Train like a Spartan: Week 6

Justin D'Ancona works out during a Relentless Fitness Spartan Race prep class in Washington Square Park in Philadelphia. (Stephanie Aaronson /

What a difference a week makes. 

Sunday was gorgeous. The Greek gods were definitely smiling down on us as we switched our training venue from Washington Square to Penn’s Landing.

With temperatures in the high 60s and a revitalizing breeze guiding the run to our destination, you just knew a great workout awaited us. 

We channeled our inner Rocky Balboa that morning, weaving through the Philly streets and racing up several flights of stairs – even though they weren’t attached to the Art Museum.

When we finally reached the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, a wrench was thrown into Ross’s plan. Actually, a wrench might have been useful considering the gate to our stairway arena was chained and locked.

No worries.

After a quick roundtable discussion, we decided to take our budding talents to South Street.

After making the mile run to Penn’s Landing, another half mile to get to the South Street Bridge felt like a few extra feet.

We found a sufficient set of narrow stairs, and after reconsidering his premeditated workout, Ross decided to make some impromptu adjustments to better suit our surroundings.

Because of the extra time it took us to find an appropriate location, our warm-up and rest periods took a hit.

There were three circuits planned for us. Each one used the same path, but with each circuit, an addition lap was added. We would start with an exercise, then run up 50 stairs, do another exercise, run down a ramp that was maybe 75 yards long, get to the bottom and do another exercise, work our way back up that ramp and then run down 50 stairs to the finish line.

“I would say 20 percent of the Spartan Race has us either on stairs or on ramps,” Ross said. In that case, we were definitely getting our money’s worth.

After hearing of our course, Chris Hanlon who ran the race last year and is training for another go around with his wife, attempted to barter with Ross for some less demanding exercises. No surprise here, it didn’t work.

The first circuit wasn’t too bad. We started off with the stairs and then did 10 burpees at the top before running down the ramp to 15 squat thrusts (I’m getting a little better at them). Retracing our steps, we did walking lunges halfway up the ramp and sprinted back to the beginning.

We may have gotten a two-minute water break before it was back to scaling those stairs. Don’t forget, this is circuit number two so well be doing two laps. The first lap was exactly like the first circuit, but when you got back to the starting point for lap two, is when the fun really began.

First up, 20 pushups. Next, it was back up those stairs. This is when my quads began to swell up and that pep I initially had started to dwindle. At the top, Ross managed to incorporate the exercise into the slope, so we did 15 frog jumps down the ramp and ran out the rest. At the bottom we had 20 jumping lunges and then bear crawled halfway up the ramp before racing down the stairs to the finish.

Where was that damn fountain when you needed it?

Ross checked his watched and readied us for the final round. I still don’t think we got a full two minutes…

Adding a third leg to this circuit, laps one and three would be the same as the second lap from the former circuit.

The middle portion of this final stanza was an absolute killer. It started with 25 air squats, which after running 400 stairs, was no easy task. I was waiting for my legs to give out and fall flat on my caboose, honestly. Up the stairs we went which led us to perhaps the most dangerous exercise of all – 12 broad jump burpees down a ramp. I put all my focus into landing on my heels because I knew if I fell forward a bit, I would be sent tumbling down the concrete slant.

After making it through that death trap, we did five rounds of hand planks starting from one side of the sidewalk and going to the opposite side. Then it was more walking lunges back up the ramp. At the finish we did 20 donkey kicks on each leg before lying in the grass to catch our breath.

On our run back to the studio, we alternated jogging pace every minute. We’d pick it up for one minute, and then tone it down for a minute.

I really love these workouts. Sure, they leave you feeling gassed at the end, but they also leave you with a sense of accomplishment.

And look, we’re halfway to the race. 


Relentless Fitness
249 S 10th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 351-6260