Heart of a Spartan
A champion in the brutal world of obstacle-course racing
SINGULAR FOCUS: Hunter McIntyre competes in a Reebok spartan obstacle course. The races have been referred to as “events of pure primitive craziness.”
In the world of running, a pantheon of different athletes exists. There’s the casual weekend jogger, the short distance sprinter, the cross country marathon warrior. And then, crawling under barbed wire, trudging through mud and leaping over fire, there is the Spartan. Founded in 2001, the Spartan Race is a grueling series of obstacle courses designed to be the ultimate test of a person’s physical strength, speed and mental fortitude. But while many have tried to conquer its miles of rugged terrain and failed, Fairfield native Hunter McIntyre consistently takes top prize at courses around the country and is the first athlete in the sport to sign a major endorsement deal with Reebok. Since joining the circuit in 2011, the 25-year-old has run in close to 30 obstacle races, winning more than half and dethroning some of the sport’s most veteran competitors along the way.
“It’s this kind of raw feeling of energy surging through my body,” explains McIntyre, fresh from shooting an ad campaign with Reebok in New York City. “And I know it sounds kind of silly, but it’s just like what I did when I was younger, sort of charging through the woods and climbing trees and things like that, just on such a bigger scale and everybody doing it with me. After my first race all I wanted to do was just get back out there and charge, you know?”
McIntyre was initially introduced to Spartan Racing through a dare, a friend challenging him to simply make it to the end of the course without collapsing. Already working as a personal trainer and professional model, McIntyre knew he was fit, but he surprised even himself by finishing sixth overall with little targeted preparation or training.
“I started thinking, ‘Hey, I may be in a little bit better shape than I thought I was,” he says. “I did my research, tried some different kinds of training, and put more hours in at the gym. About a year later it began to boil over in my head and I really started racing these things regularly. I just started winning all of them...I had a natural talent for it.”
Growing up in Southport, McIntyre attended Mill Hill Elementary School, Tomlinson Middle School and Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, energy and a natural athleticism were never in short supply, but slow-paced team sports like baseball and football didn’t seem to play to his skill set, nor hold his interest for very long.
“What I remember most about Hunter is not necessarily his athletic ability per se,” recalls Jason Shaughnessy, McIntyre’s former PE teacher and wrestling coach in Fairfield, “it’s that he had an impenetrable energy level--one that just wouldn’t quit. I can see how he’s able to be successful at what he’s doing, now that he’s able to harness that energy and put it all to a productive means. ”
Now, McIntyre trains six days a week, with one strength session every morning and one conditioning session in the early afternoon, either running, rowing, biking or hiking with weight on his back to give him an extra edge over the competition. With the goal of winning the 2014 Spartan Race World Championship, McIntyre has been able to focus his raw energy toward one day becoming the top athlete in a sport rapidly growing in popularity.
“Last year our sport outgrew marathons, I believe,” he says. “It’s just incredible. In January we had our biggest event ever in Southern California where there were about 30,000 people. So it’s big. It’s happening. People love it.”
Beyond glory, McIntyre hopes to continue to help the Spartan Race evolve and use his success as a platform to mentor young athletes in need of direction.