Obstacle Race season is coming to an end for me this weekend. Friday night I will be heading down to the Spartan Race Super Spartan in Marseilles, IL. This is where it all began last year. Sure I started my obstacle racing a few years back with the Men’s Health Urbanathlon and I really got into the muddy obstacle races starting with the Warrior Dash then Tough Mudder and finally competing in the Midwest Spartan Race Spartan Sprint a year ago. It was there that I entered my first Hurricane Heat, and met the Storm Chasers. It’s been one hell of a year since then. And I couldn’t be happier. It got me thinking about the Indiana Spartan Sprint; the first ever Founder’s Race it was one of the shorter, more difficult races I’ve done.
What makes it better? In an effort to increase registrations for Indiana, with Jonathan and the Corn Fed Spartans leading the way, I decided to start buying Christmas gifts for friends and family… I wanted more people to experience what I had. Two of the people I bought a race entry for, as a gift, were my mother and my younger sister. My mother is a former bodybuilder and martial artist and my younger sister is an elite gymnast. Even now in my mothers younger years 😉 she has a very ambitious attitude toward staying fit and healthy. They both do. Their faces were shocked, stunned, and perhaps slightly irritated, when they opened their gifts.
The months passed by and finally it was time for us to go Indiana for the Founder’s Race. I remember when we were driving there it was all flat land, we questioned what the terrain could really be like in the vast flatness that is Indiana. To our surprise when the four of us arrived, my friend Matt also came along so he too could try his first Spartan Race, they made magic happen. The masterminds behind course designing at Spartan Race managed to locate a piece of land that had an incredible amount of elevation change, and the weather was completely in SR’s favor, wet and cold. Just the week before it was upper 70s maybe even 80s. Then it plummeted to the 40s, water temperatures hovered around 38° in the water. Internally, I kept thinking how bad I felt for dragging them out with such crappy weather but I couldn’t reveal that, I remained very jovial and reassuring that the cold wouldn’t be an issue.
Damn was I wrong. Matt and I headed over to the race early in the morning from the hotel to race in the Competitive Heat. That heat was incredible but within the first three minutes of the race I rolled my foot really bad on a sharp turn during these rolling hills. I heard and felt something pop. EFFFF I shouted out, but I really said it. Then I think I remember saying something along the lines of “there goes my race” Andi Hardy told me she remembered hearing that happen while she passed me, all I remember was her making sure I was okay before taking off and giving me a boost of encouragement.
Given the circumstances I still had a decent finish. I was hurting but felt good enough to go again. After all I had a promise to keep to my mom and sister. After the first heat I met back up with my mother and sister and tried to warm myself up before going out for more cold weather sucky fun. Yes it was fun. Cold, but fun. My cousins also came down so they drove my mother and sis over with their friend. Ya, that’s right we had the whole family out for this one. On top of that we had Matt there along with high school buddies, Craig and Joe. Big thanks to Joe for a lot of the awesome pictures he captured! All of us lined up for the next heat and I brought a little something extra to help me prepare for the Death Race. I packed a small ruck with a 24 pack of 16 oz Miller Lite cans. Mmmm-Liquid Bricks.
As the race began we all took off together. My cousins, Derek and Cameron and their friend John took off pretty quick along with my sister. When we first lined up I told them all to run their race and promised my mom I’d stay with her. I told Mariah, my sister, to do whatever she felt comfortable with. She disappeared pretty quick. I was happy she took off; this would be an incredible learning experience for her, especially at the age of 16. I also knew she had what it takes to successfully finish. She’s a rockstar.
There my mom and I were making our way through the natural obstacles that Spartan Race utilized to make the Founder’s Race a one of a kind experience. Instead of a lot of the standard obstacles Spartan uses we faced muddy hills, log carries, steep and slippery inclines, and it was the first time I had encountered a cargo net that was hung between two rather far apart trees. The key was to get on the outside edges where it was more tout. My mother was an animal, even though she was a bit cold and we had both ass-planted in the mud a few times she never stopped getting up and pushing forward. She’s always been a powerful, inspiring, and motivating woman. I’m very thankful that I was able to grow up with such a good example of what women can accomplish.
I think the obstacles that really took my mom by surprise were the water obstacles, the tall logs we had to climb near the end and the treacherous barbwire crawl that seemed to go on forever. When you finished a section of the barbwire crawl you’d get up and realize you were only getting started. They separated the barbwire into multiple zig-zagging sections that would end, allow you to get up a second just to cross over and drop back down to your belly. It was brutal, but no matter what my mom kept crawling and even got caught with a huge smile on her face by the photographer. I remember when we rounded that left turn and she just let out an “are you serious?” at the sight of the extremely short three-barbwire criss-cross-length crawl, that concluded the barbwire obstacle. It was a sick little trick played by Todd Sedlak when he helped with designing the course. Thanks again for that one buddy.
At the end my mom and I trudged through the last of the water obstacles, carried another log and climbed over the remaining obstacles. I felt terrible when I gave my mom a boost over one of the tall log hurdles. I thought she was fine getting over and down on the other side but she was so exhausted she lost her grip and went splat on her bum. I felt horrible and quickly helped her to her feet. She looked at me and said, “Tone, I’m so tired.” I cheered her on and told her there was just one more left. I assured her we would get some fellow Spartans to help us over. She couldn’t believe how helpful everyone was around her. When we finished, there were hugs being given by my mom to all the complete strangers she met along the way. She was overwhelmed with happiness at what she accomplished, and surprised at how much camaraderie there was among strangers.
Finishing that second heat with my mother was just the experience we needed together. It brought us even closer than we already were. My mother was a Spartan, the race reinvigorated her and made her feel strong and powerful, how she felt when she used to be a bodybuilder. I was proud of her, and my little sister, Mariah, dominated that course. She finished some 30 minutes before my mother and I made it in. She even wrote a paper about how the experience changed her for her senior composition class and another for her college admissions papers.
Spartan Race has this unbelievable ability to change people. It takes them out of their shells, it empowers them, the race reinvigorates people’s very beings, it restores their faith in humanity, and opens the doors for so many like-minded people to come together and share the most incredible experiences in the world. Spartan Race gives the opportunity to truly live; it gives the ability to embrace the suck and endure any obstacles that may come our way, literal and metaphorical.
After the race my mother was so cold I could tell she was approaching the possibility of becoming hypothermic. I rushed her to my car where Matt had been hanging out most of my second lap. He got to enjoy a few brews with fellow racers too. We got everyone changed out of his or her cold, wet clothes and did it all behind a couple towels. How else you gonna change in the middle of nowhere? I cranked the heat in my car to the high of 80° and turned it up to full blast. By time I ran back from saying my goodbyes and washing myself off, my mom’s lips had already returned to full color and her teeth had stopped chattering. I was relieved to see that she was able to return to normal. It was a hectic rush to get our things together to head home.
All in all I think it is safe to say that it was probably the best Christmas Gift I have ever given anyone. My family spent an awesome weekend together; we overcame the miserable, cold and wet weather. Dominated the ridiculous amount of elevation change and obstacles thrown our way. In the end we learned more about others as well as ourselves. It was an experience in every sense. One I felt a lot better about when I looked back and realized how much it really did for all of us. Spartan Race has created a very unique experience, one that I can’t seem to get enough of. I can’t wait to race this weekend.
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