Last weekend was my second ever double-header OCR weekend, my first being a Tough Mudder weekend a few months ago. I have to say, Spartan double-headers make my body hurt much more.
Last weekend, Spartan Race kicked off their season in SoCal with a Super/Sprint weekend at Lake Elsinore.
Many west coast Spartans weren’t particularly happy with that choice of venue: those that have run it know that it’s notoriously flat. Pancake flat.
However, as I learned last summer at the BFX at the same venue, you must never underestimate the flat course. These races will find a way to make it miserable.
This year, this race, it was the water.
In the weeks leading up to the Super/Sprint weekend, this area had been getting record amounts of rain. Parts of the course filled up with gigantic ponds of ice-cold water, and Spartan being Spartan, they made sure to direct racers through as much of that water as they possibly could.
So while the course was flat, that water was a challenge. When I say ice cold, I really do mean can’t-feel-your-feet cold. The temperatures had dropped into the upper 30s overnight, and the morning began with a brisk 40 something degrees plus wind. That water never really had a chance to warm up. I’m sure I looked like an idiot as I emerged from the water for a third time, stomping my feet as hard as I could to get some blood flow going.
This water not only slowed pretty much everyone down (not deep enough to swim, too deep or muddy to run), for many, it brought on the cramps. I’m fairly certain I saw more people cramp up at this race than any other race I’ve been to yet. One by one, runners would fall to wayside, grabbing their leg with that familiar twisted look of pain.
And if the numb feet and the cramps didn’t get you, some runners got straight up injured. Whether it was twisting an ankle from slipping on the rocks, or getting your foot stuck in the mud and your leg going a different direction, the underwater terrain was its own perilous obstacle.
Thankfully on Sunday, the Sprint course turned back before we got to all the water, so we were spared a second round in the frigid ponds of icy muscle death.
For obvious reasons, the water was one of the big topics of last weekend. The other was all the new changes.
New obstacles. New rules. New medals. New awards.
Last weekend we saw the premiere of two new obstacles (Twister and Bender), the return of a newer obstacle (Olympus), and a new take on some old obstacles.
Twister, as seen above, is basically monkey bars meeting a turnstile. Being a new obstacle, naturally there were multiple techniques used, but the two prevailing ones seemed to be straight on (like the multi-rig) or sticking to one side.
We also saw the premiere of Bender, seen below. I was surprised at how easy I found this one. Again, there are two popular ways to tackle this one: straight pull-up, or if you’re like me and still working on your upper body strength, grab the bar and swing your legs up to get them into the mix. Once you’re up there, it’s pretty much an easier inverted wall. If heights make you a little nervous though, that distance to the ground might make you sweat.
Olympus was back as well, along with a little bit of controversy. I first encountered this obstacle last month at the Castaic Lake Sprint, and at that time it had holes and chains for grips, and I think (correct me if I’m wrong) a few handhold grips along the top. This time, there were holes, chains, and rock climbing grips above and below the holes. With some of the rock climbing grips low, there was confusion as to whether racers could use their feet on those grips.
The final word is no, you can’t use your feet on those grips (feet have to be on the wood only). But for all the people calling out racers who used their feet and didn’t grab the top, give them a break.
This was a new tweak to the obstacle, and the volunteer on Saturday was saying that you could. Many times with new obstacles/additions, there’s going to be confusion and a learning curve. With all the backlash I’m pretty certain most know by now that you can’t use your feet on the grips, but it was unclear at the time, so let’s just all take a breath here.
And last but not least, we saw a few little changes to some familiar obstacles. The sandbag carry no longer had those pancake sandbags, but rather the long, rectangular sandbags much like a Wreck Bag or a Brute Force sandbag. In my opinion, this made the carry WAY easier. Just throw it over your shoulders and go for a nice walk.
They also switched the multi-rig to only rings, which I personally loved. If I had actually trained like I should have for this race, I might have made it through the rig for the first time ever. The rings had a bit more traction to them too, which was a nice change.
This is purely an aesthetic thing, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I personally like the new awards much better: the metal settings are actually bronze, silver and gold and I like the more traditional award look.
Oh the rules. In case you missed it, right before this weekend, Spartan released some rules that have caused quite a commotion in the OCR world. The big two are that you must wear your headband through the whole race, and you must wear a Spartan shirt to accept your award if you make the podium.
On both Saturday and Sunday, the headband message was echoed and explained at the starting line with each wave, and people who weren’t wearing their headband were called out.
I think the only issue people have with those headbands is the fit. I’m sure I’m not the first to comment on how absurdly small they are, with absolutely NO stretch. I was blessed with a gigantic head, so getting that thing on before every race is a struggle. For some, it causes actual headaches. So Spartan, if you’re listening, it’s not that people don’t want to wear the headbands. We like them. Just please make it so an adult male or female with a larger head can comfortably wear them.
There was also a new rule announced on Sunday that elite/competitive racers cannot wear headphones. This isn’t an issue for me since I don’t wear headphones at OCRs, but I definitely noticed some with headphones in on Saturday. What are your thoughts?
-Let’s be honest. I went into this weekend unprepared. I could give plenty of excuses as to why I wasn’t prepared, but really the truth is I didn’t make time for training like I should have.
If you’re expecting to run two days of Spartan in a row, you should be a little prepared. Between the lack of training and the ice water sucking the life out of me, Sunday’s Sprint was taken at pretty much a leisurely pace.
I set the bar pretty low for myself, so I’m looking forward to some redemption next month in Arizona.
–Don’t underestimate the course. Like, ever. Whether it has tons of elevation, or none at all, Spartan (and any OCR, really), will find a twist to make it that much more difficult. So before you get all frustrated at the venue choice, give it chance, and see what they throw at you. Because we love the suffering, right?
-Frigid water sucks.
What were your takeaways? Let us know in the comments below!
Sunday’s Sprint Elite Winners:
Course photos courtesy of Ron Rasing