Spartan Training: Lessons learned from a newbie Spartan

When I finished the Spartan Sprint in June, one of the most overwhelming feelings was my fear of the Spartan Super in September. As I told you all at the time, the race was the hardest thing I have ever done. It challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally. And here’s the thing: the Super is twice as far!!


As the exhaustion wore off and my post-race high set in, my fears about the Super slipped away. After all, I had plenty of time to train! Now, somehow, the race is less than two months away. My first reaction to this realization was to panic, but since panic won’t help me on race day, I figured the best place to start would be to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in my preparation for the Sprint.


Educating myself
I read discussion boards and blogs, the Spartan Chicked Facebook group, and followed Spartan Race on Facebook. I made sure I knew, as best as I could, what I was getting myself into. With one glaring exception (see below) I felt like I knew everything I needed to. This informed my training and my expectations. I felt bad for the people who clearly had no idea what they signed up for.

Upper body
Going into training, my upper body strength was my biggest concern. I focused a lot on lifting, and tried to build up to doing a pull-up. I lifted HEAVY weights, but nothing super crazy. If you are training for a Spartan and want more details on my numbers (ie how much weight), email me at BusyBod at ymail dot com. By race day, I still couldn’t do a pull-up, but I was leaps and bounds stronger, and my arms did not fail me once! I scurried up ropes, hauled tires, scaled huge walls without needing a boost, lugged sandbags, you name it. I was most worried about the obstacles, and in the end, they were BY FAR the easiest part of the race.

marked up

Functional/HIIT training
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did not do CrossFit. There is a huge crossover between the CF crowd and the OCR crowd, but it’s not a requirement. However, functional fitness is still super important and beneficial. I used the ZCUT Power Cardio program and it was a huge help in preparing me for the explosive and functional movements of the obstacles. The HIIT style of the workouts improved my conditioning significantly, and I definitely would have been much slower without it.

Thanks again to ZCUT! The burpees sucked because I was so completely exhausted, but it would have been much worse if I hadn’t practiced them so much. I need to start doing them again. Maybe I’ll incorporate them into an August challenge?

LESSONS LEARNED (aka everything I did wrong)

REALLY know your race
I educated myself like crazy about the Spartan in general. I made zero effort to learn about the Tri-State Spartan Sprint specifically. This was a HUGE oversight. In Spartan world, where you race makes a huge difference. Turns out, TriState is one of the hardest in the country, because it’s on a mountain and the course itself is brutal. The mountain is the biggest obstacle, and I had no idea going in. So while I rocked the obstacles, I sucked at the race as a whole. Lesson learned: research your specific race!

Spartan mountain(photo credit: Spartan Race, TriState Sprint)

Lower body training
I’ve always had a relatively weak upper body and a relatively strong lower body. I realize this is true for most women and probably most people, but it’s extra true for me. I’ve never had to worry about my legs being strong enough to do anything. So while I did some heavy
lifting for my legs, I was thoroughly unconcerned about lower body strength. If the race had been on flat terrain, I would have been right on. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and my legs were shaking with exhaustion earlier in the race than I’d like to admit (oh the shame!). As soon as I recovered, I started regularly doing an intense lower body work and based on our hike last weekend it is definitely helping (I’ve been doing a killer circuit the past few weeks that I plan to share with you guys soon). Lesson learned: you need total body strength, don’t neglect anything.

Fueling my body
It was a brutally hot weekend and we raced right in the middle of the day. When I got to the finish line, I was dizzy and pretty delirious. I’m not sure yet what I should have done differently here, but what I did wasn’t enough. I didn’t carry gels or anything because I didn’t think I’d need them for a two hour event. I don’t need fuel when I work out intensely in other situations, so it seems silly and overly intensely competitive and I didn’t want to be one of those people. Maybe this is just my complete ignorance of racing in general. I will definitely have some for the Super, which I’m expecting to take 4 hours to finish. By my calculation, I burned almost as many calories as I normally consume in a day (net after exercise) so yeah, I needed it. Lesson learned: know your race, if it is long enough or intense enough to use up your fuel, you will wish you brought something along!


The Super is coming up fast, and I’ve already been putting these lessons to work. I’m trying to focus as much as I can on hill training starting this week, and I’ve been working hard on my lower body strength. I’ve also been working on my distance running since this race will be a challenging distance for me. I’m still terrified, but I’m also trying to adjust my expectations. It will be an accomplishment to make it to the finish line without the help of a helicopter, anything else is a bonus 🙂

Your turn: What lessons have you learned from racing? Would you ever try a Spartan? When do you bring fuel for races and what do you use? Should we do an August burpee challenge??


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4 comments on “Spartan Training: Lessons learned from a newbie Spartan

  1. Mary

    Sharing with friends on FB… Some are sighing up for the harder races like Tough Mudder for their first time mudding it… So I thought your points might help them. Especially bringing gels and checking out what terrain they are dealing with!

    1. BusyBod Post author

      Thanks for sharing it! The Spartan Sprint is designed to be similar in difficulty to a Tough Mudder even though it is shorter, so it should be really helpful!

  2. Carlos Almonte

    make sure to do a lot o running while training. It will get you used to the distances in all races. Follow the spartan WOD, it worked for me in my first race, the Miami Super Spartan in Feb 2013

    1. BusyBod Post author

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve been doing a lot of running (for me). I wish I could do the Spartan WOD but they are usually don’t work for me or my schedule/resources.


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