FAYETTE COUNTY, W.Va. — After he wrapped up his Division II college football career in North Dakota, Kevin Donoghue found himself missing the camaraderie he had with his teammates despite staying active with ultramarathons and skiing.
In 2011, a friend stopped the native New Yorker at a gas station to recommend a Spartan race, a military-inspired obstacle race pitting competitors against barbed wire, mud, fire and other features in rugged terrain.
Six years later, Donoghue is now a Spartan SGX coach and member of the Spartan Pro Team and preparing for his first trip to West Virginia to compete.
“The physical aspect of it is so grueling and it challenges people in every aspect of athleticism and toughness and grit and makes people very uncomfortable,” Donoghue told MetroNews.
“At the same time, the camaraderie is incredible and the affection that people share towards each other is quite remarkable.”
This coming weekend, the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County is the host site for Spartan’s U.S. Championship Weekend, the first Spartan races to be held in the Mountain State.
The event is expected to draw close from 10,000 competitors along with thousands more spectators between Aug. 25-27, according to organizers.
“The venue is absolutely spectacular,” said Dan Luzzi, Spartan race director.
He’s been on site in Glen Jean since last week for the building of dozens of obstacles ahead of the weekend races. “This area has a lot of infrastructure. It has a lot of natural terrain, really cool features on the venue, a really awesome suspension bridge.”
The biggest event will come Saturday morning with “The Ascent,” the finale of the five-race 2017 Spartan Race U.S. Championship Series drawing some of the best endurance athletes in the world.
Dubbed a “Beast” race, the course competitors are facing covers 12 miles and more than 30 obstacles.
It’ll stream live on Spartan’s Facebook page and air on the NBC Sports Network on Oct. 3.
In addition to the “Beast” championship, the weekend also features other races open to all ages and skill levels like the 3+ Mile, 20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” the 8+ Mile, 25+ Obstacle “Super” or the 12+ Mile, 30+ Obstacle “Beast.”
Randy Moss, a Kanawha County native who went on to be a football standout at Marshall University and in the NFL, has done all three — the “Beast,” “Super” and “Sprint” — to make him a member of the “Trifecta Tribe.”
Moss will be on hand at The Summit to help kick off Spartan weekend with a charity “Sprint” to benefit the Spartan Foundation supporting active, healthy lifestyles for kids and young adults.
Overall, Luzzi said the Spartan courses are designed to test people “mentally, physically and spiritually.”
“It really takes a lot of grit to get through our courses. That being said, anyone can do it. People of all ability levels and body types come out and complete our courses.”
Donoghue said the racing bonds people.
“Everybody’s going through the same experience, whether they’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior just going out there, doing it the first time. We’re all on the same course, doing the same thing, suffering in the same way,” he said.
“It’s pretty remarkable how something that hardcore and that tough actually brings out the best in everybody who participates in it.”
All Spartan races end with a signature fire jump.
“You kind of go from being at that point where you could be at your most miserable to where you’re literally at your most ecstatic,” Donaghue said, describing it as “that last rite of passage.”
“It’s a powerful moment when people do jump over that fire.”
In addition to Glen Jean, W.Va., the other stops on the 2017 Spartan Race U.S. Championship Series have been in Seattle, Wash., Monterey, Ca., Palmerton, Pa. and Asheville, N.C.
After the close of the U.S. Championship at The Summit, competitors next head to Lake Tahoe, Ca. for the 2017 Reebok Spartan Race World Championship which will feature a field of 500 elite athletes from more than 30 countries.