I ran the Sprint Spartan Race the weekend before last. It’s an experience I won’t forget, but I don’t really mean that in a good way. The Spartan Race seems to pride itself on toughness, and part of that seems to be to keep race details in the dark, and give racers a surprise. OK… so you should train yourself for general fitness, and rest assured you’ll be running a lot of hills. I did the Warrior Dash the year before (I never got around to writing a recap), so this post will draw a lot of comparisons between the two events.
From the pre-race preparation email:
CLICK HERE to download the BIB LIST. The number on the left of your name is your CHIP number, use the search function in the PDF to search for you name. For Macs, use command+alt+ F to find your info. Before you arrive at the race, please write this number in Permanent Marker on your Fore-Head ONLY. If you cannot open the PDF we will send an online version tomorrow.
I guess a Spartan doesn’t have a job that he/she has to go to the next day. I thought this was a joke, but it was repeated later in the email and they were trying to enforce it at registration. Most pictures I saw from before I raced seemed to show a minority of people who actually had numbers on their face, but at the starting line I was a little surprised to see how many people played along. I wonder how long it takes to scrub off, though it would become apparent that the ideal Spartan Race demographic has nothing but tons of time to kill. I just wrote my number on both arms (accidentally backwards on my right) – I’m used to body marking from triathlon.
I was aiming to get to the race parking lot around 2 hours before (they recommend at least an hour), and we managed to be there 90 minutes before my race was supposed to take off. After waiting in line for a shuttle bus (yellow rocket school bus), the ride there and making it through registration, I had all of 10 minutes to spare.
For a place that caters to both cross-country skiing and mountain biking, Hardwood Hills was not exactly stroller friendly. Maybe I should have let the $15 spectator fee dissuade me from having my wife and kids along, but we like to do things as a family, and I sure love the moral support.
Like I had said, I had about 10 minutes to get my timing chip and find the starting line. With some of the requisite pumping up (and spraying with the fire hose), we were off.
I did like the course layout; at the Warrior Dash the year before, mud was the first thing encountered, and it happened right in the beginning before different paces over different terrain could thin people out a little. Here, we went a good way before encountering obstacles. I really struggle to remember every obstacle and its order after the fact, so I just tried to put them in table form below.
The mountain bike/cross country ski trails can get narrow, meaning there were bottlenecks at certain junctures. The only time I really minded this was when one fellow decided to look back and check how his team-mates were doing, right between two trees we all had to run through. I had some success communicating with racers I wanted to pass:”Coming up on your right/left”.
The trail presented a lot of climbing and descending, and if you do one of these, hill training is the best thing you can do to prepare. It was a nice, natural environment to be running through. Anyway, on to the –
|Mountain Crawl||Up a hill under a camouflage net meant going on all fours||If you’ve ever done mountain climbers, this is what they’re for, only here you’ve got to move your arms too!|
|Culvert Tunnel||a Belly crawl through plastic tubing||I was too big to really get my knees involved, so more than anything else this meant pulling myself along with my arms|
|Cargo Net||A loose net about 10-12’ high. Climb up, over and down the other side||You swung around a fair bit making falling off a real possiblity. I got my foot caught just as I had the other on the ground and wanted to leave the obstacle. I did a jiu-jitsu roll to get free!|
|Rope Climb||Straight up a rope (with no knots) for guys, rope ladders for girls||I doubted my upper body strength on this one, and after a quick try, I realized my technique was lacking too. I did the 20 burpees instead – the only obstacle where I did that.|
|Kettle Bell Pulley||Raise a couple of kettle bells to around 20’ by pulling a rope down.||One of their ‘obstacles’ which is more of a straight fitness/exercise station|
|Mud Pit Barb Wire||Get under the barb wire by crawling through the mud||Ow. There were roots to scratch up your knees (see photos). You couldn’t avoid them because you couldn’t see them.|
|Mud Pools||Without barb wire you still have to wade through hip to chest height mud||By the time you get out, you’re carrying another 5 pounds worth of mud in your clothes. A hallmark of these kinds of races|
|8’ wall||Get over the wall||Did it in one jump and pull-up. Burbathlon came in handy…|
|12’ wall||Guess….||Unless you’re the size of a pro-basket ball player, you need help of other racers (or to cheat by grabbing a foothold along the side of the wall – that was me).|
|Bag of Cement||Carry a bag of cement (20-30lbs, I figure) on you shoulder (or however you choose) about 100m or so||This was one of the easier ones for a parent of small children. There was only one bag, and it never screamed in my ear.|
|Spear Throw||Throw a spear at a large straw dummy. As long as you make contact, you’ll avoid extra burpees.||Lucky they’re lenient on hitting the target. My throw grazed it lightly.|
|Wheel Barrow||Cart a wheel barrow-like device for 50-100m.||Not much to say|
|Crooked Balance Beam||Stay on the narrow, zig-zagging beam or do burpees||Proud I didn’t fall off. Burbathlon came in handy…|
|Fire Jump||Jump over flames 2-3’ high||Another jiu-jitsu roll for me – OVER THE FLAMES! I got an ‘oooh’ from some spectators|
|Rowing Machines||20 rows on a rowing machine/ergometer||Obstacle? Sure…|
|Hay Bales||Climb over hay bales using the attached netting|
|Gladiator Gauntlet||Two guys with padded staves and a third un-armed (to push or wrestle you?)||By this point the race had run longer than I planned and I thought of my wife having to deal with two screaming kids. This must have given me the crazy eyes, because I barged straight through those guys with body checks. They managed to take out my friend Rob though (see photo)|
|Big Ramp||The final climb. There are ropes, but it’s still slippery and steep.||Managed to make it on my first try, though I benefited from watching people in front of me.|
After all that, I felt pretty proud to have finished. I had expected to finish in under 45 minutes (since the race was described as being 3 miles+; i.e. something around/over 5km), but in reality it turned out to be over 7km and took me nearly an hour. Cue the smiles and victory poses.
|Shark Boy and I show our muscles|
|Hulk Hogan has 24″ pythons… I have pyth-nons|
The smiles were not to last however. The rinse off facility was a meagre garden hose (Warrior Dash used a fire hose, and even that doesn’t get much of the mud off) which had yet another slow, long line-up. After getting some over-priced food ($23 for a personal pizza, and order of fries, and 3 ice-creams) to feed our starving selves, escaping the venue involved spending over 2 hours in line to get onto a school bus back to the parking lot. When it started to rain, my wife took the baby into shelter, but someone had to stay with the stroller and hold our place in line, so Shark Boy and I risked hypothermia; he was visibly shivering well before we were able to board, and unfortunately, he’s a little too dynamic to stay still under a tent roof with his mother – it takes both of us to manage our kids for any extended amount of time. I tried to keep us under the umbrella, but there’s only so much that will do. Fortunately, once some extra buses beyond the paltry 2-3 that had originally been doing the shuttling showed up, the better nature of some of race participants took over. The people in front of us in line wanted “to make sure the kids got on this bus”. Back at the parking lot, another long hike back to the car and we were finally in warmer air and on our way home… through weekend cottage country traffic. My wife later compared the experience to being at the airport with small children; you have no-where to go and you’re penned in so you feel like a hostage, while hearing the kids’ screams of irritation, boredom and discomfort.
Afterwards, I hoped to find my time results online and find a few photos for this post, but every time I found myself, I seemed to be a background player… and as for the results, check this from the post-race follow-up email:
Congratulations on your Epic achievement,
Results can be found HERE Please use the search function to search for your name. For some participants you will find the Letters TBA by you name, some of the Data stored on the timing box suffered damage there was a small electrical fire by the finish line, we have sent the drive off to see if we can extract the information in the meantime we will keep you posted.
If you were part of the group that were unable to receive a T-shirt at the end of the race. We apologise sincerely, our final shirt delivery had been held for inspection for Canada Customs for over 3 weeks and despite our best efforts to fly in replacements we were unable to to get the total. HOWEVER it is looking promising that the shirts will be released in the next 48 Hours and when you crossed the finish line you would have given your CHIP Number and Size please confirm your desired Postal adress by CLICKING HERE and we will collate your request with the finish line list and you will receive your T-Shirt.
We would like to apologise as some of you may have experienced line ups at Bag check, showers or the shuttle bus. We would like to Stress how important your experience is to us and we have committed to solve these problems for your next race.
I had grabbed an extra large T-Shirt (I wear Large) on my way out of the finisher’s area since I couldn’t find a large, and having my fans/family there meant not having to deal with the Bag check. The basic theme of the event’s problems seems to be that they want as many people showing up as possible (they get admission money for both participants and spectators), but they don’t ensure any reasonable service for all those people. They either need to cap admissions lower, or spend more on what it takes to get people in and out or wherever they need to be. I stand by my initial assessment that I got by reading the intro email mentioned at the top of the page: SPARTAN RACE – An event for Morons, by Morons. I’ll never participate in this event again.