Squaw Valley Ski Resort holds a special place in the hearts of my daughters, Christina and Shane. They spent winter days skiing there growing up, and it remains a popular gathering spot for my family.
This fall, though, they got together at Squaw Valley for a different reason. Christina and Shane joined Shane’s boyfriend and his brother-in-law on a 4-person team that competed in a Spartan Beast race at the Spartan World Championship at Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe in California.
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The Spartan Beast is a type of obstacle-course race. This particular race officially measured at 16.8 miles and included nearly 40 obstacles. My daughters and their teammates finished the race in 10½ hours. They personally measured their distance traveled at nearly 20 miles.
Neither Christina nor Shane had competed in a Spartan Beast before. Christina had previously done a Tough Mudder obstacle race, which was shorter and less extreme. And Shane had completed a Spartan Sprint, which is a smaller version of the Beast.
They upped the ante with this race.
Shane organized her team and recruited Christina to participate. The race occurred on the weekend of Shane’s birthday.
As Christina learned more about the race and found out that it would be a more daunting challenge than the Tough Mudder, she started to wonder what she’d gotten herself into. But there was no way she was backing out – not on her sister’s birthday.
“I didn’t want to abandon my sister,” Christina said later. “This was on her birthday, and I knew she would be disappointed. That was the main reason I stuck with it.”
“I wasn’t afraid of not finishing,” she added. “I just didn’t want to disappoint my sister.”
For Shane, having her older sister on her team made the race more enjoyable.
“I always want to do things with her,” Shane said. “She’s like the coolest person. I love hanging out with her. I think that’s because I’m the second sibling. But she’s also just really fun to hang out with. She’s responsible. She’s funny. She’s sharp. She’s effective. She gets really excited about things, and that’s contagious. I loved doing it with my sister.”
Christina enjoyed her experience at the Tough Mudder. It challenged her a bit, but it was fun and didn’t push her beyond her limits. She worried that the Spartan Beast would be less about personal achievement and community building. But once she got in the midst of competition, she found out her concerns were unfounded.
“When I got out there, it was great. The atmosphere was much more community than I expected,” Christina said. “We were in a competitive heat, so around us there were a lot more serious athletes. But even then, there wasn’t this cutthroat (attitude). I was really surprised about that. I was also surprised there was a lot of people like me. They’re not super fit, but they’re also not couch potatoes.”
The obstacles became the highlights of the race. These challenges offered a chance to catch your breath while you waited your turn.
If you failed to complete an obstacle, you were penalized with burpees. To do a burpee, you drop to the ground in a pushup position, let your chest hit the ground, then pop upright and jump with your arms extended above your head.
Some of the more competitive teams didn’t stick together with their teammates, but Christina and Shane’s team navigated the race and the obstacles together. They even helped each other by pitching in on each other’s burpees.
“I think it’s great team building if you want to stick together,” Shane said.
Some of the obstacles encouraged a cooperative spirit. Shane and Christina worked together to pull a sand bag by a rope.
“That was a really nice experience. We just worked together really well,” Christina said.
Although the Spartan Beast had its memorable moments like that one, that’s not to say it was a rip-roaring time for my daughters and their teammates. It challenged their bodies and pushed them to their limits. They experienced cramping.
The last several miles hiking up the Red Dog lift were a grind.
Christina evoked a strategy I have used before. She broke up the larger task – finishing the race – into smaller segments. She told herself to just take it 50 steps at a time. Each time she hit 50, she would stop to catch her breath and then put her mind toward making another 50 steps.
Shane and Christina and their teammates finished the race together.
Completing the race brought a feeling of achievement.
“It’s always interesting to see if you can push yourself to where most people think is a breaking point and you can just keep going,” Shane said. “So long as you put one foot in front of the other, you can keep going for so much longer than you ever anticipate.”
The race reminded Christina of a belief she wants to instill in her daughters: If you want to do something, there is no reason not to try. You might fail, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
And if you try, you might surprise yourself by what you can achieve.
Or, as Christina put it afterward: “If you believe you can do something, you usually can.”
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo