Holy moly, Batman. TAHOE. WAS. EPIC.
This was the first year I attempted qualification for the Spartan World Championships, and I was able to do so, placing 8th in my age group for the Age Group US National Series.
So, off to Tahoe I went! What an interesting and wild ride the Spartan Championship race weekend was. As I’m sure many of you have heard, the weather had other plans for the Spartan Championship race weekend than racers did. While the week leading up to the race was basically perfect running weather, the forecast slowly began to change days ahead of the race.
I kept my eye on the forecast, and packed numerous gear choices to bring with me. Sunday, the day of the race itself, was insane. Our start times kept getting moved. I went through a 10:45, 11:00, 1:00pm, and finally (the real) 12:45pm start time.
A RACE OF HIGH EXPECTATIONS:
I had high expectations for my race. I have been training under the expertise of Palmer Shape, and have seen incredible results. In the timeframe since starting his strength and conditioning programs, I have placed in the top-10 in Spartan in 10 of my last 18 races with 2 Spartan podiums and a handful of 4th and 5th place finishes. I have won or placed in other OCR series as well. I don’t say this to brag; rather, to point out why I had higher expectations of myself.
I was grateful to even be racing at the Spartan Championship race for many reasons. Never in my life did I think I would qualify for a championship event of any sort—I was never really given opportunities to do much growing up (athletically speaking) because we didn’t have the most money. But, I always wished I could. I’m sure many people can relate to this. After the Utah race in July, I found out some incredible news that should have had me withdrawing from the race. In August, I found out that the news was no longer accurate, and the decision was made to go ahead and compete. So, I took the time to appreciate the moment and soak it all in for what it was.
With regards to the race itself, I knew one thing would be true: it would hurt because of conditions, and it would be a tough mental game. I made a conscious decision days in advance that no matter what kind of weather or obstacles were thrown at me, I would remain positive. I can’t change the course, I can’t change the weather, and I can’t change how my body might respond to any of it.
Race day temperatures were about 80-degrees colder than what I train in. The summer here in Phoenix was a really hot one, and we got little monsoon relief that we would normally experience towards the end of summer. I knew that I could control my gear, my attitude, and my efforts. My training and hard work were where they were. That’s what I focused on.
SPARTAN CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY:
It was weird to hit the course after the age groups that are normally behind mine, and to start so late in the day. The spear targets were a mess – I made my spear, but it fell out because the target was like swiss cheese and couldn’t hold the spear. I got a sense of what open racers must experience every time they race.
The next obstacle, which I’ve passed plenty before, was the Olympus. The ground was covered in snow around it. I began to observe how everyone else was attempting the obstacles — everyone with their knees and no one with their feet on the board. I found a spot close to the obstacle not covered in snow and took a minute to wipe my feet there. I put one foot up and felt how slippery it was. I switched to my knees, but it made no difference. My fingers were too cold to hang on and to the burpee pit I went. This repeated itself for the multi-rig. The bar was a high transition and I had nothing in my fingers to hold on long enough to gain momentum. More burpees.
By the time I hit the double sandbag carry (obstacle 21 on the course map), I thought I was in an okay position placement-wise based off of the racers I saw finishing the carry from my heat, but I knew any chance of a podium was probably far gone without some major obstacle failures by those in front of me. I kept pushing forward and trying my best on what would become the hardest sandbag carry I’ve done. I’m proud to say I was able to carry those two sandbags all over a half-pipe of an Olympic ski mountain. It hurt. It was painful. I saw medical helping some, I saw some people cheating, I saw dozens of sandbags abandoned all over that climb, and I saw people falling and crying. I kept going because I know it hurts more if you stop. Turns out I was in 25th at this point, and passed a couple people in my heat, because I went in/out of the swim in 23rd.
THE ICONIC SWIM:
I geared up the best I knew how as a desert rat. I know that I generally get really hot when I run, but that I’m a wimp when it comes to cold. When pulling gear together, I thought about what I wear when I snowboard in frigid temps to keep warm. What I didn’t know due to lack of experience, was how to stay warm in the water or after the water obstacles. So, I planned for what I would put on that would be dry afterward. I planned the order of how I would put my gear back on. Gloves first, then windbreaker, then jacket back on, then vest. The ape hanger was closed when I got to it, so I only had the one water obstacle: the swim.
To be honest, I was terrified of the swim just thinking about it. But, at the same time, I knew I wouldn’t feel like “I had done Tahoe” unless it was a part of the course.
My swim experience was all of 2 minutes and 2 seconds, from the swim in to swim exit timing mats. A whole 2:02 I will never forget. It felt like forever. I put my gloves in a Ziploc, and shoved them into my inside jacket pocket, and headed towards the life preservers.
I counted 5 people there assisting with the swim (I noticed they were not there earlier in the day based on videos from elites). One person helping put life preservers on, one making sure you got the buckle latched appropriately, one who grabbed me by the shoulders and made me look them in the eyes (I presume to make sure I was in a good place to even do the swim, medically speaking), another person to take my hand and help put me in the swim, and another to grab my hand and pull me out of the water when I returned.
I got in and started swimming. I was a good way towards the buoy before my chest realized the shock, and I began to hyperventilate and gasp for breath. I literally could not breathe and thought I was going to have to be rescued. I turned over on my back and began just kicking my legs to get me to the exit. I used the big tree trunk sticking out of the water to push off of once I got close enough and that propelled me closer to the finish of the swim. I was cold when I got out, but I knew continuous movement was key. I ran up to the top, dropped my stuff, and executed my changing plan as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I discovered I didn’t get my baggie closed all the way and my gloves were soaking wet. Can’t plan for oversights and mishaps.
I had planned to do jumping jacks or something when I got out of the swim, but somehow forgot about them. I moved my legs as I put my gloves back on and added my dry windbreaker under my jacket. I continued moving everything I could, even though I was standing there. As I began running, my hands felt frozen. I began clapping them together, sticking them in my jacket pockets, and attempting to bend my fingers continuously as I ran downhill to get blood flow going. I think these things were critically important. I did this until after they started burning and gaining blood flow back. I didn’t allow myself to think about how cold I was. Instead, I focused on the fact that movement was necessary to warming back up. I honestly don’t even remember much wind after the swim because I was just focused on moving. But, others have said they remember it was pretty windy.
My uncovered face and hands were honestly the coldest parts of my entire body, even right after the swim. The rest of my body was tolerable. At this point, I decided I no longer cared about actual placement. I was just going to enjoy the race, do my best to stay warm and keep moving, and appreciate the fact that I was there. And, I was going to finish. I sure as heck didn’t come that far, do that swim, and not get a dope medal for it.
CONTINUING THE COURSE:
I failed so many obstacles because my fingers were so cold –totally my fault for not making sure my gloves stayed dry, and for not having better gloves to begin with for that kind of weather. I opted for burpees on both the 8-foot box and the Stairway to Sparta. While I was close to passing them when I was attempting them, I ultimately knew my fingers were just too cold to complete them. I did burpees instead so I would at least be moving, and then could move on along the course.
I hit the last big climb and started a slow run up it until I had to power hike. I kept myself occupied by imagining the rest of the race and talking myself through the remaining obstacles. I figured I’d probably have to do one more set of burpees at beater, and sure enough, I fell right off even though I’ve completed this obstacle more than I’ve failed it previously. Maybe I should have been thinking about how I was going to crush it instead because my fingers were no longer frozen to the point of immobilization.
It was incredible that from the time I came down the hill to the last sandbag carry, I had friends to cheer me on the entire way to the finish line, where my husband was waiting to give me my medal. Unfortunately, he is currently injured and couldn’t compete this year.
I started the Herc Hoist off strong with three good pulls and one left. My grip did not want me to get that last pull up to the top- but my friends were standing there talking me through the whole thing. I’m not sure how long I spent there, but I was able to ultimately get it. Humbling because I really like this obstacle and have only failed it twice before.
There has been a lot of complaining on social media about the race, but I like to take responsibility for all of my failures. None of what I experienced was Spartan’s fault. I wasn’t forced to do any of it. I could have woken up and said, screw this, I’m not racing in these conditions. I chose to race.
I also take responsibility for everything I feel I did right during the Spartan Championship race. You just have to learn and move on. Not every race is going to go your way. Not every race should be easy. This race pushed me way out of my comfort zone, and not only did I end up being really happy with a 31st place finish — I learned that I am more capable of anything I ever thought I was.
If you raced in Tahoe, either Saturday or for the Spartan Championship, be happy with your efforts. Even if you had to DNF, as hundreds did, I commend you for attempting the race. I commend you for knowing you needed to quit. Reflect on what you can do differently next time whether you are happy with your race or not, and know that someday, you’ll be telling your grandchildren about “that time you did that crazy thing where you raced in the snow and froze your ass off by swimming in a lake that was freezing cold, but still warmer than the air around it.”
Cheers! – Bethany