After taking on your first or fifth race, full of endorphins many of us have the same question. How can I become an elite Spartan Racer? While many people will jump right to what it takes to qualify, for most of us that’s putting the cart before the horse. Instead I’ve decided to break it down a little more in depth answering questions like: What are the standards for top elite Spartans, what is the cost (time and money), what is the training like, and then what does it take to qualify, and more. Let’s get Started!
- Qualifying to become an elite Spartan Racer requires specific fitness standards, including fast race times and impressive physical capabilities.
- The cost of pursuing elite Spartan racing can exceed $7,000, covering race entries, gear, travel, gym memberships, and nutrition.
- Training like elite Spartan racers involves studying the routines of world champions and adopting their training methods.
- As of 2023, Spartan Race has removed qualification standards for elite waves, allowing anyone to sign up for this heat, but prior criteria included top finishes, prize money, and more.
How to Become an Elite Spartan Racer
Spartan Elite Standards:
While there is no standard set of rules for what it takes to be a podium level elite racer, here are a couple of “standards” that will help you determine if you have what it takes to even begin to compete.
- Beast and shorter, run a sub 18 minute 5k. Preferable at higher elevations.
- Ultra Beast and longer, run a sub 3:40 Marathon.
- 25+ Strict Pull- Ups with a 1 second dead hang pause between each rep
- Dead Hang: 10+ Minutes
- Access to Vert: All of the top racers run up and down hills. Atkins and Webster run in Canada, Kent Moved to Colorado, Woods has the highest mountains on the east in NC, and Albon runs the greatest Skyrunner courses on earth.
The gold standard. Looking to be the best in the world, 5 time OCR World Champion John Albon runs a sub 2:30 marathon on a hilly course. That’s under an 18 minute 5k, for 2.5 hours and an Olympic Trials qualifying time.
The Cost of Being an Elite Spartan Athlete
$1,199 – Spartan Race Elite Season Pass. The cheapest way to buy your race entries.
$750 – Shoes. This takes into account 2 pairs for “racing” and 4 pairs for training through out the year. Your going to be putting in some miles.
$2,500 – Travel & Lodging. Let’s assume 5 races per year, this includes $200 per race for lodging and $300 for flights, gas, food, ect.
$800 – Yearly Gym Memberships. This is assuming you have a home gym/place to train but will be doing monthly climbing gym membership. If you are into Crossfit, this will be much more.
$1,800 – Food & Supplements. This is not your total food bill, rather we’re assuming $100 a month extra to eat healthier and another $600 for supplements.
I know I’m missing a few things and underestimating some costs. Even doing so, that will put you at over $7,000 just to play ball. It’s expensive to OCR race.
How to Train Like an Elite Spartan Racer
You could write a book on OCR training and people have. So what I like to do is look at what the best in the world are doing for training to understand what it takes to compete on their level. And rather than re-writing the book, what I’ve done is put together some great link to check out in regards to training:
John Albon – 5x OCR World Champion
- 80/20 Principle: Jon Albon follows the 80/20 training principle, where he completes 80 percent of his training at a slow pace (Zone 1 heart rate) and the remaining 20 percent at a harder intensity. This approach allows him to train extensively while also incorporating race-specific sessions.
- No Practice of Obstacles or Heavy Carries: Despite being a successful obstacle course racer, Albon doesn’t specifically practice obstacles or heavy carries. He believes that not trying to carry heavy items in training can offer a psychological advantage during races.
- Adaptability: Albon doesn’t pigeonhole himself as a specific type of athlete and enjoys various forms of training, including running, skiing, snowshoeing, and cycling. His adaptability comes from the diversity of his training.
- Moderate Distances: Despite being an ultra-distance skyrunner, Albon rarely runs more than 20km during his training season. He measures his runs by time rather than distance.
- Use Races as Training: Albon considers races to be a crucial part of his training. He believes that the benefits of racing are difficult to mimic through regular training and that using races as part of your training can help improve overall fitness.
- Hill Running and Ascent: He covers a significant amount of ascent (up to 6,000m in a week) in his training, emphasizing the importance of uphill running for his race preparation.
- Fine-tuning Training Before Races: Three weeks before a race, Albon focuses on replicating the specific terrain and pace of the upcoming event in his training.
- Speed Work: Occasionally, he includes track sessions in his training to work on speed. These sessions involve warm-ups, drills, and efforts like 1,000m repeats.
- Training Location: Living in Bergen, Norway, offers Albon access to diverse terrain and excellent training facilities, including mountains, trails, and rocky terrain.
- Recovery: Albon places importance on recovery and has noticed significant benefits from improved recovery strategies, such as full days off and active recovery activities like bouldering.
- Bouldering: Albon incorporates bouldering into his training regimen, as it helps with fluid movement across rocky terrain and provides a break from running while still offering strength training benefits.
- Hill Climbs with Weight Vest: He occasionally trains by running with a 10kg weight vest, which he believes helps him feel lighter and stronger in regular running sessions.
- Off-Season Activities: During the off-season, Albon engages in snow sports like skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing to maintain his fitness while giving his legs a break from running.
- Love for Mountains: Albon expresses a deep appreciation for the natural beauty and tranquility of mountains, which motivates his passion for skyrunning and outdoor activities.
- Enjoyment: Above all, Albon emphasizes the importance of enjoying training. He believes that maintaining the enjoyment of training is crucial for long-term success in his sport, even as it has become his full-time job.
Lindsey Webster – 3x OCR World Champion
- Embrace Gnarly Terrain:
- Train on challenging local trails that replicate the terrain of OCR races.
- Think like a mountain biker, look ahead, and pick a stable line to navigate technical terrain efficiently.
- Try a Hill AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible):
- Mimic hilly races and heavy carries with this intense workout.
- Start with a 20-minute warm-up run, followed by hill repeats.
- Choose the steepest hill available and perform various exercises like hill intervals, sandbag carries, bucket carries, and Jerry can carries to simulate race conditions.
- Master Technical Descents:
- Develop a good downhill technique to excel in races with steep, muddy descents.
- Lean forward at the ankles and kick your feet up towards your behind to lengthen your stride.
- Avoid leaning backward and landing on your heels, as it can slow you down and impact your knees.
- Nail Your OCR Footwear:
- Prioritize grip over drainage when choosing OCR shoes.
- While you don’t want shoes that hold excessive water, a slippery sole is more detrimental.
- Look for shoes with good grip, minimal construction (to avoid water retention), stability, and durability. Built-in gaiters are a plus.
- Train Smart to Avoid Injury:
- Incorporate strength and mobility training into your routine to prevent injuries.
- Running is linear and hard on the body, so strengthen your muscles with exercises like squats, lunges, core work, and glute exercises.
- Spend time on leg cross-overs and horizontal leg bounding during warm-ups.
- Iron Out Your Weaknesses:
- Focus on improving areas where you are weak or unaccustomed to.
- Don’t just practice what you’re good at; true improvement comes from working on your weaknesses.
Ryan Atkins – Spartan Race World Champion, Worlds Toughest Mudder Champion
- Mountain Training: Atkins regularly trains on mountain trails, focusing on climbing steep terrain and running for extended periods. He spends 12-16 hours a week in the mountains to build endurance and resilience.
- Long-Distance Running: He prepares for events by running well beyond marathon distances, which helps him mentally and physically prepare for challenging races. He seeks out technical and wet running routes for added difficulty.
- Cross-Training with Biking: Atkins uses mountain biking or fat biking (in winter) as a form of cross-training. This provides aerobic training while giving his running muscles a break. He prefers technical trails for biking.
- Grip Strength with Ice Climbing: Ice climbing is a key component of his grip strength training. Holding onto ice tools for extended periods is similar to navigating challenging OCR rigs. The mental focus required in ice climbing also prepares him for race day challenges.
- Leg Strength through Ski-Mountaineering: Ski-mountaineering (skimo) is a physically demanding sport that helps build massive leg strength. It’s low-impact, making it ideal for recovery from running. Cross-country skiing is another option for building aerobic base.
- Outdoor Strength Work: Atkins prefers to do his strength training outdoors, such as chopping wood, carrying heavy loads, and hiking with a heavy backpack. He finds this more enjoyable than traditional gym sessions and believes it provides effective strength training.
- HIIT Workouts: For gym-based workouts, Atkins incorporates high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions. These include core training, hang-board sessions, pull-ups, and circuit-style heavy leg exercises. The focus is on maintenance and injury prevention.
Nicole Mericle – Spartan Race World Champion
- Training Approach:
- Nicole Mericle’s training is primarily structured by her coach, David Roche, with a focus on running programming as the core element of her training.
- Her training also includes rock climbing, which helps improve her obstacle skills, and weightlifting, which is less structured but done in collaboration with running and lifting coaches.
- Running Frequency:
- Nicole typically runs five to six days a week, depending on her physical condition and coach’s guidance.
- Weight Training and Climbing:
- She incorporates weightlifting sessions approximately twice a week, including kettlebell workouts and pull-ups.
- Nicole also includes sandbag carries in her training regimen.
- The frequency of rock climbing varies based on how she feels and factors like skin tolerance.
- Listening to Her Body:
- Nicole pays attention to how her body feels to determine when to push herself and when to pull back in training.
- She uses a protocol involving campus board training and bouldering problems to assess her physical condition and adjust her training accordingly.
- Unique Training Approach:
- Nicole’s training combines elements of both a runner and a rock climber, making her unique in the obstacle racing world.
- She doesn’t specifically train on obstacle courses but believes her rock climbing provides a similar, if not better, result.
- Diet and Nutrition:
- Nicole follows a “B+ diet” approach, focusing on whole foods and vegetables while allowing herself sweets and desserts.
- She doesn’t count calories and enjoys a balanced diet that includes fruit and berries as healthier alternatives to sweets.
- Race-Day Preparation:
- On race day, Nicole typically eats a consistent breakfast, such as gluten-free waffles with nut butter and berries.
- She follows a pre-race protocol involving AltRed (a beet supplement), electrolyte drinks, and hydration.
Robert Killian – Spartan Race World Champion, Worlds Toughest Mudder Champion
Diversity in Training: Killian’s training plan incorporates a wide range of exercises to develop strength, endurance, and agility. He believes in being great at various physical aspects, not just specialized in one area.
Terrain-Specific Training: Whenever possible, Killian trains on terrain similar to the races he’ll be participating in. This helps him adapt to the specific challenges he’ll face during competition.
Adaptable Training: Killian adjusts his training based on the strengths and weaknesses of his competition. He focuses on improving his own weaknesses, such as downhill running and climbing.
Rest and Recovery: The training plan includes dedicated days for regeneration and recovery, which involve stretching, yoga, mobility work, and grip strength exercises.
High-Intensity Training: Some days are dedicated to high-intensity workouts, including running, circuit training, kettlebell swings, and sprints. These sessions focus on building strength and endurance.
Stamina Training: There are days dedicated to stamina training, involving long runs, hill work, and grip strength exercises. Burpees are also incorporated to build endurance.
Strength Training: Killian includes both lower-body and upper-body strength training exercises, incorporating weights and bodyweight movements.
Threshold Training: Threshold training involves running at specific heart rate zones, alternating with recovery runs. Cross-training activities like biking, hiking, or swimming are also included.
Supplemental Work: The plan includes additional exercises like log carries, tire flips, and bucket carries to simulate obstacle course challenges.
Consistency: The training plan emphasizes consistency, with workouts scheduled for each day of the week. It also includes warm-up and cool-down routines for injury prevention.
How to Qualify for a Spartan Elite Heat:
2023 Update – Spartan Race has officially removed all qualification standards for Elite Waves. Anyone can now sign up for this heat.
Starting in 2020 you now need to qualify to enter a Spartan Race Elite Heat Wave. There are several way to do so, this is from the Spartan race website…
To earn an Elite Qualification Code (EQC), a competitor must be 14 years of age or older as of Wednesday, January 1st, 2020 and meet at least one of the following criteria:
- One or more top 3 finishes at Spartan OCR events in the Elite and/or Age Group category within the previous 24 months
- One or more top 10 finishes within the Elite category at any regular season Spartan OCR event within the previous 12 months
- One or more top 5 finishes within any Age Group category at any regular season Spartan OCR event within the previous 12 months
- US$2000 or more of lifetime prize money earned to date in the Spartan Elite category. (International Prize money will be converted from local currency to USD based on current exchange rates)
- Please note: Age Group category refers to the designated “Age Group” Heat. It does not apply to results in the Open category.
The eligible events for automatic EQC qualification are:
- All 2019 National & Regional Series, final leaderboards
- All 2019 championships, final leaderboards
- The 2019 World Championship, 2019 Trifecta World Championship, and 2019 Ultra World Championship, final leaderboards.
Aspiring to become an elite Spartan Racer demands dedication, not only to physical fitness but also to a significant financial investment. Meeting rigorous standards, both in terms of performance and expenses, is crucial. To train like an elite, we can learn from the world’s best racers. Additionally, recent changes have made it easier for more people to access elite heats. Whether you’re a seasoned racer or just starting, understanding the path to elite status can help you chase your Spartan racing dreams with a clearer perspective.