Last week, I went to Kuala Lumpur to take part in the Spartan Beast race – one of the more difficult ones of the Spartan races. The obstacle course comes in 3 flavours with increasing distances – the Sprint, Super and Beast. I did the Sprint in Singapore, enjoyed it so much that I joined the Singapore Spartan Super not too long after that. Of course I enjoyed that too and joined the Spartan Beast as well, but this time in Malaysia.
This post takes readers through how I prepared for the race and my experience.
A different experience
I arrived at the Nexus International School with an Uber driver who ferried passengers before me who were going to the same place. Stating that the participants were also taking part in the Spartan Beast, he asked me how long I think I would take. The Spartan Beast is a 20 km course with 30 obstacles. Depending on location, there could be hills to climb and in some instances, rivers to cross.
“Maybe around 3 hours?” I told him. It was a very optimistic guess. I took 5.
One reason for that optimism was that the courses I had experienced before in Singapore for the Sprint and Super were nothing like the one I was about to experience.
For one, it was much less muddy for my previous races. The rain that fell during the Spartan Beast did not help matters. Even walking was difficult. On flat ground your shoes slid and stuck to the thick mud. On slopes, you have to content with trying not to fall as well. The mud also obstructed my vision as the stain dried up on my glasses.
For all the difference between the experiences though, be it terrain or the weather, you have no control. What you do have control is the training you do before. Below are some tips that may help you prepare for your next big race.
For aspiring Spartans, it is best to work on your running and basic fitness first. This is because though it is an obstacle course, there is quite a lot of running to be done as well. To train my cardio, I joined spinning classes at my gym. For basic strength related conditioning, I turned to their BodyPump classes. I would also advise potential Spartans to do trail running as well as there is a high chance you will encounter elevated terrains.
As much it was about running, it is also about the obstacles themselves. It is best to take the races one level at a time to slowly acquaint yourself with the obstacles. By the time I did the Spartan Beast, I had a rough idea about what to expect for each obstacle. By and large, the obstacles I encountered for both the Super and Beast were very similar. The Sprint and Super had some differences in the number and types of obstacles encountered.
Below is a route of the KL Spartan Beast with the obstacles indicated.
If you are interested, you can find a sample on some obstacles on spartan.com
Besides the races, you can train for the obstacle by searching for meetup groups at Meetup.com that train for these obstacles as well. These are usually run by independent Spartan workout groups or organised by the Spartan race officials themselves nearer the date of the race. Because the penalty for a failed obstacle is 30 burpees (to be done on Spartan honour), it pays to train for them.
Meeting the obstacles
But the Spartan race is not one that celebrates only individuals but one that promotes helping one another too. That guy needs a shove over the wall? Give him a push. Another guy seems to be falling? Give him a hand. During the race, I met up with another Spartan and throughout the race, though I did not know the guy before hand, we aided each other through the obstacles and I think this is the true spirit of a Spartan race – to help one another and to make new friends.
The course was long , muddy and hilly and running it alone can be demoralizing at times, so it helps with a friend at the side. Of course along with a friend, the conditions of the course make it important to dress the part as well.
Equipment & clothing
Make sure to wear shoes that can drain water and have good grip. Water drainage is important as there were some obstacles that your shoes are going to get wet in. Not having shoes with the above stated factors during my Spartan Beast meant that I had my fair share of running in water logged shoes and slipping and sliding during the course itself.
It pays also to have socks that are thin and made of synthetic material so that it will dry off more quickly.
In the clothing department, wearing tights can aid in preventing some of the scratches, bruises and rashes you may get during the course of the race. During my Spartan sprint , I wore shorts instead. This resulted in rashes on my thighs for a couple of days after the race. Additionally, avoid wearing anything cotton, as it tends to retain water, making you that much heavier.
You may consider bringing an action camera with it’s underwater casing. Pro tip: you can save your contact number and name in the micro-SD card so that in the event you lose your camera, the finder can contact you. This was learnt from a forum posting I read online that I found made quite a bit of sense .
Below is a compilation of video clips I took during the race itself that takes viewers through the start of the race and a few obstacles. Thankfully, I did not lose my camera! =)
Lastly, it pays to bring your water bladder along with a bag if you are going for the Spartan Beast. You will definitely need the water during the 20 km route. There are water points along the route but these were few and far between.
Some other tips
Here are some others tips that you may find useful.
- Don’t wear your watch. It is extremely cumbersome to clean afterward. Ask the time from the marshals instead.
- Bring a change of clothing and a pair of slippers. You can thank me later.
- Bring wet towels to clean up.
Light at the end
It was drizzling and I had been running for the past 2-3 hours. I was muddy, cold and exhausted. I asked the drink station attendants how much further the end point was. 9-10 km came the answer. At this point, I really wanted to give up. I was a little more than half done and the end was nowhere in sight.
But I noticed there were still people who jogged on, seemingly oblivious to the pain, rain and mud. Heartened, I took to following a Spartan that had the same strategy as me – walk the up slopes and run the down slopes. And so kilometer by kilometer I plodded along, passing obstacles, and Spartans and finding my way to the finish line.
Could I remember the string of letters and numbers that I had to memorize before? Yes, I could. Could I continue at a slow jog? Yup! Was that THE WATER POINT? Come to papa! In fact, my hydration pack had ran out 3/4 into the race.
Finally, like in a movie, an american dude stood across the road.
“5oo meters more to the finish line! You can do it!”
I heard myself let out whoops of excitement, not knowing where that voice came from and ran down the long, thankfully grassy ,slope, rounding the corner.
At the slip wall, as I pulled myself with a rope up an incline and reached the apex, my legs collapsed at the top, unable to go over. There I rested for a good 5-10 seconds, immobile. At this point, basically everyone was just focused on the finish line, now not 50 meters away.
“No one was going to notice and help you now,”I thought. Then,from somewhere deep inside me, I found some extra energy. My legs gave a kick and limbs flailing, I crossed over to the other side, where the burning coals await and beyond that, glory .
Why subject yourself to this pain? It is my opinion that only in adversity will you truly understand and become a better version of yourself. I found that despite setbacks, I had a stronger will than I had suspected. I carried on throughout the race, sometimes walking and at other times jogging because I knew I could eventually reach the end.
Sure, there were points I wanted to give up. But I could also see the solution was to not give in and not wallow in self-pity. We were in the middle of nowhere and a van wasn’t coming to get me anytime soon. In the end, it was just a mental barrier. Physically,I could take it, but the mud, the slipping and sliding got to me.
So I turned to my fellow Spartans and found in them a motivation to go on. I slipped and another Spartan helped to stabilize me. I saw Spartans who were obviously limping along but jogging slowly anyway. I saw in these Spartans what I wanted myself to be. Even though I went for the race alone, I had the help of everyone on the route. So enjoy the race and encourage one another.
Be an inspiration.