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Featured Review – Spartan Race at Fenway Park 2013

Fenway Park is a magical place to many New Englanders – but back in 2012 when Spartan Race announced their intention to hold a race there, many people did a double take … a Spartan Race, with no mud or fire or water?

Fortunately, as we now know, it was a success, and they have gone on to run several more of these Stadium events.

This past weekend marked the return to Fenway, and after a year of development, it was pretty clear that the Stadium Series has gotten bigger and more polished.

Credit: Aaron Farb

The weather for the day couldn’t have been more perfect. Mid 50’s and sunny – in November, in New England? The venue was also pretty special. Last year, we were racing on the 100th year of Fenway Park, this year we were racing mere weeks after they won the World Series – and many people would have paid the price of entry just to be there for that alone.

Of course, ballparks – especially 101 year old ball parks in the middle of Boston – pose some really interesting logistics. There’s no parking, for example – you use the T or you risk driving around Boston for a long, frustrating and ultimately expensive trip. The stadium isn’t exactly big, compared to other venues – so registrations, merchandise and other facilities that usually cause bottle necks are located across the street in a parking lot. As is typical of a Spartan Race, these are well run by staff and volunteers and flow quickly.

Once we had our packets, we moved over to the entrance to Fenway, where venue security did a bag check for … not sure, they didn’t look too hard. They did have a box with beer bottles in it, so I assume some people were trying to sneak those in. Then we were in the main concourse.

Again, Spartan make good use of the space. Bag check was to the left, and effectively made a road block stopping you walking the whole loop of the park – at $5 (refunded in the form of merchandise credit), it flowed fast and easy for me the both times I had to use it. To the right, you walked through a couple of vendor booths – Reebok, Spartan Merch, a spin gym had setup their bikes and were running competitions, then the finishers chute and just past that, the start line.

Sadly, despite having over 170 registrations, there was no concession or space provided for the biggest team which made logistics, like where to meet or where to have a team photo taken especially tough. Also sadly, we had been provided with 12:15 as a team heat, which collided with the kids race and forced several parents to have to scramble to change waves and run earlier or later. Team logistics are something that Spartan Race are always looking at and trying to improve upon – so I hope this is a learning process and stuff like this doesn’t keep happening – as it makes us sad. Local events are stepping up their team support in pretty dramatic style, and I’d hope the big guys keep up, or even innovate. That certainly hasn’t happened at the New England Spartan Races in 2013.

Credit: Aaron Farb

Despite that disappointment, we managed to find a corner of the venue that wasn’t being used (there *could* have been a tent / roped off area there, easily) and took it over for an hour or two before the official team heat. We put that time to good use, with much social time. Friends caught up, people picked up team gear, photos were taken, weddings were performed – oh, thats right, we had an actual, legal wedding ceremony in the concourse of Fenway Park – congrats to Sean and Brittany!

Credit: Rachel WeissAt the appropriate time, we moved through the Park to the start line, where really the only major confusion of the day was going on. To get into the starers corral there was a 6′ wall. While certainly not the most challenging wall we were going to face, it was high enough to provide a pretty big bottle neck. As our heat time approached, and people were still in a long line to get into the corral – it was a little concerning that we wouldn’t be running together. Of course, as veterans of stadium races know, things run a bit different – they take you up 10 at a time, have you do some burpees, then send you on the course in 1 minute slots – every 15minutes another 150 people have to get lined up and into the corral. It works, and keeps the course flowing, but needs to be better communicated.

I was running the course with my wife, Beth and my Dad who was over on a trip from the UK – along with about 140 of my closest friends in the New England Spahtens – we three Jones’ had run the race last year too, so we had a basis of comparison.

As is usual of these reviews, I’m not even going to try to provide a blow by blow description of the course – the usual “Race Brain” kicks in, and crawls merge with stairs merge with walls and things get confusing.

The obstacles of Fenway were very similar to the 2012 obstacles, and if you’ve ran a lot of stadium events, likely similar to the obstacles you’ve seen at each stadium. The venue is used to it’s maximum, and during your run you do everything from stair cases and concrete landings, the stairs in the seating area’s, the visitor locker rooms, the concourse and player parking lot – then the warmup track to finish the race off, running right past the green monster and into the gladiators.Credit: Aaron Farb

As I mentioned in my 2012 review – Stadium races are very much what you would expect if Spartan Race collided with Crossfit – many of the obstacles and challenges are functional fitness staples – from hand release pushups in the visitor locker room, to 500m rows in 2mins, rope climbs, atlas stones, 25lb slam balls and 2″ thick heavy jump ropes – these are all things you would see in a Crossfit or other functional fitness / HIIT facility, and a welcome break to the usual rolling mud or mountain climbs.

Of course, without Spartan Race staples, we’d be bored – so there were plenty of walls to get over – from the 6′ wall just to get into the starting coral, several over/under/through walls, a series of 5′ walls and a couple of good sized 7′ and 8′ walls. We also had a nice and challenging set of monkey bars, designed especially for stadiums, a big cargo net, traverse walls and the Spartan favorite spear throw – something I had been practicing since making my own spears – yet come race day, I still fluffed this one twice and ended up with burpees I shouldn’t have had to do! The herculean hoist was back, and seemed on the heavier side (maybe as much as the NJ Super?)

There were stations that seem a little out of place. I’m not sure what benefit the box jumps right at in front of the finish line serve, as they felt like a bottle neck again this year, and I had to wait for a spot for a while during the early afternoon time frame. I’m not a fan of putting body weight workouts in the middle of a high quality OCR, as it’s something we tend to beat up on the wannabe race series over. I was very glad to see the fairly pointless ball throw gone – it may have been fun, and I now have a souvenir Spartan Race baseball to show for it, but as a challenge in an OCR? Glad the carnival games have gone.

For me personally, my first lap with the team was about seeing Beth complete Fenway, and earn her medal. She didn’t have a good race last year, so there was a level of redemption involved, and with a finish around 1h 18min, she got that in spades – and maybe even had fun 🙂 I let my dear old Dad beat me this time – he was looking to beat his 2nd place spot in his age group (of four) from 2012 – and at time of writing, he doesn’t show in the results.

After our first lap – we picked up our bags, changed into less sweaty and stinky gear and went out as a smaller team for food and drink. Due to the recent demise of Ruckus Sports, Spartan had offered the “Ruckus Refugees” a free lap of Fenway in the 6pm heat, which we planned to take good advantage of. We killed time eating, drinking and taking Corrine’s comments as out of context as we possibly could, then a much smaller (and fuller) team met for the 6pm wave.

While my time was quicker – I hoped for under and hour, and got 51mins in the end – I can now confirm that running after two beers, a fish, chips and mushy pea’s dinner from the Lansdowne Pub is not the brightest idea in the world. I know you were all wondering, and I can now confirm it for you. You’re welcome. With shot arms, I came off the monkey bars, missed the stupid spear throw *again*, and nearly had second thoughts about the 8′ wall at the end, but did nail it once I got out of my own head a little bit.

Credit: Rachel WeissSo – was the 2013 Fenway Spartan Race a success? Yes. From a racers perspective, the venue was unique enough that the challenges of space, parking and cost (of beer, at $8.75???) don’t really detract. The course was a unique experience, and I can only bet that the number of new racers who came out simply due to the venue along was dramatically different to a regular Sprint, and they were introduced to a Spartan Race in a very cool way that was accessible to pretty much everyone – despite their fitness levels. I definitely saw both ends of the spectrum out there, walking the stairs and jumping the ropes. As is typical, the quality of the obstacles was top notch – the bottlenecks, while there, were minimal, and the quality of the venue (layout, logistics) was high. There were disappointments – from the biggest team support, to the generic finishers shirt (and low quantities of unique venue shirts at the Merch tent – buy those EARLY in the day, folks!), and a medal that was in very generic “sprint red”, with only a lanyard and embossment on the backside to differentiate. Those things are easy improvements that Spartan has heard all about before.

Fenway 2014 is open for pre-registration – and I have. It’s likely they won’t know for a while if they can use the venue, so don’t expect to be able to sign up for sometime, but when it’s open, the best prices come early, and Spartan Race is one of the few events I’d give my money to early, these days. The OCR market is volatile, but Spartan is one of the few with longevity and stability.

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