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Featured Review: Spartan Race – MA Sprint 2016

wings_boneless12Buffalo Wild Wings is cool. I always get my boneless honey BBQ wings, and they’re the same, anywhere I go. Tasty, in a little cardboard tray, with sensory overload on TV. I get a Sam Adams with it, but sometimes I live dangerously and make a break from the normal, and get a Blue Moon. Bit of variety never hurt, right?

When I travel for work though, or when I’m taking friends and visiting family out … then I go to the local brew pub and get the duck bacon grilled cheese, or their seasonal lobster roll. Or the hole in the wall breakfast diner with pancakes bigger than my head. For a date night, I go to a slightly more upscale place, and get a daily special, and pick something from their craft beer menu – sometimes, I even let them make the suggestion for me.

Hungry yet?

header1Spartan Race is Buffalo Wild Wings. For the past several years you’ve been able to show up and get a consistently good, familiar product. “Comfort racing”, if you will.

The local OCR scene in New England is your breakfast diner, or your brew pub, or your high end local restaurant you take your wife on a date night, and dress up (i.e.: don’t wear a race shirt). Constantly changing, constantly varied, something for everyone – except, sometimes, the floor is a bit sticky. Always interesting, always pushing the boundaries. Always trying harder.

With than analogy aside (Thanks, Jess!)

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We’re back at Carter and Stevens farm. Our first of three trips this 2016 OCR season, although I live close enough I go there for ice cream every now and then.

This trip was for the Spartan Race – Sprint edition. For many, the first step into the OCR world, and on the road to their first trifecta. For others, an annual tradition. I had figured out that this would be my 7th year at the “Boston” Sprint (non of which have been close to Boston). The festival hadn’t really changed much (the start line moved though), and after a few visits last year, the whole place felt very comfortable an familiar.

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Lets talk about what they did right.

– ALL parking was off site this year. Volunteers, vendors – everyone. Fortunately, the bus service was flawless, with porta potties in the parking lot for those with long drives. As much as getting shuttle busses sucks – they are a fact of life these days – as was the $10 parking fee. As much as I really dislike getting shuttles, I never waited more than a couple of minutes to get rolling, and it was a short drive on both days.

IMG_1631– Check-in was – again – flawless. We hadn’t received waivers in our inbox, so they needed filling out. Packet located, and through in minutes. My wife used the spectator check-in with our son later on in the day – no reported problems. I checked in as a spectator on Sunday with no hassle or delays.

– Festival – easy to navigate. Condensed enough that it always felt lively, but rarely too crowded. We had secured Biggest Team tent for the weekend, and this was centrally located, next to the brick oven pizza and beer. Our biggest team ceremony went off mostly without a hitch once a photographer was located, and we picked up our first stack of 2016 Biggest Team patches and our Biggest Team award (it went home with Shaina, who has been a member of the team, and team Ambassador since the very early days – enjoy it, Shaina!). Sundays wet award was a little damper, and more subdued.

– HUGE props to the kids course folks! My 7yo covered 3.5 miles of Kids Course racing – and had the time of his life! 5 laps!

– Carter and Stevens farm – our host – amazing food all day. From brick oven pizza to bbq. All kinds of frozen treats. Later in the day, BBQ and a band at their roadside shack. No worries about bringing your own bottles or food in either. They are impeccable hosts!

Lets talk about the negatives.

13310541_10207877345646060_3202760165645387003_n– Coors Lite as the only beer option? Come on …

– No pre-race email. In fact, only one, single mention of the Boston event on Spartan’s social media in the week leading to the race. They had another big race going on in Monterey, with all their elite points and media and such. If you pay attention to such things (and I do), then the Boston event – their oldest event – was definitely ignored by HQ this year. When it comes to HQ support, Boston felt like the “B” race this weekend – it showed, and I’m sure it was frustrating for the staff.

– The hoist – what the hell happened to the pulleys on this one? That was the single most challenging hoist I’ve ever done – and any dude under 200lbs was out. of. luck. Debate rages if it was pulleys, rope, weight … I’ve done enough of these things at enough venues, and the three I tried all had stiff pulleys.

– The course was simply too long for a Sprint. Call it “extra miles” or “more than you paid for” all you like, but it was very close to the 2015 Super in distance and route – and that screws the people who signed up for a “3+ mile” event.

13015160_10207877450528682_7283562115954167976_nNow – if this is your first year of Spartan Race, or maybe even your first race – then you were treated to a solid series of obstacles that ranged from terrain (potholes, mud, trail, mud etc) and man made, signature Spartan obstacles – rope climbs, hoists, heavy carries, spear throw, climbing and similar things. You probably enjoyed them just fine, and I am NOT trying to take that away from you. I enjoyed them, just fine too. I had a great time. I think they do good obstacles. But …

If you did the 2015 races – the obstacles probably felt very familiar. Same if you ran in 2014. And 2013. In fact, there have been so few changes in the obstacle catalogue Spartan brings to these races in my 7 years at the “Boston” Sprint, it’s ridiculous. This is the leading OCR company out there. They won “most innovative” in Mud Run Guide’s 2015 awards, which is possible the most ironic award they could have won. They have the best people and staff – who are without fail the most enthusiastic, passionate people you could want to meet, the most active fans and the biggest community following them – and no one can produce and deploy a new obstacle or three? (I mean, of course they can – but for some reason, the powers that be at Spartan won’t let it happen).

13330908_10207877495049795_68444540252962917_nWhy is this? Whats the deal? Spartan have taken their returning customers – the fan base – for granted. Everyone shows up, year after year, race after race looking for their next piece in the trifecta, their next delta – or to run with their buddies in their annual tradition event – and Spartan doesn’t have to change a single thing. Why change their secret sauce, when people keep coming back for their honey BBQ boneless wings, year after year?

What they want, are the newbies. People they can suck into the Spartan world, and the Spartan life style. People who haven’t gotten sick of saying “aroo” yet, and who haven’t realized that in three or four years – nothing will change at the race, but they will have changed …

Fortunately, this wasn’t a day for me to throw myself at obstacles and physical challenges. This was a frequently hilarious, casual slow walk through the woods with some of the best people in the world – people for who I will put up with a repeat of previous years course – because it’s not about the obstacles at Spartan. For me, or for them.

I come to Spartan for the people. New people finding our community for the first time, old friends I’ve run with for a few years now. I enjoy their course layout well enough, but obstacles and penalties and aroo aroo aroo and blah blah blah?

I’ll eat at my local – thank you.12004019_10204658842499101_169475202809688060_n

(last story)

I was doubled up, holding onto a fence post, gasping for breath, it was so funny.

Our team of four – Josh, Jessica, Steve and myself had started in the 9:15am NES team wave, and trotted through to the first obstacle – a couple of large round hay bails. We were laughing, joking and generally having a good time, and approaching the obstacle, when Steve took off, sprinting ahead of our short group, clearly going for a running leap over the top.

When he tripped – instead of a graceful leap over the top, he took a head first tumble into the front of the giant hay bail, which didn’t even have the decency to move.

I’m glad he wasn’t hurt, because I was genuinely helpless with laugher for a good ten minutes.

Anyway – I promised I’d tell that story. You’re welcome, Steve.

Oh, and the Hurricane Heat looked pretty badass too. Back on form? Hopefully someone leaves us a review.

Do you have an opinion on this race? Leave us a review!

http://www.newenglandspahtens.com/community-reviews/

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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: Boston Spartan Sprint 2014

What a special weekend. Fifth year for Spartan Race holding Sprints at Amesbury Sport Park, and our second birthday as a community in this format. NBC was invited to celebrate our birthday, which was nice, and even the weather co-operated!

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Biggest Team wave – Saturday

If you’ve done an OCR in New England, chances are, you’ve been to Amesbury Sport Park. Easy to find, and able to host thousands of people through a weekend. It’s slopes don’t look particularly challenging, but when Mike Morris, race director for this event gets his hands on it – yeah … so much for that. We had epic numbers of New England Spahtens come out for this event, and it was humbling, and inspiring to see so many team shirts – all weekend – all over.

Just like my last two weekends, I was unable to actually participate in the course itself – my ankle is getting better, but I’m not prepared to risk the NJ Super and VT Beast events – you can find a course recap from Mike and Nate below. Instead, I’m going to focus on the festival and NES experience.

As is common for the venue, parking was primarily handled with remote lots and bussing people in and out – this seemed to work smoothly, and the only time I saw backups for buses was late on Sunday afternoon, when everyone wanted to leave at once. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving volunteers, in another remote lot without a bus to get them back – I was able to rescue three Spahten ladies late Sunday from the heat – they’d been waiting out there for far too long. A point to note, I saw more local, cash only, opportunistic parking options pop up on the street than ever before – when the street was supposed to be restricted access only, this was interesting to see.

Like last year, Spartan had moved their start line to a point half way up the Amesbury slopes, leaving the entire flat, astroturf area open for festival – this is definitely the best way to use the space – while it was busy at the festival, thats kind of what you expect when thousands of people show up for an event – lines for things like food and drink moved well, and while you had to dodge people as you moved around, it didn’t feel cramped. As you’d expect, lines were busy during peak times, but never terrible, or out of control.

Registration and checkin moved smoothly – Spartan have this nailed own. If you were smart and brought signed Spartan and NBC wavers from home, you moved through quickly, received your packet with everything in it and were in. Recently, races have been strict about outside food and drink coming into the Sports Park, but fortunately Spartan didn’t come down too hard on this – a very good job, as thats a sure way to upset people – especially on a weekend as hot as this. It also helped ensure there were no backlogs or problems with access to the venue.

Sundays biggest team (plus volunteers on the course!)
Sundays biggest team (plus volunteers on the course!)

The festival was a well oiled machine, mostly. Biggest Team tent was tucked away between the registration and exit points, which was a little bit of a high traffic place, considering we had over 300 people, but we managed. Food and drink vendors were on the left, alongside the main building, and the typical fair for Amesbury – we’ve been in recent discussions with them about healthier options and you can tell they are starting that process – wraps and fruit available. Free beer was high quality – and this row was also joined by bag check, which I didn’t have to use once. There were plenty of bathrooms behind the main building alongside the host off station and power wash station – both out of site, and out of the way, which was much appreciated.

There was a distinct lack of vendors, something I noticed at the CT Sprint too – other than a large Reebok and Spartan gear presence – something that has improved dramatically in the past 12 months, there were some army / marine spots, an EMS tent row … and not much more. More on this in a moment.

10568960_10152215653166861_5812769597353389406_nThe finishers chute was entertaining, as always, and Spartan had setup a few obstacles at the bottom of the slope to watch – my personal new favorite being a heavy herculean hoist – the gravel bucket carry, the bridge – and part way up the hill, some wire crawls and incline rope walls – the spectator access went right to the top of the hill, and you had great views of the new tarzan swing and fire jump too. Kudos for good spectator access!

Amesbury had tubing and zorb rides going and the kids course was great – heading right to the top of the slope. My mini decided he was doing it this year for the first time ever – that was a blast, and I hope he got the bug early!

A couple of large tents provided shade for the folks without a team tent, and the finisher shirt pickup spot was well clear of the hose offs, and letting people pick up before they went out to run, which is a good move everyone should replicate.

As mentioned, I didn’t get to hit the course. That didn’t stop me coming out for two days – because as many people have already discovered, and new folks are finding – it’s not always about the race, or the course, or the obstacles. Thats why we come initially, of course, and it’s our reason to be – but the thing that brings us back is the people. Seeing almost 300 of you lining up for the dedicated team wave on Saturday – listening to Dustin, the MC, as he announced us – on Sunday, watching so many familiar faces in volunteer shirts filtering in and out – events like this become about the people. I came out for two days, not to run, but to be with you folks. To see you do epic things. To hear the stories and struggles, and to listen.

With all of the fun and triumphs along the way – I was noting a trend, especially when compared to other events hitting the market. Very little interaction with Spartan staff and their biggest team and community happened during the event – while I understand it’s a tough, busy, grueling event to manage, swinging by to see if we were doing ok, or needed anything, or if there were problems would have gone a long way to making the community feel a little more involved – something BattleFrog did repeatedly last weekend, and the venue owners themselves. No presence from OCR specific vendors, just Reebok and EMS indicating that Spartan are focusing their market on new runners, with little motivation to keep repeat runners. Giving a 10*10 spot to Obstacle Racing Media, or OCR Gear or similar simply increases the participation Spartan has with the OCR community as a whole, and they had the space for it – but it seems thats not the intention from HQ these days, as they focus more on pulling in a fresh crowd, than keeping the existing fan base.

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However, we come to race, but we come back for the people – on this, a weekend I couldn’t even do the race, this has never been more true.

Thank you to the New England Spahten community – everyone who ran with our team name on your registration sheet help grow OCR in New England – and because of that, we can run these events, get our team shady corner, and help the OCR scene grow, build and improve.

Thank you to all the Spahtens who took time to volunteer – without you guys, these races just don’t happen. Thanks to everyone who swung by the team tent to say hi and introduce yourself, even if you weren’t part of the team yet!

Course break down, from Mike McKenzie


(Credit to Michael Foresto for the Garmin log)

My 4th Year running the Spartan Race at Amesbury, I have had the pleasure of seeing the sport continue to grow and the professionalism increase with each year. The course is always different, but always carries some staple Obstacles. Just when you think you’ve trained enough, Spartan makes sure it was not.

The Starting line starts half way up the “Amesbury Hill” which is probably a quarter mile long total. From the “final aroo” we are sent up the hill and immediately into the woods. Veteran racers now its imperative to be as close to the front and possible because they immediately put you into single track trail in the woods. With a Short section of Trail running its out into the open for some O.U.T. walls. (over, under and through) By this point the heat had already started to thin out and we were back into the woods for some open trail running. Spartan took full advantage of the extra land Amesbury had acquired as we did way more Rolling Hills in the trails than we had in previous years.

Now we hit was the Tractor Pull. Racers were required to take 2 cinder blocks attached to a chain and drag them around a small loop. There were not enough for everyone so there was a little bit of a wait here (maybe 20-30 seconds) take the two down and back across a line – failure to bring both back over the line was a 30 burpee penalty, and we were back out into the woods for some more rolling hill trail running. The Heavy trail running for the first 1.5 miles made sure the heat was pretty well thinned out at this point.

Now we hit the Inverted walls. These walls are angled towards you requiring you to climb up the back and over and we were back into the trail.

10329847_698163130272036_6896010634789233439_oNext Sandbag carry. For the Elite heat, 1 Spartan Pancake was not enough, Runners where required to take 2 bags down a steep hill and back up. It was short, but steep and fussing around with trying to get the right positioning with the bags added to the difficulty. I even hiked by 2 sandbags at the bottom with no runner, proving that the weight and steepness of this section was too much for some.

Out of Sandbag hell and onto more technical terrain trail running, with the occasional knee deep section of mud. After some MORE hills we come out to the Monkey Bars. These bars varied in height. Which caused a lot of runners to burpee unable to transition to the various heights. Now we go for more Trail around to the top of the Amesbury Hill for the Rope swing. Very simple one shot to grab a rope and swing across a water pit. I heard later on this proved pretty challenging for some runners even in the Mens and Women’s Elite who if they didn’t dismount the rope on the first try found themselves dangling with no where to go but the 30 burpee penalty pit.

10582931_698163716938644_4757103342607325914_oDown the steep hill of Amesbury to perform in front of the Spectators was the Hercules Hoist. Exact weights I am not sure of, Reports of Men’s being anywhere from 100lbs to 120lbs were heard. Hoist completed you were on to the Bucket carry. Men Elite were required to fill a Black bucket to the top with gravel and then carry it Up the Amesbury Hill and back down. No handle, and you were NOT allowed to put it on your shoulder. Bear Hugs or Finger tips. The Bruise across my belly and the other runners will let you know that this bucket was HEAVY. Once you brought it back down a Volunteer would check your bucket to ensure it was filled. If not you were given a 30 burpee penalty on the spot.

Moving on you immediately went up the wood ladders over the entrance to the starting line and down the other side and back up the hill. Midway up the hill was a small section of Barbwire immediately followed by slopped rope walls (no soap this year!) and we continued up the Hill and off to the right for 8ft walls and then the Vertical Rope climb. Vertical rope climb rope was changed up, Thin Nylon rope required more grip strength more challenging to get a grip on with your feet. Lots of Burpees going on here.

Now we hit the Spear Throw which is had several runners in the burpee pit for failure. After a successful sink of the spear I moved onto the barbwire crawl. Oh whats this? Its dry… uncommon for Spartan Race barbwire crawl. This should be easy, Oh wait.. its dusty, hard, rocky and long. After a never ending section, we moved onto MORE barbwire crawl.. except this time it was wet and muddy. As I continue to roll we hit the submerge wall. Were you have to go under the water to get under the wall. Its simple enough but im sure is a freak out for some. We Run back to the top of the hill and around a turn to the infamous Fire Jump down the amesbury hill to the finish. This was my first race with no Gladiators at the Finish, but happy and friendly volunteers getting you medals, congratulations and bananas is ok by me.

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2013 Vermont Spartan Sprint Featured Review

For the first time, the Vermont Beast weekend also included a Sprint distance event – wether it was to bump the numbers of people who came out, or a precursor to multi-distance events to come (trifecta weekend, anyone?), it was a fantastic way to introduce people to the World Championships, while also giving them a shorter distance challenge.

But, it was far from easy. Beth and I ran the Sprint on Saturday – and here is her write up.

Credit: Mary Donohue http://join.nespahtens.com

“Just a Sprint”

I did the Sprint on Saturday Sept 21 on Mount Killington in Vermont. I have to be honest. I was more than a bit ashamed that I was “only” doing the Sprint and not the Beast as many of my teammates were. I had just done the Super a few weeks prior, so figured “How much different will it really be? The Mountain isn’t that much steeper.”

Man did I eat those words.

Paul and I stayed right across the parking lot from Killington (awesome place to stay!). This meant we didn’t have to worry about parking, but decided to head over early to hang with the team and meet up with friends. As we walked towards the entrance, I looked at the mountain. It looked majestic, and a bit menacing, but really didn’t seem too different. We quickly registered and headed to the team tent that was set up for us on Saturday to await the start.

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At 10:30am, we went over to the starting corral to head off. Interestingly, Spartan had set up walls that people had to climb over to get into the chutes. There was one on the left for the Sprint folks, and a slightly taller one on the right for the Beast runners. I hopped over the wall and waited alongside the team to get the party started. Soon we were off. We ran alongside a road and hit the first obstacle – some over/under walls, an over/under/through wall series, and some hay bales to climb over. Another wall, then The Climb. This is the climb where the Beast folks merged onto the course with us. I really can’t emphasize enough how unending that climb seemed. It really was its own obstacle. Every time I thought “we MUST be at the top” the path dog-legged, and there was still more mountain to climb. At long last, with cramping legs, we reached the top, and found the next wall obstacle. I cleared that wall then we started down again. THIS is where I started thinking “What the hell am I doing??” The climb down was steep, but the loose rocks that kept raining down on the runners was the worst part. I saw someone get hit in the back of the leg with a softball sized rock. She went down hard, but with a bit of help and a second to regroup, she got back up and continued on. Didn’t catch her name, but she was a complete badass to keep going after that hit!

At the bottom of the descent was the first water station. From there, it was some trail running/hiking then we came to the Herculean Hoist and the Monkey bars. The Herculean Hoist for the women was pretty light (55lbs I was told) so I had little difficulty getting that up. The men’s was quite heavy – back up to the 110lbs. I took the option for some assistance on the monkey bars, and we quickly continued onward. We were still on the Beast course when Paul and I came the 8 foot wall. This is where I landed badly and sprained my ankle. I hobbled to the next water station where they patched me up with some wrap and I carried on with the race, albeit at a much slower pace.

Beasting the hoist!
Beasting the hoist!

The tractor pull was next. This is usually one of my favorite obstacles, but with the injured ankle this made the pull significantly tougher. Eventually I was able to pull the block all the way around and back into the corral to carry on. Then came  the Inverse walls, but the Sprinters only had to do one of them. I managed to do that one with the bad foot, but this where it all started to go badly downhill (pun intended)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe order of things get a bit fuzzy at this point, but there was the rolling mud, barbed wire crawl and spear throw (which I missed).  None of these I was able to do because of the ankle, nor was I able to do any sort of penalty – I couldn’t squat because of the ankle, I couldn’t burpee because of the shoulder. I tried to find something to hold to do pistol squats but came up with nothing, and lunges were also a no go. At some point we took a right off the Beast course and had a traverse wall obstacle. Eventually we got down to the slippery wall and fire pit to the finish. By this point, I was completely disheartened and frustrated at my lack of ability to do any of the obstacles. I had to do a walk around the slippery wall (one I love) and literally couldn’t put any weight on my foot to try the fire pit. With tears streaming down my face, head down, I walked down the hill, completely crushed by that point. The first gladiator barely tapped me. The second saluted me, and the third gave me a big hug. I have to say I didn’t accept my medal with much enthusiasm, but I can say that I did finish what I started, even if it wasn’t anywhere close to how I thought I would finish.

This course was probably the most challenging Sprint to date, purely for the elevation change. The actual obstacles were the ones we’ve come to expect, however I was sorely disappointed we did not do the sand bell carry. Come on Spartan, why did you deprive us of that one. You gave the Beast guys two carries, you could at least share the love a bit and let us have the sand bell one. I did hear people complain about the lack of rope climb as well. I can appreciate the fact that there were three races going on and a lot of logistics and an insane amount of obstacles, but I did feel that the Sprint was a bit light on the physical obstacle front, but more than made up for it on the ascent and descent.

The festival area was quite nice. Several vendors and the spectator area for viewing the Beast course was phenomenal. Great job on that. We were able to see our friends and family as they went through the course (and could see the Ultra Beast folks come through on Sunday) So this was a great plan. Also GREAT job on working a deal with the lodge restaurant there so that there was food for the runners even after the vendor village closed up.

I can safely say I left a piece of my heart and soul on that mountain. I will be back next year to get it back.

Credit: Patricia Havey

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – Vermont World Championship BEAST

Credit: Mary Donohuehttp://join.nespahtens.com

 

This past weekend, Spartan Race held their World Championship event in Vermont.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were several events going on over the same weekend – a Sprint, a two day Beast, an Ultra Beast and a Team Death Race, and while we all overlapped and merged paths are various points during the weekend, ultimately they were all their own events, and I’ll let the participants of each tell you more of their tails.

My story is of the Beast.

Specifically, I ran the Beast on Sunday. I had already had two tastes of the mountains. In 2012, I also completed the Beast, and thought it gave me a fair insight into what was to come. Then on the Saturday I ran the Sprint with my wife Beth, which was the most brutal elevation change in a “short” race that I’ve ever come across – she will have more to tell on that in due course.

This meant that I spent all day Saturday hearing how horrible the Beast was. How brutal the course was. How much the race sucked. Seeing people cross the finish line, pick up their medals and collapse in a heap. Hearing tales of people being pulled from the course from injury, hyperthermia, exhaustion, or simply not meeting the time cuts.

So was a little apprehensive on Sunday morning. Beth was helping out Obstacle Racing Media and covering the Ultra Beast wave that left at 6am, so I had our rented apartments to myself, I hadn’t slept well, I didn’t have an appetite, and all I could see was fog and rain on the mountain, reports of aches and injuries and DNFs were all over Facebook – I believe I may have had a small pity party in my head, with myself as the only attendant. As I ate a breakfast I didn’t really taste, drank a coffee I didn’t really want and threw down some Advil to stave off the headache that was brewing, I whined on Facebook and glanced longingly at the couch – as you do.

Of course, if that was where my Sunday ended, this would be a boring review indeed – needless to say, I put on my New England Spahten drill shirt, sleeves, tac hat and Icebugs and headed on over to the venue with a couple of hours to spare before the 10am wave left.

The weather was shitty. It was cold, and drizzly rain was sweeping in. Very reminiscent of 2012, when the fog banks rolled in off the mountains and froze us all – we hopped in the starting shoot to listen to the (thankfully) much better MC pump us up, and we were off.

Saturdays wave
Saturdays wave

 

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Climbing ski slopes sucks. No two ways about it – almost immediately, they sent us up a ski slope that ended with our path heading right back down into the woods. The wooded descent’s and ascents were my favorite. The Icebugs gripped like crazy in places people with sneakers were falling and falling hard. Passing a guy who, I found out later, had broken his leg (“I’m ok! Keep going!”) I quickly found myself going back up again to the memorization chart, and back into the woods. Running into the Team Death Race duo of Nele and Noah, who were probably in one of the darkest moments of their personal races – spent some time with them – not able to do much of anything but feel like a spare part – but not able to leave them behind either … I felt terrible when I finally made the internal call to keep going on with my own race, but as soon as I hit the sandbag carry, I found a Spahten and had them reach out to the community to try and see if we could offer any kind of support.

By now, the Sandbag carry is infamous. Falling somewhere around mile 4 of the course, they had 70lb sandbags. Mens and Women’s sandbags were easy to figure out – both were white and both weighed 70lbs – and the course went up and up and up. This is probably the most controversial obstacle of the day – with Saturday elites going up 1/2 mile, then back – and later Open waves – and seemingly a random mix of other waves doing a 1/4 mile version with no penalties. I know I was told by a volunteer to turn at a point that looked to be half way up, despite their being people ahead of me on the hill. I double checked with him and he said there is no penalty, and ushered me over. My only guess for the discrepancy here is that they only had so many sandbags, and as the weekend wore on, that number got smaller and smaller – and they needed them back down at the base for the next racers. Is this fair? Only as fair as being caught on a single track trail behind a slow walker, or life itself.

Credit: Mary Donohue http://join.nespahtens.com

We then joined back up with the Sprint course. Their mile 2 was now the Beast mile 4 or 5 – and having ran Sprint the next day, I knew we were in for a relentless climb to the summit – what turned out to be the longest climb of the weekend. It sucked. I tried something new, and packed an old iPod Nano and headphones in a drybag. I happily plugged myself into some tunes, ignored my fellow racers and got on with the job at hand. At the summit was a 7′ wall to jump, then back down.

 

During the decent down, we passed the mile 6 water station (Hi Aaron!), the heavy herculean hoist (nailed this both days – but was amazed at the number of people failing!), nailed the monkey bars both days (which makes it successful attempt number 4 and 5 of my OCR career!), and hit an 8′ wall, a tractor pull and an inverse wall – then onto the longest barbed wire crawl of the course, with the lowest wire. Saturday with no pack, this was relatively easy. Sunday with people around me and a pack – Pain In The Ass. Spear throw (missed both days – first burpees of the course) and the Beast course then headed right down to the festival for the roughly half way mark.

This half way mark consisted of a dunk under muddy water, traditional rope climb obstacle (ding! bell rung), and a tunnel into a wire crawl that was a lot of fun. Huge shout out to the Spahten who crewed for us all here – I was able to pick up some more nutrition, salt pills and get a couple of hugs – which were very welcome, as I was starting to feel a little miserable at that point in the game.

Credit: Mary Donohuehttp://join.nespahtens.com

We climbed over a bridge, and headed to the water.

Water. I hate water obstacles. I drown well. I don’t swim confidently. Obstacle #1 was a swim to a rope climb, with a tyrolean traverse wall and a second swim to a ladder and Tarzan ropes that EVERYONE was failing. I nailed the wall, and for the two water stops – rather than risk my race, my pride, and my life – I burpeed out. I did 30 full form burpees, with a damned smile on my face, and I stayed out of the water. Controversial? Maybe – but I don’t run elite waves and this is my race.

We had to remember our code here – score! High five from the older dude who would have given me burpees with just as much glee, I’m sure, then back up the mountain.

All I know here is we ran a lot of trails and difficult terrain, and I loved that. I had TONs of grip. I was passing people who were falling down left right and center. The atlas stone carry felt REALLY heavy, and the third barbed wire crawl was my favorite. After more climbing we hit two vertical cargo nets – the first one was starting to sag badly, and looked really hairy, but the second one seemed ok still. We then hit lots and lots of switch backs, single track terrain, ski slope hills – one of which had a nasty bucket carry obstacle that my right IT band started to fail on (maybe mile 8?) – and from that point on, I was in limp mode. Someone asked me if my leg was ok, I told them it only hurt on the hills. We laughed together. I started to catch up to the Ultra Beast folks here – easily identifiable with their green armbands. I want to buy each and everyone of them a beer – after 25+ miles, they were still smiling, chatting, running. Unbelievable, amazing, inspirational.

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More hills (spotting a theme?), a tyrolean traverse (30 burpees) and my headphones went back in. More climbing, descending, climbing, descending, then a 9′ wall, that I nailed first time (yay!) and finally, some down hills – before ultimately, the final sandbag carry. I’d heard so much about it – but ultimately it was fairly straight forward – throw the sandbell on my neck / pack and move. I got to the turn without issue – but the walk down again was amazingly, shockingly painful. Every step, my right knee felt like someone was stabbing a little knife in there … thankfully, I didn’t drop the damn thing, because I don’t know I could have bent my knee to pick it up.

This was right towards the end. We hit a slippy wall, we jumped fire, and we ran through Gladiators who hit us – and then in an amazing finish, I had my medal put over my neck by Spahtens, got hugs from more Spahtens, got hugs from my wife who was waiting and enjoyed my moment.

The Beast was 14 miles, and 8 hours on the course for me. It was also one of the first times I went out on my own, and spent most of my time solo – both in my own head and in my own race. While I talked to people, even pushed a few people over walls (but only the cute ones, you know how it goes), I wasn’t really aiming to spend time with someone, or buddying up. Call it an experiment in self discovery – but I’ve spent almost the entire 2013 season with someone by my side, and enjoying the rewards that can bring. For once, I wanted to spend it in my own head. Hence the headphones for much of the latter part of the course.

One thing I discovered – the team is always there. From Spahtens at volunteer stations who were not only there with a high five and a glass of water, but also sending messages ahead – “spahtens passing mile 5!” meaning when we hit the next obstacle of station, someone from the team was there to give you a word of encouragement, a quick snack to eat – and coming through the festival area, Spahtens were everywhere – Beth, Sandy, Mary, Vince and more.

While I may have been running my own race, I was running with the team – collectively. So many people – even people I don’t recognize (hi to the two chicks on the 9′ wall! You knew me, but race brain means I have no idea who you are!) – were there to cheer me on, pass messages down the line – thank you.

Full GPS / Google Earth map with obstacle overlay. Credit Paul Jones for map, Vince Rhee for obstacle overlay.
Full GPS / Google Earth map with obstacle overlay. Credit Paul Jones for map, Vince Rhee for obstacle overlay.

So – the Spartan Race Beast.

It had its problems. Running out of trifecta medals and t shirts was inexcusable considering it happened last year too – so many people are pushing themselves to their personal imits for that small, colorful medal – and to be told they can’t have one is more heart breaking to us normal people than I think any elite or OCR professional can understand. Shortening the sandbag carry (or, making it too long to begin with) will always leave a bitter taste for some people who feel they got stiffed because they went the long way – or were told to go the short way.

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Time cut offs were clearly communicated prior to the event, and so many people under estimated either the course, or their abilities – and there is some griping about being pulled early, or because of changed time limits – my only thought there is simply – try harder next year. Consider your DNF a gift – one of motivation – one of inspiration. Someone finished that course in 3 hours and 40 minutes – it’s humanly possible. If you were pulled because it got dark, and if you are angry because you thought you could do it anyway – get training. Get faster. Get stronger. Come back next year, and make DAMN SURE you finish.

Others – the oddness of the TV crews who didn’t really know what they were supposed to be doing. The biggest team tent going to a charity wave no one knew much about, and didn’t even use it. The race venue specific shirts that, once again, sold out WAY too early in the weekend leaving fans without a shirt to show off.

Despite these problems, some of which are ridiculously easy to resolve (and haven’t been) – the VT Beast remains the crown jewel in the Spartan Race crown. Without this race, Spartan Race would be a much lesser series. Without VT to provide the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that no where else can provide, we couldn’t be so proud of our achievements when we make them.

The VT Beast broke a lot more people this year than last. I hope it never gets easy. I hope it never gets boring. I discovered somethings about myself out there this year – and I believe everyone who does this race – win, finish or DNF – also learns something.

Thank you, everyone who made this event happen. I plan on being back in 2014 for another trip up the mountain – it remains a special place.

Credit: Mary Donohue http://join.nespahtens.com

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – MA Sprint

Where do you begin when you want to recap a weekend like we just had?

For me, it kicked off way before August 10th actually rolled around. For weeks now, the admin team behind the New England Spahtens has been working with the Spartan Race staff, co-ordinating member signups, transfers and all the other countless little things that goes into making sure all the registrations that were from Spahtens were put in the right places, and counted towards our biggest team efforts. Blog posts were written to help people find their way through this, and help new folks understand what was going on. Countless questions, referrals back to the blog posts, more questions … believe me, I was ready for this race weekend!

Our final tally for registrations was 271 Saturday, and 54 Sunday – which I understand to be the biggest team Spartan Race has ever had!

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Friday night, I headed up to Amesbury. For me, it’s about an hour and a half drive with no traffic, so I had booked a room at a nearby hotel for Friday evening. Getting to the venue late afternoon gave me a chance to drop off a bunch of the stuff I had for our biggest team – some banners to put up on the tent, 6 boxes of Snap Infusion SuperCandy‘s that were donated to help us fuel the team through the weekend (and, as usual, we devoured in short time – huge thank you to Snap Infusion for that!!) – catching up with a few of our community members who were giving up their days to volunteer and do everything from stuff packets, to build crew at the event was awesome – I unloaded, setup, and then with the end of the volunteer shift we headed to the Amesbury Ale House for some dinner, some beers and back to the hotel.

I had signed up for the Hurricane Heat – so my “ohmygodO’Clock” alarm kicked off and we headed over to the venue – one big advantage to the HH is you get local parking to the race, less than a mile down the road. Spartan staff had already started screwing with us and changed the mandatory black top requirement into a blue top at the last minute – which was fine by us – instead of the “Buddy Carry Ready” black shirts we had picked up, we switched into our team drill shirts – I’d estimate a good 1/3 of the HH had New England Spahten drill shirts on that morning – we were out in force.

Other mandatory gear, the usual hydration and nutrition, “a small rock” and a blindfold. We never used them – damn you, Spartan! Meeting in the parking lot, burpees are the usual start to the HH, along with getting into a team of 20, creating a team name (Junior Varsity Ninja Death Squad was re-born!), and lining up.

The rest of the HH took us about 3 hours. It consisted of all kinds of things – from a road jog back to the venue, buddy carrying each other up and down the Amesbury slopes, carrying two sandbags up and down the slopes, moving the wood for the fire pit 3’ to the left, rope climbing, burpees, burpees and more burpees. Climbing the incline wall with no ropes was pretty awesome too. By far, the highlight of the HH was the team “race” – through the mud trenches, over the incline wall, looping around to the barbed wire crawl, with 100 burpees on the line for the team who came in last – happily, that wasn’t Team Ninja, but I didn’t see the burpees being enforced (I was already planning how we got around the “100 burpees” penalty if it was us … they didn’t say “100 burpees” *each* …)

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It also seems that for many, the biggest fail of the HH was the PT / Group X trainer portions. In the right settings, I’m sure his speech and his style is motivating and inspirational – but for the HH, we were signed up for group based challenges, and to do the course backwards / sideways / upside down – holding a bridge position and planks for 30 minutes. then burpees and jumping pushups (actual time is unknown), while someone tries to pump you up is actually quite de-motivating – and for me, I was very happy, both times, when it was over. Unfortunately, the second time, it was over because the HH was over – we collected our HH T Shirts (nice, Reebok cotton shirt) and dog tags, took some photos.

Feedback to the Spartan team has been provided, and I will be running it again in 2014, if I have the chance. You should too, there’s nothing else like the hurricane heat, and the 2012 hurricane heat remains one of my favorite OCR events.

Total time for the HH was around 3 hours, and we were done well before 9am, leaving a pretty good window of time before the team heat. This meant I could hoof it back to my car, change into my spare clothes, hydrate a bit, and get back to the venue in time to find my wife and friends getting off the shuttle bus and checking in.

As has been mentioned many times, we were the biggest team – this meant that we had over 270 people register for the event, and Spartan provided us with an awesome, spacious tent – this became mission central, bag drop, meeting area, kids play area – our entire weekends festivities were based out of this 20*20 drop off zone, and we couldn’t have had a good time without it!

As is usual for Amesbury Sports Park, the shuttle buses from the parking lot were plentiful and smoothly run – getting your bib and registration was fast and smooth.

This was the first Spartan event since Reebok became a major sponsor that I had been to, despite a few New York races, nothing else has been close enough for the Spahtens to get to – and it was pretty evident from the festival area that things were very different now. In an effort to make as much space as possible, the start line had been moved half way up the slope, so every inch of flat surface at the bottom was used for tents. Most welcome was the addition of an eating area – those without a team tent to hang out in could sit down in the shade and relax a bit. There were two merchandise tents fully stocked with high quality Reebok shirts and clothes. among other things, several sponsor tents, physical challenges, with the showers, finishers shirt pick up and potties moved around to the back of the main building – they used every square inch available to them, and despite it being crowded at times, I didn’t have to line up for any significant time, and was able to get anywhere I needed to go.

10:15 was our assigned team wave – and we had wanted to get a group photo at the start line – unfortunately, trying to get the ~250 official starters in one place at one time was pretty much impossible, and having a steep hill to contend with – we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience!

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Spartan have a new MC (or at least, new to us) – and he spent a rather long time talking and motivating – which would have been great, if I could hear him, and if he let us out on time- instead we ran late, which meant the 10:30 “regular” wave merged right into ours and things were pretty crowded. I missed listening to the Dropkick Murphy’s, I missed the AROO AROO AROO chant …

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I was running the team wave with my wife Beth, and our friend Liz, and a buddy, Kenny. Liz was our “newbie” for the race, having never done anything like this before – our job was to get her through the obstacles and to the finish line – and we did it 🙂 The course was a relatively short course this year, roughly 3.2 miles – but the obstacles were challenging, with some new ones to me. I particularly liked the inverted incline wall, and the extra heavy herculean hoist. The “gamble” on course was a hyped up option between a longer, flatter route, or a steeper, shorter option – we took the steep option and it wasn’t particularly challenging – but even so, the distance difference was something like 0.1 miles. No big deal.

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The new tire pull/drag was fun, and I spent quite a bit of time at the 8′ wall helping women and shorter folks over it. I made it up the rope both times (HH and the team wave) too. I do have to give credit to the course designer – they put a large bridge at the foot of the mountain – climb a wooden ladder to get up two cargo containers, then walk across a slatted floor, before climbing down. I didn’t give this thing a second thought, but apparently it was a huge obstacle for many folks – enough so that they had to create a “slow lane” to the side to prevent the people who were scared out of their gord from slowing up traffic – I never would have guessed!

Ultimately, the biggest reward was when we crossed the finish line with Liz, truly earning her first Spartan medal – turns out, she’s’ a beast when it comes to the strength stuff, having no problem with the hoist or the tire stuff – and she looked like she was having WAY TOO MUCH fun in the barbed wire crawl 🙂

Beth had a slight run in with one of the gladiators, and ended up at the medics getting an ice pack -big shout out to them for the job they do out there – patching up us crazies! Apart from being stiff, there is no lasting damage, thankfully. Spartan had moved the t shirt pickup to another spot on the venue, right by the showers – this genius move meant that we could finish the race muddy, then go hose off *then* pick up our t shirts – small touches like this make a huge difference in the experience, and show why Spartan Race are leading the sport.

The rest of Saturday was spent hanging out in the tent. NE Spahten team mates were everywhere you looked – whether they were heading back out on the course for yet another go, shopping in the merch tent, eating some food, or simply enjoying each others company. Ultimately, though, it was time to head home, pick up our mini, clean up our clothes and get some much needed food.

Courtesy of Andrew Fogarty
Courtesy of Andrew Fogarty

Sunday was another race day. I had picked up a living social entry to the Sunday event, and wasn’t sure if I was going to use it. I’d scraped myself up pretty badly at an event a week prior, and with the hours spent out on the course on Saturday, things were pretty crusty and red looking – going back through the mud didn’t seem like the brightest idea in the world … regardless, we made sure we were onsite and checked in with plenty of time before the 10:30 team wave – this wasn’t a dedicated wave, with “only” around 50 people on the Sunday team (still the biggest team of the day, by far), but again it was a sea of blue Spahten drill shirts.

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We actually transferred my ticket to Beth – which was smooth – and I came in on a spectator pass. We brought our mini with us this time, and I was *very* grateful to see that not only were there other young kids there, but someone was smart enough to bring a blanket, bubbles, paper and crayons for them! It was the difference between us having to leave early, and getting to hang out all day in the end.

The team tent was much quieter this time – we had space to stretch out our legs, park our butts, and actually have conversations – while the team went out for their second (and in some cases, third, fourth or more) race, I stayed back, played with kids and talked to new folks.

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One of the most impressive things I found was the number of people who were running their first OCR, or their first team event. That was awesome to see – bringing new people from the region into this sport is why we exist, and the more people who introduced themselves to me during the day, the more I was sure that we were doing it right.

Beth’s team came in with epic stories of buddy carrying their injured off the mountain and over the finish line, covered in mud, and overcoming fears – amazing!

This was our one year birthday. A year ago, two guys met and thought that if they combined their two small teams together, we could have something cooler – and thus, the New England Spahtens, with it’s original 100 or so members was born. We entered this weekend with 1,000 members of our community, and every single person on the course this weekend noticed us. Sure, there were other teams out there, but it’s the Spahtens who were unfailingly helpful, kind, supportive and best dressed 🙂 Along with that, it was Spahtens who provided large portions of the volunteer staff for both the build crew, pre-running, course and venue staff, sweeper heats and even today in the break down crew. This is an amazing resource that smart race directors are paying attention to and tapping into.

So – two days of racing, with many days of volunteering. Over 300 team members who were out on the course over the weekend, being unfailingly helpful, kind and supportive – we introduced all levels of people to both the sport, the Spartan brand, and our own community – and we formed memories, and made stories, and new friendships.

If you saw us out there, and want to get involved, it’s easy. We don’t have membership requirements or costs – we’re a community of OCR fans who want to run, support and love this crazy wall climbing, mud crawling, trail running weekend sport. Join us.

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