Spartan races are anything but easy. They require tremendous discipline, passion, and strong mental and physical fortitude.
So what motivates people to sign up for their first Spartan race? And what makes veteran Spartan racers want to continue to push themselves further up the ranks? The answer may be different for everyone, but one thing is for sure: Even if you don’t currently have the motivation, you are capable of finding and obtaining it. There are ways to tap into your own intrinsic mental determination and perform your best.
Sports psychologists and mental game coaches are the norm in professional sports, but you don’t hear much about them in obstacle course racing. Nevertheless, elite Spartan athletes use mental training coaches to achieve heightened alertness, unbounded motivation, less anxiety, and a better understanding of the course itself through visualization. After all, a strong body is nothing without a strong mind.
To tap into the powerful lessons of mental training, we reached out to Shayne McGowan — a certified mental game coach and performance coach at Mental Edge Performance — to explain how Spartans can fine-tune their minds to the max. Follow these five expert motivational strategies to shut down self-doubt and get ready for your next epic challenge, a Spartan race.
What Should I Expect From My First Spartan Race? 5 Motivational Strategies to Help You Prepare
1. Set a Goal for Your Spartan Race, and Visualize Success
Everyone has a reason for signing up for a Spartan obstacle course race, and everyone has a goal. Once you’ve decided to sign up for a race, decide on a goal. Is your goal to finish in the top 50, or is it just to finish? No matter your goal, McGowan says that it is essential to picture success in your mind.
“When it comes to goals, you also have to visualize yourself during the race,” McGowan says. “The more you can imagine what the course will be like, the less shock you’ll be in if something unexpected comes up. When I have athletes visualize, they look at every possible worst- and best-case scenario throughout the competition.”
A bad-scenario example for a swimmer, for example, would be losing his or her goggles. During a Spartan obstacle course race, reaching a hill that is unexpectedly steep can throw some athletes off of their game if they haven’t mentally prepared for it. McGowan says that envisioning a scenario like this plays a big part in completing the task at hand.
2. Think Positively
Let’s say you’re halfway through a Spartan SGX training program and you hit a plateau, or your motivation takes a dip while training for your upcoming Spartan race. This is where positive thinking makes all the difference.
“As soon as you put any ounce of negative thoughts and self-doubt in your head, you’ve altered your confidence,” McGowan says. “If you look at professional goaltenders in the NHL, why do they talk to themselves so much? Why do runners talk to themselves so much on the course? It’s that positive affirmation where they tell themselves that they can do the thing.”
One example of positive self-talk is waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, out loud, "Today, I’m going to have a great day." Is that necessarily true? It doesn't matter. But just saying it makes it more likely to happen.
3. Use Your Nerves to Your Advantage
So you’ve completed your training and now you’re at the start line. All of a sudden, you start to get butterflies in your stomach, a fear of failure, and you think, "Why did I do this?" Well, that’s when you look back on your training and tell yourself, “I trained hard just to be here today.”
“Ask yourself at the start line, ‘How many people will come out and do this? I’m the person doing this,’” McGowan says. “Don’t make nervousness into a negative thing. Use that to your advantage because the excitement of competing is probably the main reason you’re at the start line."
4. Reset, Refocus, and Regroup
Veteran Spartans might have off days where they aren’t performing as well as they expected. McGowan has sound advice for them when their legs start to cramp, or they’re just trudging through the course unusually lethargic.
“Say to yourself, ‘I’ve raced X amount of times now, so I’m mentally tough and I can fight through the pain,’” McGowan says. “’My time might not be as good as I want it to be, but I’m going to fight through it because I’ve done this before.’”
If you’re a first-time Spartan racer, you’ll face your fair share of mental and physical blocks as well.
“For the new person just getting into it, tell yourself, ‘I’m going to finish this even if I come in last because I’m going to prove that I can do it,’” McGowan says. “My legs are numb but my brain is strong, so I’m going to get through this. Your body will quit before your mind will, and that’s what you need to keep reminding yourself of.”
5. Stay Involved in the Community for Constant Support and Inspiration
What makes Spartan especially unique is its welcoming community. Elite athletes and first-time racers intermingle before and after races in a way not seen in other sports. Being a Spartan means being part of a family, whether it's in person, at the race, or online. On our social media pages, tons of fellow Spartans are just a Facebook or Instagram message away, happy to discuss training, life, and the experiences of different races.
Whether it's your second, 10th, 30th, or 50th race, you are treated as an equal and encouraged.
“Whether you race as an individual or on a team, you’re part of the Spartan race community," McGowan says. "You get to meet new people, get fresh ideas, and learn new tricks. It’s your sport. Be an active part of the community.”
There is no limit to how much you can be involved in our sport and community, and the benefits of doing so will pay off greatly, both mentally and physically.