Aston Down South West Super, Sprint and Hurricane Weekend 2018

Spartan returns, once again, to the Aston Down Airfield used by the RAF from the First World War. I have a love-hate relationship with this place, mainly stemming from my solo experience with the Spartan Super last year. Going into my first Super alone was certainly a daunting task and the aching, bruised body after certainly made it a day never to forget. This year, a little more of a seasoned racer and a little better prepared for what is to come, I have decided to return to Aston Down and be one medal closer to the Trifecta in 2018. This time, I’ve got friends.

“Every step you take gets you closer to the finish line”

Karl Allsop, Race Director at Spartan Race UK, ran his first Spartan Sprint at Bassingbourn Barracks in 2011. Karl spent some time talking with me about his love affair with Obstacle Course Racing that spawned from his first ever Spartan race. As Director of Race Operations, Karl has complete responsibility in the operational planning of Spartan Races within the UK.

 

The design of the Aston Down course, for Karl and his team, has really been a process of looking back on previous years and learning from them. I can tell that the course this year has been meticulously planned out, ensuring that the racers experience a challenging yet not impossible race that will really push them to their limits. “We really have had the benefit of being able to say, if we place this obstacle here, then what next? If we have the Atlas Carry here do we really want to be going into Bucket Brigade? Are our racers really going to be able to do it? But what we don’t want to do is sort of deflate our racers.” As a racer, it’s nice to know that those behind Spartan are interested in helping participants reach their goals even if it is in a painful, brutal way.

“Aston has become sort of synonymous with the ‘Death Valley’ it’s this valley that we flood with obstacles.”

I asked Karl how he felt this season, and the approach that has been taken to it is different from the last. “I think we have seen some great growth, not just for Spartan, but for the sport as a whole over the last few years. I think Aston South West is a great example of how we have seen it change and grow. The first year we had maybe just over a 1000 people for the race day. We then grew to just over 3000 last year and we’ve topped just over 4000 this year.”

As the numbers have grown, I really felt that Spartan Race has focused on listening to their racers and strived to make changes based on their experiences. “A lot of our obstacles have been upgraded for this race and the reason for that is that our racers are getting better, they’re getting faster, they’re getting stronger. It’s great that we now have to adapt to our racers”.

The desire that every racer will have the same experience when taking part in a Spartan Race is what drives the team to talk to the racers and spectators to get their views on what would make race day more enjoyable. Aston will improve on Spartan’s ‘rocking festival’ area where spectators and tired racers and finishers, can enjoy the Spartan atmosphere. It’s free to spectators and will even contain ‘festival obstacles’ to entertain throughout the day. “We spent a lot of time last year asking what do you want, what do you want to see, how do you want to do it? So this year we have more spectator areas and have designed the course a little differently just to give the spectators something to look at.”

And finally, an important part of enjoying the course rides a lot on the support you have around you. Not only the friends you run with but the encouragement you get from Spartan volunteers. My experience of these guys has been nothing but positive. I’ve seen many cheering, clapping and dancing the racers through the tough challenges that Spartan puts them through. “You get the guys who are just smiling, they’re laughing, they’re high fiving everyone you know there is mud flying everywhere and its infectious isn’t it?”

“A big focus this year has been on what does the racer actually want in terms of when they come to a Spartan Race? What do they want to see, what do they want to feel? And how do we slowly adapt and progress to that?”

A final round-up of Aston Down? The course layout for Spartan Race is always kept under tight wraps until race day but Karl was sure to let me know the gist of what to expect come Saturday. “If people want intensity, but they also want fun, then Aston is a great place to do it”. It’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

Aston did me right last year, it took me, chewed me up and spat me back out a better stronger racer. I’m glad to hear that Karl and his team have really taken these races up a notch and have done everything they can to make sure that those racing really get the most out of their time and out of themselves. Aston Down proves to be a show-stopping weekend of OCR magic and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

There are limited spots available for this weekend’s South West Super, Sprint and Hurricane Heat in Aston Down, Gloucestershire. Visit http://www.spartanrace.uk to book your place and get further information.

Photo Credits: Epic Action Imagery (www.epicactionimagery.com)