There are a host of obvious reasons why doing a Spartan race is beneficial. It's a remarkable workout, it's a challenge, you get all kinds of cool swag when you cross the finish line — namely a gorgeous medal and a good-looking T-shirt — and, perhaps most obviously, it's fun.
But there's so much more to it than just that. When I raced for the first time since 2019 — thanks, COVID — at the Tri-State New York Spartan Sprint 5K Weekend in Bethel, New York on June 12, I was quickly reminded of the less talked about, but no less important, reasons why doing a race is hugely beneficial.
1. It Sets the Tone for Your Weekend
My wife, who raced with me in Bethel, has a habit of sleeping in on Saturdays. (She's entitled. She works extremely hard.) But knowing that waking up earlier tends to lead to more productive days, she's been trying to break it for a long time. She had no choice on this day. We woke up at 6 a.m. on the nose, knowing that we had an hour-and-a-half drive from Manhattan to Upstate New York. We had breakfast early — again, something we rarely do on weekends — and enjoyed oatmeal with berries, bananas, walnuts, a scoop of almond butter, and ground flaxseed.
By 9:15 we were at the start line, and by 11 we were in the festival area, enjoying a cold drink and basking in our accomplishments. Our weekend was already made and it wasn't even noon yet. And we still had the entire weekend ahead of us.
The rest of the weekend followed the same rhythm, even in the hours and day after the race. We ate a well-deserved dinner early, went to sleep early, and, most importantly, woke up early the next day feeling satisfyingly sore before crushing some early exercise. (She did a barre workout, I played two sets of tennis.) What was perhaps most striking (and encouraging) was how we felt on Monday morning after the race weekend: refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to crush the week.
2. It Gets You Out in Nature
On Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m., my wife and I were stressfully weaving through traffic on the George Washington Bridge. By 9:30 a.m. we were running in the woods and, by approximately 9:37 (give or take a few minutes) we were covered in mud. As Manhattanites, this was an especially welcome change. We tend to get out of the city a fair amount, but not nearly as much as we'd like (and probably need). The health benefits, both physically and emotionally, of being in nature are well-documented, and signing up for a race guarantees you some quality time in the elements.
3. It Gives You an Opportunity to Exorcise Your Demons
I loved playing sports and being active as a kid — I still do — but there were always a few activities that gave me pause. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and two of the latter were the monkey bars and the rope climb. I just couldn't do them consistently, and wanted no part of them in gym class. Fast forward many, many years later into adulthood, and I'm faced with them yet again on the Spartan course. In previous races I admittedly gave them a half-hearted shot and happily settled for my 60 burpees. On this day, though, more than a year after my last race, I decided that I was finally going to complete them without fail.
Perhaps I had a different perspective after a year of COVID, or perhaps I was simply stronger after crushing daily workouts on the Spartan FIT app, but with a renewed sense of confidence I was able to finish both, burpee-free.
I hadn't been bothered by my "failure" to climb the rope or make it past the monkey bars in, quite literally, decades. But you better believe that it still felt good to exorcise those childhood demons.
4. It Gets You to Visit Places You've Never Been (But Have Always Wanted to)
I grew up in North Jersey, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Bethel, and for more than a decade I've resided in New York City, which is also less than 100 miles from the Upstate New York town. I'm an aficionado and lover of pop culture and music, especially rock music from the 1960s, and my wife and I travel frequently.
And yet, despite all of those circumstances working in my favor, I had never — in 33 years of life — visited the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the site of the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. I had always wanted to visit, but just hadn't. In the lead-up to the race, I can't tell you how many friends and family had the same reaction when I told them where it was: "I've always wanted to go there!"
Not only was the race a blast, but I got to cross Woodstock — a truly iconic cultural landmark — off my bucket list. If you peruse the schedule, you'll find no shortage of bucket list destinations of intrigue and import, most notably the numerous Stadion races and Kualoa Ranch, also known as Hollywood's "Hawaii Backlot."
5. It Puts You in Contact With Other People (Lots of Them!)
The world is, thankfully, continuing to normalize. It almost feels like pre-2020, doesn't it? Restrictions are rapidly easing, people are traveling and getting together, and there is a sense of real optimism in the air for the first time in awhile.
But we're not all the way back. Many are still working from home, and some are still understandably careful and tentative after what was a traumatic year. But at a Spartan race, you're again surrounded by hundreds of people. The feeling of once again being with others — especially those you don't know, or just met — is truly exhilarating. Not only does it feel good, but it's healthy. Social interaction is critical, and it fell by the wayside (for good reason) in 2020. Racing is a perfect reentry into the world, into events, into meeting new people again, into surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals.