by Tom Gabriel
Remember being a kid on the playground? The monkey bars, climbing up structures, running around and getting dirty…it was great. Well, that’s basically what Spartan races are for adults. It’s a challenging obstacle course race where you put not only your speed to the test but also your strength and sheer will to keep going. You’re guaranteed to come out with some type of minor injury, bump, bruise, cut or the like. I promise, the next day you will be banged up and sore. But that’s what makes these races something different. After completing one, you almost feel primal. Like maybe you could have survived in the ancient times, those of Sparta or Greece. Well, let’s not get carried away, but it does put your body to the test.
I’ve run a few of these the in the past years, so here’s a quick breakdown. There are three different types/challenges of races (for the most part, there are actually more but those are specific and rare). A Sprint is the 5K version with 20+ obstacles. The Super is the 10K version with 25+ obstacles and the Beast is a half marathon with 30+ obstacles. At the end of each race, you receive a medal and a 1/3 wedge showing the distance/challenge. Should one complete all 3 in a calendar year, the wedges lock together to become a large medal called the Trifecta. It’s a great accomplishment and goal to work towards. The races also vary in terrain, with some being mountainous while others are flat. Since they are across the world, you can also get different landscapes such as desert in Arizona or swamp in Florida. Here in the Northeast, most courses are on mountains.
The most recent race in this area was held at Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey. So, if you didn’t figure it out by the name, you are running up and down, and up and down, a ski mountain. They offered both a Sprint and a Super. This particular weekend there was nonstop rain, which had been a continuation of a week or more of consistent rain. It. Was. Muddy. I’ve done more than 5 of these races and this was by far the most grueling terrain. Had it just been a trail run this would have been hard, forget the obstacles! I couldn’t even get my footing at certain parts without slipping in the mud. On the downhills you could have just sat down and done a mud slide the entire way down. People were falling over nonstop the entire race. And EVERYONE was covered in mud.
Click here for great video of the event!
The first obstacles were monkey bars followed by 6ft, 7ft and 8ft walls you had to jump over. If getting across monkey bars isn’t hard enough, it’s nearly impossible in the rain with muddy hands. However, I did make it over and continued on to hop each of the 3 walls. Up next was a javelin throw, in which you must stick the javelin in a target. While I have succeeded in this before, I missed this time around. When one fails an obstacle you have to do a penalty loop, which are usually about half mile. This adds to your total distance/time and allows others who complete the obstacle to keep moving forward while you’re hung up running a loop. It also tires you out more, so it’s a huge advantage to complete the obstacles.
I continued pushing forward and then went on to complete some more obstacles, things such as climbing cargo nets, rope climbs up a wall, rolling mud pits and the dunk wall (pictured). I failed a few more obstacles that required hanging and swinging forward, similar to the monkey bars, but with rings, pipes, moving bars, etc. Things were just too slippery and I could not grip them. After miles of muddy running and trying to not slip and injure myself, I came to the bucket carry. This is where you carry a 75-pound bucket around a half mile or so loop. This loop was so muddy and had such steep elevation people literally could not make it up the climb, and many were crashing down on the return. I myself slipped on the way up and dropped my bucket, something I’ve never done. It was very difficult to pick it back up as I stood on a slope covered in mud. However, I got it done, both up and down. At this point I could feel my energy drained. I later learned that just 15 minutes after I made it through the carry, the organizers shut it down for safety reasons, something very rare for Spartan, whose motto is “Do Tough Sh*t.” Only those who were out front got to experience what was by far the most difficult part of the race.
The race finished up with the typical ‘gauntlet’ which is a rope climb, sandbag hoist and a couple of other upper body killers. As you finish with these, strength becomes the advantage as the obstacles are close and running speed doesn’t matter. All that’s left is a small jump over a fire (sounds scarier than it is) and the medal is yours.
Spartan races are something that really put your whole body and mind to the test. While runners do have an advantage (after all it’s still a race), strength and other factors come in to play. If you haven’t done one, I’d highly suggest it! Start off with a Sprint and see how it goes. The next one in our area is in Bethel, NY the weekend of June 17-18. I hope to see you there!