My muddy hands started slipping off the rope as I dangled 19 feet above an icy cold pit of water. My lungs were burning, my body was spent, my skin was scraped with gravel and punctured with barbed wire, I was caked in dirt, sweat and blood — I was having the time of my life.
It was my first Spartan race where I clambered over a wall, dove through four mud pits, jumped over a pile of burning logs and fought off four weapon-yielding gladiators to finally cross the finish line in a little over an hour and 40 minutes.
This was about a year and half ago, and since then, I’ve competed in over 20 more obstacle races, each one more fun than that last. I frequently get questions about Spartan racing so without further ado, here are ten things I tell anyone who wants to do a Spartan race:
1. Train weird.
Forget bench presses, squats and elliptical trainers. Obstacle races throw some pretty significant curveballs at your body, so your training has to be a little unconventional and weird. For example, a typical training session might involve flipping a heavy tire in your driveway, carrying a heavy rock around your backyard, bear crawling through the forest and doing burpees in your basement.
2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
During a typical race, you’ll get dirty, muddy and sweaty as you encounter the elements. So get comfortable with discomfort. Things like cold showers, hot saunas, swimming in rivers and lakes, camping in the wilderness, getting “off the trail” while hiking in the forest and even doing yoga sessions in a dirty backyard with no mat can help increase your tolerance to discomfort.
3. Wear the right clothes.
Wear tight clothing that won’t get caught in barbwire. I generally wear old tech or polyester t-shirts with cheap compression shorts or underwear. Wear shoes that have plenty of traction and layer up if the race starts on a cold morning. If you don’t have calloused hands, wear gloves that have a good, tacky grip.
4. Don’t expect to be served snacks.
Some triathletes will enter an obstacle race and expect catered aid stations full of gels, fig cookies, electrolytes and water. In a Spartan and most obstacle races, you’ll be lucky to occasionally get a small cup of water. Plan on being completely self-sufficient, and carry food such as energy gels in your pockets along with extra water and electrolytes if you’re doing a long race.
5. Incorporate lots of running into your training routine.
Obstacle races, especially Spartan races, have lots of running. No matter how many rocks you carry, how many walls you climb, or how many burpees you do, every obstacle you encounter can be separated by long stretches of running that can last as long as a couple miles. Prepare for these races the same way you might approach training for a distance race. The most successful obstacle racing athletes run four to seven days per week, and spend plenty of time on terrain like hiking trails.
6. Avoid the gym.
Gyms are clean, organized and predictable — the opposite of everything you’ll encounter in an obstacle race. Instead, you should train in your backyard, a local park, a forest trail, a beach or anywhere you can find mud. Practice stops for pull-ups from tree branches, bear crawls, heavy log or rock lifts and burpees. Lots and lots of burpees. Which leads me to my next point...
7. Perfect your burpee form.
Every time you “fail” an obstacle during a Spartan, which might include falling off a rope, being unable to climb a wall, or slipping off the monkey bars, you’ll be required to do 30 burpee penalties, and these burpees are both counted and filmed to ensure you do them. If you don’t, you get a hefty time penalty. A burpee looks like this: From a standing position, drop into a squat, kick your legs out, do a pushup, then jump up and reach for the sky. My tip to anyone preparing for a Spartan is to start and end each day with 30 burpees. Make yourself burpee proof.
8. Prepare for battle.
During the race, you’ll encounter broken tree branches, sharp rocks, uneven terrain and dirty water. Cover any open wounds. Wear ankle braces, tape up weak spots on your body, wear socks that cover your shins and consider elbow sleeves and gloves. Be sure your body is prepared for scrapes, bumps and bruises.
9. Recruit friends.
It’s completely acceptable for teams and groups of friends, co-workers and families to help each other out by offering a hand for getting over a high wall, helping to carry a very heavy log or bucket or simply staying together for moral support and group camaraderie. If you’re not the type of person who likes to suffer solo, recruit some friends to join you, create a team name and compete as a crowd.
10. Sign up already!
Oh yeah, one last thing: Put your money where your mouth is and sign up for the freaking thing. I talk to many folks who plan on doing an obstacle race or Spartan…Someday. But until you sign up, you’ll never have that fire lit under you, or experience that strong extrinsic motivation to actually show up with your toes on the starting line. Spartan.com is a good place to go find a race near you.
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Photo courtesy of the author