Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes

When IRONMAN Triathlete takes on Spartan Race Malaysia

Writer Zee Lim (right) experienced his first Spartan Sprint in Iskandar Puteri, Johor.

I am standing in the muddy starting line, clad in my old running tee, throw-away shoes, and a silly headband proclaiming my race number. As I stare blankly around, I am dimly aware that there is a group of very fit people around me. Clad in stylish form hugging clothing, they look confident and strong as they bob their heads in tune to the beat blasted out by those huge speakers attached to the starting arch.

Being slightly self-conscious of my clothing, (and beer belly), I kept my head low, and stuck to the back with my fellow accomplice, Kenny (ultra runner extraordinaire). The race emcee yells out for us to get closer to the starting arch. Easier said that done, as there was a 4-feet barrier separating the waiting pen, and the starting arch.

As I climbed over the barrier like a bear who just woke up from winter hibernation, it suddenly dawned on me that, shit just got real.


The event that has drawn me here is called a SPARTAN RACE. It’s a timed-based obstacle race of varying distance held all around the world. This would be my third foray into the obstacle race format, having done both Reebok, and Viper Challenge in 2015. In the following years since then, I have went on to do multiple Century Rides, Triathlons, Marathons, and even an Ultra Road race.

This time round, I signed up for the Spartan Sprint which comprised of a 5km run with 20+ obstacles at Sireh Park in the Iskandar Puteri region of Johor Bahru. The Race Director continued with his spirited speech, punctuated with screams of “AROOOOO!” from the participants, climaxing with the air horn signalling the start of the race! And what a start it was. The lead pack was sprinting from the get go, with everyone else hot on their heels.

As runners, both Kenny and I were in our element in the beginning of the race. We breezed through the first few obstacles, making short work of the smaller walls, the over and under, the hurdles and so on.

The trail was neat, well-marked, but ultimately felt very artificial. The course had a nice mixture of flats, short brutal uphill’s, with a few slippery descents thrown in.

We kept on running until we hit obstacle 6, the Spearman. This is one of the signature Spartan obstacle which requires the participant to throw a metal spear to a target. The spear must stick on the target for it to be considered a PASS. And we only got ONE try. I failed spectacularly, and was whisked to the burpee corner.

Now, if you’re not familiar with burpees, it repackages squats, push-ups, and jumping jacks into one little horror show. And for every obstacle you fail or skip, you would have to do 30 burpees. This felt like beginning of a VERY painful day. The next couple of obstacles started to wear down my fitness.

The Olympus obstacles, which constitutes carrying a 60 pound sand bag along a 300m slippery trail route was brutal. My back was killing me by the time I reached the end of the route, (which was on top of a hill!!).


I had to skip the Hercules Hoist, and Rope Climb obstacle as I had no idea how to accomplish them. The course designer seem to take pride in stacking obstacles that test the same muscle groups to exploit your weaknesses. And if you fail one, that meant more burpees. Good grief!! While I was in relatively good shape, logging in 30-40km of running per week, with the occasional long bike ride thrown in, I’d done nothing else to prepare for the race. Tons of people started overtaking me at this point.

Fast forward a few more obstacles, including a few wall climbs, a quad-bursting bucket carry up yet another hill, a short swim across muddy water, and here I was, so very close to the finish line. 

Crossing the 30 feet+ structure of the A Frame Cargo net obstacle, was definitely the highlight of the day for me, as I’m actually pretty terrified of heights. 

Ended the race with together my buddy Kenny by jumping across the final fire obstacle. All in all, I loved the experience very much. The organizers did a very good job on-site, although l did have some issue finding info from their website. Its horrible to have to scroll through multiple Facebook post to get the relevant race info.

Would I do it again? A most resounding YES. The Spartan Beast sounds really tempting now. 2018 is looking up to be a great year for racing.

More about the author

Zee Lim is middle aged paper-pusher who was bitten by the cycling bug during the early 2000s. Since then, he has ventured into long distance running, triathlons, obstacle racing, and even a brief stint in MMA. He looks forward to 2018, where he dreams of breaking his Personal Best in IRONMAN Malaysia.