Reality TV, and many popular videos on the Internet, show the lengths humans are willing to push themselves, far beyond their comfort zones. Going to the very edge of endurance, and then beyond, has become an amazing spectacle for viewers and a challenge for those who are so inclined.
With this in mind, imagine for a moment that you are required to run more than eight miles. This isn’t eight miles on a level, dry surface, but eight miles going up and down hills, running in mud, and jumping over obstacles or ducking under obstacles. Add to this, a requirement that you carry a heavy sand bag or an equally heavy log as you press ahead.
This may sound like a day of Navy Seal training, but actually it is just one of the ways that regular people challenge themselves and get pushed to their limits. This is the Super Spartan race.
Sandra Calderon, BMET Supervisor for INOVA Clinical Engineering in Falls Church, Va., is one of those gluttons for punishment who has the ambition and drive to take on the Super Spartan race and conquer it. Her co-workers, Jeremy Fletcher, Edwin Tanchez and Ralph Navarette had all participated in challenging events, like marathons and military obstacle courses, but not the Super Spartan.
It was actually one of those reality TV shows that sparked Calderon’s interest in the challenge.
“You know the show ‘Wipeout?’ Well, my dream has always been to be a contestant on that show,” she recalls. “The thrill of completing the obstacle course race in the fastest time seems so fascinating. I love a challenge.”
That competitive spirit is what initially led Calderon to the Super Spartan race.
“My coworkers pushed me to join their team. I was hesitant at first because I would be the only female on the team. But that made it more of an initiative; to be the only female to complete the eight-plus mile, 20 obstacle course race. Plus, one of my coworkers had made a bet with me, and I was not going to let him win. I was that determined,” Calderon says.
Preparing for the Challenge
Training for an event that pushes your limits of endurance often means doing the same in your training. Calderon bit the bullet and threw herself into a training routine that included activities that were not on her favorites list.
“I despised running before the race,” she says. “But I knew that was the one, and most important, exercise in order to prepare for any race. So, from no running, to running two to three miles, four to five times a week. I also joined a gym and did the P90X program when I had spare time. But to be honest, there was nothing you could do to prepare for the Super Spartan in Wintergreen, Va. Even past Tough Mudder participants had a difficult time with the course.”
The Tough Mudder is a series of endurance events with courses that are generally 10 to 12 miles in length and full of imaginative obstacles with names like “electric eel” and “island hopping.”
Calderon had run in some 5k events; the Hero Rush and ROC (ridiculous obstacle course) race in the past.
There is an easier event that is often the precursor to the Super Spartan for many entrants. That race is the Spartan Sprint, which includes over 15 obstacles spanning a three-plus mile course. Although difficult, many participants in the more challenging Super Spartan hone their skills, and get a taste of this type of challenge by participating in the Sprint initially. Calderon’s team took a different approach.
Staring Down the Super Spartan
“We decided to do the Super because it was more of a challenge than the Sprint, but less intimidating than the Beast. But after completing the strenuous and wearisome race, I am positive I am capable of finishing the Beast. And of course the Sprint would be a walk in the park,” Calderon says.
The Beast is worthy of its frightening label. The Spartan Beast is billed as “the ultimate Spartan’s Race distance” at more than 12 miles. The course includes more than 25 obstacles. The Spartan website describes the race as “an obstacle race from Hell.”
Although the Beast would seem to have the ability to inflict a sizable portion of pain and discomfort on its participants, Calderon says that there are some real challenging moments in the Super Spartan as well.
“After completing the sixth mile, with scarce water and no food, I would have to say that the log carry was the one obstacle that I almost called quits on,” she says. “It was a log that averaged 40 pounds when dry, but with my luck, it had rained the night before making the log extra heavy.”
“The goal was to carry it for a quarter of a mile down a hill and back up. After the first minute, I was considering tossing in the towel and doing burpees instead. But, my determination told me otherwise. I made several stops to catch my breath and rest. I would even drop my log and sit on it for some type of comfort. It took me quite a while to get to the finish line but I did it.”
After experiencing the Super Spartan, Calderon doesn’t mince words about the experience.
“It was a nightmare that wouldn’t end,” she says, recalling every challenging obstacle at the event.
“An eight-plus mile, 20 obstacle course race on a ski resort. The conditions were extreme. The slopes reached as high as 3,500 feet. On top of that, they were muddy due to the previous night’s rainfall,” Calderon says. “It took me five hours and 11 minutes to complete the race and I was the first one on my team to cross the finish line. I took home a medal and I can say I am a Spartan Warrior.”
On the job, as a BMET supervisor, Calderon says that her job is fascinating and never gets old.
“I was promoted to a BMET Supervisor in 2012, after six years in the field. I love what I do and I am good at it,” she says. “I have 11 technicians under me. And yes, I still get my hands dirty from time to time, although I am more involved with projects and process improvements.”
“I love and respect my team,” Calderon says. “And, I strongly (believe) the feeling is mutual. We work hard, but we also have good times at work and outside of work. I generally organize activities outside of work to get the team together for a few laughs, and on top of that, (it) increases the work morale.”
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