Lessons From Spartan Racing – You Can Always Improve Your Mental and Physical Condition

Category: Fine Life

Managing Partner Pernell McGuire runs the ‘STADION’ Spartan Race at State Farm Stadium in Glendale

My youngest daughter got married six months ago and at her reception I was visiting with her new father-in-law, Joe.  An orthopedic surgeon in Idaho, Joe is in incredible shape.  I like to work out myself and so I asked him what he did to stay in such great condition. He told me that he likes to participate in Spartan races.  I told Joe that I had heard about Spartan races but was always too intimidated to sign up.  He immediately invited me to join him at his next race, called a “Stadion” being held in the Cardinals’ stadium in Glendale.  The peer pressure was too much, so I agreed not fully knowing what I was getting myself into.

I started researching online and checking out YouTube videos of prior races.  I learned that a Stadion was a 5k obstacle course race, most of which was spent running up and down the stadium steps or up the ramps outside, stopping intermittently to test my strength on different obstacles.  It looked very challenging, but I was committed and so I had to show up.  My resolve was tested when just three weeks before the race I dislocated my ankle playing basketball damaging most of the ligaments. Race day came and although I was far less than 100%, I hoped that I would make it through on plenty of Advil and adrenaline.

With Joe pacing me and providing encouragement, I did much better than I thought I would.  I successfully completed 17 of the 20 obstacles and finished with a time of a little over an hour.  The race was challenging, and although I did fairly well, I felt like I could do better.

Bridging the gap between belief and accomplishment is where the real growth occurs.

Pernell at the “Dunk Wall”

I signed up for another Stadion the following month in Anaheim, California.  With the experience of one race under my belt, and another month removed from my ankle sprain, I felt I could improve on my time and performance.  Unfortunately, I ran this race alone and finished a full 15 minutes slower than my prior time unable to successfully complete four out of the 20 obstacles.

I learned just how much I missed having Joe help push me and encourage me through the race.  Even so, competing is the best way to truly test myself both physically and mentally.  So, as soon as I was finished, I started looking for my next race.

“The Multi Rig”

Fortunately, I was able to sign up for a Spartan – “Super” held near Ft. McDowell just outside of Phoenix.  A Super is a 10k race with 25 obstacles ran through the desert. If you’re unable to complete an obstacle, no problem, just drop and give me 30 . . . burpees!  The course was extremely challenging with plenty of hills at various grades, two mud pools to traverse, and of course the obstacles.  Monkey bars (two sets), the “multi-rig” (think American Ninja Warrior – with gymnastic rings, and metal bars to cross), rope climb, 5’ and 7’ walls to climb over, sandbag, bucket, and atlas ball carry, to name a few.

Under the Razor Wire

Each obstacle took its toll and as the race wore on, I could feel my 58-year-old body wearing down.  The last mile was easily the longest and my calves started cramping up with about ½ a mile to go.  Nevertheless, the competitive juices were flowing and somehow, I was able to finish the course in two hours and 13 minutes; good enough for 4th out of 25 in my age group.

Not too bad, but my time compared to the entire field was only good enough to place me 406 out of 1093 male competitors, leaving tons of room for improvement.

Just finishing a race is a great accomplishment, but for me it’s all about pushing myself to get better. Some years ago, I decided that just because I was getting older, that didn’t mean I couldn’t improve my mental and physical condition.  Of course, it’s not easy, but as one of my teachers told me many years ago, “what the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.” Bridging the gap between belief and accomplishment is where the real growth occurs.

Pernell at the Victory Wall

And although I am one of the older racers out there, I am far from the oldest.  One of the female competitors was 76, and the oldest male competitor was 80! So, I guess I’ve got some time to figure out how to climb that darn rope.