My first OCR race and first Spartan of the year was the Spartan Sprint in Charlotte, NC. It’s a bit of driving for me to get there, but one must make sacrifices on the quest for glory! I’ll tell you upfront that I had a great time and why I loved this race, but first I’ll give you a breakdown of the race itself.
Just outside of the city the race is held at Porter Farms. It is privately owned, which is kind of nice. I think they were able to do some cool things since you weren’t confined to a specific “venue”. For example, this is the closest I’ve ever been able to park to a festival area; I literally parked a stone’s throw away from the finish line! The course itself was pretty interesting because there are a lot of open fields as well as wooded areas which helped make the course design simple, but still allowed them to send you through different terrain.
Overall the course was pretty flat and fast. Not a whole lot of technical terrain, but there was enough to keep it interesting. The first leg of the race was in the fields. While the ground was technically flat it was quite hard to run on. I think years of tire depressions, farm equipment, and animal hooves made the ground extremely uneven. Every step was different and if you went too fast you would be sure you’d roll an ankle. This uncertainty was compounded by the knee high grasses covering the course. I am sure the thousands of Spartans stomping through there helped resolve both of those issues as the day progressed, but I ran early and missed out on that advantage. The most fun part of the race was dodging all of the cow pies! I feel like every few steps you had to adjust left or right to avoid landing in one. I had more than a few near misses! There’s nothing like dropping down for a burpee to realize your face is mere inches from a big ol’ poo!
The obstacles started early and we’re really well spaced apart. It warmed you up with the hurdles followed by a couple short walls and the over-under-through walls. Despite the uneven terrain the first half of the course was very fast; No significant elevation changes and no burpees to slow you down. Once you got into the woods it got a little more interesting. It was here that you had the most elevation change, still not a lot, but there were a few good hills thrown in from time to time. There was a good amount of climbing/jumping over fallen trees and logs. This course wasn’t too rocky, which is a change from most of the races I’ve done, but it was nice because it allows you to go a little bit faster. I think the most notable terrain component for this race was definitely the amount of water! I was just thinking last year how Spartan Race has really been getting away from the mud lately and we didn’t really get that wet or dirty anymore. Well this race definitely changed that! There were a few really good sections of mud that you had to run through, even some of that deeper mud that tends to steal shoes. There were also a couple of parts where you had to run through a small creek. None of the water was above knee height, but there was enough of it that you couldn’t avoid getting wet and dirty.
Speaking of getting wet and dirty, this course had one of the longest barbwire crawls I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through. I don’t know for sure how long it was, but I heard someone in the festival area say it was the length of a football field (100 yards), and I believe it. Not only was it long but the wire was super low! (It looks like the raised it some for Sunday’s race). And if that weren’t enough almost the entire length of the barbwire crawl was very wet and muddy. And this isn’t that loose, watery mud; This was well churned, thick, clay mud. This is the kind of mud that sticks to you and you end up weighing a few extra pounds when you finally stand back up. This crawl was followed up right away by the atlas carry. The extra mud added a component to this obstacle I hadn’t faced before. Those cement balls are much harder to hold onto when they are covered in thick mud. Dealing with the mud was a trend for the rest of the race. Most of the obstacles after that were muddy and therefore harder to complete. Most notably the Herc hoist, rope climb and monkey bars. The monkey bars were actually the last obstacle and were maybe 100 feet from the finish line. It was heartbreaking seeing so many people having to do burpees right at the end like that. It was even more heartbreaking to join them! I was disappointed to fall off the moneky bars as I have completed them in the past, but on the fourth rung I hit a really slick spot I wasn’t expecting and just couldn’t hang on. I cranked out those burpees, but I know it added a couple of minutes to my time.
I can’t say enough about how fun this race was. It was nice to be able to go out and just run for a bit, enjoying the nature. It wasn’t nearly as punishing as some of the other Spartan races and it didn’t feel like something that needed to be conquered. It would be a great introductory race for anyone that might be interested in doing a Spartan Race but that might be intimidated by it. I think I’m going to go again next year, and I might bring some newbies along with me!
As for my performance in the race I have to say I am, overall, very pleased with it! I finished in a time of 1:40:49. My next fastest sprint was at Ft. Bragg last year and my time was 2:19:14. The Ft. Bragg race was really hot, but the course was super flat and easy. After that my next fastest sprint was my first DC Sprint. My time there was 2:32:14. My time for this race, as you can see, is significantly better than my previous races! I know it’s hard to compare any two races, even at the same venue, but the distances are close enough that a 40 minute improvement isn’t just something that ‘happens’. What’s more is that I know I could have done even better! I didn’t deliberately hold back during the event, but this was my first one, and I’ve had a few injuries, and since I’ve never run the course before I decided to take it cautiously. I spent most of the race pushing myself, but not too hard; most of the time I was out there I was comfortable. If I had really gone for it I think I could have easily shaved a few more minutes off that time. I’m trying not to get too big-headed by my improvements, but I am starting to feel really good about this race season.
I am very proud of myself that I was able to run most of the event. Being that I didn’t want to burn out and/or hurt anything I took the typical strategy of walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills. I was happy to find that I was actually able to stick to this for almost the entire races. I did very little walking at all. I also convinced myself that I needed to be quicker with obstacles. In the past I’d take breathers before and after some obstacles, sometimes even sitting on the ground. I didn’t sit at all this race and I was able to push through all of the obstacles with little delay. I think these two things probably account for my improved finishing time.
As far as the obstacles are concerned I did really well on *most* of them. I was happy that I was able to get over all of the walls without any assistance. I think the tallest was only 7 feet, but I’ve had trouble with those in the past. The bucket brigade and the sandbag carry were non-issues. This is actually the first time I haven’t had to stop to put down my bucket and take a breather, which makes me very happy! I did manage to complete the rig too, though it was only rings, and it was a little short. My left hand was giving out on this one and my foot did hit the ground twice during the transitions. I never let got and I didn’t stand on it, it was more of a graze. I felt like I probably should have done burpees for it, but I did get to the end and ring the bell, so I just kept on going.
I missed the spear throw and the rope climb. I had it in my mind I’d give the rope climb a solid try and I did, I just don’t have the coordination to use my feet on it (I need to get a rope and practice) and I don’t have the grip/upper body strength to just use my hands. Also, because of all the mud the ropes were very slippery. A lot of people were failing this one. The mud also made the herc hoist a lot tougher. At my first race I failed the herc hoist because the rope was so muddy. I was determined to not fail again, so I wrapped the rope two times around my arm and used my body weight to get the bag up. After that it was a cinch. I didn’t manage to get my first attempt at Mt. Olympus. That obstacle is a lot harder than it looks. I got maybe a quarter of the way before I slipped off. Our shoes were really wet from the dew on the grass which made the board really slick. Also, I feel like being taller hurts me on this obstacle as my center of gravity is much further away from my feet. No excuses though, I just need to figure out how to do it! As mentioned I failed the monkey bars. We were all pretty wet and muddy still and I was trying to move too quickly. I think if I had take my time on it and I had been more confident I could have finished it. Lesson learned.
I think this is a great start to my race season. I didn’t do so well in my 5k, but my 10k and my first Sprint have really given me a huge confidence boost. Now I just need to get back on and stay on my training so I don’t lose this progress. I also discovered some weaknesses that I need to work on during this Sprint, like my overall grip strength, but especially my left hand. I’ve got two weeks until my first Savage Race and I am really excited about it! It’s so difficult to go back to work after a race. I am a total addict and I can’t wait for my next race. When I think I have to wait two more weeks I get super bummed out. We will see if I still feel that way at the end of the race season!