When the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021, we were still picking up the pieces. We were coming off a year of devastation, of cancelled races and all kinds of unknowns about the future of the company and events in general. But we were determined. We had survived the heart of the pandemic, and were excited — and more than a little nervous — about returning to some sense of normalcy and doing what we do best: putting on epic, life-changing events across the globe.
In 2021, we did exactly that. We put on 47 Spartan races in the United States, not to mention hundreds of international races, a full schedule of Tough Mudder events, a full slate of global championships, DEKA competitions, and so much more.
We also became firmly entrenched in pop culture, in more ways than one, and launched several first-time initiatives that broadened our reach and helped us get our message of true resilience to the masses.
Here were the top 10 moments of 2021, in chronological order.
The Top 10 Spartan Moments of 2021
The First Race Back (Feb. 26-28)
Following a year of cancellations and postponements, we returned to racing — with safety protocols in place, of course — at one of our favorite venues, WW Ranch Motocross Park in Jacksonville, for a Sprint and a Super. The night before the OCR races, we held our first-ever Friday evening Spartan Trail event.
This race was significant for a variety of reasons, mostly because we proved to ourselves, and the community, that we were officially back. It was also the first United States National Series race of 2021, and in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Veejay Jones took first place in the Elite heat. Roughly eight months later, he won Big Bear to lock up the USNS title.
Prince Harry Does a Spartan Race (Feb. 26)
Who knew that Prince Harry was such a badass? If you know anything about the British royal, beyond what's on the tabloid headlines, you know that the 37-year-old previously served in Afghanistan with the British Army Air Corps. His athleticism and toughness were on full display on an episode of The Late Late Show With James Corden, when he proceeded to crush an eight-obstacle, military-style short course that included two 4-foot walls, a tire run, the Hercules Hoist, the Barbed Wire Crawl, the Spear Throw, the Rope Climb, the Atlas Carry, and Stairway to Sparta.
As for his competitor, Late Late Show host James Corden? Let's just say he didn't give the Duke of Sussex much of a fight. Watch the hilarious clip in its entirety below.
Team Kardashian Vs. Team Jenner (April 1)
Just over a month after Spartan was front and center on CBS, we returned to the mainstream airwaves on the final season of the E! network's hit reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And whether you loved it or hated it — and there were strong feelings on both sides of that aisle — one fact was indisputable: It got people talking.
In the season 20 episode, which aired on April 1, the Kardashians and Jenners squared off on a beachfront Spartan course to settle, once and for all, which family was more athletically gifted. The reality stars had to contend with a Low Crawl, a Dunk Wall (though it was less muddy than your traditional Dunk Wall — it was in the pool), the Spear Throw, 4-foot walls, an Inverted Wall, a Slip Wall, and a Hercules Hoist finisher. Team Jenner ultimately prevailed, led by Kendall Jenner's solid 2:25 mark.
You can watch the full episode here.
The North American Championship Comes to Tahoe (Sept. 25-26)
One of the things we missed most about 2020 was the lack of championships. Championship weekends are the culmination of every race on the calendar: They are held at the greatest venues, with everything on the line, and they attract the most elite racers in the world.
The first major championship of 2021 was the North American Championship, held in one of Spartan's most iconic venues, North Lake Tahoe. The former site of the Spartan World Championship, not to mention the 1960 Winter Olympics, boasted elevation gains ranging from 4,000 feet (Beast) to 8,700 (Ultra), extremely rocky terrain, and steep climbs. On the men's side, familiar face Ryan Atkins took first in the Beast, finishing in 1:56:23. The women's heat had a less predictable finish, however. Canadian Emma Cook-Clarke put on a brilliant display to win her first North American title, finishing in 2:19:28.
Check out full coverage of the women's Elite Beast below, and click here to watch the men's coverage.
10 Rules for Resilience Hits Bookstores (October)
During the heart of the pandemic, with the world locked down and everybody in turmoil, Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena was continually being asked the same questions over and over: How do I stay motivated? How do I stay fit? How do I stay focused?
The majority of questions came from parents. How do I keep my child motivated? How do I keep my child focused? How do I keep my child on the right track?
As the barrage of questions persisted, Joe decided to put pen to paper. All throughout the pandemic, alongside his co-author, Dr. Lara Pence, Joe wrote 10 Rules for Resilience: Mental Toughness for Families. A foolproof guide to parenting from a position of resilience, Joe and Dr. Lara explain how to build the next generation of unbreakable humans. It's never been more challenging to do so, but this book gives parents the framework they need. Read more about it here.
The Ultra World Championship Comes to the Mountains of Colorado (Oct. 9-10)
After hosting Ultra World Championships in such epic locations as Reykjavík, Iceland and Åre, Sweden, we decided to keep the event stateside this year, in the mountains of Telluride, Colorado. Arguably the most challenging event on the Spartan calendar, along with the Death Race and the Agoge, the Ultra World Championship is a 24-hour course, and in 2021 it featured a 10-mile loop, the longest in UWC history.
The mountains of Telluride were on par with those in Iceland and Sweden, providing an unforgettable setting with jaw-dropping scenery at every turn. On the men's side, Mark Gaudet took first place, completing 12 loops in 24:10:40. Legendary racer Rea Kolbl won her second consecutive Ultra World Championship in the women's heat, completing 10 loops in 23:59:06.
Check out the incredible highlights from the race below.
Spartan Games Returns for Round 2 (Oct 18)
The original Spartan Games was such a massive sensation that we decided to bring it back in 2021 for round 2. Held in Big Bear Lake this time around, rather than Joe's farm in Vermont, where the first event was held, the four-day competition featured 16 remarkable athletes — see the full list here — in a battle of the fittest. With a $15,000 grand prize and bragging rights on the line, the field — which included past winners Atkins and Lindsay Webster, as well as USNS champion Veejay Jones and the always polarizing Hunter McIntyre — competed in DEKA HEAVY, the U.S. Air Force Past (Physical Ability and Stamina) Test, Spartan Cross, a Spartan Trail Half Marathon, Spartan Combat Wrestling, The P.A.C.E.R. Test, La Ruta Mountain Biking, the Special Warfare Hero Within Challenge, and Spartan Training Atlas Stones.
Keep an eye out for the full four-part Spartan Games 2.0 series, which will be released in 2022.
SpartanTV Goes Live (November)
In 2020, when our races were cancelled and COVID-19 threatened to put us out of business, our content became our lifeblood. Our full slate of programming kept our racers informed, inspired, motivated, and more prepared than ever to crush whatever obstacle came their way.
Even as races, and a sense of normalcy, returned, we didn't slow down the content machine. We continued to create original series, on-the-ground race coverage, workout programs, podcasts with some of the brightest minds in the world, and so much more. And as 2021 began to heat up, we came to the realization that we had enough content to support a dedicated Spartan television station. So that's exactly what we built.
SpartanTV is a free, 24/7 linear streaming channel that houses all of Spartan's premium programming. You can currently watch on Xumo, as well as a host of other connected TV platforms. Click here to learn more about how to watch, and what's currently available on the channel.
The Spartan World Championship Comes to Abu Dhabi (Dec. 3-5)
Two years after first announcing it, the Spartan World Championship came to Abu Dhabi, marking the first time the marquee event was held outside of the United States. The desert and dunes of the Liwa Oasis made for a truly spectacular setting, and in addition to the Super, Beast, and Kids OCR races, the bucket-list weekend included a 60-hour Agoge, a half marathon Trail race, a 50K Trail race, a world-class Parade of Nations, and an absolutely booming festival area.
Atkins and Webster took the world titles — the first time that a husband and wife pairing took first at a World Championship — and France edged Russia and Canada for the Teams World Championship.
"We’ve raised the bar for the next World Championship," De Sena said after the race, "and that’s what it’s all about: pushing ourselves to the limit and seeing what we’re made of.”
Spartan and Tough Mudder Join Forces (Dec. 11-12)
For the first time since Spartan acquired Tough Mudder in early 2020, the two largest OCR brands in the world came together to host the ultimate obstacle course racing experience. Held at Skipper Ranch — an operating cow farm — in Lake Placid, Fla., legions of Spartans and Mudders descended to Central Florida for this first-of-its-kind event.
The jam-packed event was a Spartan Trifecta weekend, plus a Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder 10K, and Tough Mudder 15K. As epic as the races were, though, the highlight of the weekend might very well have been the festival area.