We’ve been told that the Spartan H3X date and locations for 2020 will be announced soon, leaving many of us impatiently waiting on the edge of our seats for the big announcement that will decide our fates for next year. Maybe it hasn’t yet piqued your interest because you have no idea what an H3X is. Maybe you’ve been deterred by its concept because it seems so infeasible and out of your comfort zone. Maybe you believe this type of event just isn’t for you because you’re more comfortable racing and competing as an individual. Whatever reason there is for you to not have the H3X on your race calendar for next year (which I assume many of you have already started organizing), I’m here to explain why this is something not only achievable, but almost necessary in your obstacle course racing journey. Maybe hearing a little about my experience at my first H3X last August will give you some knowledge and insight that will boost your confidence and push you to sign up.

Photo Courtesy of Krypteia Patrick Mies II

What is the H3X?

The H3X isn’t just a Hurricane Heat (HH); it’s three, all in one event. You start with the 4-hour HH. You can then choose to call it quits or continue and complete the 12-hour, and then finally the 24-hour. What makes this event unique is that the exact same event is held at various locations around the world at the same time. All the locations do the same obstacles and challenges, so the group at one location is essentially competing against the groups at all the other locations.

It’s a special experience knowing that there are others across the globe suffering right alongside you. One of the more challenging aspects of the H3X is the mystery of it. This is something you go into blind. You have no idea what tasks you will have to complete, what distance you will travel, or who you will be grouped with. All you know is the location at which to meet, and you are given a mandatory gear list and a specific amount of weight that you must carry on your back. This is not a race, and you must work as a team in order to succeed. Upon completion, you receive a finisher shirt, a dog tag, and a medal and/or patch depending on what they have. Completing all three tiers of the event gets you an H3X Trifecta.

My Experience

Hopefully, you’re still with me, and I haven’t lost you at the mention of doing anything for 24 hours, or the idea of not having a clue what you’ll have to do for that length of time. This past year, I decided I wanted to attempt a 4-hour HH. The one I found in Barre, MA was close to where I live, and just so happened to be the H3X. Once I found out I could do only the 4-hour, I made that my goal and signed up. Upon receiving the mandatory gear list, I found out that the added-weight requirement for the women was 35 pounds, which is apparently heavier than the requirement for a regular 4-hour HH. Furthermore, those 35 pounds were in addition to all the other gear we had to bring, plus our fuel and hydration.

Honestly, the walk from the car to the registration and then to the starting area broke me down. My pack weighed in at 50 pounds with everything in it, and with myself weighing 110 pounds, I felt like my back was going to break in half, and I knew that there was no way I’d last four hours.  The only thing giving me hope was that I was assigned #17 at registration, which is my lucky number. My first impression in the starting area was that this was a more military-style challenge. There was a lot of yelling, and everything had to be just right and uniform.

I also noticed how there were some HH veterans helping all the newbies, and I immediately made connections with those close by in our single-file lines. Two people showed up without any gear or added weight, and somehow the rest of the group came together with their extras and got them everything they needed. We were working as a team before the event officially started, and you could already feel a strong sense of community and camaraderie.

The American flag patch that kept me going, and my 4-hour finisher patch

About 30 minutes after the event began (though we had already been filling up sandbags and setting up for almost an hour prior), I broke down. I told myself there was no way I could carry that 50 pounds for 4+ more hours, and I didn’t want to hurt myself. I planned my exit strategy and approached one of the Krypteia (our leaders) and explained in tears that I wasn’t cut out for this and that I had to go home. He convinced me to stay just a little longer because I would really enjoy the next task. He then, unknowingly to me, spoke with one of the other participants, who approached me as I was huddled and crying over my much-too-heavy pack.  He handed me a patch of the American flag and told me that he, too, tried to quit at the beginning of his first Hurricane Heat, but they didn’t let him, and he finished it. He gave me the patch and told me that if I was going to quit, I would have to come find him and give him the patch back. I was in awe, but wondering how I’d ever be able to find him, in the dark, in the midst of 72 people. You see, I still had no intention of staying.

I don’t want to get into too much detail about the actual challenges we faced in the next few hours, as I’d like to keep that mystery alive. What I can tell you is that I finished and did what I was sure I was incapable of doing, with the help of some of the kindest, selfless people I have ever met. The Krypteia called me out as we all made our two single-file lines at the end of the 4-hour, and yelled out, “Where’s number 17?” I raised my hand and he announced to everyone that I had tried to quit, but was still standing, and everyone applauded. It was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life. I then had the honor of watching brave souls step forward and continue to the 12-hour heat before I went home. I found out the next day that 12 people went the whole way and completed the 24 hours. They were called the Dirty Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen. Photo Courtesy of 24-Hour H3X Finisher Rob Michalski

Why This Event is for You, Even if You Still Don’t Think it is

For those of you who didn’t know what the H3X was all about, now you do. For those of you who have felt like you’re better off sticking with the regular races where you have a course map, a vague idea of the distance you’ll be running, and don’t have to rely on anyone but yourself, I beg you to reconsider. I was you last year. I have never done well with relying on others or working with a team. It requires a completely different mindset.

I can tell you from my experience, however, that sharing this unique experience with complete strangers is life-changing and absolutely uplifting. I made new friends, with whom I have connected through social media and Facebook groups since. For those of you who doubt yourselves and find a goal like this to be unattainable, think of this: didn’t you doubt yourself before you did your first obstacle course race? Didn’t certain obstacles scare you? Didn’t you fail certain obstacles in the past which you have since successfully completed? I think it’s safe to assume that one of the things we love about OCR, and training for it, is the feeling of accomplishment when we do something we didn’t think we could. When you face a challenge head-on and conquer it. Take that feeling and magnify it. That is what you will feel after completing the Spartan H3X. You CAN do it. So get out of your comfort zone, and stay on the lookout for next year's date.

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