15 Miles of Hell, Fire (& Ice) Included

This past December, Ryan and I took on the Spartan Beast for a second time. For those not familiar, it’s easily the toughest obstacle course race available in today’s over-saturated market of OCRs. Advertised as 12+ miles, you might think to yourself, “Well, at least it’s not a complete half-marathon.” Wrong.

This particular Spartan was longer than normal. With freezing temperatures & the very likely chance of participants coming down with pneumonia, Spartan race officials opted to nix the 130+ yard lake swim. In its place, was a trek around the lake perimeter – still in the freezing water, mind you – and extra miles on the course. (How nice of them.) It was roughly 15 miles of hell. Fire (& ice) included.

Spoiler! We survived.

Spoiler! We survived.

Spartan Beast Breakdown.

In a typical Spartan Beast you encounter sandbag carries, concrete block pulls, multiple 8-10 foot wall climbs & what they like to call “over, under, throughs” (more walls). You also have the pleasure of at least 2 rope climbs, several hundred feet of barbed wire crawls, monkey bars, a rope traverse, a wall traverse, concrete hauls & hoists, a spear throw (which, after 4 Spartans I’ve yet to conquer), a 100+ yard swim, tire flips, wooden post traverse (usually 2 versions of this baby), a whole lot of mud and even more running. Oh & let’s not forget carrying those 5 gallon buckets of pea gravel. The worst. And, as if once isn’t enough, sometimes they make you do it twice.

To top it off, there’s no opting out of a Spartan obstacle. Go around? Nope. How about doing 30 burpees instead. Oh, and this is if you fail too. It’s not like they say, “Oh, good try. You can be on your merry way now.” Negative. In Spartan, failure is not an option. (Which, I actually kind of like.) For those unfamiliar with burpees, watch this. Feel free to skip to the 2 minute mark.

So yea, that’s the gist of a Spartan Beast. Sounds rough, right? Rest assured, it’s worse….& I’m probably forgetting something.

Sandbag carry.

Sandbag carry.

Let There Be…..Snow (?!)

Our day started out at the hotel where we scarfed down our carb-loaded breakfast and bundled up as much as humanly possible. Well, as much as was logical considering the forthcoming mud and miles.

With our trusty Camelbak’s in tow and our bodies full of anticipation, we walked out of the hotel. Instant regret came over me. What did we get ourselves into?! It was about 25 degrees. Walking to the car, I noticed snow on the ground. SNOW. And we were supposed to happily run through miles of mud and water in this? I’ve done this before. The fire doesn’t usually come ’til the end. And I was already freezing. It was going to be a long day.

Snow on the ground outside our hotel. (Not a good sign.)

Snow on the ground outside our hotel. (Not a good sign.)

The Hills of Death & that Stupid Bucket Carry.

In our usual way, Ryan & I loaded ourselves up with all the appropriate pre-race supplements and charged headfirst into the smoke along with hundreds of other crazies willing to put themselves through hell. Four miles in, I was hurting. Bad. You see, the first few miles was pure running – up and down, up and down, up and down.

Holy. Hell.

My legs were on fire and my lungs were lacking serious oxygen. I began to wonder how I was ever going to finish. But we trudged along and I managed to get past the hills of death. Shortly after was the sandbag carry, followed immediately by the first pea gravel haul. Both back up and down the hills of death. (Of course.) I thought I might die. This was also about the point I realized my Garmin wasn’t tracking my progress. Apparently, I had managed to turn it off during an obstacle. I was so upset. I was going to die with zero proof of what had killed me.

Fortunately for me, Ryan hadn’t updated his insurance policy on me yet so he wasn’t willing to let me die that day. He pushed me along and told me all the things a good husband should. “You got this. Let’s just get to that next flat spot and we’ll rest.” We finally managed to finish that obstacle & for the first time in my life, I was thrilled to be running.

Ryan carrying his 5 gallon bucket of pea gravel.

Ryan carrying his 5 gallon bucket of pea gravel.

Not a Ninja. Almost a Pity Party.

We ran along the course. The first wooden post traverse I failed. This version was tree stumps of varying heights, unequal distances apart & placed somewhat lop-sided into the ground. I’ve come to the conclusion that only ninjas are able to do that obstacle. (For real.) Yay burpees! (Said no one ever.)

We went over, under and through a bunch of walls. Climbed a rope. Hoisted the largest block of concrete ever. Did some burpees. Ran some more. Went over more walls. Went under what felt like a million miles of barbed wire. The day was wearing on forever it seemed. My hips were killing me from all the running and my bones felt like they were grinding together. I was tired and began to feel defeated. And with that, came self pity. I was disappointed in myself that I had let something physical get the best of me mentally. You know that saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”? Well, that’s me. Usually. I’ve never had a problem with mental grit. Until then.

Just when I was genuinely considering sitting down & having a good cry, Ryan turned to me & pointed out a group of girls who had taken off in the heat before us. We had caught up with them! Instantly, I felt a sense of renewal come over me. I wasn’t done just yet.

We charged on.

My favorite obstacle, rope climbs!

My favorite obstacle, rope climbs!

Antarctica in Texas? Not Cool.

Each time I began to feel myself struggling, we would come to an obstacle I had conquered at a previous Spartan Race. We’d knock them out & keep moving, each time renewing my sense of badass-ness. And then came the water.

What. The. Hell.

Remember the snow? Yea, it was now keeping the lake water nice & freezing cold. Time to trek through it for a good 300 yards? No thanks. Wait, burpees? Ok, the Antarctic water trek doesn’t sound so bad…. Needles. That’s what it felt like. Piercing my feet with every step. You would think they would go numb at some point. Nope. I wasn’t that lucky. Regardless, we finally managed to get around the damn lake & back to running. Remember what I said earlier about never being so thrilled to be running? I lied. It was definitely after the ice bath.

“Just keep running. Just keep running.” This was my new favorite song.

Let there be Fire.

Usually towards the end of a Spartan, there’s another rope climb as well as a slanted wall climb. After miles of running & obstacles, tackling either of these is hard enough. But, Spartan Race organizers have a sick sense of humor. They like to make you go throw more mud and water before trying to climb either. Can you say slippery? But, if you can get your technique just right, you’ll survive.

Then came the fun part. FIRE! I had never been so happy to see fire in all my life. Fire! Fire! Fire! I was doing the happy dance. If my entire body would have caught on fire jumping over the flames, I can guarantee you, I would not have cared. We were done. We had survived. Again.

Conquering the Spartan fire together. (This was actually from the 2012 Beast.)

Conquering the Spartan fire together. (This was actually from the 2012 Beast.)

At this point you’re probably asking yourselves, “Why? Why would normal people put themselves through all that?” Good question. And, I have a good answer.

We’re not normal. AROO!

My Spartan Journey: I Lived

My Spartan journey began in March of 2012 at The Gusher 5K. (You guys may remember Iram Leon who won The Gusher Marathon earlier this year & is also a recent Spartan finisher.) Having never run more than a mile in my life – if that – I signed up to run my first 5K at The Gusher since our office had a participating team. As it tends to do, life got in the way & I never prepared for the run. And, as luck would have it, a team member from our office ended up having to back out at the last minute leaving an open spot on the team. Genuinely thinking of backing out myself, I convinced my husband to join our team as a walker. Having had back surgery 3 months prior, I knew I was asking a lot of him, but I also knew it would be my “easy way out.” He would start the race running – that’s the stubborn man he is – but, I was convinced there was no way he would run the entire 5K. Which, of course, meant I’d “have” to walk the rest of it with him to show my support. *cough, cough*

Race day came and I was petrified. As we took off among the horde of people and my legs began to hurt almost instantly, it became clear there was no way I was finishing that race running. With only a ½ mile down, I looked over at my husband who was calmly running along and looked for some sign of him slowing down. Zero chance. (Must have been all those years in the Army paying off.) So, I continued to plod along trying to decide if I could somehow fake an injury. As we approached the 1 mile marker, I began to tell myself I just had to make it to the mile marker and then I could walk. (After all, that in itself was an accomplishment for me.) The mile marker came and went. My husband continued to run. Oh how I hated (and adored) that man. So we ran. And ran. And ran. As I crossed the finish line for my very first 5K, I felt like I had just run a marathon – mentally and physically. I was ecstatic! It was in that moment that a thought crossed my mind, “What if.” I hadn’t prepared and yet, I had finished my task. What if I had actually trained? What if I could really do this?

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

Fast forward 2 months and I found myself standing at the starting line of my first Spartan – the Sprint in Burnet, TX. Once again, I felt like I had made a very bad decision agreeing to endure such torture. The race started and I trudged along the course. My husband was with me every step of the way helping me over the walls, talking me through the running. I managed to only have to do burpees twice – the rope climb and the spear throw. Covered in mud from head to toe and completely exhausted, we crossed the finish line. As they placed a Spartan medal around my neck, I decided I could most definitely do this.

My husband and I agreed we wanted to go after the coveted Trifecta medal. We began to train and prepare by participating in as many races, bike rides and runs as we could. We even completed our first Tough Mudder and joined a local CrossFit box (shout-out to CrossFit Bridge City). We often joked that these races and training were our marriage counseling. (How true that turned out to be!)

We completed our 2nd Spartan – the Beast – in Glen Rose, TX that December. The day after returning home, I began to experience severe chest pain. Within a week, I found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with two pulmonary embolisms, commonly known as PEs – or blood clots in the lungs. The remedy? Blood thinners for a minimum of 6 months with the possibility of being on them permanently if they determined I had a blood clotting disorder.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

As I lay in my hospital bed, the doctor tried to reiterate how much of a “big deal” my situation was. (Not being familiar with PEs, I didn’t grasp why they were acting like I was dying.) All the doctors and nurses seemed to say was, “It’s a really big deal.” Finally, the doctor decided to shoot straight with me. With a sincere look of concern on his face, he said, “You had two chronic PEs. One in the right that was completely blocking the artery and the left almost completely blocking the artery. We’re lucky we caught it. That’s usually fatal.” Later that afternoon, they sent in the hospital chaplain to discuss my will. (Let me just say from experience that nothing quite brings your life into perspective like the words fatal and will.)

These people are crazy! I am SO not dying today – I found myself screaming inside. What about my children? My husband? What about everything I haven’t gotten to do yet? “Can I still do obstacle racing?” I asked. With a look of surprise on his face, the doctor replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go climbing through barbed wire or anything.” Uncontrollably, the tears flowed. The idea of waiting my entire life to finally discover I loved something only to have it ripped away was devastating. Maybe I was dying. My husband stayed by my side, reassuring me that we would get through this together. And, get through it we did.

With only a month off from CrossFit and adjusting to life on my trusty blood thinners, I returned to the local box and began to push harder than before. In the beginning, every time I struggled to breathe, I experienced anxiety. In time, I began to distinguish the difference between the PEs causing me problems and me just getting my butt kicked by the WOD. But, with overwhelming support from my fellow CrossFitters and my husband and with my children as inspiration, I began to set personal records. Every day I grew stronger and more fit. Every day I got one day closer to that 6 month mark of required blood thinners.

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

Some days, reality liked to slap me a little harder than others. Like the morning I received a text from my co-worker telling me her sister’s husband died from a PE and that I’m “the only person she knows who’s survived it.” Or when we got the call that my husband’s great uncle had passed away from a PE. No one knows why God does things the way He does, or what His plan is for us. All I know, is that it wasn’t my time to die. For the time being, I still get to wake up next my husband and kiss my children goodnight. And for that, I am very grateful.

What feels like a million vials of blood later, we still don’t have an answer. The doctors have a few leads, but nothing solid. For now, I’m free of Coumadin and clear to conquer what I set out to do over a year ago – get the Spartan Trifecta medal. My husband and I are signed up for the Spartan Sprint in Kiln, MS. I have no doubt that when I find myself standing at the starting line, I’ll experience fear and anxiety. But I also know one thing for certain. I will finish the race. I will add another Spartan medal to my collection. And one day very soon, that will be the Trifecta medal.

Until then…..AROO!