The Slovakian Jasna ski resort region recently saw its first Winter Spartan Race. This is not your typical muddy adventure, which you’d experience in the swampy, woodsy trenches. The Winter Spartan Race is a freezing, snowy challenge and we’re glad to have gotten to speak with one of its participants – Daniel Herrmann from Czech Republic. Daniel told us lots about his experience and how it relates to the much more typical Spartan Races so let’s dive straight in…
The first Winter Spartan Race was held in Jasna, Slovakia – how did it go?
At high elevations, when your lungs fill with cool air your performance simply drops heaps
It was surprisingly fun, not too extreme and very different from the typical Spartan experiences. I had 5 other people traveling with me from Czech for a few hours early, just to get into the limited capacity heats, which started every 15 minutes, instead of with the usual 30-min gaps. We were not planning to compete, we just wanted to see what the winter races have to offer. Moreover, none of us spent any time training to run in -5C degree freezing temperatures, which ended up being a challenge of its own. I usually run a couple of times per week, but when your lungs fill with cool air at high elevations, your performance simply drops heaps.
What sort of terrain did you have to go through?
Jasna is an area well known for its skiing slopes and peaks, so the race course was mainly uphill for about 3.5km, achieving around 630 meter elevation. This was followed by the final 1.5km on a 20-30 degree downhill slope. The latter was probably the most fun way to finish a race: athletes were literally snowballing and doing front flips down the hill.
Were the obstacles any different from what you had experienced before?
The race definitely had a unique and totally different ‘wrapper’. One of the examples would be the absence of spear throws, which got replaced with winter-themed snowball throws (not as easy as it sounds!). In the beginning we expected some water submersion, however there was only one river crossing. It was only the really unfortunate athletes, who might not have been able to balance on the river rocks, that could have fallen in. There was a lot of crawling under the barbed wire too. Needless to say, this is much harder to do in the snow, because there is less grip and the ground was not as flat as it is in the typical Spartan races. Unlike the barb wire crawls, the monkey bars were a piece of cake thanks to the lack of mud.
We also had to carry wooden logs uphill (in place of the usual Spartan ‘pancakes’, sandbags or jerry carries. In the end of the race we felt euphoric because after an hour of digging, sliding and rolling in ice we finally finished the race and we did it by climbing up an actual ice sculpture castle! All in all, the Winter race was a fresh take on what is now a standard set of obstacles in Spartan races.
In the UK we have a race called Tough Guy, which is held in similar conditions, but features full submersion in cold water and mud. Needless to say, people sometimes get hypothermic. Did you notice if any of the other racers struggled with that?
What I noticed was that some of the people raced dressed in the bare minimum: short sleeve T-shirts and shorts, outfits usually seen at the warmer, muddy races. However, none of them struggled too much, which could be due to the concept of winter racing still being quite new. Maybe the organisers and Joe De Sena just wanted to be a tad more careful this first time, before introducing too many more dangerous activities. Perhaps in the next race… We shall see.
Do you have any recommendations for other people wanting to participate in a Winter Spartan Race?
Prepare for the unexpected and lots of hill climbs. Alongside this, your body burns significantly more energy whilst exposed to the cold, so do grab a snack and a nutrient-rich breakfast before racing. Training acclimatisation to freezing temperatures would have come in handy as well, as I noticed my overall performance dropping during the race. Unconditional love for snow and cold, numb fingers should be a given too!
Watch Daniel’s 1st-person action video of the first Winter Spartan Race:
We expect this will definitely kick off a series of races with a more unique take on obstacle courses, which we might have already gotten used to. As Daniel noted, true Spartans should train and prepare to expect the unexpected. They will need to perform with elevated focus in any situation the adventure might bring. On that note, we can’t wait to sign up for the next Winter race, in Jasna or perhaps somewhere else across the globe.