The training plan for a Spartan Ultra 50K race

I asked myself this after making what now seems like a stupid, idiotic decision to commit to the Spartan Ultra 50K Race, a 50-kilometer course with 60 (sixty) obstacles, in Bigfork, Montana, on May 6, at the age of 47. So far in my fitness journey, I have completed exactly zero running challenges even half that distance.

Every year I do a birthday challenge where I work out and try to prove to myself that the old “age is just a number” lie is anywhere near true. This year since I’ve been so busy trying to build and open Intentional Sports, a non-profit organization committed to inspiring Chicago’s youth through the power of sports. I felt I had to commit to something pretty crazy.

I’ve always worked out and for any sort of minor challenge I knew I could somehow “work my way” through athleticism and basic fitness. This is different. There is no mileage cheating and no way to fake your way through 60 obstacles.

Training for this type of challenge reminds me of my all-time favorite quote from author Orison Swett Marden: Success is the child of hard work and perseverance. Cannot be persuaded or bribed; pay the price and it’s yours.”

So here’s a basic breakdown of my training split for the Spartan Ultra 50K race and then I’ll give you some thoughts on how it’s going. First, in case you’re ignorant of Spartan races (like I was), then I’ll just say this – it’s a lot of running with some obstacles breaking up the miles. These obstacles tend to emphasize a lot of pulling, hanging, climbing, and carrying. To that end, I’ve been changing up my workouts quite a bit every few weeks, but here’s the current regimen, split into two sessions a day.

Andy McDermott

The training plan for a Spartan Ultra 50K race


1) 14 mile run (long, slow day)

Monday (run recovery day)

1) Early morning: push/tighten/core circuit (at least one floor press and one hanging exercise) followed by 30 minutes of elliptical

2) Lunch: 30-40 minutes of stretching, exercise bike or elliptical


1) Early morning: biceps/triceps/core/mobility circuit followed by 7 mile run

2) Lunch: stretch + 30 minutes elliptical/bike


1) Early morning: operation and power of the alternator. 8 mile run divided into 8 laps of:
run 1 mile, 2 sets of shoulder exercises (1 press, 1 deadlift), 1 set of hanging core work

2) Lunch: Stretch followed by 30 minutes of elliptical/bike


1) Early morning: grip strength, including hanging chain and carrying, followed by a 7-mile run

2) Lunch: Stretch followed by 30 minutes of elliptical/bike

Friday (run recovery day)

1) Early morning: leg strength/mobility/core circuit followed by 30 minutes of elliptical training

2) Lunch: stretching followed by 30 minutes of cycling


1) Early morning: Bodyweight workout including push-pull upper body (chest/back/bics/tris/shoulders) and core followed by an 8 mile run

2) PM: Stretch/Mobility

So, a lot of work and persistence! A few thoughts:

I have played soccer for about 42 years and ran a lot of shorter distances (5-10k) when I was competing for the World Police and Fire Games in the toughest competitor alive. But I have NEVER done such a mileage, nor did I think I ever would. No one would classify me as a RUNNER.

Weird, I enjoy it. Well, sometimes I hate it, but mostly I appreciate the slow, quiet, leaving my stupid phone pace of running all those miles. Also, it’s winter in Chicago, so I’ve been dumped on the treadmill for a lot of those miles, so I’m catching up on a lot of movies… All in all, it’s been nice to slow my heart rate and step away from the rat race of this manic season of life.

For the resistance work, I reduced the weight and increased the volume. Much of the focus was on bodyweight training, as that is the focus of so much in obstacle racing. Whenever possible, I put a little body weight on it, adding weight to my body and pulling/hanging with the load.

I was able to maintain my size and strength, even with all the running – which is good in this case, because my only hope of surviving this race is to do well in the obstacles… All this bodyweight and volume training confirmed what Always I’ve preached to those who may be discouraged because they don’t have a gym or proper exercise equipment: Our muscles are stupid – they have no idea where they are or what they’re pushing/pulling/lifting/throwing!

Finally, I believe that most people can take on a much greater challenge than they realize. Yes, it can really crush me when it’s all said and done, but I’m enjoying the one-step/mile/day mentality of a long track here. It’s true that I was on a bit of a rut in my fitness life; just ‘getting in’ every day, not getting better – staying ‘comfortable’.

But the only way to get better at anything is to get a little into the Uncomfortable and redefine.

TIME MANAGEMENT: All of this training takes hours most days, and I have five family members, three careers, and a fat bulldog that also deserve my time. I cannot stress the importance of planning and preparation!

Stay tuned as we move forward – next time we’ll look at nutrition and recovery; how to power and maintain your machine. Our machines are amazing and durable, but when we reach the envelope, it takes a lot of TLC to keep going and going and going!

Andy McDermott is a proponent of fundamental truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally through his life in fitness. McDermott has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media. Right now he is Founder and Chief Development Officer of Intentional Sports, a non-profit organization committed to inspiring Chicago’s youth through the power of sports. McDermott posts fitness challenges on social media:
Twitter: @Andywhatsnext
Instagram: @andywhatsnext
Facebook: Andy McDermott

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