What a special weekend. Fifth year for Spartan Race holding Sprints at Amesbury Sport Park, and our second birthday as a community in this format. NBC was invited to celebrate our birthday, which was nice, and even the weather co-operated!
If you’ve done an OCR in New England, chances are, you’ve been to Amesbury Sport Park. Easy to find, and able to host thousands of people through a weekend. It’s slopes don’t look particularly challenging, but when Mike Morris, race director for this event gets his hands on it – yeah … so much for that. We had epic numbers of New England Spahtens come out for this event, and it was humbling, and inspiring to see so many team shirts – all weekend – all over.
Just like my last two weekends, I was unable to actually participate in the course itself – my ankle is getting better, but I’m not prepared to risk the NJ Super and VT Beast events – you can find a course recap from Mike and Nate below. Instead, I’m going to focus on the festival and NES experience.
As is common for the venue, parking was primarily handled with remote lots and bussing people in and out – this seemed to work smoothly, and the only time I saw backups for buses was late on Sunday afternoon, when everyone wanted to leave at once. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving volunteers, in another remote lot without a bus to get them back – I was able to rescue three Spahten ladies late Sunday from the heat – they’d been waiting out there for far too long. A point to note, I saw more local, cash only, opportunistic parking options pop up on the street than ever before – when the street was supposed to be restricted access only, this was interesting to see.
Like last year, Spartan had moved their start line to a point half way up the Amesbury slopes, leaving the entire flat, astroturf area open for festival – this is definitely the best way to use the space – while it was busy at the festival, thats kind of what you expect when thousands of people show up for an event – lines for things like food and drink moved well, and while you had to dodge people as you moved around, it didn’t feel cramped. As you’d expect, lines were busy during peak times, but never terrible, or out of control.
Registration and checkin moved smoothly – Spartan have this nailed own. If you were smart and brought signed Spartan and NBC wavers from home, you moved through quickly, received your packet with everything in it and were in. Recently, races have been strict about outside food and drink coming into the Sports Park, but fortunately Spartan didn’t come down too hard on this – a very good job, as thats a sure way to upset people – especially on a weekend as hot as this. It also helped ensure there were no backlogs or problems with access to the venue.
The festival was a well oiled machine, mostly. Biggest Team tent was tucked away between the registration and exit points, which was a little bit of a high traffic place, considering we had over 300 people, but we managed. Food and drink vendors were on the left, alongside the main building, and the typical fair for Amesbury – we’ve been in recent discussions with them about healthier options and you can tell they are starting that process – wraps and fruit available. Free beer was high quality – and this row was also joined by bag check, which I didn’t have to use once. There were plenty of bathrooms behind the main building alongside the host off station and power wash station – both out of site, and out of the way, which was much appreciated.
There was a distinct lack of vendors, something I noticed at the CT Sprint too – other than a large Reebok and Spartan gear presence – something that has improved dramatically in the past 12 months, there were some army / marine spots, an EMS tent row … and not much more. More on this in a moment.
The finishers chute was entertaining, as always, and Spartan had setup a few obstacles at the bottom of the slope to watch – my personal new favorite being a heavy herculean hoist – the gravel bucket carry, the bridge – and part way up the hill, some wire crawls and incline rope walls – the spectator access went right to the top of the hill, and you had great views of the new tarzan swing and fire jump too. Kudos for good spectator access!
Amesbury had tubing and zorb rides going and the kids course was great – heading right to the top of the slope. My mini decided he was doing it this year for the first time ever – that was a blast, and I hope he got the bug early!
A couple of large tents provided shade for the folks without a team tent, and the finisher shirt pickup spot was well clear of the hose offs, and letting people pick up before they went out to run, which is a good move everyone should replicate.
As mentioned, I didn’t get to hit the course. That didn’t stop me coming out for two days – because as many people have already discovered, and new folks are finding – it’s not always about the race, or the course, or the obstacles. Thats why we come initially, of course, and it’s our reason to be – but the thing that brings us back is the people. Seeing almost 300 of you lining up for the dedicated team wave on Saturday – listening to Dustin, the MC, as he announced us – on Sunday, watching so many familiar faces in volunteer shirts filtering in and out – events like this become about the people. I came out for two days, not to run, but to be with you folks. To see you do epic things. To hear the stories and struggles, and to listen.
With all of the fun and triumphs along the way – I was noting a trend, especially when compared to other events hitting the market. Very little interaction with Spartan staff and their biggest team and community happened during the event – while I understand it’s a tough, busy, grueling event to manage, swinging by to see if we were doing ok, or needed anything, or if there were problems would have gone a long way to making the community feel a little more involved – something BattleFrog did repeatedly last weekend, and the venue owners themselves. No presence from OCR specific vendors, just Reebok and EMS indicating that Spartan are focusing their market on new runners, with little motivation to keep repeat runners. Giving a 10*10 spot to Obstacle Racing Media, or OCR Gear or similar simply increases the participation Spartan has with the OCR community as a whole, and they had the space for it – but it seems thats not the intention from HQ these days, as they focus more on pulling in a fresh crowd, than keeping the existing fan base.
However, we come to race, but we come back for the people – on this, a weekend I couldn’t even do the race, this has never been more true.
Thank you to the New England Spahten community – everyone who ran with our team name on your registration sheet help grow OCR in New England – and because of that, we can run these events, get our team shady corner, and help the OCR scene grow, build and improve.
Thank you to all the Spahtens who took time to volunteer – without you guys, these races just don’t happen. Thanks to everyone who swung by the team tent to say hi and introduce yourself, even if you weren’t part of the team yet!
Course break down, from Mike McKenzie
(Credit to Michael Foresto for the Garmin log)
My 4th Year running the Spartan Race at Amesbury, I have had the pleasure of seeing the sport continue to grow and the professionalism increase with each year. The course is always different, but always carries some staple Obstacles. Just when you think you’ve trained enough, Spartan makes sure it was not.
The Starting line starts half way up the “Amesbury Hill” which is probably a quarter mile long total. From the “final aroo” we are sent up the hill and immediately into the woods. Veteran racers now its imperative to be as close to the front and possible because they immediately put you into single track trail in the woods. With a Short section of Trail running its out into the open for some O.U.T. walls. (over, under and through) By this point the heat had already started to thin out and we were back into the woods for some open trail running. Spartan took full advantage of the extra land Amesbury had acquired as we did way more Rolling Hills in the trails than we had in previous years.
Now we hit was the Tractor Pull. Racers were required to take 2 cinder blocks attached to a chain and drag them around a small loop. There were not enough for everyone so there was a little bit of a wait here (maybe 20-30 seconds) take the two down and back across a line – failure to bring both back over the line was a 30 burpee penalty, and we were back out into the woods for some more rolling hill trail running. The Heavy trail running for the first 1.5 miles made sure the heat was pretty well thinned out at this point.
Now we hit the Inverted walls. These walls are angled towards you requiring you to climb up the back and over and we were back into the trail.
Next Sandbag carry. For the Elite heat, 1 Spartan Pancake was not enough, Runners where required to take 2 bags down a steep hill and back up. It was short, but steep and fussing around with trying to get the right positioning with the bags added to the difficulty. I even hiked by 2 sandbags at the bottom with no runner, proving that the weight and steepness of this section was too much for some.
Out of Sandbag hell and onto more technical terrain trail running, with the occasional knee deep section of mud. After some MORE hills we come out to the Monkey Bars. These bars varied in height. Which caused a lot of runners to burpee unable to transition to the various heights. Now we go for more Trail around to the top of the Amesbury Hill for the Rope swing. Very simple one shot to grab a rope and swing across a water pit. I heard later on this proved pretty challenging for some runners even in the Mens and Women’s Elite who if they didn’t dismount the rope on the first try found themselves dangling with no where to go but the 30 burpee penalty pit.
Down the steep hill of Amesbury to perform in front of the Spectators was the Hercules Hoist. Exact weights I am not sure of, Reports of Men’s being anywhere from 100lbs to 120lbs were heard. Hoist completed you were on to the Bucket carry. Men Elite were required to fill a Black bucket to the top with gravel and then carry it Up the Amesbury Hill and back down. No handle, and you were NOT allowed to put it on your shoulder. Bear Hugs or Finger tips. The Bruise across my belly and the other runners will let you know that this bucket was HEAVY. Once you brought it back down a Volunteer would check your bucket to ensure it was filled. If not you were given a 30 burpee penalty on the spot.
Moving on you immediately went up the wood ladders over the entrance to the starting line and down the other side and back up the hill. Midway up the hill was a small section of Barbwire immediately followed by slopped rope walls (no soap this year!) and we continued up the Hill and off to the right for 8ft walls and then the Vertical Rope climb. Vertical rope climb rope was changed up, Thin Nylon rope required more grip strength more challenging to get a grip on with your feet. Lots of Burpees going on here.
Now we hit the Spear Throw which is had several runners in the burpee pit for failure. After a successful sink of the spear I moved onto the barbwire crawl. Oh whats this? Its dry… uncommon for Spartan Race barbwire crawl. This should be easy, Oh wait.. its dusty, hard, rocky and long. After a never ending section, we moved onto MORE barbwire crawl.. except this time it was wet and muddy. As I continue to roll we hit the submerge wall. Were you have to go under the water to get under the wall. Its simple enough but im sure is a freak out for some. We Run back to the top of the hill and around a turn to the infamous Fire Jump down the amesbury hill to the finish. This was my first race with no Gladiators at the Finish, but happy and friendly volunteers getting you medals, congratulations and bananas is ok by me.