Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spartan Race – Wintergreen 2015 Difficulty Does Not Disappoint…and yet…

This is the first Spartan Race (SR) I’ve run since the Tuxedo 2014 Sprint.  So I was very interested to see what was in store…knowing how challenging the terrain would be and how much SR likes to magnify the difficulty in their races.  And I was not disappointed in this respect.

Having injured my shoulder three weeks previously at a Tough Mudder (TM), I would be "running" for the third week with my arm in a sling.  So right off I knew there would be obstacles I couldn’t do…and shouldn’t attempt!!  (My arm was better than I had any right to expect and I really did want to keep it that way)  Having said that, I also expected the tortuous climbs SR is so well known for, and was not disappointed there either.  There were a number of long, brutal open climbs, as well as a few more technical trail climbs and descents...which for some reason I don't mind as much as the open climbs.  Interestingly, the worst climbs were more toward the middle of the course...unless I've blocked some from memory already...which is absolutely possible!

In addition to the climbs, there were the usual obstacles along the way:  the rope climb, monkey bars (with the new saw-tooth configuration), barbed wire crawl, a pair of cargo net climbs and numerous walls to climb, go under and through...along with a number of other standards like the herc-hoist, sandbag carry and sled drag.  They also had a ring traverse and the dreaded rig...my first time seeing both.  

Then there was the tyro traverse, which I was working hard on trying to figure out a way to do with one arm, since it didn't involve water this race...really wanted to do that one somehow, among a number of others.  But one obstacle I did not have any thoughts of doing (outside the obvious ones) was the log hurdle...which I renamed the crotch-buster.  No matter how much help I had or how I figured it, the only way I could get over that was to either face plant on the edge of those beams or crush some very dear friends of mine....pass.

I was reminded during the long climbs of the Vermont Beast in 2013 and a little of the 2013 Palmerton race, even though that was a "only" a sprint.  And I flashed back to the same question about who they were building these courses for.  Coincidentally, I was also intrigued to see this article by David Hellard on the Inov site, echoing some of the same concerns over the growing course difficulty levels.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the challenge for SR to provide a course that will test the elites and the "journeymen" racer and still provide a course that a first-timer can finish.  In all likelihood though, that may be an impossible thing to do.  At some point, they will have to start making a consistent effort in one direction or the other.  Personally, I do want a course that will test my limits, just not push me past my physical limits the way this one did.  Something I am still paying for physically weeks later.  However, in talking with and reading comments by elite level racers, some of those are saying it was too easy (compared to the prior year), while others looked at the climbs as something they would need to train more on.

This was also another course where cramping seemed to be rampant.  Although this wasn't a course that was particularly longer than some others I've done, it was unique in the sense that there was nothing offered on the course other than water, until the very last water station.  Much too late for most of those people.  I suppose this goes along with the SR toughness mentality, but only if you don't take into account the new or novice racer.  They're just not accustomed to this nor are they prepared for it physically or in their own race preparation plans.

So in the end I'm still not sure how I feel about this course.  And it really centers on what I believe is an unnecessary level of brutality added to a course that was already difficult and challenging.  I am happy to have finished, but I didn't, and still don't, have that sense of accomplishment I had from the Vermont Beast, or any of the other difficult courses I've done.  

It feels more like a sense of surviving an event.  Surviving an event that you don't really want to experience again.  That doesn't make me happy, and I would expect that it shouldn't make SR happy either.  People don't spend their time...and more importantly their money...on experiences that don't leave them with an overall sense of satisfaction.  Then again, my view of OCR has shifted recently to enjoying the racers I come to meet along the way, not just the race...and that was a big win here with these guys!

What was your experience at Wintergreen?
How do you rate the difficulty level of the SR courses?



  1. Good article and your points regarding difficulty/satisfaction/toughness etc. is a growing trend. There are a lot of intriguing nuances to this topic, one of which is what is it that brings racers back. It is different things for different people. For those who are performance-oriented (versus experience-oriented) an overly difficult course that continuously reminds one of failures/inadequacies can leave a sour taste in their mouth. It will be interesting to see how course designs evolve in the next 3-5 years.

    1. Yes, you hit it the point right there. And I'm certain that point isn't lost on Spartan or even the other top race promoters. May be why we're seeing a bit of a down playing of the "Norm" course designs as representative of all Sparan races. Thanks for the comment!