Spartan Spirit

Sean Sullivan
Issue Date: 
October, 2019
Article Body: 

Last month, Angie Menzi took a leap of faith.
On the eve of Autumn, just as leaves were beginning to blush, the Natick mother of two tried her turn at the big brother of Spartan Races. This was no mean feat. The event is a long-distance challenge through rough and wooded mountain terrain, peppered throughout with imposing obstacles.
The Spartan events are tiered in terms of difficulty and distance. Neophytes normally start with the Spartan Sprint, a minimum 3-mile, entry-level race (usually through wooded trails).
The next level up is the Spartan Super, a longer jaunt within the woods. These races tend to double in length and technical difficulty as a participant works her way up the totem pole. The Super is a minimum of 8 miles and 25 obstacles.
The trials in all these races include rope climbs, spear throws, wall climbs, and other various challenges. The penalty for failing any test is 30 burpees, a further-fatiguing exercise comprised of a crouch, pushup and jump.
Menzi, 42, made it through the mud of the Sprint and Super, this spring and summer respectively, the two events held in Charlton, Massachusetts. On September 14th, she gave it a go at the “Beast,” the penultimate version of the Spartan. This was a nearly 14-mile slog up, down and around Vermont’s Killington Peak.
“I would describe the race as a thing that puts you on a physical and spiritual journey,” said Menzi.
Her training regimen included faced-paced hikes in Natick’s Hunnewell Forest and Massachusetts’s Blue Hills, as well as a night hike within Dover’s Noanet Woodlands.
Menzi headed up to Vermont the day before the Saturday race to prepare for the epic event, and stayed over the following Sunday to convalesce after the competition. Argie Shapiro, her training and racing partner, accompanied Menzi north to participate in the event.
“The race on Saturday taught me a lot about who I am and what I’m made of,” said Shapiro, 45. “I’m resilient. I’m not a quitter. It’s not how fast you go. Slow and steady wins the race, sometimes. You put one foot in front of the other and you finish.”
On race day, the weather was disagreeable. Rain was promised and delivered, along with cool temperatures, which made constant movement a must in order to keep warm. Monkey bars and climbing ropes were slick with water and mud. Running shoes slid off walls meant to be surmounted. Slipping down steep slopes seemed the order of the day.
Runners of this race often have the consolation of spectacular views from the heights of Killington. This day however, low rain clouds obscured the ski village far below, shrouding the surrounding forests in a veil of white and blotting out the sun’s warmth.
Atop the highest peak, wind-driven rain lashed participants as they would summit and then plummet back down the slope, only to resume another series of climbs and descents.
This race regularly includes the “bonus” of a swim within a narrow pond, punctuated in the center with a climb up a rope ladder beneath a bridge. Atop this, one swings across a series of hanging ropes above the water to reach and ring the coveted bell.
That’s the theory anyway, the tentative plan regarding this trial. Slick and sometimes chilled from the swim, participants fall off ropes like drops of water from melting icicles into the pond below.
Yet despite these added challenges, the sense of purpose shared among the many other mountain racers was a main motivator for Menzi to keep going.
“What an amazing group of people. You can walk side-by-side and share your stories. The best part of the race was the human generosity and kindness and compassion.”
A recipient of surgery on her left knee a few years ago, Menzi was wary of the joint during the race.
“I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted to. I’ve become wiser about listening to my body.”
Yet with a half marathon awaiting her in October, Menzi said battling the Beast last month has put other challenges in perspective.
“It makes everything else look easy.”