Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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Spartan Race U.S. Championship Series: Ryan Atkins Takes The Crown

Atkins Breckenridge

This weekend was the final race in the inaugural Spartan Race U.S. Championship Series. The USCS is a five race series to determine which male and female Spartan Race athletes will hold the title of U.S. Champion. The series is televised on the NBCSN network.

Each athletes final score is determined by the cumulative number of points they earned across each of the five races. The lowest individual point score is dropped leaving each racer with their four best races counting toward their final score. A first place finish is worth 300 points, a second place finish is worth 299 points and so on down the line. A perfect score with 4 (or 5) wins in the series is worth 1,200 points.

As the series began, Ryan Atkins looked unstoppable. He rattled off three quick wins in the first three races. In the fourth race at Asheville, North Carolina, Atkins finally came up against an opponent he couldn’t beat: The Spartan Race officials.  Atkins was disqualified for failing the rope climb and not completing the required penalty of 30 burpees. In an interview afterward with ORM’s Matt B. Davis, Atkins told how the first rope he grabbed was coated in clay and unclimbable. Atkins described what happened next.

I guess I’m used to racing mandatory obstacle completion races where if you screw something up you just find a lane that works as fast as you can and get it done. I had never failed an obstacle at Spartan. So I went and I climbed a different rope.

The controversy of Atkin’s disqualification was magnified by a similar situation with Robert Killian on the Multi-Rig obstacle. As Killian neared the end of the obstacle he appeared to touch the ground with his foot, causing him to fail the obstacle. The Spartan official at the obstacle did not penalize him and Killian continued. After viewing video of the incident Killian offered to “self-DQ”, but Spartan declined and said the decision of the official would stand.

Going into the final race this weekend, Atkins could secure the series win with a third place finish or better. A fourth place finish for Atkins combined with a first place for Hunter McIntyre would allow McIntyre to tie Atkins for first place in the series. A fifth place finish at Breckenridge for Atkins combined with a win by defending Spartan Race World Champion Robert Killian would mean a tie for first between Atkins and Killian.

Atkins made it interesting by finishing in fifth place at Breckenridge. McIntyre could have claimed the title with a win but ultimately finished in fourth place. McIntyre was 24 seconds in front of Atkins and six minutes and 42 seconds behind the winner.

Atkins’ surprising finish also gave Robert Killian a chance to claim first place in the series. With a win at Breckenridge and Atkins finishing in fifth place, Killian and Atkins would have been tied in series points and Killian would have won the tiebreaker by virtue of a better finish at Breckenridge.

Killian fell just short with a second-place finish that was three minutes and 33 seconds behind the winner – Cody Moat.

Stop for a minute. Imagine the controversy that would have resulted from Killian winning the championship on a tiebreaker after the disqualification incidents at Asheville. Spartan is extremely lucky that did not happen. Joe DeSena should thank Cody Moat and take him out for a nice lunch at Zaxby’s.

“The Summit” Results – Breckenridge Beast Elite Men’s Results

2016 Breckenridge Men's Elite Top 10

Ryan Atkins finished the 2016 U.S. Championship Series in first place with 1196 points. Robert Killian finished in second with 1195 points and Hunter McIntyre finished in third with 1194 points. Congratulations to everyone who raced in the Spartan USCS, but especially to these men.

2016 Spartan U.S.C.S. Men's Final Point Totals

In a few weeks,  Spartan will crown their “World Champion” with it’s annual Spartan World Championship Race in Squaw Valley (Tahoe), California.