By Spartan SGX Coach Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT
American Ninja Warrior Season 7 Competitor and elite Spartan Race athlete Jeff Kraebel personifies the Spartan way of life. The Long Island native balances working as a yardman at Riverhead Building Supply, supporting three teenage children (Spartans, of course), training seven days a week, and racing around the country. A former collegiate rugby player at the University of Montana, Kraebel is known as the “Blue Collar Athlete” for his affinity for all things physical, gritty, and challenging. The Blue Collar Athlete loves to move in unconventional ways, and although he didn’t break past the 2015 ANW Pittsburgh Quarterfinals, Kraebel’s time on the show led him to find his new sport: Spartan Race.
“Some friends I had grown up with that were into Spartan Races saw me do ANW and one of them asked, ‘Well why don’t you come do a Spartan?’” Kraebel says. “My first race was the 2015 Tri-State New York in Tuxedo, and in 2016, I made a commitment to do as many races as I could, study the techniques, and see how far up the ladder I can climb in 2017.”
At age 46, Kraebel puts a large amount of his seemingly endless energy into becoming a better racer and a better person, but the path to becoming a training machine hasn’t been easy. Post high-school, Kraebel got in too deep with the wrong crowd and felt the need to move 2,000+ miles away to get away from it.
“I told my mom, ‘I gotta get the hell out of here or I’m going to die here,’” Kraebel says. “I had some family in Montana I didn’t even know, and at age 19 or 20, I took off to Montana from New York by myself. That was the beginning of me trying to figure out how to be a man. But I was always athletic.”
At the University of Montana in 1991, Kraebel started his 22-year rugby career and took a liking to the pad-less contact sport. Upon returning to Long Island, his passion for rugby endured, and he played for various Nassau County rugby clubs before founding one of his own: Suffolk Bull Moose Rugby. The workhorse played the entirety of every 80-minute game on the schedule and sometimes even played up to five games a day. That much exertion could have brought Kraebel to an early retirement, but instead he’s started a new career in Spartan Race.
California here I come, first race of the season. This year is mine to take over the Elite. #WeAreSpartan #reebokspartanrace #spartanrace #spartanproteam #spartantraining #spartans #AROO #marathon #race #workhard #trainhard #fitness #fit #fitfam #dreambig #motivation #desire #determination #noexcuses #nolimits #bluecollar #bluecollarathlete
“I have some things that’ll never really be ‘100-percent’ from rugby, but I don’t talk about them because I avoid making excuses,” Kraebel says. “If I don’t do well in a race, I just suck it up and say, ‘I did the best I could,’ and go back to the drawing board.”
Perhaps the most challenging obstacle during Kraebel’s journey started three years prior to appearing on ANW, when he was rebounding from a familial situation that left him struggling to feed his children on his own.
“There was a point where I was getting food and clothing from the church,” says Kraebel. “I had nothing.”
Three years of constant training brought him to ANW and ultimately his first Spartan Race in 2015, where he discovered his true athletic calling.
“What I love about Spartan Race is the positive energy and the fact that it’s you against yourself on the course. Yet, you can see where that lines up against everyone else too,” Kraebel explains. “Spartan enables me to let go of my ego and accept help and learn. I was the king of mediocre guys, sort of playing chameleon and hanging out, but I feel like I haven’t even come close to realizing my potential, so I keep upping my game.”
This tough New Yorker placed 21st in his age group in the elite wave at the 2017 SoCal Super and 13th in his age group at the Arizona Sprint in February 2017. To train for Spartan Races, Kraebel runs 7-9 times per week, regardless of the weather (meaning in snow, rain, sleet…anything). Two of those running days are either 6-8 miles of trail or the 13-mile distance from his job to home. In the winter, things get really “blue collar”; he’ll run three miles in the dark interspersing burpees, 100-yard bear crawls, walking or lunging on chain-link fences, and rail walks into his workouts. A few more of this man-beast’s outdoor moves include burpee-pullups on street signs, 100-yard sprints, wall-sits, handstand push-ups and running while carrying a 94-pound bag of cement wrapped in duct-tape. Once Kraebel runs into the gym, he incorporates a variety of training styles.
“I take a little piece of what I think is cool from CrossFit, strongman, freerunning, and yoga and I throw it into my workout to mimic some of the activities on the course,” says Kraebel. “I’m a maniac and I’ve yet to meet anybody in the world that trains anywhere close to me—which is why I’m traveling the country doing Spartans. I’m looking for my tribe.”
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The self-proclaimed maniac lifts weights in the gym for 35 minutes before work every day, doing non-traditional exercises such as hanging from the top of a cable crossover machine and hand traveling back and forth, bench presses with a leg raise so the shins touch the bar at the top of the press, and single-arm dumbbell overhead presses where the opposite knee raises along with the dumbbell to really train the core. Every exercise focuses on the core and serves as a primer for a long day at a building materials/lumber company.
“My job is fairly physical. I used to run a chainsaw outside in the elements, cutting wood all day,” Kraebel says. “Now, I drive a big Combilift, a modern-day forklift, where I pull orders of wood, cement, roofing, any type of building materials.”
Of course, training before work isn’t enough for Jeff, so sometimes he’ll run through the woods during his lunch break and go back to work. And in true Spartan fashion, Kraebel listens to the Spartan Up! Podcast at work, searching for inspiration and perspective from the world’s great minds.
The last part of Kraebel’s performance equation is his nutrition plan, where 90% of food is clean and the other 10% are cheat meals. He eats a lot of meat and rice. Oddly enough, this machine doesn’t like eating vegetables, so he drinks them. The biggest nutrition game-changer has been eliminating sugar from his diet.
“I cut sugar about 90% out of my diet and it changed my life,” Kraebel adds. “I was able to drop 15 pounds in the two years since ANW.”
SETTING A SPARTAN EXAMPLE
Kraebel is doing what he loves and his 2017 goals include giving his kids a better quality life, but not monetarily. Kraebel completed most of his Spartan Races with his children, so we know they are learning about society quickly.
“I raise my kids throwback, and I want them to be rough because life is rough,” Kraebel says. “I don’t want my kids to be spoiled. They have video games but not a lot; they go outside to just be kids.”
Between the rough New York upbringing, constant outdoor training, unsweetened diet, and instilling blue-collar toughness into his children, Kraebel draws many parallels to a fellow New York-born Spartan whose name starts with a “J.” Kraebel’s words resonate with Spartans from all backgrounds and we are happy to welcome him to the Spartan family.
“I’m always on a quest to be a better athlete, father and human being. I want my legacy to be, ‘That guy is all right.’”