“What is your profession?” It’s Sunday morning and I am wondering as I struggle to type. My arms hurt too much. In fact, all of my body does. Exactly 24 hours before I was enjoying a cold pint of Pilsner Urquell and basking in a combination of sunshine, sweat and relative success. It hadn’t started like that, a little over two hours earlier.
It had started as I had feared. To get to the beginning of the race you have to climb a four-foot fence and my colleague and teammate thought he needed to help me over it.
This was about as welcome as a matador being the first responder to a bull in a china shop.
It was not even 8am and I had been humiliated. This was an early show of the lack of faith developed in our training sessions.
I was also about to be shouted at.
The dreadlocked hype man barks at our group. This chipper chap has some opening remarks to fill me, and hopefully a few others, with dread.
Something or other about being ready and peak physical fitness but I only tune in for the end: “For those of you who have not trained, welcome to Spartan.” There’s a laugh. It doesn’t even sound nervous. Oh dear.
How anyone can be this positive before 8am is always a surprise but it’s apparently infectious. “Spartans, what is your profession?” he barks. “AROO! AROO! AROO!” the runners respond as is the case in every Spartan Race, as in the film 300, the 2006 Gerard Butler six-pack porn from which the race takes its name. And we’re off.
Ahead, we’ve been told, lies 20 obstacles spread out over an 8.29km trail in the New Territories. The first 4km will be a run and then the obstacles begin.
The run is more of a police kettle. The course is tight at the outset and gaits are stifled as we take a path through what appear to be vegetable patches. The “aroo” chants are replaced with the barks of some pretty wild looking dogs, tethered on some heavy duty chains behind fences.
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The pack of runners starts to spread out when we get to a stagnant stream and we find out why some people call the Spartan a “mud run”.
The trail takes us up and down hills, runners around us lose their footing. One has lost the sole of his shoe. He’s sat at the side of the clearly marked course looking worse for wear.
He tells us he is already dehydrated and we encourage him to walk on to what should be the first water stop at the 3km mark, which can’t be far off.
At this point the Spartan seems like it might actually be fun and perhaps even achievable.
It still feels that way after we pass the water stop and bump into Nicky Inge and she tells my colleague she has been bitten by a dog.
The last kilometre before the obstacles is on the road until we get to the spear throw, another nod to the movie.
Mine hit the target but did not stick in. Surely that was in keeping with the film where King Leonidas only clips Xerxes with his but proves the god-king’s mortality? No, 30 burpees and proof of my mortality.
I am laughed at and, of course, one of my colleagues manages to nail the spear throw.
This is going to be one of those days, the type where you have to do 600 burpees. It’s a fear that is confirmed at the next obstacle (rings), the one after that (a rock climbing wall) and the one after that (atlas stones that I can’t even lift).
I consider having a go at the lighter stones laid out for the women’s course but figure the embarrassment of not being able to lift that would be worse than the burpees.
Four obstacles down, four failed.
At this point we’ve also been shouted at to get fully on the ground when we do the burpees. The ground is made of rocks. It seems a little mean. And pretty masochistic.
While the organisers and volunteers are giving it the full Full Metal Jacket, the runners are massively encouraging of one another.
We get to the next obstacle and it’s pulling a weighted sled with a rope. I pass my first Spartan obstacle.
We were told we would be lucky to do half of the obstacles by our trainer, but the next few pass without incident.
We climb some walls, crawl under some barbed wire, go through some muddy pits, use a rope to climb a wall, carry sandbags, crawl over a bamboo frame floating in Shenzhen Bay and then traipse through the water.
By this point we have seen one dog but it’s not wild and didn’t bite us, though the children who are walking it look like they might.
We’ve also seen a father and son (go past us) and a chap in some sporty Crocs (also go past us).
Most of the other runners appear to be curated directly from Instagram with their abs and athleisure wear. Many of the men are topless. They have muscles in places that should be confined to comic books. They are all very friendly.
The volunteers are not necessarily so as we find out at the farmer’s pull (a pulley with a weight) which comes after a (failed) rope climb.
My colleague lets the rope go after pulling the weight to the top. He’s told to do 30 burpees. This doesn’t go down well.
Plenty of the lads with no tops on are struggling with this obstacle and it turns out being a fat lad is quite useful. One runner has a deep gash on his leg from the rope which makes my red hands look like a sweet deal. Ouch.
More hills and sliding down them follows, more running on beaches, and having to scale an eight-foot rock face where we actually catch up with some runners.
A handful of obstacles remained.
One was a seven- or eight-foot wall that I needed a hand to get over. Then there was an inverted wall that I got halfway up and opted for burpees. Then monkey bars which meant more burpees.
Let’s put that down to them being slippy rather than a total lack of upper body strength.
There was one obstacle left. A cargo net climb. As it happens the Spartan taught me I am as bad with heights as I am with using my arms for anything other than typing.
Going up was fine, coming down had a distinct lack of grace and confidence. But that was it done. I failed eight of the 20 obstacles, my colleagues who were kind enough to go at my pace failed four each. We were all thankful there was no fire like in the US versions of the races.
The worst that had happened was a bit of cramp, a mouthful of sand and some shouting. Sure, worse was to come the following day when my body went on strike but considering it was not that long ago this Spartan Race was suggested, it seemed a decent effort and none of us went to more than half of the training sessions. The ones I did go to left me utterly humiliated.
I’m in no rush to do this again but should I want to there’s Spartans in Shanghai later this month, followed by Beijing, Qingdao and Taiwan and I am one third of the way to a Spartan Trifecta.
I do probably owe them a few burpees. They’re in the post.