If you’ve been living under a rock, let me tell you that there’s a new game in town. It’s called Spartan Race. Spartan Race is one of a number of brands of obstacle races worldwide. Here in Australia people may be more familiar with Tough Mudder, but Spartan curb stomps them into submission in my eyes for one very big reason.
It’s a race.
Just like in a real race like a marathon or a triathlon you have a timing chip. So unlike Tough Mudder where the goal is simply to finish, Spartan gives you the added bonus of gloating
rights over your mates.
Our preparation for the Melbourne race began a couple of months ago with regular hill runs out in the Dandenongs. The reasons for this are simple – Spartan Race offers four different length courses to race on. The Sprint is 7km, Super 14km, Beast 21km and Ultra Beast 42km. The Melbourne race was a Super meaning that our team would need to be able to deal with 14km of running. One of the things people misunderstand about these races is that regardless of the obstacles you will still need to run the course. Everyone gets all weird and thinks that if there are twenty obstacles over 14km that you will only ever need to run 700m at once. Well, that ain’t how the folks at Spartan feel about it. I can remember talking to one lady about three weeks before the race and her longest run had been 5km. Not surprisingly we passed her at about the 5km mark while she was walking. Our
regular group run on a Sunday was a 15km hilly loop out in the Dandenongs that would usually take us about two and a half hours.
I am like a kid at a candy store when I get the chance to compete in things, no matter how pedestrian my efforts may be. I just love getting to the start line and testing my training to see what worked and what needed improving. Unlike most of my self-destructive efforts though, this time I’d have clients with me to share the fun. We had a good group of seven, with three staff and four clients. The training leading up to the day had been pretty good, with only a few small niggles from people adding running volume quickly. If I’d had my way we would have had another month to prepare and get them up to speed more slowly, but that’s life. It’s quite common that you will have some kind of issue by the time you actually get to race day, just from all the training. Even at the top level this happens – I remember Randy Couture telling me that he had never fought uninjured in the UFC – but we had gotten through relatively unscathed.
Race day morning comes and despite some great weather in the days leading up to the race, the actual race day was not so nice. As far as I was concerned it just added to the fun, but I wasn’t so sure that everyone would feel the same way. One of the things I like about Spartan is it’s ethos. Spartan stands for Stamina, Power, Athleticism, Readiness, Tenacity, Attitude, Nutrition. The Readiness part refers to a state of mind – the unbreakable mindset. This is not necessarily a zone state, but more a feeling of toughness, that nothing can pull you away from being successful at accomplishing your goal. Therefore, the wetter the better as far as I was concerned. I have to confess that I actually like running in the rain anyway, and take some secret inner bastard pleasure in knowing that it saps other people’s spirits. watching others suffer is always a little bit fun.
Our crew quickly broke into two groups once the race began. We have a few fast guys who took off, with the instructions being to win their heat, while the rest of us stayed and worked together. There were a few stand out moments:
At the first dam we had to swim through one of my shoes came almost completely off my foot. I just sunk in this thick mud as I put my foot in and getting it out was nearly impossible. Lucky I didn’t lose it as this was about ten minutes from the start and would have made the rest very difficult. I salvaged it, hanging off my toes, and swum across the rest of the dam while others walked and then got it back on. From there it was no problem – but I’ll make sure they’re on super tight next time!
One of the obstacles, the Hercules hoist, had 28kg kettlebells for me to be lifted up (20kg for women). That shouldn’t be a problem but they were attached via abseiling ropes which are quite stretchy. You’d pull on the rope and it would stretch and the bell wouldn’t budge. The solution was to almost fall against the rope, using your bodyweight to drag it down and then almost climb up it hand over hand until you were upright and then fall again.
D Ball carry -no, the D doesn’t stand for douche, although many people probably thought so. For men the balls were 55kg and 35kg for women. For people who have never picked up a 55kg ball filled with iron filings, for many it was a big surprise. Happy to say that after smashing that easily I turned around to see fellow RKC Claude Castro, who is also over forty. We then had a great laugh making fun of the X Box generation kids doing burpees who hadn’t been able to cope. Beaten by old man strength!
The big walls that many are scared are no obstacle if you’re in a group. Having had some practice we formed a ladder for people to use – one member stays at the bottom and gives a leg up and they then step on his shoulder to get over. He then gets helped over by the last man over who is waiting on top of the wall to give a hand.
Sandbag carry – The bags weren’t that heavy, although had been made heavier by some rain seeping in, but the loop for the carry was quite long. Up a hill. Because we weren’t in a rush I made no effort to run it, but I think there’s a lot of time to be gained there for next time.
My mother, the toughest woman in the world, volunteered to work for the day. She was in charge of an obstacle called Toblerone, a thing that was like little triangle tunnels. You crawl through them when racing one way, but then loop around and come back to them alter and have to jump over them. She was kind of miffed she didn’t have to hand out any burpee punishments for the day.
The biggest obstacle was the terrain. Skillful use of the land by the organisers made it seem like you were either running uphill or downhill. I can’t remember any point of the course that was actually flat, with quite a lot of uphill work. We’ve already started planning our next race, and realised we need more hills to post faster times. By the end of the 14km everyone’s legs were feeling the effects – certainly more strength runs are needed.
Overall – a great day. We had one of our trainers, Alby Owens, come first in his beginner heat, and two other clients finish top few as well only a couple of minutes behind. All the rest of our group finished midfield – a solid effort for a first time. For a couple of clients this was the hardest and longest thing they’d ever done, as well as the dirtiest. So getting through with just a few bumps and bruises was good.
The main takeaway I had was how unprepared many were. Lots of walking. Lots of people who looked like they could have studied the N part of SPARTAN a bit more (Nutrition for those who have forgotten). Even those who were in decent shape could have improved ab it – like rope climbing. There’s just no reason why people should be turning up at events like this and not know how to climb a rope. Or do a burpee, as many clearly hadn’t been schooled on how to do it properly. Part of me wonders why they sign up for a race with penalties and then ignore the penalties. I mean, if you don’t want that experience then go do Tough Mudder or a road race. But if you want the challenge of the world toughest obstacle race then the choice is Spartan. And if the goal is to be truly ready for Spartan then you’ll need an SGX coach (Spartan Group X). Luckily for everyone at RPT we have one.