Carolina Ultra: Twisted Trails and Bundles of Burpees

Introduction/Pre-Race

Ah, South Carolina. Known for its super warm temperatures, surely this is the race to do if you are hoping to complete the ultra in shorts and a sports bra. It will be a beautiful day, filled with lots of sunshine, love, and rainbows.

Or, maybe not.

Now, I’m from South Carolina, so I confess that my knowledge of all things cold isn’t exactly there. But, I overheard several people say they were coming from the north because they were looking forward to a warm race. Although this wasn’t exactly freezing temperatures all day, when it was time to start the race, it was roughly 36 degrees when we got started. All of the people who were anticipating and planning to wear shorts and look cute were a little disappointed.

On the race website, we were told that we had to pick up packets the night before. Problem is, packet pick up was from 2:00-5:30 in the afternoon. A friend of mine asked if I could pick his up, which of course, I was told no (which, makes sense). I didn’t think this was fair to people who…you know, have jobs… but what do I know. Luckily, even though they said packet pick up the day before was mandatory, people were allowed to grab their stuff the morning of the race.

I was lucky enough to get to grab my stuff ahead of time. So, the morning of the race, I got myself situated, grabbed my bucket, and went on my way.

When I got to the start line, everyone was huddled and shivering. You could hear people make comments related to “what the heck, I thought this was supposed to be warm!” And we waited to get started.

And we waited.

And waited.

Now, I did the Ultra Beast in New Jersey last year, and we didn’t start on time either. They at least TOLD us that we weren’t going to start on time. Here, we were repeatedly told that we would get started soon. We ended up waiting for over 20 minutes to get started. Finally, Mr. Kobl came up. I was so thankful when he let us know that we only had to do the dunk one time, and it wasn’t until the very end of the day for us. After some jokes and words of wisdom, we were off.

Spartan’s Course

Carolina Ultra Map

Once we got started, it seemed like we took a solid 3 steps before encountering the first obstacle. Almost immediately were some hay walls; following that was a creek crossing. We pretty much spent the rest of the day in the water. Our toes got really cold, really fast. Closely after was the 4-ft wall and some trail running, and some more creeks. Then it was the 6-foot wall. I saw a lot of women struggling with the 6-foot wall, which was really strange…that is until I realized that there was a layer of ice completely covering the top of the wall. After I went over the wall, SQUISH. We hopped off of the wall and into a big ol’ puddle of mud. Gross.

So…in short…the first mile was pretty much just mud and walls. Sigh.

A little bit of running later, and we get to the rope. To make things interesting, because it was extremely cold, the rope was COMPLETELY covered in ice. Even though I was in the elite division, I have never seen so many people doing burpees at a rope.

After a short run, the next few obstacles were pretty close together. It actually hurt a lot, and the burpee areas were so close that it was easy to get them confused between obstacles. In the second mile, there was the Olympus, Herc hoist, spearman, barbed wire crawl, sandbag, AND bucket within that little space. Out of those obstacles, Olympus, rope, and many other obstacles were covered in ice. Sooo many people were doing burpees. Lots of unhappy faces, and people worried about their fate for the rest of the afternoon.

After we kept running, we ran into Bender. Bender is scary when it’s covered in ice. Lots of people were worried about falling, and several of us little people had a hard time jumping and grabbing the first bar because it was so slick. After some more trail running came the Tyrolean Traverse and a vertical cargo climb. On the first lap, this cargo climb was one of the scariest cargo climbs that I have experienced. It was one that was so loose that while you were climbing, the rope would shift. I did not love it.

One piece that was interesting about this course came up closely afterward. There was an 8-foot wall on course, but it only had one step as opposed to two steps. Some of the shorter women struggled.

Then, the hard part was pretty much over. There was a portion of the race that split from an ultra course to the regular Beast so that the ultra course was a little longer and more challenging. There was not a volunteer standing here, so there were some moments where standard Beasters ran a portion of the ultra by mistake…and I’m sure some ultra runners “accidentally” took the wrong course.

Now, when they gave us a different piece of the course, I was anticipating something a little difficult. It wasn’t anything really unique. The course map claimed to be an obstacle called “Irish Tables” which I had not seen before. My friends told me that this was a high platform and one that was spooky. It wasn’t. I didn’t even realize what it was until the second lap. It was just another hurdle, with a flatter top. This obstacle is also seen in Bonefrog, but Spartan paints theirs a different color. But, it’s basically another hurdle. I was a little shocked, considering they have different heights for men and women. By the time I got to this obstacle, there was a line for men and it was completely clear for me!

Behind that was more trail running, log farmers carries, the armor, a plate drag, a barbed wire crawl, and another sandbag. After some more running, we were greeted with the Stairway to Sparta.

Now, the Stairway to Sparta has become one of my favorite obstacles. Not because it is one of the most exciting obstacles, but Spartan always manages to squeeze this obstacle into the most spectacular places. This was not. This Stairway was placed conveniently in front of a single-track trail, so there wasn’t anything to see. I would like to say that as a resident of Spartanburg I can vouch and say there weren’t many stunning options…but I would at least suggest on top of a hill or something.

The Stairway to Sparta was actually replaced with the Great Wall. Now, I know there are a lot of thoughts on the Great Wall. It’s basically just Stairway 2.0. It is slightly more difficult than the regular stairway..but not by much. During the first lap, there was not a step provided for the women. So, there were more women doing burpees, simply because we couldn’t reach the grips! But, I suppose if it isn’t challenging, nobody would do it!

After this obstacle, it was on to the transition.

Transition

My friend Erika at the transition!

Now, if you’ve done an ultra or an ultra beast, you’ve seen the transition. It’s a square marked off for people to leave drop buckets. Usually, for buckets, people will go to Lowe’s and get a bucket for $5 and decorate it with stickers. I have my bucket very decorated with things, but I also tied a balloon to my bucket in order to make it easier to find. It’s a good idea for people to put their buckets in a safe place with their friends. In the elite division, you can’t take stuff from people outside of the transition area, so if you’re with your friends, you can divide and conquer!

One thing I found unusual about the transition was that there were volunteers and timers there, but nobody really did anything. Another strange thing about the transition was that my friend Crystal and I were 9th and 10th. We were not given lap leader jerseys. Instead, number 11 was. Number 11 is also someone who has a large presence in the Spartan world. Coincidence? I really hope so. It was very disappointing.

After a brief period in the transition area, it was on to the lap again.

Lap 2

The transition area spat us in a VERY muddy area past the hay walls and right in front of the creek. I sunk up halfway between my knee and hip. I’m just thankful I didn’t lose a shoe there also.

When running an ultra beast, the second lap is very different from the first. The first lap starts very early and provides an awesome opportunity for athletes to get a good start. Since it does start so early, it is usually very quiet. It’s almost peaceful until you remember that you have over 25 miles ahead of you. The second lap is at the same time as afternoon open heaters. This can be very exciting–having other people cheer for you, but also, sometimes people don’t always follow the courtesy rules suggested by the race directors. For instance, during the tyrolean traverse this time, I had an open runner come underneath my rope so that she could get a hold on her friend. Really…REALLY?!

The first obstacle we encountered here was the over walls, and then everything else was the same. There were some differences between the course; the main one being the mud! Several areas that we had previously run in were completely swamped. There were several instances where I would go running or trudge, and I would get so stuck in the mud that people would have to pull me out. Again, it is an absolute miracle that I managed to keep my shoes throughout this adventure.

Also during lap two, they had made a few modifications to some of the obstacles. The Great Wall now had a step. It was exciting to complete this in front of the open runners because they all cheered for me! It felt really nice.

On lap two, instead of going to the transition, it was over the very wobbly A-frame, and through the rolling mud. The rolling mud was ORANGE at this point. It was so difficult to wash this orange out of our clothes.

After this was the mud crawl. Basically, a third barbed wire crawl, just you are crawling in really really squishy mud. Normally this is at least a little fun, but there were sooo many large rocks in this mud. I was completely covered in bruises at the end of the day. After this the dunk, and then the slip wall. Now, the dunk wall was nothing really special other than large rocks made it difficult to get out of the water. The slip wall was actually a little different than usual. They covered the slip wall in this black tarp and made the wall more vertical. The tarp made the slip wall more difficult to dry, and although it still wasn’t difficult, for the first time ever, I did not feel safe on a slip wall.

Then was the fire jump, then the end!

Thoughts

Maybe I’m crazy, but I remember Spartan claiming that ultras were not going to be ultra beasts at the beginning of the year. They promised that ultras were not going to be two laps of the beast; rather, it would be one 30-mile loop with its own obstacles and adventure. Wrong.

I was looking forward to a big challenge, but I am glad that I was lucky enough to participate in this event. This was a good ultra beast for people to attend if they were looking to get a good beginner ultra.

Overall, this course was very repetitive. Lots of sandbags, walls, and crawls. There wasn’t much about this race that stood out as unique. However, I will say that I’m very thankful for the race director for allowing us to wait until the second lap to do the dunk wall (we may have completely turned into Spartan-pops)! I am also very thankful that Spartan provided an opportunity for people in the Southeast to participate in an ultra. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to compete in events like this altogether. I did feel like Spartan made this an ultra at the last moment and did not have their own real plan. I will continue to hope that Spartan works to improve this event in the future!

Spartan Dallas Beast 2018-Muddy Miles and Cramping Calves

Dallas Spartan Beast 2018

On October 27th, 2018 Spartan held the annual Dallas Beast to nearly maxed out waves for all times. The course had to be cut down a few miles due to flooded areas. This didn’t stop Spartan from putting racers calves through mile after mile of foot groping, sloppy goodness. Of about twelve and a half miles nearly sixty percent of those miles were sloppy bogs or slick, muddy rocks. A fun cramp-inducing time was had by all on a well put together course in beautiful Glen Rose, Texas.

Muddy Miles on Muddy Miles

Due to frequent rain in the previous week many of the trails on Rough Creek Lodge’s ranch were a muddy mess. From the beginning even the fastest group of elites were not moving their quickest as we were pulling our feet free from mud constantly. This added an extra endurance element to an already endurance heavy event. Later on in the race, many suffered from severe burnout, muscle fatigue, and debilitating calf cramps.

Spartan ingeniously utilized the hills on the ranch. Competitors proceeded up and down them both with and without sandbags. Steep, rocky descents coupled with mud spelled potential disaster for anyone not closely watching their feet and controlling their body. I personally throttled myself down a bit on these downhills to avoid injury. Slick rocks can come out from under you in a heartbeat.

The venue was beautiful to look at as always. Rough Creek Lodge never disappointing on the views that you get to see at the top of those hills if you take the time to look around. The festival area was also set up very nicely and the starting line was again by the beautiful church on the property. The weather was absolutely optimal with a pretty still 58-degree start for the elite men and a slow warm up to around 70 as the day went on. Compared to last years freezing temperatures the weather was absolutely amazing.

The Obstacles

I would like to preface by saying that there were no mile markers at this race.  Some areas were cut due to flooding. I found this to be a good thing as it kept me focused on the task at hand rather than how far I had to go. However, this also prevents me from stating an approximate location for all of these obstacles. I would like readers to know that between each of these obstacle portions were long, long bouts of running through mud and rough terrain. Spartan did a great job of throwing great combos of obstacles at racers. Each section seemed to have an intended aspect of skill to attack and I really appreciate the thought that went into this design.

As previously stated, Spartan has an optimal venue for such a flat area in Texas and they utilize it well. The first majorly taxing obstacle was after the z- wall in the form of a sandbag carry up a steep hill and back down. This put a decent little burn in the calves especially after running through all of that mud. The spectator route was superb. It allowed spectators to see many of the most entertaining obstacles. Compared to last years Dallas Beast, Spartan did a superb job on the spectating end of things.

Climb

The slick mud made the slew of climbing obstacles far more difficult. These included: stairway to Sparta, Bender, the 8-foot wall, and the inverted wall. The first real grip tests came in the form of the Tyrolean traverse (which was hanging far too low in many lanes people were dragging their backs). The next grip obstacle was Twister following Bender. I do appreciate Spartan placing this obstacle out of the mud for the most part as it is so grip-heavy. However, there were many Spartans plunging face first into the mud for burpees at this notoriously difficult obstacle. If the strength and endurance is not still present in your shoulders and hands, it can be a real killer.

Lift

The next obstacle heavily affected by the mud was the Atlas carry.  I’ve never had trouble with an Atlas carry.   However, the first ball open this time around was a mud-covered concrete lump of fumbling, back-straining hell for me. I was picking it up out of a very large divot caused by the soggy ground and it was slicker than a freshly born calf. Finally, I had the good sense to look up and see a dry ball had became open and moved through no problem.

Spartan knows their obstacle placement game as after the Atlas Carry came the Hercules hoist and the Yokohama tire flip. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spartans tires are heavier than most. Getting under these 400 lb tires when they are sunken deep in mud is no easy feat. Though the requirement was only to flip the tire twice. Many chose burpees instead. I, however, found that once I worked my way around the tire and found a good place to get under it the rest was simple.

Later on, came another short sandbag carry followed by an equally short bucket brigade. Some elites were shouldering the buckets. Volunteers were not correcting them.  This was unfortunate considering that immediately afterward many grip obstacles followed. This allowed them to salvage their grip for later on.

Hang on!

The plate drag was a muddy, sticky mess that added difficulty. The grip gauntlet afterward sapped the last bit of strength left in Spartans as they neared the finish. The multi-rig, Olympus, and the rope climb were nearly back to back to back.

The spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump where spectators could get a great view of finishers coming in as the annoucner did a great job as well. The finishing area and the number of spectators were very impressive.

 

 

Aside from some minor issues, the Dallas Beast was a fun and challenging experience. Many racers suffered horrible cramps. This was due to all of the mud eating away at their endurance mile after mile. It was truly a suffer fest for many. I feel they will all return next year with a new determination.

Great merchandise, attractions, and people filled the festival. Spartan did a superb job of making the awards ceremony very central. There was also a great festival for racers to enjoy afterward. This was a big leap from the lackluster festival area last year. I would certainly recommend running the Dallas beast if you are in the area, or if you would like a Texas-sized challenge.  Spartan created a great race.  They utilized the venue to its utmost potential. Aroo!

Spartan Beast Windsor 2018

This review may be my last. Spartan Beast Windsor has potentially sent me into early retirement.

On a rainy, miserable Saturday morning, me and my brother Dai, made the lengthy journey to Windsor. Before I had even set foot on the Spartan site, I was wet. I’d had a headache and so decided to take some tablets but as I tried to swallow a big gulp of water, Dai made me laugh and I spat it out all over the steering wheel and myself. Much to his amusement, but to my distress.

On our arrival, the entrance to the site was a little problematic. The road was still more congested than desired but was a shorter wait than last year. Parking was good as there was plenty of space in the field. I do, however, still think that parking should be in the cost of the race entry. An extra £5 doesn’t seem much, but on top of travel, entry and any other onsite expenditures, I think it’s a bit steep.

Registration was very simple and easy and the volunteers were very helpful. There was no queue which meant as little time in the rain as possible (she says knowing that it would have made no difference. The whole race was out in the rain.)

Bag drop was great and fast and the volunteers were very attentive even whilst I was rushing and fumbling around to get everything in my bag in time to get on the next heat. I must have looked like a mad woman.

For us, this race was bittersweet. It was the last in the season but as of yet, we haven’t been able to complete our trifecta. Part of this is because, for some reason, all the Sprints are on a Sunday! We even went all the way to Amsterdam to take part in the Spartan Sprint as it was on a Saturday but a week or so before the race it was canceled. Hint, hint Spartan.

Anyway, on to the race. AROO, AROO, AROO. We were pumped and ready to take on this literal beast of a race. We both we wore Macmillan green in honour of our Grandfather, Wynford Seymour. We have managed to raise £160 so far and if you would like to donate, please click here.

Within the first 5 minutes, there was a backlog. I don’t think it was a great idea to have made a ‘single track’ route so quickly. Too many people were itching to get past but there simply was not enough room. Once this opened out, we were off and I could really enjoy the trail run through the woods.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of every single obstacle.

1) It would simply take too long.

2) I actually have repressed most of them because they were evil.

In all seriousness, thinking back to the race whilst driving home, I honestly couldn’t remember half of what we had just done. Exhausted body, exhausted mind. And to think, some crazy Spartans had done the Sprint, Super, and Beast that weekend. I just can’t.

But, having said that, there were some really fun obstacles and sections of trail running. I think that the setting of this Spartan compared to Aston Down is what really makes the difference. I LOVE running through the woods. Aston kills you with hills and Windsor kills you with mud but I’ll take mud any day of the week.

Grip was next to impossible on Twister, Monkey Bars, and Tyrolean Traverse. My brother had even decided to purchase some OCR approved gardening gloves but the constant rain and mud were no match for our fake green fingers. Kudos to those that had the grip of a monkey and effortlessly made these obstacles look easy.

 

The bucket carry was far more manageable this time around and I even remember saying to my brother “I actually enjoyed that” I know, I’m crazy. Some ingenious sandbag carries made the difficult race a little funnier and lifted some soggy spirits. Sometimes, balancing the bag on your head is the only way to conserve arm strength and simultaneously look like Toad from Mario.

The middle of the race was sort of a blur of trails and wading through mud. It probably also consisted of me pointing out the obvious fact that it was STILL raining.

Mud. I like mud. On our way home, Dai called my brother Glenn and they discussed the difference in the mud between the Calgary Sprint and the Windsor Beast. Seriously. You’ll only understand the necessity for this sort of conversation if you have ever done a Spartan race. Windsor certainly had its fair share of gloopy ‘shoe sucking’ mud along with the ‘to your waist’ ponds of liquid dirt. Both of which provided some great entertainment on the route. Obviously, Spartan racer etiquette demands that you only laugh once you’re sure they haven’t broken an ankle.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my physical condition at this point of the race, but Herc Hoist and the Atlas Stone Carry was significantly harder than before. I had always managed to complete Herc Hoist on my own but this year, volunteers were requesting that people work in pairs. And I’m so glad that I did.

Water and food stops are a must but I felt that more variation at stops was needed. In previous races, there has been bananas and other snacks. This race was jelly babies and dolly mixture. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweets but each to their own.  I didn’t, however, think that there were enough water stops.

My only real problem with this race was the lack of photographers. In one way, I was glad that I didn’t get many pictures (I looked like death most of the way around), but I did feel like considering the length of the race, there needed to be more points where photos were taken. In total, I had two pictures from the Tyre carry and a very dark fire jump photo. I did, however, have massive respect for those photographers who sat out in the rain all day.

The most frustrating part of this race, for me, was the fact that there were things I knew my body could do, but because of the cold, I just physically and mentally couldn’t. My hands were frozen, and when it came to the Rope Wall, I couldn’t make it to the top. The volunteers at this obstacles were incredible as well as the other racers who helped a shivering, exhausted (crying) girl over the top. A quick walk over to the Spear Throw and knee and leg cramps were rampant. At this point, the finish line was all I wanted and it was still so far away. I am aware, before anyone says, that it wasn’t far away. In fact, I could see it right in front of me. But I was being over dramatic and I’m allowed.

I hear that women forget the pain of childbirth once their baby has been born, this is how I felt about the Beast. I remember feeling completely ruined the last time I raced, but for some reason, I signed up again. For myself, I feel like the preparation for each Spartan race is SO different and really, you can race for fun, but these races are HARD. They are meant to test your strength and endurance and, to really not feel like a defeated mess at the end, it’s important to PREPARE.

It is important to also remember that conditions affect everything. I think that I would have done so much better in this race if the weather was not so poor. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

Spartan Virginia: Sprint and Super Weekend

Yes, sprint and super, not the other way around. Virginia was the first time I’ve run a Spartan where I had to complete the sprint first, and then the super. Let me tell you- that was significantly more challenging than it was the other way around! There were several differences between the two races, making them equally as exciting regardless.

Saturday Sprint

Check-In/Festival

I knew it was going to be a great day when I pulled into the venue. Why? This venue had something special that not all venues have– PARKING! There was a parking lot rather than pulling up to gravel! It was absolutely amazing. I knew it was going to be a great day.

Going into the festival area was a bit different than usual. When we got to check in, the volunteers did not have us show them our barcode in order to get through. They just grabbed our ID and looked up our names. It was so much faster, and the volunteers were extremely pleasant!

Once we got through, which only took about 45 seconds, we were met by a security officer. He was very friendly, but if you did not have your wristband on, he would not let you through to the festival area. I had not seen this before. It’s a fantastic idea for Spartan in order to ensure that people aren’t sneaking their way in (although I confess, I’ve literally never seen that happen), however, the implementation could have used some improvement. The wall keeping out of the festival area was really close to registration tent, so it started to clutter quickly. People were standing right in front of the security guard putting on their wristbands and headbands, and it got a little clustered. Perhaps if they are going to use this in the future, they will give people more room to get themselves situated.

This festival area was organized very neatly. Everything was packed together really well, with the merchandise tent being the center of it all. The merchandise tent has grown so much since the beginning, and they had a lot of the new Craft items on display. Right next to the merchandise was the timing station, so you can guess where everyone was hiding.

Course

Registering online for this course was a little shocking. In the elite division, there were only 16 females. You read that right…only 16 elite females in the entire race. It was weird. While we were on the start line, the race director informed us that this sprint was going to be flat and fast. With only 4.25 miles and 21 obstacles, I figured as much.

When the gun when off there was a short run before the first obstacle: hay bales. Followed by another short run before going down a hill via barbed wire. The wire was low and sharp, but definitely do-able. There were a lot of people running around with holes in their shorts later from it getting ripped. Followed by that, monkey bars. Then the dunk wall. And then, a run into the woods.

The obstacles were fairly easy. One obstacle to note was the bucket carry. I’ve never seen a bucket like this. The bucket was pretty early on, and one of the next obstacles after the dunk, so we were a little slick. The buckets had lids and were color-coded, so it was easy to grab one and go. This was honestly one of the, if not the, easiest bucket carries ever. It couldn’t have been more than 200 meters, in a dry, relatively flat loop where the grass had been matted down and was easy to get through. The buckets even felt lighter than usual–so I’m not sure if they didn’t fill them as much as usual, but it was an enjoyable bucket carry. Wow, I never thought I’d say that!

The next obstacle after the bucket was the sandbag. They only had us carry one, and it was nothing special. Just another loop (longer than the bucket, of course), down and back through the woods. The only thing really to note was there was a drop-off, and several people fell. Nobody fell enough to get significantly hurt from what I saw, but several people fell. The people who didn’t had the sandbag resting on their shoulders and used the trees for leverage. Again, nothing special. Spartan being Spartan.

There were a few differences in the familiar Spartan obstacles. The biggest and one of my personal least favorite differences was how loose the straps on the A-frame and vertical cargo net were. It had rained all week leading up to the event, and the straps were so loose that I honestly thought I was going to fall through it! But, everyone around me made it through.

Spartan Race Cargo Climb

Another difference that was to be noted was one of the walls. Once you ran out of the woods in one of the final fields, you came across rolling mud hills that were pretty shallow, and a little further of a run for a 6-foot wall. Now, I figured this was a six-foot wall because there were no red steps on the side, but as I ran closer, I realized that it was definitely taller than 6 feet. Spartan had fooled me! It was seven feet with no step. Which, accomplishable (even for my 5-foot-self), but it threw me a little off guard. I wonder if Spartan will continue this trend for elite races in the future.

A little run led to an incredibly dry rope climb on top of a short hill, another little woods run, and then the spear throw. I was really impressed by the spears here because I noticed that the hay bales were really tight. Normally, I try to look for neater and tighter hay before throwing the spear, but this time it was almost all of them! It was awesome. One extremely dry inverted wall and a short hill later, and it was over the fire jump and through to the finish.

Volunteers

I wanted to make sure to add a separate section just to talk about the number of volunteers in the race. Okay, so, we all know that Spartan has been lacking on the number of volunteers present at obstacles lately. Actually, the number of volunteers that have been at OCR races, in general, have been depleting–and not just Spartan.

Now, one thing that was a little shocking again, that I’d like to step back and talk about was how hardly anyone registered to run the sprint. Again, there were only 16 elite females in the entire race. That’s insanely low! I was talking with one of my friends about possible theories as to why people weren’t registering. One thing we came up with was that people weren’t racing because they were going to volunteer the sprint, so they can get a free race code, now that Spartan is giving race codes again.

We were probably right on the volunteering for race codes thing. I honestly had never seen so many volunteers in my life.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every single obstacle had at least two volunteers stationed. Even the barbed wire. It was crazy! Because there were so many people out there, the atmosphere was great also. Double the volunteers meant double the encouragement, and all of the Saturday volunteers were awesome. If you volunteered Saturday morning and were on course during the elite women’s race, I personally want to say, thank you!

Other

Honestly, it was one of the quickest and most fun OCRs that I have ever done. I was super impressed with the atmosphere. It was so small, flat and fast, that it was extremely enjoyable and everyone there just seemed so happy. Congratulations to Ryan Kent and Heather Gollnick on their first-place finishes!

One thing that I really enjoyed was that while we were running if you looked around you for a moment, you could see blue mountains in the background. It was amazing.

 

Super Sunday

I was really surprised this day. I wanted my friend and me to leave early because this race sold out in the elite and age group divisions. Whatever didn’t sell out, was really stinking close. We assumed that the glorious parking lot was going to be completely full.

My race started at 7:45, so our goal was to be there super early. You know, because the parking lot was going to be crazy busy.

Well, we were wrong. It had been just as empty and easy to maneuver as the previous day. If anything, it was even easier than the day before because we had gotten there so early.

Registration had been just as easy the second day. The security guy, instead of having us put our bands on first, had us show him our packets and then let us gear up inside the festival area. Which made way more sense than the day before. He was very pleasant to talk to and I think did a great job.

When you got into the festival area it was very similar to the day before: ghost town. You could see a few more elite women and men trotting around but it was mostly people who ran the day before.

Course

Holy smokes was this an amazing race. The race director met us at the start line in order to inform us that there was going to be 8 miles and 26 obstacles. Was this supposed to be a super, or a little bit longer of a sprint? Either way, it was an awesome time.

The beginning of the race started out the same. After the very cold dunk wall, it was off to a run in the woods. Rather than being greeted by a dunk, we were greeted by Twister in the woods. Followed by obstacles. The beginning of the race held the first few “tougher” obstacles. The hay bales, over walls, barbed wires, monkey bars, dunk wall, Twister, A-frame, and Herc hoist were all in the first two miles. I would like to add that Twister had the black grips on the right half of the obstacle, and the left side did not. I appreciate that Spartan kind of gave options, especially since this has been a great controversy. After that, it was smooth sailing, and a whole lot of trail runs.

Mile 3 was very interesting because you ran on single track trails for about .7 miles before hitting the next obstacle. One thing that Spartan does well is to place the Stairway to Sparta obstacle in beautiful places. It was really put in an amazing place in Virginia. When we ran out of the trails, it opened onto this open field. Beyond the fields were these beautiful blue mountains and fresh air. It honestly felt like Julie Andrews was going to pop out of nowhere and start singing beautiful songs.

After another trail run was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We came out of the woods and were greeted with this huge pumpkin patch. They were legitimate pumpkins too; separated by vines and everything. There were hills of them! It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen during a race…if not the coolest. With those of you who struggle to make pictures in your head while reading, I really do apologize that I was unable to get a picture.

At the top of the hill with all of the pumpkins, there was the Z-wall. It was one of the open z-walls that, to be honest, I don’t like as much as the ones that were filled. I looked around though and strangely enough, there was no volunteer at this obstacle. Weird.

As we kept running, we eventually came to an obstacle that causes a lot of people some trouble: the bender. Now bender isn’t hard because it is hard, it is just one of those that you look at, and it looks so scary that it honestly trips a lot of people up. I’m sure because of it’s scary-ness, it is one of the more dangerous obstacles in a Spartan Race. I’m very thankful that this obstacle was pretty much completely dry by the time we hit it, but, something has been off with bender. Spartan has sometimes not been putting anything underneath it but hay. This time, there were mats, but the way the mats were placed was a little strange. They are placed in a way that would ensure a safer landing from the top, but there is no coverage at the bottom of the obstacle. Weird.

After you kept running, you came back to the 7-foot wall which, this time, was sided with those little steps. The carries were toward the end of the race rather than the beginning like the previous day, and they were not any more difficult. The rig was in the last mile also and it had rings and ropes. That was it. One of the ropes I grabbed was a little more slick than usual, but it was nothing to write about. The end of the super was the same as the sprint. Spear, inverted wall, hill, then fire jump, then a sweet sweet finish line.

Just like the day before, it was another fast and overall flat run.

Volunteers

The volunteer situation was completely different on Super day than it was during the Sprint. During the Sprint, as previously mentioned, there were SO many volunteers. Two at every obstacle. It was amazing.

During the Super, there was only one volunteer per obstacle. There were some obstacles that did not have anybody.

Now, I am not someone to judge. I have never had to be a volunteer coordinator, and I can’t imagine that it is easy. For some obstacles, I do think it’s okay to not have a person there. I feel that the obstacles that are more in isolation (kind of like how that beautiful Stairway to Sparta is) should maybe have two people. That way, if something goes wrong then they aren’t left all alone to survive.

Overview/ Other thoughts

I really enjoyed this race. This race was very flat, fast, and more than that, fun. Personally, I like courses where you can run through the race rather than have to do a lot of hiking. I think that if anyone wanted to do a race where they like to run as opposed to the hike and wasn’t in Virginia, well, then you missed out.

If you were one of the volunteers who came out and supported everybody, I want to sincerely say thank you. I know that it is difficult to give up your time, and I hope that you know you are greatly appreciated! Special thank you to Saturday’s 7-foot wall guy, Saturday’s inverted wall girl, Sunday’s Olympus guy, Sunday’s water by Olympus guy, and Sunday’s Bender guy for being especially awesome. If I can remember who you are, you should know that means something!

The group of elite women on Saturday were some of the best people I have raced against. Often in Spartan, people tend to get a little more competitive than in other races, and sometimes this doesn’t mean being the best toward no-name athletes like myself. I really felt like the women on Saturday did a great job cheering for each other and being supportive, even during an elite race. So ladies, thank you for being awesome, and it was an absolute pleasure to race against you.

Aroo!

Rain, Rain Stayed Away: Seattle Spartan Weekend

When you think of the city of Seattle, Washington you usually think of rain, but Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend had different plans.  What Seattle actually got was incredible weather with some of the most breathtaking views you can find.

First off let me talk about something that can be an absolute pain for obstacle course racers: Parking!  Parking for both days went extremely fast and smooth.  Plenty of volunteers were out there guiding you both in and out of the area, and the payment lines split into four, so there was no traffic getting backed up.  All of the volunteers for this event were very helpful with questions and the ones on the course were very enthusiastic and encouraging to all the racers.  This is always a positive, especially when you feel the struggles after a bucket carry and need to keep pressing forward, it’s nice to get that sound of encouragement.

As I get to registration it was also pain-free.  For the Beast, I arrived just about noon and there was a 2-minute wait to get in, and on Sunday I ran the age group race and there was no wait for registration.  Again all the people working the registration area were very helpful in answering all my questions.

As always, Spartan knows how to put on a race.  From the minute you walked into the festival to the minute you walked out, there was something for you to do.  The Army was there with a mini obstacle course which included a heavy sled push, pull-ups, an army crawl, and a that sled you just pushed you now need to pull it back.  Food, clothing, and more were on hand during the entire weekend and did not disappoint.

The courses for the weekend were fast with not a lot of major climbs.  The Beast course ended up being just over 13 miles while the Sprint was just over 4.5 miles.  The course was a perfect mixture of water, mud, sand, and dirt and was both challenging and fun.  Steve Hammond does an incredible job and designing these courses, but more importantly, he and his team do an incredible job at marking the courses.  There is nothing worse than being on a course and getting lost, but with Spartan races that won’t ever be a problem as the entire course was marked for both days, and this is something I am very thankful for.

After I finished my race I was greeted by volunteers handing out the finisher medals and then by a photographer who snapped a couple pictures of me in front of the Spartan wall while I held my shield.  As I walked down the finish shoot I was offered a variety of post-race food and drinks including of course the infamous race banana.  Fit Aid was also offered, as well as water and Cliff chewy blocks.  Finally, I came to another volunteer who cut off my timing chip and made small talk while doing so, which was a nice little touch.

After I left the finishing shoot I went over and sprayed myself off with the Spartan “showers” that were surprisingly refreshing and then into the changing tent to get the dirt out of places it shouldn’t be.  Lastly, I went over to bag check to retrieve my bag, which was super convenient and no hassle at all.

Spartan is the leader of the OCR sport for a reason.  It has changed the lives of a lot of people, and they know how to put on a race.  I hear negativity now and then about it, but at the end of the day as I said above, Spartan knows how to put on a race and I can’t wait for the next one.

Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Beast and Sprint

Let’s jump right into this fire. The Spartan Chicago, which on Spartan’s own website declares that it is “Just 2:30 hours away from Chicago and 1:30 hours away from Indianapolis”, is in the Eastern Time Zone.

Yep, you read that right. The Spartan Chicago is an hour closer to Indianapolis, is hosted in Attica, Indiana and, oh yeah, is in different time zone!

Map of Distances between Chicago,IL Attica, IN and Indianapolis, IN

Exhibit A: Incredibly compelling, scientific evidence that the Spartan Chicago should be renamed to Spartan Indiana.

Now perhaps there is a strategic reasoning behind this naming decision and it might just be that I’m ranting, but that’s my right and I will exercise it as I wish!

Spartan Chicago

Naming convention aside, the Beast and Sprint weekend hosted at the Badlands Off-Road park was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Scheduled on the weekend of September 8th and 9th and competing with the Brickyard 400  (which ended up being rain delayed until September 10th), an Indianapolis Colts Season Opener and a Warrior Dash a few miles away. This Spartan weekend delivered a wonderful experience for competitors of all levels. Even if, the number of fellow racers, was fewer than expected.

The Venue

The venue seemed as if it was custom designed to host an Obstacle Course Race. For example, the parking was on-site and the registration line non-existent! This meant no buses, no wait and a friendly group of volunteers and staff made this one of the fastest, friendliest, in and out experiences I’ve ever had at a Spartan/OCR event.

Expedited lines and smile filled faces, however, weren’t the only thing we were met with during our time in Indiana. From the second my brother John and I touched down at Indianapolis International Airport, we were met with buckets of rain.

Apparently, leftovers from a storm system earlier in the week. These soggy conditions made everyone’s cheery attitude and excitement that much more impressive, as everyone there was slopping through mud and water on and off the course!

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of ridiculously friendly volunteers

The Course

The Badlands Off-Road Park served as a vast, fast, canvas to build the 13-mile Spartan Beast and the 5-mile Spartan Sprint upon. With a variety of terrain; from rock-filled streams to slick black mud, it offered it all; but the predominate surface we found ourselves trudging through was a super soft, squishy, yet; packable sand/gravel mixture. Regarding elevation, the map could best be described as a “roller coaster”. Meaning that what went up, eventually came back down and ultimately; the course balanced itself out to be a nearly perfectly flat surface. Back at the same elevation where it started.

Climbing up the hills with this mix of terrain and elevation was technical, but once you got the hang of it, very manageable. Your reward for climbing up the 50-70 foothills was a thrilling breakaway (or bomb away, depending on how fast you wanted to approach it) that included curves, berms, and divots that you could run down as fast as you wanted, without fear of major consequence. The sand mix was such that even if you lost your line and “yardsaled”, you would be able to pop back up and get back up to speed without so much as a scrape.  In my opinion, this terrain was the highlight of the entire course which was awesome because it represented a majority of the surface found at the venue.

The Beast

All the major obstacles showed up at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) and the rain made them extra challenging once completed. Of note, the course had 2 different sandbag carries, one using the standard Spartan bag and another using a generic bag with an evil zig-zag path to walk it around. The downpour of rain also affected the A-Frame and Tyrolean traverse in ways I hadn’t seen before. For example, the A-frame had more give in the net, to the point that as one Spartan would hop off the end of the fixture, the racer at the beginning would drop down 2-3 feet. I have never experienced that before and it added a new tier of challenge to a typically straightforward obstacle.

As for Tyrolean Traverse, the rope was so wet that it sagged to the point that my back was dragging on the ground, while I was simultaneously holding onto the rope.  Looking into future races, I will certainly pay closer attention to rope sagging and use that to decide which lane to choose going into the obstacle.

Also, the finishing sequence of the 2-segment twister, Spear Throw and a raging fire jump to wrap the day up added a lot of excitement and drama for participants and the amazing spectators that braved the elements to see the day’s events unfold! Well done. One issue we did experience was that the weather conditions seemed to affect our timing chips, which reported at the results tent that we had crossed the finish line in 15 hours! A quick chat at the results tent remedied that and had us back in business in no time.

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of a great Beast.

The Sprint

On Saturday, temps dropped by about 10 degrees, from 75-ish to 65- ish and the rain stalled to a slight drizzle. Which somehow converted the wet and slick obstacles from the Beast, into the muddy and more slippery obstacles of the Sprint. The 5-mile highlight reel of the Beast Course, had all the same hanging obstacles, along with a devastatingly difficult Bucket Brigade and Atlas Carry. Perhaps it was our diminished forearm and grip strength from the day before, but those buckets seemed to be approximately 100 pounds heavier than the ones we carried in the Beast.

Not to mention the fact that the Atlas Carry had turned into a water obstacle in a few sections. I almost asked for a PFD before grabbing my, affectionately titled, Burpee Boulder! Overall, the Sprint was challenging and differentiated enough to ensure that it will be remembered for its own reasons by those of us ambitious (i.e. insane) enough to attempt it the day after the Beast. That tall task was accomplished, while also being an accessible test for the Novice racer. (Of which we saw and high fived aplenty throughout the day.)

Conclusion

At the end of the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) weekend, there was nothing but good things going on at the Badlands on the Spartan Chicago 2018. And naming controversy aside, I would highly recommend any racer looking for a friendly, fast and fantastic experience to give this location a look in the future!

 

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of a great weekend @ The Badlands!