Last Updated on April 5, 2014 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
I remember my very first Spartan Race back in 2011 (recap here). Besides falling into the fire (again) my biggest fear was facing the gladiators at the end of the race with the pugil sticks. Mainly because I spent a good 30 minutes before my wave watching them try to beat the living crap out of the elite heat. Like so:
(don’t bother with the sound, I’m not quite sure what’s going on in that voiceover)
I couldn’t believe such a thing existed in a race, never mind the fact that I had willingly signed up for such nonsense. But when the time came to face these “warriors” at the end of the race, two things worked to my advantage:
1) I sacrificed my best friend Hope and threw her in front of the Gladiators
2) By that point in the day, the boys were less than enthusiastic about their volunteer duties and there wasn’t a huge crowd of spectators cheering them on, so they barely tapped us as we went by.
But regardless, the gladiators were indeed the “icing” on my Spartan race
cake experience that left me feeling a massive adrenaline rush while crossing the finish line, instead of the typical exhausted relief. An amazing, “I kicked ass” high that couldn’t be rivaled by traditional racing.
I have since faced the Gladiators numerous times. Solo, with a partner, in the mud, in stadiums, and even with a team of dozens of other athletes (Hurricane Heat).
And truth be told, the Gladiators were rarely ever as aggressive as they are in that video…unless of course you tried to fight back.
The Gladiators have become an iconic part of the Spartan Race series; the last “battle” before crossing the finish line and earning your coveted medal. But on April 2nd, Spartan Race shocked its fan base with the announcement that in their pursuit to become an Olympic Sport, they would be cutting the gladiators from the race, who made their final appearance at the Charlotte NC sprint just a few weeks prior. We all hoped it was a late April fools joke, but a few days later, it appears that this announcement was indeed legitimate.
It has been no secret that the Spartan Race founders have the ultimate goal of bringing competitive obstacle course racing to the Olympic level. According to founder Joe De Sena, in order to move forward with this goal, every obstacle within a Spartan Race must be athletic in nature. (see more quotes from Joe in The Gladiator is Dead; Long Live the Gladiator!) Obviously battling a (often volunteer) Gladiator can be somewhat subjective, though technically, the timing mat for the finishing line has always been placed BEFORE the gladiators. I suppose some may feel the Gladiators are somewhat gimmicky, and ultimately may not add to the credibility or legitimacy of the sport.
And of course, though not publicly discussed (at least not by SR), I’m certain there’s some sort of insurance/liability issue in allowing random volunteers to beat racers up with a giant padded stick (Paul Jones of New England Spahtens discusses this further in his article “Gladiators for Hire“)
Regardless, change is sad but change is often good, and I think in this instance, it is good for the ultimate goal, which will only further the sport of obstacle course racing. Do the Gladiators make the entire Spartan Race experience? No…
But I sure will miss the gut checks at the end of the race.
Farewell, Gladiators. Thanks for the memories…and occasionally knocking the wind out of me.
Spartan racers past, present or future, what are your thoughts on getting rid of the gladiators?
Celebrate the memory of the Gladiator! Submit your favorite Gladiator picture (heathergannoe at gmail.com) and I’ll post it below with a link to your race recap, if you have one!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.