September 15, 2023

Racing Spartan

Let me start with a little intro for those of you who are not familiar with Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).  This is a relatively new discipline, which is just making its way to the Olympics in 2028. It is inspired by military obstacle courses. 

Spartan Race is the leading Obstacle Course Race organizer in the US. It organizes a number of types of races and other activities. The most popular though are Sprint – 5K,  Super – 10K, and Beast 21K. If you race of each kind in the same year you get “Trifecta” and Trifecta Weekend is an opportunity to do all three races over 2 days, earning Trifecta as well as a special Trifecta Weekend Medal and recognition for doing it all in one weekend. 

Due to the number of obstacles, technical terrain, and elevation gain those races are a lot harder than distances alone would indicate. They also vary a lot between venues with West Virginia being somewhere in the middle of the pack. 

Over the last few years, I’ve run all these races several times, and even did two races in the same weekend, but this Trifecta Weekend was the first one I took on all three of the races in one weekend. 

Racing Spartan

Epic Fail… almost 

A couple of days before the race I recognized my tickets for some reason had the wrong date on them – August 24/25 instead of 26/27. Support was not responsive… and it took me a while to figure out I have tickets for the 2024 event. Somehow the year is not very clearly visible.   

Thanks to having a Spartan Season pass I could get the tickets for the race at the very last minute without paying the obscene last-minute price it could require.  

Saturday 

I woke up around 5:00 am, so I could have breakfast and have it reasonably digested before I needed to get on the course. Cereal with milk works well for me. I also try to get in some electrolytes to get ahead on hydration.  

My Age group started at 7:45 so I had plenty of time to prepare. It was warm and humid, with some rain overnight but no scorching sun at least not yet. 

When I ran this race two years ago I was quite beat, and ended up walking last quarter of the race. I also had pretty bad cramps. 

This time I planned to run most of the race at 155 beats per minute, so I could keep going until the end and have energy for the next day. 

Obstacles were dry, which made a lot of difference, and being spared of cramping I felt pretty good at the end of the race. 

I finished in 3h 11min, which is almost 30 minutes faster than the race I did in this venue 2 years ago, though I think it was an easier course and cooler weather – some really fun obstacles, such as carrying a log through the shallow lake were removed. 

When it comes to obstacles I failed “Ape Hanger” – I still do not have my full upper body strength after shoulder dislocation last year and Zig Zag wall, where I just somehow lost focus and slipped. Penalties on this race were short penalty loops, so it did not impact time that much.

Race had a lot of water stations – 10 or so, which only served water. Also, you could get a banana on one of the stations mid-race. This means it is a good idea to carry your own food and electrolytes. 

I took 6 gel packs with me and consumed them all – probably could use a couple more. I also consumed one pack of spartan hydration tablets throughout the race. I also made sure to drink at all the water stations, as I tend not to drink enough.

After the race I drank more electrolytes to replenish myself, did some stretching, took a plunge into the ice bath, which was provided on-site, and took off to my hotel, some 20 minutes away. Ate a proper lunch in a nearby restaurant and tried to take a nap, but was too agitated from the race to really do it.

Sunday 

I woke up at about the same time, earlier than my alarm clock went off, I was pretty tired and sore from racing on Saturday. Overcoming that, though, is probably the biggest point of back-to-back races. Same as the day before I ate breakfast and drove to the venue for a 7:30 start. 

It was more cloudy today and of course, was quite wet. Even though I did a warmup I still was quite sore at the start of the race so it was not fun going. One of the first obstacles was Monkey Bars which is usually trivial but today I slipped… It really spoiled my mood for most of the race.  

During the race, while my legs warmed up and started working my grip was still non-existent and my arm muscles were weak and sore.  

I continued to fail obstacles like I had not failed in quite a while, failing Olympus, Zig-Zag walls, and Ape-Hanger. My mood was not great and I had a hard time running at a higher heart rate – most of the time it was below 150, rather than some 165 we planned for. 

I felt as if I did very poorly, though looking at the results later, It was not that much worse than my Beast race on Saturday. 

When it comes to food and hydration – this was a shorter race, under 2 hours, so I did not carry a lot of food with me, just a couple of gels and one pack of hydration tablets. 

After completing Super I had around 3 hours before my final race of the weekend. I had a chance to hydrate well and get some food and my mood improved. Also, the sun came out and dried the course. 

While morning races I’ve done were competitive “Age Group” races, the afternoon race is “Open”, with a more chill crowd, many doing it for fun rather than for fun. It is a lot easier competitive field. 

Based on my experience racing “Open” in the past, I knew I needed to start ahead of the crowds or I would have to wait for possibly long lines at obstacles, while people who had possibly never seen them before attempted to do them.  

I was moving well and quickly started to catch up with the exhausted folks who started 15 minutes earlier. I felt like a Superman and ran quite a fast Clean race, meaning failing no obstacles. 

While exhausted from running some 40km over 2 days and completing around 70 obstacles I was leaving in quite a good mood with a sense of accomplishment. 

Race Notes 

Whether it is Covid impact or just growing popularity, there have been changes coming to Spartan Races, and in my opinion not all good ones. As I mentioned some of the fun obstacles are being removed, also previously penalty for failed obstacles was 30 burpees, and you could get an additional time penalty if you did not do them with a proper form. Now it was simplified to the penalty loop, and not a long one – at a leisurely pace, it took me 1min to 1min 30 sec to complete. 

This change makes Beast in particular very much a runner race – if you’re really good at running you can afford penalty loops, whereas burpees require core and upper body strength and just take much more out of you compared to short runs. 

I also think with races that cost so much to run, they could provide electrolyte drinks and not just water at aid stations. 

Equipment Notes  

I was pretty happy with my nutrition and hydration, though those are really tough for me to judge between different brands. I took Spartan Energy Capsules and Sport Legs before the race, though I can’t be sure if it impacts performance in any way or if it is just a placebo effect in action.

I think food and nutrition were good and impacted my performance positively. I think I can increase my carb intake to some 80g per hour (4 gels) for the next long race. Drinking even more probably would be good too. 

For carrying gels Flipbelt worked very well, in general trail running backpack would do it too, except I like to roll to pass through barbed wire. 

I need to swap my glasses for the next race – the one I have got all scratched up as they’ve been through many races. I also want to try Photochromic lenses to see if I can keep glasses on racing through the shady forest as well as in the sun. 

Another important item is sunscreen – I used Supergoop Play which seems to offer good protection as well as does not irritate my eyes as some other options. Do not forget lip balm too.

What you have on your feet is perhaps the most important. I had La Sportiva Bushido 2 shoes for my two races (fresh pair every day) but while they offer great grip on obstacles and rocks they do not have enough grip for loose soil – you can do better with something having a more aggressive sole. In my last race, I took  Salming Elements 2 for a spin and it worked fantastic. I would only use those shoes for races though as I think these soles will not last long at all on rocks or asphalt. Gaiters are another thing I find very helpful, to avoid dirt and small stones getting into your shoes. When it comes to socks I ran with ones from Grit Army and Mudgear and frankly not sure I can tell the difference. 

Takeaways 

In general, I am quite happy with the race – I completed all three in a decent time, without complete exhaustion injuries or cramping. In particular, I was worried about my shoulder, which did not get so much beating before my dislocation. 

I need to work on my running efficiency on the trails – I should be able to go faster at a given heart rate, in particular uphill and downhill. 

The grip and upper body strength is another area that needs work, in particular when it comes to endurance – being able to perform over long races or multiple days.  

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