The Spartan - Part 1

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I finished signing the waiver, then went to the small black tent to pick up my race packet. I looked around at the fit participants in their specialized footwear and my nerves fluttered. What the heck was I doing here? Did I really know what I was in for here?

The man in line next to me turned my way, striking up conversation.

"First one?" he said.

"Is it that obvious?" I said.

He smiled and shrugged.

"Kinda. You just look a little nervous is all."

"Well, great!" I said, letting out a nervous laugh.

"Don't worry about it. You'll be fine. It's all about having fun."

I smiled and nodded at the man, then tried to quell my obviously frayed nerves. Apparently, they were written all over my face so that even strangers could tell I was nervous.

I picked up my packet and entered the village of tents that the race crew had erected for this weekend's events. It was pretty impressive. Music blared, and buff, bare-chested men jumped, squatted, and stretched. Women clad in only sports bras and shorts, sporting abs I could only dream of, stood staring into space with intimidating intensity.

I looked down at my polyester t-shirt and plain, black Wal-Mart leggings and sighed. Sexy amazon, I was not. Intimidatingly intense? Yeah. Not so much.

I was reasonably fit but thoroughly average in every respect. I certainly couldn't show off ridged abs like these other ladies. I was such a fish out of water here that I almost turned around and walked out. I could text Rick and Aaron and tell them I was sick...

"Kate!" Rick's voice came from behind another gaggle of fitness freakazoids. Shit! Too late now...

I watched Rick emerge from behind a flock of pony-tailed fitness model types as they pranced along.

Rick fit right in with this crowd. His tight tech tee hugged his bulging pecs; his carved arms stretched the sleeves of his shirt. As he moved, I could see the cobbles of his tight abs through his thin shirt. He smiled as he saw me wave, approaching at a jog.

I had been crushing on Rick for a while now, stealing glances as his gym-honed physique during our training sessions for this race. When he had first asked me to do it, I think I gave a schoolgirl titter as I said yes--so NOT in my normal nature.

As Rick approached, he slid a hand across his buzz cut, flipping off the accumulation of misty rain from the western Washington morning.

"Hi, Kate! Glad you made it!" Rick gave me a firm hug. I delighted in the pressure of his strong arms and hard body as the hug pulled me up to my tiptoes. My breasts ached a little, pressed against his iron chest, but I ignored it. It was a small price to pay for the rest of the yumminess.

"Yeah, me too!" I said cheerfully, neglecting to mention the fact that, moments before, I had nearly decided to eat my $20 parking fee and get the heck out of here.

"Hi, guys!" came Aaron's voice from behind me. I turned and felt my smile widen.

As attracted as I was to Rick, Aaron was the one I was really comfortable around. He was a good-natured fortyish man and my Spartan-training bestie. Where Rick was so athletic and hardcore as to be intimidating, Aaron was jovial and self-deprecating. I had liked him from the moment I met him at the crags.

I hugged Rick, his body softer than Rick's and his grip non-painful. I bounced back, more comfortable now by his mere presence.

"So are you guys ready to do this thing or what?" said Aaron, giving Rick a quick guy-clasp as well.

"Are we ever!" said Rick, a twinkle in his blue eye.

"No comment," I said, letting my nervousness show through.

"Uh oh! I'm sensing some butterflies in our little buttercup over here," said Aaron good-naturedly. "If anyone should be worried about this thing, it should be me! I can barely do a pull-up these days!"

Rick clapped him on the back.

"You'll do just fine, man. And so will you, Katie!" Rick said with an encouraging nod.

"I hope so," I said, unconvinced as I looked at the super-fit folks passing by.

I looked down at the packet. It had a sticker on it: "Competitive Wave: 8:00 AM."

"What the heck does Competitive Wave mean?" I asked the others.

"Oh, nothing. It just means they check your burpees and stuff. Don't worry about it," said Rick.

"Okaaaay..." I eyed him warily.

"Seriously," he said.

"Leave it to Rick to get us roped into the craziest of the crazies for this thing!" laughed Aaron.

Rick just gave a crooked grin.

"Okay, so what do we do now?" I asked.

"Well, let's put on our wristbands and headbands and stuff," said Rick.

The three of us opened our packets and began to don the items in the packet. Timing chip wristband--check. Competitive 8:00 AM Wave wristband--check. Headband with the number on it--check. Beer wristband?

"Hey, I don't even like beer!" I said.

In the blink of an eye, Aaron snatched the wristband away from me.

"I'll take that. Beer is my best event in these sorts of races," he told me with a wink. Rick gave a belly laugh.

When we were done, we went over to the bag check.

"Another $5! Geez! These guys really bleed you dry!" I said, miffed at all of the incidental charges. "Why don't they just include this in the price of the race? I don't even think I have any more cash after the parking fee..."

"No problem, Katie... I got you covered," said Aaron, forking over the requisite cash for me.

"Thanks, Aaron," I said, sheepishly, embarrassed at not thinking ahead enough to bring more cash.

Aaron gave a comedic bow, one foot in front of the other. I laughed and nudged him with my shoulder, nearly toppling him off balance. He joined my laughter as he recovered.

We checked our backpacks, used the port-a-potties, and climbed over the low wall into the starting area.

After a fun little pep talk by the race announcer, hollaring "I am a Spartan!" and "Aroo!" a few times, we were off. As we passed through the starting gate, I thought I saw a weird blue glow around the the underside of the sign and the poles to either side. As I ran, I looked back. No blue glow. That was strange, I thought. It must just be nerves making me see things or something.

I turned back ahead to watch Rick's rock hard butt bouncing in front of me and half-smiled in spite of myself. At least there would be some good scenery in this race, I thought, giving a little mental giggle.

Rick was running fast, and Aaron and I were struggling to keep up.

"Slow... down...!" I called ahead to him between gulps of precious oxygen.

Rick's head spun around, taking in our struggling forms. He immediately slowed.

"Sorry about that, guys! I must have gotten a little carried away with the adrenaline of the race and whatnot."

"Thank... you...!" I puffed.

I glanced over at Aaron, already as red-faced as I probably was. He said nothing, just panted, as we slowed to a jog, some of the hard-core racers passing around either side of us.

As I looked at Aaron, I noticed a faint blue glow around him, as if a dim light were shining behind him, and I was just seeing its silhouette.

Aaron gave me a puzzled look, and I stretched my arm out in front of me. It looked just like Aaron, glowing faintly blue around the edges.

That was really weird. They must have some sort of black light on the course, I surmised. I looked around and didn't see anything. They must have them well hidden. They really spared no expense in these races! Too bad they hadn't spent that money on a free bag check instead!

We continued to run to the first obstacle, these chest high hurdle-things. Rick popped over them with ease. I jumped up and mantled, then flung a leg over it, pushing off with my foot and landing on soft knees.

The three of us managed to get over them all to the next obstacle, a really, really tall wall. The wall had to be around eight feet tall. I came to a stop as I considered how to tackle this one.

As I did, Rick ran up to it, jumped into a pull-up, and hauled himself over with ease. Damn that guy! He made everything look so easy!

I saw a little red piece of wood about two feet up from the ground and decided that was my ticket to the top. I ran up, hit the little wood step with my right toe and sprang up to reach the top, I managed the pull-up, my arms shaking with the effort but determination powering me through. Once I flung a leg to the top, I knew I had it. I maneuvered my other leg over and dangled for a moment on the other side before dropping down. On the landing, I accidentally fell backwards, smearing mud all over my back. I grimaced as I felt the cold, damp earth stick to my shirt. Oh well. That's what these races were all about right? Mud!

I was pleased, though, that I had made it over the thing. I yelled encouragement to Aaron, who I knew was just behind me, then I saw his face appear over the edge of the wall. I cheered.

Aaron smiled as he saw me, and powered himself over. We high-fived, and I noticed the slightest blue glow around his hand again.

Rick ran back to us, clapping us both forcefully on the back with a grin.

"Nice work, guys! See? Piece of cake!" he said.

Aaron and I gave each other a look, each rolling our eyes as we thought of our struggle over that last wall, only our second obstacle. I could sense that he was as game to keep going as I was, though, and we joined Rick in a brisk jog, ready to see what else the race would bring.

We neared something in the distance. Bails of hay tied up to wooden posts with a row of gates maybe twenty feet in front of them. I watched a racer fling a wooden pole into the hay and realized that this must be the spear throw I had heard about... something I had never done in my life.

This would be interesting...

I walked up to the metal gates and grabbed one of the spears. It was basically a broom handle with a nail in the end. I threw it, harder than I was expecting. Which probably would have been great, except for the fact that I was standing on top of the thin rope they had attached to the end of it--something I had neglected to notice before I threw.

As the spear sailed toward the target with surprising force, the rope coiled around my ankles and pulled my feet out from under me. I went down hard on my back.

The rope stopped the flight of the spear halfway to the target when it ran out of slack, and the spear crashed straight down to the ground.

Rick and Aaron on either side of me had just released their spears. Rick's struck the target perfectly (of course). Aaron's went sailing over it, as if his throw had more power than he was expecting.

When they heard the suctiony thump of my back landing in mud and the subsequent whoosh of breath leaving my lungs, the two looked toward me simultaneously. Gasping for breath, I watched Rick's eyes widen before he broke into a rollicking round of raucous guffaws. I turned to Aaron, who was doubled over in laughter as well.

I rolled my eyes, then went to work extricating myself from the tightly coiled rope.

"Thanks so much for helping, jerks," I muttered as I untangled myself with no help from the guys.

As I rose, I saw the others, still hopelessly lost in laughter, and I began to laugh at myself along with them.

When our laughter subsided, Aaron and I did our thirty burpees while Rick kept count. As I finished my burpees, I turned to Aaron.

"Those burpees were actually easier than I was expecting," I said to Aaron before jogging out of the penalty area.

"Yeah, I thought so too," he said. "Good thing 'cause I have a feeling we'll be doing a lot of those today."

I smiled at Aaron, and the three of us ran toward the next obstacle, which looked was three little hills of mud with water underneath and a wooden wall at the far side in a pool of water.

As I ran, I noticed the soft blue glow outlining my arms again. I ran faster. Whatever the weird blue outline was doing, it seemed to be giving me an energy boost. I looked at Aaron, and he seemed to be gaining speed inside his blue outline as well. Looking ahead to Rick, he didn't have the outline--but he always ran fast!

Rick leapt over the first hill and splashed into the water, eliciting shrieks from some of the nearby racers doused in the spray. Rick turned back to us, dripping with muddy water. He shrugged, looking sheepish. Aaron and I looked at each other then sprinted ahead and did the same thing.

Omigod, the water was cold! So freezing cold! I shivered as I struggled out of the muddy pit then slid into the next one. The final mud pool was divided in half by a wooden wall. They were going to make us go underwater in this filthy, frigid puddle?! I braced myself and dunked under water, eyes shut until I popped up on the other side of the wall. I wiped the muddy muck from my eyes and dragged a hand along the top of my head to wipe away some of the water. My ponytail dripped dank water onto my back, making me shiver with every drop.

"Yuck!" I cried out. Rick stuck out his tongue at me; I did it right back. We both laughed and continued on.

Next was the Z-Wall, an aptly named zig-zagging wall with small one-inch wooden holds for hands and feet. Having rock climbed before, we had little trouble with this one, making it to the end and smacking the little cow bell to prove that we had completed the stretch without touching the ground.

We ran for another half mile or so before the next challenge. Not only was I not tiring, I actually felt great! I was feeling stronger and more energized than when I had started the race! Which was good. Because next up was an obstacle I thought I might struggle with--the 16' rope climb.

We ran up to the obstacle. Rick leapt onto the rope and hauled himself up hand-over-hand until he rang the bell at the top. As he lowered himself, Aaron and I did the same. Incredibly, I didn't even need to use my feet. My arms were strong enough to haul myself up and ring the bell. I was completely amazed! I had practiced twisting my feet in the rope to allow my legs to help. Today, though, I was feeling so strong I didn't need it.

I looked at my arms and saw small bulges of muscle, significantly more toned than they normally looked popping out of them. Maybe doing these crazy races really was great exercise!

As we continued on, I noticed more striations in my leg muscles than I usually did as well. Sweet!

There was a barbed wire crawl setup at the edge of a river. I dropped down to hands and knees and began to slide myself under, when all the sudden a blue glow came from the water below me. The ground seemed to disappear from under the water, and I fell into the blue void before I could so much as cry out...

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And so the changes begin...