A Salute to Service – Spartan West Point (2017 Honor Series)

An-honored-veteran-at-West-Point

West Point

Duty, Honor, Country. The motto of West Point Military Academy are words to remember and words that were ever-present at the West Point Spartan Sprint.

At the handful of Spartan Races I’ve been to, honoring the military was always part of the event in some way. Aside from having, in my opinion, one of the coolest medals in OCR, the Spartan Honor Series took that to the next step. Not only were several current members of the military present and/or racing, but many veterans were able to come out as well.

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COURSE

The race was located at the Lake Frederick Recreation Area, which is a 25-minute drive from the West Point Academy, but still owned by the military. The course was just over four miles and included over 1,000 feet of ascent. The terrain featured plenty of uphill climbs and downhill runs through semi-technical wooded trails and a few gravel paths.

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Obstacles weren’t any different from normal Spartan races. There weren’t any military-themed obstacles. It would be awesome to see Spartan incorporate some sort of military tribute in an obstacle or two for 2018, but to keep races consistent, I can see why they may not.

One surprise was seeing Olympus within the first mile. Generally, it’s in the last half of a course. Because of this, I did notice some small lines later in the day. As a note, I ran the Elite Male wave and didn’t necessarily have to wait, but did have to start before another person finished. At the Sprint in Palmerton, the lane was fully clear when I began.

Olympus-and-A-Frame-in-the-first-mile-at-West-Point-Sprint

FINISH HIM!

As is becoming the norm, many of the obstacles were saved for the end of the race. The first half featured seven total obstacles, with the second half having fifteen. The last half-mile had eight of those fifteen!

I’ve noticed a lot of Spartan races lately have a sort of, “gauntlet” at the end of the race. I mainly notice them at races with a time trial, which makes sense. The time trial requires a lot of obstacles in a short distance. Logistically, it’s easier not to move those obstacles for the next day.

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There was no time trial the night before West Point. Yet, the course designer saw fit to have the Bucket Carry followed immediately by Twister, with the Rope Climb just around the corner. After a quick Rolling Mud, racers then hit Atlas Lift, Multi-Rig (all rings), Spear Throw, and Herc Hoist, all within a few hundred yards of each other. And before the finish, a pretty long barbed wire crawl that included a slight turn, slip wall and, of course, fire jump.

COMPLAINTS

The main complaint I saw from other racers was the parking situation. Personally, I had no issues since I ran in the first heat. I arrived at the parking lot, which was 20 minutes from the race venue, at 6:00 am. Got right in, and walked right onto a bus. I hung out a bit after the race and went to catch a bus back around 11:00 am. Again, no wait. That was not the case for some later racers.

On my ride back to the parking lot in the late morning, I noticed quite the traffic jam going the opposite direction. In that traffic jam were shuttles going to the venue. As we pulled back into the lot, I could see a long line of people waiting to board shuttles to get to the race. Later, on social media, pictures showed long afternoon lines waiting to board buses back to the parking lot. Some racers said they waited over 2 hours just to get on a bus.

This was my first Spartan, and second OCR race ever, where parking was off-site. As much as an inconvenience as it may be, I’m not sure how much control Spartan has over traffic. It is definitely something they can look into, though, if they decide to go back in 2018.

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WHAT SPARTAN DOES BEST

I’ve now done a total of four Spartan races. Every single one has challenged me both in the course layout and obstacle order. There are always plenty of water stations and post-race snacks. The Honor Series medals are absolutely fantastic and a must, if you’re into that sort of thing. The finisher shirts, however, were your standard Sprint finisher shirts. It would be cool to see an Honor Series finisher shirt, but the venue shirt made up for it!

Spartan is really good at getting people race photos. The pictures were up Monday, less than 48 hours after the race finished. As I’ve mentioned before, a helpful hint to finding all of your pictures is to use Chronotrack. The Chronotrack checkpoints are each at photo spots. Find what time you crossed that checkpoint, then search the photos for that time frame. That’s an easy way to get each of your pictures from the various stations.

Honor-Series-Medals-at-West-Point

SHOULD SPARTAN GO BACK?

I absolutely hope Spartan goes back to West Point next year. I usually only go to races within an hour, or so, but it was easily worth the 2+ hour drive. Lake Frederick makes for both great terrain and even some scenic views during the race. If Spartan can improve the parking situation, they really have a keeper.

What did you think of the West Point Sprint? Leave a comment below!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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!

Spartan Race: Fort Campbell Military Sprint 2016

14053978_10153673466381861_5146155646345819658_nThe 2016 Spartan Race Nashville Sprint was held on August 20th deep inside the Fort Campbell Army base, home of the 101st Airborne division. Since the 2015 version of this race was kind of weak, I was curious to see what changes were made. Now you might think that there would be Army personnel all over the place to direct all of the Spartan traffic, or at least some signage, but no, not until you made the last turn to the festival area did you find a sign directing traffic. I’m pretty sure there were people driving all over the base to find the race, and the base is enormous. Parking was in a cut hay field next to the start line and by the end of the day, with the amount of rain dumped in the area, Spartan was forced to start towing vehicles out. Now enough with the bad, and on to the good because the rest of the race was great.

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The ’15 Nashville race was 5.1 miles with about 110 feet of elevation making it one of the faster courses on the Spartan circuit. This year’s course was only 4.6 miles with 270 feet of elevation change but Spartan used the course much better.  Every one of the limited hills was crossed along with every creek, and usually with something heavy to carry. The event started off with a dash through the cut fields of grass and over bales of hay along the way to some 5-foot hurdles at which point the athletes started to separate out in distance. The race had the feel of a trail run till we came up to the Atlas Stone carry which further spread out athletes.  Now crossing into a wooded section of the base, we were led along a game trail that twisted and turned until we came up to the bucket brigade.  Last year’s bucket carry was a bit lame with athletes only having to carry their rock-filled buckets over a manmade bridge. This year Spartan stepped up their game and made competitors traverse a creek twice with a series of muddy hills all while toting the everloving buckets. Fatigue was starting to set in as we made our way to the monkey bars. The monkey bars from last year’s event were close together and easy to cross. This time, Spartan stepped up once again and used their set that had bars spaced far apart requiring you to swing from one to the other one handed. The Spartan rig was last up on this section of the course further trashing an athlete’s grip strength.

14100400_10153673469616861_763808547488196930_nNow reaching the half-way point of the course, we were led back towards the festival area to the dunk wall and the barbed wire crawl. The temperature and humidity were both high and there was little wind making this obstacle extremely exhausting. Once complete, the rope climb was next up further taxing those tired muscles.  Now Spartan was able to put to use some of the buildings on the base. A sand bag carry up and down a 5-story building drained what was left of your quad strength. From there, we were given a weighted plastic gun and ran through aone-storyy building in order to “clear” it military style. This would have made an excellent spot for a photographer but none was to be found on this obstacle. Once we set our “guns” down, it was a short sprint to the sled drag over a gravel lot. This made it tougher than in the past, because nothing pulls over gravel very well.

14022263_10153673461181861_1478761564722645767_nNow approaching the end of the course, Spartan had the ever popular, time killing, spear throw then led us to the slip wall with a short jog through the woods to the herc hoist, which felt like a ton at this point. Back through the woods, we went until we came upon a cargo next strung straight up between two tall trees. This obstacle could have been built better, because, after I completed it, the latch holding down the center strap came loose causing the runners behind me to be held up. I’m positive those poor racers that were held up were pissed about their time being set back due to the delay.  Last up was the A frame cargo net and a short sprint to the fire jump and the finish line.

14034875_10153673460296861_1510274318813039952_nAlthough this race felt easy in the past, Spartan made this year’s version much tougher by incorporating the limited number of hills in a much better way. A full half-mile shorter was this year’s race and most athletes times were slower than in the past. The weighted carries were longer and involved more climbing and the trails were more demanding than before. The festival area offered most of the same Spartan items as usual with plenty of bathrooms and changing areas for all. Parking was the standard 10 dollars with no option of the 40 dollar VIP parking up front as in some of their races. As previously stated, the monsoon rain of the day caused many to have to be towed out, but otherwise I found this race to be much tougher than in the past and was impressed with the way Spartan volunteers paid close attention to the athletes.


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