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Featured Review: Spartan Race VT Beast 2015

We’re so lucky.

We live in New England. We are able to drive a short distance – just a few hours – and be at the foot of a venue like Killington. We have companies like Spartan Race who will come out, and setup a challenge that is physically demanding and mentally draining. We are fit and able enough to line up, and challenge that mountain.

In recent years, I’ve had my fair share of constructive feedback for Spartan HQ (some may call it whining, or complaining – but thats never the intention), and lets be clear, there will be some of that after this race – but it’s important to remember the bigger picture.

We got to go to Killington and compete in the VT Beast – and barring a few injuries here and there causing some DNF’s – for the most part, we were successful.

We’re *SO* very lucky.

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This was the fifth VT Beast – my fourth – and other than year one, this is the first time Spartan were not holding their World Championships at the event. This was also the first time the VT Beast was given the designation of being a founders race – indicating they would be going back to their roots, and steering clear of the big build outs and complicated (and expensive) constructions – and staying a little closer to what made them so successful in the first place – namely, physical challenges to test strength and endurance.

IMG_9760Both of these changes caused much chatter, much speculation and much guesswork into the reasoning, and what this means for the future. Will all future Spartans be this gritty, back to the roots, carved out of wood style – or is this an outlier, and the future will return to big digs, large constructions and flashy banners? Time will tell.
The New England Spahtens were everywhere – taking biggest teams for both Beast days, the Sprint and the Ultra Beast – with over 400 registered runners – we were the community to be with, and welcome to every single new member who joined us at our biggest team tent!

The Venue

Most of us know Killington. I was staying at a motel a short drive away with Erick, and all parking was at the base lodge – getting there early was key to getting a half decent space – 6am on Saturday, 7am on Sunday meant I was always able to park close, and each day was the now common $10 charge.

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No ropes under the bridge at sunrise

Registration was going on right in the parking lot, and the biggest team tent was right there as you came in – nice and easy to find, but far away from anything happening at the race festival – pluses and minuses. Storms on Saturday night blew the whole thing away, so Sunday was a chilly affair – Spartan staff were apologetic, but you can’t change mother nature. The huge merchandise trailer was also in the parking lot, and after learning my lessons in previous years, I bought my venue specific shirt as soon as I checked in.

Once you walked through the venue, you saw why so much was moved out into the parking lot – since we were last here in 2013, the entire base lodge has had attractions installed – a rope maze, rollercoaster and more – it made the festival grounds cluttered and crowded – the finish line and complex tucked off to the right, with the start line and kids course across the street (accessed by a tunnel). Bag check was indoors, and for the biggest team, we enjoyed free VIP bag check – and the main lodge with it’s cafeteria was open both early in the AM and late at night, which was hugely appreciated.

IMG_9745Of course, we can’t talk about the venue without a discussion of the main pond and bridge – and the conspicuously absent rope ladders and Tarzan swing. This obstacle is a particular hatred of mine – not being strong in either upper body *or* swimming – and I was personally not sad to see it missing – but I do understand many people’s disappointment with what was a personal nemesis or challenge – looking at the festival layout, I wonder if it was simple logistics that kept them away – it was hard to route a race course there, with the roller coasters and such – or if it was simply a case of that obstacle not fitting the “founders race” feel they were shooting for. I didn’t miss it.

My Race

I ran on Saturday in the biggest team wave at 8am. We were 230+ strong for that wave alone, and all you could see in the starting coral was a sea of blue shirts – it was pretty amazing to see, and be involved in helping that happen! Being so early, we were right after the elite men and women, and the course was going to be pretty wide open for us.

As is usual, I won’t do an obstacle by obstacle break down. The course will never be the same, so whats the point? Highlights and lowlights.

In 2014, towards the end when we were beat and tired and down – they directed us straight up a slope lovingly called “the death march”. My GPS track tells me this was right up the K1 Express gondola, and you cover over 2,000’ of elevation gain in a very short distance. We did this almost immediately – and made it up considerably quicker, with considerably less swearing – but it was still a brutal, hard climb that let you know that Founders Race or not, you were in for a day of suffering.

In 2012, we did an ugly crawl / scramble up the side of the mountain where there were very few trails. We did that too. All in, I think we did five really tough, really technical climbs, with their associated decent – and Killington once again showed why it chews people up – if you entered this race with a pre-existing injury in your ankles or knees – you reduced your chance of completion considerably.

Battle buddies!
Battle buddies!

The whole concept of the Founders Race is that we go back to basics on the obstacles – and that was certainly the case on the heavy carries – already famous for it’s incredibly difficult terrain for carries, this year we had even more. Two heavy log carries up the side of the mountain, one sandbag carry, one Spartan pancake carry, one extremely devious bucket carry – throw into that the atlas stone carry, the new farmers log carry and a heavy log carry (same style as the atlas – point to point with five burpees in between) – we spent a lot of time carrying heavy shit.

We also saw a lot of walls. Some were early on – with an Over Under Through and a couple of short and taller walls – one noticeable wall early in the race was simply not build properly, and the center point was moving far more than I would be comfortable with. The volunteer was asking racers to stay to the sides near the supports – but I would be interested to see how this particular wall faired as the day and weekend progressed. Also interestingly, all the walls were of the old design, with wooden supports and thinner lips at the top – unlike the MA events that saw walls with thick lips (too thick to get a hold of easily), and cargo strap supports negating a foot hold.

20150921163049Somewhere around mile ten, we hit a parking lot area that had tons of walls – of all kinds – several tall, several small – something I hadn’t seen much before were invisible walls – simple suspended logs to get over, with nothing underneath to catch – plenty of them. By the end of this section, my legs were cramping, and I never wanted to see another wall again (but of course, we did!).

Throw in at least two vertical cargo nets (one of my least favorite climbs, based on how unstable they feel), we climbed a lot of stuff.

20150921163130It wasn’t all carrying and climbing – we had three really nicely done barbed wire crawls. The first was pretty flat – the second, late in the race was uphill – but the last was right before the finish line, and felt not only exceptionally long, but given how tired everyone was, I was done with crawling at this point – this one felt like hard work!

What Spartan would be complete without Spear Throws? Love it or hate it – it’s there and we had two. At the summit, in the cold mist, with winds gusting – the hay bales were low to the ground for a change, and given our banana shaped spear, I stuck it close enough for a “pass” from the staff member managing the obstacle. The second was right at the finish line. RIGHT FRIGGING AT THE FRIGGING FINISH LINE. You could smell the smoke, and still had to nail a traditional spear man obstacle – not only torturous for people who missed and had to do burpees, but a great spectator spot too. Oh, more invisible walls right there too – fortunately I got them, despite pressure from the spectators 🙂

We went up too – two “back to basics” rope climbs, that were over regular terrain, and really short – at 6’, it wasn’t a stretch to get one or two leg locks in, and tap on the bell – while these are a far cry from the 15 or 20’ cargo container constructions – they were in the woods, in trails where people didn’t expect them. Upper body strength was tested with two Spartan style rigs – both of these were my burpee makers for the day – the second one was only accessed over a tall wall – with a second wall as your exit – new touches to a nasty obstacle.

12031478_917671154987898_5510042796816669980_oWhile the bridge was closed for business, we did enter the water, but only for a short while – a nice wade across the area that used to house the tyrolean traverse was refreshing more than challenging – considering the weather, I would have LOVED to go in there more than once!

A frequent criticism I heard this weekend was how “weak” the obstacles were. Thats not one I agree with. OCR has recently entered something of an arms race with obstacles – Tough Mudder put out all the stops with massive constructions, and Battlefrog brings an extremely difficult Platinum Rig to races these days – and when you go head to head with that, you end up losing what makes your race great in the beginning. Spartan was never about having the hardest variation on monkey bars, nor was it founded on the tallest rope climbs – it has always been about getting out on the mountains and trails and testing your strength and endurance, for time. They achieved this in spades – and the biggest obstacle – Killington itself – was never easy, and was never dialed down.

There is criticism to be leveled though – and that is in the handling of the water stations on course. If there are corners to be cut, money to be saved, things to be dialed back – it is NOT in the on course stations at a venue like Killington.

A line for water at mile 10
A line for water at mile 10

I set off with a 3l pack. I sweat a considerable amount and knew I would easily need one refill – it not two – or risk problems. There were 6 listed water stops, and we were in the first non elite wave to go out. Water stop one told us to fill our bladders at the next one, which was fine – and for us, the second stop let us refill (thanks for volunteering here, Dennis!). Third stop said to refill at the fourth – and the fourth was around mile ten, with a heavy log carry, and this is where disaster struck. Noticing a line for the table, which didn’t have any jugs available for bladders, we spotted a group using a hose to refill. I’ve been around this block a few times, and we managed to get a couple of our bladders full again, before a staffer commandeered the hose – and started to inform people that we weren’t permitted to refill bladders – go back to the table, where there was now a reportedly hour long line for cups … we had a couple of team mates in visible distress here – empty bladders, and long lines for cups – and we were forced into a situation where we had to share what we had and get them to the next stop – hopefully where they could refill and move on at their own pace.

I’ve heard from the volunteers at the earlier tables that they were later informed that they should not allow bladder refills at all.

It was a very hot day. Killington’s very nature is that people are out there a considerably long time, and putting out a lot of exertion. Dehydration is a very simply, cheap thing to help alleviate. The arguments of Killington being a self supported race is fine, but the 2015 athlete guide (rather surprisingly to me) showed hydration bladders to be OPTIONAL (unlike headlamps). This was a simple planning fail – and a potential catastrophic one. Coupled with some hot tempers and verbal sparring, it was a way bigger problem than it needed to be.

Update – on Sunday, Joe and Spartan HQ put out a video owning the problems and asking for people to reach out, making a commitment to fix them, and not repeat their problems again. You can choose to believe this, or not, but in my five years of Spartan Racing, this is a first.

Joe Addresses Spartan Race IssuesHey Spartans – Joe De Sena here. This weekend saw 5 races in 4 countries. But when I heard about the issues we were having in Killington, I immediately left the Ft. Bragg race to come deal with it personally. The issues in water, medals and lines are unacceptable and I’m going to work with the Spartan team to make sure it never happens again. And don’t think we aren’t listening to the complaints – I love hearing them! And as anyone who knows me can attest, I want to hear them personally so I can respond. Email me at joe@spartan.com with your feedback. This was a massive weekend for Spartans but I won’t rest until we learn from our mistakes and come back stronger. – Joe

Posted by Spartan Race on Sunday, September 20, 2015

The 2015 Killington Beast – despite it’s lack of World Championship status, despite the water stop issues – ultimately ended up being one of my personal favorite events of the calendar – something 2014 could not say. I was out there for 9.5 hours, and will be walking funny for a day or two. I had amazing company with my battle buddy, Jessica, and we hit our one and only goal – finish in the daylight and don’t use our headlamps. The sweetest sight of the entire day was sitting at the base lodge, looking out over the mountains, and seeing headlamps wink on as dusk fell – while stuffing our faces full of pizza and fries.

IMG_9763Killington isn’t for everyone – don’t take it lightly. Spartan continue to struggle with some simply logistics (they also ran out of venue shirt mid Saturday *again*, and for those hunting multiple trifecta’s, they were out of medals too), but seemingly despite themselves, they continue to attract legions of fans.

If the longer format of the Killington Beast is more your preference over shorter sprints – check out Bonefrog in MA next May, and some of the longer format endurance races at Shale Hill in 2016.

For me? I’ll be back at Killington in about 12 months. Hope to see you all in the team tent again.

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Featured Review: Spartan Race, MA Sprint 2015

Editors note: Thank you to Sandy for handling this featured review for us!

11930801_906095589478788_106736280221920448_oblockIt’s always interesting to have different events at the same location. After the Spartan Super was held at Carter & Stevens Farm back in June, we heard a lot of complaints about the venue. Many thought it was no good because there isn’t much elevation change. Others thought it was too short. Some complained about the inevitable animal smells. Amazing what a difference can be made, at the same location, and even by the same company! Whereas the Super was a foul out, the Sprint comes in as a grand slam.
The New England Spahtens came out in force for the Spartan Sprint at Barre, MA. Between the two days, we had almost 450 registered with the team, plus countless volunteers who raced the same weekend and therefore didn’t hit the 14 day cut-off to be included in the biggest team numbers. patchAll told, I’m sure we were over 500 strong. Spartan has been taking care of their biggest teams this year and we were awarded the beautiful Biggest Team block both Saturday and Sunday. In addition, each person on the list was entitled to free bag check, one free spectator entry, and a Biggest Team patch. The ceremony at the sound stage was pretty lackluster, but that may have been due to some last minute changes in the staff. Either way, we received our prize and had our picture taken and it was time to race.

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Carter & Stevens Farm is perfect for a Sprint distance event. This one showed up on most GPS trackers between 5.3 and 5.6 miles. Spartan hinted at 4.8 prior, so the total distance sounds about right once you factor in Spartan miles (they don’t tend to add the distances of carries, only the distances between obstacles.)

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11951737_905571309531216_7529193523994251248_oAs far as obstacles go, I counted 25. If you treat the O-U-T (over, under, through) walls and the wall series (8’, 7’, 6’) individually, that count jumps to 29. Personally, I’m all about the obstacles, so this was wonderful for me. All their standard obstacles were there, including walls, atlas stone, monkey bars, pancake and bucket carries, and the slip wall. In addition, they had the Clif Multi-Bar Rig, a Farmer’s Log Carry, and the new interpretation of the Traverse Wall called the Z Wall. My favorite innovation of the day was on The Bridge. Instead of walking across planks at the top, they had stretched a cargo net made of strapping over the void. Personally, I LOVED that! I was able to walk across while some others I saw chose to crawl or roll. It allowed you to approach the obstacle at a different level than others around you.

11908935_905573092864371_4153837855920901506_oEvery obstacle I saw was extremely well built. I saw nothing loose, nothing wobbly, etc. By late Sunday, the hay bales of the spear throw were starting to fall apart, but short of replacing them with new ones, I don’t think there was anything to be done about that. I heard after the fact that one of the ropes on the slip wall was loose, but this was not something I actually witnessed. The obstacles were a good mix of strength and technique. The carries and weighted obstacles such as the hoist trended on the heavy side. Many were relegated to burpees at the hoist because they just couldn’t get the bag to move. I like it when there is a balance between athletes – heavier athletes tend to do well on the hoist and heavy carries, while lighter athletes tend to breeze through the monkey bars and the rope climb. It’s difficult to be good at both without working really hard and that’s the way it should be in my opinion. 11879022_905572539531093_1898205234343736982_oThe only obstacle that I take any umbrage with is the Rig. This is a difficult obstacle for the majority of the field. In this race, it was a long pole followed by three knotted ropes followed by five rings – not easy for the vast majority of the 13,000 racers during the weekend. My disappointment comes because they decided that this already difficult obstacle needed to be made even more difficult by making the third rope significantly shorter and higher up than the other two. I may be wrong, but this seems a lot like Spartan laughing in the faces of many who are strong, but not quite strong enough. I do realize that it is the athletes’ responsibility to train harder, but would it have been so terrible to just make all three ropes the same length? 

On the course, Spartan did a good job of keeping you guessing. Even though the course passed itself several times, you could never see it, only hear that people were just on the other side of a stand of trees or some such. This kept everything fresh and exciting. They could have just done switchbacks in a large field, but they didn’t. I appreciate that. It takes a lot better planning to accomplish, but the end result is worth it.
Spartan did well on the logistics of the race as well. I did not ride the shuttle bus, but heard from many that it was smooth with little to no waiting and friendly efficient drivers. Apparently, the seats were dirty on the ride back, but I think that is to be expected! Registration was easy and smooth, as was the free spectator sign in. I also did not use the bag check, but heard that it was also painless. Go up, give your name, free bag check for those on the Biggest Team list, $5 for everyone else. I heard that the showers ran out of water on Saturday afternoon for a while and that Spartan had to get another truck delivery of water. Unfortunately, this negatively affected a chunk of racers. Whereas I believe that Spartan should have back up water standing by in case, I also think that some people treat the water as infinitely available and waste a lot washing their clothes and shoes. I think we should educate people that it is a rinse station, not a shower station and they should be conservative with their use. I also think there should be a back up just in case.

festivalrigThe festival area for this race was top notch. Never have I seen so many different things to do at a race. For the athletic, they had a Spartan Rig set up with contests periodically, a slack line, a couple of pull up bars, a few ropes to climb, and a company called Mobile Fitness Equipment who basically had a full gym in a small shipping container. For those looking to purchase stuff, Panasonic, TomTom, Trigger-Pin, and the Spartan Merchandise tents were all there. Food was offered from three different vendors – Carter & Stevens had their own stand open with sandwiches, corn on the cob, and ice cream; Firefly’s was there with BBQ, burgers, salads, and fresh fruit; and Heal Thee Smoothees had, you guessed it, smoothies. farmposterIt was great to see the healthy options available! Spartan had Shock Top beer available for the free bear tickets, but there also was water, Gatorade, lemonade, mint lemonade, basil lemonade, and ice tea available for non-drinkers and those underage. Finally, Organic Valley had their milk protein recovery shakes. Each runner got their choice of vanilla or chocolate at the finish line along with water, a banana, and a Clif Builder Bar. For those wanting more, they could visit the Organic Valley booth and pick up drinks and coupons for $1.25 off. The Mobile Locker Co was onsite to offer everyone an alternative to the once in/once out bag check. You could rent a locker for the day and have unlimited access to your belongings. Lockers were available in four sizes for varying costs.

Overall, I think Spartan knocked this one out of the park. The course was good. The obstacles were varied and well built. The logistics ran smoothly.  

We’d love to hear your opinion. Please take a few minutes to complete your own review at http://www.newenglandspahtens.com/submit-a-race-review/.

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – Super MA 2015

superlogoI can’t call it the Boston Super. I just can’t. Events that are nearly an hour and a half from the city are not in the metro area – so, this is the MA Super.

And about time too – we’ve been waiting for our own Super for years now, and for 2015, Spartan finally brought one! No more driving to New Jersey!

The venue, Carter and Stevens farm is in Barre – right in central MA and tricky to get to from any highway. Fortunately for me, it’s ten miles from my house, so of course, I think the venue is AHMAHZING and want every race, ever, to be here. Like, all of them, so if you Race Director types could get on that, it would be swell.

Being so close, I’d actually taken a day off work earlier in the week to help with festival build – spending the whole day with some cool peeps putting up tents and installing the bag check racks (which tried to kill me) – and if you ever want to get an idea of just how HUGE the production that is Spartan Race really is, go and do a build day. The sheer scale of work to be done, and people on staff to do it will blow you away and certainly gave me a new appreciation for what goes on behind a race the size of Spartan.

As is common these days, parking was handled off site, a short drive by school bus away, and $10. The field was perfectly fine and accessible on Saturday with the sun out, but I hear it was a boggy messy sloppy train wreck on Sunday with the rains. To be expected! I was arriving early and had zero wait time for parking or to get a bus. Very well handled. Potties in the parking lot were appreciated by those with longer drives, I’m sure!

Once shuttled across Barre, and dropped off at the venue, the walk to registration was short, and checkin was smooth. Without any fuss, I was in the venue and heading over to the Biggest Team tent to hang with my New England Spahtens 🙂

Credit: Paul Jones
Credit: Paul Jones
Biggest Team block, and patch for all members
Biggest Team block, and patch for all members

The festival was a very standard Spartan Race festival – bag check, merchandise trailer, sound stage, start and finish lines, several tents for shade and a handful of sponsors – well laid out, rarely felt crowded and I had very few points where I had to wait for anything. By now, Spartan have the logistics of this stuff pretty much nailed, and barring any major catastrophe, it goes smooth and pleasant. We put banners and flags up on the team tent to stake our claim and settled into a hand shaking and meeting new folks mode – I know I met SO MANY new people, and I hope no one is offended when I don’t remember your names and faces in the future – I lost count how many people said “we met at …” and nope, nothing. Sorry!!

Carter and Stevens farm is a huge working cow farm. So despite having huge amounts of space, it has little in the way of elevation change – this was not to be a challenging, hilly race. Coming into the weekend, the reports from volunteers told of incredibly uneven ground, tall grass and lots of ticks. After a while, it started to feel like the biggest obstacle we’d face would be ticks … the farm was also vending food, which I loved to see. Locally sourced food options, health eating options – the “Whoa Nellie” wrap was fantastic – after four years of fried everything at the Sports Park, I very much enjoyed that we could get everything from grass fed local burgers, to wheat wraps, to punnets of hand picked strawberries. Very nice touch!

Working cows.
Working cows.
Credit: Paul Jones
Battle Buddy!

Biggest Team perk meant we could put our bags into the VIP bag check, for free – which removed any wait time, and I knew my bag was secure. I also picked up my first Biggest Team patch, and with very little time to spare, the MC announced us as biggest team – Sandy gave an awesome speech, we received our Biggest Team block, and had some pro-photos taken. We then had to high tail it to the start line to make our wave – some people missing it, even.

One comment for HQ – PLEASE get better at scheduling this. On Saturday, we barely managed to get it done before our AM wave time – but on Sunday, for some inexplicable reason, despite being asked more than once, this award didn’t happen until much later in the afternoon, after almost everyone was on course for the PM wave, or had already gone home. We couldn’t even pick up the patches for distribution. It’s a really REALLY small adjustment to get this done as early in the day as feasibly possible, and one that directly affects hundreds of people. We want this to happen – we appreciate the shout out and the acknowledgment, but please help us out!

You’ve conquered the Super. Time to dominate the Sprint: http://sprtn.im/BostonSprint!

Posted by Spartan Race on Monday, June 22, 2015

Barbed wire bite
Barbed wire bite

The course – this is the piece that we’re here for, naturally. Like any review, I can only compare it to my past experiences of running the New Jersey Super for the past three years, my only Super experiences – and comparing it to similar distance events from other series – it’s worth pointing out that for many, this was the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and if you ran in the rain and soupy mud on Sunday, you had an entirely different experience. Regardless of what *I* think, congratulations to anyone and everyone who pushed themselves to a new level, earned the blue medal and is proud of their experience! Big shout out to Shouty Ninja for being my Battle Buddy!

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Sandbag carry. Not flattering.

The usual start line wall jump, “who am I?” speech, and charge over the timing matts will never get old – and we were off into the course. I never try to do an obstacle by obstacle break down, so I’ll touch on what I thought were highs, and lows.

Everything has been redesigned. In the past, walls were always constructed with wooden uprights, and volunteers would have to holler to keep people off them – this year, they switched them out for some strapping – no standing on these suckers, which the shorter people weren’t too impressed, but I liked it. I did not like the wider lip though – forearm bruises for days.

Rolling mud on Saturday
Rolling mud on Saturday

In general, there were no surprises on the course. A sandbag carry (remember the days when those pancakes felt incredibly heavy?) and a heavy bucket carry that didn’t have too much enforcement going on around the fill level. Some over/under/through walls and a long grassy wire crawl that bit me on the head. Rolling mud was sloppy on Saturday (I can only imagine Sunday!) and the dunk wall had about a 1’ gap I could get through without submersion – I VERY much appreciate that, considering the nature of the kind of mud at this venue (remember: working cow farm!). The rope climb was from super deep water, and I failed it for the first time I can recall – but I made the spear throw, so I’m fine with that 🙂

Credit: Paul Jones
Stairway to Sparta
Credit: Paul Jones
Herculian Hoists

Elsewhere, a new “stairway to Sparta” wall to ladder climb was nice, and some high cargo nets – long boggy stretches of trail and a very heavy herculean hoist before a jump over the fire pit to the finish line – and free beer!

I’ll say it again – I REALLY enjoyed this. Not because it was close to my house, but because they used the venue – for what it was – really well. I do think the venue is probably better suited to a shorter distance race – but counter that with the fact we’ve waited four years for a Super distance, and I’m not complaining too much.

Some people have complained that it was “too easy” – to which I can only say “run faster”. The obstacles were there, and very typical Spartan Race obstacles they were too. If I want *REALLY* hard obstacles, I’ll go to Shale Hill (which intact, I did that very night – more on that in my next review).

This race was firmly in the “we did what we needed to do to get a Super”, and a very fun course it was too. Thank you, Spartan Race for bringing your middle distance event to your busiest region! See you soon for the Sprint.

Special Note: The night before the race, I issued a challenge to the team – help collect trash from the course. For everyone who came off with at least a gallon zip lock bag full of course trash, they would get a code for $5 to our team store. At the most recent count, members of the New England Spahtens were responsible for 12 gallons of trash, collected from course – so much was picked up on Saturday that Sunday’s runners couldn’t fill a gallon during the team wave! Amazing job team! We’ll be doing that again 🙂

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Spahtens in Outside Magazine

Outside-Magazine-Logo

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Texas, talking to a journalist from Outside Magazine on the phone. He’s really interested in my backstory, and why I got into Obstacle Course Racing, and blown away by the size and scale of the community we’ve built this past couple of years. Lots of questions about what we do, who is part of it, our background and our future. It was a really cool phone call.

After an hour and a half or so, he asks for a couple of names of people who would be representative of our community, and I give him a few, and we hang up.

We’ve had similar experiences before – when NBC spent a week exchanging emails, and hours with us on race day, only for a small blip in their final show – news articles that we appear in little inserts of. My expectations were fairly low, to be honest. Such a huge publication like Outside Magazine couldn’t really be interested in little old us, could they?

Then, this article comes out. Click to read the full thing. Thank you to Spartan Race for making this happen, and choosing us to showcase – we do appreciate it!

OutsideMagJun2015NESarticle

This appears on Page 6 of the July 2015 edition – get your copy at a good news agents today.

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STFU! AROO! and why burpees aren’t the be all, and end all

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 3.14.21 PMSpartans of the Northeast. It’s a facebook group, setup by marketing folks at Spartan HQ, covering Spartan Race enthusiasts in the north east region.

Like many Spartan specific groups before it, it can be a polarizing, dangerous place – especially if your bullshit meter is sensitive.

Today, that BS meter popped off the radar, when Hannah – our Happy Hannah – Hannah who would give you the shirt off her back and the shoes off her feet, then carry you through the course – was told she doesn’t deserve her Beast medal. Because of burpees.

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Several people felt this way – if you miss some burpees, you somehow shamed them. You somehow took something from them. You somehow cheated. They’re wrong. Not everyone, of course – but enough to be significant.

So – here’s the deal, folks.

If you show up to a race – any race – and give it your all from start to finish, then you won. You earned your medal and your shirt. Ask Joe what he thinks about someone – someone who is pushing themselves – missing 30 burpees at a failed obstacle – he’ll be happy they paid their $50 – $100 and showed up in the first place. Thats the Spartan way.

10394061_632398138474_9190613003001877887_nOf course, people will now have a whole bunch of “what if” situations. What if you cut the course? What if you’ve only got one leg? What if you’re carried on a stretcher by naked oiled up muscle bound hunks? What if, what if, what if.

You know if you gave it your all. You know when you’re pushing out of your comfort zone and up to – and beyond – your personal limits. Thats OCR. Thats the Spartan way. Thats how to STFU. Thats what Spartan is about.

Hannah – our Happy Hannah deserves better than this treatment in a Spartan focused and led group – surrounded by people who clearly don’t know what STFU is.

Let it be known, while everyone is entitled to their own opinions and feelings in the New England Spahtens – the second anyone puts another member down in this manner … it’s not tolerated, and you won’t be welcome.

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NJ Beast – Are you worried?

spartan-beast-awardSome do’s and don’ts for the upcoming NJ Beast!

Do check the weather a few days before to start planning.
Don’t obsess over the weather.

Do wear technical gear: wool, synthetic, cold-gear, wicking, whatever works for you in winter.No-Cotton-long-underwear
Don’t wear cotton.

Do wear shoes with tread.
Don’t duct tape your shoes.

Do keep moving.
Don’t stop for long.

Do fuel and hydrate before and on course.
Don’t ignore the signs of the wall or bonking*.

Do have fun.
Don’t give up.

Do carry out all trash, there are trash cans at the aid stations to deposit.
Do not litter; you can carry the fuel on course, you can carry the trash.

jumping

Check out Jessica Wohlen’s post: So You’re Running the Super (and/or Beast)…

* ~ Definitions courtesy of Heather Gannoe over at Relentless Forward Commotion.
The Wall:  A not so magical place that typically exists between mile 19 and 26 of a marathon.  You’ll be running along, feeling on top of the world, when BAM! a switch is thrown and everything hurts, you feel physically and emotionally drained, and for a few minutes, wonder why on earth you decided running a marathon would be a good idea.   There might even be tears. You have hit “the wall”.

Bonk:  Similar to “The Wall” (see above) but a “bonk” can happen at any time, during any race.  When an athlete goes from seemingly strong and well trained to a an utter, exhausted, mess, they have “bonked”.  A bonk is often related to poor nutrition and low blood sugar, and can often be overcome mid race with the right snacks and a second wind.

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Own a piece of Spartan Race history

IMG_7755A piece of Spartan Race history could be yours …

The Spartan Race pugil stick – wielded by gladiators at the finish line – vanished last year. We’ve not seen them again, and it’s unlikely we ever will.

This one though – this could be yours.

Lisa Klinkenberg – one of our long time members, friend and mentor to many has a new, unused – Spartan Race official pugil stick she will be parting with in a raffle.

PrintWhat is this for – Lisa is traveling to Haiti, via Open Door Haiti in September 2015. She will be working to build the boys wing of the orphanage in the village of Bois du Lance, and providing medical care in the village. The money raised will help fund this trip. A full breakdown of the costs and expenses is available on Lisa’s Crowdrise page.

What do you get – an official, 2014 era Spartan Race pugil stick. Shipping will be at your cost (or pickup/drop off in MA).

NOTE: This is unused in a race, but does have a small cut from the box cutter when unpacking it (covered by tape in the photos, but considerably smaller than the tape).

donate-image
$10 donation per ticket

How do I bid – A $10 donation direct to the charity will earn you a raffle ticket. $20 gets you 2, $50 gets you 5 … and so on.

https://www.crowdrise.com/bethegood-Haiti/fundraiser/lisaklinkenberg

The raffle will draw on Monday, March 30th 2015, and be announced through New England Spahten social media channels.

Lisa is awesome. The cause is awesome. Who doesn’t want a pugil stick!?

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The anatomy of a Spartan Group

Recently, Spartan HQ have created some regional Spartan Race groups. With a West Coast Spartans popping up right in front of the West Coast 2015 launch, and a “Spartans of the North East” showing up shortly after – and more rumored to be coming soon, these groups caused a few eyebrows to be raised, especially where there are already established communities and memberships.

west coast spartan header

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 3.21.15 PMSo – who’s in these things? What are they for?

They’re to promote Spartan Race – it seems obvious, but there you go. HQ marketing folks use them to share social media content with the masses. The way they announced the groups was telling – they went back through the old events for each region, and posted about them to past participants – they didn’t go hunting for new people, or encourage you to invite your friends. Within 48 hours they had over 1500 people in the North East Facebook group.

So, who are these people? Who joined these groups? I’ve broken it down into five categories of membership. Play along, this is a tongue in cheek exercise! Which do you fall in?

 

 

1) The Spartan fanboy.trifectashoe

Fanboys, or fangirls. These are the people who actually say “aroo”, both on social media *and* real life. Fanboys and fangirls actually think other people need to STFU, and had banked on the Western MA Beast in 2015 (pick your local pre-reg event). They actually paid full price for the Spartan Cruise, and if ONLY Spartan stopped canceling races, they’d be able to get a triple, quadruple or more trifectas this year. They share photos of the trifecta colored Reebok All Terrains with the comment “omg! did you guys see these!? Aroo! STFU!”

2) The Sponsored.

These guys and girls have sponsors. You know they’re serious. More serious than you. They have sock sponsors, shoe sponsors, nutrition and hydration sponsors. They spend considerable time putting on their sponsors temporary tattoos, prior to lining up as close to the front of the elite wave as they can for the photo ops. They are way cooler than you. You probably can’t beat them.

3) The n00bs.

n00bsThe folks who are coming to Spartan for the first time. They have questions. Lots of questions. What shoes to wear, what time they can run, what they should put in their packs. None of them know how to use search boxes, or read comments, or they’d know they weren’t the first to wonder “What shoes should I wear?” Some people remain n00bs despite running multiple Spartan Races.

4) The promoters.

These guys have something to sell. A training group or their gym. Perhaps they’re a beach body coach or they’ve bought into the next best supplement in the world – but they see hundreds, if not thousands of potential customers/members. They may be associated with a brand, or simply have the next best discount code. They want you to join them in their thing!

5) The old timer.

oldmanThese have done a bunch of Spartans, Tough Mudders and other OCRs and realize that this stuff is a fun thing we do on weekends, with our friends. They leave the HQ managed groups pretty quickly, because there’s only so many times and ways you can answer the “what shoe should I wear?” question. They’re grumpy, they’re grouchy, and generally hate everyone in the other categories.

What’s the difference between the West Coast Spartans and the Weeple Army, or the Spartans of the Northeast and the New England Spahtens?

The Spartan groups are just that – a group on social media. Spartan have made clear they don’t intend to create teams at races, or try to turn these groups into anything more that a simple Facebook group – they aren’t communities. Communities race together every weekend at every kind of race – from Spartan Races to other OCRs to road races, tri’s and more. They’re made up of people coming together with an interest in more than just Spartan Race, but in living a healthy, active life in the whole wide world of OCR. They make friends easily, and welcome everyone, regardless of your favorite race series.

So – if you ever want to try a side to OCR you didn’t know existed? Check out the nearest community to you.

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Spartan’s Burpee Penalty is Staying

Thanks to a blog post, 5 Obstacle Racing Trends to Watch in 2015, by Ekaterina Solovieva, the rumor mill was crazy with the idea that Spartan Race had eliminated penalty burpees from their races (her blog has since been updated assuring people the Spartan Burpee is here to stay and with her apologies).  With each rumor I read there was a different understanding on how Spartan would be making the change.  Some were in line with how Battlefrog handles elites, others were in line with how OCR World Championships worked.

When a search on Spartan’s Facebook page and website couldn’t corroborate what I had read, I reached out to Aja Varney, Customer Service at Spartan Race.  Here’s what she had to say: “Hey! So, that was speculation by blogger that seemed to turn into a crazy rumor. There is no plans to get rid of burpees at this time – we love them too much.”

A few helpful links with the current rules and guidelines:

Rules, Guidelines and Penalties for Spartan Race Obstacles

Standard Obstacle Specific Instructions

Spartan World Championship Athlete Standards and Guidelines

Spartan World Championship Penalties & Disqualification

And just in case people are still unclear on what a Spartan Burpee is!

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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?