Elite racers are freaks of fitness. At that level, running, upper-body strength, endurance, and obstacle proficiency are second to none. It’s quite remarkable (and jaw-dropping) to see the finishing times posted on the leaderboards after every event. Wouldn’t it be legendary to one day break out of the ranks of Age Group and go head-to-head with some of the fittest athletes in the racing community? It’s certainly possible — if you want it enough and have the right plan going in.
So what does it take to make the jump? To find out, we asked a veteran Elite, a high-performing Age Grouper with big-league ambitions, and a former Spartan Pro who's getting his competitive bug back after some time away from the sport.
How to Start Racing in Spartan Race Elite Heats
Heather Gollnick is the first-ever athlete over 50 to win a Spartan race.
The veteran has been running in the 50-54 Age Group for a while, but decided to take on a 2022 Elite heat in Atlanta, where she won. She says that if you’re looking to level up, it takes three things: going for it, practicing the obstacles, and improving your transitions.
“Believe in yourself and remember that when you put yourself in tough competition, it will bring out the best in you,” she says. “Make sure to practice obstacles — especially your Spear Throw — when your heart rate is up, then be ready to go right back into top run speed right after those obstacles."
Brian Beal is a top-performing Age Grouper who puts on an Elite-like show (But according to him, he’s still working some things out, even after a strong season start.)
Beal's advice for jumping from Age Group to Elite heats is three-fold: race clean, put a minimum of 40 miles in per week, and go uphill as much as possible.
“You can't go in thinking that you can fail at anything," he says. "I don't train burpees because I refuse to say that I'm going to fail anything ahead of time."
Then it’s all about building up those legs.
“I think right around 40 miles a week, four to five days of running a week seems to be about the perfect amount if you're dedicated," Beal says. "Then, climb about 5,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation."
Alec Blenis is somewhat of a blast from the Spartan past. He was the second youngest Spartan racer to podium in 2011 while he was still in high school.
Since then, he was on the Pro circuit for a few years, then stepped away from the sport entirely in 2016. Lately, he’s been making a comeback, specifically in the DEKA arena.
“Getting better takes a lot of work, and the better you get, things only tend to get tougher,” he says.
That means that there’s no secret to success — just keep grinding.
“When you’re on the cusp of reaching a new milestone, it becomes especially tempting to try to figure out what’s missing," he says. "But the same fundamentals that got you where you are today are likely the same things that will take you up a notch, just done even more consistently and more effectively."