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.

Evolution of the Series

I’ve been knocked out from electrocution. I’ve been immersed in ice within a breath of hypothermia. I’ve been driven to my knees by a death march up the side of a mountain. In the 4 short years I’ve come to eat, sleep and breathe obstacle course racing I’ve suffered. And along the way I’ve lived life to its boundaries. Every moment has been exhilarating.

OCR seduced me with its unwavering commitment to our collective humanity. What can be more human than running, carrying heavy shit, crawling and jumping? It captivated me with its ability to shake off the chains of modern comforts and tap into my primordial instincts of survival. Most of my friends think I’m crazy or even masochistic. Those other friends who convene every weekend on courses just smile and line up again at the finish line next to me.

This sport could be called a religion if not for the fact that the necessary skills to compete predate any god. There’s been a consensus that OCR’s popularity initially exploded because it tapped into that evolutionary past. Now, as the sport matures, there are those who argue that it needs to evolve to survive. I can’t help but wonder if that thinking could be dangerous and even counter-productive.

Evolution has come with or without that debate. The popularity of American Ninja Warrior has tempted some OCR series to tap into new audiences. More and more, race directors are engineering bigger more complicated obstacles. Some so innovative, even the best in our sport have been dumbfounded at recent championship competitions by the need for a how-to manual before attempting them.

Mr. Mouse would scurry into permanent obscurity at the thought of pleasing the masses who cheer on Captain NBC. When asked to overcome some of the most recent engineering monstrosities, ancient Spartans would take one look and simply burn them down.

Make no mistake. Skill has its place in our sport. But I can’t help but wonder how many successful competitors at today’s elite events would successfully complete or even choose to participate in an original Tough Guy or survive a Death Race. Skill is worthy of praise. But courage and the will to overcome adversity should be the true measurement of an obstacle course racer and obstacle engineers should remember that. Their creations should test every human being’s ability to push past their previously conceived limitations. Circus acts are for big tents.

I confess. I’ve followed the best in our sport to bouldering walls and some of the ninja gyms that have sprung up around my city. I recognize the value of grip-strength if I want to be an all-around successful athlete. More and more though, suffering on today’s courses seems to stem from torn and bloody hands. Where is the psychological test that has us walking away feeling reborn? Pushing our limits at grip strength doesn’t compare to pushing our limits as human beings.

Don’t get me wrong the “Sufferfest” spirit is still out there. But I can’t help but worry about the future of OCR as I see it twist itself into a more marketable sport at the expense of its soul.

This was never meant to be a spectator sport. It was supposed to pull people off of couches and into the mud to reacquaint themselves with the earlier version of themselves. Tapping into the grit that’s within us isn’t just addictive. It’s also contagious and that’s why it exploded in popularity.

Call me an idealist.  But can we not evolve as a movement without abandoning our original genius insight? Our own evolution as a species was what we were trying to shake off in the first place!

 

Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas


Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

I would like to preface this review by saying that, due to unforeseen flooding the Savage Race in Dallas was canceled. This led to a unique hybrid type event the following Sunday. Rather than a Blitz– Sunday’s Race was a hybrid form of both the Savage Race and the Blitz resulting in a 4 and ¼ mile course packed with a lot of mud and obstacles. It was certainly the toughest and muddiest Savage that I personally have ever run. It was far different than the usual fare.

Savage did what they could to ensure as many people as possible got to enjoy a race even if it wasn’t what was originally planned. Therefore this review will be quite unique in that I will not only take note of the course with consideration to the events leading up to it. I saw a dedicated act of care for not only Savage participants, but for OCR as a whole.

The Race that Almost Wasn’t

As I was about to head out of the door Saturday morning, I knew that it had rained a lot the night before. I was prepared for a muddy course. However, I did not expect to receive the message from a fellow athlete saying “Race is canceled, whole festival area and course are flooded.” I sat on my hotel bed contemplating what this meant. I received a link to the video of a very disappointed and very apologetic Sam Abbitt.

Sam explained what had happened and noted that the river on the venue had risen far greater than they had thought it would. Much of their equipment was floating or submerged. They were attempting to salvage what they could, and Sam said “I am sorry” several times noting that Savage Race would do everything they could to make it up to competitors.

Around lunch, Sam released another update video. The river had receded and the Savage Crew and volunteers were working hard and non-stop on putting together a “hybrid course” for anyone who didn’t race on Saturday or who had originally planned to race on Sunday. It would certainly be unique, but they were doing what they could. I personally found this extremely respectable considering the amount of devastation that had befallen the course. The crew could have scrapped the entire weekend.  Instead, they harnessed the spirit of what it means to be an obstacle course racer. When presented with an obstacle, even from nature, we think quickly and do all we can to overcome it. I find this extremely respectable and heartening.

Race Day

Pre-Race

I didn’t expect anything out of the coming course. I don’t mean that in the sense of that I thought it would be bad.  I was happy to be able to race. Showing up to an extremely soggy and muddy venue wasn’t promising either. After a slightly late registration, the venue seemed somewhat empty.   The final turnout was nowhere near a normal Savage event, but far more participants showed up than I expected.

The pre-race rules were easily understandable. The pre-race speech given by the one and only Coach Pain. It was a great way to get us all pumped up and remind us how hard the crew had worked to put this course together after the weather had taken out the course on the previous day. He inspired racers as well as spectators.

Everything felt more “mom and pop” for a Savage Race, but it wasn’t a detriment. The competitors were just as fired up as usual if not more so, and we had one heck of a course in front of us to face down. The river flooded the entire course the day before.

The Course

As we charged out of the starting corral through a mostly flat course it didn’t take long to find plenty of mud and water. Even the pros had to be careful not to slip and slide. The first obstacle was one of the muddiest barbed wire crawls in my recent memory. Next came Shriveled Richard which is always a good start to wake everyone up. As we pressed on through a few 4 foot walls, on to “The Great Wall” and over an A-Frame, we came up to one of the new obstacles for the year “Pedal for the Medal.”  I’ll have to admit, this took a bit for other competitors and I to figure out. A rope connects a giant wooden spool and a tire.

The object of the obstacle is to use ONLY your feet to roll the spool thereby wrapping the rope around it and pulling the tire to you. This becomes hardest at the initial point at which the spool begins to pull the tire towards you. The key is to keep momentum on the wheel. Otherwise, you could lose some of the rope you worked so hard for. This really is a quad and hamstring burner. It presented far more difficulty than I originally imagined.

One of the only problems is that you almost have to rely on a volunteer to let you know when your tire hits the designated pole. Once it does, you must then carry your tire back out to the starting portion which is clearly marked by a mat. I found it inventive, yet I feel a couple of kinks could be worked out especially for competitive waves.

Upper Body Savagery

Next was a combo of 6 foot walls and barbed wire crawls. I found these  both fun and brilliantly placed as a taxation on the cardio system before “Big Cheese” and “Sawtooth.”  The wet obstacles proved very challenging. We barreled through a lot of mud to a mud-covered “Kiss the Walls.”

I do not remember “Kiss the Walls” having such small rock climbing grips on it or footholds. I also don’t remember it being as slanted. The mud and rain made it nearly impossible for most competitors. It was here that in spite of being in the lead pack after MANY tries for over an hour I finally gave up my elite band. All of the caked on slick Texas mud made this the hardest rock wall obstacle I’ve ever encountered.

Competitors were bombarded with a series of wet grip and upper body killers. Wheel world was lots of fun as always. After a  very muddy Colossus came “Twirly Bird,” “Holy Sheet,” and “Battering Ram.” I find “Holy Sheet” to be a nice new addition that provides a lot of technical challenge and forces competitors to utilize technique and body control. Most of my commentary is on “Battering Ram.” Unlike what you see on Savage Race’s website, the sliders had heavy iron with a type of handle that hung down for competitors to grab, a transition to a trust, and then grab hold of another handle and scoot along to a bell.

While doable, the rams did not slide as well as they should have and the handles allowed for less usage of momentum in sliding. Essentially, the only way to move the ram was to sling it forward using pure muscular shoulder and arm strength. I am not sure if it is intentional. I feel the more traditional larger pipe on a smaller pipe would  be a smoother obstacle.  It would also allow more fun for open competitors.

The End of a Tumultuous Journey

The festival area didn’t have much going on afterwards.  However, high hopes and good spirits filled the festival area. Top finishers received their awards, but far fewer finishers came out with bands than normal. Some of this could have been due to the placement of obstacles because of the weather. The highlight of the festival was seeing off the volunteer wave with Coach Pain. He commended them on their hard work.

 

What OCR is All About

I am proud of that volunteer crew. I am proud of Savage Race’s crew. I am proud of the understanding and concern from all competitors. Yes, many were disappointed, but at the end of it all, we are a family. This past weekend showed me again why I enjoy Savage Race so much. Most everyone acted like a big family who wanted to help one another and do all they could to help.

Everyone came together with love, logic, and understanding and overcame a problem the best way they could. This embodies the spirit of OCR. In spite of all these adversities, Savage put on a great, well organized, well manned by volunteers event. I’ve seen races in perfect weather with months to prepare that couldn’t hold a candle to this “thrown together” event.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

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.

Get Blitzed! Savage Blitz Maryland – Fall 2018

Savage-Blitz-MD-Rig

Earlier this year, Savage Race introduced its first ever “Savage Blitz” in Maryland. Now, they return in the fall to not only return Savage Blitz but its first-ever Savage Blitz Pro wave, which is Savage’s competitive heat. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the course was soaked with an all-day rainstorm. But that didn’t stop Savages from coming out and trying Savage Race’s new race.

 

WHAT IS BLITZ?

On Saturday, Savage held their usual format of 6+ miles and 20+ obstacles. Blitz, which took place on Sunday, averages about 3 miles and 15-20 obstacles. Maryland’s fall Blitz saw about 3.3 miles and listed 24 obstacles on the course map. From what I can remember, I believe there were only 22 obstacles, as a second Barn Door and Blazed did not appear on the course. Blazed was most likely removed due to the rain.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Map

The obstacle list included two out of three obstacles that are new for 2018, Battering Ram and Holy Sheet. A side note, which helped me with Holy Sheet, look at the “extra” piece of sheet hanging down by where you transition to the ball holds. Pick a lane where that piece is shorter, so it doesn’t get tangled when you reach for the ball. It’s also easier if you grab above the chain, especially in wet conditions.

 

I did notice that a lot of the water obstacles are absent from Blitz, aside from one called Double Dip. Most of the grip obstacles were above dry ground, too. No Colossus, Shriveled Richard, etc. Blitz is meant to be quick and short and seems to be a nice introduction to anyone wanting to try a Savage without jumping right into a 6-mile course. Some water obstacles, though fun, can be time-consuming or scare away anyone who doesn’t want to jump into a freezing cold tub of water.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Fall-Holy-Sheet

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

New this year is Pro wave competitors wear two chip bands. One is the standard timing chip. The other is used to keep track of completing obstacles. Savage Pro competitors face mandatory obstacle completion. That’s great if you hate burpees, but can be troublesome if you need to retry and obstacle multiple times before being able to complete it. If you can’t ring the bell, you put your obstacle chip band in the “fail pail” and move on. You can still finish the race and will record your time, but lose eligibility for prizes and go into a non-completion category. Finish with the obstacle chip band, and you’ll receive a Savage wristband to show off your victory.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Nut-Smasher

Savage Race does a great job at getting course maps up early and sending out enough communication before race day. You still need to look up your bib number and do a printed waiver, where other races have the waiver as part of the sign-up process. But otherwise, registration and check-in is extremely easy. There were no lines at all and everything was quick and painless.

FESTIVAL, RESULTS & PHOTOS

The festival area had the usual beer tent, bag check, results, etc. There weren’t a lot of vendors, but not many people walked around because of the rain. At the finish line, racers received their medal, a shirt, a water, as well as their choice of a few flavors of protein-infused water (Trimino). Results were available at the results tent as soon as your chip crossed over the finish line. They were online shortly after as well.

 

Most impressive were the race photos. A lot of races take a few days to get pictures up and there are only a couple stations. Savage Blitz had a total of SEVEN obstacles with a photographer. Most of them took at least 3 or more pictures. I know other races have more people so it’s difficult to get a lot of pictures from one race, but Savage did a great job on this front. They also let you run another lap for fun, minus the medal and race shirt, so you can have another crack at the course plus more pictures.

Savage-Blitz-Bling

This was Savage’s fifth ever Blitz, with at least two more on the schedule for 2018. It’s a great introduction to Savage for OCR newcomers, as it allows you to run a minimal distance but still try some of their challenging obstacles. Competitive racers who aren’t into Their site lists Savage Blitz at every location in 2019, which would be

 

Europe’s Toughest Mudder Berlin

This year saw the first Toughest Mudder series in Berlin, Germany and there was a lot of anticipation around the race, bringing competitors from across the globe. One would assume with the location and elevation profile that the weather would be sweet and the running would be easy- TMHQ made sure this was certainly not the case…

On arrival to the race site, it was a lengthy walk from the car park to registration and with a heavy kit bag, it felt like we had landed mid Spartan race in the bucket brigade (silver linings- warmup?). To make up for this, registration was fairly quick and painless and soon the pit tent was full of mudders eager to get started, some first-timers, oblivious to the eight-hour beasting that was ploughing their way. Improvements on last year’s ETM pit tent included easy in-and-out doors for runners and big screens with live male and female standings for support crew to monitor without braving the elements.

In a warm 17 degrees, competitors strolled into the start chute for the race briefing. Now, although my German is limited to ‘Ya!’ and ‘Nein!’, it was clear from the start there were a significant number of German runners and so the briefing was done mostly in German which was a nice touch from TMHQ as you could see it was getting racers fired up for the course ahead. For the minority of us we were blissfully unaware of 90% of what had been told to us but this seemed to calm my nerves rather than wait in anticipation knowing what was coming!
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Start-Line

The sprint lap flew by and before we knew it 95% of the obstacles were open for business. This differed to the previous ETM where they had staggered openings and closed/opened new ones as the 8 hours went by- this time everything was open and stayed open until the finish which made for a pretty intense 5 miles (with some modifications being made to harder versions in the later hours). I think most people had anticipated pretty warm racing conditions which, as the obstacles opened, was soon to be the opposite- 3 back to back water obstacles (including Blockness Monster, Cage Crawl, and the very very Arctic Enema) were within a mile of one another. I managed to run one lap of this before stuffing my neo hood into my wetsuit for extra protection- brain freeze and exhaustion left me wondering what else I could be doing on a fine Saturday night which wouldn’t result in me picking out ice cubes from my kit! For me personally, I find the water affects my mental state more than any other obstacle and it’s always a constant battle to fight off the ‘I just want to curl up in my Dryrobe’ thoughts and push through.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Everest

The more laps that went by, the more aching I could feel in my legs as a direct result of the hard packed trail and concrete running we were doing- I would take hills for days over this type of terrain, as I’m sure many others would agree. With no elevation, there was no opportunity for that tactical ‘walk-break’ on the uphill which inevitably fatigued everyone faster than they probably anticipated. By 5/6am there were a good chunk of runners down and out which made the later laps pretty lonely- running with only one or two people in sight for miles. No Toughest Mudder is complete without a curveball and so the heavens opened from around halfway through the race which naturally pushed those runners not possessing Hulk-like grip to the penalty runs.
Toughest Mudder-Berlin-Kong-Infinity

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and whole feel to the race (if you can describe beating yourself up for 8 hours during the night as enjoyment) and would definitely have this on my list again for next year. It’s always refreshing to see a stream of first-timers at Toughest events which means this sport is still growing and TM aren’t losing their edge. Often when I describe the event to friends or family they will say ‘why would you want to do that?!’ but the 8-hour event, in the dark, cold and (often) wet night is where you really find your limit and pushing through those limits is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Finish