Some people like to kick back on a beach for vacation; others hit a big city for shows and restaurants.
Not Seth Spitz. On his next vacation, the New Yorker and his wife will face fire, mud and barbed wire in Hawaii, where they’re participating in the Spartan Race trifecta on Aug. 16-17. About a dozen members of their gym are renting a house in Oahu and making a vacation out of the extreme obstacle course race.
The group is part of a trend of people taking “racecations” — trips built around participation in events ranging from traditional marathons to mud-spattered obstacle courses.
“I think it’s a reflection of our society,” says Michele Comeau, communications manager for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, which has hosted Tough Mudder obstacle races since 2012. “People are looking for different ways to spend their time. When they go on vacation, they’re looking for something challenging and adventurous.”
About 20,000 people descended on Whistler for the 2014 Tough Mudder, Comeau noted, up from 15,000 in 2012.
“People are looking for different ways to spend their time. When they go on vacation, they’re looking for something challenging and adventurous.”
And Tough Mudders stay the course. The organization says an average of 40 percent of participants spend at least one night at the race location. Races in destination spots, such as Las Vegas, bring competitors from all corners: Up to 35 percent of participants travel more than three hours and 5 percent travel internationally for the opportunity to hurl themselves over obstacles.
Racecations aren’t new or limited to obstacle courses. “People have been doing it for Ironman (triathlons) for decades,” says Erin Beresini, author of the upcoming “Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing.” But non-traditional races — such as those involving mud, color, foam, electricity or even zombies — now have nearly double the number of finishers as traditional marathons and half-marathons combined and lend themselves especially well to racecations. “The courses are unique … so that attracts people to travel to check out courses,” says Beresini.
And the competitors aren’t traveling alone.
“It’s got to be an experience for friends and family, too,” Beresini says. “When we went to the Spartan in Vermont, the draw for my husband was the proximity of Ben & Jerry’s. It was the most amazing weekend.”
Beyond sightseeing, racecations offer a way to become part of the community, Beresini says. “A lot of times, locals are volunteering. It’s a unique way to see a town’s spirit that you wouldn’t see otherwise.”
The trend is global, and for Beresini, it’s the best way to meet people when traveling abroad. “You will meet a ton of awesome people … and you automatically have something in common.”
A racecation is a win-win situation, says Gina Utegg, who travels up to 10 times a year for events ranging from triathlons to adventure races. “If you have enough money to travel, and you’ve been training and want to test yourself out and go with friends, it’s a bonding experience,” says the athlete. “Part of my motivation is seeing friends I haven’t seen in a long time.”
For Danielle Carlino, a recent convert to marathons, racecations provide a dual motivation. Planning for her first race, she knew she needed something to spur her on. Since she had never been to California, she opted for the 2013 Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. She now has five such trips under her belt. “They’re just so much more fun. I crossed a bunch of things off my bucket list — I ran a marathon, I put my feet in the Pacific Ocean.”
There’s a post-race lure, too.
“It’s fun to go out on the town after with your medal and your friends and celebrate.”
Climbing ropes? Check. Traverse wall? Check. Spears, targets, and hay bales? Check.
While it sounds like the set-up list for an obstacle race, it’s actually a list of things you’ll find on one Midtown rooftop, just blocks from Bryant Park, where Epic Hybrid Training just opened its new location.
The small fitness studio opened quietly on the Upper East Side two years ago, and founder Alex Nicholas, a Spartan Sponsored Athlete, infused his passion for the obstacle race into the business model. When classes were packed with long waitlists, he decided he needed more space, and the second studio, conveniently equipped with rooftop access, had its grand opening on August 1.
“We’re trying to find an alternative for people that want to work hard and play hard, something a little bit different from CrossFit where you’re not doing super heavy lifts for, in my opinion, no real reason,” he says. “You get your heart rate up, you’re working your ass off.”
Like, really working your ass off. Epic’s classes have a different focus each day of the week (i.e. upper half, core, etc.) and the workouts in each class change each month. No matter which class you take, you’ll be tackling seriously challenging movements and working at maximum intensity.
I took SGX: Spartan, the class specifically designed to prep attendees for participation in the race, and it was the toughest class I’ve experienced in a long time. Working in teams, we did circuits involving farmer’s walks (I carried 80 pounds!), ring traverses (or knee tucks), kettlebell swings, jump squats with a 25-pound sand bag on our backs, and more. (Alas, heading to the roof for spear throwing into hay bales was not on the menu that day.)
Here’s the catch: After each circuit, you have to shoot a ball into a bucket. If you miss, that’s 10 burpees. Let’s just say I’ve never done so many burpees in my life. (They also have an all burpee class on the schedule.)
It was enough to leave me feeling slightly shaky afterward and is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it was a lot of fun, and you really could feel a sense of community in the room. “We all work as a team,” Nicholas says—and not just metaphorically. At a recent Spartan Race, Epic’s team competed with 75 members.
And don’t worry: even if you’re not interested in competing in the mud, you’ll feel like you’ve crossed a finish line after class. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.epichybridtraining.com
Although I am far from a marathon runner, cardio workouts have always been much easier for me than my biggest fitness challenge — strength training. While some women may strive for size-2 skinny jeans, I find myself envious of ladies who can effortlessly lift 25-pound weights. Continually on the lookout for a way to build muscle, I was intrigued when I first heard of EPIC Hybrid Training (AKA the “Monkey Bar gym”) through Living Social — where else? So I tried it, and true to name, it was EPIC. (Like, could-barely-stand-up-the-next-day epic.)
The Gist: The EPIC workout was specifically designed to prepare you for obstacle course events like the Spartan Race, no matter your fitness level. Each day of the week is devoted to a different workout and concentration, like your lower body or core. The workouts change every month, but the concentrations remain the same. The best part? One hour-long session burns 900 to 1,100 calories.
The Experience: I attended a “Spartan Inspired” Monday night class that revolved around obstacle training techniques and functional fitness. I was warned to not bring sneakers, but was still a little wary about working out sans shoes (hygiene anyone?). Nevertheless, the rest of the group seemed less than fazed, so off came my socks and sneakers.
As Alex Nicholas (my instructor and the owner of EPIC) ran through the day’s workout, I fought the urge to bolt out the door — particularly after his third mention of the word “burpee.” I perked up a bit, however, when he said we would also be swinging from ropes Tarzan-style and using monkey bars. Fun!
After our warm-up, we were each assigned a color that corresponded to our team. Over the course of the workout, you went with your team to four different stations, where you had 10 minutes to complete AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of four different obstacle-oriented exercises. After completing each round, you tried to shoot a ball into a bucket. If you made the shot, you earned a point for your team. If you missed, you had to complete 10 burpees before starting the exercises again. (Ugh.)
Sound confusing? Between trying to figure out how the system worked, and attempting to remember how to perform each exercise, I was more than a little lost. Luckily, my team helped me out, and after my first round I got the hang of it (kinda). Over the next 40 minutes I completed ball slams, plank to elbows, squats, rope kicks, bicycle crunches, and more burpees than I want to remember (really, who invented those?). The 10-burpee penalty certainly encouraged me to try really,really hard to get that ball into that little bucket.
When the workout was finally over, whichever team had the most points didn’t have to complete the penalty (burpees, what else?). Shockingly, I was NOT on the winning team — like I said, still trying to block out the burpees.
My Take: Although I wasn’t technically victorious, I was proud I made it through and could already feel my muscles aching. EPIC certainly pushed me further than most strength training classes, but I loved how the group dynamic (and workout itself) mimicked the obstacle course atmosphere. Plus, the playground props added some fun to a normally grueling routine. A full 24 hours after EPIC, I was still wincing in pain when I tried to change my clothes or even walk.
It’s three days after my EPIC Hybrid session and I am finally no longer sore.
Next up…Spartan Race?
As the mornings continue to get colder, I find myself having the same internal battle more and more frequently: To stay or not to stay? (in my warm comfy bed, that is). “The gym is only seven floors away,” I say to myself. “It can’t be that bad.” Read more
By DANIEL KRIEGER
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