Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.

2018 Spartan US Championship Series Kicks Off in San Jose

The first race of the 2018 Spartan U.S. National Championship Series was held on March 24, just outside of San Jose, CA, in Diablo Grande. The hills provided a leg burning challenge with very few breaks and the obstacles included all of my favorite classics.

I jumped into the corral for the 8:30 a.m. heat. The sun was barely over the ridge and just beginning to warm the air, which was most welcome. We were off and headed to the first obstacle, the over walls. This was followed by “Mud Misery” and a shallow water crossing. My frozen toes thawed quickly as we ascended the first of many hills. Just when we thought we had reached the top, there was another hill to climb…and another. When we finally did reach the top, we found the monkey bars perched all alone, with the most amazing view.

I met a couple of people I had been pacing with, John and Karen. It was her first Spartan Race and she crossed the monkey bars the first time! I was so impressed! I made it across as well, enjoying the scenery as I hit the bell.

The hills continued and I found that going down was just about as challenging as up. It was so steep that it made it very difficult to run a large portion of it. We came to the Sandbag Carry and it was definitely a challenge. It was long, slow, and steep. I was very thankful that it didn’t start raining yet because the downhill portion of the carry would have been brutal if it was muddy.

The Bucket Carry 2.0 had sealed lids so you didn’t have to fill them. I really like this version as it saves time and there’s no way to spill the gravel. The route didn’t look as bad as I was expecting, which seemed a little odd for Spartan. Sure enough…once we rounded a corner there was a little hill of doom staring back at us! It was short and super steep and definitely provided a challenge. Next, was a 6-foot wall and, finally, a nice long gradual downhill portion that took us back into the festival area. This is where it gets fun…..it was jam-packed with obstacle after obstacle: the Tire Flip, Sled Drag, Atlas Carry, Olympus, Herc Hoist, and Spear Throw. Not only was this fun for the racers, but it was really nice having a viewing are for the spectators which included so many obstacles.

Next was the back half of the course. Last year this section was somewhat forgiving, with rolling hills and obstacles, but this year they surprised us with several hills and one very special one towards the end (I think I may have heard a bad word or two here). It was probably the steepest hill we had during the entire race. We trudged up, putting one foot slowly in front of the other, until we finally reached the top. The rain had started and it made it very slippery coming back down.

As we continued, we came to a second barbed wire crawl that went uphill. It was built pretty high so we were able to make quick work of it with a bear crawl. The final few obstacles seemed to be set up in an odd order. We reached the Dunk Wall, which had very steep mud mounds, proceeded to the Slip Wall, and then the Inverted Wall and the Rig. The Rig was going to be hard with wet hands. There was a cute little gal on the sidelines sharing her towel and cheering us on. I dried them the best I could but still dropped off the rig. She blew me a kiss as I thanked her and ran towards the finish line….so sweet! I “fire jumped” over the finish mat and the San Jose Spartan Super was in the books!

I ran the Sprint the next day and ended up pacing with John and Karen again! What are the odds of running into them with all of the other racers? The hills didn’t seem quite as bad and the company made it a lot of fun. Two successful races, a beautiful venue, and terrific people….who could ask for more?! Definitely, give this venue a try if you have the opportunity.

Here’s a little trivia to wrap things up:

  1. According to SpartanRace.com, the fastest time for completing the San Jose Super prior to this race was 80 minutes (2018 results were not official at the time of writing this review). 1
  2. “Mount Diablo is sacred to many California Native American peoples; according to Miwok mythology and Ohlone mythology, it was the point of creation”. 2
  3. “What animated film boasts a San Jose State University Spartans scoreboard in the background of a track race scene? If you answered “The Incredibles,” then you’re correct! Animation/illustration alum Doug Nichols showed his Spartan Pride”! 3

Stay tuned for the remaining U.S. National Championship Series races:

4/14   Seattle
5/19   SoCal
6/23  Chicago
7/28   Utah

Live strong, be kind, play hard… Aroo!

Photo credit: Kim Collings, Spartan Race, Mike Suelzle

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References:
1 Spartan Race Results: http://www.spartanrace.com.au/en/race/detail/3154/results
2 Mt. Diablo Point of Creation: https://www.spartan.com/en/race/detail/3154/overview
3 San Jose State Spartans Scoreboard: https://www.facebook.com/search/SJSU Scoreboard