Thinking about running a Spartan Race or any other obstacle course race but don’t know what to expect, where to start or how to train? This weekend, I ran my first Spartan Race and yes, there were some surprises.
As I lugged a bucket full of rocks up a hill in the 100-degree heat, cursing at life and trying not to cry into my raw, blistered hands, I thought to myself, “Why? Why? Why am I doing this?!”
I came into this race overconfident, as it was only a Spartan Sprint – a quick 3-5 mile race. Not a big deal, right? Oh boy, it would’ve been great to know a few of the following things before I ran my first Spartan Race, so here are some tips to help you run your first Spartan Race.
1. Do A Lot Of Burpees and Then Do Some More
I knew this going in. If you can’t complete an obstacle, you have to do a Burpee Penalty. That’s 30 burpees. No problem, right? I failed to take into account that with my hands completely torn up, by the last part of the race, I couldn’t open my hands all the way, much less grip a rope to pull a sled across the hard dirt. 30 burpees became 60 burpees became 90 burpees. I was so dehydrated at that point (more on that later), I could barely count to 30.
While training for the race, make sure you burpee-proof yourself by just piling on the burpees, before, during and after every workout. Soon, you’ll be burpee-ing like a champ so when it’s showtime, 30 burpees will feel like a cake walk.
2. Train Differently
Forget all those clean, air-conditioned gym things you’re doing. You’re going to be working muscles you didn’t know existed (but trust me, they will be making themselves known with a vengeance). Those hours on the elliptical won’t help you much when one of the obstacles is bear crawling up a hill in mud with barbed wire hovering inches from your back.
You’ll encounter mud, dirt, blood, fire, sweat, tears, etc. so your sterile gym will not prepare you for battling all the elements you’ll encounter. (Try scrambling up a slippery, muddy wall in mud-caked shoes with bleeding hands).
3. Don’t Forget to Train Your Mind
Your mind is your biggest limiting factor, so says Amelia Boone (ultra and endurance athlete who wins every race she runs and is my current girl crush) and of course, she is right. Mental toughness, grit, determination, will or whatever you want to call it is what is going to get you through this, and any, race. To prepare, you need to be challenging yourself every single day. If the challenge is deciding to not drink that margarita even when all your friends want you to (I failed on that one) or not hitting the snooze button when your alarm goes off at 5am for your training run, do something hard every day. Day by day, you’ll build your mental strength, something you’ll absolutely need in a Spartan Race.
4. Don’t Drink Margaritas The Night Before
This is self-explanatory. Not being properly hydrated and being semi-dehydrated plus intense heat equaled a much tougher race than I had anticipated.
5. Don’t Skip Trail Run Days
Hill after hill after hill, I cursed myself for skipping almost all my scheduled trail running days. My body was used to a nice, flat, paved course from marathon training and not a rocky, extra hilly, dirt road. Trail running is good to incorporate into your routine anyhow because it works different muscles that don’t get attention on a typical weekday morning, flat, pavement run.
1. What Should I Bring?
One of my team members asked if he should bring his Camelbak HydroBak Hydration Pack and gloves. I told him that I didn’t think they were necessary. After all, the Sprint is only 3-5 miles and there should be PLENTY OF WATER STATIONS. Right? Wrong. This is a Spartan. They mean business and they like suffering – apparently, it builds character. These are the people that make you jump over a wall to get to the starting line after all.
Here’s what I think you should bring the day of a Spartan Race:
- Camelbak Hydration Pack or water: no matter how short you think the race is, the water stations are few and far between. Plus, there’s always a line at the water stations, so to get a faster time, bring your own hydration.
- Weight Lifting Gloves: This may be a personal preference but gloves would’ve been great. Those monkey bars and ropes really did a number on my hands, which spend most days tapping keys on a keyboard.
- An extra change of clothes and some flip flops: You’ll be covered in mud, dirt, sweat, blood and more, so bring a change of clothes for after you rinse off so you don’t mess up your car.
- Towel: For after you rinse off and to protect your car seats
- Coconut water: For before and after the race
- Plastic bags/garbage bags: For your dirty clothes
- Mustard packets: Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not uncommon to get major muscle cramps along the course (one of my teammates fell behind from leg cramps) and apparently mustard helps. More than once I saw someone sitting on the side of the trail sucking down mustard. Yuck!
2. What Should I Wear?
Don’t wear cotton! You’ll be going in and underwater, so wet cotton will be like a stretchy weight vest and who wants that? Dri-fit, snug, no pockets with little areas where mud can collect. I went with a sports bra and moisture wicking shorts and I’m really glad I did. If you’re afraid of cuts and scrapes then you may want to consider long sleeves and compression tights, but I get very hot when I run, so the least amount of clothes for me, the better. Make sure they fit nicely otherwise, you’ll be pulling your pants up after getting out of the water every time and getting your clothes caught on barbed wire.
3. What Should I Expect?
Expect to work really hard, challenge yourself and have a blast! Just like with any race, I was muttering to myself that I’d never do another one of these again, but as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was looking up when the next race was!
For the Sprint, we were told 3-5 miles and it ended up being a total of 4.6 miles (from what we were told; I didn’t have a running watch that could withstand the elements). Not having mile markers or any way of marking time was rough for me, especially when I was delirious with dehydration!
There were about 15-20 obstacles and everyone on the team had a different opinion on which was the most difficult. I voted for the bucket carry where we had to fill a bucket full of rocks and carry it up and down a hill. Another team member said for him, it was the barbed wire crawl and another thought the most difficult was pulling a 120+lb sandbag 30+ feet in the air. There were countless hills and walls to jump over in between.
The feeling you get when you’re finally done and you get that medal around your neck is AWESOME. That’s when I realized that I actually had fun doing it, no matter how badly it hurt.
1. Hydrogen Peroxide Hurts Like A #%$@^#
My ripped hands needed some medical attention so I made my way to the medic tent where people were lying all over the floor with IV bags (I heard later a girl broke her arm and numerous people fainted from the heat). The nurse sprayed my wounds with hydrogen peroxide which felt like tiny micro razors tearing through my palm. But make sure you treat your wounds and clean them out immediately. Then let those blisters dry out lest they become infected.
2. Active Recovery
You will be sore in weird places because you worked weird parts of your body that you typically don’t work out. My hips and ankles were the sorest, probably because I wore a REALLY old pair of running shoes and from running up and down all the hills. My chiropractor had me doing 180 calf raises every day for the weeks leading up to the race and I think that helped my calves stay nice and loose. They weren’t sore at all the next day.
The day after the race, make sure you stay active. Go on a brisk walk, do some yoga, foam roll, etc. Don’t just sit there or you’ll regret it! My lower back was a bit sore as well and that was from the bucket carry, for sure.
3. Epsom Salt Bath
To ease muscle soreness, get in a nice warm Epsom salt bath. It probably won’t feel that great on your scrapes but your muscles will thank you and your cuts will heal faster.
4. Sign Up For The Next One!
Once the pain of the race is over, it’s like childbirth; you’ll soon forget the pain. Spartan also sends a discount code to sign up for your next race, so be on the lookout for that and I’ll see you on the course!
Have you ever run a Spartan Race? Tell me about it in the comments below!