Last September, I attended the Spartan Race World Championships in North Tahoe Lake, Olympic Village, California, under the impression that I’d be covering the event in conjunction with the watch brand Luminox, which is the official timekeeper and watch sponsor of Spartan and was celebrating the release of the new Spartan-branded watch.

I thought I was headed there to interview athletes, check out the sites, and get an idea for what this Spartan thing is all about. Well, within 24 hours I found myself at the starting line of the 13.5-mile Beast race, decked out in race gear, a guy built like Leonidas from 300 shouting “AROOH-AROOH” at the top of his lungs. I was out of my element. Turns out that the “optional VIP obstacle course race” listed at the bottom of my press invite was really not optional (unless I made a big fuss, of course…but that’s not me), and that the VIP obstacle course race was the pro-level course.

Admittedly, I freaked myself out a little. I’m 210 pounds and train like a strongman, lifting heavy weights for not a ton of reps. I eat every two hours, and the last time I ran a mile was in high school gym class. I’ve never once entertained a 5k—let alone a freakin’ half-marathon with a 3,000-foot gain and a total elevation of 9,000 feet.

The race took me just over six hours to finish. Along the way—and in between barbed wire crawls and plunging into a sub-40 degree pond—I got a lot of thinking done. My mind wandered from thoughts of “why the f%$k am I doing this,” to, “man, my job is pretty cool,” as I took in the beautiful views of Squaw Valley, back to “WHY THE F$@K AM I DOING THIS?” I wish I trained for this thing. So after I got back, I reached out to Spartan’s Director of Sport & Training Initiatives, Joe DiStefano, to see what I could’ve done better.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation—roped into doing an obstacle course race by a group of friends last minute or you’re overcome with the desire to try one out—these tips are for you. And be sure to embrace the experience. Even though I was exhausted and irritated, wet and muddy, finishing that race was one of the mentally hardest and rewarding things I’ve done. Will I ever run a Spartan Race again? Eh, maybe. But if I do, I know I’ll be better prepared.