Blog written by NorCalSC Chico Client: Sean Jensen
It was a comfortable 55 degrees on a beautiful Saturday morning as I accelerated a steep incline in the mountains that flank the eastern margin of Flathead Lake in Montana. I had just passed a group of athletes struggling through the latest obstacle on the 2017 Spartan Race Montana Beast, and was creating a substantial lead on fellow Competitive athletes.
As I neared the bottom of the descent, I crossed a trail, tripped on an unseen object, and plummeted face first into the muddy soil. Pain screamed from just below my left knee, and my immediate thought was that I had broken my tibia. Through the tear in my tights, I could see bone and blood, and thought, “this is it. Not now. This is not what I need right now.” I got to my feet, and looked at the injury again, and through gritted teeth reminded myself of all the work I had done to get this far. There was no way that I was going to quit. I was reminded of King Leonidas’s speech to the 300 Spartan warriors, “Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender.” Of course, by this time, four athletes ran past me, and so I began my limp, forward.
As I continued I reminded myself of the basics: one step at a time, breathe, keep moving. As the endorphins kicked in I was able to increase my pace, and by the time I reached the next obstacle I had caught those four racers who moments before had passed me. Having reached that immediate goal (catching those four runners), I began to reflect on just how it was that I arrived at this point.
In 1990 I suffered a debilitating pelvis and back injury. Possessing more will than common sense, I refused medical treatment and suffered through daily pain for the next 21 years. At the advice of a good friend, I sought prolotherapy treatment from Doctor Rodney Van Pelt in late 2011.
In early January 2012, while researching the history of ancient Sparta, I accidentally found the Spartan Race website. Watching the promotional video, and reading the activities involved in the race, I decided, on a whim, to sign up for the Malibu Sprint in December 2012.
I continued my prolotherapy treatments through May of 2012, and for the first time in two decades I was pain free. I was able to work, travel and train in martial arts, all without pain, and this I considered to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.
However, I had forgotten about the Spartan Race that was coming up at the end of the year, and had yet to engage in any meaningful training. In September of that year I spoke with Chrissy Gower, who encouraged me and my wife, Tracie, to start training at NorCal Strength and Conditioning. We started with personal training for two months, and began Beginning classes in November.
On December 1, 2012 I found myself not in Malibu, at least not what I considered Malibu, but in the mountains east of the ocean, standing in a large cattle chute with 250 other racers shivering from the cold, and excited to start the race. Two hundred meters after the starting line we dove into cold, murky water filled with tules, algae and frogs, and by the end of the race I faced four armed gladiators who pummeled me as I crossed the finish line. I placed 58th in my age division in that race, and more importantly, I was hooked.
I went home sore, but satisfied, and discovered that there were three primary race distances: Sprint (3+miles), Super (8+miles) and Beast (12+miles), and that if one were to complete all three distances in one calendar year one could earn the venerated Trifecta.
I signed up for the Las Vegas Super, the Monterey Beast and the Malibu Sprint for 2013. All three races had their own, unique challenges, and I finished 23rd, 12th and 7th, respectively in my age category. My two youngest children, Sutter and Rachel, also competed in the Jr. Spartan in Monterey, and my oldest son, Adam, and my wife also competed in the Malibu Sprint. We all had a great experience.
The excitement of these races with their diverse settings, conditions and challenges resonated with my nature, and so I shared my experiences with friends, family and gym members.
By 2015 I had convinced Matt Brown to research the Spartan Race, and in July of that year, Matt had organized a NorCal team of 20 gym members that competed in the AT&T Park Sprint in San Francisco. We finished as a team and had a great time. While the stadium course is a bit “sterile” it did offer a glimpse of what these types of races can be like.
In November 2015 I competed in the Sacramento Sprint, finishing 3rd in my age division, after suffering through the flu a few days prior. One again, my oldest son and wife supported one another through this race. This race proved pivotal in my decision on whether or not I would race again.
I decided to take the entire 2016 season off from racing, and instead focused on strength and conditioning training, continuing my martial arts teaching and training, and importantly to set a goal to place 1st in my Trifecta in 2017.
Now as an admission, I hate running! It’s hard. It hurts. I find no fun in running. However, I knew that if I wanted to achieve my goal, I needed to run. So on August 2, 2016, Tracie and I started running. We ran one mile, twice each week for two weeks, and then we added a half mile to each run for two weeks and so on. By December 5 we were running 8 miles of hills in Paradise.
In January 2017 Matt Brown began programming my Spartan training, with my first race of the season, the Socal Sprint, on January 28. Interestingly, the course changed after I signed up for the race, and the new venue, Lake Elsinore was a flat, wet course with many new obstacles. I placed 1st in the Competitive division, and was one third of the way to accomplishing my goal.
The Las Vegas Super (actually held in Arizona) came less than two months later, and through a series of mental errors on the last two obstacles I was forced to complete 60 penalty burpees which cost me first place; I finished second.
Mentally, I was frustrated with my errors, but I continued to train, and most importantly, I listened to my wife who reminded me that I could simply run in another Sprint later in the year and still accomplish my goal.
With the Montana Beast still more than two months away, my training intensified as I began to increase mileage necessary to meet the challenges of a half marathon, in the mountains with over 30 crazy, challenging obstacles. Everything was going fine until April 13 when I reinjured my pelvis.
“I’m done. My season is over. I won’t be able to race, or even train, again.” These are the thoughts that plagued both my waking and unconscious mind. I listened to my coach, and took some rest, and once again, I turned to my wife for advice and went to see my doctor. Four days after that treatment I was back in the gym, moving slow, but moving. I decided that I would continue to move carefully, and slowly, and make the decision as to whether I would compete, or not, just before the race.
Listening to the Star Spangled Banner being sung before the start of the Elite race was powerful, and watching those athletes sprint up the first hill, into the forest, was exhilarating. I warmed up, hopped in the “cattle chute,” and waited for the start.
We climbed steep hills, carried 80 pound sandbags up hills and through mud, made our own trails when there were traffic jams, impaled enemy hail bails with warped javelins, climbed cargo nets, carried logs, carried buckets filled with rocks, and did I mention the hills. With an elevation gain of approximately 4,200’ I was grateful for all of those miles I had put in since the previous August.
In the end, I arrived at the Twister, and being a bit over gregarious to finish, I missed the last grip and fell; 30 burpee penalty. That 30 felt like 50, but when it was done, I lept the bonfire and crossed the finish line, 1st in my age division.
I now have my sights set on competing in the Portland Sprint this August, with the goal of earning 1st place in my Competitive age division.
We all have a story of adversity. At some point in our lives we all fall down. Some of us fall down more frequently than others, but we all feel that moment where fear, hopelessness, and insecurity creep into our psyche. It is important to listen to these feelings, because it is through them that we realize that they are the lies easily defeated by our character. If you possess the character of the warrior, you will defeat the wraith of the lies, and continue your path. Training for, and competing in, a Spartan Race does not build character, but it reveals it. As I look into the eyes of my fellow warriors as they race and cross the finish line I am humbled and honored to be part of this community.