When one talks to friends and family about training, one activity often gets unfairly overlooked. Despite being arguably one of the better ways to get in shape, and more importantly stay that way, it remains bizarrely underrated. The activity we are talking about is swimming.

The benefits of swimming are numerous and what’s more, it’s a skill that ideally everyone should have. Swimming can literally save your life. So why doesn’t swimming play an active role in your training? It should, and here’s some reasons why:

1) Low Impact

As part of being active and training, running will invariably be part of your way of life. The wear on your joints while running however, can take their toll. This isn’t an issue when it comes to swimming. There is no ground impact when you swim. In fact the Arthritis Foundation are very keen to push this fact. So much so that you may even find sponsored classes all over the country. Water or Aqua aerobics are increasingly popular for this very reason, as the natural buoyancy in the water means that this is an change to your routine you should explore if you haven’t already done so. When the human body is immersed in water it automatically becomes lighter. When immersed to the waist, your body bears just 50 percent of its weight; dunk yourself to the chest and that number reduces to around 25 to 35 percent; with water all the way to the neck, you only have to bear 10 percent of your own weight. The remaining 90 percent is handled by the pool.
Even better news is that if you have access to a pool that is heated, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers will notice the difference in how stiff joints are “loosened”.

2) Cardiorespiratory fitness

Regular swimming builds endurance. In fact, one study amongst sedentary middle aged men and women who swam as training for only 3 months found that maximal oxygen consumption levels improved by around 10% and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with each beat which indicates heart strength) improved as much as 18%.

3) Life long activity

The idea that swimming can only be done up to a certain age is utter nonsense. Because of the lack of impact, swimming is an activity that can be done through ones entire life. The US Masters Swimming website even has a category for those aged between 100 and 104.
Never forget that one of the heroes of Spartan Race is also one of the biggest ambassadors for swimming as part of an active life  – Jack La Lanne. Jack still swam for an hour a day before he passed away aged 93.

4) Muscle mass improvement

In a study that lasted 2 months, men who completed the swimming program showed, on average, 23.8% increase in the tricep muscle. The resistance of the water when moving, whether it’s submerged running, has consistently proved itself to be an excellent way to build and tone. Because water is 12 times denser than air, and it’s been proven that resistance work aids muscles development and toning, getting in the water should be a no-brainer.

5) An aid for the injured

When sportsmen and women become injured, especially in the lower extremities, swimming or submerged training is a given. The resistance not only allows them to keep training due to the lack of impact, but it serves as an excellent rehabilitation tool.

NFL star Chad Jones in water rehabilitation after injury.


6) Family fun

As discussed in a previous Spartan blog, with childhood obesity levels not showing signs of slowing, swimming and playing in water is something any family can do that is a perfect example of making exercise or training fun.

7) Burn those calories!

Swimming burns lots of calories, anywhere from 500-650 per hour depending on how efficiently you swim. The good news is that as a beginner, or someone who hasn’t yet mastered a long, clean stroke, thrashing and flopping through an untidy stroke will actually burn more calories. So, if you wanted to use the excuse that you can’t swim – now’s your chance!
While swimming burns a little less than running and only slightly less than biking, it is still an excellent resource for toning and slimming. Naturally, this is dependent upon the intensity of how hard you swim. Faster strokes for longer will burn more calories, but that’s also where the endurance comes in.

8) Flexibility

We’re often told that, as a Spartan racer, there’s difference between movement and flexibility. Some of the shapes we make with our bodies during races aren’t what you’d call “normal”. Climbing over that slippery wall often has folk with one leg thrown over the side while the hands still grip the rope and the other foot is planted on the side. All very contorted and unusual. How about some of the positions some folks get in when they go over the suspended cargo net? Or the Over-Under-Through obstacle? These all require flexibility and swimming is the perfect tool for that.
While doing the crawl stroke, think about it. Your arms are making arcs, one after the other, pushing the water away from you. You’ll be turning your hips from side to side while you do this motion in order for your arms to gain a better positions. While all this is going on, your legs are kicking in a scissor motion.

Your whole body is moving and contorting in different directions. With regular swimming and different swimming techniques and strokes, your body becomes more and more flexible.

9) Help your heart!

Because swimming is an aerobic exercise, it serves to strengthen the heart, not only helping it to become larger, but making it more efficient in pumping — which leads to better blood flow throughout your body. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can combat the body’s inflammatory response as well — a key link in the chain that can lead to heart disease.
If that’s not enough to get you moving in the pool, the American Heart Association reports that just 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as swimming, can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent. Additionally, an analysis by the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that regular aerobic exercise could reduce blood pressure.

So the question really isn’t about why you should go swimming. It’s really why you shouldn’t. If you cannot swim, there are almost certainly lessons available close to you. Not only will it keep you healthy, toned, improve your respiratory system, joints, muscles and flexibility, it may even save your life.

Swim to win.

See you at the finish line…

Credits: usaswimming.org, active.com, nj.com, bodybuilding.com

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Spartan Coaching:  Spartans Run Hills

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, Director of Spartan Coaching

The beauty of obstacle racing is that it exposes your weakest link. Lack upper body strength? You will pay for it on the 8 foot wall. Lack balance? You will pay for it on the log hops. Lack hill climbing endurance? You will pay for it all-day. Spartan Race is well known for its lung crushing climbs, and quad destroying descents. Listen to enough veterans and they’ll tell you about Tri-State, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Monterey, Utah… “the number of climbs is ridiculous”, as was once overheard.

The only way to beat the hill is to embrace it. Hill running increases oxygen consumption considerably. For example, an athlete running at an easy 10 min/mile pace has an estimated oxygen consumption of 36 mlO2/kg/min, where running the same speed on a 10% grade (a grade of 100% = 45 degree angle) increases oxygen consumption to 50 mlO2/kg/min. That’s almost a 40% increase in energy expenditure! Running on a flat surface, a runner only needs to produce energy for horizontal work. The extra energy needed to lift the body vertically against gravity accounts for this extra energy expenditure.

Running at an oxygen consumption of 50 mlO2/kg/min will be close to many athletes maximal oxygen consumption and certainly above the lactate threshold for all but the elite runners. This will result in an increase in muscle acidosis and increased rate of glycogen utilization. The end result is fatigue and possible glycogen depletion.

Although training will improve VO2 max and running efficiency, it will not be enough offset the increased metabolic demand of steep uphill running. The best solution is to adjust the pace or speed so the energy expenditure remains the same. For most, that will mean walking uphill at a much slower pace. This will prevent fatigue and spare glycogen and prevent bonking. Pace yourself on the hill climbs.

Spartans Run Hills
Walking or running uphill places unique stress on the locomotive muscles when compared to walking or running on flat ground. The change in slope puts the foot into severe dorsi flexion, stressing the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantar fascia. The trunk also leans forward, placing more stress on the hamstrings and back extensors. A couple of small hills won’t negatively impact these muscle groups, but in the longer events where there will be 3,000 – 5,000 ft of climbing, there can be major damage to these muscles, especially in athletes who have not prepared on hills.

What goes up must come down! Running downhill would seem to be easier, and we think that we should  be able to make up for lost time during the climb. But, don’t fool yourself, the average speed of running uphill and then downhill for 3 miles will always be slower than running 3 miles flat. Running downhill requires control. No matter how much we think we are “letting go”, there is a natural “braking” action by the anterior tibialis on the lower leg, and the quadriceps on the thigh. This braking action is caused by eccentric muscle contractions; the muscles are developing tension and lengthening at the same time. Eccentric muscle actions cause muscle damage and are the cause of post exercise muscle soreness. If your muscles aren’t prepared for downhill running, the muscle damage will be accelerated and will result in premature muscle soreness, decreased muscle power output, and fatigue.

The good news is that this can be prevented with proper training. Yes, embrace the hills. Find the biggest, baddest hills in your area and run intervals up and down them. Do this twice a week. This will cause significant soreness initially, but over time your muscles will adapt to the eccentric contractions, muscle damage is reduced, and you will be able to tolerate longer bouts of downhill running. Training uphill will also stress the gastrocnemius, plantar fascia, hamstrings, and back extensions in a way that they will be used during a Spartan Race, thus minimizing the damage to those tissues as well. The reality is that running uphill will always be metabolically demanding and fatiguing not matter how hard you train. However, training with hill intervals, will improve your maximal oxygen consumption, increase your tolerance to acidosis, and improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel, thus improve your hill running performance. Hill sprints suck as bad as Burpees, probably even more so, but if you embrace the hill training your body will thank you at your next Super Spartan or Beast.

Exercise Physiology 101 – During any activity that lasts longer than 3 minutes we rely primarily on the aerobic energy system. Aerobic means that we produce energy with oxygen. The more intense the exercise, the higher the rate of oxygen utilization. Oxygen utilization is typically expressed as milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute (mlO2/kg/min). Oxygen consumption can also be expressed as energy expenditure or Calories per minute (kcal/min). The higher the rate of oxygen consumption, the higher the rate of energy expenditure. For example a 180 lb male running a 10 minute mile consumes 36 mlO2/kg/min or expends about 14.5 kcal/min. The same man running the same speed at 10% grade consumes 50 mlO2/kg/min or 20.5 kcal/min.


Jeff  received his Doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut and is certified by ACSM, NSCA, and ISSN.  He is currently Chair of the Departmental of Exercise and Sport Science at Fitchburg State University and the Director of Spartan Coaching.

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Basic Basics

Spartan Fitness Simplified

by Jason Jaksetic

You can get really far on just a little information. For example, you can travel 1000 miles with simple direction ‘North’. You just want to make sure that ‘North’ is the right direction for where your heading before you set off.

What fitness tips give you the most traction for fitness gains? This blog is an attempt at breaking down these basics, to give your broad directions like “North” to follow. If you keep stumbling in the direction of these 5 fitness practices you’ll eventually get where you need to be.

In the words of Thoreau, ‘Simplify, simplify.’ If you were to come to Spartan HQ we’d have you focused on these 5 things before anything else. The less time you spend worrying about what to do, the more time you can spend doing. When in doubt, focus on one of these 5 fitness components, and begin.


Drink More Water

The minute the animal kingdom crawled itself out of the ocean, land based life needed to establish a means to keep water levels internally. Life is water based. You need water or you will die. Since you can’t absorb water through your skin like an amphibian, you need to drink it. This is why you hydrate.

Before you worry about what to drink, make sure you are drinking enough water. If you are thirsty, drink a glass of water. Sounds simple, but most people don’t really take the time, or opt for other options. Before you drink a glass of calorically dense and sugar-laden juice drink, drink a glass of water to quench some of that thirst. Before reaching for a soda, drink two glasses of water. This is a surefire way to reduce unwanted calorie consumption.

The goal is not to consciously try and stop drinking other kinds of beverages, but to just make sure you adequately quench your thirst with zero calorie water, so that you are not supplementing your caloric intake simply out of thirst. Also, thirst sometimes triggers the sensation of hunger. Drink more, and you might find yourself eating less.


Eat More ‘Real’ Food

There are a lot of different diets. It can get a bit complicated.

Regardless of particular diet, there is an underlying component that most viable ones involve: eat more food, and less food products.

The fewer ingredients the better. The less processing the better. Whatever the diet (fad) that you subscribe too, try and make sure the foods that you eat are as ‘real’ as possible. Real food is produced by nature. It grows. It has a very clear name like ‘apple’. Read the label on any food, and put it back if there are any unpronounceable things inside it. If you can’t figure out what it is, most likely your body will be confused too.

This is a principle that can be applied to any meal, regardless of your diet philosophy. Reach for apple sauce instead of apple pie. Reach for an apple, instead of apple sauce. In any given situation you can practice the reduction of ingredients.

The good news is, that you can eat as much as you want when you are eating raw fruits, vegetables, and seeds. They aren’t calorically dense like processed food. Your stomach will most always fill up on broccoli before you’ve overdone your caloric allotment for the day.



Running is the most efficient way to condition your body for the demands of obstacle racing. No matter how ripped you are, you will need to transport yourself the entire distance of the course on your feet. If you want to be competitive, you need to practice doing this fast.

Running can be done pretty much anywhere. Road, trail, beach. Just get out the door and go. Somehow in recent times we found ourselves having to spend 20 minutes putting on and calibrating our running gear. There are many cyborg-looking types trail running these days, replete with an isle of Radioshack strapped to their bodies. This is cool, but don’t let it stand in your way of quickly running out the door for a 15 to 20 minute run. Most importantly don’t let it lead you to believe that running is too complicated for you. Heading out for a run should be a zero stress experience. Just like when you were a kid, and you ran out the door and didn’t stop until you came back. Start with 10 minutes at a time and don’t worry about the distance you cover. Go five minutes out and then turn around. It can be that simple.

Don’t over-think your running. If you are on your feet and moving forward you are doing better than most. You are surely doing better than if you are on your couch. If you have 20 minutes, grab a pair of basic running shoes and go for an easy jog. Once you are spending over 2-4 hours a week pounding pavement, then start your in-depth running research.

Do Burpees

The human body, with the addition of gravity, supplies most of the requisite gear for getting stronger. The burpee is the optimal dance between your body and gravity that will maximize your fitness gains for your entire body. No equipment needed. Hell, do burpees in your underwear first thing in the morning and you can have your daily workout taken care of before you brush your teeth.

This is a burpee. Learn it. Master it. When in doubt, do burpees. Here is a complete muscular analysis of the burpee.

A complete analysis of the burpee can be found here. You can study that, or simply do a bunch, and feel the ache all over your body as you start to suck wind. That will indicate that you are doing it right. Cardio plus strength equals your fitness foundation for Spartan Race.

Start with 1 burpee a day, even. Then move on to 2, only when you can do the first one with perfect form. Really, it’s that simple. Go slow, be careful, and just keep taking steady steps day to day. Take off every 3rd, 4th, or 5th day to rest. Figure out what works for you.


There are legions of tremendously ‘fit’ athletes who are as inflexible as iron rods. This is actually a terrible weakness, and you are as strong as your weakest link. If you are inflexible, you will most likely break, at those times when you should bend. This is a serious chink in your amour, as one injury can end a season.

Stretch numerous times during the day. Take a break from playing desk jockey every hour for 5 minutes of stretching. You don’t need to perform extreme yoga poses. Just touch your toes. Reach up and touch the ceiling. Or simply squat down with your heels flat on the ground and stand up a few times.

By scheduling yoga into your week you are guaranteed to integrate stretching into your practice. Yoga is a great way to recover from your more intense training, too.

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Spartan Race would like to welcome you to a new feature that we will run every week. We invite you to write a letter to Joe and ask him whatever you like. Questions, praise, suggestions, advice… whatever the case may be, Joe is here to help you!

This week, Discouraged In Downey has got in touch.

Dear Joe,

Last year I managed to get in great shape and was right where I wanted to be until I came down with an unexpected medical setback. Once I rebounded from that and was given the “all clear” from my physician to start exercising again, after over a month off, I was knocked down by this monster flu everyone is sharing with everyone else.

Now, I am finally on the road to recovery from that, but find my motivation is absolutely gone at this point. I have nothing to work toward or look forward to. How can I get myself back on track, without an event in mind, but rather, get my mind back on just being healthy and staying there?

My past life as a couch potato is lurking!

Discouraged in Downey

Got a question for Joe? Send them to us@spartan.com

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by Harmony Heffron

With the best intentions you go to the gym, working out hard to get the results you want.  You try to do all the right things while there to maximize your results and minimize your chance of injury. Of course, you stretch before you start, wear appropriate shoes (do NOT wear construction boots on a treadmill) and listen to your body, right? Injuries are all-too easy to receive.

Before you pat yourself on the back too hard though, here are a few common gym mistakes you might not have thought about:

1) Not Eating. Lots of people don’t eat before going to the gym. They think by having no fuel in their stomachs they will burn up extra body fat instead. This is a huge mistake. Not having enough fuel in your body can lead to shaking and dizziness. Your body will also not have much energy to work with, making it more likely that you will exercise less, giving up early because you feel tired.

2) Becoming Dehydrated. When you exercise you sweat right? Sweat is mostly water. So water (sweat) leaving your body, combined with not drinking enough water, equals dehydration. I know this sounds simple but if you are working out in a warm environment or are hitting the sauna you are more likely to become dehydrated as you work out. This can cause cramping, stress your internal organs, and cause you to feel ‘out of it’ and distracted, raising the risk of injury. Don’t try walking to the water fountain more often,  this will only distract you from your workout and give your body too much time to cool off if you’re working on a cardio routine. Bring water bottles with you, keep them next to you, and sip from them OFTEN.

3) Not Taking Time Off. The harder you work the better the results will be. This may be true at the office, true when you’re studying for a test, true when fixing up your house, but it is NOT always true at the gym. I know this will be hard to hear for some gym rats, but you have to take some time off every once in a while. Rest days are important chances for your body to repair itself and build new muscles. If you are feeling tired after you work out, you probably need a rest. Working out should make you feel energized and healthier.  If you’re not feeling this way it’s your body’s way of saying that you’re pushing it too hard.

4.) Becoming Bored. Boredom doesn’t sound too dangerous but it can destroy even the most dedicated Spartan’s workout. Having the same routine for too long, doing too many exercises you secretly hate, or just having a case of the winter doldrums are all common culprits. One day you go to the gym with enthusiasm, the next you’re trying to think of any excuse that you possibly can to stay home. Thankfully there are things you can do to try to fight off the foe of ambition. Try varying your routine, not only will it help you keep things interesting, but you’ll probably end up exercising some different muscles your previous routine wasn’t using. Getting a new gym partner or listening to new music or podcasts while working out can also be good ways to shake things up. If your gym offers any classes, this can be one of the best ways to get out of your exercise slump. Even if it isn’t something you’d usually take, try it at least once. Either you’ll find something new you love to do or you’ll have such s horrible time you’ll be THANKFUL to return to your old, boring routine.

And the best way that I can think of to beat the boredom blues is to get out and do a Spartan Race.  You’ll stay motivated as you train for the race and you can rest assured that you will NOT be bored on race day.

Picture credit: kaiafitsacramento

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When was the last time you got a good 8 hours sleep? Not 6 or 7 hours, or were woken up in the night because the dog next door was barking or the car alarm across the street was going off. We mean a good, solid, dreamless 8 hours? We’re willing to bet it’s probably been awhile. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that we need a solid 8 hours of good sleep if we are to work and play at our optimum level.

Being fully rested isn’t simply just common sense, it’s actually more beneficial than you may realize. Studies have found that while you sleep you strengthen memories and even “practice” skills that you learn while you’re awake.

“If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice,” says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But something happens while you sleep that helps you to learn it better.”

Sleep also helps to restructure, sort and organize those memories, therefore helping you become more creative. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep. This may actually help spur the creative process. A well-rested mind is an ordered mind. Sleep well and you can plan your attack on the Beast, Super, or Sprint you have coming up.

Getting enough sleep sharpens our ability to pay attention. While short-term fixes may plug the occasional hole, such as sugars, caffeine and other stimulants, ultimately they can become habit forming and unhealthy. Sleep is a good, free, natural resource available to us. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation by only one night is on par with having consumed enough alcohol that would otherwise land someone operating a vehicle in jail.

It is fairly common knowledge that inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and even premature aging. Research on sleep levels indicates that people who get less sleep (around 6 hours a night or less) have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get a solid 8 hours. A 2010 study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night.

“People who suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of their sleep disorders”, Dr. Rapoport says.

Cardiovascular health is effected by both stress and sleep as well. It therefore stands to reason that getting the right amount of sleep can play a part in reducing blood pressure levels. Being well rested is good for you!

Sleeping well means more to our overall well-being than simply avoiding irritability. Emotional stability comes from being well rested and in turn, reduces the chances of depression. If you think the long hours put in during the week are the cause of your anxiety or impatience Dr. Rapoport warns that sleep cannot necessarily be made up during the weekend.

It’s not a myth that rest days are as important as training days and sleep is a huge part of that. Spartan Races aren’t places to come underprepared. Whether it’s in terms of training, nutrition,,equipment, or just as importantly, your own mind set. The brain and body both need sufficient amounts of rest. Finding that balance is something each person must do for themselves. Don’t underestimate the power of rest!


“If you sleep more on the weekends, you simply aren’t sleeping enough in the week,” he says. “It’s all about finding a balance.”


If you’re thinking about going on a diet make sure that sleep is a part of it. The University of Chicago recently found that those dieting lost more weight when well rested than those who were deprived of sleep. Some dieters in the study complained of feeling more hungry when they got less sleep than those who were well rested.


“Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain,” Dr. Rapoport says. “When you are sleepy certain hormones go up in your blood. It’s those same hormones that drive appetite.”


So what if you’re an athlete struggling to break PRs? What if no matter how many times you try you just can’t get past that training plateu? Then there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep.


A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for 7 to 8 weeks improved their average sprint times, had less daytime fatigue, and improved overall stamina. The results of this study reflected previous findings of studies conducted on tennis players and swimmers. Something to keep in mind if you’re finding that while your legs may have the muscle memory to run, jump, and climb, you’re still missing that last 10% you need to make a big push. Turns out it may be because you’re just not resting properly.

So whether you’re trying to learn the S-hook in order to finally beat that rope climb, or nail that technique of beating the slippery wall, or simply wanting to do better overall in your life, try getting a little more rest. You may find that you improve the way you want by adding one amazing thing to your routine…sleep!

Sources; National Sleep Foundation, Health.com

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 Spartan Race has a way of infiltrating your life the whole time. The most mundane of everyday tasks and chores suddenly morph into Spartan Race-themed scenarios.  As a bit of fun to see out 2013, we compiled this list. How many apply to you? You know you might be a Spartan Racer when…

1) You take a backpack to the grocery store in order to fill it with shopping. “Hiking” back counts, because you’re carrying 40lbs of canned corn.

2) You’re at an airport and are bored. You look around and make sure no one is looking as you do some elevated push-ups with your feet on the seat behind you.

3) Your car is blocked in by another at the parking lot and the shopping cart corral is in the way. You suddenly consider this a cool obstacle to climb over.

4) You take stairs at the office block 3 at a time and call them elevated lunges.

5) You go to Home Depot for a lightbulb and somehow end up in building materials staring longingly at the sand bags.

6) Whilst jogging, you look for puddles to run through instead of avoiding them.

7) You see some gardeners chopping down trees, trimming hedges and sweeping leaves…. and go ask for the logs for chopping.

8) On a nice drive to the country, you don’t see nature or beautiful landscapes, you see somewhere where they could set up a Super because you need one for your Trifecta.

9) You color code your house keys red, blue and green.

10) For men – you find you have more trail running shoes than all of your wife’s shoes’ combined.

11) For women – you have more trail shoes than “smart/dress” shoes.

12) When grocery shopping, you allow yourself some white bread, “as a treat”.

13) You also grab a bag of kale or spinach, purely because you feel guilty for not having enough “green” in the basket.

14) You suddenly compete with shoppers in terms of how much you can carry in a hand basket.

15)  Driving on the freeway, you see a tire on the shoulder and wish you could stop to get it. Just to have it. “For training”.

16) You analyze the way your kids play on monkey bars and tell them they’re doing it wrong.

17) You have a well-drilled technique for changing out of wet and muddy clothes into dry ones.

18) Trucks transporting huge agricultural tires makes you think about that time at that race when…

19) You can talk about trail running shoes to your friend all evening while your spouses’ eyes glaze over and you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.

20) You think the joggers on the beach not carrying or dragging a car tire are the odd ones.

21) You always consult the Spartan Race event schedule before you plan minor things like weddings and christenings.

22) Your everyday t-shirts are worn rotation of; finishers shirt, Hurricane Heat shirt, event-specific shirt, “I’m In Training For” shirt, and back to the beginning.
How do you know you’re addicted to Spartan Race? Leave your comments below!

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