How to Train for Spartan Ultra
by Helga Borza • May 22nd, 2023


If you ask me what my favorite spartan distance is, I will definitely say the ultra. In addition to the fact that completing 60+ obstacles, 50+km and 3000m+ elevation data is already a serious result, for me this is the distance that really shows our endurance and tests our mental strength in addition to physical strength and preparation. An almost full-day adventure where, in addition to competing and fighting, you can enjoy the time spent in nature and know that this is the day you were prepared for.

Completing an ultra in the Spartan world is an excellent goal, but proper preparation is important in stages, and besides, you can do a lot on the day of the race to be able to get the most out of yourself, for this I tried based on my own experience from the 5 Spartan Ultras so far (1 per year since 2018, of which 3 age group gold and one silver medal) to compile for you how to become Ultra Finishers according to the experiences and knowledge gained on the way to this.

In the first part of the blog, I will write about training, because you can be mentally strong, put together the update, study the course 100%, but if you are not physically prepared, it is not worth starting at the start. This doesn't mean that you won't be nervous before the start and you don't think that it is a huge goal to complete, it just means that you feel that you have properly prepared for it, you have trained, and therefore you have a good reason to believe that you are able to complete the race.

Before my very first ultra, I had never run a distance of more than 50 km. The good news is that the successful completion does not require you to run this amount of distance and level in advance, but you must be at such a level that this is just the next step in front of you. By following some important principles, you will have the framework, but a training plan specially written for you can help you complete it, so that your preparation will be even more effective. I prepared for the first four ultras without a coach, keeping these principles in mind.

1. If you feel pain in addition to fatigue, of course, here I am referring to joint and overload complaints, take it back at the first sign.

Stop if necessary, shorten the distance, reduce the intensity. Missing a few days of training is better than an injury, which can hinder or even prevent you from reaching your goal in the long run. I had periosteum complaints before my first ultra, so I was able to do the strength training, but in the last month and at the beginning of the preparation, I couldn't run without pain, so I replaced running with long-distance swimming and cycling during recovery. With this, I managed to keep my performance at a level, but of course if I had listened to the initial signals, this could have been avoided, and these forms of movement will remain not the main, but useful cross-training.

2. Run a total of at least as many kilometers as the race distance in one week.

It is worth putting your runs together in such a way that you have 2-3 easy runs during the week, these can even be shorter, and run a long one on the weekend, here also more easily. Easy runs are key to building your core endurance, which you'll need a lot during such a long challenge. It is best if you do your training in the field, as the competition will also expect varied terrain and serious elevation gain, so it is worth training in the mountains when you can, but if you do not have the opportunity to do so, you can also prepare in the lowlands with some ingenuity. The long training should be at least 40km at least 3-4 times during the preparation, otherwise 20-30km should be enough for the weekend. If you don't get to the mountains, don't be discouraged, monotonous runs for a few hours on the bike path are also perfect mental training, which you will need during a long-distance race, because if the landscape is beautiful and varied, there will surely come a point where you will get tired and you are waiting for the end, in such cases it is good to have something to touch in your mind. Once a week, include training sessions suitable for improving your tempo, part-distance training, where you can easily "die", that is, of course, feel close to it, and then get back up.

3. Exercise in all weathers!

You must have heard that all time is running time, and there is no bad time, only poorly dressed runners. That's right. Anything from suffocating heat to cold water lakes and torrential rain combos are possible in the race, so it's best to keep this in mind in your training. It can be any time, it's just a circumstance, which is not an excuse. Practice this and be happy when you have the opportunity to test your shoes on a muddy field or your fluid needs in the hot summer sun.

4.) Do specific strengthening exercises!

I've already talked enough about running, of course the longer the distance, the more important part of the race, but remember that this is an obstacle race, so you can do burpees, run a penalty lap if you don't succeed, but still the goal is to complete the obstacles and to complete them faster looks like that too. In addition to the 4-5 weekly runs, do your own bodyweight strength training at least 2 times a week. It can be in the gym, it can be outside in the gym, make sure you develop your core and your grip strength with different hanging, pulling and pushing exercises. You can run as fast as you want, if at the end you can't go over the wall and you sit under the obstacle for half an hour... Believe me, I'm telling you from experience, it's very important.

In the 2nd part of the series of articles on ultra, we will also deal with the topic of training, since physical preparation is essential, lack of mental preparation can spoil the competition, but if we are not physically ready to complete such a challenge, no matter how strong we can be mentally, the competition is a bad it will be an experience. So keep on training, training, training. :)

1.) Find a community!

It's always easier in a team, that's true. If you do most of your training alone, experience what it's like to be part of a supportive community. Find a Spartan Training Group where, in addition to sharing experiences, you will also feel the motivating power of training together. In such training sessions, you are specifically prepared for spartan competitions, but a good atmosphere is also guaranteed. Your workouts will definitely be more colorful this way.

2.) Practice the update, test your clothing and equipment.

It is important not to check on the day of the race whether the specific shoes are good for the given weather conditions, whether your stomach can handle the gel, whether the bag moves while running. Your daily workouts are suitable for testing them, so you can confidently use the tested gloves in the competition, you know how much you need to eat and drink, and you can trust your shoes on a steep slope.

3.) Be creative!

Do you want to level up in the Lowlands? The housing estate hill can also be suitable for hill climbing. Is the sandbag difficult in the race? Put a large tree branch/log on your shoulder and try to walk or jog with it. Can't you go out to train because you don't have time for a longer workout? You can do 300 burpees at home in half an hour... but even the less masochistic can strengthen a good one at home in even that time. Remember, every workout counts!

4.) Do cross training.

Running and strengthening are important, but to avoid overloading, be careful not to do only these movements all the time. Swim, do yoga, ride a bike, go rock climbing, hike. Whatever you feel like doing, active rest and varied forms of exercise during a regenerating week will also contribute to your preparation.

5.) Compete!

Practicing performance in a competitive situation is, in my opinion, the best and most enjoyable way to prepare. Enter shorter spartans as a training competition, from sprint to beast distance, the best way to test where you are in your preparation is live. Also, feel free to try trail races, they will be very useful. If you have the opportunity, a trifecta weekend can be a super ultra-simulation, as you will experience how tired it is to start and compete. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, you can test your equipment and upgrades live, and by the way, you'll get the entire distance and obstacles roughly in two days, the best training.

6.) Regeneration - essential for development.

Get enough sleep. Sometimes, of course, it happens that we start without sleep, but don't make a system out of it, since the load builds up with sleep. A healthy diet rich in the right nutrients, real food and vitamins is just as important. You get energy from what you eat, it doesn't matter what you refuel with. And of course, you've probably heard about the importance of stretching, massage, and rolling. Training load without regeneration leads to injury in the long term, not development. Keep this in mind.

If you've prepared for the race and the big day is approaching, there are several factors beyond your training work that can help or hinder you from achieving your desired target time. In the next part of the article, I will write about mental preparation practices and useful tips for the competition.

Race day

This is the day you've been preparing for months, even years, with lots of training, and today, you have to show up and bring home the medal you deserve. All you have to do is concentrate TODAY and enjoy the competition. The two are not mutually exclusive, in fact. If you are prepared not only physically, but also mentally, it is precisely because of the focus that you are there in your head that the competition will be smooth, and you can avoid many obstacles that are not necessary. Of course, in order to do your best, you have to step out of your comfort zone, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the competition. The ultra is the most enjoyable distance on the spartan, as you race for a long time at a slower pace compared to yourself, so you can admire the beauty of nature and immerse yourself in your thoughts, but you always have to keep the plan in mind.

Now, based on my experience, I will share some useful tips with you before the competition and on the day of the competition.

1.) Go along the track - mentally

The most important thing is, if you have already prepared so much for the challenge, make your job easier by thinking about what you can expect on the course, so you will feel much easier during it. With this method, you will know roughly where you are, when what to expect, how to distribute your power and upgrades. Nowadays, the elevation map published the day before the competition - which shows the number and type of obstacles as well as the exact distance and level rise - helps the situation immensely. Study it, think it through. Of course, if you go out to the competition venue the day before the competition, that can also help the situation a lot, you can see the obstacles (trying them on is prohibited) and the surroundings of the festival area. Meeting friends and competitors and enjoying the atmosphere of the competition also helps a lot to get in the mood.

2.) Plan your update

It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to update properly during competition. There are some golden rules in this, but everyone needs to experience during preparation what works for them personally. Some general things are gels and iso drinks, which are the best to consume during such a challenge, because you don't have to chew them, so you don't have to stop for them, you can even refresh yourself on a slope. I eat a jelly approximately every 45-50 minutes, and about every 4th update is some kind of solid food, it can be chocolate, Neapolitan, banana, gummy candy, dried fruit. The water for me is completely dependent on the weather, but I usually start with 2 500ml water bottles and refill them, I will definitely run out of a liter of water every 10 km. It's important not to be thirsty, it can ruin your entire update. I also eat 1 salt tablet every 1.5-2 hours. My special needs at the depot are an energy drink and a nutella chocolate, it's probably a unique refreshment... but the caffeine is good for me for the second, shorter round, it perks me up a bit. Always eat on time, don't wait until you're hungry, and listen to your feelings about what feels good.

3.) Appropriate clothing and the depot

Appropriate clothing is, in my opinion, "the less the better." I always dress so that I'm a little cold at the start, it will be pleasant during the race. I wear a T-shirt even in the hottest weather to avoid chafing. Apply Vaseline to your feet and places prone to chafing, I have never had a sore on my feet or any discomfort since I have been doing this, even though my shoes are often wet from the start. Make sure you have the required equipment in your bag (film, lamp, etc.), this is very important. I always wear an extra layer, a thin jacket, or maybe long-sleeved underwear. The weather can change at any time and a dry warm layer can come in very handy. To do this, I put what I don't want to get wet in my backpack in a plastic bag. I also use gloves here, because they are not worth much when they are wet. Wear gloves, backpack, shoes, socks, clothes, everything that you have already tested in harsh conditions, so you can trust them with safety. Your clothing must always match the current weather and terrain conditions, so I can't tell you an ideal shoe or dress for the race blindly. For shoes, grip in the mud, grip on the slopes and lightness are the most important things for me. Don't spend more time in the depot than you would on average updating at a station. Have a change of shoes and socks with you, but I don't recommend using these unless there is a serious problem, because it often makes it worse to unwrap the already functional structure, and if you were to take it because it's better to be dry, I can tell you it will get wet again almost immediately, so it's a waste of time, only for emergencies it's real. It's best if you have two bags, one prepared in the depot and full waiting for you to exchange it for the second round. This is the fastest way to upgrade, a ready bag. Then keep running, because every minute you spend here is unnecessary time spent in one place, and even your ranking may depend on it.

4.) Quoting a classic: One drink, one fish:

This was the advice I heard before my first ultra and how true it was. There is no secret, you have to update properly and go. Break up what seems like a very long journey into smaller challenges. I always think up to the next refresher or mountain peak, and I always only overcome the next step or obstacle. Many small steps in a row will become an ultra. If you can't run fast, then jog, if you can't jog, walk, then jog, if that doesn't work, walk, climb, just keep moving forward and you'll reach the finish line. If something doesn't work out, don't despair, the race is very long, the dice can turn anywhere, and you can overcome every low point. In difficult moments, think about the introductory thoughts of the article, this is the big day, you prepared for it, and now you are here, this is your day, you will do it, you are unstoppable!

I hope I was able to give something useful from my experience with the articles. Good luck with the competition and enjoy the process!

Ultra Race

Borza Helga - Spartan Brand Ambassador Hungary

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