There’s something special about the 21K, 30-obstacle Spartan Beast for a first-timer with a little bit more grit and fitness than a true first-timer. It’s long, but not too long. If you can run a 5K or 10K fairly efficiently, sure, you could do a Sprint or a Super like most would. But why not take the plunge into Spartan World by trying the Beast first? I tried it myself and survived, so here’s how you can, too.
First, some background:
The last time I did any sort of obstacle course was around 2013. I ran a short sample course at Reebok Headquarters in Canton, Mass. with Joe De Sena himself as a part of a campaign for the magazines that I was working for at the time. I followed Joe and carried logs, climbed walls, and failed the rings. He watched me do 30 burpees. Every single one of them. (Seriously, he counted.)
The second time I dabbled in OCR was at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colo. in 2015, where I did what was similar to a Spartan Super — about 6 or 7 miles with obstacles. Surprisingly, I did fairly well, although my lungs weren’t used to the altitude. Fast forward almost a decade, and I got hooked on OCR. Coming off of a brutal shoulder surgery and frustrating chronic pain, I wanted to prove to myself that I’m still tough and gritty enough to crush my way through.
I chose the Vernon, NJ Beast — the fifth-most difficult Spartan course in the country — on April 30, 2022 and ran in an Open heat with the goal of having fun on the obstacles (which I’m obsessed with) and just getting through. I finished in 4 hours and 21 minutes, but — in hindsight — I honestly think I could have broken 4 hours. It was tough, but it was fun as hell.
So here’s the deal: If you’re pretty fit (both physically and mentally), go ahead and skip the Sprint and Super and take on the Beast!
How 30 Days to Beast Works
First, I needed to strengthen my weaknesses, which were primarily running endurance and adaptability to rough terrain and elevation.
I wouldn’t consider myself an endurance athlete — never was one. I would consider myself a hybrid athlete, but with more of a background in traditional strength training and cross training. Regardless, I'm definitely not a runner, so I needed to build up to longer distances. Every Sunday was a long and slow run that progressed week over week, peaking at 14 miles. Every Wednesday was a shorter distance run that I did at a significantly faster pace. This provided a nice balance.
I live at sea level, and while I have experience running on sand (which was helpful), my technical trail running is mediocre at best. Anywhere I run is typically dead flat, so going uphill is always hell. I knew that I needed to get at least one day in per week on a trail. In addition to my Wednesday shorter-distance runs, I threw in some hill sprints or short runs on the beach with a weight vest. On both running days, I would also perform burpees, muscle-ups, and/or toes to bar to simulate racing.
The other days of the week were either lower-body strength in the gym to keep my legs strong, or upper-body pulling to keep my back, shoulders, and forearms primed for obstacles. A day of complete rest was baked in for recovery. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a good upper-body strength and some general athleticism, so carrying heavy things, playing on monkey bars, and swinging on rings sounds like a party to me.
Is this program for highly-competitive Age Groupers? Probably not, but will it help a first-timer get through feeling healthy and strong? Absolutely.
The 30 Days to Beast Program for First-Time Spartan Racers
Sunday: Long and Slow Run + Burpees
Week 1: 8 miles + 120 burpees
Week 2: 10 miles + 90 burpees
Week 3: 12 miles + 90 burpees
Week 4: 14 miles + 60 burpees
Monday: Upper-Body Strength and Obstacle Prep
- Bird dog (5 sets x 10 reps)
- Pull-ups (5 sets to failure)
- Rows superset with floor presses (5 sets x 10 reps)
- Farmer carries (5 sets with 50 pounds for max distance)
- Crawling (5 sets x 2 minutes each)
Tuesday: Easy Uphill Walking Slog with Weight Vest
30-60 minutes at 2.8 mph with a 15% grade
Wednesday: Shorter, Quicker Run + Sand
3-5 miles + ½ mile beach run with weight vest (or simply add the vest and run on whatever terrain you have available)
Thursday: Lower Body Strength + Additional Dead Hangs
- Traveling lunge (2 sets x 10 reps each direction — forward and reverse)
- Single-leg deadlift (3 sets x 10 reps)
- Front squat (5 sets x 10 reps)
- Split squat (3 sets x 10 reps)
- Chops (3 sets x 10 reps each side)
- Dead hangs (5 sets x as long as possible)
Friday: HIIT Session
4 rounds for time: 500-meter row, 800-meter run
Rest and recovery
Commit to Your First Race
If you can easily run a 5K, commit to a Sprint.
If a 10K is a breeze, commit to a Super.
If a half-marathon is no problem, commit to a Beast.
If you can run a marathon (and/or are downright crazy), commit to an Ultra.