After the mud race, the next goal was to complete a Spartan race. Ideally, I would have built up my condition some more before joining, but I only had one month after the mud race to prepare myself, so thus I started working on muscling up, in order to run a Spartan race the Spartan way (read: barefoot!).
Intensity of workouts
On my instagram feed dedicated to barefoot running, you can find that since one month, I have been incorporating a heavy dose of burpees into my daily training. And this has definitely helped, because I have done quite some burpees during this race!
Further to that, I started visiting the gym much more, to work on my upper body strength. In the park where I habitually train, my workout was generally made of back rows, push-ups, burpees (of course!) and some attempts at pull-ups.
With this done, I was looking forward to run this race.
An incredibly distant venue
The first thing is that the venue where the Spartan race was taking place was quite distant from Kowloon. It involved taking the West Rail line of Hong Kong and alighting at the station before Tuen Mun, the terminus of the MTR.
The area is a bit wild, but this should not delude you: it seems the area was basically an old disaffected trash deposit, as the organizers left on the race track, plenty of dangerous items. In fact, on the path I found every nightmare of a barefooter: from the famous “glass”, to pieces of metal, and even iron bars protruding from the ground. Although the spartan is an obstacle race, putting it in such a place sounds a bit careless to me, and not only because I am a barefooter.
I participated in the “open” heat, which are not really strictly controlled, as they do not lead to qualifications for competitions. And despite the strong marketing about pushing yourself, most runners were just happy to do it the easy way (read: skip burpees, or try multiple times for a single try obstacle).
Marketing was also present with the sale of items at the entrance, but mostly low-quality stuff which have just the logo of spartan. I thus passed.
Beyond that, a lot of shops selling performance-related stuff, and some preparing some games for athletes.
The start was crowded and with some pushing from some runners who were attempting to take a head start.
At the start, about 500 m in the race, you start with the low walls (two sets of 5 ft walls). I surprised myself enough by getting over them without too much difficulty, same with the under and the through obstacles. I was definitely astonished at being able to get over the 7-foot wall, where so many people were being pulled up by their friends….
Unfortunately, the wrist mount of my go pro broke off on the Z-wall, so had to limit my usage of the camera for the remainder of the course.
I failed the Atlas carry, as lifting a boulder of 50 kgs was too much for my current state of training. With the spear throw which immediately followed, well, my foot got caught in the thread, so the spear did not hit the target. As can be imagined those two failures cost me 60 burpees, bringing the total to 90 after the Z wall failure… The sandbag carry went well, but it is quite tiring dragging a weight of 35 kgs on your shoulders.
The next obstacles were rope climbing, Atlas hoist and an inverted wall… But of course, not in that order. No, before doing that, they had us do a real arm-killer, namely the “bucket brigade” (carrying a bucket filled with stones around a 200 m loop, involving going down and up a ditch, then climbing on some stone hills). Obviously, after that, my arms were totally killed for the pulling involved by the rope climb (not that I had any chance of training specifically on that).
Despite these issues, I managed to climb alone above the inverted wall (where a lot of runners were getting help from their friends). Thereafter ensued about four hundred meters of the most deep ranging mud and mud pits where we had to plunge then come out, only to find the dunk wall.
I had fortunately taken with me my swimming goggles as I habitually run with contact lenses. This avoided the inconvenience affecting some of the other runners who got some dirty water into their eyes.
Acceptance of barefooting
An interesting topic, given that the race organizers themselves discourage barefooting during their race in the “race guide”. Mostly, the reactions were positive, or admirative. I must say the only ones who were irked or had negative reactions were some Western males. First, they wondered at a very loud voice whether I started running barefoot, or I had lost my shoes. When I told them I was running barefoot, they had some snarking remarks about the boulders falling on my feet… Where they did not realize their plastic shoes would not afford much of a protection against the impact, given they did not have steel toes. At the end of the race, my feet and legs were truly caked in mud, but that was the only inconvenience I suffered. No injury despite the items in the ground.
But overall, people were impressed, and approving. Where I felt that my choice is also the proper choice in terms of ethics was when I saw the huge pile of shoes thrown away after the race.
When seeing this waste, you wonder why more people don’t take the step of starting barefooting at the very least for such races as mud races or spartan races. In that, barefoot running is also protective of the planet!