My Journey to Complete the “Spartan Trifecta”

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It’s not uncommon for colleagues to ask if I’m crazy. They’ll see the pictures hanging in my edit suite from past obstacle course races where I’m covered in mud, or where I’m crawling under barbed wire, or where I ran through a hanging field of live electrical wires, and they’re convinced I have a screw loose. And maybe I do. But there is a very calculated method to my madness, a reason why Tough Mudders and Spartan Races have become my hobby and passion: “Obstacle Immunity.” This is a term coined by Joe De Sena, the inventor and owner of The Spartan Race. If you want to learn more about Joe and what it means to be a true Spartan, I highly recommend reading “Spartan Up!” More to come about obstacle immunity later…


I didn’t originally find obstacle course racing, it found me. My sister had run a couple Tough Mudders in the past and was telling me about one of her runs when I asked what the heck a Tough Mudder was. She explained the trails, the mud, the barbed wire, the hills, the submersion in ice water…my parents were there too, and they just laughed and called her crazy. But all I could think was “I want to do that.” I love challenges and had always thought running an obstacle course would be fun, but nothing existed that I knew of…up until now.

I had no business running a Tough Mudder. I had spent years sedentary in front of a computer. I wasn’t exercising, my diet was horrible, I was on multiple medications to deal with anxiety and depression, and I was barely getting any sleep as I just had my first son a year before. But none of that mattered. I was going to try it. My only goal was to complete the 12 mile course. There was an event in a little more than four months in Temecula (2 hours south of Los Angeles), and my sister convinced me to sign up, and she was going to fly out and do it with me. Now I had accountability, there was no going back. My sister is 13 years older than me, so if I quit I would NEVER EVER EVER hear the end of it. So I registered (despite the sheer terror of doing so) dusted off my copy of P90X (which I had failed several times before) and started cleaning up my diet. I completed P90X for the first time, I lost around 10 pounds, I completed the race, and even more importantly I was almost completely off my medications (which I had replaced with vitamins and supplements). I felt a new sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt since I earned my black belt in martial arts many years before. And man was I sore.

Then came my first test of “obstacle immunity.” Shortly after completing the Tough Mudder, my wife (who was pregnant with our second child) started having multiple complications with her pregnancy, and she spent the next month mostly in the hospital getting multiple surgeries. There was no telling the outcome for her or our unborn daughter, and the stress was almost unbearable. But because I had spent the last four months training and improving my diet, because I had spent four hours running and crawling through mud, facing my fear of water, getting low level electrical shocks, and carrying fellow team members up and down a hill, dealing with a waiting room didn’t seem so insurmountable anymore. I kept saying to myself, “At least I’m not crawling through the mud right now.” Obstacle immunity.


I have since completed an additional Tough Mudder, a Rugged Maniac, a Spartan Race “Hurricane Heat,” and I just completed a Spartan Beast which was 13 miles and included over 3500 feet of elevation gain, by far the toughest event I’ve entered to date. While I wasn’t happy with my final results, I finished the course and now have numbers to beat the next time I face this particular race.

Overall Time: 5:13:25

Out of 219 ELITE racers,  I placed 212 out of 219.

Overall place out of every racer: 1185 out of 4385 (top 27%)

Overall place in my gender, age group (M 35-39): 254 out of 504

But my goal is not complete yet. My goal is the “Spartan Trifecta” which can only be attained by completing all three variations of the Spartan Race within 12 months: The Spartan Sprint (3 miles), The Spartan Super (8 miles), and the Spartan Beast (13 miles). So rather than rest on my laurels, I’m going right back to training, only this time I’m training harder. Because I’m not interested in completing these races anymore. Now I want to conquer them.


• If it’s Monday afternoon and I’m in the middle of cutting dailies and my producer rushes in saying there’s a problem with a visual effect and I have to look right away, it doesn’t really phase me. Obstacle immunity.

• If my kids are yelling at me for more snacks, if they can’t share their toys, or whatever the crisis of the minute is, I don’t sweat it. Obstacle immunity.

• If I’m working on a complicated montage sequence and my Avid crashes (which happens A LOT), I just calmly restart and go about my work, redoing whatever amount of time  I lost. Obstacle immunity.

• If I’m stuck in traffic, I just pop in a podcast and realize I have no control over my situation, so why waste the negative energy. Obstacle immunity.

• If my schedule is accelerated and now I have to work late for the next week including weekends, whatever. It’s easier than carrying someone 1/4 of a mile while doing lunges, then dropping and doing 30 burpees. Obstacle immunity.

Anyone can do this. That includes you. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen, and the only thing stopping it is your belief that you can’t. I have already registered for the Spartan Sprint in Malibu on Sunday December 7th, and I’m taking a Fitness In Post team with me.

Come join us and build up a little obstacle immunity.


Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”