Written by Tarla Makaeff
Here is the rundown of my first time at a Spartan Race. Hopefully, if you’ve ever been scared to try one – and I received a lot of DMs about this – this will convince you otherwise.
The reason I did this? Well, I’ve never heard of a Spartan race, but it was part of one of my life coaching certifications - my third one, to be precise. I’m now a certified Heroic coach. And to get this certification, we needed to push our limits in multiple ways including one really big physical way. The suggestion was an organized Spartan race we’d all do together or we could do something on our own. Never did I imagine I'd become a Spartan race girl.
I initially said, “there’s no way I’m doing this. I’m going to get hurt.” I’m definitely more of a girly girl, and I wasn’t sure about these warrior vibes I was feeling. Honestly, I decided to do it because I really felt that it was about proving something to myself. It would be another validation of being able to overcome any mental obstacles.
As there were hundreds of us – the biggest racing team to date on Spartan courses – we all went to the event in Castaic Lake via multiple buses which was really fun because it almost felt like being back at school and going on a field trip.
I ordered a lot of items off Amazon in the weeks before this because I was warned that my clothes could get stained or torn so I wasn’t planning on wearing anything expensive that I had. (Spoiler alert - somehow my clothes and shoes made it out fine in the end but since I live in LA, they made it in the washing machine immediately). I made sure to really bundle up as I knew it would only be about 57F which is cold for us Californians. I was wearing two layers of clothing from head to toe, a neck warmer, a jacket, a beanie, and weight lifting gloves with a pair of old sneakers and brought a backpack. I also had a fanny pack with protein bars, a couple of small waters, some Liquid IV (an electrolyte powder), band-Aids, antibacterial gel and so on. I didn’t know the degree to which this would come in handy later, so I’m glad I was prepared.
The forecast kept changing, but it seemed as though it would just be gloomy and of course, when we got there, it was already drizzling which made it colder. Somehow, the VIP area had our bus accidentally turn around, so we ended up further away from the entrance than we anticipated. As we walked up the mile or so long path to the gates, we kept seeing people pass us drenched head to toe in mud and looking cold but happy.
We checked in, and I made a decision after talking to a few people who had already been through the run to take off one set of my clothes, as I hadn’t brought clothes to change into – a last-minute decision - because I told myself I wouldn’t walk in hypothermic water at the beginning of the race. When someone told me the water feature was at the end, that’s when I decided to remove a set of clothes. In fact, I told myself I’d push myself but not to the point of being injured. I’d skip obstacles I felt I should, based on my better judgment. I felt proud that I was there at all! Thankfully, I missed the note on the outside of the envelope they gave us during check-in that stated “there is a real possibility that you may die or be catastrophically injured.”
I got to the corral where the beginning of the race was starting and all the Heroes (as we call ourselves) were lined up in red T-shirts. I was wearing one too under my jacket. Strangely, I didn’t see an entrance to get into it but a lot of the Heroic family were already in there. I yelled out “where is the entrance? “The response I dreaded came, “you have to jump the wall to enter.”
“Oh my God,” I thought, “the race is already beginning.” I immediately thought “what did I get myself into?” The wall obstacles range from 4 feet to 6 feet to 8 feet. I can tell you this definitely wasn’t 4 feet. I’m guessing it was 8 feet. And it’s not like this wall had steps. I guess that would defeat the purpose! There were other Heroes there to help, thank God. Let’s say it wasn’t the most elegant roll over the wall, but I immediately started laughing my head off, which is what happened through the entire race. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed hysterically like that so much in one day before. Mind you, I had an entire audience of hundreds of people watching me go over the wall, but also rooting me on as I made my way down the middle of the path with them on either side. I felt totally loved and supported and part of something bigger.
Next, we were off to multiple other walls, one after the other. Now is where I have to start telling you about these amazing male Heroes. I’ve never met more gallant men all at once, in one place. Men were on bended knee, providing their thigh and even shoulder as stepping stones to help women and other men get over these walls. I would never have done it without them, and definitely still feel the soreness in my knees from banging them against these hard walls. If you go, make sure you wear kneepads! I wasn’t warned about this, and it’s the only thing I was missing.
This is when I realized “holy shit, this is f*cking hard.” Some people started off running, but for the most part, most of us, including myself, were walking the entire time. We were already seeing how treacherous the path was as we began to make our way up what would be a 1200 foot incline. Because it had rained and now drizzled, the path was incredibly muddy and slippery. These conditions, along with the incline according to another Hero - who’d gone to a Spartan Sprint like this in Texas where terrain was all flat - made this one of the most difficult Spartan Sprints anywhere. The terrain was rocky and uneven as well so unfortunately, one of the Heroes injured her ankle. What I witnessed from here on was remarkable.
Male Heroes took turns giving her piggyback rides. Now, that makes it sound pleasant, but imagine going up almost vertical hills on a mountaintop, carrying the weight of another person on your back. I was actually in shock as to how these men stepped up, and the teamwork brought tears to my eyes. Because the truth is they could have called patrol to give her a ride safely back but she wanted to go all the way and they wanted to assist her. And she made it to the finish line through her fierce and resolute mindset along with help from these men all the way.
What I loved about this race is that people were really just helping people. It wasn’t about people racing for themselves to get to the finish line in a certain timeframe. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I loved that we all were working together as a team and stopped to help people or wait for them and make sure everyone was okay. Of course, I have to say our team was the best at this. I really saw male Heroes helping everyone including women not even on our team who were terrified of some high obstacles, and needed assistance getting up or coming back down.
At the top of the hill was one of my favorite things, the Barbed Wire Crawl. This is when I also realized, crawling on dirt and rock, that kneepads would’ve come in handy. Thankfully, perched at the top of this hill, as well as at multiple other obstacles were Spartan photographers, who got some professional shots of us. And I have one from here.
We then made our way down the extremely slippery slope. It was so muddy and slick that at multiple points several of us almost fell. It frankly felt like we were ice skating. I was so thankful I had male Heroes to hold onto and who could hold on to me. At points, we both prevented each other from falling. One of the female Heroes had picked up a walking stick that was no longer wanted, and it became mine. I felt like a mountaineer. It was so helpful down these treacherous slopes.
At the bottom of the hill, there was another wall to get over that again had me laughing hysterically, and thankfully my silly laughter brought smiles to other people’s faces. It’s at the next smaller obstacle that seemed pretty unassuming, where I landed in a way that wasn’t ideal. I felt it in my right foot and ankle. It kind of played up an old injury, but it was so minor and I was thankful that I didn’t truly injure myself the entire race and left unscathed.
There were 20 obstacles in all, but as we made it back to the top of the hill, some notable ones that I loved were the Vertical Cargo Plus and other similar obstacles. This one, like others had a warning sign – it said something like “Fall From Heights” as a risk. Not very comforting I must say, but it was better than another that said “Crush Risk.” It definitely put into perspective what we were getting ourselves into. While I actually don’t love heights, and these were pretty tall, for some reason I had no fear on these whereas I noticed a lot of women outside of our team, seemed to have issues with them. But they were my favorite. Another Hero here got me confused with someone else and started yelling “you got this, Sandy!” and “go, Sandy!!” so much so that it became an inside joke and I named my walking stick Sandy. I guess I was channeling Tom Hanks in Cast Away with Wilson, the volleyball. Hey, I had Sandy, the walking stick.
It’s about this time that one of our male Heroes had a cramp in his leg and thankfully my bottled water and Liquid IV helped. Now we were about at mile 2 and only had one mile left, but we had to go back down the hill. As we were descending a woman from another team started yelling “mustard packets?” (the acetic acid is supposedly helpful for muscle cramps) as one of her friends was buckled over and in pain from a leg cramp. Well, again thankfully my other bottled water and liquid IV came to the rescue. Meanwhile, another injured Hero who hurt his ankle made his way down the hill, scooting down part of the way on his behind. I was about to do the same momentarily for a super steep area and found myself sitting in mud… so not a girly thing to do but quite fun!
Soon we were at the Rolling Mud feature which was basically slush that I’d read about in the disclosures saying there could be fecal matter in there (lol-gotta love disclosures). Someone told me to run through it, but I was trying to be careful where I stepped the whole way so of course I took one step at a time, only then realizing that I was in a liquid form of quicksand. As I tried to lift up my feet without losing my sneakers, it’s as though I had a suction cup around them. But I made it out and had plenty of laughs about it, which was awesome.
One of the last obstacles was the Slip Wall which I also loved. It looked quite intimidating but I found it relatively easy to get to the top of the walk via the slippery metal ramp. What’s seared in my mind is a man who appeared to be alone. He caught my attention, because when I was off this obstacle, I heard a loud clanking noise against the metal so I turned and looked. He was going up the Slip Wall with a prosthetic foot. And he looked as though he was doing it effortlessly (and surely a hell of a lot faster than me). It made me think of Noelle, the Paralympian from this last season of Survivor. It was just a beautiful reminder that we can mentally overcome any physical obstacle.
3 hours and 46 minutes later, I couldn’t believe we’d made it to the finish line. It was just starting to get dark and it was so amazing crossing with Alex, Tony, and Angel who’d been the three male Heroes by my side pretty much the entire time. I really expected that I would walk through the course alone, and never imagined that I find such awesome people to do this with.
Now that it was dark we headed to a cold water hose and I hosed off only my feet which were drenched in mud. We then headed to changing stations with no lighting, and I changed everything but my shoes as I’d left my flip flops at home (definitely won’t do that again). I made it to the bus, and Brian Johnson, the creator of Heroic, boarded our last bus. It was so amazing to exchange a few words with him and thank him for such an awe inspiring experience. We were back off to home, and I’ve never been so excited to shower in my entire life.
The race was exhilarating. I was left with black and blue bruises on both of my arms where male Heroes had held onto me, on both knees that had hit the walls, and even randomly on my stomach. And I could feel it in every muscle of my body. I learned I definitely am not strong in my chest and tri for pushing, but I’m strong in my back and bi for pulling. Most importantly, I learned that I can kick ass at anything I do.
The best part is… I’m meeting Spartans everywhere. I just met one last night - well, a future to be Spartan - at the pet store. When she threw a large item I had purchased over her shoulder, I told her she should do a Spartan race. Her eyes lit up. She told me one of her coworkers was at the same event I was at and she was dying to go to one too. I didn’t know this community ever existed, but I’m so happy I got to be a part of it. It was a once in a lifetime experience I’ll truly remember even in my last moments. It was that memorable and touching. The race along with the entire weekend at the Heroic conference met all of my human needs at once. An unbelievable feat. I’ll never forget it.
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Tarla Makaeff is a self-made entrepreneur, online business and life coach, certified hypnotherapist, digital course creator, and the Copy Queen. She helps creative, heart-centered female entrepreneurs start and grow their purpose-filled business online and scale their brand with copy that converts, while increasing their self love along the way.