Spartan North American Championships – West Virginia Beast 2019

Obstacle-Gauntlet-in-West-Virginia

If there’s anything Spartan Race does well, it’s finding one of a kind locations for their races. Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia proved to be the perfect place to not only put on a Trifecta weekend, but host the 2019 North American Championship race. 

The Venue

Summit Bechtel Reserve is absolutely perfect to host an event like this. Those unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. Elite and Age Group racers had to qualify to take part in Saturday’s Beast, while everyone else could run in the Open waves. In total, the Beast ran about 14.4 miles with close to 2,900 feet of ascent. Anyone unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. 

Climbing-the-Mountain-in-West-Virginia

This was only my second Beast ever and happened to be the last piece to complete my second Trifecta ever. My first Beast was the 2018 Ohio Beast held at the Southington Off-Road Park. That venue was very flat with altering terrains, while West Virginia is mostly trail but a good variation of climbs and descents. 

 

The West Virginia race was definitely more difficult, but if I was left with a choice between the two, it’s an absolute no brainer. No matter what distance you want to do, West Virginia is a must race. 

Spartan-Trifecta-Weekend-in-West-Virginia

Why A Beast?

Maybe you’ve only ever run Sprints because 5 miles seems like enough. Or you’ve done a Super and are wondering if you should take the next step up. So, before we get into the specifics of the course and the obstacles, let’s talk about why a Spartan Beast at all.

 

I would recommend everyone set out for a Trifecta at least one time. If you would rather stick to shorter races, great! But there’s something special about running over a half-marathon with obstacles. 

 

On top of that, the open waves are more spread out than the shorter races. This is great for people who want to get in some running between obstacles. Granted, the climbs and some obstacles do still get jammed up some in open heats. Despite that, even some of the more narrow trails had space between runners. 

The-Views-at-the-North-American-Championship

Oh, The Obstacles!

Outside of what I needed to get a Trifecta in 2018 and 2019, I usually stick Sprints and the occasional Stadion (Stadium). But the way Spartan has moved over the last year or two, you see a lot of the same obstacles. So at that point, the more Sprints you run, the more you’re just looking at the venue itself and the course design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the short distance of a Sprint, but I also love obstacles!

 

If you really want to be exposed to Spartan’s full gauntlet of obstacles, you absolutely positively must run a Beast. This year’s West Virginia Beast had 38 obstacles, many of them I haven’t seen since last year’s Beast in Ohio. Though I didn’t run the Sprint and Super on Sunday, they each had 20 and 31 respectively. 

 

There’s really no room to complain about what obstacles Spartan had because, well, they pretty much had them all (Though I wish they included that Twister/Monkey Bar combo this year). The Beast threw at you everything from the Yokohama Tire Flip to Helix to Tyrolean Traverse and even a Spartan helmet-shaped Bucket Brigade course. The Beast even included a nice little swim late in the race. 

Ryan-Woods-finishing-Helix

Quite A Warm-up

If I had one complaint about the race, it’s that parking was incredibly far away from the festival. Our heat wasn’t until around noon, so 10:30 am seemed like a good time to arrive. But we still ended up on the outskirts of parking. I’m not sure exactly how far of a walk it was to the festival from our car, but I would guess it took around 10-15 minutes. That’s a great way to warm-up for the race, but made the walk back pretty daunting. 

 

Spartan could add a few shuttle stations throughout the parking area. This would allow small shuttles to take racers to the festival entrance. Though parking and bag check were both free this year, so the there would probably be some trade off. 

North-American-Championship-Spartan-Medal

Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

The venue is great. The area around the venue is gorgeous. Southern hospitality is a real thing. Biscuits and gravy are everywhere. There’s a lot to love about going to West Virginia for a couple days. Not to mention the North American Championship Beast medal all Saturday finishers walk away with. 

 

I told myself after this year I would stick to short races and not need more Trifectas in the future. But as long as Spartan keeps coming back to Summit Bechtel Reserve, I have a feeling that so will I.

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

emPowered OCR – Lancaster’s First Stadium-Style Obstacle Race

emPowered-OCR-at-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

 

A well-run local obstacle race is a great find. A well-run local obstacle race that’s for a good cause is a gem

 

emPower Training Systems and The Mighty Mehal Foundation teamed up to bring Lancaster, PA its first ever stadium-style obstacle race. The 3.25-mile course took place in and around Clipper Magazine Stadium, home to the Lancaster Barnstormers. 

 

A lot of local “obstacle” races I’ve experienced tend to be more of a glorified mud run than obstacle race. emPowered OCR was a true obstacle race that challenged competitive athletes while ensuring new racers would have a blast. There were even family waves so parents could run the course with their kids instead of watching them run a smaller course from the sidelines.

 

Inside-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

For A Cause

A lot of people use obstacle racing as an escape from the ordinary day to day. But some people use it to get through their own personal obstacles. emPowered OCR was created to help those people, with all proceeds benefiting The Mighty Mehal Foundation.

 

The foundation was created in honor of Shaun “Mighty” Mehal and provides scholarships to qualified applicants who are entering a recovery house in Lancaster County. 

 

Free Free Free

We all know how most of the larger races go. Need to park? That’ll be $10.00. Might even have to take a shuttle. Want to bring your grandma so she can cheer you on? Open up that wallet. 

 

Pretty much the only thing you needed to pay for at emPowered OCR was your registration and bag check, if you needed it. Parking was provided in the stadium lot and spectators were free of charge. There were even plenty of free samples from local and national vendors. 

 

As with the larger events, each registration included a tech shirt, finisher medal and a free beer for anyone over 21 years old. 

emPowered-OCR-course-map

Course Design

The course was designed by the co-owner of emPower Training Systems and personal trainer, Josh March. The distance came in right around 3.25 miles and featured 23 obstacles. Clipper Magazine isn’t as big as a major league stadium so, unlike those, it wasn’t all stairs. Most of the course took place just outside the stadium, with the last quarter-mile or so being inside. 

 

In the competitive waves, the majority of the obstacles were mandatory completion. Racers were given an extra band at registration and had to take it off if they were unable to complete an obstacle. Two obstacles did have a penalty loop, in addition to mandatory completion and one had a burpee penalty. 

 

For the “Strike Zone Challenge,” If you missed the strike zone net, you were required to do 15 burpees. Unfortunately for competitive racers who missed, the burpee obstacle was shortly after, which added another 15 reps in the hot sun (I speak from experience).

 

There were two carries out on the course, bucket and sandbag, which surprisingly had the same weight for men and women. It felt like the weight would be a little light compared to other men’s carries and a little heavy for women. The bucket carry was about a quarter-mile, while the sandbag weaved up and down the stadium steps. 

 

emPowered-Peak-Obstacle

No Easy Task

For anyone looking to challenge their grip and coordination, that was well taken care of. Several obstacles required bell ringing. “Because I Was Inverted” required traversing upside down across a steel beam from one end to the other. The “Y-Wall” was a fun mix of relatively easy rock holds out to a pair of hanging metal tubes. 

 

“emPowered Peak” almost seemed similar to Spartan’s Olympus due to the requirement to go from side to side on an angle. Unlike Olympus, though, there wasn’t much to grab. The obstacle was made up of vertical 2x4s that required careful transitions and shoes with some grip. 

 

Perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day, though, was the Barnstormers Rig. According to March, it turned out to be a band killer among competitive racers. It required transitioning between rings, baseballs and even a baseball bat in order to ring the bell at the end. And because it was late in the race, many of the athletes already had fatigued grip. 

 

A-look-at-emPowered-OCR-rig

What’s Next?

According to March, the race was a great success and they’re already in the works for a 2020 race and potentially a second event. With around 450 total participants, emPowered OCR definitely has the potential to become an annual event, with some expansion.

They do plan to keep the competitive waves mainly mandatory completion, which personally I love. There were a few hiccups with the registration process, but plans are already underway to improve the process for next year. They’re also looking into a more OCR-equipped timing system as this year’s timing was not set up to show 100% completion and non-completion among competitive racers. Instead bands had to be manually checked among the top finishers. 

emPowered-OCR-top-finishers

emPowered OCR was a fantastic race and the team did a really great job running the event. At no point did I feel like this was a first-year race. It’s definitely one that will be on my calendar for 2020 and beyond!

 

Photo Credit: emPower Training Systems, Jesse Keim, Kevin Peragine Photography, Lindsey Makuvek

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

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

Valentines Day Massacre

I love when new OCRs invite me to cover their inaugural event as I get to see first hand the innovative ideas that new race directors come up with. The Valentines Day Massacre, held February 16th in St. Louis, didn’t disappoint. This area of the country was lacking an event since The Battlegrounds sold out to Tough Mudder the previous year and tapping into the expanding winter OCR scene was a great way to bring back the fun! Now, VDM didn’t just throw a fire jump and low crawl into a trail race and call it an OCR, and while those two fan favorites were included VDM added some functional fitness elements that included tasks that tested a racers overall strength and fitness level along a course that lasted just 2 miles. Held outdoors at the Hazlewood Sports Complex, VDM tucked all their obstacles along and through the athletic fields on site in an action-packed, and fan friendly way. The weather actually added to the difficulty as 2 inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the race time wind chill was around 10 degrees making the grip-related obstacles just that much tougher.

VDM started out with the day with their elite waves beginning at 9 in the morning, but in a unique way as groups of three were released every three minutes. I found this to be a great way to stagger heats as I saw no lines at any obstacle anywhere on the course. The race itself started off much the way any other race would but sending athletes on a bit of a run to separate the participants. From there things got hot and heavy, well, actually just heavy as racers were required to squat down and pick up a snow-covered Atlas Stone for a short carry. Do you like heavy carries? Great cause VDM loaded up this section of the race with them as an ice bucket carry was also situated here along with the most unique carry test I’ve ever experienced.  VDM stuck sandbags into each leg of a pair of pants, then left them outside overnight to freeze.

If you thought taking a Wreckbag up and over walls during the summer was tough you hadn’t seen anything yet as this proved to be the most exhausting task of the day. An A-frame needed to be traversed with this “death bag” along with several walls topped with large plastic barrels that spun making this a supreme test of overall strength and left athletes winded to the max.

I was wondering if Wile E. Coyote would be joining me on the next obstacle as VDM used an anvil for drag and carry, no Road Runner or Acme rocket was seen though. You really got into the swing of things on the last obstacle in this section of the course as a dual Tarzan swing was next up. High jump landing pads were spaced a good 20 feet apart for each of these swings making it the longest swing on an OCR course that I’ve ever witnessed. That was followed up with a rope climb before sending racers through the dugouts on the baseball fields which had caution tape strung through them acting as a type of low crawl.

After a brief foray between the baseball diamonds, VDM set two 9-foot walls in a racers path. This led to a 14-foot rope aided warped wall climb with an interesting twist as a rig was set up underneath, and this rig was a killer. Monkey bars suspended by chains led to a series of 3 vertical ropes. Tough but doable right? That was only the halfway point though as a set of horizontal rock climbing holds led to a series of rings for the finish.

Now, VDM was nice during this event because it was cold out and placed a hay bale to stand on between each section, but I was told once it warms up for their next event the hay would be removed. Hope you saved some grip strength as a four section floating wall was next up with the handholds consisting of various rock climbing holds along with chains and balls. 4-foot hurdles were set along the trail leading to a cargo net low crawl set so low to the ground it pulled my stocking hat off. Lifting heavy shit again came into play with a 10 rep tire flip, and I have it on good authority that the men’s tractor tire weighed north of 350 pounds. Trying to get a grip on the snow-covered ground was next to impossible. Not quite as heavy, but way more awkward VDM set out a yoke carry made with a wooden beam balancing a frozen sandbag on each side. Let me tell you that when those sandbags got swinging back and forth it took all you had to right them.

After dumping that impossible load off your shoulders, a racer faced a series of three hoists which again utilized sandbags and got progressively heavier as you went down the line. One last 5-foot wall led athletes back towards the festival area, but not before climbing over a series of tractor tires stacked up on the ground and the obligatory fire jump. This race was perfect for those of us who are tired of races consisting of endless miles of running. OCR has expanded recently into events containing heavy movements to draw in the Crossfit crowd and I’m glad they brought this to the Midwest. Although lightly attended racers that did brave the weather felt like they got their money’s worth. Parking and pic were free, and VDM posted shots from the race on their Facebook page as the race was going on. What a revolutionary idea! No more waiting around to see your epic adventure! Everyone was extremely friendly, and the volunteers were all well drilled on the requirements of the obstacle they were marshaling. So, in a nutshell, short course packed with very challenging obstacles. I’ll be back, will I see you for their next event in May?

World’s Toughest Mudder – An Ode to Pissing in My Wetsuit

When I think about the world’s toughest race
A mudder that put me in my place
The memory that I cannot replace
Is pissing in my wetsuit

I registered in the previous year
My training plan became more clear
A piece of training I never went near
Was pissing in my wetsuit

The forecast was cold for our race day
The five-mile course ahead of us lay
Nolan and Eli never bothered to say
We’d be pissing in our wetsuits

Worlds Toughest Mudder GirlThis competitor probably pissed in her wetsuit

The first couple laps were warm and free
The sun was out, everyone could see
I figured no other runner would be
Pissing in their wetsuit

The sun went down and it turned cold
The time had come for me to be bold
And deliver a liquid colored gold
By pissing in my wetsuit

The first couple times were totally weird
Being seen by others is what I feared
But eventually I became less skeered
Of pissing in my wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder PondThe pond was the perfect place for pissing in your wetsuit

Turning laps, my heart would pound
My friends and family I couldn’t let down
I mastered the art of walking around
Just pissing in my wetsuit

As grass and obstacles turned to ice
The liquid warmth was really nice
Some laps I would even go twice
By pissing in my wetsuit

When the race was over my body was toast
My pit crew wouldn’t even come close
The smell of ammonia was super gross
From pissing in my wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder WoodsTwo Ryans – Possibly Pissed in their Wetsuits

When I got home and cleaned my stuff
A simple scrub was not enough
Removing the smell was really tough
From pissing in my wetsuit

I watched the special on TV
They didn’t mention, I didn’t see
That Rea and Kris, I guarantee
Were pissing in their wetsuits

The moral of this story is
If during the race you have to wizz
The only acceptable answer is
Pissing in your wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder Mendoza

I guarantee these guys pissed in their wetsuits

All Photo Credit Goes to OCR Nation