Obstacle racing has taken the athletic and social media worlds by storm. There are several kinds of obstacle races on the market today, but the Spartan Race is widely considered to be the most challenging.
Started in 2010 by seven ultra athletes, the Spartan Race has forged the path for intense obstacle racing. The first race was held in Vermont, and the organization has since grown to encompass all of the United States and several locations around the globe.
Stephen Neubig of Annandale, Va., is a senior studying marketing at Virginia Tech. Neubig participated in his first Spartan Race in 2011 with his two older sisters. He’s always been into athletics and challenging himself physically, so running a Spartan Race seemed like a no-brainer. Not everybody is capable of finishing the Spartan, but Neubig and his sisters succeeded.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was more difficult than I was expecting,” said Neubig. “I would definitely do it again.”
The Spartan Race has several levels of races which allows athletes of all abilities to participate: the Spartan Sprint is at least three miles long with five or more obstacles, the Super Spartan is at least eight miles long with 20 or more obstacles and the Spartan Beast is at least 12 miles long with 25 or more obstacles. The Death Race is an intense, 48-hour race that 90 percent of participants will not be physically able to complete.
On August 24 and 25, Wintergreen Resort in Nellysford, Va. will be hosting the Virginia Super Spartan.
Dan Krueger, a marketing consultant for the Spartan Race, says that the races are getting people who have never run before into the idea of running. Running is a large component of the races, but the participants need to be physically fit in other ways to take on the challenging obstacles as well.
The obstacles generally include carrying sandbags, rope climbing, crawling through the mud and underneath barbed wire, climbing over eight-foot walls and dragging cinderblocks up and down hills, to name a few.
The founders of Spartan Race saw the race as a way to get people motivated to be fit. According to Krueger, who has also ran Spartan Races, knowing that a race is coming up can be just the right amount of motivation that people need to start getting in shape.
“The mission is to rip people off of their couches and get them to sign up and become fit,” said Krueger. “You can’t just jump off of the couch and run a Spartan Race. You have to train for it.”
Sandy Thong of northern Virginia is a junior triple-majoring in chemistry, biology and biochemistry. She is considering running in the upcoming Super Spartan Race at Wintergreen. For the past three years, she has run marathons for cancer, so she already has an idea of what will be expected of her during the race. She learned about the race from friends who have previously completed it, and now she’d like to try it out for herself.
"I've never done it before, but I think the idea is so cool and I really want to do it," Thong said.
Last year, the organization saw 360,000 participants. This year, they are on track to have over 500,000 participants, and the numbers could get as high as 750,000 participants. According to Krueger, word of mouth and social media are to thank for the seemingly overnight success of the Spartan Race.
“When people get the photos of themselves jumping through fire and crawling under barbed wire, they put them online and that turns their friends on to the race,” said Krueger. “The race has spread virally through the Internet, and social networks have really helped grow obstacle racing.”