Spartan Race Milan, Italy 2016 – “Where are the obstacles?!”

My love for obstacle racing was born on February the 14th at the Tampa Stadium Spartan Race and from that day, I was hooked. One thing I always wanted to do was to race in my country – Italy. I was born and raised there, and when I learned that Spartan Race was going to have races twice a year in Italy, I knew I had to go there and see how it was.

Spartan-Race-Milan-People-Helping-Wall

The race was hosted in Malpensa, close to Milano (Milan) at the “Crossodromo del Ciglione,” a Motocross Park. The first difference I noticed was that Spartan doesn’t distribute the course map before the race, but apparently everyone can go to the race site the day before and get an idea of the course. This year the Italian Spartan organization was claiming record attendance for the Milan Race – over 6000 people. The atmosphere was great; if you’ve ever met an Italian, you know what I’m talking about – laughs, smiles, friendship, enthusiastic people ready to take the course. The coed elite wave started at 9.00am and there were 29 women racing the Super Elite and 52 in the Sprint. Just before the start, there was the usual Spartan wall to jump over. The one in Italy is a little taller but the real difference is that as soon as the elite was called at the Start line, people started to push each other against the wall, leaving no space to climb over, smashing each other’s hands while climbing the wall and… it was normal for them. From the outside, it looked weird and kind of crazy.

We lined up at the start line and one of the Spartan Organization Member took the microphone to give instructions to the athletes. If you ever raced in the U.S.,  you know this process can take several minutes while you are instructed about the course; the judge tells you what obstacles are mandatory, what you can and you can’t do and tells you about the burpees and the fact that you are recorded while you do your penalty. In Milan, the guy talked not more than one minutes, in a broken English/Italian and told us to “do all the burpees if you fail an obstacle” and that ” the burpees are 30″.

At the start line, I immediately noticed two things. First, a couple of meters after the start, there is a big wooden box in the way of all the athletes on the right. Judging how fast the people start a race i ask myself how many people will crush right into the box and why there is such a dangerous thing in the course. Second, after 100 ft, there is the first “obstacle.” A puddle of water, extremely narrow, too little for the number of people that, in a couple of minutes, will be jumping, running and crowding in it. As I thought, the start was a real massacre. Spartan-Race-Milan-water-puddle

In the water i got pushed, elbowed, pulled by my hair and i had my ankle smashed by a guy who jumped in trying to pass , people were CLIMBING on others. A guy fell and they just ran him out. It was a shock. I’ve never seen something like this before. the first two obstacles were a little wall and an hurdle. There was ONE obstacle. Not more. It was the first time in my life i had to wait in line in an elite wave. There was no way we can all pass smoothly. And also here it looked more like a bar fight than a race. The lack of organization for this race was unbelievable. I am surprised that a name like Spartan Race, known in the world, was so sloppy , superficial and mediocre. Speaking with other athletes i learned that lots of people had their race ended by the dangerous conditions of the course. It is ridiculous bragging for “record of presence” and then put the athletes in danger, without a single judge or even a volunteer to supervise those situations. As we start running it felt like they forgot to put obstacles in this race.

SpartanRace-Milan-Herc-Hoist

It was supposed to be a super with 9.6 miles with obstacle in between but it was really the first 6 miles of pure trail running  with a few obstacles. Everything was at the end. The location saved the day helping to make the final miles interesting. There were lots of steep hills, with two kinds of carry. Logs and Chains. Spartan-Race-Milan-Log-Carry

I really enjoyed the chain since it was new and tough. The barbed wire were two in pure “Spartan Style” with extra mud, inclined and fun. The obstacles were very easy compared to the one we are used to in US. They don’t have the monkey bar and the platinum rig but they have what they call the “multibar” a combination of a regular monkey bar (no wide bars), traverse pole and 4 handles in a cool spartan helmet shape. The z-wall looks like the regular one but the blocks are bigger and thicker. Herc Hoist and Atlas ball are lighter than usual and there was no Bucket Carry to challenge the grip strength. All the walls, even the shorter ones have the step for the women. The infamous “slack line” made her way also here collecting more burpees than the spear ( most of the spears were completely bent in a funny “banana shape”).

Spartan-Race-Milan-Chain.

The lack of volunteers and the fact that there are no judges whatsoever made things easy for the cheaters that unfortunately are worldwide. I saw elite racers skipping obstacles, cheat on burpees and be the exact opposite of the value that this sport wants to communicate.

Spartan-Race-Milan-multibar

I also realize that in Italy, obstacle race is a newborn creature and the space for improvement is large.

While there are a lot of dishonest people there are also a huge amount of good, fair and talented athletes. In a couple of hours, we met some amazing, positive and passionate people who follow this sport with enthusiasm. Even if the race wasn’t what they expected to be those people were there, giving it all, hustling, having fun and cheering each other. Just like all the obstacle racers in the world. I saw a blind guy climbing the slippery wall and running all the Super while we were cheering on him.Spartan-Race-Milan-Blind-Guy-Racing

People overcoming fears, not holding back and all of a sudden it was just like be here in a normal Spartan in Us. Yes because if you put your focus on the people that are the real hearth of this sport, everything is the same. We are all Humans.We all have something we fear, we all want to overcome the obstacles in our life. And this is what makes this sport so special. This is what connect all of us. I really hope for a bright future for the Italian OCR community and i’m looking forward to see more Italian Athletes in the European and World races. This year at the OCRWC we will be 4 but this is jus the beginning!

Spartan-Race-Milan-rolling-mud

Adrenaline Rush – London: 2016 Race Review

This year I was invited to Adrenaline Rush in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. The event was publicized brilliantly with a lot of online hype before the race, and even Macmillan’s own Snapchat filter at the event village.

Having caught the train into Stratford, there was a walk around the Olympic Park to the event village where music was playing, and you could see a mass of obstacles… And every single one looked amazing. Registration and bag drop were quick and Macmillan staff had green war-paint for all runners, before lining up at the start line and setting off in waves every five minutes.

The race began with a lot of running, but being at such an amazing venue kept even the running fun. The course was complicated, with marshals at every single turn making sure everyone knew which way to go, and also giving the best support I’ve ever seen at a race. Before long, the number of obstacles started to pick up and as you began to hear the music from the event village, it was obstacle after obstacle. Although I’d never come across this in a race before, it was a nice change to get the running out of the way at the start of the course and then have an overload of obstacles towards the end.

Adrenaline Rush London - Slant wall

With everything from warped walls to the ‘big balls’ obstacle from Total Wipeout, Adrenaline Rush had a variety of exciting challenges. Inflatable obstacles added a fun factor and bubbly water slides had everybody sliding around, adding difficulty to the final obstacles. There was a water break before doing a second lap of the course, and it was time to get the running done and get back to those obstacles again.

Adrenaline Rush London - Inflatable

Adrenaline Rush London - Olympic Park

Lap two was just as fun as the first time round, with obstacles to test everybody. Balancing beams, cargo net crawls and rope swings broke up the running and marshals even remembered me the second time I passed them! Spacing participants out in waves of every five or so minutes also meant there was no waiting for obstacles, which is always a plus!

Adrenaline Rush London - Swinging

Back at the event village, there was one final obstacle added onto the first lap… The leap of faith. Climbing up to a 5m high platform before jumping onto a stuntman’s airbag, then a run to the finish where motion activated cameras took photos. This was another nice touch I’d not previously seen, making sure everybody got a picture crossing the finish line.

For a fun race with plenty of challenges and a lot of different obstacles, ranging from monkey bars to leaping off 5m high platforms, Adrenaline Rush is one brilliant day out, and I’d recommend it to absolutely anybody.

Adrenaline Rush London - Jump

Will I be back next year? Definitely, and I can’t wait to see what Adrenaline Rush brings in 2017!

Strong Viking: Hills Edition- Amsterdam- Race Review

Strong Viking claims to be the best obstacle run in the world! They were chosen as the best obstacle run in 2013, 2014 & 2015 from over 100 obstacle run events. Unique beyond any races in the States, they have many editions of their race which define the terrain and obstacles a participant can expect: Mud Edition, Hills Edition, Water Edition, and Family Obstacle Run among others. Beyond having different editions, they also offer a variety of distances at each event, 7km Lightning, 11km Warrior, 19 km Beast, and the 42km Iron Viking. If you conquer the Lightning, Warrior and Beast series in one season, racers can earn a Viking Torque bracelet. After each run, you’ll receive one distance specific bracelet and can trade the three bracelets for the Torque at one of the events.Strong-Viking-Hills-Edition-Course-Map

It was with great trepidation that I registered for a race that was called Hills Edition. I selected the 19km – Odin- which was the competitive wave. Obstacle number one was reading the confirmation emails that were in Dutch. On May 21st I was able to attend my first Strong Viking event to see if it was as great as it appeared to be online.Strong-Viking-Festival-Area-Start-and-Finish

Strong-Viking- Monkey-BarsThe race location was at a park and recreation area which backs up to Snow Planet, an indoor ski facility. Parking and registration were very organized. The festival area was energetic and packed with racers and spectators. Unlike races in the States, there were gender specific porta johns (to include urinals for men) and enclosed shower areas allowing racers to strip down and hose off before entering his/her respective changing tent. The starting line and finish line were in the same respective area and provided a focused backdrop for the entire festival area.

Upon entering the starting corral, attendants were checked for the time identifying wristband, an “Elite band” (elastic and Velcro arm band- which only fit on my leg) and filtered into a two entranced enclosure flanked by large 10-ft walls. For the Odin- competitive wave 19km and Iron Viking 42km – the number of men far exceeded the number of women (if I had to guess, I would say at least 80/20). The wave was large, as expected for a sold out event. The emcee explained the obstacles that could be averted such as a hammer throw, joust, and buddy carry- due to the dependence of another racer at the same obstacle. When the gun sounded, athletes scaled the start wall and disbursed among the course. Participants became spread out over a long uphill rock climb, descending stairs and up a second rugged ascent.Strong-Viking-Warped-Wall

Comparatively, there were many obstacles that one would expect to see at a race in the United States however some of the similar obstacles were met with a new twist. The barbed wire crawl was comparable to a Spartan Race- long and uphill, balance beams were advanced with moving levers and cylindrical steps, overs were prevalent with so many in a row they felt never ending, contrast to a typical tire pull they used a series of connected logs, there were bag carries that lead through hilly terrain which were reminiscent to a BattleFrog Series Wreck Bag carry. There was a warped wall which could be completed with or without a rope assist. A highlight was seeing a familiar friend, the Platinum Rig! (from what I could tell, the rig configuration was not so difficult that it would set Elite racers back and the lanes were the same for all participants).Snow-Planet-Tunnel-Crawl

There were many obstacles worth highlighting individually due to uniqueness. The first was the shield and hammer carry. Both pieces were made of wood, while not heavy, they had an awkwardness that made running with them a challenge, but provided a fun photo op! Using a similar but larger and much heavier hammer, there was an obstacle that required athletes to hit a log (picture a 6ft telephone pole on its side) down the length of a stand. This was quite challenging for someone of small stature and I spent a long time there to get the job done. One of my favorite obstacles was a combination of four obstacles, starting with a leap reminiscent of the dragons back at OCR World Championships, 2015. Then climbing off the dragon’s back into monkey bars. At the end of the bars there was a transition beam where you could stand to gather rings to lead to the next portion. There was a board with pegs to traverse across while holding rings in your hands. After that, you transition to a standard peg board which could be mastered in a few quick moves. A fall at any point in the duration of the obstacle would require the racer to restart. The Flying Ragnar was a leap to a hinged bar which would fling the runner out over the water, in hopes of hitting a bell at the end of a string. This was nearly impossible for anyone lightweight and short due to the counterbalance weight and distance from the bell. Toward the end of the race was a pipe slider, which was wooded parallel bars overhead, and a pipe the athlete holds perpendicular to brace over the parallel bars. Movement was achieved by pullups accompanied by kipping, while it took some time to get a feeling for the obstacle, once a rhythm was developed, it proved to be quite fun. The most miserable obstacle was the run through Snow Planet, which involved a snow crawl, incline wall, and a freezing trudge up the ski slope.Strong-Viking- Multi-Obstacle

Strong Viking exceeded my expectations for obstacle course racing in Europe. I had a great time talking with locals post-race who were very interested in how it compared to races in the States. I met many athletes who had qualified and were looking forward to attending the OCR World Championships in October. In my opinion, the course was better than most in the United States and so well marked there was no way to get off course. I would absolutely love to do another one and it would be awesome if they could bring one race a year to North America. I would gladly clear my schedule to attend. If I had to leave a critique it would be to make the Flying Ragnar more accessible for athletes of all sizes (similar critiques were on their Facebook reviews). An additional ask would be for more defined rules for mandatory obstacle completion. If you plan to travel for vacation in Europe, I would suggest putting a Strong Viking event into your schedule.

Photo Credits: Strong Viking Obstacle Run official participant photos and Dustin Radney

Nuclear Rush, 12k, Brentwood, UK

Simply put…Nuclear Rush was one incredible race based in Brentwood, Essex, UK, but I’m about to explain in a lot more detail just why you should try a Nuclear Race.

From the start, it’s well signposted, everything is easy and bag drop is even free… Something you rarely find! There are 6km and 12km options, with the 6km containing the majority of obstacles, but the 12k adding that (big) bit of extra difficulty.

The warm up had everyone raring to go, and before we knew it, a massive explosion had gone off ahead of the start line and we were running down a hill straight into knee-deep mud. The perfect stuff to get stuck in.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Mud

Now when I say this race was muddy, it was a whole new scale of muddiness. Having experienced many extremely muddy races, I’m 100% sure this has beaten them. From the majority of the race being on mud so slippery you may as well have been running on ice, to getting stuck in waist-depth mud on the ‘ice-cream’ obstacle, by the time we reached the finish line we were completely exhausted.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Free Aqua

Every obstacle was brilliant. There were no random walls just to add to the number of obstacles, but every obstacle was something completely new.   This brings me to the water area.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Free Mutts

Beginning with a jump into freezing water, a swim, bodyboard paddle, zipwire and finally the famous Nuclear Death slide, we were in the water for a good 45 minutes. Every obstacle was incredible, with some serious heights and what they call ‘air-miles’ on the death slide with a kicker to fling you into the air before eventually landing back in the lake.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Mr. Mouse Slide

Queueing was kept to a minimum but the time in water made it difficult to get the body temperature back up. It got to the point that running didn’t even help, and the warmest I felt was when we went into swampy mud. You know your life has taken a strange turn when bogs feel warm to you.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Aqua

The volunteers were brilliant, cheering on every participant and constantly reminding us “you paid for this”. Nothing like a sense of humour!

With obstacles that tested everything, from mental strength with high up leaning to reach poles to cross gaps, to physically exhausting mud-pits, there was something to challenge everyone.  There was even the new Nuclear Helix – a never before seen set of rotating, twisting monkey bars.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Nuclear Helix

There were no normal monkey bars, but hanging rings like in Ninja Warrior, spinning monkey bars, hopes to swing across trenches, spinning rings to make your way across and countless variations of things to make your arms hurt. In terms of different obstacles, this race had so many I’ve never encountered before.

As we got closer to the finish line, the music could be heard and with a few last drops into muddy ditches, we had crossed the finish line… Bruised, cold and exhausted, but also pleasantly surprised at how good Nuclear Rush had been.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Mud

You then walk through the warm water.  Yes, WARM water showers after being given your medal, which was nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately, we also had a lady noisily reminding everyone that people were getting cold behind us, so the majority of mud stayed on. Either way, warm showers were a real treat and something I’ve never come across at a race before!

After our showers, we were handed a hot cup of tea. Most of my tea went over my GoPro and legs as I was shaking so much that I physically could not hold my cup anywhere near still. Either way, it felt warm on my legs and I’m sure my GoPro (which was now looking a little worse for wear) appreciated it too. The staff at bag collection were also very amused by my inability to hold a cup.

To sum it up, for anybody looking for a real challenge, but a doable distance, get signed up for the next Nuclear Race. A mixture of man-made and natural obstacles, with a great atmosphere and a lot of mud. It might have been a challenge but I have nothing bad to say about the race. The only negative was the fact that my car couldn’t make it back up the slippery hill we’d parked on.

Nuclear Rush - UK - Finish

Loki Run, Village Pillage

Down in the South of England – Thetford, Norfolk to be exact, there is a small company known as Loki Events. My friends and I came across them in our neverending search for virtual races; it’s fair to say that, upon finding them, the Loki Run virtual events are easily one of the most challenging & fun virtuals we’ve completed to date. So with that in mind when we saw that they had an actual event coming up, we took notice.

On Sunday, April 10th, 2016, they held a small, community-based obstacle race which they called the Village Pillage. Now as we were in the area for the first 2016 UK Spartan Sprint the day before we figured we should just make a race weekend and we signed up for it. The more mud the better, right?

With our small team, a mix of the Healthy Hibees & myself with my team RAW top, we had no idea what to be expecting. After an engaging Zumba warm up the individual runners took off for the midday start. The teams of four were held back to do a second warm up and we were then informed we had some extra challenges. This is where is gets interesting – the challenges were, throughout the course we had to carry two car tyres without letting them touch the ground (a lot trickier than it sounds) and more importantly, two raw eggs which had to be lovingly carried the full course – ever watched mighty ducks? I found myself repeating the mantra of “soft hands” throughout the race.

Loki-run-village-pillage-tyre-run

The tyres and the eggs made all of the obstacles a lot more interesting, but with a little team work we got there. The course was laid out at the back of the local high school and into the fields beyond. We started off with some standard obstacles, net crawls, tightrope crossing, inverted walls & some nice 6-ft walls. Also, some volunteers were dressed in sumo suits, (side note I need to stop telling people in those suits I’m going to rugby tackle them, some of them looked worried). Nearing the 1km mark, we broke free of the school grounds and ended up running through a wooded area. Time for another surprise. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a lucky dip obstacle before – ping pong balls in a bucket of water with a number written on each one. I drew no 26, so, at the next stopping point, we had 26 burpees at station one, then 26 squats at station two followed by 26 push-ups at station three.

Our next new obstacle experience was that of a slightly different nature, volunteers dressed up as sneaky ninjas playing a version of obstacle tag rugby. If they caught you, you could end up with 27 burpees, or 5 squats. The punishments varied; I think that depended on the person who caught you. We also had to swipe the tags from the ninja area.  So from the 5 ninja stations, we managed 4 tags & 3 punishments. It made for an interesting break in the 5k course. Emerging on the other side of the wooded area and we had pretty much circled back towards the start. Around 4km and we found the log carry slalom – a single log needed to be carried about this part of the course by two team members; so, with Egbert the egg in one hand and a log in the other we got it done. (Yes, I named my egg – and we also named the tyres). With the finish line in sight, our next obstacle was a mallet target throw, a lot easier than a Spartan spear throw that’s for sure. On to the final 10-ft wall and then a water slide under the very low to the ground finish line.

Loki-run-mallet-throwBoth eggs & tyres survived!

You could tell that this race was organised by a team who loves the OCR scene. The entire event had a large family type feeling towards it, with the extremely friendly marshals, enthusiastic race briefing and the overall atmosphere on the day. It seems that the race director has taken elements and obstacles from other events and combined them to bring a really great experience to the athletes. They may currently be a small company, but with the virtual races, promising race days and awesome bling I can see them becoming a company to watch out for.

Loki-run-village-pillage-team

Photo Credits: Geoff Herschell

Spartan Race UK – London Olympic Park Sprint – 9th April 2016

My name is Holly Worthington. I’m an obstacle course fanatic from England, and race season has officially just begun here on the other side of the pond. My first race of the season was the 7km Spartan Sprint, based around the London 2012 Olympic Park… You don’t get much better than that! Having never previously been the biggest fan of ‘tarmac’ OCRs (mainly because of the lack of mud and challenging terrain), I have to say that I was massively surprised.

The iconic Olympic venue is brilliantly signposted, easily accessible from Stratford station, and for the first time in my OCR career… it had proper, clean toilets. Once I was over the shock of such clean toilets, we headed over to the base area which was brilliantly organised. Within 5 minutes, we had waivers signed and were registered with our timing chips, headbands, wave times and most importantly that free beer wristband for the finish line!  The atmosphere was incredible, with a very convincing Spartan getting the crowds warmed up and the sound of “AROO!” coming from every direction.

The race was full-on from the very beginning, using benches as giant steps, and following a winding path alongside the canal to keep the route interesting. Those beloved Spartan walls were in groups of two or three and were definitely close together!

Spartan Race UK Olympic Park

Using obstacles that were already there, including dodging water fountains set into the ground, the course was already off to a great start. Quickly, the obstacles got more difficult. From climbing walls, which went around corners making it impossible to see where to place feet, going both over and under cargo nets, and swinging from monkey bars spaced at different distances, the upper body was definitely tested.

Two barbed wire crawls were the next obstacles. They were just long enough to make it impossible to roll without being sick, but too long to crawl comfortably. Here we saw our first injury of the day, but medics were on site immediately with a quick response ambulance. Although there wasn’t mud on most of the course, we definitely got our fair share of it on this obstacle.

Spartan Race UK Barbed Wire

Although there was a lot of upper body challenges on this course, Spartan Race did a great job to keep it varied. This including filling a bucket with stones before carrying it around a course, dragging a tyre up a hill and the famous sandbag carry; this time up a hill and past the Olympic Rings. One thing that was very noticeable was the number of incredible volunteers who kept every participant motivated throughout the entire race. Science in Sport provided gel sachets along the route as well as having one water stop around the half way point.

No Spartan Race would be complete without the dreaded rope climb to reach the bell, and the spear throw. Having narrowly missed the spear throw, I completed my first, (and somehow, only!) 30 burpees of the day. No matter how many OCRs I take part in, I have not once managed to successfully complete this spear throw, bringing me to the conclusion that they are definitely broken spears.

As the course came to an end, the obstacles became a lot closer with gigantic walls to scale, a ramp with a rope to pull yourself over and the infamous fire jump before crossing the finish line. Before we knew it, we had crossed the finish line and been given our medals. Our timing chips were easily removed as they were wristbands… although we had both embarrassingly tied these to our shoelaces, being unfamiliar with such high-tech timing methods, and we were able to check out our times straight away, finishing in a time of 1:31:24.

The Reebok photo booths were an awesome addition to the base area, getting print-outs as well as emailed copies of the photos to take home as a souvenir. We put on our Spartan Shirts, drank our free beer, and just like that… Part 1 of the trifecta was complete.

Whilst the course may have been lacking mud and water obstacles, it certainly made up for it in atmosphere and set-up. The base area had plenty of food and drink options, clear presenting with all participants knowing where to go, and a hay bale seating area in front of a big screen. There were prize giveaways for the person who would manage the most tyre-flips in 30 seconds, and so much more to see.

Having taken part in the Pennsylvania, USA Spartan Sprint last year, I have to say that merchandise isn’t quite on the same level in the UK yet, but other than that, it was the best organised, most amazing venue I’ve raced at so far.

Photographs were released free of charge a few days later with Epic Action Imagery photographers at the best obstacles for photo opportunities. The kids Spartan Race also looked the best I’ve seen so far, having previously been disappointed by a kids race at the Allianz Park Spartan Race last year, in which the course was disorganised, shorter than advertised, lacking obstacles and there were no shirts left for the children taking part by half way through the day.

All in all, the Olympic Park Spartan Sprint was a great race and an incredible day out. Suitable for all the family with easy accessibility by path and plenty of brilliant facilities, anybody could come along to watch.

Could I always do tarmac OCRs? I would miss the mud too much. But would I do this race again? Any day!

 

Sign up for more Spartan UK races here.

 

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