Since 2015, thousands of residents and tourists have exhausted their mental and physical abilities in an event like no other. The gruelling Reebok Spartan Race returns to the UAE tomorrow, and the scenic mountainous Hatta, Dubai, provides for yet another rugged setting. It’s perfect for one of the obstacle course race’s (OCR) biggest event – The Spartan Race’s Beast category.
The Beast is a long, torturous more than 20km stretch of sand, mud and punishment. Much has already been written about the more than 30 obstacles. Your strength, endurance, courage, and your will — all will be put to the test. And yet there are those who dare to conquer.
I’m doing my 5th Spartan Race (and 13th OCR overall) this weekend and taking on the Beast for the second time with my Team Tamaraw. Having done more than a dozen OCRs doesn’t numb you from all the sensations; quite the opposite. It’s the feeling of accomplishment after the Spartan Race that keeps you coming back. The experience is truly rewarding and it ripples positivity in your life.
Andrew showing his Spartan trifecta medals after completing three races in one year.
tabloid! talks to two of the UAE’s Spartan elites, those with the ever burning desire to compete — Hanlie Signorini and Andrew Masangkay. They share their own experiences and we get a closer view of what it’s like at the peak.
What got you into the Spartan Race?
Signorini: I joined my first Spartan Race in February 2015. I’m a member at Talise Fitness and they entered me as part of their team. It was the perfect way to start my Spartan journey. It was a Spartan Sprint and I had the support and encouragement of my team.
Masangkay: I used to be a competitive athlete, I like to stay active and be involved in the fitness community. I’ve always been very keen on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I spend my time training and coaching after my regular work. One day, I stumbled on an advert for Spartan Race and knew it was something I wanted to try. During my first race, I thought I was going to die but I was hooked afterwards. Obstacle races have re-ignited that competitive side of me.
How many Spartan Races have you conquered?
Signorini: I’ve completed eight Spartan Races, mostly in the UAE, but also UK including the notorious Spartan Beast in Edinburgh, a Spartan Super in beautiful Orte, Italy and then the big one – The Spartan World Championships in Lake Tahoe, US. I completed my first Spartan trifecta* in 2017.
Masangkay: I’ve done a total of nine Spartan races already.
*A Spartan trifecta is when you complete Spartan Race’s Sprint, Super, and Beast all in one calendar year.
What’s your highest achievement (or highlight) as a Spartan racer?
Signorini: I count every race as an achievement on its own… but I made it onto the podium in Mleiha, Sharjah, UAE in November 2016, third place in Spartan Sprint, Elite category. I placed eigth in Spartan Beast in Edinburgh, UK… and I earned a coin to enter the 2017 World Championships.
I’m first place in most races in my age bracket, at the World Championships, I came second.
Masangkay: Every race I finish I consider an achievement for me as an athlete. Because in every race I see a better version of myself compared to previous races.
I consider every race an achievement... I see a better version of myself.”
- Andrew Masangkay, Spartan elite athlete
How do you train as a Spartan elite?
Signorini: I incorporate every aspect: running, strength training, heavy carries and grip work and have also been concentrating a lot more on stretching and rolling due to injuries.
Masangkay: During race season, I train six days a week. My programme includes, cardio endurance (running), plyometrics strength training (bodyweight), functional cross-training and weightlifting. In the off season, my focus is to strengthen weak parts of my body. I also fuel my body with good nutrition and enough recovery to achieve the best version of myself during the race.
Describe your best and worst Spartan experience.
Signorini: Best: In March last year I entered my whole family and we raced together. I raced alongside my daughter and we had the most amazing time. The whole family jumped the last obstacle over the burning fire. It was truly special.
Worst: The Beast in Lake Tahoe was incredibly tough. I had just spent two months in South Africa, my mum was ill and passed away. I didn’t train much and almost didn’t go to the Championships. There were many terrifying factors: the jet lag, the elevation, the weather — it snowed in Tahoe the week before the race.
Spartans plunge and make their way across mud, one of many obstacles present in the race.
Early in the race, I had to redo the bucket carry. This is a very tough obstacle and I knew that it would not only make me lose a huge amount of time but it also destroyed my mindset and sapped my energy. I sat down and cried. I had to talk to myself, picked myself up and started again. This was a huge lesson for me mentally and physically. It took me 6h:30 to complete the race an hour longer than expected, I learned that I was stronger than I thought, I’m not as fast as I would like to be, but I can do this!
Masangkay: I don’t consider any worse experience in Spartan Races. I always look on the positive side and consider every race as a learning experience. But when I step on the finish line that is the best experience for me, that I don’t even remember all the struggles and challenges during the race.
Any advice for those taking on Spartan Beast?
Signorini: You’ve prepared for this race, the fact that you’ve entered a Spartan Beast already tells me you know deep down that you have it in you. It is a long race, the obstacles are tough, the terrain is tough but that’s exactly why you are here. Make absolutely sure that you hydrate well before and during the race. Eat only what your body is already used to and get a good night’s sleep.
The fact that you’ve entered a Spartan Beast already tells me you know deep down that you have it in you. It’s a long race, the obstacles are tough, the terrain is tough but that’s exactly why you are here.”
- Hanlie Signorini, Spartan elite athlete
Masangkay: First, train smart before the race. Secondly, be physically strong and mentally determined. Third, bring yourself to the start line and prepare for battle. And finally, always have fun and give the best version of yourself.
Race day tips
Spartan Beast is days away and training is done. These are the final preparations you need to do before you’re all set. If you’re a seasoned veteran, remember these. If this is your baptism by fire, heed the following:
• Cut your nails. Long fingernails and toenails cause discomfort and minor injuries during lengthy outdoor races
• Eat light prior. You’ve had a good full meal the night before, eat something light on race day. You don’t want to be running and feeling heavy.
• Do number two in the loo. Spartan photos of people looking constipated at obstacles are bad enough. Nobody wants to see the real deal. Best relieve yourself before embarking on the long run.
• Wear dri-fit clothing. It’s lighter, more breathable and dries up quicker. There are obstacles with water, avoid cotton as it is heavy when wet.
• Apply sunblock. Prolonged exposure to desert sun can be harmful. Protect yourself.
• Hydrate. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated drinks just before your heat. Caffeine is diuretic and can dehydrate you.
On the course
• Do not spend energy rushing out of the gate. Often, the mistake indicative of a rookie on the course is sprinting all the way to the first obstacle. Be wise, pace yourself, it’s 21km. Conserve energy for the actual obstacles.
• Roll don’t crawl. Crawling under barbed wires takes more time and energy to do. Rolling under it saves you both. When rolling, relax and don’t look around to avoid getting dizzy.
• Focus on doing the obstacles properly. This means understanding what needs to be done and not rushing it. Undue haste makes waste… and 30 burpees.
• Heads up, chest out, and smile. Be proud just by virtue of participation alone. Others only dream it, you’re living it.
Spartan Race Categories (since 2015 in the UAE)
Spartan Sprint (5km, 20+ obstacles)
Spartan Super (13km, 25+ obstacles)
Spartan Beast (21km, 30+ obstacles)
The first ever Middle East Championship for Spartan elites will take place this weekend in Hatta, Dubai.