Slideshow: Contestants get muddy in Spartan Challenge in Nutley

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A tough bunch discovered their ‘inner warriors’ as Nutley hosted this year’s first Spartan Challenge in the UK.

Henry VIII’s former hunting grounds of Pippingford Park were transformed into a muddy, bruising battlefield for 3,000 endurance athletes and sports enthusiasts on Bank Holiday Sunday.

Spartan Race - Nutley

Spartan Race - Nutley

This was the launch of a new craze - Spartan obstacle racing - named after the fearless ancient Greek warriors, now the world’s leading obstacle race series.

And the series kicked off with a Spartan Sprint challenge over a five kilometre course through savage terrain and confronting 15 obstacles. These included 15 foot rope climbs, slippery seven foot ramp scaling, spear target-throwing, carrying sandbags up steep hills and barbed wire mud crawls.

As it sounds, the Challenge is the brainchild of former Commando Richard Lee, 31, who spent years undergoing similar gruelling exercises at the Royal Marines’ training centre in Devon.

As a 2nd Lieutenant, he completed assault courses himself on a daily basis – so his experience and expertise qualified him to design Spartan Race courses that now put others through their paces.

Many competitors who know the softly-spoken, 6 ft 2 in Englishman dub him “poacher-turned-gamekeeper”. And like both, Richard Lee has carefully studied the lie of the land and hand-picked his course terrain to have a maximum impact on his racers.

He told the Express: “I believe athletes are getting a bit jaded with road race marathons and the numbers we had sign up for Sunday shows me I was right. I came up with the idea while I was hiking the Appallachian Trial from Canada down into Florida. Our first race in the UK was in 2010 but we chose Nutley as the first event for 2013.”

He explained the concept is marketed via sports retailers, gyms, clubs and other athletic organisations and people flock to take part.

Huge crowds turned up to watch the competitors tackle obstacles that tested their physical

Time penalties were common, punishable by a compulsory set of 30 burpees, press-ups with star-jumps, meted out irrespective of gender.

Before the finish, a phalanx of muscle-bound Spartan warriors armed with pugil sticks, tried to sweep their feet away.]

Richard went on: “Pippingford Park is horrible.

The mud there is out of this world. There are endless amounts of stagnant pools of water and bogs, very steep hills, and thick, dense, thorny undergrowth – it’s perfect, and positively Jurassic!”

Last year 25,000 UK racers became Spartan warriors and this year seven races will draw an estimated record 40,000 UK entrants.

For details of Spartan Races, visit www.spartanrace.com