I completed the Nashville Spartan Super on September 23, 2018. Despite a seriously compromised body, I made it through and got one step closer to my 2018 Trifecta.
Hills. So many hills. This Spartan Super was held at Milky Way Farms in Pulaski, TN. I had been here once before for a Warrior Dash, and knew to expect a lot of elevation change, but Spartan was particularly unforgiving in the design of this course. I only remember something like two straightaways worth mentioning. The rest of the course was pretty much either uphill or downhill, with very short transitions between. And to be honest, I probably would’ve really enjoyed that if it weren’t for the fact that it had been raining almost non-stop for two days.
What do you get when mix constant hills, the soft ground of a farm, and two days of rain? Ice skating. At least that’s what it felt like. There was so much slick mud and so little level ground that getting decent footing was next to impossible. There were points where even the most experienced racers were forced to drop to a slow walk just to keep from twisting an ankle or body slamming the ground.
On the bright side, the slower pace provided more opportunities to enjoy the great views! That’s one thing I must say about Milky Way. If you’re wanting a course that actually has some nice scenery, do an event here. (Not at Ft. Benning, where I did my 2018 Spartan Sprint. Unless you like the view of dust and the occasional cactus.)
Spartan didn’t disappoint with the festival area this time. It might not have felt like as much of a party as the festival area at the Milky Way Warrior Dash, but there was plenty to do. I spotted a couple of local food trucks and military recruiters mixed in with the usual Spartan-brand tents and booths, which I always like to see. And they did a fantastic job with organizing the layout so that things like the restrooms and “shower” area were easily accessible without interfering with the rest of the festival area.
But enough about that boring stuff. Onto the course!
This Spartan Super clocked in at about 8.25 miles, over 1,500 feet of elevation gain, and 28 obstacles. I will say, I found the layout of the obstacles at this race much more appealing than what I encountered at the Ft. Benning Sprint. They were spaced out well enough that they actually felt like individual obstacles throughout the course, not a couple of multi-obstacle gauntlets. I like having just enough running in-between obstacles to let my muscles recover and get prepped for the next one. I actually got that in this race, which was really nice.
Another big step up from that Sprint was that we got a good mix of upper and lower body obstacles as we went through the course. It wasn’t a situation where there was nothing but 4 monkey-bar style obstacles in a row, a run, then climbing wall after climbing wall, then a run, etc. Muscle groups fluctuated back and forth pretty regularly, which made things feel much more balanced.
I knew going into this one that my body was in rough shape. The race was on a Sunday morning. I had hurt my back again the Wednesday before. (I was going down into a heavy squat and my muscle spasmed, which led to me folding in half under a couple hundred pounds of weight. Thank goodness for spotter arms.) I had gone that afternoon to get a steroid shot in the hurt muscles. Between that, the steroid pill pack, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatories, I was actually feeling pretty damn good by Sunday. With one major side effect…
Every time I contracted any muscle, it would cramp. Bad. I assumed it was a side effect of the muscle relaxers, so I stopped taking them Saturday night. But my body still felt far from normal on Sunday morning. When I cramped up going over the very first wall, the only thought that went through my head was, “Well, this is going to be fun.”
And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the race. Every single obstacle, at least one muscle would cramp. And I’m not talking those “Oh, that’s a mildly uncomfortable contraction” kind of cramps. These were the full-on stop what you’re doing, stretch it out while making grotesque faces, and hope it doesn’t come back kind of cramps. So I just took my time and approached every obstacle as strategically as possible, knowing I was going to cramp up at some point and have to find a way to get through it anyway.
Things Get Sketchy
All things considered, it was going really well. The Atlas Carry was the first thing to really worry me. I was able to roll it up my leg to pick it up for the first carry, but the mud was too slick to do the same for the second carry. When I tried, the stone just spun and tore up my leg. I didn’t have any choice but to pick it up like a stiff-legged deadlift. That’s something I definitely don’t suggest doing with a hurt back, but mine somehow held out.
I walked away from the Atlas Carry covered in scratches and mud, smelling like manure, and slipping all over the place. Next up was Olympus, the obstacle that had torn my hands to shreds during my Sprint. There were already plenty of people in the burpee zone doing their penalty burpees, and it looked like the only ones capable of completing the obstacle were only able to do so by having someone else hold them up on the wall as they made their ways down. I gripped the first hand holds, put my legs up on the wall, felt my hip flexors immediately cramp, and decided it wasn’t worth the potential for injury. And thus, I did my first set of penalty burpees.
But Then a Big Win
The Sandbag Carry was basically a big slip-n-slide, but no big deal. The Plate Drag was easy enough. Then came the Spear Throw (aka the Burpee Trap). I had failed miserably on this one during my Sprint and was mentally preparing myself for more painstakingly slow penalty burpees. I stepped up, grabbed the spear, aimed as best I could, and hurled it towards the target. It hit a few inches from the bottom (at least it hit this time) and… stuck there. It actually stuck! A wave of relief washed over me, I let out an “Oh thank God,” and I took off before the damn thing could fall out and force me to do more burpees
Things got a little hairy when I missed my first reach for the bell on the Multi-Rig, but I made it through it, the Slip Wall, Barbed Wire Crawl, Twister (I’m telling you, go backwards), and the next eight obstacles without much issue. Then came the Rope Climb, which I have never been very good at. I just can’t for the life of me get that foot grip right. I tried to do it this time, but as soon as I put weight on my feet, my legs cramped up and lost all stability. So with a screw-it attitude, I went hand-over-hand all the way up the rope. I just barely tapped that bell with my finger at the top before sliding down. I won’t lie, I was pretty proud of myself.
A Little More Muddy Mayhem Before the Finish
That pride didn’t last long when I got past the mud pits to the Herc Hoist. You know what happens to sandbags when it rains? They get soaked and feel exponentially heavier. You know what else happens? People send all the mud from their hands and arms up the rope and into the pulleys of Herc Hoist.
Most of the pulleys were seized up from having so much mud in them. It was next to impossible to get the bags all the way up. People were going two or three to a bag just to lift them. I tried going solo, got it up about three quarters of the way until it fully seized up, and lost all my grip strength trying to fight it up the rest of the way. I dropped the bag and trudged my way over to do my second set of penalty burpees
Once I took about five minutes to finish the burpees, it was time for the home stretch! I ran over, slid down a hill that was so muddy that the race staff wouldn’t even let people try to walk down it, got a couple cool pictures while climbing the A-Frame Cargo Net, and jumped over the fire to cross the finish line. Total time: way too long. But I finished and got one step closer to my 2018 Trifecta, despite my body being in no shape to do an obstacle race! And there’s plenty to be said for that!
First off, don’t do aggressively heavy weightlifting the week of a big endurance event. It’s a recipe for a bad time. But if you do, and you get hurt, go to your doctor the same day. Do everything in your power to heal up as quickly as possible. I was honestly surprised that I was feeling good enough by Sunday to attempt the course. I attribute most of that to getting a steroid shot just a few hours after the injury.
Next, you can get your body to do a lot of cool stuff if you set your mind to it and you’re strategic about it. I analyzed every single obstacle before I started it, and that made a world of difference on some of them.
Personal lesson for me: I still need to work on my rope climbing. It’s cool that I was able to brute force my way up the rope hand-over-hand. Still, it would be much easier if I could have used my feet.
And finally, you don’t have to be the fastest person out there to have a great time. After not doing so well at the Sprint earlier in the year, I wanted to put up a competitive time at this event. That changed when I got hurt. In the end, I think I got more out of it by doing it the way I did it. I took time to help other people, gained a newfound respect for a lot of the obstacles, and built up some of my mental toughness muscles by getting through it even though I was hurting the whole time. Looking back, I wouldn’t rather have had it any other way.