“As always, all we ask is all you’ve got.”
That motto, used by WWE superstar John Cena, host of the FOX TV show “American Grit,” also can be used to describe the Spartan Race, a grueling competition that tests one’s physical and mental endurance through distance running and obstacles that ESPN described in 2010, as a “true test of will.”
For Layla Cruz ’17, a former competitive volleyball player in high school, giving all she had meant finding the strength and courage to withdraw from the race after seven of the more than 26 miles were completed, due to a quadriceps injury.
“I wanted with all my heart to run, but my legs were not cooperating with me,” she says. “Energy-wise, I was all there. Mentally, all there. My body just disagreed.”
Cruz had opted to challenge herself with the toughest Spartan Race offered, the Ultra Beast, a course covering almost 28 miles, consisting of more than 50 obstacles and the race with just a 30 percent success rate. For her, it was just another item to check off her bucket list.
“My goal this year was to complete the trifecta, meaning the Sprint (3-5 miles), the Super (8-10 miles), and either the Beast (13-15 miles) or Ultra Beast (26-28 miles),” says Cruz. “The medals come together like puzzle pieces, fitting into one another. It definitely would be a huge accomplishment.”
Longer than a marathon, the Ultra Beast includes obstacles such as the Barbed Wire Crawl — competitors crawl through mud under barbed wire — the Over-Under-Through — competitors climb over one wall, under a second, and then through a small hole in another — the Tractor Pull — competitors drag a 50-pound cement block through a small track in the mud by a chain — and many more. Every muscle is heavily taxed throughout the race.
For this reason, Cruz made sure to focus her training on building both endurance and strength. Her workouts ranged from one hour and 15 minutes to close to two hours, depending on the part of the body she was working on. Additionally, Cruz drew motivation from videos of female Spartans completing the race.
“One quote I will never forget is, ‘You are going to feel pain. It will hurt. Might as well do something with the pain,’” Cruz recalls. “To me, this meant I had to be mentally tough. The human body is capable of so much more than you think. You just have to believe you can do it, focus, push and never give up.”
On the day of the race, Cruz did everything in her power not to give up, and as she felt the symptoms of cramping in her muscles, continued to do her best to fight through the pain.
“I tried everything under the sun to get rid of the cramps,” she says. “Electrolyte gels, gummies, eating, and drinking all of the water in my camelback. I took small breaks hoping that the supplements would take effect and that I could push through the pain. I hate mustard and yet, I downed two packets of it, as it apparently works magic on cramps.”
Cruz refused to give up but, unfortunately, her body fought her natural instinct to keep running. After seven miles, her leg gave out at an 8-foot climbing wall. Knowing she still had more than 21 miles to go, and realizing that it wasn’t worth risking a serious injury (in light of upcoming races), she made the tough decision to pull out of the race.
“It took a lot of willpower to give up,” she says. “I was absolutely devastated.”
Like any true athlete, Cruz is driven by a will to compete and perseverance. She already has plans to compete in the race again next year and is determined to finish.
“My mindset going into the race was that the only way I would be coming off that course was to be unconscious,” she says. “But I learned that sometimes quitting isn’t the worst thing on the planet and that there is a fine line between pride and stupidity. However, I will never stop. I will keep pushing to be better and next time, I know I will be 10 times more prepared.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14