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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Kowal

How not to do a Spartan Trifecta

One of my goals in 2022 was to get a Spartan Trifecta. The Spartan Trifecta is completing the 3 distances Sprint (5 K), Super (10 K), and Beast (Half Marathon: 21 K). Different goals have different effects on me: Some are fun, some are challenging, and some are right out scary, also known as BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Although some goals should be BHAGS, certainly not all of them have to be. To complete the Trifecta wasn't one of the BHAGs and I honestly didn't think too much about it. I just wanted to do it to say that I've completed it, as we run quite a few Spartan races with our members at Systems Training Center. A 5 K, 10 K, and a half marathon, even with the obstacles didn't seem too challenging. Hence, I looked at it more as something that I wanted to complete than a challenge per se.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Spartan Beast

It started with the Spartan Beast in Big Bear, which I at least knew I was going to be in for some pain, due to the elevation. What that race had in store for me as far as pain goes was not something I had anticipated. We raced up a very steep elevation to almost 10,000 feet and what I hadn't prepared for was the elevation sickness. People started dropping like flies and I was initially surprised until I dropped myself! The first time, the cramps lasted for a few minutes but then I managed to get them under control but I had this eerie feeling in my body that wouldn't leave. The second time the cramps hit was a very different story. My adductors cramped up so badly that I thought something broke. The medical team got called in but the cramps happened while I was under the barbed wire, so they couldn't get to me. 20 minutes later and after receiving some mustard and pickle juice (the magic combo!), I was able to finish the last couple of miles. Big Bear wiped the floor with me, literally, that day and I learnt a lesson. I thought with only a 5 K and a 10 K left, the worst had past and what was left shouldn't be that difficult for me. The morning I left to do the last two distances in LeBec, Mishel asked me if I was excited. I told her not really because I knew it wouldn't be too hard and I only really get excited when I know I have a really tough challenge ahead of me. I think that was the moment I jinxed myself.

Day one's 5 K went smoothly and we had a good time doing the race. We had basically completed the race with only the fire pit in front of the finish line left. It was at that moment I came up with the incredibly dumb idea to, instead of just jumping over the fire pit like everyone else, I was going to do a round-off over it. As I'm approaching with speed, I realize that the fire pit is wider than I had expected and make a split decision to do a cartwheel through the fire instead. I place my hand on what I think is ashes but what was covering burning coal. My arm couldn't hold my weight due to the pain and I ultimately crashed on the edge of the fire, resulting in second-degree burns on my left hand and first-degree burns on both my arms. So dumb. So very dumb, haha.

What I was thinking? I was thinking that it was ashes and hot but not that hot! I also thought since it was only going to make contact for a split second, it wouldn't be so bad. From the pain and the smell of human BBQ, I quickly realized it was fairly serious. I went to the Medical Tent and they quickly got me into an ambulance. As I entered the ambulance, the smell of human BBQ got even stronger. The ambulance driver took my blood pressure and said "you weren't kidding about the pain". That was the moment I learned that pain will increase your blood pressure. See? I wouldn't have learned that had it not been for my clever decision! He asked what I wanted for the pain: Tylenol or...get this, Ketamine or FENTYNOL! I said, Fentynol, as in what killed Prince? The stuff people are dying like flies from in Ohio?! Yes, he answered. And Ketamine?

I honestly only knew of it as a party drug and that it was a horse tranquilizer. I'm ok with just the Tylenol, I said. The Tylenol wasn't doing much, to be honest, but at the same time, in a strange way to many I'm sure, I enjoy pain training and I was able to handle it, even though sweating from the pain that was pulsating in waves. The guy who was in the back of the ambulance with me was a paramedic in the Army and so we found each other quickly and had some good conversations. When he was putting in my IV, blood squirted out and onto the wall next to the other ambulance driver. Without much emotion, he said, what the hell? What are you doing? You just made our burn victim a stab wound victim. We both laughed. The ride to Bakersfield burn hospital was almost an hour long. Some 15 minutes into the ride, I asked him, you're a private ambulance company, right? Yes, he answered. Which means this is going to be an expensive ride for me, correct? Probably around $1,000? He said he couldn't answer that question but probably around there, yes.

"Give me that Ketamine," I said. Lesson number three for the day was that Ketamine is a Benzodiazepine, the same family as common anti-depressant drugs such as Zoloft, Valium, and Xanax. I was curious as to how an anti-depressant drug could help the pain but I soon realized: It was difficult to explain in a strange way, I could still feel the pain in my hand but it was as if my pain system had been shut off. Although I asked the paramedic to only give me half of a dose, I very quickly felt its effects. It was almost as if I was in some form of hypnosis and "everything was alright". I quickly realized how easily someone with a lot of anxiety and depression could get addicted to that feeling. Halfway through the "dose", I asked him to turn it off, I didn't want or need anymore. He asked if I was ok, as I was visibly very affected by it. He explained that people can often get paranoid if they are in a bad state of mind and that people can commonly get so paranoid that they think the paramedics are trying to kill them.

As we entered the hospital, however, the paramedic told me he was going to give me the last part of the Ketamine, since he knew what they were going to do with the burns and that "it wasn't going to be comfortable". He wasn't kidding I realized as they started to cut the blisters open and remove the dead skin from my hand. My first question to the doctor was if I could go back and do the 10 K the following day. He answered that he certainly wouldn't recommend it but if I could keep it clean, it was up to me.

After a couple of hours in the hospital, I was released from the hospital and walked out with my bag of medical supplies and felt like a prisoner being released from jail. I was informed that I was on the "not so good side of Bakersfield" and all I could think was "is there a good side of Bakersfield?"

Brandon, one of our teammates, drove the hour to come to pick me up before heading to the hotel and starting the preparations for the morning. By preparations, I mean going to the store at the gas station next door to the hotel. By preparations, I mean going to the store at the gas station next door to the hotel to pick up a plastic bag and some duct tape to be able to keep the damaged hand clean. On the topic of cleaning; I just need to share that I have to change the dressings on the wound twice a day and that first night in the hotel room, when I was going to change the dressings the first time, which was also the worst time, I just sat at the table for a few minutes before starting the process. I was procrastinating because I knew how much it was going to hurt.

Spartan Super

Sunday, the Spartan Super which was "only" going to be 10 kilometers and would "only take about 2 hours became by far the most painful Spartan race I've ever done (and the Spartan Beast had been painful enough!)

What I hadn't taken into account was the blisters all over my forearms on both arms and my bicep on one side. Even though I did a decent job protecting my damaged hand (perhaps slightly less than decent), I hadn't thought about all the walls and obstacles that I had to get over. Since I couldn't use my left hand to get over things, I had to use my forearms to get myself over. I also had to use my hand on a few of the obstacles, when picking up heavy weights or climbing. I was surprised myself that I was able to climb actually, which is also when the first blister popped. Out of some 25 obstacles, I was able to complete 15 and I was glad that 3 of the obstacles had penalty loops instead of burpees. When you can't do an obstacle, you're supposed to do thirty burpees. Since I couldn't do burpees, I had to do jumping squats (which are much worse than burpees btw!) and thirty sit-ups. I hope that counts Spartan officials!

I got my revenge on the fire pit on Day Two, as I managed to jump over it with my feet like the rest of the adults.

When I posted a video of my beautiful gymnastic debut, an old friend who was running the Spartan Beast (we didn't know that the other was running), said "Oh, that was you?! We heard about some guy who had put his hand in the fire while we were still running!"

Good to be known among those Spartans...for all the wrong reasons...

So, what's the takeaway? What did I learn?

  • I learned that fire is hot.

  • I learned that you shouldn't cartwheel through fire.

  • I learned that they sell black licorice at the Rite-AID in Bakersfield (almost made it worth it).

  • I learned that Ketamine is a Benzodiazepine and what it feels like.

  • I learned that burn injuries are no fun, hurt like hell and take a long time to heal.

  • I learned to never underestimate a challenge.

  • Thank you Spartan Trifecta for the experience and the slice of humble-pie I got served!

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