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Grueling Spartan Race toughens father-son bond

Craig Orton and his son Colby celebrate after the completion of the Spartan Beast in December in Glen Rose. The father-son duo are tackling the Super Spartan on May 17 at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet. Officials expect more than 15,000 obstacle-race enthusiasts to compete in the Spartan event May 17-18. Courtesy photo


MARBLE FALLS — What builds a better father-son relationship than climbing rope walls, evading barrages of pugil sticks, leaping through fire, running 5-15 miles together before eventually trying to get all the mud, dirt and grime out of every nook and cranny in your body?

Well, maybe there are a few other things, but for Craig Orton and his 16-year-old son, Colby, a run through a Spartan Race obstacle course keeps them not only fit but strong as father and son. The two are tackling the Super Spartan on May 17 at Reveille Peak Ranch, where they’ll face eight miles of obstacles together.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Colby said. This marks his third Spartan Race. Last year, he competed in the Spartan Sprint, which is a three-mile course, along with his dad and older brother, Byron. It’s Craig’s fourth Spartan event. He has raced in the Sprint Spartan the past two years at Reveille Peak Ranch.

Then, last December, Craig and Colby tackled the 15-mile Spartan Beast featuring 25 obstacles in Glen Rose. They finished within a second of each other at just over four hours and 35 minutes.

Last year, Colby beat his dad and older brother by several minutes in the Spartan Sprint at Reveille Peak Ranch. Byron won’t be at this year’s event because he’s training to become a lifeguard.

At 48, Craig sees it not just as a competitive event but something he and his boys can share together — while staying in shape.

“I keep running in them because they’re fun but also to force myself to stay in shape,” Craig said. “I hear people say it is a waste of money, and I laugh. I’m staying in shape, and it’s fun. It’s more fun than Six Flags.

“It’s like 10 flags,” he added.

The race draws thousands of participants. It’s so large, that organizers spread the entire event over two days, May 17-18, with waves taking off throughout the day.

Despite all the people competing for their own reasons, the event creates a sense of camaraderie and support. Colby noticed this during one of his races. As people struggled to overcome one obstacle, somebody was at the top, in some cases, offering them a hand or just giving them encouragement.

“It’s fun to see how much the runners help each other through the course,” he said, before adding. “Some of their language used is pretty funny, too.”

While the course offers physical obstacles, Joe De Sena, one of the Spartan founders and owners, developed the series not just to test people’s physical mettle but to push them to try things they didn’t think they could ever do. By taking on a Spartan — of any size — De Sena felt it would help people realize they can handle challenges they face in their daily lives.

Colby sees this in his own life.

“It made me realize I can be more confident and can do more than I thought I could have done,” he said.

Dad agreed. At 48, many men have given up a lot of their physical competitiveness and settled onto the couch. Craig, however, sees the Spartan races as a way to stay active and tackle life.

“It made me realize that, even as an ‘older guy,’ my body is capable of doing a lot,” Craig said.

While some Spartan competitors follow a high-octane workout, the Ortons offer a different perspective.

They play disc golf.

With a twist.

Instead of walking the course, the Ortons throw their discs and take off running. At each target, they’ll do some type of exercise such as burpees, push-ups or sit-ups. And it’s not just one round of nine holes, they’ll hit 72 holes, which comes out to about eight miles of running.

“And that adds up to a lot of push-ups, sit-ups or burpees,” Craig said.

While it sounds tough, Colby said he thinks others should give a Spartan Race a shot “because it is fun and challenging.”

Craig tries to recruit folks to run the Spartans. Some take him up on it and some don’t. He’s not afraid of laying down a challenge or two since that’s how his son Byron got him to try the first Spartan Sprint two years ago. Even after three previous Spartan races, Craig still loves the competition. He also looks forward to the finish line — not so much because it signifies the race is over, but because of what it means.

“I love the finish line, not because I’m tired or finished, but because of the sense of accomplishment it gives me,” Craig said. “To think I just ran 15 miles (at the Beast) at the age of 48 is an amazing rush.”

Go to to learn more about the series, register or volunteer.