By Ethan Weinstein
Ian MacLauchlan did his first Spartan Race in Killington in 2018. Now, three years and 20 races later, he is preparing for this weekend’s 50K, 12-hour Ultra race.
Spartan races are obstacle course races ranging from three miles to marathon length and beyond. Participants trek through mud, swing across monkey bars, climb ropes, and face other surprise impediments throughout the course.
A longtime runner and soccer player, MacLauchlan was looking for a new physical activity when he first decided to try a Spartan Race. He quickly became hooked. “The first Spartan Race I did was the Beast. So that’s a half-marathon with 30-plus obstacles, and I really enjoyed the camaraderie, I really enjoyed the athletes helping each other,” MacLauchlan said.
“The whole event area is just this huge festival village of like-minded, enthusiastic athletes that are just here to get beat up and feel like they’ve accomplished something when they pass that finish line.”
It’s also great type-2 fun. “I like the torment, I guess,” he laughed.
While MacLauchlan has participated in Spartan races all around New England, Killington’s race offers a few unique challenges. For one, racers must hike uphill underneath the K-1 gondola, gasping for air while tackling steep terrain. Some years, participants must swim across the Ramshead snowmaking pond, or swim to and then climb a rope dangling over the water.
“I remember seeing some folks in Ramshead snowshoe tunnel, just crying and you know, just freezing and just very shocked,” MacLauchlan said of the water feature. “But that’s the appeal. It may sound crazy to some, but for some folks that’s a lot of fun.”
Spartan races challenge athletes in ways few other competitions do. After struggling with rope climbs and grip strength, MacLauchlan bought a rope from Home Depot and slung it over a tree. He climbs it a few times every day to practice, and like to squeeze a stress ball while on the phone to increase his grip strength.
MacLauchlan also trains with a group at Killington Boot Camp focused on obstacle course racing. On Tuesdays, the group, led by Rob Butler, works out and then heads to Jax to talk upcoming races. Working with fellow Spartan athletes keeps everyone’s motivation up.
As MacLauchlan prepares for his most intense race yet, he has had to up his training regimine. “I like to use the Long Trail as a training tool,” he said. At a brisk pace, he’ll hike anywhere from 20 to 30 miles, which can include 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
The winner of the Ultra will likely finish in around eight hours, and MacLauchlan is shooting for 12. A race of that length will burn 10,000-15,000 calories. Carboloading and hydrating two days before is a must, as is eating right on the day of. “It’s a lot of Clif Bars. It’s a lot a pb&j sandwiches. It’s a lot of mustard packets for cramps; it’s a lot a lot of pickle juice; it’s a lot of salt tabs,” said MacLauchlan.
Many people might see Spartan races and think them impossible, out of reach. But if MacLauchlan has one takeaway from his training, it’s not to make unnecessary limits for oneself.
“I think a lot of folks just think they can’t do it. And it’s just not true.”