I’m a runner. Period. I don’t do triathlons. I don’t do obstacle races. I don’t even do trail races very often. Yeah, I know I need to get out of my comfort zone more often.
Today’s topic for Tuesdays on the Run is “novelty races”. Patty, April, and I want to hear what you think of them, if you’ve done any, if you want to do any, etc. Novelty races are not my thing. I have little to no interest in running one. I won’t say I’ll never run one because I’d run one if there were a compelling reason (like one of my children wanting to do it), but I won’t go out of my way to enter one.
Since I have little to say about novelty races, I’ve decided to tell you the story of my friend’s journey to becoming an “obstacle course racer” and running his first Spartan Beast. I’ve known Matt for more than twenty years. He’s a fraternity brother of Beer Geek’s and has been a good friend for a long time. I’ve watched in awe as he went from just starting to run to completing a Spartan Beast. If you ever see me doing an OCR – blame him. (Though with my dislike of water/mud on my face, don’t hold your breath.) (This post contains affiliate links, which means if you register through them, I get a small commission.)
Anyways, in his own words, the journey from newbie to Spartan Beast…
How it all began
I started running about 2 years ago, after my doctor continually asked me about exercise. Coincidentally, a buddy of mine mentioned this thing called a Tough Mudder. It caught my interest and now I had an excuse to get in shape, but not just for “boring” road races. So, I saw road races initially as a means to the end of running my first Mudder in 2014. (I’ve since learned to enjoy road racing as well, especially running 5Ks with my daughter.)
Last year, I ran the Virginia Mudder, then immediately signed up for the West Virginia Mudder in September. In between, however, I met a guy at the County Fair who was wearing this Spartan shirt, and I was vaguely aware of it. I asked him about Mudders and he re-directed the conversation to Spartan. He talked about how Spartan takes themselves more seriously – prize money, penalties for failed obstacles, timed runs. I later watched an NBC Sports 1 hour show on Wintergreen and it captured my imagination and interest immediately. I knew I had to try this as well. This past June I ran another Mudder and had a good time, but I knew my next race was Spartan.
Becoming a Spartan runner
I’ve run now three consecutive Spartans. Each one was longer than the last: DC was a Sprint (I clocked about 4.7 miles), Wintergreen was a Super (somewhere around 9 miles) and Vermont was a Beast (some reports were near 15 miles). One of the reason to complete 3 in 1 year is to earn your “trifecta”. It’s a badge of honor that Spartans talk about. At Killington, there were double and triple trifectas being earned – I just felt proud, at 47 years old, to complete one! All races include strength obstacles (hoisting a sand bag, spear throwing, climbing, etc.) and the goal is to complete an obstacle successfully, in order not to endure a 30 burpee penalty. Erika’s note: I’d know nothing about completing more than one race to get extra kudos. Nothing. Ahem.
Preparing for the Beast
Vermont is different, was different and I knew it would be different. Joe de Sena, the founder of the race, started the Spartan at Killington years ago. The world championships, until this year, took place there. He designated this race as a “Founder’s Race”,which meant intense climbs and many obstacles in order to push us all past our comfort levels.
I prepared physically. Two weeks before the race, I ran a “simulated” Beast, which really was a joke, since you can’t simulate the obstacles or the inclines. I ran my home course 3 times, covering just over 13 miles with Bucket Brigades accounting for 1.5 miles of that, sand bag carries for 1.2 miles and I threw my homemade spear 21 times. That took just under 3 hours (which is the equivalent of an elite finishing time and I knew I wasn’t there.)
I read everything I could from blogs to Spartan’s own materials to FaceBook posts on how to prepare for day of. I carefully decided on GU, Stingers, Camelback’s electrolyte tabs and French’s mustard packets. I brought cold weather gear, not knowing what temperatures would actually be or if we’d be in the water much (only about 2 minutes total – no feat of strength involved.)
Finally, I talked to my physician – he’s an athlete – who gave me common sense guidance, as well as confirmation that I had prepared well. He only surprised me once – I asked about the psychology of running alone (all other OCR I ran with buddies) and running for over 6 hours straight. He pulled out “Unbroken”, a book about Louie Zamperini, who was a world class miler in the 1940s, before joining the Air Force and being taken as a POW by the Japanese. during WWII. He said “Read this. This man was tortured for years and he never quit- you can certainly run 6 hours, one foot in front of the other and not give up.” I read the book every day from Monday until finishing it Sunday, after the race. Amazing story, and I thought back to it during the race periodically. Erika’s note: I’ve read this book. It’s a great read and an amazing story of human strength.
So, morning of the race, I decided on slider underwear, shorts and a performance T, regular socks and my Brooks trail shoes. I had to wait for a deli to open to at least get some coffee and an egg biscuit in me. I checked in a little before 7am, wanting to see the Elites hit the course – the professionals and others who don’t mind spending a little extra to get the earliest slot of the day. I waited for my 8:30 start time and piled in the corral with 250 of my closest new friends. Someone reminded our start dude – the guy imparted with giving us the warnings, like “you could die” – that it was International Talk Like a Pirate day, so instead of “I am a Spartan” chant, we all chanted “I am a Pirate” and we were off.
The first 1/2 mile was relatively flat leading up to the memorization test – many chanted their code up the hill or wrote them on their body with a Sharpie. Alas, none of us needed it, as there never was a test later in the race. Thanks a lot, Yankee 816-8964. Then, we spent the next mile climbing to the summit of Killington. It was a good 15 degrees cooler and windy, which was refreshing as I was sweating up a storm.
It was there that I incurred my first penalty, for missing the spear throw. The bales of hay were haphazard and I just didn’t stick it. At the end of the race, I missed the 2nd spear toss. During the day, I only failed one other obstacle – the Z wall. You have pegs for your arms and your legs and must navigate down a wall, and around two corners with two additional walls. During my previous two Spartans, I was on the “left-handers” side, and couldn’t figure out why I didn’t get anywhere – just awkward. Fortunately, I figured it out, but was about 4 feet from completing it when I fell. I’ll take solace that I now know how to beat it. A total of 90 burpees of penalties. I’ll take that any day.
The elevation challenges at Killington were significant – about 6200 feet climb and 6200 feet descent. None of the walls posed much of a challenge, given my height, though I broke a rib on one of them. The strength obstacles – tire pulls, sand bag carries, log carries – you just do them. You don’t have a choice, you can’t take the burpee penalty. You just gut them out. I was pleased with both successes on rope climbs and the relative speed that I made it through all three barbed wires.
The distance would be a challenge for me. I’d run that far, but not with nearly 40 obstacles and the elevation. I kept thinking about how this is one day of my life, it would allow me to accomplish a goal I had and that others in worse shape and older than I can do it. I finished in 7:11 and was proud of my time.
I have to admit, this story kind of makes me want to go be badass as well, but then the reality of no upper body strength and being short reminds me that I’m much better suited to just running.
How about you? Are you feeling the need to give a Spartan race a go?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you register through them, I get a small commission. It is not, however, a sponsored post.
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43 thoughts on “TOTR: Running a Spartan Beast”
I’m not into these kinds of races either, but I agree- reading your friends story does make me think it could be a good experience. But yea, I’m sure I would have a really rough time!
I’d have to train hard to do any sort of OCR. I’m short with zero upper body strength. Not a good OCR combination.
Nope, as I wrote, zero interest. Zip, zero, nada. People seem to love these things but then I don’t get Ragnar either – although at least there you’ve got a team!
Ragnar is a blast – it’s an all night long running party LOL.But yeah, most of the novelty races don’t excite me.
I say to each their own. And each is inspiring in its own way! I would do a tri, but I’m terrible on trail runs and I don’t like mud and I just don’t have the crossfit type desires to throw things around and have that type of explosive strength. Thus, I marathon.
I think I’d be a trail runner if I had a place locally to run, but I live in the concrete jungle where even the paths are paved…
I did the Spartan Beast in South Carolina back in 2012. It was fun, but not really my thing. If I ventured at all in that direction again it might be for off-road tri or an adventure race.
I’m impressed! I’ve never even done one of the shorter OCR’s.
Right there with you Erica…not a fan of novelty races. I did the Hot Chocolate a few years back when the whole concept was growing and it was a logistical nightmare. Those races attract people who are out there for fun (nothing wrong with that) but have no concept of race etiquette, etc. Definitely not for the serious runner. And as far as adventure races, not for me. They look fun, but it’s not my thing.
I’ve heard good things about the Hot chocolate race in some locations, but it was an absolute nightmare in the DC area. The funny thing is that they were warned about issues with the logistics ahead of time, but they didn’t listen to the locals.
I’ve done a handful of similar races, but no where near the Spartan. I’ve done the much more tame Warrior Dash and some of the “fun” runs like the color run. They are okay…but I don’t know that I would do the Warrior Dash again.
I think the novelty runs are great if they get people moving, but I don’t really have any desire to have people throw color at me…
I’m not a novelty runner, either. And Spartan is so intimidating! I wish I could do it. Maybe one of these days… but not any time soon. 🙂
Yeah, not on my to do list LOL.
Kudos to your friend for finishing the Spartan race. I dont think this would be something that I would ever do. I like to run but incorporating obstacles along the way is an extra challenge I don’t think I’d want to take on.
I like the concept of challenging yourself physically, but I think the reality would be too much for me…
I haven’t done novelty races either. I’m a klutz so I have visions of hurting myself somewhere on obstacle courses and the like. I’ll cheer on runners but won’t do one.
I’m right there with you. I’d make an awesome OCR cheerleader LOL.
I have no desire to entrench myself in mud and barbed wire. I did a very benign 5k mud run once a few years ago to encourage a friend who was really excited about this idea of running. I barely got any mud on me but that was my limit. Ragnar is the closest I’ll come to a novelty race 😉
Yeah, mud is not my thing. I don’t mind some mud on a trail race, but I won’t be crawling through it.
Wait – he broke a rib and kept going? That is hardcore!
I haven’t done any novelty runs; they’re not really my thing either. Well, I ran a Ragnar relay last summer, which some would call novelty. This year I’m also doing a Halloween themed 5k where costumes are encouraged. I’m wearing a tiny witch hat on a headband and purple/black striped tights. That’s about as much as I can pull together. Give me a plain-Jane road race any day!
Crazy, right? I’ve done Ragnar – it never even occurred to me to think of it as a novelty run, but in some ways it is. Hmm… One person’s normal = another person’s novelty LOL.
Yeah, your friend is quite the BA (badass)! I don’t know… I could swim-bike-run my way through 70.3 miles any day (and, one day, 140.6), but a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race somehow have little appeal to me… To each their own!
I like the badassness to them, but I’m not sure I’m badass enough to survive. And I know I could
never survive a triathlon…
I would terrified of getting hurt! I’m worried enough about crashing and falling on a normal race course, never mind all of the obstacles!
Yep, right there with you. That’s why I’m so impressed with my friend.
I would love to try an OCR, but I’m a chicken. I have done color runs and glow runs, and that’s about as far as I go. I can run fine, but I have zero upper body strength, and I am grossed out by mud, especially now that there are so many stories about how the mud in some of the runs is actually livestock waste, and horror tales about runners going blind from contracting some awful bacteria from the standing water. I know that chances are slim, but I can’t get around it.
I have to admit – the gross mud stories are part of the reason I’m not planning to run an OCR anytime soon.
Congrats to your friend for being such a badass!! I don’t think I would ever do a Tough Mudder or Spartan race. I’m fine with mud but the obstacles scare me. I’ve heard about too many people really hurting themselves and I know I’d be among them. But I bow down to all those awesome finishers!!
I know- I’m such a klutz I’d probably hurt myself on something stupid.
Wow. A Beast. I can’t even imagine. I’m always so worried about injuring myself I stay away from things like this. Look very badass though.
I know, right? I’d break something, I’m sure.
Yea, I’ve got to be honest. I have no desire to do a Spartan race, tough mudder, mud run, you name it. None, zip, zero. Just not for me! But cheers to those that do do them, they definitely look challenging!
I need to start using some weights first LOL, but yeah, I’m a much bigger fan of just running.
The Spartan sounds really interesting, I’m doing Tough Mudder in a little over a week(!)…not even CLOSE to being prepared, sigh…
I think they sound really cool, I’m just not sure I could ever get ready for one and the mud kind of freaks me out.
Wow that’s a pretty awesome story! I am with you on having no desire to do obstacle races…I just don’t like getting dirty 😉 However I’m a recently-converted triathlete, and while I don’t get out as often as I’d like to, I enjoy a good trail run here and there.
I ran a race where we got donuts along the course…does that count as a novelty race? 😉
Umm, I do a race with donuts.;o)
Very inspiring! I am on the fence about whether or not to do one if these races or not. A few friends did a mudder and they all got some type of injury, that scares me a little. Maybe I will do some.
I’m a Spartan, too! I have a degree from Michigan State University, that is.
No Spartan races for this chica. While I’ve been heard saying things like “never say never,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the chances of me training for and competing in a Spartan race are slim to none.
But I’m glad they are there for those who want to challenge themselves. They’ve certainly earned the title of Spartan!
wow that is hardcore. I ran a 5k mud run and THAT was hard for me. Though eventually I’d like to actually train for it and see how I can do. I am curious about trying Ragnar as well…the no sleep thing scares me though lol
My husband and son have run this race but I haven’t. Yet.
I’m impressed with the Spartan runner. Nice post!