Epic Series Phoenix

OCR and Crossfit, Crossfit and OCR. The two seem to go hand in hand as many OCR types train in Crossfit gyms and many Crossfitters can be seen running on the obstacle course race circuit. So how does a hybrid event combining the two sound to you? Well, to me it sounds pretty damn interesting and apparently it does to the folks who run Epic Series OCR as well. Now, there are plenty of hybrid events popping up all over the country but Epic is specifically designed for the OCR enthusiast. Based out of Southern California, Epic has recently branched out to states in the North and East. I happened to be lucky enough to compete in their inaugural Phoenix event on December 14th, located on the grounds of the spring training complex of the Chicago Cubs. If you’ve never heard of Epic Series let me briefly break down their course model before I get into the nitty gritty of the actual event. Epic contains their entire course in an area the size of a standard Olympic 400 meter track, so they can set one up virtually anywhere. All of the obstacles\functional movements are set up in a series of rows inside this small area. The only running that takes place is around the rows of obstacles/functional movements when a row is completed, and Epic usually has competitors pick up something awkward to run such laps. In each row there are separate workstations which have 3 separate intensity\weight levels for racers to choose from. Open class, Women’s class Elite, and Men’s class Elite with the movement\weight made harder from Open through Men’s and color coded for easy picking. In the Elite wave athletes must pick the corresponding weight\rep scheme for their division.

 

Epic starts every race with their “flag lap.” Contestants grab a large flag with “Epic Series” printed on it and run their first circle around the event area. I believe this mainly serves as a way to spread racers out and keep the first obstacle from becoming jammed with occupants. The first actual obstacle along the Phoenix course was called the over\under. Epic set up a metal pole suspended horizontally about 18 inches off the ground. 20 repetitions were required here, dropping to the ground, rolling under the bar, then standing back up and hopping over the bar was considered one rep. Once complete an athlete then picked up a slosh pipe for their second lap around the work area. The next two obstacles in lane 1 consisted of jumping over a few low hurdles and picking your way through a spider web of ropes intertwined together. Epic then sent racers out for another lap; this time farmer carry style with a set of jerry cans that weighed approximately 10-20 pounds. Your grip then got a quick reprieve, but not your legs so much as burpee box jumps for reps was next up followed by overhead squats. The weight for the overhead squats wasn’t much more than a broomstick, but after the burpee box jumps the movement was still quite taxing. Did your grip recover? Hope so, because one more lap around the event area was now required, this time carrying a beer keg. The keg varied in weight as some were empty and others were full making the full lap taxing.  I witnessed many competitors lugging the keg in front of them or setting it down to rest midway. The last movement performed in Lane 1 was the Russian twist with a medicine ball for 20 reps.

After completion of each of the three lanes Epic required a pass through their “obstacle lane”. This lane consisted of having racers climb over a series of walls. A 6 foot wall, ladder wall, and inverted wall all needed to be scaled before climbing through a bouncy house and continuing to the next lane. Yes, I said bouncy house. At first, I thought it was kind of a joke, but after climbing through and over it numerous times during the day I found it to be no joke as you just never seemed to be able to stand up in the damn thing! The bounce house also seemed to tear off racing bibs as competitors dove through it, but it was a fun addition with the slide.

 

Lane 2 started by having athletes climb up and over a wall using only small rock climbing holds. This was followed up by my nemesis, the Epic balance beam. These balance beams are made up of 5 sections of horizontal planks, each topped with a series of pegs spaced a couple of feet apart. This thing gets me at least once every time I try it. It wobbles all over, the pegs are small, and it’s long. Any time I see someone fly across them I silently curse them. Once you finally got across the beams a set of battle ropes awaited you for a quick 15 reps. The Atlas Stone over the shoulder for 10 reps really got your blood pumping before moving on to the squat wall. What’s a squat wall you might ask? Well, wall sit is another name for it, and at Epic they’re timed by having the athlete hold an hourglass filled with sand out in front of them while sitting in the squat position against the wall. Male competitive time, which is the longest, is 3 minutes and not many racers make it through the entire time unbroken.  Blah and double yuck. From here you duck walked over to the last obstacle in lane 2, the keg hoist, which was like the Spartan Herc Hoist, only Epic used a beer keg. You had to hoist the keg up twice to complete Lane 2 and move onward with a second pass through the obstacle lane.

Are you into archery? Ever wanted to give the bow and arrow a try? Because the first obstacle in Lane 3 required an athlete to shoot a rubber tipped arrow at a target hung in netting. Striking the target was required before strapping an elastic band around your ankles for a short bunny hop. Kick off that annoying elastic band and you were almost finished! A quick duck and roll under one incredibly low cargo net, a plank hold for time, and last but not least, a rope climb. One last pass over the walls in the obstacle lane, through the bounce house, and a slide into the finish was all that separated you from that unique and very “Epic” medal!  The medal even has a nifty bottle opener on the back so it’s functional!

Now, you remember back at the beginning of my article when I talked about OCR and Crossfit going hand in hand? Well, if you signed up for the competitive waves you also got a chance to try your hand at the Epic WOD, where the female and male winners received a WWE style winners’ belt! Normally Epic offers an Endurance Elite option and a Strength Elite option with winners both getting belts. But due to the fact that they shipped everything from So Cal to Phoenix they just offered one hybrid course and I’ll now explain the setup. First off, all the exercises and reps were the same for male and female, only the weights were changed and there was a judge who followed you through the whole course. The WOD started off by strapping an athlete into a harness for a Nissan Titan truck pull. This was followed by picking up a long sandbag and tossing it over a 5-foot wall. The racer then followed the sandbag by jumping over the wall themselves, this was done for 5 reps. The same sandbag was then picked up and carried for a lunge for distance. The bag was then ditched in favor of a barbell for 10 reps of a clean and press. Kettlebells were then utilized for a 10 rep step up walking between 2 boxes. Your next movement again required a sandbag, this time heavier, circular version, for 10 reps of an over the shoulder toss. A true outdoor WOD wouldn’t be complete without a tire flip, right? You got it! 10 flips of the tire got you moving on to last movement, the deadlift. All it took you was 10 more reps here before crossing one more balance beam which led to the finish.

To add to the enjoyment of the day, Coach Pain lent his iconic voice as the emcee reminding everyone to Conduct Your Business! I’ve always found the Epic Series to be extremely challenging, yet fun. If you’re a Crossfitter curious about OCR, or an OCR racer who’s tired of the endless running then this series is for you! I’d also like to give a shout out to local resident Jamie Hines for bringing his supreme photography skills to the event. Jamie, it’s always so nice to see you and your lovely wife filming while I’m on the course!  Now get out there an BE EPIC!

 

 

 

 

Guardian Battle

The Guardian Battle, the second installment of a yearlong three-race series, was held at White Birch Park in Hazlewood, Missouri on May 4th.

This series was designed by veteran racers along with help from the local park district, which gave unique access to facilities that are making this a one of a kind race series. GB used the grounds in and around the city’s water park, which in my opinion, was a stroke of genius. Yes, I did say in the city’s water park as the water slides and lazy river were filled and turned on for the event even though the park opening was still weeks away.

GB boasted the best festivity area for a small race ever as the local, multi-level fitness center on-site was opened up for athletes to use throughout the day. Plenty of bathrooms and gym equipment were available and I took advantage of this unique access by hopping on the recumbent bike to help warm up. Free parking and pictures were included along with your day long pool pass and at no time during the race was a lifeguard going to yell at you for running.
Guardian provided chip timing but sent their racers out in a new way by releasing groups of 3 athletes out at a time, staggered 3 minutes apart. This proved to be an excellent way of keeping logjams at obstacles to a minimum. The race itself began by sending competitors out from the parking lot and into the water park where the stairs provided the first opportunity for that dreaded lactic acid build up.

A low crawl at the top of the stairs forced athletes duck walk before being sent down to the deep end. That would be the deep end of the dry, Olympic sized swimming pool as GB hung ropes down from the diving area making for a very different looking rope climb.

Immediately following your not-very-refreshing dip in the pool an athlete faced the death bag haul. These soul-sucking bags were made by placing a sandbag into each leg of a pair of blue jeans and sewn together. These were made even heavier by being soaking wet from the rain the night before. A racer had to find a way to carry this awkward sack up and down a flight of steps three times, oh did I forget to mention the steps were two feet tall? Yikes! I hope you saved a little grip strength as the floating walls, consisting of two floaters separated by a rope, were right around the corner.
Your pool day fun was not quite over yet as GB sent racers up a few flights of stairs for a chance to fly down one of the two water slides. The cold water fun didn’t end there though as volunteers directed you towards the lazy river where you trekked against the waist deep current set to full power. This was not as easy as it looked, but GB provided lifeguards just in case you got swept away.

After crawling out of the coolness that you had become accustomed to, the course led out of the water park where a short jog ensued through a mowed grass lot, eventually ending up at a wreckbag station. Athletes then hoisted those wreckbags onto their shoulders for another short jog, this one with walls and an A-frame to traverse along the way.

After dropping off the old bag it was on to the GB rig, a low crawl, short wall, and a super fun warped wall were added along the route there. The rig configuration went like this: 3 rings transitioned to a horizontal board with rock climbing holds ending with 3 suspended balls, which proved to be a great grip and body control tester. Once finished, racers were sent back towards the festival area where after a short cement block carry athletes tested their agility with some free running through the skate park. The heavy tractor tire flip was placed right outside the skate park and signaled the end of the obstacles in this location.
Guardian Battle now made use of the local woods by sending racers down a winding path made slick by the recent rains. The sloppy track made for slow going on the bucket and tire carry situated in this section. Luckily this section of the course was short making the time spent picking yourself up from another fall manageable. A series of 4 different carries greeted racers as they made their way back to home base. The Atlas Stone, Anvil drag and carry, along with the yoke carry and tire drag were all placed back to back in this suckfest quartet.

Finally, the end was in site and only a series of 3 wall traverses of varying sizes and a low crawl remained as the previous smackdown took whatever you had left out of you. At just under 3 miles I found the course to be pretty challenging yet extremely fun. The use of the water park was a great idea and added obstacles that haven’t been thrown at you before. You really got to hand it to the course designers for thinking outside the box as they certainly give you plenty of bang for your buck here.

If any of this sounds like something you’d enjoy then you’re in luck as the third race in the Guardian Battle series is set for this fall!

Savage Race Georgia 2019

I always get excited for the new season of OCR to start, and one of the reasons is that I know Savage Race is going to break out a few new obstacles to challenge the masses and 2019 didn’t disappoint.  Three brand new obstacles were added to this year’s Georgia race that would test even the best competitor. Held on March 30-31 in Dallas, Georgia the gently rolling red clay hills played host to the 6.3 mile course with around 900 feet of elevation change. Morning temps in the mid 50’s made the water obstacles nuts up inside you cold and the ice cubes inside the Shriveled Richard left you almost hypothermic. The grounds supported a few large horse stables, so you really needed to watch your step, both on and off the course. But the scenic views more than make up for the excrement piles laying around. So much so that my wife made the comment that she would be happy to move to the area. But enough with the basics, time to get down and dirty.

 

After the seemingly endless hoopla in the Savage starting corral athletes were released into a section of the pasture which zig zagged back and forth serving to thin out the heard. The first obstacle faced was a barbed wire low crawl, I actually heard a first-time racer next to me ask “Is this shit real barbed wire”? Yes, oh yes, it is! The trail then circled around leading to the Barn Doors wall climb. Racers then came upon the Shriveled Richard, which basically came down to a choice of freezing to death or not if you ran Open class, and I saw quite a few participants just pass on this one. The Big Cheese, which looks like a large hunk of Swiss, needed to be traversed before climbing over The Great Wall. One last obstacle, a log over and under, ended the tasks that the public could view in the festival area as the trail now led into the wooded countryside. The course picked up an ATV trail from this point as the hills became more pronounced, finally ending at the creek than ran through the property. I know water freezes at 32 degrees, but this water couldn’t have been much warmer than that as Savage plunged racers in knee deep for a few hundred yards of shivering shuffling. The elevated shoreline, along with frozen feet, made the line to climb out long causing some racers to attempt to climb out wherever they could find a foothold.

Shaking off the cold, racers continued making their way through the woods finally ending up at Thor’s Grundle. This low crawl required racers to once again submerge themselves into frigid water while ducking under two wooden planks. Finally breaking free of the woods, the course wound towards the back edge of the festival area, which made a perfect viewing area for the fan favorite obstacle Wheel World. Twin Peaks, a set of double inverted walls, was also set along the back edge of the festival area before sending racers on a long loop through woods and pasture land towards the back end of the property, another barbed wire low crawl and a set of hurdles along this stretch did just enough to break up the running monotony before another long section of trail running leading back to the festival area. If all that trail running made you tired you were in trouble, as my personal nemesis Twirly Bird was next up. This combination of rings and bungee cords always makes for one of the more difficult suspended grip traverses in all of OCR. If you managed to swing your way through Twirly then Savage had a bonus for you as situated right after it was the new for 2019 Piece of Queso. This grip killer also tested your body control as the setup consisted of floating walls separated by tennis balls hanging from above nestled inside of sheets. These two obstacles placed back to back, in clear view of the festival area really made a statement as to how serious Savage is about their OCR.

The race director was somewhat kind after that as Savage allowed the racers upper bodies to recover by inserting another long stretch of trail running here before sending racers on a brief loop carrying a wooden 4×4. After dropping your wood, it was time for a hike up a steep hill where the Savage version of a slip wall was located with another barbed wire low crawl immediately following. What would cool you down after a long hike? Yeah, jumping off a high dive in the form of Davy Jones Locker! Thank you once again Savage Race team for pumping cold lake water into all your obstacles! Once you got out of the water pit you needed to get your hands dried quickly as grip strength again came into play with Battering Ram, a type of slide suspended over the ground, and Sawtooth, the best set of Monkey Bars in the racing industry.

If you did happen to fall from Sawtooth into the water below Savage again took racers well-being into consideration by placing their fire jump a short distance away. All that remained now was one last loop leading away from festival central. Savage’s Big Ass Cargo Net climb was tucked into this loop along with Pedal for the Medal. This unique obstacle required athletes to lay down and drag a tire on a chord to them, all by using their legs to peddle a wooden wheel to which the chord was attached. The balance beam was thrown in between here and two more new for 2019 obstacles. Inversion Therapy, which broke down to be a horizontal pole of varying thickness suspended over yet another water pit. The goal being to shimmy across the pole while hanging upside down. A bell tap on the far side signaled obstacle completion and Chop Sticks, which consisted of a row of 2 X 12’s hanging vertically. Each of the sections was on a swivel with only small foot hold nailed into each side of the bottom of the planks. Savage added to the difficulty hanging some of the planks long ways while hanging others short ways. Again, a bell tap on the far side singled completion and I applaud Savage for their ingenuity designing it. The massive wall climb and water slide, appropriately named Colossus, was the last obstacle presented on the course as the finish line was situated directly behind the massive beast.

 

Valentines Day Massacre

I love when new OCRs invite me to cover their inaugural event as I get to see first hand the innovative ideas that new race directors come up with. The Valentines Day Massacre, held February 16th in St. Louis, didn’t disappoint. This area of the country was lacking an event since The Battlegrounds sold out to Tough Mudder the previous year and tapping into the expanding winter OCR scene was a great way to bring back the fun! Now, VDM didn’t just throw a fire jump and low crawl into a trail race and call it an OCR, and while those two fan favorites were included VDM added some functional fitness elements that included tasks that tested a racers overall strength and fitness level along a course that lasted just 2 miles. Held outdoors at the Hazlewood Sports Complex, VDM tucked all their obstacles along and through the athletic fields on site in an action-packed, and fan friendly way. The weather actually added to the difficulty as 2 inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the race time wind chill was around 10 degrees making the grip-related obstacles just that much tougher.

VDM started out with the day with their elite waves beginning at 9 in the morning, but in a unique way as groups of three were released every three minutes. I found this to be a great way to stagger heats as I saw no lines at any obstacle anywhere on the course. The race itself started off much the way any other race would but sending athletes on a bit of a run to separate the participants. From there things got hot and heavy, well, actually just heavy as racers were required to squat down and pick up a snow-covered Atlas Stone for a short carry. Do you like heavy carries? Great cause VDM loaded up this section of the race with them as an ice bucket carry was also situated here along with the most unique carry test I’ve ever experienced.  VDM stuck sandbags into each leg of a pair of pants, then left them outside overnight to freeze.

If you thought taking a Wreckbag up and over walls during the summer was tough you hadn’t seen anything yet as this proved to be the most exhausting task of the day. An A-frame needed to be traversed with this “death bag” along with several walls topped with large plastic barrels that spun making this a supreme test of overall strength and left athletes winded to the max.

I was wondering if Wile E. Coyote would be joining me on the next obstacle as VDM used an anvil for drag and carry, no Road Runner or Acme rocket was seen though. You really got into the swing of things on the last obstacle in this section of the course as a dual Tarzan swing was next up. High jump landing pads were spaced a good 20 feet apart for each of these swings making it the longest swing on an OCR course that I’ve ever witnessed. That was followed up with a rope climb before sending racers through the dugouts on the baseball fields which had caution tape strung through them acting as a type of low crawl.

After a brief foray between the baseball diamonds, VDM set two 9-foot walls in a racers path. This led to a 14-foot rope aided warped wall climb with an interesting twist as a rig was set up underneath, and this rig was a killer. Monkey bars suspended by chains led to a series of 3 vertical ropes. Tough but doable right? That was only the halfway point though as a set of horizontal rock climbing holds led to a series of rings for the finish.

Now, VDM was nice during this event because it was cold out and placed a hay bale to stand on between each section, but I was told once it warms up for their next event the hay would be removed. Hope you saved some grip strength as a four section floating wall was next up with the handholds consisting of various rock climbing holds along with chains and balls. 4-foot hurdles were set along the trail leading to a cargo net low crawl set so low to the ground it pulled my stocking hat off. Lifting heavy shit again came into play with a 10 rep tire flip, and I have it on good authority that the men’s tractor tire weighed north of 350 pounds. Trying to get a grip on the snow-covered ground was next to impossible. Not quite as heavy, but way more awkward VDM set out a yoke carry made with a wooden beam balancing a frozen sandbag on each side. Let me tell you that when those sandbags got swinging back and forth it took all you had to right them.

After dumping that impossible load off your shoulders, a racer faced a series of three hoists which again utilized sandbags and got progressively heavier as you went down the line. One last 5-foot wall led athletes back towards the festival area, but not before climbing over a series of tractor tires stacked up on the ground and the obligatory fire jump. This race was perfect for those of us who are tired of races consisting of endless miles of running. OCR has expanded recently into events containing heavy movements to draw in the Crossfit crowd and I’m glad they brought this to the Midwest. Although lightly attended racers that did brave the weather felt like they got their money’s worth. Parking and pic were free, and VDM posted shots from the race on their Facebook page as the race was going on. What a revolutionary idea! No more waiting around to see your epic adventure! Everyone was extremely friendly, and the volunteers were all well drilled on the requirements of the obstacle they were marshaling. So, in a nutshell, short course packed with very challenging obstacles. I’ll be back, will I see you for their next event in May?

Abominable Snow Race 2019

Can you imagine building an OCR event where the temperatures rarely reached -10 degrees and the windchill touched -55? Most of us don’t even leave the house under those conditions but this is just what Bill Wolfe and his badass crew had to deal with in the week leading up to the fourth annual Abominable Snow Race.

With a couple rounds of snow sandwiched between the historic lows, these hearty troopers built obstacles and marked trails for a 4-mile race with an option for an extra 2.6-mile loop for the really demented racer, during conditions that caused school for my children to be closed the entire week. Not to mention the fact that the race moved from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to Devil’s Head Ski Resort, Wisconsin, meaning that prep would take that much longer on the virgin location. This marked the third venue change in the four years of the event as ASR constantly looks to upgrade the location to bring out the best of the winter racing experience. Devil’s Head boasted some awesome scenery including a frozen waterfall along a course with over 3,000 feet of elevation change. Now, you might not have noticed all the majestic views as 6 inches of fresh powder made racers to pay close attention to their footing, and the snow covered up all the tree roots and rocks underneath and fog added an extra layer of mystery as race time temps rose up to the balmy high 20’s. But all things considered, how could you miss the best winter OCR in the nation?

 

The start of the ASR caused a lump to form in the throat of most racers. After Coach Pain gave his iconic pep talk the race began with racers running straight up the ski slope into the fog, which caused you not to be able to see where the climb actually ended. Foreboding, ominous, and lurking right there in front of you. The initial ascent was going to be draining and you knew you were going to be in for a long day. As you made your way up and the top finally came into view you felt a wave of relief, but that was short lived as the trail flattened out for all of 20 yards and then continued going up at a less steep angle through what became a one-lane track through the wooded landscape. Along this trail transition, I noticed my first set of racers sitting off to the side as the initial climb had just taken too much out of them.

The footing here, and all throughout the course, was treacherous, making the sledding tough. Pardon the pun, I simply had to work that in. The obstacles started coming into play near the top of the initial climb, the first being an inverted wall climb followed up by a set of high hurdles. Also tucked into this section of the race was the ASR Apex obstacle. This was the toughest challenge on the course judging by the number of elite bands sitting on the ground. Apex required an athlete to traverse across three steep sections of A-frames separated by about a foot. An athlete had to cross using only the thin ropes suspended from the top and whatever stability their feet on the severely angled wood provided. This was a grip strength killer and I found trying to keep your snow packed shoes on the boards almost impossible.

 

Racers now faced a tough section of trail running as the course made its way slightly down the mountain and through the forest. The over, under, and through walls were tucked in along this section of the course that managed to be wider than 2 feet. A low crawl through the fresh powder froze racers to the core and I personally never felt warm again that day until I changed clothes afterward in my Jeep.

More seemingly endless trekking through deep snow followed that up as the constant climbs and descents started taking a toll on a racer’s legs. This led to a 9-foot wall which also marked the point where the short and long course separated. I picked the longer section as I promised ASR bossman Bill Wolfe a comprehensive race recap and immediately regretted it as I started running along another long stretch of deep ass snow. This section of the trail turned out to be a little flatter than before which was most welcome, but you still couldn’t open up and run do to the deep snow pack. A short Wreckbag carry was situated here along with a bucket carry filled with ice. This bucket carry was much shorter than the previous years carry which seemed to last forever. One last 4-foot wall led into the last low crawl of the race on our way down to the festival area. I looked at my watch watching the distance go by slowly as I entered basecamp. If you had picked the short course then your race was almost over, and I seriously considered just ending it right there as my legs were toast. But I summoned up some internal strength and hit the Z wall which led athletes back out onto the final loop. There I found myself on another steep climb almost immediately. Cursing myself about the choice I just made I found myself trekking up and down steep ravines, as the pace became little more than a walk. Luckily this was the section of the course that held the best views, the frozen waterfall being the sight most racers talked about after the race. This was also perhaps, the most physically draining as the climbs were steep and the footholds small. ASR was nice enough to throw a cargo net down for the last climb up though, that is if you wanted to stick your already frozen hands down into the snow to grab the net.

 

The festival area itself presented some interesting new challenges, as after athletes climbed over a slip wall ASR had built a cargo crossing over the starting corral. This led to my favorite obstacle of the day. The ASR build crew constructed a long wooden traverse suspended about 7-feet off the ground and covered it with long sections of cargo net. The object being an athlete had to traverse this expanse by crawling upside down using only the net to hold on to. Athletes finally got to get up to speed during the last obstacle of the day. After picking up an inflated inner tube, racers made one final climb up a hill, hopped on their tube and flew back down the hill to the finish line! Now, there were things missing from the race that were either included on the race map or had been included in previous races. The sled pull, tire drag, monkey bars, and winter weaver to name a few but considering the unprecedented weather leading up to the race, I think a round of applause are in order.

Never before in OCR has a crew had to set up a race in these conditions. Personally, I felt the terrain alone made this race extremely tough, so missing a few obstacles didn’t bother me at all. The only concern I heard from people completing the race was the lack of water along the route, I sucked down 3 bottles of water myself upon completion of the race. I don’t feel it would have been possible to add water stations to the course due to the temperatures as almost every water delivery system would have been frozen solid. Besides, veteran racers should have already known to bring hydration… cough… cough… I forgot.

The mountain ski patrol was situated around the course at various locations to ensure the safety of racers along with a few members of the ASR staff who zipped around on snowmobiles. I offer a question to you as my final thought on the race. You’ve become pretty good at climbing over walls and carrying heavy things around when the temperature is 80 degrees, but have you tested yourself when the thermometer dips below freezing? If not, what’s keeping you from joining Yeti Nation?

Toyota Park Spartan Sprint

I was all set to bash Spartan, I really was. Pulling up to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois I was asking myself why Spartan would put on a stadium race in a venue with only a single tier of seating. With so many other huge and historic stadiums around the Chicago area, I was mystified as to why the event was held here. But I like the stadium series, so I signed up and hoped it wasn’t going to be a lame attempt at putting on a race to grab the almighty dollar. But after going through the registration process and waiting in a long line on a chilly day to start, I found that Spartan used the entire property very well and managed to pack in all their usual stadium obstacles into the tiny venue in what turned out to be a pretty decent race.

 

Now, I’m not sure who Spartan hired to emcee the event, but they might as well have played a recording over and over at the start as the guy just kept saying the same thing with little excitement in his voice. I wouldn’t have hired that guy to emcee a kid’s birthday party. It didn’t help that the line for the starting corral ran the entire length of the stadium itself, or that it was located on the main grandstand walkway which was 30 feet off the ground and completely unprotected from the wind. None of us could wait to get started and finally get some blood flowing through our bodies and warm up again! Toyota Park started out like any other stadium race, by sending athletes out down a set of stairs. This quickly led to a set of 4-foot walls followed up by a run through the locker rooms of the MLS team Chicago Fire where 15 hand release push-ups were performed. Once completed, racers finished their run through the bowels of the stadium which then opened into the grandstand seats. This was the point in the race in which Spartan had athletes use stadium stairs the most, weaving back and forth through the rows of seats made passing next to impossible and greatly tested your patience if you got stuck behind someone going slower than you. There were brief pit stops along this stretch for the weighted jump rope and slam ball functional obstacles. Spartan then gave racers a brief break from the stairs as the course ran across the grass field of the stadium where the 6-foot wall was located.

Spartan now had athletes pick and weave their way through the steps on the other side of the stadium as the only obstacle presented here were two sets of the low crawls via bungee chords strapped across the exit rows. The rope climb was the last challenge set in inside the stadium and the 7-foot wall led racers out across the asphalt of the back parking lot where the Herc hoist and spear throw were situated.  The course then looped around the lot where the z wall was placed. I figured, as I’m sure most racers did, that we would be led back into the stadium here, but this proved not to be the case as Spartan made excellent use of the whole property by sending athletes out to an undeveloped portion of the lot where the Atlas stone carry was placed. Spartan then used a long section of excavated dirt, the slope being similar to the buildup leading to a road overpass, for their sandbag carry. Nobody saw this coming and many grumbles could be heard as the asphalt turned to mud, but I thought this was easier than humping up endless stairs with a sandbag strapped to my back.

With the sandbag carry complete, Spartan finally brought the course back towards the stadium. An 8-foot wall being the last obstacle on an athlete’s way to the stairs leading back inside. The cost to reenter the event was high as a jug carry up and down all those steps and ramps were set up here. To add insult to injury your grip was further tested as the Spartan rig waited for you on top of the stairs. The rig design was one of the easier setups used frequently in the stadium series as rings led to two baseballs and a bell tap. From there a racer only had a few more sections of stadium stairs to traverse and a 10-calorie assault bike ride, which is entirely too easy, on their way to the heavy bag crossing and finish line which were only yards away. The 10-calorie bike ride is, in my opinion, a poor substitute for the 500-meter row that used to be required at these events. Maybe Spartan should include them both at some point.

So, what I thought was going to be a waste of money and time turned out to be a fun and challenging event. Spartan used every inch of the property to their advantage for a race that turned out to be a little over 3 miles but felt a shade longer. Security was tight as bags were checked and people were scanned by a metal detecting wand upon entry, but I’m completely cool with that. The concession stands of the stadium were open to snag food and drink. Parking was only 10 bucks and located right next to the festival area and pics were free on the Spartan website. All things considered, I would attend this race again and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the stadium series.