Jacksonville Spartan Weekend 2016

Jacksonville Super/Sprint weekend finished off the 2016 Spartan season this year in Bunnell, Florida outside of Jacksonville.  A vast and remarkably lively crowd of racers showed up, including loaded elite heats with several familiar faces.  

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Saturday and Sunday races both kicked off with a flag ceremony followed by our national anthem performed by yours truly, and the energetic Robert Lyday with his infamous pre-race speech!   

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Both the Super and Sprint started with the elite men, chased down by the elite women, then the competitive heat, followed by the open heats for the day.  Elite athletes battled for the top 3 podium places.

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This course was designed by Norm Koch and he was present at both races. This flat, fast course allowed for no mistakes if athletes wanted to finish on top.  Race designer, Norm Koch, made great use of this flat land and undoubtedly challenged athletes.  Signs of Norm Koch could be seen everywhere!  

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Elite masters athlete, Kevin Donoghue who placed 3rd in the Super masters and 1st in the Sprint masters, stated,

Well, it was the flattest/ fastest Spartan I’ve ever done.  I set a PR for a Super by 3 minutes due to the incredibly low 22 feet of elevation gain!  Having such a unique course gave it the feel of a stadium race. That in regards to importance of not having a penalty.  One mistake and you would fall hopelessly behind!  It was a step on the gas and go as fast as possible for the entirety of both the Super and Sprint.  But it was by no means easy terrain.  Constant changes from loose sand, to hard baked sand, to thick mud, broken up by dense vegetation kept you on your toes enough to keep it interesting.”

The Super course was definitely a course for the seasoned runner, lots of running through ATV trails, creeks, and woods, mixed up with obstacles for the most part a couple at a time.  The race started off with 2 hurdles in an attempt to slow down some of the runners.  Next, racers climbed over a 6’ wall and a 7’ wall, followed by a very early spear throw, leaving many racers completing burpees while the lucky ones continued on.  

The rugged terrain and lush vegetation made it difficult for footing and Spartan Race, mapped out a challenging course on the flat terrain.  

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Ryan Kent, first place elite finisher at both the Super and the Sprint said this about the course:

“When you think Florida, you think flat. But the Palm Coast venue was anything but easy. Flat running becomes quite challenging when you add sand, mud, and Florida jungle to it. I was really impressed with what Spartan was able to do with that place. The terrain was always changing, and they did a phenomenal job using natural obstacles. The last mile was super fun, too. They packed a ton of my favorite obstacles in the final 2 kilometers, such as the Bucket Brigade, Herc Hoist, and Multi Rig. That Barbed Wire Crawl on Sunday sucked, though. I came out of that thing covered from head to toe in dirt and mud. Thank the lord for that Dunk Wall just before the finish. I’ve raced all over the country, and this was definitely one of the more unique venues I’ve been to.”

After the spear throw racers tackled a sandbag carry, the 8 foot wall, Z wall, atlas carry, and finally the Tyrolean Traverse.  These obstacles were the ones removed from the Sprint on Sunday.  The course continued through the mangled brush and large tropical roots, where racer’s had to be very careful where they stepped.  As racer’s turned the corner, the much loved, Bucket Brigade was in sight!  By Bucket Brigade standards, this was a remarkably mild one.  Racers walked through sand and some thin mud and climbed a few small mounds at a short distance of maybe 200 meters.  

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Next on the list was the Hercules Hoist, followed by an extremely long and low barbed wire crawl, and an immediate Stairway to Sparta.  Runner’s once again, entered narrow trails with complicated footing.  As runner’s emerged from the woods,  the infamous Multi-Rig appeared.  This obstacle was in view of spectators, ninja skills were tested to the max,  and the burpee zone was full of racers!  

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Upper body muscles were getting taxed at this point and the next two obstacles, the rope climb and cargo net, pushed racers close to muscle exhaustion.

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 Racer’s once again, entered back into the brush of the Florida woods on a trail run, before winding up in another spectator friendly series of final obstacles.  These included the monkey bars, muddy trenches, slip wall, and the final fire jump to the finish.   

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Athletes were awarded with the 2016 Spartan medals by a very friendly volunteer crew.

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Aside the actual course, Spartan Race impressed me with a larger than normal festival area.  They also had local food trucks selling food, rather than having their own.  This was a great marketing move, focus on what you do best Spartan Race, and contract out the other stuff.  

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Spartan also included a kids race of various shorter distances and had a nice turnout of kid athletes in attendance, making this experience a nice family atmosphere for athletes of all ages.

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The parking was a bit of an organized frustration.  Racers that paid extra to park in the VIP lot, found themselves walking near a mile to the festival area, meanwhile being passed by shuttle buses from the economy lot.  The rest of the racers parked in an offsite lot where they were shuttled to the festival area.  Talking with Spartan staff, venues are all unique  in terms of size and capacity and fitting that many racers into a small area is a complicated art.  Spartan Race did the best they could with the venue they had.  

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All in all, Jacksonville Spartan weekend was a hit for racers.  Norm Koch made great use of the flat land to provide racers with an excellent, yet challenging obstacle race.  The Spartan season in Florida ended on a high note and racers were satisfied with their experience.  People from all over flew or drove to Florida to experience the last race of the year.  

Warrior Dash Indiana: Grabbing Life by the Horns

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The 2016 Indiana Warrior Dash was a hit for many.  I must hand it to Warrior Dash, they put on a great show, and had some incredible sponsors, as well as offering a fun race for all abilities.  This year’s race took place on September 10, 2016, right outside of Crawfordsville, Indiana.  Racers were met by a friendly staff of volunteers into a FREE parking area, as well as FREE bag check, and a FREE beer from Shock Top.  Check in was smooth and easy, and races started off on time with the classic Warrior Torches!

The first heat was the competitive heat where racers, took off for a chance to earn a podium place as well as a spot at the OCR World Championships.

Despite the rainy, sometimes downpour at times, people showed up and filled the festival area and course with smiles and a great, friendly atmosphere.  The obstacles were not too difficult and they were spaced out over the 3.9 mile course, several water stations were also set up.

The first obstacle encountered was the Shocktop Unfiltered.  It was a series of over-under walls, as well as a crawl under a tarp.  The walls weren’t too high and the crawl was pretty easy, especially for the vertically challenged crowd.  Next, was the Diesel Dome, which was a 30x50ft dome, which racers climbed over, definitely a challenge for those afraid of heights!  This was followed by Trenches, another tarp crawl through mud, then Risky Business, a balance beam placed in water.  Finally, Warrior Summit, which was a slip wall with ropes at a much easier angle than most OCR races.

After the Warrior Summit, racers approached the Mud Mounds, Pipeline, Fisherman’s Catch, and then the Warrior Roast.  The Fisherman’s Catch was definitely the most difficult of all the obstacles using entire upper body, swinging from ring to ring.  Many open heat racers, just crawled over the cargo net, rather than using the rings.

The final 3 obstacles in the last 400 meters of the race, were Alcatraz, Goliath, and Muddy Mayhem.  Alcatraz was a nice swim to rafts in the middle of a lake, followed by Goliath, an epic giant slide.  Goliath got racers all nice and cleaned off, but of course it’s not a true Warrior Dash if you come out clean!  So the race finished with its last obstacle, Muddy Mayhem, where racers were doused in thick clay-like mud, before receiving their medals at the finish line.

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Overall, it was a great race, people enjoyed themselves, and all levels were present.  I talked to many people who had never done obstacle course racing before, and they were satisfied with their experience.  I believe the Indiana Warrior Dash recruited some new racers into the world of OCR at this particular race.

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I must highlight that Warrior Dash is one of the few races that offer a charity option in partnership with St. Jude.  For racers that choose to run for this charity, they had to raise donations, which based on the amount they raised, were given some awesome incentive prizes.  For example, those who raised at least $300 gained access to the St. Jude tent at the race.  The tent included private showers, complimentary gear check, non-alcoholic beverages, and their own hangout area within the festival.  There were also incentive prizes for those who hit the $100 mark as well as $500 and $1000.

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Several top sponsors also included Shock Top Beer, which racers 21 and over enjoyed a free beer following the race, and only $5 a beer after.  Delta Faucets was another sponsor and they provided a whole stage equipped with their shower heads for clean up after the race.  There was also a karaoke set up on that same stage where people were showering!  What a party in the shower!!!  The other sponsor that stood out was Rockin Fuel, which provided protein shakes at the finish that nobody could open with muddy hands.  But it’s all good, lots of clean people to help racers out.

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Overall, excellent show, great sponsors, staff was friendly, and racers were happy.  With that being said, Warrior Dash is not up to par with more competitive race companies in terms of true obstacle course racing such as Spartan Race and Savage Race.  However, I don’t think it needs to be.  Warrior Dash is a fun way to get new people introduced to the sport in a non-competitive, not heavily difficult nature.  I would recommend this race for anyone, all levels!  Bring the family for a day of fun!

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Photo Credit: Luis Salamanca 

Terrain Race Chicago 2016 – Growing Pains?

Terrain Race held their 2016 Chicago race on August 20 at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.  Terrain Race had 3 options to fit racers’ needs: a 5k course, a 10k course, and an option to run unlimited laps.  The 5k and the 10k started off together with men’s competitive first followed by women’s competitive, and open heats followed.  Podium finishers in both of the races received monetary prizes.  There was NOT a master’s division (40 and up) at this race.

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The unique start corrals, were actually pools of water, in which racers awaited the “go” and had to leap out of the pool quickly to start the race.  The majority of the race was flat running through fields around the Chicagoland Speedway.  It was definitely a “runner’s course” for the majority of the first mile.

Mixed up with the running, were trenches of water and mud mounds, crawls under wires, crawls through tunnels, vertical walls, a 25 pound Wreckbag carry, and then mile 2.5 hit.  There was a slight back up at this point because many competitive heat athletes were having difficulty crossing the “Monkey Balls” obstacle.  After several tries, I saw several competitive heat athletes toss in their arm band, which disqualified them from getting on the podium and winning prize money.Terrain-Race-Chicago-Monkey-Balls

Next up was the wall jump that split the 5k course from the 10k course.  The 5k group was led to the final 4 obstacles at the finish line and the 10k was led on another 4 miles of course and obstacles.  10k runners had a rope climb, several shorter walls to hop over, a mini tarzan swing, a teeter totter, and some stadium stair running.

After the stadium run, we were led back outside of the track where we encountered a tractor tire drag, which led to the final 4 obstacles that were spectator friendly.  The next obstacle in line added to much confusion.  Initially, competitive athletes were told to try as many times as you want, but you must complete each obstacle.  However there was some confusion at one of the final obstacles.  The structure was about 20+ feet long and had racers suspended over a pool of water. They had to use total upper body strength to move from climbing rock to climbing rock, legs suspended.  Halfway through the obstacle was a wood support piece that racers had to navigate around without touching.  The confusion came when some competitive female racers were allowed to go halfway and keep their bands, however this rule was not uniformly enforced.  However, after personally questioning the mishap with the competitive women, both the lady in charge of that obstacle and the race director were not very friendly nor clear on what happened, or why the rules were not consistent for all.Terrain-Race-Chicago-Rig

This hand tearing obstacle led to a tunnel crawl, more muddy trenches and more muddy mounds, followed by a suspended cargo net climb about 5 feet from the ground.  This structure gave way and collapsed around noon, when the obstacle had several people on it.  No major injuries were reported.  One racer, Kurt Stremming, was on the structure when it collapsed.  He stated, “It was slow motion for me…I was holding onto the wafer board in the middle, literally felt it sway, start to crack, and collapse.”  He also said, “…one lady had her head struck but is fine and another got his leg pinned but is fine.”  There was also complaints that the staff were more concerned about removing the debris from the course than checking in on the people that fell.  There were approximately 8-10 adults and 2 kids on this obstacle when it gave way.Terrain-Race-Chicago-Cargo-BeforeTerrain-Race-Chicago-Cargo-After

Finally, the kid’s race seemed to be a hit.  The 1-mile course included walls to climb over, a balance beam, muddy mounds, a framed cargo climb, and a sandbag carry.  Kids that raced received the same medal as the adults.  The medals were very nice and larger than I had expected.

Overall, despite the obstacle collapse and the confusion with the competitive women, the race was a lot of bang for the buck.  The MC was awesome, played great music and kept the atmosphere fun and friendly!  5k racers only paid $30 plus insurance and the 10k racers paid just $35.  Parking was $10 and very close to the festival area.  I see a potential future with this race company once they get the kinks figured out and get things running a little more safely and uniformly.