Spartans chase glory in Washougal

Robert Killian crawls through the barbed wire section Saturday. After winning the elite men's race, the 2015 World Champion helped military veterans from the Bravo Company complete their first Spartan Race.

A Spartan Race in Washougal is not complete without going down this water slide. It's an optional obstacle, and a great way for competitors to celebrate crossing the finish line.

More than 6,000 men and women were crowned Spartans Saturday, at Washougal Motocross Park.

Master of Ceremonies JJ O’Malley saw a double amputee on the front line, a 72-year-old warrior and a mother, who was running this 4.2-mile, 24-obstacle sprint for the first time on a dare by her son.

“You could tell there were a lot of first-timers out here, and that’s really cool to see,” O’Malley said. “You feel the nerves and the energy at the starting line. Everybody is excited to experience something out of their comfort zone.”

“You see all walks of life,” O’Malley added. “That’s the most impressive thing.”

Robert Killian, a U.S. Army Green Beret, who still serves part time in the Colorado National Guard, won the elite men’s race in 36 minutes. This was his first time competing in Washougal.

“It was a ton of fun. The course was nonstop,” Killian said. “You’d be going up a hill, down a hill, attack an obstacle and just hit repeat as fast as you could go for a half hour.”

Killian won the Spartan World Championship in 2015 and finished in third place in 2016. He’s got his eyes on the U.S. Championships Saturday, in West Virginia, and then another World Championship, Sept. 30, in Lake Tahoe, California.

While the rest of the field went out faster than he anticipated in Washougal, Killian kept his composure and focused on having a stronger second half of the race. The “gauntlet of obstacles” and “gnarly terrain” were just the type of challenges he was seeking.

“Literally when you put the bucket down, you walk another 100 feet, and then you’ve got a sandbag to carry,” Killian said. “Probably the worst for me is you got the spear throw right at the end, so it’s on your mind the entire race. Am I going to lose this in the last 20 feet if I can’t hit the target? But it turned out well. I nailed it and didn’t fail any obstacles.”

Killian said he also enjoyed the community of athletes and camaraderie on the course. Killian ran through the obstacles a second time with the Bravo Company military veterans team. He helped members struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder overcome their fears, make new friends and work together to complete a Spartan Race.

“We’re not trying to solve a lot of the issues you see with PTSD with medication. You have to get out here and meet people and make those breakthroughs,” Killian said. “It was a good time. We didn’t leave anybody behind. We help each other over the obstacles. You have people who are going to need that help to get through. I don’t think they would be able to do that on their own. So, we’re out here working as a team.”

Killian’s favorite part of the day was running with Bravo. That was more important to him than any individual victory.

“Just going out there and being able to help people through the obstacles, and seeing the joy on their faces when they actually complete them,” he said. “Knowing that I actually contributed in some way to that joy is probably the biggest takeaway.”

Before sending the Spartans into battle, O’Malley delivered a motivational speech every 15 minutes with precision and passion.

“Even though I’ve given that speech thousands of times, there are people standing in that gate who are about to step out of their comfort zone, and they’ve never heard it before,” he said. “I feed off the crowd’s energy. If I hear them start to get excited, it just makes me want to put that much more passion into it.”

O’Malley’s favorite aspect of Spartan Race is seeing people change before his eyes — from start to finish.

“You see somebody out here who’s extremely nervous. You can see it on their face how much they’re scared,” O’Malley said. “When you see them at the finish line, they’re all muddy and bruised up, but they’ve got the biggest smile on their face. That kind of explains it all.”