Spartan North American Championships – West Virginia Beast 2019

Obstacle-Gauntlet-in-West-Virginia

If there’s anything Spartan Race does well, it’s finding one of a kind locations for their races. Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia proved to be the perfect place to not only put on a Trifecta weekend, but host the 2019 North American Championship race. 

The Venue

Summit Bechtel Reserve is absolutely perfect to host an event like this. Those unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. Elite and Age Group racers had to qualify to take part in Saturday’s Beast, while everyone else could run in the Open waves. In total, the Beast ran about 14.4 miles with close to 2,900 feet of ascent. Anyone unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. 

Climbing-the-Mountain-in-West-Virginia

This was only my second Beast ever and happened to be the last piece to complete my second Trifecta ever. My first Beast was the 2018 Ohio Beast held at the Southington Off-Road Park. That venue was very flat with altering terrains, while West Virginia is mostly trail but a good variation of climbs and descents. 

 

The West Virginia race was definitely more difficult, but if I was left with a choice between the two, it’s an absolute no brainer. No matter what distance you want to do, West Virginia is a must race. 

Spartan-Trifecta-Weekend-in-West-Virginia

Why A Beast?

Maybe you’ve only ever run Sprints because 5 miles seems like enough. Or you’ve done a Super and are wondering if you should take the next step up. So, before we get into the specifics of the course and the obstacles, let’s talk about why a Spartan Beast at all.

 

I would recommend everyone set out for a Trifecta at least one time. If you would rather stick to shorter races, great! But there’s something special about running over a half-marathon with obstacles. 

 

On top of that, the open waves are more spread out than the shorter races. This is great for people who want to get in some running between obstacles. Granted, the climbs and some obstacles do still get jammed up some in open heats. Despite that, even some of the more narrow trails had space between runners. 

The-Views-at-the-North-American-Championship

Oh, The Obstacles!

Outside of what I needed to get a Trifecta in 2018 and 2019, I usually stick Sprints and the occasional Stadion (Stadium). But the way Spartan has moved over the last year or two, you see a lot of the same obstacles. So at that point, the more Sprints you run, the more you’re just looking at the venue itself and the course design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the short distance of a Sprint, but I also love obstacles!

 

If you really want to be exposed to Spartan’s full gauntlet of obstacles, you absolutely positively must run a Beast. This year’s West Virginia Beast had 38 obstacles, many of them I haven’t seen since last year’s Beast in Ohio. Though I didn’t run the Sprint and Super on Sunday, they each had 20 and 31 respectively. 

 

There’s really no room to complain about what obstacles Spartan had because, well, they pretty much had them all (Though I wish they included that Twister/Monkey Bar combo this year). The Beast threw at you everything from the Yokohama Tire Flip to Helix to Tyrolean Traverse and even a Spartan helmet-shaped Bucket Brigade course. The Beast even included a nice little swim late in the race. 

Ryan-Woods-finishing-Helix

Quite A Warm-up

If I had one complaint about the race, it’s that parking was incredibly far away from the festival. Our heat wasn’t until around noon, so 10:30 am seemed like a good time to arrive. But we still ended up on the outskirts of parking. I’m not sure exactly how far of a walk it was to the festival from our car, but I would guess it took around 10-15 minutes. That’s a great way to warm-up for the race, but made the walk back pretty daunting. 

 

Spartan could add a few shuttle stations throughout the parking area. This would allow small shuttles to take racers to the festival entrance. Though parking and bag check were both free this year, so the there would probably be some trade off. 

North-American-Championship-Spartan-Medal

Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

The venue is great. The area around the venue is gorgeous. Southern hospitality is a real thing. Biscuits and gravy are everywhere. There’s a lot to love about going to West Virginia for a couple days. Not to mention the North American Championship Beast medal all Saturday finishers walk away with. 

 

I told myself after this year I would stick to short races and not need more Trifectas in the future. But as long as Spartan keeps coming back to Summit Bechtel Reserve, I have a feeling that so will I.

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

emPowered OCR – Lancaster’s First Stadium-Style Obstacle Race

emPowered-OCR-at-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

 

A well-run local obstacle race is a great find. A well-run local obstacle race that’s for a good cause is a gem

 

emPower Training Systems and The Mighty Mehal Foundation teamed up to bring Lancaster, PA its first ever stadium-style obstacle race. The 3.25-mile course took place in and around Clipper Magazine Stadium, home to the Lancaster Barnstormers. 

 

A lot of local “obstacle” races I’ve experienced tend to be more of a glorified mud run than obstacle race. emPowered OCR was a true obstacle race that challenged competitive athletes while ensuring new racers would have a blast. There were even family waves so parents could run the course with their kids instead of watching them run a smaller course from the sidelines.

 

Inside-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

For A Cause

A lot of people use obstacle racing as an escape from the ordinary day to day. But some people use it to get through their own personal obstacles. emPowered OCR was created to help those people, with all proceeds benefiting The Mighty Mehal Foundation.

 

The foundation was created in honor of Shaun “Mighty” Mehal and provides scholarships to qualified applicants who are entering a recovery house in Lancaster County. 

 

Free Free Free

We all know how most of the larger races go. Need to park? That’ll be $10.00. Might even have to take a shuttle. Want to bring your grandma so she can cheer you on? Open up that wallet. 

 

Pretty much the only thing you needed to pay for at emPowered OCR was your registration and bag check, if you needed it. Parking was provided in the stadium lot and spectators were free of charge. There were even plenty of free samples from local and national vendors. 

 

As with the larger events, each registration included a tech shirt, finisher medal and a free beer for anyone over 21 years old. 

emPowered-OCR-course-map

Course Design

The course was designed by the co-owner of emPower Training Systems and personal trainer, Josh March. The distance came in right around 3.25 miles and featured 23 obstacles. Clipper Magazine isn’t as big as a major league stadium so, unlike those, it wasn’t all stairs. Most of the course took place just outside the stadium, with the last quarter-mile or so being inside. 

 

In the competitive waves, the majority of the obstacles were mandatory completion. Racers were given an extra band at registration and had to take it off if they were unable to complete an obstacle. Two obstacles did have a penalty loop, in addition to mandatory completion and one had a burpee penalty. 

 

For the “Strike Zone Challenge,” If you missed the strike zone net, you were required to do 15 burpees. Unfortunately for competitive racers who missed, the burpee obstacle was shortly after, which added another 15 reps in the hot sun (I speak from experience).

 

There were two carries out on the course, bucket and sandbag, which surprisingly had the same weight for men and women. It felt like the weight would be a little light compared to other men’s carries and a little heavy for women. The bucket carry was about a quarter-mile, while the sandbag weaved up and down the stadium steps. 

 

emPowered-Peak-Obstacle

No Easy Task

For anyone looking to challenge their grip and coordination, that was well taken care of. Several obstacles required bell ringing. “Because I Was Inverted” required traversing upside down across a steel beam from one end to the other. The “Y-Wall” was a fun mix of relatively easy rock holds out to a pair of hanging metal tubes. 

 

“emPowered Peak” almost seemed similar to Spartan’s Olympus due to the requirement to go from side to side on an angle. Unlike Olympus, though, there wasn’t much to grab. The obstacle was made up of vertical 2x4s that required careful transitions and shoes with some grip. 

 

Perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day, though, was the Barnstormers Rig. According to March, it turned out to be a band killer among competitive racers. It required transitioning between rings, baseballs and even a baseball bat in order to ring the bell at the end. And because it was late in the race, many of the athletes already had fatigued grip. 

 

A-look-at-emPowered-OCR-rig

What’s Next?

According to March, the race was a great success and they’re already in the works for a 2020 race and potentially a second event. With around 450 total participants, emPowered OCR definitely has the potential to become an annual event, with some expansion.

They do plan to keep the competitive waves mainly mandatory completion, which personally I love. There were a few hiccups with the registration process, but plans are already underway to improve the process for next year. They’re also looking into a more OCR-equipped timing system as this year’s timing was not set up to show 100% completion and non-completion among competitive racers. Instead bands had to be manually checked among the top finishers. 

emPowered-OCR-top-finishers

emPowered OCR was a fantastic race and the team did a really great job running the event. At no point did I feel like this was a first-year race. It’s definitely one that will be on my calendar for 2020 and beyond!

 

Photo Credit: emPower Training Systems, Jesse Keim, Kevin Peragine Photography, Lindsey Makuvek

Spartan Race Palmerton Super and Sprint Weekend 2019

Spartan-Super-Palmerton-Course-Section

 

“This is insane!” 

“What the f***?!” 

“You’d think they’d run out of hills!” 

 

These are just a few of the things I heard while out on the course this weekend during Spartan’s Super and Sprint weekend at Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton, PA. If you’re new to Spartan Race or OCR, you may have even heard how challenging Palmerton is. Year after year, regardless of course design, the slopes at Blue Mountain are sure to remind you just how punishing they are. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Start-Line

Parking and Festival

As you pull into the parking area, you get a good look at just how large of a mountain you’ll have to deal with. Luckily, all parking is on-site, which means no shuttles! This is a big plus for a lot of people as shuttle lines are known to move slowly.

 

This year they did switch up the festival a bit, compared to previous races at Blue. The new setup flowed a lot nicer and even left them room for a large merchandise tent. Usually, the merch is just back behind volunteers and staff who are up in a trailer. They still were, but adding to it was a large open area with more shirts and gear, including shoes and clearance items.

 

Once through the tent, it was your pretty standard Spartan festival area. Changing tents were off to the side with a row of hoses. The food and beer tents were nearby, along with a row of vendors. Something a bit new was that Spartan had a section open for some obstacle lessons and tips. 

Spartan-Palmerton-View-From-The-Top

The Sprint

I know the Sprint was Sunday and the Super was Saturday, but we’re going to work backward. Palmerton’s Sprint hit just about 3.6 miles, which is on the shorter side for a Spartan Sprint. Just because it was under 4 miles, though, doesn’t mean it was easy.  In that 3.6 miles, they managed to add in over 1,400 feet of ascent. Over 1,000 of that was in the first mile alone. 

 

The course was pretty much straight up the hill, down and up a double black diamond for the Sandbag Carry, a few obstacles at the top, then back down for the rest. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Sandbag-Carry

Sprint Obstacles

If you just ran the Sprint on Sunday, unfortunately, you didn’t get to try the new obstacles for 2019. This is only the second Sprint I’ve run this year (March – Greek Peak), but much like the first, they stuck to the classics.

 

During the one-mile climb to the top, the only obstacles were Hurdles and Overwalls, which is pretty standard. After the Sandbag Carry, there was a mini-gauntlet with Z-Walls, Atlas Carry, Rakuten Rope Climb and Monkey Bars all at the peak. During the descent, the only obstacle was the Inverted Wall. Then, toward the bottom, you had standards like the cargo nets, Spear Throw, Bucket Brigade, and Barbed Wire Crawl. 

 

As with past years at Palmerton, there was a Water Crossing, though it was more of an out and back, rather than crossing as they used to do. Apehanger, an obstacle at very few venues, was in the Super but left out of the Sprint.

 

I know Spartan wants to use the Sprint as the gateway to more races, so maybe they are continuing to make them a little more basic as to not scare newcomers away. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Apehanger, a rig with more than just rings, or some brand new obstacles.

The Super

The Super on Saturday was almost 5 miles longer than the Sprint, coming in around 8.25 miles. The total ascent was over three times as much as the Sprint, forcing racers to climb over 3,100 feet. 

 

Usually, the longer races include everything in the shorter race, with one extra area. Not this year at Palmerton. There were three extra parts on the course for the Super versus the Sprint. And Spartan didn’t waste any time. They deviated just over a mile into the race, right after Z-Walls, when runners thought they were in for a nice break back down the hill. 

 

Instead, the downs were followed by several steep ups along the way. Let me put it to you this way, the first steep climb up took almost exactly one mile, and had over 1,000 feet of ascent. By the time racers reached the bottom, they had hit almost 3.5 miles and faced over 2,000 feet of ascent. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Hercules-Hoist

Super Obstacles 

On the Super course, runners got a look at several new obstacles, including Pipe Lair, The Box, and Beater. Olympus and Twister are two other obstacles that had been included in most Sprints but were only in the Super course. 

 

The Rakuten Multi-Rig consisted of several rings, a bar, then more rings before the bell. I’ve seen ropes in the past, but they were left at home for Palmerton. The Luminox Hercules Hoist was in both races and at a heavier weight than if it were just for a Sprint alone. It was super late in the race and sat at the bottom of a muddy hill, making it feel even heavier. 


One thing that stuck out to me about the obstacles, overall, was the amount of grip needed. A lot of times, they leave a couple grip heavy obstacles out, but they all made an appearance in Palmerton. 

Spartan-Mountain-Series-Super-Medal

The Medals

Since Palmerton is part of the Spartan Mountain Series, both Sprint and Super finishers received a Mountain Series Medal. It’s probably one of the best looking medals I’ve seen Spartan dish out. The mountains on this year’s Mountain Series medals stand out and really make the 2019 medal blow away the 2018 medal. 

 

Honestly, I don’t think it’d be a bad idea for Spartan to include some homage to the Mountain Series on the Trifecta medals as well. If you finish the Palmerton Super and Sprint, plus the Killington Beast, that is one tough Trifecta. Compare that to running some of the more flat courses to get your Trifecta and it feels like the mountain courses should get some extra love. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

Spartan Winter is Here – Greek Peak 2019

Greek-Peak-2019-looking-at-the-finish

Playing in the snow is in our blood. As adults, we dislike the snow because it makes driving to work inconvenient. But growing up, snow days were the best. Spartan Race lets you relive that childhood excitement with its now third annual Winter Sprint event at Greek Peak Mountain Resort.

What makes this a Winter Sprint? Every single inch of the course is covered in fluffy white snow. The temperature at this year’s race was in the high 30s, but it was mostly sunny so it felt even warmer. That was basically a heatwave if you consider the first year Spartan was at Greek Peak, they dealt with single-digit temperatures and below zero-degree wind chills.

Greek-Peak-2019-Bridge-Crossing

Parking and Registration

General parking this year was off-site, with two options. One of which was in Cortland, for racers coming from north of the venue. The other was about 15 minutes west of the venue, in Dryden. There was a VIP option for $30 which got you right on-site in Greek Peak’s parking lot.

As with last year, registration was inside, which made sense after the first year’s temperatures caused equipment malfunction at the outdoor registration tents. Spartan does registration really well. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the lines. But even later in the day, it didn’t seem like the lines were too long. As far as I could tell, everything was moving smoothly.

Greek-Peak-2019-part-of-the-course

Early or Late?

I ran my first lap in the Elite wave, mainly to get done in time for my second lap. At most races, running Elite or Age Group is an advantage. You’re one of the first groups on the course, which means no obstacle lines, a less sloppy course, cleaner obstacles and, in the summer, more favorable temps. At a Winter Sprint, it’s almost the complete opposite, with the exception of obstacle lines.

During the Elite wave, which started at 9:00 am compared to 7:30 am that you see at most Spartan races, the air temperature still remained under 20-degrees. Most of the running was through several untouched inches of snow. The only footprints came from racers ahead of me and volunteers/staff who helped put the course together.

Greek-Peak-2019-A-frame-Cargo

Later in the day, I ran in the 10:45 wave. The sun was out a bit longer and temperatures made their way into the 30s. It did help a bit that I was already warmed up from the first lap, but there was a definitive difference in the air temperature before and after the Elite wave. On the course, lots of the previously untouched snow was now packed down, which made running a bit easier. There were still plenty of areas that made it difficult because, well, snow is still snow.

I didn’t notice the obstacles being anymore wet or slippery between the two waves. One thing that remained true of later heats was the lines. I’ve definitely seen worse, but there was at least a little waiting at obstacles like the Spearman, Monkey Bars, and Multi Rig.

Greek-Peak-2019-women's-bucket-carry

The Classics

Speaking of obstacles, I was a bit disappointed to see that none of 2019’s new obstacles made the trip to New York. Seeing recent posts of Helix, 8’ Box and Beater made me anxious to give them a try. Other newer obstacles like Olympus and Twister also missed the trip.

I do understand that the snow and cold weather probably makes it pretty difficult to set some of the obstacles up, so it’s easier to stick to ones that have stood the test of time. Hopefully, in the future, maybe one or two newer ones will be brought out. I will say though, there is something special about trekking up and down the slopes with all the classics.

Greek-Peak-2019-Winter-Medal

Not Your Average Spartan

Greek Peak Winter Sprint is truly a unique experience. And a unique experience deserves unique swag. Last year’s finisher shirts added long sleeves to the standard sprint finisher shirt. This year, Spartan added a nice twist. The shirts have a similar design to the usual 2019 Sprint finisher shirt but, in addition to having long sleeves, had a nice light blue color, really making it look like a winter race shirt. The Spartan Winter medal was distinct as well, with the same light blue coloring and a few frozen pieces “missing” from it.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

Get Blitzed! Savage Blitz Maryland – Fall 2018

Savage-Blitz-MD-Rig

Earlier this year, Savage Race introduced its first ever “Savage Blitz” in Maryland. Now, they return in the fall to not only return Savage Blitz but its first-ever Savage Blitz Pro wave, which is Savage’s competitive heat. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the course was soaked with an all-day rainstorm. But that didn’t stop Savages from coming out and trying Savage Race’s new race.

 

WHAT IS BLITZ?

On Saturday, Savage held their usual format of 6+ miles and 20+ obstacles. Blitz, which took place on Sunday, averages about 3 miles and 15-20 obstacles. Maryland’s fall Blitz saw about 3.3 miles and listed 24 obstacles on the course map. From what I can remember, I believe there were only 22 obstacles, as a second Barn Door and Blazed did not appear on the course. Blazed was most likely removed due to the rain.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Map

The obstacle list included two out of three obstacles that are new for 2018, Battering Ram and Holy Sheet. A side note, which helped me with Holy Sheet, look at the “extra” piece of sheet hanging down by where you transition to the ball holds. Pick a lane where that piece is shorter, so it doesn’t get tangled when you reach for the ball. It’s also easier if you grab above the chain, especially in wet conditions.

 

I did notice that a lot of the water obstacles are absent from Blitz, aside from one called Double Dip. Most of the grip obstacles were above dry ground, too. No Colossus, Shriveled Richard, etc. Blitz is meant to be quick and short and seems to be a nice introduction to anyone wanting to try a Savage without jumping right into a 6-mile course. Some water obstacles, though fun, can be time-consuming or scare away anyone who doesn’t want to jump into a freezing cold tub of water.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Fall-Holy-Sheet

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

New this year is Pro wave competitors wear two chip bands. One is the standard timing chip. The other is used to keep track of completing obstacles. Savage Pro competitors face mandatory obstacle completion. That’s great if you hate burpees, but can be troublesome if you need to retry and obstacle multiple times before being able to complete it. If you can’t ring the bell, you put your obstacle chip band in the “fail pail” and move on. You can still finish the race and will record your time, but lose eligibility for prizes and go into a non-completion category. Finish with the obstacle chip band, and you’ll receive a Savage wristband to show off your victory.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Nut-Smasher

Savage Race does a great job at getting course maps up early and sending out enough communication before race day. You still need to look up your bib number and do a printed waiver, where other races have the waiver as part of the sign-up process. But otherwise, registration and check-in is extremely easy. There were no lines at all and everything was quick and painless.

FESTIVAL, RESULTS & PHOTOS

The festival area had the usual beer tent, bag check, results, etc. There weren’t a lot of vendors, but not many people walked around because of the rain. At the finish line, racers received their medal, a shirt, a water, as well as their choice of a few flavors of protein-infused water (Trimino). Results were available at the results tent as soon as your chip crossed over the finish line. They were online shortly after as well.

 

Most impressive were the race photos. A lot of races take a few days to get pictures up and there are only a couple stations. Savage Blitz had a total of SEVEN obstacles with a photographer. Most of them took at least 3 or more pictures. I know other races have more people so it’s difficult to get a lot of pictures from one race, but Savage did a great job on this front. They also let you run another lap for fun, minus the medal and race shirt, so you can have another crack at the course plus more pictures.

Savage-Blitz-Bling

This was Savage’s fifth ever Blitz, with at least two more on the schedule for 2018. It’s a great introduction to Savage for OCR newcomers, as it allows you to run a minimal distance but still try some of their challenging obstacles. Competitive racers who aren’t into Their site lists Savage Blitz at every location in 2019, which would be

 

Boston Spartan Sprint – Mud Anyone?

Barre-Sprint-Bucket-Carry

Mother nature isn’t always going to be on your side. Rarely is there such as thing as “perfect” race conditions. Though the race day conditions for Sunday’s Boston Spartan Sprint were very good, the damage had already been done.

 

Throughout Saturday’s Super, thousands of racers faced an already muddy course and afternoon rain. That, combined with more rain overnight, made the perfect recipe for a wet and muddy Sprint course on Sunday.

Barre-Sprint-Corn-Field

Venue

The venue is located a couple hours away from Boston, at Carter and Stevens farm in Barre, MA. Because it’s on a farm, there wasn’t a crazy amount of ascent, totaling just over 300 ft in the roughly 4.5-mile course. That makes the Boston Sprint a great course to check out if you’re looking to try your first Spartan race.

 

Parking was off-site, requiring a shuttle, but only a few miles away. The Stone Cow Brewery and a BBQ pit was right at the shuttle point for anyone who wanted some food and drink before and/or after the race. Naturally, the path down to the registration tent led right by a group of cows and even parts of the course. This can be great, unless you let the muddy mess of Twister psyche you out before you even walk in the door.

Barre-Sprint-Bridge

Festival

The festival area was nice and muddy, but well organized and spread out. Spectators were able to watch the start, Twister, Bridge, Olympus, Spearman, Hercules Hoist, Monkey Bars and the finish all in the same general area. With a bit of a walk, Bucket Carry and Multi-Rig were also visible. The U.S. Army was on site with a timed challenge for anyone looking to test their athleticism, plus other vendors with free giveaways or sign-ups.

 

Because it was a Sunday, there weren’t as many competitors as a Saturday race may have seen. It was also the same weekend as the North American OCR Championships in Vermont. Because of the lighter race load, the Elite heat went off at 9:00 am, letting everyone sleep in a little. Ideally, this would have also given the course a bit of time to dry out. With the amount of rain and mud, though, not much could be done.

Barre-Sprint-Burpee-Zone

Course

The design of the course was typical to most Spartans, but also one of my favorites. Obstacles were pretty spread out through the first half of the race, with just seven obstacles in the first two miles. Many of those seven were hurdles, mud mounds, or other less taxing obstacles. Then, over the final mile or so, racers hit a gauntlet of upper body and grip obstacles. Most of the terrain was either through fields (corn or otherwise) or wooded trails. There were one or two road crossings, which was sectioned off by police.

Something that I’ve noticed is that when there’s a Beast or Super the day before the Sprint, typically some of the obstacles will be set up more difficultly than if it were just a Sprint weekend. For example, at the DC Sprint, Twister had just two sections. Here in Massachusetts, it had three.

Barre-Sprint-Hercules-Hoist

From what I’ve gathered, Spartan wants to make the longer races more challenging, with the Sprints being a sort of “gateway” into the sport. Typically, that means easier set ups. They still only do rings on the Multi-Rig, but some obstacles are harder to switch out. It’d be tough for them to take out an entire section of Twister overnight. The Hercules Hoist was set up with a heavier weight for the Super as well, which is another one that gets left for the next day’s Sprint. With the extra weight, plus rain and mud, that made the hoist one of the toughest obstacles for the day.

 

Hopefully Spartan returns to Carter and Stevens Farm next year, as it makes a great race venue, whether mother nature cooperates or not!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, the author