How to Train & Prepare for a Spartan Race
Spartan races promise mystery obstacles, mud, a truly physical challenge and a whole lot of fun. With obstacle races all over the world and a passionate community of mighty Spartans at every race, what exactly do they entail, and what’s the best way to train for one?
What are Spartan races?
Spartan races are a cross between a traditional trail race (aka off-road running race) and an obstacle course.
There are multiple distances on offer, from 1k kids obstacle races to 50k mystery obstacle challenges. How far you go is up to you but, whatever happens, you’ll be faced with military style obstacles designed to test your full-body strength.
What to expect from Spartan obstacles
Obstacles vary depending on location and the distance you’re racing. While the run requires cardio and leg strength, the obstacles are mainly there to test your upper body. You can expect rope climbing, monkey bars, tyre flipping, log carrying, mud crawling, spear throwing, wall climbing and more!
The obstacles are designed to be completed alone but many choose to work together to help others tackle each obstacle. If you can’t manage an obstacle, you can do 30 burpees instead – though the idea is that everyone at least gives every obstacle a good go.
What are the different Spartan race distances?
Every Spartan race has a different name. The name defines the distance and number of obstacles you’ll face. Generally, the longer the distance, the tougher the trail (think higher elevation, more technical tracks) and the tougher the obstacles (think trickier climbs, more fire!).
Below are the four main Spartan race distances you’ll find around the world:
- Spartan Sprint – 5k: 20 obstacles over a 5k medium elevation trail.
- Spartan Super – 10k: 25 obstacles across a 10k route, generally with some areas of high elevation.
- Spartan Beast – 21k: 30 obstacles, each one designed to test and challenge you physically and mentally. The route will generally be steep with hard ascents and tricky descents.
- Spartan Ultra – 50k: 60 obstacles across challenging terrain. Expect to tackle all of Spartan’s toughest obstacles, as well as face extreme elevation gain.
Every Spartan race has its signature Spartan obstacles that you can rely on. But part of the challenge (and fun!) is that Spartan like to shroud the obstacles and race route of each event in mystery. You can never be quite sure what’s going to come your way on race-day – so you better be prepared for everything!
How to choose the right Spartan for you
While Spartan races are certainly not for the faint hearted, you shouldn’t let that put you off giving them a go.
The great thing about Spartan Races is that you can ease yourself in with a shorter 5k distance and build your way up.
Naturally, the Sprint is the obvious place to start – you’ll face less obstacles and won’t have as far to go. However, you may already have strong cardiovascular stamina, so it may make more sense to go with the 10k Super. You’ll only face five more obstacles than on the 5k Sprint but can play to your strengths over a longer distance trail.
It’s also worth remembering that this isn’t a course where you’re expected to achieve anything close to your normal running PB. Sure, some people choose to sprint their way through the sprint 5k, but most are hanging on for dear life and engaging their mental resilience as much as their physical strength.
Keen to try a Spartan this year? Your last opportunity to take part in a Spartan obstacle race in the UK in 2022 is the London South East Spartan Trifecta Weekend and European Championships.
In the US, there are plenty of great Spartan obstacle races, as well as some great trail options such as the Spartan Golden Gate Trail Classic Weekend.
How long should you train for a Spartan?
Ideally, you should be following a spartan race training plan for at least 8-12 weeks before your Spartan challenge.
This is to give you enough time to build stamina as well as upper body strength. If you’re already doing regular weight and running training or have a good baseline of fitness, one month of training is okay.
Spartan training for beginners
Training for a Spartan race (or any obstacle race!) is harder to replicate than your typical distance running event. While you can train for the distance, the 20+ obstacles in your way will make the reality of your experience very different.
But remember – every Spartan started as a newbie. Though it seems daunting, Spartan race training can actually be very similar to workouts you’re probably already doing in the gym.
A solid beginners Spartan training program should involve a healthy mix of endurance, sprints, hills, and full body strength and HIIT training.
1. Endurance training
Spartan races are designed to push you to your limits, so some endurance training is vital. Make sure you’re adding a long run to your weekly training schedule, and gradually extending the distance you cover in training sessions.
Even if you’re taking on the Sprint race, being able to comfortably run at least double the distance will stand you in great stead to handle tough terrain and tired legs.
2. Sprints and Hill training
To state the obvious: Spartan races are designed to be intense. The more comfortable you are with short bursts of intense training, the better.
Add a weekly hill sprint session to the end of your runs to prepare for any hilly terrain. As for sprints, throw them in the mix once weekly to boost your anaerobic threshold (aka the max amount of effort you can sustain for a long duration). Increasing your anaerobic endurance isn’t comfortable, but it will improve your perceived feelings of effort as well as your recovery time.
3. HIIT and full-body strength training
At a Spartan race, there’s certainly no shortage of obstacles requiring upper body strength. As part of your Spartan race training, you should be aiming for at least two upper body strength sessions a week.
Though you don’t need to practice with logs and sandbags, weight training as well as bodyweight training will prep your body for the challenge.
No access to a gym or weights? Building up your reps of push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, and burpees will do the job just fine!
Spartan training nutrition
Whilst Spartan training in Ancient Greece saw young Spartans be underfed due to a (severely misguided) belief that if athletes were skinnier they would grow taller – we know nutrition is key to fueling healthy Spartan workouts.
All of the training you’ll be doing should be at quite a hard level – this means your body will need extra fuel to repair itself and prevent injury. Whilst you’re undertaking Spartan race training, you should be upping your protein (for muscle repair) and ensuring you have a balanced intake of vegetables and carbohydrates.
When it comes to nutrition on race-day, be sure to have a hearty breakfast and drink and eat plenty the day before.
The nutrition you bring with you will vary depending on your distance.
A simple way to calculate what you need is to add calories every hour you’re on the course. Be sure to practice eating on the go in your training – everyone’s body reacts differently and you can find what you like. Gels work well for some, while others prefer nuts or protein bars.
Even if you’re running the 5k and don’t feel like you’ll need nutrition on course, be sure to bring snacks for afterwards – as well as plenty of water.
Spartan races are both physically and mentally rewarding. As well as feeling full of endorphins from your physical effort, your mind will feel strong too. You’ll finish knowing the capabilities of your mental resilience, and confident that you can–and did–accomplish hard things.
Plus, obstacle course races are basically giant adult playgrounds! If you fancy a wild day out in the mud with friends, start your Spartan training program and book the next Spartan event near you.
With runs from 5k to 50k, why not try Spartan’s final UK weekender of 2022?