PART 1: SATURDAY – RACE DAY
New England racing is quite different from racing in the South. I had unintentionally taken a year off from racing after moving from Atlanta to New Hampshire last fall and I was eager to test out my legs on the trails. The Spartan Race Sprint in Barre, Mass would be my reentry into the OCR world. I was excited to see what kind of mud New England was serving up and to feel what was different about this race.
Saturday had the perfect weather for a race day. It was in the high-70s in the morning and in the mid-80s by the early afternoon. Spartan isn’t known for being innovative and changing up their obstacles very often. They’ll mix up the order, take away water, add water, etc. I’ve run a lot of other races that are a little more creative when it comes to obstacles, but overall I give Spartan an A for this course because they appeared to be intentional with their placement of the obstacles.
The course length was debated, but everyone agrees it was at least 5.6 miles in length. From what I hear, this is an immense improvement on the past year. Having not run the race myself, I listened to the murmurs around the Biggest Team Tent (woo NE Spahtens!) and the consensus was in favor of this year’s course. It was a long Sprint with a lot of running in the beginning. The first “obstacle” was a couple bales of hay to jump over. The worst part of the hay bales was the allergic reactions many people got afterwards and the medical tent saw a lot of people very itchy on Saturday. The first few miles of the race was just running, running and some more running with an obstacle thrown in here and there. Despite that, the terrain was tricky. There were pastures and woods to run through. The pastures had a decent amount of holes in the ground from the cattle walking and the woods were fantastically riddled with roots and rocks to hop over. I typically run an 8 ½ minute mile on the road, and this course at 5.6 miles took me 1:52 to complete. With my mile hovering around the 20-minute mark, and with only two failed obstacles and burpees, this is a significant difference from my normal pace. There were a lot of people walking the trails and whomever was their first-grade teacher taught them well to walk in single file! There was quite a lot of “on your left” as I dodged tree stumps and branches.
Now I won’t bore you with specifics about the obstacles. This was a well-planned route, but there isn’t anything special to highlight. Check out other Spartan Race reviews for info on the obstacles. I do want to highlight the good things I saw on this course. The cargo net was the tightest I’ve ever been on. Besides the guy falling off right after I dismounted the other side, I’d say it was one of the best. Multiple water stations that were well manned with cheerful volunteers. The course was marked extremely well. If you got off course it was your own fault. One of the most impressive parts of the race was the swag bag at the end. I got my medal, then my bag, and then proceeded to fill said little bag with ProYo (frozen protein yogurt) Fitaid, Clif Bars, and the normal banana and water routine. The little bag was big enough for my sports bra, shorts, socks and calf sleeves to fit into after I peeled them from my body. If you run in more gear than that, you’ll need a bigger bag.
The festival area was well planned. The Biggest Team Tent was right in the middle of all the food vendors. Spartan did an excellent job at keeping the tent clear of full trash cans, and there was a jug of water with an endless supply inside. If you are racing alone or with one or two other people, join the biggest team! I haven’t met any yet that turn people away. The Farm where the event is held, has their own store with ice cream and burgers. The burgers are some of the tastiest I’ve ever had! I don’t eat a lot of ice cream, but we did sample two flavors after our volunteering shift.
There was no onsite parking. You had to park several miles away, but this wasn’t a huge problem. There were plenty of shuttle buses making the rounds all day. The biggest pain is having to bring everything you need for the day in with you. The Farm did allow coolers though and this is a nice change from other venues. Families with kids were able to pack their lunches, and I saw plenty of people just enjoying the festival area on Saturday. I wasn’t thrilled about running three races this season at the Farm before the Sprint, but now I am actually excited to come back here. The family that owns the farm was out there on the course with their kids. They embraced the runners, and you could see one of the owners running around on a four wheeler all day with his black lab running alongside. At the end of Saturday, I was excited to come back on Sunday to volunteer.
PART 2: SUNDAY – VOLUNTEERING
Sunday was a wash…literally. It rained all day long. The course was muddy, the obstacles slick, and the paces slow. This is what makes for a great running weekend. One day it can be perfect, and the next the weather becomes an additional obstacle. I volunteered at the tiny human course for the day. The volunteer staff is always so friendly to talk to. If you aren’t sure you are ready to run a race I highly recommend volunteering at one to see if this is something you’d be into. My first experience with Spartan was a volunteer shift in Conyers GA a couple years ago. I had broken my leg a week prior to the race playing flag football, and I still went out and had a blast. Note: I didn’t know it was broken yet.
The tiny humans course is so much fun. You get to watch these kids go beast mode on the course. Some of them are able to conquer fears and they learn to let go of the “I can’t”. Early in the day, we were stationed at the OUT obstacle and the last half of the day the sandbag carry. I saw a lot of kids come through the sandbag carry that would give up before they even tried. I might be a big meany-head to them because I didn’t let a single child quit this obstacle. Everyone was able to dig deep and carry, drag, and kick the sandbag back to me. Some ran with siblings and friends. When one couldn’t quite carry the weight on their own I saw kids run back to help their friends. This is what Spartan is about to me. It’s building confidence in doing something you didn’t know you could do. It’s recognizing that a buddy needs help and you are there to support them. It’s overcoming the little voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough. I saw every child complete this obstacle, and most of them thought they weren’t strong enough. Obstacle courses can teach you that you are good enough, that you are strong enough. If you are out there doubting yourself- look for a volunteer. I would bet a lot of money that they’ve done what you are going through and they know how to help you get to the other side. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the volunteers. Some of them run on Saturday, go through the Hurricane Heat after their race, get very little sleep and then come back on Sunday to make sure that their fellow racers have the support they need. I know a few people who did this, and they are the rays of sunshine when you are covered head to toe in mud.
After my shift ended, I snagged a delicious burger from the Farmstand and went back to the car with a heart full of joy from a weekend well spent at the Carter and Stevens Farm.