The first ever Winter Spartan Race on U.S. soil was held March 4th at the Greek Peak Ski Lodge in Cortland, New York. The logistics of the race with start time temperatures around 10 degrees and the wind chill just below zero with light snow were extremely difficult. Registration computers outside were frozen up, literally, and the whole registration process was brought inside causing the whole race to be an hour behind schedule. Spartan told me after the race that they asked the resort numerous times to hold registration inside but were continually told no until there was no other choice. This also caused numerous slight bottlenecks along the race due to people jumping the gate and overcrowding waves. The 3.45-mile course climbed up just under a thousand feet and wound through the ski runs and surrounding forest in typical Spartan fashion. Volunteers were just as frozen as the water at the aid stations and the footing was treacherous at best making this the longest quick sprint I’ve ever raced.
At 9:30am, the first wave of the day finally started off with a dash up one of the ski slopes that had the effect of immediately thinning out the herd of racers before making a right turn away from the festival area and into the surrounding forest. A single lane path of ice led racers down the distance we just raced up until we were presented with our first “hurdle”. Yes, the Spartan 5 foot hurdles were our first obstacle to navigate over before being presented with our first wall to climb. Once up and over, a short jog took us to a short barbed wire crawl on a sheet of ice where the wind was blowing chunks of snow and ice chips right into our faces. Now back on the icy trail, Spartan led us through another short jog through the woods and another wall climb leading up to the Spartan Rig. This was the basic ring only rig and we all were happy about that as the brutal temps had our hands frozen and stiff. The more difficult multi-rig would have been brutal to traverse under these conditions, and I feel Spartan made the right choice only using the rings.
Spartan now led us away from the festival area and ski slopes to more moderate pasture type terrain where the sled drag and carry was located along with the Atlas Stone. The Atlas Stone ended up being one of the tougher obstacles on the day because they were all covered in ice! It was truly humbling trying to get a grip on that sucker. A frozen creek crossing was next up on our way to the bucket brigade along a single path through the prairie type terrain. After dumping our buckets, we were on our way back towards the festival area where the vertical cargo net and rope climb sapped our strength before hitting the Herc Hoist. The frozen ropes seriously tested a racer climbing skills and grip strength. Ice on the rope with frozen hands made this way tougher than usual. The spear throw was next up after a short jog and the strong winds really played tricks with the spear’s accuracy. Now Spartan led us back towards the festival area for an inverted wall climb and then back up the ski slope where the A-Frame cargo climb was set up.
Now climbing our way up the slope, once again Spartan created a unique snow quarter pipe with ropes anchored from the top to help an athlete get to the top. Now athletes were led through the forest where the frozen sandbag carry was located. Up the slope through the woods along a single path filled with ice and downed trees along the way made the climb a tough one. The way descent back down the slope with the sandbag was almost as bad as going up because the footing was so slippery! Now, finally on our way back down towards the festival and the finish Spartan placed a series of icy snow mounds for athletes to climb over before a steep, speedy, and slippery decent down to a very slick slip wall. The normal dunk wall was replaced with a wall over a dugout snow pit where the hardest part was trying to climb out before finally getting to the fire jump and finish where, once I crossed, I promptly slipped and fell on my rear end. First time ever I received my medal while seated.
I consider the first Winter Spartan to be a huge success. After the initial delay described above, I found the course and conditions to be plenty tough. The weather really made the normal Spartan obstacles much more challenging. All the racers I spoke to afterwards agreed that they all had a great time and really enjoyed the course. Hopefully this success will lead to more winter OCR events around the country. My personal view is that OCR is tough, and that’s why we do it. But OCR below zero really will test what you’re made of!