What is Agoge? Agoge is a world where there’s no “my X hurts too much”, no “I give up” and certainly no “I can’t do this”. Agoge is no sleep, no time to eat, and the goal-posts constantly changing. To survive, you need to give it your everything. If you have extra to give, you give it to the team. If you don’t have enough, you better hope your team can pick you up and drag you where you need to be. “I can’t” simply doesn’t exist. We were told to survive on Skye we would have to be resilient, tough, inventive, humorous, self-sufficient, waterproof, patient and lucky.
Agoge: 60-hour event that builds physical, tactical, mental, and team-based strength through training, testing, and evaluation.
The Spartan Agoge brings together every physical and mental strength as well as everything a person has learned in life. Finishers become innovative thinkers, prudent risk-takers, and expert decision-makers. They will embody the Spartan Code, a code of honor and respect that breeds trust and inspires action. Most importantly, they become masters of themselves.
Thursday August 17th, 1700 – the pre-event meeting; the day before the event starts, but we’ve been told to arrive “event ready”. It certainly looked like it was show-time.
Overlooked by the imposing Skye mountains, facing one of the many beautiful lochs, it all came down to three key competency tests that decided whether all the effort and financial sacrifice was going to have been worth it. Test 1: navigation – find a grid reference and find the bearing to a landmark. Test 2: the four knots we’d been told to learn (clove hitch, double fisherman, pass through figure of 8 and alpine butterfly). Test 3: waterproofing – a 10 minute submersion of your ruck (rucksack) in the loch – if any of your kit items were compromised, you failed. No second chances. All while Joe de Sena makes us do 300 synchronised burpees, of course.
Was your Agoge over before it started? Nerves were high as people frantically practiced their knots, dashed to hear people explaining the basics of map reading (and the not-so-basics too, as we didn’t know what the test would involve), and checked through their kit in the 30 minutes allowed for any last minute tweaks and learnings.
Almost unbelievably, around half of the 83 people fail at one of these tests. For most, nerves simply got the better of them. The submersion test proved to be the most brutal, many already realising their fate without even opening their rucks – an increase in weight and sopping packs were tell-tale signs that their Agoge was over. Many pleaded, but Race Director Karl Allsop had the final word and was giving no flexibility when it came to safety. Harsh? Yes. Fair? Almost certainly. Having now done the event, I can understand why these regulations were so strict.
I was relieved to be in the group that had made it through the three tests. We were assembled and told by Charles Piso (retired law enforcement Crisis Negotiator, and Head of Agoge events at Spartan Race) to get “event ready”. Head torches were on (by this point it was around 10pm), walking poles out, layers on, and rucks ready. For what, we didn’t know. In fact, we would be heading to the grid reference from the navigation test – Elgol Jetty, 0400. We could get there by any means necessary, which was good as it was 40 miles away! The £20 note from the kit list now made sense.
Day 1: Kit Check at the Jetty
I was happy that I could make use of the hotel room i’d booked, even just for an hour or two. Wild camping in gale force winds the night before wasn’t the best prep for a 60-hour endurance event. As I arrived at Elgol jetty, dark shapes of Spartans could be seen stood in the thrashing rain.
My futile attempt to dry my wet boots and socks (from standing in the loch for the submersion test hours ago) proved to be even more futile as the rain came down hard. Next up: kit check. We were lined up and asked to produce from our rucks each piece of the extensive kit list, one by one. Certain items were taken from us (including webbing, paracord, carabiners), I didn’t give it much thought, I was just happy to lose some of the weight from my back. During kit check, we were occasionally treated to some warming hill repeats, or burpees, squats, and press ups. I had no watch and quickly lost an awareness of the time of day, but by the time kit check was completed, the sun had risen, Joe de Sena had arrived and the incredible Cuillin Hills were in full view across the water. It was almost time for the Agoge to actually begin.
Read the rest in Obstacle Race Magazine in a two part feature.