Trail Sisters Half Marathon & 10k

September 14th • Buena Vista, CO

Spartan vs. Ultra

Des is a crunchy, plant-powered, trail-loving ultra runner. She grew up exploring the woods of central PA, and currently lives and runs in Arizona.

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Part 2  

If you missed Par 1, click here.

by Deserae Clarke

In my last post I talked about the differences between my two favorite athletic events, Spartan races and ultra trail races.  This post I’m going to focus more on their similarities.  I think the similarities are stronger, though perhaps not as noticeable as the differences.


I feel like camaraderie is the root of all sports, but that can seem to get lost in trash-talking, end-zone celebrations, doping and cheating scandals.  However, camaraderie is alive and well in both Spartan and ultra events.  Perhaps both are a little too new or obscure for these scourges to have reached them.  Or maybe it’s the fact that while there are still professionals, they are accessible enough that the vast majority of competitors are looking to finish and not to place. At both races you know that if you need help with obstacles, mid-race nutrition, or aid station assistance, you will find it.  Fellow racers are willing to lend a hand, both figuratively and literally.


Teamwork during the log carry section of the Spartan Race
Teamwork during the log carry section of the Spartan Race


Another layer to this camaraderie is both races also hold the possibility of being in need of serious help.  Depending on the race it could include injuries, hypothermia, dehydration, or other medical issues that given conditions could turn life-threatening. Helping a fellow racer means something beyond just being friendly, and it might one day be you in need of that help.

Unique (aka “crazy”)

Despite the growing popularity of both obstacle course racing and ultra running, it’s still a very small number of people compared to the general population that exercise/take part in sports.  And in a society where the rate of obesity continues to rise and many people see a 5k as an impossible challenge, you can be seen as a little crazy for attempting either a type of race.  However, I am of the opinion that humans have made our lives a little too easy, and have taken away the physical challenges we were meant to face on a daily basis.  The trials in training and racing may separate us from the rest of society, but they also bring us closer to our roots and make us a little more human.


In my last post I noted the differences in the obstacles and environment of the Spartan and ultra races.  However, it is undeniable that they get us outside the gym and into the great outdoors.  As with the physical challenge of both, I see this as a part of our humanness.  We weren’t made to sit at desks or run on a treadmill. Physical challenges in an outdoor setting bring us a little closer to being the humans we were designed to be.


Start of the Spartan race resembles an ultra race...sans smoke.
Start of the Spartan race resembles an ultra race…sans smoke.



One negative aspect of Spartans and ultras I have to point out is the cost.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, and I understand that the magnitude of organizing both types of events is what dictates the cost.  It takes lots of planning, manpower and resources, to build obstacles, clear trails, stock aid stations, and ensure the safety of all those involved.  Because of the cost of the races, and also the cost of the gear and supplies to compete, it can hinder the number of potential participants. I’m sure there are people who would love to compete in the events, but are unable because of the cost.  Perhaps a scholarship program at some of the races might help.  Even with the famously cheap entry fee of the Barkley’s Marathons, one has to admit that the gear, food, and crew support for the race can financially strap entrants.

I have found that pursuing both Spartan races and ultras has had a positive impact on my life, and given their continued growth I believe they are positively impacting others.  In a society where we strive to make things as easy as possible for ourselves and where we connect digitally more than face to face, both events are bringing people together to rediscover their roots through struggle, and make lasting connections.

Overcoming the physical challenges of the race have given me the confidence that I can face challenges elsewhere in my life.  I not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of calmness in the face of adversity.  I hope that I can be an inspiration to others by displaying what you can achieve with a little hard work and grit.

I always enjoy the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for the sports with others, so feel free to reach out with any questions you might have about either.

Click here to read Par 1. 

About the Author

Des is a crunchy, plant-powered, trail-loving ultra runner. She grew up exploring the woods of central PA, and currently lives and runs in Arizona.

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One Response

  1. Enjoyed reading both your posts about Spartan races and Ultras. I’ve done Spartans but have yet to do an Ultra and it was nice to be reminded that they are similar in many ways! I have to note though that although Spartans can be pricey, many participants run their races for free because they volunteer for race credit. Volunteer for a day and you get to pick any of the Spartan races for free. There are also always Groupons for them too but mostly for afternoon start times. There are ways to save a lot of money with running Spartan races. 🙂 Happy Trails!

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