the thick and heavy mist (also cold) that just added to the intensity of the race. It felt like something that belonged in a movie, some war epic about…I don’t know, 300 totally-ripped Greek warriors going into battle to fight for their lives, their honor, and their people? (#AROO) As I ran along this chilly, beautiful, and slightly eerie course, I felt like I was going into war; the only thing is, I would soon learn that the war was not against the racers that surrounded me, but it was in fact against myself.
After some more never-ending hills, the lot of us found us on yet another carry, the Farmer’s Walk, which had us carrying two logs [with rope handles attached for us to grip] up an incredibly steep incline, so that while the logs themselves were probably only 25-30 pounds each, the hill itself (easily 40% grade, maybe higher) made the carry that much more miserable, attacking your calves in ways that your calves could never defend. To top it off, the mist provided us with a blind summit, so that as we made our way up the hill, we had no idea how far it went (keep in mind we had to carry them all the way back down).
Yeah, that hill went on for a really, really long time.
By the time I’d deposited my logs back into their stack, I was pretty beat, but I nevertheless had some renewed running energy from the prolonged period of walking, so I darted off to my left, running past a few of the thousands of sheep that dotted the entire course, bahhhhhh-ing at us in support the entire way.
Though I had been sent a race map that displayed a Memory Board at this point in the course, I was pleased to find that there wasn’t one, with our next obstacle instead being the Block (Tractor) Pull, an obstacle I hadn’t seen it quite some time (where we have to drag a cinderblock—via a chain attached to it—around a specified loop). This wasn’t too bad of an obstacle, and despite the slope on which the loop was found, I managed to pass a few people before continuing on. Next came the Rope Traverse.
Now this was a new obstacle, and one that actually worked to my benefit. It was shaped like a Z-wall, but instead of being lined with 2x4” handholds, we were instead instructed to press our feet against the wall as we traversed across a set of horizontal ropes [with a lot of slack], then three or four vertical hanging rope stumps (Tarzan-swing style), and then back to another set of horizontal ropes, all before ringing a bell and continuing on. It was very upper-body centric, which worked to my advantage. Then we made our way to the Multi-Rig, which I passed with little-to-no difficulty, finding it much easier than the one’s back in the U.S. I waved at my dad—who was there taking pictures—and bounded up yet another hill for more obstacles.
This is where it got fun, because at this point we had 3 back-to-back uphill barbed-wire crawls, each broken up by another obstacles placed between. After the first barbed-wire crawl, we had the Log Drag, which, like the U.S. plate drag, involved us dragging a log to touch a stake before bringing it back to its original position. After the second barbed-wire crawl we had the Log Flip, in which we had to flip a long, 100kg (220lb) log uphill once before returning it to its place. This obstacle stopped quite a few people, but I managed to successfully complete it and make up a few places as I passed those who were doing burpees. After the third barbed wire crawl, we found ourselves running back downhill for the Bucket Brigade.
You know what kinda sucks? When you are dreading the 200-meter bucket carry from the day before, yet here you are, less than 7 miles into a rumored 17-mile race, and they decide to provide you with a 800+ meter long “trash can” carry through winding trails, overturned trees, uneven terrain, and surfaced roots. We had those same oversized buckets (the “trash cans”) again today, and I’d have to say that for every single racer out there, this was the roughest part (I heard that even Jon Albon, the winner of the Euro Championships, took 14 minutes to complete this obstacle). Our backs ached, our grips faltered, and for many, grumbling began to arise. They found it ridiculous to place such a long and heavy carry out on such an already difficult course. People were injuring themselves as they tried to see passed the buckets to find proper footing on the ground, and it was an understandably stressful event. Nevertheless, we persisted and we succeeded.
Next stop: Water Crossing. First, we were sent out onto some more hills, one of which was so steep that as I descended it, I slippe din the mud and didn't stop slipping until I finally hit the bottom a good twenty feet below (OUCH). Next we found ourselves plowing into some icy water, which we swam through for only about 25m before exiting onto an inlet where we found ourselves facing the dreaded Spear Throw. Once again, God granted me the precision I needed, and I was able to continue onwards penalty free, gaining a few spaces as I did so. Then it was back into yet another water crossing—this one a good 150m long, all through freezing cold water that numbed my entire body. I breast-stroked all the way to yet another series of Dunk Walls, which then provided us with a path out of the water and up some hills for some more hill running.
This is where the hills became especially bad, with the incline growing steeper and the distance becoming further. We went over some 6’ walls—where I excitedly greeted some volunteers and got to chat with them about their day—some more 4’ walls, and then yet another barbed-wire crawl, and a Cargo Slip, which gave way to even more hill running that, after a long while, once again met up with the Sprint course from the day before.
First off: Atlas Carry. The typically-easy obstacle was actually quite difficult for me, with my body being extremely fatigued after so much hill running (we were now at the highest point of elevation that we would reach throughout the race, and my lower back was especially killing me). Nevertheless, after completing it, we moved on to yet another barbed-wire crawl (#5 for the day), then down a hill and to Log Carry #2, the same one from the day before (the one with all the cool roots to climb through and stuff). The volunteer there pointed at a specific log for me to grab, and though it was a shorter and fatter one (rather than the longer and thinner ones I preferred), I didn’t feel like arguing and hefted it onto my shoulder.
This is where I started to cramp up. As we went through the overturned trees my quads and calves clenched up all at once, sitting me into a fit of awkward movements as I tried to continue moving forward while my legs spazzed out underneath me. Once I dropped my log off, I used the aid station to my advantage, downing to protein supplements they were handing out and about 4 cups of water before moving on. They told me I had a 10k left, which made sense since I was at roughly 11 miles. Apparently there was another addition to the course later on.
You don’t know how excited I was to see that they cut out the previous day’s Bucket Brigade, so that the next obstacle we had was the extra-light Herculean Hoist, which I managed to hoist up with my arms only, not even bother to lean back as I did so (the kettle bells were only 40kg, roughly 90 pounds).
You really don’t know how excited I was to see that the volunteers had been incorrect in telling me there was a 10k left, and that in fact all we had left was what remained of the Sprint Course, shortening the race by a solid 4 miles of what I had been expecting! Despite my legs continuing to cramp beneath me, I picked up the pace and crossed the Balance Wall (which was really slippery thanks to the rain) and the Monkey Bars, climbed the Rope Climb and the Container Climb, and then finished the race off with the modified Z-Wall, the three Inverted Walls, the two 8’ walls, and the fire jump, which I successfully cleared without tripping over it this time. In a strange twist of events, my 17-mile race had become just short of 13 miles.
Yet I was still totally dead.
Now let’s be honest: I’m a 19-year old kid from the ultra-hot, ultra-humid, ultra-flat Houston, Texas, and this race managed to challenge me by accentuating every one of my weaknesses to the point of near failure. The upper-body obstacles were easier than usual—much to my chagrin—but the difficulty was more than made up for by the extensively heavy and long carries along with the more than 10,000 feet of elevation change (exactly 5,000 feet ascent with 5,013 feet descent). It was cold and it was rainy and it was foggy, and overall I found myself battling myself out on that course more than I did the competitors that surrounded me. Thanks to the course being founded upon my very weaknesses, I definitely didn’t rank as high in placement as I would typically like to (the course took me over 3 ½ hours), but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy with how the race turned out.
Happy, but never satisfied.
I’m determined to take the lessons I learned from this course and turn those weaknesses into strengths, and I believe that truly is the best outlook one can take going on from races such as this. There’s no room for losing hope, no room for pessimism, no room for beating myself up over what I could have done better—there’s just room to learn, and I learned plenty. This race without-a-doubt made the Scotland trip worth travelling all by itself, because it not only succeeded in being a good and difficult race, but also pushed my limits by placing me in an environment I was not accustomed to that also managed to bring my weaknesses to my attention so that I may blot those out in the future. And is that not why we do these races? To learn lessons, to make new goals, to make ourselves better people as a result? So yeah, I might not have placed anywhere near as well as I would have hoped to, but that doesn’t take anything away from this race. It pushed me, it challenged me, and it made me that much more grateful to the Lord for helping me through the whole way, because I wouldn’t have been able to make it if not for Him.
So yeah, awesome job Spartan Race, ya done did a darn good job. Until next time, my friend. Until net time.