Spartan George

Why did man go to the moon?

Because it’s there.

The same daft (and largely inaccurate) piece of ‘logic’ could be applied to why anyone in their right mind would consider taking on the 20+km, 75-obstacle ‘Spartan Beast’. The Spartan Race series is a worldwide tour of mind-numbing, leg-sapping, limb-crunching races that put the body through the mire.

On Saturday 9th November, this is exactly what my colleagues John, Lee and I took on.

Before you start, they make you sign a waiver, which states, and I quote:

I acknowledge that my participation in the Event represents risks of injury and/or death and that the activities involved in the Event can cause, without limitation, the following: drowning; near-drowning; sprains; strains; fractures; lesion such caused by fire or heat and cold injuries; over-use syndrome; Injuries involving motored or non-motored vehicles; animal bites and/or stings; contact with poisonous plants; accidents involving, but not limited to paddling, climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, travel by boat, truck, car, or other convenience; heart attack and the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death.

It also states that it would be ‘reckless’ to take part for anyone who suffers from Diabetes. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I would need to tap into my reckless side and, when asked, keep quiet about my pancreatic challenges.
Come race day, the man upstairs had also decided to conspire against us. The road was barely visible through the windscreen of John’s van as the rain hammered everything in sight. The thought of going outside seemed idiotic.

The course, at the army’s Pippingford Park training base in Kent, was notably soggy before anyone had even run on it. We were in the 1200hrs heat, which was the last of six heats, meaning 1800 ‘Spartans’ will already have churned it by the time we got our turn.

The race is begun by mean-looking chap in a Spartan warrior outfit. He emerges clutching that traditional and well-known item from a Spartan’s arsenal, a megaphone. He may also have put is leather pantlets in the wrong wash, as they didn’t leave much to the imagination. And it was a cold day; Gerard Butler he was not. His megaphone didn’t work particularly well either as all I heard him say, or yell, was “I AM A SPARTAN, AROO, AROO”, which everyone responded to in kind.

And off we went.

The first few hundred metres, although a tad muddy, were actually quite friendly. “This could be ok”, I thought. An unrealistic thought. Beyond the first corner we turned, there came a muddy mound hiding a 20ft pool of near-frozen water. Having waded through it, with yelps echoing through the valley, one bloke stood at the end of this pool, topless, staring down his now self-opened shorts, saying in a whiny Florida accent, “I think I just had my first period!”

Maybe he had, but worse was to come. The course wound up and down, left and right, on and on, through woods, ponds, rivers and bogs, up steep slopes, down treacherous inclines, and all with mud ankle-deep at its kindest. Wilfred Owen will have had his work cut out rhyming this one.

Spartan Lee

For good measure, the organisers threw in a series of obstacles. The punishment for failing one was 30 burpees, as our scantily clad Spartan had indicated at the start.

Some were reasonably straightforward, like scaling a cargo net. Others not so, like crossing a stretch of water on monkey bars that provided similar grip to greased ice. These bars produced a moment of golden hilarity as John, in a league of his own, managed to struggle to the far side of the frame before losing his grip on the very last bar, tumbling onto the bank, bouncing off his rear and falling head over heels back into the muddy water. 30 burpees ensued. Lee and I had barely crossed a tenth of it between us.

Spartan John Mud

There then came a stretch where we were sent in and out of the muddy water, which always smelt like someone had ‘taken advantage’ in there, without any running in between. This tired us out, but also meant we couldn’t use a running period to warm up. Hypothermia looked a concern for many at this stage and it was here where we almost lost a man. Taking the lead through yet another waist-deep pool, I stumbled and crashed my left knee on a hidden rock under the water. I scarpered to the side, eyes watering, to check the damage. Thankfully, I was so cold and loaded with adrenaline that the pain was somewhat masked and I hobbled on, supported brilliantly by John and Lee. I know about it now!

Wading through pools that smelt like someone had 'taken advantage'

Wading through pools that smelt like someone had ‘taken advantage’

In one of the pools, they even thought it would spice things up to chuck some ice in as well. I suspect this finished a few people off, but not us. We ploughed on with darkness threatening. Next we crawled for around 200 metres on hands and knees under barbed wire on a road that scratched and spiked, which was especially painful in the cold, with exhaustion fast approaching.

Eventually we returned to the start/finish arena for a couple of final obstacles. One of these was a 30ft rope climb. I take no embarrassment in saying that Lee and I took the 30 burpees without even attempting this monster, however John was determined to prove that the years of vaulting rails in St Paul’s had been worth it. He heroically and excruciatingly yanked himself to the top, becoming the only man I saw achieve this. As the cameras focussed on him, including a video camera, he yelled the name of his business: “STREETGYM DOT COM”, before lowering himself to earth. Shameless.

That was it. Once we had run through a final Thracian warrior yielding a Gladiators-style cotton bud, the race was run, the day was won, the pain was over.

We finished the course in 4 hours and fifteen minutes, coming 849th, 850th and 851st out of 1829. We may well have finished higher had we been in an earlier heat, but that wasn’t the point. The aim was to finish this brutal beast and that is exactly what we did. More than 1 in 10 people did not finish.

Thanks go to our supporters and to John for forming and patiently executing a well-informed training regime. It’s a sign of what StreetGym can get you to do, so give it a go and save yourself from expensive gyms. You won’t regret it.

Until next time (har har)

Spartan finishers

By George Lines