It certainly was a long way to travel to take part in a 5km event, but this particular race was very different to all the others I’ve done over the years…
The special thing about the Breckenridge Spartan Sprint was the fact that it was held at altitude. Set in a ski resort town in Colorado, we would be staying at roughly 3000m above sea level and would be running up to over 3500m! This worried me slightly as my experience with altitude is practically zero and I live at sea level. As the Spartan World Championships is also to be held at altitude, I knew this would be a great learning experience.
Thinking any short amount of time I could use to acclimatize would be useful, I landed in Denver and drove up to Breckenridge three days before the race. The first thing I noticed was thirst; buying a crate of 1litre water bottles I proceeded to drink something like one every three hours – even though I wasn’t exercising the slightest! This had a knock on effect; peeing more and watering out the salts in my body.
Upon arrival it was time for a test run. After being cooped up on a plane I needed to stretch my legs but was also interested in how the thin air would affect me. Completing a little 4 km jog out and back from the hotel it was clear my body wasn’t particularly happy. My breathing seemed fine but for the pace I was going my pulse seemed massively high compared to where it should be.
Breckenridge is an amazing place; surrounded by snow topped mountains the views are spectacular with plenty of activities to enjoy. I found great trails right from our hotel and could have spent hours at a time exploring – if I felt I had the energy!
The next few days passed without much happening, I would take a jog each day to keep the feeling of under-training at bay but didn’t do too much else for fear of tiring myself out. I was starting to feel bored and sluggish from not training. It felt as if my body was getting lethargic while my heart had been working overtime to keep my body fueled with oxygen, even when resting.
Race day soon came around and I woke with the excitement of racing but also the feeling of dread. This would be one of the most competitive obstacle races I’d ever taken part in to date and I was out of breath just walking up the stairs! I kept telling myself that everyone would be in the same boat as I went out for a 2km warm up jog.
As I arrived back at the arena I looked at my heart rate which had averaged something like 20 beats more than it should have. Knowing this affected me psychologically and didn’t exactly make me look forward to the coming 8km of mountain obstacle racing. The course would predominantly climb for about 5km before descending back to the finish over another 3km.
I tried not to start too hard but still found myself in the top five as we set off. After a mile the course levelled off and we entered some water where I found myself leading. I already felt like I was emptying the tanks and as we started going up again a feeling of helplessness took over. A few other racers passed by and settled approximately 20m ahead of me, yet the distance seemed gigantic. Despite it being very early on in the race I knew at this point that there was no way I was catching up.
The rest of the race was a battle for me to keep my speed above zero. As others passed me I found myself not caring, even on the down hills I was out of breath and unable to power along. I didn’t find any respite with the spear throw either. Approaching it I was informed the four or five competitors in front of me had missed so this was my chance; a hit and I would undeservedly move into third position. It wasn’t to be though, as the spear powered forward it pinged back just inches from the target: the attached rope had snagged, leaving me with a 30 burpee penalty!
As I completed my penalty I heard a cheer as a few competitors came through hitting their spear, which sent me back to 8th place. No worries I thought, I will soon be done and can try to find some oxygen to breath!
As it happened, it was only another mile of downhill before I reached the final flurry of obstacles and the finish line. Crossing the line in 8th place wasn’t my best race but as a learning experience it was A*.
I can’t be disappointed with the result as I learnt so much, but will be looking forward to heading back over for the World Championships, hopefully a little more prepared!