He thought nothing of the red mark above his left knee as he scratched it. A mosquito, perhaps. Maybe a zit. How charming. But as the hours rolled into days, it was apparent this was no ordinary mark.

Californian resident Steffen Cook – “Cookie” to those that know him – was visiting his family and friends in England and had decided to make the most of his sojourn with an annual 10k in a local town close to where he would be staying.

“It was just to keep my eye in, more than anything. I knew I wouldn’t be working out or anything, so thought a little 10K just to keep sharp would be a good idea.”

On the morning of the Woodhall Spa 10k, Cookie awoke to find that the small red mark was quite a lot angrier than that of a visit from a mosquito. It was all too apparent that before he made it to LAX, an unidentified Californian spider had bitten him and whatever poison was injected into him was in full effect. 

“I don’t think it was full-blown necrotic. Sure, the skin was falling away and I was regularly squeezing the wound and having a very unpleasant cocktail of blood, pus and, I assume, poison coming out. I was told by a medic that it would get worse before it got better. He was right.”

On the morning of the race, Cookie had a decision to make. He’d been unable to train for the race due to various commitments, but despite this, he knew it would be an easy choice to make.

“I’ve met people at Spartan Races with terrible conditions. People with no arms or legs. Others that have Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, this list goes on and on. I’ve met cancer survivors who just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. Let’s get this straight: people with conditions that don’t see it as a big deal. They just laugh off their situations like it’s dandruff or something. If I step on a Lego, the wife will have to deal with my whining for several days and will have to bring me several cups of tea and a large selection of cookies and cake in order for me to feel better.”

Cookie knew it wouldn’t be his best time. Working on 2 hours sleep due to the jetlag of having landed the day before and with the bite throbbing and trying it’s hardest to make itself known, he stepped into the starting corral and ran.

He continues, “It was hard, I won’t lie. I could give you great lines about how I ignored the pain and whatever, but that wouldn’t be true. It hurt like Hell. Yes, I ran, but it was the slowest 10k I’ve done in all the time I’ve been doing this. But you know what? Every time I thought about quitting, the Cookie in my minds’ eye would fold his arms, do “that” sneer and shake his head like he’s disappointed in me. I’d pick up the pace and he’d reward me with some Slayer. Slayer makes a great running soundtrack you know! Everyone listen to more Slayer!”, he laughs.  

In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t as large of an obstacle as some of the other things he’s had to deal with. His biggest injuries, ailments and conditions were never physical. Divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness are but just a few of the darker chapters in the book of Cookie’s life. But bizarrely, he grins when these pages are mentioned to him.

“Yeah, not good times! I’ve certainly had better periods in my life. But, as perverse as it sounds, what I went through back then made excellent training. You can put Spartan Beasts in front of me, or challenge me to do 500 burpees or whatever. Those things or spider bites don’t even register. I’ll get all those things done, slowly of course, but they’ll get done. I’ve walked through my own personal hell made it through and now, there’s not very much that will put me off something that I’ve decided to do.”

This unusual way of channeling negatives into a positive works for this jogging enthusiast and essentially, all he’s doing is living his own version of the Spartan lifestyle. Every single person has something that they use in order to get through. Training, love, anger, hatred, fear, joy, reward… all means to an end. Find your motivation and use it as you see fit.

“I’m not sure how you’d label my motivation. I’m a happy guy that uses everything negative that I’ve had to go through in order to get to where I want to be. Hate can be a very powerful force. It’s just down to harnessing it. I’m just an oddball, I suppose. I’ll happily hold my hands up to that. Guilty as charged! But I’m an oddball that doesn’t quit. Quitting isn’t allowed”, he smiles.

See you at the finish line….

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by Steffen “Cookie” Cook
James Appleton’s accent cut through the press conference room like a shaft of bright light. “My background is in the UK Tough Guy competition.” He paused and smiled wryly, “I’m here because it’s tougher than Spartan Race.” With his last comment, he glanced at Spartan Race founder, Joe De Sena who chuckled.  The comment reflects his his deadpan British humor, rushing to the surface, and catching the pre-Vermont Beast press conference unaware. James Appleton lets a fleeting, impish grin dance across his lips before it’s lost again. Blink, and you would have missed it.

Appleton continues, “Spartan was kind enough to fly me out here on the Wednesday prior to the race, about 16 hours of travelling, to allow some time to adjust to the different time zones, so I’d feel right on the day. It was a great chance to get a feel for what was in store beforehand too. I’ve never raced a Spartan Race, let alone the Killington Beast, so it was good to put the landscape in my mind and prepare for what was in store.”

Ever the polite English gentleman, James deliberately makes no mention of his finish (placing 7th) ahead of many recognized and veteran names within the Spartan Race series. “It’s been a real honor to come and race against the guys here as a competitor from a totally separate race, and I’d like to personally thank the guys that helped make that happen – Scott, Robert, Carrie and obviously Joe. I hope that my involvement helped add to the race, in however small a way, and I’d love the chance to come back stronger, wiser, and faster. I’d like a podium finish next time around.”

Appleton has an incredible back story. Born in Manchester, England, but now living in London, he was the only elite competitor from the UK at the Vermont World Championships, but of many from across the world to have taken on the Beast. Something he was very excited about as the sport continues to grow.

“This sport is clearly growing, which is fantastic, and it’s not going to be a passing phase – there’s clearly huge interest, enjoyment and challenge from these races and the adventure that comes from having to really develop all-body strength, agility and endurance. That, and that I hope I did them proud in my first ever chance to represent my country in this new race – I learned a lot on the course, sometimes through making mistakes, and I’d love to come back with greater experience and understanding and apply that, see if I can’t do better than I managed this first time round.”

The three-time winner of the UK Tough Guy competition was keen to see the parallels and to test what he’s learned in England against what is now the biggest obstacle race championship in the world. Comparing the two, he sees parallels.

Photo courtesy of Scott Keneally

“They’re similar in so many ways, but ultimately it’s quite a different experience, at least to the Winter Tough Guy, which is my background in the UK. In terms of calories burned and elevation gained, the Spartan Beast is further and higher. That said, the site in the UK is a permanent one, so the obstacles there have been built over years and years and they’re pretty epic. But most of all it’s a temperature thing – the first year I won the UK Tough Guy I collapsed on the finish with severe hypothermia and spent four hours being slowly warmed back to life by medics. It takes you to such a level of physical destruction in such a short amount of time, and the electrocution side really kicks you in the teeth, that even for the best runners it’s a case of surviving to the finish, let alone racing. But the sense of comradeship, of sharing the experience with the other contenders, is very similar, and it’s a real family of people there, and it was awesome to see that same sense of loyalty and family with the Spartans at this series. That, and the journey each person goes through – you learn about yourself and your abilities, and always come away a stronger and better person for it – that’s a universal thing with obstacle racing and it’s such a huge part of why people come back time and time again.”

With Spartan Race experience under his belt, James will come back armed with better training next time. Pondering his plan of action, he says, “I’ll definitely be adding a lot more rope work to my training, both traverse type and climbing – both for the upper body development and also the grip strength, along with the technique of moving quickly across this challenge. I want to come back next year and nail that particular obstacle.”

Beyond the physical, Appleton remarked on the mental challenges he faced on the course. “I think the most mentally difficult obstacle was the gravel carry. That felt more like a Death Race task rather than a racing obstacle since there was a fair amount of luck involved – one small slip and your race was ruined, having to restart, refill the bucket and carry on, as opposed to just re-picking up something like a sandbag.”

The race involved suffering for all the competitors, for James, it was the newness of an obstacle he’d never faced. “On a personal level, the obstacle I suffered with the most was probably the Tyrolean Traverse, purely because I’d not come across something like that and the strength/technique/speed required to get across underneath was new to me. I didn’t get it right first time, and that was frustrating to deal with and the subsequent loss of time.”

With so many aspects of the race still fresh in his memory, he thinks back and that wry smile plays on his face again when he tries to pick his favorite moment. “It’s hard to pick a highlight for the whole weekend, there were so many different moments, people, and performances that I saw that were just incredible. But personally for me, on a slightly selfish note, it was being called up to the start line on behalf of my country right before the race – as the names of some of the best obstacle racers from all around the world were called. I took great pride in stepping up for the UK. In my opinion, that list of names and countries really showed how far this sport has come and will hopefully continue to go, and was a real benchmark for taking this sport forwards to new and exciting levels.”

But it’s his closing statements which prove that despite his only having done one race so far that prove that he quickly learned what Spartan Race is all about.

Congratulations to James and his 7th place finish.  We look forward to seeing him on more of our Spartan Race courses.  His parting thoughts are with those who he watched cross the finish line hours after his impressive 4 hour finish time.  “Switching from all the talk that comes in about who’s going to make top ten, I always feel that some of the truly hardcore people are those that are at the other end of the scale – the guys and girls out there for way longer than everyone else who take a much higher dose of pain and suffering.  I always have great respect for them and their mental determination to plug on despite the long hours out in the elements taking a beating – they take way more punishment than we do at the front.”

Now it’s your turn.  Sign up today.

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Reebok Spartan Race is officially set to conquer France. November 24, 2013 the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet will host the premiere of the Reebok Spartan Race first appearance in France. Thousands of participants are expected to be there for the inaugural event. We are promising that more races will be coming to France in the future.

Our international growth was inevitable. In 2013 alone more than 750,000 participants will complete a Spartan Race in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, Slovakia, Czech Republic – and now France. The commitment of Reebok to be the global title sponsor of the Spartan Race Series proves the importance of this emerging sport. And France is just one of the many countries being added to the global Spartan community in the near future.

On Sunday, November 24, 2013 the Circuit Paul Ricard and thousands of participants will start their fight to overcome not one but two challenging courses with obstacles that will take all their stamina, strength, endurance and willpower to find the finish line. The Reebok Spartan Race at Circuit Paul Ricard will offer two different distances: the Spartan Sprint with a roughly 6k course of and 15 or more obstacles. And the Spartan Super, a roughly 13K course that will introduce the worthy Spartans to 20 or more obstacles. Participants will not have access to a map prior to racing. So they will not know the exact distance, or number of type of obstacles until they face it- just like the Spartans in ancient times. Expect the unexpected!

The two Spartan Races will challenge the participants, it will be a difficult challenge, but in the end they will join hundreds of thousands of other proud Spartans. Spartan Races are for everyone; young or old, avid runner, beginner, or hardcore obstacle racer- this will be a unique experience for everyone and we’re pleased to be bringing that to France!

The spectator friendly Spartan Race grounds will feature a festival area with music, entertainment – and the opportunity for spectators to test themselves on stand alone obstacles and contests. The course also allows opportunities to see friends and families in action on the course! The Spartan Juniors race will create the next generation of Spartans on a course dedicated for children ages 6 – 13.

The Circuit Paul Ricard offers ideal conditions for the first Spartan Race in France. Featuring a state of the art race course in the middle of a stunning landscape that will welcome the athletes and spectators before they head off to the switchback trails of the backwoods, forest, trails, rivers and a very challenging hilly terrain.

Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena says, “We’ve been in Great Britain for three years but we’ve wanted to expand our Spartan footprint for some time. We get requests every day to bring a race to new places – and at Spartan we’re listening! We are thrilled to announce that we are expanding deeper into Western Europe with the help of our partners at SPCGE. We said we were growing globally, and this is a great example of how we’re making that happen. The sport of Obstacle Course racing is a global movement and we’re dedicated to reaching every corner of the map.”

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Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Standing in front of the fire jump flames rising towards to sky, Lance Bombardier James Simpson, 27, made a decision. “I’m just going to jump over it myself.” With just a few friends as support, one of them tasked with ensuring he didn’t start on fire in the process, James leapt over the fire and finished the Reebok Spartan Sprint in Ripon, North Yorkshire September 8, 2013 becoming the first British double amputee to accomplish such a feat!

“I kept my medal on for hours after!” he joked. “We thought it was a 5k… I found out afterwards it was actually 7.1k!”  Arguably the toughest Sprint in the UK line-up, the course was rugged and the obstacles difficult, but Simpson insisted on doing each of them without assistance.  ”It was just me and a few friends.  I did everything myself.”

The charming redhead from Yorkshire had been training for the event for four months and was prepared for most of what was going to face him on the course, until the mud towards the end. “The mud was so thick, I was afraid my leg would come out of the socket. That part took the longest!”

Simpson heard about the event from some of his American friends who finished a Spartan in the States in 2012 and knew he had to do one for himself. He told the Huffington Post, “I did not do it to break a record. I did it because I wanted to and hopefully it will encourage more people to do it and more amputees to try it in the future.”

Simpson was a part of the 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery stationed in Helmand, Afghanistan in November of 2009. While he was on foot patrol in Sangin and was the seventh man in line and stepped directly on an IED. He lost both legs above the knee and sustained injuries in both arms in the blast. “I remember just not looking down. I knew my legs were gone, but I just kept talking to myself to keep myself calm until the helicopter came.”

Simpson has also decided that he’s not quite done with his Spartan Racing adventures either. He’s found two friends to take on the upcoming Spartan Super in the Midlands on September 21st. “We’re going to give it a whirl!” he says.

With nearly double the distance and more obstacles than his recent Sprint experience, Simpson expects it to take a lot longer to complete. “I’m excited… and nervous… this means we’ll have to try the Beast as well!”  With a trifecta on his mind, Simpson will be taking on the Midlands course this weekend, two months after he may also be tackling the London Beast, and possibly even an event or two stateside in 2014.

L/Bdr Simpson has another exciting adventure awaiting outside Spartan Races.  He’s leaving the military for a new life as a University student studying film this fall.  He is also raising money as part of Spartan Journey for the Armed Forces charity SSAFA. You can find his website HERE to learn more and donate.

We’ll see you on the course this weekend, James!

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by Cathy Bergman

“No retreat! No surrender!” The Spartan warrior chant has been my mantra for the past two years as I worked to lose close to 170 pounds from my 5’3” 300 pound frame.

A few months after I had committed to yet another diet and exercise plan, in the fall of 2011 a friend of mine ran a Spartan Sprint in New York and sent me photos of her day. Although crawling through mud under barbed wire is not generally not a favorite past time of most women in their mid-fifties, to me it looked like great fun. I checked the Spartan web site – a race in June 2012 was just fifteen minutes from my front door. I had less than year to get ready. Although decades of morbid obesity and inactivity made standing up without assistance a challenge, from that point onward, I set my sights on Sparta.

I committed to a strict balanced diet, and worked with a remarkable trainer who patiently guided me as I struggled to get fit. By early spring of 2012, I had recruited thirteen friends and neighbors crazy enough to enlist in my fledging team – the Domaine Alarie Spartans. Our beach front – which in years past was the site of family picnics and barbeques – was converted into a Spartan training ground. Weekend after weekend, friends and neighbors crawled on their stomachs under netting, pulled tires through the sand, lifted weights, chucked spears, did endless push ups and pull ups and ran from one end of the beach to the other working on cardio and endurance as they helped me train for the upcoming race.

By race day, I had dropped 125 pounds and in June 2012, the Domaine Alarie Spartans ran the Spartan Sprint in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. This was not just any team, but a remarkable group of friends and neighbors that championed my cause and who supported my every effort to regain my health and my life – even if it meant joining me in my crazy idea to run a Spartan Sprint.

When the Domaine Alarie Spartans ran the last gauntlet on race day last spring, we certainly understood the Spartan slogan “you’ll know at the finish line” because indeed we did. We were muddy, bloody and soaked to the skin, but nothing dampened the exhilaration of our journey to Sparta.

Now almost 170 pounds less than when I first set my sites on Sparta in 2011, the Domaine Alarie Spartan team of 2013 is eighteen members strong and will storm the Spartan field in Morin Heights, Quebec on Saturday morning, May 25th. We are leaner than last year, stronger than last year, but with the same Spartan spirit as when we began the journey.

Having been to Sparta and left with a smile, we learned that it was not the finish line that counted, it was what it took to get to the finish line, and the wonderful friendships that were forged along the way.

We are looking forward to race day this coming Saturday. See you at the finish line!

Huh rah Spartans!!

Spartan is international!  Check out where Spartan events are around the world.  Click HERE.

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