As I sit here nursing blistered feet, rope burns and various scrapes and bruises, I can still hear the famous battle cry “This is Sparta, Aroo Aroo Aroo!” As epitomized by the movie 300 this was the battle cry of the most fearsome fighting force in ancient Greece. Today it is the cry heard before each leg of the fastest growing and arguably most grueling obstacle race around today, The Spartan Race. This series of races is a magnet for adventure seekers and fitness enthusiast alike. And the crowd is indicative of this draw. Thousands of people flock to these weekend excursions that test human will, endurance, and physical prowess. These races include rope climbs, rocky and rough terrains that must be traversed with agility and balance, walls that must be scaled and of course barbed wire lined paths and every other gruesome challenge that its architects can devise. It is a true test of man’s capabilities and takes you back to the primal days of old when we were much closer to nature and had little tools beyond our minds and bodies to deal with challenges that arose.
Now as a former Marine none of this really excited me; I had been there and done that before. But what did encourage me was the crowd the people that this event drew, everyone from your hardcore crossfitters, to those still at the beginning of their fitness journey looking to challenge themselves and push their limits. It was truly a sight to see and created an infectious atmosphere charged with adrenaline and enthusiasm. So infectious that I, a physique competitor, who never runs over 2 miles at a time decided to enter a 4.7mile race, which they insanely deem a sprint. I assure you there was no sprinting from this guy during this race. As I traversed the rocky terrain and assaulted the first set of obstacles flashbacks of boot camp and screaming drill sergeants quickly flooded my mind and the adrenaline surged through my body.
I breezed through the beginning and it seemed easy enough, a few small rock walls, a large hill here and there, a 4ft then a 5ft and finally a 7ft wall, all done with no problem by yours truly. As my friends cheered me on and told me I had reached the 2.5mile marker I was highly encouraged. I was right on my goal pace to finish the race under an hour. Oh little did I know that the most brutal obstacles were yet to come. The most brutal of which was a 100ft uphill climb under barbed wire. I could not believe how hard this was. My 200lb physique was quickly burned out about 20ft in, add to that a, 110 degree heat on hard stones made for a hell of a surface, literally, to drag your body across. I have to give these weekend enthusiasts a salute, even in the marines we wore gear that offered some protection for crawls across rocky terrain. For this event my arms, knees and elbows exposed, it was not only difficult but a mental challenge of physical pain. Man, I I really enjoyed this race even though after a misplaced placed step on a rock tore the skin away from the sole of my foot. Having had this happen many times before, my marine training taught me that the best way to treat it was to move faster in hopes of obtaining that wonderful numb feeling, where the body just shuts down the nerves that tell you something is wrong. And I was truly lucky in that this mishap happened right around mile 3 so I had a good 2 miles and 7 obstacles left to make sure the foot didn’t feel a thing.
Again patting myself on the back I absolutely destroyed the rope climb, completing it with no feet, hands only, but this didn’t last long as I was again humbled by a sandbag drag, where I had to pull 2 sandbags in a metal sled across rugged terrain. This absolutely sucked as the metal bin dragged sand making it more and more difficult to pull along the way and seemed to get stuck on every rock in my path. Lastly, I hated the people spraying me with cold water in 100 degree plus heat. I suffered from heat exhaustion in the Marines and almost went into shock from pouring water on myself in this exhausted state, this has made me very susceptible to black-outs from swift changes in temperature. That said the spear throw I found interesting, to say the least. The race was awesome and definitely a challenge. I couldn’t understand how people were taking 2hrs to complete a 4.7 mile race and then I finished it in 1:43. I’ll have to try again, as the fastest time for the day was over an hour faster than mine.
Race aside, the crowd impressed me most. Unlike most of the events, our team attends, most of the people there were participants. And again they ranged from the ultra-fit competitive athlete to the weekend enthusiast who loves torture for fun. I even ran into one competitor who buys a year long pass and has done over 17 Spartan Races this year. In this weekend alone he’d done the beast, a 13 mile race, and ran the sprint twice. This was truly an amazing group of people with some pretty cool skill sets. To improve your Spartan skills, below are the most important training takeaways I have for Spartan Racers.
Pre-Race Training Tips
Strong and mobile ankles are key in any open terrain race. To make sure your ankles are both flexible and strong. Try lunges or single leg stands on the round side of a bosu ball, wobble board or stability disc. These apparatuses will move like the rolling contour of the ground you will cross during your race. Strong and mobile ankles will not only protect you from injury but they will allow you to complete the race with your best possible time.
Grip Is King
Grip Strength was another area I saw a lot of competitors struggle during the Spartan Race. There are numerous pulling, hanging and climbing obstacles between you and the finish line. If your grip fails you fail. You can strengthen your grip a number of ways, but my 2 favs are farmers carries and hangs, hanging from a bar or ledge. The farmer’s carries are just holding a heavy weight in each hand and walking for a desired distance. The hangs can and should be performed from both a flexed and straight arm position, just find a bar or ledge and hang for as long as you can.
You’ll Need A Strong Back
Pull Ups Pull Ups Pull Ups, these bad boys fall right in line with the hangs and if you want to be a true Spartan I suggest doing lots and lots of pull ups. From sled drags to rope climbs to monkey bars your pulling strength will be challenged during the race. Don’t neglect this form of training. If you can not perform a pull-up I suggest going to your local gym and doing all the pulling exercises you can find 2 times a week. I haven’t climbed a rope in years, but thanks to tons of pull-ups I had no problem with the rope climb.
Run Run and Run Some More
My nemesis, I did zero training for this event and while my body was obstacle ready, I had a lot of trouble with the running asked of you during this race. You will be asked to cross a space of 5 miles or more in any Spartan Race. Running will be key. If you do not enjoy running like myself, I would do no less than 3 runs a week. With 2 of those runs being sprint sessions. Martin Giabala in his 2016 study titled “Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment,” proved that you could get greater cardiovascular and muscular endurance gains with a lower volume of work using sprint interval training, than you could using traditional endurance running. Sprint sessions should look like this work your way up from 10-20 sprints of 100m, 200m or 400m; resting for at least 1 min between sprints. The sprints should hurt, I mean lungs on fire and muscles aching, so warm-up well before beginning each session. I started my sprint sessions this week.
This exercise you will be doing a lot of if you fail to do any obstacle. It is a squat to a push up back into a jump squat. For each failed event you will have to do 30 burpees. Again I killed the obstacles, so if you want more help here please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I did have to do one set of 30 burpees after dragging my on the lowest set of monkey bars you have ever seen in your life, I was pissed! I don’t blame race coordinators, they actually planned for shorter and taller competitors, but the course could’ve used a sign to point me to the set for taller people.
Okay, so what’s my real assessment of the race? What do I think of the new Sparta? It’s a chance for the everyday man to test his limits and push to see what both his mind and body are capable of. It also provides an elite level endurance event for fitness buffs and adventure seekers. You can truly test your limits and put yourself up against some pretty damn good athletes. So future Spartans and Spartan Elites, go out there and kick butt and remember an athlete is only as good as the fuel he/she has in their system so make sure to have some good clean carbs pre-race and stay hydrated. Good luck! Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!