Every new day presents an opportunity to leave the trials and tribulations of 2020 further behind, and members of the Brooklyn, New York-based fitness group Spartan Sundays are doing so by preparing for some ambitious goals in the months ahead.
The New York and Berlin Marathons — Berlin! — are on the docket for this year. To prepare for the 26.2-mile hauls, the group plans to get in marathon shape by tackling Spartan Trail events in Boston, Palmerton, and Bethel in the late spring and early summer.
Navigating life in the midst of a pandemic has definitely required adjustments for everyone, and Spartan Sundays is no exception. The group — which Sean Thomas and Ismael “Ish” Torres started a decade ago — has done so, and is ready to keep thriving.
Creating a Virtual Workout Platform
Crucial to that has been moving their in-person workouts — held at their local church in Brooklyn — to the online arena, as the need for social distancing is still imperative.
“Sean and I convened, and we were able to devise our own virtual workout platform,” Torres, an IT specialist, said. “We noticed organizations were starting virtual workouts on Instagram and Facebook, so we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not us?' We created our own virtual workout series on Facebook every Sunday at 8:55 am.”
With approximately 500 views a week, Torres has been pleased with the response. They’ve also created the Spartan Chat and Check-In, where they host virtual meetings every two to three weeks to see how members are holding up, given what’s going on in the world.
And there have been some actual physical gatherings, as well. They will occasionally meet up, go for a run, and discuss their training and mental health. (When doing so, they are vigilant about social distancing and wearing masks.)
Seeing Someone Do the Unthinkable
Over the past several years, the idea of pursuing bigger challenges has spread throughout the group. Back in 2017, Thomas and a couple of other members ran the New York City Marathon, and in the next two years, the amount of participants steadily grew. Spartan Sundays was poised for an all-out charge at the event in 2020, Torres said, before the pandemic upended everything.
“We usually have our Spartan brunch to start the year, and we remember every person standing up to talk about their 2020 resolution to get in the marathon,” he said. “That was a target for everyone.”
Thomas, a certified doctor of physical therapy, said that members thrive off of seeing each other accomplish new feats, dispelling any trepidation.
“Once you see somebody do something, it just gives you that courage that you need that you can do it as well,” he said. “Whether it’s the marathon or a Spartan race, it’s the same concept.”
One example, Thomas remembers, is doing a Spartan Beast. The group had avoided the daunting 21K, 30-obstacle race, sticking with more reasonable Sprints. When they finally decided to try it, they were predictably overwhelmed. But when they crossed the finish line, they felt that they could do anything, and their peers felt empowered to give it a go.
“When the four of us did it — and it was the craziest race, it was rainy, it was cold— the people who were so afraid of it said, ‘If you did that, we could do that, too,’" he recalls. "That’s really been the underlying theme, I think, for Spartan: seeing people do the unthinkable or unmentionable, and they themselves saying, 'If they can do it, I can do it.'"
At the end of the day, it's all about overcoming and conquering obstacles. That's what Spartan is all about, and that's what Torres and Thomas preach to their community.
"We basically tell everybody that whatever obstacles they have, they can conquer them through Spartan Sundays," Torres says.
In addition to encouraging goal setting and fostering a sense of togetherness, maintaining physical health in extremely challenging times is an integral part of Spartan Sunday's mission.
"We started Spartan Sundays as a way to cater to our community while outside the walls of our church," Torres says. "Statistics show that the black and Hispanic communities have been hit hard during the pandemic. Also, our community suffers from preexisting health challenges (blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, and the like). We needed to make something accessible no matter the fitness level.
"It can be intimidating to anyone to join a club. We are not only a club, but a family.”
It’s been a decade of evolution, Thomas said, as they've helped turn ordinary people into competitive, confident athletes who regularly achieve extraordinary things.
"We saw people in their 60s and 70s, my mom included, do multiple Spartan races — the Super, the Sprint, even the Beast," he said. "And if you had said in 2011 that that was going to happen, we would have said no. We're seeing the progression of everyone putting their fitness goals on the table, putting their fears about their limitations to the side, and using Spartan as the goal.”