I consider myself a fairly fit person. I’ve run a few marathons, serve as president of a running club, even won a chin-up contest in fifth grade. So when the opportunity arose to take an outdoor Spartan class with David Magida, elite Spartan racer and owner of the soon-to-be open Elevate Interval Fitness in D.C., I couldn’t turn it down.
Ostensibly I was taking the class to write a feature article on David and his outdoor Spartan classes, held every Tuesday night at 6:30pm in Rock Creek Park in Northwest D.C. But really, I just wanted to experience the glory and agony that is the Spartan race. And who else to learn it from but one of the top Spartan racers in the world?
Spartan racing is a relatively new concept that has taken off in the past five years. Spartan races are obstacle course races of varying distances, ranging from three miles up to a full marathon, and include such challenges as a fire jump, barbed wire crawl, rope climb, wall scaling, and heavy object carries (such as a log, a sandbag or gravel-filled bucket).
I first met David in early spring 2014, when he joined the Georgetown Running Club (GRC) and I profiled him in Active Life DC. David has since been featured in the Washington Post, Competitor Magazine, and Dirty Miles Obstacle Racing website.
David competes on the Reebok Spartan Race Pro Team, a group of 10 men and 10 women who travel the country to compete in the rapidly growing sport of obstacle racing, serving as ambassadors for the sport and boosting the competitive level of the events in the process.
David finished the 2012 and 2013 seasons ranked Top 10 in the world and is currently in position to do so again for 2014. He also has secured three Spartan Race victories this season, including a recent win at the Washington, D.C. race just a few weeks ago. He has stood on the podium of dozens of obstacle races in the past several years, and has become a household name in the sport.
In addition to his success on the race course, David is a consultant for United States Obstacle Course Racing, and is currently authoring “The Essentials of Obstacle Racing,” a beginners guide to training for and coaching participants for the rigors of an obstacle race.
A longtime runner before transitioning his focus to obstacle racing in 2011, David joined GRC this year in hopes of getting back into elite running shape, with the help of his GRC teammates and GRC Coach Jerry Alexander.
According to David, the social media attention garnered from the article in Active Life DC (he has more than 1,300 Twitter followers) helped to propel him to local attention and boost awareness of his role as a coach in the DC fitness community, in advance of his gym opening this September. Elevate Interval Fitness, which specializes in group training classes, is designed to accommodate 26 members per class. Once at full capacity, David plans to offer around 10 classes per day. Classes each day have a different focus and every participant is provided coaching, a heart rate monitor, and their own personal workout station.
Though I consider my fitness adequate (at least in running), I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to take the Spartan class with David. I knew it would involve getting sweaty, wet, dirty, and muddy, and would mostly likely involve carrying heavy things and jumping over stuff. Though I don’t like getting dirty, and am as inflexible as a board, I agreed to give it a shot (for the article purposes only, of course).
Upon my arrival at class, I was asked to sign over my life and liability on what David playfully termed a “death waiver.” This should have been my first clue that I was in for a new and different experience.
David has assembled a solid crew of participants at his outdoor Spartan classes (approximately 20-25 each week), most of whom have signed up for his 12 class package in preparation for the Virginia Spartan Race held on August 23 at Wintergreen Resort in Wicomico, Va.
We started the class encircled around a grassy open field. Warm up exercises reminded me of high school track practice. High knees, butt kicks, karaokes - no problem. I got a little blood flowing and I felt confident that I was at least on an equivalent skill level with the other participants.
We then moved into a nasty 12 minute circuit involving burpees, broad jumps, and running laps. I did a few burpees incorrectly, dropping hard to a pushup position on my hands from a standing position, before David noticed my disastrous form and corrected me. Though it was a relatively cool evening for a summer in D.C,.sweat was running down my face and down my back. I had to take some big pauses in between a few of the later jumps, lacking the energy for the “explosive power” that David kept encouraging. I used my time running laps as a breather.
The class only got more challenging from there. More circuits, including a particularly fun one involving 12 minutes of a routine of 40 mountain climbers, 30 jumping jacks, 20 squat jumps, and 10 burpees, made me question my sanity and that of everyone else involved. But David was a positive presence throughout - shouting words of encouragement, counting down our time remaining, and carefully surveying the group from all angles to ensure none of us were endangering our own personal safety or that of others.
Then the real fun began. Fun, in this case, meant sand bags. Lots of them. We all hoisted a bag and headed down the hill towards the woods. I insisted upon a smaller, “girl” sandbag, but even that was no joke.
Our task at hand was fairly simple. Throw the bag upon one shoulder and run (or walk/run) up a steep hill in the woods. Drop the bag halfway up the hill, sprint to the top, sprint down the hill - being careful not to trip on the pile of sandbags as well as all the roots, logs, and other obstacles - then stop at the bottom for a quick round of 10 squats. Then run back up, grab your sandbag, and turn back to run down the hill. Keep this up for 12 minutes, and you win! (a sense of accomplishment, that is).
Next up, another enjoyable routine of diagonal broad jumps, rowing supermans, bear crawls, and 180 degree jump turns. At this point, I paused, perhaps with a look of distress on my face. “Don’t get sick on me, Masterson,” David barked, though not unkindly.
At this point, I had sand caked on one shoulder, dirt on my knees and hands, and lots of sweat everywhere. I tried to finish up my circuit faster by increasing my pace, but my resulting sloppy form did not go unnoticed by David. “It’s not about speed, it’s about technique,” he advised, guiding me to adjust my jumping style to focus on gaining power from my legs rather than using momentum from my spinning turn.
To finish up the class (finally!), 20 minutes on a full obstacle course, the ultimate challenge.
With David as our guide, we took off into the woods, bushwhacking through the wilderness, over a giant fallen tree that took me several tries to awkwardly get over, stumbling through wet mulch and dirt. Back down the hill, and straight into a creek, where we waded into ankle deep water and crawled under a low bridge, our faces pressed in the water atop mossy rocks. Through the creek, then back up to dry land where we vaulted over a fence, hoisted a few sandbags for a brief run, and alternately crawled over and under a few picnic tables set up as obstacles.
When it was all over, I was covered in dirt and sweat, with bits of grass stuck to my hair. My shoes were sodden, and my mascara was running down my face, giving me an interesting raccoon look (though maybe I looked appealing to all the creatures in the woods?) Only some minor bloodshed, at least, from a small cut on my ankle. But, I made it though, and the resultant glow of satisfaction I’m sure outshined the dirt. I was not defeated – on the contrary. I’d never felt so alive.
The post-workout high made the aftermath all the better. The support from other participants helped enormously. The group had been motivating and positive throughout the class, shouting words of encouragement as we all trudged up and down the hills and through the obstacle course. 2013 Marine Corps Marathon Winner Girma Bedada had even stopped by to say Hello and ask if he could participate in the class the following week.
I got home that night and took two showers to wash off the creek water and dirt. Pain was already setting in. The next few days were difficult. My forearms especially (likely from my incorrect burpee form) ached to point where it was painful to turn the steering wheel while driving. My shoulders and back (thanks to the sandbags), were sore to the touch.
However, as they say, the pain from the workout was temporary. The glory of my first Spartan workout will last forever. I don’t have any plans to compete in a Spartan race any time soon, but now I know that this goal is within my reach, with the help of David and the support of my fellow Spartan class participants.
You can learn more about David, his outdoor Spartan classes, and his new fitness facility by visiting his website at http://www.elevateintervalfitness.com/