Thursday, August 20, 2015

Guest Post: Spartan Race Review 2015

As many of you know, the 2015 Chicago Spartan event was over the weekend. As I was sipping on iced chais in Leavenworth, WA at Bird Camp, my friend Brian was busy busting his butt out on the Spartan course. He's been gracious enough to put together a blog post describing his experience. I hope you enjoy things from his perspective! (My review from last year's race can be found here.) Special thanks to Brian for taking the time to type up such a thoughtful post on a great race! I don't know what my race schedule will be next year, but I plan to make room for Spartan!


I love the Spartan Race. Let’s just start off there. While I’ve run numerous road races of varying distances, I’ve more recently been captivated by CrossFit (a whole other topic that I won’t try to tackle here) and have essentially given up running for anything other than as part of CrossFit workouts.

That said, nothing gets me out and running quite like the opportunity to run through the trees, mud and water, tackling obstacles and basically just acting like a kid again. Warrior Dash and the like are fun opportunities to get muddy with your friends, but to me Spartan Race represents a true challenge, both physically and mentally. So, when Spartan Race comes to the Chicago area, you can pretty much be sure that I’ll be there. Of the three Spartan Races I’ve run (one Sprint, two Supers), this was by far the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.
Team CFNL Pre-Race – Julie, Betsy, Brian, Jared, Brian (me) and Andy

For my first time ever, I talked some of my friends into joining me for a little Saturday run through the woods, ravines, creeks and obstacles Spartan set up at Cliff’s Terrain Park in Marseilles, IL. Of the six members of Team CrossFit New Lenox, only two of us had run a Spartan before, so with four Spartan virgins we made an executive decision to start together and finish together, no matter what. Certainly a different approach than I’ve taken in the past, but also certainly worth it.

As always, Spartan Race is incredibly well organized, from the time you get to the parking lot (I highly recommend shelling out the extra $40 for the “VIP” parking on-site to avoid the need to park a mile away and either walk or ride the school bus shuttle), through registration, bag check and into the starting areas. While waiting for our start time, there was plenty to keep us busy, including pull-up challenges (not my forte!), rope climb practice areas, slack line challenges, etc. as well as the merchandise and sponsor tents. As one who tends to get nervous as race time approaches, it’s nice to have opportunities to keep busy as the time ticks by.

Unlike Warrior Dash and other races, Spartan Race is fairly strict about enforcing start times, checking each racer’s wristband for the appropriate start time. You are allowed to move back to later heats, but cannot move up to an earlier one without paying an extra fee (Spartan is big on these extra fees). I personally like this as it keeps the start groups to relatively manageable numbers, which is highly important on a course like this that included several stretches of single track that made it very difficult to pass other racers.

In true Spartan Race form, there’s an obstacle to clear before you even get into the starting pen in the form of a five foot high wall. Doesn’t seem like much, and while some needed help getting over, we all made it in safely (although one of our team, to remain nameless, did fall on his first attempt…we’ll just blame it on nerves and the slipperiness of the top of the wall with all the mud from previous start heats). After a rather entertaining “fast” mandatory reading of the safety precautions, which finished with the essential caveat…”You signed the waiver, don’t blame us,” and a few cheers of AROO, AROO, AROO and I AM SPARTAN, we were off.

With the thunderstorms that rolled through the night before the race, the trail was most definitely muddy for much of the race, with the mud the consistency of wet concrete at times. If you’re thinking about taking on Spartan Race, I’d highly recommend investing in some trail shoes. I found some Salomon FellRaisers on a discount site ( for about $50 on clearance, well worth the investment as they’re very comfortable, provide great traction and can be run through the wringer, both literally and figuratively, washed out and be ready for the next race. You may also want to invest in some duct tape to keep your shoes on in the muck, several people lost, or came close to losing, their shoes at various points during the race.

The early parts of the race mainly involved a lot of trail running through the woods, across and through creeks, and up and down plenty of ravines, at times very slick, muddy ravines. Obstacles were fairly well spaced out throughout the approximately 8 mile course, with some grouped together in clusters and others spaced individually. As I mentioned earlier, I think the obstacles are what set Spartan Race apart from other obstacle races…some of these obstacles are seriously challenging, and if you fail, you’re required to do 30 burpees, which we all know suck so try to avoid at all costs.

I lost track of how many obstacles we actually had to tackle, and most are fairly straight forward, but a few highlights (lowlights?) include:

  • Spear Throw – throw a “spear” into a standing haybale target about 20 feet away. Simple, right? Judging by the number of people doing burpees after this obstacle, not so much. Luckily, for the first time in three races, I stuck one so no burpees for me!
  • Rope Climb – pretty straight forward, and something we do at CrossFit fairly regularly, climb a rope about 20’ and ring the bell and move on. However, in this case you have to start from a mud pit about 2-3 feet deep and the ropes were slick with mud. Some ropes have knots to assist you, but as these seemed to be the most popular, and therefore slickest, I recommend trying the non-knotted ropes if you can. No burpees here either!
  • Traverse Wall – basically a wall with blocks of 2x4s placed at varying intervals for hands and feet. Spartan Race threw a curve this year and added two 90 degree turns to the wall, making it that much harder. Unfortunately, my foot slipped off a block about five feet from the end, so 30 burpees for me there.
  • Monkey Bars – something we all probably loved as a kid, but haven’t tried in 20 or 30 years. These bars go up and down as well, traversing about 20-30 feet. Grab some dirt to dry your hands, and just hang on for dear life. As these were nearing the end of the course, there was no way I was dropping for more burpees!
  • “Ninja” Crossing – new to the Chicago Spartan Race, similar to American Ninja Warrior type obstacles where you have to cross approximately 20-30 feet, using rings, ropes and a horizontal bar. Make it across, ring the bell and no burpees.
In addition, there were plenty of wall climbs (where having a team definitely helps as we were allowed to boost each other up when needed), cargo nets, barbed wire crawls, moving heavy objects (sleds, stones, logs, sandbags, etc.) and other challenges. In most cases, we were allowed to help each other when needed, making the course achievable for just about anyone who wants to give it a try.
Team CFNL – The Final Obstacle

One of the great things about Spartan Race is the positive vibe you get from other racers. As soon as you stop along the way, you’re bound to be asked if you’re okay or if you need help. If you’re running alone and need help on an obstacle, someone will always step up to help. When someone is dragging, passersby almost always give at least a positive shout, and often times stop to walk with you or otherwise assist (who knew that mustard packets are a great cure for cramping?).
Team CFNL - Post Race 

Team CFNL - Post Race 

Overall, it was a great day. While certainly not my fastest time, the fact that the six of us started together and finished together as a team made the day that much more fun. I think the fact that one of the “virgins” said immediately after crossing the finish line that she’s ready to sign up for next year says it all. I know I’ll be out there again, hopefully talking more of my friends into joining us on another adventure next year.

Well-earned post-race refreshments!
The Post Race meal at Fergy’s in Seneca…highly recommend!

No comments:

Post a Comment