Our ladies team tackle the Spartan Sprint and Spartan Junior events in Cambridge

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Photos by Dave Sherman

Laura Kimberley

On Sunday 7th September 2014 our team of 5 girls took on the challenge of the 5K Spartan Sprint in Cambridge. We were all very excited and equally terrified as we couldn’t be quite sure exactly what we had let ourselves in for. Spartan pride themselves on creating varied routes and obstacles for their events, so what may be true for one won’t necessarily be the same at another.

Organisation on arrival was very good and marshals directed cars quickly and the short walk from the car park to the main event site was clearly sign posted and easily accessible. Registration desks were well manned and everyone collected their wristbands, timing chips and headbands within minutes. There were plenty of toilets (which were very clean), clearly labelled drop off and collection points for bags and a huge start banner so it was obvious where we needed to be at our start time.

After a short pep-talk (which was quite difficult to hear but I noticed a microphone was used for later waves) and lots of rousing ‘Aroo’ battle cries, we were off. The route was quite flat and I was expecting a longish run to begin with in order to spread out the field of runners, however this wasn’t really the case and as we approached the first obstacle (hurdles) I thought that they would have been quite fun to run and jump over if we’d had the room – as it was everyone just stepped over them – and there was then a massive queue resulting in a 10 minute wait to get to the ditch of knee deep mud we had to wade through. Great fun to be had when we got there though, and we did spot one lone shoe that had been lost to some poor soul in the wave before us…

Upon leaving the mud we each grabbed a sandbag which needed to be carried along a path and back again. There were supposed to be lighter bags for the ladies but there weren’t very many of those when we got there, so Kat and I ended up taking shifts with a man sized one and a lighter one switching halfway.

Then came the Atlas stone challenge in which we were supposed to lift a solid concrete ball and carry it along a path and back again. I don’t know how heavy they were, but none of us ladies could lift it off the ground let alone carry it anywhere! Maybe this should’ve incurred us some burpees but the marshal told us to roll them, so that is what we did. He mentioned there should’ve been lighter ones for the ladies but I’m unsure if this was an actual ‘should’ve been’ or just his personal opinion. Either way this could be something to think about for next year Spartan organisers?

At this point in my recollections I lose track of which order the obstacles came to us but there were water buckets to be carried in a loop (more awkward than unbearably heavy), an A-frame to be climbed over, a spear throw (which we all missed), barbed wire to be crawled under, the Herculean Hoist where a gas canister had to be lifted by pulling on a thin rope and crawling through a narrow tunnel which spectators could walk over. This was very un-nerving as the claustrophobia was heightened by all the thundering footsteps overhead and at this point my boyfriend’s 10 year old daughter took great pleasure in jumping up and down on top of my tunnel – thanks honey! J

During the weeks leading up to the race all our girls had expressed some trepidation about monkey bars and the dreaded rope climb. We tried to prepare ourselves by practicing in park playgrounds and going to a local boot camp that we knew had the apparatus, but sadly for me however these things did not help and I had to suck it up and do the burpees! Katrina made it to about a foot from the top of the rope though, and Christina managed two thirds of the monkey bars so I was really thrilled for them.

About a week before race day we all received an email saying there would be a total of 4 water crossings along the route and that 2 of them would require a swim. They weren’t kidding – it was a lake! A proper, actual lake with ducks and everything! And it was cold! But after the trenches of mud we’d previously waded through it was quite nice to feel a bit cleaner – although I don’t think we smelt any better – but the marshal who helped us out of the first lake was lovely and even gave each swimmer a Spartan cuddle to welcome them back onto dry land. The second lake wasn’t as deep and many people did walk across a large section of it, but I found the mud on the bottom to be like quicksand and decided it was better to swim than risk losing a shoe.

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We often said to each other on the way round, “I wonder how far we’ve got left?” assuming we hadn’t really covered much ground, but we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the final A-frame in what didn’t feel like an extraordinarily long amount of time. This wasn’t quite as easy as the earlier one though as you had to walk up the near side using a rope to help you before climbing over the top and down the other side. It was really slippery, covered in mud and involved a good deal of teamwork, relying on the person in front of you give you a pull and then staying and helping get the person behind you over the top.

The finish line was the classic Spartan fire jump and we all crossed together, triumphant and holding hands – It was amazing! The whole team felt elated when it was over and we were presented with our medals, t-shirts, beer, ice cream and flapjacks. I’m already planning how I can conquer my demons (monkey bars and rope) on next year’s course, and I think we’re pretty set on upping the distance to the 13K Spartan Super!

“You’ll know at the finish line” – Yes we do and we’ll be back!

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Hayley O’Flaherty

When I first signed up to Spartan Sprint, I thought as I had six weeks to prepare I’d be fine. However, illness struck for three weeks, cutting my prep time in half. Panic stations! ‘It’s only 5k,’ I reassured myself. ‘Oh no, I can’t even run 5k!’

I started to wonder whether I should have signed up at all. I didn’t want to be the one at the back letting the team down or the one known for crawling to the finish line! Two weeks before I dragged myself to the gym and forced myself to do 5k on the treadmill. After achieving that in an okay time I felt elation. I knew I would be able to complete Spartan! It was time to start getting excited!

Race day!! I arrived on-site and was given the customary ‘Spartan’ headband. Too late to back down now! Pre-race jitters were seeping through. My work shift the night before had run over and I was starting to wonder if the three hours of sleep and McDonald’s breakfast had been sufficient preparation!

As I got in line with my team, war paint fresh on our faces, the nerves diminished and were replaced by a more settling feeling; excitement. It was impossible not to fuel on the atmosphere; the music, the people and the ‘Spartan’ atop a van psyching us all up.

The race began with a nice gentle first obstacle; hurdles. Everyone seemed to be walking over them! Was this really the legendary Spartan Sprint everyone talked about? However, the obstacles did get harder and as the runners split up there was more room to be able to run.

During the race, I started to feel comfortable, my confidence growing with each obstacle. I was actually enjoying it and, dare I say it, was finding it easy. And then the lake hit…

The lake was one of the obstacles I struggled with but I was determined not to let it beat me. I am not a strong swimmer by any means. In fact, I am a very weak swimmer. I flayed my arms around, attempting to mirror what everyone else was doing, but to my horror, I didn’t seem to be travelling any distance! I had to resort to my attempt at front crawl, which unfortunately resembled something more like a new-born giraffe trying to wade across the murky waters! However, I made it across, waited for my team to re-join and we set off together for the next challenge.

Crossing the finish line was great but it did bring a little disappointment. I wanted to run it again! I loved the entire experience. Every obstacle we at least attempted. I would definitely do this race again but next time I will train harder so every obstacle can be conquered (I failed miserably at the rope climb).

Overall, it was an amazing day and I am very glad Spartan Sprint was my first ever ‘race’. I cannot wait for my next one. I think this is the start of a wonderful addiction. Aroo!

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Tavisha Fernando

First things first, after at least a week of being absolutely terrified of the day… WE MADE IT!! The weeks leading up to the event consisted of training at a local boot-camp and a feeling of complete dread during which I was questioning what thought processes I had gone through to consider doing something like this. However once I arrived and had registered the nerves and dread started to change to excited anticipation (which was helped by the sunshine!).

As for the race… I am not a runner or a swimmer and any training I have done has been martial arts related and some time ago, so the main thing I struggled with was to keep running. There were also two sections of the race where there was a swim involved, and this is where my first criticism lies. Upon trying to advise a marshal that I was not a strong swimmer, I was told that “you can walk most of it, you’ll be fine,” – this was entirely false as being barely 5 foot tall I could only walk about ¼ of the distance, and being an inexperienced swimmer meant I really really struggled with it. Had I

known the swim was going to be that long I would never have done it. I thought the marshals should have taken a little more time to ensure they were listening to the people as I’m sure I was not the only person who feared for their life during the first swim!

The other things I struggled with were the monkey bars, the rope climb and the spear throw, all of which were due to a lack of strength training on my part. The atlas stone obstacle was also one we all struggled with as none of us could lift it off the ground so it would have been good to have smaller stones for the girls like they did at the London race.

Upon realising we were near the end I was quite disappointed to realise we hadn’t encountered a single wall, I was looking forward to the challenge and felt just slightly let down that there were no walls to climb over or traverse.

We also experienced a few bottlenecks – the main one being at the second A-frame which could have done with being twice the size that it was. This was the final obstacle and another I struggled with as I slipped and winded myself (again, my own fault!).

My overall thoughts are that I expected there to be more obstacles because of the reviews I’d heard for the other location, but we had an awesome day and I would definitely do it again.

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Christina Koutoula

The Spartan race, one to be feared by many, but for 5 unsuspecting hopefuls, we were hoping for the course to be kind on us. We all started training as hard as we could, for me that meant minimal running, lots of swimming and lots of upper body strength exercises. The gym was my greatest friend for the 1 month of training I put in. Unknown to myself, the swimming paid off as 2 of the new challenges were to swim across a lake.

The race was also a great excuse to go shopping. The best purchase of all had to be the trail shoes, these were great for preventing me from slipping and sliding, followed by an assortment of lycra clothing and anti-blister socks. I found myself buying lots of different types of gloves to the point that I am now a glove expert, my weapon of choice were full finger extreme sport gloves, I tried the half-finger gloves on the practise ropes in South London but found the tips of my fingers burning, so I decided on the full finger gloves. I now own a set of gloves for any given scenario. All set with shiny new gear and looking very much like a ninja that was not going to remain clean for long, I set off for the race.

Having attended the 13k Spartan race in South London the previous week as a spectator, I found myself comparing the obstacles and layout intently upon arrival. The South London race layout had a large spectator area so that the spectators did not have to walk around the course and this would’ve been great for families like mine that did not bring wellington boots. A spectator map would’ve been useful also. So we set off all praying we would finish together and the sun seemed to shine down on us. One of the obstacles involved picking up and carrying a stone ball through a circuit, then rolling it back. I found the stone ball far too heavy for most people to pick up, so most people simply rolled it. The rope climb was almost impossible to get started using the foot locking technique as it was quite high off the ground, so after a few attempts I decided not to complete and opted for burpees.

The best obstacle for me was the monkey bars; I’d looked forward to this the most and did myself proud. The lake swim was not as bad as I thought it would be, the length of the swim was short, but I felt my asthma hitting me half way, but I soldered on and even went back to help one of my team mates. The obstacles were challenging, however the queues slowed down the progression of them. Overall, the race was a great day out, and I’d thoroughly recommend the sprint for all skill levels. I’ve already got colleagues at work asking to do the race next year!

Katrina Urban

Spartan laid down the challenge and on September 7th 2014 the Trek and Run girls team met them head on at the new Cambridge course. Leading up to the event I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and questioning whose idea it had been to sign up for this! However, mixed with the nerves was complete excitement for the unknown.

We arrived on site and on the walk along the trail to the event village sneaked a peak at some of the obstacles we would later be attempting, when I saw the guide tape leading down to the lake my initial thought was ‘no way!’ On arriving at the registration desk we signed our waivers and presented our IDs. The entire process was quick and efficient; head bands were worn immediately and many pictures taken.

We made our way to the start line where we were greeted by a Spartan beginning a quick warm up; we couldn’t hear him all that well as he had no microphone at the time but I did notice that for later waves one had been sourced. We were off on a short run to space competitors out, I think a slightly longer distance may have been beneficial as by the time we reached the hurdles there were no athletic leaps due to congestion, this first obstacle definitely lured us into a false sense of security.

Before we knew it we were knee deep trudging through what can only be described as a muddy trench that resembled a shoe graveyard, and yet we were enjoying every second of it! It was at this point I appreciated the existence of the lake and couldn’t wait to jump in. The swim was a great addition to the course and definitely one of my favourite parts; the safety marshals were also extremely helpful when one of our team mates ran into difficulty mid-swim. We took a jog along the next part of the course, jumping over logs on the trail paths, carrying sand bags, rolling the huge stone, climbing the huge A frame and then ploughing through the watery mud pit.

We were all amazed by how much we were enjoying ourselves, we are 5 girls all of varying fitness levels and lifestyles three of whom have never taken part in an obstacle race before Sunday. Personally I am not a huge fan of going to the gym or for a run as I find it a tad dull and more of a chore; I like my exercise to be enjoyable which is why I go to pole and tone and now help the beginners learn the pole techniques. Spartan made working out so much fun that even before the halfway mark talk had turned to trying out the Spartan Super next year.

The obstacles we had all worried about were still to come and were never far from our thoughts, we reached the rope climb which I was relieved to have climbed as that had been what I was most worried about tackling; the bruises were worth it! We battled on through the monkey bars, spear throwing, another dip in the lake, a swim through the next boggy pit, running through trails along the way. We came to the Herculean Hoist and were told that we were nearly at the end, so the Trek and Run girls set off at a run knowing that the end would soon be in sight.

We crawled under barbed wire along a muddy ditch by this point we had fully embraced the Spartan ways and had decided that the filthier the better! We joined the queue for the final A frame on which we had to pull ourselves over using the ropes, there was quite a wait for this so maybe something to look at for next year. We went up one-by-one waiting at the top to help pull the following person over, we grabbed each other’s hands and ran together leaping over the fire and we were done, we had conquered the Spartan Sprint!

So to conclude, I had an amazing experience taking part in my first ever Spartan event, I liked the mystery surrounding the event with no course map and facing the unknown. You feel a real sense of accomplishment on completion and I would definitely recommend for anyone to sign up and give it a go. You don’t have to be a super fit exercise enthusiast you just need to be you and throw yourself into the challenges. I had a chat with some other finishers after collecting our fantastic t-shirts and they said it was their first time ever attending a Spartan event and they had already been online to look at races for next year. Thank you Spartan, we had a ball, see you next year!

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‘Spartan Junior’ by Kaci Sherman – Age 10

I wanted to do the Spartan Junior Race because it would be my first ever obstacle race and after seeing my Daddy do his race I thought it had lots of obstacles I wanted to try, and that it would be interesting to do.

Before the event I felt excited and a little bit nervous, and when I first saw the course I thought it looked really good and lots of fun. Before we started they went a bit mad with safety and I think they should’ve made the bigger kids start at the front because when we started running, lots of bigger kids were pushing from behind and knocking little kids over.

The bits I enjoyed most were the A frame and the rope climb and even though I couldn’t climb it I had a good attempt. The worst bit was the hills as we ran into the woods – running up them was ok but when you were running downhill it was so steep you felt like you were going to face-plant! I think the Spartan course was great fun but could’ve had some little ponds or ditches and some water for us to splash about in like in the grown-up race.

I’d love to do a Spartan Junior race again, but next time I’d like it if there were lots more bits where you can get muddy!

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To discover more about the Spartan events please see http://uk.spartanrace.com/events

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