It’s two weeks until I tackle my very first Spartan Race.
I have absolutely no clue what kind of obstacles to expect; I just know that there WILL be hills, there WILL be some upper body strength required, and there WILL almost definitely be mud. Living and training in the Peak District has prepared me pretty well for a little hill-and-mud action – but this Spartan Race is in Midlothian. As in Scotland, and therefore synonymous with not so much hills as mountains. Hmm, could be interesting.
Then again, I do like a good challenge. Ask me to do something a little bit ridiculous and the answer will nearly always be ‘yes’. Having had a rest from competition whilst busy launching fitness and nutrition studio Fit Missions, I’m well and truly chomping at the proverbial to get over that Spartan start (and finish) line.
So, how does one prepare for a foot race with more obstacles than you can shake a caber* at?
Mindset: Make tough training tougher
The first thing I did was to start adding a weighted vest to the majority of my met con training. Having to lug around an extra stone whilst doing the usual horrendous burpees/box jumps/press ups makes a hard session about ten times worse, and it takes 100% of your willpower to keep going and not stop to take the damn thing off. Why on earth is this a good idea? Well, my approach is similar to that often employed by the SAS: if I make the training really hard, the battle (or in this case the Spartan Race) won’t seem so outlandishly tough. My brain will remember how hard things felt in the vest, and research suggests that positivity could make the Spartan Race feel up to 25% easier. There is method in the madness of doing double unders in a 7.5kg vest, you see.
Training: Intervals, Strength, Skill
I typically train twice a day, five days a week, plus a technique or accessory session at the weekend. Depending on the type of race or competition I have coming up I will skew my training to focus on what I’ll need to get me through it. As a Spartan Race combines running with upper body strength (I’ve heard rumours of monkey bars) and plyometrics (for jumping over those high walls) my focus has switched to these three elements:
Movements: box jumps, kettlebell snatches and barbell cleans
Movements: hill sprints, rowing intervals, double under (skipping)
Movements: pull ups, press ups, lots of burpees.
I’ve added three Spartan Race prep workouts below for you to try as part of your training!
Nutrition: Fuelling Body and Soul
One reason I love training for some kind of challenge is because it gives me a real incentive to eat the best foods for my body to perform well. It’s easy when we don’t have goals set to let the odd chocolate bar/takeaway/G&T creep in and become more of a habit than it should be. Although my diet is good all year round, I definitely find it easier to stick to healthy habits when I have a competition coming up.
We all respond differently to different foods so it’s really important to understand your own body so you can find what works for you. Personally I find a lot of foods inflammatory which has a really negative effect on the volume of training I can manage and on my mindset. For that reason I stick to lean white meat and fish, low-FODMAP fruit and vegetables, zero sugar (including all of the replacements such as Xylitol, Stevia, coconut sugar and sadly maple syrup) and plenty of water. Oh, and black coffee. It’s very true to say that first I drink the coffee, then I do the things (as Instagram would say).
Training for your Spartan Race
Here are two workouts you can add to your training (both require a good warm up first!) so you can get Spartan Fit:
1 – The Power Spartan
After warming up, in a 10 minute window build up to a 1 rep max squat clean.
AMRAP 8 (as many rounds and reps as possible in 8 minutes) of:
10 box jumps
10 kettlebell snatch (5 each arm)
10 calorie assault bike (or 400m run if you don’t have an assault bike)
2 – The Endurance Spartan
Accumulate as many calories on the rower as possible in 5 minutes
Rest 1 minute
Repeat x 5
Rest 5 minutes
Complete 3 rounds as quickly as possible of:
100 skips/40 double unders
3 – The Agile Spartan
For 20 minutes, every minute on the minute, complete:
5 pull ups (you can scale these to TRX rows)
10 press ups
Nutrition for training
Hulk Smash Breakfast Smoothie
All ingredients can be fresh or frozen in advance
1/4 mango (or handful of frozen mango chunks)
1 large handful of spinach and kale
A few mint leaves
Optional: 1 scoop of Bio Synergy Whey Better Vanilla protein powder or Foodspring Vegan Vanilla protein powder
200ml coconut water
Blitz in a Nutribullet and drink straight away!
Chicken and Avocado Super Salad
1 chicken breast (or 2 chicken thighs)
1 large helping of mixed baby salad leaves
1 large chunk of cucumber, diced
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp Brock & Morten lemon, basil or chilli rapeseed oil
Mackerel coleslaw pot
1/4 shredded red cabbage
1 shredded or spiralled carrot
1 tbsp creme fraiche
Juice of 1/4 lemon (and zest if you fancy it)
Cracked black pepper
1-2 shredded smoked mackerel fillets
You’ll want sufficient carbohydrates in your body before you race, so your muscles have easy access to the fuel they need to get you through. If you taking on the Beast or Ultra Beast Spartan Race, you’ll want to take some mid-race fuel, too. I’ve used Lucozade Sport gels and jelly beans [link to marathon article] and another personal favourite is flapjack. There’s plenty of sugar for an immediate energy kick, and the oats break down more slowly to keep you going a little longer.
The night before and morning of your race (1-2 hours before you set off) have a meal that is fairly carb-centric but won’t sit too heavily indoor stomach. Pasta in olive oil (no heavy sauces or spices) the previous evening, followed by a bagel with peanut butter and jam in the morning are good options, but stick to what you know works for your body – don’t start trying crazy new foods just before a big race!
The absolute most important thing before a race is to know that you’re going to cross the finish line. If you’re doubting whether or not you’ll make it before you’ve even begun, you are seriously affecting your chances of finishing. Positive attitude is everything in sport, so don’t doubt your ability and grit that will get you to the end, even if you’re worried you haven’t trained enough or had enough sleep.
Soak in the atmosphere. Relish the fact that you are able to take part in such a brilliant event – not everyone is so lucky. Frolick in the mud, if you really want to. Remember how everyone keeps talking about gratitude? This is a great time to feel grateful to be alive, and to be running!
When you’ve fallen over that finish line and got your breath back (and maybe had a shower, you muddy, filthy animal) it’s time to REFUEL and celebrate all your hard work paying off! What you choose is totally up to you – I adore pancakes, so my post-Spartan Race treat will be this Canadian Pancake Stack:
Traditional recipe (not gluten-free)
150g plain flour
½ level tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 large eggs, beaten
25-50g English salted butter, at room temperature
Gluten-free, two-ingredient recipe:
2 medium eggs
1 large banana, very ripe
For both recipes, sift/add the ingredients to a Nutribullet and blitz for about 20 seconds until light and fluffy.
Pour the batter into a hot griddle pan; flip to cook on both sides
Serve with crispy bacon, maple syrup and a dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche.
*a kind of large Scottish stick, thrown in caber-tossing competitions across the highlands