Spartan Race Palmerton Super and Sprint Weekend 2019

Spartan-Super-Palmerton-Course-Section

 

“This is insane!” 

“What the f***?!” 

“You’d think they’d run out of hills!” 

 

These are just a few of the things I heard while out on the course this weekend during Spartan’s Super and Sprint weekend at Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton, PA. If you’re new to Spartan Race or OCR, you may have even heard how challenging Palmerton is. Year after year, regardless of course design, the slopes at Blue Mountain are sure to remind you just how punishing they are. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Start-Line

Parking and Festival

As you pull into the parking area, you get a good look at just how large of a mountain you’ll have to deal with. Luckily, all parking is on-site, which means no shuttles! This is a big plus for a lot of people as shuttle lines are known to move slowly.

 

This year they did switch up the festival a bit, compared to previous races at Blue. The new setup flowed a lot nicer and even left them room for a large merchandise tent. Usually, the merch is just back behind volunteers and staff who are up in a trailer. They still were, but adding to it was a large open area with more shirts and gear, including shoes and clearance items.

 

Once through the tent, it was your pretty standard Spartan festival area. Changing tents were off to the side with a row of hoses. The food and beer tents were nearby, along with a row of vendors. Something a bit new was that Spartan had a section open for some obstacle lessons and tips. 

Spartan-Palmerton-View-From-The-Top

The Sprint

I know the Sprint was Sunday and the Super was Saturday, but we’re going to work backward. Palmerton’s Sprint hit just about 3.6 miles, which is on the shorter side for a Spartan Sprint. Just because it was under 4 miles, though, doesn’t mean it was easy.  In that 3.6 miles, they managed to add in over 1,400 feet of ascent. Over 1,000 of that was in the first mile alone. 

 

The course was pretty much straight up the hill, down and up a double black diamond for the Sandbag Carry, a few obstacles at the top, then back down for the rest. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Sandbag-Carry

Sprint Obstacles

If you just ran the Sprint on Sunday, unfortunately, you didn’t get to try the new obstacles for 2019. This is only the second Sprint I’ve run this year (March – Greek Peak), but much like the first, they stuck to the classics.

 

During the one-mile climb to the top, the only obstacles were Hurdles and Overwalls, which is pretty standard. After the Sandbag Carry, there was a mini-gauntlet with Z-Walls, Atlas Carry, Rakuten Rope Climb and Monkey Bars all at the peak. During the descent, the only obstacle was the Inverted Wall. Then, toward the bottom, you had standards like the cargo nets, Spear Throw, Bucket Brigade, and Barbed Wire Crawl. 

 

As with past years at Palmerton, there was a Water Crossing, though it was more of an out and back, rather than crossing as they used to do. Apehanger, an obstacle at very few venues, was in the Super but left out of the Sprint.

 

I know Spartan wants to use the Sprint as the gateway to more races, so maybe they are continuing to make them a little more basic as to not scare newcomers away. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Apehanger, a rig with more than just rings, or some brand new obstacles.

The Super

The Super on Saturday was almost 5 miles longer than the Sprint, coming in around 8.25 miles. The total ascent was over three times as much as the Sprint, forcing racers to climb over 3,100 feet. 

 

Usually, the longer races include everything in the shorter race, with one extra area. Not this year at Palmerton. There were three extra parts on the course for the Super versus the Sprint. And Spartan didn’t waste any time. They deviated just over a mile into the race, right after Z-Walls, when runners thought they were in for a nice break back down the hill. 

 

Instead, the downs were followed by several steep ups along the way. Let me put it to you this way, the first steep climb up took almost exactly one mile, and had over 1,000 feet of ascent. By the time racers reached the bottom, they had hit almost 3.5 miles and faced over 2,000 feet of ascent. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Hercules-Hoist

Super Obstacles 

On the Super course, runners got a look at several new obstacles, including Pipe Lair, The Box, and Beater. Olympus and Twister are two other obstacles that had been included in most Sprints but were only in the Super course. 

 

The Rakuten Multi-Rig consisted of several rings, a bar, then more rings before the bell. I’ve seen ropes in the past, but they were left at home for Palmerton. The Luminox Hercules Hoist was in both races and at a heavier weight than if it were just for a Sprint alone. It was super late in the race and sat at the bottom of a muddy hill, making it feel even heavier. 


One thing that stuck out to me about the obstacles, overall, was the amount of grip needed. A lot of times, they leave a couple grip heavy obstacles out, but they all made an appearance in Palmerton. 

Spartan-Mountain-Series-Super-Medal

The Medals

Since Palmerton is part of the Spartan Mountain Series, both Sprint and Super finishers received a Mountain Series Medal. It’s probably one of the best looking medals I’ve seen Spartan dish out. The mountains on this year’s Mountain Series medals stand out and really make the 2019 medal blow away the 2018 medal. 

 

Honestly, I don’t think it’d be a bad idea for Spartan to include some homage to the Mountain Series on the Trifecta medals as well. If you finish the Palmerton Super and Sprint, plus the Killington Beast, that is one tough Trifecta. Compare that to running some of the more flat courses to get your Trifecta and it feels like the mountain courses should get some extra love. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

2017 Spartan Palmerton Super – Adversity Rehab

adversity /ədˈvəːsɪti/ A difficult or unpleasant situation; an undesired, unexpected, or unplanned state or event.
rehab /ˈriːhab/ rehabilitation, repairing, reconditioning, rebuilding, reconstruction, remodeling.

With sincere appreciation for the continued encouragement and support of our paralyzed and amputated teammates; Team Believe 923 made an open invite for several social media groups to experience a race from the unique perspective of these amazing human motivators.

Conquering Challenges

Members of Spartans of the Northeast, Southern Spartans, Los Callaos of Puerto Rico, and dozens from Spartan 4-0 signed up to form one unit with TB923. Many of them had been inspired at previous Spartan Races by the grit and determination of Lindsey Runkels (paralyzed from a mountain bike accident), Andrew Bateson (double amputee), Robert Baez and Tim Morris (both paralyzed due to automobile accidents).

Compassion and a genuine desire to help were the offerings of these participants but unbeknownst to them, Lindsey and Andrew would be offering their help instead. The physical adversity that Lindsey and Andrew push through may be obvious but the mental, emotional, and psychological are not as easily seen. The same goes with us.

We push through some of the challenges in our lives and turn tail and run from others. Sometimes we intentionally back down because the road to victory seems too long and filled with sacrifices we are unwilling to make; while at other times we shy away unintentionally as we find ways around the obstacles. Yet the outcome remains the same; we suffer from a lack of growth and an unfulfilled life. But not on this day!

Background

Spartan Race Director Jason Barnes always labors to ensure the Palmerton Super remains one of the toughest, if not the toughest 8+ mile course in the U.S. However, as demanding as it was, I endeavored to recreate an experience that we lived through when it was just 5 of us starting the 2014 Ottawa Beast with Tim Morris of New Hampshire who ultimately became the 1st paralyzed athlete to earn the Spartan Trifecta and Double Trifecta.

In Ottawa, we were undermanned, overwhelmed, and outright exhausted. Completing that Beast took all we had plus the help of 5 not so average Spartans in Eric Paquet, Dan Luzzi, Taylor Cuevas, Sarah Landry, and Nial O’Dougherty.

Adversity Rehab

For Palmerton, the plan was to stack layers of physical and mental difficulties that would far exceed what all had registered for. To make carrying, pulling, and pushing two wheelchairs while navigating a para-athlete and a double amputee safely through the Spartan designed event so daunting that it would make everyone’s personal challenges seem inconsequential.

We wanted this unit to feel the reward of helping an adaptive athlete but to also conquer parts of this race as if they were adaptive themselves. It was our attempt to help strengthen the participants for endurance in life while preparing them for the endurance events offered by the Spartan brand. I personally wanted to drive people as close to committing to Spartan Agoge as possible, as soon as possible, and in the most compassionate way possible through our journey.

The Plan

Believe me, being a motor-mouthed Puerto Rican made it extremely difficult to keep our goals hidden from the 75 Spartans that toed the line with Lindsey and Andrew, but I did. They were a fun loving bunch with high spirits and their sights set on seeing the race through together.

Among us were Spartans of varying athletic abilities so tasks were assigned accordingly. First, we separated into groups of four then assigned the groups to either Lindsey or Andrew. Each group also had a designated wheelchair carrying team which is no easy task in that unforgiving terrain.

Assisting Adaptive Athletes

Everyone who was physically able to wheelbarrow was requested to do so from the starting line until Lindsey got tired but of course we all petered out before her. We reindeered up in pairs 3 rows deep pulling the wheelchairs with our adaptive teammates on the uphills and served as brakes on the downhills in skein.

While some attempted the obstacles in the same fashion as Lindsey and Andrew, others had to race ahead of us due to time constraints, cramps, and other weather induced challenges. As our numbers dwindled, all groups were assigned the same wheelchair with Lindsey on it and Andrew on her. We loaded almost every Spartan obstacle with a dose of Adversity Rehab.

The total team effort required to complete the double Sandbag and Bucket Brigade with this para-athlete short stack was unbelievably impressive! To see visually impaired Michael Tubiak piggy backing Lindsey up the mountain and watching Damian Ryan fighting through his Neuropathy alongside us added an extra measure of inspiration to the day. And just like in Ottawa, a few strangers joined our ranks at different points of the race including Mr. Green Shorts.

Results

ALL finished before the cut-off, ALL received medals, ALL created memories, and ALL overcame the day’s challenges including 12 hours of TB923 Adversity Rehab.

Joe Desena created something to get people from couches to the starting line and based on participant feedback, we provided something to get participants from the finish line through HH, HH12, UB, Agoge, and life…in our unique way.

#likecureslike
#adversityovercomesadversity
#mountainsarespeedbumps
#lastburn
#13milestogo

P.S. Lindsey intentionally remained confined to her wheelchair on portions of the course where she would normally wheelbarrow for the workout and Andrew gave the opportunity to assist him in wheelbarrows and piggy back carries but only when we could catch him.

P.S.S. As this article was being written this pic was in circulation from Adversity Rehab participant Michael Tubiak and it just about sums up the effort…

Photo Credits: Spartan Race, members of Spartan 4-0 and Team Believe 923.

Spartan Race – Palmerton Super/Sprint Weekend 2017

Spartan Race U.S. Championships Series – Blue Mountain Challenge

Ask any Spartan Racer what the most grueling event they’ve done in their racing tenure, and Palmerton is sure to be high on that list. After Killington and Tahoe, I’ve heard plenty of stories of racers dropping out during the dreaded double-sandbag carry Palmerton is famous for or succumbing to the heat on what has proven to be a very formidable mountain.

Palmerton, PA also just happens to be the 3rd stop in the Spartan Race US Championship Series – dubbed The Blue Mountain Challenge, which meant the stakes were higher than ever. If you came to watch the best athletes in this sport, you weren’t disappointed. Atkins, Call, Boone, Webster, Kolbl, Killian were all on site. Spartan Race continues to drive amazing live footage, along with an onslaught of social media presence around these big name races – something the OCR enthusiast in me truly can’t get enough of.

For myself, and thousands of other racers, this was simply a chance to experience a championship caliber course on a mountain that has proven it’s worthy of mention in conversations about the toughest Spartan Race venue.

Spartan Up Your Friday Night

Select Spartan courses have also been offering an Open House the Friday before an event weekend. Spartan also offered racers an option to “Spartan Up” their Friday night, which gave the public the perfect opportunity to come enjoy the festival, learn obstacle and training secrets of top coaches, and maybe even meet a few Spartan Pro’s. New obstacles like Twister and Olympus were available to try out, which helps runners get a valuable chance at trying an obstacle before they see it on race day. We also saw a “prototype” rope wall obstacle Spartan was trying out that didn’t make its way into the race itself but gave us a possible look at what may be coming next.

Ape Hanger was another obstacle that has only been seen in one other location – Lake Tahoe, for the 2016 Spartan Race World Championships. Combine the old school rope climb from the water, with a monkey bars / slash rig type feeling, and you’ve got the Ape Hanger. Here is hoping Ape Hanger finds its way to more events because it was an absolute blast.

Spartan continued the assault on racers bodies by building two of the most grueling carries seen so far this year. A double sandbag carry (mandatory to Elite & Competitive racers) down an aptly named ski trail dubbed “Nightmare” and a Bucket Carry that was so long, it extended into the festival area, where onlookers could cheer on runners, and share in the pain that is the Bucket Carry.

All in total, Palmerton saw 25+ obstacles over 6000+ feet of elevation change across the Super course and didn’t skimp at all on the Sprint course the following day. After completing both events on consecutive days, I’m starting to understand the groans I have heard from fellow racers any time the word “Palmerton” is mentioned. When you combine the presence of the obstacle course racing elite, NBC and Spartan Facebook Live coverage, with a course like this, it’s a recipe for success. I’ll be adding Blue Mountain to my list of must-do events going forward.

Photo Credit: Josh Chace

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