The Spartan Up! Podcast Celebrates 100 Episodes

(This story was produced by Spartan intern Paige McInnis and was originally published on

Spartan Race started in 2010 as an obstacle race, and it has since grown into a lifestyle, a podcast, a TV show, a nutrition and exercise program, community, books — the list goes on. While the races speak for themselves, the Spartan Up! Podcast tells a different story: the search for happiness, success and health, as described by hundreds of happy, successful, healthy people.

These stories have changed lives and inspired our listeners to become their best selves. To celebrate our 100th Episode, we asked some of our podcast interviewees and listeners to share their favorite moments. Read our Q&A below.

Masha Gordon — Explorer’s Grand Slam Women’s World Record Holder

Paige McInnis (PM): You said in your interview with Joe that listening to the Spartan Up! Podcasts helped you maintain your sanity while hiking the world’s biggest mountains. Do you think the Podcasts could help you and others overcome everyday, normal adversity?

Masha Gordon (MG): Absolutely. Obviously, my story is extreme, right? I took my partner’s advice, one of my partners that climbed was an endurance athlete, and started listening.

I was not athletic growing up, I didn’t have a habit of doing multiple hours of running, so I didn’t get the “culture” until I went on my own endurance challenge — to ski the Poles. That was kind of a new thing, because I had to go for hours on end in the North and South Pole.

It’s very monotonous, you kind of walk from one side of a white place to another. You quiet down your mind, that’s kind of the key because it’s cold, it’s hard, and it’s very physical adversity. Ultimately it’s your mind that’s your greatest enemy because your mind knocks in and says “I’m tired” or “I’m really bored” “I can’t go” or “how many more hours left?”

Listening to podcasts brought me to a different universe. In addition to the Spartan podcasts were Mountain Meister, Dirtbag Diaries — those guys interviewed climbers, explorers, adventurers, entrepreneurs, basically people who were in the business of taking risks and dealing with obstacles, dealing with threshold pain. It’s a solitary pursuit, because in the Poles you walk behind people or you’re in a line, and you almost never communicate during the day. [Listening to the podcasts], it’s as if you have a coach on the other side, or a mentor, or someone who has done amazing things and has been in exactly similar situations of overcoming those issues. It was actually really, really helpful and really amazing that I got completely through.

That was in December of last year, and I finished in a little over 7 months. I got to spend lots of hours on my own in a tent where I’m traveling several routes. You can’t really read, there are only so many conversations you can have with your climbing partner, and you need that intimate space. When I start to crave that intimate space, that space is filled with a dialogue.

PM: What’s one of the best moments you got out of the Spartan Up! Podcast?

MG: One episode was when we were climbing in Everest working from Basecamp to Camp Two. We were hoping to summit as we came up to the first hurdle at 3 in the morning- the first hurdle you go through is very scary, it’s like a huge barracks. [The challenge here is] elevation — you start at 5,500 meters and you go another 1,000 meters up, but majority of that is through this extraordinarily scary ice fall. The ladder — the way you get over huge pieces of ice is a ladder — broke, and we were basically stuck. The “ice doctors,” the guys who show up to come and fix it, didn’t come until 8 in the morning. (This was at, like, 4 in the morning.) We were stuck on this tiny ice bridge and we had to kill time because it was really cold, it was really dark, and at first I listened to music and then I was like well I should at least put on a podcast.

I was listening to it, it was actually a Spartan Up! Podcast about this monk, Dandapani, and he did ten years I think of solitary stuff and then he opted out of monkhood. Joe and the company were talking to him about what it means to be a monk, and what is the meditation, and what advice he has for keeping positive energy. It was very fitting for the situation. I was alone and it was cold, and how do you keep faith and keep your sanity? What do you do on a tiny ice bridge at 4 in the morning?

PM: Do you think you were always resilient, or was it something you learned over time?

MG: In terms of mental resilience, I built it through my life.

I’m 42, I grew up in the Soviet Union and that kind of required its own life of big coping mechanisms because it was not the life of plenty. Then, I came as a student to the United States and I had to build a life, and there was a home attack, so over time you learn how to persevere and achieve. All of my achievements were completely outside of sports, athleticism, or physical endurance. They were mental endurance.

I think what I’ve learned over the past year and a half is how to transfer that mental endurance in order to achieve a fitness feat — an endurance, athletic feat, which is my Guinness World Record for the Seven Summits being the fastest woman, or fastest record in the Explorers’ Grand Slam. So, for me, it was a different journey: using my skills, or using that endowment that I developed over time through my life or my achievements in business. It’s something completely different. I started climbing in my mid-thirties and I was able to get an endurance record at 42.

You have to find a space, and once you find the space you get hope. Having that dialogue and listening to stories — for me it was like a crash course in Alpine history with Mountain Meister and Spartan Up! You have all these amazing mountaineers talking about their experiences and what they do. Listening to explorers expands your imagination to what you could be doing. I’ve discovered that people do all kinds of crazy stuff and challenges, and it’s contagious in a positive way. It makes you feel like you’re not alone and you’re not an odd person because there’s people doing far crazier stuff and it’s kind of cool.

I’m a mom, I’m 43 years old and I could’ve said “Oh gosh” — people around you give you a type to fill in: “you’re absolutely out of your mind.” It’s helped me find my peer group, my endurance peer group of people doing a lot of interesting things and care more about immaterial achievements. In professional life there’s always a bottom line.

Charlie Brenneman, “The Spaniard” — former MMA fighter, now public speaker

“I’ve listened to about 30–40 Spartan Up! Podcasts at the top of my head, and I like the Combat Guys, like Kyle Dake, and the other Cornell wrestlers. What I love about it is that lonely feeling that I as an ambitious, driven person have when I’m working out or when I wake up early in the morning and I put my headphones in and I start listening to it — it automatically puts me around the type of people that I want to be around. It surrounds me with the best people in the comfort of my own home. Spartan Up! is on my regular rotation.”

Jim Harshaw — creator of ‘Wrestling With Success’ Podcast

PM: How have the Spartan Up! podcasts helped you?

Jim Harshaw (JH): I think the biggest thing for me is hearing the success stories…understanding that success at anything is a grind, and know that it counts. Motivation is like a shower you — need it everyday. It’s not something you just get once and you’re good to go for the rest of your life. You need that motivation everyday to remind yourself that the struggle and the grind and the adversity is simply a part of succeeding in anything.

PM: What kind of person do you think would benefit from listening to the podcast?

JH: I think anyone and everyone. Life is really hard, and we all kind of go through these struggles, and the more you hear other people’s struggles the more you say “OK, this is normal, this is part of the process.” I think it’s the kind of thing that our youth should be listening to and learn from.

Eric Pritchard — Spartan Racer and Podcast Listener

PM: How did you discover the Spartan UP! Podcasts, and how long have you been a listener?

Eric Pritchard (EP): I listened to Zach Even-Esh’s STRONG Life podcast and the Barbell Shrugged guys, and Joe had at least been on Barbell Shrugged, so I went to his book signing in the city and I had a few minutes to talk about it then. He had said he was interested in setting up his own and from then on I was just waiting for it to come out. I’ve been listening to it ever since it came out.

PM: Do you have a favorite episode?

EP: I’m a wrestling coach, so anything with the wrestlers: Nate Carr, Kyle Dake, the one where they had the three wrestlers on, or the Mark Divine episode. Those are some of the ones that stand out. The Chris MacDougall episode also stood out to me, but there’s so many.

PM: Have have the podcasts helped you?

EP: It’s kind of twofold, so the Kyle Dake episode and the Tony the Fridge episode are the favorites to use. For Kyle Dake, I try to get some of my wrestlers to watch it and I even used it in a class with mostly Seniors in it just to hear somebody who’s a high performer and the positive attitude he has no matter what it was. For them to hear somebody like themselves and how they are able to spin circumstances and just try to attack it with a smile, or listening to somebody like Tony the Fridge and some of the issues he dealt with and the mission he’s on raising money for cancer and the emotion and the passion he brings.

For me personally, there’s such a wide variety of guests and there’s always something you can take and say like “man these people are dealing with problems that are worse than anything I’m dealing with, I can suck it up and adapt a little better,” or have a moment of gratitude to be like “wow, I don’t have to deal with” — like Earl Granville on a recent episode had lost his leg during military service. I don’t have to deal with that; I can go about my day and do whatever I want to do, and I do not have to deal with a missing limb.

Some people are doing crazy, extraordinary things, but a lot of them are more or less ordinary people doing something extraordinary. They don’t necessarily have this innate ability that put them beyond “I can never do that,” but they’re the average person that got really passionate about something and just worked extraordinarily hard. Some of these things are attainable with the right mindset.

PM: Marion mentioned that you used the podcast in your prep class and you mentioned that as well, do you notice the students reacting positively or do you see any results from any students?

EP: It’s kind of hard to quantify that. That class is a freshman class, it’s a honors national program called AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and AVID has a core set of principles and practices in terms of note taking strategies and reading strategies. What I’ve done is taken the Spartan Up! Podcast and we’ve watched a good amount. Sometimes you never really know if what you’re doing is working until a kid comes back years later.

I try to pick people I think they can relate to. I’m hoping they’re gonna see: A. People like themselves doing extraordinary things and then B. Different kind of people that they normally wouldn’t get into and kind of thinking and reflecting on that a little bit. To an extent, I can’t say that I’ve seen any return yet, but the class was a challenging class and I did have a couple of students write me some letters at the end of the school year apologizing for behavior and appreciating the emotion and effort I bring, and what I’m trying to do for them.

I’m hoping the message from the podcast kind of sunk in a little bit and I think for a couple of those kids to write letters like that, I think it did make an effect. The cool thing about this program is I’ll have them as Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors so I’m hoping as we continue to watch more episodes that I’ll get more out of them.

PM: Do you have your team listen to the podcast?

EP: I’ve tried to get my wrestlers to at least watch the wrestling guys. My cross country guys are a little bit more receptive; they’ve run a couple Spartan Races themselves.

The podcasts are cool, I wish this stuff was around when I was in high school and college because just to hear some of this stuff — I listen to a wide array of podcasts, the whole Spartan thing and Joe — Joe’s crazy, some of the stuff he does I’m like man, I couldn’t do that, but the guy lives it. For the podcasts I think it’s cool because it’s free; you put it out there and you’re exposing the Spartan nation to all these different people and ideas. It’s awesome.

Andrew Luchies — Spartan Racer and Podcast Listener

Andrew Luchies (AL): “I was hooked on the podcast from the very beginning. It has taught me so much and I am really excited to see what inspiring new stories are in store. When the podcast was announced I had just run my first Sprint, and I was hooked on the entire Spartan world. I had read Joe’s Spartan Up! and spent lots of time signing up to the email workouts and taking in as much Spartan information I could get my hands on. I started running and getting healthy to prove that I practice what I preach as a massage therapist. I ran my first race after completing my first year of education for massage and after running, I decided Spartan was my kind of race.

As the podcasts started, so did second semester. This came with many challenges; my wife had some major health problem around Christmas, 12-hour days in class, working full time, studying full time, starting a new massage business, all while trying to spend as much time as possible with my 2 year old son. Energy, inspiration, motivation, patience, and time were all in very short supply. I started to listen to the podcasts on my way to and from school, and inspiration was found.

When it felt impossible, episode 007 with Tony the Fridge helped reshape my definition of pushing myself. Then, a few podcasts later I learnt about 99–1 (episode 009, I believe) and my life took on a new angle. I watched that podcast multiple times, listening for that philosophy. I took it to heart. It became part of me. You can find the numbers on my dash, water bottle, and motorcycle. A constant reminder that in training and in life, you must grind through that 99 percent to enjoy that 1 percent when it comes. It will come, just remember, the longer the 99 percent, the longer you get to enjoy the 1 percent.

Fast forward; I graduated, have been self-employed for over a year now, I’m running my first Trifecta this year, I completed Spartan X, and I teach all of my personal training clients the 99–1 philosophy. I have gotten others inspired by encouraging them to explore the podcast. I go back to the podcast when I’m needing some inspiration, or when I need my perspective adjusted.

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