Scaling 8 foot walls. Crawling under razor sharp barbed wire. Leaping through waist high flames. These are the type of daredevil moves one might associate with a Hollywood stunt double, not a suburban stay at home mom.
Obstacle course racing has seemingly taken over both the athletic and weekend warrior world alike. Now your average Joe or Jane are given opportunities to test their physical prowess with so much more than a road 5K; they are getting dirty, facing fears, and proving that they are capable of so much more than they ever imagined.
As an avid obstacle course racer and fitness professional, I often encounter people who tell me that they could never do a Spartan race. They think that perhaps a “fun” mud run with a few walls and a beer at the finish line is more realistic, but never a course as physically and mentally demanding as a Spartan race. I always immediately interrupt and inform them that not only could they do it with proper training, but they absolutely should…and here are four reasons why:
Spartan races challenge your entire body. One of the weaknesses I see in a lot of my clients, especially runners, is a huge focus on cardiovascular endurance, with little to no focus on muscular strength and endurance. Spartan races require not only cardiovascular endurance to cover the course distance (and climb those infamous ski hills), but also muscular strength to complete many of the obstacles, such as the herculean hoist, sandbag carry, or rope climbs. Therefore, the playing field is often leveled: everyone who steps up to the starting line of a Spartan race will have strengths and weaknesses. What better way to get in shape and improve overall physical fitness than to train for a race?
You are capable of more than you think…and that is a great ego boost. It sounds vain, but it is true. I will never forget the first time I actually made it to the top of a rope climb during a race. Countless races prior I climbed a few feet up, felt weak, and quit. But during the 2012 Ultra Beast, I pushed those negative thoughts aside, and despite my shaking arms and the fact that I had failed a rope climb just a few miles earlier, I kept climbing. I rang the bell at the top while simultaneously shouting “YES!!!!!” Though exhausted, scraped, and bruised, I could not stop smiling for the rest of the race (and trust me, it was a long race!). Spartan races challenge us in many physical and emotional ways, be it facing your fear of heights or running farther than you ever have before. Successfully completing tasks you once thought were impossible is an empowering, amazing feeling that carries over into your entire outlook on life.
Spartan athletes are some of the friendliest people on earth. Need a boost to get over the wall? Turn around and ask the stranger to your left. Struggling with the tractor pull (dragging a cement block by a heavy chain, typically through rough terrain)? Chances are someone will come along and help you drag it to the finish. The camaraderie among obstacle course racers is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my athletic career; just look at the massive teams such as the New England Spahtens, Weeple Army, or Corn Fed Spartans. We are one big family, and that family will not let you fail.
Because your inner child really wants to jump in that puddle…and your mom isn’t there to tell you not to. You will get muddy. You will get soaked. You will have dirt in places you never imagined. And you know what? It’s really fun. You may even get to jump off of really high walls and play with sharp spears. (Shhhh….don’t tell mom!) Despite the competition and often difficult challenges, Spartan races truly bring out a primal feeling of freedom and fun that so many of us lose in our adult lives.
Sure, I’ve seen avid athletes humbled by the difficulty of an OCR. But I’ve seen a 60 year old woman successfully cross the finish line of her first race beside her grown children. I’ve seen new friendships formed. I’ve seen lives changed by the sport as a whole. But one thing I’ve never seen is a person cross the finish line and say “I regret doing this”. Here’s the thing: Spartan races are not only for the elite athletes, they are for anyone who is willing to step up to the challenge. Do not be afraid of the possible difficulty of your first Spartan race; instead use this opportunity to truly realize you are capable of so much more than you think.
As they say…you’ll know at the finish line.