Spartan Race Sprint at West Point 2017 – Showing Grit Where Military Heroes Are Made

Being a 3-year OCR veteran, I find myself part of multiple teams.  The New England Spahtens is the team nearest and dearest to my heart and is like family to me.  But there are instances when some of us in NES run with another team, RWB, Red White and Blue, which serves to enrich veterans lives by making social and physical activities available to veterans to mingle with civilians to help the veterans integrate back into society.

My father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran, so the opportunity to run this Spartan race in his honor with others from RWB and at our nation’s premier Army Military Academy, West Point, was truly a privilege.

Pre-Race Impressions

We got an early start since our wave time was 9:15.  We knew the shuttle would be 20-30 min overall and planned on an extra hour to account for check in, bag drop, and taking in the sights as well as warming up and a team picture at 8:45.  I even had the opportunity to say hello to and shake the hand of the author of our pain and torture, “Woody,” who has taken over from Norm Koch as Spartan’s race director.

Arriving in the shuttle parking lot at approximately 7:15, the line was slow but not long.  There were available buses waiting and boarded right away.  This was not the case a short while later according to other team members who had later start times.  And when we left the venue, our wait in the shuttle line was 30-40 minutes.  To our surprise, arriving back at the parking lot later, we saw at least a half dozen empty buses sitting in the lot not doing anything.  Spartan knew they had over 8k people signed up to race and maybe that was too many.

Check in at that time of the morning was fairly smooth with 10-15 minutes of waiting, with a similar experience and less waiting at the bag check area where our bags were hung on fencing, perhaps not as efficient as the shelving they have at some venues. Signage directing us to the start line was obvious and Spartan did a good job piquing the interest of spectators by placing a couple of obstacles, Olympus and A-Frame Cargo, obstacles 4 and 5, right across from the start line.

An Honored Warrior

After the team picture, while waiting to get in the starting corral, we witnessed what had to be one of the most touching moments of the day when a WW2 veteran was hoisted in a chair mounted to a huge litter and carried by 6 younger Marine veterans.  They continued to carry him through the entire 4-mile course with the exception of the steeper climbs through the woods.  It was truly an honor to witness living history!

WW2-Vet-Waving

 

Off And Running

After a start line send-off from Dustin Doroughs, an OCR emcee veteran and one of the best in the business, who got our hearts pumping and spirits roaring, we took off.

After a short 1/4 mile run we met with the first and second obstacles which were the standard Overwalls and then Over, Under, and Through walls, followed 1/4 mile later with Hurdles or as we like to call them, short Irish tables.

The course so far had been dry as there had been no rain, and the rest of the course remained largely that way aside from a couple of small damp dirt areas.  We then came upon the Olympus and A-Frame Cargo obstacles in short order, and I found that the instructional videos Spartan has online for Olympus really helped as I completed that obstacle for the first time without help.  Those chains hurt though!

But the backup we were to experience at some obstacles throughout the race began with the A-Frame Cargo. It was just sheer numbers and the different abilities of everyone that contributed to the delay.

A-Frame-Crowd

The First Obstacles

 It was nearly a flat mile later that we arrived at the first heavy carry of the day and the first serious elevation gain with the sandbag carry.  While the men’s weight felt lighter than I’m used to, making me take two, I began to regret that decision halfway through the carry loop because the one bag kept falling off my shoulders.  But I soldiered on and after the sandbags, we met with yet another 6 ft wall, something Spartan seems to rely heavily on making them seem predictable.

Monkey bars came next, and it was nice to see multiple elevation changes in the bars adding a great challenging element making you focus even more.   A stone’s throw after was the inverted wall followed by a 7 ft wall a half mile later.  Placement of that wall was questionable since it was parallel with the elevation of the hillside causing the wall to be at an angle and not level which posed a potentially undue safety issue.  Most people seemed to adapt nonetheless, even an RWB teammate for whom this was his first OCR and gladly accepted our help getting him over it.

The Bucket Brigade, or as it’s called in the Spartan vernacular Sucket Carry, was next and what was surprising was that it was completely flat with no elevation gain at all.  However, it was the LONGEST bucket carry I’ve ever experienced at an estimated 1/3 of a mile.

Bucket-Carry-Long-Shot

Bucket-Carry-Loading

Now that your arms, shoulders, and back were shot, what came next was Spartan’s new signature obstacle, the Twister, a horizontal cylinder with a helix of handles attached that turns every time you grab the next handle.  It has frustrated MANY people in its debut season this year, and this was to be the third time I faced it but the first time I completed it.

 

Monkey-Bars-2

Obstacles at West Point

Obstacles came more rapid fire now that the finish was near.  The Vertical Cargo Net was next, and this was another one where overcrowding became an issue with a wait to do the obstacle and the fact that so many people were on it at the same time that there was a noticeable but slight sway once on top.  It was not too concerning, but not being an engineer, I began to wonder how close we were to the limits of the sturdy and well-anchored construction of the obstacle.  Rope climb was next with dry ropes which I descended too quickly and got a small rope burn on my thumb.

Then came the Rolling Mud.  It was disappointing because much of the water in each of the three pits had drained into the ground below.  More had been carried by runners as runoff on the mounds after each pit making the descent into each successive pit very steep and slippery.  Even more disappointing was the traditional dunk wall at the end of this obstacle where the water level was 6 + inches about the water’s surface.  Most disappointing was the lack of the traditional photographer on the other side of the dunk wall.

Next up was the Atlas Carry.  Aside from the challenge of picking up and carrying the heavy concrete ball, you also had to make sure the ball didn’t roll away downhill as the obstacle was on a slope and not level ground.

The Multi Rig followed though it was only rings, an obstacle that I have mastered and completed easily.  While there was a crowd of people at the beginning of it, most were simply observing and devising a strategy or technique of doing it.  There were several lanes available to those of us who simply wanted to walk up to it and do it.

After this was the dreaded spear throw.  I’m 50/50 on this one, and while my throw was level and strong, it went well past the target about 6″ to the right.  Otherwise, I would’ve nailed it.  It was my only obstacle of the day where I honorably joined several fellow Spartans in the Burpee Zone.

The Herc Hoist was next and was one of the last 4 obstacles of the course and one of the ones where spectators had set up lawn chairs to watch the action.  Then came one of the longest and most deceiving barbed wire crawls I’ve ever done.  Aside from being easier because it was on grass, the path appeared to end up ahead, but then took a cruel turn to the left and ended up being twice as long as everyone thought.  A slip wall followed this and then the traditional and much-anticipated fire jump with the finish immediately after.

Off the Course

The medals were special to this series and the neck strap was the part that said West Point on it.  The finisher shirt was standard, but they had a sweet venue shirt which was a full on tech moisture-wicking shirt with graphics specific to West Point.  We bought those before we even started as they sold out quickly.

West-Point-Finisher-Medals

There was a fun looking kids course that smartly ran alongside the last section of the adult course, a couple of restored military vehicles, a couple of food vendors and hardly any other vendors aside from the Border Patrol tents and Military recruiting tents.  The showers were not cold and the changing tents were dark and sauna like.  Getting our bag at bag check too a little longer than dropping it off, but not too unreasonable.

The Downside

The worst part of the day was waiting in line for the shuttle for 45+ minutes.  We felt lucky later after hearing other teammates reporting waiting an hour and a half.  That’s just inexcusable.  It was also disappointing at the almost complete lack of military personnel presence anywhere at the venue aside from a couple of MP’s.  It would’ve been nice to see some cadets manning the obstacles or handing out medals at the finish line.

Overall, we had a great time and enjoyed the challenge of the race for what it was.  If Spartan has a race at West Point next year, we will be back!