See Spartan’s Joe De Sena in New York

 Joe Desena China

Joe De Sena (he’s the one on the right), the founder of Spartan Race, will be hosting a panel on fitness and nutrition in New York in late September, so if you’ve been aching to see the man in person, this is your chance. We even have a discount code we can offer. One caveat: while the press release we were sent doesn’t actually say that you will have to do burpees, I strongly suspect that this might happen. For more details, check below.:

Joe De Sena, Spartan Race founder and CEO,

 Hosts the Ultimate Fitness Break at

NYC’s Ad Week Leadership Event

This is the advertising and marketing industry’s largest annual event that attracts more than 100,000 agency, media and client/brand executives over five days in September.

Joe’s life-changing panel:

Spartan Fit: Taking Your Performance in Athletics & Life to the Next Level

Monday, September 25 at 10:15 AM

NewGen Stage at  Lucille’s
237 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

Joe will share his methods on how to become Spartan Fit:

How you can take your performance (both in athletics and in life) to the next level through better fitness and nutrition, along with tips to strengthen your mind as well as your body.

Joe will also lead attendees in an invigorating Spartan SGX workout (special workout clothes not required!)

Spartan hosts more than 1 million people annually at its obstacle races around the globe.

Spartan’s founder and CEO, Joe De Sena, is a life coach, fitness guru and adventure racing legend who completed the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles), the Lake Placid Ironman ( 140.6 miles) and a 100 mile trail run in Vermont in one week.

Other Special Offers: 

  •  A season race pass and $500 in Spartan merchandise will be awarded to one lucky attendee.
  • First 25 attendees to sign up will receive a copy of De Sena’s New York Times Bestseller.
  • Ad Week is also offering a 25% discount on the regular ticket price for YOUR READERS to attend this leadership event and see Joe in-person.

Discount Code: 25SPARTAN17AW

https://newyork.advertisingweek.com/register/?v=25SPARTAN17AW 

ABOUT SPARTAN RACE, INC.

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2017, Spartan Race will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+ Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit http://www.spartan.com for more information and registration.

Spartan Goes to the Gym with New Spartan Strong Classes

Spartan Race is adding another product to its lineup: a studio-based fitness class called Spartan Strong, and it is partnering with Life Time Fitness to roll out this experience to athletes around the country.

Spartan is not the first race series to move into the fitness training world; last month Tough Mudder announced that its Tough Mudder Bootcamp gyms would be opening soon. Spartan’s approach is different. Rather than build from the ground up, it has developed a class that can be held at any gym with minimal equipment. The model is similar to, say, Zumba: coaches are trained and certified, and the class can be offered anywhere with adequate space and a sound system. At first these classes will be appearing at about 100 Life Time Fitness gyms around the country, and eventually, they will show up at any gym interested in offering the class.

Spartan pancake. No syrup.

The class lasts about an hour and consists mostly of cardio movements and body-weight strengthening. The only equipment needed is the Spartan “pancake,” which many of you will have met as you hauled one up and down a mountain in the course of a Spartan Race. The class breaks down into five phases: “Readiness” (think warm-up), “Stamina” (cardio), “Accountability,” “Tenacity” (it wasn’t exactly clear to me how those concepts translated into a class setting) and “Resilience” (cool-down).

I got to try the workout last week at the product launch in New York, and I will vouch for the fact that it gets your heart rate up quickly and consistently. I emerged sweaty and out of breath, good signs of an exercise class.

There were burpees (because, Spartan) and bear crawls, and the pancakes were used effectively. The classes are designed to be large, from 20 to 40 participants, and I was reminded of the exercise classes I took in the 90’s (please, don’t call it aerobics), where several dozen adults, led from the front, tried to move a great deal in a confined space without bumping into each other. This is not the same kind of atmosphere you get in your typical high-intensity interval training class or a CrossFit box.

Spartan is dedicated to ripping people off the couch and out of the house onto trails and mountains, so why are they going back inside? Because that’s where the people are, apparently.

Joe De Sena is determined to change the lives of 100 million people, and he has come to the conclusion that changing lives is more important than being a purist about how that gets done. If he can reach people by offering a class format rather than chasing people up a mountain, the outcome can be the same. His flexibility in this regard reflects a sincerity in his mission. A-roo.

While the Spartan Strong classes can exist as a stand-alone product, they are still part of the Spartan universe. Life Time will be integrating the class into participation at Spartan Races, and there will be periodic testing so that participants can track their fitness progress – think monthly tests to see how many burpees you can do in a minute.

How do you get to try Spartan Strong? By the end of 2018, it will be available at almost all Life Time Fitness gyms.

For those unfamiliar with the brand, Life Time is an upscale brand, comparable to, say, Equinox, or if you prefer, it’s part of the category of “gyms that smell nice.” They recently opened up their first New York City branch in a skyscraper on 42nd Street, and the setting is grand. For the launch, they set up a rope climb and a monkey bar rig so that the invited Spartan Pro athletes (Amelia Boone! Kevin Donoghue!) could strut their stuff next to the two rooftop pools.

Going forward, trainers will be able to sign up for the workshop that certifies them as Spartan Strong instructors and offer the class anywhere. The soundtrack and workouts are developed by experts at Spartan and Life Time and are distributed along with guidelines to keep the workouts fresh.

Spartan Strong is not the only way to get fit the Spartan way. In order to build the brand and/or change the lives of 100 million people, Spartan fitness products also include online classes on Daily Burn, the SGX program of certifying instructors, and a brick and mortar Spartan-branded gym at a hotel in Miami. These products are not going away. For those who want to get their fitness in a class setting, this is another option that is available and another gateway into the Spartan way of life.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Spartan and Life Time Transform Gritty Race Experience into New Intense Group Fitness Class—Spartan Strong

Exclusive class, launching at 100 Life Time destinations across the U.S. by 2018, helps participants discover their inner Spartan

 BOSTON, MA (August 9, 2017) –Inspired by Spartan’s world-renown obstacle race events, where competitors face fire, mud, and barbed wire, Spartan Strong, a new, intense group fitness class is debuting exclusively at Life Time destinations. Created by Spartan and Life Time®, Spartan Strong focuses on studio-based exercises that challenge the body and mind, helping individuals conquer life’s everyday challenges. More than 100 of Life Time’s premium athletic resort destinations across the country will offer the class, rolling out now throughout 2018.

“Spartans learn to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals on the race course, often doing more than they believe possible,” says Spartan Vice President of Training John Gauch. “Our goal is to bring that same sense of accomplishment to people off the course through Spartan Strong. Life Time’s shared philosophy and team of dedicated instructors, coupled with their impressive destinations, create a perfect collaboration as we make the world a healthier place and impact how people live healthy balanced lives.”

The high-intensity hour long journey will push participants to their limits and unleash their inner Spartan by increasing strength, endurance, and athleticism through a combination of resistance training, bodyweight moves, dynamic stretching and cardio-focused drills. With the help of the Spartan Pancake, a weight-based circular sandbag, the class will leave participants feeling invigorated, empowered, and better prepared to battle the trying tasks of daily life. Members will also be tested with periodic fitness challenges to measure their progress.

“With the explosive growth of obstacle course races, this first-of-its-kind, race course meets group fitness class brings our members the best of both worlds,” says John Reilly, President, Fitness and Nutrition Division, Life Time. “Whether training for a Spartan race or tackling everyday life, Spartan Strong will push participants’ mind and body to achieve optimal performance on and off the race course.”

Available to Life Time members as part of the Company’s Featured Format classes, Life Time’s Spartan Strong instructors—many of whom compete in Spartan Races—received rigorous training and certification by Spartan’s and Life Time’s team of experts.

ABOUT LIFE TIME® – HEALTHY WAY OF LIFE

Life Time® is a privately held, comprehensive healthy living, healthy aging and healthy entertainment lifestyle company that offers a personalized and scientific approach to long-term health and wellness. Through its portfolio of distinctive resort-like destinations, athletic events and corporate health services, the Healthy Way of Life Company helps members achieve their goals every day with the support of a team of dedicated professionals and an array of proprietary health assessments. As of August 9, 2017, the company operates 127 centers in 27 states and 35 major markets under the LIFE TIME FITNESS® and LIFE TIME ATHLETIC® brands in the United States and Canada.

 ABOUT SPARTAN RACE, INC.

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2017, Spartan Race will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+ Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit http://www.spartan.com for more information and registration.

When is consistent drug testing coming to OCR?

Drug testing has already arrived, but the major race series have not yet adopted it as promised.

As obstacle course racing emerges as a sport, there are many good things that happen: bigger prize purses, more TV coverage, prominent sponsorship deals. However, with these benefits come responsibilities, in particular the need to keep the sport free of performance enhancing drugs. Some say, nothing would kill the sport in its infancy faster than a drug scandal, and the major players in OCR have all announced plans to keep the sport clean. And yet, most of these plans are still theoretical rather than actually operational.

One organization stands out in its efforts to maintain high standards: from its inception the OCR World Championship  made it clear that winning athletes would be tested for performance enhancing drugs. When OCRWC founder Adrian Bijanada announced this requirement, the response was overwhelmingly favorable. He faced some questions from athletes who were worried about complying with the rules, which allow for therapeutic use of some otherwise banned substances, but by following the World Anti-Doping Agency’s In Competition standards , he gave the community clear and well-established guidelines to follow. A few wondered if this added expense was going to inflate entry fees, but the added cost per athlete is minimal. Using a respected service for this event costs in the mid-four figures, a sum that is spread across thousands of participants and, when compared with other budget items, falls well below such things as t-shirts and portable toilets.

Why did he take the lead? OCRWC has been seeking to establish itself as the world championship for a new sport, and around the world, sports follow these rules. In order to be taken seriously, organizers need to behave seriously. Anti-doping is part of what is expected. For the last three years, the majority of the athletes on the podium have been tested. Happily, every athlete he tested has had clean test results. This reflects a common refrain I heard when speaking to athletes and organizers as I researched this article: there are no rumors circulating about athletes taking performance enhancing drugs. In this regard, OCR stands out from many other major sports (like cycling, track and field and baseball). I expect that everyone in the sport would like to keep things this way.

So what are the other major races doing about this? Last year Tough Mudder announced that for its marquee event World’s Toughest Mudder it was going to include as part of its rules the requirement that participants race clean. When it announced that WTM was being supplemented by a series of feeder races, Tougher Mudder and Toughest Mudder, it also included the requirement that those eligible for prize money make themselves available for drug testing. Nevertheless, at the last WTM and this year’s Tougher and Toughest Mudder events, no drug tests have taken place. What happened?

I spoke to Nolan Kombol, Tough Mudder’s Senior Director of Product, and he told me that TM has been working on a drug testing policy for several years. As is their corporate style, the program is being rolled out in phases, first by announcing the policy last year, with the next phase being limited testing, probably at this year’s WTM, and finally having full testing of all the prize-winning athletes at some point next year.

How did Tough Mudder decide to implement a drug testing policy? Nolan emphasized that this was not in reaction to what others were doing, but rather it was to keep in line with industry standards. This sounded a bit contradictory, so I asked him to clarify which industry he meant, and he explained that he wanted Tough Mudder to line up with other athletic events; Tough Mudder shares a medical director, Stu Weiss, with the New York City Triathlon and the New York City Marathon. Both of these events straddle the line between attracting professional athletes as well as high-performing amateurs, and both are mass participation events, so there is plenty of common ground. Another motivation was simply to keep the participants safe. One way to discourage athletes at a 24-hour event in the deserts of Nevada from taking excessive risks is to prohibit the use of drugs that can endanger the user’s health. This seems like common sense. Tough Mudder also consulted with previous successful athletes who had won titles at WTM, and their response was enthusiastic.

Spartan Race, the other major player in OCR today, made a major announcement last September that it was partnering with USADA (the US answer to WADA).

Interestingly enough, WADA, not USADA, testing is mentioned in the Spartan General Rules and Athlete Conduct section of the current Spartan race rulebook, which was most recently updated in May of 2017.  (If we go back further, Spartan first mentioned WADA testing as far back as 2014).

Of all the race series operating today, Spartan has the highest number of athletes taking home checks, and Spartan reserves the right to test any of these athletes for performance enhancing drugs. Spartan sees itself as a mechanism for bringing OCR to the Olympics, where drug testing is the norm. However, in the time since Spartan announced this policy and added this provision to its waivers, ORM have yet to hear reports of a single athlete being tested. ORM contacted Spartan Race, but after several weeks of promises to provide a staff member for comment, it has not made anyone available. Given Spartan’s brief bromance with Lance Armstrong , the most notorious doper on the planet, it is curious that Spartan has not made good on its promise to test athletes.

Is setting up drug testing something that is difficult to do? Adrian Bijanada doesn’t think so. While he credits his team for their hard work, he also pointed out that arranging for drug testing was simple: “We decided to do it, and then we did it.” Compared with Tough Mudder’s multi-year approach to rolling out a policy, Adrian did a little homework, checked some references, and found a reputable vendor to provide drug testing services at his event. Testing is not a major expense, and while it is a sensitive issue, the community reaction has been positive, and all the tests have been negative. When a small (if dedicated) operation such as OCRWC can work hard to keep the sport clean, the major operators have few excuses for any delay in their drug testing programs.

Tough Mudder Rolls Out its Studio Fitness Concept: Tough Mudder Bootcamp

Tough Mudder has rolled out a new extension of its brand, moving beyond the seven different races and challenges-not-races it mounts to include a new concept in gyms: Tough Mudder Bootcamp.

How did Tough Mudder decide to extend its brand in this direction? As you might expect from a company founded by business school graduates, the inspiration came from running the numbers. TMHQ asked the question: why do more than 10% of people who sign up for a Tough Mudder fail to show up on the day of the event? Surveys revealed that the people who failed to show up did so because they believed they had not trained enough; the no-shows were predominantly people who signed up in January and February, prime season for New Years get-in-shape resolutions, and also people who had not signed up with a team.

Teamwork has become the battlecry for Tough Mudder, one that is analyzed at length in CEO Will Dean’s upcoming book It Takes a Tribe, to be published this fall. Research shows that people who work out with a group are seven times as likely to achieve their fitness goals. Teamwork also pervades the Bootcamp concept. TMHQ’s MBAs looked at the fitness industry, and they were not impressed. Dean himself observed what was wrong on a trip to his in-laws in the Midwest; he had signed up for a week of access to a big box gym, and he saw that while 10% of the people there were getting something out of their gym time, the rest were miserable. The big box gyms were failing their customers.

In order to help people get into the shape they needed to complete a Tough Mudder, TMHQ has developed Tough Mudder Bootcamp, a franchise gym that will be coming to a town near you. Tough Mudder Bootcamp uses high intensity interval training classes to get its customers into shape and to keep them fit. Studies show that HIIT is an effective and efficient way to deliver cardiovascular and strength gains. If you are familiar with the Tabata method (a series of exercises done at intervals such as 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off), you get the idea. There is also some overlap with CrossFit, in that the exercises rely on a limited amount of equipment and highlight body weight movement and functional fitness, as well as an emphasis on camaraderie. TM‘s goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor of CrossFit and replace it with teamwork.

Classes are programmed and designed by Tough Mudder fitness guru Eric Botsford, whom you may recognize as TM mascot and MC E-Rock.  After a quick warm up, participants are sent to one of six stations where they partner up and take turns alternating specific complementary movements. For example, one partner would do reps of throwing a medicine ball at a high target (wall ball, to the CrossFitters), while the other holds a superman stretch. After two minutes, pairs move to the next station for a different set of movements, and so on until two rounds of six stations are completed. The entire workout lasts 45 minutes, which is plenty to work up a sweat and get everyone out of breath. Between the exercises, many encouraging high fives are exchanged.

E-Rock watches your form

How does Tough Mudder apply its secret sauce to the world of fitness? Tough Mudder’s brand and corporate attitude emphasize teamwork and, yes, fun. A Tough Mudder is supposed to be fun: not easy, but enjoyable. In the same way, the classes at Tough Mudder Bootcamp emphasize working with other members of the class, and the tone is supportive. No coach is going to chastise you by shouting “drop and give me 20!”

Wall Balls in the front, Supermen on the floor

Tough Mudder also brings some other goodies to the table: data, data and more data. One selling point that potential franchisees should covet is the contact information of everyone who has ever done a Tough Mudder. These are all potential customers, who all have keen brand awareness. Tough Mudder’s marketing juggernaut is putting its weight behind this project, and its resources are at the disposal of franchise owners.

Having described what Tough Mudder Bootcamp is, I should also point out what it is not. It is not an obstacle course gym. There will be no warped walls, no dangling electric wires, and you will not see anything that resembles the world class obstacles that Tough Mudder brings to its events. That said, the exercises will have applicability to success at an obstacle course event as well as to everyday life. Of course, Bootcamp will still keep Tough Mudder events in mind: there will be periodic benchmark testing for members, and the results of those tests will yield results measured in Tough Mudder dimensions, i.e. “you are now fit enough to conquer a Half Mudder/Tough Mudder/ Toughest Mudder, etc.”

Tough Mudder Bootcamp is also not a boutique gym concept. In big cities, there are many smaller spaces that offer specialty classes at $30 or more a class. Tough Mudder Bootcamp aspires to charge roughly half of that. They also do not plan on trying to dominate the big cities, hoping instead to move into second tier markets at first (as Dean puts it, “cities where ClassPass doesn’t work”).  Indeed, it may be some time before you see a Tough Mudder Bootcamp opening up near you. Tough Mudder has a reputation of not rolling out new concepts before they are completely ready; this policy has saved it from making the mistakes other obstacle course racing companies made, to their peril. In 2017 Tough Mudder wants to open ten gyms, and it hopes to get 150 off the ground in 2018 and 350 in 2019.

Tough Mudder is looking for franchise owners. Those who are looking for the prospectus should contact Tough Mudder directly, but the headlines are that they want individuals who can finance the approximately $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 it would take to build out a space ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. They are also looking for partners in launching their new business line, so they want people that they would like “to have dinner with”, as Dean’s team puts it.

Will Tough Mudder Bootcamp be a success? I had the pleasure of watching the concept develop and took part in several classes. I am also a fan of HIIT workouts, having tried many gyms that offer them thanks to ClassPass (I live in a city where ClassPass does work, I guess), before settling on a gym that specializes in such workouts. While I am not an exercise physiologist, from my perspective I can say that HIIT works: I get my heartrate up quickly and I am stronger because of these classes. I can also vouch for the camaraderie that can be fostered in this environment. An added bonus: these workouts are just as good for people just getting into shape as they are for the already-buff. Tough Mudder is certainly on to something.

Since Tough Mudder tests everything (I mean everything, down to the distance of the rings on the obstacles) they brought in people to a mock-up of the gym concept at their Brooklyn headquarters. They invited people who had tackled World’s Toughest Mudder, regular Legionnaires such as myself, and people who had never participated (“prospects”, in TMHQ-speak). We completed a prototype workout and, sweaty and breathless, then provided feedback. This data all got crunched until the final product emerged. Tough Mudder as a company has mastered the science of mounting mass participation events. I think that in three or four years, we will find that their roll-out has brought a Tough Mudder Bootcamp’s bright orange studio space to a neighborhood near you.

Tough Mudder Takes on Michigan

Tough Mudder arrived at a new Michigan venue last weekend, and they showed the Mitten this year’s crop of new obstacles. Mudders were impressed on both counts.

I visit Michigan every June to take part in a bacon festival and to visit my college roommate Adam and his family. When I saw that Tough Mudder Michigan was going to be on the same weekend, I knew I had to make take advantage of the scheduling. Until now I have only done Tough Mudders in the northeast (Englishtown, Jersey City and Coatesville) and in cold to very cold weather. A summer Tough Mudder in the midwest? Sign me up! Plus, I decided to see if Adam would be interested, and sure enough, he expressed enthusiasm about joining me.

I was hoping that doing a Tough Mudder with someone who had never done an obstacle course race before would help me see the event through fresh eyes. In some ways, Adam and I are very similar: we are both finishing up our fifth decade, we both exercise enough to keep the doctors at bay, and neither of us will be on a podium any time soon. We also share a certain approach to the world. He is a professor, but he nearly blew his job interview at Michigan State by explaining that it would be much more appropriate for the Athenians to be the school mascot rather than the Spartans, what with it being an institution of higher learning and all. He got the job anyway. So what would the professor make of Tough Mudder?

At first I was worried he had not done his research about the race. As we approached Kiss of Mud, the barbed wire crawl, he grimaced: “They sanitize this mud, right?” Yes, of course, that’s a thing, sure. I made it clear at the start that the obstacles weren’t mandatory, there would be no burpee punishments for failing, and we were here to have fun. When we approached Hero Carry, I offered to take him on my back the entire way rather than have us switch after half of the distance, as is the design of the obstacle (I’m a good deal larger than Adam). All the same he insisted on carrying me.  Skidmarked (the slanted wall) was a challenge for him (“You’re taller than me, so it’s easier for you.”), and as I tried to give him a boost over the wall in Tough Mudder teamwork-style, he managed to kick me in the head and knock a lens out of my sunglasses (no permanent damage done to either).

I explained the psychology behind the obstacle design, and I think he appreciated the concept. Still, when we approached Everest (the slippery quarter-pipe ramp), he declared that it was another obstacle that discriminated against short people. All the same, when he was able to get to the top on his first try, he conceded that there was a certain satisfaction in facing something that seemed impossible and overcoming it.

He didn’t enjoy Block Ness Monster nearly as much as I did. I still see it as the pinnacle of Tough Mudder’s obstacle innovation program, the perfect combination of challenging technique, strength, teamwork and plain old fun. I think Adam was put off by the muddy water, which was relatively deeper for him than for me.

I recently spoke to Tough Mudder’s course designers, asking them about how they calibrate the difficulty of the obstacles, and they explained that they shoot for a level that allows a certain percentage to conquer the obstacles on the first try and encourages those who fail to want to come back again to complete what feels like unfinished business. We got to Funky Monkey, with its monkey bars and spinning wheels, and I had low expectations for myself. I have lousy grip strength, and I only made it a few bars across before falling in. As I paddled across to the exit, I watched Adam swing his way across from the bars to the wheels, only to slip on the last bar before reaching the other side. I praised him for his performance, and I told him that he could try again if he wanted. No, he said he would come back next year and get the entire way across. It seems that the evil geniuses at TMHQ know exactly how to manipulate our emotions. Well played, TMHQ. Well played.

Despite this being his first obstacle course race, Adam had no trouble getting through any of the remaining obstacles. He griped at Ladder to Hell (“again, what about us short people?”) but it did not slow him down, except that we both have issues with the theological misconception of the obstacle’s name. I worried that he might balk at Arctic Enema’s ice bath, but it turned out that the operation had run out of ice – the only operational hiccup I noticed on the course that day, and since we were in the last heat on a warm Sunday, not altogether surprising. What was meant to be a shock to the system turned out to be a refreshing dip on a hot day.

I got the feeling that, in general, he did not really approve of the level of dirt we were getting exposed to, and he actually said out loud that it would be great to get a shower, and sure enough the next obstacle was Augustus Gloop/Snot Rocket, this year’s biggest new blockbuster obstacle. Participants have to climb up a tube while a strong shower of water pours down from above. The net effect is that the hand holds/foot holds on the side of the tube are slippery and you end up having to keep your eyes closed, so you can’t see the holds and you aren’t sure how far from the top you are. It was challenging and disorienting, a little scary and highly successful as a new obstacle.

Having given him the option of skipping obstacles, I was surprised that the only time he took me up on this was Pyramid Scheme, where participants have to form a human pyramid to scale a slippery wall. Perhaps this was just too much close contact with too many wet and dirty strangers? I also told him that I was willing to go along with any medical history he wished to concoct in order to skip Electroshock Therapy. At our age, friends don’t pressure friends into subjecting themselves to 10,000 volts. All the same, he ran through and was more frustrated than pained that he got shocked.

An audience waits for the next electrified face-plant

Will Adam start searching out other obstacle course races to try in the future? Probably not. However, he will definitely be bringing his son next year, when the boy turns sixteen and will be eligible to run with the grown-ups. And he will definitely conquer Funky Monkey next time.

Beyond the personal story of triumph over adversity, what else did the course hold? One of my favorite innovations was that the final two obstacles, Kong and Electroshock Therapy, were set up next to each other, and TM arranged seating so that an audience could watch as Legionnaires (those who have completed a Tough Mudder) tried to swing dramatically across Kong from ring to ring at a great height, or as first-timers ran through Electroshock Therapy and, not infrequently, face-planted. In the past I have been doubtful about the value of charging spectators at these events, but I think that for $20, I wouldn’t mind sitting for a few hours watching people try to get through these obstacles.

Who wouldn’t want to watch this all day?

I also noticed on the course a group of participants in matching outfits, all wearing spiffy Merrell compression gear and Merrell shoes. It turns out that Merrell, a Tough Mudder sponsor, is headquartered in Michigan, and they brought a large and well-dressed cohort. They also had several promotional tents, including one selling shoes, and, for some reason, a hula-hoop competition. Fun for all ages.

When I spoke to participants during and after the event, one opinion was unanimous: by moving the event to this new location (Koenig Sand and Gravel in Oxford, MI), TM offered a much better experience. The previous location, Michigan International Speedway, offered none of the change in terrain that made for a more interesting run. The logistics worked well; on the Sunday, with a smaller crowd, all parking was on site, but the people I spoke to who ran both days told me that the shuttles to off-site parking worked as promised.

My overall impression is that Tough Mudder continues to provide a challenging and entertaining day out. At the finish, everyone was smiling, and even on the course, people seemed happy. Of course, that could have been Midwestern optimism as the local default attitude, and as a New Yorker I can have trouble seeing through the regional cheeriness and good manners. All the same, I’ll let that Michigander worldview take hold and declare that Tough Mudder is delivering a great product. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Midwestern teamwork at its finest.

Spartan CitiField Sprint 2017: There are no rain delays in OCR

Those who have followed my recent race history might notice a common theme: weather on race day has been unusually hotunusually cold or unusually wetThis weekend proved to be no exception, as torrential rains hit New York on the same day that Spartan Race returned to CitiField. If you take away nothing else from this review, please remember that if you want to avoid extreme weather, make sure I’m not at your race. All the same, Spartan and thousands of Spartan racers were up to the challenge. As Spartan advised racers in a pre-race e-mail warning them to be careful on slippery stadium stairs: “rain is just another obstacle”. Aroo.

 

Eight-foot wall climb, in the wet shadow of CitiField

Before I tell you about what Spartan presented, can we talk baseball? Like all right thinking people, I was raised as a Yankee fan. To be sure, I believe in equal justice under the law, even for Mets fans, though I’m not sure I can extend that consideration to Red Sox fans. When Spartan started its first stadium race at Fenway Park in 2012, I was tempted by the concept, but the venue was a deterrent. I’m pretty sure that some kind of supernatural flames would consume me if I tried to cross the threshold at Fenway. When the event proved to be a success and Spartan extended it to other cities, I hoped that it would come to Yankee Stadium. Instead, Spartan opted for CitiField, which I still think of as Shea Stadium, partly out of resentment towards the corporate sponsor, and partly out of general orneriness. While I am reluctant to admit it, when the new stadiums were built for the Yankees and the Mets, it was the Mets that ended up with the better building. There, I said it. And it doesn’t make me less of a Yankee fan.

Why focus so much on baseball? Because the venue really made this race special. Even if you are not a baseball fan, there is something special about running on the warning track of a major league stadium. For me, one of the most memorable moments of the race was emerging from the visiting team’s clubhouse (smaller than I imagined) and… into the the visiting team’s dugout. Even without the obstacles and Spartan-ness of the day, that moment would have been enough for me.

And what about the obstacles? Here’s a good video that shows them all. Spartan presents the stadium races as an introduction to the entire series, and the distance, the numbers of obstacles, and the level of difficulty were perfectly calibrated to serve as a gateway to longer events. Many of the signature obstacles were on the course, along with a few that seem to be unique to stadium events. Racers faced six- and eight-foot walls, a rope climb, a spear throw, monkey bars, the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag carry and an A-frame climb. For the stadium races, they added “obstacles” that are really more like exercises from a typical CrossFit workout: box jumps, hand-release push-ups and ball slams. To me, these made the event seem more like an extended workout rather than a race; the sense of achievement you get after twenty-five ball slams is not really the same as the satisfaction you get from ringing the bell at the top of a rope climb. However, if you had never done a Spartan race “outdoors”, you would not notice the difference, nor would you miss the dunk wall or the fire jump.

Not one but two T-rexes appeared on the Jumbotron as they conquered the “obstacle” of box jumps. Not so hard for them, despite their tiny, tiny arms.

Spartan handled the logistics well. Waves were sent out every few minutes to keep the flow of athletes moving through the course without bunching. The only back-up I faced was at the spear throw, which used foam instead of hay bales – perhaps a sign of Spartan’s continuing efforts to standardize their “sport”? Most of the targets were out of commission and two wet – though cheerful! – volunteers did their best to manage the crowd.

Beyond the actual race, this event had the best “festival” atmosphere of any Spartan race I can recall. Racers and spectators mingled along the concourse, where many, many exhibitors plied them with samples (frozen yogurt! Something called “hard seltzer”!). Because of the compact course, spectators got the chance to see their athletes on several occasions, though many opted to do so from locations that kept them out of the rain.

 

There were spectators watching the finish line, but mostly from seats that were sheltered from the rain.

By my unscientific survey after the race, it attracted both Spartan veterans and plenty of racers who had never heard of the brand until recently.  Despite the cold and the rain, everyone I spoke to was eager to sign up for another race. I would consider another stadium race, even if the price point seems a little high for what feels like an extended workout at an extravagantly large CrossFit box. One final gripe: where was Mr. Met? If I’m going to go all the way out to New Shea, I expect to see Mr. Met (“Hey, Mr. Met: do you even lift?”).Despite the round head, this is not a picture of Mr. Met. Mr. Met was not at the race. This is me, showing off my Spartan bling, with the special stadium medal.

Photo Credit: the author and Spartan Race