Spartan Spain – Night Sprint Review

In the hunt for my first trifecta, Spartan Race Spain delivers an irresistible twist on stadium races, the Night Sprint!! A no-brainer at race selection.

As a parting gift from my 19-month old I was hit with a mild plague days before the race (ok ok just a cold), which the flight, kindly rammed into my sinuses leaving me jelly-legged and out of it until only a few hours before the race! Thankfully, adrenaline, ignorance and? Hopefully painkillers? (#notaspaniard #craptourist) cleared my vision and pain long enough to go for it, I set off.

Park and Arch

Locating, parking, and finding your way to registration at the Ricardo Turmo Circuit race track is fairly easy. Although, clearer signage when entering the car park, which was huge, would have helped too.

Registration was easy, and donning your glow-in-the-dark night sprint tee and mandatory headlamps mean you’re all set. As darkness drew in, the pre-race pump up began! Moshing, rugby scrums, piggyback wars and British bulldog style games were there to kill the 10 mins delay in starting, but then we were off!!
Racers leaving start line in night sprint

As the novelty of night running reached its peak, you hit the first few 4′ walls and the O.U.T. It’s then, that Spartan Spain goes and throws the proverbial bucket on the fire you just pumped up by moving off the pleasantly springy race track, onto loose, fairly deep, gravel!! Good gosh, what a proper energy sapper!

And oh, they didn’t stop there. I had assumed, it being a stadium race, it would probably be a longer distance, but I didn’t expect any trail running, maybe more obstacles?? How wrong I was!!!!! The route led off gravel and out of the stadium altogether and onto some SOLID inclines. Half, being wide long concrete steps followed by steeper concrete trails. Oh and the cherry? The BENDER.

As one of my favourite obstacles, the bender has the appearance of simplicity, until you reach the top where physics seems to abandon you (unless you’re one of those salmon jumping immortals). It is an obstacle that breaks many a spartan to tears, and as such, I did notice a number of people skip this obstacle all together (so easy at night), burpees and all.

Although, I can also understand why, with only one spartan on each of the three sections allowed at a time, it’s a BIG time sink. I easily lost 10 minutes here, waiting for my turn, helping and being helped with the obstacle. Get there first if your running for time!

Spartan Spain went on to milk the hills a little more, with some sweet, steep switchbacks and a sandbag carry to the hilltop, and then a return back down over some DODGY rocky trails for doing at night!

Day-time-sandbag

I added this day shot, to give you an idea of that tasty INCLINE! 

On the return to the stadium, the route loops around and over some crash barriers and onto 3 decently long MUDDY barbed wire crawls, dotted between 8 ft walls, the slip wall (with hoses running!) and the inverse wall. All of these made lovely and challenging to grip, due to a fair bit of thick goopy mud!

I found the whole section very satisfying, albeit, that wonderful gravel finding its way into the mud, and shredding my knees and elbows! At least it made for some solid knee/elbow grazing battle scars!

Barbed wire crawling

At 1.5K left on the course, glow sticks (which marked the whole course) led back onto that wonderful gravel, and brutally, all the way back to the festival area where you’re almost allowed to feel you’re reaching the end but alas, there’s still more to go. 

Arrive next at a confusingly light herc hoist, especially as the preceding obstacles seem adapted to INCREASE difficulty.  Lighter weights here seem to merciful for the spartan races of recent months (Ashton down, Windsor etc). Shoulders were definitely grateful 😉

A short crawl under a walkway leads to the spear throw, and back around to the side of that entrance archway. On closer inspection, this is actually an obstacle. Spartan netting sprawls up, over and back down. A neat little challenge for the vertigo-ed among us.

Descending this obstacle, and on to the last km takes you back out of the stadium boundary and on to the multi rig, consisting of monkey bars, tyres and rings, which is a really nice mix, creating a new challenge to all abilities.

The olympus wall, seems heavily aimed towards elites and those with insane grip strength. Everyday runners/OCRs, especially of the “more meat on bone” variety, may find this completely impossible, and may as well head straight to the burpees. Unless, of course, you have some spartan help nearby.

The finish area includes the rope climb, balance beams, straddling a weird little “product placement” obstacle; 3 Mercedes SUVs (see picture below), to crawl or squat past. The finish fire was the best I’ve seen yet. An actual jump! Maybe even high enough to trip over, but a great incentive to bust a pose….

Firejump

The post-race goodies were standard for a sprint, with coconut water, water, tee etc; which leads me onto my biggest complaint of Spartan race Spain, no free photos for the race. The group Sportograf gives well taken and finished. 6 Euros each (around £5/$6), leaves a bitter taste to a wholly sweet experience.

The race was satisfying and well organised, and I cannot recommend the night experience enough really. Only a slightly under-powered herc hoist and no free photos to complain about. An impressive mix and adaption of well-known obstacles over a 6.2km course presents a decent challenge for most. A backdrop of beautiful area and city to enjoy afterward, what more does a Spartan nomad want?!

Rain, Rain Stayed Away: Seattle Spartan Weekend

When you think of the city of Seattle, Washington you usually think of rain, but Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend had different plans.  What Seattle actually got was incredible weather with some of the most breathtaking views you can find.

First off let me talk about something that can be an absolute pain for obstacle course racers: Parking!  Parking for both days went extremely fast and smooth.  Plenty of volunteers were out there guiding you both in and out of the area, and the payment lines split into four, so there was no traffic getting backed up.  All of the volunteers for this event were very helpful with questions and the ones on the course were very enthusiastic and encouraging to all the racers.  This is always a positive, especially when you feel the struggles after a bucket carry and need to keep pressing forward, it’s nice to get that sound of encouragement.

As I get to registration it was also pain-free.  For the Beast, I arrived just about noon and there was a 2-minute wait to get in, and on Sunday I ran the age group race and there was no wait for registration.  Again all the people working the registration area were very helpful in answering all my questions.

As always, Spartan knows how to put on a race.  From the minute you walked into the festival to the minute you walked out, there was something for you to do.  The Army was there with a mini obstacle course which included a heavy sled push, pull-ups, an army crawl, and a that sled you just pushed you now need to pull it back.  Food, clothing, and more were on hand during the entire weekend and did not disappoint.

The courses for the weekend were fast with not a lot of major climbs.  The Beast course ended up being just over 13 miles while the Sprint was just over 4.5 miles.  The course was a perfect mixture of water, mud, sand, and dirt and was both challenging and fun.  Steve Hammond does an incredible job and designing these courses, but more importantly, he and his team do an incredible job at marking the courses.  There is nothing worse than being on a course and getting lost, but with Spartan races that won’t ever be a problem as the entire course was marked for both days, and this is something I am very thankful for.

After I finished my race I was greeted by volunteers handing out the finisher medals and then by a photographer who snapped a couple pictures of me in front of the Spartan wall while I held my shield.  As I walked down the finish shoot I was offered a variety of post-race food and drinks including of course the infamous race banana.  Fit Aid was also offered, as well as water and Cliff chewy blocks.  Finally, I came to another volunteer who cut off my timing chip and made small talk while doing so, which was a nice little touch.

After I left the finishing shoot I went over and sprayed myself off with the Spartan “showers” that were surprisingly refreshing and then into the changing tent to get the dirt out of places it shouldn’t be.  Lastly, I went over to bag check to retrieve my bag, which was super convenient and no hassle at all.

Spartan is the leader of the OCR sport for a reason.  It has changed the lives of a lot of people, and they know how to put on a race.  I hear negativity now and then about it, but at the end of the day as I said above, Spartan knows how to put on a race and I can’t wait for the next one.

Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Beast and Sprint

Let’s jump right into this fire. The Spartan Chicago, which on Spartan’s own website declares that it is “Just 2:30 hours away from Chicago and 1:30 hours away from Indianapolis”, is in the Eastern Time Zone.

Yep, you read that right. The Spartan Chicago is an hour closer to Indianapolis, is hosted in Attica, Indiana and, oh yeah, is in different time zone!

Map of Distances between Chicago,IL Attica, IN and Indianapolis, IN

Exhibit A: Incredibly compelling, scientific evidence that the Spartan Chicago should be renamed to Spartan Indiana.

Now perhaps there is a strategic reasoning behind this naming decision and it might just be that I’m ranting, but that’s my right and I will exercise it as I wish!

Spartan Chicago

Naming convention aside, the Beast and Sprint weekend hosted at the Badlands Off-Road park was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Scheduled on the weekend of September 8th and 9th and competing with the Brickyard 400  (which ended up being rain delayed until September 10th), an Indianapolis Colts Season Opener and a Warrior Dash a few miles away. This Spartan weekend delivered a wonderful experience for competitors of all levels. Even if, the number of fellow racers, was fewer than expected.

The Venue

The venue seemed as if it was custom designed to host an Obstacle Course Race. For example, the parking was on-site and the registration line non-existent! This meant no buses, no wait and a friendly group of volunteers and staff made this one of the fastest, friendliest, in and out experiences I’ve ever had at a Spartan/OCR event.

Expedited lines and smile filled faces, however, weren’t the only thing we were met with during our time in Indiana. From the second my brother John and I touched down at Indianapolis International Airport, we were met with buckets of rain.

Apparently, leftovers from a storm system earlier in the week. These soggy conditions made everyone’s cheery attitude and excitement that much more impressive, as everyone there was slopping through mud and water on and off the course!

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of ridiculously friendly volunteers

The Course

The Badlands Off-Road Park served as a vast, fast, canvas to build the 13-mile Spartan Beast and the 5-mile Spartan Sprint upon. With a variety of terrain; from rock-filled streams to slick black mud, it offered it all; but the predominate surface we found ourselves trudging through was a super soft, squishy, yet; packable sand/gravel mixture. Regarding elevation, the map could best be described as a “roller coaster”. Meaning that what went up, eventually came back down and ultimately; the course balanced itself out to be a nearly perfectly flat surface. Back at the same elevation where it started.

Climbing up the hills with this mix of terrain and elevation was technical, but once you got the hang of it, very manageable. Your reward for climbing up the 50-70 foothills was a thrilling breakaway (or bomb away, depending on how fast you wanted to approach it) that included curves, berms, and divots that you could run down as fast as you wanted, without fear of major consequence. The sand mix was such that even if you lost your line and “yardsaled”, you would be able to pop back up and get back up to speed without so much as a scrape.  In my opinion, this terrain was the highlight of the entire course which was awesome because it represented a majority of the surface found at the venue.

The Beast

All the major obstacles showed up at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) and the rain made them extra challenging once completed. Of note, the course had 2 different sandbag carries, one using the standard Spartan bag and another using a generic bag with an evil zig-zag path to walk it around. The downpour of rain also affected the A-Frame and Tyrolean traverse in ways I hadn’t seen before. For example, the A-frame had more give in the net, to the point that as one Spartan would hop off the end of the fixture, the racer at the beginning would drop down 2-3 feet. I have never experienced that before and it added a new tier of challenge to a typically straightforward obstacle.

As for Tyrolean Traverse, the rope was so wet that it sagged to the point that my back was dragging on the ground, while I was simultaneously holding onto the rope.  Looking into future races, I will certainly pay closer attention to rope sagging and use that to decide which lane to choose going into the obstacle.

Also, the finishing sequence of the 2-segment twister, Spear Throw and a raging fire jump to wrap the day up added a lot of excitement and drama for participants and the amazing spectators that braved the elements to see the day’s events unfold! Well done. One issue we did experience was that the weather conditions seemed to affect our timing chips, which reported at the results tent that we had crossed the finish line in 15 hours! A quick chat at the results tent remedied that and had us back in business in no time.

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of a great Beast.

The Sprint

On Saturday, temps dropped by about 10 degrees, from 75-ish to 65- ish and the rain stalled to a slight drizzle. Which somehow converted the wet and slick obstacles from the Beast, into the muddy and more slippery obstacles of the Sprint. The 5-mile highlight reel of the Beast Course, had all the same hanging obstacles, along with a devastatingly difficult Bucket Brigade and Atlas Carry. Perhaps it was our diminished forearm and grip strength from the day before, but those buckets seemed to be approximately 100 pounds heavier than the ones we carried in the Beast.

Not to mention the fact that the Atlas Carry had turned into a water obstacle in a few sections. I almost asked for a PFD before grabbing my, affectionately titled, Burpee Boulder! Overall, the Sprint was challenging and differentiated enough to ensure that it will be remembered for its own reasons by those of us ambitious (i.e. insane) enough to attempt it the day after the Beast. That tall task was accomplished, while also being an accessible test for the Novice racer. (Of which we saw and high fived aplenty throughout the day.)

Conclusion

At the end of the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) weekend, there was nothing but good things going on at the Badlands on the Spartan Chicago 2018. And naming controversy aside, I would highly recommend any racer looking for a friendly, fast and fantastic experience to give this location a look in the future!

 

Beast Mode Bros 412 at the Spartan Chicago (Indianapolis) Badlands Off-Road Park

Evidence of a great weekend @ The Badlands!

Boston Spartan Sprint – Mud Anyone?

Barre-Sprint-Bucket-Carry

Mother nature isn’t always going to be on your side. Rarely is there such as thing as “perfect” race conditions. Though the race day conditions for Sunday’s Boston Spartan Sprint were very good, the damage had already been done.

 

Throughout Saturday’s Super, thousands of racers faced an already muddy course and afternoon rain. That, combined with more rain overnight, made the perfect recipe for a wet and muddy Sprint course on Sunday.

Barre-Sprint-Corn-Field

Venue

The venue is located a couple hours away from Boston, at Carter and Stevens farm in Barre, MA. Because it’s on a farm, there wasn’t a crazy amount of ascent, totaling just over 300 ft in the roughly 4.5-mile course. That makes the Boston Sprint a great course to check out if you’re looking to try your first Spartan race.

 

Parking was off-site, requiring a shuttle, but only a few miles away. The Stone Cow Brewery and a BBQ pit was right at the shuttle point for anyone who wanted some food and drink before and/or after the race. Naturally, the path down to the registration tent led right by a group of cows and even parts of the course. This can be great, unless you let the muddy mess of Twister psyche you out before you even walk in the door.

Barre-Sprint-Bridge

Festival

The festival area was nice and muddy, but well organized and spread out. Spectators were able to watch the start, Twister, Bridge, Olympus, Spearman, Hercules Hoist, Monkey Bars and the finish all in the same general area. With a bit of a walk, Bucket Carry and Multi-Rig were also visible. The U.S. Army was on site with a timed challenge for anyone looking to test their athleticism, plus other vendors with free giveaways or sign-ups.

 

Because it was a Sunday, there weren’t as many competitors as a Saturday race may have seen. It was also the same weekend as the North American OCR Championships in Vermont. Because of the lighter race load, the Elite heat went off at 9:00 am, letting everyone sleep in a little. Ideally, this would have also given the course a bit of time to dry out. With the amount of rain and mud, though, not much could be done.

Barre-Sprint-Burpee-Zone

Course

The design of the course was typical to most Spartans, but also one of my favorites. Obstacles were pretty spread out through the first half of the race, with just seven obstacles in the first two miles. Many of those seven were hurdles, mud mounds, or other less taxing obstacles. Then, over the final mile or so, racers hit a gauntlet of upper body and grip obstacles. Most of the terrain was either through fields (corn or otherwise) or wooded trails. There were one or two road crossings, which was sectioned off by police.

Something that I’ve noticed is that when there’s a Beast or Super the day before the Sprint, typically some of the obstacles will be set up more difficultly than if it were just a Sprint weekend. For example, at the DC Sprint, Twister had just two sections. Here in Massachusetts, it had three.

Barre-Sprint-Hercules-Hoist

From what I’ve gathered, Spartan wants to make the longer races more challenging, with the Sprints being a sort of “gateway” into the sport. Typically, that means easier set ups. They still only do rings on the Multi-Rig, but some obstacles are harder to switch out. It’d be tough for them to take out an entire section of Twister overnight. The Hercules Hoist was set up with a heavier weight for the Super as well, which is another one that gets left for the next day’s Sprint. With the extra weight, plus rain and mud, that made the hoist one of the toughest obstacles for the day.

 

Hopefully Spartan returns to Carter and Stevens Farm next year, as it makes a great race venue, whether mother nature cooperates or not!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, the author

Spartan Race Palmerton – They are who we thought they were!

Let’s start this adventure down memory lane with a quick backstory. The Spartan Super in Palmerton this past weekend was my first time stepping foot on a Spartan course since a stadium race in 2016, my first time on one of their mountain courses since 2015, and this was my 3rd time running the Palmerton course. See, the Blue Mountain venue is sort of a home course for me. It’s only 90ish minutes from my house, I’ve been there for winter activities, it’s a nice drive up, and it’s truly a beautiful place. You may be asking, “well why the hell did you skip the last couple years then?”. The answer to that is simple; I wanted to scale back how often I was racing, and honestly was a bit bored of Spartan Races. Blasphemy, I know.

Spartan Race Blue Mountain

With that out of the way, I was excited to get back out there on the mountain and see where the day would take me. I wasn’t going there to “race” and had no expectations going into this other than being excited for a nice sunny day on a mountain with my wife. On the ride up, we were discussing the course/venue over the years and talked about all the epic sandbag carries up/down the double black diamond slopes, the swim across the pond, and the ever so popular chairlift that terrifies me and my fear of heights. I was curious to see how the event and course had changed since my last go of it, or if I was in for a new experience.

Before getting into the race, and to save both my time and yours, here’s the quick and dirty of what Spartan Race did really well.

  • Registration, parking, and bag check were all a breeze.
  • Festival area was well spread out and they had several sitting areas for spectators in the shade.
  • They had a water station every mile given the 90+ temps and they even had the snow machine spraying mist on the course and in the faces of chairlift riders (still not enough to make this guy get on it). Well played, Spartan.
  • Sponsors – Clif and Body Armor were great. There were Clif Bloks at one water station and having Body Armor at the finish on a super hot day was great.
  • Post race food – Impossible burger! They had the famous plant-based burger for all us non-meat eaters. Normally the only stuff I get to eat after events is beer and french fries, totally not a complaint, but having a plant-based burger option was extremely appreciated.

Spartan Impossible Burger

Race time!

Spartan Palmerton Course Map

The race started as expected, straight up the mountain for about a mile’s worth of climbing. At the top, we grabbed a sandbag and went down those double black diamonds, then came right back up. Did another obstacle or two, and proceeded to run down the mountain. Then we did something different and hiked up the mountain, but this time in the shade! Yay shade! This was the fun and more technical climb of the two. We got to the top, did a few more obstacles, and then started our descent back down the mountain. Noticing the trend here? This continued but with shorter climbs and more obstacle density toward the last two miles of the course through the finish. In the last mile or so we had 12 of the 26 obstacles including ape hanger, rope climb, bucket carry, and inverted walls.

Spartan Palmerton Obstacle List

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the obstacles. I’m a fan of twister, the rig, ape hanger, and even the old-school staples like the carries and rope climb. I have fun doing all of those obstacles and they certainly give you an extra challenge, but this race was exactly what it’s been for as long as I’ve been coming here. Sometimes when on course I felt like I should have just signed up for a mountain trail race and occasionally picked up a rock to carry for a bit. Other times I appreciate the fact that without this event I’d likely not be out playing on a beautiful mountain and acting like a kid on a really steep playground.

Spartan Palmerton Bucket Brigade

The race was everything I had known it to be before as well as everything I expected it to be now, and THAT’S OKAY! Spartan Race isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. They know the formula that works and they deploy it annually in Palmerton to borderline sold-out crowds that keep coming back for more. This race is one of the best venues out there, and the experience you get is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Spartan Palmerton Rope Climb

I’m usually not one to throw an overarching theme on something complex like an obstacle race, but when you ask me if there’s one thing that sums up my day in Palmerton, it’s a line from legendary NFL Coach Dennis Green  “They are who we thought they were!”, and this time that’s a good thing.

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

Maryland International Raceway, just south of our nation’s capital, is usually filled with revving engines, screeching tires and roaring cheers. This weekend, the cheers were still there, but the tires were replaced with the sound of feet running through the woods. The engines were replaced by splashing water, ringing bells and spears hitting hay. Spartan Race had returned for its popular Sprint distance.

Parking and Registration

Personally, the two biggest things that make a race great, other than the course itself, is parking and registration. Parking at D.C. was on-site, which is always great. Generally, if I see there’s a shuttle, I’m less likely to add that race to my list. Parking at Maryland International Raceway was extremely easy, and the lot was only about a 3-4-minute walk to the registration tent. Check in was smooth and quick early in the morning and I didn’t notice any long lines in the afternoon.

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

I know a lot of Spartan diehards were down in Dallas for one of their bigger stadium races of the year, but turnout still seemed relatively strong. There weren’t a ton of vendors, but this made the festival area seem less congested and easy to navigate. Regardless of festival vendors, there were still plenty of free goodies to be had both at the finish line and around the festival area.

The spectator area didn’t extend far into the course, but after watching racers start, they were able to view Hercules Hoist, Multi-Rig and Rope Climb all within about a quarter mile of the course. There was also an area outside of the festival to watch Monkey Bars and Vertical Cargo. At the finish, spectators watched racers emerge from the woods to take on the A-Frame and finish with a Fire Jump.

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

Out of the handful of Sprints I’ve done in the past, DC was by far the flattest. Though there were plenty of short hills with varying inclines, the total ascent was low for your typical Spartan. Though 300 feet over a little over 4 miles is nothing to scoff at, many other venues easily hit 1,000 feet or more in the same distance. This led to quick times for the Elite racers, with the male winner, Tyler McCredie finishing in 39:48 and the female winner, Tiffany Palmer, coming across in 50:42.

Most Spartan Races and obstacle races, in general, only include a few obstacles in the first mile. Mostly, this is to keep the field spread out so there isn’t a lot of backup. The D.C. Sprint, however, included seven obstacles in the first mile. And not just hurdles or barbed wire, either. Those were included, but so were the Spearman, Bucket Brigade and Olympus. Initially, I expected this to cause some unusual backups. But, to my surprise, I didn’t face any significant obstacle lines. That went for both heats I ran, once in Age Group at 8:00 am and the second being Open at 11:30 am.

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

In all, the course tallied up about 4.25 miles and racers faced 22 obstacles. That early run of obstacles meant no crazy gauntlet at the end of the race. The last half mile only included Monkey Bars, Vertical Cargo, A-Frame and Fire Jump. So, if you had enough juice in your legs, you could make a solid finish with the lack of strength or grip obstacles. Personally, I like having a string of obstacles right before the finish, but each design has its strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author