Obstacles are what set Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Savage Race and all other obstacle course races apart from a traditional running race. I mean it is called an obstacle course race.
If you are new to Spartan Race you probably want to know what obstacles to expect. Heck I see many seasoned racers expression confusion over what obstacles to expect.
While there are signature and staple obstacles Spartan is known for, not all obstacles are present at each race. I have identified about 50 potential obstacles and what race types they are most likely to appear.
Some obstacles have been deprecated, like the tractor pull. Others have matured and been modified over the years, like the rope climb.
Before I get into the list of obstacles let me state this list is based on my study of different course maps and my own personal experiences. I have also read a few articles, watched and listened to interviews with Spartan course directors over the past few years and I think I have a very good idea what the obstacles are and what courses they appear.
If you want detailed descriptions of every Spartan obstacle you will want to purchase my Normal Guy's Guide to Obstacle Course Races. It includes over 60 pages on all the Spartan obstacles, how to do them and how to train for them.
Obstacles can be broken down by type and course type. An obstacle may appear on multiple course types. For example the spear throw is on every course type from stadiums to ultra beasts. Monkey bars used to be placed on every course, but have been relegated to some supers and beasts.
The first obstacle you encounter is the terrain. This determines how difficult the race experience is for the average racer. For example, I specialize in stadium races, which features concrete and a few thousand stairs. On the other extreme are steap mountains like Killington, Blue Mountain, Tahoe and Big Bear. In between there are flatish trails that carve across farms, dessert and hills.
I say the later are flat, but that is relative. My first 'trail' was the Ohio Beast. I chose it because I felt it would be flat since it was on a wild life preserve. What I did not expect was the use of steep creek banks. I saw estimates of 3400 feet of elevation gain on the course as we wound up and down steep creek beds all day long.
Beside vertical gain is the technical terrain. This is where the ground is not flat at all, but full of ruts, roots and rocks. And when I say rocks I mean moss covered, slippery rocks that challenge even the most seasoned runner.
You not only need good running stamina you need a quick mind to pick the best line to run so you limit your chances of a sprained ankle, broken wrist or concussion. I am in awe of runners bombing down Blue Mountain at 4:30 minute mile page.
Oh, and if you think you 'run' an entire race you are being mislead. Many times you find yourself hiking, power walking and sometimes swimming to complete the course. This is why I love OCR, you don't run non-stop!
Spartan loves to use vertical change and technical terrain to make their courses difficult. If there is anything you train for, train for the terrain you expect on your next course. This is why I live at the local football stadium.
I have tried to group obstacles by type. It is not 100% perfect, but close enough. I am also displaying the course type icons next to each obstacle to indicate the likeliness an obstacles will be on that course. Again, not a 100% guarantee, but pretty accurate.
- Stadium Sprint
- Rope Climb
- Tyrloean Traverse
- Over Under Through
- Military Walls
- Slip Wall
- Inverted Wall
- Hay Bales
- 6, 7, 8 foot walls
- Z- Wall
- Dunk Wall/Rolling Mud
- Stairway to Sparta
- Vertical Cargo Net
- Cliff Climb
- Bucket Brigade
- Jerry Can
- Atlas Stone
- Log Carry
- Tire Flip
- Armer/Farmer Carry 2.0
- Plate Drag
- Herc Hoist
- Monkey Bars
- Ape Hanger
- Barbed Wire
- Bear Crawl
- Low Crawl
- Box Jumps
- Battle Ropes
- Slam Balls
- Hand Release Push Ups
- Assault Bike
- Rolling Epic
- Spear Throw
- Fire Jump
- Memory Test
- Heavy Bag Gauntlet
- Log Hop
These are all the obstacles I have observed. This does not mean new obstacles wont be introduced or some of these obstacles deprecated. And just because I have indicated it could be used at a race length does not mean it will be in the Super or Beast you have coming up. Often obstacle presence depends on terrain, venue restrictions or possibly insurance.
There have been a few obstacles Spartan has tried and decided not to use. Sometimes they modify obstacles to make them vary in difficulty. For example, sometimes the slip wall has extra slipery added. At Tahoe last year they stacked three A-Frames together to create a mega A-Frame.
Always pay attention to the course map before you leave to mentally prepare for your upcoming race. Maps are posted either Wednesday or Thursday afternoon before the event and list all obstacles, except for stadium races. Stadium races do not share the entire course due to the overlapping levels.
Knowing what obstacles are possible won't help you win the race, but you can at least train specifically for known obstacles you may have a weakness. For me, knowing the twister is on all trail courses causes me to add twister specific exercises to my workouts in the weeks leading to the race.
Each course will have at least 20 obstacles integrated. You may see up to 36 obstacles on a Spartan Beast. The actual mix varies a little, but you can count on obstacles like the rope climb, multi-rig, herc hoist and spear throw on every course.