Harder than a Sprint, but not quite the Beast:
Two intrepid Spahtens took on over 32 hours and 2200 miles of driving for 8 amazing, grueling miles in under 3.5 hours. Marseilles Illinois was the setting on a sunny and hot (Mid 90’s) weekend in July for the Spartan Race Mid-West Super event. Drawing in over 5,000 racers for the weekend from all over the country to compete in a technically challenging setting.
- The venue is also home to a permanent course (Spartan Race only used one obstacle from this course), which houses training sessions and monthly races.
- There was a construction detour off of the major highway to get to the event site, did this pose a problem? Not one bit, Spartan race knew of this detour, and rather than allow its participants to be misdirected by GPS, Spartan was proactive and informed them via multiple avenues including the website, email and even highway alert signs welcoming Spartans to the region.
- Parking was a reasonable $10 and on site. The lot and attendants did a good job avoiding bottle necks by filtering cars into multiple “lanes” to collect parking fees and subsequently parking in a grass field.
- Porta-potties were provided before entering the registration/festival area (approximately 20).
- Festival and registration were broken into two distinct locations which made complete logical sense. Volunteers, Registration and Number Marking were all located up front and center. This area directed spectators and competitors towards the festival area which was located behind a small tree line, providing a “big reveal” of sorts.
- To enter festival, spectators were subject to a bag inspection by security while competitors were not. I chose to have my bag inspected as it was not immediately clear as to if it was a universal check or not. I found security to be incredibly pleasant and helpful in the check process which took only a matter of seconds.
- Upon packet pickup you were given a wrist band that was marked with your predetermined heat time, this later would be used to ensure that you did not heat jump.
- This event featured the headband bib numbers, a nice feature which is rapidly becoming a norm for Spartan Race (traditional bibs were also included).
- Number Marking was optional, and due to the new photo format, almost unnecessarysince your photos are not directly tagged with your bib number and are instead done by zone on the course and the times you would’ve gone through a given photo point.
- Immediately upon entering festival there was a bank of additional porta-potties (located behind fences for privacy, but very clearly labeled as restrooms).
- A large map of the course and spectator areas was visible on a central podium. This is a nice feature for spectators and the curious runner. Being a fan of the secrecy of Spartan Race, I avoided the course map until after completion, had I been there to watch someone, the map would’ve been a great resource.
- Festival included many standard items we have come to expect, showers, food and beverage (with covered dining area), sponsor tents (Weetabix, Air National Guard, etc), the kids course, well stocked merchandise tent, Largest Team tent, etc. One Nice new feature was a “Meet the Spartan Staff” tent, where you could sit and talk with the Pro team as well as some key players in making an event happen. One additional item that has been spoken to in the past is the paid bag check, in Marseilles, a $5 bag check also provided a $5 merchandise coupon.
- Due to course design the festival area served as a fantastic central hub for spectators. The course had many out and backs, or multiple obstacles in the same general area but on different legs of the course, allowing spectators to see a significant number of obstacles, return to festival, view a different set of obstacles, etc. all while still having the standard obstacles visible at all times within the festival area (Gladiators and Spear Man for example).
Spartan Race has never been bad at picking terrain to push its competitors to their limits, and yet again, they have delivered. Although not particularly hilly, and lacking a major hill like the Amesbury Sprint employs, this course was technically challenging. Totaling 8 miles with over 20 obstacles (some new, some staples we’ve come to know and love, even some unique twists on obstacles we have seen before), 4 aid stations, and multiple river crossings Spartan Race has set the bar high for any future Supers I run.
- The key landscape features were lots of rapid steep declines into ravines that were filled with slick clay based mud (due to Mother Nature’s contribution of rain Friday night) which bound to your shoes while adding weight and reducing traction, only to immediately have to turn on a dime and ascend a steep incline, short in distance many times, but made difficult by grade and lack of traction.
- Multiple short runs through a shallow river (upstream each time) provided relief from the clay that clung to shoes
- Spartan Race was able to deliver a sprint experience by using many of the same obstacles you see in a sprint that are standard Spartan obstacles, Monkey Bars, Spear Man, Over Under Through, Gladiators, Horizontal Traverse, etc. However they set the bar high by modifying a few of those obstacles, Tractor Pull involved a log carry as well, Hercules Hoist got harder because they switched the pullies, or the cargo net which is no longer rope, but webbing. It was the new obstacles and terrain that truly made this more than a sprint for me, the inverted wall posed a challenge, and the tire drag (although not particularly tough) was an added touch. I must admit though I was disappointed to not have a log hop, the flat sections that allowed spectators great views could’ve held this obstacle.
- The course design was phenomenal and the obstacle progression made their completion that much more rewarding, or failure that much more devastating. An example of this is a muddy ravine trek, into the inverted wall, into a steep sandbag carry or coming out of the woods at festival (just after the halfway point) a racer was presented with a 150 ft swim (the only permanent obstacle used) up a muddy slope and immediately onto the slippery wall, once over the wall you turned and had to rope climb, then into Spear Man before disappearing into the woods again. This progression temporarily reduced arm strength and made the Spear Man harder to complete. Having failed Spear Man I thought that this was planned, and that I needed to train harder for my next race, all while a 12 year old Corn Fed Spartan gave me a verbal reminder by asking simply “what is harder, the obstacle or the burpees?” the obvious answer was bupees, he then responded “well then try to get the obstacle right next time.”
Spartan Race has again put on an amazing event, reinforcing their position as the best obstacle race company. Production, build, and execution were all flawless in my mind, Hitting the sweet spot between a Sprint and a Beast.