It’s almost over.
For eight miles, they have exerted themselves: trudging through mud holes, climbing up rope walls, lugging cinder blocks, crawling face first in muddy sludge under criss-crossing barbed wire and vaulting a pit of burning wood and ash on an already scorching summer day.
Then, just for good measure, they’re pummeled by shirtless warriors wielding padded sticks right before they cross the finish line.
As King Leonidas would say, “Madness? This is Spartan racing!”
Far be it from ancient Greece and the legendary soldiers for which the event is named, this was the scene in Midway on Saturday as 1,300 hardy individuals took part in the grueling obstacle race, one of many that have emerged in recent years to satisfy the demand for this new trend in extreme fitness.
Designed to be both physically and mentally trying, the 8-mile super spartan is one of a series of Spartan races, ranging from a sprint to the “Death Race,” all of which attract a wide variety of individuals looking to defy their body’s physical boundaries.
“It’s about getting back to something a little more primal,” explained Spartan Race CEO Brian Duncanson, noting that most of the event’s participants are not traditional endurance athletes. “It’s also a metaphor for life, about facing the unknown and overcoming challenging obstacles.”
Spartan started in 2005 with the Death Race, an event that has evolved into the penultimate physical challenge — up to two and a half days of continuous racing functioning as their World Championship of mud and obstacle racing. Just 200 people qualify for the race, which is held in Vermont, and to date, under 10 percent of all who have ever tried have completed the course.
“It’s structured so that participants don’t know what challenge is coming next,” Duncanson said. “The purpose is to break people and get them to drop out. For participants, it is about finding their outer limits.”
Whether it’s the Death Race or the sprint, the greatest prize is a sense of personal achievement, Duncanson said.
“It’s super hard work and super challenging, which is what makes it so rewarding,” he said. “However, with a $20,000 purse on the line at the final race in Texas, the races have the potential to be financially rewarding as well.”
For South Jordan resident Hobie Call, it could be even more. At the beginning of the season, Spartan racing decided to offer $100,000 to anyone who could win 14 of this year’s 16 US events. On Saturday, the marathon-running father of five delighted the home crowds with his seventh win, finishing the course in one hour, eight minutes and 22 seconds.
Call, who sold his television in order to attend a race earlier this season, was also gifted with a new 55-inch flat screen by the race organizers, in recognition of his dedication to the racing series.
“It’s absolutely remarkable the support I’ve received from everyone,” Call said, offering thanks to the crowd and his Facebook fans.”The best part about today is being able to have my family here to actually see and be a part of the race.”
Like his father, Hawk Call dominated his competition in Saturday’s Junior Kids Adventure Race.
Winning the women’s side of competition was crossfit trainer and former University of Utah soccer player Bobbie Hackenbruck, who completed the race with a time of 1:36.38.
As the discipline becomes more popular, the Spartan series continues to expand with more than 20 events planned next year, including further growth in Canada and the U.K. After a successful first time in Utah, Duncanson said the organizers are planning to return in the near future.
“We have the whole country to play with, and we really rely on great outdoor venues like this that offer the rugged terrain we need to challenge our racers,” he said. “From the forest in California to the Arizona desert to the beach in Miami, natural features are always a critical part of the course. … We are pretty pleased for this being a first time event, and we are looking forward to coming back next year.”
In the meantime, there are several obstacle mud runs planned in Utah this season for would-be Spartans to cut their teeth on.
Mud Run MS will debut in Tooele on Aug. 13 with a demanding six-mile course and some 30 obstacles, to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and services, as well as two Dirty Dash events that are planned for Salt Lake City in September. A slightly more laid back option, the dash features its own share of grimy challenges, with 5k and 10k courses, and functions as a charity fundraiser for the Solider Hollow Legacy Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
BYU’s Joel Green, a newly graduated neuroscience major from Grandview, Wash., took part in the season’s first Dirty Dash, a sold-out race in Salt Lake City in June, barely a month after completing the daunting Ironman in St. George.
“It’s definitely the most fun race I’ve ever done,” Green said of the Dirty Dash. “In comparison to the Ironman, it was nothing, though. I trained for the Ironman for almost a year, whereas the whole point of the Dirty Dash is to just have fun with your friends.”
The fun factor is what makes Green want to try his hand at the Tough Mudder, a Spartan-like obstacle course designed by British Special Forces that bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.” Their event schedule is slated to have a Salt Lake City course for the 2012 season.