“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” – Miyamoto Musashi, “A Book of Five Rings”
Imagine a race inspired by the film “300” and then it shouldn’t be so surprising that barbed wire, fire pits, chilly creeks, heavy objects, uphill running, climbing and even spears await.
The Spartan Race is on the leading edge of a rapidly growing industry built on some of us having the inner need to run through mega obstacle courses. Think of it as a blend of cross country running with some Army/Marine Corps like training tossed in around every corner. As they say on their website, “Many will arrive, but few will leave” or more eloquently “You may die” (the motto of the most hardcore of Spartan Races known as the “Death Race) ought to discourage the more rationally minded individual. Or you may find yourself looking at it as the ultimate challenge of mental and physical fortitude.
My journey to become “Spartan strong” began earlier in the Summer with my first taste of a CrossFit – an increasingly popular version of fitness with roots in endurance training, weight lifting and some gymnastics for good measure. If you want to get faster and stronger beyond everything else you’ve tried before…you just might find yourself here.
When I get asked, “What is CrossFit?” I always have a tough time explaining it. Usually I’ll start my answer by sending over this YouTube clip showing this year’s Reebok CrossFit games.
They look like Spartans don’t they? I know I sure as heck didn’t. I was (and never will be!) a Rich Froning. I had much more in common physically with Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. I doubt I could’ve even lifted the single, individual weights that would’ve been placed onto the barbells. That said, I was still intrigued enough to give it a try when asked by a friend to join in on a free session. I finally stopped with the excuses and made it into the arena… er, Combat Sports Academy in Dublin, California.
My goal was merely to “survive” my first class, a 60 minute “WOD” aka Workout Of the Day. Its not as easy as it sounds, as most warm ups in CrossFit before the actual WOD are worse than your average gym routine. Be prepared to jump rope for 5-10 minutes straight, run a mile, do a few dozen sit-ups, pushups or burpees along with some stretching to get you ‘ready’ to do the real work. Some of that ‘real work’ might include a routine like “McGhee” doing five 275lb deadlifts, 13 pushups and 9 box jumps to 24″. Sound simple? Oh wait, its an “AMRAP” routine meaning As Many Reps As Possible. You get to do that fun for 30 minutes and see how many times you cycle through that list.
Google search “CrossFit WODs” and you’ll find a limitless variety of way to push your body to the extreme.
Another WOD (one I do actually enjoy) is known as “Fight Gone Bad”, originally created for MMA athlete B.J. Penn as a means to condition his body to endure through 3-5 rounds of fighting. “FGB” is simply EMOM or Every Minute On the Minute of: wall ball shots (tossing 20 lbs 10 feet to a target over your head, catch and toss again), sumo high pull (bringing a 75 lb barbell from the floor to your chin and back), box jumps to 24″ (jump up then off, repeat), push press (toss a 75 lb barbell over your head back to your shoulder rack position and back over your head), and finally the rowing machine counting calories earned.
In my case I simply wanted to finish and not throw up. So what happened?
Though I was the slowest and easily the weakest in class, it felt good just to be standing at the end. That was mission accomplished for me. There was no puking, no complaining and not much breath left but I’d made it. End of story, right? Not exactly. And I blame the USA Olympics team for that.
Thanks to my job at NBCBayArea I got to see first-hand the world’s most elite athletes at the USA Olympic Gymnastics trials in San Jose. It struck me how much of what I was seeing there with warm up exercises and even some routines definitely had similarities to CrossFit. My interest was piqued even higher. Of course I had no aspiration to join the “Fierce 5” and no way in a dozen more lifetimes could I have been an elite gymnast. But there was that competitive part of me that wanted to get in good enough to shape to work on the rings, maybe hold steady on a pommel horse or work into a full handstand. Any of those would be pretty epic to try for the first time especially after the age of 40.
Or maybe its just plain crazy? Considering I’ve bungee jumped out of hot air balloons, been skydiving, rode above the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway cable car rig and have chased down supercell thunderstorms…CrossFit actually felt more like a safer and saner solution to my outdoors pursuits.
And so my CrossFit journey began in late August and September by taking on full time sessions. I was pushed forward with a goal of not just competing in the Spartan Race but excelling at it. So I began training, adjusting my diet skipping lazy days at the gym with multi-minute breaks into these super power sessions with hardly any rest. We worked combos of power cleans, squat thrusts, clean & jerks all variants of thrusting large barbells over your head. Then came the agility drills straight out of football training camp with sprints, lunges and runs enhanced by adding weights to carry along.
There were also those “tabata” workout days. These were sets of exercises timed to run 20 seconds of intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, then another and back again and again, etc.
The benefits slowly started to emerge. I could run faster, jump higher, lift more weight and do all of the above without losing my breath as easily. I wasn’t finishing dead last anymore but moving into the middle of the pack in classes. Perhaps the first real world test really surprised me. I could scale small rocky peaks in less than half the time I used to in my much younger days.
It was a bizarre almost “Batman Begins” like moment when I realized how all that training had prepared me to scale, climb, jump over obstacles that seemed otherwise impossible before. As crazy as it sounded, I knew I was finally ready to take on the Spartan Race and whatever Gerard Butler clones who might be there to try to intimidate me.
THIS IS SPARTA-N!
“X”-Fit Marks The Spot
I finished my first Spartan race in close to 90 minutes and managed a near top 100 finish for my age group. What surprised me most was the fact that afterwards and even the next day I really wasn’t that sore from the experience. To me that confirmed what I’d been believing all along that my CrossFit WOD’s on most days test your resolve, endurance and strength more than an obstacle course race can. CrossFit had proven to be the perfect training partner to prepare for events like this.
My first few months with CrossFit have been quite a wild ride and I’m looking forward to getting a full year into my system to see where it can take me. My life odometer says I’m now approaching my mid 40s, but thanks to CrossFit I know I’m entering the best shape of my life.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m excited for the possibilities.