Spartan Race Chicago Super – 2017

Once again, Spartan Race descended upon the Chicago area and pulled up shop at the Richmond Hunt Club for a weekend of Super and Sprint racing.  I had opted for racing on Saturday, which meant I have only seen the course through the eyes of a Super racer.

Arriving at the race venue was a breeze, as I paid a bit extra for the VIP parking.  The VIP part lived up to its name, as I was only a couple of rows away & a very short walk to the registration tents.  The bar code scanning at the tents was painless, and I was in the festival area without issue.  I did notice an abnormally long line of people waiting at the spectator gate, so I’m not sure what was going on there.  Festival area had the normal collection of third-party vendors and merchandise areas, nothing that stuck out to me.

partan-Race-Chicago-Registation-Dan-StoweThis was the first time I’ve been to this venue, so I was excited and curious to see what it had to offer.  The last time I ran a Chicago Spartan Race was back when it was held at the superb Dirt Runner venue in Marseilles, IL.  It’s a tall order to live up to that venue, as it’s one of the best places I’ve ever ran at in the Midwest region.

The course itself was a little bit below the normal distance I’ve experienced at other Spartan Supers, clocking in around the 7.5 mile mark.  Chatting with some of the elite guys that finished before I took off, I was told there was little to no elevation at all.  Boy, were they right!  It was a very flat, fast course, with little in the way of elevation.  Part of the terrain consisted of mud that was knee-deep in some areas (although I was told last year it was incredibly more difficult, so the potential is there with the right amount of rain beforehand to make a muddy course next to impossible to navigate), but overall it was running through open dirt fields and a little bit of single-track.

Spartan-Race-Chicago-Dunk-Wall-FacebookObstacles were the standard fare I’ve come to expect from Spartan Race.  I will give kudos though to the finishing gauntlet of obstacles in the final ¼ mile or so of the course.  The Twister, spear throw, rope climb and rings along with the A-frame cargo net and slip wall were all in plain view of the festival area.  This made for some excellent spectating, and some great cheering sections to finish off the race!  My favorites would have to be Olympus and the Twister.  Both were popular spots for burpees and created a difficult finish if those obstacles were missed.

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Spartan-Race-Chicago-Twister-FacebookOverall, the race and event went off without a hitch for where the race was located.  Going back to what I said earlier, the Dirt Runner venue was by far a much better location in my view than the Richmond Hunt Club.  Spartan did well with what the venue had to offer, but they’d do much better with a re-visit to Marseilles.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Spartan Race Chicago Sprint 2016: New Venue, New Mud, Crazy Chicago Spring Temps

Spartan Race Chicago Sprint Elite Male StartSpartan Race descended upon a new Chicago area race location in Richmond, Illinois for a Sprint the day after the Super.  This was very much a “runner friendly” course, and those who busted out early benefited from not being stuck behind others in the mud.  Typical crazy Chicago area Spring weather made the Sprint a good 20 degrees cooler than the Super the day before.  Sunshine abounded as the elite heats took off on time.  Robert Killian, who had won the Super the day before and participated in the Saturday night Hurricane Heat and barely made it to the start of the elite Sprint, came in first followed by Brian Gowinski (who came in second at the Super) and Mike Ferguson…all finishing within 75 seconds of each other!  Master Heather Gollnick (we just get better with age) took the overall elite female prize followed by Sarah Pozdol (CrossFit C2L athlete) and Julie Hartges.  Sarah took first at Warrior Dash the previous day!  Rocio Henciek took second in the Masters elite female division and Lisa Nondorf took third.  As for the Masters elite male division, LeEarl Rugland continued his strong performances and finished first, while CrossFit C2L athletes (and first time podiumers) Jeff Wolschlag and Sean Hastings rounded out the field.

Spartan Race Men's Elite PodiumSpartan Race Chicago Sprint Elite Females

The biggest team honor went to Corn Fed!  Other notable teams with good turnout included Midwest Vikings, Gladiator Nation, and CrossFit C2L.

As the open waves entered the course, the temperature dipped and the sun tucked behind the clouds.  Those in the later waves found the mud to be a soupy quagmire, adding to the fun.  As this was definitely a very flat course, the mud made an otherwise easy course more challenging.  It also made for significant backups for the open wave participants, although this writer did not hear any complaining.

There were no new obstacles on this course and the traverse wall was mysteriously missing.  The Rig added a new twist with baseball and softball holds.  While the Rig was placed more in the middle of the course the placement of the initial holds (ring to rope to baseball to vertical pipe) and distance between holds proved too much for many…burpees were plentiful.  I suspect many will focus more training on grip strength and pull-ups.

The layout at the end of the course seemed a bit different. Plenty of ropes available for the Rope Climb, then Hercules Hoist (not the heaviest), Spear Throw, Slip Wall, then the Stairway to Sparta.  For the elites, the Slip Wall was relatively dry but later in the day it became really slippery and while there was quite the backup, true Spartans waited their turn, showed their grit by getting up the wall, and stuck around to help others.  I personally think having the Rope Climb then Rig then Slip Wall at the end is better and more exciting for the fans.

The kids race was very well done much to the delight of hundreds of kids and their parents.

Spartan Race Chicago - Kid's TraverseSpartan Race Chicago - Kid's Mud

All in all, I think from the participant’s point of view, the Chicago Spartan Sprint can be viewed as a success.  Although there were backups on the course due to the mud, that can happen anywhere.  The race directors did what they could to make a very flat course somewhat challenging.  Will they be back to Richmond in 2017?  I’m guessing “no” as there are plenty of other more rugged and Spartan-worthy options around the Chicago area.

Photo Credit: Tina Egizio and Spartan Race

BattleFrog Chicagoland 2016 aka Waterworld

Participating in races in the summer months is always a bit of a gamble if you are not familiar with the race venue: Getting fried in the sun is never fun and for people who are having issues regulating their body temperature it can get outright dangerous. The Saturday of BattleFrog‘s Chicagoland event 2 hours outside of the City of Chicago started very cloudy and overcast with forecasts for rain. However, around 10am the sun came out and the temperatures kept rising. That’s May for you.

The course map showed a few interesting changes compared to BF Los Angeles and BF San Francisco: No monkey bars, no weaver, just a single rig and an obstacle called “Strong Man” which turned out to be similar to an atlas stone carry. The course would later turn out to measure aprox. 4.8 miles distance with about 1000 feet of elevation gain.

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Fortunately, the venue at “The Cliffs Insane Terrain Inc.” had plenty of creeks and woods available and BattleFrog was nice enough to make sure the racers would get plenty of opportunities to cool down, even including a short swim and of course their signature Hooyah water slide obstacle. On top of that, frequently appearing deep mud mounds made sure nobody stayed dry for too long.

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The swimming obstacle was manned with divers, an inflatable boat, and people on land on standby. Additionally, a rope in the water provided safety in emergencies but was not to be touched otherwise. Water safety is always very important at OCRs especially in the heat and it was great to see the significant precautions BattleFrog has taken to address this.

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If you came to BattleFog to get a mud run then you made the right choice! As soon as it came to obstacles like the rope climb, the 12’ wall, confidence climb, and 60 Degrees, all that mud came back to hound the runners: Very slippery ropes made the short rope climb difficult even for elite racers. Obstacles with metal bars became slippery and increased the challenge even further.

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For those not familiar with BattleFrog obstacles, the confidence climb is a series of square metal bars vertically stacked on top of each other and runners have to climb up and over, then climb back down on the other side. 60 Degrees is basically the same thing, but the whole obstacle is tilted to a 60-degree angle facing the runner: Not only do you have to hold on to the slippery bars, you also have to fight gravity – similar to an inverted wall. As the picture shows, deep pools of water and mud mounds right before this obstacle made this especially exciting.IMG_20160528_102913

BattleFrog did a great job with the setup of separate lanes for elite, intermediate, and novice runners which ensured a steady flow at the obstacles and prevented frustration. More boards to step on for the novice lane at the 12′ Rope Wall definitely reduced the fear factor. A lower hanging bell at the rope climb or fewer metal bars to climb or a significantly easier Tip of the Spear made a big difference for everyone who does not have competitive aspirations while still offering the option of going for the more difficult elite lanes.

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However, it unfortunately provided opportunity for some “Elite” competitors to sneak into an easier lane during their second laps. Every race depends immensely on their volunteers and while the majority are upbeat and encouraging – which is the most important thing for 90% of participants – there is still room for improvement when it comes to their knowledge of the rules. For example, Spartan Race hands out laminated sheets with an explanation of the obstacle and the penalty to the volunteers manning the obstacle. This would be a possible way to ensure a more consistent quality in this regard.

BF-Chi-wall

The recent announcement of penalties for BattleFrog Xtreme competitors stirred up a lot of controversy about how this would be handled. In Chicagoland there was only a single penalty loop set up to address the most difficult obstacle: Right behind the Platinum Rig a wreck bag and jerry cans were set up next to a “BFX Penalty Loop” sign. The penalty consisted of carrying a wreck bag plus one jerry can for a tiny loop which was marked by flags. The amount of time required was about equal to a clean pass through the Platinum Rig but less taxing and less time consuming than the usual ten 8 count body builders, the usual penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. This was a bit disappointing to see, especially because nobody was around to inform the BFX combatants about what they were supposed to do. Most carried only the wreck bag or two jerry cans and while integrity is key, nobody would have stopped them from simply walking past the penalty loop either.

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The fact that the Platinum Rig was in a fairly easy configuration – probably due to expected rain which would have made it difficult nevertheless – reduced the impact of this. The Rig and the penalty loop were packed very closely together and right next to the finish line and Elite/BFX transition point. This made it impossible for the volunteers to keep everyone in check and at the end of the day everyone knows if they earned their medal or not.

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Bottom Line: BattleFrog took advantage of the varying terrain at the venue and provided a challenging OCR with interesting twists to keep the race attractive for all that already have done one or more of their events in the past. While raw strength and obstacle technique could make or break someone’s race in the past, the current setup with lanes of different difficulties offers options to athletes of all backgrounds and skill levels.

(All pictures have been taken by the author)