Navy veteran Paul Lachance has a 100% success rate hitting his target while throwing a spear blindfolded. He plans to master the rope climb. And he travels the country ticking off Spartan Races – sometimes three or four in one weekend – on his mission to pass the finish line 200 times by the end of 2023.
“I like to say I’m just an old man having fun,” said the 81-year-old Lachance, who served in the Navy from July 7, 1959, to July 9, 1962.
He discovered Spartan Races in 2006 in the aftermath of a “major heart event” that led to a quintuple bypass and Lachance reaching 260 pounds. After getting back into a fitness routine that started with cardio and later included weightlifting, he came across “this crazy thing called ‘Spartan’” while surfing the internet.
“What I saw was the A-frame and somebody crawling underneath barbed wire, and I’m saying, ‘Hey, I can do that. No big deal,’” Lachance said.
So Lachance, his retired Air Force veteran son, a fellow college professor and a friend of Lachance’s son traveled to Fort Carson, Colorado, for their first Spartan Sprint – a 5K course with 20 obstacles.
“Low and behold, it was the toughest sprint that they’ve ever had,” Lachance said. “I mean, the mud was nasty and cold. The Army had one obstacle. They had backpacks, which I’ve never seen backpacks as big as they had, full of rocks and that weigh way over 100 pounds, and we had to go uphill. But yet, when I finished, I said, ‘This is for me.’”
The bulk of obstacle-course racers are in their 30s, according to a 2021 data analysis completed by RunRepeat.
Meanwhile, data provided by Spartan Race shows that, on average, there are roughly 10,000 to 15,000 military-affiliated racers per season. Of those, the majority (40%) are between the ages of 25 and 34, and only 5% are 55 years old or older.
Lachance said his wife attended his first Spartan Race, watching from a spectator area near the obstacle that consisted of a mud crawl under barbed wire.
“The Army has some guy with a fire hose and he’s squirting us down,” Lachance said. “And the fire hose puts out a lot of water and it was cold water. So we’re getting sloppy wet. Anyhow, I spot my wife … I went up to her, and I was covered from head to toe in mud and she said she had never seen me so dirty.”
But Lachance still competes, navigating obstacles in the aftermath of a factory injury.
“I can’t do any hanging because I don’t have any muscle in my forearm because when I got caught in the machine, it took my wrist and put it back here in my elbow,” Lachance said. “It just folded the arm up. And so it just crushed that. So I use left hand for balance for the most part.”
One obstacle he gets some assistance with is the inverted wall.
“I’m still a little leery getting over,” Lachance said. “I’ll get there. I can do it and a lot of times what I do is I see two big guys, and say, ‘Hey guys, come on over here, push me over.’”
After a while, a friend Lachance made through the races started telling gate announcers to introduce him to the runners.
“I do like the fame and the notoriety, but it also goes to the fact that I’m inspiring so many of these young kids, these 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, and also I’m inspiring a lot of parents from these kids and some of these older people,” Lachance said. “ … So as long as I’m healthy enough, I’m going to continue doing it.”
But he’s not alone – World War II Army veteran Monty Montgomery joined the ranks a few years back. Montgomery, who jokingly said he thinks he stole Lachance’s thunder, completed his first Spartan Race at 92 years old.
“I think my whole life, when I had a challenge, it was like, ‘I’ll prove I can do it,’” he said. “And that was kind of the challenge [of the Spartan Race] … Sometimes I find things like that, I look at it and say, ‘Huh. I could do that,’ and then my body says, ‘Are you crazy?’ But I try anyway. That’s all anybody does is try.”
Montgomery was 93 when he and Lachance first met.
“One of these races here comes this big, tall lanky guy … and the guy is 100% gentleman,” Lachance said. “The nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
After Montgomery’s first race, his daughter, Diane, attended and brought a sign acknowledging his age – 93 at the time – and military service.
“You’d think I was some big celebrity or something,” Montgomery said. “… Since then, I’ve met a lot of really great people and especially with this group that’s kind of adopted me, the Enduring Warriors.”
Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW) is a nonprofit that assists first responders and military members “through physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation,” according to its website.
Training and competing for a Spartan Race
Montgomery said he keeps going back because of the Spartan community.
“I met a lot of really great people,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Now that I know what it’s about, I’ll see if I can do better the next time.’ And I always had these aspirations. I got plenty of time left before the next race, I’m going to show these young 50-year-old whipper snaps how to do it. But then suddenly it’s time for the race again, and I haven’t really got in that great of shape or anything. But I’m always exercising and running and doing things, but I’ve been like that for most of my life.”
Montgomery said he used to compete in triathlons, but his workout regimen now includes running and going to the gym to work on specific movements like pull ups and chin ups. Still, it’s more about the relationships.
“[They’re] people that you just don’t meet in bars and places like that,” Montgomery said. “They’re all into health and exercise and stuff like that. And I just find that they’re super kind of people. The kind of people I like to be around.”
Montgomery also said other competitors – like those who are amputees – are “just unbelievable.”
“They come and think that what I’m doing, that’s something,” Montgomery said. “The only reason that they think I’m doing anything special is just because of my age. And actually, it’s only a number. Some people are old at 30, and some are 100 years old still going strong.”
Lachance, who lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, said he jogs two to three miles daily – weather permitting – in preparation for Spartan races. He also practices spear throwing in his backyard.
For anyone considering their first obstacle course race, Lachance said they should have fun and not worry.
“You’re not going to podium. You’re not going to win any money,” he said. “But if you finish, you and I are going to get the same medal. We’re going to get the same banana. We’re going to get the same FitAid. And we’re going to get the same T-shirt.
“So if you want to run and set a personal record time, fine. But if you want to go and really enjoy the Spartan experience, talk to the people that are next to you, in front of you, behind you.”
To find a Spartan race near you, visit the Spartan Race webiste. https://www.spartan.com/.Read comments