Want to cross the finish line of your next (or first) Spartan Race like a pro? We polled elite Spartan athletes Nicole Mericle and Nell Rojas, seasoned recreational competitor Kevin Burnette, and Spartan’s Director of Training Sam Stauffer, for the biggest dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you head to the starting line. With this Spartan race guide on your side, you’ll cross the finish line feeling (and looking) like a badass.
DON’T: Don’t wear the same road running shoes you wore to run your last half marathon. You’ll find yourself slipping and sliding all over the terrain and obstacles.
DO: Wear a good pair of trail running shoes that have a sticky rubber outsole with a knobby lug pattern for good grip, and that can drain water quickly.
“Your shoes are your most important piece of gear,” Burnette says. “They don’t need to have claws to hang upside down, but they’ll help a lot as you navigate the variety of obstacles. You don’t want to be slipping and sliding.”
Our go-to: The Spartan RD Pro by Craft. It’s got all the cushion, support, grip, and drainage you need to get through the course with your feet intact.
2. Hydration Packs
DON’T: Don’t start a race without testing out your gear. If you plan to wear a hydration pack or fueling belt, make sure it fits snug to your body and won’t get in the way on any obstacles.
DO: Test your gear by heading to a local park with a variety of playground apparatus. If your hydration pack sags or gets into the way of climbing on monkey bars, it won’t work very well in a Spartan Race.
“You’d be surprised what works and what doesn’t work,” Mericle says. “It’s important to test fuel belts or hydration packs not just while running, but in other ranges of motion and when soaking wet to monitor your range of motion and any chafing.” (Trust us, no Spartan Race guide would be complete without warning you about chafing.)
DON’T: Don’t wear baggy shorts, loose sweatpants or a cotton T-shirt or hoodie. You’ll wind up soaking wet and a feeling like a hot mess early in the race, both from your own sweat and the mud and water you encounter throughout the course.
DO: Wear the type of clothing you find comfortable while trail running or doing a HIIT workout at the local playground. When in doubt, start with a snug-fitting, technical compression t-shirt and a pair of medium length running shorts that aren’t too baggy.
“A lot of Spartan racers wear longer compression socks that wick moisture,” Burnette says. “Your ankles will appreciate the coverage from the elements and your feet will be getting wet.” If wearing a shirt is just not an option for you, understand that your stomach and torso will look like Zorro got a hold of you. Some folks are into that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.”
DON’T: If you have limited time to train, don’t spend it trying to become a faster sprinter.
DO: Train for a long trail running race and not a track meet. If you can, train more on hills (and mountains) and less on the track.
“Spartan Racing is akin to a rugged mountain running event with obstacles along the course,” Burnette says. “You need to get comfortable getting your body up and down somewhat technical trails. Leg turnover is good, but save the track intervals for your next road 5k and train like a mountain goat instead. Most Spartan courses have some hilly terrain, so remember that power hiking is also an effective strategy for the steep climbs.”
2. Rope-Climbing Technique
DON’T: Don’t climb ropes only using just your upper body!
DO: Learn how to utilize your feet when you rope-climb, so you can get to the top using as little muscular energy as possible. To descend, lower down slowly hand-over-hand.
Another Spartan Race guide pro tip: “Do not slide down with your hands, or you will get a lot of blisters,” Burnette warns.
DON’T: Don’t forget to practice burpees! You don’t want any burpees (your payment for failing an obstacle) to wear you out on race day; you’ll need all the energy you can muster to conquer the course.
DO: If you are entered in the age group wave, incorporate burpees into the majority of your training sessions. If you fail an obstacle—and chances are you will—you’ll owe 30 burpees for each failed attempt. Miss an obstacle five times and you’re looking at 150 burpees.
“Fails happen to the best of us, so be able to do burpees for breakfast,” Burnette says. “And if you have a perfect, fail-free race, you’ll benefit from all of the burpees you’ve done by being that much fitter and stronger.”
DON’T: Don’t try to learn how to lug a 75-pound bucket up and down a hill on race day.
DO: Practice carries throughout your training.
Spartan Race guide hack: “Spending five dollars on an orange plastic bucket from The Home Depot will be the best investment you make throughout your training,” Burnette says. “Fill it up with your neighbor’s landscaping rocks, find a hill, and carry the filled bucket for a few minutes at a time during your workouts. Start lighter and add weight until you’re just over the amount you’ll need to carry at the race.”
Race Day Strategy
1. Nature’s Call
DON’T: Whatever you do, don’t skip a trip to the porta-potties in the hour before your race.
DO: This should be a no-brainer—but between the excitement and energy of race day, it’s easy to forget to run to the bathroom. Always, always hit the bathroom before you race.
“You don’t want to be out on course only to have your stomach rumble, so hit the porta-potty before the starting line—even if you don’t ‘have to go,’” Stauffer says.
2. Warm Up
DON’T: Don’t show up and your first race, get your race number, and walk around in a wide-eyed daze until your wave starts.
DO: Run for five to 15 minutes, cycle through do some dynamic stretches and drills, and maybe even do some push-ups or pull-ups within the 30 minutes before your start.
“Most Spartan Races are essentially running races with obstacles, so you absolutely need to warm up to get your muscles warm and your nervous system engaged,” Rojas says. “If you start cold, you’ll definitely take a while to get into a groove.”
3. Starting Pace
DON’T: No matter how amped you might feel, do not sprint off the Spartan starting line to the first obstacle. If you do, you’ll pay for it later.
DO: As with any endurance race, start out conservatively. “There is nothing worse than dogging the last stretch because you left it all out on course in the first mile,” Rojas says.
4. Obstacle Strategy
DON’T: Don’t rush into any of the obstacles on the course.
DO: As you run up to each obstacle, take a moment to pause and get a good look at the equipment. Map out the approach you are going to take to accomplish it, and then execute.
“This pause not only prepares you mentally for the obstacle but also allows your heart rate to come down a little bit, giving your body some recovery before you have to put all of your energy into completing the obstacle,” says Burnette. Plus, watching others’ successes and failures can help you figure out your best move.