Ten months ago, I received a text from Joe DeSena, the founder of the Spartan race.
The text was simple and short. It read: “Are you going to be one of the first to do the Delta?”
I scratched my head at the question.
I had no clue what the Delta was.
But I sure do now.
And you’re about to discover how the Delta completely raised my ceiling of tolerance for pain, suffering, hardship, confidence, strength, endurance and pure grit, and how you can turn yourself into a complete beast who is prepared to take on any challenge life throws at you.
The Spartan Delta
So what exactly is the Spartan Delta?
In my article “Do You Have What It Takes To Be One Of The Strongest & Most Mentally Tough Citizens On Earth?“, and also the podcasts “What Is The Spartan Delta: Part 1” and “What Is The Spartan Delta: Part 2” I spell out the details of the Spartan Delta in great detail.
In short, the Delta is one of the most coveted and beautiful trophies in the adventure and endurance sports world, and a sign to yourself and the rest of the world that you possess everything it takes to take on any challenge, period. Completing a perfect Delta requires building an unbreakable body, an unshakeable mind, and a spirit forged in steel by completing all of the following in a single calendar year:
1) Complete a Spartan TriFecta (Sprint, Super, and Beast Spartan race)
2) Complete an Spartan Endurance TriFecta (Spartan 4 Hour Hurricane Heat, Spartan 12 Hour Hurricane Heat, and Spartan 32+ mile Ultra Beast)
3) Complete a Spartan Training TriFecta (an SGX Spartan Coaching Certification, Spartan X Online Course Completion, and the extreme crucible that is the 48 hour+ Spartan Agoge event).
If half the phrases above sound like gobbledygook and you’re not familiar with Spartan racing terms, you can click here to go delve into the details of what each of the above component of the Delta involves.
But in a nutshell, the idea behind the Delta is that anybody who completes the Delta sets themselves apart in the endurance athlete, grit, military, obstacle racing, confidence, and mental toughness community. You become a leader, a model, a teacher, and a master of yourself. You can display the impressive Delta trophy proudly in your home or office. You can stamp it on your resume for instant proof that you have what it takes to complete any challenge.
And I’m about to give you the top tips, tricks and tools I personally used to become one of the first people on the face of the planet to complete a perfect Spartan Delta.
Part 1: The Spartan TriFecta
Let’s begin with Part 1 of the Spartan Delta: the Spartan Trifecta, which requires completing a Spartan Sprint distance (3-5 miles), Spartan Super distance (8-10 miles) and Spartan Beast distance (12+ miles) all in a single calendar year.
Below my are my top three tips for dominating your Spartan Trifecta. For these, and the other tips I’m going to give you in this article, I’ve focused on obstacle racing strategies that are highly practical, but that I believe fly “under-the-radar” in the obstacle racing world.
For your Spartan Sprint (and for Spartan racing in general) there are three primary strengths you must train: strengths that follow the classic 80/20 rule (despite being as little as 20% of your training, they are going to get you 80% of the results). Those strengths are…
…a gorilla-like grip…
…extremely efficient running form…
…and a calm and complete tolerance for cold water.
If you possess these three elements: grip strength, good running form and cold tolerance, you’re going to be able to handle just about any short obstacle race on the face of the planet. So how do you pull this off?
Here are a few of my most recommended strategies:
Try hanging for copious amounts of time from monkey bars and pull-ups bars. Work your way up to at least 20 minutes of amassed “hang time” per week, and the ability to hang for 3 minutes at a time.
Keep grip strengthening devices in your car and bag.
Use a running metronome to ensure you are always running at 90+rpm.
Favor short, frequent runs with “perfect” biomechanics rather than long, draining, exhausting runs with poor form.
Only take cold showers. Only. Ever.
For each of these variables, there are plenty more tips in the podcast and training program at ObstacleDominator.com, but for now, you know where to start.
For your Spartan Super, you’ll still want grip strength, good running form and cold tolerance but even if you have these strengths, the increased endurance demand and technical terrain of a Super can eat up your legs and your race time if you’re not ready.
This is why, if you want to excel at the Spartan Super distance, I recommend at least one (yes, one) single, high-quality, demanding, gnarly, rock-and-root dotted trail run each week.
The distance? Shoot for sixty minutes. Very steep uphills, steep downhills and rock scrambling are all big bonuses.
Then there’s the Spartan Beast. I have plenty of tips in my article Top 10 Tips To Race A Spartan Beast (Or Any Other Long, Hilly Running Event or Obstacle Race), but if I had to choose just one, it would be…
That’s right: hiking. Whereas you can run at a steady, fasty clip for a Sprint and Super distance, you will inevitably encounter terrain or fatigue that requires spurts of speed-hiking when you’re in a Beast distance. This, combined with the fact that running too much can put a big beating on your joints, makes speed hiking a potent tool for a Beast.
A Beast has alot of hills, and many are simply too steep to efficiently run. Period.
A couple years ago, I found out one of the top Spartan racers, Matt Novakovich, actually owns a special kind of treadmill called an “incline treadmill”. He uses this treadmill, , which can go to about 40% incline, to build massive amounts of endurance and hill climbing economy without the joint impact. So, to prepare my body for the rigors of long Spartan races without the joint-beating effects of frequent running, I outfitted my garage with one (this was also highly recommended to me by my Spartan racing coach Yancy Culp.
Even if you don’t have a fancy incline treadmill, I’ll bet you can find some very steep hills somewhere around you, or you can find a hotel or skyscraper or parking garage with stairs, or even a stairmill at the gym, and start practicing steep and fast climbing intervals of 5-10 minutes in duration.
You don’t need to run these steep inclines, but you need to practice leaning forward and walking them fast (AKA “speed-hiking). You’re going to find new muscles in your lower back and your butt that you didn’t know existed, but that are going to payoff big time when it comes time to race a Beast.
And in case you need a primer on speed hiking, here’s a great article on how to train to walk uphill faster. One particularly helpful anecdote from the article is to:
“…here are a number of techniques that can be used to increase the speed of walking. Some of the elites like Kilian Jornet and Anton Kuprichka use both hands to push down on the leading leg as they walk up steep hills. Others use poles, others swing their arms more.
Stride length will also make a big difference. It will depend on the incline and your leg length so experiment with shorter and longer strides until you find which one is most effective.
The best way to do this is to pick a hill, walk up it and time yourself. Repeat the process focusing on something different each time and see what gives you the best results. For example focus on arm swing then try using your hands to push off your front leg and see which is quicker.
Keep in mind that this may change for a steeper or more gradual incline so experiment on different inclines.”
In addition, one thing you’ll notice many elite obstacle course racers doing is walking the very steep inclines, but then interjecting quick jogs when they cross trails, flat sections, etc. that give them a few quick seconds here and there that quickly add up.
So that’s it: to nail your Spartan TriFecta you must have grip strength, good running economy, cold tolerance, trail running experience and the ability to speed hike like a mountain goat.
Now let’s move on to the long stuff, shall we?
Part 2: The Endurance TriFecta
You’re now becoming a Delta expert, right? So you probably already know that the Endurance Trifecta portion of the Delta requires completing a four hour Hurricane Heat , a twelve hour Hurricane Heat, and a 30+ mile Spartan UltraBeast.
Compared to a Sprint, Super and Beast, this is a whole new challenge to tackle. The Spartan race website describes the Hurricane Heat as:
“What is the Hurricane Heat? The Hurricane Heat gives runners the chance to meet and run with the staff and sometimes even the Founders of Spartan Race in a unique and memorable way. This special heat is held early in the mornings of the race and occasionally on the eve.”
Whatever. Words like “special” and “eve” and “meet” will fall from your vocabulary quite quickly once you actually find yourself in an actual Hurricane Heat, which is basically just like a Spartan Race, except for much longer, with more people barking orders in your face, with no finish line and a with a whole lot of what my friends in the armed forces like to refer to as “Mind-F*&^%^g”.
Let’s begin with the Four Hour Hurricane Heat. I did mine at the Washougal Spartan Race. I raced the Sprint in the morning then headed over the Hurricane Heat in the evening, close to sunset. And what exactly did I learn? Here are my three biggest lessons:
Lesson 1. Learn Teamwork. Just about everything you do in a Hurricane Heat – from dragging tractor tires with long knotted ropes, to relay races with sandbags, to carrying giant heavy objects through and under barbwire – is performed as a team. If you can’t communicate well with others or consider yourself to be a lone wolf, you’ll have a tough time. For both women and men, one book that flies under the radar when it comes to teamwork (and gangs, and tribes) is “The Way Of Men” by Jack Donovan (and his book “Becoming A Barbarian” is equally as good).
Lesson 2: Learn Leadership. Whether you like to lead or not, it’s highly likely you’ll be placed in a position of leadership while performing a Hurricane Heat. For example, at Washougal Hurricane Heat, four people out of forty were whisked away by the Spartan staff (also known as “Krypteia” during a Hurricane Heat) and given specific instructions to relay to the rest of the participants about the course direction and details for dragging a giant tire through a series of dirt tracks. They were then tasked with leading us through the course. A few of these “leaders” were quiet. Introverted. Easygoing and unassuming. And their teams failed. So learn to lead and learn to lead well in stressful situations. For this, I recommend you read “Extreme Ownership” by Navy SEAL and leadership expert Jocko Willink.
Lesson 3: Pay Attention To Detail. From the pre-race instructional video that throws in random objects to show up to your Hurricane Heat with (such as “a kickball”, “100 feet of paracord” or “three sharpies”) to the massive amounts of burpee penalties for not following an order “To The T”, to finding and orienteering to specific points on a map, you must develop an eye for intricate instructions and detail. Forget some random object like “fingernail clippers” or neglect to tie four knots in a rope or show up at 4:01pm instead of 3:59pm and you’re screwed. Getting screwed in a Spartan means, you guessed it, Burpees.
Next, when it comes to the twelve hour Hurricane Heat, I have plenty of tips and tricks for you – an entire article, in fact. My post “Hurricane Heat, Whole Foods Canola Oil, Turkish Baths, Anti-Inflammatory Overdose & Seven Of My Latest Recovery Tactics” begins like this:
“Last Friday, I stepped out of my car at 10pm, wandered across a lonely, forsaken field in the outskirts of Seattle with a backpack full of paracord, a sandbag, a multitool, some chemlights, a headlamp, a compass, a couple liters of water and a few other survival tools of choice…
…and proceeded to take part in my first ever twelve hour “Spartan Hurricane Heat“, a brutal overnight crucible that includes – among other things – double 75lb sandbag carries, rope climbing up muddy cliffs, memory challenges, over a marathon of running and rucking with weight, and burpees.
Lots and lots of burpees.
In today’s article, you’re going to learn a bit more about what exactly a Hurricane Heat entails, but also discover the nitty-gritty details of the top tools and techniques I use to quickly bounce back from an event like this and to shut down inflammation as fast as possible.”
Anyways, you can click here to read more, but here’s what I don’t dwell upon in that article is this: two sandbags. Yes, for a period of time during that event, we were forced to carry two heavy (60 pound-ish) sandbags for nearly four hours, up and down hills, over and over again, one tiny step at a time.
How do you earth do you even prepare for something like that? Here are the two incredibly complex steps:
Step 1. Get two sandbags and fill them 40-60 pounds of sand. Don’t get fancy, expensive well-stitched sandbags from some fringe online fitness site. Get the cheapo white polypropylene ones and fill them with nasty, dirty, gritty sand, then seal with a ziptie. Make them ugly as hell.
Step 2. Carry these bags a variety of distances and terrains in every way possible – including two behind your head balanced on either shoulder with your hands clasped behind your neck, two clutched at your side a la Farmer’s Walking, one on your back and one on your side, one clutched to your chest and one on your back, one balanced on your shoulder and the other clutched to your chest – you get the idea. You can use this as a warm-up or a finisher to a workout: just walk around your friendly neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon with those dirty sandbags suffocating you.
And as for the Spartan UltraBeast, the 30+ mile portion of the Endurance TriFecta, you will want to (in addition, of course, to everything above)…
…eat smart, don’t fart…
…care for your feet…
…make yourself “burpee resilient”.
Let us begin with the first: “eating smart and not farting”. In my article “How Much Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat You Need To Stay Lean, Stay Sexy and Perform Like A Beast.“, I highlight the uncomfortable, gas-producing, fermenting baby monsters that you unleash in your gut when you consume the stereotypical fructose, maltodextrin and sugar infused beverages, bars and gels. During a long UltraBeast, these fermenting little nasties, after hours and hours, can cause gut distress, burps, heartburn, distraction, and, you guessed it, farts. So choose a clean burning fuel. I personally used a clean-burning, chia-seed based fuel modeled after exactly what the Taramuhara Indian tribe uses for their ultra-runs. It is called “ISKIATE” by Natural Force Nutrition and you can check it out here You can easily carry this ISKIATE fuel through the race in a double water bottle belt like this, and when combined with Oral IV (you can use 20% discount code BEN20 here and listen to my fascinating podcast on it here), your stomach will be absolutely bulletproof.
Next is foot care. Since I learned it from SEALFit coach Lance Cummings, the following 1-2-3 foot care strategy has banished blisters, dead toenails, cold feet and hot feet in any endurance event I’ve dropped into, whether four or 48 hours:
Step 1. Smear copious amounts of chamois cream or goo on your feet. I use this stuff called RunGoo, and nothing beats it. Cover your entire foot.
Step 2. Pull a pair of polypropylene liners over the goo, trying not to lose too much of the goo.
Step 3. Pull a pair of wool socks over the liners.
When you finish, each of your feet will be a slimy, slippery, well-protected organ harboured inside a placenta of protective goo. Proceed to put on your shoes and get down to business.
And as for burpee resilience, the process of making yourself completely immune to the dreaded burpee, while building biomechanical efficeincy to complete as many burpees as possible without excessively taxing your cardiovascular system?
It’s quite simply, really.
Choose one day of the week, and do thirty burpees for each waking hour of that day. This isn’t your workout for the day. Don’t skip your workout for the day. Do the burpees and your workout. As for the risk and funk of perspiration, trust me, I have experimented with this, and thirty burpees is not enough to break a full sweat, so these can be done at the office, and also bathrooms (wash your hands after, please), backyards, basements and anywhere else your body can go horizontal, then go vertical.
One day of the week for burpee resilience. You got this. Let’s move on.
Part 3: The Training Trifecta
Finally, we reach the training TriFecta, in which you must complete a Spartan SGX, a Spartan X and the dreaded Agoge. The first two will challenge your noggin and your thinking power. The latter will challenge every tiny chunk of sinew in your body.
The SGX is Spartan’s official training program, designed to give you the physical and mental capacity to take on whatever challenges are thrown your way, on and off the course.
When you click here to review the SGX calendar and take a look at the handful of two to three day SGX courses spread around the world, you will have the change to sign up for a class that involves a combination of traditional classroom-style training, nutrition and mindset modules, combined with body weight-focused workouts that are varied, novel and typically conducted in a group. In an SGX class, you not only put pen to paper, but you also bend, crawl, carry, climb, hang, jump, lift, lunge, pull, push, run, sprint, squat and twist – exactly what your body has been designed to do for over millions of years. When you’ve finished, you complete what I considered to be a surprisingly difficult final exam, which can be taken online after the course, but which is still pretty tough, and requires an 80%+ score to pass.
If I can give you one targeted tip for completing the SGX, it is this: understand the concept of “exercise progressions”, which basically involves splitting the components of training for a movement into basic “Phase I” exercises, then more advanced “Phase II” and “Phase III” exercises. Let’s take the rope climb, for example (the following rope climb module is lifted straight from the pages of my Obstacle Dominator 2.0 training program):
-Arms only with knee bicycling
-Hand grip trainer
-Hand expander bands
-Deep tissue forearm / elbow massage
-Dead hangs thumbs-on
-Dead hangs thumbs-off
-Hanging reverse crunches
-Cable rope pulls (gym)
-Rope climb repeat sets
-Baton grip pull-ups
-Weighted hanging reverse crunches
In an SGX class, you’ll be tasked with putting together many, many exercise progressions, so be sure to wrap your head around the concept beforehand if you want a much easier time in class.
Want more? Check out the current issue of the Strength & Conditioning Journal, which has an excellent article on rope climb techniques, and also check out the Obstacle Dominator 2.0 Training Plan, in which Hunter McIntyre (the world’s top obstacle course races) and I give detailed exercise progressions for everything from vertical walls to monkey bars to log weaves to balance beams to upside-down rope climbs and more.
The next component of the Training Trifecta is the Spartan X.
The Spartan X course is an educational program driven by Spartan principles. It is the result of over 1,000 interviews with psychologists, sociologists, monks, priests, educators, athletes, community leaders and business innovators gathering data as to what it takes to achieve success and live a “Spartan lifestyle”, and is based on the concept that people who commit – those who follow through with their goals, exhibit grit, and delay gratification – are more likely to be successful in life.
This online curriculum and its 10 modules are designed to help you get to the finish line of not just a race, but life itself, including job interviews, degrees, relationships and beyond. It’s a relatively long, hard, arduous online program, but those that get through the 30 days (or however long it takes you) will have an owner’s manual for life. It is basically your blueprint for when times get tough.
Each module in the Spartan X course contains a video component, online reading, offline challenges and online questions triggering transformation that all can be logged into what they call a “Battle Book”, the ultimate artifact of your Spartan X experience. Whether you are a student, business owner, sales manager, athlete, or individual, these Spartan X tools are the keys to getting the most out of the moments when resistance and discomfort seem to be everywhere.
For those hesitant about running a Spartan Race, the mental aspect is as important as the physical, and perhaps most importantly, for those who complete the challenge, the obstacle course of life will become more tolerable by putting these modules into action daily.
So how do I recommend you get through the intimidating length and complexity of the Spartan X Course?
Start here: don’t take it all on at once.
As I describe in my article “Why I Don’t Mow My Lawn (And Ten Other Time-Saving and Productivity Tips“, I’m a big fan of “chunking” long tasks into short bursts. This is very similar to my “bucket” concept, as described below and straight from the article above:
“I used to keep a checklist. One really long, annoying list, filled with items like:
-Write article about rehabilitating shoulder
-Arrange and schedule podcast interview
-Watch iMovie tutorial online
I thought I was being clever and efficient by keeping one long tally of everything I needed to get done and checking it off as I went along. After all, if you want to get things done, you need to write them down, right? Each night, I’d a crumple into an exhausted heap, having checked off as many items as possible. Then I’d wake up the next day to begin checking off items again.
The checklist is a cruel system—a never-ending loop with no start and no end.
I have a much smarter, cleaner system now—I use “buckets.” I simply assign days to specific tasks, and I do only those tasks on those specific days. For example:
-I do phone consults only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
-I shoot videos only on Tuesdays.
-I record audio only on Wednesdays.
-I write articles only on Fridays.
You get the idea. So if I get inspiration for, say, a video about how to make a low-carb kale smoothie, I don’t add that task to a big list and get around to it when I get to that part of the list. Nor do I drop everything and go make the video. I simply open up my Tuesday Evernote document, write down “shoot low-carb kale smoothie video,” and move on—forgetting about the smoothie video until Tuesday and moving that task off my plate into the Tuesday bucket.
So if I get through Tuesday’s bucket at 6 p.m., great. The rest of the day is free to use as I please; I don’t have to move on to the next item on an endless list. And yes, while major projects and recurring tasks generally are all assigned to specific days, there are some things that I do every day, such as working out for sixty minutes, writing fiction for fifteen minutes, or playing guitar for twenty minutes. But these are activities I consider to be self-improvement, and right up there with eating food or drinking water…”
Anyways, you can read more here. Based on this concept, the way that I personally approached the Spartan X was to simply set my stopwatch for 20 minutes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning (my Spartan X “buckets”, and log into the website to complete as much as I could in 20 minutes, day after day, week after week.
And honestly, using this approach, the Spartan X didn’t turn out to be too difficult a medal to snag for adding to my Spartan Delta trophy.
Much unlike and in stark contrast to the next component of the Training Trifecta: the dreaded Spartan Agoge. So what exactly is this whole Spartan Agoge thing?
I give you all the nitty-gritty details in my article “Do You Have What It Takes To Be One Of The Strongest & Most Mentally Tough Citizens On Earth?“, but in a nutshell, it’s part endurance event and part educational event, in which you learn a host of survival skills, including shelter making, fire starting, navigation and additional essential wilderness skills to help you survive for 48-60 hours in below freezing temperatures in and around Pittsfield, Vermont.
During the entire event, you’re engaged in workouts (AKA “evolutions”) multiple classes, skills, skill acquisition, and everything you need to be an extremely fierce, well-equipped, and prepared citizen of planet Earth.
So yeah, it’s pretty unique. And in my article “38 Degrees Below Zero, Blindfolded Skiing, Frozen Koolaid Fish & More: What To Expect And How To Prepare For The Spartan Agoge“, I give you a full breakdown of all three days of the most recent Winter Spartan Agoge (this was numbered as “Agoge 001”), and you’ll also get packing tips, eating tips, recovery tips, mental and physical prep tips, and much more.
Here’s the deal: you need to train hard, train smart, pay attention to everything I’ve already written in this article, but you should also be prepared to engage in a bit of better living through science and biohacking to fill in the tiny gaps that can make or break you during this event.
Take the cold, for example.
My Agoge occurred at 38 degrees below zero in Vermont. Some people lost their freaking toes. It occurred during the worst cold snap in the past 50 years of the East Coast of America.
And sure, I could’ve just brought some damn good gloves.
But I also snuck in some hot hands to put inside the gloves. They weren’t on the packing list, but I brought them anyways. Worst case scenario is that I’d have to do a crapload of burpees if found with them. I also loaded with the nitric oxide precursor Niasafe to increase blood flow to my extremities. When I was in the dark rucking and moving and lifting and hauling and suffering, I also chomped on nicotine gum much of the time to keep my brain turned on when the extreme fatigue set in. Yes, you read right: nicotine gum. The stuff works.
Or take the heat, for example. Perhaps your Agoge will be in mid-summer. A hyperhydration compound called “glycerol” got banned by WADA years ago as an illegal, unapproved way to water load and assist one’s body with extreme cooling, but as I recently reported on my Twitter account, this legal, cheap sodium chloride tablet trick works even better than glycerol, and you can get this stuff easily on Amazon.
As I report in this “Hacking The Heat” article in LAVA magazine, you can also keep your neck and spinal fluid cold with frequent chunks of ice down the back of your neck, or frozen water bottles rubbed against the back of your neck. Easy trick, but it works and it works fast. And as I report in “Top 10 Tips To Race A Spartan Beast (Or Any Other Long, Hilly Running Event or Obstacle Race)“, you’ll always want a mustard packet from you local fast-food restaurant or salt capsules or pickle juice or anything else with a nasty, pucker-inducing, extremely salty taste because if and when you cramp, the mere taste of such a thing on your tongue can nearly instantly reduce a cramp.
So don’t just beat yourself up with hard workouts. Be smart too. And while nicotine gum and mustard packets may seem like trite and silly endurance hacks, they are the type of small, smart things you can do to get a slight extra advantage and to keep you just a bit more comfortable in a very, very uncomfortable scenario.
So was spending an entire year in pursuit of and in completion of the coveted Spartan Delta everything it promised to be?
In a word, yes.
This thing got me out of bed and off the couch every freakin’ day, without fail.
It made me conquer my fears and fly around the country to do very uncomfortable things, even though I’d have much rather been at home doing my ho-hum, stereotypical familiar workouts. It made me face stuff that made me uncomfortable, like an icy cold soak every morning to give myself steel-like nerves and blood vessels that could handle plunging into lakes on top of mountains during races. It pulled my ass into the steep hills to ruck when I wanted to be other places, like lying in bed or at a party. It made me build stamina and stick-to-it-ive-ness and endurance and grit every single day because there was always an empty slot on the Delta trophy that needed filling.
It made sweat every day. Shiver every day. Get fatigued every day. Go hungry every day.
It made me, in the words of author Nassim Taleb, anti-fragile. Extremely, extremely anti-freaking-fragile.
And when stood in front of my twin eight year old boys and proudly placed that final medal on the final empty slot of my Spartan Delta trophy, it made me feel like a complete beast, ready to take on any challenge that life would every throw at me.
As a matter of fact, of all the trophies I’ve ever earned, it is my Delta that I am most proud of.
So what are you waiting for?
Quit making excuses.
Go claim your Delta.
Leave your questions, comments and feedback below, and I promise to reply. Finally, if you need a complete, done-for-you, zero-guesswork training, nutrition and mental plan to get ready for any obstacle race distance and difficulty, I’d highly recommend you check out Obstacle Dominator 2.0, an obstacle course training plan written by the world’s top obstacle course racer (Hunter McIntyre) and yours truly. It’s still $20 off until next weekend (October 31). Enjoy!