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

Spartan Dallas Stadium Race 2019

Spartan Dallas Stadium Race 2019

A Spectacle of Competition

On June 22, 2019 Spartan held their annual Dallas AT&T Stadium (Stadion) race.  The grand spectacle of the event and the huge turnout left this Spartan with a very different feeling than normal.  This year being my first Stadium Race, I didn’t know what to expect. What I walked away with was a great experience and a newfound love for the short, intense ride that is the Spartan Stadion.

As stated, this was my first Stadium race.   I cannot speak in comparison to previous Stadium races in any state, let alone Texas.  I can say that Spartan did what I feel their goal should be, and that’s created a course full of fun and challenge in order to both attract and bring back new participants who may have never even thought of participating in a Stadium race.

Are You Not Entertained

Much like the Greek namesake (Stadion stems from the Greek Stade) from the point racers walk into the stadium they feel as if they are preparing for a competition of epic proportions.  From the layout of the outside portions of the course, to the set up of vendors, to the display of obstacles on the field, to the imagery on the Jumbotron I felt as if I were in a modern version of some type of Ancient Greek Games.  For the first time in a long time, Spartan made me feel that twinge of excitement that so many feel on their very first race day. The festival area was full of fun both outside and in, and there were plenty of primo areas for spectators to either sit in the stands or walk on the turf to see the competition up close.

3…2….1….GO!

Speaking of the competition, start-up went very well for my age group.  We were carefully broken up into waves of 15 in order to prevent congestion on the short course especially since the assault bike would be our first obstacle.  The one and only Yancy Culp explained the rules of his new Ram Roller Burpee obstacle to us quite fluently. We were allowed to ask any questions, and released on a 3..2…1… GO!  Even without brush and mud, there’s still potential to get lost in a stadium, but Spartan did a great job, of course, marking throughout.

Clear Instruction (every time please)

My only complaint would be some volunteers at some stations assuming we knew what to do at every station,  Many stadium obstacles are quite different, and if you’ve never done them, you need instruction. For example, at the heavy jump rope.  I had to ask how many, to which I was told 15. I commenced jumping, but I wasn’t told until after I had already completed 5 jumps that I had to do them with a red band around my feet (which made no difference in my jumping ability.)

The same applies to the plank/push-up walk. When I saw this small wheeled device, I had no idea how to proceed and I had to ask a volunteer exactly what to do. When elite and age group competitors are in race mode, their minds are on moving forward. I know it may be monotonous, but volunteers need to continually repeat the instruction.

Obstacles

On the note of the obstacles, the course layout and variety of obstacles were extremely pleasing. I summed this race up to many as “lots of great obstacles punctuated by stairs.” From pipe lair to the balance beam, to the jerry can carry all of the obstacles were strategically placed and very well lain out and executed. The course designers did a great job placing obstacles like the jerry can carry, rope climb, box jumps, and the new ram roller burpee pit back to back in order to test participants grip and stamina right to the end.

For All to See

Many of these obstacles sat on the stadium floor and followed by the ring rig and the gauntlet. This made for the most spectator-friendly venue I have personally ever seen at a Spartan Race. Keep in mind this was my first stadium race, but I could see that Spartan put a lot of work into making it an exceptional event.

I would like to take a moment to discuss the Stadium exclusive obstacles. The assault bike station was first and is something that could EASILY cause a huge cluster. Spartan did a great job with each bike preset to a 15 calorie countdown and ready to go. Breaking up the waves into 15 at a time allowed everyone to easily find a bike. I also think it was wise to make this the first obstacle. It went much smoother than I anticipated.

How Strict are We Talking?

The next exclusive was the heavy rope which I enjoyed, but simply wish for better volunteer participation. Next came the jerry can carry up the parking ramp and back which I found to tax a quite different type of grip given the small handle holes. I enjoyed this one. The next exclusive was box jumps. My only qualm here is that I feel it needs to be made clear if full extension (i.e. standing up completely erect) is necessary as it is in a CrossFit competition. I saw many age group competitors performing without this full extension which allows for a much quicker jump. 

A Great Ending

Yancy’s Ram Roller burpee pit seemed to go off without a hitch and I found it a welcome addition. The men had to perform a burpee with the 55-pound roller and extend it fully overhead. The women used a 35. The reps were 15 for elites and age group and 10 for open racers. The roller offers a slightly different movement than a sandbag burpee because of how rigid it is. I found this to do a great job of sapping any leftover oxygen or energy. I believe it is a great challenge and should stay in the repertoire for future races.

After the race was over, there was quite a bit to do in the festival area both inside and outside. Spartan organized the kid’s races well. Booths had plenty to do even if they were just being sneaky about getting your email. The Spartan merchandise tent ran very well and transactions flowed professionally and expediently.

Excellent Use of a Great Venue

These Stadium races are something that Spartan has exclusivity with. They have the wallet and pull to rent out these stadiums.  It is wise of them to use that to their advantage by creating an excellent event. They pull in racers who want to try something new, or who just don’t like mud. They can also bring in sports fans who just want to run in the stadium. This event was a prime example of Spartan doing what they do best.

The elite waves went without a hitch from what I could tell. Ryan Kent and others seemed quite pleased with the level of difficulty brought on by this race. At the end of the day, if the elites are happy and the gen pop are it has been quite a successful event.

http://www.spartanrace.com

 

Muddy Princess – Atlanta – June 2, 2019


The Muddy Princess is a relatively new race in the OCR world. This race could fill the void for a female-centric race since Dirty Girl closed for business.

The lead up to the race was filled with workout suggestions, vendor promos, and race day info. The pre-race communication was second to none. There were also two different ways that you could sign up. There was a regular entry, which included a goody bag and a medal. VIP allowed you to get entry into a VIP area, multiple laps, and a t-shirt.

The race was held at the tried and true Georgia International Horse Park on June 2nd. This is the location for many an OCR (Spartan, Rugged Maniac, etc.). The festival area was about average with several food trucks, face painting,


The chute was standard fare, but also had an emcee who went through exercises so the corral could warm up. My group left in the 9 am corral and it was pretty crowded. This was an issue throughout the race. More on that later.

The actual race was a 5k with 18 obstacles. The premise is that a newbie and an experienced woman could participate and also have a good time. The Horse Park does allow for some flat land as well as some fun hills. There is a lot of tree cover, so it was mostly cool. I raced with my normal OCR crew. We all have at least 10 races under our belts and brought along two little girls who have also raced before. We all felt comfortable with completing this race.

 


The first obstacle was two mud pits. This was the first area of backup. People were jumping in and a lot of people were pushed over or down into the mud. The volunteer didn’t do much for crowd control.

 

After that, there were some standard obstacles: a balance beam, seesaw, net and crawls, a few wall climbs, a tire climb, and more mud! If you want mud, this is the race for you. There were a lot of familiar obstacles from other races. One was the rolling hills that Spartan uses. It was the same with the exception of the actual dunk wall. Fenced In (with netting over the mud pit versus bars) and Grey Rug from Rugged also made an appearance. The spacing between the obstacles was pretty good. There was an opportunity for there to be a few more before the finish line. There was a crossing with chain links that was difficult but fun. There were lots of encouraging signs also dotted throughout the course.


The volunteers really kept you going with a lot of encouragement and help. One interesting fact was that the reality show, “The 7 Little Johnstons” was shooting an episode. Elizabeth is a fast runner! She did a phenomenal job. The filming did make it a bit awkward at times as they had to film as well as participate. The participants largely ran around them or waited as they filmed. The film crew was never in the way. It did get a bit frustrating when a Muddy Princess volunteer coordinator body blocked me from using an obstacle and told me I had to wait five minutes so they could film. Needless to say, there were a few words back and forth.

It was nice to have friends and family at the last obstacle before you made it to the finish. The medal was standard and the goodie bag had some interesting items that varied from protein shakes to feminine products. The latter was new to me, lol!

I think that this race could have a bright future. From what I heard, this race is relatively new to the U.S. and they are testing the waters. I would do this race again given a few things:

  • Clear signs for the obstacles – either name the obstacle or obstacle number. There was a lot of confusion among the participants as to how many obstacles were on the course.
  • Clear mile markers.
  •  A more organized registration in the festival area. The VIP line was just as crowded as general. I actually finished my registration before the VIPs did.
  • The rinse off station was actually nice and had tall walls to change clothes, however, the water pressure was slow.
  • The price point was a bit high. I think offering both VIP and general entries by $10 would allow more people to possibly sign up.
  • Some of the staff had issues with interacting with the participants. I had two run-ins with one and I also heard of a few other people having a similar interaction with the same person. I hope this was just a one-off and not indicative of how the race is managed.

 

Could this be the next Dirty Girl? Yes, it could if some of the recommendations were implemented. The best part about female races is the comradery. You get the same in other OCRs but with women only it’s different. The volunteers and participants were amazing in how they supported each other with words, hugs, high fives, and a shoulder or leg if necessary. I would most certainly do this race again in a different location just to see if there are any differences.

Photo Credit:

Sean White

Atlanta Ragnar Trail 2019

“The road to the top is a lonely one,” is some of the absolute worst running advice I have ever received. If you look at some of the top performers, you can see that they surround themselves with some equally passionate, loving, and crazy people. These people believe in the TEAM, and with that love, the team is able to travel farther than most. Many of you most likely run alone, and surrounding yourself with passionate people can be hard (because to be honest, most of your friends probably think you’re crazy). If only there was an easy way to find an opportunity to find people who understand your crazy… That opportunity is Ragnar Trail.

What is Ragnar Trail?

Imagine this: you have a campsite, it’s three o’clock in the morning, and you’re surrounded by 7 of your friends who all collectively smell like a rotting shoe. You’re totally sticky, who knows why, and you look around at your friends and just smile. This is Ragnar.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely what Ragnar is. But, pretty close.

When you come to Ragnar Trail, there are 8 people on a team total. You can arrive either on Thursday or Friday morning to set up your campsite. Brace yourself and prepare to get cozy– you may rest up there a bit.

With Ragnar Trail, there are three trails that you are going to run. There is a green loop, a yellow loop, and a red loop. All of the loops are assigned a color based on relative difficulty–surely, you can guess which one is the easiest, and which is the more challenging.

When you get started, your first runner is going to run the green loop. Then, your second runner runs the yellow loop, third runs red, fourth runs green, and you keep going until every single runner has run each of the three loops.

Easy right?

Sure, if you don’t like to sleep much!

The thing is, total, the Ragnar is well over 100 miles. That means, in order to complete the entire course as a team, you guys will be running for at least 17:00:00 straight. In other words, not only are you running but at some point during this glorious adventure, you are going to be running trails in the middle of the night.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and that’s probably that there is no way in Hell your friends are not going to be into it. If you haven’t met enough people through OCR who will love being crazy with you, you’re in luck. There are many teams who go onto Facebook who BEG for more runners. So, if you don’t know anyone, buckle up, and prepare to get friendly!

Atmosphere

Part of the reason that I love Ragnar so much is the atmosphere. Here, you are ENCOURAGED to go bananas. In addition to looking at team times, Ragnar staff is also looking for the best team theme. Our team theme was the Hot TaMILES, and we decked out in chilli pepper temporary tattoos and hats. My personal favorite theme that I saw was a team called “The Knights of the Buffet Table.” Walking around the campsites, there were tons of campsites that were decorated. So, although it’s a tough challenge, you definitely do not have to worry about people taking themselves too seriously here.

 

If camping isn’t quite your thing, Ragnar offers a “glamping” package. I have no idea how much extra it costs, and what all it entails (I think you have access to trailer bathrooms as opposed to port-o-Johns; fancy!). Glamping is for the runner who is there for the sport, but doesn’t exactly feel like pitching a tent. The Atlanta site is also right across the street from a hotel, so you better believe we saw people walking on in that direction at the end of the event.

(Since I don’t know much about glamping, you can click here for more information)

 

Village

 

To be out there for a full day and night would be pretty boring if there was nothing to do. Luckily, Ragnar has thought of this ahead of time!

Aside from the campsite is the village. In the village, there are several different activities for you to do while you are not running. You can partake in mid-day yoga classes, enjoy a soothing massage, sit in some of those inflatable leg things, watch movies, make s’mores, and so much more! Each team will also have a dinner meal ticket (I’ve gone the last two years, and the last two years the meal has been lasagna), and access to a few food trucks.

They post the schedule of events ahead of time for you to be able to take advantage of all of the shenanigans. Coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water are also provided. Just make sure that you bring cash, your own mug, and your own yoga mat!

The Race Itself

When you register for Ragnar, you have to put in an approximate pace for yourself so that Ragnar staff can provide you a start time based off of your projected abilities. My team was given the 3:00 start time.

Green Loop

At about 2:45, I started making my way toward the start line. It is advised that you head that way about 15 minutes before your team’s start.

One thing that I appreciate about Ragnar is that they do what they can to spread people out on the courses as much as possible. By the time I hit the line, there were only 16 people who were going to start at the same time as me. The race director started calling to us “WHO’S HYDRATED?!” A bunch of us cheered. Then they called, “WHO IS CARRYING ELECTROLYTES?” and significantly fewer people cheered.

Now, it’s the Georgia Horse Park in the middle of the day in April. It was 85 degrees and 80% humidity, making it extremely difficult to breathe. I can only imagine the fate of those poor souls who didn’t hydrate.

The green loop has a deceptively quick first mile. Most people I talked to said they had a fabulous first-mile time, and, not going to lie, I was pretty happy with mine. The trails start really wide, the yellow loop turns right while the red loop and green loop turn left. Then, the green loop veers right into the woods while the red loop carries on. Like I mentioned earlier, the first mile of the approximately 4.2-mile course is on a really wide trail. There is a lot of space to pass people, and it really is a lot of fun.

A little less than a mile and a half in, you run up a hill and the wider trail narrows into a single-track trail. There are several places where the path widened enough for you to be able to pass someone but to say it was wide would be ambitious. The hills rolled and rolled; which is to be expected, considering the trails were actually part of the Olympic Mountain Biking Trails from 1996. The Green Loop was actually part of the “beginner” mountain bike trail.

Now, considering the green loop was the beginner loop, the hills were rolling, but the terrain was not too technical. As long as you watched your step, it was almost a solid guarantee to leave the green trail with both ankles intact.

The only downside to these trails were some of the bridges that were built. Now, the big, important ones were covered in some sort of cover, so they were fine. For the most part, the little bridges that were provided to aid in difficult spots were fairly bouncy and had quite a bit of space in between boards. If I saw that there was space on the side to run on the ground and not on the bridge, you better believe I took it.

In the last mile and a half of the green loop actually intertwines with the yellow loop, so for a while there, it fares to be pretty twisty. There are several signs throughout the entire run, which I noticed for the Green Loop especially, seemed to be pretty spot-on, according to my GPS watch. The Ragnar team provided “mile-ish left!” signs, and from then on out the course really opens up, so it’s easy to open up your gate as well.

Transition

Transitioning in between runners is a really big question that people have. My team was super prepared, so we were able to guess roughly the amount of time it would take for each runner to complete their leg. Before you can make your way into the transition tent, you have to wait outside of the tent. Race directors do this so there aren’t all 200 teams inside the tent at once. When your runner hits the Quarter Mile to Go marker, your team name will show up on the screen outside of the tent. Once your name is on the screen, you check in with the volunteer standing at the transition, and you make your way in.

Team bibs are tied to a very lightweight belt. The belts have a clip, so when it’s time to swap runners, you just unclip the belt and hand it off.

Yellow Loop

Ah, the yellow loop. The yellow loop is actually the intermediate Olympic mountain biking trail. The yellow loop caused more stress for people than the red loop did. This trail contained the most technical of paths. A challenging aspect of the frequent, inclined, hair-pin turned made it difficult to maintain a consistent pace throughout the run.

One thing that Ragnar does when creating their courses is that they place a lot of signs. I get lost pretty easily, but I find their courses pretty easy to follow; even at night. They have some signs that are there to give you direction (obviously), which is helpful. Those signs are reflective, so if you ever feel like there is a chance you may be lost, just wiggle your flashlight around until something shines back at you. Ragnar has some signs that say funny little nothings (my personal favorite says, “to pee, or not to pee, that is the question”). But, the sign that I am most appreciative for are the “caution” signs. They have small signs that just look like exclamation points that say caution in areas where the roots may be very prevalent, there are dips in the trail, or where there may be an exceptionally bouncy bridge.

The caution signs were the most prevalent on the yellow trail.

In terms of difficulty, when it is not merged with the green loop, I would not say that the yellow trail is especially difficult. Mostly there were dips and turns, uphills, and downhills, that all keep you very occupied. As long as you paid special attention to where the roots were in relation to your feet, you made it out of there a-okay.

When the yellow loop met up with the green loop, it provides an opportunity to meet up with some runners who you hadn’t seen before. On this portion of the trail, this is where I thought there was the most sportsmanship than I’d seen on the entire course.

Red Loop

The red loop is a favorite for many of the runners. Once you took off from the transition tent, you run a little way, and then turn left along with the green loop. When the green loop turns into the woods, you keep going. Eventually, you end up at tunnels. Once you run through the tunnels, you will eventually come to the rocks.

The rocks get very slippery when they are wet. Even worse, is it can be difficult to navigate if you are stuck running the red loop during the night time. Most of the rock surface has drops and dips, that, if you’re not careful, can really catch you off guard.

This has been my second Ragnar, and through both, I have run the red loop at night. My friends who have run it during the day say that this trail is the most beautiful. About halfway through the rocks, you can look off to the side and see a nice lake off to the side.

Once you finally make your way through the rocks, you end up on a trail. The trail is wider than single track but had many rocks and little inclines that you need to be wary about. Luckily, Ragnar does well with indicating when there are going to be dangerous zones ahead, using the caution signs that were previously mentioned… In the upcoming area, brace yourself for impact!

The red trail loops back around, so you have to run back over the rocks and through the tunnel. But, rather than run back to the transition tent, you have to loop around the village in order to get through to the transition tent. This was fine because it’s flatter terrain, but running right past the port-o-Johns and the campsite was NOT FUN! Especially when it is late and you are trying to finish!

The 8th runner finishes on the red loop, and then it is on to the finish!

Finish

When the last runner of your relay runs their final stretch of the red loop, your entire team jumps in and finishes the relay together.

Ragnar is not necessarily a competitive event. It’s exciting to see how your team ranks against others, but you won’t win anything for doing well. Instead, you just bring your bib and belt over to a tent to collect your medals. And, when you get your medals, you put them all together in order to make a phrase!

Take Aways

Ragnar is a much different type of event than most of the other races that you are probably accustomed to. This event is not about trying to be the best but taking a chance at something that well, seems very dangerous, and using that new experience to learn something new about yourself. It’s about bonding with people around you who understand you and ALL of your craziness. Ragnar is a silly event that people get excited for; making costumes, building exciting campsites, and appreciating one another. It’s an event to make you happy and bond with others.

Tips

  • Sleep when you can! Your runs are going to be several hours apart, and you absolutely will need the rest to make sure that you are safe on the course.
  • Plan ahead: get with your teammates ahead of time and do what you can to plan who is bringing what.
  • Try to only bring what you need. Remember, you’re going to have to clean it all up eventually. When it’s time to clean up, trust me, you aren’t going to want to.
  • Think you’re hydrated? Drink more. And don’t rely on drinking water alone. You are going to need electrolytes, and calories, to power through what lies ahead.
  • Plan to take advantage of some of the activities that are offered in the village. Make the most of your weekend! You just may want to bring cash and a mug.

Green Beret Challenge: Wicked Trail Race ATL 2019

Wicked Ballas Rope Climb

Introduction

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to putting on events, Mark Ballas never fails to put on something that is out of the ordinary. So, when GBC announced that they would be doing a trail race, called Wicked Trail, I knew it would be a race not to miss.

The Wicked Trail race offers two different types of races. There is a 5k and a 10k “wicked.” In the description on  Mark’s Website, the 5k appeals to the standard trail runner. The 10k “wicked” option appeals to Obstacle Course Racers, advertising more difficult terrain, which includes hills so steep that you may require a rope to ascend. And of course, Mark is known for making races that are, for lack of better words, painful, so you may have other challenges that cannot be described.

Wicked Map

 

Festival Area

This race was in the same location as the Green Beret Challenge Operators last year and the XII Hour Endurance Event. Knowing this venue, I knew going early on there are hills. I’m also very fortunate that I am familiar with the location of this venue, because it can be a tad bit difficult to locate. The location of this race is actually next to the designated address, which can catch you a little off-guard if you’re not familiar with it. The address provided is actually for a friend of Mark’s house, and the trails follow behind it. So you have to drive through the man’s yard and past the house in order to get to the actual venue.

Parking, as always, is a breeze.  There were a few volunteers who were there to collect money from parking ($5 per car) and direct drivers. No parking issues presented themselves. Everything flowed very smoothly.

Wicked Festival

There was a slight line at the check-in table, but man, those volunteers do not mess around. They greet you kindly, and then give you the wristband that coordinates with the time you start, then send you on your way as quickly as possible. For instance, I ran at 8:10, so my wristband was yellow, while my friends started at 8:20, and their wristbands were green. Those that ran the 5k had pink wristbands. We were provided the start times via e-mail and Facebook groups several days prior to the event. Mark noticed there was a mistake in the original times, and it was all adjusted within about 30 minutes and re-sent.

As always, Jarian Rich, aka Jambo was there to provide entertainment. A week of not feeling well left us with a gliterless beard, but the enthusiasm level remained just as high as ever. He had a DJ stand up right next to the start line, and you were able to hear him from a fair distance away.

Past the DJ stand, if you keep walking, you can find where the GORMR group set up their tent by the lake. The e-mail sent out earlier in the week that the Wicked was going to be a BYOB event. So many people, myself included, brought in lawn chairs and coolers to accompany them.

Wicked Race Lake

Course

Might I start this section by saying, holy cow, this was way tougher than I thought it would be.

The 5k runners took off promptly at 8:00, and then it was time for my age group to hit the start line.

As always, we were greeted by Jambo’s enthusiasm. He was getting people to cheer on the start line, and get amped up to run. Since I was visibly nervous, he asked me if I ran the Operator’s Course last year. When I said yes, he assured me that it was going to be a run of that course, but backwards.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself, “that means that there are going to be two big climbs. I can handle that.”

Boy, was I wrong.

At exactly 8:10, as specified by the e-mail sent off earlier in the week, we were off.

Just as Jambo had suggested, we started by running around the lake, which was backwards to last year’s Operators course. It started off flat, nice, and easy. Once we made it around the corner, I saw a friend of mine, who was running in the 5k division. After I told her good job, I noticed that right there, probably 400 meters into the race, was the first climb of the day. I looked to see if my friend was still there, and recognized that the 5k runners would be making this ascend, too. I realized right there, that I probably would not hit the time goal that I had set for myself.

Once it flattened out, it was on to single track trails, which allowed to make up time as much as possible by opening up stride. However, that didn’t last very long, before another big climb, and then a long descend. This descend had really loose dirt- to the point that I thought if I hadn’t found several trees to hang on to, I probably would have slipped and fallen. Definitely one where you would need to slow down on. It wouldn’t be hard to slide down, as long as you have a decent amount of balance. I probably would have ended up rolling down like Andy Sandburg in Hot Rod.

Sooner than later, we ended up at a dirt biking track. This was the same dirt biking track that we completed with the yoke carry during the 12 hour endurance event. Although climbing through the numerous, steep, short hills seemed much easier by comparison, I swear Mark made them steeper. There were a few of those short hills that were so steep, that I caught myself using my hands to climb these hills. This portion of the race was nice though, because it was still early on enough in the race where you could see others, and be able to compare where you are in terms of placing. And, here, since you could see others, it was much easier to cheer others on.

Then it was time for another long, trucking ascent. This was one that I did not remember from either of the previous events that I had completed at this same course. My legs started to feel heavy, we had already made several climbs within the first two miles, and I knew others felt the same way. At this point, I was running completely alone in the woods. This race wasn’t going to just be about physical capabilities, but mental ones as well. Luckily, I’m sure Mark anticipated this, and I noticed that the number of blue arrows that were pointing became more and more prevalent. There was a slight run in an area that was taped off, but the trail itself was not marked. Basically, we were running on a trail that was still covered in leaves, rather than distinguished by a dirt path. It eventually opened up.

I believe that at about this point, Mark drove by me on his ATV. With a big smile on his face he said, “are you having fun?” and followed me for a little bit down another, less vicious, hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a run, with a few fallen trees as hurdles, and after awhile, it seemed as though the trail just completely stopped. I looked to the right, and the path was unmarked, but not with the intention of us running through it, unlike the other unmarked but marked trail that was mentioned earlier. I looked on the left, and I saw a pipe that lead into a creek. Clearly, we’re not running in there.

Then I remembered, wait a second, this is a race from Mark Ballas, we’re definitely going in that creek, and turned left without hesitation.

As soon as you headed through the creek, there were several little red flags indicating that you were headed in the right direction. The creek twisted and turned, no turn without greeting from either a tiny red flag or a blue arrow spray painted in the sand. This creek lasted what felt like 600 meters.

At one point, the creek continued, but a blue arrow indicated a sharp, right turn up a hill. I looked at the hill with wide eyes, seeing that it was so steep, I’d have to crawl up it. Then I noticed that there was a rope supplied for us, so we could use this to help pull us up. You could say it was like a mid-course trail slip wall.

I grabbed the rope, and heard a woman cheering. I looked up and saw GBC Pro Team member Rachel Watters. She sat the race out, and instead volunteered on course, taking pictures and directing runners.

She directed me toward a different hill with a rope, but this time, the rope helped us descend the hill. This was kind of weird, but exciting, especially because at the bottom of this hill was a short drop. After this, it was back to running in the creek.

Rope Hill

Once out of the creek, it was back to running. We ended up with a straighter, flatter run, which allowed to make up some time. About this time, Mark drove by on his ATV again.

“Are you still having fun?” He asked, still smiling.

Laughing, I said “I almost got lost!”

His eyes widened. He asked me where. When I told him it was at the beginning creek, he immediately started heading in that direction. A clear indication that he prioritizes safety of his athletes.

Sooner than later, I could hear Jambo’s music playing in the distance. Because I hadn’t seen any mile markers throughout the race, I assumed that we were getting close to the finish line.

I was wrong…again. We still had about 2 miles left.

However, the brutality of the massive hill climbs had about finished. There were a few left, but none were nearly as bad as the ones that were in the first two miles of the race. Some of the trails were slanted, which made me think of a friend of mine’s comment before the race, stating that she was going to focus on maintaining good running form throughout the run. I laughed, because I knew there was absolutely no way to focus on great form during this. Rather, just focusing on keeping both of your ankles intact.

We looped around a familiar piece of the course; a marshy path of grass near the finish. Although it wasn’t around the lake, the area feels swampy, and, since it is entirely in the sun, it makes the humidity feel like 400%.

After that, was another water station, and then trudging from some of the muckiest mud we’d seen all day. I saw my friend who was running the 5k, and I reminded her that the medal that she was going to receive was definitely one earned, not given.

After a while in this area, Jambo’s music got louder, and we made it back to the parking lot.

Hooray!!

…Except again, this is a race from Mark Ballas, and was definitely a cop-out. There was a slight sign with an arrow pointing us to the right, even though the final stretch was to the left. We had to circle around the field. It was just a flat patch of grass, with tread through to make it easier to navigate. The hard part was over. Now, it was just to pick up leg speed, and not let the sun beating on you change your attitude. Once you hit the final stretch, it was on to the finish line, where Jambo was waiting, to congratulate every single runner who finished.

Wicked Finish

Awards

Awards were done after the race, once it was assured that most of the runners had finished the race. The awards were presented near the finish line, with Jambo leading the command. The 5k awards were presented as top 3 overall in gender. The 10k “wicked” awards were presented as age group awards, with no separate awards for overall winners. Winners of these categories were given a separate medal. There were no differences between the 5k or 10k medals.

Wicked Winners

Thoughts

One thing I’d like to specify about the Wicked Trail race is that although it is run by Green Beret Challenge, it is not an obstacle race. It is a somewhat sadistic trail race that incorporates obstacles that are already there through nature. Also, those dang hills are the biggest obstacle out there. Mark used a lot of difficult terrain which included many trees that were knocked over, and other things in order to make things interesting. So, although you can expect it to be difficult, you cannot expect to see some of the hand-built obstacles that Green Beret Challenge is known for (thank God for no yoke!). This also means that it is not going to be as costly to run, so it does not cost nearly as much to participate in the Wicked Trail than most OCR races. So, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, but can’t pull off the $100+ per race fee, you may  want to consider running in the Wicked.

Another thing I would like to mention is that Mark Ballas puts these on with not much help. That being said, I am always appreciative for the dedication that he demonstrates in all of his events. It rained quite a bit leading up to this race. Unfortunately, several of the blue arrows that Mark had spray painted the day before the race were washed away, so, to ensure safety, he went out and completely re-marked the course. Every runner returned from this course safely. The only injury I saw out there was a scrape that got some dirt in it, which was immediately tended to when the athlete returned. It was also noted that there were several changes made to the course, that Mark decided would be more interesting, while he was out making adjustments. So although the course map had been released prior to the race, it ended up being a bit more windy than we anticipated. See how my Garmin captured the race by looking at the picture below!

Wicked Strava

I would say the only thing that I would have improved from this course would be the lack of mile markers. Considering I know I like to know where I am on course, and although I think that having a marker on every mile would take away from some of the excitement, it would be nice to see one or two on the course.

I am very thankful that Mark added in the 5k option for this race. Although it was more difficult than I was imagining it would be, I am glad he added it. This allowed for a good friend of mine, who is trying to get a start into fitness and running, to participate and see what I do. It was the first time that one of my non-race friends was able to meet with my race friends, and I’m really encouraged, and looking forward to letting more of my friends know about these in the future.

Wicked Friends

Although this race was difficult, and I’m sure that I confused some of the order of events in my recap, I would definitely plan on doing it again. I would recommend this event to anyone who is willing to get a little bit out of their comfort zone. I am hoping that with future races, Mark brings this series to interesting places, so that we can have some beautiful views at the top of these extensive climbs. My advice to you is this; if you plan on completing a Wicked Trail event, do not neglect your hill training, or you can expect to have your butt handed to you. If you are on this course, and you keep your head up, and stay motivated throughout, I know that you will have a successful adventure!

Spartan Winter is Here – Greek Peak 2019

Greek-Peak-2019-looking-at-the-finish

Playing in the snow is in our blood. As adults, we dislike the snow because it makes driving to work inconvenient. But growing up, snow days were the best. Spartan Race lets you relive that childhood excitement with its now third annual Winter Sprint event at Greek Peak Mountain Resort.

What makes this a Winter Sprint? Every single inch of the course is covered in fluffy white snow. The temperature at this year’s race was in the high 30s, but it was mostly sunny so it felt even warmer. That was basically a heatwave if you consider the first year Spartan was at Greek Peak, they dealt with single-digit temperatures and below zero-degree wind chills.

Greek-Peak-2019-Bridge-Crossing

Parking and Registration

General parking this year was off-site, with two options. One of which was in Cortland, for racers coming from north of the venue. The other was about 15 minutes west of the venue, in Dryden. There was a VIP option for $30 which got you right on-site in Greek Peak’s parking lot.

As with last year, registration was inside, which made sense after the first year’s temperatures caused equipment malfunction at the outdoor registration tents. Spartan does registration really well. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the lines. But even later in the day, it didn’t seem like the lines were too long. As far as I could tell, everything was moving smoothly.

Greek-Peak-2019-part-of-the-course

Early or Late?

I ran my first lap in the Elite wave, mainly to get done in time for my second lap. At most races, running Elite or Age Group is an advantage. You’re one of the first groups on the course, which means no obstacle lines, a less sloppy course, cleaner obstacles and, in the summer, more favorable temps. At a Winter Sprint, it’s almost the complete opposite, with the exception of obstacle lines.

During the Elite wave, which started at 9:00 am compared to 7:30 am that you see at most Spartan races, the air temperature still remained under 20-degrees. Most of the running was through several untouched inches of snow. The only footprints came from racers ahead of me and volunteers/staff who helped put the course together.

Greek-Peak-2019-A-frame-Cargo

Later in the day, I ran in the 10:45 wave. The sun was out a bit longer and temperatures made their way into the 30s. It did help a bit that I was already warmed up from the first lap, but there was a definitive difference in the air temperature before and after the Elite wave. On the course, lots of the previously untouched snow was now packed down, which made running a bit easier. There were still plenty of areas that made it difficult because, well, snow is still snow.

I didn’t notice the obstacles being anymore wet or slippery between the two waves. One thing that remained true of later heats was the lines. I’ve definitely seen worse, but there was at least a little waiting at obstacles like the Spearman, Monkey Bars, and Multi Rig.

Greek-Peak-2019-women's-bucket-carry

The Classics

Speaking of obstacles, I was a bit disappointed to see that none of 2019’s new obstacles made the trip to New York. Seeing recent posts of Helix, 8’ Box and Beater made me anxious to give them a try. Other newer obstacles like Olympus and Twister also missed the trip.

I do understand that the snow and cold weather probably makes it pretty difficult to set some of the obstacles up, so it’s easier to stick to ones that have stood the test of time. Hopefully, in the future, maybe one or two newer ones will be brought out. I will say though, there is something special about trekking up and down the slopes with all the classics.

Greek-Peak-2019-Winter-Medal

Not Your Average Spartan

Greek Peak Winter Sprint is truly a unique experience. And a unique experience deserves unique swag. Last year’s finisher shirts added long sleeves to the standard sprint finisher shirt. This year, Spartan added a nice twist. The shirts have a similar design to the usual 2019 Sprint finisher shirt but, in addition to having long sleeves, had a nice light blue color, really making it look like a winter race shirt. The Spartan Winter medal was distinct as well, with the same light blue coloring and a few frozen pieces “missing” from it.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author