Heeding the call of Spartan races


Exhausted, yet elated, after completing his first Spartan obstacle course race near Flathead Lake several years ago, Alger Swingley knew he would return again and again to run in the increasingly popular event.

The scenic springtime course leads racers up steep slopes, through flat meadows, and near the scenic shoreline.

Swingley had slogged through mud, slithered under barbed wire, climbed walls, leaped over flames, and was eager to do it all again the next year. Spartan Racing Inc. offers courses to test competitors’ physical strength and mental fortitude and to ultimately “rip you from your comfort zone,” according to Spartan.com. “If you think you can’t do it, you’re wrong. Get to the starting line and show yourself what you are capable of.”

“This will be my fourth time,” said Swingley, 61, a member of the Blackfeet Nation. “It’s a challenge, and you have such a strong sense of satisfaction after completing it. During training throughout the year, you’re looking forward to the event.”

Swingley will lead the Blackfeet Outfitters team during the Spartan Sprint and Beast races on May 6 and 7 at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge at Bigfork. Named for Swingley’s guiding business based in Babb, he and about a dozen Blackfeet tribal members will be among thousands of Spartans from throughout the nation who have registered for the popular event.

Last year, 7,100 Spartans competed in the races, which are hosted and sponsored by the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau.

This year, Swingley hopes to notch a trifecta, finishing a course in the three Spartan racing divisions: the Sprint with about 20 to 23 obstacles in 3 to 5 miles, the Super with 24 to 29 obstacles in 8 to 10 miles, and the Beast with more than 30 obstacles in 12 to 14 miles.

“I wanted to do a trifecta last year but couldn’t with my schedule,” he said, although he was pleased to finish eighth in his age group last year. “This year, I’ll be able to finish the Sprint and Beast here, then I’ll do a Super in California.”

Swingley was led to Spartan racing when the staff of the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau, wanting to ensure a good turnout on race day, began calling potential participants. Swingley was a natural to invite and lead a tribal team.

Running his hunting and fishing business, he was already physically fit with the demands of his job—hiking, climbing, lifting, and feeling at ease in the outdoors where trudging in mud and splashing through water were the daily backdrop of his outdoor office.

After finishing his first race, Swingley became so motivated with training he shed 45 pounds and changed his diet. He hopes to inspire others, showing how fitness and healthy food can help you live a more fulfilling lifestyle. The more Swingley learned about Spartan racing, the more he liked.

“At obstacles, racers will often help each other,” he said.

They are “giving generously,” a fulfillment of one of the nine points of the Spartan creed, which has little to do with muscle and more with a mindset. True Spartans push their minds and bodies to their limits, master their emotions, and learn continuously, according to Spartan.com. They know their flaws as well as strengths, prove themselves through actions not words, and live every day as if it were their last.

People of all fitness levels are welcome, either as elite racers who are competitive or open entrants who simply want to finish. A racecourse is offered for children, too.

The Montana Spartan race is not only on Swingley’s bucket list but also on Thomas Reynolds’ list. A commercial loan officer in Twin Falls, Idaho, the 50-year-old plans to complete the Beast at Bigfork. Reynolds became hooked on Spartan races in 2013 after finishing his first Beast race in Sacramento.

“I’d done some Dirty Dash obstacle courses, but they weren’t timed and weren’t very challenging for me,” said Reynolds, who registers for at least a half dozen Spartan races a season throughout the West.

“Wherever I go, I’m out there for the competition. I don’t plan to win, but I do compete with myself and my teammates on the Spartan Spuds. If I have the opportunity, I’ll run the first race of the day in the elite group and run a second race for fun or with team members who are running in the open wave.”

He offers advice for those who are considering a Spartan race.

“People tend to focus too much on the obstacles and spend a majority of their training on completing obstacles,” he said. “They may be able to complete every obstacle, but do they have the cardio to run 4 miles, 9 miles, or 13-plus miles? Focus on running, mostly trails, and in your spare time work on grip strength and obstacles.”

After completing the Montana course, he will run in the Spartan Sprint Race on June 23 at the Thomas Pence Ranch near Payette in western Idaho. He will also race in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and California.

“I’m excited for the upcoming season,” said Reynolds.

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