How I got top 10 in an Elite Super Spartan Race

The purpose of my previous Spartan Race was more to feel how a Spartan Super looks like rather than throwing myself into the real competition and I didn’t prepare it without pursuing any specific goal. However, for this second Elite race I aimed at finishing it inside the top 10.

In this post, I’m going to share my impressions and my preparation plan for my second Elite Super Spartan Race in Ningbo, a big port Chinese city located not far from Shanghai.

Prior to this, I took part in my first Elite Super Spartan Race in Xiamen in 2020 where I finished in a discrete 14th position. It also was my first Spartan Race in 2021 and the race came from a long break of five months without running any OCR (Obstacle Course Race).

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

The Spartan Sprint is one of the Spartan Race contests and is the shortest, lasting roughly 5 kilometers and including over 20 obstacles. The middle level, Spartan Super, has more than 25 obstacles across 10 kilometers. With 21 kilometers and 30+ obstacles, the Spartan Beast is the higher level. The iconic Spartan Ultra, a 50-kilometer race with more than 60 obstacles, is open to Spartans looking for the ultimate challenge.

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.

However, the preparation for this race didn’t come without additional “obstacles”. Spring 2021 has been a very busy period for me, I had a part-time internship in the morning and I worked until late in the evening to write my thesis. Hence, it has not been easy to manage my time and find the right balance between working, studying, and training.

The diary of my first top 10 in a Spartan Race

  • 29 March 2021: 10km tempo + 5km easy.

    I first ran a 10km at a sustained pace close to tempo effort. Following I ran another 5km easy to relax my body.

  • 30 March 2021: 6x1000m (3’30” with 45″ rest) + 50 pull ups + 150 push ups.

    My original plan was to run 10x1000m but I was feeling my legs still tired from the training of the past days, and the fatigue accumulated on my legs made me stop at 6. However, I compensated for the missing volume by doing some workouts for a total of 50 pull-ups and 150 push-ups.

  • 31 March 2021: 1h-workout + 9km.

    I led a simple workout consisting of various kinds of push-ups, crunches, and planks. I also added many series of burpees in between so to make it more fun, and more Spartan. After dinner, I went out again for a 9km evening run without pushing too much.

  • 1 April 2021: 3000m (3’33” pace) + 1200m (3’14” pace) + 600m (1’56”) + 1h strength training.

    I started the session with a 3000m. I pushed it a little so to test my condition, but I didn’t feel in excellent shape. I finished my training with a 1200m and a final 600m. In the evening I did some 60kg-70kg squats and plus some exercises to train my arms.

  • 2 April 2021: 6x1000m (3’20” with 2’30” rest) + 2000 (3’33” pace).

    I finished my first week running some repetitions of 1000m with a good rest in between so to try to push my running pace. This time I was feeling good, so in the end, I added a 2000m so to further increase the volume.

  • 3 April 2021: REST.

    Due to medical reasons, I had to rest on this day.

  • 4 April 2021: hiking (7h – 18km – 1000m elevation gain).

    I went hiking with some classmates in the mountains of Jingxigudao located west of Beijing. We left early in the morning at 5:50am and had an 18km trip with almost 1000m of elevation gain for a total of 7 hours of hiking. It has been the first sunny day of April.

  • 5 April 2021: 12km tempo + 30 min arms workout.

    I did a long progressive run of 12km around my campus and a short workout session at the end of it. I mainly focused on doing pull-ups so as to be ready to conquer the most difficult obstacles.

  • 6 April 2021: 10x600m (2’00” with 2′ rest doing 30 push ups) + spear throw.

    Twister might be hard but the Spear Throw is by far the hardest. It consists of throwing a spear aimed at a target placed about 10 meters far. To be considered passed, the spear not only has to hit the target but has also to remain stuck on it. I practiced it for about one hour with the help of a professional Spartan Coach. In the afternoon I came back to the track and completed a 10x600m interval training doing push-ups during the recovery time so to simulate race conditions.

  • 7 April 2021: 1h full body workout.

    I lead another full-body workout very similar to the workout of 31 March.

  • 8 April 2021: flight to Ningbo.

    We arrived in Ningbo at 11:30pm by plane.

  • 9 April 2021: visiting Ningbo.

    In the morning we went to visit the Ningbo Tiantong Temple, and in the afternoon we came back to the city and took a beautiful sightseeing tour by bike.

  • 10 April 2021, 8am: Ningbo Elite Super Spartan Race.

    I arrived at the location of the race at around 7 am, it was a sunny and warm day. However, it rained a lot on the days before and the organizers warned us that we could happen into “some” mug along the path.

    It was only during the race that we realized that “some” mud was meaning literally running in a swamp. Sometimes the mud was so deep that it was almost impossible to run, it was even hard to walk and easy to lose shoes with the mud arriving over our knees.

    I led the race for a few kilometers but I felt my legs were too heavy and tired due to not being used to running in the mug.

    The two obstacles that I failed were the Hercules Hoist and, once again, the Spear Throw. Regretfully, I failed the first one after having raised the weight to the top but I accidentally let it fall down too quickly, thus getting the 30 burpees penalty.

    Near the finish line of the race, I enjoyed the new obstacle, the Fire Jump, and finished my race 7th among the Elite athletes with a time of 1h 16′ 23. It was really a pity since only the top 5 got the prize but better times will arrive!

  • 10 April 2021, 10am: Ningbo Open Sprint Spartan Race.

    After the Elite race, I had the fantastic idea to run the same race again to support the team in the open group. It was also a good chance to train on the obstacles that are easier to miss, still according to my remaining strength. We also enjoyed a swim in the mud, another jump over the fire, and took the traditional picture after the race showing our new Spartan Super medal which symbolizes that this challenge was also done.

  • 10 April 2021, 16pm: the last (biggest) obstacle

    In the morning we basically spent 3 hours running, rolling, and swimming in the mud. Can you guess what was the biggest challenge after that?

    Have a shower and wash your clothes. No matter whether we wore a white or black t-shirt, and no matter the color of our pants and shoes. All our clothes turned into something indescribable. We could barely recognize that those things totally covered by the mud were our clothes.

    Only after a lot of pain, we managed to get a shower, resemble to be humans again and finally go to sleep ready to fly back to Beijing the next day.

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