Spartan: Nearly but not quite Super

Spartan.

Where to start.

Spartan Races run with the giants of the obstacle racing world. They’re internationally renowned, inclusive, well sponsored and largely predictable. They are often a newbie’s first introduction to obstacle racing, and therefore the beginning of a beautiful addiction.

Except, of late, it seems that Spartan UK’s wheels have not just fallen off, but they’ve rolled down a hill into a bottomless crevice. This isn’t to say you can’t have a good time at a UK Spartan race, it’s just that it gives of that constant feeling of ‘nearly-but-not-quite’

Some of the Spartan team are people I hold very dear to my heart; the effervescent Fay Kelly being a perfect example of that. She’s switched on, attentive, willing to listen and to help the race evolve in line with what customers want. Certain other members of the team are just generally diabolical or just so poorly trained that I’m surprised they can work their own radios whilst blinking. Now, I’m new to this obstacle racing game, so I can’t tell you about the glory days of Spartan, or reminisce about how it used to be when ‘all this were fields’, but I can take you through the process like an ordinary punter – someone who exchanges money for an experience, and the reasonable expectations of said punter.

Spartan Allianz Park was not my cup of tea, but the rugged jaunt around Manchester’s Heaton Park venue sounded much more up my street. With promise of a great atmosphere, plenty of food, jokes, jaunts and stalls, I was really excited to have a weekend back up to my spiritual home of Cheshire to run in the Super.

The “13+K” Super was originally supposed to run on the Sunday, but in the face of dwindling sign ups, this was moved to Saturday afternoon, and a free entry to the Sprint gifted by way of apology. I was so not down for this. When I finish a race, I want to eat chips and snooze, not prep for another race, so I gave the opportunity to my sister, Tally – and she did incredibly well and had a fantastic time doing it.   Snaps for Tally. I also enlisted my little brother for the Kid’s race, which I stomped around with him as part of a warm-up. This gave him a taste for the sport and I think it’s great that I could bring my family to an event and have them entertained – points for event village atmosphere this time.

With RAW-camp set up, sister off on her run and my brother suitably tired out, I started warming up, as for some reason, the runners in the elite wave were not afforded a warm up like everybody else. The music was pumping, the incredibly cringeworthy video transmission was running and everybody seemed to be in good spirits. The great thing about the event village is that the big obstacles were positioned around it, making for some good spectator and photo ops. What is a real shame, therefore, is that there was hardly any photographers on course, and none to take photos of the awesome, nemesis obstacles such as the rig and the rope climb.

I was fun-running the Super, having decided not to compete, but rather to encourage my friend Lucy around. She was coming off a long injury and was, despite her ability, very nervous. This meant that my teammate Fran and I got to have a lovely jaunt around the course, taking our time on the obstacles and really enjoying what the run had to offer. It’s a different animal when you’re not actively competing, and I really loved the time we spent together. It made me feel fantastic to be able to help a friend, but also to see her confidence grow with every little victory along the course. This, to me, is what OCR is about – pushing your limits, setting your own targets and racing whomever you decide to race, whether it’s yourself or a rival.   It also gave me the time and energy to really slug at the obstacles that had previously defeated me – namely the rig and the rope climb, both of which I completed, performed a victory dance and received hearty congratulations over.

The Course

The weather was HAAAT. It made for a lovely day, but it would have been improved with a couple more water stations along the course – so far, Spartan has not catered to people who may be out on the course longer than the elites, and have been mighty tight with water stops. Some people on the sprint didn’t get any water, and I wouldn’t treat an animal like that in this weather, let alone athletes.

The obstacles were challenging, but doable with some concentration and without the pressure of throwing yourself through at great speed. Marshals were encouraging and friendly, with the exception of Shouty McShouterson on the rig, that just stood in the middle of the obstacle yelling ‘THIRTY BURPEES”. I should imagine that she was a laugh on a night out – “Hi, what’s your name?” “THIRTY BURPEES”, “What would you like to drink?” “THIRTY BURPEES”.

After the rig, I revelled in victory whilst simultaneously trying to find a first aid kit for my injured friend. There wasn’t one. So began a mini shit-fit. Why on earth would there not be a first aid kit at every obstacle? Why would there not even be so much as a plaster? As luck would have it, at that moment a poor bloke got a horrendous, full thickness puncture wound from an exposed bolt on the rig itself, necessitating an ambulance. Funnily enough, they had a first aid kit with which I could attend to Lucy’s foot. Had this poor bloke not been a victim of someone’s architectural incompetence, then I would have had to carry her to the finish line, which if I’m honest I didn’t really feel like doing. Silver linings and all that. (Hope you’re okay, rig man)!

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Ladies wot jaunt

DRAMAZ aside, we trotted merrily back onto the course to enjoy a very relaxed tyre carry, various muddy ditches and inclines, an absolutely FANTASTIC muddy river and a barbed wire crawl littered with broken glass. Luckily we escaped that one unscathed but there were several unfortunates that ended up needing hospital attention for glass injuries. Spartan, we do like to push our limits, but we’d rather not finish races looking like we’ve angered the village lager lout on a night out in Watford, thanks. By all accounts, sections were actually closed off due to errant shards, but we weren’t made aware of this whilst we were crawling through the Russian roulette river.

Eventually we made it to the rope climb, usual bane of my life and assaulter of my self confidence. However, I found a Hob Nob by the obstacle, and I feel it may have been infused with magical strength, as I shimmied up that rope with all of my might. Lucy looked on like a proud parent as Fran and I dinged our respective bells and shot back down to the floor in search of further Hob Nobs.   Buoyed by both victory and biscuits, we hopped the walls and continued out onto the last leg of the course. Lucy was being pretty valiant by this point, as we rounded off the course at the infamous spear throw.

We all failed it, naturally, and trotted off to a suitable burpee spot. Spartan requires 30 burpees per obstacle failure, which, if I’m honest, I’m not totally cool with. I feel as though the punishment should suit the crime, and I don’t think 30 burpees for failing to throw a pointy thing at a hay bale is really fitting. But hey ho, it’s what we all signed up for, so we jumped on the burpee train. UNLIKE SOMEONE who basically did three push-ups and buggered off.

Now this really grinds my gears. Burpees are hard, and sometimes make me feel physically sick, but I do them. In a timed race that is a World Champs qualifier, it is completely unacceptable to cheat your fellow competitors and either skip or half arse your burpees. Just grow up and do them. People say you’re only cheating yourself when you skip burpees but you’re not, you’re cheating everyone else who plays fair and gets a lower position with you because you’re a lame, cheaty cheating cheat. Some marshals can really get on top of people for skipping, or for not doing chest-to-floor burpees, but when they aren’t policed, my god some people are shifty bastards. I hope they all get diarrhoea.

Burpees completed, we had only the formidable ‘ice crawl’ and the fire jump to complete. Both were rather similar in that neither of them contained ice because it was a July summer’s day, and ice melts when it’s sunny. That’s science.

We joined hands for a pretty fantastic fire jump and we were over the line, almost dead last, but stronger, happier and more confident for it. All that remained now was to consume a venison burger and bask in the remaining heat of the day.

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well they look like they’re having fun!

The Kit

  • Nike Pro ¾ length tights – all good
  • PINK by VS sports bra – absolutely perfect. Even ran in it for a bit because it was really hot
  • Team tech vest
  • Salomon X-Screams – I don’t know why the hell I decided to wear these today, because there were some seriously muddy banks. They actually performed well considering, but the Fellraisers would have been a brighter choice
  • Nike Anti-Blister socks – did what they said on the tin
  • Not enough sun cream. Yep

The Goods

As usual, a brilliant medal, a nice cotton t-shirt, photographs included in price (even though they’re pretty disappointing) and chip timing.

The Verdict

So even with the negatives, a great day was had, but a worrisome cloud hangs over Spartan, and I am concerned that if these rather glaring and dangerous errors are not ironed out, then confidence will be lost in what can be a really great race. I don’t want to let go of my faith in this institution, but it’s fading faster than my newly acquired farmer’s tan. I am hoping that they will pull their socks up over the remainder of the season in time for a brilliant Beast in September.

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