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Health: Fitness races aren’t your average workout

05/01/2016 6:00 AM |

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More than 37 percent of people age 20 and over are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As if finding time to work out isn’t hard enough — only 20 percent of us exercise regularly — keeping excess weight off is typically a challenge. Arguably a bigger challenge is getting rid of it in the first place.

Enter the Spartan Race.

A relatively new concept in the world of fitness — the first such event was held six years ago in Burlington, Vt. — Spartan Races comprise of a variety of feats of strength that actually harken back to the days long before physical fitness was considered an actual activity.

It was just how people lived: running up hills, flipping logs, carrying sandbags. All of these activities, and much more, are part of the overall concept that “makes working out fun,” said Southold resident Jason Leonard, a certified Spartan trainer.

Mr. Leonard recently led a crew of about 50 participants from JABS in Cutchogue through a Spartan Race at Citi Field, where they completed a grueling three-plus mile race involving over 15 obstacles, and finished 46th out of over 500 participating teams.

Mr. Leonard, 46, was certified as a Spartan trainer two years ago. He started getting into fitness about six years ago and has found the camaraderie of competing in a race as part of a team rewarding.

“It’s the kind of thing you don’t know until you’ve done one or two of them,” he said. “I always say, ‘You’ll know what it’s like at the finish line.’ And it’s true. It’s almost like a whole society.”

Jill Schroeder, who owns JABS, said she plans to offer training for more Spartan events in the future.

Getting to do the race at Citi Field was a unique experience, she said.

“We were literally in every part of the stadium: the bleachers, the background, one of the locker rooms, the top, the bottom, on the field, outside of the stadium — every place we were, we had a different view and different moment to take in the venue. We never would have seen Citi Field in this way.”

Both agreed that Spartan Races — which, despite being a brand of their own, are similar to mud runs and different kinds of obstacle courses — offer users a new, fresh approach to fitness that traditional weight-lifting can’t offer. The focus is different, more on endurance and less on bulk lifting, and the mind-set it offers is new as well.

“I think it breaks up the monotony of doing something like a 5K or a 10K,” Ms. Schroeder said.

In addition to Spartan races, several similar types of alternative physical activities have come to the fore, from Crossfit to adventure or mud runs.

In Riverhead, Dean Del Prete is going all-in on alternative fitness and fun by turning the former golf course at Calverton Links into Long Island Sports Park.

The 80-acre facility will not only host several fitness runs throughout the year — for children and adults — but will offer several alternative activities meant to get people out and about. These include paintball, mini-golf and even foot golf (instead of using an arsenal of clubs, players kick a ball into a 21-inch cup).

“When I talk to my staff and ask them, ‘What do we sell? I let them answer for a few minutes, but, at the end of the day, we’re selling fun,” Mr. Del Prete said. “For a couple of hours a day, people aren’t at work. Kids aren’t studying for the Regents. They’re being present where they’re at.”

Whether it’s a toned-down version of outdoor activity like foot golf or something much higher in intensity like a Spartan Race, one thing is for sure: Fitness doesn’t have to mean going to the gym and lifting dumbbells.

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