Those who have followed my recent race history might notice a common theme: weather on race day has been unusually hot, unusually cold or unusually wet. This weekend proved to be no exception, as torrential rains hit New York on the same day that Spartan Race returned to CitiField. If you take away nothing else from this review, please remember that if you want to avoid extreme weather, make sure I’m not at your race. All the same, Spartan and thousands of Spartan racers were up to the challenge. As Spartan advised racers in a pre-race e-mail warning them to be careful on slippery stadium stairs: “rain is just another obstacle”. Aroo.
Eight-foot wall climb, in the wet shadow of CitiField
Before I tell you about what Spartan presented, can we talk baseball? Like all right thinking people, I was raised as a Yankee fan. To be sure, I believe in equal justice under the law, even for Mets fans, though I’m not sure I can extend that consideration to Red Sox fans. When Spartan started its first stadium race at Fenway Park in 2012, I was tempted by the concept, but the venue was a deterrent. I’m pretty sure that some kind of supernatural flames would consume me if I tried to cross the threshold at Fenway. When the event proved to be a success and Spartan extended it to other cities, I hoped that it would come to Yankee Stadium. Instead, Spartan opted for CitiField, which I still think of as Shea Stadium, partly out of resentment towards the corporate sponsor, and partly out of general orneriness. While I am reluctant to admit it, when the new stadiums were built for the Yankees and the Mets, it was the Mets that ended up with the better building. There, I said it. And it doesn’t make me less of a Yankee fan.
Why focus so much on baseball? Because the venue really made this race special. Even if you are not a baseball fan, there is something special about running on the warning track of a major league stadium. For me, one of the most memorable moments of the race was emerging from the visiting team’s clubhouse (smaller than I imagined) and… into the the visiting team’s dugout. Even without the obstacles and Spartan-ness of the day, that moment would have been enough for me.
And what about the obstacles? Here’s a good video that shows them all. Spartan presents the stadium races as an introduction to the entire series, and the distance, the numbers of obstacles, and the level of difficulty were perfectly calibrated to serve as a gateway to longer events. Many of the signature obstacles were on the course, along with a few that seem to be unique to stadium events. Racers faced six- and eight-foot walls, a rope climb, a spear throw, monkey bars, the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag carry and an A-frame climb. For the stadium races, they added “obstacles” that are really more like exercises from a typical CrossFit workout: box jumps, hand-release push-ups and ball slams. To me, these made the event seem more like an extended workout rather than a race; the sense of achievement you get after twenty-five ball slams is not really the same as the satisfaction you get from ringing the bell at the top of a rope climb. However, if you had never done a Spartan race “outdoors”, you would not notice the difference, nor would you miss the dunk wall or the fire jump.
Not one but two T-rexes appeared on the Jumbotron as they conquered the “obstacle” of box jumps. Not so hard for them, despite their tiny, tiny arms.
Spartan handled the logistics well. Waves were sent out every few minutes to keep the flow of athletes moving through the course without bunching. The only back-up I faced was at the spear throw, which used foam instead of hay bales – perhaps a sign of Spartan’s continuing efforts to standardize their “sport”? Most of the targets were out of commission and two wet – though cheerful! – volunteers did their best to manage the crowd.
Beyond the actual race, this event had the best “festival” atmosphere of any Spartan race I can recall. Racers and spectators mingled along the concourse, where many, many exhibitors plied them with samples (frozen yogurt! Something called “hard seltzer”!). Because of the compact course, spectators got the chance to see their athletes on several occasions, though many opted to do so from locations that kept them out of the rain.
There were spectators watching the finish line, but mostly from seats that were sheltered from the rain.
By my unscientific survey after the race, it attracted both Spartan veterans and plenty of racers who had never heard of the brand until recently. Despite the cold and the rain, everyone I spoke to was eager to sign up for another race. I would consider another stadium race, even if the price point seems a little high for what feels like an extended workout at an extravagantly large CrossFit box. One final gripe: where was Mr. Met? If I’m going to go all the way out to New Shea, I expect to see Mr. Met (“Hey, Mr. Met: do you even lift?”).Despite the round head, this is not a picture of Mr. Met. Mr. Met was not at the race. This is me, showing off my Spartan bling, with the special stadium medal.
Photo Credit: the author and Spartan Race
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