A Race Where Running Is the Easy Part
Lorenzo Manguiat on Dec 04, 2018 11:15 AM
Earth, wind and FIRE!
On the rare occasions where I would find myself channel surfing on TV, I would sometimes catch episodes of American Ninja Warrior (ANW).
Unlike the more common game shows, ANW is a fascinating watch since it has arguably the fittest and strongest group of contestants ever. The competition involves a lot of climbing, jumping, balancing and hanging through a special course that tests the limits of one’s imagination.
A natural reaction to watching programs like ANW would be to wonder if one could actually overcome the challenges in the show if one were to take part in them.
I never really considered doing something similar to ANW, yet I always wondered “what if”?
A text message changed all of that.
An invitation was sent around the middle of October for anyone from ABS-CBN Sports online who was willing to take part in the Spartan Race in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks. Luminox, the official timekeeper of the said event, was forming a team to represent the Philippines in special sprint category composed of different countries.
The World’s Best Obstacle Race
I had a vague idea about the Spartan Race from the posts I saw on social media, thus the immediate reaction was to research online and ask around.
A quick search on Google led me to the official Spartan Race website and saw the description below:
“Spartan Race is the world's best obstacle course race, with over 240 races in 25 countries around the world this year. Spartan Race is not your everyday running race - expect to run, climb, push, pull, throw and crawl through walls, hills, trees, mud, barbed wire and other challenging but fun obstacles.”
A closer look revealed that there were actually three core events, namely Sprint (5+ km with 20+ obstacles), Super (12+ km with 24+ obstacles) and Beast (20+ km with 30+ obstacles).
Pictures of the actual obstacles were intimidating and the description in the obstacle section of the website gave fair warning:
“Spartan Race obstacles strike fear into the hearts of many who battle with the course. Race after race, our obstacles continue to taunt even the most seasoned racers.”
While the event piqued my interest, I initially thought this invite would be better suited for someone else on the team given the limited time for me to prepare before the race.
However, due to schedule conflicts and the absence of willing volunteers, I ended up cautiously submitting my name as the participant.
Obstacle Course Training
To prepare for the actual Spartan Race, there was an opportunity to train at the Spartan Philippines Obstacle Course Camp (OCC) located at the roof deck of the W Fifth Avenue Building in the Bonifacio Global City (BGC).
Although I only managed to train twice at the OCC, it was very valuable as I came face to face with some of the actual obstacles that were going to be in the race and was able to try them first hand.
Outside the OCC training, I continued my regular fitness routine and ran at least twice a week and did more body weight exercises like pull-ups and chin-ups instead of lifting weights in the gym.
Despite these preparations, I anticipated that conditions during race day were going to be different and the actual Spartan Race was going to be tough.
Meeting Team Philippines
The members of Team Philippines prior to the Spartan Race Hong Kong
Since there were only a couple of weeks to prepare, there was unfortunately no opportunity to meet the rest of my three teammates up until the flight to Hong Kong.
On a Friday morning in November at NAIA Terminal 3, I finally met the rest of Team Philippines.
Madge Reyes, who I was in contact with via email the weeks prior, was the Brand Associate for Noble House, the exclusive distributor of Luminox in the Philippines. Madge, who was also a part of the De La Salle Animo Squad which participated in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition, had already taken part in a Spartan Race in Subic Bay.
Gio Diamante was the Marketing Manager of Spartan Race Philippines and although he never competed in a previous Spartan Race, he was quite familiar with the obstacles since he helped set up the race courses in the Philippines. Gio was also a former collegiate football player, having played for the La Salle Green Booters in the UAAP.
Last, but certainly not the least, was Will DeVaughn. A well-known actor, model and host, Will was the most accomplished Spartan Race participant among all of us as he already completed the Trifecta, meaning he finished all three core events -- Sprint, Super and Beast -- during the calendar year.
With their easy-going personalities, it was not difficult to get along with Team Philippines.
After landing in Hong Kong and checking in at our hotel, we attended a race briefing with Luminox officials.
Before the start of the briefing, we met with other participants representing the eight teams from across Asia as well as from Switzerland. While the upcoming Spartan Race itself was already daunting, seeing the other participants and learning about their backgrounds made it even more intimidating.
Team Japan, for instance, had male and female members who looked like seasoned track and field athletes. One of them even wore a Spartan Race World Championship jacket, and we later found out that some of them also competed in the Super category that happened before our race for the Sprint category. Wow!
Meanwhile, the Indonesian team had two male members who, with those bulging arms and pectoral muscles almost popping out of their shirts, looked more than qualified to compete in the more challenging categories.
The Perfect Partnership
Pierrick Marcoux, Luminox Marketing Manager for International and Andres Poy, Luminox Regional Manager Asia Pacific, kicked off the race briefing by welcoming each team then giving a presentation about Luminox.
While the team up of Luminox and the Spartan Race only began in February 2018, it was already clear that this was an ideal partnership since the former was a brand with a reputation for toughness and durability, qualities that each participant of the Spartan Race had to embody to survive and complete the demanding obstacle course.
Known for its high-quality and durable timepieces, Luminox has become a brand trusted and requested by elite forces around the world, including the United States Navy SEALs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Royal Dutch Armed Forces and Special Military Forces Israel, just to name a few.
Marcoux and Poy then went on to provide the rules of the race. Each Luminox team composed of four to five members from their respective countries who were to participate in the special Luminox Heat Sprint course. A nominated team captain was allowed to go ahead of his teammates, and the combined finish times for all the members would be added to determine the overall winner.
The two executives then unveiled a special Luminox Master Carbon SEAL XS.3801.Spartan watch with the Spartan logo in the middle. Only 88 of the timepieces were available, but not for purchase. The special edition watches were exclusively given to select Spartan Race participants and winners.
The Luminox Master Carbon SEAL XS.3801.Spartan watch (not available to the public)
After a hearty dinner it was time to rest and recharge for a tough day ahead.
After breakfast, participants taking part in the special Luminox sprint heat boarded a bus to the Kam Tin Country Club, site of the Spartan Race Hong Kong. The bus ride took about an hour from the Kowloon side.
Upon arriving at the event venue, a festive atmosphere filled with participants in the other categories along with their friends and families greeted us. We were then told than around six thousand participants registered for the Spartan Race in Hong Kong. Quite impressive considering that it was only the second time and the first year it was held in the country.
We were led to a special tent and had less than two hours to relax and hydrate before our 12:40 pm gun start.
A couple of minutes before heading to the starting line, the Luminox teams gathered and stretched in unison, showing camaraderie despite the competitive atmosphere.
Members of Team Indonesia lead the stretching exercises.
With adrenaline pumping and nervous energy going through each one of us, we then proceeded to the starting line.
At the starting line, an emcee pumped up each of the participants and led us in shouting “I am a Spartan” and “AROO”.
He then made each team compete with each other with a shouting match and lo and behold, who came out on top? Team Philippines!
Motivated by our unexpected victory, we felt more confident about conquering the course and sprinted our hearts out as the starting gun was fired.
The first three obstacles were manageable as we were able to jump over the hurdles, which were wooden boards around two to three feet high, get past the Over, Under and Through obstacle, and pull a rope with around 50 pounds of weights in the Plate Drag.
Next was the Spear Throw, which was initially one of the obstacles I feared since I had trouble finishing it at the OCC. It involved throwing a spear wrapped around a rope from around 20 to 30 meters behind a barricade into a bale of hay. It involved more skill and technique than strength and power.
Remembering the lesson I learned from one of the instructors at the OCC, the trick was to have the rope in front of you and take at least three steps forward before launching the spear while rotating your hips.
I had those all in my mind and to my surprise, I nailed the spear to the target in just one attempt and proceeded to the next challenge: The Inverted Wall.
The Inverted Wall was an obstacle I had never faced before. It involved climbing over wooden wall probably eight to nine feet high diagonally. Despite being not exactly gifted with height (I’m 5’4”), I was able to scale the wall safely.
The first real challenge came in form of the sixth obstacle: the Hercules Hoist. It involved grabbing a rope and pulling it to raise a weight of 90 pounds (70 for women) until it reached the top.
With a little assistance from one of the volunteers, who taught me how to anchor myself to the metal barriers, I was able to pull the weight all the way to the top. However, I suffered a minor injury as I made the mistake of loosening my grip too fast and the sliding rope led to blisters on the tip of my right ring and middle fingers. Ouch!
A member of Team Japan tries to conquer the Hercules Hoist.
Despite the injury, I tried to overcome the next obstacle, the Rope Climb.
However, with an absolute fear of heights and two painful blisters, I was unable to climb up to the top of the 16-foot rope so I resigned myself to doing the penalty of 30 burpees.
For the uninitiated, a burpee is one of the most dreaded aerobic exercises that involves moving from a standing position to a squat position and then a plank position before standing (or jumping) right up again. Completing 10 burpees is already quite a challenge, so doing 30 burpees as a penalty, with several obstacles remaining to be overcome, was quite demanding.
Next up was the Z Wall. As the name implied, the obstacle was made up of three walls angled in a “Z” formation. The challenge was to use your hands and feet to traverse the three walls.
In previous training sessions, I was able to traverse the Z Wall with ease, but this time around my grip somehow failed me on the last wall twice so I needed three attempts and a couple of minutes more to complete it before proceeding to the 7-feet wall, which I was able to climb up.
Gio Diamante of Team Philippines shows how to traverse the Z Wall.
Just before the tenth obstacle, which was the Sandbag Carry, I stopped by the first aid station to have my two blisters treated as they were giving me problems especially when it involved gripping.
With my blisters patched up, it was easier for me to carry the 40-pound sandbags for a few hundred meters before completing the task.
The eleventh obstacle turned out to be arguably the slowest and dirtiest one for me. The Barbed Wire Crawl involved staying low to the ground and crawling under barbed wire for a several meters.
Initially, I did what most participants usually do, which was to crawl through the obstacle. I found that method to be too slow, so I resorted to rolling on the ground instead and survived without any puncture from the barbed wire.
The Barbed Wire Crawl is the slowest and dirtiest obstacle in the Spartan Race.
Covered all over with mud and dust, it was time to do the Atlas Carry. The object of the obstacle was to carry a stone made of concrete weighing around a hundred pounds for a few meters before doing five burpees.
Weighing probably a third more than the stone, I had to kneel first with one leg before rolling the stone towards my torso and then I assumed a squat position until the stone was up around my hip area while I held it with two hands. One of the volunteers assisted me in lifting the stone, which was allowed in our category, and I struggled mightily to carry it while walking a few meters until bringing it down and doing the required burpees.
Will Devaughn of Team Philippines does the Atlas Carry.
With almost half the race done, fatigue was definitely starting to creep in and I was unable to complete the next obstacle, the Multi Rig, which involved hanging and moving through a set of rings. That meant another set of 30 burpees before moving on to the next obstacle.
I managed to bounce back and complete the Monkey Bars before enduring the most grueling part of the race, in my opinion.
The Bucket Challenge was personally the toughest challenge for me since it involved carrying a bucket full of gravel weighing at least 50 pounds up and down inclines for several hundred meters. I had to stop around four times throughout this course along with a few other participants, since my shoulders and back were already very sore.
Along the way, a tall Caucasian man who wore a Spartan Helmet blurted out: “Why the f**k did I even sign up for this.” It was a light moment that somehow eased the burden of lugging a bucket full of gravel.
After surviving the Bucket Challenge, another tough obstacle presented itself: Olympus.
Olympus involved moving laterally across an angled wall, using chains, holes and grips to avoid touching the ground.
I considered Olympus as my favorite obstacle while training at the OCC, but that didn’t mean it was easy. It actually took me several attempts to complete Olympus at the OCC, but I knew beforehand that the race conditions would be vastly different.
Rolling around dirt and running through mud and water made climbing Olympus at the actual Spartan Race more challenging because it was more slippery. Alas, I slipped halfway through the obstacle and decided to do the 30 burpees as penalty instead of doing it all over again.
A participant attempts to conquer Olympus.
After the Olympus, it was safe to say that the remaining obstacles were fun and manageable.
I was able to climb the 5 feet wall will ease then went up and down the A-Cargo Frame with relative ease, thanks to a tip from Madge to step on the edges rather than in the middle of the squares for more support.
The Rolling Mud was a sticky obstacle that caused one of my shoes’ soles to split apart, but I still managed to complete it before swimming and going under muddy water (without drinking it) in the Dunk Wall.
Dunk! Don't Swallow!
The Slip Wall initially looked intimidating, but I was able to climb up without falling before meeting Madge and Gio, jumping over fire together and finally crossing the finish and surviving the grueling race.
A Thing of Beauty
Finishing the Spartan Race is a huge accomplishment in itself, but what awaited those who completed the course was an eye-catching finisher medal.
The event’s finisher medal isn’t just your standard round medal with the name of the event painted on it. The Spartan Race finisher medal has the Spartan helmet image engraved on it along with the category and the year of the race. It also comes with a third of a piece for the Trifecta medal, which can only be completed after one finishes the Super and Beast categories within a calendar year. That’s a challenging but tempting target to accomplish next year!
The Spartan Race Sprint medal is a thing of beauty.
While Japan expectedly won the team competition, we also later found out that that our teammate, Will, earned first place in his age category and finished fourth overall in the Sprint category.
Although I didn’t complete the race as fast as Will did nor did Team Philippines land in the top three, the Spartan Race was a memorable and extremely enjoyable experience and was worth the stinging blisters and sore back I had to endure for several days after the event.
I'd definitely try it again.
Interested in joining the Spartan Race? Check it out here!