Standing at the entry to the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan, I could see across all of Wintergreen resort. Set against a bright blue sky, the lush green mountains were beckoning the runners to devour the course. With perfect weather and a turnout of more than 4,000 over the weekend, the energy of the racers was tangible. I joined at least thirty other Corn Fed Spartans at the start (CFS) as Coach Pain Dwayne was leading the traditional Spartan pre-race chant. “What is your profession?” “I AM SPARTAN?” “Who are you?” “AROOO!” CFS stirred up the adrenaline of everyone at the 11a.m. start time and before I had time to register what I’d just stepped into, we were off running.
The start was a gentle downhill that quickly sloped up into one of the numerous hills encountered in the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan course. We began with an over-under obstacle about halfway up the hill and then hit our first mud pits. Neither were particularly extreme with the over-under-through walls only hitting about 4 feet tall. Covered in red, Virginia clay we received the course’s first serving of dirt. The first mile spaced out the pack as we reached the bottom of the first hill, a descent down one of the resort’s ski slopes, and up the first technical incline. Typical of many northeast hiking trails, we went straight up through the woods over treacherous rocky terrain without the mercy of any switchbacks. For many racers, this was the end of running for almost a full mile as we ascended and descended through fairly dense woods.
We found our first water stop at mile 2 back to the very top of the mountain. The ascent up to the water station was grueling. The first two miles had only contained a mere 3 obstacles and already 4 major hills. Directly after the station, we descended back through the woods over slippery, ankle-breaking rocks and back up to the sandbag carry. We trudged a quick, but difficult, loop with the bags and were rewarded by the next obstacle less than 1/4 mile away: the Slip n’ Slide! While some of the slides weren’t quite wet enough for speed, I flew down into the refreshing, albeit muddy, water. We climbed out and passed the mile 3 marker ending another section with just 2 obstacles. From miles 3-4 we hit only one obstacle. The entire mile was a winding and extremely technical trail of hills and rocks. A runner by me commented, “You know it’s steep terrain when rocks that were buried are now flying down the hill behind us.”
The trail led to the spear throw where I saw the highest number of people doing burpees after a failed attempt, than I would at any other obstacle. We came out of the woods, back into the sunshine, and at the 4 mile water station. Delighted to find packets of electrolyte replacement in numerous flavors, runners grabbed handfuls of them in anticipation of the second half of the race. There were two sets of rope ladders directly after the water station. The spirit of the race thrived as runners steadied the ladders and assisted those around them over the top. A girl in a lime green t-shirt shook as she reached the top. A teammate gently talked her through getting over the top.
We shot out onto a clearing and hit the ground to crawl 300ft of barbwire. In some places, the wire was high enough just to crawl- a welcomed break. This was the first obstacle since the start that spectators had direct access to the course and the cheers of many supporters pushed tired runners on. Little Spartans sloshed through mud pits of their own adjacent to us on the kids’ course. Completing the barbwire, we hopped over hay bales and back into the woods. We encountered close to a mile of brutal descent through a running creek. The wet rocks made for many teetering moments and breathless steps over waterfalls, into trees and through several inches of water.
We passed mile 5 at the bottom of the hill and came to another clearing. One glance up ahead eliminated any hope of a respite from hills: in every direction runners were running up, down, up and down the mountain above us. This hill would be revered as the most ruthless in the course. Devoid of obstacles, the climb to mile 6 up a black diamond ski slope was made more difficult for our mental endurance by the line of racers proceeding back down the hill beside us.
The parade of Spartans trudging up the hill was surrounded by exhausted participants dropping to hands and knees on both sides of the trail. Deceitful corners only turned to reveal more hills. Incredibly fit and seasoned racers stared ahead, motionless where they’d finally stopped moving. This would be a tipping point for many who didn’t finish the race. I finally heard the shouts of volunteers at the top that water was just ahead.
We reached the 6 mile water station. At this point on the mountain, we were at the highest elevation in the race and on the opposite side of the course from the finish line. The spirit that reverberated through the first half of the race had died off. Most people were fighting to continue and the shouts of encouragement had quieted. The Hercules pull was directly opposite the water station and gained us entry to the next decent. On the way down, we hit the 7 foot wall. Here, the life of the race revived a little as racers hoisted their friends up over the wall. The vitality the 7-foot wall started in us, the log carry continued. Finally, runners were shouting out team names again and laughing as they crumpled under the weight of giant logs. “This tree makes me feel like a little girl!”, said a sizable racer near me. Expectedly, a Spartan female replied, “What does that make me?!” “A WOMAN!”
Throwing logs down, we headed up again on the trail. We struggled over the 8-foot wall and up and over the hill to mile 7. Considering the relatively few obstacles we’d encountered so far, we expected the several between mile 7 and 8. This part of the course took place just under the chairlift spectators used to climb the mountain. We saw supporters for the first time since mile 4 as we dragged cement blocks in the tractor pull and climbed the inverted wall. The most difficult obstacles were saved for the end: the 10-12 foot rope climb and the now very muddy, slippery traverse wall. Because of the level of exhaustion in most racers after the rigorous hills, burpees were seen in plenty. The music from the finish and smell of the fire jump wafted over the final mud pits and gave us all a second wind. Over a not-so-slippery slip wall, one leap over the fire, and a dash through some not-so-tough gladiators and the race was over.
While the course itself was incredibly rugged and demanding, many of the obstacles themselves were not at the usual level of difficulty. Many racers commented that they were surprised, and somewhat disappointed at the shift in challenge placement. Frequently, racers described to me their most trying experiences as hills and the obstacles instead as a break. The race took a grueling average of 6.5 hours to complete with the winner, Matt Novakovich, clocking in at 1:50:14- a first timer out of Alaska. The race was touted by many as more difficult than the Spartan Beast courses they had done, with times significantly longer despite a 2-3 mile difference in distance.
As a first-time Spartan racer, I thought the course was expectedly hard and incredibly enjoyable. With unbeatable weather and gorgeous views from the many hills we scaled, I couldn’t have started my Spartan saga off at a better place. I am an avid runner and felt challenged, but not to the point that the race was no longer fun. The spirit of the racers was contagious and their perseverance made every moment of sweat worth it. The entire race was very organized with all the volunteers being well trained and efficient. Staff were readily available to answer questions and solve problems and the course was prepared to provide medical attention if needed. Family activities were abundant in the Festival as well as affordable food and drinks. While many have voiced mixed opinions, the event was a success.