When runners decide to try something new and sign up for a Spartan Race, they sometimes treat the preparation in the same way they would any road race. This is an error.
Although Spartan Race courses contain large chunks of running, the obstacles and terrain require a far more diverse skill set and should not be overlooked.
5 Mistakes That Newbie Runners Make When Training
We spoke with Dominick Delli Paoli, CSCS, NASM-CPT, SGX, an avid ultra marathon runner, to find out the most common mistakes that newbie runners make when training. Here’s what he identified as the top 5.
MISTAKE #1: STAYING FLAT
Both Stadion races and mountainous races contain periods of ascending altitude, followed by a descent. (At Stadion Sprints, this level change is courtesy of hundreds of bleachers.) Road runners tend to need improvement in uphill running, downhill running, or both.
“When preparing for an obstacle course race, a common mistake runners make is not adding uphill and downhill intervals into every single run,” says Coach Paoli. “When actually running an OCR, most runners will walk the flat or downhill sections to recover from the hill climbs, where they should be using these to make up time and run.”
To prepare for the ups and downs of a Spartan course, make sure your running route has some type of ascent. It could be stairs, a hill, or even just walking or jogging with weight at at incline on a treadmill.
MISTAKE #2: NEGLECTING INTERVAL TRAINING
Say goodbye to your daily 3- to 5-mile run done at a continuous heart rate. Interval training, whether it be high or moderate intensity, will be key for training for a Spartan Race because the course regularly requires you to run, perform an obstacle, and immediately run again.
“Obstacle courses will vary wildly, from 400m short climbs to 1000m or more ascents and descents, followed by a heavy bucket carry and everything in between," Paoli says. "Expect to be thrown off whatever game plan you had. Preparing for these intervals in training is crucial to becoming race ready for an OCR.”
Obstacles such as Over Under Through, the Bucket Brigade, the Barbed Wire Crawl, and the Sled Drag require functional strength to complete. If you’re a runner training for a Spartan Race, you should definitely log slow, long-distance cardio at least twice a week, but also add interval training sessions with a 1:1, 2:1, or even 3:1 work to rest ratio to mimic a Spartan course. Plus, runners can break up their long runs with 10-20 burpees, bench jumps, pull-ups, or sit-ups after every 10 minutes of running.
“Strength training has been shown to improve almost every aspect of a runner's performance,” Paoli says. “Vital SGX programming recommends three cross-training classes per week, focusing on different areas of strength and conditioning.”
MISTAKE #3: SKIMPING ON RACE FUEL
“In terms of nutrition, you will burn more calories running a 10-mile OCR compared to a 10-mile road race,” Paoli says. “Experimenting with different types of race fuel and hydration strategies during your training is crucial to performance come race day.”
Water is provided on Spartan Race courses, but some runners may find that it’ll take more than that to power through some of the longer-distance courses. Energy gels, chews, and bars are popular snacking options for the course. If you’re a recreational runner and you have your first Beast coming up, you can prepare by being outdoors for 5-plus hours at one time, even it’s just going for a very long walk. This will give you a sense of what type of calories you want — and when — on a course.
By the way, there are no “pacers” or “pit crew” at a Spartan Race, although at an Ultra Beast you can stash some belongings. This means you have to carry all the fuel you need on you, so experiment with different packs and belts that will stay on and won’t rip.
MISTAKE #4: NOT TRAINING GRIP STRENGTH
Grip training can make a large difference in a Spartan’s ranking. The Multi-Rig and Rope Climb are two of the most commonly failed obstacles, and both require a strong grip. Runners who rarely lift weights will need to incorporate some exercises into their training routines to ensure that they can complete all of the Spartan obstacles. Here are some tried and true ways to build grip strength.
MISTAKE #5: TRACKING WORKOUTS BY DISTANCE
For amateur endurance athletes running marathon distances or longer, your marathon training plan likely won’t equate to improved Spartan Race performance.
“In most cases with endurance athletes, the training during the offseason is planned and crafted to taper down come race day,” Paoli says. “Those endurance athletes who decide to add an obstacle race mid-season, or train for one, should consider that all the metrics they use to gauge the quality of their training or race (pace, cadence, heart rate, etc) should be thrown out the window.
Many elite racers will run a few miles above their course distance the week leading into a race, but for the first-time Spartan, this isn’t necessary to complete the course. For example, road and trail runners who have run a 10K (6.2 miles) in the past don’t need to go complete a half-marathon to be able to complete a Beast (13+ miles). When going for a long run during your Beast training, you should:
- still wear a distance tracker
- after the workout, reflect on how long you were outdoors
- remember that this number of hours can possibly be larger on race day.
Mixing runs with full-body exercises negates the “logging X amount of miles” method that endurance runners may rely on during their training. Therefore, consider both mileage and total time outdoors when training for a Spartan race.
Spartan races are the ideal choice for trail and road runners looking for a new challenge and adventure. Although Spartan races consist of a lot of running, and many elite racers have running backgrounds, training for a Spartan and training for a running event are two completely different animals. These five training tips arm any runner with the adequate blueprint to conquer a Spartan Race.