The Quick and Dirty Guide to Spartan Racing

Want to change your life? Run a Spartan Race.

I discovered Spartan Racing in 2011, after my last year of college wrestling. Even though I continued to train, I was no longer training for anything. My motivation was starting to decline.

That summer, I ran my first Spartan Race and instantly fell in love. 8 races later, Spartan is still the only brand I recommend. I was fortunate enough to finish 7th in my age group at last year’s World Championships in Vermont.

People ask me about Spartan Racing so often that I thought I would write up one big post with all of my usual answers. Here are some of the most common questions that I get:

"What Is Spartan Race?"

A leader in the emerging sport of obstacle racing, Spartan is all about pushing your limits. Races are often held at ski resorts and combine trail running with various physical and mental obstacles every quarter mile or so.

An average day might include climbing over walls, crawling under barbed wire, and carrying a bucket full of rocks up a ski slope (all while remembering a random pattern of numbers and letters).

Races come in 3 distances: A 3+ mile “Sprint,” an 8+ mile “Super” and a 13+ mile “Beast”.

You may have heard of some other obstacle racing brands. Which brings me to the next most common question...

"Isn’t That like Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash?”

This is like asking if WWE is the same as college wrestling. You’re in the ballpark, but there are some big differences. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Warrior Dash: The least painful option. Show up with some friends, roll in the mud, have a beer. No real training required.

Tough Mudder: A challenge, not a race. Tough Mudder does not invest in timing chips, so you won’t know where you stand at the end of the day. Sold as more of a “group experience."

Spartan Race: The real deal. You don’t have to be an elite athlete, but Spartan treats obstacle racing like a sport. Expect timing chips, burpee penalties (30 for every missed obstacle), and a whole lot of hills.

If you just want to go out and have a good time with friends, all three of these races will allow you to do that.

But only Spartan builds what founder Joe DeSena calls “obstacle immunity." In life, you can’t skip obstacles. Mistakes have consequences. After a Spartan Race, daily trials become a whole lot less stressful.

“Why Would Anyone Want to Run a Spartan Race?"

Bottom line: I have never seen anyone more happy than when they cross the finish line at a Spartan Race.

As with everything, you get out what you put in. Finish a 5k, and you will feel good about yourself. But finish a Spartan, and you’ll feel unstoppable.

Here are three reasons to run a Spartan Race:

  1. You’re getting bored. Tired of the elliptical? So is everyone else. This race is guaranteed to light a fire under your ass.
  2. You need something to train for. Admit it, you’re getting soft. It’s time to come out from behind that desk and crawl under some barbed wire for a bit.
  3. You were meant for more. We all need adversity to grow. Training for and running a Spartan Race is one of the fastest ways I know to level up your life. You will see a clear difference in your body and mind afterwards.

Maybe now you're intrigued. But you might also be thinking...

“Can I Do This?”

Yes. Despite what you might think, most of the people at these races don’t look like actors from the movie 300. My dad finished one a few weeks ago and he’s 55 years old. Some people will just need more time to prepare than others.

“How Should I Train for a Spartan Race?"

Because of the intensity of Spartan’s marketing, I find that most people overestimate what it takes to finish one of their races. If you run regularly, have some decent upper body strength, and have done fitness challenges in the past, you should be able to finish as you are. In not, here’s what I would recommend:

  • Running -- Ideally race distance. Focus on hills and carry heavy things if possible.
  • Burpees -- Learn them. Mix them in with runs. Be able to do at least 30 in a row.
  • Pullups -- An easier exercise like inverted rows can also work depending on your fitness level.

Theoretically, if you can hike the distance of the race, bang out 30 burpees every once in a while, and make it over a few walls, you can finish. The rest is mental.

For more experienced athletes who are looking to be competitive, the key is to blend aerobic and anaerobic training. So instead of running one day and squatting the next, just go out into the woods and combine your cardio with bodyweight strength circuits. Or do some treadmill incline sprints in between your lifts. You will need to be able to perform basic strength moments while tired and still keep a consistent running pace.

“Where Do I Sign Up?"

Now that’s the right question to ask. When you’re ready, head over to the Spartan Race website. Find a distance and location that works for you (I recommend starting with a nearby sprint) and sign up today.

See you out on the course.