I wanted to share a few of the things that I learned that faithful first Spartan Race day, that I wish I had known beforehand. I wanted it to be a comprehensive list of the stuff I did my searching online to find, but couldn’t find a single place that had it all. Yes, it’s a little long but it will set you up for a successful race, I promise.
(P.S. If you're the audio type, and don't want to read all of this information, you can check out a recently released podcast that I did on the Spartan Race, at the bottom of this page.)
The idea of the race first started off by me challenging myself to the 3 1/2 mile Spartan Sprint mud race, and has now turned in to a fascination to receive the “Spartan Trifecta” medal. A trifecta is when you’ve completed a Sprint (3.5 miles), a Super (9 miles) and the Beast (12 miles) within the same calendar year.
*Just beware, these races get addicting*
Let’s start off with what the race is all about.
The race locations are throughout the US and you can check to see when one is near you by going to www.spartan.com. The Spartan race is often called a “mud race” for a reason; you’re going to be running, jumping, swimming and submerging yourself in some pretty muddy (and freezing) water. If that scares you, this race isn't for you.
The great thing about the actual race is this is a team sport. People that you have never met will help you throughout the race because it is the goal of every Spartan (aka the racers) to get everyone through the race. With this in mind, if you see someone who needs help, help them out! Only the “Elite” group of racers who are going for actual time and the pot of winnings if you get first place aren't allowed any help. The rest of us should make it a priority to help each other out.
During the race you’ll be coming across several obstacles. As the length of the race goes up, the number of obstacles does too. Sprint will have at least 15; Super will have at least 20, and Beast will have at least 25. These range from spear throws, to wall climbs, to rope based obstacles, to carrying things up and down mountains, to jumping over fire etc. One piece of advice about the obstacles is just do it! Don’t sit around thinking about it. As long as you keep moving, before you know it you’ll get over (or under) all the obstacles and be patting yourself on the back like you should.
As far as the terrain, it’s pretty unforgiving. There will be steep climbs, slippery falls and various types of obstacles that you have probably never experienced before.
How should you prepare for the race PHYSICALLY?
First, get really really good at burpees. If you miss any obstacles, and you probably will, you’ll have to do 30 burpees before you’re allowed to move on. These can really tire you out, so try not to fail too many obstacles and remember your friends (Other Spartans) can and will help you. Let them!
What else should you do? Two things in particular, and you should really try and focus on both. First is upper body strength. You’ll be pulling yourself through, over and under several obstacles that will require that strength. If you don’t have it, expect to do burpees.
Next is your cardio. I can’t tell you how many people I saw who were extremely muscular and strong, but were sitting on the side of the road after a mile trying to catch their breath. Do something that tests your cardiovascular endurance. Actually running trails is a great idea, but it’s not something I could personally do every day. Whenever I want to improve my cardio while also focusing on resistance training, I use a workout programmed called 30 Day Breakaway which helps me improve both my running and upper/lower body strength. If that’s something you’d like to give a shot, click on that link for an idea of what the workout’s like.
What should you bring with you to be prepared for race day?
First, bring a car that’s willing to get a little dirty. You’ll have to park your car away from the actual race. More than likely it will be an “off-road” experience. My first race I brought a Prius… and all I can say is never again.
Second, make sure you bring some food and water to drink once you’re back in the car afterwards.
Bring these items in with you to the actual race:
Two large trash bags
Complete change of clothes (underwear, pants, shirt, jacket and flip-flops are best)
Money for the bag check in area so you don’t have anything in your hands during the race.
If you have a spectator coming with you, perfect. Just have them hold your stuff. Otherwise, if you plan on turning things in, the workers at the Spartan Race will give you a white or clear plastic bag as you drive in to the parking lot that all your items have to fit in to. Just beware if you bring too much stuff with you, you’ll have to pay for two bags. Check the website for the exact cost of the bag check.
If you can leave anything in your car, do so. You won’t need everything during the race. At the finish line, you’ll be given some fruit, a protein bar and some water. That should be enough for you to make it back to your car. Plus there’s a festival that sells things you can buy on the way to your car if you’ve forgotten anything.
What should you wear during race day?
Before you leave your car, get dressed in what you’re going to wear. You want to carry the least amount of stuff possible.
Here’s my general advice.
Don’t. Wear. Cotton.
By the end of the race you’ll weigh 100 pounds more.
Wear only moisture wicking clothing. This is what I've found to work the best:
Compression shirt (I prefer sleeveless)
Compression shorts or pants (I prefer shorts)
One thing about the shorts, make sure they either have no pockets, or you use some scissors to cut out the bottom of the pockets. Otherwise every time you go down into a mud pit, you’ll come up with a pocket full of mud. A draw string is important too so your pants don’t come off. I've seen this happen and it’s not pretty.
Compression is my choice, because while you’re going over the obstacles or under barbed wire you don’t want anything getting caught up and ripped. I didn't choose extreme compression, I got one size bigger than I normally wear, but it still held pretty tight to my body.
Choose some nice dry-fit type socks; if you don't choose long pants, make sure you have some sort of protection for your shins.
Here’s the game changer, what you wear on your feet. This is a personal subject, but make sure you try out several different versions of mud run / trail running shoes. Inov-8, Icebug, Salomon are some good options. Reebok makes a shoe that’s specifically designed for the Spartan Sprint, and this is what I went with. It’s extremely light weight and does a great job of allowing the mud and water to escape from the shoe, and also has some awesome grip for the terrain. Do a quick search for them, you’ll be glad you did. If possible, I wouldn’t choose a basic running shoe. Those seem to get weighed down and make it that much harder to run, not to mention how slippery they become when wet. Also be sure and break them in before game day, or your feet will hate you.
Before we move on from the shoes, one important thing. You want to tie your shoes tight enough so they don’t fall off… HOWEVER, you don’t want to tighten them so much your feet are going to be numb during the race. Yes, that was me. After my first 9 mile Super, my feet were throbbing at the end. I decided that was the last time I would do that. On the flip side, if you’re wearing the shoes too loose, you’ll have to go searching for them at the bottom of the mud pit. (Yes, I saw that happen several times already)
Before we leave the clothing area, let’s talk about elbow pads, knee pads and gloves. I did a quick search at Amazon and found some awesome knee and elbow compression pads that are made of dry fit type material. Pretty cheap too. I would highly suggest you find some as well. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “I will look like an idiot!” Especially since you see those guys out there wearing no shirt and just a pair of shorts. Trust me on this one, you’ll see the smarter people wearing them and it’s for good reason. I tried to look cool during my first race too, never again. I walked across the finish line with bleeding shins and elbows.
Same thing goes with gloves. I bought a cheap pair of under armor gloves made from the dry fit type material. You’ll be gripping walls, ropes, chains, buckets, everything. Your hands will probably be sore by the end, especially if you’re doing burpees on the rocks. Just get some light weight gloves and it will really help you out.
What types of equipment should I bring with me during the race?
As far as a water system, I would suggest you bring something like a camel pack to have some water during the two longer races. There will be some water along the course, but not much. The Sprint seems to always have enough spots to drink water so it’s not that big of a deal for that race. One thing I would avoid though is filling it completely up with anything besides water. Unless you’ve trained in the past while drinking 2 liters of Gatorade, don’t try it during race day.
As far as fuel, I would highly suggest you bring some type of fuel during the race. There are plenty of energy gels or energy jellies on the market, but I really prefer natural foods. Stuff like dates, dried fruit mixes, mustard packets and pickle juice are all options. Like anything, don't try something the day of the race you've never tried before.
Constant fuel is how you’ll avoid as many cramps (and exhaustion) as possible. Be consistent with the fuel during the race, but also be sure to bring enough so you don’t run out at the 1/2 way point. Like I said earlier, you’ll see plenty of big burley men on the side lines screaming because they have some version of a leg cramp. Don’t be one of those guys.
How about a Go-Pro or similar camcorder?
As long as you have something that’s water proof, go for it! Just know it probably won’t catch the entire race before the battery dies. I've heard the head mount is the best choice as the body strap doesn't get as good a view during the obstacles and is much shakier.
Hats, glasses, cell phone etc. Leave these in the car. Unless you’re ok with losing them, either keep them in your car or with your checked bag.
How to prepare just before the race?
Drink lots of water. I'm not talking the day of the race, you should really be starting to prepare several days beforehand. If you make it to race day and you haven't increased your water consumption, it's a bit too late.
Eat a healthy breakfast/lunch about 2-3 hours beforehand. I ate an almond butter and banana sandwich and it held me over for quite some time. Just don't eat completely out of your regular diet, because you don't want you body to react differently to a new food you just added in... especially just before the race.
About 45 minutes beforehand, I will generally chug some of my Shakeology that I got with the Insanity Max-30 workout. That way I can get a head start on the nutrients my body needs, plus I won’t feel completely full from having a meal just before running 12 miles.
You should definitely stretch beforehand. Someone from the Spartan Team will help you by walking you through a routine, be sure and get to the starting line at least 20 minutes early to make sure you don’t miss it. Just beware that you can definitely over stretch before intense exercise. Doing static stretching can actually burn out your muscles before you even start. So just pay attention to the awesome staff members who will take you through some dynamic stretching.
Immediately after the stretching, they will give you the go-ahead to jump the first obstacle (a 6 foot wall) and line-up for the starting line. They will say a few words, pump you up, and you will be off to the races.
Don’t forget this is a team race and be sure and help your fellow Spartans.
If you've signed up to join the next race or you’re thinking about doing it, just do it. You’ll feel so accomplished and can cross it off your bucket list. I would also suggest if you haven’t signed up yet, do a search for a coupon code. Great thing is too if you’re a first responder, they give you a discount as well. You will see that link on the Spartan website and once they verify who you are, you’ll get that special rate.
I hope this has been helpful, and I know it’s been a long post. One last thing before I let you go. If you’re a first responder, and you’re wondering what you can do to get healthier, I'd like to show you how our online LEO team works if you're looking for helping preparing for the race. Check out the video HERE to see how it works, and fill out that assessment if you get the pull.
Stay safe, thanks for reading, and talk soon.