You could see the power of teamwork at the finish line of the 2017 Spartan Sprint in Fort McDowell, Arizona. Elite heat competitor Natalie Miano cleared the fire jump, sprinted across the final stretch of dirt, and secured her first-ever Spartan win with a leap into the outstretched arms of her husband, Mark Batres—who himself had taken first place on the men’s side of the race only minutes before.
“That was a huge weekend for us,” Batres says, with classic Spartan understatement.
Batres and Miano train together, but like many Spartans aren’t just athletes. They balance a rigorous workout schedule (16 hours a week for him, up to 9 hours per week for her) with real-life responsibilities. He has a full-time job with the Department of Defense. She is a nutrition coordinator with El Monte Union’s high school district. Together they’re raising two young boys—Marky, age 4, and Nico, age 2.
How can the couple do all of that, plus find time to travel, compete in races regularly, and still sneak in dates and together time? They haven’t cracked some magic code to unlock a 25th hour in the day. But they have learned some time-saving tactics that you can use to do more in the day—and get in better shape along the way.
Success Secret #1: Trade Stuff for Freedom Every Chance You Get
In early 2016, Batres and Miano’s lives looked very different. The two were living what they thought was the American dream: Big house, nice cars, and long commutes to demanding jobs to make it all possible.
They realized that the things they owned were holding them back from what they truly loved: Being outside training or playing with their kids.
“We’d spend all week at work, then our weekends working on the house,” Batres says. “It didn’t make any sense.”
That, combined with a growing realization that they could be really good at obstacle course racing if they put more time into it, made them take action. Rather than wonder what if, the couple sold their 3,000-square foot dream home in Upland, California, and moved in into a nearby condo half that size. Mark switched jobs so he no longer had to spend so much time on the road, while Natalie went from a full-time to a part-time position. Today, the family has less stuff and less space, but more freedom and more fun.
“They were big life changes,” Miano says. “But that’s the kind of couple we are. We really try to live every day.”
__Make this secret work for you: __You don’t need to sell your house or quit your job to simplify your life. Focus on what really matters to you—and eliminate what doesn’t. Look for ways to dedicate more time to the things you care about the most. Everything else is clutter.
Success Secret #2: Seek Brutally Honest Feedback
Batres and Miano describe themselves as both a team and as coaches to each other. They’ve been training together since they met as freshmen on Cal-Poly’s cross-country team, and today wake up at 4:30 a.m. to run together. And not just because they need to sneak in those miles before the kids get out of bed.
“We work out together because that’s how we get feedback,” Mark says. “We need each other to coach each other.”
After every race, they pair up and talk about what went right and wrong. One of these de-briefing sessions, after a disappointing race in Lake Elsinore this January, led the couple to their double-victory in Arizona.
At the SoCal Spartan Sprint, Batres had been cruising to what looked to be a sure victory. “I was in another world with my running,” Batres says. “I was just jamming on that course.”
Until, that is, one of the last tests of strength, the Herc Hoist. He’d never struggled with the obstacle before, but suddenly he dropped the bag. Thirty burpees later, Mark—who’d led the whole race—was chasing competitor Veejay Jones, who cleared the finish line seven seconds ahead of him.
“I was disappointed because I’d almost had a perfect race,” Batres recalls. “Then Natalie looks at me and says: ‘How many strength workouts have you put in this week?’ And I looked at her and said, ‘zero.’”
No further race analysis needed. They changed their training and incorporated a lot more strength work with the help of trainer Paul Theodore of FMU Fitness. The result? When the gun went off in Fort McDowell, the couple was not only running well but also flying over obstacles and crushing the course’s tests of strength—including the Herc Hoist.
“The bag went up like it was nothing,” Batres says.
The two not only won Saturday’s Sprint, but Batres also took the top spot on the podium at Sunday’s Super.
Make this secret work for you: You may not be married to a super-athlete—or even married at all—but you can still find someone who can make you better. It’s true in athletics, where having a coach—or training with a partner or group—will help you perform better. And it’s true in life, where working with an astute doctor or meticulous accountant will pay for itself many times over.
Success Secret #3: Run Micro-Races All Day Long
“I hate cleaning,” Miano says. “But at the same time, I hate clutter.”
Sounds familiar? Nobody wants to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon swabbing toilet bowls when they could be out running, swimming, kayaking, or turning the kids’ playground into your own private obstacle course (something the couple does when they take the boys to the park). Miano and Batres’s solution? Turn cleaning into a challenge.
“I set a timer and say, I’m going to clean this entire bathroom in 10 minutes. Go!” Miano says. “Then for those 10 minutes, it’s like I’m on a show or something. I race to clean everything. Then, when the timer goes off, I’m done.”
Make this secret work for you: The trick is especially useful when you dread something on your to-do list. Weeding sucks, but how bad could 15 minutes of it be? It’s also great for getting kids to help with the mundane: “We always play ‘The Amazing Race’ when we go shopping as a family on the weekends,” Miano says. “We try to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, just to see if we can do it.”
Ready to give Spartan a try? Here’s everything you need to know to find your race.