Overcoming obstacles to empower women with Spartan

Today is International Women’s Day 2018. It’s a day to celebrate the achievements of women. It’s a day to celebrate commitment towards our #PressForProgress. We want to see a level playing field for men and women.

Step forward Spartan Race, the world’s leading OCR (obstacle course race for those new to the term). A race to get muddy. A race to test your endurance. A race to test your mental strength. A race to level the playing field between men and women. Despite the common misconception that OCRs are dominated by men, 40% of Spartan Race runners are women, a figure that is continuing to grow.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Emily leRoux, founder of the networking circle, ‘Mums In Business Tokyo’ who was based in Japan until 2016 working for leading recruitment firm Michael Page. Spartan Race hadn’t yet launched in Japan at this time and a trial event called “Battle Race” was held. Emily’s enthusiasm for the event is clear in her voice when she speaks about how 40% of the field in this first event were women, with the team aspect being something that she is passionate about.


Emily leRoux

Emily leRoux


Now based in the UK, busy mum Emily is a the perfect ambassador for Spartan, having spent the last five years setting up a range of projects to support working women in Japan. Understanding the challengers and barriers faced by women when taking part in races, the physical obstacles are also metaphors for everyday life. You find a way of dealing with them. “The camaraderie is empowering. Everyone is accepted, everyone is on a personal journey,” says Emily. Even when racing solo, the team and community feel of the race ensures that no one is left behind, that you will be given a hand if you’re struggling to make it on your own.

And that’s a powerful comparison to draw as it rings so true of everyday life. Sometimes we struggle and we do need a hand.

I explain to Emily that OCR isn’t something that I ever considered for me. I don’t like mud. I fear struggling with the obstacles. She is a warm and passionate individual who understands my fears of taking part in one of these races. I have a daughter, it’s hard enough to find time to run. How can I train for an event like this? How does she manage to find the time? What follows are some fantastic tips for mums on how to train:

  • “Commit to something. Tell everyone when it is.” If you commit, you become accountable. You have to do it.
  • “Work out what you can fit in. Steal those minutes when you can.”
  • “Train with friends.” Speaking from experience as a marathon runner, I know doing a long run with a friend mentally made it seem much easier.
  • “Make small changes. Carry the kids. Carry the shopping instead of using a trolley.”

I ask Emily about her two children and what they think of their Spartan Mummy and she laughs. “My 7 year old often points and asks ‘what is that?’ Then he’ll try to copy.” She is looking forward to her children watching her race over the summer and takes the opportunity to tell me about the Spartan Kids Race, a 1.5km obstacle race for ages 4-13.

From the Spartan website:

The Spartan Kids Race is where we encourage kids to jump, run, get muddy, help each other, and have a good time while conquering obstacles. You are never too young to set goals and celebrate accomplishing them – an epic feeling that’s universal.

Emily explains how important she feels it is for kids to participate in sport, not to necessarily excel, but to enjoy across different events. So many different skills and behaviours can be learned from sport, helping to develop self-confidence which is so important. Having recently attended a Women in Sport conference, I was horrified to learn of the reasons that so many girls as young as 8 are dropping away from physical activity. They don’t want to look sweaty. They don’t want to get dirty. They are scared of how they will look. They fear not being good enough.

It’s encouraging then to hear of the work done with Spartan Kids, which will show girls (and boys) that it is about getting active and having a good time. It’s encouraging to hear that across Spartan’s 200 worldwide events, the participation is 40% women and growing. The pride in Emily’s voice is clear, “It’s a level playing field – totally equal and inclusive.”

She goes on to elaborate.Based on the groundbreaking events of the last few months – equal pay, #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein etc a tipping point has been reached signalling a new era for women (and men), with no going back. Women have now reached new levels of strength, empowerment, independence and cultural influence. With a global community of Spartan Women, growing every day, we are excited that our voices count. That they matter. And that we represent inclusivity with the full spectrum of women from single professionals to working mothers, to elite athletes.”

As we hang up the phone, I start wondering if perhaps I should take part after all.

Are you with me?

Spartan Races are being held throughout the UK this summer in a variety of distances from sprint (5k) to ultra (50k).


  1. March 9, 2018 / 6:56 am

    If you did a Spartan I’d do it with you, though the thought terrifies me!
    I also love the sound of the Kids Spartan – I think that’s something my kids might actually love to do!!! Brilliant post ❤️X

  2. Julanna
    March 12, 2018 / 8:48 pm

    But as the mission takes a turn for the unexpected, the Spartan strike team realizes that the stakes of their mission are higher than they realized and they’ll have to rely on each other and a small group of human rebels to survive!

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