It was the 17th of November in 2018, when I first joined Spartan Race in Bright, Victoria. The event was the weekend Trifecta race, which means all categories were happening (Sprint, Super, Beast, Ultra, and Hurricane Heat). Since it was my first obstacle race ever, I tested the water by signing up on Sprint category. The 8km obstacle race sounded do-able for me that time, as I also just got back to fitness a month or two then.
I started out by getting up early and jog at my own pace. It was a cold morning, and because of my asthma, it did not come easy for me. I told myself that if I dwell on all the excuses that I could think of, I won't progress. I have all the puffers in the world to keep my asthma at bay! So, I convinced myself to get out and jog. First day back was considered a success for me by just getting up on a chilly morning and doing what I promised to achieve. JUST JOG, Jill. I did not pressure myself with time, and speed. I took my time and tried to finish at least 3km distance. As far as I can remember, I got it for 33 mins. It was slow for me, as I used to run a lot back in the days.
Running was my second love, next to boxing. However, it took its toll on my left hip. The bursitis I suffered from were very bad, where I had to stop driving for a while (I had a manual car). The pain was so excruciating that it awakens me. It took months before I could even walk properly again, and then decided to run again. I did that for another few years and when I moved to Melbourne, my focus and priorities changed. I stopped joining fun runs, because I was on a tight budget trying to settle and adjust in my new environment. The race fees are quite expensive, and so I had to settle with jogging in the park or wherever I can. I actually enjoyed running in the park, and still get the benefits of running without paying any fees.
Apart from doing cardio, I also enrolled myself in the gym for a strength workout. I did a lot of kettlebell exercises and mixed it with a basic crossfit program that I learned in the past. It was fun doing body weight exercises, functional movements, and upper body strengthening workouts, too. It is essential to do a lot of upper body and grip workouts before joining any OCR—pull ups, chin ups, monkey bars, etc.
So yeah, for almost two months of working out before the race I was nailing it. I felt stronger and happier. I was so pumped and excited to do my first race. Although I was a little bit nervous about it, I said to myself that I will just do my best and enjoy the event. After all, I signed up to have fun and make fitness more of an enjoyable journey/lifestyle rather than a task.
Despite my regular sessions in the gym and exercising outdoors, my diet remains the same... and when I say diet, it was not a healthy one. I continued to indulge on carbs and protein, as I believed that I needed those macros to sustain me on my heavy workouts. I was also drowning myself in coffee (because I love it!). I didn't care about the caffeine I've been putting in to my body, as I also believed that I needed it to help me thrive in the morning before my jog or run. These did not help me to lose weight for the event. I raced carrying all the extra kilos, which made me struggle somehow.
The day of the race has arrived and I couldn't be more excited. My partner and son came along to Bright to support me on my race. I am very lucky to have a supportive family who understands my craziness sometimes. That weekend was also a mini holiday for us away from all the hustle and bustle of Melbourne.
I started strong and ecstatic. Running came as second nature to me and seeing the rest of the racers running along my side made me feel so motivated and positive. The camaraderie was amazing and I never felt alone, specially if there is an obstacle that I couldn't do on my own, they were there to help me. The race is all about finishing it together by helping each other and that's what I love about it (except if you sign up for elite races). The motto, "one for all, all for one" best describes it.
The obstacles were mix of difficult, average, and easy ones and I think this is fair for everyone. You don't need to worry about stopping, because there will be few pauses for you before tackling an obstacle, as you have to wait for the people to get through it first. Again, I am only talking about the Open category where everyone is welcome to jump into the bandwagon of OCR.
Since this is my first race, I was not really educated on how Trifecta weekend differs from the other race events. But I still joined anyway. In Trifecta, Spartan will not modify the obstacles' difficulty level, because the same obstacles will be tackled by the advanced racers. They need to make a more challenging obstacles to excite everyone, especially the experienced Spartans. Everywhere you go around Bright that day you will see racers in their Spartan t-shirts crossing the streets, eating in the restaurants, and having fun in the pubs. I felt their presence without a doubt! Wearing the t-shirt is already considered a bragging right, because it simply means that you finished a race before, and keep on coming back for more. I thought to myself, I want one too, and not long from that moment, I will get one.
Going back to my experience whilst on the race, I can already taste the sweet success, and the finish line was just few meters away. "I'm gonna smash these last few obstacles!" I assured myself. Then, I am about to do the monkey bars. Monkey bars? Oh yeah, I've trained on monkey bars before—A LOT. This should not be that hard, I am familiar with this. As soon as I stepped on the stool to get myself to the first bar, I realized that the bars are not the same level. They are unevenly gapped as well. The second bar is definitely higher than the first one, with at least one meter gap from each other. Instantly, I knew that that would be the biggest challenge for me. My arms are short, and the only way for me to get to the next bar is to swing myself as high as I can and reach for it. My grip was good, I trained hard for it. I was confident that I would be able to do it... then I fell.
I didn't let go of the first bar with my other hand soon enough, as I swung myself to the next one. This caused me to fall short on my reach. I was not able to grip the next bar strong enough with my other hand thus, I fell chest first hitting the edge of the footstool where I started. I couldn't breathe for a moment. The pain radiated to my back and I initially thought I punctured my lung. Breathing was agonizing, and I just didn't want to move. I was in complete shock. All I could hear was the noise of concern from the people around me. One of the volunteers in the monkey bar area came to the rescue, and he calmed me down. He called for the medics, and stayed with me all the time until help arrived.
The doctor on duty called for an ambulance immediately, because she couldn't hear a normal breath sound on my left lung and, of course, I became so paranoid and tried to diagnose myself with pneumothorax or haemothorax! I was literally looking for a flail chest whenever I breathed—yep, that's how paranoid us nurses can be. Boluses of morphine did not help me at all with the pain. It just made me vomit here and there, for the next 24 hours, in spite of antiemetics.
I am still lucky after all. What if I fell face down and injured my eye? I could be blind by now. What if I fell and lost my front teeth? Damn, that would be an expensive repair. What if I fell on my head and cracked it open? I'd be dead... and what if I fell on my neck or spine? I'd be paralyzed by now, and a burden to my boys. I am still very lucky and thankful that I only sustained a mild fractured rib, and sternum and nothing else. Painkillers and chest physiotherapy, that's all I need. It took me at least two month before I could breathe normally, and sleep soundly (not quite). All in all, it took me three months to be pain-free without the aid of painkillers. I still get a little pain on the chest once in a while, but it is tolerable.
So how am I going now? I am back at it and signed myself up to an upcoming Spartan Race, here in Melbourne. My failed experience, after all the hard work did not stop me from pushing myself to get back on track. I have to be honest, it was a heart breaking experience and I was so depressed, because I could not even brisk walk after the accident. How can you when breathing is the most tormenting part of your day? I started with a small walk around the park, and carried something I could use to press against my chest when it becomes unbearable. I didn't mind the physical pain it gave me, but the mental pain I had to go through (from being able to do 300 burpees in one workout session to struggling to walk and breath) was the toughest. I cried every single day of my recovery.
My boys and the Spartan Australia community helped me with my recovery, and encouraged me not to give up. They even sent me some tips to recover fast and shared their failed experiences in the past. One is Erin, who split her biceps open after falling from the Fortress, and had to undergo major surgery, with months and months of recovery, but came out of it stronger and tougher than ever. These people inspire me big time and I am here to pay it forward.