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I completed the Tri-State New Jersey Spartan Sprint 5K: My experience - the highs and the lows

When I got into running in 2019, I knew I'd eventually increase distance and pace, but I never imagined that I'd end up in the mud and rain in New Jersey for a Spartan 5k with 5000ft elevation gain. But alas, here's me, last week Sunday, crawling under barbed wire in the mud to complete my first ever Spartan Race:

On April 30, 2023, I finished the Tri-State New Jersey Spartan Sprint 5K with about 9 other friends from Cornell who also braved the course.

One of the main questions I've gotten in the past week is "what is a Spartan race?" For those of you who don't know (and trust me I'd never heard of it before I registered either), a Spartan race is "a series of obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty ranging from 3 miles to marathon distances". Funnily enough, the New Jersey Mt. Vernon Spartan Race that we did is actually the hardest Spartan Race course because it has 5000 feet of elevation over the 5K distance and pretty awful weather conditions. If I had to describe what a Spartan Race is based on my singular experience, it was an uphill battle of trying to keep your balance in almost ankle-deep mud, hiking through the mountains of New Jersey while challenging yourself to crawl under barbed wire, climb on various obstacles and test your strength and endurance at various points throughout the journey.

It was certainly a challenge, and not one that I really anticipated enjoying either. When I decided to sign up, I really thought it would be just an obstacle course over 5K, but the reality was that the entire course was an obstacle, and it was coupled with the chills of 40 degree Fahrenheit weather with rain showers and wind to ensure that no stone was left unturned in terms of added environmental difficulty.

From the videos I saw online before the race and the course description, I figured it would be a bit muddy, but still manageable enough to get a nice light jog/run in between obstacles. However, we ended up mostly having to pretty much hike/walk through the course between obstacles because finding your footing in the mud without slipping was damn near impossible, and it was a series of steep uphill inclines followed by even steeper downhill treks (sliding down the mud, essentially). For context, the race was hosted at Mt. Vernon ski resort, which meant we were hiking up and down ski hills. So just imagine that instead of taking the ski lift up, you're hiking up (and sliding in mud), and instead of skiing down... well, I guess you could say we "skied" down in the mud, just that it was more so sliding in our shoes or sometimes on our butts.

Throughout the course, we had to complete 19 obstacles (the 20th was cancelled because there were too many medical emergencies on it on the day before) and they were spread out mostly over the last 2 miles of the course. The first mile or so was mostly just an uphill trek in mud, and then the first obstacle really came when we mud-skied down the first mountain slope. The 20 obstacles were:

  1. Over Walls (4')

  2. Monkey Bars

  3. Spear Throw

  4. Hurdles

  5. Inverted Wall

  6. Rolling Mud

  7. Dunk Wall

  8. Slip Wall

  9. Z Wall

  10. Atlas Carry

  11. Barbed Wire Crawl

  12. Sandbag Carry

  13. A-Frame Cargo

  14. Helix

  15. Multi-Rig

  16. Bucket Carry (cancelled)

  17. Rope Climb

  18. Hercules Hoist

  19. Vertical Cargo

  20. Fire Jump

Surprisingly to myself, I actually successfully completed all 19 of the obstacles that we had in our race! It was kind of surreal, because there were a few that I really wanted to give up in, so if not anything, I definitely learnt mental fortitude from the Spartan Race.

For me, the hardest obstacles were the Atlas Carry and the Sandbag Carry. The atlas carry involved carrying a 100lb concrete ball a few metres, which honestly doesn't sound super hard in theory. However, the 100lb ball was lodged deep into a mud hole, and the hardest part was getting it off the ground in the first place. I really nearly gave up on that one, because not only was it heavy, wet and muddy, but it was also cold, so I could barely even feel my fingers as I lodged them into the mud to shake the concrete ball from left to right to try to dislodge it from the hole in the ground. On the other hand, the Sandbag carry was difficult because the route over which we had to carry the 70lb+ sandbag was uphill and extremely muddy (duh). That one was less a test of strength and more a test of endurance for me - I had to push through the urge to put the sandbag down for a bit during the route and just take a break!

My least favourite obstacle was undoubtedly the Dunk Wall. I knew going into this that I would hate it, and surely enough, after I completed it, my mind had not changed. The dunk wall is essentially a large floating wall that you have to pass, and the only way to pass it is to dunk your head and body into the muddy water and wade underneath to the other side. After I re-surfaced from the muddiest, brownest water I'd ever been in in my life, I could taste chunks of dirt and mud in my mouth, and as I spat out whatever I felt in my mouth, it came out a dark brown. Gross to say the least.

On a more positive note, my favourite obstacle in the race was probably the Multi-Rig, which involved a series of hanging circular rings followed by a monkey bar, then more circular rings. Here's a picture for ease of explanation:

What they don't tell you about these obstacles is that they get 10x harder when it's raining and cold, because the rings and bars get super slippery and you have less grip strength too. I almost didn't think I was gonna complete this one, so when I did I felt a real sense of pride. Funnily enough, 2 seconds after I dismounted off the last ring and hit the bell to signal I completed it, I slipped and fell squarely on my ass in the mud. #Humbled.

After the end of the race, I was covered in mud and freezing cold, but super happy that i finished and really proud that I can say I finished all the obstacles too. What I definitely realized is that what I expected the Spartan race to be, definitely was not what I got. It was so much more intense than I could've ever imagined. When we arrived at the venue and I saw how muddy it was, I just remember regretting my decision and constantly asking myself "why did I decide to a Spartan race again??" but by the end of it, I was able to leave with a sense of pride and dare I say happiness that I did it. It was for sure a once in a lifetime experience - you will not catch me on the New Jersey Spartan course ever again - but definitely something that I think I can grow from as a person. Whether it be taking lessons about mental fortitude, determination, perseverance or even just the idea of doing something you don't want to do that's good for you, I don't regret doing the Spartan race. I enjoyed it even more because I was able to do it with friends, and the challenge itself was enjoyable. I took an entire week off the gym after the Spartan race to recover, because my body was so sore and tired, but it definitely was an experience to remember, and now I can say that I AM A SPARTAN and nobody can take that away from me!

Anyways, thanks for being here this weekend! Take care of yourselves this week.

Until next Sunday,

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