How to Train for The Spartan Race

If you have never done a Spartan Race or any other obstacle course race before and are thinking about doing one this year here are some tips on how to prepare for one.

Do Your Research

The first race I did was the 6k Mud Hero and this was held at a local ski resort, so you can imagine the type of hilly terrain we were faced with. I had never done one before and signed up for it on a whim based on a friend asking if I wanted to join her. I didn’t know what to expect so I spent quite a bit of time watching the promo videos, checking out the obstacles on their website and talking to people about what was involved so I knew what to expect and I could train ahead of time for it.

My next race was the X Warrior Challenge 5k Sprint and it was similar to Mud Hero (without the mud) in many regards but arguably was tougher with more things to carry.

Types of Obstacles You’ll Face

Obstacle course races are similar in terms of the types of obstacles you’ll face but here’s what you’ll typically find at Spartan Races:

  • Steep inclines and declines to run/walk up and down
  • Walls of various heights to go over or under
  • Burdens to carry (sandbags, buckets of sand, atlas ball), drag or pull
  • Spears to throw
  • Lots of running
  • Cargo nets to climb up and over
  • Monkey bars to cross
  • Ropes to climb
  • Barbed wire to crawl under
  • Mud pits to wade or crawl through

This video gives you an idea on a typical race:

Train for the Event

While these types of races encourage people of all ages and skill levels to come out and try it (and competitors actively encourage each other while on the course) you really should be in reasonably good shape to do them as they are physically demanding. They’ll take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to complete depending on your pace.

I like to work out at home so my training largely centers around completing strength and cardio workouts available on Beachbody on Demand, plus I go to a local “ninja gym” to do more obstacle course specific training.

Getting out there and running by yourself or with a group is a good idea as well.

They say the best workout is the one you’ll do so pick whatever works for you.

Don’t be Afraid of Failure

There will be some obstacles that you cannot complete and some races have some sort of penalty for not completing them but don’t stress out about it. Spartan Race makes you do 30 burpees for each obstacle you don’t do and X Warrior Challenge makes you run penalty laps to motivate you to at least try the obstacle but if you fail no problem – at least you tried! The point is you’re there and putting in the effort.

For me, the main goal when competing in these events is to have fun, not get injured and complete the course.

Choose the Appropriate Level

When you register for a race have a look at the various levels you can sign up for and choose the best one that fits with your level of fitness, experience and overall goal (i.e if you want to qualify for the OCR World Championships).

For Spartan Races your choices are:

  • Elite Level
  • By Age Group
  • Open

If this is your first race, go with the Open (since it’s typically not overly competitive and is where most start) and consider recruiting some friends to join you!

Difference between a Spartan Stadion, Sprint, Super, Beast and Ultra

Once you complete a Spartan Race Sprint (shortest distance and best place to start) you usually get a finishers’ medal and a rad t-shirt plus a trifecta medal piece (run a Super, Beast or Ultra to collect your remaining two pieces).

The differences between the types of races (according to Spartan’s FAQ are):

Spartan Stadion: 5K/20 Obstacles. The Stadion was an ancient Greek running event and a historic, original Olympic Game. It got its name from the storied stadium it took place in. Now, we’re letting you compete in the legendary stadiums of today and add to their history. But unlike Ancient Greece, all levels are encouraged to take part and enjoy themselves. No matter your level, set your own personal record and etch a new chapter in your own history book.

Spartan Sprint: 5K/20 Obstacles. The Sprint may be our shortest distance race, but it’s still a favorite amongst both new and returning racers. It’s the perfect distance for those looking to start their Spartan journey. The Sprint also allows returning racers a manageable distance to see how far they can push themselves. Delivering 20 obstacles over 5K, you’ll never run the same race twice. Once you complete the sprint you are 1/3 on your Spartan TRIFECTA: The ultimate Spartan achievement.

Spartan Super: 10K/25 Obstacles. There’s nothing mediocre about this middle distance race. The Spartan Super offers the ideal blend between distance and speed. Offering racers a true athletic test. If you consider yourself a more seasoned athlete determined to push beyond excuses, you just might have the mettle for a Spartan Super. Serving up 25 obstacles and 10K of rugged terrain, the Spartan Super spares no one. Developed as the second race in the Spartan Trifecta, the Super is where you prove to yourself you’ve got everything it takes to face the Beast.

Spartan Beast: Half-Marathon/30 Obstacles. If you’re looking to unleash your inner beast and go to places you never imagined, the Spartan Beast is perfect for you. With a half-marathon and 30 obstacles between you and the finish line, the Spartan Beast will test everything you’re made of: your strength, your endurance, your resolve. The unpredictable terrain and Spartan Obstacles are masterfully designed to push you deep into your discomfort zone, and well past those self-imposed obstacles you once considered your limits. Beast mode: on.

Spartan Ultra: 50K/60 Obstacles. The Ultra is the first race of its kind to bring the best of OCR and ultra-endurance sports together. If you’re a traditional ultra-endurance sports fan, you will love the Ultra.

Spartan Trail: 10K & Half-Marathon Distances, no obstacles. Spartan Trail is a no-obstacles foot race through rugged wilderness, overseen by legendary race directors from the world of trail running. Click here to learn more about Spartan Trail.

The Gear You’ll Need Come Race Day

You will want to invest in good performance gear (preferably not cotton). So this means breathable water wicking shorts, tops and compression socks. Trail running shoes are a good idea but note they’ll get dirty. Grip gloves for the obstacles are also something to consider. You’ll also want to bring a change of clothes for the trip home.

You will also want to consider bringing fuel to consume during the race as there typically aren’t any feeding stations on the course – just water stations.

For longer distance races (Super, Beast, Ultra) they strongly suggest wearing a hydration pack, drinking a Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, and bringing some Organic Honey Stinger waffles, gels and/or chews.

You Are Stronger Than You Think So Push Yourself

Remember you are competing against yourself so don’t fall in the trap of comparing yourself to others. There will be those in better shape and completing the obstacles faster than you but it doesn’t matter – you have already won just by showing up!

If you’re on the fence in terms of deciding if “you’re good enough” to do it I vote that you take the chance and do it!

I remember being on the fence when deciding on whether to do the X Warrior Challenge as I had watched some videos and it seemed beyond my abilities. What changed my mind though was the coach of an OCR fitness class mentioned the race at the end of the class while we were stretching and said that if we were able to complete his class that day that we were all more than capable of completing the X Warrior Challenge and that we should consider signing up, so I did. Just needed the nudge so here’s yours!

Further Reading and Videos

If you would like further information on training for your first Spartan Race here are some additional resources for you:

About the Author: Scott Young

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