By Gary Gray
The only outdoor, Spartan SGX-certified obstacle course in Johnson City is continuing its evolution on a 1.5-acre grass lot where training and classes have begun and an open public competition is being planned for next month.
On June 9, iTrain Fitness owner Michael Hardin will host the first public event at the site at 103 LP Auer Rd. ITrain will present the event in conjunction with Relay For Life of Tri-Cities for the American Cancer Society.
The closest course offering a similar variety of obstacles, public contests and private lessons is the Nashville Strength Company. This, however, is an indoor course. There also are Tough Mudder- and Spartan SGX-sanctioned events in Nashville, Goliath at the Gorge in Hampton, a Fortified Warrior Ninja Obstacle Course in Murfreesboro and an adventure course at Bays Mountain in Kingsport.
East Tennessee State University’s Aerial Adventure course opened last year and offers rope climbing, zip lines and balancing tests. It is a state-owned, student-first facility. Kingston and Maryville also have outdoor courses, and inflatable courses are widely used for children’s events.
“The mountain bikers and triathletes are drawn to it, but more and more people who either strictly lift weights or run are beginning to realize the benefits of combining strength and endurance,” said Hardin, the 36th person nationwide to be Spartan SGX-certified. “I wanted to build a course with 20 or more obstacles, and I started putting this together about two weeks ago.
“This is more my style of training. You can sit in here and bench press all day long, but can you climb a wall? You’re pulling and pushing. You may have someone that can lift a building but can’t run well. Then you have the long-distance runner who doesn’t have much upper-body strength. This is a happy medium.”
He said when he bought the gym, he would have set up the course in the parking lot if need be. But he noticed a for-sale sign on the adjacent property and called the number. Within a few days, the owner showed up at the gym. They reached an agreement in which he can use the land until it is sold. He said when he decided to build the course his focus was on obtaining and fixing the basic obstacles and building from there.
Take a gander today, and you’ll see monkey bars, a “twister” — a horizontal bar with handles that alternately twist away from you when grabbed a “Hercules hoist” — a 125-pound sand bag on a pulley that is raised and lowered, atlas stones (the kind used in World’s Strongest Man competitions), a bucket carry and much more.
“Some people that hate running are into this because you may run 100 to 200 feet to get to the next obstacle,” he said. “Almost everybody will have to do a rope climb, a heavy carry, climb a cargo net. It’s an accumulation of things that require different techniques.”
Hardin, who began offering the grueling training regimen at a former gym, said his involvement started with a personal quest to better himself both physically and mentally. A few others showed interest, and they started getting together for a Saturday class. That led to larger groups who joined in on various competitions.
“It’s hard to do,” said Chris Campbell. “You finish one thing, but there’s really no break. You lose body fat really quick. This is more versatile, and I think the competition is more with myself than others.”
Hardin said members train regularly for various reasons. Some train for competitions, some to better their times and others to overcome health conditions and physical setbacks.
“I did CrossFit in the past, and I started liking Spartan more, because it’s well-rounded,” said Taylor Boston. “We invited our friends to come and try it out. People like it because it’s a combination of a lot of different things.”
A wide variety of ages participates, including teenagers and people in their 60s. Hardin said iTrain will offer larger events in the future, but groups also are welcome to use the course and Spartan training by certified instructors is a staple.
“A very well-trained person should get through it in five minutes,” he said. “But this will be open to everyone, and ‘Johnny off the street’ can use it. You don’t have to be a member. For me to go out there, it’s no big deal. But for someone that’s just lost 100 pounds … They become the biggest hero to everyone. It’s about the satisfaction of doing something you think you can’t do.”
For more information, call 423.946.3020. You can also visit itfjc.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.