Mid-life, Menopause, and Spartan Mud Racing

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Mid-life, Menopause, and Mud Racing:
Make a Spartan Race Part of Your Mid-Life Quest
KristineSheedy, PhD
10/16/2015

Recently, at the age of 46, I decided to sign up for my first Spartan Race, an 8.5 mile Super Spartan in Union Point, Georgia. Feeling excited and determined, I went to Spartan.com and registered. Shortly thereafter, I received my “AROO! You’re in!” e-mail. That’s when I began to feel anxious. It dawned on me that climbing walls, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping over fire might not be a great idea (these aren’t things we do at my morning bootcamp!). Naturally, I went online to search for tips and insights from others who had been there and done it. I was hoping to find anything that might ease my anxiety and keep me from begging the Spartan Race company to refund my money. While I found a lot of very helpful and encouraging information, none of it was from the perspective of someone like me: a middle-aged, female, beginner Spartan Racer. So, a small voice in my head continued to ask if this was really a mud puddle I should dive into.

Despite my reservations, I began my training and completed the race. What I discovered in the process, and what I want to share with you, is that mid-life is a great time for women to take on the challenge of a Spartan Race. In fact, many female Spartan Racers are in their 40’s and 50’s, including elite racers.So, for my counterparts out there who are considering signing up, or panicking because you’ve signed up (don’t ask for a refund, you’re going to do great!), here are some of the things I learned after training for and completing my first Spartan Race.
1. It’s more than a race.
Some might say that I’ve been going through a mid-life crisis. I prefer the term “mid-life quest.” Like many women, my thirties were primarily focused on advancing my career and starting a family. I entered my forties professionally accomplished, but tired, out-of-shape, and out-of-touch with my friends, husband, and children.

In her book, Wander Women, Marcia Reynolds describes how, for many successful women, our focus changes in our 40’s from our careers to consideration of our life purpose. Yup.As I approached my mid-forties, I began to take stock of my goals, values, and priorities, and assess how well my life was aligned with them. To a large extent, it wasn’t.So, I decided it was time to hit the re-set button. I made some changes, including “retiring” from the government agency where I had worked for 17 years.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to find a rite of passage to mark this life transition. But in Spartan Racing there is a saying, “you’ll know at the finish line.” At the finish line, I knew that slogging through the mud for three hours and ten minutes that rainy Saturday was ceremonial for me, signifying the start of the next phase of my life (a phase that will include a more balanced and healthy lifestyle for my family and myself). I also knew that I was stronger and braver than I thought. I know it may sound corny, but it really is more than a race. It’s trans-formative.
2. Spartan Racers are diverse and supportive.
Now for some reassurance… You are going to feel so relieved when you arrive at your Spartan Race and see people of all ages and fitness levels! I know I did. Don’t get me wrong; there were a lot of very fit people at my race. But there were also some not-so-fit people. I think one thing we all shared was nervousness and excitement over what we would face beyond the starting line.

More reassurance… Spartan Racers embrace the motto “leave no Spartan behind.”I didn’t race as part of a team, but I certainly didn’t get through the course alone. Every time I approached an obstacle and thought, “I’m going to need help with this,” it was offered to me before I even asked.In general, the Spartan Racers I encountered seemed sincerely concerned that everyone cross the finish line. The spirit is contagious and I quickly found myself helping and encouraging others. As in life, giving and receiving a helping hand felt great!  If you’re like me and are used to more traditional running races, I think you will be struck by and appreciate this aspect of the Spartan Race culture.
3. Mid-life is not a great time to jump into a Spartan race unprepared.
Even though you will get plenty of help on the course, Spartan Races are no joke. The Super Spartan course I completed was challenging and painful. The race involved climbing walls, carrying heavy objects (logs, sandbags, and a cement atlas), crawling under barbed wire, doing lots of burpees, and more (learn more about some of the standard Spartan Race obstacles by visiting their website). To make things worse, most of the hilly course was covered in a ridiculous amount of slippery, red Georgia mud due to heavy rain. I’m sure the mud consumed several shoes that day. I don’t think it consumed any Spartans.

Can you show up at a race like this with little or no training under your belt and get through it? Yes. But, like any sport, these races have risks and we mid-lifers increase our likelihood of accidents and injuries when we try to be weekend warriors. More important, Spartan Racing isn’t just about race day. It’s about the journey. Nothing focuses the mind like a noose or, in this case, an obstacle race. Let your Spartan Race be an impetus for getting serious about your nutrition and exercise. You’ll be glad you did.

I trained hard and consistently for several weeks before the race and that training kicked in.I’ve been going to Team Radosta bootcamp for almost five years, and Brett Radosta is a seasoned Spartan. So,I had a great foundation to build on and a trainer who knows how to prepare for Spartan Races. If this is not the case for you (e.g., your butt and your couch have been hanging out together a lot lately), be sure to give yourself several months to get in shape, and be smart and patient with your training (again, mid-life is a bad time to do too much, too soon).

I prefer working out with a group. I push myself harder when I train with other people and being part of a team helps to keep me coming back. If you can’t connect with a group (or just prefer to train solo), I highly recommend signing up to receive Spartan Race WODs (workouts of the day). They are tough; so don’t be discouraged if you need time to build the strength and endurance to do them. I also recommend making time to do pre-hab work (I do this with an inexpensive band), stretching, and foam rolling to help avoid injuries. I will admit, I find these to be tedious and often painful activities, but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.
4. Yes, the women’s stuff is lighter!
Before my race, I wanted someone to tell me, “don’t worry, you don’t have to lift as much as the men.” So, I am assuming some of you might want to hear it too. In my race, we women got lighter logs, atlases, buckets, sandbags, and weighted plates. In addition, the climbing walls have a small step, or ‘kicker’ block, that we are allowed to use.

This is not to say that the obstacles are made easy for women! They are not. Please don’t read this and think you can ignore lesson #3 above. Just find some comfort in the fact that you don’t have to develop the strength of a man in order to complete the obstacles.
5. Come to the race with the right clothes and fuel
There is plenty of information out there about what to wear on race day. One piece of advice you’ll see consistently is to avoid wearing cotton. You’ll get wet during the race and cotton does not dry quickly, serving to weigh you down and make you cold. I wore capri compression pants (to cover my knees) and a tight fitting tech top. The most critical clothing choice I made was to get a pair of Reebok Dirtkicker 2 trail shoes. These reasonably priced shoes saved the day! It was easy to tell who was wearing regular running shoes versus shoes with better traction. The people with running shoes were “mud skating” the entire race. Even coated in a thick layer of mud, my trail shoes had good grip. I also opted to wear gloves and would do so again.

It is recommended that you bring your own food and water because, unlike most road races, you won’t find an abundance of pit stops on Spartan courses. I chose not to carry water and felt like there were plenty of water stops on the course. I stored a tube of energy gel in my sports bra and ate it at about mile 4. I had been given warnings about muscle cramps and suggestions that eating mustard can provide relief. So, I also stored a mustard packet in my bra. It came in handy. I got terrible cramps in my hamstrings during the barbed wire crawl. I’m not sure if it was a placebo effect, but the mustard helped.

After you’ve crossed the finish line and collected your medal, banana, drink, and t-shirt, you’ll find a place where you can hose off and change clothes. So pack a bag with an old towel, clean clothes and shoes, and a garbage bag for your muddy gear. If you don’t have someone at the race who can hold your bag, you can check it (for $5). Don’t have expectations that you’ll be clean when you leave the race. These hoses will get the heavy mud off of you, but it will take a long shower in the comfort of your own home to truly get clean again. That is also when you’ll notice your bruises and scrapes (a sign that you raced hard, AROO!).
6. Do it now!
I love the Dave Matthews lyric, “the future is no place to place your better days.” He’s right. Mid-life is a time when it really hits home that life is short. In the past few years, I have had friends and family members in their forties and fifties die from heart attacks, cancer, and motor vehicle accidents. I’m also seeing that, despite their healthy lifestyles, age is beginning to take its toll on my parents. At the end of my game,I want to feel like I left it all on the field. I don’t want to look back and wonder about or regret what I could have done if fear hadn’t held me back.

If you are considering doing a Spartan Race because your mid-life quest calls for a challenge, or a rite of passage, or a reason to make your health a priority, or a way to bond with and/or inspire friends or family members (maybe your teen-aged kids?), then stop thinking about it and sign up! Already signed up? Good, shut off the computer and go do some burpees! You’ve got this!

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