Spartan Race Las Vegazona 2017

Picture by Taylor Mullin (@taylor_mullin_)

Spartan Race came back to the Mesquite, Arizona Motocross Track for their “Las Vegas” race this year. The Las Vegas event has been a fast and furious race course over the last three years. The long stretches of running on sand, as well as a pretty decent amount of river running took many by surprise in 2016.

Course designer supreme, Steve Hammond, had shared some hints in the week leading up to the race that we would get treated to a repeat of last year’s course style:

Course Map

The course map supported the flat and fast statements as well.

Spartan Race - Las Vegas Course Map

Race Venue

Parking at this venue is fortunately close to the festival area. As usual, there was a lack of shade (pavilions, vendor booths, etc.) so people started to huddle in every little bit of protection from the desert sun they could find, and many did receive their first sunburn of the year.

The SGX area received some improvements and now features climbing holds added to a pull up bar, Gormax flips, as well as the usual rope climb and over wall.

Everyone who paid attention did not encounter any surprises as Steve delivered on his promise. The terrain was flat, however, the start gave a great indication of what racers are going to see a lot of: death by a dozen little bumps on the trail.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Startline

After this rough start, one mile of fine, loose sand was waiting. Fortunately, there was an opportunity to cool down during a bit of river running (~0.1 mi), which was followed by another mile of loose sand, and finally the last half of the course finished out on the motocross track. The treacherous part of those motocross venues is that the little hills and bumps don’t look intimidating at all.

However, the steep grade of these dirt mounds, along with the hard packed ground and slippery dirt on top, suck the energy out of everyone’s legs, especially since there are usually three or more of them in a row. The biggest single climb on the course can be seen behind the dunk wall, leading up to the top of the mesa.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Dunkwall

In summary, the Mesquite MX venue may be flat, but it does make up for it with its loose sand and frequent, short, steep hills.

The Twister

In recent races, as well as in Vegas, it appears as if the Twister obstacle becomes more of a menace than the rig, which was completely absent from the Sprint, but part of the previous day’s Super. For those with strong grip, it poses no problem and requires just a bit of practice to figure out which technique suits them best… and then there is Veejay, the youngest Spartan Pro Team member, doing this.

Here is another perspective on the Twister. In the front is the side-by-side grip technique while the racer in the back is going hand-over-hand, which requires more grip strength and technique, but is also much faster.

GPS Data

Everyone interested in the data can find the GPS track below, more details can be found on Strava directly.

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

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Malaysia Spartan Sprint – Kicking off the Racing Year in Asia

While the USA is seeing freezing race temperatures, most of Asia is still sweltering in 95 degree heat, which was certainly the case for the Malaysian Spartan Sprint on March 12. The first race of the season saw a strong turn out with competitors flying in from Singapore, Hong Kong and as far as Abu Dhabi to join the fast-growing obstacle racing community in Malaysia.

As the sun rose, we were told there would be a slight delay in the start times due to a storm the previous evening, and an issue of wild boars and cows knocking over course markers! That announcement set the tone for what was an extremely challenging Sprint course – I use the term ‘Sprint’ loosely, as the race was almost 6 miles in distance.

spartan-malaysia-women-elite

As we set off it started with a set of walls, hurdles, the vertical cargo and then into the jungle for what seemed like a never ending hill climb which continued to the sandbag carry. The terrain was either knee deep mud or uneven trails, and this didn’t let up for the whole course. There were so many river crossings that I lost count in the end, but they were actually a welcome relief from the heat.

The middle part of the race saw a whole heap of obstacles grouped together that were testing people’s stamina and grip strength. The Hercules hoist, a cliff climb, barbed wire crawl, rope climb, Olympus (making its debut in Asia), atlas carry and then rounded off with the spear throw, saw most people hitting the ground for at least 30 burpees.

spartan-malaysia-olympus

Another hilly run followed by a long bucket brigade on a muddy track, and then the end was in sight as you could hear the noise from the race village. A dunk wall, A-frame, more water and then a 200 foot swim which saw victims fall to leg cramps so close to the finish. An unexpected challenging river run against the tide, and on to the dreaded multi-rig which of course saw more people fail than master it.

spartan-race-malaysia-river

I have never been so happy to see a slip wall knowing the fire jump was straight after it.

As I said, a Sprint course like no other, where people were posting times closer to doing the Super distance.

The great thing about obstacle racing in Asia is it seems age is no barrier in participating. Colleen, the woman that won the elite category was only 18 years old and Tess, who came in third in the elite is 47 years old, both inspirational in different ways.

Next in Asia sees a Hong Kong race in April, followed by Singapore in May.

spartan-malaysia-jungle

Photo credits – Raimi Zakaria, Patrick Yap and Ruifeng Seet

Spartans Take on the Cold at the Winter Sprint

Be careful what you wish for.

Last year I grumbled that the heat at the Tri-State Spartan Sprint slowed me down. In general,  I don’t like the heat and humidity that comes with many races each summer in the Northeast. If only there were a race where that wasn’t a factor! Spartan HQ must have been reading my mind, because this year, they organized their first US Winter Spartan Sprint after trying out the concept in Europe.

When I signed up for the race, I saw that at the Greek Peak Ski Resort, where the race took place on Saturday,  the average temperatures topped out at about 30 degrees this time of year. Chilly, but certainly not the coldest race I have done, and doable with a few layers. As the race approached, I kept checking the weather. Earlier in the week, temperatures were hitting an unseasonable 70 in the Northeast, which made me wonder how they were going to handle any winter-based snow-dependent features. Mother Nature had other ideas. A few days before the race, Spartan sent out notices warning racers that temperatures were going to start out in the 20’s and that we needed to dress accordingly. No such luck.

When I made it to the venue, the air temperature was 10 degrees. That’s minus 12 in Celsius, for those who use the metric systemI was grateful for the extra layers I had packed.

The sprint course was similar to those that take place at other mountain venues in warmer months, only with the added elements of snow and ice. A handful of obstacles were adapted for this: Rolling Snow instead of Rolling Mud, for example. Some were removed (no Dunk Wall, no water crossings). The rest were the same, but frostier.

Obstacles that are easier in the winter:

Barbed wire crawl: usually I loathe this obstacle, as I end up putting my entire body weight on every single rock as I crawl along, piling on the scrapes and bruises at every yard I advance. This time? I could pretty much drag myself along the frozen surface, and while I wouldn’t call it smooth, the bumps were cushioned by the extra layers that protected me from the cold.

Plate drag: I had hoped that this area would be like a skating rink, and while I was disappointed, it turns out that it’s still easier to drag a heavy object across a frozen surface than a dusty, rocky one.

Obstacles that are harder in the winter:

Anything where you need to take your gloves off, such as the Rope Climb or the Hercules Hoist. The layers I was wearing were good at keeping my core warm, but as soon as the wind hit my hands, there was little else I could think of.

Between the obstacles, my main concern was not losing my footing. On other courses I have worried about slipping because the surface is muddy or wet or dusty or loose. Here, the same instincts applied, and I spent a lot of time crab walking down slopes, figuring that the sacrifice in my personal dignity was worth it to avoid a broken wrist or collar bone. There were also a number of muddy patches, which was baffling – how could there be watery soil when it was 10 degrees out? But I spent most of the time making sure that my feet would not slip out from under me in the loose ice and snow.

The sandbag carry up the slope was challenging because the sandbags were frozen rather than pliable, but some of the open wave racers figured out a way to put the snowy conditions to good use by sitting on the bags and sliding down the slope to the end of the carry. A Spartan volunteer tried to put a stop to this (“No tobogganing on the sandbags!” he shouted repeatedly), which was probably the appropriate safety instruction, but racers did have some fun with this while they could.

My biggest take-away from this winter event was that I never stopped enjoying myself. At other races I have caught myself thinking “this isn’t fun anymore” as I climb up yet another steep rocky trail, but this time I was happy from start to finish. Even the burpees were less unpleasant, as the ground, while not soft, was not as sharp under my gloved hands.

Some logistical observations: when I arrived, check-in had been moved indoors, causing a long line which snaked out the door. Apparently, registration was supposed to take place outside, but the computers had frozen, both literally and figuratively, and the operation was moved indoors, causing delays. The weather had also caused Spartan to move the parking for the event off-site, but when I arrived at the satellite parking I was told that, on the one hand, the lot was already full but, on the other hand, I could park at the venue after all. Rain the week before had caused the lot to be too soft, but it would seem that the sudden freeze had fixed that problem. In both cases, Spartan staff and volunteers adapted and fixed the problems.

Bling (because there are some readers who take this very, very seriously): yes, there were special Winter Sprint medals in the shape of a snowflake. You’ve seen the pictures, but what I didn’t know was that they also have “Nothing burns like the cold” stamped on the back. I’m not exactly sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds intense. Aroo.

The finisher t-shirts (white, long sleeve, miracle fiber) were unique to this race. They also caused a bit of a stir. I noticed that mine looked a little dirty, but I assumed that I must have dropped it at some point. On Facebook I read a good deal of chatter saying that, in fact, the shirts had been exposed to water at some point and had gotten a little moldy. Racers were reporting that the mold stains weren’t coming out in the wash. Yet another Spartan t-shirt controversy in the making?

What does the future hold for the Winter Sprint? There are already two more on the calendar for 2018, one in New Hampshire and one in Utah. The racers I spoke to were willing to drive over six hours to get to this event, and despite the cold, cold weather, seemed to enjoy themselves. Many already had other plans to complete a Trifecta, so it would appear that they were doing this race for the novelty, not just for the sake of doing a Sprint distance. It is unclear at this point whether Spartan will come back to Greek Peak, whose name must have resonated with Spartan founder Joe De Sena. There are references to Classical Greek themes throughout the area (I flew into Syracuse, the ski resort is not far from Ithaca, etc.), and the trails we used for the race were named “Odyssey” and “Olympic”. How could Joe not come back here? However, I have to wonder at how effective it is to host an event at a ski resort while it is open for, you know, skiers. OCR as an industry has done a great job of making use of venues that are otherwise empty, providing revenue for the owners and the local communities. Hosting a large event that could displace the regular customers doesn’t seem to be as clever a move.

Greek Peak Winter Spartan

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!


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Spartan Race UK Peterborough Weekend

Last year was the first year that Spartan Race UK used the gorgeous Elton Hall as a Spartan Venue, and it it was one of the main turning points for the company in the UK; it also very quickly became a favourite among the UK racers, This year’s Sprint & Super cemented that.

Spartan-Peterborough-Sprint-Super

This was a long week for me, but as always with a looming Spartan Race, I was looking forward to a brutal exciting weekend. We weren’t disappointed.

Finishing work at 5am, quick walk to the train station and it began. 4.5 hours later and a lift from the train station by a dear friend, I arrived at the venue.  If you’ve never been to Elton Hall, you need to visit. Spartan UK has a habit of picking iconic, beautiful venues and Elton Hall is near the top of that list.

Saturday was a bit of a washout when it came to the weather, lovely and sunny in the morning and then the rains came.

After spending most of the morning volunteering on the finish line. We lined up for the final wave,  and I was glad we skipped the warm up. Usually I’d enjoy the group burpees in the start corral, but at this stage we just really wanted to get out on the course.

While they change the format, Spartan usually use the same type of obstacles per race. Peterborough was no different. The first kilometre was a nice mixture of 4ft walls, inverted walls & OUT’s. (Over, Under, Through for those who don’t know). Running through the forested area provided a nice break from the rain and for me, it always adds to the beauty of a run.

We soon came across the rope climb (or in my case the start of my burpees). Another run through some forest and we came across the barbwire crawl. In all my Spartan Races I have to say that this barbwire crawl was second only to the French Beast last year. It wasn’t long but the twists, turns and mud pools made it fun. I’ll admit we may have spent more time than needed playing around in the mud.

Spartan-Peterborough-Barbwire

(Side note – it was here that the Sprint & Super course separated, but more on that later.)

Continuing on we had the atlas stones, Z-walls, and the block drag.  A bit more running through a forest and finally the finish line was in sight. A couple of 6 ft walls, made slightly more difficult by the rain and mud, Herc Hoist, 8ft walls and the sprint to the fire jump.

I’ll admit by the time we got to the finish line for the sprint I was looking forward to a shower, food, and sleep. The super was coming and I had a time limit to run it in.

Spartan-Peterborough-Block-Drag

So, after a cheeky Nandos with friends, curling up on a surprisingly comfy air bed, my wonderful band of misfit friends & I arose to tackle the Super. Now I mention that I had a self imposed time limit to complete the run. Well, I had a train booked back to Edinburgh at 1300 as I had work at 1800. My time limit worry wasn’t just for myself though. I was running with a friend who is somewhat new to our wonderful world of OCR.

Back on site and back in the start corral for the Elite wave. Now, I’m by no means elite. I run purely for me and the joy it brings, but sometimes the extra 20 mins can be handy.  Once more into the fray, and once again we spent more time than needed in that barb wire crawl. The course change from the Sprint to the Super led us through a gate and into a darkened forest.  I may run too many Spartan races (is there such a thing?). The forested area had a nice hilly chicane where my first thought was that it would have made a great area for a sandbag carry.

I may run too many Spartan races (is there such a thing?). The forested area had a nice hilly chicane where my first thought was that it would have made a great area for a sandbag carry.  The forest opened up and led us to a rather lovely reservoir to wade around. I wasn’t expecting that to be as killer on the calves as it was. Nice to wash the mud off though. A rather slippery cargo slip a frame followed by the the Z-wall rope traverse (Burpee time again).

Back on course, we’re once again hit with some firm favourites, another barb wire crawl, multi rig, Bucket brigade, log drag and a lovely vertical cargo net climb. Side note – I really do need to learn the flip technique at the top of these. Onto the log carry and the finish line is in sight again just across a field so we know we’re near the finish again, or at least close to rejoining the sprint.

More trail leads us around towards the A-Frame and spear through. I’m actually quite happy that I nailed my spear throw in the super, not so much in the Sprint though.
On a note one of the Spartan did well within this course was that the kids course ran alongside parts. Both the kids and the big kids started from the same start line which I think really brought it together as a family event.

Spartan-Peterborough-Finish

Back down to the walls, hoist, and onto the finish.

Spartan Race is one of the companies within in the UK that folks like to complain about, but ever since Peterborough last year, I think they have fewer legimite reasons for those complaints.

I’m aware that I’m biased. My first ever OCR was a Spartan, but they have come a long way since then (2014 Edinburgh sprint!) I know that race back then couldn’t hold a candle to the courses they build and put together now.

Overall, Spartan Peterborough was a huge success. With the support of the Volunteers and Spartan staff it was a day to remember for all involved.

On that note, I can only look forward to the Sprint & Beast in Windsor with excitement. Shall I be seeing you there?

Spartan Race UK – Edinburgh Sprint – 23 July 2016

spartan-sprint-edinburgh-course

I finally got to do my first Spartan Race this year, and it was more than I expected. The Spartan Race UK Edinburgh Sprint, organized at Spittal Farm on the outskirts of Edinburgh amongst the beautiful Scottish hills, was a 3.6 mile timed race with 23 obstacles that were designed to physically push racers to achieve new levels of comfort. Having taken part in multiple Tough Mudder events, I was looking forward to the challenge of a Mud Race rather than a Mud Run. The race began fast paced with some hay bales, 6-ft wall climbs and some OUT walls (Over Under Through walls), the biggest challenge was the use of the local terrain, through the thick foliage of a nearby woodland causing racers to almost bear crawl up the hillside, followed by surrounding hill climbs around the race hub. This is what caused the pack of runners to spread thin with the stronger athletes powering ahead.  Further round the course, we came across some of the well know obstacles, 30-ft cargo nets, 50-kg atlas ball carry, barb wire crawl, monkey bars, rope climbs, Hercules hoist, lots of water and mud not to mention the notorious spear throw (and of course my first and only burpee penalty of this race).

spartan-race-entry
Unlike in other OCR events in which I have taken part, it was nice to be tasked with obstacles that had failure penalties; this forced me to physically challenge myself to push through some discomfort during some obstacles, the reward for finishing these obstacles, however, was far greater than any I have experienced before. It’s safe to say that this time I was not focused on time but rather completing every obstacle and actually finishing the race, but I now have the Spartan bug; as soon as we began our journey home after the event, we had already begun to plan to participate in the full trifecta next year. It’s true what they say, one is never enough.

I am still relatively new to the obstacle race scene but have been an avid listener to both the Spartan Up Podcast and the ORM Podcast for some time, so you can imagine my delight to know that Joe DeSena (Spartan race founder) himself was not only at the event but was also taking part in the same race. I didn’t get a chance to meet him in person due to my start time and Joe was out running when I returned to the race hub, although the atmosphere of those with him helped amp the experience to the next level.
sparan-sprintjoe-with-piper

I believe that the Spartan Sprint is a great entry race into the competitive world of obstacle course racing with the added bonus of being able to progress to the super and the beast. After the race events, there is also Spartan Endurance events (Hurricane Heat, Hurricane Heat 12HR, and Agoge) available to those able to participate.
spartan-race-brewdog
Photo Credit: Epic Action Imagery LTD for Spartan Race UK