The 2021 Spartan Race European Championships in Verbier would mark almost 2 years since my last obstacle race. So far this year I’ve proved to myself that I can still run…now I would be testing whether I could still run and do obstacles, throw spears and carry heavy stuff.
It would’ve been nice to try my hand at a smaller race before lining up with Europe’s best Spartan racers, but with trail racing being my focus in august I had to settle for the homemade rake spear for practicing instead.
There is an added level of stress that comes with obstacle racing, and especially Spartan races where the majority of obstacles are one try only. Not only do you have to negate a 21km skyrunning worthy course with 1300m of climb (at altitude) you also have the added stress of possibly failing obstacles. I was pretty confident I could still manage the grip / hanging obstacles and grit my way through the carries…but the spear throws and slackline were weighing heavily on my mind the night before the race.
As ever you want to have a good start to a race like this and despite the elevation, I felt surprisingly okay as I lined up and the speaker started counting down for the start. It wasn’t to be though and the first hiccup in my bid for victory happened before the race had even begun. When the countdown for the start reached “3” everyone was already in motion. I took a step forward but something in my head held me back until the countdown had finished. So I managed to go from first to last before we had even started, but I figured it’s a long race and if I was meant to win I would catch up.
The second frustration came at one of the first obstacles, the plate drag. At this point, I nearly lost my hard-fought lead because my lane had a bump in the ground that my sled wouldn’t crest. Still with most of the race to go, I vowed to fully focus from here on out and do myself justice.
I was climbing well enough and holding my own on the carries and a lead was gradually being formed. Trying not to look back, I started to enjoy the now technical trails, sunrise and camera crew runners that I started racing too.
The course profile was all uphill followed by a long downhill to the finish area and heading around a lake at the top I could feel every meter of the 2600masl in my lungs. Relieved to be finally heading down I picked up a new camera guy to race and started pounding.
Most of the harder obstacles were in the last kilometre, so coming into the festival area I was trying to decide if I had enough of a lead to fail an obstacle and still win (that would’ve been nice). Someone shouting “40 second gap” made me worried and I redoubled my focus vowing not to fail anything as I couldn’t afford the 30-burpee penalty.
As I turned the corner, I realised the slackline was up next…an obstacle that’s pretty easy to fail. I managed to somehow skip my way over it before I went on to tick of obstacle after obstacle in the final part of the course before crossing the easiest obstacle (fire jump) and the finish line.
A very different experience to my last race, but nevertheless intense and stressful. Despite being in the lead for the majority of the race, I can’t relax with the possibility of failing an obstacle till the last meters. It took all of my racing experience to keep ahead of the field and am happy in the knowledge that I hadn’t forgotten how to climb a rope or carry a bucket in the past two years.
Unfortunately, due to the US border being closed, I (and the majority of non- North Americans it seems) won’t be making it to the OCR World Championship next weekend. A great shame but life goes on and I will have to try and restart my winning streak in 2022.