A couple weeks ago I did the Spartan Race Sprint in AT&T Park. Despite the fact that I did a Tough Mudder way back when it wasn’t even cool yet and despite the fact that I know everything about obstacle course races after working on my documentary this spring, I’ve never actually done a Spartan Race. I’ve never actually really raced one of these obstacle things either, because the few I’ve done have always been casually and with friends.
So, I just wanted to try one actually hard. Unfortunately, the only one that fit my schedule was the sprint in AT&T Park—which really does not sound like the kind of thing I’d be good at. Short and heavily strength-based? Definitely!
I realized exactly how over my head I was when I was lined up with the elite heat of women at the start. These were some seriously intense and ripped women—the sort for whom this was exactly the kind of thing they’d be good at. And the announcer guy was making a speech about penalties and warnings on certain obstacles and “when you get to the traverse wall, it’ll be like the standard traverse wall you’re used to seeing…” (hah, right) “…except there will be a gap in the middle. do not put your foot on that gap or you’ll be penalized. and of course you all know how many burpees are the penalty.” (uh?)
I went in the second group of 15 women, so that at least maybe there’d be people in front of me when I got to the obstacles so I could see how to do them. And then I enacted my plan: run hard, because the running is the only thing you’re going to be good at here.
It worked ok. As in, I would get a decent gap when we had to run up and down and up, up, up, and around the stadium, and then I’d have to take my time figuring out what the hell I was doing on some obstacle. I mean, I got the gist, but my technique was off. At one point, on the 8-foot wall climb, I was hanging upside down backwards from both my knees and the official/volunteer guy was looking at me like he wasn’t sure if that was penalty or not, because he’d never seen anyone do it that way before. And, of course, 6-7 women passed me when I missed the target on the spear throw and had to do my penalty burpees. (FYI, it’s a 30-burpee penalty.) But, and this is a huge but, the spear throw was the only obstacle I missed. I got through the weird monkey bars and the rope climbs and the Herculean hoist thing (even though it was basically my body weight that I was trying to hoist and the weight kept dragging me around through the sand instead of me dragging it).
It was really an exercise in deliberate-ness. I mean look at how deliberate I was being:
I really, really didn’t want to get hurt. And, at one point, I was running down concrete stairs, between hard plastic chairs, and then down across the benches in the outfield seats, so that I was stepping from bench to bench, and I thought, “You could really mess yourself up on these; it wouldn’t even be hard.”
Expo/Goodies: Spartan Race isn’t really about the goodies? I think. I dunno. At least not at these stadium races. You got a t-shirt and a sweat armband and a medal for finishing. And I think that was it. There might have been some bananas and water somewhere too. But part of the problem with these stadium races—as opposed to their usual ones outdoors—is that there simply isn’t that much room. Everything is a little cramped in the stadium halls, so there’s no big expo. And it was hard to even find water. The woman at one of the concession stands told me she couldn’t give me a cup of water, but she could sell me some. Awesome.
Course: It’s more or less what you would think it would be inside a stadium. You run up a lot of stairs. Like, if you don’t want to run up and down stairs, do not do this race. And then, in between running up and down stairs, you do some pretty standard strength obstacles: push-ups, heavy jump rope, stone carry, box jumps, rope climbs, walls to get over, etc. It’s cool being able to run on the field, but it’s sort of a mess running through the stadium rows. It’s fun, and that’s what you signed up for, but concrete is not particularly forgiving.
Organizational Details: On the one hand, props for putting on a 5k race inside a major sports stadium inside a major city. That takes some organizing. On the other hand, it was a bit unorganized. Where is the start? Where are results? Where is water? And I was there really early, so I was able to park on the street immediately in front of the park and still be done before the parking restrictions went into effect at 9 a.m. I’m not sure how parking and logistics worked out for other people later. The main problem was that because you were running all over the stadium there was a lot of yellow tape up to direct you in and out of doors and around columns, etc, but it was still a little unclear at times—and you’re running full speed, because this is only 40 minutes long—and some of the stadium staff (as opposed to the volunteers with the race or the Spartan staff) could not have been less happy to be there. They did not care that you were running a race. So it was more than slightly frustrating to be charging hard down the concrete walkway and have the person standing there shrug when you asked which way to go.
On the whole, though, it’s a fun race and a good kind of wacky mix-up from your regular races. If you want to race hard, then go in the elite wave at the beginning, but know that means you can’t get any help on the obstacles. And, because they can only send off 15 people at a time in the cramped corridors, you still won’t really know how you’re stacking up as you go. (ie. I went off in the second group of 15 and I ended up 12th woman overall. So I guess I beat some people ahead of me and a couple behind me beat me? Maybe.)
Also, there’s an attitude to Spartan Race that I sort of respect. Like, you might hurt yourself running across benches over concrete. Guess you should be careful. And, when I would catch guys in front of me, they’d move over and get out of the way or let me go first, because let’s be real: if I’m catching you, with your 10 minute head start, then you’re not in contention to win anything, and it would considered very bad form to not get out of the way. At one point, we were just running up and up and up, and usually when things hurt in a race I think, ‘well, they wouldn’t make something that I can’t do,’ but then I thought, ‘this is Spartan, they might.’ At least more than most mass commercialized races. And I sort of respect that.