Spartan Race: 2017 Citi Field Stadium Sprint…Swimsuits Required

Amidst an unexpected Nor’easter with heavy rains and temperatures ranging from a 53-degree high to 45-degree low, which was 20 degrees colder than the 2016 Citi Field Stadium Sprint 0f 73 high / 56 Low, many residents from the tri-state area found logical reasons to stay indoors, but thousands of Spartans did not.

Conditions were less than stellar with many unknown variables at play prompting Spartan Race to send weather advisories en masse via social media and to registrant emails. Though a slippery and dangerous course it was, the overall winner’s times appeared unscathed as 2016 Stadium Series Champion Brakken Kraker 31:13, Michael Miraglia 32:49, and John Yatsko 33:31 swam to the podium alongside the Tsunami of Spartan Pro Team Females Kate Kramer 34:19, Cassidy Watton 35:00, and Orla Marie Walsh 37:41.

Many Elite and Competitive racers expected the monkey bars to be closed due to the heavy rain as in other Stadium races, but instead, they were greeted with slick metal, a few face plants, and 30 burpees.

Note: No serious injuries were reported from a day of slippery monkey bars except for the deep bruising to human pride and ego.

The low temperatures were no match for the highs found during the Special Spartans and Spartan Kids Race where these athletes lit up the stadium and ran as hard as they would on any other sun-filled hot summer day. Another race day high point was witnessing paralyzed and wheelchair bound Lindsey Runkel wheelbarrowing the venue then roll her wheelchair through the Atlas Carry with double-amputee Andrew Bateson on her lap and the concrete Atlas block on his. They also attempted the Spear Throw in the same fashion and with a few warmup throws and several tweaks to their technique this stack of adaptive athletes hit the target.

In retrospect, the course was more physically demanding in 2016, where racers practically touched every bleacher and stairwell at Citi Field, however, the inclement weather of 2017 created mental challenges never before experienced in a stadium series race.

At the finish line, racers were greeted with the sorely missed and familiar voice of renowned Spartan Race emcee Dustin Dorough who is pursuing other aspirations but knows he belongs among us…at least once in a while. Welcome back…and forth Dustin 🙂

As with every Spartan Race experience, there is opportunity for both the brand and the participants to continue building on past successes and correcting current missteps.

At the time of this publication, we remain uncertain if the distribution of the finisher shirts in the parking lot outside of the venue was attributed to contractual limitations of Spartan Race, bottlenecking at the finish line / photo area inside the stadium in years past, or a trial run for future standardization.  We did, however, notice that some volunteers at the registration area were not aware of the finishers shirt tent behind them, just like in 2016.

If you were on the course and not pleased with your individual outcome regardless of poor training, poor nutrition, poor attitude, or poor climate, you can always (insert Milli Vanilli song here)

Courtesy of Super Mario Bros 3 – Kooti Pie Rocks Episode

God Bless and keep running…

Photo Credits: Rosa Farciert Lopez, Adam Ortiz, and Spartan Race

Spartan Race – Citi Field Stadium Sprint 2017

Saturday, May 13th, the sun rose… we think. Queens was experiencing a Nor’Easter so we don’t actually know; but when Spartan has a date on their calendar, you’d better expect that race to be held no matter what the weather does.

With stadium races lacking mud, the rain actually provided a nice substitute for the 2017 Spartan Race Citi Field Stadium Sprint. It added an additional challenge for racers, not only on outdoor obstacles such as the monkey bars and rope climb, but also with every step they took throughout the wet stadium steps. While I have completed many Spartan Races, it was my first stadium race, and I had a blast! I don’t know what took me so long to do one, but I already can’t wait to do another.

Unfortunately, stadium parking was $12, but that’s really my only complaint about this race.

The Course
Racers were released in heats of 15 every minute. The course was well marked with tape completely blocking off any possible wrong turns, as well as volunteers directing racers around sharp turns. As to be expected, the course included a ton of stair climbs and dizzying zig-zags throughout the benches. With the start line in the stadium, the finish line on the field, and the course everywhere in between, you could almost always hear music playing. If you’re like me and used to only hearing music as you approached the festival grounds, you were probably pleasantly surprised.

The Obstacles
There was no multi-rig! There were monkey bars, however, strategically placed in the rain. Between that and the spear throw, I did more burpees than expected.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Monkey Bars

If you failed the monkey bars or the Z-Wall, both of which were outside, you had to do your burpees on the pavement in the rain. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, especially if you’re used to doing burpees in mud and on rocks, but it was pretty comical. All racers had to do at least 5 like that, even if they completed those obstacles, since the atlas carry was also outside.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Atlas Burpees

As per usual for this race, one obstacle was 25 hand-release push-ups. I didn’t know that going into it and found it pretty cool that we were in the Mets locker room! I also wasn’t expecting the four over walls to be inside the stadium.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Over Walls

Another obstacle that took me by surprise was 20 skips with the most massive jump rope I’ve ever picked up. I was not alone as the rope crashed into the back of my head or fell out of my hands numerous times before I completed the obstacle.

The main challenge at the sandbag carry was maintaining your footing, just like the rest of the race, as you tried to move quickly since it wasn’t particularly heavy.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Cassidy Watton Sandbag Carry

“”Sandbag carry” in a stadium is really a sandbag sprint. I wish they’d put a real heavy carry in a stadium.. or a heavy sled pull or push? Anyway, given the super cute look on my face, this still hurt bad.” -Cassidy Watton

To finish it off, the last three obstacles were about 100 meters from the finish line: 30 box jumps, the wet rope clime, and the CKO punching bags. After all those stairs, I don’t think anyone enjoyed the box jumps; but knowing how close we were to the finish, it was hard not to go fast.

The Finish Line
Across the finish line, we received our stadium specific medals and upon return into the stadium, we got our Clif Builder’s Bars and bananas. I’m not quite sure why there were no FitAIDs being given out, but it was definitely missed. On our way back out to the parking lot, we picked up our 2017 Sprint Finisher shirts.

I think the main reason I enjoyed this race so much was because I was able to operate at max effort the entire time. Unlike the longer Spartan Races, there is no pacing involved. I was breathing heavy the entire time and I was always trying to catch the girl, or even the guy, in front of me. There’s no doubt that it’s fun to go fast.

The Training
A lot of people ask me what my training looks like. The answer is a lot of things… especially since I wasn’t even training for this particular event. I run an exorbitant amount of miles, do CrossFit and yoga, cycle, and ruck. But if you want to know some specific things that might help you in this kind of race, here they are: running and sprinting, stair climbs, lunges, box step-ups and jumps, burpees, hand-release push-ups, pull-ups, monkey bars, rope climbs, and sled pulls. A little bit of all of that will surely help you tackle your next Spartan Race stadium sprint!

Photo Credit: Citi Field, Spartan Race, Kirin Hartstrong, Emilie Jones

Spartan Race at Citi Field: A Mixed Review

“You will be: timed, ranked, judged”.  This is the motto that has been infamously touted on signs at the entrance to Spartan Race venues in the past; a motto that has held this race series in a class of its own among countless other obstacle course races and mud fun runs that seem to be springing up overnight.    A sign warning all participants that Spartan races are

competitive, not just for the elites, but for every single one of us who steps up to the muddy starting line.  Spartan Races were designed to test the physical and mental toughness of all participants, regardless of age, gender, or fitness level.   At any given time during an event, Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena might be found on the course yelling at participants to move faster and push harder, reminding them that this is a race, and not a hike through the woods.

Spartan-Citi-Field-1

For the weekend warrior, there are alternative obstacle course races that offer a mud run experience.  An experience that often includes long lines at obstacles, the option to skip over parts that push you outside of your comfort zone, and a party atmosphere.  However, the reputation that precedes the Spartan Race is exactly that, a race, an uncomfortable challenge, and not simply the “experience” that is provided their competitors.

As an avid obstacle course racer, this competitive edge and high standard of racing is what I have come to expect, and love, from the Spartan Race group.  Today I am highly disappointed to report that, for the first time ever, Spartan Race did not meet these expectations.

The 2013 Reebok Spartan Sprint at Citi Field was held on April 13th in New York City, at the home of the Major League baseball team, the New York Mets.  After a successful time trial race at Fenway Park during the fall of 2012, Reebok Spartan Race has created a Stadium Series that will cover four ballparks for the 2013 race season.   As one may imagine, the logistics of an obstacle course race inside of a baseball stadium are vastly different from the muddy, wooded trails that are often synonymous with Spartan racing.  However, despite the lack of terrain, mud, water, and fire, the Spartan race directors still brought a fantastic physical challenge.

The three mile course began in staggered waves, with 15 racers starting every minute or so.  The stadium series takes many of the obstacles Spartan Race is known for, alters many of them for the venue, and adds in many new challenges.  On the course at Citi Field, participants took on the usual over, under, and through walls, rope climb, Herculean hoist, sandbag carry, and spear toss.   Added in were functional training style exercises that had to be completed by repetition and/or time.  Slam ball tosses, heavy jump rope, box jumps, and hand release pushups were among the fitness challenge obstacles.   A 500 meter row on an air rowing machine was to be completed in two minutes or less. In true Spartan-mental-toughness style, racers saw their required distance decrease on the screen as they rowed, with absolutely no reference to time. Once you completed your 500 meters, you were shown one of two messages on the screen: “AROO” with a congratulations indicating you had completed the task, or “BURPEES”, meaning you didn’t make the two minute cutoff, and must do your burpee penalty.

There were changes in some of the more familiar Spartan Race obstacles as well.  The cargo net climb was now made of webbed straps instead of rope.  Earlier in the day, the Traverse Wall was reportedly using removable pegs that the racer must move from hole to hole for their hand grips (by the time we made it to the traverse as the 11:15 am heat, all but one wall had the original block hand grabs).   The traditional monkey bars had been replaced with opposing single hand, smaller, bars that rotate when grabbed.  The degree of tautness varied, but you didn’t know until the bar started spinning in your palm.  Word from Spartan Race staff was that racers and volunteers had renamed this obstacle “burpee bars”, as most people failed this obstacle and had to do their penalty 30 burpees.

Spartan-Citi-Wait

Lines form at rowing obstacles

Covering three miles without leaving the confines of Citi Field meant only one thing: stairs, and lots of them.   At many points during the race participants were running up and down large access stairways, as well as the actual stadium stairs and rows after rows of seats.    And this, from the very beginning, is where I realized this would not be a race for time.    I had a very hard time passing the crowds of people who chose to walk up the stairs, or even on the flat rows of seating.  Being a race rule follower, I felt it wasn’t appropriate to jump “off course” to try and pass these people.   Numerous times I yelled to runners ahead of me “hey guys, mind if I pass?” to which I almost always received zero response.

And it was fortunate for my internal competitive drive that I resigned the idea of a fast race early on, because as it turns out, everyone I was able to pass would eventually catch up to me in the massive lines we had to stand in at the obstacles.  The lines at the rowing machines were at least 2-3 people deep, resulting in at least a 5 minute or more delay.  I encountered a line of about 8 ladies ahead of me at the rope climb (fortunately, there was a minimal line for the men’s rope, without the knots, so after impatiently waiting a few minutes on the women’s side, volunteers let me ascend a men’s rope instead).   There was a wait for the atlas carry, congestion at the sandbag and water jug carries, and the stairwell for the Hobie Hop.  The worst offender however, was the traverse wall and spear throw.  After rounding a corner in a hallway deep within Citi field, I came to a bottleneck at an exit door to a parking lot.  So much of a crowd, those of us towards the back had no idea what was going on ahead.  The ten to fifteen minute (at minimum) wait for my turn at the traverse wall made me very happy I had my long sleeve shirt still tied around my waist to keep me warm from the unexpected premature cool down.   After finally completing the traverse wall, we waited in another line for at least 5 or more minutes.  Volunteers told us we were welcome to skip the wait and obstacles all together, do the penalty burpees instead, and be on our way.   In my honest opinion, that should never be an option.  Spartan Races are about the obstacles and challenges.  A 5k race with intermittent burpees thrown in is not what any of us signed up for.

I am overcome with mixed emotions coming out of the Reebok Spartan Race at Citi Field.  The course itself was fun, and I imagine without the crowds, would have been very challenging. I thought the organization and execution was excellent, and that the race directors and staff had done a great job at bringing the Spartan Race series to a non-traditional OCR setting.  Packet pickup was easy, the atmosphere was amazing; with live feed from the course on the massive big screens, and great music.  There were plenty of restrooms, a large merchandise table with plenty of the new Reebok Spartan gear, and baseball style food concessions.  And the race specific medals were a nice touch, one I’m happy to have in my collection.

The number one problem, that in my opinion completely ruined my race experience, was the overcrowding on course.   As a fitness professional, my dream is to see everyone on this planet become physically active, and have fun doing so.  As an obstacle course racer, I am happy to see a sport that means so much to me become so wildly popular.  As an athlete who likes to challenge herself, and who has come to expect a certain standard of race quality from Spartan Race, I was highly disappointed.

Looking at the numbers between the Fenway park race and the Citi Field race show a staggering difference.  The Fenway race, which was considered a huge success by numerous racers and staff, had a total of 5,579 finishers spread out over both Saturday and Sunday, according to Spartanrace.com.   The Citi Field race had 10,038 finishers, and the race was only held on Saturday.  That is almost double the number of participants, over the course of one day instead of two.

Being that this is a new venture for the Spartan Race series, and only their second attempt at a ballpark stadium race, I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and hope that the overcrowding situation will not become a regular occurrence.  Otherwise, the only thing I “will know at the finish line” is that this experience felt more like every other generic OCR on the circuit and not the immense challenge I’ve grown to love.

Complete results from this race can be found here.

Heather Gannoe is the woman behind RelentlessForwardCommotion and one of our favorite people. (No, really, we mean it!)


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Photos courtesy of Spartan Race and Amanda Ricciardi.