You signed up for your first Spartan Race and now you’re ready to turn up the volume on training. But in addition to preparing your body for the challenge ahead, it’s helpful to know a little more about race day.
Lesson one: Expect the unexpected, as courses very from location to location and even from day to day, says Kevin Donoghue, a Spartan elite athlete, Spartan SGX coach and head trainer for the Daily Burn Spartan program. “That’s the beauty of the sport. There’s just always something that’s new that surprises you, that’s different from the last time you did it,” he says.
But not to worry — you can still study up to quell those first-timer fears. And we tapped a few Spartan athletes, Donoghue included, to get all the insider info. Follow their advice on what every Spartan Race newbie needs to know to crush the course.
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8 Expert Tips for Acing Your First Spartan Race
1. Fuel properly.
As with any race, you’ll want to figure out your nutritional needs during training. Try different pre-workout foods to see how your body reacts and figure out what fuel, like gummies, blocks or gels, you like for longer distances. Jacqueline Sabas, a Spartan Elite athlete who you’ll see in the Daily Burn Spartan program, likes having oatmeal with a banana or a whole grain bagel with sunflower butter at least an hour before the race. She also packs some gels for the course. “For the longer races…it’s important to replenish calories every 45 minutes,” she says. “So I think about how many hours I’ll be out there, and bring that amount of gels with me.”
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2. Dress for success.
Considering the mud and water on most courses, you’ll want to wear some durable gear. Katie Huber, who completed her first Spartan race in 2014 and is now ranked fourth female in the U.S. for Spartan Elite, suggests wearing dry-fit, moisture-wicking clothes. Skip the cotton, so wet gear doesn’t drag you down. Both Huber and Sabas also wear compression calf sleeves and/or shorts and recommend investing in a pair of lightweight, waterproof trail sneakers, like the Reebok All-Terrain Running Shoe. A sturdy sole will keep you from slipping, Sabas say. (You can leave gloves, elbow and knee pads at home, though.) Another must-have for longer races: a hydration pack so you can drink up on the go.
3. Pace yourself.
The energy at the Spartan starting line will probably pump you way up, making you want to dash out of the gate. Not so fast! Just like in 10K or half-marathon, you should begin a Spartan Race on the slower side. “A common mistake people make…they start sprinting as fast as they can and 400 meters later, they’re completely gassed,” Donoghue says. “Then you’re just fighting fatigue from the beginning.” Find you groove and conserve your energy so you can make it to the end feeling strong.
4. Watch other racers.
If you come up on an obstacle you’re not sure how to approach, take a minute to observe how other racers tackle it, Donoghue suggests. Then, walk around the obstacle to check out different ways to get up and down, and to spot footing and grip placement. “Look for anything that will supply you with as much information as possible to make a safe and effective attempt,” Donoghue says. Feel free to ask your fellow athletes for help, too. “Obstacle course racing is a culture of camaraderie. And teaming up at obstacles is a great way to meet new pals.”
Remember, there’s a learning curve to perfecting obstacles, too, Huber says. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get it on the first try. You just might have to sign up for another race to give it a second shot. And doing the Daily Burn Spartan program to amp up your strength, cardio and overall fitness will help you nail it the next time.
5. Don’t be afraid to opt out.
Giving the race 100 percent of your effort will definitely make you feel like a champ when you cross that finish line, but that doesn’t mean you have to put your safety at risk to get there. “Be honest with your physical abilities,” says Donoghue. “If there’s something that’s so far over your head — as much as you want to complete the race the way it was designed to do — self-preservation is most important.” For a first-timer, maybe that’s a particularly tricky rigging obstacle, or the rope climb. If you opt out, those burpees will only make you stronger!
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6. Embrace burpees.
Speaking of burpees, the exercise everyone loves to hate… You’ll probably do your fair share throughout that initial race. (You have to do 30 as a penalty for missing an obstacle.) Donoghue suggests taking them slow. “Doing them too fast could completely sabotage the rest of your race,” he says. Take it easy enough that you can hold a convo. Or do five all out, then take a few deep breaths before going back for more, and keep repeating those work and rest intervals.
7. Get ready to climb.
You know you’ll have to tackle tough obstacles on the course, but a challenge you might not expect: Super steep terrain. “Going into my first race, I wish I could have prepared more for all the climbing,” Huber says. “I never realized how hard it was to run (or fast hike!) up ski slopes.” If you trained for the race, you’ll definitely be prepared physically, so don’t let yourself get discouraged if there’s more tough inclines than expected. “Believe in yourself and you will finish,” Huber says. And keep in mind: There’s no shame in walking those near-vertical legs of the course.
8. Enjoy the finish line.
Probably the most crucial thing to remember on race day: Just how good it will feel to cross that finish line. “Make sure you work hard enough and take enough risks to learn something new about yourself,” says Donoghue. It’s that feeling of accomplishment that made Huber keep going back for more after race number one. “You push yourself to limits you didn’t know you had, and that motivates you to be a stronger version of yourself,” she says. When you earn your hardware, take time to revel in the achievement of officially becoming Spartan strong. After all, it is pretty badass.
Signed up for a Spartan Race, but don’t know how to train? Try our Daily Burn Spartan Training Program, for a six-week plan that’ll get you to the finish. Use promo code DAILYBURN for 15% off your next Spartan Race.
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