The New Jersey Spartan Race Super is in the bag, and it’s time for the aching and soreness to kick in – and to reflect.
Personally, this was my second super – the first one being last years New Jersey Super. I’m not one who can travel the country chasing the Spartan circus, so hitting up races when they come close to me is the only way I can experience Spartan, and get my medals. Inspired by the trifecta medal I have hanging in my living room, this was also my wifes first year chasing the red, blue and green – NJ was her first Super, and the longest distance she’d raced to date.
Before I get into this years recap, I wanted to provide a bit of a look back into 2012’s Super.
The 2012 Super was the longest Super Spartan Race had put on, at over 11 miles. It included a 25′ cliff jump, rock climb to the top of the mountain and more elevation change than any race not hosted on Killington. Widely, it was criticized for being too hard, as *many* people didn’t bring camelbaks, trail shoes or technical clothing and were woefully under prepared. It was widely criticized for huge (45mins or more for open waves) backlogs at the cliff jump, tyrolean traverse and rock climbs. Sure, many people loved the extra challenge – personally I took the “I paid for 8 and 3 miles extra for free!” approach – but Spartan has to appeal to more than just the elites, or there wouldn’t be a Spartan Race anymore …
In general, 2012 was the year of “over deliver” for Spartan – with a 5 mile Sprint in Amesbury, 11 mile Super in NJ and a 15 mile Beast in VT.
So, for one, I’m glad they are now staying as near to the listed distances – and while there is some grumbling from folks that NJ 2013 was “too easy” or “easier than last year” – I don’t mind. To make it harder than 2012 would be to make it into a Beast race.
Now – about 2013.
Once again, the New England Spahtens had an amazing showing. Considering this race is over 4 hours drive for many, we brought almost 100 people to run, volunteer and in some cases staff the event – and the whole weekend you couldn’t go more than a short distance, both in the event grounds and on the course, without running into someone from the community – if you saw one of us, and are finding out about us for the first time, welcome! We were beaten to biggest team by locals, Team Braveheart, and unknowns, Team Big Daddy, who despite having 150 people during the day, never had more than a handful of folks in the biggest team tent. I’m not sure what Spartan HQ are planning or thinking for their biggest team promotions or future, but now the races are local to us, and we’re routinely getting biggest team at Spartan and other events, it’s feeling very lack lustre compared to other events.
My wife Beth, Stacey and myself drove down on Friday evening after dinner to avoid traffic, and made excellent time to our hotel in Mahwah, NJ – bumping into Vince, Sandy and Corrine on the drive down, and many more Spahtens in the lobby. It’s always amazing how quickly this motley crew of OCR fans have become such good friends in the relatively short time we’ve all known each other – a hug from Sandy, an ass grab from Vince – warms the heart.
The hotel itself was located about 45 mins from the venue – so we made sure we got out to Mountain Creek fairly early the next day. Parking was really easy to find and well sign posted, and at no point during the “busy period” on Saturday morning – or at any other point in the weekend were the buses backed up for more than a few minutes – with only a few minutes ride to the front door of the venue.
As they did last year, they made use of the space by putting the registrations tents right out in the parking lot in front – as is now typical of Spartan, this flowed smoothly, and we picked up our packets containing timing chip and band, wave heat band, headband number, paper number and pins. We were barely in through the front door before bumping into Spahtens and other friends – this was going to be an awesome weekend.
The festival area was similar to 2012, but felt more open which I appreciated. The showers were to the left of the entrance staircase, and now included changing tents and the new T Shirt pickup booth – with many portapotties just beyond them, and a medical tent. Above it was a food area with several half decent vendors offering pig roasts, corn on the cobs, burgers, slushies, ice creams and more. Bag check was also up here – and for once, we had to actually use it. Unfortunately, it was pretty disorganized, and resulted in us losing Beths bag until I went back there and spent 15 minutes searching for it during pickup. I had used two climbing caribiners to lock it to mine, and somehow those came unclipped, and the bag went missing. No harm, no foul this time, but it needs to be more organized.
There was also a great view of the final obstacle complex – a steep descent to the rope climb, then off around the base of the ski lift to the traverse walls, before shooting uphill a short distance, looping back to the slippy wall, fire pit, then through the gladiators to the finish line. Fantastic spectator experience, with great access to the course and viewing / photography angles.
Of to the right of the entrance staircase were the usual festival fair – slosh pipe competitions, tire flipping competitions, National Guard tents, Biggest Team tent (which was mostly empty all weekend), and a huge seating / shady tent that we saw at Amesbury – appreciated for many spectators, as the weekend was glorious and sunny – a sharp contrast to the tornadoes of 2012. The festival never felt crowded, unlike the New England Sprint, and judging by how many spectators were out on the course itself, they clearly had good access – especially if they wanted to take photos, or trail their friends around – last year, this was the biggest gripe, there were shuttles to spectator viewing points, but not much more, and if you missed your athlete at the spectator point, you missed them.
Of course, we’re not running these races for the festivals or the food – so lets dig into the course details. Being a Super, the course is listed as 8 miles and 20+ obstacles. True to tradition, the starting corral (where heat wave times were checked and enforced) was pointing up a steep ski slope, and once we were released, it was right into a steep slog, right up to the highest elevation point of the day. This really set the tone for what was the biggest obstacle of the event, the hills. For anyone getting ready for Killington, be aware, you havent seen anything yet …
As usual, a true obstacle by obstacle break down is unlikely – ultimately, I was on the course for nearly five hours, and things get fuzzy after a bit 🙂 Trying to remember:
We started out easy with some over and under walls – just some warm up 5′ walls here.
Quickly down into a water crossing – same as last year, get across a pond that had a floating dock in the middle (climb on the dock) – floaty’s were available.
Immediately after that were some of the skinniest pole hops I’ve seen – tall, thin, and some of them slightly unstable made for a very challenging hop – however, after Amesbury, where they were out of commission, I was happy to make it over first time!
Immediately after this we passed some horses to the Spear Throw – putting this super early in the course, instead of at the end was a neat twist. Burpees for me! 2012 NJ remains the only year I’ve ever stuck the spear!
We then hit trails – more hills, some single track trails, some rolling mud hills before what looked like an old paintball venue – my brain is getting foggy now, but I believe we then hit the 7′ and 8′ walls somewhere in here – and I want to take a moment to applaud my Icebug Spwyder‘s, with their carbide tips. Because of these, I was able to make it up both walls with no problem at all, something that historically has been a weak point for me – the ‘bugs gave me tons of grip to walk my way up, once I had hold of the top. We also hit the reverse incline wall, which is becoming one of my favorites, and a pretty nice barbed wire crawl. I do wish the wire crawls had less rocks in them – I get seriously scraped up on the knees in these things. The duck under the wall at the end of it is a nice head f*ck, especially for those who struggle with water! Some tire flips happened at some point (I could NOT get the biggest tire moved!).
We hit up some more trails and hills, heading down to the back of the main ski lodge – they had the sandbag carry in the same place as last year – and I took two of the mens sandbags with me this time, because hey, why not.
Fuzzy memory time – at some point we hit the herculean hoist, which was not as heavy as Amesbury for the men, and STILL there were guys burpeeing out, which blew my mind. CorrineBeast did hers one handed! We did a tractor drag over some rough terrain, and hit lots more trails before getting to the water slide, which was really tame for me – I barely moved, and the final descent into the finishing complex – this was the final set of obstacles, done right in the festival area in front of the crowds. My foot cramped up on the rope, but I got the bell – I fell off the traverse wall *again* – then a short uphill (which was the barbed wire crawl of 2012) to a U turn and slippy wall – the ‘bugs gave me TONS of grip, and the rope was almost redundant! Fire, gladiators, medal, glory.
Copie, our resident Kiwi doing a Haka at the finishline!
Of course, I also got to do it with my wife, on her first Super – we were buddying up with friends who provided great company along the way. That was a fantastic experience.
In 2012, we complained about those same things. It was too hard for a Super. The lines at the jump were too long. It was tougher than many Beasts. The hills were too much. Spartan HQ can’t win this one. I will say that this was probably the most “super” Super event they could have put on. It was CERTAINLY tougher than a Sprint, and DEFINITELY not as hard as a Beast. The lines at the cliff jump and tyrolean traverse in 2012 were horrible, and I do not miss those, even if people loved the actual jump.
From the elites who were winning in an hour twenty, to the slow pokes who took 5 hours and change – the Super provided a great challenge, with some really killer hills – and fell firmly in the “Super” territory, like it should. It’s clear that the Reebok era is here, with a much more polished and consistent feel to the races and the festivals.
I would like to gripe about one thing – and I hope someone at HQ will take this to heart, because this was a problem last year too. IF you are printing shirts that are unique to that event – print enough. Print too many. Beth and I saw awesome short sleeved NJ Super shirts and even more awesome long sleeved NJ shirts at the merch desk on our way in – and as soon as we were done and clean we went to pick them up – to find they had ALL gone. This was mid afternoon on *Saturday*. Thats really really uncool, and it happened at the VT Beast last year too. Medals can’t be worn daily – shirts can. We were pretty bummed, and its a really easy one to fix. They are still selling Amesbury shirts, so clearly, someone makes the calls on how many to buy.
Overall though – the event was solid, the venue is fantastic, providing a great mix of hilly terrain and trails, with several good spots for obstacles to be placed and built out. The infrastructure of parking is good too. If you’re looking for a Super distance race for your 2014 trifecta, this is a solid place to do it, and maybe if they bring a Super to New England *finally*, this would be a good place to get your double trifecta …