Fort Benning: Home of True Heroes
On April 14th, 2018 a Spartan Sprint was held at Fort Benning Military Base in Georgia. The unique venue allowed competitors and spectators to honor American war heroes. It was filled with a unique flair not seen at many Spartan Races. Not only was the race unique, but the Best Ranger competition was happening at the same time. This offered a unique chance to run by the real suffer fest superstars and heroes of America. The turnout for Fort Benning was relatively large and varied. From the elite waves to age group to open, all waves seemed to be relatively filled and full of people eager to test themselves on the battlefield.
Venue: Less Elevation, more Briers, and Tall Grass
While the terrain of Fort Benning certainly was not flat, it did not offer as much of an elevation challenge as most Georgia venues, nor did it offer the unique mountainous views. Spartan did a good job at finding the hilly portions as well as some decent high degree incline short scrambles, but the large portion of challenging terrain for competitors seemed to be comprised of running through briers and tall grass. Personally, I found this to be more annoying than challenging. However, this could just be a matter of personal preference. In my mind, there is a fine line between challenging and annoying.
Luckily the entire race wasn’t a slog and was quite varied bringing some variety. A long-running portion was somewhat broken up by large mud holes that competitors were supposed to go through (some opted not to). The occasional rocky terrain and scramble through single track trail in trees also helped break up the monotony. The only complaint I have is that for the price point of Spartan, a bit more variety should be offered. Part of what you pay for is the experience.
The mix of obstacles in the Spartan Sprint of Fort Benning was certainly varied enough and offered a great challenge for Competitors. The race featured monkey bars, a ring rig, and twister. The only problem with these obstacles was that they were ALL in one place. Be it for the purpose of spectator-friendliness or to attempt to wear out the grip of competitors race directors decided to bookend the race with obstacles which seems to be a recurring technique for Spartan.
The beginning of the race featured the A-Frame cargo, rope climb, vertical cargo, and plenty of walls. There was then a large running portion for the next three miles or so. A sandbag and plate drag sparsely broke up the long run. I can appreciate the distance this added to the race, but Spartan could have spiced it up more The final mile of the race was: bucket carry, twister, spear throw, monkey bars, ring rig, rolling mud, and a slip wall followed by the fire jump. I do think this was a great way for spectators to see and cheer on finishers.
However, it honestly just felt a bit like a trail race with some obstacles at the end at times. The course as a whole was not bad. Volunteers did a superb job at telling competitors the rules.
Spartan seems to have stepped up their game a bit this year in the festival area. There were plenty of vendors and team tents. There were also a few fun contests for spectators and competitors to try. Among those offered were: rope climbing, pull-ups, wall hopping, dead hangs, and tire flips. This offered many more learning opportunities for new coming Spartans which I believe is a good move on Spartan’s part.
It’s a great idea to try and keep your dedicated fan base of hardcore Spartans happy. However, becoming too complacent and not continuing to try and bring in new blood would be a big mistake even or such a large, successful company.
The announcer gave the normal Spartan pre-race speech of “I am Spartan!” The director announced the rules. Speakers played the National Anthem. The droning serious speech did not rile many spirits. It’s a matter of personal preference, but I just wish that Spartan would add a bit more fun and excitement to their pre-race warm up.
The team both designed and built the obstacles well. Variety of obstacles was not a problem. Placement of the obstacles was. As I previously mentioned, obstacles seemed to mainly just bookend the course. A recurring theme with Spartan seems to be: (run up this, carry this, climb over this) on repeat until the very end and (now swing on some things. Thanks for the money. Bye.) I just feel that for such a hefty price tag Spartan should provide competitors with more than obstacles that they can create at their own homes.
Part of their draw and mood is the grit, the burpees, and the suffering. I also realize this is a managerial decision by Joe De Sena to forgo innovation for toughness. However, it is my opinion that this is just not fair to the competitors who shell out the big bucks and travel so far to run these races.
Variety and innovation are what can keep the lifeblood of a race company thriving. Foregoing innovation in course design in favor of throwing more heavy things, climbs, and carries at your competitors just MIGHT be a bad choice. I can be completely wrong and you may disagree. That’s perfectly OK. Everyone has their opinion. Obviously, Spartan is still making money and doing great. They also have a lock on some great venues. I just feel that was a good race that could have been a great race. Thank you Spartan for all that you do and helping me get onto the serious road to being an elite racer. AROO!