Attending Spartan Races across the country gives you a lot of insight into how the obstacles are manipulated in such a way that your body is tested. Course designers will deliberately put, for example, an elevated bucket carry right before a rope climb – hoping you’ll have burnt up energy in your arms and legs – before you climb the rope. Very cunning, but the whole idea is that this race is trying to break you. 

However, doing these races regularly, you’ll also begin to recognize faces. In one circumstance, there is a runner that you’ll spot immediately, as he’ll look like no other racer at the event.

Stephen Sinek, or “The Painted Warrior” as he’s more commonly known, was the outright winner of the open heats in the 2013 season. He knows a thing or two about Spartan, but not everyone knows about him. Spartan Race caught up with him and he let us into his world.

Stephen explains, “It started at the beginning of 2012 at my first obstacle event ever, the Tough Mudder in Arizona 2012.  My friend and I had never done anything like it.  We attempted to win the costume contest with body paint to look like tribal warriors. Luckily my wife is a professional makeup artist. Traffic was backed up for miles due to poor planning, so we had to get out of our vehicle on the freeway and run to the event.  We were too late for the contest but ran the course anyways and the reaction from the other participants was something that I immediately fell in love with.”

The designs, always different, but always around the torso, weren’t how it first started, though. 

It actually started off larger, including the legs as well.  It eventually evolved into the upper body only, due to time and the designs becoming more involved, more colors, more coverage, etc.  The Painted Warrior was not dubbed until almost a year and a half after we started.  It seemed necessary to come up with a name because we were beginning to be recognized and people were trying to label us with different names.  Aeni came up with the name “The Painted Warrior” as one of many possibilities and as soon as she said it, I immediately said “That’s the one.”

It was after the first one that Stephen found his rhythm. “I was signing up for every different type of obstacle course race that I could, even traveling to other states.  Spartan race was the 2nd one I ever did and it was also a group effort (African animal inspired). It took another several of each to realize that Spartan Race was where I wanted to direct all of my focus.  Once again the bodypaint was a huge hit, at this race and all others.” 

The painting and the running, he explains, has actually brought him closer to his wife. Aeni is a vital part of The Painted Warrior’s persona, as he points out, “Over the past couple of years it has really given me and Aeni a common purpose.  Under normal circumstances, a spouse who was not interested in running obstacle races might end up feeling alienated and drift apart over time, considering how many of these I compete in.  In our case, the body painting has brought us closer together.  It’s something that we cannot do without the other, and is larger than the both of us.  It allows her to fulfill her creative side as well as mine.  We are both artists.”

This extends to the actual designing, too. Inputting of ideas is a completely two-way street.

“It varies on who comes up with the designs.  She is always sketching out ideas on the iPad while I use Photoshop to come up with my own ideas.  Some of them are a collaboration, others are either completely hers or mine and we come to an agreement about which is best for each race.  We generally try to tie it in with the venue in some way.”

A common question asked by those that see the elaborate designs and shapes that cover him is one of how long it takes. Given the intricacy, it’s not surprising when Stephen smiles and nods, “painting takes around four and a half hours on average.  The longest one has taken over six.  We keep getting more elaborate so that is going to add more time.  We have learned to paint the night before the race to allow me to get more sleep the morning of.  If prepped right, the paint will last through the night without a need for any touch-ups.” 

Look out for The Painted Warrior at a race near you or follow his progress here.


Think you can come up with a design worthy of his next body art?


The Painted Warrior is challenging you to come up with a design. The winning piece will be painted onto him for the Malibu Spartan Sprint over the weekend of December 7th & 8th.

Click here to find out more information and take part! 

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