In the early-afternoon hours of Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 in Vernon, New Jersey, I was sitting in the Spartan+ tent waiting for my colleague, Kelsey Wynn, to finish her Beast race. As I looked around, I noticed racers recovering, relaxing, and socializing. They were talking about the Spartan race they had just completed, as well as others they had crushed in the past. They discussed which obstacles gave them the most trouble, which ones were a breeze, and how it had been an unseasonably warm fall day.
As I continued to scan the tent, I noticed that one racer seemed to be alone. She was enjoying a cold post-race beverage, looking content and taking in the sights and sounds around her. Her name was Mindy Archer, and she had just completed the Beast in 4:46:01, finishing in 5th (of 10) in her Age Group. She had just run over 13 miles on a ski mountain and contended with 30 grueling obstacles, but you would never know it. She looked completely at ease and, stunningly, well rested. It looked like she could do another Spartan race right then and there.
"Is this your first time running Tri-State New Jersey?" I asked.
"This is my first time in New Jersey," she responded with a loud, infectious laugh that instantly pulled you in and made you feel welcome.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"California," she said matter-of-factly. "I came here for the weekend with 10 of my Spartan friends, and we're all staying in a condo down the street."
Mindy went on to tell me that, along with her fellow Spartan race pals, she travels the country, from coast to coast, doing races and making memories.
"We have such epic adventures," she told me.
Now my interest had officially peaked. How had this band of Spartans met and become so close, to the point that they lived together on the road? How could they afford to crisscross the United States? What did these Spartan "adventures" entail?
How It All Started
Archer is open about the fact that she used to be a "really bad methhead." She ultimately conquered those demons, but when she got clean, depression set in, not to mention significant weight gain. Committed to getting her mind and body back on track, the Visalia, Calif. native started to work out, but she just wasn't feeling fulfilled or excited. She didn't feel alive. Something was missing.
In 2018, that something came in the form of a Spartan race. One of her friends invited her to do the 5K, 20-obstacle Chino Sprint. Though the friend ended up backing out at the last minute, Archer decided to go through with it anyway. Almost as soon as she stepped onto the Spartan race course, something clicked inside her. She had finally found what she had been looking for. She had a new addiction, and she couldn't have been more thrilled.
“When I finally found Spartan, it was the best version of me," the 35-year-old says. "And that’s when I started to really enjoy life.”
The Spartan Race Weekend That Changed Everything
After getting a few more races under her belt in 2018, Archer dislocated her neck — not on the course — and couldn't drive or work for six months, much less race.
"All the curvature in my neck disappeared," she recalled. "I just had fallen in love with Spartan, and now I’m broken."
Archer went to the Spartan World Championship in North Lake Tahoe later that year, and though she could now move around a bit, her friends wisely didn't let her race. When a friend casually mentioned that she was thinking of heading to Sparta, Greece for the Trifecta World Championship in less than two months, Archer didn't think twice. She bought her race ticket, and her plane ticket, that very day. She needed to be there, injuries be damned.
That weekend would prove to be a defining and pivotal one for her, not only in her Spartan journey, but in her sober journey, as well. Half broken, she completed a Trifecta in the ancient city and, perhaps more importantly, she met her tribe. An extrovert by nature, she met a boatload of likeminded people from all over the world that unforgettable weekend. Her nomadic Spartan race life was beginning to take shape.
"I probably shouldn’t have raced because it was really hard on my body," Archer confessed, "but I mentally needed it, so I went for it. And it was life-changing for me.”
A Solo Mission to Start
Though she was becoming part of a community of racers, Archer spent 2019 traveling alone. She knew people at Spartan races, and would meet new friends every weekend, but she made all travel accommodations, and paid all of her expenses, herself. It was a solo mission to start. Now fully healthy, she did nine Trifectas — not to mention a few Ultras, with a pair of podium finishes, for good measure — but the costs were adding up, making the lifestyle difficult to maintain. She was paying for hotels, flights, and rental cars, and it was hardly sustainable.
And though she was seeing friends at the venues and constantly meeting new ones, she was always traveling alone. There had to be a more cost-effective, not to mention more enjoyable, way to live this life.
So she went online and began reaching out to some of the friends she'd met over the past year. A Messenger group was formed, and an avid band of racers began to plot out creative ways to split their expenses and travel efficiently in groups. They mapped out their full 2020 Spartan race schedule — which, of course, they wouldn't get to experience — and coordinated hotels, Airbnbs, car rentals, and flights. Later in the year, when they came to the dreadful conclusion that racing simply wasn't going to happen in 2020, they shifted their attention and focus towards 2021.
Archer would spend her lunch break chatting with Spartans and building out her calendar for the upcoming year of racing. With a full slate of events on the horizon in 2021, Archer and her crew had a foolproof plan to race the United States on a budget — and have an absolute blast doing so.
A Merry Band of Traveling Spartans
When the 2021 race season arrived, Archer's main crew of 10 racers — there might be more or less travelers with her on a given weekend, but there are 10 or so staples — was prepared. And as it turned out, all of the hard work and preparation that went into coordinating and prepping paid off. Archer completed nine more Trifectas — her initial goal of 14 was thwarted when she injured her Achilles — and her expenses decreased significantly. Beyond just the financial benefits, she realized that she had never had as much fun in her life.
"It's so much more fun traveling with friends," she says. "We go try breweries, we go eat good food, we’ll explore if we can. In North Carolina I went zip-lining. It’s a lot of adventures every time.”
The racers split gas and rental cars — if one of the racers is local, he or she will volunteer their car and pick up the rest of the party — and either the hotel or Airbnb, depending on the number of people staying. In Hawaii she shared a hotel room with five others, and in Dallas they rented an Airbnb for a Spartan army of 15.
"It was epic," Archer says. "We had a pool and a hot tub. We went out to eat. We did photoshoots. We just had the time of our lives.”
The racers will generally arrive on Friday, landing at around the same time to make the commute less expensive (and way more fun), and leave on Sunday, though some will hang in the area until Monday, depending on their work schedules.
Speaking of work, Archer has had to balance racing and traveling with her day job. Luckily she has spent her entire adult life working in the family business, a trucking company called G & J Heavy Haul. Her father, who owned the company, allowed her to travel to races.
“I used to be addicted to drugs," Archer says, "and so when I started Spartan, that was like my new addiction. It actually became really healthy. It was kind of like, 'OK, if Spartan’s going to keep you sober, let’s do it.'"
When her dad retired, Archer told her new boss that he had to honor her race schedule. He agreed.
The Next Target: 14 Trifectas in 2022
With more than 80 Spartan races on her resume, Archer has her sights set on hitting the century mark in 2022. She's targeting 14 Trifectas with her crew, with plans to hit all 12 Trifecta weekends in the United States. She's also considering venturing abroad, to Spain and France, for epic European "racecations."
Archer's Spartan adventures are also extending beyond the course, into her everyday life. After living in California for all of her 35 years, she's decided to uproot her life and move to Houston. (“It’s time for something different," she says. "I’m ready for a new adventure.”) She's heading east to Texas with — who else? — some of her closest Spartan pals.
Reflecting on the transformation she's made over the past several years, trading a terrible drug addiction for a life spent traveling the world with remarkable people, while testing herself both mentally and physically week in and week out at Spartan races, Archer leaves no doubt about the fact that she's stronger, more capable, and flat-out happier than she's ever been.
“Life is so much better now," she says. "It truly is so much better.”