Finding Your Inner Spartan

Montana Spartan Race returns for its fifth year on the shores of Flathead Lake on May 6-7

By Justin Franz
Courtesy Photo

Last year, in the final miles of the Montana Spartan Race — a grueling 12-mile adventure race with upwards of 35 obstacles – competitor Alger Swingley realized he could go no further. The heat of the day had gotten to him. But after taking a break for nearly an hour and fighting off heat exhaustion, Swingley got back up and finished the race.

A year later, Swingley is training once again to tackle Montana’s toughest obstacle course on a mission to find his inner Spartan, break a personal record and, perhaps most importantly, spread the word of healthy living within his own community.

Swingley, 60, is the owner and operator of Blackfeet Outfitters on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Being a guide and outfitter is no easy task, but a few years ago, Swingley realized he needed to exercise more and eat better. So he signed up for the 2015 Spartan Race in Bigfork and organized a team of tribal members ranging in age from 16 to 60. The experience kicked him in the butt.

“I realized how out of shape I was,” he said, laughing.

So Swingley rededicated himself and worked even harder in advance of the 2016 race, and, with the exception of being temporarily taken down by the heat, he was proud of his performance. But this year he hopes to do even better. In recent months, he’s increased his training, especially while on the job.

“I love to train in a natural environment — we run up hills, we carry logs and we flip tires,” he said, adding that training for a Spartan race helps him connect to his tribe’s past. “Two hundred years ago, everyday living on the plains of Montana was like running an obstacle course. When we live a more healthy lifestyle, we honor our tribal heritage — and we make our own lives better.”

This year, Swingley and his 12-person team hope to inspire others on the reservation and around the country to get out and exercise more. Swingley said he has lost 45 pounds in the last two years while training for the races. But he notes that it isn’t easy and that many others in his community struggle with obesity.

“It’s horrific to see the impacts of obesity and poor nutrition and lack of exercise in our communities,” Swingley said. “We are trying to set an example to help end this epidemic that is causing so much harm and hardship.”

Swingley is optimistic that he’ll be able to finish the race with ease this year, and he’s even aiming to come in first in his age group. Another personal goal for Swingley is to join the Spartan Trifecta Tribe by completing all three types of Spartan races — the 4-mile sprint, the 8-mile Super and the 12-mile Beast.

“I hope that my performance can inspire others and create an example that spreads throughout my community,” he said.

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