Looking down the rolling Midlothian hills at the first, innocuous tower of hay bales we’d hopped over just an hour earlier, I reminisced: “Ahhh, I remember how easy that obstacle seemed, back when we were young and naive.”
Make no mistake: that naivety disappears pretty quickly when you’re running a Spartan Race.
On their website, the surprisingly small Spartan Race team make the bold claim of ‘when you cross the finish line, you’ll know’. It’s easy to be blasé about such a statement because 2017 is the year of the hyperbole. In this case it really is true, and that’s without taking into account that the finish line is a pit of blazing fire.
So who is the Spartan Race for, and what makes it a more appealing option than another urban fitness festival or even a standard 5km/10km/half/marathon?
Teamwork – a Spartan leaves no man behind
If you want to forge a new friendship or cement an old one, get out on that Spartan course. With over 20 obstacles on the Sprint (5-6km route) alone, there is ample opportunity to cheer each other on, help your mate with their sandbag carry, or synchronise your 30 burpees – the penalty for failing or not attempting an obstacle. Brutal, but at the end of this course you really do know who your real friends are.
Build your resilience – “View Obstacles as Opportunities”
On the way to the start line (at 7am on a Sunday morning – we did all ask ourselves if we’d lost the plot) we all talked about the worst obstacles we could face. Answers ranged from rope climbs and high cargo nets (hello, vertigo) to sinking mud and submergence. We faced all of these and more over the Sprint distance and not one of us shied away from any of the challenges we were set.
The Spartan mindset is very much to face your practical and emotional fears head on – and more often than not you will conquer the obstacle and, just maybe, your fear too. Even if it is incredibly slowly, for example when you’re halfway across a balance beam when you remember gymnastics was never your forte…no one laughs at you, and you can always, always do more than you think you can.
Instagram is full of people who appear to spend hours in the gym, perfecting their squat rack selfie or proclaiming they are #strongnotskinny. Each to their own, but I love getting out of the gym every now and again to totally disrupt my comfort zone and take on a brand new challenge.
Spartan Race takes all the skills you learn through functional fitness (CrossFit, HIIT, running) or a specific strength and conditioning programme, and tests it in a picturesque location such as the hills surrounding Edinburgh, or the (slighter flatter, so I’m told) fields of Windsor. Who doesn’t want to try something new and see how much progress you’ve made since you started whatever type of training got you hooked on fitness?
Get outdoors, get adventuring
Instagram. Facebook. Netflix…”we live in a digital world, where the economics of every application depend on their ability to distract you effectively” (Tim Ferriss, The Tim Ferriss Show #240)
Yep, the IoT is great – but so is the REAL world. Get outdoors, do something active, leave your fitbit and your iPhone in the car (not least because it’ll get seriously waterlogged if you don’t). Spend time with your mates, look them in the eyes, laugh, high five, have FUN. Let’s not end up living life through a screen.
If your perception of fun is a bit warped (editor’s note: describing any of the following as ‘fun’ falls into this category: burpees, any CrossFit WOD, fell running, rock climbing, wild camping) then the Spartan Race is absolutely right for you. You can choose from four distances: Sprint (which is what we did, and is definitely not a soft option), Super (about 10 miles), Beast (about a half marathon) and the Ultra Beast (marathon distance, certifiably insane). If you complete three distances over one weekend or within one Spartan season you earn the coveted TRIFECTA status and the medals to prove it. Sound good? You’ve just found your next year’s worth of adrenaline rushes…
How to prepare for the unknown
You never really know what Spartan Race will throw at you, but these beginner’s tips will get you over the start (and finish) line with confidence:
Train like a Spartan
Try these gym-friendly training sessions to get you on the road to becoming a Spartan.
Dress like a Spartan
I ran in the Reebok All Terrain Freedoms with super-grippy soles, flat laces that don’t come undone and neoprene around the ankles that stop the mud from sucking your shoes into their depths. I hadn’t done any of my training in these and they were so comfy for the whole distance. I highly recommend these – check them out here.
Eat like a Spartan
Take on some carbs, protein and water a couple of hours before you race. I chose Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard BCAA in 500ml of water and a Nutrimino protein bar (these things are so tasty). There are fuel stops with water, bananas and jelly babies on the course, too and in true Spartan style, you’ll be given a free beer token to celebrate when you cross the fiery finish line!
Photo Credits – Spartan Race Inc