They call it “The Beast” and it certainly lived up to its name.
On Saturday, September 17, 2016, I set out to conquer the Spartan Race SoCal Beast at Pala Raceway in Pala, California with my two buddies, Dwayne and Owen. We are all fortysomething and relatively new to OCR. Our first “serious” OCR event was the Spartan Sprint last December. Earlier this year, I completed the Seattle Super by myself and the Monterey Super with Dwayne, but none of us had ever attempted to complete a Beast until this past weekend. After months of training, we were extremely excited and nervous coming into the race.
Even though we had an 11:30 a.m. start time, we left several hours early to give ourselves plenty of time for the commute from Orange County. There was some minor construction work on the 91 freeway, but we made relatively good time, which is always something to be thankful for living in Southern California.
We finally arrived and had our first look at Pala Raceway. For those unfamiliar with the new venue, Pala Raceway is an off road racetrack that caters to motocross and dirt bikers. It is surrounded by Palomar Mountain State Park. I cannot confirm this, but it is my understanding that Vail Lake (lovingly referred to by the OCR community as “Hellmecula”) is under new management and they are moving away from these types of events, which forced Spartan Race to find an alternate site. Some people liked the new venue, and others hated it. In my opinion, it was uninspiring and not very scenic especially in comparison to the other Spartan races I completed this year in Seattle and Monterey. In other words, there simply wasn’t a lot of beauty to this beast … yeah, let’s move on.
Thanks to the generous folks at ORM, we were able to score a parking pass in the staff/vendor parking lot a few steps from the main entrance. The general public had two options: $40 VIP parking (also close to the main entrance) and $10 offsite parking which required participants to take a shuttle to the race venue. Several acquaintances from the West Coast Spartans (WCS) group on Facebook told me that they had two major complaints about the parking situation. First, there was no signage anywhere to be found. I believe there was definitely some confusion in this regard since I personally observed numerous cars making U-turns at the main entrance after presumably being re-routed to the offsite parking lot. Second, long shuttle lines. I cannot personally attest to this, but hopefully it was not too unbearable for those that waited around after running 12+ miles in the Pala heat.
Check in was a breeze. The volunteers were efficient and the lines appeared to move quickly. Big props to the volunteers for making check in a seamless and stress free process. After signing the waiver form and showing my identification, I was given the Spartan race packet consisting of a timing chip and starting time wristband, a ticket for a free beer, and a headband with my bib information. Does anyone else share my belief that the Spartan headbands seem to get flimsier (i.e., “cheaper”) each time? Hmmm….
Since we arrived early, we had plenty of time to check out the festival area before the race. It was the typical Spartan setup, with lots of vendors and merchandise tents. We hoped to load up with some free Clif Bars before the race but we could not find their tent – either we missed it or there wasn’t one, and we were more than slightly bummed out. Dwayne paid $5 for bag check and he did not encounter any problems. Adjacent to the festival area were showers to rinse off after the race. Unfortunately, Dr. Bronner did not make an appearance at the race venue, so competitors had to use water hoses.
After stretching and doing a few warm up sprints, we made our way to the starting area. Spartan Race warns competitors that they will not be allowed to start earlier than their designated time, but they did not check anyone in my group. Maybe it depends on the volunteers working that day or the race venue, but I have noticed that this policy is inconsistent from race to race. In any event, we hopped over the wall, did the always-inspiring Spartan chant (“Who am I?”), and we were on our way.
We started on a slight incline that leveled off for the first mile. Starting at mile two, we began our ascent up a killer mountain that resulted in an elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet according to my Garmin. We reached the summit right around the three and a half mile mark. I would be negligent in my review if I did not mention the terrain. It was extremely technical and it felt like I was running a trail race. The paths were uneven and there were tons of loose rocks, tree roots, and other obstacles that required you to pay careful attention to each step. Luckily everyone in my group avoided serious injury, but there were lots of WCS members who suffered rolled ankles due to the challenging terrain.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the majority of the trails were single track. This created bottlenecks and made it very difficult to pass if you ended up behind someone running at a slower pace. I have little doubt that most competitors, at one point or another during the race, had someone come up from behind them and scream “on your left!” when there was insufficient room to pass. These are the same idiots who bump into you or cause you to loose your balance, without offering any type of apology as they pass. Owen hilariously refers to these folks as “passholes.” Don’t be a “passhole.” Please be considerate to your fellow Spartans and pick your spots!
In my opinion, the race could be broken down into three distinct legs. The first leg featured the aforementioned killer mountain climb and descent. This is where we encountered the Over Walls, the A-Frame, the 6 Foot Wall, and the 7 Foot Wall. These obstacles were not terribly difficult and they served as a good warm up for the difficulty that lay ahead. Some WCS members felt that these obstacles were spaced too far apart and I agree. We essentially completed one obstacle for each mile we ran during this portion of the race.
The second leg featured a return to the festival area followed by another – albeit less brutal – trip to the mountains. This is where we encountered the most difficult and challenging obstacles that Spartan had to offer: Barbed Wire (not very long, but uphill and muddy), Atlas Carry, Tyrolean Traverse (rope, not ladder), Bucket Brigade (difficult but not soul crushing), Sand Bag Carry, Rope Climb, Rig, Hercules Hoist (if you saw three Asian dudes struggling to pull that damn sandbag up and down at the same time that was probably us), and Monkey Bars. Even though the second mountain climb and descent was more forgiving, many people began to struggle and cramp up. They truly looked like the Walking Dead as they trudged forward to the finish.
There were also numerous complaints about the course markings during this portion of the race. No one believed that the distance between the ninth and tenth mile markers was accurate. Unfortunately, my Garmin had long since died at this point, but most people estimated that this mile was closer to a mile and a half. This picture sums up how most people felt when they finally reached “Mile 10”:
The final leg brought us back to the festival area starting with the Memory Test (“Quebec-733-3276”), followed by the Spear Throw (3 for 3, baby!), Rolling Muddy Dunk, Slip Wall and, last but not least, the always popular Fire Jump. After we crossed the finish line, we received our medals, finisher t-shirts, and took a celebratory picture to commemorate Dwayne’s Trifecta in the Spartan photo booth. Although we did not do as well as we had hoped, we had a great time and escaped without any serious injuries.
Since this was our first Beast, I asked a few West Coast Spartans members to provide their feedback regarding the new venue, their impressions of the race, and how it compared to past Beasts. Here are some of their comments:
“It was very technical and rocky! Heat was relentless, but a change from the never-ending hills in Vail Lake, I would run it again. The barbed wire crawl up a muddy hill was sick.” Christopher A.
“Temecula has better scenery but Pala surprised me in a good way. The hills were just the right length. Not too hard but not easy. Everyone uses the word technical, I agree … Loved the rolling mud and dunk wall at the end. Sand bag carry is my favorite. The climb up the mountain was hard, the run down the mountain was harder. Enjoyed the bear crawls and barb wire crawl.” Tania P.
“I thought it was a lot of running and then the obstacles were all in a row … Hard with the venue to spread the obstacles throughout the race but it affected the quality and fun level for me … I loved running the mining shaft in the middle!” Jenny S.
“In my opinion this was the hardest out of the ones I’ve done simply because of the terrain. The rocks, sticks, and dirt were horrible!! My legs and feet are killing me and I have horrible blisters.” Lisa G.
“You run the first part with your feet and the second part with your heart. Pala broke me. My legs have never given out on me this much and my time is garbage. But I want to give a huge thanks to anyone who helped me along the way, you guys are why I keep doing this and going through all the pain…” Maria V.
In closing, I’d like to thank my buddies, Dwayne and Owen, and all of the WCS members who provided me with valuable insight and great race photos. You guys rock! Spartan Race is scheduled to return to Pala Raceway in January 2017 for the SoCal Super and Sprint Weekend. Having barely survived “The Beast” we look forward to some payback.
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