MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Austin Kuhbier likes a challenge.
The 15-year-old Mahopac junior has found just that in the Reebok Spartan Obstacle Course Race (OCR). The Spartan races, held around the country, provide the additional challenge of obstacles along the course that require the athletes to have a complete fitness level—cardiovascular, strength and mobility.
“It’s a race with a lot of crazy people like me running,” Kuhbier said with a laugh.
The races fall into three categories: The Sprint (3 to 5 miles based on the space available), the Super (8 to 10 miles) and the Beast (12 to 14 miles). Each race is filled with dozens of obstacles and, for the ones here in the Northeast, they are usually run uphill on a mountain typically used for skiing.
Kuhbier said the obstacles include a lot of what race organizers call “monkey bars.”
“There are a lot of those and they all have their own names,” he said. “They have a rope ladder that goes over water and you have to cross it. They have a 15-foot-high cargo net you have to climb and get over.”
The rules also require runners to carry a 60-pound sandbag on their backs for a portion of the race (how far depends on the overall length of the course). The last obstacle before reaching the finish line calls for runners to leap over a mound of burning logs.
But the most challenging obstacle for Kuhbier confronted him when he was running the Beast.
“During the Beast, they have this thing they call the Atlas Carry,” he explained. “It’s a 100-pound concrete ball that you have to carry for 100 feet one way and do it again on the way back. That was hard. You also have to do an Army crawl under barbed wire. Some of the competitors don’t like that one, but I am small and it was easy for me to get under.”
Last year, Kuhbier ran in the kids’ division in two Spartan races. However, this summer he was old enough to run with the adults and he competed in a race at each category level—Sprint, Super and Beast. He ran the Beast on Saturday, Sept. 16, at Killington Mountain in Vermont.
“The ones in our area are all done on ski mountains,” he said. “They have some races in Florida, which is pretty flat. They also have Spartans in stadiums where you have to run up steps.”
The Sprint race Kuhbier competed in was at Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center in Tuxedo, N.Y., and the Super was held at Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Palmerton, Pa.
But for his first time competing in the adult division, Kuhbier’s performances raised more than a few eyebrows. First, he earned the Spartan Trifecta Medal—obtained by completing a Sprint, Super and Beast all in one calendar year. And when all three races were combined, Kuhbier finished in the Top 1 percent.
And here’s how he did in each individual race:
• In the Sprint (3 to 5 miles, 20 to 23 obstacles), he finished 34th out of 4,500 participants and finished fifth out of 180 in his age group (15 to 19).
• In the Super (8 to 10 miles, 24 to 29 obstacles), he finished 16th out of 5,400 and first out of 215 in his age group.
• In the Beast (12 to 14 miles, 30 to 35 obstacles), he finished seventh out of 890 and second out of 11 in his age group.
“I passed a lot of people on the trails, but didn’t realize I had done that well,” he said of his finishes. “You just kind of run.”
Kuhbier first learned about the Spartan races while working out at Bad Mikey’s gym on Route 6 in Mahopac, where he and his mom are members.
“I first heard about it at the gym,” he said. “My mom had done two or three races. So, this year we did the Sprint race together with some other Bad Mikey’s members. I thought, ‘Wow, this is fun,’ so I signed up for the other two. My mom’s a runner, but she can barely keep up with me!”
Realizing he had a love and talent for long-distance running, Kuhbier decided to join the Mahopac High cross-country team this fall. He uses cross-country to maintain his cardiovascular conditioning and his workouts at Bad Mikey’s help with his strength conditioning for the Spartan competitions.
“I am a very competitive person; any sort of game or challenging stuff I get into,” he said. “I just started doing [Spartan] this summer and I’ve already signed up for three more next summer. I like to do all three races so I can get the [Trifecta medal].”
Kuhbier said he’s tried to recruit some of his friends to sign up and participate alongside him, but so far, he hasn’t had much luck convincing them.
“They tell me I’m nuts,” he said.
Kuhbier understands their reluctance. He’s quickly developed a love/hate relationship with his new-found passion.
“Once I start going, it was hard to stop; I get in the zone,” he said. “I love running, but I also hate it. I love the challenge of Spartan because it mixes running with upper body stuff. But there’s pain and it’s so exhausting. You are sore for three days after. But there is a big sense of accomplishment. Right after the race, you are like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I just did that.’ ”