This weekend, my race season kicks off with the Spartan Race Ohio and the Sprint event on Sunday, May 8. Held out at The Wilds, an outdoor zoological park near Columbus (I mean, we could potentially see giraffes and rhinos running around during the race, right?), this is going to be the first time I’ve run the Spartan Race and I’m really looking forward to it, with some trepidation. After all, Spartan prides itself on being the toughest challenge in the obstacle racing world!
So what is it about Spartan Race that makes it so tough?
1. It’s designed to break you.
Yeah, all the races say that. But Spartan goes out of their way to live up to it. They’re constantly finding new ways to use the terrain of their race courses and new obstacles to wear the participants down and give them a great test of what they’re really capable of. Course design is something that they take very seriously.
2. The lore of Spartan.
Even if you’re not a Michigan State fan, Spartans are known for their stoic preparation for battle, and lifestyle of endurance and hardship. It was all designed to make the Spartan soldiers be tougher than everyone else and able to withstand the privations of a life of war. That’s the whole reason that Joe Desena, one of the founders of the race series, used that name for the identity of his brand: he wants to create people who are capable of enduring hardships of all kinds as a method of personal development and for creating people who will go the distance.What's the big deal about @SpartanRace? Check it out here as I prepare for my first Spartan Sprint! Click To Tweet
They’ve built this lore carefully – with obstacles just for Spartan like the Spear Throw (yeah, you actually throw a spear at a target in the race) and the old Spartan Gladiator Pit (where gladiator bedecked race volunteers used to bash racers with pugil sticks and otherwise challenge them as they finished the race) the Spartan Race caught people’s attention like no other experience. Example:
And let’s face it – it works. Spartan Race has created a whole culture around itself with its passion for endurance, discipline, celebration of achievers and do-ers, and all the various ways that it’s created to see just how to people can make themselves. There are the races, of course: the 5K Sprint, the 8-ish mile Super, and 12-ish mile Beast, and even Ultra Beasts (marathon distance) and the Spartan Death Race. There are special events like the Hurricane heats, where Spartan leaders take competitors on hours-long team-building and personal endurance-building exercises; or the new Spartan Agoge, which is a combination survival instruction/privation test for people who want to go further. There are Spartan coaching certifications for adults’ and children’s training. There are special awards like the Trifecta (complete all three basic Spartan Race distances in a year) and the Spartan Delta (a combination of competition/special event/coaching cert completions). There are even Spartan kids’ races that are no joke – they’ll test your children as much as the adult race tests you.
It’s really a culture all in itself. Think Crossfitters are dedicated to their craft? Check out some of the community around Spartan Race. And speaking of which…
3. The Communities
Spartan Race has created a ton of communities for people who want to race together, train together, and just hang together. There are groups like the New England Spahtens, the Corn Fed Spartans, and Lone Star Spartans, among a ton of others. While not exclusively Spartan Race teams, they got their starts in Spartan Race and have used that Spartan name as their own, which says a ton about how these regulars feel about their namesake.
4. The TV Contract
Spartan is still the only OCR series that has been covered on sports television – NBC Sports has been covering the top elite-level races around the world for a couple years now, including the Spartan World Championship race in Lake Tahoe the past two years.
5. It’s a race, not a challenge
Sometimes thrown out as the big difference between Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, Spartan Race is first and foremost a race. You either complete it correctly, or you do the penalties (or you’re disqualified). And everyone in OCR knows that the penalty for a missed obstacle in Spartan Race is…
6. The Burpees
Possibly a subset of #1 above, here’s the deal: if you fail an obstacle in a Spartan Race, you do 30 burpees. And, as founder Joe Desena says about the reason for this: because burpees suck.
Spartan Race is a race. Not a run, not a challenge, but an actual race. If you can’t do part of the race, you do the penalty. Granted, this means very little to anyone who just wants to have fun and try it out, because you’re not really being timed for anything other than your own edification. But that’s sort of the whole point: Spartans do or die, and in this case, dying means doing your burpees for not being properly prepared – and to give you impetus to get properly prepared.
But even in the World Championship race, you’ll see the top racers doing their burpees on national television. It’s just understood as part of the deal.
So while people do skip out on burpees just to get through the course, the people who personify the Spartan ethos are the ones who stay and do their burpees, getting the most out of the race, for sure.
Why have I waited so long to do a Spartan Race?
I’ve got two reasons that I’ve waited this long to do my first Spartan Race: first, this is only the third year it’s been in Ohio, and let’s face it: as a parent I have other responsibilities than heading off to other States to do races regularly. Second, I was registered last year but was sick, and frankly I didn’t want to make myself worse by doing a Spartan Race sick. Hey, ask my wife, I was pretty upset about it.
So this is finally it: after having done obstacle course races since 2011, I’m finally getting my chance to do arguably the biggest one. I’m feeling good, feeling ready. I’m a little nervous, too. The Spartan mystique is one that I’m eager to take part in, but there are some of the obstacles that give me a little trepidation (as I’d really love to avoid doing burpees if I can help it).
I will be sure to report in with more on Spartan Race Ohio next week!
How about you? Have you ever run the Spartan Race? Share your experiences on our message boards!