What to Expect From Your First Spartan Race

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Spartan Race

If you’ve ever seen photos of a friend leaping through fire and mud on your Facebook feed, there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to a phenomenon known as Spartan Race. Is it a new-fangled torture technique, or is there something to it? We spoke to Lizzy Dickey, who has been working for Spartan Race for over 5 years now, to learn a little more about the cult sport.

“Spartan Race is about getting athletes of all abilities moving and active in the great outdoors,” says Dickey. “Fundamentally, the brand is designed to push people’s perceived limits of what they think they are capable of and to show them that ultimately these limits are just that: perceived. We are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for and Spartan Race is a breeding ground for self-discovery.”

The Connecticut native has always been known for her athleticism and has competed in numerous marathons, triathlons, half marathons and trail racing. So when she started with the company in its infancy, leading the grassroots marketing team to promote local races within the endurance and racing community, it was a perfect fit.

Dickey is now one of five U.S.–based volunteer coordinators responsible for organizing and managing all aspects of volunteer planning and race-day execution. She is responsible for pre- and post- race communication, outreach, and race-weekend logistics management for her events. From training to diet to what you will see on the trail, Dickey is here to give us the full rundown on what to expect.

How did you get involved in Spartan Race? Have you been hooked ever since?

I originally met the founder of Spartan Race, Joe Desena, back in 2011 when I was working in NYC at my first job out of college. That was the same year that I took up distance running and began training for my first marathon (NYC 2011). Road running brought me to triathlon and then by 2014, I found my place in the trail running scene—which is where I belong! Though I don’t race many Spartan Races (because I’m usually working them), I am totally hooked on both working in and competing in the endurance sports industry.

What is the best part about competing in a race?

The sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line and the feeling of camaraderie among fellow racers and the community at large.

Does it take a certain type of person to compete in a Spartan Race?

The beauty of Spartan Race is its accessibility: Distances range from a 3-5 mile Sprint to an 8-mile Super to a 13+-mile Beast (and a 26+-mile UltraBeast!). Whether you are a complete newbie who is looking for a different/fun way to get in shape or a seasoned athlete looking to take on an extreme challenge, there is something for everyone. Many athletes also choose to race together and Spartan offers the option of signing up as a team. Regardless of whether you race with a team or as an individual, the camaraderie experienced on course along the way is something that each and every racer walks away with. In my opinion, it’s also the number-one reason that racers keep on coming back for more—the community.  

What do we need to know as beginners?

As a beginner, just focus on having fun, seeing how your body responds to a new challenge, and getting dirty! Going into your first event with an open mind—and without any preconceived notions of how you should do—is key. Be in the moment and don’t focus on end results. Once you finish racing, you can process how you felt and where you want to take it from there. Maybe Spartan Race will be a one-and-done for you, or maybe it will light a fire inside of you that you didn’t know existed. Both experiences are equally valuable so honor yourself by just being present and enjoying the opportunity to get muddy and push your limits!

What are the mental and health benefits of competing in a Spartan Race?

On a physical level, training for and competing in a Spartan Race will improve both your strength and your endurance because the event requires both the ability to cover long distances as well as the strength to complete obstacles. Mentally, you will benefit in a variety of ways. First and foremost, the simple act of being out in a natural environment, breathing fresh air, and moving forward is a highly underrated and exceedingly important experience.

What can we expect on the course?

Depending on the location of the venue, the terrain will vary greatly. Some events are on high-alpine ski resorts (like Breckenridge or Lake Tahoe) where you will be competing against altitude, technical trails, and a truly rugged outdoor experience involving thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss. Other events are flatter and faster (more appealing to first timers). Always be sure to check the weather in a certain region when signing up for a race because the climate can also greatly affect your performance depending on where you are training.

What is the overall fee of the event?

Entry fees will vary based on length (Sprint, Super, Beast) and type of course, as well as how many racers have already signed up for that specific event. The prices are all listed on the event page for that specific event and are generally between $90-$150 for an individual.

There are events all over the US. Is there a specific event or location that a beginner should sign up for?

Signing up for a Sprint would be best for a beginner and there are SO many options in terms of location and terrain. For those in the Tri-State area, try the Tuxedo Sprint (early June). It’s a relatively short course on a small mountain but it packs a punch and draws a huge crowd. For those on the west coast, we offer a variety of events in Washington State (Snohomish), Oregon (Washougal), and California (SoCal, San Jose) throughout the year. You will be able to find events at any and every place in between! We also have an annual Stadium Series that takes place at iconic sports venues around the country throughout the year (spoiler alert: no mud).

Can you give us five tips for training?

  1. Know what your fitness baseline is going into the event.
  2. If you are signed up for a mountainous event with series ascents/descents, be sure to incorporate hill workouts and trail runs into your training!
  3. Burpees! The “penalty” for a failed obstacle is the completion of 30 burpees before advancing. You literally cannot EVER do enough burpees in training.
  4. Let go of expectations and focus on the experience.
  5. Have fun!

We know that a healthy diet must play a big part into training and competition; What should we be packing into our diet?

Avoid sugar/processed foods and focus on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, fish, and legumes. Also remember, everything in moderation. The idea is to have a healthy, sustainable diet that allows you to train and compete and keeps you feeling happy and strong, not restricted.

Is there a memory that stands out to you as an ah-ha moment of what Spartan Race is all about?

Watching racers push their limits and achieve goals on a consistent basis is one of the most rewarding components of my job. At the end of the day, it’s all about reaching new levels of greatness and letting go of all the fears/anxieties holding you back, both in racing and in life.

Spartan Race has turned into more than a timed obstacle race, from podcasts to apparel and media channels. Is this because once you do a race you will be hooked?

For many, especially those who did not have a background in sport racing prior to getting involved with Spartan, the races themselves represent far more than just a few miles of muddy suffering together. They are about a lifestyle, a mindset, and a community of like-minded athletes looking to share a common experience that ultimately leaves an impact on all involved. Being a part of this community will add a new sense of adventure and satisfaction to your life.

Have you ever done a Spartan Race? Now that you’ve heard more about it, is it something you’re interested in? Share below.

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