Oh hello! I feel like it was just the beginning of April, wasn’t it? How did we already get to the first day of May?? It seems like I was literally just prepping for my second Spartan Race the first weekend of last month and now here I am several weeks later and I’m just now blogging about it! I’m a total slacker lately when it comes to this blog, but I’ve got a TON of stuff to share in the upcoming days and weeks!
I think anybody who’s known me a really long time (beyond a couple years or so…) would think it’s somewhat hilarious and/or ridiculous that I’ve actually run TWO Spartan races now. WHO AM I EVEN?? Last year when I turned 29, I decided to set up a list of challenges and activities to work on completing before my big 3-0 birthday this July and one of those things was to run an obstacle course race! I started OCR training through a local group called ROC Training and it ended up being perfect timing. My friend and I ran our first Spartan, the Wintergreen Sprint, back in the Fall and set our sights on a Trifecta in 2017 by signing up for Charlotte Sprint!
Since this was my second race and I didn’t have to work until late the night before, I felt so much more at ease going into the race! Not only did I know what I was getting myself into this time, I’d also heard from multiple Spartan veterans that the Wintergreen Race we’d run (I’m using the term “run” loosely here…) is one of the hardest Sprints out there. Starting Saturday morning I was excited to see how far the last few months of training would take me and what I could improve upon…especially the rope, which was my nemesis at the last race. You can read all about that here in my Wintergreen recap, if you’re interested!
One thing I’ll always remember about this race is how freaking COLD it was at the start. A lot of that, I’m sure has to do with the time of year we raced (beginning of April) and the time of day our heat was (8:00-8:30 competitive). I’d definitely take the cold weather though, over racing later in the day because the second thing I’ll always remember about this race was the MUD.
Oh, the mud. It smelled like straight up cow poops and had the texture of what I’d imagine quicksand to feel like. I’m usually pretty good at barbed wire crawls because I’m petite, which makes me lower to the ground naturally, but I can’t imagine there was even one person who didn’t struggle through that mud! It almost would have been worth it (and faster!) to do the 30 burpees and skip slogging through that crap (literally…haha).
The mud made all of the obstacles more difficult…especially the rope.
The rope. THAT STUPID FREAKING ROPE. Last year, when I started ROC training I think I laughed (or more likely rolled my eyes or grimaced, which I have a tendency to do) when they started trying to teach us how to climb a rope. It’s not like I’m not strong, but upper body strength has never been a strong suit of mine and I’d always imagined a rope climb would be straight up upper body work. It turns out that it’s mostly technique and since we spent a lot of time before the Wintergreen Spartan learning that technique and I felt like I stood a pretty decent chance at getting it at the race.
Well, if you've read my Wintergreen recap post, and/or ever talked to me about that race experience in real life, you’ll know that it was a pretty epic fail at my first race. I basically got 3/4 of the way up the rope and lost all of my energy and did a horrible, awkward slide down the rope before bursting into tears. I tasted my hot, salty tears during the angriest, most defeated thirty burpees of all time. That moment was my biggest regret from that race and I think it was because I felt I really did have the capability to climb it. Some obstacles I don’t feel bummed about failing because I know that right now they are so far out of my reach due to my size, genetics, strength levels, etc that even if I literally gave 100 percent towards completing it, I still wouldn’t get it. The rope wasn’t one of those things, so it made me so mad at myself knowing that I failed and ultimately let myself and everybody who was cheering for me down. I vowed to make it up the rope at my next Spartan and dedicated as much time as I could practicing rope climbs and working on my grip strength.
The morning of the race, we could see the rope area as we parked and headed to the start. “Oh that doesn’t look too bad!” I said out loud. It was almost like I jinxed myself. It technically wasn’t all that high (though, when you’re afraid of heights, pretty much anything is high) but it was destined to be the most slippery thing on earth after hundreds of people attempted to climb after crawling through literally SHIN DEEP poop mud.
After slogging through the poop mud, I hustled to the hoist and the rope. The hoist was a piece of cake…again, because I think they have us do heavier hoists in training, I was well prepared! After the hoist, I was antsy to get over to the rope. Cheryl noticed and commented on how ready I was. “I’m just trying to get it over with!” I said. I think most of us were just DONE after the mud, so I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that. I couldn’t relax or concentrate on anything else until I’d gone up that rope. The closer I got to it finally being time to attempt the climb, I started to feel more and more anxious. I felt it in the pit of my stomach. What if I didn’t do it? Especially after I made such a big deal about making it happen this time??
The first thing I did when I approached the rope climb was look for one that had dry-ness starting lower than the others. The ropes were ALL muddy and slick towards the bottom, but towards the tops they were dryer where you could tell that people had quit. I grabbed the rope in my hands and went to hook it around my foot and that’s when I realized this was going to be NOTHING like climbing the rope in training. Nothing really could have prepared me to go up a rope so slippery I couldn’t really keep it between my feet very well OR hold onto it well enough to grip it with my hands. I could feel my heart sink and my tear ducts filling up after I jumped up on the rope only to have it slip through my fingers and my (unfortunately bare) legs.
I slid down off of that rope, hot tears in my eyes, already feeling like a failure, full on toddler style meltdown about to erupt, when my friend Leah stood in front of me and told me “NO CRYING!!”. She said it with such sternness and fierceness that I immediately sniffled and took a deep breath before collecting myself as best as I could to go at it again. I couldn’t walk away with that being how it ended…I just couldn’t. I knew in that moment that the only way I’d be giving up this time would be if I physically fell off of the rope because my arms and grip gave out.
After a couple more deep breaths, I jumped back up and took it kind of slow. I realized that if I could just somehow get past the slick, wet mud stained part of the rope, I’d be home free (I mean, as home free as you can actually be when it comes to a rope climb…). If I could just get past the slick, slimy length of the rope, I’d be able to inch up the rest of the way just like I’d done a hundred times before in practice.
Thinking back to that moment, my memories of making it up feel like a blur. Like it happened in an instant, but also like it took a lifetime. Near the spot where I quit on myself at Wintergreen, I felt exhaustion creeping in. It hurt, I was tired, wet, and I was so hungry! My arms were burning and I just wanted it to be over. That’s the moment when I realized that I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t let my mind take over when my body knew what it needed to do. That’s a moment I will go back to again and again in my mind when I need that little bit of extra to push through something difficult…in that moment I knew that the only difference between me last time and the me that I wanted to be…the one succeeding and ringing the bell, was to keep going despite how hard it was.
And isn’t that such a good metaphor for life? What’s the thing that separates successful people from those who aren’t? What’s the thing that separates athletes from people who aren’t? It’s that grit that says keep going even though everything in you wants to stop. I say all the time “If Katie Nesbitt can do it, anybody can” because I know that I’m not special. None of us are. We all have the capability to give our best or the capability to quit. If exercise hating, junk food junkie, bookworm, couch potato, Katie Nesbitt can climb ropes and deadlift twice what she weighs, I feel that anything is possible…(but seriously).
Anyway! Back to my story: I kept pulling away at the rope while my coaches and my friends (and a few strangers) yelled encouragement and other random things at me. Suddenly I heard people yelling at me to hit the bell. I was so confused for a second because I didn’t think I was close enough to it, but I held on for dear life and swung my arm out and hit the bell. In that moment I felt fear (because I was literally swinging from the top of a rope and afraid of falling off) and SO much relief.
After sliding awkwardly to the bottom, my eyes welled up with tears. This time becauseI realized I had climbed the freaking rope! I had conquered an obstacle that had frustrated me to no end at my first race and I’d done something I NEVER would have thought I’d be able to do in my lifetime.
That moment, that feeling of being able to prove to myself that I could do it was something I will never ever forget. Wintergreen was a great experience, but Charlotte was all about redemption for me. I am so glad that I got to go and do this, AND that I got to do it with friends! Throughout the race I bitched and complained a lot, repeatedly asking “WHY DO WE PAY MONEY TO PUT OURSELVES THROUGH THIS SHIT?!?” but I know why it is we do it. Because it’s cathartic to be able to push yourself, to prove what you can do, to redeem yourself from past failures, and because the camaraderie you share with your teammates is something so special.
Running a marathon a few years back was just a yolo thing I did to say that I’d done it that ended up wearing me out, but running Spartans has been an intentional thing I’ve done that’s given me confidence, strength, a tribe of amazing athletes that I get to call friends. I can’t wait to sign up for my next race!