Tackling a Spartan Race at Age 50: The Race is On!

Written by:
Blake Dalton
August 18, 2022

The day is finally here and we are excited! The weather looks to be in our favor: slightly cloudy and not too hot, even a bit of a breeze. I am caffeinated, hydrated and ready to go. My mission is to have fun, support my team, and survive intact! My secret mission: no matter how tired, scraped and banged and beat up I am, I will churn out a full sprint at the end with a flying leap over the burning logs (but that's a secret so don't tell anyone).

A crowd of Spartans gathers at the starting line. People are moving and warming up. There is a sense of friendly anticipation, even a feeling of camaraderie. So many of us have been cooped up and isolated during the pandemic. Now we are together outdoors for a communal adventure. 

I am still a little nervous about the 6.5 miles plus obstacles. Will I have the stamina? Will leg injuries and hernia surgeries knock me out of this event? 

THE RACE BEGINS

They start us off packed together in a big mass. We are pacing ourselves moving through the hilly forest terrain, a large merry group on a fairly narrow trail. The first obstacles are natural; old logs, rocks, roots, branches... and (aha!) mud, mud, mud!

Several days of heavy rain have turned some parts of the trail into six inches of thick, red mud. No real running here! Just an uptempo trudge as I try to avoid falling. The first man-made obstacles are low walls to vault over and high walls to climb over. No problem! 

We wait at some of the bigger walls to give boosts to our team and anyone else that wants them. The atmosphere is great. People are cheering each other on and strangers are helping each other conquer obstacles.

Everything is more challenging than normal because it is intensely wet, muddy and slippery. The first really challenging obstacle is a long stretch of thick monkey bars. My pull up and grip work are paying off; but at the second to last bar, I slip on the mud and bite it! To heck with that! I go back and start again and (bam!) make it! My forearm muscles are speaking to me a little though.

Then we carry wet sand bags and buckets of rocks. My core work and leg work are now paying off. We climb through jungle gyms and more monkey bars. We climb up a very imposing tall cliff on nets.

I am feeling good overall. The running distance does not feel like an issue. We trudge through creeks made much larger from the week's flooding, as I listen to the beautiful sound of a hundred springtime frogs.

But, uh oh, here it comes! A huge pit of cold muddy water. We have to swim under a wall. Now we are feeling it. We are a little stiffer from the cold and heavier from the muddy water. The next big wall climbs are tough until the muscles warm back up.

Now my hernia surgery is being put to the test. This is the one I worried about: the 100-pound atlas stone. A huge, beach ball sized chunk of concrete. It is made more challenging because it is wet and slippery and stuck several inches in the mud.

Can I pick it up? I vow not to overdo it. I am ready to do burpees instead. But I've come this far. So I squat low in the mud, wrap my arms around the wet concrete and pick it up like an awkward kettlebell. There is a big “schluck" sound as it pulls out of the mud. And yes, I am able to move and carry that sucker! 

Soon we arrive at the signature javelin toss. The “javelins” are not so well weighted and balanced, and they are attached to heavy, wet, muddy ropes. Not many people are even getting it to the target. No one on my team makes it. 

My turn, I try to remember some dusty martial arts skills and images from old dungeons and dragons books. I throw and hit the target! However the javelin slides out. So I must join my friends to do my first burpees of the day.

THE HUBRIS OF THE SANDBAG

Little did I know, this obstacle would be my undoing. It is a tall tower that has a pulley with a rope on one end and a sandbag on the other. The task is to pull the bag to the top of the tower. 

I start battling. How heavy is this F%$%! thing? I don't know, but waterlogged and caked in mud, it is heavy enough to lift me off the ground when I start to pull. 

Grrr... My spirits are high so I hook my feet under a fence and start hoisting this beast up. About halfway to the top, I lose my grip on a muddy patch of rope and the sandbag hurls to the ground. Forearms burning I hoist it up again! Three quarters of the way and another crash!

I debate just stopping and doing the damn burpees. My team comes over and cheers me on. Can't stop now! 90% of the way up and it plummets again to the bottom. Rope burn on my hands. My abs and legs are getting a workout just holding me on the fence. Although it is my forearms that are on fire. I had debated trying to find a different less muddy rope. But it is too late to change course now. 

"One more time up," I tell myself. I start to lose ground at the 90% mark again and the rope starts to slide. I consider calling it when a total stranger comes and lends me a hand. I can’t quit now. Finally we reach the top together!

Next obstacle is (of course) a vertical rope climb! I have little left in my forearms at this point. I make it near the top twice, slide down, and lose some skin on my forearms. Therefore I decide to hit the burpees instead.

Back into the forest running. We come to a creek which has now become a half mile of water. Some of it is chest level deep.

The cold is starting to slowly sink in.

More walls and another big creek. My friend, the squirrel-like champion of the monkey bars, has to call it here. Height is a factor, the water that was almost to my chest was close to her neck. She is dizzy and getting chills. She wisely decides that hypothermia is not the better part of valor. 

After a long time in the cold water, we are out and running again over (ahh!) sun warmed granite. Eventually the 'ahh' turns to hot. We are sweating but with some body parts somehow still feeling cold and stiff.

We drink water at some of the stations. Then, what is this fresh hell?!  The egg beaters. Imagine a set of monkey bars that have “egg beater” attachments on them that spin when you grab them.

After you make it past that, there are more egg beaters with level changes!

My forearms that started feeling swollen from the sandbag start to fail me. I make it part way and hit the mud. Burpees. Now I am definitely feeling the stamina challenge.

We have used up our 'second wind " but we somehow find a third one and we are actually jogging at a decent tempo. The end is not too far now. More walls and hurdles. Getting closer. 

Then a funny structure where you have to run up a slick wall and reach high to grab a ledge and clamber up. I hit it at good speed with momentum in my favor. Fingertips catch the ledge and start to pull. A muddy foot slips on the slick surface. My right hand also slips and (yank!) the left arm tries to hold. I feel my left shoulder start to pull out of the socket! Oh shit. I plummet to the ground. 

When I get up, I can't lift my arm and it hurts like hell. But it does not feel dislocated. I do some very slipshod version of burpees because my left arm won't really support me anymore. 

Crap, crap, crap. I get running again I have to bypass some crazy sideways precarious climb obstacle and I just keep running. The shoulder hurts, but I begin to be able to move it a little more. I awkwardly clamber through a jungle gym structure that would have been a piece of cake in the first half of the race, before I destroyed my shoulder.

I climb on my belly under a long line of barbed wire. The cold mud stings to help me notice bloody scrapes on my chest and arms that accumulated from various obstacles over the past 90 minutes. 

I was too preoccupied by the pain in my shoulder and the lead feeling in my quads to tie my hair back properly. A dreadlock gets caught in the barbed wire. A friendly race companion that I have seen on the course unhooks my hair and cheers me on. 

Somehow I find my 4th or 5th wind and make it through the barbed wire. Once again, I am covered in heavy, cold, wet, mud. I start running. My legs feel 30 pounds heavier. Most of my body feels like one big scrape, my forearms are so swollen, and I can barely move my fingers and it feels like I have an ice pick in the back of my left shoulder. 

I also smell smoke. 

The fire at the end of the race! People are cheering and I begin to sprint. The end is farther away than I thought. However I can't stop sprinting now. I pick up more speed the air that hits my throat and lungs feels like it is cutting me on the inside. I go faster over muddy slippery uncertain terrain and then faster still.

I am at full speed with the wind behind my back as I catch air in a flying leap over the flaming logs. It tastes like victory. 

It takes a long time before I feel like I can fully breathe again. I feel proud that I have traversed the hardest course in my life. 

Although my shoulder worries me, I am fortunate to have my Activcore Physical Therapist pals. After an examination, they conclude that I have definitely strained some muscles. I must have let go of my grip during the race before anything tore.

It takes some doing but eventually I work my way back to intense workouts with lots of pull ups. One day searching for a post-workout snack, I find a new martial arts gym. On a whim I walk in. Straight Blast Gym is impressive and the people are friendly. Muay thai? Sure, I have never tried that before!

Now I'm on a whole new journey with different physical challenges that will no doubt inspire a whole new blog! (sung to the tune of “A Whole New World") 

Thanks for reading! I hope you are having some fun adventures too. Whatever your goal, we are here at Activcore to help you get there. Contact us to learn more.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Blake Dalton

Performance Specialist
Blake Dalton is an experienced performance specialist, Pilates Instructor, and personal trainer who delights in the study of movement and how he can use his practice to improve the lives of others. He works at Activcore in Atlanta, Georgia, located just 2 miles from Emory University. His love of movement brought him to the study of martial arts and modern dance. It was here Blake discovered his second love the love of teaching and sharing.
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