New Year, New Race Classes, New Medals – Spartan Race SoCAL shows us what’s in store for 2018

January ushered in a brand new start to the Obstacle Racing season and 2018 is shaping up to be very exciting! The first Spartan Race of the year was held on January 27-28 in Chino, CA. The Spartan SoCal Super/Sprint weekend brought new racing classes, finisher shirts, and medals.

The first big change this year is a revamped racing class called “age group,” which replaces last year’s competitive category. There are six categories for men and women that break down as follows:

14-17
18-24
25-29
30-39
40-49
50+

I like this idea as it feels like apples to apples. Age group also works similarly to the former competitive category for requirements (completing obstacles without assistance, etc.) and qualification into the World Championships. This link provides detailed information:  https://spartanrace.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013084888

One more race change is in regards to the Ultra Beast. It will now be a stand-alone event and will not count towards your trifecta count.

Next up are the 2018 finisher shirts and medals. They rock! The shirts run pretty true to size and are made of tech material. The medals look great. I was really impressed with both.

Now, for the obstacles. Surprisingly, there were no new obstacles at the SoCal Spartan. There were some good old standbys that are staples in the Spartan races such as the Herc Hoist, Dunk Wall, Rope Climb, etc. There were also some of the newer ones such as Olympus, Twister (with the terrible foam pads on the bars….no one likes those!), and Bender. The one missing obstacle was the monkey bars. I was a little sad as I really like that one. I asked around and a couple people mentioned they may be phasing it out this year. This is just second-hand information though, so time will tell.

Spartan hosted an open house on Friday night so I decided to go. It was the first one I’ve attended. It was a good opportunity to work on obstacles and talk with SGX Coaches. I’ve been trying to get past the rig but haven’t been able to yet, so that is where I headed. The rope climb was on the way and I saw a couple of gals staring at the rope. I stopped and one of them asked if I could show her how to climb it. I taught her the J Hook and she went right up. She was impressive. I showed another gal and she got part of the way up and was getting the hang of it pretty well. It was fun to see the excitement on their faces! I was really curious if they got it the next day in the race. I bet they did!

I practiced the rig and did pretty well. I felt excited to try the next day and see how far I could go. The sun started setting, so I knew it was time to head out and rest up for the main event the next day.

Saturday arrived and it was time to start the SoCal Super! The start line had the standard wall you climb over to get to the corral.  I got into position. Aroo, Aroo, Aroo…and we were off!

The first few obstacles were the over walls, O-U-T (over, under, through), the hurdles, and the 6′ and 7′ walls. It was nice to get some of the walls done and see what else awaited. The first barbed wire crawl was next. There were two in this race and the second one was a doozie. I like to roll and I came away with tons of barbs in my clothes. They were an obstacle all their own for the rest of the race.

We had the Yokohama tire flip and Olympus, but the Herc Hoist was the obstacle where I noticed the biggest difference…biggest meaning, weighing a LOT! They were definitely heavier. There were six other women around me at the time and none were able to hoist it on their own. I helped a couple and then continued on. The bucket brigade had pre-filled buckets with lids, which made it nice. No filling or dumping at the end. They didn’t feel too heavy and it made it efficient. Plus, you could tip them a bit and don’t have to worry about the gravel falling out. I got to the Spear Man and it stuck…YES!

The Z wall looked different as it didn’t have a middle, but it felt the same for the most part. It did seem a little trickier getting around the corner before the bell, but not too bad.

When the race was over I decided to walk around the venue and cheer some of the racers on. When I got back to the dunk wall I spotted two movie cameras and a small group of people. I realized it was Joe De Sena! This was the first time I’ve seen him at the races so it was very exciting…the man who started it all!

I talked with a man who was with the group and he said they were doing a documentary on a 60’ish-year-old man who was trying to get into better shape for health reasons and Spartan was his inspiration.

The man’s 80+-year-old father was there too. I wanted to get a picture but didn’t want to interrupt. The man said I should go ahead and get closer and take a shot. I told him, “only if Joe doesn’t make me carry a big rock if he spots me!” We both laughed. I wish I had more detail on the interview but I’m sure it will be available soon so keep an eye out on the Spartan page.

Sunday brought warm temperatures for the Sprint. It was 70 degrees at the start line at 8:30 am. It was a nice change of pace from the cold and wet that has been dominating Seattle for the past several weeks.

I got about a quarter into the race and ran into the gal I raced with last year at Lake Elsinore…Karen! Out of all of the people racing that day, what were the odds of running into each other? We raced the rest of it together and caught up. We had so much fun. I love that about Spartan races, it’s such an amazing community and you almost always see someone you know while you are there.

Two days of fun in the sun, seeing old and new friends, and getting just a little further on the Multi-Rig, which I am going to conquer this year gosh darn it!! It was a terrific weekend and a great start to an exciting racing season!

Spartan fun facts:

  1. Serena Williams opted for a Spartan Race instead of tennis this weekend. Check out this clip of her having fun on the hurdles:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BeiesAvhWn4/
  2. The SoCal Super was approximately 8 miles and had 27 obstacles
  3. You WILL find mud in your ears after a Spartan Race!

Photo credit: Kim Collings

 

 

Frozen Fun on The Local Level: Beat The Bitter 5K

A Frozen Festival

North Liberty’s 3rd annual Beat the Bitter 5k-ish Obstacle Run took place on the frozen tundra of Penn Meadows Park.  200 people gathered to take on the course which was put together by the North Liberty Betterment Group as part of a week-long winter games festival, which included curling, outdoor ice skating, snowmen building contests, ice carving and more.  Free coffee and hot chocolate were provided to keep runners and spectators warm before and after the race.Beat_The_Bitter_Winners

The Course

The temperature was right around 30 degrees at the start of the race providing some freezing cold air in the lungs without too much bitter cold on the face.  The course was set up with racers running around the perimeter of the city park, doing 3 laps.  Obstacles were to be run on the first and third laps and no obstacles on the second lap, so as to avoid any bottlenecks at obstacles for competitive runners.  With 9 obstacles on each of the first and third laps, the race felt obstacle dense.  When you finished one obstacle you could see the next one coming up in front of you.  With a total of 18 obstacles, you got more than you would on a tough mudder 5k.  The obstacles weren’t as hard or as big as a tough mudder but for the $20 entry fee, you definitely got your money’s worth.Beat_The_Bitter_Tires

The course started with the polar potholes, a grid of shin-high 2x4s that you had to high step through, then moved onto a set of 3-foot walls, and quickly into a short crawl through a rather large irrigation tube.  The obstacles became more difficult at this point with a climb over a six-foot hay bale and under a low crawl then a series of strength obstacles.

Beat_The_Bitter_Heavy_Carry

The heavy carry I thought showed a lot of creativity on the part of the organizers, utilizing the resources they had.  You had to pick up a 40 lb large rubber parking stop and carry it down and back 100 meters.  They were decently heavy and slightly awkward to carry with them bouncing around in your arms or over your shoulder. Almost immediately after the carry was a tire flip followed by the “Everest Death Zone” a plywood A-frame you needed to climb over. Beat_The_Bitter_Everest

 

Not far off was the third strength obstacle in only 0.3 miles, the Iditarod pull.  A sled-pull made from kids snow sleds laden with sandbags that we had to pull like dogs.  After this gauntlet of muscle burners, my legs were on fire.  The final obstacle was a balance run on old light posts before running a 1-mile lap with no obstacles and then doing it all over again before finishing.

 

The Bling

Every Finisher received a customized Beat the Bitter medal and the top three men and women got winter headbands as well.Beat_The_Bitter_Bling

Race Local

For being a small event of 200 runners put on by a local community enrichment group in a small town in eastern Iowa, this race went beyond my expectations.  I am extremely happy to see small local events embracing obstacle course racing.  There are always a million and three different 5ks that this or that local charity put on but there is a growing number adding some obstacles and by doing so, adding more fun to the “fun run.”  I will definitely be coming back to do this race next year (and maybe learn how to curl).

 

Photos courtesy of Justin Smith and Beat the Bitter

2018 Abominable Snow Race

Adaptation.

The ability to overcome on the fly using the skills you have developed. Some would argue this is the single biggest quality that successful obstacle course racers possess. Maybe you have mastered the ability to adapt to obstacles presented to you during the warm weather races, or maybe you’re still fine-tuning them.

Well, let me throw a monkey wrench into your comfy regime. How about we add freezing temps into the mix, maybe some ice or snow, or maybe even a mixture of them all with some mud thrown in. You love mud right? The kind where you rinse off from a hose at the end of an event while sipping your finishers beer in 80-degree sunshine? Well, this isn’t the same shit.

Winter OCR is here to stay and it’s getting bigger and tougher than ever before. Winter is no longer the offseason for OCR with events popping up all over the country. I had a chance to race in the third annual Abominable Snow Race held last weekend with a few thousand other racers from all over the country at the majestic Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva Wisconsin and I can tell you Winter OCR is here to stay. Held on the grounds of a ski resort you kind of had an idea of what to expect, but ASR chief Bill Wolfe went out of his way to make this race one people would talk about for a while.

Yeti Nation

With morning temps hovering just above freezing my family and I pulled into the Grand Geneva bright and early for packet pickup and were directed to a parking space in a lot right next to the registration tent. Thank you once again, Bill Wolfe for the VIP treatment!

I found most racers were parked in a lot a short distance away and could either walk or take a quick shuttle bus to the registration tents. Now, there were only two stations were athletes could check in making the process somewhat slow, but ASR did provide warm trailers nearby as a changing area which more than made up for the cold wait.

After getting yourself geared up and ready you entered the resort lodge, bathrooms were to your right and food and drink were upstairs. This was your final chance to warm up before leaving the lodge and entering Yeti Nation. The iconic voice of Coach Pain was the first thing you heard upon leaving the lodge, and as you stepped foot on the snow the cold smacked you right in the face as your gaze fell upon the tallest ski slope Grand Geneva had to offer. Food, merchandise, and drink tents surrounded you along with info tents from local races including Frontline, Dirt Runner, and Highlander Assault.

An Epic Adventure

ASR offered 3 different heat choices along with a little Yeti course for the younger racers. The regular Elite and Open classes were offered along with a special Hero Heat for military and first responders. The Open class course offered 22 obstacles along a 4.5-mile course while the Elite class/Hero Heat offered 25 obstacles over a 5.8-mile distance. The little Yeti course was not timed and wasn’t very difficult, but the kids really seemed to enjoy it and they got the same huge medal as the adults did! The main course itself started and ended right out in front of the main lodge offering great views for those brave enough to stay outside or watch from the warmth of the two-story lodge. ASR started off Elites first with the Hero Heat and Open class following. With Coach Pain pumping up athletes for the start I think we all had a feeling that this was going to be an epic adventure!

 

A Tale of Two Shoes

The very first thing I noticed upon starting was that all racers fell into one of two categories. It was basically the have or have nots and it came down to shoe selection. As we climbed up our first hill made of ice those with metal studded shoes moved right along while those without struggled mightily.

The course conditions remained this way throughout the race and served to thin out the crowd right away as we came to our first obstacle, a wooden wall climb named the Ice Breaker. The trail was wide enough for a vehicle during this short stretch of the race and offered the only real chance to pass as the path narrowed to one lane shortly thereafter, but not before an over/under/through obstacle.

An Inverted wall, which ASR called Cold Snap, was the last obstacle before the trail veered into the woods where the terrain turned into a single lane of muddy slush which was chock-full of rocks and tree roots making footing unbelievably slippery. This section of trail was appropriately named The Abominable Forest and lasted well over a mile. Nestled along one of the few clearings along the way ASR set up their Alaskan Oil Rigs, which ended being a type of ladder climb with the rungs set far apart and at a 45-degree angle made slick with all the tracked mud. After tapping the bell on top of the rig it was again off along the slick path and over more of the rocky hills leading to The Winter Weaver.  It was also during this section of the race where ASR threw in a triple set of hurdles and their slip wall.  These hurdles were cut into a diamond shape with a sharp point at the top making athletes regret stopping on top for very long.

 

Sled-Pull

There were a couple different ways ASR made some of their old obstacles tougher and the sled pull was one of these obstacles. In the past, the sleds were filled with snow or a sandbag and pulled along in a snow-covered circle. Now, the only real difficulty doing that was guiding the sled.

This year, ASR filled the men’s sleds with 3 sandbags and the women’s with 2 and the path this year was solid mud making the pull long and gut-wrenching. This also created a bit of a bottleneck due to racers stopping for breaks along the way. After finally getting rid of that damn sled it was back into the forest for more of the sloppy trail run leading to an uphill low crawl.

This wasn’t your normal low crawl either as the ground was made slick with ice, frozen mud, and decomposing leaves. There was no getting around becoming wet and cold after that crawl! Back on the trail now the switchbacks increased making many racers wonder just what direction they were really going. It was along this route ASR placed a 9-foot wall and their Cliff Hanger.

This was a Z type traverse wall with 2×4 pegs along with one section made up of 3 rope loops suspended from the top. The addition of the ropes was another example of ASR making their old obstacles tougher. This marked the halfway point of the course with more fun to come in the form of the Himalayan Climb up one of the snow covered hills with a cargo net climb on top.

Separating Open From Elite

The ride back down might have left you a bruise or two on your rear end as the snow was packed tight and the descent was steep causing many racers to use their backside as a sled. Athletes now followed the trail back out into the woods in a route designed to make racers loop back up one of the higher ski jump hills. ASR had used a giant Earthmover to make snow mounds to cross as a replacement for the normal mud mounds used during the summer.

Once at the top racers made their way down the back side of the slope stopping at one point to pick up a log for the Lumberjack carry. One final loop back into the woods and returning to the festival area was all that was now required. Sounds easy right?

Well not so much for the Elite and Hero Class as obstacle 18 came into view. A slingshot target was set up and a miss required burpees. However, that was for the Open Class only as Elites and Heroes skipped this obstacle and took off down an extended section of trail.

This extended version started off with a long ass low crawl as bungee cord was stretched across the one lane path for what seemed like miles. Then there was the bucket carry. ASR put their own spin on this by filling the buckets with water during the week and allowing them to freeze making them Ice buckets. An athlete certainly knew after the race if during the bucket carry they happened to bump one into their leg. And the length?? It was a long, long, long ass carry.  Many a strong racer could be seen making multiple stops along the way to regrip. The last extra obstacle along the extended route was a set of rising and descending monkey bars with a bell tap finish.

It was at this point where the extended course and main course joined back up as athletes made one last climb up the ski slope and grabbed an innertube for a fast-paced ride back down to the bottom. Now in the festival area, only two obstacles remained starting off with a set of low walls and ending up with a tip of the spear type wall traverse. Three slanted walls were set up side by side with ropes suspended from the tops of each as your only means of getting from one to the other. From there the finish line and that awesome bling was only a few meters away.

Final Thoughts

I found the 2018 version of the ASR to be not only longer and more challenging, but also much better managed. Things seemed to flow smoother and I left with a feeling of accomplishment. The racers I talked to post-race were in agreement that this year’s event far surpassed the previous year’s race.

The only real complaint I heard was that a few of the course marshals were not specific enough regarding obstacle completion during the Elite heat. But when dealing with volunteers you occasionally get these issues. Our sport is volunteer-dependent so it’s just one of the things you live with. My final thought on this event is if you think OCR is only a summer sport, think again and come on out to ASR next year!

 

Spartan goes to Iceland and brings back a new race format

What Was that Spartan in Iceland All About?

While this is a challenge for all of us who write about OCR, my biggest concern in writing about the Spartan Iceland Ultra World Championship was avoiding overuse of the words “epic” and “grueling.” My solution here is substituting the words “saga-worthy” and “difficult,” because Iceland is a land of difficult terrain that inspired centuries of sagas. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This summer, Spartan announced that it was launching a new race in a new location: Iceland. I’ve been before, but I wanted to go back, and this seemed like a great excuse. Spartan also announced a new format:  a 24-hour UltraBeast consisting of 5-mile loops. My first reaction was “So, this is going to be World’s Toughest Spartan?” The staff at Tough Mudder must have been pleased, as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My next reaction was to note the date: December 16, a month after World’s Toughest Mudder and, more important, a time of year when the sun barely shines in one of the world’s northernmost countries. The flip side of this was that it would make viewing of the northern lights while racing a real possibility.

The Great Unknowns

Racers were stymied at first, as Spartan’s website was ambiguous about what exactly the race would consist of, where it would take place, and who could participate. Many were reluctant to fork over $750 for a race without more details – Spartan promised it would be “epic” and “grueling”, but not much more. Eventually, enough people signed up that Spartan committed to the event and provided a travel agent to arrange hotels and transportation. The exact location was kept secret until close the date of the event, though it was easy enough to guess from Spartan’s description (a quick web search of the term “thermal streams,” one of the course features, pinpointed the site as Hveragerdi).

Adding to this uncertainty was one of the first data points provided by Spartan: a mandatory gear list. While Spartan has made some gear requirements for races in the past, particularly to make sure that racers would have enough water on the Beast and UltraBeast courses, the gear list provided was more reminiscent of what was required for the Death Race or an Agoge. In addition to a pack for water, racers were required to have on their person rain gear, warm clothes, lights, backup lights, and a very specific foot care kit. While I could imagine hikers needing an Ace bandage out in the wilderness, the need for one on a five-mile loop was less clear to me, and an informal survey after the race turned up no one who used it out on the course. The list caused considerable online puzzlement: would we be disqualified before the start if our rain jackets didn’t have the correct type of waterproof taped seams? Would there be pack inspections along the course?

What’s Icelandic for “Athlete Briefing”?

Racers met the day before the race for a mandatory briefing at Reykjavik’s Harpa, a concert hall and conference center, something like Iceland’s Carnegie Hall, but sleek and modern. Before we got to the important race details, we were treated to what might be the Icelandic equivalent of a motivational speaker. Bjartur led us all in a chant, having us cry “Wiking! Yes!” and jump in the air. Yes, Scandinavians have trouble with word-initial v’s, and it’s funny. The next few days included plenty of cheers of “Wiking!”

Next, Spartan Founder Joe De Sena took the stage and explained that staging the race had cost over a million dollars, and he expressed gratitude for some last-minute sponsors who had made the event possible. Given how expensive Iceland is, this was certainly credible. Finally, we were given the details of how the race would work: the loops would be six miles, not five unless bad weather forced the closing of part of the course. We were shown the bling, and we received a lengthy explanation of how that bling would be allocated. The format of the race would have different levels of finishers, one for those who completed over thirty miles, and another for those who completed over thirty miles and did so over twenty-four hours. Calculating the twenty-four hours involved crossing the finish line just after 9:00 am on Sunday, but not after 12:00 noon, which would result in not completing the race at all.

Iceland Ultra medal and belt buckle

At The Start

We picked up our timing chips and race bibs: purple for the elite competitors, black for us civilians, with reflective areas to make us visible in the dark, and so to bed. In the morning (still in the dark – remember, Iceland gets about four hours of sunlight a day this time of year) we were picked up from designated hotels in Reykjavik by bus and taken to Hveragerdi, about 45 minutes away. Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, and Hveragerdi is one of the locations where the steam pours out of the earth. We had been warned to stay on the course during the race because cutting corners could land us in the middle of a scalding thermal pool. Not a good reason to be disqualified.

In addition to pervasive eerie steam, Hveragerdi has an inflatable dome that provides an indoor rec center for the locals – basketball court, putting green, soccer field. This served as the Transition Area, and we were provided tables to store our gear, mandatory and otherwise. Cheerily, it was announced that in the wee hours, there would be cots and inflatable hammocks available for napping or for more comfortable viewing of Christmas movies which were to be projected on the walls.

We geared up, but before we could go outside there were two more groups to take the stage. First was a cohort from the concurrent Agoge that had started the day before. I don’t know what they had been up to on their spiritual and physical journey, but they looked miserable. A crowd of hundreds was cheering their efforts, but they all appeared too exhausted and demoralized to crack a smile. I did not envy them. Next were two Vikings (Wikings?), or the modern reenactor equivalents, who led us in a Viking prayer, which consisted of calling out the names of gods in each direction (Thor! etc.) and pouring out mead.

Genuine Wikings

Icy Start

We filed out of the dome into what little daylight there was. The weather called for rain, freezing rain, snow, some clearing, and then more precipitation. In short, a miserable day to be outdoors. Still, there was a race to complete, and twenty-four hours had to start eventually. At noon we took off for a 5K “prologue” through the town. This was a clever way to stretch out the field, and it gave us a taste of what the conditions were like: icy. Even before we started on the trails, we had to figure out how to keep upright on slick surfaces. Running up even a slight incline on ice is tricky.

After the prologue, we headed to the hills and the obstacles. One of the first obstacles was a pipe that was part of the landscape and replaced the usual hurdles that can be found on Spartan courses. Some of the obstacles (Monkey Bars, Twister) were closed on the first lap to avoid backups, and we soon came across another nod to the local conditions: the “farmer carry” obstacle had racers carrying… ice. Handles had been frozen into large blocks of ice. Nice touch, Spartan, and I always appreciate it when races that somehow acknowledge the course settings (think tire carries that used to be part of the Tough Mudder course at Raceway Park in New Jersey).

Why they call it Iceland

Soon we were directed up the side of the mountain. Spartan has steep climbs in its races, but this was among the steepest and most difficult I could remember. This wasn’t running, but rather climbing up the side of the mountain, pulling yourself up on whatever you could grab and hope that your footing wouldn’t slip. Also, hoping that you weren’t inadvertently kicking loose rocks into the faces of those below you. Video of that climb here

At the top of the mountain, it became clear exactly how treacherous conditions were: winds of more than 40mph pummeled racers on the exposed summit. The combination of the slick ice underneath your feet and the strong winds made it tough to stand even on a flat surface, and the wind was powerful enough to blow the snot out of you. Apologies to anyone who might have been downwind from me.

Going down the mountain was not easier: there was simply not much stable footing. Between the ice and the freezing rain on top of the ice and the wet terrain below the layers of grass, my feet were wet, cold, and unstable. The obstacles were spaced out fairly well as a distraction, but when your hands are cold and wet and the surfaces are icy, even simple obstacles like a rope climb are challenging. A complaint I heard from several people was that the sandbag carry was the most difficult obstacle; the sandbags were 60 pound Spartan “pancakes” (who knew they came in this size?), but these bags had been left out in the freezing rain, where they absorbed water and froze into awkward shapes. One noteworthy innovation: Spartan had replaced the typical round of thirty burpees with other penalties for some failed obstacles. Instead, some obstacles had short penalty loops, bucket carries or barbed wire crawls. In another twist, the elites had to carry a “passport” with them where volunteers recorded how many obstacles the racer failed. At the end of each loop, the elites did all of their burpees in one session.

All that steam eventually turns to ice

The obstacles were all familiar, which was a relief given the unknowns of the terrain. As it got darker and as the rain started fogging my glasses, it was tougher and tougher to see the course markings, though I was brought back on course by helpful fellow racers. As I trudged up yet another hill, I had one of the highlights of my OCR career: I got passed by Robert Killian. As he danced up the hill past me, he said “Good job!” What a mensch! [Editor’s Note: Mensch is a person with honor] It says a great deal about our sport that one of the top elite athletes would spare the breath and brain power in the middle of a race to offer some encouragement to someone at the back of the pack. Thanks, Killian.

Robert Killian, OCR mensch

Throwing In The Towel After Throwing In The Spear

I was cold, wet and not sure how I was going to finish one loop, let alone keep going for twenty-four hours. As I tried to figure out the best way to get to the next marker, I found myself asking “What would Bear Grylls do?” I also remembered that Bear had once taken on Iceland.  But I’m not Bear Grylls, I’m definitely not Robert Killian, and the appeal of warm air and dry clothes back at the dome was overwhelming. I also realized that I should have signed up for the Sprint, not the Ultra, and one loop was going to be enough for me. Trying to hit the spear throw is difficult enough, but doing it in heavy winds, in the dark, and then having to do burpees in an inch of freezing water? I know when to say when, and I opted to avoid the risk of a broken wrist, or worse, from slipping on icy paths.

After admitting defeat, I settled into the world of the Transition Area, the dome where racers warmed up, changed clothes, recovered from each lap and refueled. There were cots and water jugs supplied, and the overall appearance was that of a refugee camp, albeit for especially buff refugees fleeing a repressive Gore-tex based regime. The dome was a veritable festival of DryRobes. There was food for sale, the camaraderie of fellow racers, a festival atmosphere for the few spectators and crew, and loud top-40 hits to keep the mood high. Myself, I took a nap in one of the Spartan-branded inflatable hammocks (pro-tip, Spartan: if you are going to note how expensive the race was to mount, maybe hold back on putting your logo on the hammocks next time).

It was warm and dry in here.

Deflated by De Sena

As I recovered, wedged happily in one of the hammocks, who should stroll by but Joe De Sena. Knowing his goal to yank the world up off the couch, I asked him if he was going to revise his pledge to rip 100 million people out of their inflatable hammocks instead? “They also deflate, you know” he replied.

All through the night, racers trickled in and out. At about 1:30 in the morning, an announcement was made: the skies had cleared and the northern lights were visible. This was enough to get me out of the warmth of the dome, and it was enough to justify the entire adventure. Photographs do not do the phenomenon justice, but this natural wonder was augmented by the tiny lights from the headlamps of the racers out on the course. Saga-worthy.

Spartan’s professional photographers capture the northern lights.

Northern lights plus racers in the night, as taken by my phone.

International Attendance

While this may happen more often at Spartan races in Europe, one notable aspect of this race for me was how international the field was. Joe De Sena has worked hard to build the race series around the world, and the athletes that traveled to Iceland had come from over thirty-five countries. According to Spartan, 48% of the racers came from the US, with 40% from Europe and the rest from even farther away. It was an eye-opener to see how global OCR has become. Also, it afforded a few entertaining cross-cultural opportunities:

Me: “So, where are you from?”

Another American Spartan: “I live in Scranton.”

Genuinely bemused Spanish Spartan: “Wait, that’s a real place? Not just on ‘The Office’?”

American Spartan: “Yes, it’s real. But they made some stuff up for the show. We don’t actually have a Chili’s in Scranton.”

Shortly after 9, Morgan McKay crossed the finish line to win the race for the women, and not long afterward, Josh Fiore claimed the title for the men. He did so in romantic style, having carried an engagement ring in his pack for the entire race and popping the question at the finish line.

ORM’s Matt B. Davis MC’s the proposal from the warmth of his DryRobe and my borrowed warm socks.

You can read more about Josh’s race experience here: Not to be left out, Morgan got engaged soon after.

Iceland Recap

Apart from diamonds, what are the takeaways from Spartan Iceland Ultra? To be sure, there were some rough spots. I try to keep in mind that this was a debut of a new product at a new venue. As an organization, Spartan does not shy away from a challenge, and I respect them for their daring. Still, I’ll point out some mistakes, some of them that were probably avoidable. Too many details were kept under wraps for too long. It’s one thing to tease, but if racers are going to commit to training for an endurance event, they need to know what the event is going to require of them. I was unsure if Spartan HQ was being coy for much of the run-up to the event or they were just not sure what they wanted to produce.

My biggest criticism of the event was one that struck me as soon it was announced: December is the wrong month for the race. I appreciate that the weather and the darkness were part of what made the event so difficult, but bringing an event to a place of spectacular natural beauty only to schedule it for a time when participants can’t see the scenery seemed like a waste. My suggestion: try March instead. You still get 12 hours of darkness, the weather is just as unpredictable, the northern lights could come out, and dates that are not so close to Christmas and coincide with school vacations would all bring out more racers. It also avoids the end of season conflicts with Spartan’s other championship event, with OCRWC, and World’s Toughest Mudder.

Downsides

Iceland is remote. This is part of what makes it appealing, but it also means that it is an expensive trip for everybody (well, almost everybody). There will never be one place that is convenient for everyone, but no one was going to be piling into a car for an affordable road trip for this race. And on the topic of accessibility, the initial price point of $750.00 was off-putting, especially given the additional costs of travel to the venue. Discounts were offered, and hotels turned out not to be too expensive in Iceland at this time of year, but sticker shock was enough to keep many away.

There were other problems that might have been avoided: the timing software was not yielding updated results throughout the race, which is particularly crucial in a twenty-four-hour race, where elite racers’ strategies can be built on how many laps competitors have completed. Even for regular racers, the results were not finalized for weeks after the event, which made the medal vs. belt buckle element confused at the end of the race. Speaking of which, apparently many of the medals that made it to Iceland for the Ultra had ribbons denoting Hawaii as the location. While both are remote volcanic hotspots, the contrast could not be greater. Another gear-related snafu was that there was supposed to be unique Spartan Iceland-themed swag on offer, but only samples were available at the race, to the disappointment of many. I understand that the setting made everything more difficult (absolutely everything: I heard that Spartan lost not one but two drones to the heavy winds, resulting in a lack of aerial footage that definitely would have been described as “epic”), but shipping race merchandise should be a no-brainer.

Final Complaints

Of all the obstacles not to bring to Iceland, there was no fire jump. Normally I think of this as a silly photo-op rather than an obstacle, but when you are in the Land of Fire and Ice, you bring the fire. That’s just what you do, especially when the race is mostly in the dark. I’m hoping a risk-averse landowner was to blame for that. More seriously, Spartan once again has problems measuring its courses. The original plan was five-mile loops, and the day before the race we were told loops would be closer to six miles. In reality, the loops were closer to 6.8. I raise this because it is a flaw I have seen at almost every Spartan course. This isn’t a matter of under-promising and over-delivering. Getting the distance right at an endurance event is Race Management 101. Spartan has enough experience by now that even at a new venue they should get this right.

In the end, the event was a success. It was difficult: 600 racers started the Ultra, and only 322 finished (208 finished the two sprint waves out of 250 who registered). This is not an event for everyone.  While the race could not have been a financial success, it was a way to launch a new product, the Ultra, which appears to be getting its own series separate from the Beast. Exactly how this is going to happen is still murky. The only clear message we received about the new product is that its colorway is going to be purple. However, in the same way that Tough Mudder has used the Tough Mudder distance to generate the multi-loop Toughest Mudder event at its regular venues, it appears that Spartan is using this format to create a much longer event without having to wrangle a longer race course. Very clever.

The Ultra Appeal

Who will sign up for this new product? Plenty of people, apparently. One refrain I heard from several racers was that the race was not challenging enough. At first, I thought this was bravado, but when I talked to these racers, many were coming from an ultrarunner background; their events can be longer and more difficult than what they encountered in Iceland. There is a market for very difficult events, and remember that Joe De Sena has a background in adventure races. Those events are frequently multi-day challenges that test not just athletic endurance levels but also raw survival skills. The question remains whether the Spartan brand can pull together enough new racers into a product with this level of difficulty, either from those who regularly do more difficult events or from those who are attempting their first twenty-four-hour race.

Spartan is definitely going to try: after the race, it sent out a survey asking where racers would be interested in having next year’s Ultra Championship. Iceland was an option, and after the money and research expended to find this unique spot, it seems a shame not to go back. However, other Scandinavian countries were on the list, as were some closer to home. Wherever the Ultra Championship lands next year, one thing is for sure: it will be both epic and grueling.

2018 TOYOTA WARRIOR OCR SERIES

Attracting close to three thousand athletes, and a couple thousand onlookers, the 2018 season opener of the hugely popular obstacle course racing (OCR) series, the Toyota WARRIOR Series, powered by Reebok, was off to the perfect start this past weekend at Riversands Country Farm in Johannesburg.

The OCR Toyota WARRIOR series is designed for adventure seekers from all walks of life, and, with no barrier to entry, makes obstacle course racing (OCR) accessible to anyone with a pair of trainers, t-shirt, and shorts.

Course designer, Jono Hart, says Toyota WARRIOR 2018 will be the best year yet for OCR.

I build these courses to allow ordinary people to start somewhere and build themselves into who they want to be. None of the obstacles are easy but they are all manageable depending on your fitness level. Black Ops is an absolute monster. These men and women are at the top of their game.

With three categories on offer, Rookie, Commando, and Black Ops, the Toyota WARRIOR races have something for everyone who wishes to have fun and challenge themselves across world-class obstacles.

The Rookie

The Rookie, the shortest and easiest race, is all about fun and comradery – a wonderful opportunity to have real fun with your friends and colleagues. For those seeking a greater challenge, the Commando offers a greater test of physical and mental ability. The most difficult challenge is the Black Ops – the ultimate test of endurance, speed, strength, and agility.

Black Ops Elite

The main event of the day was Black Ops Elite. This tough course incorporates 35 obstacles over roughly 15 kilometers of trail. These athletes are either climbing, traversing, carrying or gripping from start to finish. It is intense and only the super-fit and trained make it to the end.

Winners

Winner and ranked 2nd in OCR South Africa, Thomas van Tonder (Jeep Team SA) won the men’s race; the Women 2017 Series winner and #1 ranked female in OCR, Trish Eksteen (AOT) won the women’s race. Trish Eksteen came 4th overall, an indication of her strength and speed in this sport.

In addition to the honors and the R10 000 prize purse, these two athletes each got to drive home in a WARRIOR-branded Toyota RAV4 – theirs to drive until the next event in Bloemfontein on the 17th of February.

Contenders

The men’s Black Ops Elite was initially a close fought race between South Africa’s top 3 OCR athletes, Bradley Claase, Thomas van Tonder, and 2017 series winner, Claude Eksteen.

The toughest obstacle in the race, Breaking Point, proved to be exactly this as it defeated Eksteen, who eventually finished 34th overall, and Van Tonder, a three-time Top 10-finisher at the OCR World Champs, calmly pulled off a superb win ahead of Claase in second and Jason Friedman in third.

 

Says van Tonder,

Today, level-headed strategy beat bullish endeavour, which would be my normal stance. I took a good breather before starting on Breaking Point and this was my saving grace. I ran my own race and it paid off.  I am absolutely blessed to take home the win in the first Toyota WARRIOR Race of 2018. I had to dig deep today, mentally, as it was a very tough race.

 

In the women’s race, 2017 series winner, Trish Eksteen, showed her racing prowess, taking the win ahead of Carla van Huyssteen in second and Nedene Cahill in third. What makes their achievement even more impressive is that the top 3 women all finished in the top 10 overall.

Another interesting fact is that both Van Huyssteen and Cahill have made their mark in other sporting disciplines. Van Huyssteen is an accomplished trail runner with many stage and ultra-trail podiums under her belt, and Cahill is an ex-MTB XCO SA and World Champion. The cream always rises to the top.

 

These women are really strong. Everyone forgets how hard these obstacles are and yet, year after year the women get stronger and stronger and get through the obstacles with more ease. Well done to Trish. She is an amazing athlete, and I hope I can learn a lot from her coming into the next few races, concludes van Huyssteen.

 

Race 2 of the 2018 Toyota WARRIOR Race, powered by Reebok, takes place on 17 February in Bloemfontein, Free State, and promises to be equally impressive.

 

Says Hennie Scheepers, co-owner of the Warrior Series and race organiser, This is the Free State’s first Toyota WARRIOR and we are super excited to meet new warriors. The Free State has always produced strong, sporty individuals, so we are really looking forward to seeing them in action.

Results – Toyota Warrior #1

Black Ops Elite

Men

  1. Thomas van Tonder 01:23:10
  2. Bradley Claase 01:24:45
  3. Jason Friedman 01:29:51

Women

  1. Trish Eksteen             01:31:01
  2. Carla van Huyssteen 01:34:01
  3. Nedene Cahill 01:34:55

 

Commando Elite

Men

  1. Kelvin van Wyk 00:50:29
  2. Conrad Herbst 00:53:02
  3. Calen Hastie 00:53:29

Women

  1. Sammy Nel 01:10:15
  2. Sam Ryder 01:12:24
  3. Tarryn Butler 01:13:16

 

Rookie Elite

Men

  1. Nick Oberholzer 00:36:45
  2. Simeon de Bruyn 00:37:03
  3. Jasper Mutsindikwa 00:37:16

Women

  1. Tumi Matlou 00:45:11
  2. Monique Els 00:46:15
  3. Megan van Tonder 00:49:15

 

Written and distributed by Hot Salsa Media on behalf of Advendurance.

Images and Enquiries to viv@hotsalsamedia.co.za

For the full results of Toyota Warrior #1, visit www.jumpertrax.com.

For more information or to enter, visit www.warrior.co.za.

Images and Enquiries to viv@hotsalsamedia.co.zaWritten and distributed by Hot Salsa Media on behalf of Advendurance.

 

Editors Notes

Toyota Warrior Race 2018 Dates:

Warrior 1                             27 – 28 January                  Riversands Farm, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Warrior 2                             17 February                        Bloemfontein, Free State

Warrior 3                             17 – 18 March                    Soweto, Gauteng

Warrior Namibia              24 March                             Midgard Country Estate, Windhoek, Namibia

Warrior 4                             14 – 15 April                        Cape Town, Western Cape

Warrior 5                             14 – 15 July                          Blythedale, KwaZulu-Natal

Warrior 6                             11 August                            Nelspruit, Mpumalanga

Warrior 7                             20 – 21 October                 Meerendal Wine Estate, Cape Town, Western Cape

Warrior 8                             24 – 25 November           Tierpoort Adventure Farm, Pretoria, Gauteng

 

Toyota WARRIOR, powered by Reebok, is back with mud and obstacles built to sustain and delight the thousands of athletes, large and small, tall and short, thin and large that are ready to challenge themselves having fun building better humans.

The event calls adventure seekers from all walks of life – whether a weekend WARRIOR or an elite athlete hoping to snatch up the series title. With a Rookie, Commando, and Black Ops category on offer, WARRIOR has something for everyone.
For the first time in the popular series, there will be an escape route for those who don’t find the idea of mud particularly appealing. Instead of diving into the infamous Mud Monster, participants will have the option of taking a penalty loop that will take them the same amount of time to complete. The ‘mudless’ option will not be made available to any Elite athletes, however. Adventure seekers looking for some extra high-speed excitement have the option of entering the popular Reebok Sprint Race. A specifically designed children’s obstacle course will be available for little adventurers, as well as a WARRIOR Kids Zone under the supervision of child-minders.

 

There are some exciting things in store at the 2018 TOYOTA WARRIOR SERIES, powered by Reebok:

  • You can choose your own batch start times again, so enter soon to choose the batch you prefer.
  • The theme for 2018 is Māori Warrior, so expect to see a lot of tattoos and funky designs
  • In 2018 the Mud Monster will not be compulsory, non-Elites can do a penalty loop and skip the mud
  • Sprint Race: we have changed the Sprint Race format to make it more exciting and involve more age categories.
  • Two one-day action-packed events added in Bloemfontein and Nelspruit
  • Warrior is going International! On 24 March 2018, we will be hosting a Toyota Warrior event in Windhoek, Namibia. Entries opening soon!

Savage Race Launches “Savage Blitz”

SAVAGE RACE LAUNCHES NEW “SAVAGE BLITZ” RACE PRODUCT

January 22, 2018 – Florida based company Mad Cap Events, LLC, owners of the popular “Savage Race” obstacle race series opened registration yesterday for a new race product called Savage Blitz. Savage Blitz is a 3-mile obstacle course race to complement Savage Race’s original 5-7 mile format. Savage Blitz features many of the Savage Race signature obstacles participants have come to know and love over a shorter distance.

Initially, Savage Blitz opens in four select markets in 2018, but with plans to expand to more locations in 2019, and possibly late 2018. The first four Blitz events will occur on Sundays at existing Savage Race venues.

“This was something that has been heavily requested by participants. There is a lot of interest from folks who aren’t quite ready for a 5-7 mile Savage Race, so we created a race product that would be better for a beginning OCR athlete. Savage Blitz is also going to be a lot of fun for experienced athletes who want to run a faster course. Fifteen to twenty obstacles is a lot to pack into a 3-mile course, so I think people are going to have a lot of fun with this!” – Sam Abbitt, Savage Race

Savage Blitz registration opened yesterday at 1 pm eastern.

Tickets and information are available here.

Savage Blitz Opening Calendar

Maryland – Sunday, May 6th, 2018
Charlotte – Sunday, May 20th, 2018
Ohio – Sunday, June 10th, 2018
Chicago – Sunday, July 29th, 2018

*More dates TBA