This year, the Virginia Super Spartan Race was held at Wintergreen Resort in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains on August 22nd.
There’s nothing to describe this experience.
I say this because there’s no way that you all can know how much I love physical challenges. You can’t know how long I’ve been excelling at everything athletic that I’ve ever tried (without me sounding like a pretentious gloater). There’s no way you can know how little I complain about being exhausted, or dirty/sweaty or hurt. There’s no way you can know how much I don’t want to admit that a challenge was almost too much for me.
But the Wintergreen Spartan Super almost was.
I didn’t start seeing all the posts and comments about the Virginia Super’s reputation until after I’d already registered and paid, so I was like “*shrug* It’ll be tough, but I’ll train and prepare and just do it right and get it done”. Yeah, that was a cute way to look at it.
I couldn’t have had a better morning. I made my toast with peanut butter and bananas, packed up my stuff, stopped by Wa-Wa for my coffee and then had a beautiful, sunny morning drive out to Charlottesville.
I got there in plenty of time to park and take the shuttle up to the resort. I even had time to rethink using my CamelBak and snacks during the race and left them at bag check instead (which would later turn out to be a mistake).
After having some trouble finding the start line (true story) I got there just in time to climb over the start area wall and join the last people leaving in my wave.
At first it was great- typical trail running and the first obstacle was some long log hurdles. We jogged across one slope and went down it via the woods between two slopes. At the bottom were a couple more obstacles, including a taller wall than the first, showing me that HEY there’s going to be a pattern here! And there was even a fan blowing a cooling mist of water over all the competitors as we ran towards the walls, so I felt a little spoiled. …But then we reached the first uphill ski slope climb. I had to stop probably twice, but I found joy in turning around and feeling the wonderfully cooling breeze as I looked out over the mountains, valleys and beautiful blue sky.
When I reached the top, we immediately turned back into the woods and began the trek down through winding muddy paths, punctuated with clusters of pointy, jagged rocks and fallen trees. This was awesome at first because it gave me relief from the sun and was easier on my legs than going uphill. This would not remain the case for much longer.
When we got out of the woods, we had to turn uphill again right away and start another march up a slope (I saw some people referring to it as the “death march”, but c’mon…I’m not doin’ that). This is when I think it really sunk in that, “Oh damn…this is all this race is going to be”- fighting leg cramps marching up these steep, long ski slopes, then trying to guard my knees while working down through this treacherous wooded areas.
And that’s exactly what it was. While the first uphill climb was maybe just half of the entire slope, the rest of the race was just marching up entire ski slopes and stopping when my legs started to cramp, eventually sitting because I had to. It seemed like everyone was having the same problem. Everything I overheard was someone complaining about their legs cramping or someone offering struggler (like me) a gel shot or snack to help them get through the rest of the race.
Then in the wooded sections you’d have problems with people slipping, rolling/twisting their ankles, knees giving out and the typical people-trying-to-pass-others-in-the-wrong-place problems (which if you don’t know OCR’s or cross country races, it can cause a lot of issues in congested narrow dangerous sections).
The obstacles were actually welcomed breaks. Because 1) odds are that if a water table was going to be anywhere, it’d be right before or after an obstacle, 2) at least you weren’t running, and 3) there were generally lines from bottlenecking at the obstacles, so if you wanted a longer break you could choose a longer line and be like, “Oh noooo I have to wait in this liiiiiine, there’s nothing I can doooooo. Ooooooh weeeeell”.
I was able to complete every obstacle EXCEPT (and trust me, I’m ashamed to admit there were any I didn’t do): the spear throw (because, to be honest, I just wanted to keep moving), the first and second set of monkey bars (cruel to leave those until the end after the barbed wire crawl and water pit), and the rope climb (although I did get higher than any other person that was trying at the time – everyone was cheering me on! Then I was like, oh crap if I go higher and can’t get all the way to the top, how do I get down? …naaaahhh). And if you can’t complete an obstacle at Spartan, the rule is you give the official at the obstacle 30 burpees. By the end of the race (i.e. when I was too tired to complete the obstacles) I was almost too tired to do all the burpees. Push-ups are tough when your body’s trying to shut down (not really, but at the time I’m sure it felt like it).
In the end, I think I figured out it was a little over 9 miles, 26 obstacles, I think I counted 5 water stations, 120 burpees and 5 hours of constant activity. I not only ate the entire banana they give you after you finish before I even got to bag claim, I fell asleep on the shuttle back to the parking area. Then I just couldn't wait to change and get on the road back to Richmond so I could shower and eat an entire pizza.
The Spartan spirit and pride were what attracted me to this race, and in the end, it was also a big part of what got me through the race. The announcer at the start line gets you pumped, of course, with the Spartan chant where we declare that “WE ARE SPARTANS! AROO!” But throughout the whole race, you would just hear “AROO”s echoing through the trees and across the slopes. If myself or another racer were sitting off to the side of a slope march, at least two people would ask, “Are you ok?” or offer water, a gel shot or food. There were conversations and friendships being made all over the place, not to mention valuable advice being given by veterans of the Virginia Super.
Ultimately, the other racers were the main positive distraction (besides the views) that got my mind off my aching body and helped me get through each leg of the race (even though I tell everyone that the only reason I didn’t quit was because I was going to have to walk back up the mountain to get to the shuttle anyway, so I might as well do it within the race lol). I had plenty of conversations, encouraging exchanges, offers for assistance (at obstacles and while sitting during the uphill marches), things that made me laugh and (of course) overall inspiration from watching others in all their competitive glory.
I want to say it was fun. I want to say “I can’t wait to do it again”. I want to feel so proud. I want to feel like I really accomplished something. BUT…
While parts of it were definitely fun, I wouldn’t tell anyone it was fun unless I knew for a fact that they were in top physical condition and able to train for this. I don’t want any of my friends thinking this is a good race/OCR to start on. This was my first Spartan race ever and it kicked my ass, and I love it, and I’m glad….but I worry about people overestimating themselves because there’s a lot of room for real injuries in this race.
While I can’t wait to do another Spartan race, I don’t think I’ll be doing the Virginia Super again…at least not any time soon. I heard that even the South Carolina Beast was easier. I’m goin’ for that trifecta yo!
I don’t know if I feel proud, because I was disappointed in myself for several things. Mostly for deciding not to bring my CamelBak and snacks, but honestly when I saw people with CamelBaks 1) they were the smaller kind and 2) they were either in a group or had a spectator following them to hand it off to, so that no one person had it on their back the whole race. I can’t imagine that extra weight. It would’ve sucked.
I feel like now that I know all these things and what to expect better, I could do the course better – finish quicker AND do all the obstacles (although I’ve never been able to even do a pull up so the monkey bars and rope climb would prove most difficult, especially since they’re at the very end of the race).
But overall, of course I’m proud. At least I can say that I did it. I finished it. And in just over 5 hours, which I’m hearing is pretty good considering a lot of people finished in 6+ hours. I’ll definitely be doing another Spartan Race, but I can say with 99.9999% certainty it won’t be the Virginia Super J lol But I'm glad I did it. Because despite the aching body, afterwards I was feeling....