I approached this event with a crappy attitude (there, I said it). Rumors flying around all week were that this was primarily going to be a tarmac race, many of our favorite obstacles would be missing, they weren’t allowed to dig, the venue had been meddling …
It left a really sour taste, one that many new comers didn’t understand, but one shared by many people who have multiple Spartan’s under their belt.
From day one, Spartan has been about getting out into the country. Up a mountain. In a field. Through a lake. In the mud. Coming home and finding dirt in your various cracks and crevices is a right of passage. The introduction of the stadium series was met with skepticism, and these days it tends to draw a very different group of athletes – you either love it, or hate it – there’s only a small middle ground. In Tampa this year, they did a hybrid event – a football stadium, with artificial mud obstacles – best of both worlds maybe? While it seemed to go well, they haven’t launched another yet.
So – to hear that Mohegan Sun was preventing them from digging, and obstacles were being moved at the last minute for the venue’s whims and needs – it didn’t give us high hopes. We were vocal about it too – Spartan held a cloud of secrecy over the details, which didn’t help. We took to the social media’s of course, and cared far more than we should about what was coming.
Of course, overcoming obstacles is something we as OCR athletes do all the time, and the build crews and staff at Spartan overcame this obstacle – mostly. I came away pleasantly surprised.
The venue is easy to find, of course – Mohegan Sun is well sign posted from all the major highways – but once you were on the property, there was no signage for Spartan, no directions for parking – in a total crap shoot, I ended up in a parking garage close to the festival, but one wrong turn would have sent me around the casino and who the heck knows where. Parking was free and plentiful, but a pointer to say “the race is down here” would have been really nice.
Check-in in was frustrating – a second waiver we hadn’t been sent needed to be signed, meaning we had to line up twice – also frustratingly, there were no porta-potties prior to checkin, so those of us with long drives and bladders full of coffee weren’t too impressed to be sent back.
The festival area has improved year over year. At Mohegan Sun, it was entirely on a paved lot, and being a member of team NE Spahtens, I’d helped earn the team a biggest team tent – a nice 20*20 with chairs and tables – everything was well laid out, and not too crowded. Spartan and Reebok are improving their vending, with all the usual Spartan Race gear and merchandise on sale (they have some of the best in the industry too), and even the Reebok All Terrains on sale at a race for the first time that I’ve seen. They had an SGX training area with treadmills and obstacles to play on, a tent for picking up your shirt at the finish line (or post race, if you prefer), and Mohegan Sun was vending foods and beers – I was VERY happy to see great food options – from turkey legs to salad wraps – and high quality (cheap!) beer options, with $2 Shock Tops in good sized glasses – *thats* how you ensure people stick around for a post race party – I’m looking at *you*, over inflated ball park beer prices …
Now, the course.
Yes. The reason for my crappy attitude. I said it a couple of times, including to the race organizers – best of a bad job.
There was roughly a 50/50 split of road and tarmac running to field and trail running – which meant the question of which shoe to wear was a difficult one. Most road friendly shoes suck on trails, most trail friendly shoes suck on the road. I ended up in my Salomon Fellraisers, which felt like marshmallows on roads, but gave me good obstacle and field grip. I did have to stop three or four times to fight with the stupid, dumb, ridiculous speed lacing though. My goodness.
Starting and finishing in the parking lots, and with an initial run through roads and parking garages, it was a while before we got to any obstacles, and the rolling mud we hit was a sign of things to come. Ankle deep, not very high mud mounds … not quite what we expected.
As usual, I never recall the whole course in order – but needless to say, we hit several of the pre-requisite small and big walls, inverted walls, over under through walls – all well built, well manned. The barbed wire crawl was on a nice, smooth grassy field – and I was quite happy about it – I always come away with gashes on my knees thanks to the rocky, gravelly wire crawl – so to come away with no open wounds was nice. The sandbag carry was devious – for a venue with little elevation change, they found a field with really nice steep slopes – I had to drop the bag for a breather – nice touch!
Further into the course, the views were spectacular over the river – with some more walls and net crawls – we came into the spear area, where I earned my only penalty burpees of the day – when will I ever nail this in a race? I have spears in my back yard, practice often and still flub it come race day. Immediatly after the spears was the rope climb, the one place we found a good dig site – chest deep cold water was welcome that day, but oddly all the ropes were knotted – I made this, got the bell stuck on the support beam, and came down – nearly getting brained when the person behind me chose to drop off her rope from a good height (she didn’t fall, she said as much) – that could have ended very badly!
When we hit the atlas stone carry, it was clear Spartan were trying to bump the difficulty where they could – those stones were heavier than normal (and I welcomed that!), and the mandatory five burpees brought my count to 35 for the day – and then some single track trail where things got very backlogged.
Then, like we started, the last mile or so was entirely running – in this case along some raised beds at the side of the road – again, mostly a single track trail that made passing difficult (and folks, if you’re walking three abreast and someone shouts “on your left” – the correct reaction is to move aside, NOT stop, turn, look to see who it was, engage in a discussio*CRASH* – happened more than once to me on this stretch).
After a tire flip station we got back into the festival area, and back on pavement. Over the signature Spartan arch, which was backlogged with people going up and down – across the traverse wall, then to the herculian hoist, which was also heavier and tougher than normal, which I *again* welcome – this is supposed to be a challanging event, and I’ve never found this particular obstacle tough at all, thanks to having more body weight – something that evens the score with the light runners is always good.
The slip wall had a little paddling pool of water at the bottom to make your feet wet, but good shoes make all the difference on this, and I had no problem at all – helping the older ladies next to me in their regular sneakers who were struggling – a leap over a bigger than normal fire pit, and over the line for my medal, banana and water.
So – after a sleep, some reflection – what was the lasting impression?
Mohegan Sun has a lot of unrecognized potential. The views from portions of that course are amongst the most breath taking – I actually stopped to take them in, something I’ve only ever done from the top of Killington on a clear day before – but there was too much use of roads and roadsides, too much single track trail.
Obstacle placement was concentrated to the middle two or three miles, and some obvious “no dig” friendly obstacles were missing, like monkey bars. They easily got a great distance in – my GPS clocking nearly 5 miles, which is fantastic for a Sprint distance race. Upping the difficulty of the heavy obstacles really helped even the playing field out on this runners course, and made for a dramatic and unexpected Elite race – something I think is SORELY needed in the sport.
Would I do another Mohegan Sun based Spartan? I think so. My hope would be that the venue would get out of their own way, and let the Spartan staffers do what they need to do to deliver the kind of event their fans look for. Perhaps this would have been seen with kinder eyes if they listed it as a hybrid event, like the Tampa, FL race? With so much road and pavement running, I think it’s safe to call it that.
Hats off to the Spartan staffers, and the entire team who helped put this together. You still put on a challenging event, that crossed into territory many of us weren’t comfortable (or willing) to go – but, I still prefer my races on trails, not on the roads.