TheAthElite’s Steve and Stephanie recently completed the VA Spartan Super. This annual race held at Wintergreen Ski Resort has been described as Spartan’s toughest course only to be outdone by Vermont, where the Spartan World Championships have been held in the past, and the new World Champs course at Lake Tahoe.
We asked our two crazy OCR athletes and coaches to give us their take on the 2015 Wintergreen experience. This is what they shared with us along with their Top 12 Tips for SUCCESSFULLY Completing a Spartan Race.
If we could use one word to describe this course, it would be BRUTAL.
Spartan Race didn’t disappoint on this one! We completed this course in 2014 as Stephanie’s first ever Spartan Race. We were new to obstacle course racing in general and didn’t really know what to expect from Wintergreen.
In 2014, we raced in a dense cloud of fog turned torrential downpour. The slopes were like muddy slip and slides, and the barbed wire obstacle looked like a scene straight from the movie GI Jane.
We should also mention we started the race at 1:15pm in 2014, so between the rain and the thousands of fellow Spartans flowing over the course, it was SLICK! We found ourselves sliding down the mountains on our butts many times during that race.
Last year we weren’t sure if the brutal ascent would ever end as it was hidden in the dark clouds above.
2015 was a different story weather wise, but the course was no less challenging.
We had a sunny day with moderate temperatures. This time we were able to see the top of the death march as we climbed the steep, rocky terrain.
The obstacle lineup was strategically placed so that your hands were wet and muddied just before navigating the rings, ropes, and parallel monkey bar. The rope climb was one of the last obstacles just to make sure you had the maximum possibility of cramping in the cold water before attempting to jump over the line of fire.
The other obstacles were pretty much a blur. The goal was to keep moving and successfully complete as many obstacles as possible to save yourself from the punishment of the 30 burpee penalty.
Our goal for the 2015 was to improve our time to complete the course. We were confident we would definitely beat our previous year especially when we showed up to a dry, sunny sky, but the race organizers had other plans and added in extra mileage, all of it being straight up mountain.
This is what keeps us coming back. You never know what is going to be different, more challenging.
If we wanted something predictable and controlled, we would have signed up for a marathon.
Based on our 24 (combined) Spartan Races, we put together this list of Top 12 Tips for SUCCESSFULLY Completing a Spartan Race:
TIP #1: The earlier you start, the less muddy, slick, and destroyed the course will be for you. As the thousands of people pound the paths, they become hard-packed and slick. Register early because the morning start times go quick.
TIP #2: Proper shoes are a must. Running in old running shoes won’t cut it, and you will find yourself slipping and sliding your way down the course. We have tried a few different pairs and found this in the ones we have tried:
Steve has tried the Reebok All Terrain Super, Salomon Speedcross 3, and finally settled on the Saucony Men’s Progrid Peregrine 2 Trail Running Shoe.
The Reeboks were not wide enough for his feet and didn’t provide enough support which ultimately made his knees hurt. The Salomon’s were like running in high heels for him with the extra support. This added height caused his ankles to twist frequently. He described his experience in them as feeling like a baby giraffe. The Sauconys were just right.
Stephanie started with the Reebok All Terrain Super Women’s Running Shoes and has used them in all 11 of her races. Their grip and low profile have been just right for her.
TIP #3: Nutrition.
Pre-Race Nutrition is crucial. What to eat? Carb-loading? Let us start this by saying NEVER try something new before or during a race. Your training needs to go beyond putting in the miles, gaining the strength, and practicing the skills for the obstacles.
Test out your nutrition well in advance of race day.
The week of the race, ensure you are taking in quality nutrients including plenty of dark leafy greens, starches such as sweet potatoes and winter squash, protein, and good fats.
A typical day of pre-race nutrition looks like this for Stephanie:
6AM IsaLean Pro Shake + 1/2 avocado +1/4 cup blue berries + 1/2 cup frozen kale or spinach +1/4 cup frozen beets
9AM 3 Eggs + 2 slices bacon +1/2 grapefruit
12PM 6 ounces protein (chicken or fish) + at least 2 cups of greens + 1/2 medium sweet potato
3PM IsaLean Shake + 1/2 avocado +1/4 cup blue berries + 1/2 cup frozen kale or spinach + 1/4 cup frozen beets
6PM 5 ounces grass fed beef + 1 cup of green veg + 1/2 cup brown rice
9PM 3 egg whites + 1T coconut oil
We use plenty of pink himalayan sea salt!
Pickle juice and chicken broth are incorporated into the week of race nutrition. Sodium is your friend when you are getting ready to race a Spartan race.
Steve’s pre-race is very similar with larger portions to fuel the extra muscle he carries.
Notice there was no 1lb pasta meal here. Those carb-loading tactics are long gone. We know more about the body’s energy systems these days.
During-Race Nutrition. We prefer to run on fats for the first part of the race and then switch over to carbs for energy during the second half if the race is longer than a Sprint distance. Some of the Supers can be fueled the same way as a Sprint (run on your body’s stored energy = no need to fuel along the way), such as the Boston Super, but grueling Supers like PA and VA need serious race fuel.
Check out this article on using fats during a race to see what we are talking about: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/05/low-carb-triathlon-training/
For Wintergreen, we used this Yum Butter and it was certainly yummy.
Post-Race Nutrition. As much as you want to have that free beer they give you after a race, there couldn’t be a worse time to consume alcohol. You have just caused major damage to your muscles and they are primed to receive anything you give them. Loading them up with a toxin like alcohol will not only delay your recovery but could cause even more damage to your muscle tissue.
A liquid meal replacement shake is ideal since your body will not have to break down the food in order to use the nutrients. We prefer Isagenix IsaLean Shake and/orIsaLean Pro Shake. Isagenix is made with undenatured whey which means it has not been through a super heating process and is more bioavailable. It doesn’t contain any artificial flavorings or sweeteners either.
Enjoy a nourishing meal post race. Your body will gobble up those nutrients and put them to work. Something like a big, juicy grass fed burger or steak is ideal. Add sweet potato fries to the order and your body will be satisfied.
Things to avoid post-race would be large amounts of refined/processed sugars and alcohol. Other than that, you really can’t go wrong. Oh and large amounts of dairy can cause gastrointestinal distress. Skip the gallon of ice cream. Think of your post race meal as refueling versus rewarding.
TIP #4: Training. Train for the type of course you will be racing on. We live in Charleston, SC, also known as the “Low Country” since most of the area is at sea level. Mountain training requires several hours of driving so we make due with various gym equipment and running the local bridges.
Just ask any flat-land marathon runner who has competed in a Spartan Race what the difference is.
TIP #5: Warming Up and Stretching. Dynamic warm-ups and stretching are best prior to conquering a mountain. Here we are doing some inchworms with a military push-up into a downward dog, and stretches with a band.
Other favorite moves of ours as well as our Instagram family include butt kickers, high knees, karaoke, high skips, walking lunges, side shuffle, reverse walking lunges, jump rope, curtsy lunges, and zombie walks.
TIP #7: Sleep & Hydration. Get plenty of both or your performance will suffer. Studies have shown a 20%-30% decline in performance based on insufficient sleep and hydration.
Wearing a camelback or some other water supply is advised on longer courses. This isn’t a marathon with water stops every mile.
If you will be racing at a higher altitude, one piece of advice is to sleep in that higher altitude if possible.
TIP #8: Cramps. These can ruin your day no matter how fast or strong you are.
First, why do they happen? These involuntary contractions of a muscle are thought to be caused by the following factors:
- Extreme heat or changes in temperatures (hello Spartan water obstacles)
- Electrolyte depletion
- Insufficient conditioning
- Muscle fatigue
What to do if/when you get a cramp: Stop, Drop, and Roll.
- Stop the activity you are doing.
- Maybe you will have to drop into a stretching position. Maybe you are already there from the pain.
- Roll your thumbs over the spasming and shortened muscle. You want to help relax and lengthen the painful muscle.
We have included the following links to articles since they say everything that needs to be said about cramping. The main points we wanted to make are nutrition matters and there are some immediate actions you can take if you find yourself laid out on the side of a mountain.
TOE NAILS: Cut them. Short. Having any extra length on them adds to the pressure being placed on the back of the toe nail which can cause bruised and lost toe nails. Yuck and ouch.
Running Technique: If you spend the majority of your time running the downhills with your toes and hips pointed straight down, you may start to feel it in your knees. Switch it up to a side shuffle down the mountain similar to the stance you take for snowboarding. Your knees and toes will thank you.
Shoe Laces: Here is a great article on different ways to tie your laces if you are having any problems with how your shoes are fitting/rubbing:
TIP #10: Sunscreen. You can’t go wrong with wearing it and bringing some to the course with you. Better to be safe than sorry on this one!
- 2 trash bags
- 2 towels
- shampoo, conditioner, body wash
- face cloth or if you forget, use your rinsed sock as a wash cloth
- loose clothes since it can be difficult to get dressed in something sticky and tight
- extra water bottles for post race
TIP #12: Expectations. You are an athlete. You want to do well. If you are new to Spartan racing, know that each course is different. Some will seem relatively easy and others will kick your ass up and down the mountain.
For runners, this inconsistency in course and therefore race times and placements can be a new challenge in itself. Here are a few measures of success we have come up with to focus on more than just a time or winning an age group:
- Calculating placement overall. Take your place and divide by that total number.
- Example: 54 out of 244 in female 35-39 = top 22%
- 280 out of 1381 in female = top 21%
- 1865 out of 4976 = top 37% overall
- Checking the “per mile” time against the last time you completed that particular course.
- Decreasing the number of burpee penalties for each race.
- Conquering obstacles you’ve had your sights set on.
We were doing better and better in our age group and decided racing in the Elite category was our new goal. Having to complete all obstacles without assistance is a goal in itself. Now our goal is to place in the top 50% of our Elite heat.
One of the best parts of Spartan Race is the obstacles require skill and strength and you can turn just about every aspect of this race into a goal. Earning your medal and your trifecta are goals too. You can find empty shadow boxes at places like Hobby Lobby and fill them with your race memories.
Temporary tattoos for added power up those mountains, and shirts that make you race faster. If you are interested in either, let us know firstname.lastname@example.org.