The Spartan Elites will always be inspiring to watch and learn from. They’re the best of the OCR best, and clearly have dedicated their lives to the sport. But there’s something to be said about the Spartan Age Group leaders, the hometown heroes of Spartan racing.
You’ve got the competitors in their teens and 20s with many years ahead of them to become the next big thing. They’re almost guaranteed to be the future Elites. Then you’ve got your 20- and 30-somethings out there crushing it while maintaining full-time jobs and families — also clearly with the talents to take on the Elite if they chose to take on the challenge. And then there are the 40-, 50-, 60-plus-year-olds, maintaining jobs, families, and proving to themselves and others that age is just a number (also fully capable of making the jump to the OCR big leagues). The Spartan Age Groupers are a different kind of inspiring, and an incredibly great resource for winning advice.
Here, we reached out to over a dozen Age Group winners from the 2022 Jacksonville Sprint, the very first Age Group-focused United States National Series race, presented by USANA, for insight on how they train — and advise you to train — to win an Age Group event.
How Jacksonville's Age Group Winners Trained for Victory
Bruce Jackson: 1st Place, Male 45-49 Age Group
1. You need speed work and “compromised running”
“When it comes right down to it, the faster runners typically finish first more often," Jackson says. "Speed work, tempo runs, and runs that include a second modality such as burpees or an assault bike are going to serve you better than long, slower efforts.”
2. Deadlifts and pull-ups are non-negotiables
“The deadlifts will strengthen your posterior chain and legs, which get worked during heavy carries and elevation," he explains. "And add the pull-ups for the grip and upper-body strength needed for OCR.”
3. HIIT workouts translate well to racing
“I train in HIIT-style efforts almost all of the time because of the total-body endurance that is needed to stay in hard efforts for longer than my competition," he says. "The compromised running is a factor as well, to be able to maintain steady-state running through exhaustion.”
Jackson represents Jacksonville, Florida.
Catalina Brasil: 1st Place, Female 35-39 Age Group
4. Train to be a multi-purpose athlete
“If you want to be competitive, you need both endurance and speed, so run," Brasil says. "Many elements also require upper-body strength and core, so do your ab work, push-ups, and pull-ups.”
5. You’re stronger in a group
“This sport is all about supporting each other," she says. "Other than running, I think team training is key.”
6. Try this 3/1/1 training template
“Run three times a week, strength train once a week, and perform obstacle mock training once a week," she advises. "And remember, rest is important too.”
Brasil represents Pembroke Pines, Florida
Bryan Neely: 1st Place, Overall and Male 25-29 Age Group
7. Live by the Spartan ethos
“Mindset is everything," Neely says. "The mind will give up way before the body ever does, so I prepare my mind for battle every day. I’m always learning to face my fears, and thrive in the pain cave.”
8. HIIT and running will give you an edge
“Running is a crucial piece of OCR because it covers most of the race, however, you have to have the strength and muscle endurance to get through obstacles and then keep running at that high level if you want to win," he says. "I do high-intensity circuit workouts combined with running (with and without carrying weight).”
9. Build a strong back and a death grip
“Focusing on building my upper body and grip strength has boosted my confidence and helped me to make 'riskier' moves through obstacles while saving precious time,” he shares.
Neely represents Murfreesboro, TN.
Joe Rivera: 1st Place in the USNS Sprint and the Super, Male 55-59 Age Group
10. Don’t stop!
“Circuit-type training conditions your body to regulate better between high and low heart rate for faster recovery between obstacles," Rivera explains. "I think my style of training has helped me stay stronger and faster because it allows for quick recoveries between different functions.”
11. Run and train functionally
“I train 100% functional fitness movements and circuit type training," he says. "I like incorporating various distances of short runs between exercises to provide a simulation of race days.”
12. Jump, lunge, and slam stuff
“You need any type of full-body movements that will condition the heart, blood flow, and oxygen exchange like broad jump burpees, weighted walking lunges, and heavy slam ball work,” he says.
Rivera represents Orange Park/Jacksonville, Florida.
Heather Gollnick: 1st Place, Female 50-54 Age Group
13. Recovery is as critical as training
“As Spartans, we push ourselves hard," Gollnick says. "If we train consistently, we need to follow periodization and allow our bodies to absorb our hard training, which, in turn, will help us get faster and more obstacle-proficient.”
14. Don’t neglect mobility exercises
“Of course, you need to run and be proficient at obstacles, which comes from grip strength and technique work on the obstacles," she says. "But what many athletes don’t make the time for is the mobility and recovery aspects.”
15. Follow this Spartan recovery protocol
“Every Spartan should be doing mobility exercises, ice baths, yoga, stretching, foam rolling, and/or scraping.”
Gollnick represents Lynchburg, Virginia.
Shane Terry: 1st Place, Male 35-39 Age Group
16. Don’t make excuses
“I’ve been successful in OCR because I’m consistent," he says. "I don’t allow myself to make excuses to miss a workout or training. Just like anything in life, practice makes perfect.”
17. These four things translate to racing the most effectively
“Doing HIIT workouts to get your heart rate up, then balancing cardio, strength, and grip work will all help on race day,” he says.
18. Carb loading is worth trying
“You’ll need to find the right balance for you, but I prefer to carb load the night before a race and avoid breakfast so I don’t experience the full feeling on race day,” Terry says.
Terry represents Denver, Colorado.
Chrisa Dustman: 1st Place, Female 45-49 Age Group (and 5th Overall)
19. Don’t miss your running days
“Even the shortest races are at least three miles, and a lot of time can be lost or gained depending on your fitness and confidence,” Dustman says.
20. Hit the playground
“I feel that I’m well-rounded and try to balance my running days with strength days," she says. "I try to visit a playground or park for monkey bars and hanging exercises once a week. Other than that, I like squats, lunges, pull-ups, and even adding a sandbag.”
21. The right fuel is just as important as training
“Don’t do anything new on race day, eat appropriate amounts and carb/protein ratios for the time/distance," she says. "Remember, a pre-Sprint meal and pre-Beast meals are not the same. And, try to hydrate two days in advance.”
Dustman represents Sicklerville, New Jersey
Haley Brogan: 1st Place, Female 25-29 Age Group
22. You don’t need trendy, you need consistency
“It's fun to do fancy or flashy workouts, but sticking with the plan — even the more boring or basic workouts, —over weeks and months is how you truly gain the benefits," Brogan says. "Be consistent!”
23. Run and do dead hangs
“You still spend the majority of the race running in OCR, but having the confidence in your grip — especially when you're tired — is also key,” she explains.
24. Easy days are okay, too
“I come from a running background and I'm naturally strong, so OCR generally plays to my strengths," she admits. "Recently, I've felt a lot of benefit in taking my easy days easy, emphasizing sleep and recovery, and dialing in my nutrition.”
Brogan represents Cupertino, California.
Heidi Williams: 1st Place, Female 60+ Age Group
25. Age is just a number
“I believe in myself, and at my age I try to lift as heavy as I can and put in the miles on the trails," Williams says. "So far, it's worked out.”
26. Get strong as hell
“Strength training helps with grip strength, so that means lifting, pulling, and carrying heavy things, plus mobility and stability exercises,” she says.
27. Train to be well-rounded
“I love hybrid types of workouts like DEKA," she shares. "It’s strength, agility, and non-stop action.”
Williams represents Punta Gorda, Florida.
Cole DeRosa: 1st Place in the USNS Sprint and the Super, Male 50-54 Age Group
28. Consistency is king
“Without consistency, training programs are unorganized, the body has a harder time adapting, and forming habits are even more challenging,” DeRosa says.
29. Fine-tune your running
“You’ve got to become a better or more efficient runner," he explains. "In OCR events, we spend over 85% of the time running, so running form, biomechanics, and building a strong aerobic base are key elements to success.”
30. Strengthen the essentials
“There are so many important strength exercises, but generally the ones that focus on leg and grip strength are vital," DeRosa says. "Weighted front squats, weighted lunges, and deadlift are examples. They help with hip control and strengthen the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core — all important to running. Also, a strong grip is clearly important, so dead hangs, pull-ups, farmer's carries, and plate pinches are great.”
DeRosa represents the North Virginia/Washington, D.C. area.
Hannah Morris: 1st Place, Female 18-24 Age Group
31. Don’t expect results overnight
“I didn’t start seeing progress in my training until I was consistent, week after week,” Morris says.
32. HIIT training can be a game changer
“In my opinion, running is the easiest part if you train your body to go the distance that you’re racing," she explains. "High-intensity training with obstacles will help get your body used to being pushed to an uncomfortable state and building grip strength.”
33. Train like it’s a race
“If you can, do your own race simulations," she says. "I’m lucky enough to have a gym that does these multiple times a week. Running miles with obstacles and heavy carries thrown in will get you where you need to be.”
Morris represents Wilmington, Illinois.
Darla O’Connor: 1st Place, Female 55-59 Age Group
34. Hit the hills
“I live in Minnesota, and there's no elevation here," O'Connor says. "So, I do a lot of 15% incline treadmill work and running up and down local ski hills so that when I head to Big Bear and venues like it, I’m as best prepared as I can be.”
35. Tighten up your transitions
“It’s important to be able to transition from running hard to jumping up and doing a rig or wall or carry," she says. "You have to train your body for that. That means a lot of compromised running and OCR specific running, carrying, burpee transition work.”
36. Commit to giving 100%
“If I am doing a running workout, I give it my all," O'Connor explains. "If I am lifting that day, I push as hard as I can. I give every workout everything I have in me for that day, and I listen to my body. If I am fatigued or feeling off, I scale back that day and get right back at it the next day.”
O’Connor represents Woodbury, Minnesota.
Michael Metoyer: 1st Place, Male 60+ Age Group
37. Never stop working
“I had to pick one thing as the most important aspect of my training, it would be consistency," Metoyer, like many other Age Groupers, explains. "You’ve got to train for the long haul.”
38. Train hard, but recover well
“I’ve been successful because I listen to my body," he says. "I’ll train hard when I can, but also follow proper recovery and hydration practices.”
39. Focus on the winning combo
“Trail running, compromised running, pulling power, and grip strength are what you should prioritize in your training,” he says.
Metoyer represents Wildomar, California.