So you want to do a Spartan Race?

If so, you’re in for a treat.

Finishing an obstacle course race is an awesome experience – especially if you give it your all and hold nothing back.

To say I was unprepared for my first Spartan Race would be an understatement.

I knew there would be a lot of running, so in the months leading up to the race I ran the seawall in Vancouver and did some track and hill running at a nearby park.

I limited my alcohol intake and worked on my nutrition and mobility.

Other than that, I didn’t do a whole lot of preparation aside from the ongoing shoulder rehab work I had been doing at the time (largely responsible for my lack of activity in the gym up until this point – that and a few other injuries I was recovering from.)

Your Race Begins the Moment You Sign Up

A number of years ago I attended an event in California.  It was a personal development experience where you were basically locked in a room 12-18 hours a day over a weekend. One of the things I was told when I signed on the dotted line months before the event was “Your weekend has now begun”.

Well, a Spartan Race is kind of like that.

Almost immediately after signing up several of the friends I was supposed to do the race with bailed.

And about 3 times leading up to the event I almost chose not to go.

Just before the race, one of the guys who had joined the team bailed last minute despite having paid. And then on race day, yet another guy was unable to compete despite driving with me to the race “because his girlfriend had booked him into the wrong race”.

In the end? It ended up being me and one other buddy out of about 7 or 8 people who had originally shown interest.

So bear this in mind: when you sign up, like many other things in life, you’ll likely start being tested right away – you’ll almost immediately be faced with all sorts of things calling for your attention and rather quickly, you may want to quit – but stick with it!

Race Day

The race took place on top of Seymour Mountain just outside of Vancouver, BC and had incredible views of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

It was a Spartan Sprint, which means it would be 5 km long. Ours ended up being about 6.3 but who’s counting right?

At the start I lined up (grouped up is more like it) with 300 other Spartan hopefuls and we listened to an “Aroo’d” along with an energetic guy on a loudspeaker who hyped us up before unleashing us on the course.

So it Begins

And like that we were off.  Truthfully, I jogged as I was out of shape and had no idea how I was going to fare over the duration of the course.  I knew I could jog 5 kms, but had no idea how adding in the the ups and downs of the mountain or the obstacles might affect me…I would soon find out.

Turns out it wouldn’t be the mountain nor the obstacles nor the running that would do me in…

Beware the Burpees

Before you do a Spartan Race, know this – when you fail at an obstacle, which you will, you must do 30 burpees before continuing on.

I don’t think I had done a proper burpee in 4-5 years.  Big mistake.

All in I ended up doing 120 burpees which damn near killed me.

The race was 6.2 kms in length and the obstacles were challenging but it was slipping off an obstacle here or a spear toss that didn’t quite stick there, and the resulting burpees that almost did me in.

I failed to warm up my lower back and in the thick of things I’m pretty sure my burpee form was terrible, which resulted in a lot of wasted energy and an incredibly stiff and painful lower back for the week following the event.

The Obstacles

In total I think there were about 25 obstacles on this course – all of them fun. I even enjoyed the small obstacles that you could hop over relatively easily. And the bigger the better.

Here’s an example of what you will face:


Near the end I was gassed and came face to face with an 8 or 9 foot wall that had a big ladder on top of it.  The base was square but the upper ladder was sort of triangular in shape. It was huge. I  had to take a minute to catch my breath and push thoughts of not being able to get up it out of my mind.

(To see a heck of a lot more obstacle examples, click here.)

Then I tackled it with everything I had.

I ran, I lept, and to my surprise I threw my body right up to the top of the first wall and easily climbed the ladder portion. Up and over, no problem, despite being exhausted.

And when I didn’t think I had any gas left in the tank?

That’s when it got real fun.

About 500 m from the finish line we faced 5 more obstacles including a circuit where you had to scoop up sand into a bucket, then carry the bucket down a steep slope and back up the other side and then dump the bucket out.

Carrying ye old bucket o’dirt.

This is the point where a lot of people just gave up.

There were dumped buckets everywhere.

I had to take 5 breathers (I’m guessing the bucket weighed about 50 lbs) but I got through it.

And then, right at the end, when I thought it couldn’t get any harder, I came face to face with a 20′ rope I had to climb.

The author, failing to climb a simple rope :(
The author, failing to climb a simple rope 🙁
The author's buddy, easily climbing the rope :)
The author’s buddy, easily climbing the rope 🙂

I failed twice and decided to hit the burpees.

It took me 15-20 mins to get those final 30 burpees out.

Totally dead.

Then, into a mud pit, under some barbed wire, and over a flaming log and I was done.

My buddy Craig and I at the end of it all.
My buddy Craig and I at the end of it all.

It felt amazing.

And yes, I’ll definitely be doing it again…in better shape.

Much better shape!

Some Final Tips

If you’re thinking of trying out a Spartan Race and want some tips from an Ironman athlete and Spartan Race competitor, head over to Mind Body Green and check out this post by Ben Greenfield.