By Jesse Kulla Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture &Martial Arts Personal Trainer and Martial Arts Instructor
Obstacle or “Adventure” racing has become one of the most popular ways to test your mettle and inspire yourself to a new level of training. At the top of the obstacle race food chain is the Spartan Race – a race of pure craziness. When you are going to call yourselves “Spartans” and label your skill levels as “Beast”, “Ultrabeast” and “Death Race”, you pretty much have to be ready to throw down and throw the kitchen sink at competitors. And oh how they do, as you can see at the Spartan Race website.
The pyramid of excellence – and pain – racers can challenge themselves with at a Spartan Race.
As an athlete, I’ve taken part in the Spartan Race for several years now, as a personal trainer, I’ve respected the Spartan’s goals of seeking excellence, and then pushing one level further. Of course, that means that once there was an opportunity to become an actual certified Spartan trainer – the first in Chicago – I wasn’t inspired to go, I had to do it! So, what do the founders of the Ultra Beast put would-be trainers through?
Wow, Where to start? I carried myself to Atlanta, in hopes that the weather would be nice, and so it was. We call that a small mercy, because it would be the only gentle thing that weekend. Got some sleep. Woke up, and got to the venue. It was a fancy gym, with everything you could want in a health club and spa. Not what I expected – I was thinking more like a sand-pit with ropes and stones. Nor did I expect that the first thing I would become acquainted with wouldn’t be the gym, but the first rate conference room. (More on that in a minute.)
Introductions were made, and stories from races that we have all run were shared. I did not win the farthest traveled award, there was a gentleman there form San Francisco. I also met the winner of the 2012 Spartan Death race. It was inspiring and humbling to learn that he had absorbed over 60 hours of punishment to claim that title. Yeah, 60 hours. I have some new standards of “toughness”.
Before we got started, we took a 5 minute burpee test. Yes, that means we got up, paired up, and did “hands off the floor” burpees for 5 minutes, to see who was could hack it. I was not at the bottom of the heap, but 63 was nothing to brag over either, I think 84 was the winning number. Now, I expected something like “drop and give me 5 minutes of burpees” – these are the Spartans, right? But see, like the Spartans of old, who were both warriors of supreme physical skill and tactical warcraft, we were here to hone our minds alongside our bodies.
And that was why we went from burpees to that conference room, where my brain was filled with science data, recovery charts, and the importance of Mental Grit. Vital to all racers, and more so to those who profess to learn the arts of defense, Mental Grit is the power to preserve despite terrible odds, nasty surprises, and truly “long haul” exercises. We then did a little work out before breaking for lunch: about 300 meters of bear crawls, just to whet our appetites. Lunch was all business, talking with other trainers, sharing success stories and work out tips.
Of course, having just filled our bellies, it was time to dive into nutrition as soon as we got back. That was extremely in depth, and changed how I viewed athletic nutrition. After a few hours of that, we broke, and did an hour long “level one” work out, which is just the Spartan way of saying “Good job in the class room, see you tomorrow”. I went back to my hotel and soaked for an hour, rehydrated, and got ready for day two.
Day two was all talk of program design and goal-setting. This was partly a refresher course, but had a lot of insight into helping clients set goals, as well as getting to the root of clients’ health issues. The program design was intensive. We talked for hours about how to “Spartan folks up”. Far and away, this was my favorite portion of the weekend. Skipping lunch, we broke into groups and went running, with one group running their work out, start to finish, and the other two groups sweating through them. Three hours of pure brutality. It was hard, but I got through all of it. Not everyone did. Survival is the first step on the road to excellence!
I now know why the Spartan gym has a full spa – you need it just to go home. After some time in their hot tub, I felt better, I limped to the hotel, packed, returned my car, and spent 18 hours In the airport getting back to good old Chi-town. This was a mind-blowing weekend, and my ideas about training for peak performance will be broken into before SGX and after. My clients are already profiting from the new ideas and strategies, be they there to cut weight, increase functionality or race train, and I can’t wait to share more of the techniques for honing Mental Grit.
Later this summer, I’ll begin my preparation to run the Beast. I’ve beaten the Sprint, and I’ve beaten the Super. Time to go for the gold, and come home with my running shoes or on them. I hope to see you there, because I’ll need a team. Spartans, are you ready? Aroo!
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