BattleFrog – San Diego: January 2016

Editor’s Note: After our recently published article concerning safety issues, we asked Chris Cow, a seasoned race reviewer for ORM, to note what safety improvements BattleFrog had implemented in this first race of 2016. Chris put lots of attention into this aspect of the review, and did an excellent job reporting on the results he found.

Hooyah!  After 2 years of waiting and hearing rave reviews from events on the East Coast, BattleFrog has finally made the leap (pun intended) to the West Coast.  They kicked off their 2016 season with a race at a new venue east of San Diego this weekend.

BattleFrog dawn SD Jan 2026

The venue itself was a motocross park on an Indian Reservation in the mountains, about 1-1/2 hours from San Diego itself, and featured rolling, sandy hills with windmills spinning in the distance.  The day dawned crisp and cool, and was overcast and a bit windy through much of the day.  Pretty much ideal running conditions, actually.

BattleFrog Elite start San Diego Jan 2016

BattleFrog set up the race with 26 obstacles over a nominal 8k course that measured closer to 5.2 miles by several accounts.  All of the obstacles were very solid and professionally made, many featuring massive steel trussing for support. Coach Pain DeWayne was there at the starting line, and we watched him inspire and send off the elite men, then the male masters division and elite women, followed by the brave souls taking on BFX: BattleFrog Xtreme, in which the goal is to complete as many laps as possible during the day.  When Coach Pain tells you to get ready for the BFX heat, don’t be late.  Oh, and don’t let him see you walk around the short wall at the start corral either.

Coachpain BattleFrog San Diego Jan 2016

Then it was our turn.  The course started off with a fairly long uphill slant to the first obstacle: a standard over/under/through.  Many of the obstacles on the course were fairly standard fare – lots of walls, some tunnels and mud, but many also had twists to them. A 12′ wall with a rope gave many, especially those with a fear of heights, pause, as did a very tall metal A-frame with very widely spaced steps (there was a safety net on the inside of this structure in case someone screwed up).

BattleFrog A-frame San Diego Jan 2016

There was a very interesting wall climb to tunnel slide into a small pond as the only real water crossing, and boy, did that water take your breath away!  Although swimming wasn’t necessary if you were on the taller side or skirted the shore, there were some definite deep spots, and I was pleased to see three lifeguards on hand; two in the water and one standing on the bank to oversee runners’ safety. There was also a sign for a non-swimmers option, though I didn’t see what that option was.

BattleFrog water crossing San Diego Jan 2016

Another interesting obstacle was a slackline balance: elite racers had to cross while stepping on only one line, while open heat runners could use two lines at the same time to cross.

BattleFrog Slackline San Diego Jan 2016

Then there were the Platinum Rigs.  Two of them located at different points in the course to provide a huge challenge to the elite runners (BattleFrog has mandatory obstacle completion for the elites; open heat runners can elect to do a penalty of 10 8-count bodybuilders if they’re unable to do the obstacle).  For those who haven’t encountered these yet, Platinum Rigs have rings, ropes, monkey bars, and other items designed to test your grip strength and agility.  Comparing them to the Spartan Multirig (which many may be more familiar with) is like having a Porsche parked next to the car from the Flintstones that Fred would drive with his feet.  Platinum Rigs are nearly infinitely configurable and can be tuned from “tricky” to “damn near impossible”.

BattleFrog Platinum rig San Diego Jan 2016

The two rigs at the San Diego race were somewhere in the middle. As a volunteer on Friday, I had the opportunity to play on them and found them both doable after a couple of tries. During the race was another matter, and I eventually wandered over and did my bodybuilders in shame after multiple attempts at each.  Several friends who I expected to place very well in the masters division were forced to surrender their wristbands at these monsters.

BattleFrog Platinum Rig2 San Diego Jan 2016

Another obstacle of note was the Weaver, a series of parallel bars where you have to go over one, then under the next, and so on until you reach the end. I’ve seen this one before, but again, BattleFrog added an evil twist; on theirs, the bars were square. And so far, the bruises on arms and legs I’ve seen from it have been spectacular in both color and size. I can’t imagine how it was for the BFX racers who had to do this one 3,4, or 5 times.

BattleFrog Weaver San Diego Jan 2016

Finally, shortly before the finish line, there was BattleFrog’s signature obstacle, Tip of the Spear. This obstacle has steeply inclined walls that you have to traverse with the help of ropes or sometimes wood studs to grip. Again, changes were made – where before the walls were plywood, here they opted for a much more slippery plastic, and the middle section with the inclined hand grips as your only hold were particularly tough.

BattleFrog Tip of the Spear San Diego Jan 2016

Of minor note was a planned waterslide to the finish line that turned out to be a dud; the slope wasn’t really steep enough or the water flow high enough to make it viable, and this was summarily scrapped, leaving just a couple of shallow mud pits before the finish line.

Dr. Bronner’s was on hand with their awesome customized mass shower to wash away the mud with modestly warm water and their foam soap, a big improvement from the hoses that are standard at many events/venues.

BattleFrog’s medals are great (same designs as last year), and their merchandise tent had a wide variety of high-quality items to choose from.  The one minor negative nit that I’ll pick with this race was the choice of beverage for the free beer ticket: cans of Budweiser and Coors Light really don’t cut it when your event is in the heart of craft beer country. They could definitely up their game in this regard.

While the turnout at this race wasn’t huge (they estimated around 800 without counting the volunteers), the crowd that was there represented a core of OCR enthusiasts, and BattleFrog put on a great race that impressed us.

BattleFrog CEO Ramiro Ortiz was at the San Diego event and gave this official statement about the race:

We’re thrilled with the way the San Diego race turned out; this being Ryan Atkins’ first time as Race Director.  It’s our first race of the 2016 season. We’ve also introduced a number of new obstacles and received great feedback from the OCR community. We expect a great season as we expand coast to coast.

BattleFrog Tip of the Spear San Diego Jan 2016

Having (finally) done a BattleFrog event, I am now an enthusiastic fan of this series.  It was professionally run, well-staffed, fun, and challenging.  I can’t wait to try my hand at multiple laps for the BFX in Los Angeles. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait long; they’ll be there in two weeks.  If you are at all interested in obstacle racing and are anywhere in the SoCal area, you should make plans to join me.

SISU 24-hr Adventure Run 2015

SISU 24 competitors

If only it were a straight forward race that I could let it all burn for 7 to 10 miles & pour on the speed…alas the SISU 24 is not that type of race. This is a knock down, drag out contest of grit & stamina. How far do you run? So far a man on foot can not fathom it. Over stream, trail, hill, mountain to summit & back again. Run until you can’t run anymore then continue hiking… Cramp up, stretch, recover & get back out there again. All routes involved long stretches uphill, any given leg of the race might be considered a full days workout for many people… In our adventure we fetched & returned an egg, stood under a waterfall so cold it took my breath away, solved a math equation that required clues spread miles apart, helped the Park Rangers haul some logs, reached a summit to retrieve a page from a book & memorize the first passage,and ran in the dark w/ dimly lit headlamps with a keen look out for bears. It’s an event that’ll push your mind & body beyond conventional limits. – Louis “Thunder Badger” Rudziewicz

The day before the race, we received a devastating message; the event I’d been looking forward to since this time last year, which I missed because of family commitments, had an issue with the LAFD and could no longer use the chosen venue.  Most events facing this would have no choice but to cancel, or at best postpone to a later date.  A couple of stress-filled hours followed, as many of us started making plans to salvage the weekend, then we received another message; SISU staff had moved the venue to nearby Camp Trask, home of the SISU Iron, and the event was back on. Staff and volunteers spent the afternoon, evening and some of the next morning re-plotting the race and marking the course on a completely different set of trails than originally planned.  That they were able to pull the race off at all with such a dramatic last minute scramble is impressive; that many repeat competitors found it even better than last year’s is a testament to the staff and to Race Director Dave Lokey.

SISU is a Finnish word with no direct translation but loosely corresponds to “ultimate fortitude and persistence, carried to an unfathomable level”. Team SISU, based in SoCal, exemplifies this term, and founders Daren de Heras & Matt Trinca & staff Dave Lokey, Louis Lopez, and Steffen Cook have an impressive resume of both competing and directing racing and endurance events.

SISU 24 briefing

The SISU 24h Adventure Run is one of a handful of events, along with the FORGE and the Iron, put on by team SISU each year. Each of these events is designed to test athletes and push them to their limits, but in very different ways. The SISU 24 is a choose-your-own adventure that started at 9:30 Saturday morning and finished at the same time Sunday. Staff marked out 5 trails of varying lengths totaling over 32 miles, and athletes were encouraged to do as many laps as possible in 24h.

SISU 24 Trail

Each trail was awarded one point per mile, and runners could compete individually or as part of a three-person team. Additionally, bonus points were available for specific tasks. The first 12 people to return from the Overlook trail with an intact egg received three extra points. Memorizing a passage from a book at the end of the 10 mile Tower of Power trail earned two points. Dunking your head in the chilly water at the end of the Waterfall trail earned an extra 4 points, which could be gambled for double or nothing based on the draw of a card back at home base. Finally, three of the trails had variables x, y, and z marked at the end, and these could then be used to solve a mathematical equation that was unique to each participant.

SISU 24 waterfall

The venue at Monrovia Canyon Park is spectacularly beautiful and characterized by steep hills in all directions. The weather on Saturday morning was crisp and cold; it would warm up during the day, then drop drastically again once the sun started going down. With heavy rains on Friday and again late Sunday afternoon, competitors dodged a bullet that would have completely changed the race.

SISU 24 night

With tents set up for camping at the starting point, runners could rest, hang out or sleep at any time. Many took advantage of this, catching a few hours of sleep during the night; others continued to rack up the miles nonstop.

SISU 24 Nick Rai

When the dust settled and all the points were tallied, Marion Schuler-Powell won by a single point over her hiking partner Tera Spencer for the women with 63, Nick Rai literally ran away with the men’s race with a remarkable 97.5 points, and the Trail Bandits team of Louis Lopez, Robert Herrera, and Paulo Aguilar together ground out 207.5 points for the team victory. For the rest of us, we either met or fell a little short of our personal mileage goals as the hills took their toll on feet, hips, and knees.

Like all of Team SISU’s events, this was a quality race with a family atmosphere and inspiring competitors. I can’t wait to do this one again next year, but first I get to take on their signature event again, the SISU Iron: APRIL 29-MAY 1, 2016.

Spartan Race: Los Angeles Sprint Review – 05 Dec 2015

Spartan Race LA Sprint - Cargo Dawn

This weekend marked the last Spartan Races on the 2015 calendar, and it’s been quite a ride. Spartan Race started off the year with new medals, new shirt designs color coded by race distance for the first time, more obstacles per race than previous years, and a host of new obstacles. Of the latter, several such as the Plate Drag and Stairway to Sparta have become staples of the race series, while others, such as the infamous Tarzan Swing, were problematic and were formally removed after only a few races.

They had some highs, such as the successful move of the Spartan World Championships to Lake Tahoe, some mixed experiments like the Spartan Cruise, and a few lows including a disappointing race plagued with issues at their home base of Killington, Vermont.  2015 saw the end of the Death Race and the debut of Spartan Agoge.

At one of the last races of the year, Spartan had one more new thing to debut: a new race venue in LA. Previously, Calamigos Ranch in Malibu was the site for this race, which presented some unique logistical challenges including busing thousands of participants in from remote parking.

Parking at the new venue was onsite, but quite spread out – it paid to get there early, as latecomers had a fair hike to the festival area. The festival itself was on the beach in front of the lake, which was kinda cool, although, since Castaic Lake is a state park, it was also a dry venue; hopefully they’ll honor the beer tickets in Temecula early next year.

For many brave individuals, the fun started on Friday night with the Spartan Hurricane Heat.  Lead by Tony Matesi, Spartan Race’s Endurance Director, and his partner in crime Steffen Cook (Cookie), the Hurricane Heat saw several other SGX coaches recruited to help with the festivities as 163 showed up to play in the dark and the surprisingly cold wind that was blowing.

Spartan Race Los AngelesFor those unfamiliar with the Hurricane Heat, it’s a tradition that started when one of Spartan’s races was drowned out by a literal hurricane (Irene), and some hardy (or foolhardy) souls went out to play on the course lead by founder Joe De Sena. Since that inaugural event, the Hurricane Heat has been a ~4h long event about forging teams and pushing participants past their limits.

Highlights from this weekend’s offering included splash fights in the cold water mud pits, three-person races in which two were tied together at wrist and ankle doing a bear crawl, while the third person rested their feet on the shoulders of the other two and did wheel barrow instead, carrying “wounded” team-mates on makeshift litters made from sticks and duct tape, and maneuvering a simply enormous, 60-70′ tree trunk through part of the course.

Spartan Race LA Sprint - Elite F Start

Saturday dawned crisp and sunny, and provided a sharp contrast to the last two years at Malibu, which were best described as wet, muddy and cold – real cold, not just California cold.  It was time for the LA Sprint, which many would repeat on Sunday as well.  The course itself was 5.2 miles of mostly single track trails.  Spartan started things off with Rolling Mud and the Dunk Wall, getting us all wet right from the start. This was the only water on the course, which then wound uphill for the next 2 miles or so with a few walls, the big cargo net and a fairly long sandbag carry along the way.  At the top, we were treated to spectacular views of the upper and lower lakes, as well as the vertical cargo net, monkey bars, barbed wire crawl, and the slant wall, eventually leading to the long downhill towards the finish line.  Once we hit the bottom of the hill, we had to complete the bucket brigade, plate drag and rope climb, followed by a couple of tall walls with the inverted wall sandwiched between them.  The spear throw, herc hoist, atlas carry, and the multirig were all stacked near the end of the race, before the iconic Fire Jump to the finish line.

Spartan Race LA Sprint - Multirig

The weather was perfect for running, with a cool start to the day that warmed up to the high 60’s later on. Most of the day, there was a brisk wind blowing, which kept runners cool but also kicked up quite a bit of sand and dust, particularly on top of the ridges, that added difficulty at times.

Spartan Race LA Sprint - Kirsty & Joe

For those who follow the elite results, winners on Saturday were Hunter McIntyre, with Glen Racz taking second and Ryan Kent in third for the men, and Laurel Shearer taking first for the women, followed by Mary Colburn and Rhonda Bullard in second and third.

Another milestone was hit at the LA Sprint as well, with Kirsty O’Donnell of Australia setting a new and astonishing record of 18 trifectas in a single year.  This represents upwards of 54 races in 2015, averaging more than one race per weekend, and this feat brings new meaning to words like perseverance, dedication, and obsession.  Kirsty was chased in pursuit of this goal by Steven Marlon (16) and 59 year old Joe Forney (15, pictured above).  Just remaining healthy enough to make it to the finish line week in and week out for the entire year is truly impressive.

Spartan Race LA Sprint - Weeples Mugging

Overall, it turned out to be a fast 5+ mile course that had a couple of decent climbs along the way with a long downhill to the finish line.  It is a fun new venue with plenty of possibilities, as alternate trails abounded, and there appeared to be plenty of space if Spartan Race Directors decided to include some longer race lengths there.  The Los Angeles Sprint was a fitting capstone to end the Spartan year on.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what Spartan introduces to the world of OCR next year.

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Crossing Lines – How NOT to Run an Event

Ruck - Dawn

A ruck is a very complex and interesting event, and involves far more than just hiking with a weighted pack. When done properly, the goal is to take a disparate group of individuals, and through hardships and often unpleasant tasks, bond them into a team.  As the leader of a ruck (often called Cadre), your job is to put the people through hell, and to bring them out the other side better. It is to teach lessons and leave participants with a sense of pride at their accomplishments and a new understanding of their own capabilities.  Recently, I heard from a friend who signed up for an event (Note: not a GORUCK event, which in my experience have always been run very professionally), and was left with a very different taste in her mouth.

This was not my first ruck. The events that I have participated in before were challenging and thought provoking. I usually left feeling empowered and humbled by my experiences and felt that I grew not only as an athlete but as a person. When I left this ruck however, I felt disgusted, disrespected, and demeaned. It felt more like a college hazing than physical training. In fact, if this activity were to have taken place at a college or in the military the event’s organizers could very well have been charged with sexual harassment.

Strong words indeed, and definitely the type of feedback that no event organizer wants to receive. Were they warranted? Here are a couple of activities at this all-women ruck, which was lead by three men.

One of the first exercises was to be in plank position and each person name an item that they’d buy at a sex shop. We went around the circle 3-4 times.

Another exercise was to hike up a steep trail to the Cadre at the top, reach in a bag of condoms and the # on the wrapper was the # of burpees we had to do. Then we had to blow up the condoms and hike back down the trail with a blown up condom in our mouths…

And all while we were doing various exercises the Cadres kept saying that they were going to give it to us long and hard.

Inappropriate much?  Now, I’m not the most politically correct guy in the room on most days, and I’ve certainly been known to joke around with double entendres and sexual innuendos on occasion; normally with close personal friends.  There’s a world of difference, in my opinion, between that kind of interplay and this directed at least partly at strangers from someone in a position of power.

My goal in writing this isn’t to call out or indict the individuals involved; apologies were tendered and accepted.  But I won’t condone this type of behavior and I think it can serve as a lesson in event planning gone bad.

GORUCK (the original and gold standard on these events) has many sayings associated with their events. One of my favorites is “It’s not about you”. This applies to the individuals doing a challenge, and is a reminder that it’s all about the team. If someone quits or fails, the whole team is partly to blame. “It’s not about you” applies double for the cadre.  They don’t have you making sugar cookies or carrying really heavy crap around for their own amusement (at least, not entirely); everything works towards a purpose.

Not About You

In planning an event like this, you MUST keep in mind that it’s not about you.  Your job is to provide an experience to those who come out to the event; one that they’ll remember, that encourages them to push beyond their limits, to bond as a team, and to leave with that sense of accomplishment.  The activities need to be carefully planned, as do the messages you want people to take from the event.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or engage in silliness; one of my most memorable experiences in a ruck was being lead blindfolded with a soother in my mouth (pic below) to prevent us from talking. You do, however, need to ensure that your audience would also find it funny.  If some or many of them are strangers or people you don’t know very well, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.  If it’s likely to come off to some as offensive, ditch the idea and keep brainstorming.  You can do better than that.  If you can’t, leave the job to the professionals – GORUCK, SISU, & the Weeple Army for instance.

Ruck - Soother & Blindfold

For the event described, the bottom line is “I thought about what I would have felt like if my daughter had done this event. I would be disgusted. No woman should ever be subjected to such misogynistic behavior.”  Guys, if you’d be uncomfortable if your wife, daughter, or mom was taking part, or if you’d find yourself in a meeting with human resources if you tried it at work, don’t do it.

Rucks should be inclusive and empowering to the people taking part. Clearly this one missed the mark.  Hopefully those affected will try another event and find out how they’re supposed to work.

*Note that none of the pictures used were from the event in question, but were from previous rucks I had taken part in personally*

Rugged Maniac SoCal 2015

Rugged Maniac is a fun entry-level, family friendly obstacle race. The SoCal event provided a nice mix of easy and more challenging obstacles (with no penalties for failed obstacles) on a flat, fast race course.  The venue has a bit of a party atmosphere, with several food vendors on hand and local gyms representing.  Registration and bag check were a breeze, and one of Rugged Maniac’s huge perks, and where they are in many ways head and shoulders above the competition, is that there are no hidden fees.  Your registration includes any insurance costs and bag check expenses up front.  They do charge $10/car for parking, much of which likely goes directly to the venue, and there’s an optional $10 charge if you want an official timing chip used in one of the first few “competitive” heats.  Unless you were trying to win, this was completely unnecessary.  They also had Dr. Bronner’s on hand with their plexiglass-sided showers for clean up after the race.  My wife and I ran this event last year, and had a blast.  When registration opened for 2015, we decided to sign the whole family up right away while prices were low.

Rugged Maniac Balance Beam

But don’t take my word for it.  My daughter Lianna is 13 years old, and has taken part in several races.  She ran a half marathon with her mom and I when she was 11, and has done the ROC race (now Wipeout Run), the Terrain Mud Run, and a couple of Spartan Sprints (SoCal and AZ) with us. On Saturday, she ran with her good friend Kyndal, and together they wrote the following review of the race:

Lianna and Kyndal Rugged Maniacs

Rugged Maniac is a very enjoyable obstacle course race! The obstacles were well spaced and very fun to complete. They were just hard enough that I could complete them but I also got a sense of accomplishment and was really excited when I got through some of the harder ones. I’ve found in some other obstacle races I’ve had trouble with obstacles being made for bigger people, whether it be carrying heavy weights or something I can’t reach, but neither of these were problems for me in the Rugged Maniac.

The hanging rings that you had to swing and grab the next ring and repeat, were very difficult and I didn’t even get to the third ring before falling into the water pit. This was the only obstacle I had trouble with my reaching abilities. Although, Kyn did manage to get across she also believed it was maybe a little too difficult for those of us with short arm spans.

Rugged Maniac Rings

Kyndal’s favorite obstacle was “leap of faith” which was a jump off a platform into a pit of water that you then went across and used a rope to climb out. The water was very refreshing and it was exhilarating to just bound into the water.

My favorite obstacle was the final obstacle: the warped wall, because it looked like it was ten or twelve feet high and, being 5’ 3”, I made it up (with a little help from the volunteers) on my first try, when I thought I might have to go up the ladder on the side. However, my friend, Kyndal had to try three times but the first two times the volunteer there to help her let go and only got her up on the third try when she should have been up with me on her first try, giving her some scrapes all up and across her stomach from the slide back down.

Rugged Maniac Last Obstacle

The slide connected to the other end of this obstacle caused some problems. The volunteer sent us down six at a time and at the top it was already crowded. As he counted down Kyndal went early, and both of us being relatively small, I crashed into her and the guy beside/behind me also crashed on top of us. I believe there should have been a maximum 4 people on the slide at a time for safety.

Rugged Maniac Slide

Kyndal and I also thought perhaps that the last obstacle, the slide, should have gone right to the finish line. Instead there was an awkward little corner and last little run until the end and it just didn’t feel as if I had just finished the race, and it was harder to run and push to the finish line after being crashed into by a stranger.

These problems were minor, and did little to dampen our spirits. Overall, we all really had an excellent time today at the Rugged Maniac!

And there you have it.  Fun for teens, fun for 40+ year old weekend warriors, and everyone in between (and beyond as mudrun “celebrity” Mr. Muddy Suitman James Patrick O’Brien was also there having fun!).

Muddy Suitman at Rugged Maniac 2015

This year the event sported new finishing medals and new T-shirt designs (including Ladies’ cut shirts featuring a female Maniac on the back); everything else was very similar to last year’s race with only the order of the obstacles switched around a little.  Rugged Maniac definitely seems to have adopted the philosophy of “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, in contrast to many of the other races who are constantly trying to one-up themselves and each other with new and often more difficult obstacles.  On one level, it’d be good to see some new things from them, but on another it really doesn’t matter; what they had was enough to make for a fun morning playing in the mud with my family.

Spartan Race Sacramento Super 2015: Race Review

I was not looking forward to the Spartan Race Sacramento Super; in fact, it filled me with trepidation. I’d run at the venue before, when it was a Beast in 2013. That was my first Spartan Beast, and it was 14 painful, cramp-filled miles, from which I also ended up with a take-home prize of Staphylococcus infections on both ankles thanks to poor technique on the Tyrolean traverse followed by a swim through a disgusting, smelly, gray cow-pond.  Combined with the broken, cracked earth throughout the course that threatened to swallow an ankle at every step, I had no intentions of going back… but this was my last opportunity to meet my trifecta goals for this year.  Spartan Race’s invention of the trifecta has proved one of their most effective marketing techniques, and more than anything else, that drew me back to the Van Vleck Ranch outside Sacramento.

Spartan Sacramento Crackedearth

Decision made! A couple of friends, my wife, and I piled in my car and did the long drive from San Diego to Sacramento. Thanks to traffic, it took nearly 10 hours with a couple of breaks, and we arrived at about 3 AM, grabbed a couple hours of sleep at a friend’s house and made our way to the venue.

Spartan Sacramento Wall of Fame

On-site parking and check-in was easy, and the festival area was large and well-laid out, with several local food trucks present to sustain hungry competitors. In a very short period of time, we were ready to go and jumped into the back of a very full heat at 9 AM.  Unlike a few of our recent races, this was a relatively flat, fast course through rolling hills, trails and service roads. The long California drought meant the grass was very dry, resulting in cracked earth that turned much of the path into an agility course, and also forced Spartan to cancel their signature fire jump at the end of the race.

Spartan Sacramento 8ftwall

Spartan Sacramento hillclimb

Obstacles were pretty standard Spartan fare, with plenty of walls, cargo climbs, and carries. A couple of standouts were a rope-assisted hill climb, a very heavy plate drag, and an uphill tire drag. The multi-rig, at around the 4-mile mark, was a spectator favorite as the course went back through the festival area. The course was dry for the first 2/3 of the 9 miles; then racers came across a shallow water crossing through thick grey clay, and shortly afterwards, rolling mud, a dunk wall, and the slippery wall. I was happy to see that the course bypassed the nasty smelly cow-pond that I remembered so vividly from my last visit.  Z-walls and a dry rope climb finished off the course right before the finish line.

Spartan Sacramento Multi-rig

Spartan Sacramento Tire Drag

It was wonderful and inspiring seeing groups like FEAR Platoon (an organization devoted to helping combat veterans deal with PTSD) and BRAVO Co. (“Bringing Resources & Activities to Veterans Operation”) on course, hoisting the flags and getting through the obstacles as a unit, knowing that so much more is going on for them than “just” a Spartan race.

In spite of my misgivings going in, it was a fun day, and being on a Spartan course almost always beats not being on one. I don’t think the Van Vleck Ranch in Sacramento will ever be my favorite venue, but it provided a solid challenge and a change of pace from the ridiculously long, steep climbs that the race usually favors.  It also allowed me to meet my trifecta goals for the year, picking up my triple trifecta medal while my wife Anne got her quadruple.  Along the way, we had the chance to see many friends and familiar faces and were able to encourage others in their efforts and lend a hand when they needed one.  One of my companions on this race brought along a marathon stick in his hydration pack, and we stopped a few times late in the race while he rolled out someone’s cramping calf muscle.

Spartan Sacramento Rope Climb

The camaraderie, the smiles, the words of encouragement, the hugs from race friends you haven’t seen in awhile; these things largely make the experience, and are in many ways more important and lasting than the details of the course itself.  Together, they made the long drive up and back worth it.