Guest Blog by Spencer Wyckoff
Before the Race
Three ordinary people set out toward the Georgia International Horse Park on Saturday March 7, 2015 around 7:00am. Our bellies were full of steel cut oats and maple syrup – fuel for the day’s main event – the Atlanta Sprint Spartan Race. The crew: Dani Pasierb, Carden Wyckoff, and Spencer Wyckoff were listening to Barbell Shrugged’s episode #147, where they showcase Tony The Fridge – an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.
quick aside: Tony the Fridge raises money for curing cancer through running ultra marathons with a large 42kg fridge on his back. There are so many pearls of wisdom in this particular podcast with Tony, however my favorite part is when he speaks about the two other voices inside his head. 1 voice says he’s done enough, it’s ok to stop, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. The other voice says no, keep going, don’t stop ever, do more do more do more. During the races, Tony tells his interviewers “I take both of these (subconscious) voices, and I tell them to shut the $&%# up.” From what I can tell, Tony is a master of getting into a mindset that solely focuses on things that matter in the present – focus on breathing, focus on each step – over and over again – he paints this picture of laser like focus when doing his races.
Back to the Tale of the Piggy Back Spartan Race… So we arrive around 8:00am, an hour before our start time (or so we thought). The venue resembled a large music festival type event, with lots of people, vendor booths, dj booth, course obstacles, and mud… yes LOTS of MUD. We each became instantly excited and a bit nervous about what we were getting ourselves into.
We pull into handicapped parking, and found a spot in front of a dumpster that honestly probably wasn’t even a spot until we made it one. We step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air, and realize – it’s chilly outside, low 40’s chilly… this is going to get interesting. “Ok, we ready to do this?” I ask Dani and Carden. We agree, and then I assume the position that I will be assuming for the bulk of this day – I squat down in front of Carden, she gracefully falls over on top me, and we take the form of a brother/sister piggy back. Just like Tony racing with his fridge for cancer, we raced to take a stand against Muscular Dystrophy – FSH MD in particular. If you’re interested in supporting Carden’s cause – check this out.
So we go to check in – and find out our race start time is at 10:30am as opposed to 9:30am which we originally thought. So, nearly 2 hours early, we had to painfully wait for our turn to race – the tension started to build. We purchased some shirts and watched some of the elites finish their races with jumping over a big bonfire and splashing into the final mud pit. We were getting anxious, and cold, so we went back to the car to warm up and mentally prepare. After some time, conversation, and failed attempts at streaming pump up music over crappy cellular service, we made our way to the start line for the 10:30am heat. In fact, to get to the starting line, you have to first scale a 6 foot high wall… our first obstacle. Knowing that we were going to encounter a bunch of these, we found this was the perfect way to start our journey. Dani hopped over the wall first, then I lifted Carden over it and placed her in Dani’s arms. From there I jump over the wall myself, and Dani hands Carden back to me. Boom – first obstacle overcome.
The time has come. We’re in a heat of a couple hundred able bodied people who were chomping at the bit to start this adventure, and we were just 3 ordinary people out of that group. There was a very fast talking hype man who greeted our group, led us through a few AROOS!, and blazed through the risks and liabilities at lightning, Twista-like pace. Spartans Ready?!?! GOOO!!! Our pack begins to move, 99% of them running and jogging ahead, leaving us in the back of the pack. We weren’t racing for personal records today, our purpose was extraordinary though – help Carden complete a Spartan Race in the face of her muscular dystrophy. Since she is not too sturdy on her feet, the only way to accomplish this was through a piggy back ride. So there we were, at the back of the pack, taking our first steps forward as a team on a mission.
The first mile we encountered a good bit of obstacles – the first was 3 or 4 giant mud / water pits. Carefully, we stepped through the sludge and came out ok. There was a moment where I almost completely lost my footing and fell over with Carden – that would have been a really bad sign only 1/4 mile into a 3-5 mile race… but we kept the balance and kept forging on – mud entirely in the shoes. Next obstacles were high, uneven logs to climb over. We were able to lift Carden over each of these obstacles and make it happen – no burpess for us yet… Then we reach our first BIG obstacle – the high wall triplet. The high wall triplet is a series of three walls increasing in height. The first wall was probably 7 feet, next 8.5ft, finally 10ft. We managed to get Carden over the first 7 footer, yet the 8.5 and 10ft were asking a little too much. Dani and I knocked out Carden’s 30 burpee penalty for each of the two walls she couldn’t scale. Yes, there is a 30 burpee penalty for each obstacle a racer does not complete, no exceptions, so that was par for the course. The first mile finished with some cross country trails through the woods.
The second mile started to encounter more hills and obstacles. Most of the elements Carden could not complete on her own, so Dani and I were doing burpees – a good bit of them. We started getting some notice from our fellow racers – a bunch of “Can I have a piggy back too?” remarks started flying around more often, usually just in passing. Some of the elements we faced were a 3 sided rock climbing wall, a large monkey bar set, and some 2-3 story high obstacles to climb up, over, and down from. My body was starting to feel the weight of Carden, however I was in a pretty good place mentally, focusing carefully on each step, and taking each obstacle as it came without being overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. One “obstacle” they had during this phase of the race was a memory section. You had to stare at a giant board of codes and memorize the 7 digit number sequence and passcode that corresponded to your race # – you were going to have to remember this towards the end. When I saw the 2 mile marker – there was a moment I thought, thank you God, there is only ~1 mile left to go. This is after all a 5k right…?
Mile 3 started off with some GIANT mud hills and ice cold water pits – 5 or 6 of them in total. Unfortunately, we knew we were’t going to be able to scale these with Carden, so after getting through it, covering ourselves in mud, and knocking out the 3 burpees – we smeared mud all over Carden so she could wear that muddy feel of the race. It was during this obstacle too, that we made our first friends – The Latino Ninja Guardian Angel Twins. These guys didn’t speak a bunch of English, but they did wear Sub-Zero like Mortal Combat masks, and they took notice of what we were doing and began to knock out some of Carden’s burpees with us. They always seemed to be in our peripheral for the remainder of the course, hence the term guardian angels. Mile 3 was particularly rough – we encountered a bunch of hills, a grueling obstacle with a large bucket of rocks, and several others. For me, it was getting through the hills that was the toughest part – we’ve made such great progress thus far – just keep moving forward.
Thank the Lord – we just saw the 3rd mile marker. That means we’re in the home stretch right? A 5k is 3.1 miles – so we should be nearing the finish line! Well this is technically a Spartan Sprint – which is loosely described as 3-5 miles after some more research… eh just another minor obstacle we took in stride. At the time, we didn’t know it, but we were actually coming closer to our greatest obstacle yet. We started scaling down a very steep hill. We were getting very worried that we might not be able to continue, but some fellow Spartans began volunteering their help and guided us down to the bottom of it. Ok, can it get much tougher than that??? Well yes, it can. After traversing the bottom of the hill, we began to approach another, steeper version of that same hill we just climbed down – however this time everyone was climbing up it… It get’s nearly vertical towards the top…
I’m scared. Carden’s scared. Dani’s scared. We’re all scared. We’re looking for a way out, there is none – only at the top of this hill or go back – and we weren’t going back. So we made the decision to scale this 3 story mud mountain using just cargo nets, ropes, and the help of other Spartans. It started at a gentle incline, but soon got to be incredibly steep. If I lose my footing now, Carden and I will fall nearly 3 stories, taking out other people behind us in the process. There was no option for failure. Step by step, we make our way up the mountain, and once I scaled over the top to safety let out this primal, celebratory roar. People were amazed at what they just witnessed. A few people even called me their hero and kept racing – it was an inspiring moment, a moment where I felt all my personal mental and physical barriers shattered. I haven’t been the same since. But no time to pop champagne yet… we still had plenty of race to run. At this time, we had two local guys, Chase and Brandon, join our team and they helped us for the remainder of the race – thank God for those guys.
Here we are, the home stretch – the final mile. Back is sore, feet are tired, we are all completely covered in mud and grime, yet we can hear the music playing and can feel the energy of the finish line. Some of the obstacles we took on included climbing over tall gymnastics-like bars, carrying atlas stones, and throwing spears at hay targets – quick glory moment, I went 2 for 2 on the spear throw so Carden didn’t have burpees to do for that one, no big deal :)
All of this was leading up to the final 250 yards of the race, which was 250 yards of all obstacles. One of the standouts was a 60 yard, barbed wire space that you had to crawl under in the ice cold mud. Carden was determined to get this one done, despite her immobility and lack of upper and lower body strength. Without assistance, she made it 45 of the 60 yards herself before fatigue finally set in. We pulled her through the remaining 15 yards, and she triumphed. Unfortunately, this triumph came at a cost… The ice cold mud had put her into a pre-hypothermic state. She was frozen to the bone and shivering uncontrollably. We got her off the course and called for medical assistance. A medical team came over and wrapped her in solar blankets and correctly suggested that she go to the medical tent to heat up. But if anyone knows Carden, they know that she wasn’t up for this option – not until the race was finished. So I got her on piggy back one last time and walked through the remainder of the course, dodging the final few obstacles and going ahead without our teammates. Time was of the essence here and Carden was potentially heading towards hypothermia. Upon finishing, there were no flashing lights, no post-race interviews, or photo finishes. Simply the knowledge that we conquered an incredible challenge and took a stand against muscular dystrophy and FSH together and that with a great team you can achieve a seemingly impossible goal – that’s what Spartans do. AROO!
If you’re interested in supporting Carden’s cause and fundraiser for a cure… navigate to our Go Fund Me page. I believe this won’t be the last time we set out for an incredible challenge like this.