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first spartan race - fire jump

My First Spartan Race: A Tale of Mud, Sweat and Beers

AROO! AROO! AROO! 

There we were, dozens of us at the starting line, screaming a battle cry as I was about to begin my very first Spartan Race. 

Excitement, a bit of nervousness, and lots of curiosity bounded inside me. What was I about to get myself into???

I’ve always been interested in OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) but never signed up to do one until I committed to the Spartan Sprint in Asheville NC on July 28th. 

With my first (but not my last) Spartan Sprint and all of those Spartan Race obstacles freshly behind me, I wanted to sum up the experience for any rookies looking to get a sneak-peek into what to expect on race day, or for the OCR veterans who want to get a laugh at this newbie’s point of view on this burgeoning sport. 

So, here’s how it all happened...

Why I Signed Up For My First Spartan Race

As the founder of Dry Rub, I’m fortunate to connect with elite triathletes, runners, CrossFitters, ball players, yogi’s and more - and not too long ago met a super-cool OCR athlete Ameer who leads a community of obstacle course racers named Spartan 4-0

After a brief chat on the phone with Ameer and mentioning that I had always wanted to do a Spartan Race but never did, he told me there was one coming up in Asheville, NC which was about a 5 hour drive from my home town of Wilmington NC. 

After making me an offer I couldn’t refuse, I nabbed a couple tickets for the Spartan Sprint for my girlfriend and myself, which was about 10 days away.

The problem is, I soon learned that the Asheville Spartan Sprint is one of the toughest Spartan Sprints, and I had done zero training in preparation for the race...and since it was about 10 days away, there wasn’t much time to prep. 

I asked both the Dry Rub and Spartan 4-0 communities for advice on how to prep for my first Spartan Race, and got some interesting tips. Here’s what people said:

First Spartan Race Advice

  1. Bring mustard packets as a way to stop muscle cramping
  2. Start hydrating the week before the race
  3. Run hills to prepare for the mountain
  4. Invest in a good pair of trail shoes
  5. Bring frozen peanut butter sandwiches
  6. Bring a change of clothes
  7. Prep your car with a good car seat cover

Although I knew I could handle #7 (thanks Dry Rub!) the rest seemed kind of foreign to me. This was a sprint, after all, so I didn’t think I needed to bring a PB&J - even though the fat kid in me wanted to - and I also didn’t expect to cramp up...so mustard packets seemed like too much of a hassle. 

A few people mentioned trail shoes, so I did invest in a pair of Reebok All Terrain Craze shoes because I saw pics of the mud from last year’s Spartan Sprint in Asheville and didn’t think my road shoes were going to do the trick. 

reebok all terrain craze

On top of that, I was fresh off a 3 day jujitsu seminar in Washington DC that was leaving me pretty sore, so running hills right after wasn’t going to happen. 

Other than trail shoes and car seat covers, I decided to go with my own training and nutrition plan the weekend leading up to the Spartan Race. This plan may not seem conventional for elite Spartan racers but it allowed me to cross the finish line with a smile on my face (along with some mud and maybe some cow-poop infused water) and a great first experience under my belt. 

Here’s what I did... 

How to Train for a Spartan Race (the FUN way)

  • I bought a new pair of trail shoes
  • I ran a few miles the week before to break in my new trail shoes
  • I drank all of the beer and ate all of the food the weekend of the race in an attempt to fill my belly and liver with all the glycogen and alcohol it needed to perform.

Here’s the step by step guide of how I trained for my first Spartan Race, along with my thoughts on the whole experience and the race itself.

Weekend in Asheville NC

Friday: Day of Arrival, Conference Call, Brunch, Dinner and Beer

  • Friday morning: leave Wilmington NC at 5:30am. My girlfriend and I packed up the car, slammed some coffee and hit the road for the ~5 hour drive. The drive was smooth and the views were beautiful as we approached the mountains.
  • Friday brunch 10:15am: Sunny Point Cafe. On our drive we searched online for the best breakfast in Asheville. Biscuit Head has been my go-to for years - and is always incredible -  but we decided to switch it up and try something new. That new restaurant turned out to be the Sunny Point Cafe, which was, how can I say it ...magnificent! There was about a 45 minute wait when we arrived, but that’s no problem because they serve drinks while you’re waiting and also provide coffee.

While you’re waiting for a table you can buy a frankensteined donut/muffin thing (we did), mimosas (we did) and enjoy local, live music. Once we sat down we ordered a biscuit to start, followed up with shrimp and grits (supposedly the best outside of Louisiana) along with huevos rancheros. All of the food was super tasty but the bacon on the shrimp & grits was the standout of the meal.

sunny point cafe Asheville NC

  • Friday: High 5 Coffee. After brunch, I had to find some WIFI for a conference call so we ventured to High 5 Coffee on Broad Street. There was plenty of seating and the coffee was solid. The only problem was that the wifi ran out after 2 hours, so I was kicked off my call right as we were wrapping things up. Other than that minor annoyance, everything else there was great. 
  • Friday night: White Labs for dinner + beer. This place is super cool - they manufacture yeast for breweries all over the world, and you can do beer tastings with beers that are brewed exactly the same, with the only difference being the strain of yeast they use. The food was solid - kimchi fries for the win! And everyone there was friendly. We even snagged some dog treats on the way out to spoil the puppers when we got home. 

white labs Asheville NC

  • Friday late night: Tasty Bev for beers at the Airbnb. After a long drive and some fun daytime activities we decided to call it an early night. That meant stocking up at a bottle shop for some local beers (have to keep those glycogen stores high and our liver strength up, right???) so we stopped by Tasty Bev which has become my favorite bottle shop anywhere. It’s wonderfully curated, all the beers are not only tasty but also have great label art, and the staff is super-helpful. Well done, Tasty Bev!
  • Next stop: Back to the Airbnb for a beer, movie and bedtime.

Saturday: Explore Asheville, Replenish Glycogen Stores + Strengthen Liver

  • 10am: Hike Craggy Pinnacle. We wanted to take in some of the hiking that Asheville has to offer, but didn’t want to do too much because the Spartan Race was the next day. We decided to hike Craggy Pinnacle, which is a very easy 1.4 mile round trip trail to a beautiful vantage point. After that, we were back on our mission to drink and eat all the calories we could...
  • 12pm: Pennycup Coffee in East Asheville. This place was great - solid coffee, fun relaxed vibe, and great staff as well! 
  • 1pm: Hole DonutsAs a self proclaimed donut connoisseur I typically look for local donut shops whenever traveling, and this trip was no different. I’ve heard good things about Hole Donuts so we went there to experience it for ourselves.

The donuts were solid - they fry them as you order, and then apply the toppings they have that day. We went with a Blueberry donut and a Toasted Sesame donut. Our glycogen stores were getting stronger!!!

hole donuts asheville nc

  • 3pm: Hi-Wire Brewing anniversary party at the big top. We heard about this party the night before at Tasty Bev, so we stopped by for a couple beers and circus rides. Overall this was super-fun - we did the merry go round and the ferris wheel, and had a couple beers and a pretzel too. 

hi wire brewing asheville nc

  • 5pm: Eurisko Brewing - My Little Coconut. I’ve heard good things about Eurisko from friends in Wilmington, and it did not disappoint. The standout beer of the weekend was My Little Coconut, which was by far the best coconut beer I’ve ever had. Guess what? They use real coconuts in the beer, and lots of them...and the taste comes through. 
  • 7pm: Red Stag Grill at Grand Bohemian. After showering at the Airbnb we decided to celebrate the weekend with date night at the Red Stag, which is in the Grand Bohemian Hotel. The experience was good - we started with some cocktails which were well made, followed up with a pretzel that was great, and then a charcuterie board that included some elk. 

red stag grill asheville nc

Sunday...RACE DAY!

  • 5:30am wakeup. We had a 9:15 start time and read on the Spartan Race website that we needed to be there 2 hours early, so that meant an early wake-up. We cleaned the Airbnb and finished packing the car because we were heading home straight from the race. We slapped a couple Dry Rub Medium seat covers on the front seats, along with matching Spice Wrap seat belt covers, and a cheap back seat cover we found online (stay tuned...Dry Rub is gonna have your back seats covered soon!)
  • 6:30am departure. We left the Airbnb in search of coffee. I always like to support local, but Dunkin was the only place open on the way, so we stopped there for a caffeine boost. We also started to slam water to both hydrate for the race and minimize the hangover from too many beers the night before. We skipped breakfast, which is normal - I often do intermittent fasting and after a weekend of eating and drinking everything I wanted, it was time to burn off some of those newly gained fat stores. 
  • Arrive 7am. Parked the car, got our stuff, and went to check-in. We were ready to begin our first Spartan Race!!!
  • Check-in: This was a breeze. We waited in line for a few minutes, then got our race packets which included all the wrist and head-bands we needed. The signs located past check-in instructing us what to do made the process easy. 

After check-in we walked around the vendor area and also watched some of the elite finishers run through their final obstacles. We quickly learned that 2 hours is way too far ahead to check in because there didn’t seem like much to do besides watch the finishers, which was fun, but we could have used another hour of sleep and still had plenty of time to check in and see the finalists. 

first spartan race Asheville NC - sprint map
From a newbie’s standpoint, here’s some things that did stand out:
  • Porta-potty’s. These were pretty rough - you could tell they were used and abused for the couple days before the Sunday Sprint. We were there to get dirty though, right? I guess that theme was consistent with the commodes...

spartan race porta potty's

  • Free storage: I thought we’d have to pay to store our bags, but luckily we didn’t. The free storage was easy to use, and the volunteers were professional, friendly and efficient.
  • Vendors: there weren’t a ton of vendors, but enough to make it interesting. Beer, coffee, food, and Spartan gear was all to be had if you wanted to purchase anything before or after the race.
  • Dogs!!! This was a highlight. After leaving our pups at home we were in dog-withdrawal, so seeing a few pups there made our morning. Way to go, Spartan Race for being dog friendly!!!

Spartan Race: Asheville NC Sprint

spartan sprint asheville nc - rainbow sign

Around 9am we were corralled to the starting line and given a pep talk with instructions by the MC. After shouting AROO! a few times and learning that we had a new profession in life (still waiting for my paycheck, Spartans)  it was time to go...and we were off! 

Because it was our first obstacle course race, and we were doing it for fun, my girlfriend and I decided to take our time with it and just enjoy ourselves. We ran some parts, jogged others, walked some hills, and had fun at each obstacle. 

Before the race we stopped by the Spartan 4-0 tent and met some cool people who gave us advice, and part of that was to just "run our race". They recommended we take in the views at the top of the course and have fun throughout...and that's what we did. 

There was lots of dirt and mud and river crossings. Everyone was supportive and helped each other out. The volunteers were great. Some obstacles were a bit confusing on what was allowed or not allowed, but the volunteers often explained the rules as we were going through them so it wasn’t a problem. 

 

first spartan race - sign - asheville nc

Some of the most fun to be had was the obstacles themselves. Here's a rundown of each of them...

Spartan Race Obstacles

  1. Hay walls: This is a great way to start the race. It’s easy but helps get you prepped for what’s to come. 
  2. Barb wire. The wire wasn’t too low so I was able to stay on all 4’s and crawl underneath, which provided for a great stretch. 
  3. Overwalls. Another good “starter” obstacle. 
  4. Barb wire 2. This wire was lower, and volunteers were warning us to get really low, so I decided to follow other people’s rolling style and that was good...I did switch sides a couple times to make sure I didn’t stand up dizzy. 
  5. Monkey bars. I was looking forward to this one. It was challenging because the mud from everyone who went before made the bars slippery, and they weren’t equi-distant from each other. Overall I liked this one a lot but the mud made it tougher than it looked. 
  6. Craft a frame. Climb over a wall with a cargo net? Yes please! This was fun. A few people got scared at the top but our group talked them through it. 
  7. Helix. This was another fun one, but also tougher than it looked. We basically had to scale a wall sideways. Slippery, yes, but fun too. 
  8. 6’ wall. Not bad - after a jump and a mini-pullup we were up and over. 
  9. Bucket brigade. I understand why the OCR community has a love/hate relationship with the bucket carry. It was a good test of lower and upper body muscular endurance…and a great time for a photo opp. 

spartan race obstacle bucket brigade Asheville NC

  1. Z walls. This was tough! It required a fair amount of grip strength, focus and coordination. The mud made the footings slippery. 
  2. Atlas carry. I underestimated this one. At first it looked easy...until I picked up the stone. It was heavier than it looked! 
  3. Inverted wall. This wasn’t bad because there are hand-holds on the way up, but still fun to climb over. 
  4. Sandbag carry. Lots of people struggled with this - I found that distributing the weight of the bag evenly across my shoulder made it much easier than when I first tried it and the weight was too far forward. 
  5. Vertical cargo. Another fun wall to climb! Once again, a few people had to battle their fear of heights, but everyone I saw made it over the top. 
  6. Rope climb. Slippery! That mud adds a whole new dimension to the race. After getting halfway up the rope, though, it was a lot easier because there was less mud the higher you went. 
  7. Rolling mud. This was natural Spartan sun-block, right???
  8. Dunk wall. A couple people were nervous to go under, but once they gathered themselves they went through without a hitch. 
  9. Tire flip. This was another obstacle that was much tougher than it looked. We ended up teaming up and getting a few of us to flip that thing. The next time I do a Spartan Sprint and race for time, I may just go straight to the burpees. 
  10. Hercules hoist. Another feat of strength! The mud made the rope very slippery and the sandbag was pretty heavy. My girlfriend and I teamed up on it and got it up, but not without some effort. 
  11. Spear throw. My first shot was right on target!!! If the target was 3 feet to the right :-(  Looks like I get to do 30 burpees...
  12. Multi-rig. My favorite obstacle. The rings were slippery but after wiping my hands on some nearby grass it was just a flashback to a jungle gym as a kid. 

spartan race multi rig asheville nc

  1. Slip wall. No problem - the rope made it easy to scale, and the descent wasn’t bad. 
  2. Fire jump. That’s a real fire! Yup, it  was hot as you approached it so that was good motivation to run and jump high over it. 

Post-Race Glory

After the finish line and our moment of glory, we snagged a couple of the freebies - water and a t-shirt, and then headed out to grab our free beer. Catawba Brewing White Zombie for the win!

After that we took some selfies and walked around some more to celebrate with our new friends. 

spartan race sprint asheville nc - post race selfie

 

After about 20 minutes of basking in our glory of finishing our first Spartan Race we decided to clean up. Here’s what that was like…

Spartan Race Cleanup

Post-Race Cleanup: There were about a dozen hoses available that people were using to wash the mud away. Some of the hoses had good pressure, others weren’t working, but it was certainly better than nothing. 

We took turns washing out our gear and ourselves the best we could, but there’s only so much you can do because the terrain is still muddy and we had to walk a ways to the parking area. We still were able to get 80% clean which is a lot better than nothing.

After cleaning up we ran into some friends we knew from Wilmington and shared some stories from our race experience. 

Our stomachs started grumbling so we headed to the car to dry off a bit, change clothes and leave to find some food before our road trip back to the coast. 

After leaving the Spartan Race grounds we decided to go to Asheville Brewery for beer + pizza. 

The Fire Escape Pale Ale was spicy and the pizza and chicken quinoa bowl gave us what we needed for our first meal of the day. 

About 6 hours later, at home, we did our second round of clean-up. We ended up washing our race gear 3 times in the washing machine to get it all mostly clean. Even after a couple showers, and a few days later, we were still pulling mud out of our ears with Q-tips!

Will I Do Another Obstacle Course Race?

My first Spartan Race was lots of fun. I'm already looking into scheduling the next one, and I'm interested to see how I'd do if I give it my all and focus on speed instead of just enjoying the course.

If you haven't done one before, I would highly recommend you give it a shot...it's a great way to spend some time outdoors, meet new people, and test your limits in a new way. 

AROO! AROO! AROO!