After almost being pulled from the course in October for presenting early signs of hypothermia at HH12HR-024 I seriously considered giving up doing any obstacle course races that took place where the weather was colder than 40 degrees. My autoimmune condition has worsened over the years regardless of anything I have tried and losing feeling in my feet and hands has become the hardest obstacle for me to overcome under these conditions. However, Spartan Race announced they would be hosting their first ever winter race, and well basically I am a sucker for trying new things so of course regardless of my condition, I signed up!
In the days leading up to the event, the temperatures were as high as in the 70’s and as low as the teens so I was completely confused on how to feel about this race. I have done a race in the snow before (only natural obstacles) but the temperature was in the 40’s. What to wear was concerning to me because I knew if it was cold, I would have to layer but if they had water then you don’t want too many layers because it holds in the cold and not to mention adds a challenge completing obstacles. I normally never carry a Camelback for a sprint, yet I figured I would need to use on for this race simply to hold hand warmers and extra gloves just in case I got wet or needed extra layers. I also knew that my hands would most likely fail once they touched the ice cold bars on obstacles like monkey bars; especially since lately my hands have been cramping just holding the metal dumbbells when it is cold, so I was preparing myself how to deal with and overcome that scenario.
I decided to run later in the day knowing that if I ran elite it would be nothing but miserable and frustrating for me. The morning of the race I had a group of clients to train and then I met my team mate and we began our trek up to Cortland, NY about 8:45 am to make our 12:45 start time. On the ride we joked about how crazy this idea was, after all the high for the day (without the wind chill) was supposed to be 11 degrees! When we stopped to get gas I was in 2 of my layers so we didn’t overheat on the ride up, and as I stood outside trying to get the pump to work it started snowing, the wind picked up and my hands went completely numb! Not a good sign when you lose all feeling in your hands just trying to pump gas so I was starting to get really concerned how this day was going to go.
We arrived at the parking lot and it was full so they directed us 7 miles ahead. At first we were like “UGH, now it will take us longer to get there” only it led us to the actual venue so that was a bonus! We parked the car and put on the rest of our layers and headed over to the registration, which was inside so we were melting waiting for our bib numbers but it sure did beat waiting outside in the cold in my opinion! We checked in, checked our bags and headed over to the start line.
They were running about 30 minutes late so we had to stand there and wait before we could actually head out. Normally that would only be annoying, but for me within 5 minutes of just standing there my feet went numb and the feeling of pins and needles was becoming worse (almost like walking barefoot on glass) so I tried moving around by doing low/high knees, imaginary jump rope, etc. Finally at 1:10 the let us enter the starting corral and by 1:15 we were off! We jogged lightly up the first hill and started to get pretty warm, but my face part that was exposed was very cold. As we turned the first corner, I realized that these trails were frozen and we had to be extra careful because we were slipping and sliding all over and as others are falling around you, you have to be careful not to run or slide into them.
The first obstacles were the hurdles, which I typically hop over with ease. While I got over them on the first try, I realized that all of these extra layers and clothing, like a jacket, added an extra challenge to get over these obstacles as my range of motion was minimized. Next up was the 6’ wall and when I approached it I removed my gloves for the first time and had them hang from my wrists, which presented a slight challenge, but over the wall I went fairly easy. Next up was the barbed wire crawl and I really didn’t want to rip my jacket so I was very careful going under and then I hear, “help me, I’m stuck” and as I look over there is a guy stuck to the barbed wire with feathers pouring out of his coat! I was a little sad there was no photographer at the barbed wire, so we used the water camera we brought to take our own version! Then, when I tried to take a sip of my water, it was completely frozen. We had not even reached mile 1 and I now my camelback was basically an ice block, good thing I don’t typically drink much at a Sprint.
Next was the 7’ wall followed by the multi-rig. Here I feared my hands would lock up, however, the fact that Spartan did not use metal (thank you) and used plastic rings instead it was so much kinder to my hands. Yes, they were pretty cold and cramped and I ended up falling off at ring 5, but the pain in my hands was minimal compared to what I anticipated. 30 burpees heated me up and then I grabbed some water at the water station and continued on to the obstacle I was dreading most, the “deep freeze”. Because of the brutal temperatures the race director had planks of wood added to the obstacle to minimize or eliminate the amount of water you had to actually put your feet into and for that I was pretty thankful!
Next up was the Atlas Carry, Plate Drag, O-U-T and then the bucket brigade, which for some reason actually seemed somewhat enjoyable. The area for this obstacle was in a sunny area and it was very slippery and muddy, but quite bearable compared to several of the ones I have done before. When I got to the rope climb, although I typically make it to the top, I was thoroughly expecting to fail today because of my lack of grip in the cold, however, I climbed to the top and rang the bell like usual so I was starting to feel really confident at this point and while my hands were cold, after putting them back in my gloves they actually felt somewhat ok considering the conditions.
After that came the vertical cargo, Hercules hoist and the dreaded Spearman. I decided that I hardly ever nail the spear so I wasn’t about to take my gloves off so I just picked it up, tossed it and ironically it almost hit the target, but it was just shy of it. Next came the inverted wall and after I hopped over it I came back around to help my team mate over, but then she got a terrible cramp in her leg and had to come down and try to get it out. While she was doing that, I decided to help this one girl that I heard say “I can’t do this, there is no way”. I turned to her and said “Yes, you CAN do it” and told her I would help her. She was probably about a foot taller than me and was not very petite so as I was holding her up, I needed a little help so her friends came over and tried to help also. This girl was petrified and you could tell she was giving it everything she had. She was almost over the wall and all of a sudden she started coming down and I feared she was going to fall on me. I didn’t want her to fall and get hurt, so I held on as long as I could to her and down she came with 2 hay bales breaking her fall. While she may have not made it to the other side of that wall, she gave it everything she hand and that is a true Spartan in my opinion!
After my teammates cramp subsided enough for us to continue, it was up and over the cargo net, then the snow quarter pipe and the most fun sandbag carry I have EVER done. The sandbag was frozen and the trails were so slippery. If I wasn’t slipping, the people all around me were. You had to watch out for people, sandbags and icy spots. When we arrived at the top, you had to head down and it was just as slippery, if not more so, so on the way down so you basically had to go down on your butt. After contemplating how to get down, a bunch of us sat on our sandbags or kept them with us and slid down the big hill on our butts. We were going so fast we had to watch we didn’t crash into the people ahead of us. I haven’t gone sleigh riding in like 20 years and this reminded me of when I used to go. So much fun! We stopped to take pictures then it was off to the woods to slip and slide on more trails. Thank goodness for trees to catch when I would go flying and it seemed my only use for my Camelback this day was to break my fall when I slipped and landed flat on my back (which was hysterical).
The next few obstacles were probably the best ever at a Spartan Race. These were the same obstacles I have done over and over, but they were different because they were full of snow and iced over. The rolling snow I slid down on my butt with my hand in the air yelling “wee” like I was a kid again. Then there was this long hill down that was basically ice, so people were sliding on their bellies and butts all around us and we were hysterical laughing trying not to let them catch our feet and take us down. Then we got to the snow pit (aka dunk wall) and I slid down it so fast I seriously think I bruised my booty. Next came the slip wall and I waited for my team mate to come down and we crossed that finish line together completing the first ever Spartan Winter Race without frostbite and smiling like two little girls who just came in from playing in the snow.
Once we crossed the finish line we got our awesome medals and finisher shirts then headed over to bag check. We decided to change clothes and head to the car before getting our free beer. I have to say that was the worst part! Just walking to the car in way less layers that we were in just a few minutes prior I was freezing! I had to stop walking and get out something to cover my head because my ears felt like they were going to shatter and fall off of my head! It was so cold! We sat in the car a little to warm up then headed back to the festival area. It was so cold that while drinking my beer, in an enclosed tent, under a heater my hands were shaking so bad my beer was spilling all over. It was time to head back to NJ and get some food along the way and warm up! So that is exactly what we did.
Overall I am so glad I did this race, not only for the cool medal and unique shirt, but because while this was only a sprint, these conditions are not favorable for someone like me with my autoimmune disorders. There will come a day when the cold will win and break me, but not today! Congratulations to all of the warriors that braved the cold out there with me and thank you to all of the Spartan team for putting on a great race! Loved the Greek Peak venue and would consider going back to check out that indoor water park and other amenities with the family. AROO!