By Fernando Ortiz, Contributing Writer
The Spartan Race is renowned for its difficult course that is designed to challenge athletes in every way. The Spartan Race offers various levels of competition from a sadistic multi-day Death Race down to a 3+ mile race. However, I will focus on the three I have done: the 3+ mile Sprint, 5+ mile Super, and 13+ mile Beast. I am still working up the courage to commit to the 26+ mile Ultra Beast.
Leading up to the race: You have a few sign up options to choose from and costs can start around $60 up to $150. Don’t forget the $14 insurance fee. Your registration fee goes toward paying for construction of material, venue rental, lifeguards, medics, water, bananas, finisher t-shirt, really nice medals, pictures, beer, and donations towards Operation Enduring Warrior charity. They also offer spectator passes and I will touch on that later.
The Spartan Race website offers a wealth of information on training, nutrition, athlete blogs, and future race events. Registration is handled by Active and is paired with ChronoTrack. ChronoTrack gives you a slew of metrics like pace, ranking among people racing that day, and time of when you completed certain obstacles.
Training: If your goal is to dominate the race as fast as possible, then it’s crucial that you are able to run the distance of the race and have the strength to handle the obstacles. You definitely want solid off road or trail shoes. Cotton clothing is a big no, stick to moisture wicking materials.
Many of the obstacles will require you to use your entire body so I like to focus on exercises such as pull ups, deadlifts, squats, farmer’s walks, tire flips, etc. Something I did this year was add burpees into my runs. At least one run a week, I did 10 burpees for every mile I completed and it really seemed to work at the races. I learned that preparing for these races means taking running very seriously or risk some nasty cramps.
Race Day: The Spartan Races in Texas are usually held in ranches that offer steep elevation changes. If you ever do any of the races at the Burnett, TX location watch out for cacti in the parking area. Ouch!
Racers will sign their waivers, find their bib number, collect their tracking chip, get the check-in bag tag, and a headband with the racing number on it. In my opinion, the headband works so much better than a BIB and you don’t have to worry about writing your number on your skin like you do for the Tough Mudder. It also survives the races quite well, I still have all my headbands.
Once you get past the registration stand, you will find a bustling open courtyard area where runners are prepping for their wave. If you miss your start time, don’t worry, you can jump on the next one unless you are running the elite wave. The MC will give you the Spartan speech, designed to make you feel like King Leonidas from 300 is hyping you up before a battle.
Right in front of the finishing line, there is almost always a line of fire you will have to jump over, which makes for an epic picture. You will be given your medal, water, bananas, protein bars and shakes, and your finisher t-shirt. The t-shirt is a blend so it feels like cotton but has some of the wicking properties. They are pretty good quality, but I do wish they were actual workout t-shirts. Another annoyance is having to turn in your racing chip. Don’t forget to or they will charge you for it. There is a booth close by that has your racing stats so that you can see how you did.
Difficulty Level: In my opinion, the Spartan Races can be incredibly difficult and will test your athletic abilities. All of the obstacles are designed to be accomplished as an individual, although starting in 2014 they began offering obstacles for people running as a team. For example, there is a 10 foot wall for individual racers or a 12 foot wall for teams.
Most of the Spartan obstacles are strength based, such as carrying a heavy bucket of gravel up a steep hill, hoisting a cement block or picking up an Atlas stone for distance. Others such as the rope climb, spear throw, or the tyrolean traverse are a bit more skilled based. Then there is the 30 burpee penalty if you fail to complete the obstacle. The number of obstacles increases from the Sprint to the Beast and some of the more difficult obstacles are reserved for the Beast.
As you move from the Sprint to the Beast, there are less water stations which adds to the difficulty of the races too. I believe the Beast I did earlier in November only had 4 water stations while the Sprint and Super had 5-7. During any of these races, it is important to listen to your body and stop if you feel it’s too dangerous to keep going. The terrain can be really rocky so if you are feeling dizzy or too tired it’s better to stop than to fall and break something.
Loved: I really love the venues that host the Spartan Races. Due to some of the drastic elevation changes, there is always a few sections where you are at the top of a hill and you can see a beautiful landscape. Makes the burning feeling in your legs well worth it. I also love the finisher medals they give you. For the Sprint, Super, and Beast you will get two medals, one is a full medal pertaining to that specific race but the other one is a portion of a much larger medal that can only be completed if you do all three races in the same calendar year. They call it the Spartan Trifecta. Now if you have the means and the will, you can follow the Spartan Race series across the US and get multiple Trifectas. After certain number of Trifectas, they give you a gigantic Trifecta medal which makes you look like Flava Flav, I am not kidding about the size of the medal.
Hated: The spectator pass is $20 and it allow spectators to walk around browse the various vendors, observe a handful of obstacles and that’s it. There is no spectator course (like Tough Mudder has) and there are very little covered areas so a spectator just gets to wait around for what can be hours.
Since the Dallas Beast is held around November and December, the open air showers are brutal because of the cold temperatures. I always joke that the open air showers are the final obstacle at the Beast.
The Spartan Race offers free pictures but for the 2014 season, finding your picture has become extremely painful. You have to remember what time your crossed certain obstacles or reference the ChronoTrack. The ChronoTrack helps but you still have to click through a ton of pictures only to find someone elses arm or leg blocking your face.
Who came?: The Spartan Race attracts some of the most fit people you will ever meet but also encourages people from all walks of life to participate. The Spartan Race has teamed up with the Biggest Loser and offers a shorter course for participants of the Biggest Loser. The Spartan Race is a family friendly event, even offering a kids only race which is usually a mile long. Costumes and face paint are not as common as it is for the Tough Mudder but minimal clothing is still very popular. I honestly don’t know how these people do it, especially when its cold outside, brrr!
The Takeaway: Although designed as a race the Spartan Races can still be highly enjoyable for anyone. Even with the time element and burpee penalties, you can take pride in becoming a Spartan at the finish line. Along the course, you will meet a variety of people who will either need your help or offer their help and that is always a great feeling. For 2015, they are going to offer a Spartan Stadium Sprint at the AT&T stadium, so if you want to try one of the races minus the mud and nature, that will be the one to try. I’ll certainly be there so expect a review.
Fernando Ortiz is a contributing writer for Deep Fries Fit and is an engineer who loves food and physical fitness. His favorite cuisine is Thai food and he enjoys craft beer. He also loves going on foodie adventures with his wife and checking out new restaurants. In his spare time, you can find Fernando mountain biking, trail running, barbell strength training, kettlebell training, and doing bodyweight calisthenics. He is also an avid participant of obstacle course racing such as Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race series.