* From: Andreas Redbeard Dietzel
* Event: Spartan Beast, London, UK
* Event Details
Spartan Beast, London 2013
This is a review by and for OCR fanatics. It’s probably a TL; DR for anyone else (there’s a link to a vid and other shorter reviews at the bottom, woohoo!)
I have to start with the fact that this is the only OCR I’ve participated in thus far that has come close to reminding me of my military days (Royal Norwegian Air Force ‘99-’00). The November temperature and never-ending rain gave it a real let’s-see-what-you’re-really-made-of feel! It started raining around 09:50am and the first heat left at 10am.
A couple of days before the race we got this little note in our pre-race info email:
“HEAD-TORCH: If you are leaving after 11:00AM in the morning there is a very real possibility you will be racing in the dark. There is no illumination on the course and the sun sets at 4:30PM. We will be introducing cut-offs unless you have a head Torch on your person. CHECK THE BATTERIES. The course is over 25K long with 75 Obstacles. We estimate finishing times to be between 3 and 10 hours.”
The weather conditions combined with the fact that running-wise I knew that I had max 12 kilometers in my legs would make for an interesting day.
Festival area/ logistics
This Spartan Beast was my first Spartan Race in Europe and I was interested to see whether things were organized differently.
The festival area (referred to as the event village in the UK) was not what I was used to. My only point of Spartan Race reference though is the Amesbury Sprint, which I think is an absolutely fantastic event in all ways possible.
The check in was a breeze!
We had been told to show up 1.5 hours before the start of our heat (which made me concerned that we would face some logistics issues). We got there about 40 minutes before we were supposed to start. Bib numbers were assigned then and there. Instead of an actual bib we got a headband which worked out fantastically! I knew it wouldn’t get ripped off during mud crawls and it would keep my ears warm (when I removed it after the race I immediately felt way colder). I was ready to race 10 minutes after arrival.
Many of the obstacles were concentrated in the festival area, this was great for spectators which could walk almost all the way up to the different obstacles to cheer people on and take pictures. This is an important aspect all OCR organizers should think of – spectator friendliness.
The bag-check line was huge, and I guess that was the logistics issue I was worried about. It probably would’ve taken us 20 minutes to check our bags. The plan was then to leave the bags with my friend’s girlfriend who came along as a spectator, but the great people at Obstacle Race Magazine let us put our bags in their tent! Cheers!
The start of the race was delayed. I don’t know why, and I think it was only a 10 minute delay – but when you’re standing there in your shorts and t-shirt in the pouring rain 10 minutes is a long time.
There were no announcements whatsoever, at least not from what I could hear standing in the middle of the group. No welcome, no nothing. I was expecting (and needing) the Spartan Pep Talk (as I call it) with references to the 300, bad ass spartans, etc, etc. The smoke thingys were just lit and then we were off.
The bag-check tent got flooded and several people came back to drenched bags.
There was nowhere dry and warm for spectators to wait. When organizing a race this late in the year one can be pretty sure that the weather’s going to suck, and also it being the most anticipated race in the country, and one of the biggest world wide race series, one should expect a fair amount of spectators. In addition, if the last finishers had friends and family cheering them on, that means they had to wait in the rain, cold and eventually dark for over 7 hours!
Parking was not an issue for us since we took a taxi, but the field got flooded and people had serious problems getting their cars out.
An official apology for both the bag check drench and the flooded parking has been issued.
* Race Details
The race/ obstacles
As always, the most important thing is the race itself and the Beast delivered! This was the absolute most challenging race I’ve participated in. The only thing harder I’ve done so far in my life is my army training in the Norwegian mountains mid winter.
Pippingford Park in East Grinstead (it’s a bit of a stretch calling it a London Race, but then again I’m used to Boston events not being anywhere near Boston) is the perfect venue for an OCR. The area is full of natural obstacles like creeks and huge ponds, fallen trees, extremely muddy trails, etc. Out of the 75 announced obstacles I’d say more than half were natural obstacles. I absolutely love that! A rugged terrain makes for a way more challenging race.
All the standard obstacles were there, but there were also a bunch I’d never seen before.
One of the first obstacles was a kettlebell attached to a thin rope with a stick at the end of the rope. One had to hold the stick with straight horizontal arms and twist it so the kettlebell got hoisted all the way up to your hands and then twist it back down. Already here my hands and forearms were getting cold, so this was a great way to reanimate them. They should’ve had this same obstacle repeated throughout the course!
They had a chin-up challenge, but unfortunately no information on how many or for how long we were supposed to do them. We did 5 each and kept running.
They had one of the challenges from strongman competitions: the crucifix. We had to hold a brick in each hand with arms straight out to the side for 30 sec. The bricks unfortunately were very light.
The first “monkey bar” obstacle was this scaffold that’s used on stages at music festivals and concert venues. It was long (15 meters/ 50 feet I’ve been told!) and with frozen fingers almost impossible to complete. First burpee penalty, check! (second at the spear throw as usual, third at the second set of monkey bars, and last right before the finish line at a huge rope climb obstacle).
They had many pick-stuff-up-carry-it-in-a-hairpin-put-it-down obstacles which I love, but all the stuff was too light!. They had huge gas cans, but one was only allowed to carry one at a time. They also had ammo crates, tires, logs, buckets filled with water, sand bags (they called them airbags) – all of these obstacles were in succession, but still my arms didn’t get particularly tired. I wished they had made heavier options.
I did get one heavy option though, another strongman challenge! Atlas Stone Carry was one of the last obstacles. My fingers were so cold by then I couldn’t get the 35kg (77lb) stone into my hands, but my friend rolled it into my arms and that worked out fine. It felt great to do a deep squat with a granite stone after all that running! (the tire flip earlier in the race was also a great feeling)
The last obstacle was an 8 meter (26 feet!) rope climb right before the gladiator pit and the finish line. That obstacle was great and it looked intimidating. After failing the first rope climb two times before I made it due to frozen hands (had to borrow my friend’s gloves – I ran in my birthday gloves) very early in the race, I just opted for 30 burpees right away. Had it been a nice summer’s day and my hands were warm I would’ve tried it.
The marking of the course itself was pretty bad. Several people ended up running in the wrong direction or simply unwillingly skipping huge parts of the course.
It also seemed like people consciously skipped parts of the course. I guess this can happen at any race, but I’ve never seen it before until now.
The burpee penalty was not enforced very well/ seemed to work differently. Due to loss of feeling in my fingers I slipped off the monkey bars half way through but was told I didn’t have to do burpees since I’d tried the obstacle. Later at a different set of monkey bars I was told to keep moving after only completing 10 burpees. Maybe the volunteers (marshals as they were called) wanted to be nice?
Also, there were lack of instructions at obstacles. Looking at videos now after the race I’ve seen people do push ups half way through the Atlas Carry, no one told us to do those. There were also some simple math we were supposed to solve I think. At the first cargo net there was a sign with 300 x 4 and we were told to remember the answer. We saw a couple of other signs with numbers on them at some obstacles, but no one reminded us to do the math, and who knows how many of those signs we missed. At the end, no one asked us for any number.
Some obstacles were closed down, due to weather conditions I would think. One monkey bar station (it would’ve made 3 total if that was operational), and one obstacle that looked like it was an underground crawl where the ceiling was wooden plates. That last one seemed like it might have broken down.
One of the vertical cargo net climbs had collapsed. I don’t know if this happened earlier in the first heat or if it collapsed before the race even started due to weather. Collapsing obstacles is unacceptable. Safety should be priority number one for every OCR organizer. This also led to a huge line/ congestion at the one remaining cargo net. We probably stood there for 10 minutes.
Several people had written on the event’s Facebook page in the days leading up to the race saying they were shitting themselves when learning the amount of obstacles and the length of the race. I jokingly responded asking them not to do so because I didn’t want to run through their shit. Well, I did have to run through shit…a lot of it. I think it was sheep droppings. Huge amounts, all over the course. Luckily I never slipped and fell into a pile, but out of 2000 people someone must have!
Overall impression/ conclusion
Despite some issues (is there such a thing as a perfectly organized race?) the SR London Beast definitely delivered! The added uncomfortableness provided by the rain and the temperature made the race way more challenging than it would have been in nice weather. According to a local we spoke to at the pub after the race there had actually been frost on the ground in Pippingford Park that morning!
All in all it felt a little bit like the organizers were first timers, but that probably had a lot to do with the weather conditions. Lack of instructions, collapsing obstacles and worse-than-usually enforced burpee penalties should not happen at a Spartan Race, especially not a Beast in the capital city that was the most anticipated OCR in the UK in 2013.
I came with the specific goal of finishing in less than 5 hours and with zero burpees, and expecting to get my ass kicked plus having to dig a little bit. Those expectations were met and exceeded. I accomplished my goal and finished in 04:33:06 placing 1097 (woohoo!) of what I’ve read was around 1829 participants. I am very happy I didn’t have to finish in the dark.
I would have liked more heavy lifting and upper body stuff. My legs got a severe beating from the long distance, a distance I am clearly not accustomed to at all, but my upper body felt fine except for the frozen fingers. I don’t lift at all, and wouldn’t say I’m particularly strong, so if all the lifting was easy for me it must have been like balloons for the real lifters that participated.
The green Beast medal and the t-shirt are the first OCR items I wear with true pride, all the others are just cool.
I did not prepare well enough for this race. I should’ve done way more running, and I knew this coming in. When what’s holding you back is joint and muscle pain and not cardiovascular fatigue it really sucks. You still have plenty of gas left, but your knees and hips hurt for every step. Next time I will make sure I’m in half marathon shape before I do a beast.
The t-shirt was absolutely fantastic! Great material and cool design with claw marks on the shoulder, SR logo on the front and Beast logo on the side.
Free fantastic race photos are still being posted online by Epic Action Imagery. This is such a great thing for participants I think, and also a genius way for organizers to get participants to market their race in their social media networks.
Right after the race I was thinking my next and all future Beasts will be in Miami, but if I bring gloves and maybe some other shoes (I ran in VFFs, I always do, but that got crazy cold in the water obstacles and painful in the one they had filled with ice cubes), I’d do the London Beast again in the same conditions 🙂 It made it way more beast like than it would’ve been in nice weather. B u t, I’m hoping to complete the trifecta next year and I’m aiming for the original Vermont Beast for that!
I would have liked a more social aspect after the race. They could’ve partnered with a pub or something in East Grinstead so people could go there and enjoy the same post Beast work out meal I did: Guinness and hot chocolate 🙂
Here are links to a couple of other writeups and reviews for those who are interested:
Winner’s Blog (has a nice GPS tracked map):
2nd Place Finisher’s Blog