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The Best Of – 2014 New England OCR

A recent Facebook Poll of the New England Spahtens was run to determine the top five favorite OCR events in our region.

As we ALL know, polls are not science, and the wording used was “favorite”, which is subjective. Also, Facebook polls allow you to vote on multiple entries – but only one vote, per entry.

All that being said, I think the list is pretty representative of the New England Spahtens, and with good reasons – so, here’s your top five favorite OCR events in the New England region.

Note – the poll is still active and receiving votes, so the results you see *now* maybe different to the results I saw when I started this article. In fact, I’d bet on it.

bonefroglogo5) Bonefrog Challenge

A relative new comer to the scene, Bonefrog landed with a big splash – putting on a longer distance, obstacle heavy format for the true OCR enthusiast. Bonefrog puts on solid, challenging courses that have very quickly become fan favorites. Attracting Elites and average Joe’s, with a Navy Seal theme and inspiration, this series is also owned and operated entirely by retired Seals.

With a #racelocal Grand Prix event in western MA in May, Bonefrog wants to expand – so keep an eye on their calendar for races as they open up.

Next Race – May 2015 – REGISTER

EURO - Polar Bear4) Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill

This was my personal pick – 8 hours to run as many laps of the famed Shale Hill course in the snow, in February. I’ve done this event twice now – and countless other events at Shale Hill, and never managed more than a single lap in that 8 hour window – but with an amazing family welcoming you by name, another challenging course thats perfect for the enthusiast, or the weekend warrior looking to push themselves – Shale Hill is world class, and in our backyard. Every event is going to be on the #racelocal calendar!

Next Race – February 2015 – REGISTER

fitchallengelogo3) FIT Challenge

It’s easy to spot why FIT Challenge is a New England Spahtens favorite, and staple in the #racelocal Grand Prix. Race Director Robb is active in the community, from participating as a fellow athlete at events, to answering any and all questions people bring up prior to his races. A good choice of past venues, all in an active region of New England. On race day, people are treated well, with large amounts of community space, the best pricing and treatment rarely seen anywhere else. The FIT course is usually around 5k, and while a solid course in it’s own right, it’s the family and friends treatment that puts FIT above many other similar races.

Next Race – April 2015 – REGISTER

Fenway sandbag2) Spartan Race – Fenway Park

Despite the frigid cold and packed ball park, Spartan nailed it with Fenway. A fun, but challenging course, a space set aside for the biggest team, and a full street taken over by the festival outside. As a community we saw a huge turnout, which was handled as well as can be expected on race day, and you couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing a Spahten shirt, even if they were supporting other communities. Massive volunteer turnout, both in the days setting up, all day on race day and during tear down showed what this community was all about.

Next Race – November 2015? – Registration not open

beastmedal1) Spartan Race – VT Beast

The Grand Daddy of all Spartan Beast events. This particular rendition was overly long, criticized by many for having almost all of it’s obstacles in the last couple of miles, and having too many “carry heavy things” obstacles – and despite that, it topped the rankings for the most popular event of the calendar year – showing that no matter what the internet experts think, the general OCR population is still in love with the Spartan Race suffer-fests. The VT Beast takes your Average Joe and puts them out of their comfort zone, testing themselves somewhere they never thought they’d be, and Killington holds a dear place in many hearts as a result. Time will tell if removing the World Championship, and adding a Beast in New Jersey will help, or hinder the VT Beast.

Next Race – September 19th – REGISTER

Of course, this isn’t the most comprehensive, scientifically deduced list out there. You may not see yours on it, and you may not agree with it – but, it’s clear that in New England, in 2014, Spartan Race provided the highlights for the most – but with three solid choices right behind them, and many other solid choices in the Grand Prix -New England leads the country in quality and choice for OCR.

Which races do you think we missed? Which races are you already registered for?

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – Fenway Park 2014

I liked Fenway.fenwaypano

There, I said it. I’ve been the first to gripe when Spartan Race have dropped the ball up this year. I’ve had my moments when I’ve felt bored, let down, and frustrated by the series and what was the 2014 season. I’ve also been called out on it.

But, this weekend I hit the last Spartan Race of my calendar year season – the Stadium Sprint at Fenway Park – and I had a great time.

A huge part of this, as is pretty typical, is the community. The people who make up the New England Spahtens team wave, who hung out in the biggest team area, who high fived and hugged their way through the day – it’s because of YOU that Fenway was such a great experience for me.

10750402_748482118573470_2924127087209227078_oIt’s no secret that New England in November is cold. This weekend, it was especially cold – and the space that Spartan set aside for the team (the first time in three years – thank you for finally doing that for us!) was out in the seating, which had great views of the course – and screens showing several more sections of the course – but, it was exposed to the elements and in shade all day – we advised everyone to wrap up extra warm – and BIG thanks to everyone who came to spectate and didn’t get to run the course to warm up!

IMG_7937Also a first, Spartan had taken over the street outside – all of registration and check in was done in the road, instead of crammed into a parking lot – and it was nicely spread out, and SUPER smooth. I pre-signed my wavers and was through with my packet in minutes. No hassle, no sweat, no lines. Fenway security bag check was quick and effortless and we were into the crowded concourse. No fuss, no hassle.

Spartan merchandise was wisely vending outside, but the Panasonic booth, some local vendors – and 13,000 people made the concourse difficult to navigate at times. I used the Fenway food vendor once, and appreciated the warm, easy to grab fries prior to my wave, even if they were still charging ball park prices. It is what it is – heats were going all day, literally – 7am to 7:30pm – and at peak times there were a lot of people milling around.

After spending time hanging out with the best team in the world, 12:45 came around for our team wave. As is usual at a stadium race, they line you up based on your wave time, then filter you through in groups of 15 – sending you out every couple of minutes. I understand why they do this (course flow, space reasons), but when the “team wave” is mixed up with the earlier waves and later waves – random folks end up surrounded by NES members, generally very confused by whats going on.

And we were off!

As usual, I’m not going to try and map the course out – I’ll include the course map, and GoPro footage for that.

1495287_748052791949736_642322161985907101_oStadium staples like the slam ball, hand release pushups, heavy jump ropes were present. The rowers were missing, which is a blessing or a curse (I liked them), and the spear throw is now tethered, which I consider a necessary modification, even if it’s not a popular one. Box jumps at the finish line and several good walls, including a seemingly 10’ version I made it up solo, thankfully!

We did see some innovation. The traverse wall is now built into three shorter pieces set at an angle with each other – something that is certainly tougher, but not new. The monkey bars were the usual tiered bars we’ve seen at the mud races, missing the slightly odd version from previous events. The new cargo net up the green walls into the stands was pretty awesome – I’ve always wondered why that hadn’t happened at Fenway – despite being caught in a pretty severe backlog at that point, and frankly a touch nervous with so many people on the net, it was a fun way to make more use in the stadium.

10704414_748053335283015_4788503626839072917_oFinishing out the course with the “heavy” bags to replace the gladiator gauntlet – I say “heavy”, because my first experience of these at Citi Field, they truly were heavy bags and awesome, here they were just straw filled and presented little to no challenge as you ran to the finish line, and not particularly epic photos either – at least, I got none.

The distance felt a touch shorter than previous years, but we can’t really confirm that as GPS units fail miserably at stadium events – but you know, who cares if it was 2.8 or 3.2 miles in length? It was what it was, and we had a good time out there. Winning times were in the sub 30min range, and I was happy enough to break the 1h mark, considering how little training and gym time I’ve spent recently.

So, Fenway’s course ended up being a blast, the event was fantastic – but the key reason we had so much fun, is that it’s one of the few events that has a ton of social opportunities, as people don’t need to rush off and clean up, or go home, or go back to their car – and with so many places to eat, even when we had enough of the cold we still had the very best of company to hang out with.

And really – isn’t that why we do these races?1048799_748051075283241_1865287660235165626_o

In 2010, I ran my first Spartan Race because I wanted an athletic, physical pursuit. In 2014 I ran my third Fenway because of the people I’ve met along that road – and even in this time when Spartan is facing somewhat of a reinvention of itself – it’s still the place we see the biggest congregation of the best people – and for that, I can’t thank the people who make the events happen enough – because it’s all about the people, really.

Spartan faces increasing competition from other parts of the OCR world, and has a delicate balance to meet – putting on innovative, challenging events that can still draw the huge crowds they need to stay in business and support themselves. It’s a daunting task that very few other events out there have to do, and certainly not week in week out.

They’re working on it. Lets see how 2015 pans out.

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Featured Review: Spartan Race Fenway Park 2012

The Spartans are coming! The Spartans are coming!

To Fenway Park?

Spartan Race have been promoting and talking up the Fenway Park stadium event for some time – this was a two day “Time Trial” event, entirely contained in the confines of the oldest baseball stadium, on the year of their 100th birthday, and I’ll admit, right up until I saw the feedback coming in from the Saturday runners, I was skeptical. See, I’m an expat, and have zero relationship or history or interest in baseball, the Red Sox or Fenway – to me, it sounded cramped, busy and gimmicky.

I am happy to say, I was wrong. Spartan did this one right. I ran Sunday, and brought my wife and my dad along, and met up with a good group of New England Spahtens, both before, after and on the course. I ran 1 and three quarter laps – with my first 11:30am heat finishing with a 54min finish time, and my second 1:30pm wave ending when I rolled an ankle on the jump ropes – sending me on my first ride to the medics. Ice pack, ibuprofin, and I can walk on it today – seems to be just a sprain.

The Venue

Fenway Park – clearly very easy to find. Less easy to park. We took the Riverside green line into town – and in both directions it was easy, reliable and got us where we wanted to be with far less fuss than I expected. Once you arrived at Fenway – they had the check-in booths and merchandise stand in a parking lot across from Gate D, which helped keep one of the big bottle necks of the weekend away from the event itself. For us, it was a simple process – running very smoothly. They did have the wrong names on our packets, but the bib numbers were all that mattered. Right here we also found the innov-8 stand, merch stand and race day info tent.

Once we were bibbed up, we headed over the street to Gate A – they did a bag search, tagged us, and let us into Fenway. This was my first experience in the ballpark, and my first thought was how cold it was – the concrete surrounding us had kept the ambient temperature lower than it was outside, in November, in New England. We got walking to warm up, checked out the start line, finish shoot, and a few spectator viewing spots, before heading up into the stands. It was clear immediately – Spartan had made great use of the venue. Every inch of stairs, seats, viewing platforms, warm up tracks … all working well as an OCR. They had a very professional setup with multiple wireless cameras broadcasting to the jumbotron, so they were able to cut around the different obstacles and show you plenty of live footage.

My one big “huh?!” was that they didn’t (most likely *couldn’t*) use the grass itself. This huge patch of field, the iconic “baseball stadium” landmark was half covered, fenced off and unused. I’m sure this isn’t Spartans fault – they could have easily put some low impact stuff out there that wouldn’t have torn the precious grass up badly.

Given the obvious limitations of being in a cramped venue – Spartan did a great job of utilizing the space they had and marking the course well.

The Course

We all knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a typical Spartan Race. Information in the weeks prior had been confusing / limited – likely by design. Was it going to be a one mile race, or a full 5k sprint? How would they provide mud and water obstacles? How was the time trial start going to happen?

Lining up for the start, it was already clear this would be unusual. They were pulling folks out, ten at a time and lining them up. Some burpees or jumping jacks or other PT while they got the previous wave up the ramp – then you were off. This worked fairly well, and I definitely didn’t see a single bottle neck during two laps – but one complaint would be that the first obstacle – a ramp up with some low ropes to go under – the starting MC had folks at different times of day doing different things .. sometimes he let them run up, other times I saw two person “wheel barrows” – others, bear crawls. This needs to be consistent, especially considering the competitive nature of the Spartan series.

As usual, I won’t attempt an obstacle by obstacle review here – you can watch Jeff’s GoPro footage if you need reminding.

If I had to describe the obstacles though – it was like  Crossfit met Spartan. We went from PT style stations – row 500m’s in 2mins, do 20 hand release push ups, atlas stone carries with 15 burpees in the middle, ball slams – all the way through to very recognizable Spartan obstacles, the spear throw (missed both times), traverse wall (nailed it both times! first time ever!), cargo nets, big walls, the longest herculean hoist I’ve ever seen and the shortest rope climb I’ve ever seen.

Mostly, these PT stations went really well – the volunteers did a great job explaining them to folks who didn’t know what a hand release push up is, or how the ball slams worked – but there were some sticky points. The rowers were set to all kinds of different difficulties – I don’t know how someone was expected to hit 500m in 2mins when the resistance was set to 1 or 2 – and no one was moving down the line resetting them all to a much more sensible 5 or 6 (I did that myself the second time through, and got it with TONS of spare time). The ball throw – there simply to incorporate baseballs – was a carnival game, but you didn’t win a fluffy animal. I personally got taken out by the jump ropes – and heard from the medics that a lot of other folks had joined me that day – it was probably the most casualty causing obstacle all day, purely because it was such an easy obstacle to be injured by – one mis-step and you were rolling your ankle in ways it shouldn’t go, and game over.

Of course, Spartan put on great obstacles and place them well – for those who made it through the ropes you immediately faced the most epic Hobie Hop ever – up 5 or 6 flights of stairs … there were many folks walking this one in the end! The over / under / throughs that bracketed the rope climb and hoist were really well placed, and another Spartan staple.

Of course, the obstacle I loved to hate for the day – the damned sandbag carry. These were true sandbags, not the pancakes we’ve gotten used too. The route you had to carry them was long, winding, and went through the stairs, chairs, up and down – I had to rest more than a few times when I went through. Oh, and it was placed right at the end. Nice call, Spartan. nice call.

The Schwag

Of course – for many folks the race is as much about what you earn at the finish line and take home. Bragging rights.

There was an awesome medal – right up there with the quality of the trifecta medals, and above the quality of the usual finishers medal – it looks great on my medal holder 🙂

The finishers T shirt – finally, Spartan have learned from feedback and provided a race specific shirt, and it looks awesome. Quality feels nice, but my XL is a bit of a frankensize – fits great in the shoulders, fits loose everywhere else. Still, I’m wearing it to the office – my “monday after a race” tradition 🙂

One real oddity – the race bibs included a beer ticket. Usual Spartan Race stuff … except the folks at the beer counter wouldn’t honor it – saying it was illegal to give away alchohol in the state … um, it’s not being given away – Spartan are buying. Of course, I’m sure the $8:50 per beer price tag had something to do with this …

Special mention to the Race Menu team – they had booths setup with touch screens to look up your times, then print them off immediately. This was awesome. So much better than the “piece of paper on the side of a tent” method! I really hope we see more of this.

Conclusion

This was a very *very* well run event. The whole day was slick, the time trial format worked well, the PT stations blended in fairly well with the usual Spartan obstacles. Rumor has it that there will be a specific Stadium Series for Spartan Race in the future, and judging by this, the very first one, it’ll be a huge success. It opens up the world of OCR to a new crowd (I saw many folks only there because of the venue, who loved the OCR itself in the end). Some small changes to the operations of some stations and this will be a huge draw for Spartan, and something their competition isn’t doing (yet) …

I’m going to give this event a four and a half out of 5 Spahten rating 🙂

Also, check out our Team Reviews – and submit your own!

http://nespahtens.com/submit-a-race-review/spartan-race-fenway-time-trial-2012/