SHERIDAN — Somewhere after the rolling mud hills and the leap over an 8-foot wall, but before carrying a 30-pound sand bag up a steep hill and the Herculean Hoist, Rob Michaud realized that in Spartan Race terms “The Beast” really is a beast.
“I found out in the first mile that, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to die here,’” Michaud said. “I had to slow down and trot it. I had a horrible first race. I can’t believe I finished it.”
After that first mile, there were 11 more to go. Michaud was wet and muddy and had muscles screaming at him that he didn’t even know he had.
But, he finished.
And three months later, Michaud was running in the elite class at his second Spartan Race in Illinois.
“Spartan Races definitely woke me up to how fit you need to be. Ever since, I’ve been trail running, and I’m kind of addicted,” Michaud said.
Some may think he is addicted to pain, but he would say he is addicted to the challenge of becoming a stronger, healthier version of himself.
“I’m the type of person that if you fail at something, you want to try to do better next time,” Michaud said. “In other words, if you get your butt kicked, you want to get up and fight back.”
It is that attitude that has made this Big Horn resident Wyoming’s top Spartan Race obstacle course competitor — and one of the top 50 Spartan Racers in the world. In 2013, Michaud placed 48th, which earned him a free race pass to all races this year. He typically places in the top five in his age group of 40-44.
Spartan Races, which are sponsored by Reebok, have been considered the global leader in obstacle course racing since 2005, and are tougher than tough mudders, warrior dashes and other trail runs.
Spartan has three levels of races for men and women. The shorter Spartan Sprint is 3-7 miles, the Super Spartan is 8 or more miles, and the Spartan Beast is 10-12 miles. The Ultra Beast is a full marathon with obstacles along more than 26 miles.
Yes, that’s right, Michaud jumped right into the beast with only eight weeks to train for it because his friend, John Billings, mentioned that he was doing a Spartan Race in Utah, and Michaud wanted to know more about it.
He doesn’t remember the particulars of the conversation but it could have gone something like this:
“What’s this race you’re running?”
“The Spartan? It’s this 12-mile race with obstacles every quarter-mile or so.”
“What kind of obstacles?”
“Oh, you know, fun stuff. First, you run through some water then climb a muddy hill, then run through some more water, then climb a few more muddy hills. Then you run through some more water and climb a rope and ring a bell at the top. After that, you jump a wall.”
“How high of a wall?”
“Four feet, 8 feet, somewhere in there. Then you haul a chunk of concrete up a pulley for the Herculean Hoist, carry a chunk of concrete 50 yards, do some burpees, haul a 30-pound sand bag up a steep hill, jump a few more walls and throw a spear 30 feet.”
“What if you miss?”
“You don’t want to miss.”
“Humiliation. You do 30 burpees in front of thousands of spectators.”
Somewhere around this point in the conversation, Michaud said, “Sign me up!”
Michaud was fresh off a career of building houses and knew he was in decent shape. However, he hadn’t run much since his years in Hershey Track and high school athletics.
He ran in the open category on his first race then moved into the elite category on his second race in Illinois, where he placed 40th out of approximately 250 “elite” male competitors. On a typical weekend race, there can be more than 5,000 people racing.
The next year, in 2013, he ran 15 races in locations all over the U.S. including California, Illinois, Montana, Utah and the world championship in Vermont.
Someday, Michaud hopes to run internationally. Spartan Races are held all over the world in places like Australia, Chile, Hungary and South Africa.
No matter where he races, though, Michaud will continue to train in the Bighorn Mountains. He runs to the top of Red Grade Road at least once per week, which is 3 miles each way with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. He is pushing himself to do the whole run without stopping.
Michaud also runs on the Soldier Ridge Trail west of Sheridan. He drags sandbags on his runs and also built a haystack target in his backyard to practice the spear throw.
“My first couple of races, everybody on their first race didn’t hit the spear throw, so it was automatic burpee-ing,” Michaud said. “The spear throw is always at the end, so you have all these people watching, and then you miss and must do burpees in front of thousands of people. When I missed on my first one, I said, ‘I’ll set up a throw like all these others have done,’ and it’s been a good idea.”
Michaud also trains in many local races like the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run and even shorter runs like the Run ‘Til Your Green Fun Run. He also has plans to open a gym in Sheridan in the next year or so to promote a healthier lifestyle for any and all who are interested.
Moreover, in the last year, the Spartan Race has become a family affair, Michaud said.
His wife, Krista, has been training for six months to get ready for her second race in Montana. And his boys, Bryce, 15, Brock, 13, and Bridger, 11, often run mini races when they travel with their Spartan dad around the U.S.
“It’s pretty extreme. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It just wipes you out. It’s that challenge that people seek to try to prove they can do it,” Michaud said. “I think the founders of Spartan were out to get people off the couch to do something more in life.”