I was super excited when Spartan Race announced that they were throwing a stadium race in Washington D.C.. It’s not too far of a drive from me and I’ve always wanted to run one. This was the perfect opportunity and I signed up right away. I had been looking forward to this race for some time and set my ambitions high.
The summer of 2017 will be a memorable one, especially those folk around the mid-Atlantic area, as it has been a very hot one. We had a heat wave that lasted for several weeks where it was close to or over 100 degrees (F) everyday. Combine high temps with the humidity in the area and you’ve got a recipe for some very uncomfortable days. Race day was no exception. Strangely enough, it was only around 86 when I crossed the finish line, but it felt so much hotter. They were reporting the heat index was going to be as high as 110 that day, and I believe it. Even sitting in the shade left you sweating heavily. It was definitely a good day to do a race that was mostly shady and had parts that were climate controlled!
As with anything, your first experience with an event is going to be parking, which was a breeze. It’s a stadium so they have parking in the area to accommodate the crowds. The parking deck was open and easily accessible. When I left the stadium, however, there was quite a line backed up to get in, so I am glad I got there early. It was a quick walk to the registration tents from the parking deck and that lead you right into the festival area. The festival area wrapped around the stadium, so it had a little bit of a different feel than most Spartan Race festival areas. Being that it was much longer and much more narrow it got pretty crowded in there. Add in the body heat and sweat and it wasn’t a place you really wanted to hang out for too long.
They have a different start method for the stadium races than they do for the normal races. You still crowd into the corral like normal, 4ft wall and everything, but you all don’t start at the same time. I suppose this is prevent too much of a bunch up through the narrow passage ways you have to traverse as you make your way through the course. Instead, they gathered 15 Spartans and released them, gathering up the next 15, and so on. There was a spread of around 30 second between each wave. It seemed pretty effective, as I don’t recall there being too many crowded spots. But unless you get into the corral early you aren’t *really* starting at your start time; it’ll be a few minutes after.
The Stadium Sprint is a little shorter than a traditional Sprint, this one coming in at 3.5 miles, so just over a 5k distance. Because of this they obstacles were a little more bunched up which added another level of difficulty you don’t get with a traditional race. They hit you with the “barbed wire crawl” right away. Since it’s a stadium with no mud, rather than use real barbed wire they strung up bungee cords that you had to get under. There were a little higher than normal and let you bear crawl under them. This was good because crawling on your hands and knees on the hard surfaces is pretty uncomfortable. Not only were you bear crawling, but they did it up a ramp. Actually, up several ramps. My best guess had us going up six 100 foot long ramps. It was agonizing. My quads were shot by the end. I tried rolling like you would in a traditional crawl, and it worked, but going uphill was really taxing and I had to go back to crawling.
After this, as you can imagine it was a lot of flat running, a lot of running up the stairs, running through the seats, and running down stairs. Most of your traditional obstacles were there, like the over walls and the Z-Wall (which is missing the middle portion, which was interesting). Since they are missing water obstacles and have space limitations they incorporate some variations of traditional obstacles or new obstacles all together. For example, the Atlas Carry wasn’t a sphere, but more of a block and the Farmer’s Carry was done with Jerry Cans, which are 55lbs (25kg) jugs of water. Some of the new obstacles were things like The Rolling Epic, which had your feet on a little square board with 4 wheels. You had to use your hands to pull yourself a specified distance, your feet rolling on the board. They also had a Battle Rope jump rope obstacle and a section with pushups. They had a rig, which was mostly rings, but at the end there were two baseball grips you had to grab to get to the bell. I thought that little homage to the venue was a nice touch.
I really liked this event. I thought I would enjoy this race just as much as a trail race, but for different reasons. You don’t get wet or muddy and because, while there is a lot of up and down, there is also a lot of firm, flat ground you’re running on. That combined that with the shorter distance made finishing times a little faster than you’d get in a traditional race. I am a little better at running stairs than I am hills for some reason, and in particular I feel like I can descend stairs quite quickly. I was really hyped up and excited for my finish in this race. It’s for that reason I was so crushed when I crossed that finish line. I didn’t even come close to my goal time. I really thought I could easily finish in an hour and my stretch goal was 45 minutes. I ended up finishing in 1:20…
I think that I was my own worst enemy in this race. First was the heat. I don’t do well in the heat and I think that I let it get in my head that it was “too hot” before the race even started. Next were those dang bear crawls. I knew I had a lot of race left since these guys were right in the beginning of the race. I knew that most of this race was going to be going up and down the stairs, so I didn’t want to burn my quads out too early, so I ended up being in a situation where I lost a lot of time in the crawls, my quads were tired, and then I took the stairs way too easy, because I was trying to pace myself. I think that pacing is important, but when you pace yourself the entire race you’re really just holding yourself back. I have been really wanting to nail the spear throw and the rope climb. These are two obstacles I haven’t ever conquered and I am tired of doing burpees! It’s not even the effort I mind, but burpees slow me down so much. So I’ve been working on these two in my free time. I still don’t feel great about either, but I am making progress. I was really thinking I was going to get the spear throw this time. When I missed the spear throw (just barely!) I was crushed. The tone of my race was completely different after that. I begrudgingly did my burpees and trudged on over the couple of short walls and took my time doing the box jumps. I didn’t have it in me anymore, I lost the spark of competition and the rest of my race suffered because of it.
A negative attitude and an OCR event don’t mix well. After that I was even more angry when I struggled a little with the 8 foot wall, I was mad when my 45 minute time ticked by and even more mad when I was doing burpees after the rig and the hour mark passed. I might as well have walked in the rest of the race; I had no motivation left to push myself. I then failed the rope climb. I did get on the rope, and stayed there for a moment, but didn’t feel I had the energy to do it and just took my burpees.
I finished the race upset, disappointed, angry, foolish, and bitter. I wasn’t even sore the next day. That’s a clear indication that I held back way too much in the race. It took me a couple of days to get over it and clear my head, but I decided, rather than let it get me down, that I’d use it as motivation to kick my training up a notch. I learned a lot about myself and about racing that day and while I didn’t do as well as I had hoped I am grateful for it, because I won’t have another performance like that again. We are all going to have bad days and bad races, but it’s critical to not let ourselves get defined by those moments. This whole race was an obstacle for me, and it wasn’t pretty, but I completed it. I am stronger and better for it and I can’t wait to do it again!