Running your first Spartan Race is intimidating. You’ll be excited, nervous, and wondering what, exactly, you’ve gotten yourself into.
What you eat, how you dress, when you arrive and warm-up all play an important role in how enjoyable your race will be. The following tips and information will help you be as ready as possible come race day.
What to Expect
You can expect to be challenged.
You will be running through the roughest terrain they can find. Through mud, possibly water, up hills, down hills, through tall grass and trees. While these “natural obstacles” like hills and streams do not count as obstacles they will be a major factor during the race.
The obstacles you will encounter will vary. You can expect to crawl under barbed wire, climb over walls, swing across monkey bars, carry heavy things, throw a spear or two, and much more. Some will be skill based (e.g. spear throw and rope climb) while others are completely based on strength and grit (e.g. sandbag carry and bucket brigade).
Some obstacles, most of the heavy carries for example, are mandatory. This means if you want your finisher medal and t-shirt, you’re going to need to finish these obstacles. No matter how long they take.
Other obstacles, such as the monkey bars and spear throw, result in a 30 burpee penalty if you fail to complete them. You do not get to retry these obstacles.
To get a good idea of what the obstacles look like, check out our video of the 2016 Montana Beast:
Depending on who you are and which race you are doing, it will take you anywhere from 40 minutes up to nine or ten hours. You can usually look at the page for your particular race on the Spartan.com website and see what the fastest times will be. That will give you a good idea, but keep in mind, there are some really fast people out there. So plan accordingly.
There will be a bag check available for about $5, cash. It’s a great option for leaving your change of clothes, wallet, car keys, phone, etc.behind while you go out and have fun.
There will also be a small festival area with a variety of vendors, some food trucks, and (sometimes) a beer garden. Hanging out in the festival area after crushing your race is one of the best parts of the experience.
What to Wear
When it comes to Spartan Race and mud runs, less is definitely more – the less clothing you have on the more enjoyable your experience will be.
Make sure whatever clothes you do decide to wear are tight and breathable. Shirts are optional. Many people, myself included, run in nothing but compression shorts and socks. Several women run in their sports bras.
Avoid cotton, polyester, and anything else that will soak up and retain water.
Some people wear gloves during the race, but they quickly find out they’re useless. Wear them if you’re worried about scratching your hands a bit, but as far as grip goes, your gloves will be mud-soaked and slippery. Your best bet is to leave the gloves at home.
As far as footwear goes, obstacle racing has come a long way. There are now shoes made specifically for obstacle racing, such as the Reebok All Terrain series. A good pair of trail running shoes, such as the Salomon SpeedCross, will also work. However, if you aren’t ready to invest in shoes specifically for your race, a pair of regular running shoes will suffice.
Whichever shoes you wear will get filthy, but they’ll come clean.
One thing to keep in mind – whatever you start the race with, you must finish it with. There is nowhere to leave clothes behind, and it’s extremely frowned upon to leave your clothes out on the trails. This is one time when dressing in layers isn’t the best option.
Oh, and leave your ipod, sunglasses, and any other accessories at home.
What to Eat
Don’t try to get cute. Our race day nutrition strategy is simple – eat the same way you have been for your training.
Stick to what you know works for you. Race day is not the time to try something new. If you’ve never tried an energy gel or carbing up the night before a big run, don’t do it now. The risk of GI distress just isn’t worth it.
If you are running a longer race, a Super or Beast for example, you’ll want to bring something with you. A reasonable goal is to get in 200 – 300 calories per hour. That’s about one energy bar per hour. While there may be aid stations through the course, they usually run out of what little nutrition they have. Be smart and bring your own.
A hydration pack, allowing you to carry your own water and nutrition, is a great option.
Again, don’t try new foods on race day! Stick to energy bars/fuels/sports drinks/etc. you’re familiar with.
What to Do When You Get There
You should receive an email from Spartan Race about a week before your race day. This is an important email filled with information on things like parking and package pick-up.
Make sure you read this email carefully, as sometimes parking is up to 30 minutes away from the actual race site. When this is the case you will need to plan ahead and account for the shuttle ride to the race venue.
You’ll want to get to the race site a good hour before your start time. This will allow for ample time to register, pick up your race pack, put your timing chip and headband on, mark yourself, and warm-up.
The first thing you’ll do when you get to the race is sign your waivers, register, and receive your race pack.
Inside your race pack, you will find a number of items. The envelope will contain, among other things, your official Spartan Headband, and a yellow wristband with a blue timing chip.
I would suggest throwing your headband on right away, and then getting a friend to assist you in putting your timing chip on. You’ll want to make sure it’s tight enough that it won’t fall off, but not so snug that it bothers you during the race.
Other items in the package may include a variety of colored wristbands and/or a free drink ticket. Do what you want with the free drink ticket, but the other bands should go on your wrist immediately. Most of the time the bands aren’t necessary, but I have seen people turned away from the start gate simply because they didn’t have their red wristband or green sweatband (indicating elite or competitive athletes) on.
As one Spartan employee stated while dozens of elites were frantically running to find their sweatband before last year’s World Championships in Lake Tahoe – “If it’s in your package, PUT IT ON!”.
Running with a couple bands around your wrist is much less stressful than frantically trying to find something 30 seconds before your heat starts. If it’s in your race pack, put it on.
Once you’ve signed in at the registration desk, have your headband, timing chip, and whatever other bands on you can head to the “Marking Station” and mark yourself with your Bib Number (i.e. the number on your Spartan Head Band). Marking yourself with your bib number will make it much easier finding your photos after the race. Spartan will send you an email letting you know that your race pictures are up a few days after the race. Click the link, type in your bib number, and check out your pictures!
How to Warm-up
Now that you’ve signed your life away, are covered in permanent marker and colorful wristbands, it’s time to warm-up.
A general rule of thumb for warming up is as follows – the shorter the race, the longer the warm-up.
If you’re running a sprint and expect to do it in under an hour, you’ll want a good 20 – 40 minutes to warm up. You’ll want to head to the start line sweaty.
If you’re running a beast, on the other hand, a 10 – 20 minute warm-up may suffice. You won’t be running as hard/long and don’t want to kill yourself warming up.
But like nutrition, do what you’d normally do before a regular training session and you’ll be fine. Don’t try to get cute.
Running the Race
If it’s your first Spartan, I wouldn’t worry too much about your finishing time. Go out there and have some fun. The experience you gain will help you during your inevitable next race (nobody does just one Spartan).
The worst thing you can do is go out guns blazing and burn yourself out. Your most difficult obstacles will usually come near the end of the race when you’re beat up and exhausted. So keep that in mind.
There are no prizes for winning the first half of a race. Be smart and pace yourself.
If you’re running in an Open Heat you and your friends are able to help each other out during obstacles. Holding hands on the balance beam, supporting each other on the traverse wall, helping each other over walls are all part of the experience. You can even share burpees should one of you fail an obstacle while the other completes it.
If you signed up for Elite or Competitive, however, you’re on your own. Simply touching another competitor during an obstacle can get you disqualified. Even if you see someone struggling, do not help them.
As dangerous as the race may seem, people rarely get hurt. If they do it’s usually just a twisted ankle or something along those lines. But should you get injured, there are tons of volunteers throughout the course that can radio in for medical assistance. Don’t be surprised, though, if one of your Spartan Brethren simply picks you up and helps carry you through the rest of the race.
No one gets left behind at a Spartan.
Once you’ve crossed the finish line you will be awarded your medal, handed a cup of water and given your finisher t-shirt. Make sure you leave your timing chip with the volunteers on the way out or you’ll be charged for it.
Go stretch out, hose off, and bask in that new sense of pride and accomplishment, Spartan.
Ok great…. But how do I train for a Spartan Race?!
We’ve had some success with our athletes using our training methods. In fact, in 2016, over 70% of all our athletes qualified for the OCR World Championships, while 80% of our Elite Spartan Racers competed in the Spartan Race World Championships. Two of our Competitive Division athletes finished ranked 3rd and 10th overall in all of Canada.
Like I said, we don’t *REALLY* know what we’re doing, but so far it’s been working pretty well.
If you’d like to learn more about how we train, we shared all of our tips and workouts in our latest book – Run, Lift, Carry, Climb: 12 Obstacle Course Racing Workouts That Took Us to the World Championships.