“To prepare you for that battle, I will ask you one very simple question, “Who am I?”, to which you shall respond, “I AM A SPARTAN!””-Spartan Race
Spartan Race is a physical and mental challenge. It is also a test of one’s character. The rules of Spartan Race are tough, but clear. No outside assistance. No cutting distance. Attempt every obstacle. If you fail an obstacle, do 30 burpees. Fail the burpees? Resign from the race. These clearly stated rules make the completion of the race an intense challenge, and victory a true accomplishment. This is no “fun run,” this is a test of your overall fortitude, and you pay to endure it.
I signed up for my first Spartan Race in August on a whim. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I paid my entry to the Tahoe Beast, but after signing up, I read through the entire Spartan Rulebook and internalized the rules.
I trained HARD, knowing I could not have outside assistance (even a band-aid!) on the course, knowing the penalties for obstacle failure, and knowing the potential for the elements being against me. It never occurred to me to run the race and NOT attempt every obstacle (also a rule), or to skip burpees I earned by failing an obstacle.
As I ran, I noticed others skipping obstacles and the burpees. I noticed one woman in particular who did this repeatedly, passing me each time I’d be in the dirt eking out exhausting burpees, only for me to catch back up on the run. I said nothing, but it irked me to know she might rank better than I, having run an entirely different race.
Months post-race, I noticed debates online raging between those wanting validation for having crossed the finish line at all, (without having completed the race according to the rules,) versus those who felt if you did not adhere to the race rules, you didn’t finish the race. I was disappointed that such a debate even existed, I expected better from Spartan participants. Perhaps naively, I expected anyone who sought to achieve the title of Spartan finisher would uphold the Spartan rules. Knowing there were people excusing themselves and still claiming the Spartan title brought to mind my “special snowflake” days, when my plastic trophies shown with metal meaninglessness on my shelf. I want my Spartan medals to reflect honor.
Spartan isn’t a fun-run, it isn’t a free for all.
It has rules for a reason. Part of that reason is that the race (like life) is HARD. It was created intentionally to be difficult, so finishing is actually an accomplishment. If one CANNOT complete a challenge, they don't have to end their race, the option of burpees is there for those people. To skip an obstacle AND to skip the burpees isn't “a personal choice” if “you're at your limit”. It's breaking the race rules; it is cheating. It is cheapening the medal and the title of Spartan.
The willingness to subscribe to the entitled mentality of “I deserve a medal for trying even if I cheated” is indicative of a greater issue in life. It speaks to a lack of honor, a lack of integrity. There were times when, in the dark, no volunteer was there to watch me do my 30 burpees for failing the dunk wall. With no one watching, I did those burpees anyway.
No volunteer is going to escort those who cheat off the course, the rules state you must self-identify and withdraw. It’s on the honor of the individual to do so, and that element is part of what makes the Spartan Race so challenging. The mental fortitude to uphold not only the race’s integrity, but one’s own, in the face of exhaustion and physical failure, is the strength of the Spartan warrior for which the races were named.
The Randy Moss Effect
On the self-identification withdrawal note, I found it truly disappointing that football Pro Randy Moss, (who was prominently featured on the NBC Spartan World Championship 2016 show,) was shown in clear violation of the rules, accepting outside assistance when he got too cold after failing an obstacle, falling into water over his head.
“Racers may not receive gear, water or food on the race course unless provided by Spartan Race on course and made available to all racers. There is no penalty for verbally interacting with medical personnel, however any form of physical treatment by medical staff (including but not limited to: receiving a bandaid, oxygen, water, or physical evaluation) will result in immediate disqualification.”
Although Moss was placed in a heated truck, warmed, fed, and rested, he was allowed to continue to race without the disqualification he had earned. This disquieting double standard made me wonder just how many people were touting the successful Trifecta finisher title without having earned it, according to the published rules of Spartan Racing.
I saw a lot of people get carted away by a truck in Tahoe, racers who failed due to nothing but their own body's limit for cold having been exceeded. They didn't get medals. They got a Did Not Finish and an amazing learning experience for which to grow. Their failure is not an ending, it is an opportunity. It is having found their limits, and learning what they need to work on for the future. There is no dishonor in failing to finish.
For some, the finish line is the goal, no matter how they get there. For me, it's the journey that matters. Every frigid step, every dirt-grinding burpee, every cramped muscle, every blister, every footstep forward. Would there be a triumph in finally ringing the bell on the rope climb, had I not failed it in prior races? Would my finish matter, if I knew in my heart I had cheated on burpees?
Would I have cried in pride when I succeeded in climbing over the 6, 8, and 10-foot walls had I not failed repeatedly years before when trying to pass the physical tests for law enforcement? Running my race with integrity and honor matters to me, and I’d like to challenge everyone else who runs in a race with rules, to also uphold those rules; to run with integrity, and to honor the title of Spartan.
At the beginning of each race, you are asked, “Who am I?” to which you respond, “I am a SPARTAN.” Are you? Are you a Spartan?
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Mud Run Guide LLC, or their staff. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.
Hi Sarah, the women’s elite heats need athletes like you. I encourage you to run elite this year. Those ladies and the officials will hold you and others to the rules. 🙂
Then go and encourage those open athletes to do their burpees and help them overcome the physical and mental obstacles they’re facing.
See you at the starting line.
I couldn’t agree more with this. I too found it very interesting how Spartan would feature someone on tv that didn’t follow the rules, but still got a finisher medal.
I agree with most of what you are saying, especially the Randy Moss portion. However, people in the open class skipping portions of the race, or cheating in other ways (because it is cheating) doesnt really bother me. My accomplishment is not lessened by someone else’s cheat. I refuse to let my personal experience be effected by someone else’s weakness. And I dont mean physical weakness, but a weakness of character, which is what breaking the rules or accepting an unearned medal is. I love these races to test myself against my own limits, not others. The points made in the article are not wrong, it’s just not worth worrying about too much.
Excellent article, and needed to be said. What the F was Joe D. doing flaunting the rules of his own race?! I never would have expected that. Not to mention what an awesome message it would have sent that Spartan race doesn’t care what your name is or what you did 10 years ago, failure happens, and it isn’t the end. “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want”.
I also agree with Matt that I don’t concern myself with those cheating in the open heats. I’ve seen it in competitive heats too. It is wrong, but is out of my control. Ideally I’d like to be able to look at the results and see how I stacked up apples-to-apples, but you really can’t in open heats. I’m running elite this year. I’ll be middle of the pack at best, but at least it will be a fair battle!
I started running in Elite heats in 2016 for this reason. I wanted to know how I really stacked up. I was thrilled to place in the middle of the pack. As I’ve progressed to within a few spots of a podium it means more and more to me each time. If I’m ever fortunate enough to earn a podium spot it will likely be one of the most rewarding achievements of my life, because I’ll know that I earned every damn bit of it.
In regards to Moss, it would have been better publicity and endorsement of the sport to DNF him on national tv. Stick to your ethos or admit you don’t have one.
“These achievements ring hollow, because what matters is the journey, and there was no journey. Instant success imparts nothing of any real or lasting value. No adversity has been confronted and handled because everything came fast and easy. When adversity does arrive, and it always does, someone who has never encountered it before will have no clue what to do in response.”
― Joe De Sena, Spartan Up!
I think its a great article but we should be clear about the difference between Elite – AG and open wave
our goal is to get millions of people off the couch – try Spartan and experience something out of their comfort zone
But if a person is trying this and do not complete an obstacle and don’t do the Burpees – then so be it – its “their” journey and one they will learn as the move deeper into our sport
We need more coverage about how every day people cross that finish line and how they feel at the end – is this not what our awesome sport is about ?
Yes different rules for Elites and AG – i found this article a great read but also a first time reader could be put off – its NOT cheating if thy miss an obstacle or do not do a set of Burpees – we need all people to enjoy Spartan for what it offers
Spartan is a lifestyle for all
Competition for those that want to challenge themselves and win
A start of a new life by building themselves up to become better humans
Spartan is “for all” and its our job to help those who have never done it to understand how epic this is and how they grow by doing more races
Anyways – great article
Heya- author here.
I wrote this soon after my first Spartan race, run in Open, are Tahoe 2016.
Since, I’ve moved exclusively to running Elite and Age Group, and have been similarly shocked and disappointed to see blatant cheating from within those participants, as well, likewise with zero consequences.
I have seen volunteers urge other Elites to cheat as I struggled to succeed legitimately. I find it disheartening at that level because the sport is still struggling to find legitimacy, and failure to hold Age Group and Elite competitors to the absolute letter of the rules is holding the sport back.
I also still stand by having Open be held to the rules, and the whole, “Run Your Own Race” phrase has been poached from meaning, “Do your best and don’t worry about the next person” to “Do what you want regardless of what Spartan race rules are, what the course asks of you, or what other runners are required to do.”
I suggest another category entirely, for those Open Wavers who DON’T cheat, and one for the “Do whatever” people. Those who don’t adhere to rules simply either sign up for an untuned race (at discount, bc those chips cost money) and/or have their chips cut if caught violating the established rules. Cheaters can time themselves if they want, and their lack of standards don’t affect the rankings of those who are holding to the rules.
Implementation would be expensive and require some planning and management, but would solve these issues that are the source of much debate and contention online.
If they skip an obstacle or the burpees, go ahead and give them a shirt and a medal, but take their timing chip so they don’t get credit for beating me when they’re cheating.
“Spartan is for all”? Not according to Joe De Sena in his “Spartan Up!” book. He made it clear that it’s not meant to be something everyone can complete.
In his book, he says that he selected the Sprint distance to be something most people can cover on foot. He wasn’t explicit about whether he felt the Sprint obstacles (or the burpee alternatives) were within the grasp of most people. Given how badly your average person struggles with burpees, I would that they’re not. And of course, this means that the Super and Beast aren’t something that most people are ready for if they play by the rules.
Pointing this out angers a lot of people. They say that following the rules would make Spartan Races unfriendly toward beginners. Personally, I find that objection baffling. Beginners are always welcome to try, but there’s no reason why they should be guaranteed success.
Is a marathon beginner-friendly? In the sense that few beginners would be able to complete one, no… but so what? There are plenty of easy OCRs out there. What’s wrong with having a few that beginners can’t complete without training beforehand?
Unfortunately, people want the guarantee of success without the required training. It’s the adult equivalent of wanting a participation trophy.