Earlier this year, I chose not to participate in the Las Vegas Super & Sprint weekend. I kept it pretty quiet, and didn't advertise that I was or wasn't going. Even though my reasons for not participating were valid, I felt really guilty and extremely weak for not "Spartan-ing UP!" And just doing it anyway.
The Big Bear race is this weekend, and I have decided not to race as I had originally planned. The process of not participating in an event and transferring that unused registration for another future event is called deferment. Spartan has posted new deferment instructions, tips, and FAQ's on their help website, check it out for more specific instructions on how to defer your race and transfer credit. (Spartan Race Help - Deferment)
Even though I have chosen to defer Vegas and Big Bear for different reasons, I struggle emotionally with the decision to defer a race, and I want to share some of those issues with you to help you recognize when you might want to think about deferring an event yourself.
(This is not a step-by-step checklist for you to use to decide whether or not to race. It is an insight into the mind of a Spartan who has made that decision twice, which might help you make your own.)
Vegas came the first week of March 2018, just three weeks after my season opener here in Arizona. I had neglected to plan ahead and book lodging, and ended up S.O.L. The Vegas race venue is actually in Littlefield, AZ, next large town Mesquite, NV, closest largest city is Las Vegas hence the race name. This is par for the course for Spartan, and seasoned Spartans know better than to take the race "City" at face value since the nature of the event requires a hell of a lot of distance and room for mud and obstacles.
By the time I got myself together and thought to book myself somewhere to stay, nothing was available within 25 miles of the event at a reasonable, less than $300 a night price – not a trailer, Airbnb shack, or motel to speak of. Staying in actual Las Vegas was a poor option – it is one thing to drive yourself an hour+ to the race in the morning, but on the way back you will spend every minute of that hour hating yourself. I did not feel comfortable reaching out to people I don't know very well asking to crash at the last minute, and I'm not yet balling so out of control I can afford a $300+ a night hotel (I'm more in the $60-$120 range), so I didn't see many options for me to have a place to stay and shower. Instead of stressing myself out or over-extending my budget to make this race work, I opted to pass and make up that race later in the year.
The decision to defer Big Bear has been a lot more centered around my emotional and physical health than deferring Vegas was. For one, I don't have to worry about lodging, as I had planned to stay at my dad's cabin in Arrowhead an hour from the event venue. I have chosen not to participate in Saturday's Beast because I am not physically or mentally ready to run a Beast this year, and I am still struggling to say that out loud.
I found myself running through a mental checklist as I logged onto Chronotrack to release my spot-
I am no stronger or weaker today than I was the week leading up to last September's Beast in Seattle, so Q #1 is kind of moot. I have little doubt that I am tough enough to finish a Beast, having done two so far, but I do not feel confident that I have the ability to outsmart my own physical shortcomings due to my own lack of consistent training and my shaky confidence this week. Although I could walk the entire event and still get my medal and still get my first Trifecta this year on schedule, I don't want to walk it and half-ass the obstacles. And if there is another Beast that I can get to, that is far enough out in the year to give me time to train, why should I potentially risk a season-ending injury because I wasn't tough or smart enough to say no?
I have had to recognize that my lack of physical strength and the accompanying lack of confidence make me that much more likely to hurt myself and fuck up my race season before I even manage one trifecta. When people ask me what my advice is for first time Spartan Race participants, I tell them to slow down, look at the obstacle, visualize your plan to complete it, then execute, rather than flinging yourself at the obstacle and hoping for the best. I know for an absolute fact that when I get tired, I am sloppy and reckless, and being reckless during a Spartan Race is a one-way ticket to injury. Knowing that I have a new, improperly healed knee injury that rears its ugly head after 3 miles, on top of my lack of confidence and stamina, I know I am going to potentially hurt myself really badly if I push myself to complete Big Bear.
At the end of the day, you do not have to run in a Spartan Race, and from what I can tell, at least for open heats, you don't really have to do all of the obstacles. Why you would want to pay to not do your best is beyond me, but that's beside the point – if you start, do 0 obstacles, cross all the timing checkpoints, and cross the finish line, you will be given a medal and a banana even if you didn't really earn it. So even though I am no weaker than I was last September in Seattle, I am definitely no stronger, and I don't want to half-ass another race.
I feel a lot of internal pressure to perform during these events. I have never even come close to reaching the podium at one of these races, but my personal achievement is completing the race while doing as few burpees as possible. I know that if I were to participate and not do my best, I will beat myself up mentally as much as the course will physically. I know that if I am not performing at an acceptable level, I will berate myself and the entire 14+ mile course will be a mobile criticism session that will make the medal at the end a symbol of how much this sucked, rather than a symbol of achievement. While I am working to be less negatively self-critical, I am not 100% there yet, and I don't feel ready to be my own mental cheerleader that I need on the course right now.
As I said before, I am no weaker than I was standing at the start line in Seattle last year. This is an important scale for me - last September I walked onto the course having essentially taken two months off of training, so that race became my meter of how well I can perform without training. I do not recommend this course of action, primarily because that race in Seattle was 12 miles of hell, and it wasn't even that strenuous of a course as far as Beasts go. I finished, got my medal, and then could barely walk for over a week, not to mention that I skipped two obstacles that are still haunting me. Remembering that experience, and seeing the similarities to my situation today, I know that I should not race this weekend.
I am sure I will be more receptive to this concept after the fact, but the truth is being a Spartan does not mean putting yourself in unnecessary danger in the name of a medal, finisher shirt, trifecta, whatever. Yes, we do sign a waiver that says we may die during this event, but there is no reason to take unnecessary risks. If you are struggling with the decision to defer your event participation, I encourage you to explore both why you feel like you might want to defer, and what you may risk or earn by participating anyway.
Choosing to defer a race because you are not ready for is not weak, not in the slightest. It is a smart decision, and one that takes a lot of strength to commit to.
Feel free to reach out if you are considering deferring a race and have some more questions. I would be happy to help!