Spartan Race burpees

Over the last few years I have had several rants about Spartan’s use of burpees as a forfeit for failed obstacles. I know that some people are fed up with me polluting reviews and other articles with my strong views on the subject. I make no apology for that; I believe that something is seriously wrong and I refuse to be silenced. I'm not a stuborn man in general but I think that this issue really needs to be addressed. If you would like to criticise my opinion please read the following article carefully. Once you’ve done that, feel free to challenge me – discussion is the first step in getting situations like this resolved.

I’d like to stress up front that this is by no means intended to be an assassination of Spartan Race’s credibility. I want them to be considered an authentic competitive race as much as they do. This is a young sport, it’s understandable that we need to adapt and evolve when things aren’t working. I hope that those in Spartan's ranks read this and share it amongst their colleagues and treat it in the manner in which it is intended – constructive criticism from a fan that wants the best for their future.

The main point that I want to make is this:

If Spartan Race want to be considered a fair competition and, crucially, avoid unnecessary controversy they need to reconsider their usage of burpees as forfeits.

Spartan Race push the competitive element of their races more than most but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a farce. I’ve raced practically every weekend for the last three years and there are many competitive races that I would consider fair. Unfortunately Spartan is not one of them.

The reason why I feel so strongly about that point is often misunderstood, so I’m going to try to be as clear as possible on this occasion.

I’m not lazy and I’m not whining

I have nothing against burpees as an exercise – in fact they are great for training. I am not afraid of hard work, pain or suffering. I have put my body and mind through hell over the last three years. 30 burpees are the least of my worries.

Why burpees don’t work as a forfeit

EVERY time I have completed a burpee forfeit at a Spartan Race (which is a lot of times), I have been overtaken by people who have not completed all of their reps (in a lot of cases not even close to the right number, and many times they have been skipped all together). I have had that in later waves and I’ve also faced it in the top 20 of the elite wave.

The common responses

I’ve had many responses to my rants in the past, including “SHUT UP and stop moaning on about this issue - people who fail deserve a forfeit”, which smacks of somebody who hasn’t actually read beyond my first sentence.

However, apart from a strong support for my opinions, other common responses include: “Those people are only cheating themselves” or: “Marshalls should do more to make sure people complete their reps”.

They’re good points, but I respectfully disagree with them. These aren’t the big issue here. It’s the system that’s broken. It is completely unmanageable.

Firstly, you just can’t trust everyone to be honest enough not to cheat themselves or others. In fact, I’m not even sure you can trust everyone to count to thirty when their pulse is racing, their body is in pain and there are distractions all around. I know I’ve struggled at times (which may be because I’m busy taking note of how many burpees everyone else is doing).

In response to the second point, marshalls will never be able to keep track of how many burpees everyone is doing unless there is one marshal for every failed racer. At an obstacle like the spear throw that would equal one marshal for EVERY racer (apart from an occasional few).

Why this bugs me so much

I don’t consider myself an “elite” racer, but boy can I be competitive. My position is very important to me, yet whenever I have completed a Spartan Race I feel like I have been done over. In fact last week I travelled half way around the world to COMPETE at Spartan Race Dubai (read my travel story and watch the video here) and I worked damn hard for the position I earned over 40 minutes of the race but, in an instant, at the spear throw, yet again, I was overtaken by people that I know didn’t do the correct number of burpee reps. I need to stress the following point, because it’s how I feel after every Spartan Race:

The position that I worked so hard for is now completely meaningless.

In addition to that, whenever I do elite coverage at Spartan Races there is controversy, mostly in relation to whether burpee forfeits should or shouldn’t have been given and, on a side point, what a disproportionately huge impact a set of burpees has on the results. So why do it to yourself Spartan? Why court controversy? I’d like to see a podium without there being underlying whispers of “ifs”, “ands” and “buts”.

Why does this problem arise?

I believe that 30 burpees is just too much. It takes a long time to complete 30 burpees, it’s very tiring and is completely disproportionate to the failure of the majority of obstacles. Most people, understandably, want to get on with their race; so more often than not they will do after 10 to 15 reps. I don’t blame them, not everyone is going to care about honour as much as you and me. I blame the broken system.

Pete burpees

The solutions

There would be no point me being so critical without being constructive. I really hope that Spartan take note of this because it is a simple issue to fix. In fact there are many solutions. Here are a few, in order of preference:

The ideal solution: Make the forfeit for the failure of an obstacle another obstacle. We have seen this executed perfectly at the Rat Race Dirty Weekend and Nuclear Races' monkey bars. As soon as you fall off of the Dirty Weekend bars you are directed into a gangway of exhausting barrier jumps. At Nuclear you are directed into a series of muddy ditches and cargo net crawls. In both cases progress is slower and more tiring in the alternatives, making them the perfect forfeit. The downside: From an organiser’s point of view there will need to be an alternative obstacle built at all of the common failure points. However, would a simple sandbag carry or crawl be so difficult to set up?

The simple solution: Make every obstacle “must do”. At a lot of races you just “do” an obstacle. There is no option, there is no failure and there is no confusion. Look at The Nuts Challenge. It’s an incredibly tough course, where every obstacle must be completed. There are no gimmicks, no failing spear throws, no rules about how you should carry a bucket. If you reduce rules and reduce confusion you will reduce controversy and make the competition fairer. The downside: Some of Spartan’s key obstacles will need to be dropped or adapted.

Make the forfeit more proportionate: As a last resort option, if Spartan must give bupree forfeits, they should make the number proportionate to the failure of the obstacle. I believe that part of the reason why so many people don’t complete their full allocation of burpees is that 30 is just too many. It takes too long and is too big a challenge. When comparing it to the length of time and effort it takes to throw a spear, or even complete a set of monkey bars, it’s not even in the same ball park. If you were to make the forfeit 10 burpees I guarantee that the vast majority of people would actually complete them. I can already hear many of you saying “where’s the challenge in that” and “10 isn’t enough” BUT at least by doing that the playing field will be levelled because everyone will be doing the same forfeit (not some people 10 and some people 30, which is how it is now). I also believe that 10 burpees is a proportionate forfeit – it will be slower and more tiring than completing any of Spartan’s obstacles.

A crazy space-aged solution: Okay, this isn’t realistic but I’ll voice it anyway. There could be electronic burpee stations with a button that you have to jump up and press and a digital display that counts the number of times that you push the button. That would work but would is obviously be a huge investment.

The final solution: Don’t class yourself as a competitive event. I have no issue with burpee forfeits in an event that’s not competitive. They could call themselves “A challenge and not a race”… but something tells me that’s not going to happen. 🙂

In summary

There you have it Spartan Race. Sorry for rocking the boat… again. Feel free to ignore everything I say but if things stay how they are I will never consider you to be a competitive race and I will continue to get more and more frustrated by the unnecessary controversy that you are bringing on yourself.

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79 COMMENTS

  1. Pete,

    I’m glad someone has thought to write something like this.

    I will say though, as someone who has not yet run a Spartan Race I will reserve judgement – instead offering a simple statement:

    The punishment most definitely does not appear to fit the crime.

    I am reasonably certain I will agree after completing my trifecta later this year (and yes – I will complete all 30 burpees every time with good form!)

    Andy

  2. 100% agree with all of this Pete. Finished the beast last year and felt like my position was totally meaningless, it was a tough decision whether or not I’d run them this year if Im honest.

  3. I totally agree. Admittedly from a fun runner point of view rather than an athlete but one thing that puts me off doing a Spartan (other than the price and apparent over commercialisation) is the level of forfeits. I agree that 30 burpees for anyone other than the super fit is one hell of an effort and way in excess of the “failure” of an obstacle. No such punishment at my Back Garden OCR lol!!!

  4. this happened to me at the beast elite wave top 10 , there was 3 of us neck and neck entering some climbing wall. I completed it and the other 2 fell off meaning in there penalty. I thought great I’ll be able to just relax for the next nike or two, cos I know after 30 burpees you are really struggling to run again . But I travelled 50-75 meters down the hill looked behind and they were both headhunting me down . Your telling me they did 30 burpees in 15-25 seconds. I don’t think so . 10 burpees at the most!!!
    Well 200m on they caught me up , I thought there’s no advantage Been credited here , I should of been at least 1min30 -2mins ahead with energy in my legs and there’s burning with pain .

  5. Interesting read. I’m all for a level playing playing field, what ever the sport. How about taking a leaf out of the book of a more established sport like biathlon in the Winter Olympics (X-Country skiing and shooting) where they have a little loop that you have to go round for each missed shot.

    If you fail an obstacle then you run around the loop. 15-30 second loop maybe, but it could also be made shorter/longer for the varying levels of difficulty for an obstacle?

    I know the Spartan races already want to weight the events in favour of their big, muscle-heavy, American racers and avoid giving more advantage to the skinny little whippets amongst the OCR world but no one can fake a 100m loop and for the particularly hard obstacles add a sandbag to the extra loop.

    Just an idea from someone who has extremely little OCR experience but loves all kind of competition & sport.

    If someone runs up to an obstacle and doesn’t even try to attempt it, accepting the forfeit immediately, then you should karate chop them in the face. That’s just not cricket.

  6. Disagree. For the Elite waves they need to improve the officiating to eliminate cheating. Those standings & times count. For Open heats the whole thing is for fun and if you really cared about your finishing time & ranking you need to run elite.

    The penalty HAS TO BE MUCH WORSE than successfully completing the obstacle. That is why it is a penalty. OCR is already dominated by runners who are catching up with strength & obstacle navigation. I’ve read commentary on FB from elites who don’t even attempt the Herc Hoist and go directly to burpees. They should do 50.

    I am an Open Class runner who does his burpees but whose 2015 goal is to run a clean (burpee free) trifecta.

    • I’ve been told that you have to at least make an honest effort….so that technically would be another form of cheating.

    • Power Park Fitness in San Antonio put on a race this weekend and it was perfect. they had a station for burpees after the spear throw where there were 15 or so cinder blocks all about a meter apart in a line. if you failed, you had to do a burpee, then jump over the first cinder block, burpee, next cinder block. It worked and kept you doing the proper amount – and the course volunteer was there to watch everyone and make sure they didn’t skip a spot.

    • Cheers for chipping in. It’s great to hear your side. I’m not with you though. I think that even in the elite heat the situation is unmanageable, at least at every Spartan Race I have been to. To employ the number of marshals needed to count everyone’s burpees (even just in the elite heat) is, I believe, unrealistic. They haven’t even come close to that at any Spartan Race I’ve been to and I really can’t see it happen. I think there are some great solutions above and below that would cut out the need for it.

  7. I haven’t done a Spartan race yet but no doubt I’ll become very familiar with burpees later this year.

    I have however seen ‘cheating’ at other races including Pain and Suffering where people blatantly don’t do what the reapers tell them to do, and Tough Guy where a number of people skipped some of the harder obstacles.

    Neither P&S nor TG are quite as into the competitive side of things as Spartan so the issue with Spartan seems worse in some ways.

    For what it’s worth and as I say I can’t speak from personal experience, 30 burpees seems like too many to be actually useful as a forfeit. I think the best idea as has already been said is a suitable alternative obstacle which leaves less room for skimping on the punishment.

  8. I think this problem is at most races. Two groups of people, people who attempt every obstacle, fail or get over, and people who avoid anything that slows them down including queues. The only races I haven’t seem it at was hellrunner or eliminator because you had to go over or through every natural obstacle. I agree with Pete 30 burpees is to much, the punishment must take the same time as the obstacle. I think dirty dozen make you do 10 or 15 burpees. I love the idea of an extra loop, I think that could work. I think there should be two groups of racers at all events. The competitive racers, we get over all obstacles if we fail then 10 burpees. The 2nd group admit they may miss obstacles, skip parts of the course and ignore the marshals so have to wear a different colour number they can race each and are happy.

  9. I don’t agree
    If it’s an elite heat they count the burpees. all the other heats they don’t need to keep track that’s up to you if you cheat and skip the burpees or don’t do them all. It’s failure to yourself.
    If it’s not elite it really doesn’t matter who passes you up cuz of burpees.

    Burpees make spartan to become what it is
    And one of the biggest things besides teamwork that has help them grow

    KEEP THE BURPEES
    If don’t like it don’t do it
    Not every organization can make everyone happy

    • How do you suggest they keep track of every burpee in every elite heat though? That is the main issue here and I think that’s an unrealistic challenge that they’re putting on themselves that will always be open to controversy.

      • Agree Pete you cant keep track, ok maybe the first 5-10 people IF (a big if) the field is spread out, plus when do you cut of checking everyone thoroughly, after the first 10? 20? The elite heat itself is too large to be manageable. ive had a spartan experience that shows exactly this. In the beast aiming for top 5 i had an incident on the monkey bars and fell. 30 burpees for me! but the monkey bars were so early in the race that id dropped well back into like 30th position where the course and failure rate was more congested. People where skipping burpees and doing only 10. making it harder work for me to fight back my position. I eventually finished in 11th Place, but not without a fight and passing burpee skippers. I heard pre race that marshals where told to strictly monitor the top 10, which was good to hear, but what was stopping me then from way back in 30th skipping obstacles and burpees to get back into the top 10 faster and fresher.

    • That’s not right. The open heats are still competitive. We paid for a timing chip and so that rank should mean something. Cheaters take that away from the rest if us. If you want to “run your own race” don’t put in the timing chip.

  10. At my last race company we eliminated ANY elite forfeits… obstacle completion became MANDATORY… fail and obstacle (have as many goes as you like) and you lose your elite wristband and your out of the running for cash.

    Best thing we ever did.

    Garfield

  11. Ok so here comes the proverbial 2 cents. My first ever OCR was the Spartan world championship in Killington VT 2014. I completed the course to the best of my ability including the swimming to the ladder climb and Tarzan swing in freezing cold water while I watched people run around the lake refusing to get in the water and not even sipping to do any burpees let alone the 60 that would have been required for the two completely skipped obstacles. I also nailed both spat throws and ass I ran from the station saw people who missed horribly just run right past the burpees station. I am full on addicted to Spartan Races for my own personal achievements and would never cheat myself out of eyeliners completing a race. I agree 30 is a rough number but then again is supposed to be. I also have competed in biathlon races and think the concept of a penalty lap or something similar is a very fascinating and welcomed thought. I did not finish with a spectacular time but was proud of my 7 hours considering I never ran at all and only decided to try it 2 days before with no training. And completed the race the way the designers intended with no cheating. It was disheartening though sitting at the bar that night hearing people brag about a 5 1/2 or 6 hour time and then in the next breath say they skipped obstacles like the water and A frame. I know we weren’t winning any money obviously with those times but it took all my self control to not tell them they didn’t deserve the finishers medal let alone their time. I am already signed up for 8 Spartans this season and hope to finish 3 trifectas. But your point about a better solution to the burpees is very valid.

    • I hear ya man. I was on another forum and it was shocking the number of people (nearly all women, sorry ladies), who felt it was ok to skip obstacles or not burpee out as long as you felt you were “pushing yourself hard”. Fine. If you want to skip obstacles go ahead, but don’t accept the finishers medal at the end because it cheapens it for the rest of us who do it right. I still remember gassing at a beast and it probably took me 15 minutes to do my 30 burpees when I couldn’t get up that rope, but I did each and every one and I look at my medal today with pride.

  12. 1st The elites are video taped and eliminated for failure to complete correctly.
    2nd if it doesn’t challenge you it sure as hell doesn’t change you.
    3rd train harder and you won’t have to burpee out
    4th open division is about pushing yourself and overcoming your weaknesses. I race open to get better. I race elite to show my strength.
    Summary- Suck it up buttercup this isn’t grade school!

    • 1) How many Spartans around the world video tape the elite heat? I’ve never seen that and certainly never seen anything changed as a result.
      2) Did I ever say that we shouldn’t be challenged? I wouldn’t be obsessed with obstacle racing and have completed as many events as I have if I wasn’t keen for a challenge.
      3) Tell that to 98% of people that seem to fail the spear throw.
      4) Do open division racers not have the right to measure their position fairly against others too? I’m sure many would like to track their progress from race to race.

      Summary: macho comments don’t cut it with me.

      • 3) Then if they are that sick and tired of doing burpees for the spear throw, maybe they’ll actually practice it at home. Even if that means building some crude replica to practice on. I’m 0/3. Got a race this weekend. I’m this close to building something to practice on. Until then, if I fail, I do my burpees.

  13. As for the open category and not in elite, that is why the “you’ll know at the finish line” is the Spartan Race saying. You’ll know if you chose not to do the burpees at one failed obstacle or did not do all 30. You’ll know if you did not fill your bucket all the way to the line, you’ll know if you cut corners or you’ll know you did it all the way it should be done. Your finish metal that a Spartan Racer hangs up or always serve a a reminder of that.

  14. I 100% agree with this article. If SR wants to have the legitimacy it seeks to become an Olympic sport, then the burpee thing needs to be resolved. I did the Washougal sprint in 2014 and it was infuriating to watch people not even do the obstacles or the burpees and get their finisher medal at the end. I’m not a competitive racer by any means, but I do expect those who show up to such events to race honestly and do the work. To leave it to an honor system screws the serious competitors out of justly earned rankings because unfortunately there are far too many people at these things who would gladly cheat their way to the finish line

  15. Thank you for writing this, I totally agree. I ran my very first Spartan last year, and was baffled and a bit irritated by those who passed me up, because they didn’t complete the penalty 30 burpees. I would do my 30 reps. every time I failed an obstacle with the thought that I didn’t want to cheat myself. At the same time, I can get pretty deng competitive, too. So how unfair it is that someone else gets a better finishing time than me, because they didn’t do all their burpees? Yea, we know we aren’t cheating ourselves, but no one else reading the leader boards knows that! =)

  16. Disagree 100%
    Reading this all I can think is really dood, you wasted time to write this? Just go out there and have fun, who cares what others do or don’t do. Maybe Spartan Races just are not for you..

  17. Great article, as someone similar to you Pete who is just naturally competitive I completely agree. I think the solution is to drop the burpees to 15 or do a weighted carry lap. Anyone who actually trains burpees knows to do 30 when already tired and drained is a 5-10 minute thing which is just too long when you’ve come to run and race.

    One other point I think should be made to Spartan races is that they need to put signs up by each obstacle and make it clearer to racers what the rules are. I’ve raced many spartans where I’ve heard people asking what the number of burpees is and are they enforcing it at this race and even “what is a burpee”. If people aren’t 100% sure at the beginning there’s no way they will do them when they are tired. They could then also vary the number per obstacle – spear throw just 5 burpees as it’s a high failure rate.

    I do think this raises another point – and almost another article, Pete! 🙂 We’re all on this site because we love OCR. but is it a sport? is it a race or just a challenge? There’s always such a mixture of people at these events, some there to race competitively, some to challenge themselves, some for charity and just having fun. How in such an event are the event organisers meant to keep it fair. You get people who skip obstacles, jump queues etc and I agree with you it gets me down when you have been racing a group of people for the last 10k and then you hit a queue and other runners skip the obstacle – which I get they’re in “race mode” nobody wants to stand around and wait.

    I think one thing events could do is have more “competitive waves” and a gap between those waves and the general public, or make competitive runners clearer.

  18. You raise some valid points Pete. Let me start by saying that I love Spartan Race and I believe it is the best race series out there but there is some room for improvement on the forfeit.

    I have had a few top 30 finishes at Spartan Race. At Edinburgh I missed out on a top 10 finish because I failed the spear throw, albeit it stick in the target but the back end hit the ground. I was gutted but did my 30 burpees (32 as the marshall thought 2 of them weren’t right) and crossed the line proud nonetheless. I was having a to-and-fro with a few racers and the guys who nailed the spear throw ran past me as I did my burpees and were rewarded with a better finish and they deserved it. The spear throw is a skill and should be rewarded. In the elite waves I do find that generally the completion rate of burpees is close to the mark, apart from genuinely losing count. Although there have been times when I have been so tired and lost count and thought “I’ve done somewhere between 27 and 31 burpees, I will do a couple more and that should be right”, which is not ideal. So is the level of marshals required for burpee penalties at every obstacle at all practical?

    I think the spear throw at the end of Spartan Race with a 30 burpee penalty is perfect. It is a cloud that looms over you for the whole race and gets in your head, I love it, even though I’ve failed it a few times! However, you are right, sometimes the burpee count on some obstacles is disproportionate and hard to manage. I did World’s Toughest Mudder and the 300metre penalty run loop on some obstacles was excellent. You have to finish the loop to get back on the course and the marshals make sure you go the right way so is much easier to monitor.

    As for burpees generally in the “open” waves at Spartan Race, I think they are completely unmanageable and need revision. I did a later open wave with a friend last year and found the failure rate for obstacles was a lot higher than the elite wave as the competitors were more of the casual weekend level. As such, through no fault of the marshals they were unable to keep count of large number of burpees in progress. On the obstacle I failed I noticed some seemingly unfit people start their burpees after me and finish before me….hmmm. It is so hard to keep track of. Perhaps different penalties that require less marshals are required on certain obstacles.

    Will Spartan evolve and react? I am sure they will. Watch this space…

  19. Read the article.

    In full.

    Firstly can I say that as someone who has met you on the circuit and has you pegged as a bit of a laid back OCR hippy, I need to re-evaluate.

    And agree with all of it. At the last Spartan I ran, The Beast in 2013 it wasnt so bad in areas with a decent amount of spectators or marshalls but the monkey bars were run past like they weren’t there.

    I really cannot comprehend anyone who doesn’t get where you are coming from, it is Spartan who wants to make one of their selling points but then to hand it back to competitors to do something on trust will never work

  20. Pete I think you make a good point in that in order to compete the rules need to observed. One option would be to allow people to declare themselves non competitive and give them a different colour headband. I think the panalty system is the right way to go and it works in biathlon but it does need to be simple. If it was a standing time count in a penalty box (like in triathlon) or a extra run loop like biathlon it would be easier to police. The key to it all is being able to police the obstacles and that is what Spartan need to work out.

  21. As someone who is pretty competitive and doing a lot training to get better and better at OCR, all courses are so different so finishing time is irrelevant so I use % of field as a rough indicator how well I did. I want to finish near the top, I want to finish as high as I can and I want it to be FAIR.

    Having a competitive and fun runner (Maybe not time the fun runners) would help with different colour wristbands or something….

    If people don’t want to/can’t do them then that’s up to them but they shouldn’t finish ahead of me in the timings if that’s the case, I am not elite but I am competitive…should I lose out on some of my race enjoyment competitiveness because people aren’t willing to be fair?

    I did the P&S triple this year and on the 2nd getting told to do burpees made me want to cry but I still did them and watched people breeze past me with doing 3-4 max and stuff like that really pi**** me off.

    To me skipping the burpees is a bad as skipping the course, you are doing it because you are either A) Unwilling or B) Unable to follow the rules and use it to artificially improve you position in a race.

  22. 100% agree with all your points there Pete, even people who have disagreed with you on the comments below, none have made valid points in my opinion.
    Another spanner to add to the works is Burpee form. If you’re going to have a penalty like that peoples efforts and form can vary greatly(particularly on the squat thrust phase)

    • Exactly. Even at the videos of the world championships I have seen many poor attempts at Burpees from Elite racers that I would not have considered a proper burpee!

  23. It’s called a race. There’s prize money? So…If you fail the obstacle, you should lose racer status and finish as participant. Problem solved.
    If They want a penalty, OK. It’s a penalty not a substitute. If you got a penalty that took the same amount of time then why do the obstacle? You could pass an obstacle you didn’t want to do and just do the penalty. Lame. Eliminate the option for people to create their own race course. Reward those who actually complete the course properly.

  24. I agree to some extent to this article.

    I have run the Spartan beast in 2013 and yes I did find people not bothering doing the forfeit (which is frustrating) as I do like doing OCR’s and Iam very competitive so positioning as well as time is a big one for me.

    I know not all OCR’s are the same as some are classed as challenges and some as races. I still think all competitors should be on a level playing field from the elite to the newbies so making sure elite runners do the burpee’s and not really bothering about the later runners is wrong!

    I did recently run the Tough guy which I found extremely hard. While running this I saw some runners missing out obstacles, cutting corners and trying to make things easier for themselves (it is called tough guy for a reason it will not be easy!). This I wasn’t too bothered with as I thought ” that’s up to them”. But when I saw some of them at the finish line with meddles and all happy and in front of me (as a result to cutting corners) it made me bubble inside (the only part of me that was warm.

    That being said I think all course can be improved to stop these types of people.

    I am very interested to how they can make people do the forfeit as it is a tough one.

    I don’t agree you should only do 10/15 burpee’s as this is not a forfeit for me the thought of making myself do 30 burpee’s spurs me on the get the hard obstacles done!

    SO after all this I do believe the 30 is a good number just needs a method of monitoring.

    weather you disagree with me or not I would like to hear what you have to say.

    • Hi Sam, I think we’re roughly on the same page. I also think that “races” should include everyone, from the elite to the back markers. So the ideal is for there to be a level playing field for all. I really don’t believe that will ever be possible with the current system, regardless of how many extra marshals they bring in. I think they need to think a little more creatively than that, or follow the lead of other races or sports.

      I also agree that the failure alternative (if there is one) should always be harder than the obstacle itself. I think that 10 burpees are certainly harder and slower than a completed spear throw. I know there are some people out there who can fire our burpees as easily as drinking water and maybe more (or ideally something else) would be needed on the slower or more physically challenging obstacles.

      I really like the alternative circuit idea. But if burpees must be used, I like one of the ideas above that you have to burpee over a set number of cinder blocks set up in a row – there would be no disguising completion there (but people would still walk off without completion and there wouldn’t be a think that most marshalls would do about it).

  25. The Germans at Tough Guy this year had a very simple approach to people who missed out on some of the course (the trench – up and down those banks) they just called them names very loudly and the person was so embarrassed they attempted every bank. I am not saying we should embarrass people because we are all here for fun and everyone has their individual breaking point. Some of us are competitive – I am not elite – I will never win a race but I enter a race to challenge myself, get a free tshirt, some bling, and get a great high when I cross the line. I attempt every obstacle, some times I do not exceed but I will always do my forfeits (I did over 100 burpees at DD UK Champs last year) because if I didn’t I wouldn’t deserve the medal at the end. If you miss out obstacles or you don’t do the forfeits you know who you are. I saw a group of smurfs at pain and suffering miss out whole chunks of the 10 miler last year and overtook them four times – no marshal said anything – but is my medal worth more then theirs – dam right it is. My point is this – we all know if we deserve the bling at the end of the race and people who chose not keep within the rules of our top sport then that is their choice and if they choose to brag they got a faster time than me then so be it – I am obstacle racer I am not a road runner – if you do not want to jump over things, getty muddy then maybe this awesome sport is not for you. I do a completely agree with Pete but is the problem the number of burpees or the people not attempting or completing them? If everyone did the X number of burpees we wouldn’t have a problem. Maybe 30 is too much. So the answer is ensuring everyone does the forfeits, like at dirty weekend with the monkey bars, and I think the extra lap is the perfect solution – run more and further or get over that obstacles choice us yours and have reapers that enforce them rules.

    And the people who miss out the mud well get a pair asics and go back on that tarmac!

  26. I agree with Pete, if you are in a competitive heat then you should be judged fairly & IMO a mandatory completion of every obstacle should be the way. I liked the removal of wrist bands idea.

    Now for the opposite side of the coin, I am a fun runner I don’t care what time I get, I care if I finish it. So if I need to skip an obstacle after 3 tries I will do & sorry I don’t want burpees because I’m probably knackered after those tries (and I’m rubbish at them, think fat ass). At the last OCR I had to skip quite a few obstacles due to injury, so I carried MORT instead as a penalty. I also chose waves specifically to miss the elite side.

    I am actually getting worried about my future in OCR,as it becomes more competitive, I fear that soon I won’t be welcomed on to the starting line because I’m slow and do it for fun.

    • Don’t worry Claire. Some of us are competitive by nature and I think measuring ourselves (fairly) against others is important. But I think that completion, fun and sense of achievement will always be at the heart of the majority of obstacle races – I’d say that’s what around 95% of people are there for and I can’t ever see that changing to any extent. Basically the market wouldn’t exist without that – “competitors” are massively in the minority.

  27. Claire there will always be places for everyone at the start line, elite runners are a small percentage of our sport, the majority are like us who take pride in taking part and finishing the race. You took it upon yourself to carry MORT because you had the integrity of wanting the race to be fair where as some people would have not have done that

  28. Claire I hope you never truly feel like that. You will always be welcome at OCR’s you have to remember that the number of competitive runners is much higher on a site like this.

    I do have the solution to all our worries – Rock Solid Race had a potato sack section which was an absolute killer! This would be cheap to setup (bags must be cheap) easy to marshal as runners are slow so would only need one to keep an eye on things. would slow you up if you failed and it’s a leg burner. Plus hilarious for spectators! – that last point might be the issue for Spartan as it’s not very Spartan.

  29. I’m in Claire’s camp on this. I too do OCRs for fun rather than aiming for a top finish. For me they’re good motivation to get fit and one of the great things about OCR is the fact that it is inclusive. If we remove the “fun” element then the whole thing starts to become elitist.

    We should be sure to differentiate not only between competitive participants and fun runners but also those who skip obstacles and those that physically can’t complete them.

    I see a coloured wristband scenario as being a good idea with the penalty for non-completion of an obstacle being mandatory for the elites and those competing rather than those participating for their own agenda. When you see those doing an OCR purely for fun it’s going to be fairly apparent that they’re little threat to someone “competing” and I don’t think that they should be judged as such. Split the waves and you should split the problem.

    Now, whether 30 burpees is too many or not I’m not well placed to judge. At my level of fitness it would be nigh on impossible, however one of the reasons that I do OCRs is to improve that level of fitness.

    In summary, the varying kind of participants should be distinguished when they sign up. An elite runner after a top 20 place really shouldn’t be bothered whether or not an overweight bloke dressed as a fairy does 30 burpees after falling off the monkey bars or not. Oh, and for the record I have never dressed like a fairy…

  30. Claire and Toby – you are the reason that obstacle racing is thriving right now. I think you represent the vast majority of participants. To be honest, your opinion is more valid than most. Whatever the solution is, we need to make sure that you don’t feel pressured to do something that will make your time on the course miserable or make you feel like you have made any less of an achievement. I think that’s what makes this such a tricky thing to solve – it’s a delicate balance.

    The solutions that really seem to be jumping out at the moment to me are:

    – The alternative route idea – If, for example, you can’t get up a rope climb, I’m sure you wouldn’t have anything against running an extended loop right? (maybe including a carry or a crawl)
    – After several attempts and fails of an obstacle, wrist bands or timing chips are cut off or removed, so that your results aren’t counted in the competitive “completed”… which I think is a little harsh for mainstream races (maybe only appropriate for elite championships)
    – We separate “competitive” and “non competitive runners” either by wave or by wrist band. I actually think that would be a shame as I think it’s nice for everyone to see their results but, more importantly, logistically it would be tricky. I think it would be unrealistic for marshalls to be eagle eyed enough to spot and treat competitors and non competitors differently.

    The more I consider things like this, the more I think the “alternative circuit” idea is best solution.

    Or be a “challenge not a race” across the board! 😀

  31. Very well written article. However, if you’re competitive or focused on the challenge and your placement, you need to run in the elite wave. That’s where your issues are resolved. Every burpee IS recorded by cameras and it’s a 30 seconds per missed burpee penalty that IS enforced throughout the entire elite heat until the last registered bib number of the male and female elites pass the last time marker.

    I do wish they’d adopt the OCRWC format though.

    And the issue with the alternate obstacle idea is similar to the burpee penalty; an “equal” obstacle is so subjective. With Rat Race Dirty Weekend, if you elect to bypass the monkey bars, the alternative route is WAY shorter, which SUCKS because I’m going for podium against Jonathan Albon, but I want to do the monkey bars, but they’re not necessary for podium.

    • I’ve never seen elite heats recorded or at least any skipped burpee penalties being enforced in the UK (or Dubai)… and I’ve raced in quite a few elite heats now.

      Do you think the crowd barriers are shorter at Dirty Weekend? I think they take quite a long time and are very tiring. It’s a little subjective I guess.

  32. Great article Pete (as always). My opinion, as a race director, is that if you’re competitive, and I mean by that those who care if they finish in the top 30, then you need to be trying to be in the elite wave of any (timed) race. That in itself should take care of the issue, in that one would hope those so-called elites will all hold true the same values – i.e. finish an obstacle or do any forfeit. As noted above the easiest way to fix the forfeit issue is just not to have one, make all obstacles mandatory for anyone in an elite wave. Failure to complete said obstacle would in itself be a big enough delay and sort out the worth from the not-so. If you can’t do the obstacle another elite runner can, then you don’t deserve to finish alongside them, ergo problem solved. But that attitude just doesn’t work for the other “95%” mentioned. They’re there for the challenge, they’re not ‘elite’ and as such shouldn’t be treated as such, if a race/event wants to put in forfeits, so be it, if they don’t (we don’t) then thats their choice. Runners maybe need to stop worrying about their ‘position’ and concern themselves with their time, which even than is a hard thing to gauge as every event is different and so very hard to have a comparison across a season. Even doing the same companies races in varying locations will have wildly differing results for any given runner.

    I guess it all comes down to whether a race is singular or part of something like the Mudstacle league, where a cumulative effect builds up and in reality you want that to be fair across a whole season. Realistically the elites amongst you all need to man-up and start taking it seriously at a personal integrity level, by having integrity they can ensure this would easily be resolved.

    Or just make them mandatory.

    Simples 😉

    • Tricky… I don’t think it’s only the “elites” that are interested in time or position. I think there are enough people throughout the pack that are interested in it too. Treating the elite heat differently is potentially (part of) one solution but I think that would be slightly sad.

      Loosely you could say there are “elites” and “fun runners” but it really isn’t that black and white. There are many shades of grey in between – Personally I’m dark grey sometimes and white at other times. I don’t want to HAVE to be either white or black for ever more.

      Out of context position finishes and times are meaningless, as you say, with ever race being different in terms of length, difficulty and attendance. That’s why I’ve always been interested in percentage finish (and that’s the concept that the Mudstacle League is built on)

  33. Hi All,
    I completely agree with all the burpee points, have never done one of the Spartan events yet as being fairly new in the OCR sport but doing my 1st one later on in the year.
    I personally don’t like cheats and am fairly competitive so wouldn’t like people jumping ahead of me unfairly.
    My idea/suggestion would be something like at the Biathlon. People those fail or not attempting an obstacle should get an instant penalty wristband by some marshal or some mark on their race number before being allowed to continue the course. Let us say after every 10 obstacles on the main course comes a penalty area where a separate, easier to manage obstacle course is set up. For every tick on your number or wrist band for failed obstacles you have to do one loop on this side course in order to proceed. A marshal takes any marks or wristbands of you after any completed lap, in that order everything is fair to anybody. The weaker competitor don’t have to do the super difficult obstacles or for some people unbearable punishment burpees, but they are going to do penalty laps on these side courses instead. I recon this would even spice events up when the last penalty course is close to the finish and people start guessing how fast somebody ahead with penalty mark is going through the penalty area, whether they can catch up or not…….hope this all makes sense 🙂

    • Love it! That sounds like a great idea and it would mean that there wouldn’t have to be a loop by every obstacle – which, logistically, would be far easier for the organisers.

  34. Pete, one more point I think you failed to mention, that bugs me, is the inability of most ,especially the elite,to perform a burpee correctly! Most appear to to think the ‘bellyflop,worm,jump’ is acceptable verses a squatthrust, push up.

    • I so nearly went into that but thought it was getting a bit long as it was… figured I’d focus on the overriding issue. But you’re right – it’s another massive flaw

  35. Burpees are not going anywhere. They are a deterrent. Spartan races are not perfect, just like life, work through it. The elites manage to work through this and from what I have witnessed elite burpees are closely counted. The goal in these races is to work through adversity and problems its a wild event. Everything in life is monitored and measured thats not what OCR is about. STFU…

    • I came 19th on Friday in Dubai and they weren’t monitored. The same in the UK. There are 250 in the elite wave – it’s unmanageable to track all of them on an obstacle like the spear throw.

  36. Great write up. I have felt the same way for years about the lack of integrity by some racers and how it is tolerated. I will say though, Spartan Race is finally taking small steps to crack down on it. There are now designated burpee pits at all failable obstacles with a camera. 30 seconds per missed burpee. I have seen it enforced after the fact several times where racers were penalized and even lost podium spots because of it. The proper form is also being enforced and outlined before the elite heats. I still think they are a bit lax after the top 10, but things are indeed getting better.

  37. Great write-up Pete. I agree with you here. Burpees suck. BUT, since it’s Spartan’s way of things, I propose that if there are 15 obstacles in a race, then everyone has 15 tearaway flags to maintain through the race. Fail an obstacle? Lose a flag. At the end just prior to jumping the fire, your flags are tallied. End the race with 4 less than you started with? Why, that’s 4 sets of 30 Burpees for you to complete – in front of a marshall – or where the electronic counters are. Then you get to jump the fire and get your medal.

    I’m just saying.

  38. completely agree Pete.
    I’m not a huge fan of the Spartan races one of which is for this type of thing. I was busting my balls to hit the top 20 and there were racers just taking the piss. Some of the obstacles were time, one you were supposed to hold bags with outstretched arms for a certain time. some people clearly couldn’t count.

    I dont agree with all obstacles being ‘Must do’ because this would eliminate some of the really fun challenging ones.

    Another solution – Cant manage the obstacle? carry this heavy object (tyre, log, sand bag) down to that marker and back again. This would allow the distance of forfeit to be altered depending on the difficulty of the obstacle keeping it fair.

  39. I can’t speak to elite waves, but in the general field I would disagree that the presence of burpee cheats has any impact on the meaning of your finishing position. The reason? The number of burpee cheats will be roughly consistent at all races, so finishing #1,000 out of 5,000 will mean the same at one race as another. (Or at least as close as possible, given the variables from race to race.) It may not be precisely accurate, but if you’re using rank as an indicator of personal progress, burpee cheats won’t have much impact on that.

    Again, that won’t necessarily hold true as you approach the top. And it seems a bit weird to sign up for a Spartan Race and then skip out of something that’s kind of central to it, but I’m happy not to have to worry about other people.

  40. Interesting to see that this has been the most active and fiery comments section to date. Don’t you dare criticise Spartan!!!! I’m with Pete on this, I’ve done one Spartan race and personally I wouldn’t pay to do another, based on that one experience. People of all levels skipping obstacles, knocking out 3-5 standard rather than Spartan burpees, and then running off into the sunset. Racers cheating on walls, being called out by marshals and then aggroing their way out of burpees, etc etc. It’s gutting to lose places to people who haven’t completed the race, full stop. I’ve seen plenty of runners avoiding basic water obstacles in OCRs, never mind proper challenges! I think you should stay in situe until you complete the obstacle – with the caveat that if you’re obviously at a level where that’s never going to happen then the marshals should let you off after x (genuine) attempts.

  41. Has anyone on here ever marshalled a Spartan Race? I know we have a few people who marshal on the forums. Would be interesting to hear what they are told by the event organisers and their take on all of this.

  42. Interesting stuff here – I’m reading all comments quite thoroughly and have a request –

    The people who say that burpees are monitored by camera (US Racers im guessing): Please include in your comment what race and obstacle you saw the cameras at. And mention whether you yourself saw them of just heard reports of them.

    Clearly the UK and Dubai races are lacking this camera functionality but it would be interesting to hear if every single obstacle at every single race in America has a camera… that could be 25 cameras at a beast for example.

    Furthermore, who actually watches the footage back…?

    After the race do 25 staff sit down infront of x hours of footage (bear in mind there are up to 25 cameras) and literally count every single burpees done? Sounds mindnumbing.

    Just sounds so effort and cost intensive that I’m not sure if even that is enforced properly…

    Would be interesting to hear views on this 🙂

    • Video analysis on this scale sounds like an unrealistic solution to me. Reading between the lines from the comments here and elsewhere, I think a lot of the focus might be on the top 10 racers in the elite wave, which obviously is no use to all of the other competitors.

      • I thought as much but wanted to have it confirmed as the camera proponents seemed to dismiss the point that everyone wants to play by the rules, not just the first ten racers.

        As described, it is indeed not a solution for the problem at hand.

    • I don’t really understand your comment… feel free to rephrase if you’d like a more considered response. This is not about laziness, this is about making this a fair competition. Sorry if that sounds whiny to you – maybe that is the only way to get something done about this issue.

  43. You are right on several points. I will say if you enter an open heat you are accepting the “cheating” or at least “Strolling” crowd. It is fun to think about it differently (competitively) but when you come to a long line at a wall or watch people hold their stomachs as they stroll past the monkey bars you know who is there.

    For the Elite heats they really do only care about the podium challengers. I have not seen in those heats a prevalence of cheating even in the middle class, where I run finishing 40-60. the obstacles have to be attempted and I have seen racers DQ’d for lying. You cannot trust people to have honor. I hope that as the years pass and the Spartan OCR lustre has worn off, that only competitors who care will remain. There will be more elite heats in the future, pitting similar athletes together, much like a marathon start. The solutions are hard because the course is hard. 30 Burpees is appropriate for decent athletes, even when tired you are looking at a 3 minute penalty plus the energy lost with no ground covered. 10 Burpees will have obstacles “skipped” as much as possible in the rules. Your points are valid, and I think that as athletes are DQ’d for lying the competitive field will narrow.
    Open class runners have nothing to complain about. You will have long lines, half full buckets, pretend burpees, team tire flips, etc. Just remember that Spartan is a company and they need as many runners as possible. So whatever allows them to do the most runners they will do. I am not an “elite” athlete, but I want to know my best efforts compared to others, I pay to run the elite heats and watch the podium runners sprint away in the first mile, but I do not wait at obstacles and I have not seen the cheating that you are mostly frustrated with.

    • Great points about running the elite if you are competitive about it, but the open racers pay for a timing chip which basically means fuck all when your time and rank are ruined by honest mistakes due to fatigue, scofflaws and cheaters. I’d like to see an opt-in timing chip for the open races. Those who are there for a fun run can leave the chip to the more competitive and not mess with our times and ranks. Another option would be to give the course marshals the ability to record bib #’s of those cheating, and they can be DQ’d or assessed time penalties after the fact.

  44. This irked me too during an event last year, the penalty was 30 push-ups! I started mine, guys came next to me and maybe did 5-10, then went

  45. Completely agree. Not only is monitoring the quantity of burpees hard but burpees are very subjective. If Spartan wants to have an elite competitive racing event drawing the best athletes in the world, I think the best decision would be to drop burpees all together and do some kind of objective alternative like another obstacle as you have suggested. Or if they want to just be a non-competitive ‘fun run’ type event then that’s another story. But in my opinion as long as subjective elements and un-enforced rules (bucket carry style) are there then there will be controversy and unprofessionalism.

  46. I did the Scotland Super a few weeks back; a fantastically put together route with a lot of exciting new challenges I’d not seen in a Spartan Race before. As ever, I managed every obstacle but the spear throw, which is frustrating without thinking about the penalty. I went on to do my burpees, and saw another man fail. The warden told him he needed to get down and do his burpees and he said no, running for the next leg. The warden (bless her heart) shouted after him saying he couldn’t go yet and that it’s not an optional penalty, and he simply shouted back,’f*ck off’.
    I was angry at that point, seeing a warden who was doing exactly what she was put there to do and encouraging everyone to complete all thirty burpees, and some douche runs off, quite simply because he wasn’t up for the challenge and he wanted a quicker time.
    Maybe if they reintroduce the gladiators and have them at every obstacle – if they see you do any less than thirty, they take you down. Gods know I wanted him taken down.

  47. Maybe if you were racing competitively or elite, you could be required to collect a chip or a mark from a Marshall for completing an obstacle, and if you failed the obstacle the forfeit would be TIME. So the time you forfeit would be considerably MORE than it would take to complete the obstacle, it would be specific to each obstacle, and the Marshall’s mark would show the time you have added for each obstacle. Before you can claim your time as elite/competitive you’d need to have a Marshall at the finish line check your markers and add the extra time. For fun racers or those not concerned about time, if they don’t check in after the finish line their time doesn’t count on the elite or competitive list, and if they want to think their chip time is all that and that their cheating doesn’t matter they can do it OUTSIDE of fair and honorable competition.

  48. Here is my solution idea. Have two officials at each obstacle. One officiates the obstacle, the other the burpees. Anyone who fails the obstacle is sent to stand IN LINE for the other official who oversees the burpees. The beauty of this is that each competitor has to wait their turn to perform the burpees and all the burpees are overseen by the official. When a competitor gets to the front of the line, the official registers their bib, and failed obstacle stats get reported and used along with race times in rankings.

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