By Madeleine St. Marie

You’ve seen the pictures. You heard the stories. And now you’re wondering if you, too, should join Team Arena and run in an outdoor race. I’m here to tell you why, if you’re still sitting on the fence, you should race suit up and get a little muddy.

Challenge yourself. This is your call to get off the couch, away from the computer, and into the gym. You can’t simply walk into a race and expect to get through it: you have to train. Everyone on Team Arena who trained for the Warrior Dash said that they were totally, if not a bit over, prepared for the race. Everyone who didn’t (read: me, running in the Zumba division) said, “Man, I wish I had worked towards this race.” About 1.5 miles in, I wanted to kill myself, but because I’m extremely competitive and a little bit stubborn, I refused to be the last person from our team to cross the finish line. I paid for it, though – my legs refused to work for the next two days. A little training would have gone a long way. Training for these things will expose you to a higher level of exercise. I am emphatically not a runner, so working on my running endurance will push me to go beyond what I think I’m capable of; I now know that I am totally capable of running a 5k, and knowing that makes me want to do it again.

Thing #23904720934 I didn’t think I could do: push myself up a wall.

These runs, by the way, are not simply running-in-a-straight-line: they have obstacles, which vary with the race and the location. The Spartan Sprint, for example, had several strength obstacles: monkey bars (how did we do that when we were kids? How did we think that was fun?!), the infamous javelin throw, pulling a bucket of concrete 15 feet into the air, carrying a tire. I’m not the strongest person, but those things don’t phase me. However, the Warrior Dash had mostly height obstacles. I have a pretty strong fear of heights, so I found the Dash to be extremely challenging psychologically. But I’m proud of myself for going through with it and not giving up, despite the fact that I was shaking like a leaf before jumping on a fireman pole to move on to the next part of the race.

Real world application of training. It’s one thing to go into the gym and exercise just to look good. It’s quite another to exercise and then go and use that conditioning to make you better at actually doing stuff. Races like the Tough Mudder require more than beach muscles. Even if you have wicked biceps, that won’t get you too far if you haven’t worked on anything else. All the times that you’ve pushed a plate across the floor in your Semi Private Training session, all the times you’ve done bear crawls in Kickboxing – these things come in handy when you’re running the race. I never thought that a bear crawl could do anything but make me want to throw up, but I was proven wrong in the Warrior Dash. There was a cargo net obstacle and I was able to zip right through it by bear crawling over it. Vindication!

You’ll also learn what you need to work on. My upper body wasn’t sore at all after the race, and I think it’s in part because I have been good about training that area of my body. My lower half, however, was a different story. Talking to some of the racers afterwards, I found that other people found different parts of the race challenging and resolved to work on those things for next time (and yes, there will be several next times, so you have ample chances in the future to try it out!).

Yes, that is my unironic actual “I AM TRYING TO PULL YOU UP A WALL” face.

Be a part of something. By far, the most important aspect of these races is the feeling of camaraderie during the race and when you finish. The only reason I finished the Spartan Sprint and didn’t collapse into a crying, slobbering, muddy mess during yet another switchback is Rhonda. Rhonda and I ran that race together. She encouraged me to keep going when I nearly burst into tears. She massaged out a cramp in my trap after carrying a huge tire up and down a hill. I returned the favor by pulling her up the last obstacle: a steep, soapy wall that we had to scale by rope. The feeling after the race can only really be described as pure elation. I was proud of myself, proud of my friends, and proud that all different people from the gym had rallied together to be part of Team Arena. They came together to be part of something bigger than simply coming into the gym a few times a week to get your training on without really getting to know the people around you.

I know that I will be signing up for a couple of races with Team Arena – the Terrain Mud Run in October and the Spartan Sprint in December?at the very least – and I encourage you to do the same, even if it’s just once. You’ll prove to yourself that you can do something extreme, challenging, and just a little crazy…and that you have 20 other friends who are just as crazy as you.




pictures from the 2011 Spartan Sprint Malibu, all rights to Rani Sikolski