10 Life Lessons From Spartan Racing

Over the last three years I’ve had the chance to run some Spartan Races and earn trifecta twice. If you don’t know what the Spartan Race is, and are wondering what trifecta is, here’s a quick rundown for you. The Spartan Race is an obstacle course race that has different levels of difficulty. The shortest distance is the Sprint, ranging from 3-5 miles. Next is the Super, which falls between 8-9 miles, and there’s the Beast, that can run from 12-15 miles. If you complete each distance in a calendar year, you have earned your trifecta.

I'll never forget the experiences that I had earning these two Spartan Race trifectas.
I’ll never forget the experiences that I had earning these two Spartan Race trifectas.

The Spartan Race is pretty popular now, and I’m sure you’ve heard people describe the obstacles and terrain. If you want to get a better picture you can visit the Spartan Race site and see photos or you can watch the NBC Sports Channel because it’s actually televised. If you’re a Verizon FiOS customer like I am, it’s channel 590 in HD. I just end up recording it on my DVR to watch later so I can fast forward through the commercials. We pretty much DVR every show we watch for that same reason.

Here are 10 things that I’ve been able to take away from my experience running the Spartan Race (they are in no particular order):

1.  Don’t be overconfident.

I learned my lesson about overconfidence after my first Spartan Race, which was a Sprint at Citi Field. I thought I was in decent shape, but I was wrong. Completely unready for the race, the Sprint proved to be extremely challenging for me, resulting in a very harsh reality check. When people are overconfident about things, they usually don’t prepare as diligently, which can end up in failure.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Mike and Anne for getting me to sign up for my first race and causing my addiction.
Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Mike and Anne for getting me to sign up for my first race and causing my addiction.

2. Anything worth doing isn’t easy.

I have this phrase on my Twitter background for two reasons. I’ve found that the things that matter often require more effort and commitment. The more time and effort we put into things, the more meaningful they are. And also, we are defined not by what we say, but by what we do. If you want to separate yourself, or distinguish yourself from others, you have to do things that others aren’t. And I’ll be that most people are already doing the easy things.

The Citi Field race got me started, and humbled me at the same time.
The Citi Field race got me started, and humbled me at the same time.

3.  You don’t know what you can do until you try.

If you told me 3 years ago that I would have run 8 Spartan Races and come away with 2 trifectas, I would have said you were crazy. But I credit my brother-in-law for getting me to run my first Spartan Race and challenging me to push myself to another level. The Spartan Race definitely isn’t easy, but going through those races has allowed me to see how much I can push myself to do. It’s also shown me that I can still push myself even more.

Citi Field was the first piece of my first trifecta run.
Citi Field was the first piece of my first trifecta run.

4.  Enjoy the journey.

After the reality check of my first Spartan Race, I went into overdrive with my training. What I learned was that in order for me to succeed, I had to make the training fun. While you’re on the road to achieving the goals you’ve set, make sure you enjoy the journey getting there.

Two-thirds of the way through my first trifecta.
Two-thirds of the way through my first trifecta.

5.  Who you surround yourself with matters.

Jim Rohn says that you are “the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.  Therefore whoever you surround yourself with has a big influence on what you do. Training and conversing with the friends that I had that were running these Spartan Races with me helped keep me focused and made the journey that much more fun.

The Vermont Beast at Killington was the hardest thing I have ever had to physically do. This crew made it bearable and enjoyable. Start together, finish together.
The Vermont Beast at Killington was the hardest thing I have ever had to physically do. This crew made it bearable and enjoyable. Start together, finish together.

6.  Always challenge yourself.

I guess this piggybacks off Number 3, so after you’ve gotten yourself to try new things, keep pushing. You can always improve and always get better. And when you do conquer the next challenge, you’ll feel great. I remember being intimidated by 9 and 10 foot walls that we had to climb, but after learning how to scale them and successfully doing so at the race, it was such a big confidence boost. The more you challenge yourself and push through, the more confidence you’ll gain moving forward.

The 2014 Vermont Beast medal, the last piece of my first trifecta, looks pretty good.
The 2014 Vermont Beast medal, the last piece of my first trifecta, looks pretty good.

7.  Plan ahead.

The goal was to run the Spartan Races to the best of my ability. Realistically I’m not one of the elite racers and I know that. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t plan. The workouts had to be planned to maximize time and gains. Of course there are things that you absolutely cannot plan for, but if you an eliminate as many question marks as possible with good planning, getting over those unforeseen obstacles is much easier.

2014 Spartan Super
2014 Spartan Super

8.  Don’t be lazy.

It’s one thing to take a break, it’s another to just spend a lot of time doing things that don’t help you accomplish your goals. I believe that laziness actually sets you back, reversing some of the progress you’ve made. I’ve definitely had my moments of laziness and the results of those moments were magnified on the race because my laziness made some of the obstacles tougher than they should have been.

The 2015 Spartan Beast was tough for me. I injured myself at mile 3 of the 13 mile race. My teammates stuck with me and got me to push through and finish anyway.
The 2015 Spartan Beast was tough for me. I injured myself at mile 3 of the 13 mile race. My teammates stuck with me and got me to push through and finish anyway.

9.  Quit complaining.

Everyone needs to vent now and then, and I’ve definitely done my share of it. But complaining about things doesn’t change the situation, it just makes it worse for yourself mentally. Being on the mountain at Killington in Vermont was brutal. There was one section where we had to climb up the K1 slope. Complaining about it wouldn’t have made the task any easier, we just had to put our heads down and move forward.

2015 Spartan Sprint, two-thirds of the way through my second trifecta.
2015 Spartan Sprint, two-thirds of the way through my second trifecta.

10.  Eyes on the prize.

Always have your end goal in mind and keep focused on it. I won’t lie, during many moments at different races I’ve asked myself why I decide to put myself through these things. What gets me through is the finish line, and the feeling you get when you know you’ve just done something that most people won’t even want to try. Whatever your goal is, stay focused on it. Don’t let the speed bumps and detours discourage you, because when you accomplish what you set out to do, the feeling is great.

The 2015 Spartan Super capped my second trifecta. Not easy, but completed.
The 2015 Spartan Super capped my second trifecta. Not easy, but completed.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a campaign I’m doing with Verizon FiOS in NYC. #FiOSNY

My Quest For The Spartan Race Trifecta Part 3: Vermont Beast

It’s been over a week since I finished running the Spartan Race Vermont Beast with my teammates, completing my 2014 quest for the trifecta medal. I would have blogged sooner, but it’s taken me a week to objectively process what just happened. If you’re an experienced obstacle course runner looking for a review of the Vermont Beast course and obstacles, you won’t find that here. You can check out what Heather Gannoe and Alec Blenis (on Ekaterina Solovieva’s blog site) had to say about it. Both of their posts will give you a better idea of the course terrain, distance, and obstacles, along with some cool photos. Instead what I’ll be sharing are some of the tips for people who are thinking about running the Beast for the first time.

Spartan Race Trifecta 2014

Forget about the time

First let me answer the question that everyone asks me, how long did it take? It took the group of us 12 hours to complete the race. That’s a long time. But before that deters you from wanting to run a Spartan Race let me tell you that we were a group of 7 that decided to start and finish together, leaving no one behind. And for all of us, it was our first time running the Spartan Race Beast, so while we had heard about what to expect none of us had experienced it before.

Our goal was to complete the race, time was not an issue. Unless you’re an elite or experienced obstacle course racer, finishing the Beast is an accomplishment in itself, especially if you’re a first timer. It is a long race that will push your body and mind to the limit, so worrying about how fast we were going to finish wasn’t worth it.

Teamwork

Running with a team was huge for me. At different points in the race we each took turns helping each other out through it. If you’re planning on running the Beast for the first time, find a good team to run with. One of the things that I liked about the Spartan Races this year was that they put more emphasis on team work. People were encouraged to help others out during obstacles.

Train early and consistently

I was going to say to train hard, but I think training consistently is much better. The reason is that you be ready to endure a long day of physical activity. While strength training is important, cardio training is just as important (if not more). When I say train early, I mean that you need to have been training for at least a couple of months prior to the race.

Gear matters

While the right gear won’t necessarily make or break your race, getting the right gear will help you out a lot. One of the best investments that I made for the race was buying trail shoes. I wore Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s and they were great. Having good traction was huge. It made the muddy hills easier to navigate going up and down. You can run the race in sneakers if you want, but be prepared to struggle with your footing. Also wearing dri-fit clothing is a must, or at least nothing that cotton. You will get wet and muddy so wearing clothes that will not retain water is very beneficial.

A requirement to run the Beast was that you had to have a hydration pack. It’s a good requirement. While there are water stations on the course you don’t know where they are and you don’t know the distance between them. Having a hydration pack allows you to have access to water when you need it. And you’ll need something to carry the nutrition that you’ll be bringing anyway.

The one piece of equipment that I thought wouldn’t be used, but ended up being very valuable is a headlamp. If you are on the course after a specific time and do not have a headlamp they will pull you off the race, and it’s for your own safety. Navigating the woods in complete darkness is not fun and very dangerous. If you have a start time that is not in the morning, there is a good chance you will need a headlamp.

Pack nutrition

You will need to pack food for this race. I recommend bringing some Cliff Bars as you will need to eat something at some point during the race. You might also need to bring something in case you start to get leg cramps too. I totally cramped up at various points during the race, but I had packed some Gu Chomps to help me overcome the cramping. One of the cool new things that I found out at the race from other racers is that mustard helps to battle cramps too.

Have fun and make friends

The Spartan Beast is no joke. You will be on the course for hours, so try to have fun with it. During the toughest parts of the race I found it really encouraging to be able to crack jokes with my friends. And the other racers on the course were fun to joke around with as well. Everyone at the race helped each other out, so making friends is pretty easy. If you end up running more Spartan Races, you’ll probably see the people you’ve met again.

The Spartan Race Vermont Beast was definitely the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to physically go through, but I’m really glad that the group of us completed it. And I’m happy that I was able to accomplish my goal of completing the trifecta in 2014. The Spartan Races have given me new motivation to hit the gym consistently, stay active in sports, and I hope it becomes something that my sons will also like to do. Derek is old enough to run the Spartan Kids race and so hopefully he will be up for it at Citi Field in 2015. As for me, there will be another attempt at a trifecta in 2015, and the training for that has already begun.

Spartan Race Vermont Beast 2014: Start together, finish together. Photo credit: Joe Castellano and Steven Ng
Spartan Race Vermont Beast 2014: Start together, finish together. Photo credit: Joe Castellano and Steven Ng

My Quest For The Spartan Race Trifecta Part 2: Tri-State Super

After running a couple of Spartan Races in 2013, I was determined to try and complete the three levels of the race that qualified for the trifecta. For those that don’t know, when you complete a Spartan Race you receive a medal. They give you a different color for each level. The Sprint is red, Super is blue, and Beast is green. If you complete all three races in a calendar year, you were awarded a tri-colored medal (red, blue, and green). In April, I teamed up with some friends and completed the Sprint, the three mile course at Citi Field. It seems like such a long time ago. On September 6th the team, plus a few new members, completed the 9 mile Tri-State Super in Vernon, NJ.

Two-thirds of the Spartan Race Trifecta completed!
Two-thirds of the Spartan Race Trifecta completed!

One of my favorite things about the Spartan Race is the teamwork and comradery amongst the participants. From the super athlete down to the couch potato, everyone on the course is helpful to others. And make no mistake, if you don’t train for this race you will most likely need help on some of the obstacles.

For me the Tri-State Super was physically and mentally challenging. Just going up and down the mountain over and over again is brutal, and it takes some determination to want to keep going. The many obstacles that you will also encounter along the way will test your will and desire to continue. But as you get through each obstacle and finish the race, the feeling is great. It definitely helps to have teammates encouraging you and pushing you to continue along the way, and I’m grateful to have run the race with a cool team.

Spartan Race: Start together, finish together
Spartan Race: Start together, finish together

So what were the obstacles? From what I can remember (in no particular order):

  • Walls (x3 ranging from six to eight feet high)
  • Inverted wall
  • Barbed wire crawl (x2)
  • Monkey bars
  • Boulder carry
  • Hercules hoist (115 pounds)
  • Bucket carry (fill a 5 gallon bucket full of gravel and carry up and down a hill)
  • Balance poles
  • Tire pull
  • Sandbag carry
  • Spear throw
  • Rope climb
  • Swim to a raft and swim to shore

Unfortunately due to weather we weren’t allowed to do the sandbag carry and the rope climb, so I do feel like the race wasn’t complete. But that just means I’ll have to try it again next year! Hopefully I’ll see you there too! Next up for the team is the Vermont Beast on September 20.

My Quest For The Spartan Race Trifecta Part 1: Citi Field

The Spartan Race Sprint is an obstacle course race about 3-5 miles long. Spartan Race Sprints are mostly run outdoors, but there are some that are held in sports stadiums like Citi Field that are indoors. Upon completion of the Sprint, each participant is given a medal. If you run the Sprint at an outdoor location the medal is red. If you run the Sprint at a stadium, I believe the medal is the stadiums home team color. In the case of Citi Field, the medal was orange. It is one of three Spartan Races that must be completed in 12 months in order to earn the trifecta medal. The others are the Super, which is 8-9 miles long, and the Beast, which is 12-15 miles long. The Super and the Beast are only held outdoors.

This was my second year running the Spartan Sprint at Citi Field and I was definitely more prepared this time. You can read about my first experience here. I will say that after also running a Super Spartan last year there is a big difference between running the race indoors at a stadium and outdoors. For one, there is no mud in a stadium and the distance between obstacles seems longer. In a stadium, the hills are replaced by stairs, and there is no rocky terrain and no barbed wire. But in my opinion it does not diminish the race at all, it just makes it a different experience.

My Quest For The Spartan Race Trifecta Part 1: Citi Field
Spartan Race Citi Field Finisher! Notice the orange medal?
 
With less distance between obstacles in Citi Field, it was a good test of strength and endurance. When I ran the Super Spartan last year the distance was long, but the distance between obstacles allowed me to “rest” somewhat. The Citi Field Spartan Sprint felt like a high intensity training session.

If you haven’t run a Spartan Race yet and want to try one, a Sprint in a stadium is perfect. You get to experience the obstacles without the barbed wire and the mud. If you aren’t one that hits the gym regularly or you’ve found that you’ve been skipping the gym for a bit it’s a good way to gauge if you’re ready for one outdoors. Looking at the pictures on the Spartan Race site, it’s easy to underestimate the race, but don’t. During this last go around I saw plenty of people who were gasping for air on the sides. I could totally sympathize with them because I was like that last year.

My Quest For The Spartan Race Trifecta Part 1: Citi Field
The back of the medal is cool and unique to the Citi Field event. AND they also gave out a third of the trifecta. I’m aiming to get the other two pieces!
 
I will say this about the Spartan Race, it is addicting. And it’s a great motivation to get back in shape. Signing up for a Spartan Race gives you a deadline that you have to hit. So it’s either you get moving or you struggle through the race big time. The Spartan Race also encourages teamwork and camaraderie. You start as a team and finish as a team. Everyone who runs the race encourages others to finish. It’s not about how long you took to finish, but that you finish.

Now that the Sprint is done you can bet that I’ll be continuing to train for the Super and the Beast, both are in September 2014. Are you interested yet? I hope to see you all out there one day!

Spartan Race: You’ll Know at the Finish Line

The Spartan Race, a grueling obstacle course race designed to test your physical ability and mental determination. I finally had a chance to participate in one on April 13 at Citi Field, New York. There are different levels of Spartan Races and this one happened to be a Sprint, the shortest distance offered. The total distance was roughly 3 miles with 15 obstacles.

I respect the race much more now that I’ve had the chance to go through it. I can’t say that I’m in bad shape, but I know I’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m going to compete in one again. Looking at a list of all the obstacles on a sheet of paper doesn’t do the race justice at all. You might think to yourself, “I can climb a rope and go across monkey bars with no problem”, but what you don’t factor in is how tired you’ll be after doing other obstacles and running. You’re in constant motion moving from one activity to the next, and you only get one chance to complete an obstacle. If you fail you have to do 30 burpees.

Teamwork got me through it, and that’s what I really like about the Spartan Race. There’s this attitude amongst teams that they all start together and finish together. People encourage people throughout the race, even if they don’t know each other. In a world where so much is put on individual achievements and accolades, this kind of attitude was really refreshing.

I know I’m not really giving much information to go on here, but other than being tough, exhausting, and mentally challenging, the experience of the race is hard to describe. The phrase “you’ll know at the finish line” really does hold true. And I enourage anyone who is remotely interested in trying a Spartan Race to do so. When you cross the finish line you really do feel like you’ve accomplished something.

I will be running in a Super Spartan Race in September, which will be about 9-11 miles long, and I promise that I will be better prepared!

Spartan Sprint Citi Field Medal
Spartan Sprint Citi Field Medal

 

The Importance of Setting Fixed Goals to Achieve Results

Training Sunrise
One of the benefits of Super Spartan training is seeing photo opportunities like this early in the morning
I have to say that I’ve not always been a big believer in setting goals. When I was younger goals weren’t important, it was all about the here and now. I couldn’t or didn’t want to think about planning things ahead of time and if I thought something was too hard to accomplish I probably didn’t try. I’ve grown up since then and now I do believe in setting goals, but my problem has been that I sometimes set floating goals, not fixed goals. I describe a floating goal that doesn’t have a hard end date or set time length for which to achieve the goal, isn’t clearly defined or concrete, and clearly has no consequence for missing it. I also define “floating” goals mostly as concepts or ideas that you generally want to progress towards but don’t want to measure. While I believe that there should be flexibility in setting goals, if all of your goals are “floating”, you might find that you’re not progressing as fast as you’d like. Signing up for the Super Spartan Race in September 2013 is teaching me the value of setting fixed goals.

If you’ve never heard of it before, the Spartan Race is “the global leader in Obstacle Racing since 2005, designed by seven insane ultra athletes and a Royal Marine.” You can find out more about the race here, but in a nutshell it’s a brutal obstacle course race that will ultimately test your physical ability and your will. It’ll be painful, grueling, dirty, tiring, a big challenge, but most important right now is that it’s a fixed goal. So here’s what I’ve learned (in no particular order):

Make your goal concrete
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes goals are just concepts or thoughts. For example, one of my goals was to get back in shape. While it’s a noble goal, and it sounds concrete, it’s rather vague. There’s no measurement and time frame for this goal. Getting back in shape can almost mean anything from dropping a few pounds to being more active. Now that I’ve joined the Spartan Race I have a hard deadline to meet. If I don’t start training for this event it will be incredibly painful to complete, and I would be putting the completion of the race in jeopardy. Plus I’m doing the race with a team of people and I would hate to be the one holding them back. Having this race as a goal also forces me to start training now, and hard. I’m not going to be able to just run around a track a couple of times and call it a day. It’s going to take a lot of running and a lot of other physical workouts to be prepared for this race. Have a concrete goal that you can measure with a fixed end date or time frame, so that you stay motivated to keep working towards it.

Challenge yourself, but be realistic
Sometimes we set goals that are too easy to attain, and while it might feel great to have reached those goals we realize afterwards that we could have done so much more. Sometimes we set goals that are impossible to attain, and when that happens it’s easy to become discouraged and unmotivated because we either can’t hit them. We might even sabotage ourselves from the beginning by not wanting to work towards a goal we cannot meet. The Super Spartan Race is going to be very hard to complete, and my goal is to complete the race, not to set any records. I understand that I am not in any physical condition to complete the race at the moment, but by September I plan to be. But while I plan to be in such a condition to finish the race, I realize that I will not be an elite athlete by this time so trying to compete to finish in one of the top spots would be very unrealistic. Challenge yourself when you set a goal. Make yourself work hard to meet a goal, but be realistic.

Slow and steady wins the race
Ok, so I ripped this last one off from the “Tortoise and the Hare”, but I’m sure I’m not the first to do that. It would be easy for me to want to dive into physical training and go all out right away in preparation for this race, and that would be foolish. It would be foolish because I would most likely hurt myself because I haven’t been as physically active as I should be. My body isn’t ready for full tilt workout and cardio sessions every day. It’s something that I have to gradually and consistently get into. It’s like people who say that they need to go on diets so they decide to cut out all sugars and carbs all at once, only to have a snack later on in the day and feel like a failure. The reality is that I’m not going to become extremely physically fit overnight, just like how I’m also not going to lose 10 pounds overnight either. So when you set a goal, keep in mind that it’s going to take time to achieve it. And if you can turn working towards your goal into a routine by consistently working at it, you will achieve it. This is another reason why it’s beneficial to set a goal with a fixed time period or end date.

So those are three things that I’ve learned so far about goal setting thanks to this Super Spartan Race. Setting fixed goals, instead of moving targets, will help you achieve the results you want. I’d love to hear what you think about these three things, so please feel free to comment here and share. Also I’d like to know how you go about setting goals, so please share those thoughts and ideas as well. Oh and if you’re curious about how my training is going, I will be posting updates here. Feel free to follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook too, because I’m sure I’ll be sharing there as well.