25 Things You NEED For the Spartan and Other TIPS to Prepare
I signed up for the Spartan just two weeks ago. It’s been on my bucket list now for a few years, but I didn’t have plans to do it any time soon – until a friend asked – explaining another friend had bailed – and they had an extra registration. I was in.
Being a former CrossFit Coach, knowing the Spartan was run by Reebok, and the two go hand-in-hand, I was scared to death. Seriously. I had sudden waves of anxiety the last few days leading up to the big event. I knew it was going to be really, really hard. And I knew it was going to be hot (it ended up being 97 degrees), and I hadn’t prepared. Sure, I lifted regularly (I’ve been bodybuilding for years – I love weight training) and ran a few times a week (I’ve ran 5 marathons including 2 Bostons and 1 NY) but other than that, nothing. I hadn’t trained on obstacles. The last time I attempted to climb a rope was in middle school (and failed I might add), and I hadn’t tried the monkey bar since elementary school. I’m 44 now. That was a really long time ago. I was completely green and terrified of this race. I hate being unprepared for anything, let alone what was likely going to be one of the hardest challenges I’d ever faced.
So, with limited time I researched the hell out of what I needed to do in order to be the best prepared “unprepared” competitor. Everything I did and took with me definitely paid off, and there are few things I included – knowing from my marathon experiences. I wanted to share my experience and learning with you because really, if you are even thinking about doing a Spartan, you want all the variables you CAN control to work in your favor. Leave as little as you can to chance, and you’ll likely have a really amazing experience. As I did.
Here’s a quick overview of the must-haves and optional things to consider. I am by no means an expert in this area, but I do believe in sharing best practices, so for what it’s worth, read the below and adapt what works best for you. I’ll review each in detail immediately following. I just wanted to give you a quick run-down. Oh, and I’ve included links for each when I could.
- Compression/Dri-Fit Wicking Shorts, Capris, or Tights
- Compression/Dri-Fit Wicking Tank
- Athletic Bra with Medium or High Support
- Compression Leg Sleeves
- Wool Socks and/or Anti-Blister Socks
- Trail Shoes with Grip
- Mad Grip Gloves
- Hair tie
- 50 Sunscreen
- Small hand-carrying water bottle
- Salt Tablets
- Fast-digesting carbs
- Extra change of clothes, including flip-flops
- Fuel belt, fanny pack, Flip belt, or some other way to carry small items
- Garbage Bag
- Wet Wipes
- Eye Drops
- Cash/ID/Debit Card
Compression/Dri-Fit Wicking Shorts, Capris, or Tights
Here’s the deal. You want something that’s going to “hug” your body, dries quickly, and doesn’t weigh you down. I chose Nike Compression shorts because they met all the of the above criteria. I tend to get overheated really easily, so the shorts were the obvious answer for me. However, you can also look for capris or tights. Any of them will work really well. The first time you jump in to a waist-high mud pit you’ll thank me. You don’t want anything adding weight – when you know you have at least 4-6 miles (the Spring) 8-10 miles (the Super) or roughly 13 miles (the Beast) ahead of you, and at least at our recent Utah Super Spartan the mud pits were the first obstacle we had to overcome. By the way, they were also added in to the course in various forms 2 other times. Another thing to consider…mud should wash out, so really you should be okay with most any color you choose, but know in advance there’s a chance they’ll be stained. Also, I saw lots of women wearing the expensive Lulu on the course, and personally I didn’t want to risk ruining something so nice. There will be times during the course that you could potentially rip whatever clothing you’re wearing, so dress accordingly. I wore a top and bottom that I was already planning to take to the DI (Utah’s version of the Salvation Army).
Compression/Dri-Fit Wicking Tank
For the same reasons I listed for the shorts, you’ll want to find a dri-fit wicking tank or tee. I chose an older black Nike tank I had on hand. I went with something a little tighter, again because I didn’t want something that stretched, carried extra mud, and weighed me down. My tank worked perfectly. However you’ll want to see how the tank feels around the arm holes. Before checking in I cut around the arm holes to make them larger because I was concerned the rubbing would chafe me and rub me wrong. I didn’t need any extra aggravation during a hard race on a super hot day. Everything else I shared about the shorts applies here.
Athletic Bra with Medium or High Support
You are going to be putting some strain on the “girls” every time you lift, pull, or carry something heavy. Not to forget there is a good deal of jogging/running during this race. Make sure you wear something that offers at least medium support. I wore one of my older Nike Compression Athletic Bras.
Compression Leg Sleeves
When researching I read that a lot of people get cramps during obstacle racing. I also read that they help with protecting the legs. I ordered a pair for myself, and now having worn them, I totally agree. Not only did I not get any cramps at any point during the race, but they helped on the rope obstacles – not only climbing up but on another one when I had to pull myself along a horizontal rope while having my legs wrapped around the rope. I found a 3rd use too. I usually stick my gels in my sports bra, but I learned real quick that didn’t work too well on the Spartan. The first time I had to do burpees they all fell out. Instead, I stuck them inside my leg sleeve. Perfect. I ordered my Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves on Amazon for less than $25.
Wool Socks and/or Anti-Blister Socks
I am prone to getting blisters on my feet during long runs. I came home with the nastiest blister after Boston 2011. I was really concerned about the Spartan because if I were to get a blister early on during the race, I’d be in pain the entire time. I wanted to take every precaution I could. I ended up going with the Darn Tough Lightweight Socks that are partly made of Wool. I am sure they repelled water the best they could, but my feel still got saturated. How could they not being both feet were fully immersed in mud? Bottom line I suggest you get the same as I did or socks that are specially made to prevent blisters. You don’t need that during the race. I did like how these were low-cut. They banded around my ankle tightly so, even though my feet were wet, chunks of mud didn’t get in.
Trail Shoes with Grip
These are the exact shoes I wore, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND them. I chose the Salomon Fellraiser Trail Running Shoe for the Super Spartan I ran yesterday. These were probably the most critical choice for the Spartan race. They still got soaked, but they offered so much comfortable support and gripped ALL surfaces. I saw every type of athletic shoe on the course, and I can’t even imagine that any would match up to these. I know that Reebok pushes their trail shoes, and I checked them out while there. Their grip looks equally impressive, but I know these shoes work from experience. I loved them. I bought an older model (this model) on ebay for less than half their current newer model’s retail price. I want to say I paid around $50. They looked trashed after, but I’ve since rinsed them off twoce and am now running them through a cool delicate cycle in the wash, and I think they will turn out just fine. They will most definitely be my go-to obstacle race shoe. If you go with these, great, but if not, be sure to find something that offers a lot of traction.
Mad Grip Gloves
I don’t know how many times I ripped up my hands during CrossFit back in the day. Not only was I worried about both creating and breaking blisters during the race, but I was also concerned about my grip. I kept hearing how everything was so slipper, and even if you normally could hold on, chances are once you added mud your grip would slip. I read rave review about these exact gloves, so I ordered me a pair. I wore them for the entire race and I am so glad I did. They helped with EVERYTHING! The ropes, the bars (though I sucked at them), all of the walls (no splinters and no strain on my palms). They were extremely beneficial. I ordered an XS which kept them nice and tight. I will wear them every obstacle race I do – for sure. Here’s the link to Amazon where I ordered the Mad Grip Pro Palm Glove 100 gloves.
Now the mole skin is more for preventative measures, but if you are prone to feet blisters like I am, I would rather be prepared than not. I cut some of this down and placed it directly on my skin – in places I’ve had blisters before. It eliminated any possible rubbing.
This is where my marathon experiences kicked in. Once you start to chafe, it sucks. Most experience chafing between their legs, men on their chests, and some on and under their arms. I use Glide primarily along the inner arm and the side chest. With the heat and mud/water, and sweat combined it was a recipe for disaster. Again, I decided to air on the side of caution and applied it liberally. I swear by this stuff. I didn’t have any chafing or feel any rawness at all.
I chose not to wear one. I wanted to be “cute”. Dumb. I was forever pulling hair out of my mouth. Wear a hair tie and forget about being “cute”.
You are likely going to be out in the sun for several hours. I’m not sure what the average time is for completing a sprint, but I’d guess it’s at least a couple of hours, and it only increases from there. Yesterday we were in 97 degree weather for a few hours completing the Super. I know others were out for 5+ hours. Then there’s the Spartan Beast which is even longer. Now I love the sun, and I love having a tan, but I made sure to spray my back, neck, chest, and face…twice. I saw so many competitors with sunburns by midday. Be smart. Use 50+ Sunscreen to be safe.
Gels and Bloks
I’m going to lump these together because they both serve the same purpose. I don’t know anyone who loves Gels. They are thick, gooey, and can be kind of gross. I love Hammer Gels because they’re not as thick, and this flavor in particular, the Hammer Gel Nocciola (Hazelnut-chocolate) tastes a lot like Nutella. It’s not bad. I also like the Hammer Gels because they are so much easier to open than some of their competitors. When I’m running I can rip the top off easily, and I found out yesterday I could rip it off just as easily even when muddy.
The Cliff Shot Bloks are nice too because it’s good to have something to suck on when you’re parched. They taste like candy too – so they aren’t hard at all to get down. The Black Cherry is one of my personal favorites, but really, they are all good.
Proper pre and post race nutrition is important, but don’t forget about fuel while you’re in the moment. You really should replenish your glycogen stores every 45 minutes. If you don’t you’ll wear out and feel sluggish. You might not even finish. Your body needs the right fuel for the task at hand. These are both great options that you can take with you. I store both in my leg sleeves as I mentioned above. Worked perfectly. By the way, Spartan will likely provide Shot Bloks or some other fuel at some point in the race. I want to say they ere at mile 6 yesterday, but don’t let that deter you from packing one or two of your favorites with you. You don’t want to depend on someone else. If your body starts to shut down, it’s best to have something on your body to help you recover.
*On another note you might want to have a banana before you start. One of my friends I raced with yesterday had awful bad leg cramps. While leg sleeves can do so much bananas with their added potassium can really help alleviate cramps. Plus with its sugar content it’ll give you a great energy boost for the race.
I hate running with water. Period. It’s not my favorite. I even have a brand-new fuel belt that goes unused because I don’t like the extra weight around my midsection. I learned that Spartan would have water on the course, but with the weather anticipated being close to 100, I wanted to be sure to have some on me…just in case. I opted for a small bottle similar to this. Of course you need to do what you want to do. I saw plenty of people yesterday with Camelbacks and other Hydration packs that looked to work perfectly. I just wanted a little something small that I could sip on if needed in between water stops. I’d then refill mine again before moving on. If you are running a race in the heat, it’s better to be safe. Without hydration you’ll tank. Even with as much as I took in yesterday I still feel a little Heat Stroke. I can’t even imagine the condition I’d be in now if I didn’t have water on me. It’s critical.
Optional. You’ll likely be sore in places you didn’t know could be. Plan ahead. Take some Ibuprofen in the car. I took a couple tablets before the race started and then took a couple later in the evening. Again this is purely my opinion based on what I did. I am not a medic. I’m simply sharing what I did. If you anticipate being sore, which I’m guessing you will be, take something with you that you feel comfortable with that might help.
Yesterday’s race started in the 80s and rose to the high 90s. It was super hot. Sweat combined with extreme heat depletes your body quickly. Salt helps you hold on to fluid. Whether you choose to take a salt tablet or have a little extra sodium the night before (which I did – I chose to have a yummy pizza), if you are going to be running in the heat this will likely help.
This is another optional suggestion, but it works for me. I started taking one Sudafed tablet an hour before each long run (think 10+ miles). Sudafed helps open up the airways, allowing more oxygen in to the lungs. That way you aren’t taking shallow breaths. For the Spartan this is especially helpful when you are running, doing burpees, or climbing higher altitudes. I took one again yesterday before I started, and I could breathe GREAT! You still want to train your cardiovascular, let me be clear, but the Sudafed will help with better breathing.
Fast Digesting Carbs
You’ll need energy for the race. Eat right. Don’t skimp. If you normally have a slice of toast, have two. Yesterday I had a generous serving of Cream of Rice, 1/2 a banana, a little bit of almond butter, and some honey. I paired it with my protein shake, and I was set. I took some oats with me along with the rest of my banana, and I finished both a litle closer to the race. You want to have fuel in your system, so be sure to have a solid meal beforehand. Skip the fibrous foods though as they might bloat you and cause you discomfort while racing. Got it?
Extra Change of Clothes and Flip Flops
You will get sooooo dirty. Caked on mud. Even after rinsing generously using the hoses they provided I was covered in mud. It just happens. Be sure to take a change of clothes and flip flops (or other shoes) you can change in to after. Yesterday my cute friend forgot an extra pair of shoes and had to wear her wet muddy trail shoes while checking out the Spectator Village.
Fuel belt, fanny pack, Flip belt, or some other way to carry small items
I ended up forgoing taking my Flipbelt with me, because I stored the gels and bloks in my leg sleeve, but if you are planning or need to take more with you, think about how. And, if you are planning to take something that needs to stay dry, take a ziplock bag. Personally I wouldn’t take a phone, camera, nice watch, or anything that might get lost or ruined.
You will want a towel to help wipe off what the hoses didn’t get and to sit on during your drive home. I can’t stress enough how the mud just sticks to you. A towel comes in handy. I forgot mine (even though it was right next to my bag), but luckily my friend brought an extra.
After you change you’ll want to have a garbage bag on hand to place all your disgusting clothes and shoes in. Be sure to take one large enough that everything will fit.
Optional. You just might need these. It’s as simple as that. I used one for my face, under my arm pits, and to clean out my ears. They are another handy item to have in the car for after.
Optional. Did I mention how muddy the course is? I had mud everywhere. Meaning on my body, in my hair, on my face…and in my eyes. Luckily I had eye drops in the car which helped me flush it out.
You won’t be able to pick up your racing packet (including your bib number headband) without ID. It’s as simple as that. Cash is handy to have on hand for parking and for smaller items (ie a locker ran $5). Take a debit though too for all the fun souvenirs you might want to pick-up. I came home with two new ball caps. I LOVE love LOVE hats. They were the perfect reminder of such an incredible day. I didn’t get a locker during the race. It really wasn’t that far of a walk back to the car, so I kept everything I didn’t need in my car and then hid my keys. The $5 I saved came in handy later when I wanted to buy lunch.
I am still riding the high from yesterday’s race. I loved it so much more than I ever anticipated, but I do know a big reason is I tried to prepare myself the best I could. Remember, I wanted to be the best prepared “unprepared” participant. Hopefully this list helps. If you have ANY questions whatsoever, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t NOT do it. Don’t be scared. It was so worth it. It was hard, but the feeling after is indescribable. I saw amazing women of all shapes, sizes, and ages yesterday on the mountain. They were doing it too. I truly believe if there’s a desire, it can be done.
Oh, and By The Way:
- Practice running hills
- Train by hiking/running at higher altitudes
- Practice training in the heat of day (or cold)
- Watch the You Tube Tutorials on many of the most common obstacles
- Hit the playground and practice monkey bars, climbing up, over, and down things.
- Weight-train, practice pull-ups, and heavy rows
- If your gym offers it, practice climbing ropes and flipping tires
- Practice carrying heavier loads (think large bucket filled with gravel) for 100+ meters (uphill and down)
- Practice anything that helps you to overcome a fear of heights
- Practice carrying handbags (or anything close) over your shoulder or behind your neck for 100 meters (uphill and down)
- Anticipate to run with wet heavy mud drenched shoes
- Sign up for an early start time when there are fewer people on the course and the temperatures are cooler
- Register way in advance to save $$. Entrance fees were as high as $200 the day of the race. That’s just crazy when you can get in for half that if you plan ahead.