Spartan-Racing in Velvet Shoes

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

“Wearing my red three-quarter-length Akris red spring coat, my Josephine & Laurentina gray fur scarf over their fabulous black, thin-wool turtleneck, and Leggiadro gray wool stretch Capri pants with my favorite Stubbs & Wootton velvet shoes, I joined the other Lunatic to test my endurance. If they carried me out on a stretcher, at least I would be well dressed.”

I work out with Brooke Marrone, a personal trainer, twice a week. We have some rules. I can’t whine and I won’t sweat. No one who knows me would imagine that I would ever engage in any athletic event that required endurance or possible injury. I attended my first obstacle-endurance race this weekend—and learned more than I expected to about willpower.

Spartan racing is a relatively new sport (designed, the website declares, by “seven insane ultra-athletes and a Royal Marine” in 2005). It comprises obstacle races of various length, from Sprint to Death Race, in which a competitor traveling on foot must overcome various physical challenges. According to the Spartan Race Homepage, “An obstacle course race is designed to test your resilience, strength, stamina, quick decision making skills, and ability to laugh in the face of adversity. Our unique obstacle course trail races will demand every ounce of your strength, ingenuity, and animal instinct.” 

My stepson is a personal trainer in L.A. and has become a star Spartan racer.  He has participated in the sport’s three most grueling races—unique races that combine preparation, participation and spectator adulation—since shortly after he entered his first race on a dare approximately a year ago. He won the Mexican Spartan race on February 16, though he’d had no time to acclimate to the new altitude; he was first in a field of 6,300 competitors. One week ago, on April 6, he twisted his ankle badly while way out in front at Mile 6 in an 8 ½-mile race in Vegas—and ran through the pain to a real photo finish.

He came to New York last week to race in the first Reebok Spartan competition in Citi Field, home to the Mets, who were out of town for the day.  I examined his ankle last Monday and told him that the swelling and superficial bleeding looked really bad. I was certain that he couldn’t race. Then he was evaluated by Dr. James Wyss, a brilliant physiatrist who is a member of the Women’s Voices for Change Medical Advisory Board.  He diagnosed it as a type 1 ankle sprain and told me that this kind of ankle injury is less damaged than it looks. He sent the Spartan off to physical therapy with the Evelyn Hecht team, and The Husband rented an icing boot for him to use multiple times daily.  By Friday afternoon our Spartan had been pronounced fit to run.

The extended families gathered at 7:45 in the cold morning air of Citi Field, fortified by coffee from Starbucks. The competition began at 8 a.m., with the elite racers starting first, followed by multiple waves of contestants that lasted until nightfall. They wore the usual running gear (some of the males raced shirtless); some had war paint on their faces.

Our Spartan sprinted ahead and stayed out front throughout the entire race. At times we could not see him because he was performing the tests of endurance, agility, and strength in areas that were not visible to the crowd in the stadium seats. But then he would burst out of a door and speed up and down the stadium stairs, often carrying heavy burdens of sand and water.  When he ran unencumbered across the aisles, he was grace in motion.  His gait was like that of a racehorse that knew its strength and had found its purpose in life. He finished 3 minutes ahead of the next in line in a race that took him 25 minutes. This was his first win in a U.S. Spartan competition—and in his home town, with his family there. 

Pat's StepsonHe’s Number 1: The Stepson (right) at Citi Field.

The Husband was really “jacked” (as these people like to say) and quite puffed up about his son’s ability to do this competition. Soon I heard that his son and Miguel, another elite Spartan, were going to sneak The Husband, who at least was wearing athletic gear and appropriate shoes, into a wave of competitors. The Husband is 58 and takes six prescription drugs a day.  He is adorable, but has that apple shape associated with an increase in heart attacks. He does exercise, but not on this level.

 I had a famous fit. The Husband and the Spartan champion were determined that he could and would run this race.  I tried the “Well, I am leaving now and taking the car with me” trick.  Not working. Then I said, “Okay, if you are determined to have a heart attack, I will run this course and be there to resuscitate you.” My two sons began to berate me for lack of consideration, what could I be thinking AT MY AGE . . . a lifetime of inadequate mothering and . . . don’t get me started. 

So, wearing my red three-quarter length Akris red spring coat, my Josephine & Laurentina gray fur scarf over their fabulous black, thin wool turtleneck, and Leggiadro gray wool stretch Capri pants with my favorite Stubbs & Wootton velvet shoes, I joined the other Lunatic to test my endurance. If they carried me out on a stretcher, at least I would be well dressed.

The winner and his Spartan companion had no trouble getting us into a group, and we were told to run and undergo the obstacles at our own speed but to stay to the left in order to let the real competitors pass by.

The first obstacle course involved crawling under bungee bands and jumping over them in rapid succession. No one gave me any instruction, and soon I found my forehead on the concrete, my designer black sunglasses slightly askew. I had fallen only a short distance, since I fell trying to crawl under, not jump over, the bungee obstacle. My three cohorts were certain that I was done for, but they didn’t know the extent of my determination and stupidity.  I continued the course.

I avoided the rowing machine test and the elevation of 50 pounds of water to my shoulder while running up and down stairs, I avoided the dead lift of 30 pounds for women; climbing over an 8-foot wall; and the bunny hop, where the ankles are tied together and participants hop up and down six flights of stairs. I knew that these activities would put me in an ambulance.

About three-quarters of the way through the race, The Husband began to fade. His color was a nasty shade of gray and he was breathing too hard, with a pulse of 160. I made him take a rest, and then we started again. As we approached an obstacle called a pegboard, my stepson and his friend urged me to try it. When the videographers saw that a woman beautifully dressed was planning to walk across this wall without proper shoes, they were all over it. My two Spartans coached and supported me (as in holding me upright) while I finished that obstacle.

The next obstacle was spear-throwing. My effort in this part was much like my golf swing—not great distance but perfectly straight.  More running up and down stairs and across the aisles; then we entered the field for the first time to climb the cargo net.  It was 30 feet at a 45-degree angle up and down. I have a fear of heights.  But nothing was stopping me now. I was a SPARTAN.  I did climb up and down in my non-athletic shoes and was just thrilled with my achievement.

My calves were made of jelly by now, so I skipped the last obstacle, which involved jumping two feet up onto a wooden box and then down and back ten times. Then we began the run toward the finish line. Two large men had huge foam six-foot-long barbells that they were using to knock people off their feet as they came to the finish line. I said to the one aiming for me, “Don’t even think about touching me.” He didn’t.

I ran up to the finish line and a medal was hung around my neck for having completed the Spartan course. I also got a T-shirt that said ‘I finished the race.”

Pat Allen. SpartanShe thought she could: Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen at Citi Field.

The Sons were in a state of disbelief.  (As were my father-in-law and several other family members). At this point I was told that I was bleeding from an abrasion above my left eyebrow from the fall earlier in the race. I knew before I started that I would complete the course, except for the tests of strength; I knew that I would protect The Husband; but I did not know how pleased I would be to have become a new Spartan racer.

The next race is in Indiana on April 22.  I have another commitment or I would be there.  Lucky for those of you who would have lost to me. 


After the race, the family celebrated at a steak house. Dr.  Allen with her son’s son who is “reading” the menu to his battered and bruised “Coco.”  

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  • Abigail Congdon May 17, 2013 at 8:06 am

    What a fun and very touching story not only of partnership and loyalty but also of stepping outside our comfort zones. I loved reading this and will look for my own opportunities to surprise myself! Just wonderful Pat! Thank you! Abigail

  • eileen zazzali April 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Way to go, “Coco”. Your Spartan surge is right up there with Ginger, in her sky-high heels and flowing gown, dancing backwards with Fred!

  • Gail Candlin April 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Not surprised at the velvet running shoes….since knowing you in the days of the Chanel Lab coat! Great article!

  • Toni April 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Can not believe you did this!!!

  • hilda hutcherson April 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Bravo! Thanks, Pat, for giving me a new goal!

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson April 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

    What an experience! Thanx for sharing your ups & downs in style!

  • Marcia Kupferberg. April 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Dr. Pat. You Rock!!!! And you are the best doc!!! And you look fabulous.

  • larysa bemko April 16, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Absolutely the best!!!!! I nominate you for the Role Model of the Century!

  • Andrea April 16, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I absolutely loved this article!! You go Dr Pat!! We love you in your fabulous outfit – giving it your all!! Btw stepson very cute!!! You are my hero! Xoxox

  • Ellen Flamm April 16, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I’m impressed!!

    Hugs, Ellen