How this Former Bodybuilder Survived his First Spartan Beast: 6 Useful Tips
Last weekend I competed in my first Spartan Beast. For those of you unfamiliar with this race, there are three types of Spartan Races: Sprint, Super, and Beast. The beast is the longest at between 12 and 15 miles with over 35 obstacles.
My beast was in Temecula, California and was 12.5 miles. We are talking inland Southern California in September and the temperature hit around 101 degrees Fahrenheit during our start time, which was 1pm.
I should say that this was not only my first Spartan Race, this was the first time I’d ever competitively done anything endurance related. I’m a powerlifter and ex-bodybuilder. Needless to say, this was a really big change for me and this race is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. In the first three miles we went up and down nearly vertical hills, climbed a near vertical hill with a 50lb sandbag, climbed walls, pulled an 80lb sled, and went through 5 different mud pits that you could not get out of without help from other racers. With the heat, many people were having difficulty and we found racers who started up to an hour before us at the side of the trail and passed them.
I survived, but barely. Despite being fat adapted and strictly following a hydration protocol that included electrolyes, I began cramping at mile 3 and was so cramped by mile 12 that I could barely jump over the fire pit at the finish.
I am writing this blog for those of you out there who want to cross a Spartan Beast off of your bucket list, to give you a list of things you will need to do if you want to finish this race. I am not an endurance expert, so you will want to go to other fitness professionals to find out how to get into the top 3, but these tips will help get you through it. So consider this advice as being a checklist for how pure strength athletes can survive a Spartan Beast.
- Run on multiple surfaces.
If you strictly train on treadmills or sidewalks for a Spartan Race, any Spartan Race, you are in for a world of hurt. Aside from the stadium races, most Spartan Races are on mountainous and rocky terrain. If you really want to train for this race, hit the trails. Hike up steep grade hills that don’t look like you can run up them, and practice getting down those hills. During the race, descending the hills was more difficult than getting up the hills. I am lucky enough to live in an area with lots of mountains and desert terrain, so my training brought me up ski slopes, desert mountains, and other difficult terrain. If you do not live around a lot of trails, take weekend trips and find them. You will need this training if you want to complete the race.
- Do loaded carries
There were four obstacles that included moving or carrying heavy objects for distance. Some of these were up nearly vertical hills. Get a kettlebell and practice carrying it for up to one or two miles. The key here is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The more you do it, the more you’ll be prepared.
- Become a monkey
Practice climbing things: ropes, walls, traversing monkey bars, and swinging from rope to rope and ring to ring. Work on your grip strength as much as possible to help you with this. Go to play grounds and practice doing the monkey bars. Hang from a bar with one hand as long as possible and practice switching directions. Climb ropes. Hold heavy objects with just your fingers. Do all of this while you are already in a fatigued state from a run. These obstacles can be soul killers during the race if you are not prepared, and if you fail them, there is a 30 burpee penalty.
- Do burpees. As many burpees as possible
I did well over 180 burpees over the course of the race. Luckily I did up to 200 burpees a day in preparation for the race. You will be facing some of the most difficult obstacles you ever faced during a Spartan Race. You will likely fail some and when you do there is a 30 burpee penalty. Get used to doing burpees so that, when you do fail, you can do your burpees, dust yourself off, and get right back into the race.
- Carry a hydration pack.
The biggest mistake I made was not carrying a light camelpack or hydration system. The water stations during the race were around every mile and a half, but they were crowded and the cups were so small. As such, I ended up with severe dehydration. Make the investment into a camelback, just make sure it’s not too bulky or heavy so you can get over the obstacles. At every other water station, have some electrolytes from a source like NUUN, which are tabs you can put into a cup of water. These will help you to retain water.
- Avoid sugar until later in the race.
I did not touch any GU packs until the last four miles of the race. Many people reached for theirs earlier and payed the price. Their blood sugar spiked their insulin, then their blood sugar plummeted and they crashed. These were the people I saw at the side of the road at the beginning of the race. Keep three or four GU packs on you, and save them for the second half of the race. In my race some of the more difficult obstacles like atlas stones and rope climbs occurred in the last four miles.
These are just some tips for surviving your first Spartan Beast if you’re normally a strength athlete like myself. As I said, I’m not the expert here, but you can check out experts like Ben Greenfield (BenGreenfieldfitness.com) for more detailed tips. Also, check out my friend Eddie Avakoff, owner of Metroflex Gym Long Beach who is an elite Spartan Racer for programs. He’s @manbehindmetroflex on Instagram.
Incidentally, I have to say that training for this race has been an amazing experience for me. I think my physique looks better than ever, and I’m still strong. I credit my following a fat adapted ketogenic diet and solid programming with being able to do this without losing muscle or strength. If you ever have questions regarding strength, muscle building, or body composition improvement, just hit me up at [email protected].