Spartan Sprint Is Too Easy

Not really, but I want you to read and knew a strong title would get me eyeballs.

suckers…

Spartan Sprint is a Different Kind of Hard

This is more accurate.

After selecting the grueling 13-mile Spartan Beast as my first Spartan race, I was concerned that perhaps the Gulf Coast Spartan Sprint race, with a distance that would fall somewhere between 3 and 5 miles, wouldn’t be all that challenging.

Well, as usual, I was a big dummy and totally wrong.

Lining Up in the Elite Heat

I run the elite heats, not because I think I’m all that, but because I:

  • like running as early as possible
  • want to accrue Spartan points (although I’ve since learned they mean nothing)
  • don’t want to get stuck behind waves of “team building” athletes
  • am eager to push myself to complete courses in the least amount of time
  • enjoy supporting all the other waves after I’m thoroughly spent

As I jumped around both eager and nervous to get this gnarly race started, the dude on the loud speaker broke it down:

  • you thought the race was 5K, but the race is now 4.2 miles (no problem)
  • you thought we’d have 25 obstacles, there are 31 (woo hoo!)
  • there is 1 mile of barbed wire (there wasn’t)
  • there is a memorization challenge (there kinda was)
  • you will do 30 burpees before you finish no matter what (that sucked)
  • you thought fire was lame, so we stepped it up a notch!

Ok, so no, they didn’t really say the thing about the fire, but if you remember my race report from the Spartan Beast, I was pretty vocal about how lame I think fire jumping is in obstacle racing. It might make a good photo opportunity, but there is zero challenge in it, and in my opinion, it adds a level of hokey to an otherwise very challenging field of obstacles.

So, being the self-centered, arrogant man that I am, I was convinced that the course designers read my report and immediately began developing ways to make fire “not so lame.” – and they did – as instead of finishing the race with some little silly hop over knee-high flames, the course designers put a fire obstacle right at the start, 30 yards from the starting line, and dug a waist-to-chest deep water hole on the other side!

fire is not so lame now

Aroo! This was killer.

Just looking at it made you cringe because you knew that it was going to either create a total cluster of fools freezing up, tentatively jumping in and getting crushed by the onslaught behind them – or – it was going to create a mad dash of dudes (and maybe dudettes) trying to jump the entire thing, fire brush stack AND water hole, all in one mad leap of faith.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I stepped the fire, jumped into the water, and raised both my elbows behind me. If someone was going to decide to jump on me, they were going to take one or two mean elbows in the gut, and we’d both hurt.

I got lucky.

One dude did not – Broken ankle.

A More Organic Spartan Sprint

Being a Founder’s Race, this Spartan Sprint promised to be a little different, with a field of more ‘natural’ obstacles.  What this ended up equating to was a lot of really technical trail with hanging vines and long stretches of thorny terrain. Of course, mudding was a huge part of this organic attention along with various rope climbs, stream crossings, dark-n-creepy tunnel traverses, sand crawls, deep holes, huge hay bales, stream-running, and a bucket fill-n-carry that was really %^%$! hard.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Spartan without the 20 ft. vertical rope climbs, cargo nets, log crossings, and a plethora of over-n-under walls to negotiate.

I didn’t fail any obstacles except the stupid spear throw.

30 burpees.

Best Spot? The Spectator Area

But by far, the coolest experience came about 3.5 miles into the race, when we popped out of the woods, into a field of back-to-back obstacles that were non-stop. I’ll see if I can remember it:

  • Climb the 20 ft. rope, ring the bell, descend
  • Stumble around in a knee-deep muddy creek to the barbed wire
  • Crawl under the barbed wire for awhile to the hay bales
  • Jump into a mud pit (or over it), climb over a 5ft round bale of hay (repeat 5 times)
  • More barbed wire …for a long time
  • More hay, not so long…
  • Get to spear throw. One throw and if it doesn’t stick in the hay bale, 30 burpees
  • Ascend a muddy trench, and enter a bunker tunnel with huge rocks and dirt
  • crawl through the bunker tunnel for a good 50 yards
  • descend a bunch of mud pits dug into a downhill
  • more barbed wire
  • swim through a flowing creek of molten mud to the next barbed wire field
  • crawl through yet more barbed wire
  • climb back uphill through mud pits slippin’ and slidin’ everywhere
  • get 25 feet from the finish, then told that to finish you had to complete 30 burpees
  • hated the guy that said it, grumbled a lot, and burpeed away while they counted off

Then, and only then, can you cross the finish line and collect yo’ medal.

Bastards! …but I love ’em.

1:03 and made the top 3% of finishers, and did 60 burpees.

(although for some reasons results show me as 1:05 and top 1%, but the math doesn’t work)

Addiction In Full Effect

That makes three obstacle races since my first on October 17, and my fourth will be on December 1, at the Jungle Cup in Atlanta. I’m so addicted because I’ve found a sport that truly utilizes my strengths, and encourages me to continue my favorite style of training – i.e. functional fitness.

I am meeting so many cool people and making all kinds of new friends – from the crazy MudRunFun clan from Florida, to the entire Georgia Obstacle Runners group, to my new Atlanta buds Matt B. Davis and Alex Martin, who entertained me plenty on the ride to Mississippi. TPFB!!!

I spent awesome time with the speedo-n-animal-hat-wearin racing freak, “Deater”, who spent hours with me volunteering to pull fools out from the dirt pit on obstacle 2. Just awesome camaraderie and good times.

Did You Quit Ultrarunning?

A lot of people ask me if I’m over ultrarunning. No, not even close.

After Thanksgiving, Fuego Y Agua 100K training kicks in full effect, and part of that training will be the Mountain Mist 50K in January. Not that I was ever a star at ultrarunning, or anything really, but I’ve never been a one-trick pony, and I don’t intend to ever be.

Instead, I intend to do and try and be anything and everything I possibly can. Life is too short not to try everything available to us. I want to throw out all preconceived notions and ideas and simply CHARGE IT! …charge it all!

Arthur taught me that; and some of you know what that means.

 

 

Raw at the Rogue Runner

Georgia Obstacle Runners

“Are you bleeding?” asked the pair of girls running straight at me.

“uh…, I dunno.” I answered as I quickly scanned my body, “but, probably.”

Her and her friend were about 2 miles into a later heat, and I was approaching the finish of the 9:00 a.m. elite heat, so I could have cared less about a little blood – I was just focused on getting my butt to that finish line – cuts and scrapes be damned.

The Rogue Runner Obstacle Race

I fell in love with obstacle racing from the word “go!” at the Spartan Beast Race in South Carolina.

As a functional fitness junkie, obstacle racing really appeals to me and gives me a venue for putting that kind of training to the test; as a runner, the sport adds a whole new dimension to something I already love; and as an adrenaline fiend? Well, all you have to do is hit some waist-deep, cold water in the middle of a race to understand the unwavering attraction.

The Rogue would be my second obstacle race, and although it was 7 miles shorter than the Spartan Beast, it still contained 25 obstacles (31 by some runner counts), over 10K (6.2 miles right on the nose) of gnarly trail running, with some really cool and interesting obstacles.

I met up with a growing group of Georgia obstacle racers that has started as a Facebook group, and is quickly growing into a legit club of athletes. Our group had a great showing with one of our members winning for the ladies, and one of our members winning the entire race outright in 58 minutes and some change. There are athletes who don’t complete a road 10K in under an hour, let alone one with 25+ obstacles thrown in the mix.

Kid is stone sick.

The Rogue Runner Obstacles

When I got to the race, I got to sneak a peak at a couple of the obstacles thrown at us near the finish line. A 7-foot wall, a 40-50 yard barbed wire field of mud, a baseball field backstop fence, and an 8-foot wall with a roof of cargo net – all within 150 yards of the finish line.

Cargo climb at the Rogue Runner Georgia

“Damn, we’re in for a treat today!” I thought to myself.

And we were.

The race was extremely challenging at points and I found myself completely spent at the finish line.

That being said, I’m going to be completely honest in my experience so as to stay true to the integrity of the writing, AND so that others can make educated decisions when choosing what events to run or not to run.

Off the Blocks

After meeting up with the Georgia Obstacle Racers group, shaking hands and meeting people, we lined up for the elite heat to start at 9:00 a.m. using jokes and smart-ass comments to ward off the nervous butterflies.

We hit some tame obstacles immediately from the start, and already people were freezing up on the approach.

I’m not trying to judge, but if you’re freezing up before jumping over creeks and picnic tables, you’re going to have a very, very long morning.

Some people failed the very first obstacle of simply jumping over a giant wooden spindle on its side, and these are people who chose to race in the elite heat. This is something that the sport is going to have to get a handle on because this can really slow the field down right out of the gate. If you are a 5/10K runner, you know a similar frustration when walkers line-up in the front pack.

It’s not about being mean, it’s about clogging up the race.

We jumped a creek, and sprinted uphill where a series of about 8 concrete picnic tables were placed for use to leap on, up and over. I saw many people completely skip the tables either not knowing we had to run them, or purposely doing so, but that was kind of lame either way. It was very clear to me that we were to run them, and I’m a noob at this sport.

At Spartan Race, you would have had some dude chasin’ you down and making you do 30 burpees.

After a pretty easy traverse wall, we hit a really cool balance obstacle over the lake that I struggled with due to some lingering vertigo. It was a balance beam of sorts where runners had to run into the water about chest-deep, jump up onto a dock, scurry across two, 2-inch wide, wobbly planks, to another dock without falling in the water.

Someone else jumped on my plank just as I got to the end and I fell in on my last step.

Next, we ran across a lot of muddy, low-water, lake-muck to some suspended logs to run across, some steel cabling suspended about 6 foot up in the trees, and then climbed some walls by placing pegs in holes along the way up.

Peg wall climb

Technical Trails

One of my favorite things about this race was the running terrain.

Why? Because it sucked …in a good way.

I have always been a fan of the mountain ultramarathons and trail races that have the gnarliest, rocky, root(y) trails with horribly crazy footing. This race had everything nasty – rocks, roots, pine-straw hidden ankle thrashers, cambered slopes, squishy sections, and knee-high debris to run through.

But best of all was the fact that most of the trail was not really “trail” at all. The race designers just decided that a certain direction seemed like a good way to go, and we were to run through “it”, whatever “it” might be.

Love that. Plus one for the Rogue Runner race fo’ sho’.

Gary Cantrell, Barkley RD, would have been proud.

The Water That Took My Breath Away

When we cannonballed off the docks, into the cold water, I was quickly reminded of my paralyzed diaphragm. I panic’d a little  when I couldn’t catch a breath, but collected and swam to the little dock perched on wobbly barrels. As a 205 lb dude, I just about pulled the little dock under water with me, but I eventually scaled it, got back in the water, and bounced to shore.

But, then came the huge construction-site dumpsters filled with cold water and wooden walls to swim under. Creepy, dude.

We wrapped mile 3 with more technical, non-existent “trail” running, some cargo net climbs, small wall climbs/crawls, and tractor tire silliness.

Lake of Mud

The course route ran us along a dried up, rocky lake bed where I immediately felt at home. We ran about mile, circling this tributary, with an easy balance wire rope obstacle thrown in under some bridge. I gained a lot of ground here as you started to see the sprinters start to fade.

Next up. MUD. 200 yards of “sometimes ankle-deep” and “sometimes crotch-deep” mud.

200 yards of mud

This slowed the field down quite a bit, but NO ONE was really any better at it than anyone else, so it was just a conga line of ridiculous looking fools floundering around in the mud like over-eager catfish on the shores of the Bayou.

So far, nothing too tough, and all relatively easy from this runner’s perspective.

Turn It Up

Yes! Barbed wire!

I mean, SH*T! Barbed wire…

Props to the Rogue Runner designers. They did barbed wire really cool, …and long. This muddy, rocky field of barbed wire went from the lake shore, up the bank, into the woods, around a some trees, back down the bank and back into the water. No kidding, you had to actually go underwater to get under the last strands of barbed wire.

Good job designers.

People looked frightened. I smiled a lot and let out a few barbaric yells. I was at home.

It was after this that I saw the two girls that asked me about the blood. Poor girls. They had no idea what was coming.

The Finish Sprint

So, yea, the finish sprint might have been my favorite part of the whole race. It felt the most like what I expect when I think of obstacle racing. Six (6) obstacles, back-to-back, one right after the other, and each pretty challenging and gnarly in their own way:

  • First, jump a standard fence quickly into a baseball field
  • Run 50 yards, and jump up, and over a 7 foot wall (parkour stylee)
  • Next, more barbed wire, about 50 yards, where photographers were hammering the shutter button as we crawled and fought through some very slow and deep mud
  • Then, immediately pop-out, and scale the backstop fence of the baseball field. Up ‘n over
  • Lastly, the 7-8 foot wall, with the roof of cargo net, with another cargo net on the descent

And, done. 1:20:23 – 30th out of 831.

Muddy, spent and smiling.

Post -race Thoughts

This event was cool. I would definitely do it again without question.

Was it as good as the Spartan Beast? No. But it has promise, and I found some of the obstacles a little bit cooler than Spartan because they were more organic. Examples would be jumping fences, gnarly shore terrain running, climbing up ‘n over the baseball field backstop, and jumping over wide creeks in mid-stride. Even the opportunity to choose NOT to use the ropes to descend a steep downhill, opting instead to simply slide on your @ss to the bottom and hope for no splinters or sudden stumps. That’s gnarly trail running {grins}.

Some people had issues with the organization, and especially the front five dudes because no one was telling them where to go, and without discernible trail, I can see this being a challenge.

Me? I was able to just follow people, so I didn’t have any real issues. Plus, I’m used to wonky organization and getting lost and feeling stupid and not knowing where to go. I run ultras. We suffer this all the time. Some of us actually like it, so no complaints from me.

We’re kinda sick like that.

Remember the whole “liking it organic”-thing?

*OPINION: Important Steps for Growth

This is a really interesting time of growth for this sport of obstacle racing.

For one, its exploding and there are a million me-too events popping up left and right, all claiming to be the toughest, or offer the best experience. These are tough claims because unless you have done every single one, how can you really make that claim. Plus, what is tough to some, is a piece of cake to others; and none of this takes trail running experience into consideration.

Lastly, and most importantly to me, this event chose NOT to have any penalties for obstacle failure. I do not like this format as it allows people to simply skip obstacles, and promotes slack attempts. Trust me, if you fear 30 burpees upon failure, you have a stronger incentive to push yourself and dig deep on a challenging obstacle.

In this format, its possible for someone to simply run past every obstacle, doing just a trail 10K, and win the event. That just doesn’t seem right, and creates a big flaw in the integrity of the results.

I get it. There are some people who just want to create a team, and roll around in the mud on a Saturday, drink beer afterwards and post Facebook pics, and that’s cool all by itself; but that should be separate from the athletes who want to a consistent method of performance measurement that applies to all competitors.

By trying to be all things, to all people, organizers can make more money in the short-term, but in the long-term will have to deal with a million negative comments and complaints – and in the era of the social grid, this does not bode well for an event.

It’s going to be fun and exciting to be part of all this growth.

Boowah!