First Spartan Race (Spartan Sprint Windsor 2018)

Me jumping over fire, the final obstacle

General tips

Usually, you get three options for a Spartan race: Sprint, Super and Beast. For your first race, it’s sensible to run a Sprint (5-6k, the shortest available distance, with 20+ obstacles).

Training

  • Train burpees.
  • If you can, run on trails and hilly terrain. Running on paved streets won’t prepare you adequately.
  • Watch YouTube videos explaining technique for particular obstacle (for example how to scale a wall without using too much upper body strength)
  • If you can, practice the obstacles in real life (for example by finding a playground with monkey bars)

On the day

  • Be there 30-60 minutes before your start time. I saw several people who cut it too close and had issues at registration. The queues can be long, and you need to be at the start line 15 minutes before you’re actually meant to start.
  • Offer help to others who are struggling with obstacles. People will usually also help you.
  • Bring a full change of clothes and shoes, bin bag to put the dirty ones in, plus a towel and wet wipes. There might be cold showers onsite but don’t rely too much on it.
  • A normal 5k usually takes about 30 minutes, but because of the obstacles and other factors*, a Spartan will take you significantly longer. Expect 1-2 hours for a Sprint for an average person.
  • Windsor specific: It was surprisingly hard to find good public transport directions to the location. In retrospect, it seems the best way to get there is take the train to Ascot from Waterloo, and then get a taxi. The way back can be tricky as Ubers and taxis are busy or far away. We managed to hitch a ride with someone to Ascot and take the train from there.

When are you ready for a Spartan race?

If you’re interested in doing one, I’d encourage you not to wait until you’re fully ready or in perfect shape. You don’t have to defeat every obstacle as long as you can manage the burpees (some people skip that too, but unless you’re risking injury that seems a bit pointless…). That said, I think there are some minimum requirements to meet, otherwise you’re going to have a bad time. However, you can also mitigate that by running with friends who are willing to help you over obstacles. You should:

  • be able to run a normal 5k
  • be able to do 30 proper burpees in a row (short pauses are ok)
  • be able to scale a 4-foot wall (you actually have to climb over one to even start running the race)
  • be okay with getting very, very muddy*
  • not be too afraid of heights (alternatively, just don’t look down when you’re on top of certain obstacles…)

My experience

I did a Spartan Sprint in Windsor in October 2018. I’d done an inflatable obstacle course 5k and a couple normal 5-10k runs before, but this was my first “real” obstacle course race.

Spartan course map
Course map

A couple notes on the map itself: it’s not set in stone. They changed the order of a couple of obstacles. There were two additional ones not shown (6 foot wall and another wall that I don’t know the name of). Also, when it says X-foot wall, it usually means multiple walls of that height.

On the positive note, slightly surprising myself, I was able to do one 6-foot wall, slip wall and Z-wall on my own. I had help over the other 6-foot walls and the 8-foot walls, and I assisted others in return. I did okay on all the carries, drags, 4-foot walls (+ OUTs), barbed wire and net. The balance wall was a bit precarious* but I made it across. The fire jump at the end felt like a piece of cake after everything else.

Me doing the sandbag carry

I was most disappointed at the rope climb, as I got very close to the top, but not enough to ring the bell. The other big shock was Hercules Hoist. I’d read online that the bag for women should weigh 70 lbs, which I thought would be fine. But even when I was practically hanging on the rope, the weight barely moved. I knew I wasn’t going to make the monkey bars or the multi rig. And finally, like many others, I failed at the spear throw. Grand total: 155 burpees (five missed obstacles, plus the 5 mandatory ones for atlas carry).

I didn’t run the whole thing; especially after each set of burpees, I needed to walk for a bit.  Some parts also felt a bit more like hiking than running. My total time at the end was 1:52, which put me at 91/132 in my age & gender group. As someone who consistently ranked last in any kind of physical activity at school, I’m pretty happy with that. I also take the rankings with a grain of salt after seeing a lot of people skip obstacles and burpees.

Overall, even though there were some parts of the race where I felt pretty terrible*, I want to do it again next year. I’ll do more training for pull ups in the meantime, which should make a difference in the obstacles I failed at.

* Like losing my shoe in the mud, having to dig it out and put it back on – squishy for the rest of the race…

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