So You want to Run a Spartan?

I have a special treat today! Let’s give a huge welcome to my guest writer Nat as she shares her tips to running a Spartan obstacle race. Be sure to click on the link above and visit Nat’s delightful blog where she writes about all things fitness, natural beauty products, cats and everything in between. 
 There’s a bit of everything in running obstacle races or OCR. I’ve ran The Spartan Super twice, The Beast once and a few other local OCR races. I’m no athlete and neither am I an elite OCR runner. I run them for the challenge they gives me and because normal road races and running can get boring. When Charlotte asked me for an OCR running guide for beginners I wasn’t too sure how to approach it. I can only speak from what I’ve learnt so far.Everybody’s training is different. You don’t have to do CrossFit to run Spartan or any other OCR’s. Spartan Races were around long before Reebok started sponsoring them. Yes, some of CrossFit training helps but you can box jump, clean, snatch, throw medicine balls, slam balls pretty much anywhere. The one thing you will have to do which is CrossFit is the burpee style. Usually for every obstacle you fail it’s 30 CrossFit burpees. Your chest has to touch the floor. CrossFit burpee is like a body flop instead of a regular burpee with a push up. They’re brutal as the race goes on and not everybody does them or even 5 of them. Volunteers can turn a blind eye, which really takes away from those who train for them and actually do them. I think that’s maybe the only aspect of OCR’s I don’t like. However each race is different and if the volunteer says only 15 burpees, 15’s way nicer than 30!

There’s no set training so to speak. You have to be able to run, jump, climbing, hang, push, pull mostly your own body weight. I find functional training helps. Look as the sport and then train for the movements. Below I’ve complied a check list (apologies it’s kinda long) that’s helped with my training. I’ve also included some pre and post race tips I’ve learnt along the way. This isn’t a set training guide, just from what I’ve learnt so far in each race, each YouTube or Instagram OCR account I come across, new obstacles, new techniques and new moves and exercises to try out and learn from.

Don’t worry signing up to run on your own. Everybody unless running in the Elite wave where it’s each to their own for ranking and prize money, help each other. You help others getting over walls, they’ll help you. You give others encouragement, they give you encouragement! You meet all kinds of people, some you might see again on other OCR’s. Yes, OCR’s are addictive!

You must be able to run the race distance and then some. Spartan Sprint’s 5km, Super’s 13-15km, The Beast 21km+. You won’t be out there for your usually 5km, 15km, 21km time. You’ll be out there for way longer depending on the terrain, bottle necks, waiting your turn, walking parts of it recovering or because of the terrain or tiredness and of course the obstacles!

If you run as a team, agree before if to run together or split up. It helps if you’re the same fitness level. If you know you can go ahead but can’t or know that the others are itching to are ahead it can lead to a little resentment or disappointment. Decided before running the plan.

Look at the obstacles and train for them. You’ll need power, speed for obstacles, endurance if running the longer distances. Spartan Race online has some great training programs on how to train for the main events. A quick Google search leads to many training programs but you don’t have to train for them exactly, although the training’s fun!

YouTube is a great source of OCR training videos or race day GoPro’s which give you an idea of terrain and obstacles to expect. Instagram is also a good source training ideas. Many elite runners post race day GoPros snippets or training videos. #ocr

Include HIIT workouts in your training. These will not only give you power and strength and also get you used to stop starting with obstacles and running as well as improving overall fitness. Even adding say a 30 second cardio burst in between lifting will help.

Monkey bars in playgrounds are an obvious place to train for monkey bar obstacles. Don’t just go straight across them. Move across laterally, hang and lift legs to over hang the next bar and pull yourself up, do chin ups and pull ups. Think monkey!

Chin ups and pull ups will help with walls, but I found muscle ups are better for clearing walls, log fences etc. No worries if you can’t jump up to an overhead bar and clear it. I can only just clear on a counter balance smith machine (I use the yellow brakes to stop it moving) at the gym, a bar my forehead height. I have to jump to pull myself up! This I learnt from experience. One race I didn’t train muscle ups and felt a huge loss of strength with walls to the previous one when I had. The following race I made sure I trained muscles ups and they made a huge difference hauling myself over lower lying walls.

Wood chops help with picking up sandbags or tyre carries. I love sandbag pick up offset squats. Say what? I start with a sandbag either between my feet or to one side. I squat low to pick it up, place on one shoulder, squat, stand then squat again either placing the sandbag back in between my feet or to my other side. I also do offset sandbag regular squats with the sandbag on one shoulder, walking offset lunges with a sandbag on one shoulder, switch shoulders say after 10 lunges. Train each side evenly. Even walk around with a sandbag on one shoulder (don’t for get to switch shoulder after X amount of steps/seconds) as this is what you’ll be doing race day. The sandbag obstacles can be long and your shoulder gets tired. Also try to work up to a heavy as you can manage sandbag. Some races have nice neat sandbags, others sacks filled with sand or rocks and always it’s oh, this weighs a ton races through my mind!

Play with medicine balls, carry them, slam them. Do box jumps, work with a suspension trainer, especially rows, power pulls, squat rows, as many suspension trainer rows as you can. There will be a lot of pull things and pushing things race day. Do bear crawls, side to side push ups, lizard walks, duck walks. Work with kettlebells: cleans, snatches, push pulls, rows etc. Do walking lunges holding a weighted plate over head, do squat plate raises. Oh and tyre flips! If you haven’t access to a tyre to flip, the heaviest sandbag will work! Just remember posture, core drawn in, shoulders back and down, chest open!

Don’t forget planks for the core and arms. Work on a variety of planks, full planks, elbow planks, side planks. Hold them and also add movement to them.

Kettlebells in training will be your friends more than dumbbells because of their weight distribution and shape to how they translate to OCR’s. No worries if you don’t have access to kettlebells, dumbbells will still work.

Include bodyweight or callisthenics exercises in your training in addition to resistance training. It’s your body weight your hauling over obstacles.

Practice/ train the 30 burpees. Work up to 30. Break them down into 3 x 10, 2 x 15 or smash them out all at once taking your time. Check the race obstacle forfeit, the burpee amount could be different, however 30’s standard. Depending on race day you might do 30, 60 or 120 plus burpees (that’s if you do them and don’t just do 1 and run on!) so throw 30 burpees in your training schedule regularly.

There’s nearly always a rope climb. If you have access to rope climbing go for it and learn the correct technique. As I haven’t access to a rope, it’s 30 burpees for me. As is the javelin. Both are usually the 2 major Spartan burpees obstacles.

Don’t forget either to work rotator cuff with resistance bands. You don’t have to go heavy with them, keep them light to keep rotator cuffs happy and strong. Rotator cuffs often neglected when it comes to shoulder training, but play a huge role in stabilising the shoulder joint which help prevent injuries.

See if the race you’re signing up for holds local training sessions or if there’s an OCR training group in your area. I attended one before my 1st Spartan and had so much fun! Maybe not how many burpees in 5 minutes! It was a lot of stuff we did back in primary school PE lessons. Leap frogs, crawling under a line of people in downward dog (training for low lying cargo nets), groups of 4 carrying 1 a set distance etc.

Try to train running outside as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to jump over things, like benches, play in the kids playground, climb over their forts! Find narrow low walls to practice balance on as most races have balance obstacles. Include hills and trails (or something similar to trails. I run on the beaches as I haven’t easy access to trials) if you can. And it’s okay to walk in training and on race day!

Be prepared for mud! The Spartans I’ve done have been head to toe mud! It’s a little daunting at first, but once you’ve done the first mud obstacle the rest aren’t so bad. And remember everybody else is covered in mud too!

If you can invest in a good pair trail trainers. Not the usual Asics, Brooks or Nike trail shoes. I’m talking Salomon off road trail type trainers. Not only will you need them for the terrain, but the mud, for some traction in the mud and for help griping a few obstacles. You’ll find a lot of people throw their trainers away post race as they’re normal running trainers which are basically trashed post race. Invest in a good pair and they’ll pay you back. Reward them by rinsing and soaking them in a bucket for a few days afterwards.

All OCRs provide water stations however for races longer than say 8-10km I’d recommend a hydration pack, especially if you’re running the Spartan Super or Beast. Aid stations usually fill the pack up along the course. Training running with the hydration pack so race day you’re all set!

If you’ve signed up to run the longer distances, train running with energy gels and bars that work for you (some can give you upset tummies or bottoms, especially those provided from aid stations you’re not used to). For the Super’s I pack a few gels or kids fruit purees snacks just in case however when I ran the Beast I trained with snacks so race day I had energy! I think every 45 minutes I had one whether I wanted it or not. I think the gel aid station was 15km in and most runners were hungry for them.

Not all but some Spartan races, the showers are mixed, open air camping style showers and cold! Or the ones I’ve done in Spain. Some strip off completely however as they’re mixed most shower off what they can. Others you get warm changing room showers, but take flip flops and towels and be prepared to shower again at home/hotel.

I recommend packing your race bag as you need it. Working up from the bottom layer, clean clothes as the bottom in a plastic bag, another plastic bag with your flip flops, towel and toiletries for muddy trainers, clothes, hydration pack later, another plastic bag filled with pre race items. You’ve guessed it, it’s all about keeping the mud out!

Don’t in anything too stretchy if you know it’s a muddy or wet run. I made this mistake on my 1st race. I wore a stretchy tank that really bugged me as it was almost down to my knees after the 1st mud obstacle.

If you bruise easily maybe run in a lightweight long sleeved running top or in running sleeves pushing them up or down for the crawls under barbed wire.

I’m doing this on my next race, wearing my hair in plaits or braids. Side French braids if I can get someone to do them. Hair in a pony tail or bun gets caught up in nets. Most girls with long hair I’ve noticed do this running OCR’s. It’s out your face and out the way.

I like to remove any earrings and jewellery not only as I don’t want to loose them, but I don’t want them to catch on anything and hurting me. I wear my normal gym watch for timing etc.

Be prepared to be rinsing mud out for days! Some machine wash straight away. I’m no, I don’t want mud clogging the machine so usually the next day I rinse everything, trainers, socks and all out under the bath tap numerous times, soak over night in a bucket, repeat for the next 2 days until most of the mud’s out, then machine wash it. Mud as I’ve learnt is stubborn to remove! Even after machine washing a few times it can be still in there!

The best advice I can offer is have fun! Embrace the bruises, cuts, scrapes and mud! Embrace that feeling crossing the finish line being awarding your medal. You earned it, you trained for it, you made new friends along the way, you have the bruises to show for it, you burpeed, pushed, pulled, found new strengths you didn’t know you had and nobody can take that away from you! You did it!

21 thoughts on “So You want to Run a Spartan?

  1. Thank you for my guest spot! I’m honoured!

    Maybe this time next year or even for the Fall this year you’ll be running one! I think there’s a woman only one Muddy Angels, 5km. I think it might be Europe only, however it’s worth checking out!

  2. Fun! I think these types of races are great for those gym rats that want a little more of a challenge and with the obstacles and such its like being at the gym but outside!! Plus always fun getting dirty. I have little interest in Spartan but I know people that are addicted to and only do these types of races. I just want to say I’ve jumped over fire like some of them offer. LOL

    1. It would be such a fun challenge. I think with your running expertise you would do great, Chels! Plus you also do strength work too. Jumping over the fire would make me feel a little like a superhero.

    2. Oh they do endurance Spartans and other ultra distances. Some are of an unknown location and distance and it’s down to you as a team to work it out. Some are 50 -70km, others set over 24 hours plus so I can’t say it’s for gym rats only! Not only do you have to be able to run the distance, you have some gruelling obstacles to do and a lot are set in mountain trails, jungles and some through deserts with a 25% or less finish rate. Remember Armed forces do these all the time as there’s no way they’re gym rats. Check out these races:

      1. Thank you! I’m really not interested in obstacles being in the way of my beloved running, as an ultra runner, I like to RUN. (imagine that) But thank you! I think it is wonderful that you’ve found your lil’ niche.

  3. I would love to do and event like this someday but right now, I am so far from that level of preparedness. It’s enticing to read Nat’s post though.

  4. A great detailed write up by Natalie. She was one of my 1st blog followers and is still one my most engaging followers. She has such a big, adventurous heart, which is so evident in this post. I have a co-worker who is big on the OCR’s , and I am sure down the road I will do one and maybe “get bitten”. Not too sure about stripping off in the mixed showers though. I am a conservative Canadian…lol! Thank you for sharing this guest post Natalie Tanner! 🙂

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