by Jocelyn Pollak
“Hey, you know what would be fun? Let’s run 21 kilometres, midday in 40 degree heat at the noncommissioned officer base in Hua Hin. To make it more fun, how about we do that run through the mountains, rivers, sand and mud and throw 30 obstacles in too!”, said no person ever. Until now. I’m saying it!
It was actually a lot of fun, hear me out, I’m not (totally) crazy. In October, I registered for a 21 kilometre Beast Spartan Race. It was against my better judgement (as are many things I do) because I only gave myself about two and a half weeks to train. I have a good base level of fitness, but this race isn’t called the “Beast” for no reason.
For those unfamiliar with what a Spartan race is, it’s basically a trail run with various military bootcamp-style obstacles involved. There are three distances: 7, 13 and 21 kilometres. The 7K has just 20 obstacles while the 21K has 30. The obstacles challenge your endurance, strength and sanity. You have to climb a rope, throw a javelin and hit a target, carry a heavy iron ball, a bucket of rocks, a log and a sandbag, climb walls and nets, crawl under barbed wire, swing across monkey bars and rings and finish the race by jumping over a row of burning logs. If you can’t complete an obstacle, you are required to do a penalty of twenty burpees which are basically a punishing combination of a jumping jack and a push up. Sounds like a nice little Saturday.
Despite living in Thailand for six years, I had never been to Hua Hin so at the urging of my Thai boyfriend, I finally signed up to do the race with him. We did a 7K Spartan race together last year on a team with three other Thai guys and it was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t exactly excited about doing that race 3 times in a row. I remembered the resulting pain from the 7K attempt and this time I made sure to splurge and get a good hotel to prepare for the race/recover from the race. At the recommendation of a good friend, I stayed at the Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin. It was incredible, absolutely incredible. From the moment I arrived until the moment I hobbled out of there looking like I had been thrown off a mountain, which I basically had been, every moment at the hotel was perfection. More on this saving grace later.
I spent the two weeks leading up to the race pushing myself in the gym trying to get my running endurance up. I knew there wasn’t much I would be able to do for my strength in such a short window so I focused on running, running, running to get my endurance closer to where it needed to be. I locked into the treadmill for several days for 90+ minutes which only ended up accounting for just over half of the total distance I would be required to run. Luckily, I’d have a partner to do it with me. Oh, never mind, a week before the race my boyfriend hurt his knee so change of plans, I’d be out there solo. Although, admittedly, I had an inkling that a mysterious “injury” might come into play so I trained as if I’d be alone… That’s a whole different conversation though. At least I would have a cheerleader/post-race driver and masseuse.
On race day, I made sure to take full advantage of the awesome breakfast spread at the Centara Grand. While normal me would have eaten myself to the point of shallow breathing, race day me was sure to go for a balanced breakfast of eggs, bananas and oats plus lots of water. My cheerleader got his money’s worth though and ate enough for the both of us.
When you arrive at a race like this, there is always lots of loud music blaring and an intense feeling of anticipation in the air. Everyone is all geared up, taped up and fully caffeinated. Adrenaline is high and there’s somewhat of an animalistic survival mentality that overtakes people. Two of the guys from my team the year before were doing it again plus a young guy on my boyfriend’s staff. Upon my boyfriend’s urging, they all agreed to keep an eye on me. The peace of mind was nice but the independent “I am woman, hear me roar” side of me was annoyed that I would have three boys tagging along for presumably the next 5 hours.
Our motley team of four entered the starting gate around 9:30, hot but not sweltering yet, and off we went. Within the first 10 minutes of what would prove to be a nearly six-hour death march, we had to cross through a muddy drainage ditch and wade through a swamp with water nearly to my armpits. Great, soaked and muddy from the outset… Our next few obstacles were 4, 5 and 6 foot walls which I am not strong enough to pull myself over; this is where the boys really come in handy and I was thankful to have them in tow. I’m sure they also didn’t mind it because they got a full handful of my butt as they tried to push me over the top. No one complained. After completing a few heavy carrying obstacles, we reached a split in the trail where the 21K racers had to go straight up a mountain while the 7K racers got to continue along the nice, flat paved road. I cursed my injured boyfriend.
The next three hours were spent hiking all the way up and all the way down two mountains on a one lane dirt path. It was basically impossible to run. So much for all those hours spent killing myself on the treadmill. This was actually my favourite part of the race though because there are approximately three trees in Bangkok and I miss nature a lot. Plus, I didn’t have to run. The canopy also protected us from the beating sun so it was a little cooler in the undergrowth. There were a couple water stations along the way with young military kids rotating big (warm) jugs of water for all the racers. Around hour number 4, we finally emerged from the jungle to attempt probably the most difficult obstacle of the race. Imagine hanging upside down like a sloth but then pulling yourself horizontally along an inclined rope, for 15 metres. Yeah, skip. My teammates could all do this one but I managed to give myself a rope burn almost immediately and I knew there would be more pits of stagnant water coming so I didn’t want to slough off any more skin than was necessary.
At this point is also when one of my teammates got a wicked calf cramp and couldn’t move. I was completely useless other than to wait around as moral support. Su su na. After about 40 minutes of stretching, water and rest, Honda and I decided to keep going while the other two waited either for the cramp to go away or for a medical pick up. Unlike the Thais, I wasn’t wearing head to toe spandex to protect my skin and I was starting to get sunburned so I needed to get through these last 5K of exposed running quickly.
Honda and I continued on our way, a fantastically unlikely duo. This part of the story gives me a little chuckle. Honda speaks maybe 3 words of English and my Thai is anadvanced beginner at best. He’s about 24 years old, I’m 33 so he’s just a kid in my mind. Plus, I’ve barely ever interacted with him. Despite all of this, we stuck together for the full 21 kilometres. We had some funny moments in the last part of the race where we just looked at some obstacles and then looked at each other and said “mai len” which translates to “no play” and continued on our way. At about the 19th kilometre, Honda started whining to me in Thai, I’m soooo hungry. Pretty fair considering A: He’s a boy which makes him hard wired to complain to a woman about this subject, B: We had been out there for 5 hours and C: 19 kilometres
is a pretty calorically demanding distance. I gave him some gummy bears.
Coming into the finish, there were 4 obstacles basically laid out in a circle so that spectators could watch the battered racers attempt to finish. As we approached the barbed wire, which we had to roll under for 60 feet, I could hear my cheerleader yelling at us in support. I think Honda was also probably relieved because his boss saw that he was the guy who stuck with the boss’ girlfriend until the end. We got through the last few obstacles and leapt over the burning logs to finish the race. After crossing the finish line and collecting my medal, adrenaline was running high. High fives all around.
I couldn’t feel any pain just after finishing the race, but 30 minutes later when I was attempting to get out of the car was a different story. The light at the end of my tunnel was the luxurious bed and incredible buffet dinner awaiting me. Thank God for the Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin. So, what was the final injury verdict? Two skinned knees and two skinned elbows, four purple toenails, four inch long rope burns on the inside of both calves, sunburn and too many bruises and blisters to count. Plus, my left knee was massively swollen from falling off the top of a six foot wall and landing squarely on a rock.
On the plus side, my boyfriend didn’t dare complain to me about his injury for the rest of the weekend. Here I sit two months later writing about the whole experience and my scars and toes still remind me of that day.
Despite all of the pain and exhaustion, I would absolutely do it again. I’ve done 7 and 21 kilometres, I’ve got to complete the trifecta with the 13 kilometre race and get my missing medal puzzle piece.
Next event is this spring, have I convinced you yet? Who’s in??
Thank you, Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin www.centarahotelsresorts.com/centaragrand