The Spartan Sprint

The Spartan Sprint, South London - 30th August, 2014

Photos by Christina Koutoula and Tavisha Fernando

Film shot with a Garmin Virb Elite Action Camera (see our review of the camera Here).

Fire jump 2

First up, for an idea of what the course was like, have a look at this short film we made whilst taking part.

There were 3,000 people signed up to take part in this event but by midday, about the time that our Trek and Run team had finished, an extra 1,200 had turned up hoping to race. Perhaps the good weather had something to do with the turnout or maybe there’s more to it regarding sporting trends, or marketing, who knows. Whatever the reasons it was good to see so many people streaming into the event village and nobody was turned away. We didn’t envy the late starters though, as those of us on the early waves had messed the course up pretty good, so the later waves were in for a muddy, slippery time…

The film shows you what the event was like.

A couple of extra things worth mentioning were firstly that the check in process was really easy and flexible. We were meant to fill in a waiver form before the event, then print that out and bring it, along with photo ID, on race day to collect our race headband and timing chip. But I was off trekking for 3 weeks until the morning of the event so couldn’t do the waiver online, and I forgot my photo ID (yes, I’m useless, it’s true). At other events, usually club runs or the larger marathons, if you don’t do exactly what they say they won’t let you run but with the Spartan the marshals use their common sense. A few minutes of computer checking was enough to work out what race number I was and that was that, no problem at all.

Another point was that the feel of the course was slightly different to last year, with frequent water to wade through between runs and obstacles which for me helped with the recovery process. If it were a colder day (like last year when we did the Spartan Beast in November) I wouldn’t have enjoyed the water crossings quite as much but this was August and the sun was out, sort of, so wading through chest high bogs was refreshing and a lot of fun.

There was also a much more social feel to this event than the Beast last year. Spectators were invited in for free and it seemed that apart from a few people at the very front of the heat who were aiming to win the event everybody else was happy to help each other out if needed, like at the 12 foot wall where you really needed a leg up to get up and over. It was less about finishing fast than about working as a team and helping others to achieve their goals.

Personally I’m pretty rubbish at the obstacles that involve upper body strength but I still enjoy the Spartan events; the water challenges are great, as are the spear throwing and fire jumping, and actually there’s only a couple of obstacles that somebody like me who never trains at all struggle with (the rope climb and the monkey bars). All the rest are within everybody’s reach, with a little help from your team mates.

A frame cargo net

A final improvement from last year was the post race goodies. A pint of Coors Light, a Whey Hey protein ice cream, T-Shirt, Medal, Flapjack and Coconut Water; lucky for us the weather was by then perfect and we could sit and enjoy it all as we watched several other waves of Spartans head off in our footsteps.

VIRB Picture

Part 2 by Dave Sherman

“SPARTANS!  WHAT IS YOUR OCCUPATION!!!” came the cry from the top of a van…  “WE ARE SPARTANS!” we all shouted back followed by chants of “AROO!  AROO!  AROO!!”  A year ago team Trek and Run had tackled the Spartan Beast and although it had been tough, we’d all had a great time.  However it was obvious we’d be tackling a new kind of beast today…  A new challenge which had been hyped so much leading to the event I was genuinely couldn’t wait to tackle it… this was Spartan Race 2014.

Day 1 – The Spartan Sprint – 5k with 15 obstacles

To be honest our Spartan experience didn’t start in the best way as we approached Pippingford Park at 8:30am Saturday morning and encountered a  monster traffic queue!   We later discovered this was because an additional 1,200 people had chosen to register on-the-day resulting in a flood of cars entering the car-park at exactly the same time, however eventually we made it into the car-park, were handed baggage bags, and were parked up and heading down a hill towards the festival area.  I won’t speak too much about differences from last year as many readers probably didn’t take part last year, however the first major change we noticed was how much activity was already taking place within the festival area compared to the previous year.  Alongside the expected registration, baggage drop and medical tents were a number of retail stalls (Reebok had an excellent trailer displaying their new trail/obstacle range), a number of food outlets, and best of all a training area featuring hay bales and a 10ft rope climb.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to play with these by the time we’d dropped off our baggage and completed our usual pre-race routine, and so it was time to head to our starting area and after a welcome message from Operations Director Richard Pringle (who surely must’ve lost his voice after screaming through 14 waves over the weekend), the air-horn sounded and we were off…

Dave’s video shows most of the obstacles so I won’t go into too much detail about them, however it was obvious the course layout had been well thought through as the majority of the distance involved trail running, hills and the odd wade through a muddy bog, river or lake, however every time you heard the roar of the crowd and sound of music you knew you were heading back towards the main festival arena where the biggest and best obstacles were located.  Our first trip back into the arena presented us with a barbed wire tunnel crawl through thick mud followed by a 12ft high A-frame cargo net climb, then 5 muddy hills – each hill followed straight after with a deep muddy trench.  The next time we entered the arena we were faced with a muddy lake, a sideways climb along a wall using wonkily spaced wooden handholds - tough on its own but even tougher with slippery hands thanks to the lake - closely followed by the dreaded Monkey Bars!

And of course these weren’t just your usual playground Monkey Bars… reaching them involved climbing up a 10ft structure followed by swing out over a muddy pool as you tackled the bars!  One major plus here was that participants were able to approach the obstacle from either end with the aim of reaching a ball in the centre of the structure, which meant 6 people could  tackle the challenge at one time resulting in less queues.  In fact, with all obstacles there was plenty of room for between 6 and 12 people to tackle the obstacles at the same time and at no point did I find myself waiting long to take part in a challenge.

Rope climb

The third time we entered the arena was the dreaded 20ft rope climb and of course I grabbed the rope, realised I haven’t actually got a clue how to climb a rope, and then dropped straight back to the floor ready for my 30 burpees – fail!  This was followed by the Herculean Hoist which involved using a rope and pulley to raise a gas canister 30ft up in the air then lowering it back down again, then back out into the woods again for our final trail section.  As we re-entered the arena we encountered our final Spartan challenges of a spear throw, a sharp run up an A-frame slope with a cargo net on the other side, and then it was the famous epic Spartan leap through the fire providing a great photo opportunity just before we crossed the finish line – Spartan Sprint complete!  As we passed through the finish area we were handed our finishers medals,  cup of water, official Spartan Race t-shirt and what we first thought was a flyer for future events, but was actually a multi-voucher entitling finishers to: A cool can of Coors lager, bottle of Vita Coco coconut water, Chia Charge flapjack, Whey Hey pot of protein ice cream (22g of protein in one small 150ml tub!) and 35g pack of Urban Fruits – not bad considering last year our finish-line goodies had consisted of just a t-shirt, medal and car bumper sticker!

Unfortunately there’s another minor moan coming here as when I went to retrieve my bag from the baggage tent we encountered 4 separate queues of around 50 people apiece, partly due to the sheer volume of people who’d arrived early but also because people collecting and dropping off bags were mixed into the same queues, although it was clear there were plenty of people working hard within the baggage drop marquee as well as great organisation of bags within the tent so once you eventually reached the front your bag was located quickly.  Following a quick change of clothes we watched some of the later waves tackle the main arena obstacles as well as the Junior Spartan events taking place within the main arena, then it was a tough walk back uphill to the car-park and home to relax ready for the Spartan Super the following day.  I won’t lie, although I’d really enjoyed  the event I was worrying slightly as I felt incredibly tired and panic was starting to set in whether I’d be able to manage another obstacle course so soon after today’s one – especially one which was 8km longer with an extra 6 obstacles!  As I fell asleep in the car on the journey home I started having nightmares about Monkey Bars and burpees…

Finish line sprint

Day 2 – The Spartan Super – 13k with 21 obstacles

As the morning of the Spartan Super arrived we set out early to allow extra time for the expected queue at the entrance, but as we approached Pippingford Park again it was clear we needn’t have worried as we drove straight in and parked within minutes of arrival.  It’s amazing how small changes can make such a huge difference and how fast Spartan’s organisers had been able to react to the previous day’s issues, and by simply moving the volunteers collecting the £5 parking fee further inside and handing out baggage bags as you parked rather than as you drove in, the queue was eliminated and in no time we were heading down to the festival area ready to tackle the Spartan Super course.  A combination of early arrival plus quick parking meant we had more time to spend in the event village pre-race and we made great use of this by heading straight over to the practice area to work on our rope climb technique as let’s face it, if there’s one thing about Spartan Race people want to brag about it’s the fact you defeated the toughest obstacle out there and reached the top of the 20ft rope climb!  To be fair we could’ve studied ‘rope climb technique’ online in preparation however practice makes perfect, and as we arrived at the practice area a fellow Spartan was demonstrating the perfect rope-climb technique, so after a few tips from him we all had a go and after a while felt we’d mastered the technique enough and were ready to try it for real when we got out onto the course.

As expected parts of yesterday’s route were repeated albeit with much more mud where over 2,200 people had churned it up the previous day making muddy sections much more slippery, however the main difference between the Sprint and Super was that all-important 8 extra Kilometres and those 6 extra obstacles.  The extra distance mostly consisted of the type of grassy hills which really tested your legs as you travelled up and down… up and down… complete with grassy lumps interspersed with hidden holes all over the place meaning your had to concentrate where you were stepping, along with some muddy ditches just for good measure!  It’s at this point I should possibly offer the most important advice which I feel every person planning to take part in an obstacle race should heed… Buy a decent pair of trail shoes!!  Yes, you can complete the race in normal trainers and some people expect their trainers to perish and so choose to wear a knackered old pair of running trainers with the intention of chucking them afterwards, but the amount of people I saw slip and slide throughout the course – even more so on day 2 when the mud had been nicely churned up – really was amazing and every one of them had opted for flat soled running shoes.

The other major change from the Sprint was the extra 6 obstacles which included carrying 2 metal boxes of a similar size and weight to car batteries round a course, flipping a giant tractor tyre 4 times, dragging a concrete filled tyre around a course, and what at first appeared to be a simple log carry, until I realised we had to trudge through a muddy bog containing submerged obstacles (possibly logs dropped by previous racers).  We encountered the final new obstacle as we re-entered the arena which consisted of a series of 5 hanging rings suspended from a metal frame - a smaller scale version of the 90’s TV show ‘Gladiators’ challenge ‘Hang Tough’.  Other slight changes to the obstacles included lowering the monkey bars to 6ft which meant you could now use the bank to steady yourself as you started however taller competitors would now find their legs dragging in the water below adding to the challenge, and we now had to carry 2 Jerry Cans instead of the 1 we’d carried the previous day.  In my pre-race interview Richard Pringle, Spartan’s Operations Director, had warned us to “get ready to carry some stuff” and on the day it was clear he hadn’t been joking!  The rope climb hadn’t changed at all, however this time using the new techniques we’d been taught all 4 of us managed to reach the top with no problems – result!

With Richard and Dan

After the event I had a quick chat with Richard and Dan Tuffnell, Spartan UK’s Race Director, and as I’d found when I interviewed them both previously, the enthusiasm and pure love for their event was clear as they described how fantastic the feedback they’d received during the opening weekend had been despite some pretty major difficulties including 2 containers which hadn’t turned up containing a number of obstacles, marquees and even vital power equipment which could’ve caused major last second panic had they not been able to find a work-round!   Dan also described how he’d been listening to people as he walked to the car-park and was really enjoying all the great comments he’d over-heard and although he wouldn’t let too many secrets out he told me he couldn’t wait for all the events yet to happen including Spartan’s first ever UK Stadium event in May 2015.  Dan and Richard also again expressed their dream of a Spartan Community and I can vouch how their vision was evident throughout both races as I witnessed people helping each other out of lakes, through obstacles and up and over muddy hills, and as I listened to banter between friends and spoke with some of my fellow Spartans throughout the running sections of the course it was obvious the community Dan and Richard spoke about is coming together with each event.  After he’d collected his winners prize I also spoke with Sam Cherry who’d won today’s Spartan Super in an amazing time of 1 hour 4 minutes (a whole 4 minutes quicker than we’d completed the 5k Spartan Sprint the previous day!) and Sam told me how he always keeps coming back to the Spartan events as they have the best atmosphere and the obstacles are always big and brutal!   He’d finished 2nd at the first event the previous day (beaten by only 52 seconds by Conor Hancock) however Sam said he’d be tackling the Spartan Sprint again in Cambridge the following week and the Spartan Beast in October, and we wish him the best of luck with both events.

Winners podium

As I walked up the hill to the car-park I was shocked how great I felt compared to the previous day, and I think a lot of that came down to the infectious atmosphere I’d felt throughout the day mixed with excitement about what is to come as Spartan Race grows under its new leadership, and evolves into the biggest Obstacle Race series in the UK.  Admittedly there was also an element of melancholy knowing I’d be unable to return to Pippingford Park on October 11th for the Spartan Beast which meant my coveted Trifecta medal was still out of reach for another year, although maybe that’s a good thing as it gives me a great excuse to tackle the Sprint, Super and Beast again in 2015!  AROO!!!

Fire jump

Part 3 by Stuart Obbard

This weekend I have ran in both The Spartan Sprint and The Spartan Super and I must say I feel very proud of my achievements.

I will start with the Spartan Sprint which was held on Saturday.  We have had a lot of rain recently and from my experience at this venue having ran the Spartan Beast last November I knew the ground would be very boggy, this was confirmed when we arrived and one of the parking attendants told me and fellow runners they had towed a dozen cars out of the venue the day before. This started me thinking and doubting if I had done enough training to battle the boggy ground.  As the team and I walked to the event village I could see some of the big obstacles we were expecting, the 20ft rope climb, the monkey bars, the cargo nets and the fire jump. My nerves were kicking in and I was thinking how many of the forfeit “burpees” was I going to have to do as I am not the strongest when it comes to the upper body. So between the running through bogs and these upper body obstacles I was starting to talk myself out of the run before it had even started. Now I know I had done the Spartan Beast last year but at that time I was getting three PT sessions as part of my Police training but since I have passed out I have been concentrating on my road running and I know this is very different.

We arrived at the start line and the Spartan “Aroo’s” started and the warm up of 3 burpees, I could see this race was going to be spent doing a lot of burpees. As the countdown begun for the start I forgot about my nerves and we were off. The race went off at a bit of a pace and within in 500ft we were running up a hill and my confidence started to grow as I over took people that were in front of me and before I knew it I was over the first wall, through the second wall and soon to be off downhill to some water. I was feeling good and my legs were thriving from the cold water and mud. Before I knew it we were heading back out to the race village and over the cargo net getting cheered on by the crowds, this gave me a lift, we then went through the mud trenches and back of into the bog, through the woods and up a hill to a sand bag carry, my energy was starting to sap a little but luckily there was a downhill coming up.

Once through the woods and water we were back in the event village, first up was a little water ditch, then a wooden traversing climbing wall which I flew over this and then came the monkey bars  “Here are the first lot of burpees” I thought, I climbed up the ladder and after 4 swings I was in the water so got out and did the burpees before heading back into the woods.

Off up another hill to the Atlas stones, I picked them up with a technique I had learnt last year for the Beast, now I felt like a Strongest man contender. Then a few more obstacles and back through the woods to the event village for the 20ft rope climb, I jumped up grabbed the rope and then my mind went blank and couldn’t think what to do next so fell to the ground and more burpees, next up was a gas canister pull before heading off into the woods again. We then came across a few more obstacles before a 10ft wall and after using the step there I went back round and over I went without using it, we ran down hill towards the event village again and came to the Spartan Spear throw, guess what I missed and had burpees. Then over an a frame and on to the fire, which I was pleased to see was the last obstacle before the end, the Team and I leaped over and finished.

Total Burpees for the day was 93 but total injuries Zero so I would say this was a successful day at the office. The free can of beer, ice cream, flap jack and coconut water went down very well and the medal was pretty big which helped me forget about the burpees.

Off home we went and the first thing I did was look on the internet on how to climb a rope as I knew the technique was going to surely help. As I was running the next day I went against the grain and ate a Chinese and had a few beers, this helped me relax ready for The Spartan Super.

Sunday morning I woke up early and to my surprise I wasn’t feeling stiff and there was no pain anywhere, today was a new day and I seemed to have found some confidence.

As soon as we had  checked our bags in someone said “let’s go practice our rope climbing” and led me over to a practice area. I hadn’t paid attention to this the day before and I must say this is a great idea,  I was reminded what I had seen on the internet about how to climb the rope. Up I went and I felt my confidence grow as I reached the top, even though its only 10 foot high, as I came down a 4 year old went to it and went up quicker and more gracefully than I did.

Off to the start line and away we went, the first half of the race was the same as the day before and I found my legs feeling OK and not heavy from the day before. I was being pushed along by the team and by the time we had got to the monkey bars I was feeling positive about this race. Up I climbed and I started swing across before I knew it I was off running again without having to do any burpees. Into to the woods we went, this time there was more running across country and I was enjoying this. We were met with more obstacles and I felt stronger than I did the day before,  I find the human body pretty special in that even when it should be hurting it finds a way to continue and feel stronger.

After a while we came to the rope climb and I stood at the bottom and took a breath. Up I jumped, grabbing hold of the rope and wedging it around the back of my right leg, under the right foot and over my left leg, with my legs bent I stood up whilst squeezing the feet together. I found myself stand up and I had it I thought, with three or four of these techniques I was at the top and my face was beaming with joy, I slid down the rope and gave high fives to the team as we had all managed to get to the top. My confidence was sky high now and if I was feeling pain I didn’t realise.

By the time we got back towards the 10ft wall I was buzzing as I had managed to get around this course without doing any burpees and my body was holding up better than I had imagined on the Saturday morning. Over the wall I went and to the spear throw, surely I can get this in the target? No! 30 burpees as it bounced out. After this we had two more obstacle before the fire. One giant karate kick over the fire and we were running to the finish. Total burpees for the day was 30 as there was none during the warm up. I was pleased as punch with my performance today.

I would say that the weekend was successful overall and my body has held up well and am thinking I will be off for another run tomorrow as the body feels good.

For any future Spartans or Obstacle course runners I would recommend you get prepared by practicing the techniques if you are able to. This helped me on the second day and gave me a massive confidence boost. I would also say that Burpees are a must for training!

Part 4 by Steve Kimberley

The main thing that I have taken from the Spartan Sprint with me, the shining beacon of achievement that overshadows all else, is that I am no longer a mere obstacle course runner. Oh my, no! I am now a Spartan: ready to take on any obstacle that life throws at me! And I have a headband to prove it!

Now I have done a fair amount of obstacle-based courses over the last couple of years, and they have become somewhat of a favourite of mine. While I am a relatively slow runner, I have found that I’m good at the obstacle side of it meaning that I can still do pretty well in obstacle races. So naturally I was looking forward to an intensive but overall enjoyable assault course that I might even find a bit of a breeze. The Spartan Sprint however, had other ideas.

What I found surprising about the race village upon the team’s arrival was that, although it was busy, it remained surprisingly quiet. This may have just been that we were the first wave of the day and everyone was still waking up, but still it struck me as strange because the buzz in the air as our start time approached ever closer was unmistakable. As I looked around at many of our fellow runners I wasn’t surprised to see a fair amount of muscle bound guys who feel that the wind drag caused by a shirt would add far too much to their finishing time that it was best to go without.

After the grizzly cry of ‘let battle commence’, the packed Elite wave got off to a thunderous start. Huge numbers of advanced runners sprinted off to try and gain an intimidating early lead, which made me wonder if I was far slower than I had thought. Or were these guys just a bit over excited?

After an initial sprint, you head out into the thick of the surrounding trees and the race becomes what it will remain as for the rest of the course: an uphill struggle!

After conquering the seemingly giant uphill run, and feeling worryingly short of breath this far into the race, we found ourselves leaping over ditches, trudging through thick muddy banks. The course is also littered with ice-cold water crossings that can reach up to chest-high for you to plunge into and have to struggle to keep your shoes on in the thick muddy floors. Over the course I saw several people struggling to retrieve lost shoes from the murky depths, while several others had simply given up and continued the race barefoot.

A huge mistake that I made, showing my naivety of the course, was that I wore a lightweight sprint shoe designed for track and road use. I had imagined that this would make me light on my feet, giving me a barefoot feel while tackling obstacles. But while this kind of footwear has done well for me in the past, the wet, muddy and grassy terrain of the Spartan sprint, mixed with the regular juxtaposition of uphill and downhill track, made me struggle to stay upright at multiple times during the race.

I mean it’s one thing to fall because you’re clumsy or weren’t watching where you were going, but to slip over because of a muddy downhill track is so undignified. Eventually I completely fell at one of the water crossings but luckily our Trek and Run camera expert didn’t capture it for the world to see. I would in future strongly recommend anyone doing a Spartan race to wear a trail running shoe to help avoid any slip related injuries.

Interspersed in quick succession throughout the first half of the course was some of my old favourites. Wooden walls and climbing nets provided the more traditional obstacles, however the uphill sandbag carry really threw me. Now I’m more than experienced with the ‘carry the heavy thing’ obstacles, yet this combined with running uphill with an awkward sandbag was probably one of the toughest obstacles that I have ever done!

Something about this brilliant course that really disappointed me was the monkey bars. While I put in lots of effort in the gym to achieve an upper body strength capable of supporting my body weight with ease, attempting the metal monkey bars, moments after emerging from a muddy water crossing made the monkey bars more about not slipping off than actually supporting your body weight.

Shortly after the fateful monkey bar climb, the rope-climb and gas canister pulley obstacles were extremely enjoyable obstacles that I was not used to seeing in races of this sort.

Finally, as we approached the finish line and re-entered the race village to the sound of the next wave preparing to head off on what I now knew would be one of the toughest things that most of them had ever done, we took a final leap across the flame pit as a team and crossed the finish line with much relief!

Overall I was delighted with the Spartan sprint race and would strongly recommend the event to anyone interested in taking part in an obstacle course race. Although my advice to them would be to prepare yourself! Wear appropriate footwear, get lots of training in, and possibly look into attending one of Spartan races training camps which will provide excellent tips on how to tackle some of the tougher obstacles (see my previous review on the Spartan training camp for more details)

To discover more about the Spartan events (this was just the first of the years British events, there are loads more, check the website out for details), please see http://uk.spartanrace.com/events

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