Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 167 April 2024 | Page 14


The Warmonger , Johnny Cobra and the author , Belloc72
The third edition of the annual Spartan Baby Badass Ultra ( SBBU ) will take place in Johannesburg towards the end of April , with runners attempting this incredible challenge in order to raise funds for CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation SA . Rob Riccardi , who has already earned two of the coveted SBBU finisher ’ s belt buckles , explains what the challenge is all about … and be warned , this story involves really hot chillis , fly-fishing snares , bagpipes and many , many cups of cement !
A relaxed 6am start .
The coveted SBBU wristbands .

Each April , as autumn brings in its caches of orange leaves and shorter days , a small group of runners attempts the Spartan Baby Badass Ultra ( SBBU ). They set up barracks at the Italian Club in Bedfordview , Johannesburg , and at the allotted starting hour , they start their first 4.167km loop . Once a loop is complete , they rest up until the top of the next hour , when a cowbell is rung to signal the start of their next loop . They have to complete 24 loops in 24 hours to complete the challenge . The SBBU is a self-supported running event , with no race marshals , drinks stations or massage tables on any of the loops . Once you leave the barracks you are on your own .

Sidenote : In the first edition of the SBBU in 2022 , the allotted start hour was 6pm . In 2023 it was 10am . The varied start times reflect that event founder Johnny Cobra ’ s experimentation on his friends continues ... but more about that later !
Now , for those of you that may not be mathematically inclined , 24 x 4.167km equals 100 kilometres .
One of the world ’ s biggest and most prestigious ultramarathons , the Comrades Marathon , is only 85 to 90 kilometres long . So , completing the SBBU means you ’ ll have bragging rights for life , because everyone knows 100km is more than 90km . And if there was any fairness in the world , anyone wearing an SBBU finisher ’ s belt buckle should never again have to buy their own drink in any South African sports bar !
For some runners , and there are always a few , 100km is not enough . Those inclined have an option to convert the distances to miles . So , in 24 hours , some choose to run 100 miles , or 161km , which means doing 6.708km each hour . This , however , is not an option encouraged for everyone . Some people like “ Lemon & Herb ” on their Nando ’ s chicken wraps , some like “ Earth Re-entry Heat Hot !”
Dreaming Up Challenges
It would just be wrong to try explain the SBBU in its entirety without mentioning one of the founders , Johnny Cobra . ( Sidenote : Not his real name . Not even close !) Last year , after completing my second SBBU , I wrote the following words to describe Johnny Cobra , and I stand by them : “ Johnny Cobra grows the hottest chilis in the world in the back of his garden . So , he is not to be trusted .”
Johnny Cobra ’ s heritage is all Greek . This explains his affinity for the Spartans . However , his appearance is that of a ginger Viking . Or a Scottish Highlander . Grow out his hair , weave the sides into pleats , paint a blue cross across his forehead , and he is Hamish Campbell from Braveheart .
In 2021 , the year before the first SBBU , Johnny Cobra was in the mood for testing ultra-distances and sleep-deprivation on his friends . Ignoring the scourge caused by the COVID pandemic , he lured some friends to the Bedfordview neighbourhood to test them on the 4x4x48 . The Four By Four By Forty-eight ( which is how you say it ) challenge was invented by a Navy Seal in the USA , and it sees athletes running four miles every four hours , for forty-eight hours for a total of 77km .
Two days of running , mixed with a dash of no sleep , all while evading capture by the South African Police Services for breaking COVID curfew , made for an interesting cocktail . But if that 4x4x48 was the chili seed planted in his experimental laboratory , the SBBU was soon to emerge as Johnny ’ s hottest ultrarunning chilli …
Getting Hotter in 2022
In his spare time – when he is not tending to his chilli plants with rubber gloves and protective eyewear – Johnny Cobra spends hours in his study designing lures for flyfishing . He cuts out designs from balsa wood , or cedar or basswood if he can find any balsa , and then coats it with waterproofing and secures a hook to the fly by wrapping thread to the hook ’ s shank , before adding wings . If he has the time – and he often does for his creative endeavours – he adds bright feathers . Johnny finishes the fly by tightening its components and tying off the thread with a pair of switch-blade-sharp plyers . You ’ ll see shortly why I tell you this interesting fact about the man …
In early 2022 , an invitation for the SBBU was prepared and shared between friends . It explained the challenge this way : “ The SBBU is a 24-hour running event and not necessarily , in fact definitely not , for everyone . Success is unlikely . The meek of heart need not apply .”
A pensive Johnny Cobra heads out for another loop .
Images : Courtesy Rob Riccardi & the CHOC Cows
14 ISSUE 167 | www . modernathlete . co . za