Do you have what it takes to be a Spartan?

Spartan Race comes to West Virginia on August 26-27, 2017 at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve. The obstacle race attracts athletes of all ages and abilities who share a common passion: love of a challenge.

So you’ve signed up for your first Spartan – or you’re contemplating signing up. What should you expect? Expect to do a lot of climbing (ropes and walls), crawling (underneath barbed wire), and carrying (sandbags and logs).

Some of the obstacles can be really, really tough. But no worries – if you fail an obstacle, all you have to do is 30 burpees. (That’s that exercise in gym class that everyone hates.)

Spartan Races consist of 4 distances: Sprint (3+ miles, 20+ obstacles), Super (8+ miles, 25+ obstacles) Beast (12+ miles, 30+ obstacles) and the big bad Ultra Beast (26+ miles, 60+ obstacles). Which leaves one question: How in the world does anyone train for such a thing?

We chatted with Charleston resident Vivian Workman, a seasoned Spartan racer who grew up in Ansted, not too far from where the West Virginia Spartan Race is being held. She offered some training tips and recommendations on what to see or do while you’re in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

How many Spartan races have you completed?

6 – 3 Sprints, 2 Supers and 1 Beast

How do you train for the Spartan Race and where are some of your favorite places to train?

The severity of the terrain depends on the location of the race. I’ve encountered everything from rolling hills in Ohio to brutal climbs at Wintergreen (Virginia). I prefer to train utilizing our local trail races and parks and state forests. Races like Moss-covered steps at Babcock State Park, WVDirty Dog, Gristmill Grinder (some races are known for the “death march” and Gristmill is a good climb), Sticks and Stones and Kanawha Trace are good ones. Kanawha State Forest, Babcock State Park and even Little Creek (South Charleston) and Coonskin (Charleston) parks have similar terrain to the New River Gorge where Spartan is being held. Be prepared to crawl up and down creeks and get comfortable with steep ascents and descents.

For the obstacles I recommend lots of upper body work, monkey bar-type exercises (hang and move), squats, climbing … and did I mention burpees? The Charleston YMCA has a lot of functional fitness equipment … there’s also the eNeRGy Rock Gym in Charleston … even children’s playgrounds. CrossFit seems to be the favored exercise program of the elites but total body exercise and any bodyweight functional type program is the key.

Triathlons are also good in that they help with the mental fortitude (part of the challenge of Spartan is not knowing how long and what’s next). We have several in our area that are very beginner-friendly including Scenic Mountain (there’s a brutal hill climb on the bike and the second half of the run is uphill but it’s the Monongahela National Forest), St. Mary’s Tri in Huntington (easy) and the Great Greenbrier River Race. Expect to get wet from wading in puddles and the dunk walls. Embrace the suck. Most Spartans do not have swimming obstacles but you need to be over a fear of water as you will be falling or jumping in it. Fear of heights is another challenge that many obstacles address.

Many people will be visiting WV for the first time this August to compete in the Spartan Race. If you had a chance to play tour guide, what would you recommend they see and do?

Take advantage of all the outdoor activities – hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking. Be sure to visit the New River Gorge Bridge – it’s sort of the epicenter of the area. It’s always worth a visit to Canyon Rim Visitor Center and the Man trip cart and miner, Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, West Virginiagift shop across the road (they used to have phenomenal fudge). Go rafting or take a guided fishing tour – there are many great commercial outfitters in the area. You can also take scenic plane rides in the Gorge. Babcock is a bit off the beaten path but it has excellent trails.

For the more culturally inclined, nothing beats an outdoor performance at Theatre West Virginia in Grandview. The Exhibition Coal Mine is close by and the town of Thurmond is a must for history buffs. There’s lots of Civil War history in the area, too. Tamarack will have a lot of West Virginia artisans and there are some other great pottery shops in the area like New River Pottery near Babcock, and other local craftsmen. The Mystery Hole near Hawks Nest State Park is a quirky little roadside attraction.

baguettes and a glass of craft beer at Secret Sandwich Society, WVThere’s a great selection of local restaurants, like Pies & Pints, Dirty Ernie’s and Secret Sandwich Society. A hidden gem is the Country Thai Restaurant in Lansing – I’ve seen nothing but quality reviews. For the beer connoisseur, visit Bridge Brew Works and take advantage of their tasting room and growler fills.

Also, check out Pinheads in Oak Hill for bowling and craft beers. You can find live music usually on weekends at the rafting companies and there is probably some sort of festival going on in the surrounding communities.

What advice would you offer to first-time Spartan racers?

Be self-sufficient. There will be water on course but bring your own. And bring your own snacks, gels, etc., plus extra to share. (You make new friends that way!)

But most of all, just enjoy the race. Take your time, help others and ask for help when you need it. Challenge yourself. And learn to love burpees!

This post was last updated on March 16, 2022