Four Reasons Not To Run a Spartan Race

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Many thanks to Spartan Race for granting permission to use their photos on my blog. I don’t think this post would have been nearly as interesting without them, so I’m very grateful!

On December 6th, I ran a Spartan Sprint with my brother Tim at Castaic Lake State Recreation Area in Southern California. This was my first ever Spartan Race, but he has run several. The experience was something of an eye opener for me. I’m all about trying new things, and this was definitely new.

The Spartan Race isn’t for everybody. I probably never would have participated in one had Tim not invited me to run with him. I discovered that it’s an odd mix of people that you’ll find running and volunteering. Some of them are a little too hardcore for my tastes; I’m not the kind of person who responds well to shouts from a bullhorn, though it probably is motivating to some. Meanwhile, other people will encourage and help you along. It’s an interesting mix. The obstacles vary in difficulty, some things that were easy for me were hard for others, and vice versa.

I’m not incredibly athletic, but I’m no stranger to running either. I like to run to clear my head, I’ve done a number of 5Ks and a half marathon, and you may have read my post about my experience running the Bix here in the Quad Cities.

The Spartan is different.

Like I said, it’s not for everybody. After the reflecting on my experience, I have come up with the following four reasons why you shouldn’t run a Spartan Race.

1. It hurts.
I experienced some significant pain and discomfort during this race. I experienced plenty of soreness in the days that followed. Perhaps elite performers and serious athletes can go through a Spartan race without pain, but I’m not one of them. Tim, however, did not seem to be suffering as much, but he may have been suffering in silence. His level of physical fitness is far superior to mine, and I’m willing to admit he’s just tougher than I am.

Spartan Sprint, hilltop

After ascending this hill, I felt pretty shot. I only had four more miles to go…

2. It’s dangerous.
This isn’t a simple 5K. You’re climbing over walls, leaping fire, carrying weight up and down hills, and crawling under barbed wire. Injury isn’t just possible, it’s probable. I walked away with minor dings, cuts, and bruises, but I saw people collapsed on the trail, and medics coming to aid on four-wheelers. Serious injuries are a possibility. There is a reason that you have to sign a waiver.

3. It’s humiliating.
Are you an elite athlete? I’m not, so everyone got to see how un-athletic I truly am. My burpees were sloppy, I couldn’t climb a rope, I had to walk countless times, and once or twice I had to stoop to crawl up inclines. You’re on full display, and fellow participants, volunteers, and spectators are all going to see what you can’t do.

Spartan Sprint, bucket haul

Tim upfront is hauling his bucket of gravel with no issues. I had to set my down and rest four or five times.

4. It serves no real purpose.
There is no real reason to run a Spartan Race. Unless you’re an elite athlete, you’re not going to win one of these. No two courses are the same, so a personal best doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve improved. If you’re trying to get healthy, lose weight, or challenge yourself there are safer alternatives. The truth is, there is no real purpose behind a Spartan Race, no inherent meaning, no deeper justification. There is nothing to prove to anyone.

All of this is true, but there are always two sides to every story. With that in mind, I’d like to follow up with the following four reasons to run a Spartan Race.

1. It hurts, and it will teach you to overcome discomfort.
Of course it hurts. You’re pushing yourself to do something difficult. That is always going to be accompanied by discomfort. Do you remember Rule #11? Success won’t come without discomfort, and in that way a Spartan Race is training for achieving your goals. Face the pain and discomfort here and you’ll be better able to face it elsewhere.

Spartan Sprint, barbed wire

Rolling on the ground is uncomfortable, barbed wire can be painful, but it’s not insurmountable.

2. It’s dangerous, and will teach you to manage risk in a controlled environment.
Yes it’s dangerous, you’re climbing over walls, leaping fire, carrying weight up and down hills, and crawling under barbed wire. Those are activities with inherent risk. So is camping, hiking, backpacking, and just about everything else I advocate on this blog. Adventure doesn’t come without risk, and life is a contact sport. Learning to assess and negotiate physical risks makes every journey safer, and the Spartan Race has medical staff on hand should something go wrong. You won’t find that alone in the wild, so you can think of the Spartan like training wheels for your danger/risk assessment bicycle. Most participants will walk away like I did; nicked, dinged, bruised, a little banged up, but no worse for wear.

3. It’s humiliating, if you have the wrong attitude.
Humiliate and humility have the same root, humilis, which is Latin for “low.” But how you interpret low is up to you. It could mean defeated, embarrassed, ill, or weak. Contrarily, it could mean humble or modest. The choice is yours. Because at a Spartan Race, everyone will see how athletic you are or aren’t. There will be witnesses to every failure and setback. People will see what you can’t do… And then they’ll help you do it. Several people helped me with obstacles, and I helped others with obstacles as well. People asked me if I was okay, people encouraged me to continue. They told me not to quit, and I paid that forward to others. People saw what I couldn’t do, but in the end it wasn’t embarrassing, it was humbling. Because people who were better athletes than myself could have left me lying in the dust (literally), but they didn’t. I could have leaped a wall without helping someone over, but I didn’t. So while I bared my inability for all to see, I received no judgment, only support. The experience wasn’t humiliating, it was humbling, and I am better for it.

4. It serves no real purpose, unless you do.
You’re not going to win one of these, but there’s more to competition than winning; like I pointed out in Rule #13, there’s only one person you need beat, and that’s the person you were yesterday. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone but yourself. There is no real purpose behind a Spartan Race, no inherent meaning, no deeper justification. That’s because you have to provide the purpose, meaning, and justification yourself. Like all adventures, the sense of purpose comes from within. In 1923, when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he responded, “Because it is there.” We all go to the starting line for different reasons, but at the end of the day, we run obstacle races for the same reason we climb mountains, hike trails, camp in secluded spots, or journey to distant lands. We do it because it’s there, and we’re the kind of people that answer to that sort of call.

Spartan Sprint, fire jump

I was hurting pretty badly by the end, but it felt glorious to leap over the fire!

Perhaps the Spartan Race doesn’t call you to the starting line. That’s okay, you may be called to the surfboard, the motorcycle, or the backpack. There are a lot of things to do in the world.

But if you do feel drawn to it, if you feel like it’s something you want to do, are wondering if you’re capable, or you want to push your own limits, then I’ve only one thing to tell you; do it.

Sign up. Register. Go to their website, find a race near you, and do it.

Because at the end of the day, the reasons for doing or not doing a Spartan Race are the same. The reasons for climbing or not climbing a mountain are the same. The reasons for sailing or not sailing across the Atlantic Ocean are the same. It’s the person who is different.

So if you’re thinking about running a Spartan Race (or doing anything for that matter) remember that it’s up to you to give it purpose and meaning.

Then go for it.

Spartan Race finishers

I’m tired, sore, and it took me almost two hours to finish… And I still felt victorious.

Incidentally, I thoroughly enjoyed my Spartan Sprint even though it left me exhausted, in pain,  and generally feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. I may even do another…

9 thoughts on “Four Reasons Not To Run a Spartan Race

    1. Wade

      It was fun in its own way, but I definitely felt like it had bested me in many ways. I suppose that’s kind of the point, but it certainly wasn’t easy.

      I need to work on improving my fitness again.

      Reply
  1. toutparmoi

    It’s the culture of the race that’s important. If those who complete it get pats on the back no matter how slow they were, good. Challenging yourself is what matters.

    Reply
    1. Wade

      Emily, that never occurred to me, but I’ve been kicking around with Tim so long now that I don’t think I would have ever noticed… We’ve been friends for, dang, over two decades now! But now that you mention it, I can see what you’re talking about!

      Reply
  2. emrun

    I’m a fan of mud runs or obstacle course races generally, but these extreme events don’t appeal to me at all. I want to have fun, not nearly kill myself. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts. Makes a change from the usual macho bravado.

    Reply
    1. Wade

      I don’t buy into macho bravado very much (though I will admit that even I have my moments), and I went into this race expecting to be surrounded by it. While it was present, such as the case of the man screaming at us through a bullhorn like a drill sergeant, the “alpha dog” attitude was a distinct minority. Instead, I found the majority of people were supportive, encouraging, and helpful. To be fair, my experience is limited to the one race, so they may all be different in that respect. On a personal level, I found great value in the fact that so many people would cooperate to help total strangers over, under, or through a difficult obstacle. It sounds a little hokey to say that it inspired me, but it was a pleasant affirmation (in an unpleasant environment) that a competitive endeavor need not be an antagonistic one.

      As for wanting to have fun and not torture yourself, that’s a perspective that I can completely understand. These definitely aren’t for everybody, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I probably wouldn’t have run it were it not for the invitation from my buddy. That being said, I did find myself enjoying it in an odd sort of way, despite the discomfort.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me! It’s always wonderful to get feedback. Don’t be a stranger!

      Reply
  3. Brian Harvey

    Really good stuff. I’ve done 3 Spartan Sprints, and this sounds a lot like my experience. I’m hoping to train for a SUPER in the Spring.

    Reply

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