If someone would have told Brett Rancadore 10 years ago he would run multiple marathons and complete some of the most grueling outdoor races in the country, he might have struggled to contain his laughter.
Thinking back to that point in his life on a recent afternoon, the 33-year-old Atascadero resident can’t help but smile. Rancadore’s 5-foot-10 frame was supporting more than 245 pounds then, and he hadn’t run more than a mile since high school.
What started out as motivation to shed a few extra pounds developed into a rekindled passion for hiking, and eventually, Rancadore grew determined to cross one particular item off his bucket list: running a marathon.
Fast forward to today, and Rancadore has completed one half-marathon, the SLO Marathon twice and, as of Saturday morning, four Spartan races. While the latter might not sound as significant to the average outdoorsman, those are among Rancadore’s proudest accomplishments.
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“Being where I was at weight-wise, it kind of woke me up,” Rancadore said. “I’ve got to do something, and that’s when I changed.”
Spartan races have grown exponentially in popularity over the past few years. The competitions vary in length — from a 3-mile “sprint” to a 26-mile “ultra beast” — and participants must complete a series of obstacles, between 20 and 60 physical challenges, along the way.
On Saturday, Rancadore completed his second Monterey Super at Toro Park, held about 130 miles north of San Luis Obispo in Salinas. He finished the roughly 8-mile course with more than 25 obstacles in 3 hours, 2 minutes, 16 seconds, shaving more than an hour off his 2015 time.
There was certainly a feeling of redemption as Rancadore crossed the finish line. One year earlier, he went into his first Spartan race with limited knowledge of the course and felt under prepared, resulting in severe leg cramps two miles into the race.
“You’re burning massive calories, massive energy,” Rancadore said. “If you’re quick, you’re out there for only a couple hours. If you’re not as fast, a little bit slower, you can be out there between three and seven hours.”
Pushing the limits
The first Spartan race was held in 2010 in Vermont and was the brain child of CEO and co-founder Joe De Sena. Since its inception, Spartan races have been held in North America, Europe, South Korea and Australia, and in 2013 the company formed partnerships with Reebok and NBC Sports.
About a year later, not long after completing his second SLO Marathon, Rancadore was researching new challenges and began looking into outdoor obstacle courses. He found information on the popular Tough Mudder races, a similarly challenging series designed by British Special Forces.
Spartan race seemed like a more disciplined and better fit, so Rancadore registered for the 8-mile Monterey Super. Immediately hooked, he went on to complete the Spartan Trifecta, finishing the 3-mile Sacramento Sprint and the 12-mile Tahoe Beast in one calendar year.
“I love the challenge,” Rancadore said. “Physically, mentally, how far can I go? What can I accomplish?”
There’s an element of surprise to each race that Rancadore seems to enjoy. Participants are given information packets prior to the race, and he’s learned first-hand how valuable those can be when it comes to preparing for a variety of obstacles.
Competitors must be ready for challenges such as the fire jump, barbed-wire crawl, spear throw, rope climb, tire flip, monkey bars and many, many others. Rancadore recommends utilizing the information available on the Spartan race website, where video tutorials show step-by-step instructions on how to prepare for each obstacle.
If a competitor cannot complete an obstacle, they must perform 30 burpees before continuing. Rancadore said he was required to do 150 burpees during Saturday’s race, something he was more prepared for the second time around.
“Monterey is usually one of the tougher races just because of the hills,” Rancadore said. “You wouldn’t expect it, but they’re steep and a lot of it is soft dirt, too. It’s still a lot of fun.”
A dangerous game
Training for Spartan races isn’t Rancadore’s top priority. Far from it, actually.
He works a full-time job at Trust Automation in San Luis Obispo, holds a part-time job on the side and takes classes at Cuesta College while pursuing his associate’s degree in electrical technology.
Rancadore said he prefers to take advantage of all the hiking trails in San Luis Obispo County to keep his training routine fresh. He lists the challenging Cerra Alto Trail and Stenner Creek Trail as two of his favorite places to train.
“You try to find the balance,” Rancadore said. “Everyone is busy, and everyone is so overwhelmed with a lot of stuff. You just try to prioritize things.”
Rancadore’s next race will likely be the 12-to-14-mile Tahoe Beast in October, site of the 2016 Spartan World Championship. The starting line at Squaw Valley, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, sits at an elevation of 6,224 feet, and participants will climb their way upward of 9,000 feet.
While the championship race will draw elite competitors from all over the world, Rancadore said Spartan has adjusted its race rules and obstacles over the years to improve safety for everyday participants.
There have been several well-documented cases of competitors suffering life-threatening injuries during Spartan races. At last year’s Monterey Super, a 25-year-old man from Nevada was paralyzed after diving head first off a 10-foot hill into a muddy pool of water.
The first article of the Spartan race waiver, which every athlete must sign, reads, “The risk of serious injury and/or death from the activities involved participating in any event, as a participant, is significant.”
That’s why Rancadore takes pride in being as prepared as he possibly can. He plans accordingly for each event, bringing an extra shirt when a swimming element is expected, or extra salt tablets to help ailing fellow runners.
“There’s injuries left and right,” Rancadore said.
So, no, the Spartan race series isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.
But it wasn’t that long ago when Rancadore didn’t even consider himself a runner. He would have laughed at the notion.
“Sure enough, here I am,” he said. “I’ve done two marathons, a half-marathon and four Spartan races.
“I’m not a massive athlete. I’m just an average guy.”
Sprint: 3-5 miles, 20-23 obstacles
Super: 8-10 miles, 24-29 obstacles
Beast: 12-14 miles, 30-35 obstacles
Upcoming races in California: San Francisco Super (July 16); SoCal Beast and Sprint (Sept. 17); Spartan World Championship at Lake Tahoe (Oct. 1); Sacramento Super and Sprint (Nov. 12); Los Angeles Sprint (Dec. 10); SoCal Super and Sprint (Jan. 28).