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Health and wellness

‘Very challenging, and beautiful scenery’: Spartan Race Beijing draws 20,000 for obstacle-course challenge, testament to sport’s rapid rise in China

Sprint, Super or Beast – obstacle races of up to 20km in scenic hills outside Beijing draw a huge field of men and women. Spartan Race novice Elaine Yau takes up the challenge, and is thankful for some help

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 7:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 7:16am

Since its entry to China two years ago, Spartan Race has become a magnet for extreme sports fanatics, weekend racers and spectators. Last weekend nearly 20,000 took part in Spartan Race events in Beijing.

For the first time in China, races in all three Spartan categories – Sprint, Super and Beast, over distances of between 5-plus and 20-plus kilometres and with 20-plus to 30-plus obstacles – were offered.

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Lu Wenqiang travelled from Dalian in northeast China with his family to take part in the event, his 14th Spartan Race.

“I joined the Beast race in Malaysia in 2016. But the Beast race in Beijing is the best in Asia, with very challenging tasks and beautiful scenery,” he said.

The 4,000-plus Beast racers had to overcome challenges including carrying two sandbags weighing more than 50kg on an uphill course.

The Spartan Race was held in Wangzuo, a town in the Qianlingshan mountain range. At the start and finish lines in the town, DJs played music and stalls offered food and drinks, race souvenirs and tattooing.

The Beast race in Beijing is the best in Asia, with very challenging tasks and beautiful scenery
Lu Wenqiang

Launched in 2005 and modelled on the training soldiers in the ancient Greek city of Sparta were put through, over 200 Spartan Race events are held annually in more than 30 countries.

Lena Tsang, one of Hong Kong’s top-ranked obstacle course racers and the first runner-up in the 2017 Spartan Asia-Pacific Championship female masters category, entered all three events at the Spartan Race Beijing – the first time she had done them back to back.

A participant in the 2018 Spartan China Female Championship, Tsang had already completed Spartan races in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai.

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“The Beast and Super races on August 25 were very challenging as they were on held on a hilly course,” she said.

“For the Beast session, immediately after carrying two sandbags weighing 50kg up a flight of steps, I had to do the twister challenge, which is like a monkey bar with twisting handles. Many people failed this challenge as their hands were already exhausted from the sandbag challenge.

“[The next day], when I joined the Sprint challenge, I had to abort the race 2km into it due to exhaustion and body pain.”

The Sprint race did not count towards the championship, in which Tsang won the category for women aged 40 to 49. She will head to the United States next month as a member of a three-person Hong Kong team contesting the 2018 Spartan US Female Championship.

Your correspondent jumped at a friend’s offer to join her in entering the Sprint race, which required runners to overcome more than 20 obstacles along a 5-plus-kilometre course.

It was my first Spartan Race event, and I did nothing to prepare for it, thinking – perhaps naively – that the 6km jogging runs I went on three times a week in Hong Kong before moving to Beijing three months ago would have prepared me adequately. (The Beijing smog puts me off jogging there.)

The rolling hills and tree-lined footpaths in Wangzuo were a delight, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of strangers who were eager to help me overcome challenges. I stepped on the thighs of many a strapping man to surmount an obstacle. Seeing me wobble and about to buckle under the weight of a 20kg sandbag, the muscle-bound men behind me always gave me a hand, telling me how to hoist the sandbag using my shoulder and neck.

Other novel challenges – like crawling across muddy fields and mid-air rope grids made of ropes and clambering up a steep, mud-splattered slope – also tested my stamina and fortitude. When I crossed the finishing line after jumping over a row of burning coals, I felt immense relief – and a sense of achievement.