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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:!

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!

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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Featured Review: Spartan Race – NJ Super

The New Jersey Spartan Race Super is in the bag, and it’s time for the aching and soreness to kick in – and to reflect.


Personally, this was my second super – the first one being last years New Jersey Super. I’m not one who can travel the country chasing the Spartan circus, so hitting up races when they come close to me is the only way I can experience Spartan, and get my medals. Inspired by the trifecta medal I have hanging in my living room, this was also my wifes first year chasing the red, blue and green – NJ was her first Super, and the longest distance she’d raced to date.


Before I get into this years recap, I wanted to provide a bit of a look back into 2012’s Super.

The 2012 Super was the longest Super Spartan Race had put on, at over 11 miles. It included a 25′ cliff jump, rock climb to the top of the mountain and more elevation change than any race not hosted on Killington. Widely, it was criticized for being too hard, as *many* people didn’t bring camelbaks, trail shoes or technical clothing and were woefully under prepared. It was widely criticized for huge (45mins or more for open waves) backlogs at the cliff jump, tyrolean traverse and rock climbs. Sure, many people loved the extra challenge – personally I took the “I paid for 8 and 3 miles extra for free!” approach – but Spartan has to appeal to more than just the elites, or there wouldn’t be a Spartan Race anymore …

In general, 2012 was the year of “over deliver” for Spartan – with a 5 mile Sprint in Amesbury, 11 mile Super in NJ and a 15 mile Beast in VT.

So, for one, I’m glad they are now staying as near to the listed distances – and while there is some grumbling from folks that NJ 2013 was “too easy” or “easier than last year” – I don’t mind. To make it harder than 2012 would be to make it into a Beast race.


Now – about 2013.

Once again, the New England Spahtens had an amazing showing. Considering this race is over 4 hours drive for many, we brought almost 100 people to run, volunteer and in some cases staff the event – and the whole weekend you couldn’t go more than a short distance, both in the event grounds and on the course, without running into someone from the community – if you saw one of us, and are finding out about us for the first time, welcome! We were beaten to biggest team by locals, Team Braveheart, and unknowns, Team Big Daddy, who despite having 150 people during the day, never had more than a handful of folks in the biggest team tent. I’m not sure what Spartan HQ are planning or thinking for their biggest team promotions or future, but now the races are local to us, and we’re routinely getting biggest team at Spartan and other events, it’s feeling very lack lustre compared to other events.


My wife Beth, Stacey and myself drove down on Friday evening after dinner to avoid traffic, and made excellent time to our hotel in Mahwah, NJ – bumping into Vince, Sandy and Corrine on the drive down, and many more Spahtens in the lobby. It’s always amazing how quickly this motley crew of OCR fans have become such good friends in the relatively short time we’ve all known each other – a hug from Sandy, an ass grab from Vince – warms the heart.

The hotel itself was located about 45 mins from the venue – so we made sure we got out to Mountain Creek fairly early the next day. Parking was really easy to find and well sign posted, and at no point during the “busy period” on Saturday morning – or at any other point in the weekend were the buses backed up for more than a few minutes – with only a few minutes ride to the front door of the venue.

As they did last year, they made use of the space by putting the registrations tents right out in the parking lot in front – as is now typical of Spartan, this flowed smoothly, and we picked up our packets containing timing chip and band, wave heat band, headband number, paper number and pins. We were barely in through the front door before bumping into Spahtens and other friends – this was going to be an awesome weekend.

The festival area was similar to 2012, but felt more open which I appreciated. The showers were to the left of the entrance staircase, and now included changing tents and the new T Shirt pickup booth – with many portapotties just beyond them, and a medical tent. Above it was a food area with several half decent vendors offering pig roasts, corn on the cobs, burgers, slushies, ice creams and more. Bag check was also up here – and for once, we had to actually use it. Unfortunately, it was pretty disorganized, and resulted in us losing Beths bag until I went back there and spent 15 minutes searching for it during pickup. I had used two climbing caribiners to lock it to mine, and somehow those came unclipped, and the bag went missing. No harm, no foul this time, but it needs to be more organized.

There was also a great view of the final obstacle complex – a steep descent to the rope climb, then off around the base of the ski lift to the traverse walls, before shooting uphill a short distance, looping back to the slippy wall, fire pit, then through the gladiators to the finish line. Fantastic spectator experience, with great access to the course and viewing / photography angles.


Of to the right of the entrance staircase were the usual festival fair – slosh pipe competitions, tire flipping competitions, National Guard tents, Biggest Team tent (which was mostly empty all weekend), and a huge seating / shady tent that we saw at Amesbury – appreciated for many spectators, as the weekend was glorious and sunny – a sharp contrast to the tornadoes of 2012. The festival never felt crowded, unlike the New England Sprint, and judging by how many spectators were out on the course itself, they clearly had good access – especially if they wanted to take photos, or trail their friends around – last year, this was the biggest gripe, there were shuttles to spectator viewing points, but not much more, and if you missed your athlete at the spectator point, you missed them.


The course.

Of course, we’re not running these races for the festivals or the food – so lets dig into the course details. Being a Super, the course is listed as 8 miles and 20+ obstacles. True to tradition, the starting corral (where heat wave times were checked and enforced) was pointing up a steep ski slope, and once we were released, it was right into a steep slog, right up to the highest elevation point of the day. This really set the tone for what was the biggest obstacle of the event, the hills. For anyone getting ready for Killington, be aware, you havent seen anything yet …

As usual, a true obstacle by obstacle break down is unlikely – ultimately, I was on the course for nearly five hours, and things get fuzzy after a bit 🙂 Trying to remember:

We started out easy with some over and under walls – just some warm up 5′ walls here.
Quickly down into a water crossing – same as last year, get across a pond that had a floating dock in the middle (climb on the dock) – floaty’s were available.
Immediately after that were some of the skinniest pole hops I’ve seen – tall, thin, and some of them slightly unstable made for a very challenging hop – however, after Amesbury, where they were out of commission, I was happy to make it over first time!
Immediately after this we passed some horses to the Spear Throw – putting this super early in the course, instead of at the end was a neat twist. Burpees for me! 2012 NJ remains the only year I’ve ever stuck the spear!


We then hit trails – more hills, some single track trails, some rolling mud hills before what looked like an old paintball venue – my brain is getting foggy now, but I believe we then hit the 7′ and 8′ walls somewhere in here – and I want to take a moment to applaud my Icebug Spwyder‘s, with their carbide tips. Because of these, I was able to make it up both walls with no problem at all, something that historically has been a weak point for me – the ‘bugs gave me tons of grip to walk my way up, once I had hold of the top. We also hit the reverse incline wall, which is becoming one of my favorites, and a pretty nice barbed wire crawl. I do wish the wire crawls had less rocks in them – I get seriously scraped up on the knees in these things. The duck under the wall at the end of it is a nice head f*ck, especially for those who struggle with water! Some tire flips happened at some point (I could NOT get the biggest tire moved!).

We hit up some more trails and hills, heading down to the back of the main ski lodge – they had the sandbag carry in the same place as last year – and I took two of the mens sandbags with me this time, because hey, why not.

Fuzzy memory time – at some point we hit the herculean hoist, which was not as heavy as Amesbury for the men, and STILL there were guys burpeeing out, which blew my mind. CorrineBeast did hers one handed! We did a tractor drag over some rough terrain, and hit lots more trails before getting to the water slide, which was really tame for me – I barely moved, and the final descent into the finishing complex – this was the final set of obstacles, done right in the festival area in front of the crowds. My foot cramped up on the rope, but I got the bell – I fell off the traverse wall *again* – then a short uphill (which was the barbed wire crawl of 2012) to a U turn and slippy wall – the ‘bugs gave me TONS of grip, and the rope was almost redundant! Fire, gladiators, medal, glory.

Copie, our resident Kiwi doing a Haka at the finishline!

Of course, I also got to do it with my wife, on her first Super – we were buddying up with friends who provided great company along the way. That was a fantastic experience.

In 2012, we complained about those same things. It was too hard for a Super. The lines at the jump were too long. It was tougher than many Beasts. The hills were too much. Spartan HQ can’t win this one. I will say that this was probably the most “super” Super event they could have put on. It was CERTAINLY tougher than a Sprint, and DEFINITELY not as hard as a Beast. The lines at the cliff jump and tyrolean traverse in 2012 were horrible, and I do not miss those, even if people loved the actual jump.

From the elites who were winning in an hour twenty, to the slow pokes who took 5 hours and change – the Super provided a great challenge, with some really killer hills – and fell firmly in the “Super” territory, like it should. It’s clear that the Reebok era is here, with a much more polished and consistent feel to the races and the festivals.

2013-09-07 16.44.24 HDR

I would like to gripe about one thing – and I hope someone at HQ will take this to heart, because this was a problem last year too. IF you are printing shirts that are unique to that event – print enough. Print too many. Beth and I saw awesome short sleeved NJ Super shirts and even more awesome long sleeved NJ shirts at the merch desk on our way in – and as soon as we were done and clean we went to pick them up – to find they had ALL gone. This was mid afternoon on *Saturday*. Thats really really uncool, and it happened at the VT Beast last year too. Medals can’t be worn daily – shirts can. We were pretty bummed, and its a really easy one to fix. They are still selling Amesbury shirts, so clearly, someone makes the calls on how many to buy.

Overall though – the event was solid, the venue is fantastic, providing a great mix of hilly terrain and trails, with several good spots for obstacles to be placed and built out. The infrastructure of parking is good too. If you’re looking for a Super distance race for your 2014 trifecta, this is a solid place to do it, and maybe if they bring a Super to New England *finally*, this would be a good place to get your double trifecta …

NJ Super

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – Mid-West Super


Harder than a Sprint, but not quite the Beast:

Two intrepid Spahtens took on over 32 hours and 2200 miles of driving for 8 amazing, grueling miles in under 3.5 hours. Marseilles Illinois was the setting on a sunny and hot (Mid 90’s) weekend in July for the Spartan Race Mid-West Super event. Drawing in over 5,000 racers for the weekend from all over the country to compete in a technically challenging setting.

Illinois Map

Venue Details:

  • 1069797_10151720726543903_529182990_nThe venue is also home to a permanent course (Spartan Race only used one obstacle from this course), which houses training sessions and monthly races.
  • There was a construction detour off of the major highway to get to the event site, did this pose a problem? Not one bit, Spartan race knew of this detour, and rather than allow its participants to be misdirected by GPS, Spartan was proactive and informed them via multiple avenues including the website, email and even highway alert signs welcoming Spartans to the region.
  • Parking was a reasonable $10 and on site. The lot and attendants did a good job avoiding bottle necks by filtering cars into multiple “lanes” to collect parking fees and subsequently parking in a grass field.
  • Porta-potties were provided before entering the registration/festival area (approximately 20).
  • Festival and registration were broken into two distinct locations which made complete logical sense. Volunteers, Registration and Number Marking were all located up front and center. This area directed spectators and competitors towards the festival area which was located behind a small tree line, providing a “big reveal” of sorts.
  • To enter festival, spectators were subject to a bag inspection by security while competitors were not. I chose to have my bag inspected as it was not immediately clear as to if it was a universal check or not. I found security to be incredibly pleasant and helpful in the check process which took only a matter of seconds.


  • Upon packet pickup you were given a wrist band that was marked with your predetermined heat time, this later would be used to ensure that you did not heat jump.
  • This event featured the headband bib numbers, a nice feature which is rapidly becoming a norm for Spartan Race (traditional bibs were also included).
  • Number Marking was optional, and due to the new photo format, almost unnecessarysince your photos are not directly tagged with your bib number and are instead done by zone on the course and the times you would’ve gone through a given photo point.



  • Immediately upon entering festival there was a bank of additional porta-potties (located behind fences for privacy, but very clearly labeled as restrooms).
  • A large map of the course and spectator areas was visible on a central podium. This is a nice feature for spectators and the curious runner. Being a fan of the secrecy of Spartan Race, I avoided the course map until after completion, had I been there to watch someone, the map would’ve been a great resource.1016872_10151725557878903_465409475_n
  • Festival included many standard items we have come to expect, showers, food and beverage (with covered dining area), sponsor tents (Weetabix, Air National Guard, etc), the kids course, well stocked merchandise tent, Largest Team tent, etc. One Nice new feature was a “Meet the Spartan Staff” tent, where you could sit and talk with the Pro team as well as some key players in making an event happen. One additional item that has been spoken to in the past is the paid bag check, in Marseilles, a $5 bag check also provided a $5 merchandise coupon.
  • Due to course design the festival area served as a fantastic central hub for spectators. The course had many out and backs, or multiple obstacles in the same general area but on different legs of the course, allowing spectators to see a significant number of obstacles, return to festival, view a different set of obstacles, etc. all while still having the standard obstacles visible at all times within the festival area (Gladiators and Spear Man for example).


The Race:

Spartan Race has never been bad at picking terrain to push its competitors to their limits, and yet again, they have delivered. Although not particularly hilly, and lacking a major hill like the Amesbury Sprint employs, this course was technically challenging. Totaling 8 miles with over 20 obstacles (some new, some staples we’ve come to know and love, even some unique twists on obstacles we have seen before), 4 aid stations, and multiple river crossings Spartan Race has set the bar high for any future Supers I run.

  • The key landscape features were lots of rapid steep declines into ravines that were filled with slick clay based mud (due to Mother Nature’s contribution of rain Friday night) which bound to your shoes while adding weight and reducing traction, only to immediately have to turn on a dime and ascend a steep incline, short in distance many times, but made difficult by grade and lack of traction.
  • 1012062_918941801603_1808135949_nMultiple short runs through a shallow river (upstream each time) provided relief from the clay that clung to shoes
  • Spartan Race was able to deliver a sprint experience by using many of the same obstacles you see in a sprint that are standard Spartan obstacles, Monkey Bars, Spear Man, Over Under Through, Gladiators, Horizontal Traverse, etc. However they set the bar high by modifying a few of those obstacles, Tractor Pull involved a log carry as well, Hercules Hoist got harder because they switched the pullies, or the cargo net which is no longer rope, but webbing. It was the new obstacles and terrain that truly made this more than a sprint for me, the inverted wall posed a challenge, and the tire drag (although not particularly tough) was an added touch. I must admit though I was disappointed to not have a log hop, the flat sections that allowed spectators great views could’ve held this obstacle.
  • 1001536_918941796613_331229789_nThe course design was phenomenal and the obstacle progression made their completion that much more rewarding, or failure that much more devastating. An example of this is a muddy ravine trek, into the inverted wall, into a steep sandbag carry or coming out of the woods at festival (just after the halfway point) a racer was presented with a 150 ft swim (the only permanent obstacle used) up a muddy slope and immediately onto the slippery wall, once over the wall you turned and had to rope climb, then into Spear Man before disappearing into the woods again. This progression temporarily reduced arm strength and made the Spear Man harder to complete. Having failed Spear Man I thought that this was planned, and that I needed to train harder for my next race, all while a 12 year old Corn Fed Spartan gave me a verbal reminder by asking simply “what is harder, the obstacle or the burpees?” the obvious answer was bupees, he then responded “well then try to get the obstacle right next time.”
Mike Bacon, of the Corn Fed Spartan’s, stands next to thick clay based mud.
– Photo Credit: Emily Jo Brandstatter

Spartan Race has again put on an amazing event, reinforcing their position as the best obstacle race company. Production, build, and execution were all flawless in my mind, Hitting the sweet spot between a Sprint and a Beast.

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Race Report: Super Spartan – Temecula, CA

Something a little different – New England Spahten, Rick Kraics flew out to the west coast to compete in the first Super of 2013, and of the Reebok sponsored races – and promised a review.

What he did was sit down in front of his webcam, and spend 30 minutes giving us a great review of his day, and his amazing 7th place over all finish – I hope he’ll be able to do more of these, I really enjoyed it!