Spartan Vancouver, B.C. (Mt. Seymour) 2017 Sprint/Super Weekend

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June 10/11 2017 was the date of this year’s Sprint/Super weekend that was held up on a snow covered Mt. Seymour in beautiful Vancouver B.C.
Many racers knew ahead of time what they might be getting themselves into as pictures of snowboarders wearing shorts & sunglasses were still being posted 2 weeks before the event. Luckily things heated up the week before the race & some of the snow toward the base started to melt.

I got to see things from a bit of a different perspective & point of view at this event as I was both working it & volunteering. I initially arrived at the site on Friday June 9th at 7:30am. Due to all of the posts leading up to this day on Facebook I really didn’t know what to expect up on the mountain. I ended up packing a duffel bag full of cloths, everything from shorts & sandals to long sleeved shirts & rubber boots. I’m glad I did as I ended up using almost every bit that I brought throughout the weekend. The temperature throughout the day was pretty good & I got away with wearing a T-Shirt & a hoodie when it did lower a bit. We had sun, hail, rain, wind, fog & the rest of the whole gambit of Vancouver weather none of any of it sticking around long enough to get completely comfortable with. I ended up spending the vast majority of my time on Friday helping flag off the kids race course & setting up Registration. On Saturday I ended up helping a Registration again then I volunteered over at the kids race. I’m so glad I did! The weather during the kids race was sunny with a little fog rolling through here & there.

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Volunteering at the kids race has to have been the best thing that I did all weekend, even outside of participating in the Super. I was stationed on the bottom of the grassy but very wet toboggan hill at the spear throw which was furnished with plain long wooden dowels & hay bales, there’s no need to be worried, there were no points on the dowels. The course was kind of split into two sides & the kids got to run through some wooded areas a couple times when going from one side to the other & coming back again. Hearing those little tykes yell out “Aroo” before the race and seeing them run down the hill with reckless abandon really warmed my heart. I believe the kids races started around 9:30am & went until 2pm. The weekend is a bit of a blur but I believe it started with the elite category & then ranged throughout all of the ages. We had a regular length course & a bit longer course for the elites & older age ranges. As per the norm, the course got a bit slipperier throughout the day. Watching the kids race really helped get me pumped up. Just seeing the energy in these kids was infectious & really helped me get over any of my fears and tribulations that had grown over the weeks about the weather & the race. The best moment of the entire weekend happened when I was manning the spear throw, there was this one little girl who failed to get her spear close to the hay bales. Her dad grabbed her hand to move her to the next obstacle but I could tell she was disappointed so I told her she could try again & she ran right back over again. I gave a lot of kids this option to try again. Try, try again right? I moved her a bit closer but again she missed. I picked up another spear & handed it to her, this time tapping it from behind when she launched it & she hit a hay bale. She jumped up & down & hooted then started to run off to her dad to go to the next obstacle. I turned my attention to the next child & heard a little voice behind me saying “excuse me” when I turned around it was that little girl, she came back & gave my legs the biggest hug & said “Thank You!”. My heart melted & I had happy tears in my eyes for the next bit. Yeah, I’m a big softie! That right there is why I volunteer. =) Thank you little girl. On to Sunday!

Sunday morning came WAY too early with the long hours I had been putting in on site since Friday & all, but I felt great. Maybe it was due to the absolutely wonderful time I had during the kids race the day before, the new friends I had while on site, or the fact that I now knew just exactly what I was getting into after talking to those whom had been out on course for the Sprint the day before. A friend of ours, Karolina, had come from Victoria to stay with my wife & I. She was going to run both races on Saturday & Sunday but unfortunately rolled her ankle and received a 1st degree sprain a few days prior so she decided to still come and volunteer at the race. We both headed up again early to the site to help run Registration for a few hours. I was getting rather excited about running my second super by this time. My wife Charity & our friend Troy whom I was going to participate in the event with arrived on-site around 9:30. We said our goodbyes to everyone in Registration and headed over to the Starting corral.

I had been listening to Chris the DJ since Friday, it really seems he was rather ecstatic to be at this event. Even Friday while we were all setting up he was blasting some tunes and encouraging everyone with his enthusiasm. This rolled into both Saturday & Sunday, he was on point this weekend I must say. We barely got into the corral on time for the 10:30 wave. We heard the last bit of the speech, shouted out a few “Aroo’s” & we were off.

The first few obstacles came pretty quickly. Das Boat (think x-large propane tank laying on its side), Hurdles (It felt like they grabbed some of the rails that snow boarders would ride on & turned them sideways) & then OUT.

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It was a bit of an uphill climb to our next obstacle, the Sandbag carry. The snow made for either good grip if you found a good packed footprint to step into or a lousy grip if you got the soft stuff as it kinda just moves out of the way. A bit more hill & then back down. Now, at first when I was going downhill I walked slowly & surefootedly (is that even a word?) but soon I learnt you could go pretty quickly as long as you slide your feet out on an angle & kept your toes pointed up a bit, it was kind of like roller skating up a steep hill but in reverse! I ended up getting better & better throughout the race & at one point I was flying down the hills without care in the world. I actually remember one point about 3/4’s of the way through the race where I had sucked back a gel & after it kicked in a few minutes later I was skipping & hopping down the hill singing the “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz” Ahh, the fun of being hopped up on gels! After my quite literal decent into madness came along the Atlas Carry. I had been able to take this one on in Vegas so I had hoped I could do it again. It took me two tries but I got one of the rocks up, carried it to the other side, did my burpees & then carried it right back. Yay me! I know it doesn’t sound like a huge feat, but I REALLY need to work on my grip strength!

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After that came the Block Pull & a new take on the Bucket Carry which incorporated Snow instead of rocks that I really liked, maybe it’s because the snow was lighter than rocks.  =)  A few more obstacles later & we came back into the festival area to finish up our 1st lap. The course was a slightly modified version of the first lap which I likes as you knew kinda what was coming. We unfortunately didn’t get the cargo bridge, I know they had it partly assembled on Friday afternoon but I’m not quite sure why it got disassembled & put off to the side, perhaps we ran out of time to properly build it.

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-04-www.IcebreakConsulting.com

Up the snow wall which was a nice steep hill with a rope to help you get up if needed, an 8 foot wall and back to Das Boat & the hurdles again. We did an extended hill climb this time. I really wish I had my head fully on my shoulders before going as I totally forgot to charge up my Garmin watch but according to my wife’s our total elevation gain was 450meters or 1476ft. I thought this climb would never end, we would get to one crest & then climb some more to the next one, then repeat it over again. Coming back down this time as I mentioned before seemed to get much easier although my wife mostly opted to slide down the chutes that a lot of others had made which also looked like fun so I tried it once too. Luckily there were no obstacles to be found this time on the trek up or down the mountain. We came out a section that I had seen the day before near the kids race but was told wouldn’t be part of the race. I’m assuming they were mistaken as it wasn’t part of the Sprint but it was used as part of the Super. On our way through the back woods on a new trail we hadn’t seen on our first lap we ended up having to work our way through what I would put on par as most of the mud pits that were strewn throughout the Seattle Super course. There were a few people stuck in the mud here & I tried to make my way over to them but got stuck up past my knee as well & had to keep moving otherwise might meet the same demise they did. They did have friends working their way around back to them so I wasn’t too too worried. Once through there we made or way over to the Spear throw & I landed the hardest hit that I’ve made so far. That sucker went elbow deep into the hay bales & took a lot outta me just to get it back out. From there came the Rope Climb, the Slip wall & then the fire jump. Now, I’m not gunna slag the firejump too much, but it was quite a short width & seemed to look like the propane tank was low as fire was only coming out of the first quarter. I was hoping that Spartan would have had their photos up by now & that’s some of the reason why this blog post is a bit later than I had hoped.  I found some pictures online of the fire before the race & during the Sprint & it looked quite healthy then. I guess making it wait for me to finish my stroll through the hills of Mt. Seymour took its toll on it. Either way, the 3 of us decided to try and get the best finishing pics we could so we took on that fire one at a time. Finishing felt wonderful! Yeah, some would say it wasn’t long enough, and I kinda agree. I heard anywhere from 9.7k (6miles) up to 10.6k (6.5miles) It all depends on who you asked. My wife’s Garmin clocked us in at 10.2k (6.33miles) It just drive home, to me, the fact that back in September at Sun Peaks when we did the Sprint we traversed 9.2k (5.6miles) I should have gotten a Super credit for THAT race! But, hey, I’m good with it. I actually decided to make Sun Peaks this year the finishing piece of my Trifecta & do the Beast there, God help me!

In conclusion, I had a great time working with Spartan Race Canada, volunteering & spending time with friends and family. I look forward to this event again next year. My fears of being frozen were abated by my wonderful Virus Coffee Infused warming gear & the fact that Mother Nature decided to wake up & warm up the climate a bit. Next up, Tough Mudder in Whistler B.C., there is also supposed to be snow there & I hear there are some bears strewn about just to make things more interesting. Oh my!

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Cheers!

Photo Credit: Matthew Romero, Peter Collins, John Tai, www.IcebreakConsulting.com, Ryan Fick

Spartan Seattle Super / Emerald City Open 2017

Mudageddon & Crampfest – Two very accurate words that describe the course which was set out before the sold out first stop of the Spartan Race U.S Championship Series for the Emerald City Open held at the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center in Snohomish Washington.

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Perhaps the 16k/10m course didn’t start out so bad, but for those of us who started mid-day after the 1000’s of racers in the morning, the mud was plentiful & very hungry! I personally got stuck in it up passed my knee twice & required the help of others to get out.  I luckily kept my shoes on my feet, but I heard rumors that not everyone’s shoes made it out intact.  Think, ravenously hungry Sarlacc pit from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.  There was also more than ample waist high to chest deep back woods cold water trudges to cramp up your legs.  The weather was on a bit of the cooler side (68f/20c) with some light to mid rain & some sunny breaks.

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Location: In between Everett & Bellevue & off over to the East.  The Google’s failed us a few times when we got closer to the site.  A sign along the Highway would have helped as the exit wasn’t very clearly marked.  There was a sign deeper off the road but I hadn’t seen it until after we passed the small little turnoff.  We finally arrived around 9:30 am & it took us about 40mins to get to the Parking Lot.

Parking: Quite ample but it was in a rather soft grounded field.  I understand not being able to put down some gravel, but we ended up getting stuck on the way out & needed a push to get out & we also ended up pushing a few others that got stuck too.

Registration & Packet Pickup: Easy to find & quick to get through for those that had their bar codes printed out, you didn’t even need ID to gain entry.  I somehow printed everyone’s bar codes but my own & there was a separate section for those like minded individuals that did the same.  A quick ID check & I had my timing chip & headband.

Amenities & Showers: The water trudge from the 3rd to last obstacle did a pretty good job of cleaning me off & my dry robe was more than roomie enough to get changed in so I didn’t end up checking out the showers or the changing rooms.  I did, however, have to make a few pit stops before & after the race & there were more than ample Port-O-Potties outside of registration near the parking area & at the back of the festival area.  I think a lot of people may have missed the ones at the back & went to the one’s outside the festival area as they were cleverly sectioned off & surrounded by cloth walls.

Food & Vendors: I thought there were quite a few options for food, everything from sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers to slushies, ice cream & ice cold soul quenching beer.

Obstacles & Course: There were ~28 obstacles to challenge those of all skill & fitness levels with ~5 water stations.  One of the stations stocked halved Cliff Shot Bloks at it.  I cannot remember if there was anything else on course.  There were additional recovery bars, drinkable yogurt, life-giving bananas and other goodies at the finish line.

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The double sandbag carry & bucket carries were both respectively evil! Is it me, or are course designers getting more maniacal? The distance you had to carry weights was lengthy & filled with multiple hills.

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Who found these new ~400lbs tires? Dear lord, these things were brutal! My buddy that was with me easily flipped the water filled balloon bags which I have no hope of flipping for a while yet, but when it got to the tires he was defeated by them.  The Herc Hoist was on-site & I recently encountered it in Las Vegas, well, someone apparently decided to easily double the weight of those ones.  Many people contributed the raised toughness of the obstacles to this being a Championship race.

This race was my second OCR race that I have run in the United States & it provided me my second pie piece for my coveted Trifecta or Tri’Fick’ta as my wife & I are calling it.  Volunteers & Spartan staff were all quite courteous and had smiles on their faces.  We arrived after most of the hype from the Championship had subsided & the cameras had been put away so to me, it was just a regular old Spartan.  It’s a shame they didn’t keep the live feed going till closer to the end, it wouldn’t have been hard, even just at the finish line to watch some fire jumps.  I’m not the fittest of individuals, but I’ve run my fair share of 5k/3m OCRs in the past.  I’ve participated in an 18k/11m Tough Mudder but for some reason, this ~15k/9m Super was freaking me out a bit.  After finally completing it, I think it earned it’s dread.  I hadn’t known there was going to be so much sticky gooey mud & most people told me it would be a pretty flat course which I was quite happy about.  In the end, one foot in front of the other got me through it.  Recently while doing some light training at home on my treadmill, one of my knees started to act up a bit.  I’ve seen a physiotherapist but I wasn’t happy with the visit so I’ll be going to see another one that’s more geared toward sports medicine.  During the race, I had the same knee act up.  I believe it was due to all the pulling pressure from getting constantly stuck in the mud as it subsided rather quickly after the race.  I really wish I had brought my camera on coarse & wasn’t running late to head back home so I could have taken some pictures as there was more mud than there was grass.  =/

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For some reason, I have signed up for another Spartan Super in Vancouver/Mt. Seymour on June the 11th, so be on the lookout for a recap on that.  Until then Spartans… Aroo!

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Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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 Virgin No More

Spartan Super in Virginia

Standing at the entry to the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan, I could see across all of Wintergreen resort. Set against a bright blue sky, the lush green mountains were beckoning the runners to devour the course. With perfect weather and a turnout of more than 4,000 over the weekend, the energy of the racers was tangible. I joined at least thirty other Corn Fed Spartans at the start (CFS) as Coach Pain Dwayne was leading the traditional Spartan pre-race chant. “What is your profession?” “I AM SPARTAN?” “Who are you?” “AROOO!” CFS stirred up the adrenaline of everyone at the 11a.m. start time and before I had time to register what I’d just stepped into, we were off running.

The start was a gentle downhill that quickly sloped up into one of the numerous hills encountered in the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan course. We began with an over-under obstacle about halfway up the hill and then hit our first mud pits. Neither were particularly extreme with the over-under-through walls only hitting about 4 feet tall. Covered in red, Virginia clay we received the course’s first serving of dirt. The first mile spaced out the pack as we reached the bottom of the first hill, a descent down one of the resort’s ski slopes, and up the first technical incline. Typical of many northeast hiking trails, we went straight up through the woods over treacherous rocky terrain without the mercy of any switchbacks. For many racers, this was the end of running for almost a full mile as we ascended and descended through fairly dense woods.

Kaitlin carries in the Spartan Super

We found our first water stop at mile 2 back to the very top of the mountain. The ascent up to the water station was grueling. The first two miles had only contained a mere 3 obstacles and already 4 major hills. Directly after the station, we descended back through the woods over slippery, ankle-breaking rocks and back up to the sandbag carry. We trudged a quick, but difficult, loop with the bags and were rewarded by the next obstacle less than 1/4 mile away: the Slip n’ Slide! While some of the slides weren’t quite wet enough for speed, I flew down into the refreshing, albeit muddy, water. We climbed out and passed the mile 3 marker ending another section with just 2 obstacles. From miles 3-4 we hit only one obstacle. The entire mile was a winding and extremely technical trail of hills and rocks. A runner by me commented, “You know it’s steep terrain when rocks that were buried are now flying down the hill behind us.”

The trail led to the spear throw where I saw the highest number of people doing burpees after a failed attempt, than I would at any other obstacle. We came out of the woods, back into the sunshine, and at the 4 mile water station. Delighted to find packets of electrolyte replacement in numerous flavors, runners grabbed handfuls of them in anticipation of the second half of the race. There were two sets of rope ladders directly after the water station. The spirit of the race thrived as runners steadied the ladders and assisted those around them over the top. A girl in a lime green t-shirt shook as she reached the top. A teammate gently talked her through getting over the top.

We shot out onto a clearing and hit the ground to crawl 300ft of barbwire. In some places, the wire was high enough just to crawl- a welcomed break. This was the first obstacle since the start that spectators had direct access to the course and the cheers of many supporters pushed tired runners on. Little Spartans sloshed through mud pits of their own adjacent to us on the kids’ course. Completing the barbwire, we hopped over hay bales and back into the woods. We encountered close to a mile of brutal descent through a running creek. The wet rocks made for many teetering moments and breathless steps over waterfalls, into trees and through several inches of water.

We passed mile 5 at the bottom of the hill and came to another clearing. One glance up ahead eliminated any hope of a respite from hills: in every direction runners were running up, down, up and down the mountain above us. This hill would be revered as the most ruthless in the course. Devoid of obstacles, the climb to mile 6 up a black diamond ski slope was made more difficult for our mental endurance by the line of racers proceeding back down the hill beside us.

The parade of Spartans trudging up the hill was surrounded by exhausted participants dropping to hands and knees on both sides of the trail. Deceitful corners only turned to reveal more hills. Incredibly fit and seasoned racers stared ahead, motionless where they’d finally stopped moving. This would be a tipping point for many who didn’t finish the race. I finally heard the shouts of volunteers at the top that water was just ahead.

We reached the 6 mile water station. At this point on the mountain, we were at the highest elevation in the race and on the opposite side of the course from the finish line. The spirit that reverberated through the first half of the race had died off. Most people were fighting to continue and the shouts of encouragement had quieted. The Hercules pull was directly opposite the water station and gained us entry to the next decent. On the way down, we hit the 7 foot wall. Here, the life of the race revived a little as racers hoisted their friends up over the wall. The vitality the 7-foot wall started in us, the log carry continued. Finally, runners were shouting out team names again and laughing as they crumpled under the weight of giant logs. “This tree makes me feel like a little girl!”, said a sizable racer near me. Expectedly, a Spartan female replied, “What does that make me?!” “A WOMAN!”

Throwing logs down, we headed up again on the trail. We struggled over the 8-foot wall and up and over the hill to mile 7. Considering the relatively few obstacles we’d encountered so far, we expected the several between mile 7 and 8. This part of the course took place just under the chairlift spectators used to climb the mountain. We saw supporters for the first time since mile 4 as we dragged cement blocks in the tractor pull and climbed the inverted wall. The most difficult obstacles were saved for the end: the 10-12 foot rope climb and the now very muddy, slippery traverse wall. Because of the level of exhaustion in most racers after the rigorous hills, burpees were seen in plenty. The music from the finish and smell of the fire jump wafted over the final mud pits and gave us all a second wind. Over a not-so-slippery slip wall, one leap over the fire, and a dash through some not-so-tough gladiators and the race was over.

Kaitlin jumps the fire

While the course itself was incredibly rugged and demanding, many of the obstacles themselves were not at the usual level of difficulty. Many racers commented that they were surprised, and somewhat disappointed at the shift in challenge placement. Frequently, racers described to me their most trying experiences as hills and the obstacles instead as a break. The race took a grueling average of 6.5 hours to complete with the winner, Matt Novakovich, clocking in at 1:50:14- a first timer out of Alaska. The race was touted by many as more difficult than the Spartan Beast courses they had done, with times significantly longer despite a 2-3 mile difference in distance.

Kaitlin fights

As a first-time Spartan racer, I thought the course was expectedly hard and incredibly enjoyable. With unbeatable weather and gorgeous views from the many hills we scaled, I couldn’t have started my Spartan saga off at a better place. I am an avid runner and felt challenged, but not to the point that the race was no longer fun. The spirit of the racers was contagious and their perseverance made every moment of sweat worth it. The entire race was very organized with all the volunteers being well trained and efficient. Staff were readily available to answer questions and solve problems and the course was prepared to provide medical attention if needed. Family activities were abundant in the Festival as well as affordable food and drinks. While many have voiced mixed opinions, the event was a success.

Super Spartan racers