Where do you begin when you want to recap a weekend like we just had?
For me, it kicked off way before August 10th actually rolled around. For weeks now, the admin team behind the New England Spahtens has been working with the Spartan Race staff, co-ordinating member signups, transfers and all the other countless little things that goes into making sure all the registrations that were from Spahtens were put in the right places, and counted towards our biggest team efforts. Blog posts were written to help people find their way through this, and help new folks understand what was going on. Countless questions, referrals back to the blog posts, more questions … believe me, I was ready for this race weekend!
Our final tally for registrations was 271 Saturday, and 54 Sunday – which I understand to be the biggest team Spartan Race has ever had!
Friday night, I headed up to Amesbury. For me, it’s about an hour and a half drive with no traffic, so I had booked a room at a nearby hotel for Friday evening. Getting to the venue late afternoon gave me a chance to drop off a bunch of the stuff I had for our biggest team – some banners to put up on the tent, 6 boxes of Snap Infusion SuperCandy‘s that were donated to help us fuel the team through the weekend (and, as usual, we devoured in short time – huge thank you to Snap Infusion for that!!) – catching up with a few of our community members who were giving up their days to volunteer and do everything from stuff packets, to build crew at the event was awesome – I unloaded, setup, and then with the end of the volunteer shift we headed to the Amesbury Ale House for some dinner, some beers and back to the hotel.
I had signed up for the Hurricane Heat – so my “ohmygodO’Clock” alarm kicked off and we headed over to the venue – one big advantage to the HH is you get local parking to the race, less than a mile down the road. Spartan staff had already started screwing with us and changed the mandatory black top requirement into a blue top at the last minute – which was fine by us – instead of the “Buddy Carry Ready” black shirts we had picked up, we switched into our team drill shirts – I’d estimate a good 1/3 of the HH had New England Spahten drill shirts on that morning – we were out in force.
Other mandatory gear, the usual hydration and nutrition, “a small rock” and a blindfold. We never used them – damn you, Spartan! Meeting in the parking lot, burpees are the usual start to the HH, along with getting into a team of 20, creating a team name (Junior Varsity Ninja Death Squad was re-born!), and lining up.
The rest of the HH took us about 3 hours. It consisted of all kinds of things – from a road jog back to the venue, buddy carrying each other up and down the Amesbury slopes, carrying two sandbags up and down the slopes, moving the wood for the fire pit 3’ to the left, rope climbing, burpees, burpees and more burpees. Climbing the incline wall with no ropes was pretty awesome too. By far, the highlight of the HH was the team “race” – through the mud trenches, over the incline wall, looping around to the barbed wire crawl, with 100 burpees on the line for the team who came in last – happily, that wasn’t Team Ninja, but I didn’t see the burpees being enforced (I was already planning how we got around the “100 burpees” penalty if it was us … they didn’t say “100 burpees” *each* …)
It also seems that for many, the biggest fail of the HH was the PT / Group X trainer portions. In the right settings, I’m sure his speech and his style is motivating and inspirational – but for the HH, we were signed up for group based challenges, and to do the course backwards / sideways / upside down – holding a bridge position and planks for 30 minutes. then burpees and jumping pushups (actual time is unknown), while someone tries to pump you up is actually quite de-motivating – and for me, I was very happy, both times, when it was over. Unfortunately, the second time, it was over because the HH was over – we collected our HH T Shirts (nice, Reebok cotton shirt) and dog tags, took some photos.
Feedback to the Spartan team has been provided, and I will be running it again in 2014, if I have the chance. You should too, there’s nothing else like the hurricane heat, and the 2012 hurricane heat remains one of my favorite OCR events.
Total time for the HH was around 3 hours, and we were done well before 9am, leaving a pretty good window of time before the team heat. This meant I could hoof it back to my car, change into my spare clothes, hydrate a bit, and get back to the venue in time to find my wife and friends getting off the shuttle bus and checking in.
As has been mentioned many times, we were the biggest team – this meant that we had over 270 people register for the event, and Spartan provided us with an awesome, spacious tent – this became mission central, bag drop, meeting area, kids play area – our entire weekends festivities were based out of this 20*20 drop off zone, and we couldn’t have had a good time without it!
As is usual for Amesbury Sports Park, the shuttle buses from the parking lot were plentiful and smoothly run – getting your bib and registration was fast and smooth.
This was the first Spartan event since Reebok became a major sponsor that I had been to, despite a few New York races, nothing else has been close enough for the Spahtens to get to – and it was pretty evident from the festival area that things were very different now. In an effort to make as much space as possible, the start line had been moved half way up the slope, so every inch of flat surface at the bottom was used for tents. Most welcome was the addition of an eating area – those without a team tent to hang out in could sit down in the shade and relax a bit. There were two merchandise tents fully stocked with high quality Reebok shirts and clothes. among other things, several sponsor tents, physical challenges, with the showers, finishers shirt pick up and potties moved around to the back of the main building – they used every square inch available to them, and despite it being crowded at times, I didn’t have to line up for any significant time, and was able to get anywhere I needed to go.
10:15 was our assigned team wave – and we had wanted to get a group photo at the start line – unfortunately, trying to get the ~250 official starters in one place at one time was pretty much impossible, and having a steep hill to contend with – we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience!
Spartan have a new MC (or at least, new to us) – and he spent a rather long time talking and motivating – which would have been great, if I could hear him, and if he let us out on time- instead we ran late, which meant the 10:30 “regular” wave merged right into ours and things were pretty crowded. I missed listening to the Dropkick Murphy’s, I missed the AROO AROO AROO chant …
I was running the team wave with my wife Beth, and our friend Liz, and a buddy, Kenny. Liz was our “newbie” for the race, having never done anything like this before – our job was to get her through the obstacles and to the finish line – and we did it 🙂 The course was a relatively short course this year, roughly 3.2 miles – but the obstacles were challenging, with some new ones to me. I particularly liked the inverted incline wall, and the extra heavy herculean hoist. The “gamble” on course was a hyped up option between a longer, flatter route, or a steeper, shorter option – we took the steep option and it wasn’t particularly challenging – but even so, the distance difference was something like 0.1 miles. No big deal.
The new tire pull/drag was fun, and I spent quite a bit of time at the 8′ wall helping women and shorter folks over it. I made it up the rope both times (HH and the team wave) too. I do have to give credit to the course designer – they put a large bridge at the foot of the mountain – climb a wooden ladder to get up two cargo containers, then walk across a slatted floor, before climbing down. I didn’t give this thing a second thought, but apparently it was a huge obstacle for many folks – enough so that they had to create a “slow lane” to the side to prevent the people who were scared out of their gord from slowing up traffic – I never would have guessed!
Ultimately, the biggest reward was when we crossed the finish line with Liz, truly earning her first Spartan medal – turns out, she’s’ a beast when it comes to the strength stuff, having no problem with the hoist or the tire stuff – and she looked like she was having WAY TOO MUCH fun in the barbed wire crawl 🙂
Beth had a slight run in with one of the gladiators, and ended up at the medics getting an ice pack -big shout out to them for the job they do out there – patching up us crazies! Apart from being stiff, there is no lasting damage, thankfully. Spartan had moved the t shirt pickup to another spot on the venue, right by the showers – this genius move meant that we could finish the race muddy, then go hose off *then* pick up our t shirts – small touches like this make a huge difference in the experience, and show why Spartan Race are leading the sport.
The rest of Saturday was spent hanging out in the tent. NE Spahten team mates were everywhere you looked – whether they were heading back out on the course for yet another go, shopping in the merch tent, eating some food, or simply enjoying each others company. Ultimately, though, it was time to head home, pick up our mini, clean up our clothes and get some much needed food.
Sunday was another race day. I had picked up a living social entry to the Sunday event, and wasn’t sure if I was going to use it. I’d scraped myself up pretty badly at an event a week prior, and with the hours spent out on the course on Saturday, things were pretty crusty and red looking – going back through the mud didn’t seem like the brightest idea in the world … regardless, we made sure we were onsite and checked in with plenty of time before the 10:30 team wave – this wasn’t a dedicated wave, with “only” around 50 people on the Sunday team (still the biggest team of the day, by far), but again it was a sea of blue Spahten drill shirts.
We actually transferred my ticket to Beth – which was smooth – and I came in on a spectator pass. We brought our mini with us this time, and I was *very* grateful to see that not only were there other young kids there, but someone was smart enough to bring a blanket, bubbles, paper and crayons for them! It was the difference between us having to leave early, and getting to hang out all day in the end.
The team tent was much quieter this time – we had space to stretch out our legs, park our butts, and actually have conversations – while the team went out for their second (and in some cases, third, fourth or more) race, I stayed back, played with kids and talked to new folks.
One of the most impressive things I found was the number of people who were running their first OCR, or their first team event. That was awesome to see – bringing new people from the region into this sport is why we exist, and the more people who introduced themselves to me during the day, the more I was sure that we were doing it right.
Beth’s team came in with epic stories of buddy carrying their injured off the mountain and over the finish line, covered in mud, and overcoming fears – amazing!
This was our one year birthday. A year ago, two guys met and thought that if they combined their two small teams together, we could have something cooler – and thus, the New England Spahtens, with it’s original 100 or so members was born. We entered this weekend with 1,000 members of our community, and every single person on the course this weekend noticed us. Sure, there were other teams out there, but it’s the Spahtens who were unfailingly helpful, kind, supportive and best dressed 🙂 Along with that, it was Spahtens who provided large portions of the volunteer staff for both the build crew, pre-running, course and venue staff, sweeper heats and even today in the break down crew. This is an amazing resource that smart race directors are paying attention to and tapping into.
So – two days of racing, with many days of volunteering. Over 300 team members who were out on the course over the weekend, being unfailingly helpful, kind and supportive – we introduced all levels of people to both the sport, the Spartan brand, and our own community – and we formed memories, and made stories, and new friendships.
If you saw us out there, and want to get involved, it’s easy. We don’t have membership requirements or costs – we’re a community of OCR fans who want to run, support and love this crazy wall climbing, mud crawling, trail running weekend sport. Join us.