Kimberley Spartan Race Trifecta Weekend Review

Spartan Race Kimberely (13)

Spartan Race returns to the Canadian Rockies.

KIMBERLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA

6 months ago (or thereabouts) Race Director Johnny Waite was scouting the location for this race on a snowmobile. Back then, temperatures could have been as low as -31ºF. Now, it’s mid-July and in this part of Canada, it can be almost as hot as Southern California.

Kimberely mountain

This a place of uncompromising toughness; a landscape in which only nature’s toughest endure – the grizzly bear, the moose, even the goddamn wolverine. It’s under those conditions that Spartan Race Canada delivered one of the toughest events ever.

The Sprint, for example, was an intense 9 kilometer trip up and straight back down the mountain in scorching temperatures. The Spartan Super, at 16 kilometers, had more elevation gain than most of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Beast and Ultrabeast were among the hardest courses based on distance and climbing ever devised for a Spartan Race. I have stats to prove that claim but forget all that. Instead, let’s just say that 4 hours into the race I used a volunteer’s phone to send this text to my wife.

Text Kimberley

Let me break it down for you in terms you might appreciate. This was Spartan Beast that was so steep that I will unashamedly admit to finding and using someone’s lost ski poles to help me climb the hill. This was a race weekend where I watched a fellow elite heat racer give up on racing and begin desperately foraging for berries on the hillside for energy mid-race. “Oh boy, that was hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Spartan Race Kimberely (18)

The standard set of obstacles were in play on each day of the event and if you’re interested you will find maps and lists here. If you are familiar with Spartan Races, you will instantly know what to expect – obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse, the sandbag carry, and the bucket carry etc. Spartan Race Canada tried something new this year, and attempted to include an innovative wreck bag push obstacle. That idea was unfortunately reduced to 5 wreck bag clean and jerks by Spartan Race Corporate. It was still cool, but it is a real shame that Spartan Race Canada doesn’t have full autonomy over what to include.

One of my favorite obstacles on the Beast was the sled pull, and this one was set up on a slight incline making it extra difficult (still got it though). The Platinum rig was all decked out with various levels of rings that required careful planning and that 90 degree single arm lock to complete (yup, failed that one). I also succumbed to the Z wall, as a foothold block was really out of reach for my stubby legs and a leg cramp made it ugly (you know one of those ones around the corner?) It’s a frustrating one to fail but such is life.

Spartan Race Kimberely (14)

The climbing was brutal.

For the Beast, we ascended ski run after ski run before heading back down to the main fire road to connect to the next climb. One final climb put us up onto the top of Vimy Ridge, and apparently, the views of the valley were spectacular, but my legs were so beaten down that sightseeing was the last thing on my mind. The course eventually began to drop into the resort area with the final quad busting descent through the desert-like dust of the North Star ski run. Apart from a thrilling mountain bike switchback trail (which was probably the highlight of the race for me), there were few sections of the race where it was possible to actually run – instead, it was mainly hiking. Obstacles were spaced pretty evenly and there were 9 well-stocked water stations along the way. Despite that fact scuffles and misunderstandings over water allowances marred the day for some on Saturday’s Beast and Ultrabeast.

Mud and water were conspicuous by their absence – a technical challenge posed by the limitations of the location was given as the reason for this. On that subject, (not that we often drink water on course) if you intend to run the Spartan weekend at Kimberley, a hydration pack should be strongly considered.

It is possible you should also take fuel with you unless you are really good at picking saskatoon berries quickly! You should expect high temperatures, and you should definitely expect to run low on water or to need some hydration between stations. Many people I saw out there were very unprepared for fuel and water.  You can see more about the effect of temperature and exercise here with additional guidance here and here to determine how much water you will need. Google it and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. Test and repeat before race day.

Spartan Race Kimberely (2)

Back to my race… As I crested the top of the ridge, I took a reading from my watch. I had gained 1980 meters or 6496 feet over the 15 kilometers I had covered so far. Yeah, it was steep. Eventually, I saw myself slip back further and further into the middle and then the back of the elite pack, slowing to a hobble and finally a walk. This didn’t suit me well, and my pride was dented pretty hard when my legs couldn’t keep up with my ego. I was failing at something I usually did OK at. The finale of the race was a downhill barbed wire crawl, the spear throw, bucket carry, slip wall and finally the fire jump.

I was done.

It was a strange feeling for me to walk into the finishing area feeling like I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I almost feel ashamed of myself for thinking that, but most of the time was spent wanting the whole thing to be over. My own pride and lack of preparation were my own problems for sure and I can’t blame everything on “problems with the course.” Many people came more prepared than I was and had a far better experience out there, however, I felt a little better about it when I realized that it wasn’t just me who had a rough day on the mountain. It was steep. Very steep. So steep in fact that it became difficult to enjoy for quite a few people. The scale of the task ahead of people was massive. Racers who finished all three events for the weekend had covered a total distance of 46 kilometers and accumulated a total elevation gain of 4200 m or 13780 feet! A massive congratulations to everyone who made it!

Kimberely Spartan Glenn

But there were enough people who had problems that Spartan Race Canada took note.

Spartan Race Kimberely (6)

“This is why I’ll never run Spartan again” – Some random

“This is why people say, “never again” and actually mean it”.

– another anon

Or even simply, “Eff Johnny”

– quite a few people actually.

Spartan Race Kimberely (17)

Spartan Race Kimberely (19)

Despite this vocal group of people, 94% of people who started the beast course actually finished, while 45% of those who started the Ultrabeast finished. This is just about right for the difficulty level Spartan are aiming for, but the question for me remains on will be how many finishers and non finishers will return for more next year?

How many will feel like they don’t want to go through this again? How do we ensure volunteers don’t end up making up their own rules about water allowance and obstacle safety? For the open heat and first time racers, do the memories of the suffering fade and get replaced with the desire to conquer the event next year? If things do change, do we then feel more shortchanged if the event isn’t as hard next year? And what was that log drag obstacle about exactly?

Spartan Race Kimberely (15)

Johnny reached out to me to discuss these things, so we went Live on the Facebook feed for Obstacle Racing Media.

Spartan Race Kimberely (8)

As it turns out Johnny approached the issues people had with the race in a very contrite and considered way, answering questions for almost an hour. He took full responsibility for the problems with the course design, and promising changes – but at the same time took steps towards reshaping expectations about what a championship weekend would look like.

What’s clear is that Spartan Race Canada (and Johnny Waite himself) has things to learn in this new venue and he seems eager to go about applying the feedback provided by the participants to form a better race for everyone. I don’t think we as consumers should form a committee to decide how a race should set up.

In fact, we need to apply a little bit of the STFU principle and find ourselves in all the suffering, etc. We (I myself) HAVE to be more prepared in order to enjoy these tougher ones. A Beast at an alpine ski resort should be difficult for everyone – both professional athlete and first-time participant should expect to be tested and we should be prepared to leave it all out there on the course – otherwise what accomplishment is there?

Spartan Race Kimberely (20)

Despite that Spartan Race Canada can improve with constructive feedback, I’m full of ideas (mainly ideas I have stolen from other smarter people). My recommendations for Spartan Race Canada and participants in the event are detailed below.

Spartan Race Kimberely (16)

Glenn’s ideas on how to make a truly incredible OCR experience:

(and stolen ideas that I have claimed full credit for).

  1. We’re getting better at obstacles and some of these are getting stale. Focus on making more unique and novel experiences – push Spartan Race Corporate to get those innovative new obstacles approved. I still have a blueprint for a pegboard traverse… that would make a sick obstacle.
  2. Bring back some mud – look to the past races for elements that gave joy and entertainment to participants and spectators – as we discussed, mud and dirt is still part of the experience.
  3. Water obstacles add dynamic elements to an otherwise ordinary race. Water obstacles (even without mud) add that much needed cooling element for summer races. We need a dunk wall. A wade pool. A water slip wall. I found myself almost wishing for an arctic enema ice pool on Saturday.
  4. Photography. Part of our identity as Spartan Racers is tied up in that image of us, muddied but determined. Quality, timely photography makes us feel awesome about ourselves and proves our accomplishments. This was much improved at Kimberley over Red Deer!
  5. Create sections that are exhilarating to complete – obstacle couplets, multiple walls, balance beams, narrow singletrack, weaving through tight tree sections, creating simple level changes, swinging obstacles, direction changes, climbing, rope descents and natural obstacles all stand up well in any race.
  6. Continue to support volunteers with things they need to perform the tasks set for them. Specifically offer shelter from the elements, written instructions and explicit rules regarding water provision and obstacle safety.
  7. You probably don’t need to film burpees for anyone outside of the top 15 runners.

Spartan Race Kimberely (3)

In conclusion, it’s fairly obvious that a race doesn’t just have to be harder to be better. A truly incredible and epic race involves a strategy of variety and laying the groundwork for racers to experience adventure, competition and memorable moments in a balance worth coming back for. If Spartan Race Canada can adjust that balance next year, I think it will be a classic.

For this race, in particular, I should add that we should celebrate our volunteers who spent many hours in the heat and sun to ensure we could participate safely in this event.

I also want to congratulate the effort put in by our top athletes who showed tremendous courage, effort and stamina to battle extremely hard on one of the toughest Spartan Race weekends ever. Our Elite racing group sometimes don’t get acknowledged enough for the hours and hours of hard work they put in to compete in places like this. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

Spartan Race Kimberely (1)

Finally, for this one I think we can all celebrate crossing that finish line, or hell, even stepping up towards it. Until next year.

Spartan Race Kimberely (11)

Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.

Dirt Runner’s Warrior Rush The End of an Era

Since 2011 Dirt Runner, located in Marseilles, Illinois has hosted many memorably significant events in OCR. Many of us in the Midwest ran our first Spartan Race here. Many of us caught the “Spartan Rash” one year when the course had its barbed wire crawl through a poison ivy patch.

One of the very last Battlefrog races was held here, along with many smaller events that Dirt Runner put on throughout the years, but not anymore. Dirt Runner has now joined King’s Domain in Ohio and The Battlegrounds in Missouri as permanent OCR locations that have closed their doors. Warrior Rush, held on July 14, was the last event ever held at this iconic location and even though registration numbers were low I just had to go. This location was always my “home” course and I’m going to miss racing there, so I just couldn’t pass on climbing up that hill made up of logs jutting out of the ground one last time.

Known for having some of the most physically demanding obstacles in the area DR’s Warrior Rush didn’t disappoint. The 3.6-mile course stayed in large part around the festival area, avoiding all the nasty ravines and steep crawls on along the back half of the property, which was totally alright with me. I’ve spent enough time over the years carrying sandbags up and down those steep slopes! Ok enough with me reminiscing and onto the event! The Warrior Rush event featured four different levels of competition to choose from. Elite and Open class which required just a single lap to be completed, along with a 6-hour and 24-hour division for those who enjoy the multiple lap option.

DR started off their last event with a brief trail run through what was once the kiddie course. Although the kiddie part ended very abruptly as DR turned one of their old kid obstacles into a super challenging rig consisting of hanging ropes and rings suspended from above at varying heights. Failure on this obstacle in the Elite heat meant 100 burpees, and this obstacle proved to thin out the herd rather quickly.  After completing this grip killing obstacle the next section of the course ran along a mowed path cut through the former parking area for larger events as this section of the property was now overgrown with prairie grass.

I’ll call this segment of the course “walls and carries” as many different sized walls were placed along this stretch separated by the different types of carries. These carries consisted of cement blocks, tires, logs, and buckets. High stepping through a set of car tires started athletes on their way out of the prairie grass and into the timber, but not before a series of incredibly tight low crawls through metal tubing. The rain from the previous night made this trek slick and I found getting up to speed to be very difficult. Racers got a small taste of the terrain change here as hills and cutbacks became the norm. A set of monkey bars were set up along this section of the course as were the rolling balance logs and a series of sternum checkers set at varying heights. A delta ladder and inverted wall were also nestled in along the trail as athletes now started to make their way back to the festival area.

 

A spear throw was the first obstacle that greeted athletes upon their return to the festival area. Following that up a short distance away was a rock climbing wall and a traverse across the very first Z wall, rumor has it that Spartan stole this twist on the wall traverse and used it as their own. At this point, DR played on a racers fears now as a combination of swimming and heights were required using the pond and cargo net on site.

Racers had to climb up a wooden ladder and then jump into the pond.  Then a short swim over to a floating dock needed to be completed before climbing onto a floating dock. After crossing over the dock it was back into the water for another short swim to a vertical cargo net suspended 25 feet over the pond suspended by a wire. If you had an issue with heights then this was not the obstacle for you.  Upon getting to the top I found that the net would wobble back and forth like crazy, and I found myself almost too frozen to continue as my fear of heights almost got the best of me. Once you negotiated the cargo net it was back into the drink for a short swim to the other side as a set of inverted walls and delta ladders awaited you upon getting back on dry land.

 

The last section of the course, located entirely inside the festival area, really took it out of you as all of the obstacles were virtually right next to one another. This obstacle gauntlet started off with a semi tire flip for distance. Once complete, an athlete then picked up that same tire for a farmers carry over the same distance. A stairway of tractor tires now needed to be climbed over as the first “stair” consisted of a single tire and the last consisted of four. A balance log over a moat could then be found immediately after dismounting the tires.

The weaver was presented to races next followed by another cargo net climb and a series of over-unders made out of timber. Another set of high knees was again required as rows of car tires were now laid down on the path to DR’s version of Tip of the Spear. The setup for this fan favorite consisted of three sections separated by a set of overhead pipe traverses.

The first section required an athlete to cross using only rock climbing holds, whiles the second and third consisted of suspended ropes. Atlas Stone carries took center stage as the next obstacle in the gauntlet followed up by a moat crossing and low crawl. No trip to DR would be complete without a climb up their slip wall. From there only a rope climb and barbed wire crawl separated a racer from their well-deserved bling!

Warrior Rush ended up being what you expected from an OCR held at Dirt Runner.  The obstacles were tough as DR always likes to challenge you. The parking and pics were free as DR never liked to nickel and dime you to death, and the comradery afterward was outstanding as always. I for one am going to miss bringing the family here as every one of my family members have competed here at some point in time. While Dirt Runner has officially closed their doors fear not, as their popular functional OCR series The DRX Games will take their show on the road for events in Ohio and Wisconsin later on in 2018.

Spartan Race Palmerton – They are who we thought they were!

Let’s start this adventure down memory lane with a quick backstory. The Spartan Super in Palmerton this past weekend was my first time stepping foot on a Spartan course since a stadium race in 2016, my first time on one of their mountain courses since 2015, and this was my 3rd time running the Palmerton course. See, the Blue Mountain venue is sort of a home course for me. It’s only 90ish minutes from my house, I’ve been there for winter activities, it’s a nice drive up, and it’s truly a beautiful place. You may be asking, “well why the hell did you skip the last couple years then?”. The answer to that is simple; I wanted to scale back how often I was racing, and honestly was a bit bored of Spartan Races. Blasphemy, I know.

Spartan Race Blue Mountain

With that out of the way, I was excited to get back out there on the mountain and see where the day would take me. I wasn’t going there to “race” and had no expectations going into this other than being excited for a nice sunny day on a mountain with my wife. On the ride up, we were discussing the course/venue over the years and talked about all the epic sandbag carries up/down the double black diamond slopes, the swim across the pond, and the ever so popular chairlift that terrifies me and my fear of heights. I was curious to see how the event and course had changed since my last go of it, or if I was in for a new experience.

Before getting into the race, and to save both my time and yours, here’s the quick and dirty of what Spartan Race did really well.

  • Registration, parking, and bag check were all a breeze.
  • Festival area was well spread out and they had several sitting areas for spectators in the shade.
  • They had a water station every mile given the 90+ temps and they even had the snow machine spraying mist on the course and in the faces of chairlift riders (still not enough to make this guy get on it). Well played, Spartan.
  • Sponsors – Clif and Body Armor were great. There were Clif Bloks at one water station and having Body Armor at the finish on a super hot day was great.
  • Post race food – Impossible burger! They had the famous plant-based burger for all us non-meat eaters. Normally the only stuff I get to eat after events is beer and french fries, totally not a complaint, but having a plant-based burger option was extremely appreciated.

Spartan Impossible Burger

Race time!

Spartan Palmerton Course Map

The race started as expected, straight up the mountain for about a mile’s worth of climbing. At the top, we grabbed a sandbag and went down those double black diamonds, then came right back up. Did another obstacle or two, and proceeded to run down the mountain. Then we did something different and hiked up the mountain, but this time in the shade! Yay shade! This was the fun and more technical climb of the two. We got to the top, did a few more obstacles, and then started our descent back down the mountain. Noticing the trend here? This continued but with shorter climbs and more obstacle density toward the last two miles of the course through the finish. In the last mile or so we had 12 of the 26 obstacles including ape hanger, rope climb, bucket carry, and inverted walls.

Spartan Palmerton Obstacle List

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the obstacles. I’m a fan of twister, the rig, ape hanger, and even the old-school staples like the carries and rope climb. I have fun doing all of those obstacles and they certainly give you an extra challenge, but this race was exactly what it’s been for as long as I’ve been coming here. Sometimes when on course I felt like I should have just signed up for a mountain trail race and occasionally picked up a rock to carry for a bit. Other times I appreciate the fact that without this event I’d likely not be out playing on a beautiful mountain and acting like a kid on a really steep playground.

Spartan Palmerton Bucket Brigade

The race was everything I had known it to be before as well as everything I expected it to be now, and THAT’S OKAY! Spartan Race isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. They know the formula that works and they deploy it annually in Palmerton to borderline sold-out crowds that keep coming back for more. This race is one of the best venues out there, and the experience you get is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Spartan Palmerton Rope Climb

I’m usually not one to throw an overarching theme on something complex like an obstacle race, but when you ask me if there’s one thing that sums up my day in Palmerton, it’s a line from legendary NFL Coach Dennis Green  “They are who we thought they were!”, and this time that’s a good thing.

X Warrior Black Ops 12 Hour in Barrhead Alberta

X-Warrior-Base-Camp

X Warrior is a new obstacle course company that is making a name for itself. It originated on Canadian soil in Calgary. From 2016 X Warrior Challenge has been testing the waters with their own obstacles. They also have an OCRWC qualifying race. On June 23, 2018, The X Warrior Challenge had its first Black Ops race. It consisted of 12 hours of running during nighttime, from 10 pm to 10 am. It was amazing, and some of these obstacles were very unique and fun.

This race consisted of 5.5km laps with more than a dozen skillful obstacles. I very much like this race as it had penalty loops. The Penalty Loop aka Recovery Lap was the place to retrieve your wristbands.

At the start of the race, everyone received 2 bracelets. If someone could not complete the obstacle after multiple attempts, they turned in the bracelet to the obstacle volunteer. After a certain distance at a specified marked location, if you did not have all 2 bracelets you were to do either 1 or 2 penalty loops (depending on the number of bracelets you have). Once completed the penalty loop, you receive your bracelet back and continue finishing the lap. There were 3 penalty checkpoints throughout the lap. The penalty loops consisted of carrying a sandbag down and up a hill, going down and up a further steeper hill, and carrying a propane tank in 200 meters circle before proceeding. In addition to a regular obstacle race, they have added a strongman lap. I will explain this in a different section of the blog.

X-Warrior-Penalty-Loop

The outlook of the beginning of the race was really something special. It looked like a rave with all the tents set up. At the entrance to the event, athletes set up their own tent/materials in a 10×10 square feet grid. The spectator and pit area called the Base Camp was nicely located in the center of everything.

From this area, you can observe multiple obstacles such as the X Dragon, Cargo, X Warp, X Tarzan, Rope-a-Dope, and Monkey Bars. The whole course was marked beautifully. All the stations were marked clearly. The X Warrior Challenge is now one of my favorite obstacle races! A huge congrats to Darcy for putting such a fantastic event! It also has one of the best start lines I’ve ever seen!

X-Warrior-Start

Strongman laps
Additionally, black ops offered a strongman lap. This was a very unique idea which I love. This consists of carrying a sandbag the whole lap. If you were running individually, you would carry a 40-pound sandbag through the whole course. If you were on a team, you would share the 40-pound sandbag through the whole course. Complete 1 lap like this and you received a strongman patch! Each lap racers were to check-in at the sandbag tent to let the organizers know if they are taking the bag out for another run.

 

X-Warrior-Strongman

 

Obstacles worthy of mentioning

Next, there are many obstacles to name that were fun, skillful, and challenging, but three come to mind that were unique and I haven’t seen in any other race!

X Peg Board- The Peg Board! It was shaped into a Z wall with timber construction. The distance was fairly long, contained around 25 peg holes, and 2×4 blocks of wood scattered for your feet. This obstacle took a fair amount of strength and time.

X Axe- The Axe throw! At a distance of 4 meters, we threw a hatchet at a wooden wall stump. After a couple laps, I got the hang of it, it still is a hit or a miss.  This is one of 2 obstacles that has only 1 attempt. If you succeeded you carry on running, if you miss, however, you give one of the bracelets to the volunteer.

X Sniper- We shot pop cans with an Airsoft Gun! This was the other obstacle that also had only 1 attempt. The guns were pre-loaded with pellets. At a fair distance of 15 meters, the organizers placed pop cans.  Again, if you missed, you gave a bracelet to a volunteer.

X-Warrior-Xsniper

 

Medals, Patches, and Podium

Medals were amazing. Each finisher who crossed the finish line between the 11th and 12th hour received a medal.

X-Warrior-Medals

The bibs were fantastic too! These were running bibs that you get to keep. I feel like an ultra runner.  After 12 hours, patches were given out to those who completed a Strongman Lap, and those who’ve reached 25km, 50km, 75km, and 100km. Finally, X Warrior celebrated multiple podiums.

Podium for most laps overall for male and female.

Most laps over the age of 40 in males and females.

Most laps for Teams in all-male, all-female, and coed team.

Most Strongman laps for male and female.

To finish, the male over 40 category had something special. 1st place received a green suit. It is told that this green suit will be up for grabs in the next Black Ops.  X-Warrior-Greensuit

 

Aston Down Spartan Super 2018

Aston Down Spartan Super

The 2018 South West Super was the first race of the season (for me). When was the first chance for me to back out? A long time ago. If I could say I was not prepared for this race, that would be an understatement. Two weeks previous to this race I was bungee jumping off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, hardly Spartan Race preparation. In any case, it’s been quite some time since I did any sort of race, and I felt it on this Super. At least this time, I wasn’t on my own. Joined by two of my three brothers and our friend, we stuck together as a team for over 3 hours in a blistering 23 degrees (Yes. This is hot in Britain).

The first 30 minutes are always tough for me. Many thoughts go through my head including and not limited to “I’m going to die.” or “Why am I doing this?” and more importantly “Can I stop now and still get a medal?”.  Maybe it was something to do with the fact that the first five obstacles were all walls. My arms are puny.

The next couple of obstacles were well varied and consisted of two Barbed Wire Crawls, Twister (why?), the A-Cargo frame and Block Wall. This last obstacle was a personal triumph for me. I have NEVER completed this before and was beyond ecstatic that the Super 2018 was the moment that I defeated it. Dramatic I know. In any case, it was short lived because the other Z Wall I failed epically on. Small victories.

This race gave me a new appreciation for hills, although I’m sure I thought the same last year. My chat with Karl Allsop, Race Director of Spartan UK, had already given me some idea of how the course had been created. I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this though. This year, Aston Down sported a long hill switchback section which unfortunately spelt out a longer word than ‘Aroo’ that was used the year before.  Amongst the moans and groans (some from me) of those first seeing the hill, there were plenty of grunts and shouts of those already taking it on. I know what you’re thinking, come on its just a hill. No. Not just a hill. It was a good 10 – 15 minutes of ascent, descent, hidden holes and twisted ankles. After that, the sandbag carry was a walk in the park. A really big park where there was no discernible need for us to carry sandbags.

The 6′ wall came next. At this point, we were hot, sweaty and seriously tired. This is where the famous Spartan spirit came in to play. Struggling on the second wall, a group of fellow Spartans lent a hand (a shoulder and a head) to get our entire group over all three walls. It was a brilliant moment of the race and by far my fondest memory. We caught up with these lads in the T-shirt line at the end of the race. It’s such a good feeling to know that there are those who race that just want everyone to cross that finish line. It’s also nice that it feels like a rite of passage to shout other Spartans on and make sure that everyone is OK when they’ve just stopped to catch their breath.

Rolling Mud wasn’t really all that muddy (great) but it was a welcome cool down in the scorching heat. It was also just enough to make the Slip Wall a little more slippery. It was the water station on the other side that saw me almost run up the wall. Cue the foot cramp coming down the other side.

Once we had eaten copious amounts of bananas, drunk and poured water over us, we entered a gentle jog along the unusually flat ground. We all reflected on the race so far and how we were so glad that we had managed with no major injuries and no dropouts. It was such a great feeling to know that our bodies were capable of so much.

As we reared around the corner, I spied the familiar abandoned building nestled in amongst some trees and bushes. Bucket Brigade. Those running with me could tell my distress, we could see the last few obstacles to our right but first, we had to endure. Last year, we filled our own buckets with pebbles. This year, Spartan Race graciously filled our buckets for us and tightly secured the lid. I was grateful/ungrateful for this. Whilst re-arranging the position of the bucket last year, some pebbles may have fallen out on the way. Oh, how unfortunate. Along with the suspicious piles of pebbles that were found as we heaved the buckets around the course, I think Spartan Race cottoned on. This year, no such luck. I held it in front, to the side and finally settled on the ‘half on the back half on the shoulder’ method. The heat at this point was almost unbearable and I felt for the men and women who had chosen the heavier buckets. Several people along the route were either stopped or stopping with their buckets falling to the floor. It was tough. But we all knew that it would be this, a small jog, four or five more obstacles and we would have the sweet victory of the Spartan medal. 

We endured it well and all welcomed the short (light) jog to the next set of obstacles. The atmosphere approaching the finish line was electric. It makes such a big difference when you can hear the music blaring and the cheering of the spectators when you are trying to pull the last few particles of energy together. It’s also comforting to note that everyone else looks just as dead as you.

Herc Hoist is usually trouble free, but at this point in the race, it was horrendous. It felt like all the muscles in my legs were cramping. I’m glad there were no photographers here. I then hobbled over to the Spearman throw; failed as usual and attempted some burpees. Next up was Monkey Bars to which my calves decided enough was enough. I know, who uses their legs for monkey bars? Me apparently.

These last obstacles were sort of a blur mainly because we could see the finish line and desperately wanted the end to come. I didn’t care if I threw myself or was thrown over the 8′ Walls that separated us from the glorious finish line. The lads heroically completed them without help whilst I called upon some more shoulders and heads. I’m just too short. And that was it. Our Fire Jump picture was possibly the best one I’ve had yet and it perfectly embodied the joy we felt after finishing the race.

On our way to our Brazilian BBQ, post-race treat, we discussed the day at length. We laughed and groaned at the best and hardest parts then quite deservedly stuffed our faces.

The course was well balanced but we did agree that the significant amount of hills was almost demoralizing. This didn’t, however, take away from the fact that once completed, there was a greater sense of achievement. A few more water stops on such a hot day would have also been beneficial. But the layout was definitely challenging enough but not impossible to complete. We all came away knowing exactly what our weak points were. The volunteers were there to offer support and encouragement (and sometimes an inaccurate portrayal of how long we had left).

Overall, the race was a great day. The atmosphere was amazing and you really felt like you were taking part in something epic and that everyone else thought you were epic too for simply being there. The pre-race warm-up always makes me feel a little silly, but it was nice that everyone else was willing to make a bit of a fool out of themselves. Please, just don’t ask us to do more burpees.

A big thanks to Karl and the team for putting on such an eventful day at Aston Down and shout out to the incredible volunteers at the end who let four thirsty finishers raid their water bottle stash.

Aston,  we will be back.

All images are credited to Epic Action Imagery, Alec Lom, and Paul Pratt.

Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.