Thursday, September 10, 2015

Long Overdue Return to Spartan Race - Build at Wintergreen Super, VA

The Spartan Super at Wintergreen Resort in VA saw my return to Spartan Race…for both a build and for a race.  It had been about two years since my build experience with them and about a year since my last Spartan Race (SR).  Being one of the last two races in my Summer of OCR series of six races was unplanned but very beneficial.  I’m sure this would have influenced my expectations at the other races and that would not have been fair.  However, there can be no doubt that there is a reason SR is considered the top dog in the obstacle course racing (OCR) field and that was reinforced this week.

By the very scale of things…the festival, the course…the shear number of racers expected…SR has to deal with a much larger set of challenges.  Magnified by the type of terrain their races are set in.  To be fair, some of the other promoters have difficult venues as well.  But SR thrives on these venues and seems to attempt to have all their races this difficult.  Of course, I can only judge by what I have seen so far, but just getting to the build site the first day was almost impossible with the fog.  And of course, even the GPS data seemed to want to send you off into the woods!  Not to mention that, because of the remote venue, there was no Internet service (which also explains why these posts are weeks overdue now!) or even cell service where I stayed.

One other difference I saw here at Wintergreen, but even more at the Asheville build, was the fact that SR gives more to their volunteers, in terms of swag and free races, but also expects much more.  It's all part of the SR mentality of toughness.  As everything else though, 'toughness' can be a two-edged sword.  SR build shifts are 11 hours.  1-3 hours longer than the other races, but you do get two free races for these shifts...the give-and-get at work here.

As with most of the races, we spent all of our build days in the festival area.  Of course there were hours of table moving and setup.  But there was also the chance to build up the Start and Finish areas.  And there really is nothing like seeing these areas come together, along with the entire festival area, before anyone else gets on site.  Like a little terraced village growing out of the mountain side.

On this build I had the pleasure of working with three great supervisors.  One of which, Thomas, was a reunion of sorts from the build in Amesbury, MA two years back. Part of the work we got to do for him involved setting up the bag check area...which of course we were able to leave our own little signature on at the end.  Apparently no one was particularly bothered by this as it stayed up the rest of the day. 

On the first day though, we started off with Janet.  For most of the day we marched back and forth between the finish and starting areas, setting up the barricades and signage at both, along with several other areas in between.  But that morning the fog was so thick you couldn't see more than 50' in front of you.  And not having been there before, none of us had any notion where one thing was in relation to anything else.  So heading off in any direction often ended with a backtrack just trying to reestablish your original location.  Of course volunteers (generally) can't drive anywhere you went on the walked!  Janet did a great job though herding chickens that day and managed to keep us all, and the jobs, moving forward all the time.

The other supervisor I got to work with was Jeremy.  With Jeremy, we moved a lot of tables...a lot of tables!  And did I mention chairs?!  It never ceases to amaze me how many little details go into the setup for these events.  Part of Jeremy's job entailed making sure all these details were addressed.  Fortunately, it also involved being in a vehicle most of the time.  Unfortunately, it also involved jumping out of it constantly to set up tables everywhere. idea for a 'table launcher' (think t-shirt launcher for tables) was turned down so we had to do this manually.  Go figure!  The one common thread I found among all the supervisors here, and really everywhere in the builds I worked, was a non-stop commitment to make sure the job got excuses!  I like that.

In the end though, these days were highlighted by meeting the other volunteers.  William (the baked potato incident all but forgotten now), Demond, Denise, Mark to name a few.  From all over the country and all with their own stories of why they started OCR and how they came to be at Wintergreen.  After 4 years, it still amazes me how many different reasons people have for starting OCR and even how many people still have not heard of this.  Some of the volunteers were saying that this was the first time they'd heard of OCR and SR and wanted to see what it was all about.

Lastly though, there were the groundhogs...everywhere!  We we warned about groundhog holes when we started.  But the shear numbers of these rodents was incredible.  As they came out late in the afternoon and covered the field around the shower area.  There was even a groundhog fight at one point.  Most likely because of our OCR build is not exactly a zero-impact situation.  But suddenly there were two groundhogs snarling and rolling down the short hill onto the small field below.  Stunning everyone to silence for the next few minutes until the apparent winner...after a burst of groundhog screeching...ran off, and the apparent loser walked back up the hill to where it started.  Odd I thought, but then again, I haven't figured out people's behavior in almost 60 years...why should I expect to understand groundhogs.

Please share your OCR build experiences with me!


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