How I prepared my first Super Spartan Race

In this post, I’m going to share my experiences on how I prepared for my first Super Spartan Race and my impressions about it. The race took place on November 2020 in Xiamen, a coastal city in China dominated by warm weather all around the year. Before we start, let’s try to understand: what is a Super Spartan Race?

There’s nothing mediocre about this middle distance race. The Spartan Super offers the ideal blend between distance and speed. Offering racers a true athletic test. If you consider yourself a more seasoned athlete determined to push beyond excuses, you just might have the mettle for a Spartan Super. Serving up 25+ Spartan Obstacles and 10+km of rugged terrain, the Spartan Super spares no one. Developed as the second race in the Spartan Trifecta, the Super is where you prove to yourself you’ve got everything it takes to face the Beast.

Super Spartan Race

Among the Spartan Race competitions, the Spartan Sprint is the shortest lasting for about 5km and featuring 20+ obstacles. Spartan Super is the middle level with 10km and more than 25 obstacles. The upper level is the Spartan Beast with its 21km and 30 + obstacles). Spartans searching for the ultimate challenge can take part in the infamous Spartan Ultra: 50km and 60+ obstacles to go through.

Spartan Races are subdivided into 3 categories according to your level of experience:

  • Open group: not competitive, and you are not penalized for choosing not to complete obstacles or for receiving assistance to do them.
  • Age group: competitive, but the rankings are broken out by age. Each group’s top three finishers will get a special champion medal.
  • Elite group: competitive with ranking divided only by sex. The top 3 will receive a special champion medal and gadget, and the top 5 will also receive cash awards.

Obstacles are compulsory only in the Age and Elite group and failing one comports a penalty of 30 burpees.

The diary of my first Super Spartan Race

  • 31 October 2020: 18km Trail run.

    Essentially, a Spartan Race is a cross-country race with obstacles. So I took part in a small local 18 km trail race in the mountains west of Beijing featuring a challenging 1000m elevation gain. Although the run went smoothly, I knew it was nothing compared to what was waiting for me in two weeks.

  • 1 November 2020: REST.

    My legs needed to recover after the race of the previous day.

  • 2 November 2020: 5km aerobic run.

    I went running in the evening, at around 9pm when the outside temperature was close to 0°. I only wanted to test my legs and stamina on a quick 5km run. I hoped to run under the 4’00/km threshold but the cold weather and maybe the accumulated tiredness prevented my legs to run as I had planned.

  • 3 November 2020: 1-hour arms workout.

    Having a background as a middle-distance runner, I lacked strength. For this reason, my training schedule was more focused on strengthening my arms and grip rather than improving my running pace.

    After all, the three obstacles I feared the most were all grip-based obstacles including monkey bars, multi-rig, and twister. Thus, my workout consisted mainly of repetitions of pull-ups, push-ups, and weightlifting.

    What is the infamous twister?

  • 4 November: 1-hour full-body workout.

    On some Wednesdays, I served as a general training coach for the mountaineers association of Tsinghua University. We did plenty of crunches, planks, squats, and push-ups. The last challenge consisted of doing burpees for 3 minutes straight. Let’s keep in mind that 30 burpees are the penalty for failing an obstacle and they could take up to 2 minutes to finish.

  • 5 November: 1-hour arms workout.

    Today’s training was almost identical to the 3 November workout. After all, grip strength is what I needed the most.

  • 6 November: 5km + 1-hour strength.

    I began today’s schedule with a 5km progressive run without feeling too much effort. Then, always aiming to conquer the monkey bars, I heavily trained in pull-ups and push-ups. I also added a session of leg training aimed to improve my calves’ strength.

    How to pass the monkey bars?

  • 7 November: 16km progressive run.

    After the focused workout of the previous week, on Saturday I did a long 16km progressive run around the campus to improve my aerobics skill and enjoy the last relatively warm days of Beijing.

  • 8 November: 1-hour arms workout + 7km run.

    Due to the proximity of the race day, the next three days are going to be the last days where intense workouts can still be carried on. I did my usual arms strength training routine immediately followed by a 7km run getting progressively closer to the 4’/km threshold. In fact, keeping a 4’/km pace is a must to get into the Elite top 10.

  • 9 November: 10km with obstacles + monkey bars.

    Track and field obstacle races are at most 3000m long. Instead, I did a 10km steeplechase with only 2 obstacles per lap to get my body used to intensity variations rather than a uniform continuous run. In fact, the most frequent kind of obstacle present in a Spartan Race consists of climbing over a wall.

    Most of those walls are so high that it’s almost impossible to pass them without using your hands to climb over them. Even if the obstacles I had were too low to simulate a real race, I think this training has been useful to adapt my legs to getting interrupted while running and then quickly stabilizing to the previous pace.

    Finally, I trained monkey bars to test the training of the previous workouts.

    What are 3000m steeplechases in track and field?

  • 10 November: 1-hours strength + speed workout.

    Workout:1200m warmup + 2000m (3’45/km) + 40 push-ups + 2000m (3’45/km) + 40 push-ups + 1200m (3’30/km) + 40 push-ups + 1200m (3’30/km) + 10 burpees.

    As you can guess from the description above, this training has been the hardest one. It basically simulates the conditions of the Spartan Race. In fact, obstacles usually come in blocks separated by a few hundred to a few km of running.

    Hence, running repetitions of shorter distances faster than race pace has benefits to increasing the aerobic threshold, and to make it more challenging, I added some push-ups and burpees during the intervals so to better simulate the obstacle/running sessions. Prior to that, I also did some reinforcing exercises to improve my overall strength.

    Xiamen Spartan Race Map was released
  • 11 November: Rope climbing + 1-hour strength training.

    In the morning I spent a few dozen minutes learning how to climb a rope. In fact, rope climbing was among the obstacles I had trouble passing through. In the afternoon, I lead another full-body training session still focusing on push-ups, squats, plank, and burpees. Once again, we finished with 3 minutes burpees challenge. This has also been my last day of training.

    How to climb a rope?

  • 12 November: Flight to Xiamen.

    I arrived at Xiamen at 9:30pm.

  • 13 November: REST.

  • 14 November: Xiamen Elite Super Spartan Race.

    That morning was cloudy but luckily it wasn’t raining. It was also warm and not windy and the course was mostly on sandy terrain. The race started at 9am but I arrived at 7:30am to do my warmup and collect the race package.

    As I had expected, the race was fast from the beginning and I could only manage to follow the leading group for about 1km. I lost the top of the group while doing the monkey bars and the multi-rig obstacles since they slowed me down significantly compared to my rivals.

    At about 5km I failed my first obstacle and guess which one? The twister. Thus I got the 30 burpees penalty, which cost me at least 2 minutes and a lot of energy drained. The second mistake didn’t take long to arrive: I also failed the Z-wall after having completed most of it, so I had to do another 30 burpees.

    Less than 1km to the finish line, as almost everyone did, I failed the spear throw which added another 30 more burpees to my total (90). At that very moment, it also started raining.

    Finally, I finished my race in 1h 06′ 37 arriving 14th among 70 participants. This race, no matter the results, marked my entrance into the Spartan Race Elite group and the memory itself will be certainly impossible to forget.

    Now, based on my personal experience, I will leave 10 useful tips to prepare for your first competitive Spartan Race.

    How to prepare for a competitive Spartan Race

    • Train to do burpees fast and frequently
    • All obstacles are feasible except for spear-throw, you might need a bit of luck too
    • Be sure you can climb a rope
    • Your opponents will run fast, to run at 4’/km in a Spartan Race you should run the same pace quite easily when without obstacles
    • If you can run at 3’00/km but you lack strength, be ready to do burpees and forget to run that pace
    • Train to do repetitions, better if on a trail course, and add some burpees while you are recovering
    • Do a good warmup before the race
    • Print a Spartan Trifecta tattoo on your face
    • If your skin tore down during one of your recent workouts, then don’t forget to wear your gloves
    • Be ready to suffer:)
  • 15 November: Active recovery.

    Rented a bike and cycled 20km along the coast on Huandao road.

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