Spartan Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece
Last week I had the pleasure of racing in the Spartan Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece. This post outlines my experience.
Location and Logistics
The Spartan Trifecta World Championship takes place in Sparta (or Sparti) – a town of about 20.000 located close to ancient Sparta. It is located some 2h 30min driving from Athens Airport, where I think most of the participants flew in. These Days Spartan Race takes over town in a big way – the main square, municipal stadium, and a big part of the main street. With some 1200 racers, many with families attending, the town is transformed and you can run into fellow athletes everywhere. Many stores started to carry Spartan Race branded stuff and many cafes and restaurants put out special welcome signs for the racers. The town is very walkable with a number of hotels and AirBnBs.
With athletes from reportedly 60+ countries, it was a fantastic opportunity to get to know folks from around the US, and at the same time, all USA folks felt like members of the same team. Much different vibe compared to US races.
While you could run an “open” wave for any of three events – Sprint, Super, Beast the “competitive” athletes were running all 3 races, so you could compete with the same 650 or so folks over 3 days. This was pretty cool and different compared to “normal” Trifecta Weekends where you have many people doing only one competitive race (and you end up competing with many fresh folks after having a race the previous day).
“Be Unbreakable” Event. Nov 2nd
As an Unbreakable Pass holder, I was invited to this “exclusive” event. Pass holders are required to attend those events to get the full potential value of the pass (having it valid for more years). With such an arrangement, you would have guessed it was not an event designed to have high value for participants but was similar to the “Timeshare” promotional events you may have run into vacation, where you got to listen to some marketing pitches to get some freebies.
Where I would hope the event could help me to become a better racer, it was unapologetically focused on me being more fully indoctrinated into being a Spartan Brand acolyte.
In the morning we had an (optional) workout provided by a local Spartan-affiliated gym – which was a simple 3 rounds of Tabada of basic exercises, where I would have expected something more. When after registration we had Brunch and listened to the company updates and future plans. The food was great and it was an opportunity to meet some other athletes.
With just some 1200 or so passes sold and some 250 people on this “Be Unbreakable” event (another one took place in Dallas at the World Toughest Mudder event) you indeed have a very specific selection of folks.
According to Spartan staff some 1.5 million people participated in Spartan Races in 2023 so pass holders represent less than 0.1% of all the racers out there. Though probably some of the more active ones.
Reportedly there are some people using this pass to do 100+ races a year, which is an absolutely crazy commitment to Spartan in their life. I met people who had done 100 trifectas (hence 300 races) and done more than 30 trifectas in one year alone.
I also met people who have finished the Death Race as well as some other fascinating people – I think this networking opportunity was the most valuable part of the “Be Unbreakable” event.
After Brunch we took a walk to the monument in the mountains, had some more food, and some more presentations. In particular, we were asked to commit to race at least one “Tough Mudder” race in 2024 as too many “Spartans” still look down on “Mudders” even though since Spartan acquired Tough Mudder a few years ago now we should be a happy family in “House of Hard” – the name Spartan uses for their overall family of brands.
We also had a chance to meet some of Spartan’s top management – folks responsible for Technology at Spartan as well as the Vice President responsible for Spartan International and ask them questions, both in public Q&A Sessions and Privately.
One specific question I asked (privately) is why they are not addressing some Athletes who have not yet been paid their winnings, which seems particularly odd since Spartan seems to have money to acquire OCR World Championship but not to pay Athletes their winnings. I think not taking this issue upfront with our group, where many of us know affected athletes, is not a good PR strategy if you want to build trust and loyalty with this group.
While not part of the “Be Unbreakable” event day completed with a Preview of the next day’s “Sprint” course and “Parade of the Nations” modeled over a similar event during the Olympics Open Ceremony.
Sprint Race, Nov 3rd
The Sprint Race is the shortest, fastest, and easiest race. Races started mid-day, not in the morning so it ended up being a pretty hot run. The course was rather flat, though a significant part was going through the river mudd and we even had to swim to cross the river. While it is called a “5k” course my GPS counted 8.31 km on it by the time we were done (including Penalty Loops).
All the “Grip” obstacles were quite easy, it also helped that the weather was dry. I failed the “spear throw” and also was forced to do a Penalty Loop on Hercules Hoist because I used both of my feet. This was never of concern in my US races and something I saw many people do the following days… but the referee watching this obstacle at that time had another idea. One way or another Spartans need to be more consistent at enforcing rules, whatever they are to keep races fair.
After completing my competitive Sprint race I had 30 minutes rest and then ran it again as part of the “Open” wave with a friend. This was probably not good for the best result the following day, but it was surely making for a much more fun experience. I could run it very casually taking lots of fun pictures and it was surely one of the event highlights for me. During this slow casual run, I got the spear as well as Hercules Hoist without lifting the second leg off the ground.
Super Race, Nov 4th
Super Race is advertised as a 10K race but it was more like 13K by my GPS. It took place in the morning and it was a cloudy and windy day, though we only got a few drops of rain. This race took us through local villages, orange farms, and olive groves. Same course as Sprint plus some added distance and some obstacles. I got my spear throw this time but failed the “slackline” balance obstacle, which came with a long bucket carry loop as an obstacle. Never saw this obstacle in races in the US, so did not train for it.
Having finished with this race by midday we had half a day to explore the surroundings and we went to the ruins of the ancient town of Mystras which was absolutely fantastic and was not crowded at all.
Beast Race, Nov 5th
Beast Race is the longest and hardest – advertised as 21K but ended up being close to 27K and 1200m elevation gain. The race took us to an even longer course going to hills this time. The weather stayed dry and sunny so trails were technically easy – no trying to climb in the mud.
This had a number of additional obstacles, which mostly involved carrying stuff – we had to carry chains, buckets, sandbags, logs, and marble bricks. The hardest obstacle perhaps involved carrying a 27kg sandbag, when just when you think you’re done you trade it for the even heavier chain to carry up the hill, finishing up with another 27kg sandbag carry. You could hear people swearing in so many languages at this obstacle.
Hydration and Food are very important at such a long race – I carried a bunch of different gels with me consuming one every 20-30 min and also grabbed a couple of pieces of banana at the water stations. Only water was available to drink and on most of the stations plastic cups were not available, so I carried my own cup and also chewed on hydration tablets about once per hour to make sure I got electrolytes. This seemed to work well as I was moving reasonably fast at the end of the race and had no cramps, which is often my worry at the Beast race.
Same as with Super I failed on the slackline balance obstacle as well as the elevated balance beam and missed one of the spears. I’m happy though I’ve successfully completed all the grip obstacles, and only got a minor tear on one of the hands which is not bad at all at the end of 4th race.
For the Beast number of the obstacles at the “finish line” going through the main street were modified to make them a lot harder. Probably most experienced racers expected that but I also saw this being an unpleasant surprise for some. I felt very good about myself not having problems on those harder rigs even though many folks with much more impressive physiques could not do them ?
In general, this was quite a fun event, somewhere on par with OCR World Championship event I attended in October. Destination races are fun and I surely should consider planning some in 2024 and beyond.
The OCR World also puts things in perspective – how easy Spartan rigs really are. Hopefully Spartan introduces more challenging obstacles at least in the Beast.
I need to continue working on my grip and obstacle technique, to be able to move faster through them, though being more consistent with the spear and doing some balance training is also important. Being able to carry heavy stuff faster and with a lower Heart Rate is also an opportunity for improvement – the Atlas Stone, in particular, double the normal distance they had set it up at the Beast race was pretty hard for me as well as many other athletes. The largest potential though is to continue to work on my trail running speed and technique.
I think they finally got Penalty loops right on this race – in the previous Spartan race I did penalty loops were all short run loops, which could be completed at 50 seconds or less, often barely slower than it would take you to do the obstacle – in this race penalty loops were much more creative, often including carry, going over the walls and other stuff, which made it a lot more valuable for you, not to fail the obstacle.
The Trifecta Championship is different from your typical “Trifecta Weekend” in that you have 3 races over 3 days going from fastest and easiest to longest and hardest. I liked this a lot, allowing you to tackle more obstacles and distance every day.
Also, I’m finally getting used to Garmin’s OCR Racing workout profile – Pressing buttons before and after obstacles. This allows me to have the data on how much time I spent on what obstacles and how much have I lost to penalty. One annoying, which I did not figure out how to disable – This workout tries to automatically transition from Obstacle mode to Run mode if it detects you’re running, which is a problem if an obstacle is some form of carry.
The competition field was stronger than usual, so my absolute results were worse than typical US races, still I’m pretty happy with how the race turned – I performed slightly better at longer distances, did reasonably well with obstacles, and avoided any injuries! Thank you to Nox Coaching for helping me prepare for this race, you guys rock!