Spartan Virginia: Sprint and Super Weekend

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

Saturday Sprint

Check-In/Festival

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

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

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

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

Course

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

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

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

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

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

Spartan Race Cargo Climb

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

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

Volunteers

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

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

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

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

Other

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

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

 

Super Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteers

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

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

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

Overview/ Other thoughts

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

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

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

Aroo!