We drove up to find that although none of our friends had been able to make it to cheer us on, several hundred other people were there to run it. And they all seemed to be about 21 and extremely fit, whereas our last two weeks of training had mostly consisted of sitting around with my visiting relatives, drinking wine and eating chocolate. I started to regret the costume even more.
There was nothing for it, however. We handed in our waivers and picked up our race shirts and numbers. We jogged to the car to shed our outer layers and returned to the lineup for the 11:30 AM heat. A man came through, handing out Red Bulls. The bloke took one, but I didn't since I already needed to pee, probably because I was nervous. Other people in silly outfits materialized. None of them were women. I jogged up and down and hugged the bloke a lot, trying to ignore everyone else, mostly unsuccessfully.
On orders from the marshal, we let out a huge whoop and started. I tried to rein myself in so I didn't get too exhausted. The first 500 metres were largely obstacle-free. And then we hit the creek. "Get in there!" shouted a giant. We slid down the bank into thigh-deep water and sloshed along the muddy onrushing current for a hundred metres or so. Once we climbed out, we immediately entered the tunnel. This should have been the scariest part of the race for me. It was absolutely pitch-black, you had to crawl, and it was at least a hundred metres long. However, everyone was being extremely nice, calling back and forth to one another, keeping up the spirits of the people who were getting scared and letting everyone know when to stop if someone up ahead had slipped.
We unscrunched ourselves into the daylight and shook ourselves out as we ran toward the next obstacle, a hill of slippery gravel. It had to be surmounted with a running start. I slipped, but made it over with a skinned knee. Another stretch of running warmed us up again, just in time to reach the lake. And this, to my surprise, was where I balked.
I'm not afraid of swimming. I am, however, afraid of leaping feet-first into freezing murky water. The bloke coaxed me into a flying jump, and then I began to pull myself along the blessed guide rope they'd put in for people who are afraid of swimming. I started to hyperventilate. I couldn't get my legs to kick me along. With the bloke behind me and a chap in a canoe in front of me chivvying me along, I managed to drag myself the length of the swimming course, which fortunately was only about 50 metres long. The bloke pulled me onto the bank on the other side and I gasped and started to run again, cursing my soaking skirt.
The leap through fire seemed like a doddle after that horrific swim, as did the face-first crawl through the mud under canvas.
A short jog through the woods and we reached the next filthy crawl under barbed wire. I was grateful to be small at that point, as I had at least an inch of clearance from being snagged even when on my hands and knees. We had to climb over a net wall next. I nearly failed at this, but with a bit of a boost from one of the guys keeping pace with us, I managed to clear the top of the net, though I lost my paper number at that point.
A lady with a fire hose met us on the other side of the trees. Somehow she managed to soak me without making me any cleaner, or at least it seemed like that at the time. Two men passed us wielding sticks. One of them landed a good wallop on my backside. This was supposed to be encouraging. For some reason, it was. I noticed that some large, fit men were now passing us and realized that the 12:00 PM heat must have started a while ago. If the race had been a straight 5k, I would have been depressed, since I know I can run 5k in under half an hour. Clearly this was not a normal 5k, however.
The wind had picked up and was directly in our faces. The last kilometre and a half consisted mostly of hills and hurdles. If you couldn't surmount one of the pieces of army training equipment, you had to forfeit with pushups. I didn't know this in advance, but I have been doing the six-week 100 pushups course and it paid off, since I could only do about 75% of the challenges. Chinups: fail. Balance beam, hurdles and monkey bar crossings: win (yay for being an ex-gymnast).
Just before the finish line, two men wrapped in red tunics and wielding huge padded sticks awaited us. I charged at them, screeching with the last of my energy. They tripped me, but I didn't go down. I staggered toward the timekeepers, gasped out my number and turned around to see the bloke - who let me cross first, bless him - get thumped thoroughly by the padded sticks.
A Spartan lady handed us our medals and a bottle of water and we retreated, panting, to watch a few more people cross the line while we gradually became aware of the injuries sustained during the race: ripped hands, skinned knees, bruises. We patted each other the back and hobbled back to the car to take a few photos before peeling off our still-soaking clothes.
The costume holding together...just
The bloke celebrates
This race forced me to face most of my physical fears in quick succession. Like the outfit, the worst part wasn't the one I expected. (If I ever have to run a race in a skirt again, it's getting rolled up and pinned to the waistband before I start.) I didn't finish last in my heat, although I still don't know exactly what my time was. I'm proud that I did it, and that I managed to raise £245 for charity to boot by running it in a silly outfit.