This past weekend I was provided the amazing opportunity to travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to officially work my very first Spartan Race, a twelve mile Beast located in Soldier Hollow, a gorgeous ski resort located within the sprawling mountains an hour outside of the city.
Upon arriving in Utah Friday, I immediately headed to the venue to assist with setup, to explore the course, and to take a few teaser photos to share on social media. The festival area was bustling with activity as last minute preparations were made, and as the sun set behind the mountains, my excitement for the day to come mounted.
4AM arrived quickly, and before I could blink it was 5:30AM and I was entering the dark, quiet Spartan venue, the cold air causing a strange calm before the eminent storm that was about to descend upon the valley. Final instructions were given, and slowly eager racers began to trickle in, standing anxiously in line waiting to check in.
By 8am I watched on as the elite waves of men and women were sent erupting out onto the field, fighting onward with the hopes of a glorious finish. I spent my day talking with media, showing them the best places for the perfect photos, explaining the event and what Spartan Race is all about. In my free time I took a myriad of photos and cheered on runners as they tackled obstacle after obstacle. It was an absolute blast, and I quickly fell in love with getting to be a part of the behind-the-scenes Spartan event.
I had decided that morning that if the opportunity presented itself, I would join Steve, an SGX Coach who was also working the event, in the final wave of the day to sweep the course. It was an experience I’d never had, and I was interested to see what it was like to aid in closing down the course while also making sure every runner made it across the finish line.
Little did I know I was about to have an intensely emotional experience, one that I won’t soon forget.
The first few miles of the race passed rather quickly. We were sent out at 2:30pm with about ten other racers, many of whom had volunteered earlier in the day, and began progressing through the course at a decent clip. We marveled at the beautiful views while ascending the first mountain, and relieved weary volunteers as we encountered each obstacle and water station. After completing the rapid-fire gauntlet of obstacles (Atlas Carry, Rope Climb, Lattice Wall, Monkey Net, Herculean Hoist, and Spear Throw), we headed back into the mountains, encouraged by the quick and easy progress we were making.
At mile four we came across two women who were staring off into the distance, a look of despair written plainly across their faces. When asked what was wrong, they pointed across a valley at a stream of people ascending a steep, impossible looking mountain trail. “There’s no way we can get up that hill!” they lamented. I followed their gaze and determined that I was not about to let them quit, and with quite a bit of optimistic encouragement, we marched onward.
Through the next eight miles, the goal went from cruising through the course to close it down as quickly as we could, to sticking with the final four participants and making sure that they crossed the finish line. Through moments of despair, frustration, and doubt, my co-sweep Steve and I did our best to encourage and motivate the racers as they fought against their bodies and minds which were telling them that they were in over their heads, that it was high time to quit, that they couldn’t do it. But we were determined to prove them wrong, and as each mile marched on their confidence began to grow as they knew that the finish line was slowly but surely looming closer.
Finally, after more than seven hours on the course, as the sun was setting behind the mountains and dusk was settling in, we rounded a bend and the final barb wire crawl came into view. I cheered as Natalie, the girl who I’d spent the last several hours with, inched her way through the mud, her exhausted body begging her to give up. Once emerging from under the barb wire, a slippery incline wall, caked in mud from the thousands of runners before her, lay in wait. She slipped on the wall, grasping desperately onto the rope as she slid backwards.
What occurred next is most likely going to be one of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced in my time racing.
Staff members converged around her, climbing up beside her, supporting her from below, and reaching from above, determined to help her conquer this final obstacle. I reached to her from the top of the wall, grasping her arm, promising her we would not let go as a look of panic crossed her face. But we are Spartan’s, we don’t give up, and we don’t let others fail. She was getting over that wall, no matter what it took.
We pulled her upward and she finally grasped the top of the wall and pulled herself over, a wave of emotions washed over all of us at the amazing display of teamwork and dedication that had just taken place. Although most of the participants had left for the day, staff and volunteers lined the finish line and cheered loudly as Natalie took her final steps over the finish line. She had done it! She had conquered the Beast! As much as it had tried to break her, tried to make her quit, she had continued on step by step and earned the title of Spartan. She lost her sparkle in the most epic way possible, and I am so incredibly proud of her dedication, her drive, and her commitment to keep going even when she wanted to quit.
I feel so fortunate to have been blessed to have been able to sweep the Utah Beast course last weekend! It was inspiring, amazing, and I have to say that spending those hours on the course with the final racers was incredibly rewarding. To be honest I’d sweep the course every time if I could. It’s so awesome to be an integral part of helping a person on the brink of giving up gain the drive to finish what they showed up to do. I am so incredibly proud of the final racers, so impressed with my fellow Spartan staff and volunteers for making the finish line just as awesome for the last racer as it was for the first, and so happy to be a part of such an awesome organization.
I am looking forward to working several future Spartan Race events, and hope that this first experience sweeping the course is just one of many more to come. What an amazing and rewarding experience.
Congratulations to Natalie, one of the final finishers of the day, and a woman I greatly respect for pushing through the pain and self-doubt to finish a brutal race. I greatly admire you, and hope to race with you once again someday!