During his seven-year career as a Major League Baseball outfielder, Brandon Guyer regularly got hit by pitches. He got hit so often, in fact, that it earned him the nickname "La Piñata."
How much did he get hit? In 517 career games in the majors, he got hit a whopping 85 times, and he led the league in the category twice, which is pretty remarkable considering he usually came off the bench and had far fewer plate appearances than starters. Despite his propensity for taking 95 mile per hour fastballs to his body, he never wore protective equipment and never once left a game, or missed a subsequent game, after getting nailed by a pitch.
Guyer may have technically been a Ray and an Indian during his playing days, but he was a Spartan through and through. He just didn't know it yet.
'That's Right Up My Alley'
Shortly after Guyer's retirement from baseball in July of 2020, the 35-year-old founded a company called Fully Equipped Athlete, which focuses on helping athletes optimize their performance training and become the best versions of themselves. He also began to pursue a certification program through Optimize and became close with its CEO, Brian Johnson.
It was through Johnson, who happens to know Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena, that Guyer learned about Spartan. Guyer, who is also a mental performance coach and sports nutritionist, was instantly intrigued. He began to research the races and watch YouTube videos about obstacles. He viewed it as the ultimate test — one that he was determined to not only pass, but crush.
“I love pushing my mind and body to the limit," said Guyer, who hit .250 with 32 homers during his MLB career with Tampa Bay and Cleveland. "That’s what Spartan is all about: testing yourself, seeing what you’re all about. That’s right up my alley. So I was like, ‘Let’s do it. I’m all in.’”
Joe Issues the Challenge
Guyer spent seven years as an elite professional athlete. He's extremely competitive and driven, and when he decides to commit to something, he goes all-in. So when he decided to sign up for his Spartan race, he didn't do it to have fun or try something new. He did it to win.
The University of Virginia product, who currently resides in Maryland with his wife and three young children, first signed up for the Stadion race at Nationals Park, which is about 35 minutes from his home. Despite having never raced a Spartan, and competing in the Age Group category rather than the Open, he set out a goal to become the first former MLB player to win a Stadion race.
After introducing himself to De Sena and making him aware of his intention to win his first race, the CEO offered him the opportunity to race with the Elites in Washington, D.C., under one condition: Could he do 30 burpees in under a minute? Guyer assured him that he could even though he had never done it before — he narrowly completed the task, busting out his 30th burpee at the 57-second mark — and it was official.
Having never been on a Spartan course before, Guyer was set to compete against some of the most talented obstacle course racers in the world.
He had to prepare — and fast. The race was only weeks away, and he needed to experience a course firsthand.
First Stop: The West Virginia Sprint
Guyer played for managers Joe Maddon and Terry Francona during his big league career. Two of the smartest managers in baseball, they are brilliant at gaining a competitive advantage and, despite not having the greatest collection of talent, simply finding a way to win. From them, among other managers he played for, Guyer learned how to put himself in the best position possible to come out on top.
He knew that he wasn't going to just walk onto the course and challenge the likes of Robert Killian and Logan Broadbent. He desperately needed a race under his belt, so at the last second he signed up for the West Virginia Sprint, on Aug. 29, as a tune-up. Competing in the Age Group category, he braved the scorching heat and relentless hills and, despite missing three obstacles and having to do 90 burpees as result, finished in 53:57, good enough for third out of 51 racers in his Age Group. (The failed obstacles and resulting burpees ultimately cost him first place.)
In his first race, Guyer had reached the podium. He later admitted, however, that he almost didn't make it to the podium. Literally. Prior to picking up his third-place medal, the exhausted, completely drained Guyer rushed to the bathroom to throw up. After redlining for 53 minutes in unrelenting heat, he was cooked.
"I had never pushed myself that hard," he said.
Next Stop: An Elite Heat at Nationals Park
In the two weeks between his third-place finish in West Virginia and the Elite race at Nationals Park, Guyer got to work. He purchased a spear on Etsy, after failing the Spear Throw in West Virginia, and practiced throwing it into a tree. He would do his workout, run outside, and then throw the spear, simulating how it would feel if he were out on the course.
Guyer, who had two hits with an RBI and a run scored in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series — one of the greatest World Series games every played — also bought a pair of Spartan gloves to prevent slipping on the Monkey Bars. In the evenings, he would visualize himself executing all of the obstacles flawlessly.
The additional preparation paid off. In his first Elite heat in D.C., in a much less punishing race than his first in West Virginia, Guyer completed all of the obstacles and crossed the finish line at 27:36. He finished ninth out of 22 Elite racers, and he would have placed first in his Age Group.
“What made me most proud was just hitting every obstacle while going against the best of the best," Guyer said after the race, "and really just pushing it mentally and physically, which is really what it’s all about.”
He developed a new appreciation for the brilliance of the Elites — "Those are some savages," he said with genuine admiration — after seeing them in action. He was blown away by Killian, who bested him by nearly four minutes en route to a first-place finish, and Broadbent, whose sheer athleticism he found stunning. ("Is that the guy from Dude Perfect?" he asked after the race. Yes, yes it is.)
Guyer was also mesmerized by the sense of community and camaraderie that he witnessed at his first two races. Though he's spent his entire life playing sports, usually in front of passionate, adoring fans, the atmosphere at Spartan races was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
"The love and positivity blew me away," he said. "We may have been competing against each other, especially in the Elite race, but we were also encouraging each other and pushing each other to be better.
"I remember passing by people during the West Virginia Sprint and they'd say, 'Great job, man. Keep pushing.' Or they'd give me a high five or fist pound. The camaraderie at both events is something that stood out to me, and something I'll never forget."
What's next for the former MLB player following an Age Group podium and a top 10 Elite finish in his first two races? He's not quite sure. Guyer travels frequently on behalf of Fully Equipped Athlete, giving talks at high schools and colleges, and he treasures the time spent with his wife and three young children (especially in the wake of his previous career, when he was on the road constantly six months out of the year).
And coming off of his first Elite heat, he knows that in order to compete with the best of the best, he has to train full-time, which he's not in a position to do.
If he did train full-time and fully committed himself, like he did in his baseball days, could he compete, and possibly unseat, some of the top racers? He's confident that he could at least put up a respectable fight, and he's hungry to continue testing himself. Could he make up the four minutes that Killian had on him in D.C.? He doesn't know, but he's eager to find out.
Guyer might not be back on a course right away, but you can be sure that he'll be back out there again. It's just a matter of when.
“The itch is definitely there," he said. "That competitive nature is not gonna leave. Wanting to push, and push the limits, is not gonna leave.”