A bit of context (for those who don’t know me yet): I’m a 27 French part-time PT & SGX Coach, living in Singapore. I also happen to be a 5″2, 43kg individual.
The Sarawak’s HH12hrs (HH12MY001) was my 3rd Hurricane Heat. I took part in 3hrs & 4hrs editions in Singapore in 2018 and 2019.
I wrote these lines on the Monday morning that followed the HH weekend– the day after the event and I hadn’t managed to get much sleep yet. I wanted – or rather needed – to write about my experience while the memories were still vivid, and before having taken the time to really think about it.
All photo credits: Abyss.life – Thanks for following us all night!
I know that many readers won’t understand “why” 34 individuals would voluntarily spend a night like the one I’m about to describe – and even less, why would they pay for it.
We all have a very personal reason to do it, and of course, it’s not for everyone. I’ve seen people register and give up, and I can not blame them: it’s draining both physically and mentally, and participants often end up in the darkest corners of their own head. It’s a very unique experience though.
Hurricane Heats are events organized by Spartan Race, under the branch “Extreme Endurance“, and that are nothing like traditional Spartan Races.
The duration and format may vary, but some factors would never change:
They aren’t technically “races” – there is no distance to cover (you will find out only once you have done it), no finishing line, no glory. There are points to be earned, either individually or as a team – get enough of them and you’re entitled to “graduate”. They usually won’t tell you how many you need though – you play without knowing all of the rules, and it means you need to decide first on how much you are ready to put in.
They are supervised by Krypteias – people who are the ones in charge of giving instructions, counting points & testing limits of the “students” – they make sure you stay outside of your comfort zone, which is by all means necessary (and yes, it might imply they may not be nice to you and you may be shouted at).
Finally, most challenges are deliberately absurd and incredibly difficult: you’ll have to lift heavy things, crawl in the mud, run back and forth – and repeat the whole thing hundreds of times, without any rational reason – you’ll be given orders to which you’ll simply obey (although, most of us wouldn’t accept senseless orders in real life).
Learning is also a part of the journey, but you only learn as much as you’re willing to put in, I guess.
There are only 3 ways that the event ends for each of the participants:
- Medical or voluntary drop out (DNF – Did Not Finish)
- Time cap for the whole event, without having gathered the necessary number of points (DNG, or Did Not Graduate)
- Time cap for the whole event, having gathered enough points, in which case you “Graduate”.
There’s no other option, and it’s part of the initial pressure.
Now that you (sort of) understand the concept, here’s my views on HH12MY001 – unfiltered, and pretty raw.
Gearing Up Before the Storm
Unlike a normal race, there are a lot of things to be thought through before the D-Day. There’s a mandatory Gear List – which includes the military standard items like paracord, tape, compass, knife etc., some dead weight (here, 8kg for ladies, 12kg for men), and always some special items – 2 red bricks for HH12MY001’s Event. My deadweight of choice was liquid cement flattened in the bag – sometimes you gotta get creative with that stuff.
Add this to 4L of water & ‘food’ (energy bars, gels, gummy bears) – my bag weighed about 23kg – and I had an anxiety attack the first time I tried it on in my hotel room before the event. You could say I’m quite petite and the perspective of carrying a bag half my weight for 12hrs was just petrifying.
Here comes the storm.
The start time was 7 pm, and it was expected to run until 7 am the next day. A sleepless night in the jungle, with 33 other participants – you can’t really prepare for this in any way.
We gather at the meet-up point. There are some familiar faces, seen before at Spartan races or during HH, and quite a lot of new ones. I know for a fact that we won’t remain strangers for long, as we’d need to collaborate and get to know each other very soon.
I am the youngest, it seems. The tiniest too.
It’s time to get ready – we hand out our waivers, get our dead weights checked and weighted.
We’re nervously joking around – we know we signed up for something that makes no sense to most people, and yet, here we are, waiting together for the “storm” to come.
The event begins with a briefing: a quick presentation of the Krypteias in charge, a vague summary of what’s going to happen (spoiler: there was literally no info in there) and a reminder of the values & learnings we’re supposed to get from the event.
They are represented by the “Warrior Ethos” – 4 sentences that we will spend the night repeating out loud in chorus (well, ‘shouting out’ is probably a more appropriate term)
I will always place the mission first
I will never accept defeat
I will never quit
I will never leave a fallen comrade
We’ve got our bricks, we’ve got our gear & bags, we’ve got our headlamps and reflective vests on since it’s getting dark already. Let’s begin.
The first 6 hours.
I think you never fully understand the value of time before having to do anything for 12 hours in a row. You wouldn’t accept to party or lay down on the beach for 12 hours straight if you knew there was no way out.
The “warm-up” part (a section called “Battle Ready”) is pretty easy – I’m relatively fit and well trained, being an SGX Coach & personal trainer myself. Some PT-styled exercises (squats with bricks, push-ups, etc.), some running, nothing too scary – I feel great.
We also learn a traditional technique of Borneo, the Malaysian region where the race is taking place: how to shoot arrows with a blowpipe, on targets. It’s relatively easy, we’re still fresh and the night hasn’t settled in completely yet. They warn us: we’ll need to remember how to do that ‘technique’ later on.
To check that all of us have every item on the gear list right, Krypteias make us unpack and repack our stuff a dozen times. All of the equipment needs to be easily accessible and organized in a sensible manner. I learned by the past events that you need to be in control of whatever you can actually control – unforeseen shit will happen anyway, and the more prepared you are, the faster & the better you can react to it.
In one of the front rows, I can see Olga, a friend from Singapore and a fellow SGX coach. We spent hours talking about the best bag to get, and here we are – standing there with 23 kg loaded in those bags ‘of choice’. We’re joking aloud as we promised to try & keep smiling until the end.
The challenge that comes next, called “Movement Under Fire”, takes a violent toll on the participants’ mental composure. Try picturing a meandering route, covered in thick mud, rocks and pebbles. I can’t remember the actual distance, but can recall the moment they indicated where the halfway point was, I thought, “This is shit and this is way too long.” Maybe 50 meters.
We are given a partner, and we have to tape one of our hands together with duct tape. Then we are told to Bear Crawl all the way to the halfway point and back. If we can make it back within 40 mins, we get 2 points, within 50mins, we get only one – 0 point otherwise.
I don’t know what’s the hardest part: the idea of doing something painful and repetitive tied to a stranger, not knowing how long it will take, or doing all of this with a 25kg backpack on.
We get started anyway. I’m now wrapping black tape around the wrist of a pretty frail girl, Alison, who does not really know what she signed up for. It is her first HH, and obviously, she wasn’t expecting any of that. The bear crawl part really hurts, and I have to cheer her up when she slows down – partially because I’m a bit worried for her, but also because my points depend on her will and effort, and vice versa. I try to keep my hand under hers, so the rocks stop cutting her hand open. We were chatting when we started, but now, she’s silent.
34 min later, we’re done, and we receive 2 straws each. I am trying to get rid of the tape using my knife with my hands still shaking, and it slides pretty deeply in my thumb. My heart beats too fast, the blood starts flowing, and I see it dripping on my bag. I try to calmly call for help. Someone rinses it with water, and a participant and a volunteer help me cover it (all with just the light from our headlamps). I would probably have fainted in any other conditions, but that just wasn’t a good time.
I’m stuffing my face with some cereal bar when they tell us it was just the first part. We have to go the exact same route again but this time in Crab Walk, with a new partner tied to one of our ankles. This is the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.
It sounds slightly easier, but we realize quite fast it just sucks as much. The weight of the bags drags our butts down, our elbows and wrists have to support us. My new partner is a bit older – and she’s in pain. It takes us forever, our shoulders and backs are killing us – but Olga starts singing some random songs, and we sing along.
49 minutes later, we cross the finish line and earn only 1 point. The team that arrives right after us gets none, and I begin to realize how long the night will be. It’s only 11 pm.
The next event, “Seek and Salvage” is a team challenge, and I volunteer to be the team lead of 10 strangers. I’ve recently learned to use a compass, and it seems it was a useful skill to get: we’re supposed to go to the jungle carrying a tire and following instructions given in bearings, to get something, and come all the way back. We were asked to choose a Team leader (we got three teams formed), and I get appointed as the one for my team, Olga is also leading her team, and I know she’ll do a fantastic job.
My team is rather fragile. Most of them are friends from before and signed up on a whim. They have no intrinsic motivation, no will to challenge themselves – they just wanted to have fun, and quite obviously, they aren’t having fun at all. I smile to myself, thinking of the beers they should have been drinking instead of listening to the instructions of a tiny red-haired girl in the jungle at night.
We complete the challenge without any major issue – we bring back the tire & some concrete blocks we found up there back to the base camp. On the way, the team spirit is starting to build, and we are now singing and cheering together. We all earn 1 point.
You need 4 points to get a brick, which you must carry with you afterward adding to the total weight – but every brick is a step toward graduation. My bag then gets a bit heavier, and for the very first time, it makes me happy.
We have half an hour to recover, as our team was the first to come back. I do my best to have a chat with everyone, asking how they feel, why they’re here. I remember the people who talked to me during my first HH, and the difference they made. If no one knows you, you feel like you can give up, and no one will notice. But if someone learns your name, knows your face & your story, then you become part of the team, and you do everything you can to push through.
Everything hurts. One of our teammates is falling asleep now – others are opening and sharing bags of nuts. It’s past midnight, and I start feeling really cold. I dig in my bag, take out a jacket, eat some cereal bar and chug some energy gels – does not really make much difference and I am still shivering. I go for a run to warm myself up. It is a dark night, and apart from our group, and our reflective vests, there is nothing to see around.
The 6 hours that followed.
The next event, “Obstacle Assault” is individual and takes place on the actual Spartan race course. We’re shown a circuit of 6 obstacles – A-frame, slip wall, Hercules Hoist, Multi Rigs, Rope Climb & Spear Throw. We must run from obstacle to obstacle with the bags on, put the bags down, pass the obstacle (or do 30 burpees penalty), and resume running. Each loop completed gets us 1 point.
That was probably my favorite part – I’m decently good at obstacles, being a regular Spartan racer. The few bits of optimism I’ve got left tell me it would also be very good training for my upcoming races.
It’s 3am on my watch – it feels like this damn clock is stuck. We’re not told how long the event will last for, so we go for a loop, get our point, and go back again. And again. And again.
I don’t really know when I started losing my mind, but I’m now singing & mumbling to myself – none of it makes sense.
From somewhere further, I can hear Olga exploding with joy: she managed to score her very first spear throw. I’m proud of her.
After my 5th lap, my grip weakens and my strength is gone – I miss the Hercules Hoist once, and I start crying. On the next lap, I miss the last ring of the multi-rig, and from that point, I won’t stop crying at all. I still manage to get my 2nd ‘award’ brick, which brings my bag back to its initial weight. I don’t feel anything anymore.
Then a new team challenge, “Raise the Flag” starts. There are 32 weights on the Hercules Hoist, and we are now 33 participants. We need to get all of the weights up to the top, and keep them there for 10 minutes straight (with zero gap allowed between the very top and the weight bag). Everyone is exhausted, some want to give up, refusing to put the slightest effort in. A lot of frustration surfaces now, and we can’t coordinate. I guess you see who people really are when they get too far away out of their comfort zone.
We waste a lot of energy and an hour and a half – we run out of time. I tried, most of us tried, but some simply gave up mid-way through the challenge – and no one gets any points. People are swearing, some have really badly ripped blisters on their hands. It’s 5am, I think.
Then, we go for a run. Jogging skills of the participants are uneven, and it’s hard to stick together as a group and ‘close up’ all the gaps between the people, but no one complains anymore. It lasts for maybe half an hour, and the sun starts to rise, the sky turns pink and blue, and it’s beautiful.
The supervisors then get us in line, and we recite the warrior Ethos for what seems to be the 100th time. They have water hoses, and point them in our faces. I would have probably found it rather humiliating, if I wasn’t finding it so funny. After the night spent crawling in the mud, the fresh water on my cheeks feels very good.
Our last chance to get points in an event called “Go for Glory”. An individual challenge as well, with a circuit including more running, push-ups, burpees, jump squats, mountain climbers … and the blowpipe & arrows – the technique we had learned what seemed to be ages ago, at the very beginning.
I have completely run out of energy, and I am now dragging my body and my bag from one station to another. Every push-up tears my shoulders apart, every jump lunge rips my thigh off. After several rounds, I get my 3rd brick, and I keep going. I am mechanically counting the burpees I’ve done since the start, just to focus on something else than the pain. 350. I hear someone saying ‘I’ve done at least 500!’.
And all of a sudden, it’s over.
The sound of a whistle blasts out, and we are called to gather at the base. We’re done. Probably the weirdest feeling ever.
Those who earned 3 or more bricks graduate. That’s about half of the participants. The others are considered “DNG”, and won’t receive a medal. They have suffered, learned, and pushed through the event – they just didn’t get enough points.
The Krypteias address the final speech, reminding us that one can’t win every time. That we need to stay humble, to keep learning. We then proceed to the Award ceremony.
I get in line and receive my medal, it’s 7:30 in the morning. I’m shaking, disoriented, exhausted and hysterical. We take some group pictures, fall into each other’s arms. On every muddy face, a smile is back. Some tears as well.
I’m going for a shower, wandering in the now lively race village, packed with athletes getting ready for the Beast Race. But our ‘race’ is over.
What is there to take out from this?
I said that before, but all have a very personal reason to sign up and push through. Some might want to test their physical or mental limits, experience the pain we spend our lives avoiding. For others, there may also be a need to confront absurdity and find out how they react to it. What is life, apart from a succession of random events? We perpetually have to deal with unforeseen & complex situations, go through hard times sometimes, and if we know ourselves well enough to understand how we react under pressure, when afraid, or in pain, we can make better decisions, if you ask me.
My very own reason? It makes me feel alive. The pain, the adrenaline, the stress.
I have a very busy life, but most of it is routine, and being (quite violently) pulled out of my comfort zone makes me feel more alive than anything else.
Of course, I learn a lot every time I take part in an HH: I’m better at getting myself organized, managing my emotions, leading others & following instructions. I somehow made pain my friend, and do my best now to help others deal with theirs.
During HH12MY001, I suffered from cold, hunger, dehydration and exhaustion. I have wounds & bruises everywhere, my entire body is sore from fingers to toes. I might not be able to sleep well for a while, but recovery is part of the process.
Every Hurricane Heat touches something deep inside of me. Because it’s nonsensical and unnecessary, because it hurts and it’s a step above my physical abilities – it helps me get stronger, both physically and mentally. It highlights the gaps, the weaknesses, and I know what to work on next.
I was more prepared this time than ever before, and I’ll train as much as possible to make the next one a bit easier again.
Of course, there will be a next time. I don’t want to think of it now. First, I need to clean up my bag from the cement that has eventually spilled inside, probably get a glass of wine and give myself some time to reflect.
Then I’ll sign up again.