So you've signed up for your first Spartan Race and you're thinking this will be another fun obstacle race like Tough Mudder or True Grit? Maybe you're thinking this will be a good challenge for yourself and you want to see if you can get through it. Whatever you have in your mind that got you to sign up for this crazy event, you are not ready. Spartan race is unlike any other obstacle race out there, they claim to be the hardest and I would have to agree. It combines the hardest terrain with the heaviest carries and the coldest water. For anyone that enters there is a 30 burpee penalty for any obstacle that is failed from 1st attempt. 30 burpees might seem ok when you think about it, but when you are tired these are devastating, especially when you keep failing obstacles.
With my experience with Spartan Racing I have come up with 7 tips to help you get through your first Spartan Race or obstacle race, to give this thing your best shot at completing your first one.
But first let me tell you about my experience with my first Spartan Race in Ottawa on June 30, 2012. My best friend and roommate at the time was searching for some event for us to do because we had just got into running. It was Ottawa's first Spartan Race and it was the 21.1km beast! At the time I was excited and registered for it right away, determined with a goal, I was unstoppable. My training at the time was barely being able to complete a 5km run and doing regular gym weight training almost everyday. I have always been into weights but running was completely new. Leading up to the event my distance got longer and longer until one day I decided to run home from work. I was working as a mechanic at a Mazda dealership 15km away from home. After working an 8 hour day, I put on my run gear and went for it. This one my first really long run and I wasn't even sure if I could make it, I kept a steady pace and ended up getting home in just over an hour. I still felt like I could keep running, my confidence was high and I was ready to run this Spartan Race.
When June 3o came I was ready, all the training was done, it was time to put my body and mind to the test. Things started to get real when we arrived at Mont Ste-Marie, I started to realise I was in for some trouble. At this point I had no idea what Spartan Race was all about, didn't know the obstacles, the terrain, the endurance needed, or the competition, all I knew there was a 30 burpee penalty for failing anything. Looking up at this ski mountain, it was all unknown, just go for it and deal with whatever comes, all I was saying to myself was "I will not quit."
Once our wave took off, it was straight up the mountain, this was crazy, only doing flat road runs left me completely wrecked when it came to climbing the steep hill side. The race continued straight up and straight down for the remainder of the run. The turning point for me was when I made it to the 3rd drink station and the water was all gone. There was an endless wasteland of those huge water jugs, I searched and searched but couldn't find anything. With the crazy heat and over 3 hours in I was clearly dehydrated, losing control of my body, not sweating anymore, quads starting to cramp hard going downhill. I came to a river crossing in the trail and started drinking from that, at that point I didn't care, I could drink anything. At the bottom of the second hill I could see the 4th water station, but first I had to cross the balance beam and potentially do 30 burpees. Burpees at that point would have killed me so I must have sat there to recover for about 15 min until I was ready to test my balance. I made it across and ran for the water, as soon as the water hit my lips I instantly started to vomit. I had more water and the same thing happened. They had some candy there for us to help replenish carb stores but that caused me to vomit some more. I sat there for another 30min until I could drink some water and eat a little. I didn't know at the time that puking during exercise causes severe dehydration so I continued on with the obstacle race. I asked one of the volunteers how long I had to go and he said 2km, 2km I thought I can do this, later I realised they were lying and there was still 6km. This was a blessing in disguise because I probably would have quit if I knew the truth. Looking around before I went up the last hill and there were truck loads of people that were giving up and being brought back to the finish. Walking up this mountain that went up as far as I could see, I had people beside me stopping and saying "screw this I'm done" and started walking back down to get a ride out. With my body severely dehydrated the last and most difficult hill took me the longest. I would walk 3-4 steps up, fall over and lay in the grass, get up walk 3-4 steps, and lay in the grass. This continued all the way up the hill, the hill was so high that I could not see the top. After 6 hours 23 minutes and 58 seconds I crossed the finish line, I sat down and teared up - this was my hardest achievement in my whole life. I managed to finish with no burpees and a strong feeling that I can do anything I put my mind to.
With that in mind here is my 7 tips to give you the preparation that I never had.
Spartan is known for having their events in the toughest locations. Hills, hills hills. This will always be tough and take you by surprise if you're not prepared. Approach the hills nice and easy leaning forward slightly and staying on the balls of your feet. This will use the calves instead of the quads and not have you completely gassed at the top.
Find a hill that takes 40-60 sec to run up, go easy back down, and complete 10 push ups, 15 squats, and 20 jumping lunges. Take a one min break to recover and go again, repeat this 8-10 times. This will simulate obstacles and hills together to better prepare your body.
This is one unforgiving penalty that can make or break a race. 30 burpees for any obstacle that is not completed, usually on first attempt. I have made it through many Spartan Races burpee free and many with multiple fails, the difference between burpees and no burpees is everything. One example of this is one of my closest races during True Grit Night Attack in
Adelaide 2016. I was in first place with Jim Delderfield (ocr athlete & Ninja warrior competitor) in second place and about 10-15 seconds behind. I couldn't get away and he couldn't catch up. At the end of the first 5km lap there was the 2.6m wall that I ended up failing and having to do 15 burpees as a penalty. Thinking this is it I lost the race, Jim came to the wall and did the same thing! I continued with the lead and we both nailed the wall on the second lap. I luckily finished first but with our pace being the same I would have never been able to catch him if he made the wall in the first lap, plus I would have been slower from the burpees giving him more distance and making it impossible to catch up unless he failed something else. In the end it comes down to who can get through the race and all the obstacles with no mistakes. 30 tired burpees takes 3-5min, keep that in mind when you are about to tackle an obstacle. Taking your time to catch your breath and get your heart rate down is worth it. Practicing 30 burpees in the gym is a great way to get started, with your race prep. One thing you need to keep in mind with this is that on race day you have hills, competition, and you're already tired.
10 burpee EMOM for 10min (every min on the min)
Add in 30 burpees in the middle of your workout when you're having a hard time then continue on. This will let you know what it feels like to fail an obstacle, do 30 tired burpees and have to continue on.
3. Spear Throw
One of my favourites, the spear throw can be done by anyone but needs to be practiced. The technique is to start walking when you see the spear throw to allow recovery and your heart rate to go down. Have confidence and think about making the shot and running past everyone doing burpees. When you get the spear in your hands, find the balance point, get a full grip, all the weight on your back foot, bring your arm back making sure to keep the spear straight, step forward with your lead foot and throw the spear ensuring to be soft on the release adding a spin to increase accuracy.
Get a broom stick or something spear like and use an old tire as a target. Practice shooting from variable distances because you never know what Spartan will have until you are there.
10 Burpees, Spear throw x10
10 Jump squats
10 Push ups
30 sec hard run
Spear throw - 10 burpee penalty if you miss and keep shooting and doing burpees for missing until you get it.
Adding to the tough terrain are the carries, Spartan will find the toughest hill and make you hike up with a sandbag or bucket. This is tough for most if you are not ready for it as well. I have had some carries last up to 20min, and some around 3-5 min. Tip for this one is to have the sandbag across the shoulders behind the neck. Make sure it is on the shoulders and not the neck, hold the sides down so the bag stays tight, if you have the chance to run the bag will not move, making life a lot easier in this situation. There is normally a 55 kg deadball for males and a 35 kg deadball for females, which will be required to carry up a hill or around a certain point. Make sure to practice proper form when picking these heavy balls up. If you can get it to your shoulder you will have an easier time carrying it, this will also be easier on your back.
5 min max incline treadmill sandbag carry, speed 5-6km/h
Jump off and perform:
10 pull ups
15 push ups
Get back on with sandbag and repeat 8-10 times
Find a hill and do hill repeats with sandbag trying to keep a strong pace. You can alternate between no sandbag and using the sandbag.
This one can be really tough to deal with, depending on the time of the year and location this can be minor or be the main element of the race. The cold can take your breath away, cause cramps, slow your muscle down, constrict your lungs, and is generally uncomfortable. The best way to take this on is to just man up and get into it. I normally jump in as far as I can to save myself time. After you get out take some time to get your breath back and start with a slow jog until you get your pace back.
Cold Thermogenesis Therapy with a cold shower in the morning. Once you're nice and cozy turn the water all the way to cold and hang out for 30 sec, then go back to warm for 30 sec. Continue this for 5-10 min, each day extend the interval for longer leaving the rest the same or decrease it. Work your way up to 5 min in total cold, use Wim Hoff's breathing technique to help the body fight the cold. After about 15 sec with this breath work, it will feel like you have a warm blanket around your body. Plus check out these amazing health benefits:
- Lower body fat
- Increase hormone levels
- Reproductive fitness!
- FertilityReverse diabetes
- Cut food cravings
- Kill fat permanently
- Strengthen adrenal function
- Fix thyroid disorder
- Super immune function
- Deep sleep
- Pain management
- Sense of well being and better attitude
- Cut visceral fat first
- Promote cessation of eating disorders
To make this simple I'm going to recommend easy things you can take with you. Everything should be tested on a training run before the event. Anything solid pre race should be consumed at least 2 hours before start time. What you take all depends on the length of the race you are running. Spartan Sprint 7km shouldn't require any but if you are exceeding 60min I would take at least one Gel. You can also eat something small with complex and simple carbs before you start. Such as rice cakes with almond butter and honey.
- Spartan Super 14km will require 1-4 gels, expect 60-180min
- Spartan Beast 21.1km will require 3-8 gels, expect 2.5-6h
- Spartan Ultra Beast will require 8-12 gels, expect 6-9 hours
If you think they will take you a shorter or longer period of time then take away or add nutrition.
For gels I like Clif Shots, they have all organic ingredients and don't cause me any gut distress. You could be different so please test in training. For the longer distances you can add in solids like bananas, various oat bars, and my fav - clif bars. You should aim to consume around 50 grams of carbs per hour when training hard. Anything slower will require less.
Water packs are mandatory for the Beast and Ultrabeast so make sure you grab a good one that is comfortable. I recommend the Salomon S-Lab running vest which can be picked up locally in Adelaide from The Running Company.
One thing that most people don't think about when they hear "obstacle race" is that there is a ton of running. Most of the obstacles will be placed all together around the start and finish so the spectators can watch and cheer you on. That means there is less out on the course. You could run for 10-15min before coming to one obstacle that lasts 5-10 seconds then you are back to running for 20 min.
Easy trail running, and road running. Get out and find a nice easy pace that allows you to enjoy your time. If you want to know more about running and heart rate check out my other Blog post called run slow to run fast to learn more about that. Try to spend more and more time each weekend out in the trails, increase your time by 15-30min each week testing nutrition along the way.
With this in mind get out and succeed in your first Spartan or Obstacle race! If you want some more info check my Blog on my experience running True Grit's 24 hour Enduro.
Good Luck and I hope your race is better than my first one, learn from my mistakes.
One my first Spartan Races in Australia, looking back on this I have leaned a lot just from experience. The more you do the better you will get.
These are my race medals from 2016 #showyourbling