I was all set to bash Spartan, I really was. Pulling up to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois I was asking myself why Spartan would put on a stadium race in a venue with only a single tier of seating. With so many other huge and historic stadiums around the Chicago area, I was mystified as to why the event was held here. But I like the stadium series, so I signed up and hoped it wasn’t going to be a lame attempt at putting on a race to grab the almighty dollar. But after going through the registration process and waiting in a long line on a chilly day to start, I found that Spartan used the entire property very well and managed to pack in all their usual stadium obstacles into the tiny venue in what turned out to be a pretty decent race.
Now, I’m not sure who Spartan hired to emcee the event, but they might as well have played a recording over and over at the start as the guy just kept saying the same thing with little excitement in his voice. I wouldn’t have hired that guy to emcee a kid’s birthday party. It didn’t help that the line for the starting corral ran the entire length of the stadium itself, or that it was located on the main grandstand walkway which was 30 feet off the ground and completely unprotected from the wind. None of us could wait to get started and finally get some blood flowing through our bodies and warm up again! Toyota Park started out like any other stadium race, by sending athletes out down a set of stairs. This quickly led to a set of 4-foot walls followed up by a run through the locker rooms of the MLS team Chicago Fire where 15 hand release push-ups were performed. Once completed, racers finished their run through the bowels of the stadium which then opened into the grandstand seats. This was the point in the race in which Spartan had athletes use stadium stairs the most, weaving back and forth through the rows of seats made passing next to impossible and greatly tested your patience if you got stuck behind someone going slower than you. There were brief pit stops along this stretch for the weighted jump rope and slam ball functional obstacles. Spartan then gave racers a brief break from the stairs as the course ran across the grass field of the stadium where the 6-foot wall was located.
Spartan now had athletes pick and weave their way through the steps on the other side of the stadium as the only obstacle presented here were two sets of the low crawls via bungee chords strapped across the exit rows. The rope climb was the last challenge set in inside the stadium and the 7-foot wall led racers out across the asphalt of the back parking lot where the Herc hoist and spear throw were situated. The course then looped around the lot where the z wall was placed. I figured, as I’m sure most racers did, that we would be led back into the stadium here, but this proved not to be the case as Spartan made excellent use of the whole property by sending athletes out to an undeveloped portion of the lot where the Atlas stone carry was placed. Spartan then used a long section of excavated dirt, the slope being similar to the buildup leading to a road overpass, for their sandbag carry. Nobody saw this coming and many grumbles could be heard as the asphalt turned to mud, but I thought this was easier than humping up endless stairs with a sandbag strapped to my back.
With the sandbag carry complete, Spartan finally brought the course back towards the stadium. An 8-foot wall being the last obstacle on an athlete’s way to the stairs leading back inside. The cost to reenter the event was high as a jug carry up and down all those steps and ramps were set up here. To add insult to injury your grip was further tested as the Spartan rig waited for you on top of the stairs. The rig design was one of the easier setups used frequently in the stadium series as rings led to two baseballs and a bell tap. From there a racer only had a few more sections of stadium stairs to traverse and a 10-calorie assault bike ride, which is entirely too easy, on their way to the heavy bag crossing and finish line which were only yards away. The 10-calorie bike ride is, in my opinion, a poor substitute for the 500-meter row that used to be required at these events. Maybe Spartan should include them both at some point.
So, what I thought was going to be a waste of money and time turned out to be a fun and challenging event. Spartan used every inch of the property to their advantage for a race that turned out to be a little over 3 miles but felt a shade longer. Security was tight as bags were checked and people were scanned by a metal detecting wand upon entry, but I’m completely cool with that. The concession stands of the stadium were open to snag food and drink. Parking was only 10 bucks and located right next to the festival area and pics were free on the Spartan website. All things considered, I would attend this race again and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the stadium series.
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