I’m going to jot down in a semi organized manner my thoughts from the Spartan Sprint I did with my wife Kathy on 5/18/2013. I want to get it out of my head while it is still fresh and if you decide to do a Spartan race, I hope this is useful to you. Here we go.
All the stuff about hydration and rest are true but you must do but do it in your own way. The best advice I got on Facebook was to get two solid nights of rest on night -3 and -2 so the night before the race (night -1), you have less pressure and just need to concentrate on staying still. If you are like me, your head is already going through the race course. The other thing I did was broke my rule and had not 1, but 2 glasses of red wine the night before the race. I was golden the next morning and so I think I have found something that works for me pre race. Experiment and find what works for you.
In preparation for my next race, I’m observing what muscle groups were most stressed for this last race. In terms of what hurts the most after the race, I would say that back, lats, and grip muscles feel like the most ripped up from the obstacles. For the Beast, I will need way more upper body strength, I will need to lose about 5 to 10 lbs., and most importantly get some more technique down for a few obstacles that I will cover in a minute. No amount of Youtube watching on rope climbing will help you on game day, it must be in your muscle memory.
What to wear? Your attire must be light, tight fitting, will not retain water/mud, and most importantly makes you feel like a badass. Remember the mental game is just as important as the physical. There is more mud than you will never want to experience and this mud gets heavy too. I wore a modification from what I wore in Toughmudders. My notes are as follows:
– Good compression underwear. Go with what works for you and experiment months prior. You don’t want to find out on race day that something is abrasive. Under Armor works for me and as the ads say: PROTECT THE HOUSE!
– There will be lots of crawling on mud with rocks, burs, and branches so go with tight pants that covered the knees and offer compression for your legs. For Toughmudders I wore shorts over it because I did not want to show my junk. This time I just said fuck it. The shorts just got wet and weighed me down and truthfully, being the modest person that I am, it looked fine. If there were problems with let us call it bulges, for safety reasons you might want to modify for no one wants that stuff to get caught on the barbwire!
– Shoes: you should have been in them for at least the last 4 months and by this time thinking about tossing them. You can try to save them but it will be cheaper and take less time to just toss them and get new ones. Some of the new trail running shoes are better at keeping the small rocks from getting in so I say find the top of the line trail running shoes and some socks that will be ok being muddy and wet the entire time.
– Dressing the upper body is a personal preference. For Toughmudders I wore a long sleeve Nike Combat Pro top. It worked mainly because it was light, did not pick up much water, and covered my elbows. This time I wore a tight sleeveless shirt, and then I went to the team sport section at Academy and purchased these basketball shooter sleeves. This one by McDavid had some padding in the elbows which was awesome. Make sure they fit well because they will be super muddy and you don’t want them to be moving around. This minimal plan worked out well and I will do it again for the Beast in August.
– If you are going to stay anaerobic, you want to have Goo on your for anything past 45 minutes. I wore a Nathan Waist Pack large enough for 6 goo’s. I was carrying for my fellow runners too. During the race, I loaded at 45 minutes and then every 30 minutes thereafter. (2 total) There was a woman cramping up late in the course and I tossed her one too. When the Glycogen is all spent, you must reload your muscles. Find something you like and try them out on your long training days during the week. I really like the Stinger Honey but find what works for you.
I wore compression socks the day prior to the race and walked for 3 miles just to get stuff moving around and to calm my nerves. Post race I wore compression sleeves on my calves and they felt great. Legs should be fine after the next 24hrs.
Let’s talk obstacles. The Spartan Sprint is under 5 miles, this one was 4.5 miles. They obstacles are not evenly spaced so if you train by running .5 miles, 30 burpees, repeat; it will not be like this on race day. I’m going to change my training to mix up the miles between obstacles. No detailed map of the race course was published so just know that it is not evenly spaced and obstacles like the vertical rope climb are at the end so you will need your strength. There is a big crescendo to the race with some of the most spectacular obstacles near the end where all the spectators are located. This is why pace is so important and you really need to never take any muscle group to complete exhaustion during the race. My advice is to train so you can always have 5 reps in your back pocket that you will never spend.
I’ll go through each obstacle I experienced with a brief description and what you can do to train for it.
Fire jump: you jump over flames. Typically at the very end before the finish line. Just make sure you do a good amount of plyo box jumps and you will do fine.
Barbed wire crawl: very muddy 50-100 yards barbed wire. Just think you are a hotdog rolling along. I found this relaxing and almost therapeutic but I’m weird like that. If you crawl it will exhaust too many muscles and you will be moving slower than if you pretend to be a log or hotdog and just roll your way to victory. To train I say find a football field and roll goal to goal.
Over-Under-Through: you must first climb over a wall about 4’, then under a wall (drop and roll is what I did), then through a square hole placed in a wall. Nothing to it. Search youtube for video footage of this if you want to see it.
Over-Under: you jump over a 4’ wall, then roll under a horizontal beam about 2’ off the ground. The under part has a net that might get in the way but like I said before, just roll like a hotdog and you will do fine.
Spear throw: You will likely fail this so the faster you can try it and do your 30 burpees the better. The spears are lame and my only advice is to through them as hard as you can because they need the force to really stick. I hit my target but not hard enough to stick. Given this, make sure you eye a spot to do your burpees because it might be crowed and in my case, I had a really crappy spot where on my pushup part of the burpees, I had tall weeds in my face. Boo.
Wall climb: There was a 6” and an 8” wall in my race which were not in sequence. The large wall looks intimidating but get your technique down before the race and you will do fine. Muscle memory here will pay off.
Sandbag carry: The sandbag felt to be around 50lbs, lighter for women. Toss it on your back and take it up and back a slight grade which was about 100 yards. My sandbag training really paid off here. I suggest being able to tote around 70 lbs. of sand and make sure you find a position on your shoulders that work for you. All the muscles that keep you stable and injury free will develop and you will kick this obstacles ass.
Atlas Carry: You pick up this round and awkward cement object weighing what felt like 60 or 70 lbs, walk it over about 10 yards, put it down; pick it up again and walk it back. In some races I hear you do 5 burpees too but that was not the case in ours. For training, I recommend a crap load of sumo and goblet squats. If you are lifting with your glutes, you will blow through this no problem.
Tire Flip: Love it. As describe, giant tire, you flip it twice one way, twice back. Smaller tires for women. Don’t get me wrong, the tire was heavy but with proper technique, all is good. Get with the largest tire you can find and give it a name because you will establish a love/hate relationship with it.
Drag Cement with Chain: This is a chain about 4’ in length connected to a large cement object weighing approximately 50lbs that you pull around a course. I put both hands behind me evenly and pulled it like it was a tail. The racers in front of you will likely have cut a path so try and stay on that line and it will move quickly. The distance is 50 yards tops and it loops around so you just put it back where you picked it up. I say try and train for this by dragging your heaviest kettlebell around some field. Just attach a rope or strap to the horns of your kettlebell and you should do fine.
Herculean Hoist: grab a rope and hoist a cement block off the ground using a pulley system. Scope this out and quickly find the rope that is least slippery. If it starts to slip, twist and do what you can to hold because once it starts to fall, it will be burpeeville for you. The technique I used was to get a good initial hold, and drop back on my butt to a completely seated position on the ground; then it was just hand over hand pulls. It started to slip on me so I quickly twisted the rope to stop it. This is all lats and back so all your rows, lat-pulls, and pullups will pay off here.
Traversal Wall: the traversal wall is similar to a bouldering wall. I almost made it across but fell at the end, 30 burpees for me. Needless to say, this is all technique and I was not prepared. This obstacle more than any other will challenge your grip strength because you are holding on randomly placed 2×4 squares on the wall as you place your feet on the lower 2×4 squares and make it across this wall without falling. A popular style I observed was to engage both hands and swing legs over. In order to get better at this, I might have to take a few rock climbing lessons.
Slippery Wall: it is more of a 45 degree ramp with a knotted rope and then 45 degrees down on horizontal slates. The ramp is slippery so perpendicular to the floor which means you will need to lean back and just hand over hand pull until you get to the top. Respect the fact that this thing is slippery and one slip means injury and you are out of the race.
Gladiator Arena: the very last obstacle involves volunteers in the role of “gladiators” who try to knock you down with pugil sticks. I just put my head down and plowed through.
Monkey Bars: I should have done more training on this before the race. There are about 10 to 12 bars standing at a clearance of about 10’ from the ground. As you know, this is both technique and strength and my technique sucked. I will be doing way more of these in training.
Log Hop: Picture logs of random lengths, vertically placed approximately 4’ apart like steps and you must hop across them without falling. There is not a lot of surface area as I was only able to get one foot on the log at a time requiring an incredible amount of balance. My wife did great on this whereas I sucked. I am going to have to build something similar to train because I must get stable and confident on this type of obstacle.
40” Pipe Crawl: If you are just a little claustrophobic, DO NOT do this and just take the 30 burpees. You crawl into a pipe that is approximately 3’ in diameter and ‘crawl’ 40 feet to the other end. It is dark, slippery, hot, and if the person in front of you is stuck, guess what, you are stuck too. I was first on my back thinking I could push with my feet and walk with my shoulders; that did not work well so I flipped over and just used my elbows to pull me the entire way. To train for this, I recommend going to a field, pretend that you have lost the use of your legs, lay down in a plank position and just use your elbows/arms to pull you. Go 50 yards and you will find new muscles engaging that you never knew you had. Stay calm because if you panic in this pipe, it will get ugly fast.
Cargo net climb: You climb up a mesh rope net about 20 feet, traverse about 10 feet of mesh net that spans an opening 20 feet over the ground, then back down 20 feet of mesh rope. Take your time. The rope is slippery and other climbers are causing it to move so hold tight and take your time. I have a fear of heights that I needed to overcome. That middle section was a challenge but I convinced myself that if I rolled over it like a hotdog, nice and long, there is no way I could fall through the mesh. The technique paid off and after about 15 rolls I was at the end ready to crawl down.
Rope climb: Simply climb the knotted rope and ring the bell. Estimated height is about 20 feet as two cargo containers on each side support the top horizontal bar. Oh, and it the bottom of the rope is in about 4 feet of standing muddy water. Get someone to hold the bottom of the rope for you and use the knots with a technique that uses mostly your legs and core. I did not train as hard as I should have for this obstacle and will not make that mistake again. I’m going to find a 20” rope somewhere and add it to my weekly training.
Muddy Ditches: There is a series of muddy mounds and ditches that you must cross. The difficulty with this is that as the race progresses, those mounds get harder and harder to climb because they are so slippery and without steps. In the worst case scenario, buddy up so that your partner boosts you up to the top; from the top of the mound, you in turn pull him up and you both slide down the back.
Muddy River Crossing Crawl to exit: You walk through about chest high muddy water and then out under some wire requiring a low crawl for about 10 yards. This is a trivial obstacle but the mud is serious and I have seen people lose their shoes. This is not good because you will lose time and energy so be careful as you step through this mud.
Mud Crawl: it is a messy crawl for about 20 yards under some low hanging wire through mud. It is not barbed wire but it is low so roll through it like a hotdog and you will do find.
In closing I will say that it is best to approach each obstacle with the highest respect. Every one of these could go bad and an injury means you are out of the race completely. I watched one time as a totally fit trainer took to the monkey bars and because of a single muddy bar she slipped and fell to fracture her ankle. No matter how easy you think it will be, shit happens.
Find your pace and like a good drummer, hold to that meter. Just before the gun goes off, you will have so much adrenaline flowing that when that starting gun sounds, you dart off and hit v02max within the first minute. Don’t make that mistake. You know what a solid zone 3 feels like and aim for it. It will take a lot to manage this start of the race but at the end of the race, you will thank yourself.
My closing note is about the non-trivial task of clean up. You will seriously have mud everywhere. Know that when you cross the finish line, you will want to have packed a garbage bag for your muddy stuff and some fresh clothes for post race (simpler the better). I donated my shoes at the end of the race but forgot to pack an extra pair – never making that mistake again. There is a car wash, 3 loads of laundry, and a 15 minute shower in your near future.