Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Spartan Races and Tough Mudder....there is a difference! (to me anyway)

For those that were expecting a report on the Spartan Sprint at Tuxedo, NY from's coming!  Just as soon as I'm strong enough to handle it.  But something else came to mind during the race that I thought was interesting too.  In fact, it was a combination of several recent observations that seemed to be related somehow.

By most accounts, Spartan Race (SR) and Tough Mudder (TM) are the top dogs in this new world of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).  And of course there are people on both sides that are absolutely certain that their events are the true test...the one that everyone should be aspiring to run.  Well, in all fairness I haven't run a TM yet.  Not out of any particular leaning, but more out of the practical aspect that I suck at running!  Which also explains the fact that I don't run any more than I have to.  Which goes on to explain that since TM's are longer races than a typical Spartan Sprint... the Sprint is what I started with.  Just makes sense.  The ironic thing is that I've only run the sprint at Tuxedo for the last three years, and that's been described by some of the elite OCR racers as the equivalent of a TM or even a flat Spartan Super.  Anyway, I do plan to run one in the future...god willing and the river don't rise!

Meanwhile, what occurred to me during the race were several things that I had read over the last few months [in fact many thoughts occurred to me during this race...but since most of those revolved around water, pain and beer, they're not really relevant].  One was from a relatively successful Spartan racer who said that he didn't want to run the Super Spartan races until he was sure he would "dominate" them.  Another comment I read had to do with a TM race, and the question was about which obstacles to skip based on his physical "deficiencies" (for lack of a better word).
I realized that both of these ideas really epitomized the difference between these two OCR titans.  TM makes a point that it's not a race but a challenge.  Spartan Race on the other hand, is...well...a race...just like the name says!

Why would a race not be a challenge as well though?  Doesn't really make sense when you think about it.  I can tell you from my own experience, these races are real challenges.  They push you to your physical limit and challenge you mentally to hang in there and finish it.  You know your time...your know everyone else's time...and you know exactly how well you performed.  If you don't know how well you did, then how do you judge when you're getting better?  I can guarantee that the competitive TM racers are timing themselves every race and if they don't compare their times to each other, they're definitely comparing their own from race to race.

One thing there's no doubt about in both events, that you will have a feeling of accomplishment rarely found these days.  Something that people can't really understand until they experience it.  I had someone tell me that Saturday.  He had just finished his first race and said, now I get I know what people are talking about when they go beyond what they thought was possible.  That's happened to me on every course so far.  I deliberately attempt these races for that very reason...I want to know what my limits "aren't".  I found out again this Saturday that I could do something I truly thought impossible.  Facing real exhaustion and for the first time truly questioning whether I had enough left physically to finish, I hit the walls...time after time.  Real walls...big the kind you have to go over!  In the past we could use the blocks on the side but this race they said no!...those were only for the women racers...I had to go over.  Racing alone can be a bitch!  But I can tell you, it wasn't pretty but I got up and over every damn wall that race.  And I can tell you too, whatever my time was, wherever I fell short somewhere else on the course, in the end, that small accomplishment is mine (along with about eight feet of bruises all told...but that will heal in time...I guess).

That's another big difference in the events too. At least to my understanding. Spartan Race has a penalty for missing an obstacle...the dreaded burpee!  There's no skipping an obstacle either.  As far as I know, other than maybe falling into water and having to swim to the other side, TM doesn't have any penalty.  If you want to skip an obstacle you can!  I guess that makes sense because it's not really a race. But sometimes we need to fear the punishment more than the obstacle. I don't think there's a racer that will intentionally do 30 burpees on a Spartan course without first trying the obstacle...more than once if they can get away with it.

Whether it's the racer that wants to wait until he's "ready" for the next stage or one that's looking to skip an obstacle because it's "too hard", I feel they're missing out on the very essence of these runs.  It's not just about proving what you already know you can do, it's the fear of the unknown....and the feeling of reaching inside for something you didn't even know you had...and succeeding.  I've said to a number of people over my racing adventure that each race shows me that I can exceed what I thought possible.  To me, that's the whole point to doing these runs in the first place, otherwise what was the point of coming?  If you fail, at least you tried.  And that's where the real triumphs come...from giving your all on something you "know" you can't do...and doing it!

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