Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint Weekend

The Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend brought about the close of an unusually dry summer and the beginning of some new and modified obstacles. Rose Wetzel also made her return, after bringing her new little super hero, Taylor, into the world just 7 weeks prior.

Seattle had a record dry spell of 55 consecutive days without rain. This caused the course, which is usually mired in mud, to be extremely dry and dusty. We ran on a parched creek bed which was once a water bog up to our thighs. It was interesting to see all of the logs and debris we tripped over when they were covered in water. The trails in the woods always had extremely slick mud. It was like a skating rink going up and down the hills. This time it was a layer of very thick loose dirt.  It was almost eerie, like a ghost town or as if something was missing. It did make for a much faster course though, which was great!

The obstacle layout was a bit unusual. There was a water crawl towards the beginning and a dunkwall shortly after. We had a bit of a run and then approached the monkey bars…..with wet hands. I didn’t survive and fell at the second rung. The water from my sleeves kept running down my hands and they didn’t dry out for some time. I made it to the twister but my hands were still wet which brought more burpees. Note to self…..practice monkey bars in the rain!

The Tyro was great to see as it’s always been one of my favorites. It was like an old friend and I was able to traverse it fast. I met up with a friend at this obstacle and she rocked it.

I can’t even describe how much another friend of mine impressed me on the rope climb. She made it for the first time, in a race, and was so excited! She was in tears and her heart was full. She wanted to do it in honor of 9-11. That is what Spartan races are all about to me, seeing people reach for something, accomplishing it, and sharing their joy.

I came across a few familiar obstacles with a twist. The cargo net had a “table” in front of it you had to climb before continuing. I was staring it down because it was eye height on me which made it tough to scramble up! Once reaching the top, it was a quick climb up and over the net.

The rig started out pretty standard with a straight bar, rings, baseball, and more rings, but it ended with a wall you had to swing to and climb up. It was much harder than you would think. There were a lot of burpees here.

There was one obstacle which was new to me, the Ladder Climb. It was so tall! I was told the trick was to have your hands on the opposite side of the ladder to keep it a bit more stable and keep it from swinging out from your feet.

A wonderful surprise at the race was Rose Wetzel! She ran the Sprint on Sunday in the Elite heat. Rose and Ashley Heller were battling it out for 2nd and 3rd place and with only 5 seconds between them, Ashley finished 2nd and Rose 3rd. Lauren Taksa rounded out the podium with first place! Rose’s sweet baby and husband were there to cheer her on.

 

This completed the first of three trifectas I have planned this year and several of my BeastsOCR teammates completed their trifectas this weekend as well. My team is like family and I’m so thankful to share these experiences with such wonderful people! Aroo!!

Photo credit: Kim Collings, Tim Sinnett, Miriam McCormick

Michigan Spartan Sprint

Michigan Sprint

The Michigan International Speedway played host to the Spartan Race over the weekend of September 9th and 10th, offering a Super distance on Saturday and a Sprint on Sunday. I participated in the Sunday Sprint, which is the distance that will be covered in this race review. Spartan seamlessly used the flat terrain around the stadium as well as integrating the stadium itself into the 5.6 mile Sprint, bridging the gap between a stadium race and a mud run.

Parking Problems

40-degree temperatures greeted the first groups of racers to arrive at the speedway as volunteers dressed in winter coats directed traffic to the lots surrounding the event. The standard $10 was the universal price for parking as no upgraded VIP parking was offered. There was a 10-minute walk to the registration area. This provided racers time to get moving, build up a little body heat and shake out some last minute nerves.

Post-race was a different story. You’re tired and wet and just want to find your car and get out of there! That walk was longer than desired. For some, it was a good chance to catch their breath and walk out some sore muscles. Once registration was complete, there was another short hike required as racers were led under the stadium and track via an underground tunnel to the festival area and start/finish line. Spartan added no surprises during this event, making the course map accurate.

Obstacles

Racers on the infield of the track and additional athletes were then led immediately outside of the stadium. They were greeted with a series of walls to hop over on the way out which started the process of thinning out the crowd. A tunnel under the track provided our opportunity to explore the surrounding racetrack grounds as athletes were led over a series of hurdles set along the grass path. This grass trail continued around to the back side of the track where the O-U-T and vertical cargo net were located. This further thinned out the crowd.

A short distance away we re-entered the stadium through an open gate where a series of obstacles were set up in the infield. This obstacle position provided excellent viewing for family and friends. It was here that Twister, the A frame cargo climb, tire flip, and spear throw were located. If you wanted a bad ass picture of yourself on the Twister or flipping the 200-400 pound tire, this was the race to be at. Spectators were only a few feet away, watching your epic triumph or failure.

Quarter-Mile Challenge

After proceeding past this gauntlet of obstacles, Spartan led racers to a flat section of pavement where each runner was timed passing through two timing mats for their ¼ mile challenge. The top 3 male and female athletes received awards for the fastest times. It was a fun addition to the race.

Spartan began their bucket brigade on the grass trail leading around the back of the stadium. After that, there were a few rolling hills of sand/mud mixture, finished with a cold dip under the dunk wall. Being that Spartan is excellent at combining complicated obstacles with natural obstacles, this was a perfect area to place the slip wall for all soaked runners to climb.

This same sand/mud mixture was also where a long ass barbed wire crawl was situated. This wasn’t your standard crawl as tires and large cones were placed inside the barbed wire to make the transition through much more difficult. Mud and sand-covered racers were then led into a loop around the far side of the grounds where the 7-foot wall and the multi-rig (rings only) were located.

Strength Required

The plate drag and pull was the last obstacle in this loop. After which each athlete reentered the stadium for the hardest obstacle of the day. Welcome to the sandbag carry. Starting on the ground floor, Spartan placed their long and narrow sandbags near a set of steps for a fun trip to the top of the stadium. Every flight was a challenge and an accomplishment.

The decline down the steps was difficult as your legs were taxed and the weight of the sandbag could easily throw a runner off balance. In true Spartan form, after the intense climb up the tower and bleachers, the race had each athlete drop off their sandbag and climb again without the additional weight. If you didn’t hate running stairs before this race, you were bound to after!

The Herc hoist was the last obstacle before Spartan led us back to the racetrack infield through another tunnel. Spartan set up its grand finale of obstacles in front of the crowds for everyone to see. This truly was a spectator’s course. The rope climb tested everyone’s grip strength, after being taxed from the previous hoist.

I laugh as I emphasize grip strength because the evil (or genius) minds of the Spartan team gave us Olympus as the next challenge. The back to back grip and arm strength obstacles gave the crowd a good perspective into the requirements for a strong Spartan finish and a well-earned fire jump.

Aftermath

If you had any juice left in the tank, this was the time to utilize it. Otherwise, you faced the 30 burpee penalty while staring at the finish line, which was only an inverted wall climb and fire jump away.

Upon completion of this grueling course, Spartan offered their normal post-race treats and drinks. Showers and bathroom accommodations were located in the racetrack infield for racers to clean up before their long trek back to their cars.

Outside of the sandbag carry from hell, this course was filled with the standard Spartan familiarity. Z wall and Atlas Stone were not used during the Sprint but were used the previous day on the Super. The distance was slightly longer than most sprints, but Spartan used the stadium and terrain incredibly well and their obstacle setup was specifically and thoughtfully designed to test you and provide great viewing for spectators.

As a racing fan, it was really cool to see some of the stadiums that you don’t typically get to see, and it was thrilling to actually be on the Speedway track. There were plenty of hotels and places to eat near the event.

My final word on this race is that it’s a great one to get to if you live in the Midwest, but I don’t think I’d travel very far to run it. Aroo!

Photos courtesy of Spartan Race

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.

Spartan-West-Point-Sprint-2017-map

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.

West-Point-racers-carry-an-honored-Veteran

 

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.

Atlas-carry-right-before-rings-at-West-Point

 

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.

Team-Oscar-Mike-at-West-Point-Spartan

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 Canada to bring Events back to Winnipeg with Crowdsourcing

Poster

Spartan Race Canada will resurrect one of its Spartan Races in Canada this year, provided they get a minimum of 2500 registrants.

Low turnouts at OCR events in previous years meant that Spartan pulled out of some of the smaller markets in Canada this year, leaving OCR fanatics in Manitoba (a province of Canada with a population of 1.2 million) without a Spartan Race schedule for 2017. Other OCR events have been available such as Mud Hero, but the Canadian calendar for Spartan has been a little.. um… sparse?

All that could change shortly.

Spartan Canada Pro team member Johnny Fukomoto is spearheading a drive to encourage more people to sign up for the Winnipeg Spartan Sprint Race with an official facebook group created by Spartan Race Canada. This has been covered on local TV news and you can see the local news story here.

Fukomoto

For anyone in the North Dakota or Minnesota areas, this would be a great way to get your first Spartan Race under your belt! Spartan Race Canada has been killing it this year already.

Please share this article on your own social media to help spread the word about this event!

Sign up today here!

Winnipeg crowdsourcing

Photos Credit Spartan Race Canada, Johnny Fukomoto (Facebook) and Bring Spartan Race to Manitoba (Official) facebook group

Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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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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