We’re standing on a scratch of dirt road where west-side subdivisions give way to blank desert, and Will Swope is barking encouragement from the front of a pickup truck. Two long ropes extend from its bumper, and dozens of people are positioned along each one, waiting on Swope’s command. When he gives the word, we grab, grunt and pull, dragging the truck through the dust with the power of our legs and determination.
We’re here for one of Swope’s Spartan Race training sessions, six-mile desert runs punctuated with the kind of obstacles that will dot the course of the April 5 Las Vegas Super Spartan. A former cowboy and Navy vet who works as a trainer for Boot Camp Las Vegas and Camp Rhino obstacle gym, Swope is an experienced racer who has completed more than a dozen Spartans since getting hooked at his first in Washougal, Washington, in 2012.
“I was out of shape at the time, and I ended up getting 13th,” he remembers, “but it was just amazing. … It was just so challenging.”
Since then, he’s come close to the podium on numerous occasions, finishing fourth or fifth, just out of the money and the satisfaction of standing up with the best of the best. “It’s driving me crazy,” he says. “I’m a natural competitor; I hate to lose.”
At last year’s Spartan Race World Championships in Vermont, Swope set a top-20 finish goal, telling himself, “No matter what happens, I’m going to keep fighting, every second of the way.” Three hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds after he set out on the course packed with every obstacle in the Spartan arsenal, Swope crossed the finish line in fifth, so ecstatic he was on the verge of tears. But as he chowed on a celebratory cheeseburger, a race official broke his euphoria. Swope’s offense? Leaving his broken CamelBak on the course less than a mile from the finish. The result? Disqualification.
“I was depressed and miserable, but the worst thing you could do is let it beat you and completely stop altogether. I’ve got a score to settle, and if I stop making stupid mistakes like that, then I will be one of the top guys every time.”
Come April 5, Swope will attack the eight-mile Super Spartan with the hunger of a man denied. And with a little work, you can dominate, too. Here are Swope’s tips for race-day success:
Be ready to run. “Runners still have the edge,” Swope says, as more time on the course is spent running between obstacles than actually completing them. “Put some miles in, climb a few mountains and you’ll survive it—you’ll have fun.”
Work on core and upper body strength. Of course, when you get to the obstacles, you’ll need muscles to power through task-related challenges like carrying a bucket full of dirt or flipping a tire. Fail an obstacle and face 30 burpees as punishment.
Get to know the obstacles. At Camp Rhino, you’ll find replicas of almost every Spartan obstacle, so Swope and the other trainers can teach you to conquer the walls, reach the top of the rope climb and nail the dreaded spear throw.
Run with friends. During the elite competitive heats, it’s every man and woman for themselves, but later in the day, Swope says the judges often look the other way when runners come through in groups and help each other.
Come prepared. “Hydrate the night before, carb up. And then just get mad and kick some butt.”