2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

Maryland International Raceway, just south of our nation’s capital, is usually filled with revving engines, screeching tires and roaring cheers. This weekend, the cheers were still there, but the tires were replaced with the sound of feet running through the woods. The engines were replaced by splashing water, ringing bells and spears hitting hay. Spartan Race had returned for its popular Sprint distance.

Parking and Registration

Personally, the two biggest things that make a race great, other than the course itself, is parking and registration. Parking at D.C. was on-site, which is always great. Generally, if I see there’s a shuttle, I’m less likely to add that race to my list. Parking at Maryland International Raceway was extremely easy, and the lot was only about a 3-4-minute walk to the registration tent. Check in was smooth and quick early in the morning and I didn’t notice any long lines in the afternoon.

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

I know a lot of Spartan diehards were down in Dallas for one of their bigger stadium races of the year, but turnout still seemed relatively strong. There weren’t a ton of vendors, but this made the festival area seem less congested and easy to navigate. Regardless of festival vendors, there were still plenty of free goodies to be had both at the finish line and around the festival area.

The spectator area didn’t extend far into the course, but after watching racers start, they were able to view Hercules Hoist, Multi-Rig and Rope Climb all within about a quarter mile of the course. There was also an area outside of the festival to watch Monkey Bars and Vertical Cargo. At the finish, spectators watched racers emerge from the woods to take on the A-Frame and finish with a Fire Jump.

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

Out of the handful of Sprints I’ve done in the past, DC was by far the flattest. Though there were plenty of short hills with varying inclines, the total ascent was low for your typical Spartan. Though 300 feet over a little over 4 miles is nothing to scoff at, many other venues easily hit 1,000 feet or more in the same distance. This led to quick times for the Elite racers, with the male winner, Tyler McCredie finishing in 39:48 and the female winner, Tiffany Palmer, coming across in 50:42.

Most Spartan Races and obstacle races, in general, only include a few obstacles in the first mile. Mostly, this is to keep the field spread out so there isn’t a lot of backup. The D.C. Sprint, however, included seven obstacles in the first mile. And not just hurdles or barbed wire, either. Those were included, but so were the Spearman, Bucket Brigade and Olympus. Initially, I expected this to cause some unusual backups. But, to my surprise, I didn’t face any significant obstacle lines. That went for both heats I ran, once in Age Group at 8:00 am and the second being Open at 11:30 am.

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

In all, the course tallied up about 4.25 miles and racers faced 22 obstacles. That early run of obstacles meant no crazy gauntlet at the end of the race. The last half mile only included Monkey Bars, Vertical Cargo, A-Frame and Fire Jump. So, if you had enough juice in your legs, you could make a solid finish with the lack of strength or grip obstacles. Personally, I like having a string of obstacles right before the finish, but each design has its strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Savage Race Maryland: A Family Affair

The two weeks leading up to Savage Race Maryland were like any other race for me and my wife. “Who are we asking to babysit, Kel? We aren’t in Virginia anymore so this is a bit more of a drive.” Kelly took her eyes off of Candy Crush looked over at me and asked, “Are they old enough for the kids’ race? We should just take them.” EUREKA! I quickly checked the Savage site and the site simply said “12 and under.” My kids are 5 and 3 so it was game on. The only real question was how would this play out? Were we entering a new phase in our obstacle racing hobby that allowed our kids to enjoy it as well or were we fooling ourselves? Giddy up!

**Time to channel a Grey Beret**

6:30am: This is basically the default wake up time at The Allen Compound and even though we were at a hotel about 45 minutes north of the event the continental breakfast started at 6:30 am so we were up and at ’em. The kids were very excited to be at a hotel and they were excited to participate in their first race. I loaded my KitBrix, Under Armour shorts, Salomon Top, Swiftwick socks and Altra King MT 1.5 shoes into our 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee with my wife and children and dreamed of drinking a Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee on the ride down to the venue.

8:15 am: We got to the venue to park. I still reminisce about the days where when you were early to arrive you got to park right up front. My first mistake of the day was not buying VIP parking with the kids. If you have little ones spend the extra 10 bucks or plan on walking an extra 2 miles back and forth throughout the day to get stuff from your car. Regular parking feels like a punishment for not handing them 10 bucks.

8:36 am: We signed four of the enormous participant waivers and signed in rather quickly (duh!). By 8:40 am my kids had already seen the Kona Shaved Ice Truck and began asking for shaved ices. They also saw the hats at the entrance and began asking for those as well. It was clear I would be spending more money than usual at Savage.

8:46 am: We showed the kids the kids course and they were pumped. “WHY DO THE ADULTS GET TO GO BEFORE THE KIDS?” my Daughter sternly asked. “I don’t know, you have to ask Sam Abbitt, baby.”

8:53 am: The kids had some fun on the kid magnet mini Platinum Rig set up. Kid magnet!

9:04 am: Porta Potty visit 1

9:20 am: Kelly went off in the first open wave as I volunteered to have the first round with the kids. The plan was for Kelly to run first and make it back for the 11:00 am kids’ race. After that, we would trade and I would run once they were done. The most memorable part of the start was when Matty “best emcee in the game” T threw one of the signature savage blue smoke cans and it took an errant bounce and headed right towards my son’s face. My catlike reflexes saw the can’s trajectory and I batted it out of the air and back into the open field. Crisis #1 averted.

9:30 am: Visit #1 to the Kona Shaved Ice Truck. We bought two Chipwiches and a Reese’s peanut butter ice cream bar.

9:32 am: We ran into Sam “Savage Go Ruck Tough Master” Abbitt as we ate our ice cream. Sydney forgot to ask him why the adults got to run first.

9:40 am: We got to see Kelly jump in Shriveled Richard. It was fun hearing Chase say that. Side Note: You will get splashed if you try to get close and take a good picture…

9:50 am: Stop 1 at the car. I think it was for the chapstick that wound up on Chase’s face.

10:15 am: Porta Potty Visit 2

10:20 am: The lifeguard was yelling at me for having the kids too close to Sawtooth. I disagree with her definition of too close. They were sitting in the dirt covering their own legs in dirt. Oh, we got to see Kelly complete Sawtooth. Score!

10:30 am: Stop 2 at the car. This time we grabbed 3 of our chairs so we could sit down in the field. It was almost kids’ race game time.

10:40 am:  I’d like to think that the people by the rings that overheard my kids arguing about who gets to sit in the mustard colored seat prayed for me, as what happened next was what some folks would call a gift from God. As we waited for Kelly to approach the rings and hopefully make it back in time for the 11:00am kids race we saw a Male Cheerleader who has done 100 of some race that I can’t remember the name of. He got to maybe the third ring and fell off. He kept on trucking and said nothing to any of the volunteers at the obstacle. This particular Male Cheerleader was heavily involved in the defending of a habitual line stepping cheater and called me a liar and a bully among other things within the last 8 months. Well, as it turns out he popped up in the “Pro 100% complete” rankings even though I watched him fail the rings. It seems that the two timing chips in the Pro Wave are not cheat proof. Cheaters gonna cheat!

11:00 am: It was finally time. Every moment of both of my children’s lives led them to to this start line. In the event that The OCRWC comes out with a kids’ race division, my kids are qualifying TODAY. I scoped out the other 3-8 year olds (for the first wave of the 12 and under) and quickly did the 50 percent rule math in my head. It was time to DOMINATE.

11:00:30 am: I blacked out for a second, what just happened? Thank goodness the race hasn’t started yet. I am really loving how excited all of these kids at the start line look. I hope they all give it their best. The emcee counted them down and they are off. Chase took off like a man on a mission and I am hanging back with Sydney. Wait, where is Chase? I hope he waits for us at the finish line.

11:01 am: There is Kelly! She slid down Colossus just in time to see the kids take on the kid’s course. What perfect timing. Sydney is 3 going on 4 and she is handling all of the obstacles on her own with the exception of the mini-slip wall.

11:06 am: The A Frame is PERFECT for the kids. If it weren’t for the mud and bubble ending I think that would be the signature kids’ race obstacle, but it is pretty hard to beat Bubbles.

11:10 am: My son finished the race, got his medal and took off his shoes. He then headed back on the course to cheer on and help his sister finish. This was easily the best part of my day. If you have kids in the 6 and under range then you should definitely  sign them up. I’m not saying it isn’t fun for 8-12 year olds, but I am not too sure how the Savage Jr. plays into this mix. I would check out the website, but if you are paying for them to spectate anyway the extra couple of bucks for the kids race will at least make them feel included.

11:15ish am: Kelly finished up her race and she and the kids got to compare their shirts and medals. This is much better than handing them our medals when we get home.

12:00 pm: At this point, I can’t keep track of the time anymore as I am about to race. I haven’t run in a wave this late since my first obstacle race back in 2012. It is kind of a weird feeling considering I have been at the venue since 8:15am. As usual Savage is top notch with their course marking, obstacles, course design, water stations, and attention to detail. In fact, there weren’t really any waits at the obstacles later in the day, which I expected to run into. In all of the reviews I have written on Savage Race I have never described disappointment (unless you count the far walk to the car). I truly believe that Savage has the best obstacles in America and that they actually care about their participants. My entire family had a blast and I would definitely bring them all again because so far it is one of our more memorable days on 2018.

Final Notes: There were at least 2 porta potty visits that I didn’t log and two more trips to the Kona Shaved Ice Truck. Oh, and we bought them hats. Next stop…. Boston! #SAF

Savage Race Maryland – Fall 2016

Back in 2014, I, like many who want to give OCR a try, ran a Warrior Dash. Once I crossed the finish line, I knew I had to kick it up a notch. After taking 2015 to adjust to life with our son, I was ready to take the next step in 2016. Not only did I run my first Spartan (Palmerton), but also my first BattleFrog. I had planned to do another BattleFrog this season but, as we all know, they are no more. Luckily after doing some research, I found that Savage Race had an event on the same day I planned to run the BattleFrog. After scoping out their website and seeing the obstacles, I knew I had to try it. I was not disappointed.

I had received several emails leading up to the race with my bib number, wave confirmation, course map and waivers. Because of this, check-in was pretty quick. I didn’t notice much of a line for the later heats either. The festival area was on the smaller side, consisting of a merchandise tent, a stage, photo area, food and porta potties. The hoses and changing tents were actually outside the festival area near the general parking area. Because of this, I didn’t see a need to use the bag check, so that saved me $5.00. 

Savage-Race-Maryland-Starting-Line

The SavagePRO heat, which is their competitive heat, began at 9:00 a.m. Since the course was just over two hours away, I was glad to hear I didn’t have to get there by 7:30 a.m. like a few other races do. About fifteen minutes before the start, the corral was open for racers to enter. Five or ten minutes before, we got a run down of the rules. Savage has an entire page on their website with the competitive rules, but the pre-race meeting cleared a few more things up. After some pre-race chants, the National Anthem, and a bit of blue smoke, we were off.

This was the first I had ever run in a competitive heat, so I was excited to get first crack at the obstacles. The course map Savage sent out was very accurate. The only obstacle I don’t remember seeing was Barn Doors. I did see a video with it, though, so maybe I’m just forgetting. Like many other races, the first couple miles had few obstacles. I always like this because it gives the quicker runners a chance to spread out a little. And most of the first few obstacles consisted of either going under or over something.

Savage-Race-Maryland-course-map

The first challenge came around the end of mile two, when one of Savage’s new obstacles came into view: On The Fence. I thought I knew what to expect when trying to conquer this unique obstacle, but after the first couple miles my shoes were already a bit muddy, so I couldn’t always get a good footing on the fence. That made it more taxing on my grip. After finishing the obstacle, I decided to file it under the “harder than it looks” category. On I went.

After Squeeze Play, which had racers crawl through mud under large barrels, I came upon Savage’s only weighted carry, Lumberjack Lane. As I approached, several racers in front of me were carrying two pieces of wood. The volunteers made it clear that only one was needed, but I let my ego get the best of me and picked up two anyway. I remember regretting that decision afterwards.

As I completed mile three, one of Savage’s featured obstacles was next: Davy Jones’ Locker. The course designers were nice enough to put this right before Sawtooth, another featured obstacle. Sawtooth is one of the most unique monkey bar obstacles in OCR so I wanted to make sure my hands were dry. After a little grass-rubbing, I climbed up and down with little issue. This was a confidence booster.

This confidence helped me get through the next couple obstacles, Big Cheese and Venus Guy Trap, pretty quickly. Savage makes sure your confidence doesn’t last long, though, because then I reached Kiss My Walls. Fitting name, as it consists of small climbing holds across a long wall. I had done some traverse obstacles similar to this, so I didn’t think much of it as I approached. After falling off about halfway through my first attempt, I had another member of the “harder than it looks” club.

Remember that ego I had mentioned before? Well, it wasn’t letting me give up that little blue band that SavagePRO racers lose if they don’t complete an obstacle. Finally, on the third attempt I rang the bell and moved on.

After finishing mile four, I had to deal with Great Wall, an eight-foot wall, and Slippery Incline, which was surprisingly dry. I have a feeling this changed as rain moved in later in the day and more racers traipsed their muddy shoes up the obstacle. Next up was another new one for 2016, Pole Cat. This time, racers must navigate sideways along two parallel bars, one higher than the other. At the halfway point, you switch so that if your hands were higher, they’re now lower and visa versa. This one wasn’t too difficult and the damp bar actually made sliding my feet easier.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Pole-Cat

The final mile began with a wake up call. Shriveled Richard requires racers to submerge in, what I can only assume is the coldest water ever recorded on the planet. As I continued on, trying to shake out my arms and keep the legs churning so nothing cramped, I was met with a Big Ass Cargo Net, then Back Scratcher. The first is pretty self-explanatory, while the second consisted of going over a shorter wall, then under some barbed wire.

Grip strength then became a common theme. Another one of Savage’s unique obstacles is Wheel World. It requires racers to navigate across water by grabbing five rotating wheels above them. I had watched Savage’s video breakdown of the obstacle, along with their Facebook Live videos of past SavagePRO racers conquering it so I came prepared. I would definitely recommend watching those videos if you want to get across quickly.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Wheel-World

In between Wedgie, a twist on the incline wall, and Blaze, Savage’s fire obstacle, was one of their biggest hits: Colossus. I heard as the rain rolled in later in the day, this one became ridiculously difficult. Luckily I avoided the rain, but still needed a couple knots of the rope to make it up this giant warped wall. The slide back down was a nice flashback to childhood. As I climbed out of the water, I realized my hands were now wet again as I approached more grip tests. Thanks again course designer.

Just before the finish line was the Savage Rig followed immediately by Tree Hugger. The rig, like Kiss My Walls, took me until my third try. Good old ego wasn’t giving up that band, so I was prepared to try thirty if I had to. Rigs are always tough, so there was a sizable group of SavagePRO runners giving it multiple attempts. Unlike a couple other obstacles, the rig looked difficult and I knew it would, so it’s not a member of that club.

Savage-Race-Maryland-Savage-Rig

Tree Hugger, on the other hand, is the VP of Operations in the “harder than it looks” club. I could be wrong, but it looked twice as long as Tree Hugger at other races I’ve seen. Maybe it just felt that way because of how taxing it is on your body. Luckily I made it through on the first try. If I didn’t I would’ve needed a few minutes to rest before giving it another go.

Side Note: The second place female would’ve finished first, but she forgot to ring the bell at the end of Tree Hugger, so if you’re in the competitive heat, pay attention to all obstacle instructions!

Savage-Race-Maryland-Tree-Hugger

Overall, the fall Savage Race in Maryland was very well managed and provided, like they say, the best obstacles and the perfect distance (6 miles / 25 obstacles). The rain held out for most of the SavagePRO heat, but later heats got some extra water for their race! Savage is a great way to take the next step in OCR if you’re looking for a challenge. I definitely plan on racing again when they come to my area in Pennsylvania in June of 2017!

Photo Credit: Savage Race and the author