Written by:Tara Cioppa
I raced Tahoe Spartan World Championships in 2015.
I was so excited to have a Spartan Race coin, and so, I set my goal as a top-20 masters and I qualified in that group!!!
But, I did not know there was a Lake Tahoe race on the second day…
I found out the day before the championship round and used a volunteer code to sign up. I flew all the way from New York to California; might as well. But the race in Tahoe was a battle against the elements that sucked the soul out of so many of us who toed the line that day.
It was mid 40’s on the mountain.
The wind was unbearable.
The river was indescribable.
And I don’t think there was a way to be prepared for it. I barely remember what went through my head after the dunk wall obstacle. Once out of the river, my body began to shut down. I knew that I had to finish- I mean, I did NOT fly to California to DNF at the Spartan World Championship. So, I started counting in my head, counting to One-Hundred as I ran. Then I started over.
But then I lost the ability to speak.
I crossed the finish line and was “swept up” by the medical team. While in the medical tent, I watched countless racers brought in as even more DNF’s appeared from hypothermia. There were so many tears that day. The team of medics worked hard to get me back to a stable point. I even remember looking down at my finishers medal- I was so relieved that I had it.
My heart hurt for all those shedding tears for their DNF’s. When I left the venue that night, I stopped in the med tent to thank the people that took care of me. I told them I was racing again the next day, but of course, they advised against it. However they said to let them know in the morning If I really was so they knew to keep tabs on me throughout the course.
At the crack of dawn the alarm went off.
I texted a friend who was already on the mountain.
Him:“ The air and the water are colder than yesterday. DON”T RACE .”
Me:“See you in an hour”.
That was mistake. OMG what was I doing?? Yesterday I prayed to die on the course but I knew I could not live with myself if I did not try. I grabbed 2 zip-lock bags, sealed them and stuffed them into my pack as I headed for the venue.
Lake Tahoe: Day 2
The race started off strong. I had a sense of confidence knowing the terrain and the order of the obstacles. And this time, I was neck and neck with another woman. She was a fire-fighter from Oklahoma and I found that to be very inspiring. We had broken away from the main group, but as we climbed the mountain, the wind was getting stronger and my hands were going numb.
The battle of mother nature was on.
We hit the dreaded river. I looked at the volunteer and confirmed the rule that everything that was on my person had to go through the obstacle, but it didn’t matter how right?. For example, shoes could be removed and put in your pack etc. He said yes. I pulled out the plastic bags and right then and there I did the unimaginable. I stripped to the bare necessities. Everything but undergarments. I put them in the ziplpock bag as the Course Marshall looked in disbelief and said “legal and creative !”
He asked what I was going to do with the bag. I put the bag in my teeth and began to swim the treacherous river of death. Funny, because the day before it had taken 200 strokes to complete the swim. This time, I blocked everything out by counting. I emerged from the river; shivering with cold. At the expense of 12 minutes to get dressed I was sure I had lost the lead. I took a Mylar blanket and punched a hole for my head and slipped it on and put my shirt over it. I was alive for now. But then the shutdown began.
My memory is fuzzy from there. I remember almost blacking out at one point. I vaguely heard another elite male tell them not to call medical. I don’t know who it was. He told me to get up and run with him. Somehow I did, and I eventually passed him. I was in a state of auto pilot. I remember hearing myself breathe but it didn’t sound right. I lost track of time. An eternity went by before I saw the final rig. I came upon it but I was barely able to stand.
I looked at the Spartan staff member, TJ Trevino, and saw him shake his head. I thought he meant to say he didn’t think I would make it across. Well I didn’t think so either. He was really saying you don’t have too but I had no way of knowing that at the time. I jumped up to the first rope . I barely held onto the second ring. My hands would not close and the shivering was like convulsions. And then I dropped to the ground .
I began burpees. 25…26…
…then another racer pointed out that I was on the wrong side. No camera! I had to start over. I could barely count. Now a total of 56 burpees later I had to cross the finish line. But I couldn’t get there. I tried to figure it out. But my body would not respond. A volunteer tried to intervene and call medical. My elite band was so muddy it was unrecognizable. But the finish line staff member thankfully stopped him and verbally coaxed me to CRAWL across finish line. It seemed forever till the medics got there. In reality they had already been called somewhere in the burpee-fest.
This revival took longer . there was talk of transporting me to a local hospital but I said no. I had a flight that night. I was eager to see if I placed. I wanted to check the results. Finally after an eternity I was released. I went to the results tent and there it was . First Masters. I was in shock because I thought for sure so many people passed me in the river. I never thought to look at the overall standings. I was just happy to be warm and alive!! I was told to go get some food and come back for awards. It was only at the awards when they actually called me up that I realized I had won the overall elite as well.
This was more than just about the actual victory. It was proof of a test of will power that I don’t think I had a year before, in my life before OCR. That trip to California was worth all the sacrifice that day. Although truth be told, I am not sure I would ever put my body through that again, and to this day I don’t care to swim in water less than 80 degrees!!