If you’re interested in strengthening your OCR game, you’d better start running some trails, because you will inevitably face a course like the one in Arizona.
Last weekend, Spartan Race hosted a Sprint/Super weekend at Ft. McDowell, Arizona. It was a desert race in every sense, with the exception of the heat (it was actually quite cold both mornings).
In pre-race chatter on social media, those familiar with the course gave the heads up that there would be a lot of ups and downs throughout the whole course. They were not exaggerating. Though the hills weren’t particularly large, both the Sprint and Super courses were a constant roller coaster through the cactus-covered hills and sandy ravines.
Given that it was southwest American desert terrain, the trail was covered in loose rocks and sand as well, and the downhill slopes were split by deep runoff trails, breaking it up to the point where it was difficult to completely bomb down those hills.
Even with carefully watching my step as I ran the course, I must have come narrowly close to rolling my ankle at least 5 or 6 times over the weekend. And if you weren’t watching out for the loose rocks, you were watching out for the cactus. One racer ahead of me slipped on a loose rock on the trail and came within inches of falling into a particularly large one, but thankfully escaped scratch-free.
Both days, the emcee gave the heads up at the starting line that this was a runner’s course, and it certainly was. The obstacles were primarily grouped close to the festival area, so for the most part there would be a long running break, followed by a series of 3 to 4 obstacles, followed by another long running break, and so on.
I think it had more to do with the land usage restrictions, but honestly, I loved it. I just recently started adding in trails to my training, and so many times during the weekend I felt like I was on a beautiful, peaceful trail run out in the middle of the Arizona desert.
I felt this in particular on Sunday during the Super, because the Super route only included a handful of extra obstacles (the most notable being the 8-foot wall, Z-Wall, Vertical Cargo, Twister and Bender). Primarily, it was just two extra big loops through the terrain, which really played to the runners’ strengths.
I would say that out of the Spartan races I’ve ran so far, this one had the most uninterrupted running, which I was a big fan of. I find that it gives my upper body a nice break from the obstacles, and I’m not nearly as burnt out by the end of the race (I even had my first burpee-free race at Saturday’s Sprint!).
As far as the obstacles went, I think they made some solid choices for last weekend, even if I did miss the sled drag and the rope traverse. They had some of the classics much earlier than I expected (rope climb, Herc hoist), a dreaded one (the tire flip, 200 lbs for women and 400 lbs for men), and included the new ones they premiered last month (Twister and Bender).
They had Stairway to Sparta as well, atop a ridge that overlooked the festival area, so when you climbed to the top the view was both breathtaking and vertigo-inducing as you saw the entire festival area below. It was a cool experience, and probably one of my favorite obstacles this time for that very reason.
Overall, the obstacles were enjoyable and challenging as ever (especially when Spartan switched up the rig on us from only rings on Saturday to a multi-rig on Sunday). This weekend, I could tell that my training is starting to pay off, as little-by-little, obstacles I once thought impossible are becoming easier and easier to complete every time. Twister and Olympus (barely completed day 1, failed day 2) remain my nemeses though, so we’ll see how those pan out next time.Lastly, I have to hand it to Spartan: it’s not always mentioned, but the spectator experience was fantastic. They grouped a ton of obstacles in the corral at the end, right by the festival area (A-Frame, Olympus, the Rig, Atlas Carry, Spear Throw, Dunk Wall, Slip Wall, Fire Jump), which had plenty of seating for spectators. If you wanted to watch the rope climb, Herc Hoist, barbed wire crawl, Bucket Brigade, or Bender, those were just a short walk away.
The beer garden was right next to the corral, so you could watch the obstacles in there, or the start line, or look up to the ridge and watch racers climb over Stairway to Sparta. The festival area was huge, so it seemed like there were more booths, more activities, and plenty of space so it never felt like wall-to-wall people.
As someone who focuses more on the race itself, I never really take note of the spectator experience, but this one was particularly well-executed, so kudos to you, Spartan. The hours we spent hanging out, watching racers and taking photos after our own race were very enjoyable (and shout out to the many wonderful people I met this weekend – so many friendly racers!).
–I was finally prepared for a Spartan weekend! I learned my lesson last month, put in some hard work, and it paid off with my first burpee-free race on Saturday, and a not-as-many-burpees-as-last-month race on Sunday.
–Be prepared for the technical runner’s courses, because it’s only a matter of time before you encounter one yourself. OCR is as much about running as it is the obstacles, and you want to make sure you’re running safely as well, so you can make it through the rest of the season without a broken ankle.
-With the Sprint on Saturday, and the Super on Sunday, I had to get strategic. Either I chose one that I really wanted to go all out with, or I had to pace myself and have a solid outing both days (I did the latter).
Saturday’s Sprint Elite Winners:
Sunday’s Super Elite Winners:
*I want to take a moment to mention that our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the three members of the Colorado Obstacle Racers team that, while driving to this Arizona race on Friday night, were hit by a drunk driver. Two of the racers survived but are in critical condition, and one died at the scene. There is a GoFundMe you can donate to here to support all three racers and their families . We would like them to know that we and the OCR community will do whatever we can to support you and provide help wherever it’s possibly needed. Our hearts and thoughts are with you.