Spartan Race Minnesota Sprint 2017 – The Hills Are Alive!

Spartan-Race-MN-Start-Line

When someone says “Minnesota”, what’s the first thought that comes to mind?  Snow?  Ice?  Mall of America?  Well, we have all those things, but we also have one more thing: Spartan Race.

Spartan Race came back to Welch Village for the 3rd year in a row, about 45 minutes south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  Welch Village holds some of the steepest ski hills you can find in MN, and Spartan uses those their advantage (and to other’s dismay).  Registration was a standard setup, with the bar-code scanning making the process easy and quick to deal with.  The festival area was stocked with the normal Spartan merch stands and the venue’s concessions filling up everyone with good food and beverages.    The festival area was spread out across the entire field, with the main stage being on the opposite end of where the start line / biggest team tent area was located.  This proved to be a drawback later on, with the messages being relayed by the DJ at the main stage not being heard at the other end of the festival area.  Minor issue, but I digress…

In past years, the course has hovered right around the 5-mile mark in length.  Between the longer distance, hills totaling over 1200 ft in elevation gain, temperatures hitting 90+ degrees, and high humidity… to say that this was a challenging Sprint course would be an understatement.  That was not the case this year.  Temps hitting the sweet spot and Spartan shaving over a mile off past year’s setups (clocking in around 3.5 miles), it was a noticeable difference for those that had been there before.  Opinions were mixed on this, as having a shorter course was deemed either welcomed fully or seen as a slight disappointment.  Different strokes, different folks.  In my view, if the race seems shorter (reading between the lines: easier) then push harder.

Obstacles were standard for Spartan.  One difficult stretch was the spear throw and rings. These were located right after the dunk wall, making for a difficult time of completion and many burpees were enjoyed.

Spartan-Race-MN-spear-Dan-Stowe

Spartan-Race-MN-rings-Dan-Stowe

Otherwise, enduring the hills was a main focus of everyone.  The start line started uphill, after the rings — hill, after doing some other stuff – hill.  The bucket carry at the Minnesota Sprint carries a certain ill-tasting flavor in my mouth, as it’s straight uphill.

Spartan-Race-MN-bucket

Please note: She moved the bucket off her shoulder right after this picture was taken.

This part of the course had many people questioning their life choices up to that point, but all was forgiven it seemed when they got to the top and saw the camera guy (funny how that works, huh?).

Spartan-Race-MN-bucket-smile

Overall, it was a fantastic event at a venue that can really bring the pain for a Sprint distance.  Hills, green everywhere (both with the trees and the local North Star Spartans team that was 150+ strong!) and a bunch of Minnesota nice made for an excellent time at one of the premier events on the Minnesota OCR calendar.  Next time you think Minnesota, don’t think cold.  Think AROOO!

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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Hammer Race 2017 – Spring – Hammers Up!

Hammer-Race-2017-Spring-Shirt

Have you ever wondered to yourself:  “Man, it would be a blast to run through the forests, hitting things with a sledgehammer, run through nasty brush and climb over moss-covered rocks!  But where?”

Well my friend, I’d suggest you keep reading.

The Hammer Race is a locally run obstacle course race outside of Rochester, MN (approx. 1 ½ hour drive south from the Twin Cities area). While you don’t need much obstacle technique to get through the 10K course, you do have some very technical trail running filled with twists, turns and hills, along with some walls and tires.  By the way, while navigating all this, you’re carrying a sledgehammer (we’ll get to that later).

The race is run by a group of dedicated people from a local CrossFit gym.  The venue is at a local campground that runs alongside the beautiful Zumbro River area.  As far as the festival area goes, that’s not the main focal point of this race.  Aside from the local chapter of the Spartan Race street team having a tent set up, it has the grassroots feel that I want at a locally-run race. Within the main clubhouse, there was registration/waivers to sign.  I got there about an hour early and breezed through check-in.

Hammer-Race-2017-Spring-Start-Finish

There was an elite wave, couple of teams that ran together and then a couple of open waves to start the race.  They went through a race briefing (which side are the flags on? THE RIGHT! Be aware of your hammer, don’t hit anybody. This was said many times.) and after a few battle cries of “Hammers Up!” we were off!

Hammer-Race-2017-Spring-Start

Remember when I said you’re carrying a sledgehammer through this entire race?   The main prerequisite for running this event is BYOH -Bring Your Own Hammer-.  Most runners bring a 8-10lb sledgehammer, but some run with larger weights because they’re animals! That one thing sets this race apart from your normal obstacle course races.  One thing to remember:  You’re holding an awkward 8 pounds while running through dense, thick brush that’s barely cleared, rock beds covered in slick moss & climbing up hills that are surprisingly steeper than you’d expect for southern Minnesota.   This race is challenging.

Hammer-Race-2017 Spring-Rocks

Hammer-Race-2017-Spring-Trail

 

 

One of the other perks of carrying the hammer (other than feeling like a total bad-ass doing it!)  is hitting the logs down the chutes.  These are sprinkled throughout the course, with a gauntlet of logs and tires to hit at the final stretch.  Hearing the THWACK-THWACK-THWACK of hammer hitting wood can bring a smile to your face as it echos through the forests. When you hear that, you know what’s coming next!

ammer-Race-2017-Spring-Log-Chute

 

2017 Hammer-Race-Spring-Tire-Hammer

Another obstacle that stands out is the “Black Door”.  The Black Door is a large section of the course that’s roped off with caution tape on either side. Inside this section, there’s a black door hidden which, when found, will put you back onto the race course.  You can’t go outside the tape, there’s no other way out, you just have to find the Black Door.  This is a great way to break up the course & most of the time forces you to partner with other racers to find it.  I won’t give away too much in details, but I heard from others it took them upwards of 8-10 minutes to find that door.

Overall, this is an excellent, challenging locally-run race that brings to the forefront some of the best that Minnesota has to offer with the local OCR scene. It’s one I personally look forward to each year, and is a staple on many local racers calendars.  I was told by the race director that some exciting new changes will be coming for the Hammer Race in October… can’t wait to see what they have in store!

Stay tuned this year, as I’ll be at more locally-run jewels that make up the crown of Minnesota OCR.  Until then, hammers up!

2017-Hammer Race-Medal