What Should I Expect At My First Spartan Race?
Signing up for your very first Spartan race can be both exciting and intimidating. People often hear about Spartan races or other obstacle course races through social media or word of mouth from their friends or fellow gym mates. It seems that most people have a deeper reason for signing up outside of the fact that they think it will be fun. Some people want to complete a Spartan race because they have let their health get away from them while others are overcoming either mental or physical struggles and want to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Regardless of the reason, someone has for choosing to complete a Spartan race, pretty much everyone wants to know what they can expect once they get there. There are a variety of different things that people want to know about the Spartan Race. They tend to want to know how to train and what to wear but honestly, the most important thing you can know in order to prepare yourself for when it comes to your first race is how you are going to feel and the motions you will go through the day of your first race. What exactly can you expect to experience from the moment you pull up to the venue until the moment you leave?
Race Day Has Arrived
You are going to feel nervous beyond belief. I don’t care if you are doing the race at your own pace and have no expectations or if you are competing at the elite or age group level and want to stand on the podium, you will feel an overwhelming plethora of nerves. If you are anything like me you will know you need to eat but not have an appetite and your stomach will be in complete knots. It will be normal to doubt yourself and wonder if you have what it takes and what you have gotten yourself into. If you are feeling this way on race day morning, you are doing everything right. You are also going to feel like you need to use the restroom one billion times before you start, don’t worry, that’s normal too.
Getting to the Venue
The majority of Spartan venues tend to be out of the way from town, you will probably feel like you are lost as you navigate your way to the address of the venue (which you found on that specific event page located near the bottom or in the race day program you were emailed). As you approach the venue you will see some type of sign that says Spartan and/or parking and sometimes even some police cars with lights helping to navigate traffic.
Volunteers will be scattered throughout the parking area (which is often just an empty bit of land) and they will be waving their arms and light sticks at your telling you where to go. Once you park you will navigate your way most likely to the porta-potties located just outside of what is known as the festival area (the area you enter after registering).
As you head towards the registration tent you will want to put your mask on (you are only allowed to register 30 minutes prior to the start time on your ticket during pandemic restrictions). When you register you MUST have a photo ID as well as your race day ticket barcode which can be found on your Spartan profile page as well as in your email (many venues do not have great service so you should screenshot this before heading to the venue).
Once you show your ID, ticket bar code, and sign your waiver, you will be given a packet. This packet contains your headband (you will want to wear this with the number visible on your head because this will help you find your race day photos), your timing chip, and a wristband to attach it to (ask for help when putting this on if you are unsure), a free alcoholic beverage ticket for after the race, and a wristband that shows your start time.
The hard part is over! Once you get all of your bands put in their places you are probably going to want to get into whatever you are racing in and ditch the rest after heading to the restroom once again. There will be a bag check where you can hang your bag on a hook on a fence. You will be given two bands that have the same number, one goes on your wrist and one goes on your bag. The purpose of the numbered bands is so that the volunteers can make sure people are leaving with the correct items.
You are free to go in and out of bag check as you please (I have raced over 25 races and always used this free version of bag check without having any items stolen). After checking your items this would also be a great time to go find the board that displays the event map largely so you can review the course route and obstacles (Spartan usually posts this on their online platforms the Thursday before the race).
After getting your items checked and making sure you have everything you need for your race you should take this time to go make race friends while getting warmed up! Making like-minded friends is the best part of the Spartan experience. Outside of the Covid restrictions, you are typically able to go into the festival area as early as you want and stay as long as you want after your race so this is a great time to hang out and meet people (with the current restrictions you will need to leave 30 minutes after finishing).
I personally like to exchange Instagram handles with people that I meet so that we can reconnect later because trust me after you finish the race it’s going to be all you can think and talk about, and if you don’t have any friends who already race you will be wishing you did! The word vomit can’t seem to stop because you are feeling on top of the world and want to share the amazing experience with everyone. If you are anything like me you will immediately start to fixate on what you did well and not so well and how you can do better next time. It’s great to have friends to bounce ideas off of!
The Start Line
You should be sure you are hanging around the start line about 15 minutes prior to your designated start time. You will hear an announcement saying which start time gets to gather into the starting corral next and at that time you will want to be lining up and getting ready to file into the (socially distanced) starting corral (with your mask on). You will show your start time wrist band and you enter and then you are there. There is no turning back. It is time to test your limits. You are about to feel exhausted and delighted all at the same time.
During the Race
If you are competing in the open wave (which most do for their first race) then once they send you off you will cross the start line (and toss your mask into a waste bin placed along the sidelines if you please) and be on your way! It’s likely that you will struggle with some obstacles, even shorter walls can feel intimidating at your first race but the best thing about Spartan is that in the open wave you are welcome to get help from your fellow Spartans and people will be delighted to lend a hand, even if you started alone, you will definitely not stay alone.
If you cannot do an obstacle there is a 30-burpee penalty which is not enforced in open waves but I highly encourage you to complete the mandatory burpees, especially if you want to continue racing and be able to better track your progress/success in your races. This is part of the challenge! People will cheer you on and encourage you all along the course, it is highly unlikely that you will ever feel extremely defeated or alone because someone will always be lifting you up along the way (whether mentally or physically).
You can count on seeing people of all ages, physical sizes, and abilities, and stages in their lives with a variety of reasons and goals for being out there. People will be sharing their stories along the way, cheering for strangers, and inviting strangers to run alongside them.
Pain is Pleasure
The heavy carries will feel hard and some of the obstacles might feel scary but that’s okay. That is normal and they should, this is your first race after all! Regardless of the distance of the race, you chose you are probably going to feel really tired. Even if you can typically run a 5k, 10k, or half marathon pretty easily, adding in obstacles really takes it out of you. But it is the taking it out of you that keeps you coming back for more. Just this past weekend I was talking to a fellow Spartan friend and she said one of the best parts of a hard Spartan race (such as Tahoe) is that something about it feels so “primal”.
You are forcing your body to do things that it really has no business doing this day in age, on a regular basis. The weather will be unpredictable, your body temperature might be all over the place, you will get dirty, you might bleed, you might vomit, you might have to go to the bathroom in the woods, it’s an experience that will make you feel so tough and unstoppable no matter how long it takes you to complete it.
Finishing the Race
When you finish the race, you might feel about half dead. I rarely feel physically amazing when I finish a race, but mentally I am on cloud nine regardless of how physically miserable I feel. Feeling unstoppable makes you hungry to train harder and come back for more. After you cross the finish line you will be given a finisher medal (and a new disposable mask to wear in the festival area), some beverages supplied by Spartan sponsors, a post-race snack of some sort, and a finisher shirt (they usually run a bit small and as a medium-sized woman with broad shoulders, I like to get a men’s medium).
After you gather your things you can make your way to the results tent and put in your headband number to see your finish time and how you stack up to others (this information will also be available on your Spartan profile later that day as well as on the athlinks.com website where you can claim your results). Next, you will want to head to bag check and get your things. Most people then opt to go over to the wash station (simply a bunch of hoses laying on that ground where you can hose off).
When pandemic restrictions are not in place there is also a changing tent available. Many people use something called a Shower Toga that was created with these types of races in mind.
After the Race
Finally, if there are no pandemic restrictions in place feel free to hang out as long as you want, watch others finish their races. Talk to other people and hear their stories. Share your feelings about that day’s accomplishment with others. There will likely be some food vendors, a Spartan merchandise tent, and other various local and Spartan-related vendors that you can explore. Refuel, rehydrate, shower up and start planning your next Spartan adventure.
People in the Spartan community are typically happy to share their insight. Feel free to ask other people for tips on how to prepare, how to do certain obstacles, and what gear they enjoy the most. You can watch your Spartan profile for your race day photos, they typically get uploaded somewhere between Monday-Thursday the week after the race.