The summer of 2016 has been an eventful one for Lindsay Lee Orange. 2 triathlons (placing 3rd in each-yay!), Femsport in July, and on Sept. 3rd I completed my first-ever Spartan Race. Not just any Spartan: the SUPER! Many people usually enter in the 5 km, or ‘sprint’ distance for their first Spartan. I was advised by several others that as a runner I would find the sprint distance ‘too easy’. The Spartan Super-distance is 12+ kms, with 27 obstacles. The farthest I had ever ran in recent years is 10 kms, so I had my work cut out for me. I thought I’d share my personal experience in both training and completing my first Spartan. Some of you can take this blog as a useful tool if you are truly interesting in entering in a race yourself, or simply as good reading material: the choice is yours 😉
Set your goal
For the last 4 years I had pondered the idea of doing a Spartan. It wasn’t until I had competed in Femsport (an all-female strength-agility competition) that I truly felt I was primed and ready to take on the challenge. Since I had been training for my triathlon races all summer, I knew my cardiovascular ability was at an all-time high. I was told the 5 km would be a ‘cake walk’ based on my endurance level; so I went ahead and registered for the Super. Coming off my triathlon race on August 7th, I had 4 weeks to try to bring up my strength and agility as much as possible for the Sept. 3rd race.
There are many people that will enter in a Spartan without any type of formal training. While this is entirely possible, it would depend on the individual’s existing physical condition/athletic background upon entering the race. Also, if your goal is to do fairly WELL- I do advise conditioning yourself accordingly:
The most basic, but most necessary training you will need. Whether your race is 5 km, 12+ km, or 20 km (that would be a ‘Beast’ distance): you need to be able to run AT LEAST that distance. The race is not just running: you are faced with obstacle after obstacle, many of which are much more physically demanding than actual running. And for every failed/incomplete obstacle, your penalty is 30 burpees. Yep. 30. It’s no cake walk. And that brings me to my next tip:
Nobody likes burpees. They are hard, they are exhausting, and no matter your pace doing them, they are going to kill your Spartan time. For those of you that don’t know what a ‘burpee’ is: Google it. They’re no joke. But let me tell you after 4 weeks of practicing drill after drill involving burpees, I was beginning to get pretty lean- especially in my midsection! Here are a couple of drills I did to help me prepare:
1) Indoor Drill (with treadmill)
*4-5 min warm-up, at 4.0 mph, incline at 1.0%
Sprint 30 sec at 9.0 mph, incline at 7.0%
Walk 30 sec at 4.0 mph, incline at 15.0%
x 8 rounds
2) Outdoor Run Drill
For every mile (1.6 km), stop, drop and complete 30 burpees
*I would complete this drill on my 5 mile runs (8 kms)
As brutal as these drills are, the idea is to bring up your physical conditioning so that if you miss many obstacles you are physically prepared to finish the entire race regardless.
This is an area that I feel many endurance athletes overlook, in general. Although you most likely won’t know exactly which obstacles you will be faced with, I can tell you you will need to be able to pull your own body weight (several times), climb over walls/fortresses, and be made to lift some challenging weight. Working on my grip strength was a big one for me. I worked on my strength training 2-3 days/week involving exercises like:
- conventional deadlifts
- seated rows
- farmer carries up/down stairs
- planks/core strength
- wrist curls
It helps having My Champ as the awesome trainer he is, to advise me on all of those. Lift, pull, carry as heavy as possible (while maintaining proper form) to ensure you will be ready for ANYTHING!
OCR (Obstacle Course Race) Training
At Femsport I was fortunate to learn there is an outdoor-fitness club called ‘River City Fitness’ that offers training specifically for individuals entering in obstacle course races (Spartans, Tough Mudders, Rugged Maniacs, etc.). I was only able to go once in my 4 weeks of prep, but I found it super helpful!! It was a good way to train for the ‘unexpected’, I found. The group was super friendly, very positive- much like the people you will meet at your race! I had a great time. Check out their website: www.rivercityfitness.ca if you are in the Edmonton, AB area.
If you have been following me for a while, you already know that I’m a pretty huge advocate for eating well. I found with training for triathlons it was important for me to keep my carbohydrate intake fairly high to sustain my energy for the long distances. For Spartan training, I made adjustments to cater to the strength demands, high-intensity and endurance training, as well as efficient recovery. While everyone is different, I found that my body works best with a 40/30/30 ratio (carbs/protein/fat). I stuck to whole foods during the week, while allowing myself a couple of ‘free’ meals on the weekend- like pizza with My Champ or apple pie with my family. During the week my diet consists of foods such as:
- egg whites/whole eggs
- sweet potato
- whole-wheat wraps
- nut butters
- yogurt (plain, either 0% or 2%)
- reduced-fat cheese
- protein powder
- almond milk
- protein powder
As you can see, tons of variety! I keep track of all my food intake on an app such as MyFitnessPal.
What to wear
This I had to resort to the Internet myself for info- I was completely lost. So I am here to help! First off: invest in a GOOD pair of trail shoes. It is worth the money. It is so important for your overall run and joint health to consider this. Yes, your shoes will get crazy-muddy during the race- but good quality shoes can be put through the wash! Good as new. I went online and bought myself a pair of Reebok ‘All Terrain Thrill’ shoes, and they were great. There are many other good brands out there, but do go out and get a pair. Make sure you have ample time to break them in before your race as well. In addition to good quality shoes, I do strongly advise you to either tape your ankles/wear ankle braces for your race. The terrain is extremely uneven and slippery: the LAST thing you want is a blown ankle. My Champ taped me up using Pro Wrap and stick tape and my ankles were injury-free.
Every site I visited stated ‘less is more’ for clothing. This is totally sound advice as you will be trudging through several mud bogs as well as walking/swimming through bodies of water (rivers, maybe a lake) so you don’t want to be wearing anything that will weigh you down when wet. I ended up wearing a thin tank and 3/4 length lululemon pants (to cover my knees) in 13C weather, and it was perfect. I wore gloves, but I did have to take them off for most things about halfway through as they became far too muddy to help me any. I still say they are worth bringing if you like using them.Because my race was going to be quite long, I invested in a hydration backpack from MEC to get me through. I say it was money well spent. Those packs are super lightweight, and it also held my energy gels for ‘just in case’ I felt my blood sugar crash.
Pack: a towel, crappy clothes to change into (even that pressure hose at the end doesn’t get all that mud off), face/baby wipes, garbage bags, snacks, your ID, and money for the beer gardens!! And your smile- the whole thing is seriously so much damn fun. You get oh so muddy, but you’ll love it. You will amaze yourself when you reach that finish line, and find out what you are truly made of 😉