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

SoCal Spartan: Surprises for 2019

It’s the first Spartan race of the year and there are a lot of exciting new obstacles, as well as the 2019 medals and shirts. Oh yes…..and make sure to read to end because I’ll share a surprise announcement that I love love love!

NEW HEADBANDS:
It’s Saturday, January 26. I’m so excited to get to the first race of the year in Southern California. The venue is Prada Regional Park in Chino. It’s sunny but very windy, similar to last year. The course is relatively flat and open, with really beautiful territorial views. I picked up my packet and the first change for 2019 is right inside. Elite and Age group racers will now wear a red headband instead of a wrist band. I love the idea of one less thing to wear on my wrist.

NEW OBSTACLES:
Once we got underway we came across familiar obstacles such as the Overwalls, 6′ and 7′ walls, and Bender. Then we made it to the new obstacles. One of the most challenging for me was Beater. There are three sections before you hit the bell. Each section contains a rotating spindle with four bars attached and a fixed bar in between that is placed quite high. Momentum is extremely helpful in completing this obstacle. I did see one person skip the top fixed bars completely by swinging and catching the next rotating section….very impressive!

Next, was Olympus with a twist! They added balls to the chains (that’s exactly what I thought when I approached it….the ole ball and chain). I thought the balls would make it harder so I didn’t use them and ended up falling off. Burpee time. After the race, I talked with several people who used them and they said it was easier for them. I’m definitely trying them next time.

The 8-foot box may be a replacement for the 8-foot wall, but I haven’t confirmed that. This one is going to take some figuring out for me. I did see a few people get up and over by running and scurrying up to the top, but there were also several people in the burpee pit, including me. One person had success by using two ropes and catching their heel at the top. Something that adds a little more difficulty, is it doesn’t have a hold at the top like a regular wall. There is a metal bar that sits back several inches but you are practically up there by the time you can grab it and it definitely makes it a challenge!

Now this one is for me! I’m a shorty, so I was very excited to see the tubes. I was able to bear crawl through them quickly. These aren’t meant to be difficult, but to slow you down. Finding the quickest way through is key.

Helix has been one of the most talked about new obstacles on social media. I was nervous about this one and didn’t know what to expect but, with patience and careful foot placement, I made it across just fine and really enjoyed it. You can’t touch the top or place your feet on the ground but you can hold the sides or anything in between. There are bars that go across as well as up and down; however, there are plexiglass panes in some of the sections which prevent you from getting a good foothold or handhold.

The last change was the spear throw. Instead of hay bales, they have what appears to be styrofoam bodies. They seemed to be holding up well and the view was spectacular with the lake in the background. The wind had really picked up but it was behind us here which I was very thankful for.

NOT NEW BUT EPIC:
I had to add the mud mounds because they were the tallest ones I’ve seen. They were definitely a challenge, but so much fun. Several of us would get halfway up and slide back down, over and over. Finally made it, but that was one doozie of a mud mound/dunk wall. I will have to say there was a semi-new part to it. The actual dunk wall was inflated instead of wood. It’s wider on the bottom so you have to push through a little more, but nothing too different.

SPECIAL MENTION:
One last bit of obstacle information regards the atlas ball. I wasn’t sure if I was tired or the ball got heavier, but the staff member on site said it is definitely heavier this year. No confirmation of the weight but I could feel the difference. Time to go to the beach and start picking up rocks.

NEW SHIRTS AND MEDALS:
The shirts and medals are similar to last year but have some changes that make them unique to 2019. The medals have color sections which indicate the type of race such as Sprint, Super, or Beast. The shirts are made from the same technical material but the wording is laid out differently and the sponsor, Rakuten, is displayed.

SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT?????:
I mentioned at the beginning there was one super cool new item I would share. I’m so excited about this one ***drum roll***

There are now porta-potties at the water stations! Hallelujah!!! It’s always been a fine line between staying hydrated and being able to burn off the water intake during the race. This is a very very welcome addition. Thank you, Spartan for hearing and delivering!!!

Hope you enjoyed the preview of what the year has in store. Have a great race season everyone and let me know what you think about the new obstacles. 365 new days…..365 new opportunities to shine! Go get it!

Photo Credit: Rage Strader, Kim Collings

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