Central Florida Beast
December 7th 2019 in Mulberry, Florida
Venue: Sunshine and Quick Times
The repeat venue of the Mims Co. Ranch in Mulberry, Florida was shined upon by the ideal weather for a Spartan Race of any kind. With a low in the mid fifties increasing to the low seventies by mid day Spartans could not have asked for better weather, aside from some dry air. The easily accessible ranch made for close parking to the festival area and though parking was a bit bumpy it was definitely sufficient. The course layout was a simple reverse of last years which did not seem to cause much of a problem.
Flat and Fast
The Ranch was flat for the majority of the Beast. Spartan did a good job of utilizing some rolling hills on a power line in the beginning of the course to slow down many who barreled out of the starting gate. They also used one very steep cliff on the ranch for a couple of short climbs and steep descents.
This broke up the consistent running through the ankle sprain mine field that was the Mims Ranch. The terrain was fairly technical considering the many divots and uneven ground throughout with many crawls under fences throughout. Tall saw grass and some toe catching tufts of tough dry pasture grass were also the culprits of a few bruised egos along the course. As always, the South Florida Beast gives out some of the best Beast completion times considering the landscape.
Aside from the main obstacles in the festival area, only as few were sprinkled throughout the backside of the course. This makes sense if you consider the great additions it made to the festival and spectator area. Many had gripes about the large gaps of simply flat running along fence lines. I agree with this. I feel that the running portions could have possibly been spiced up more, but it is really had to say considering we are not aware of what Spartan was allowed to clear out as far as trail.
The fact also remains that the majority of the land was flat and grassy regardless. Running along fence borders could have also been a good method of preventing racers from going off course. To my knowledge, the course markings worked quite well and there were not many who veered off course.
The Spartan multi-rig was the typical Beast format of: rings, pipe, some other holds. Interestingly, rather than a ball or Force 5 grip of any kind spartan implemented two slick black ropes as the last two holds on the rig. This led to MANY failures throughout the day. Though it was early on in the course, staying high on those ropes proved to be difficult. Staying high was definitely a necessity because they placed the bells REALLY high on the rig.
Aside from increasing difficulty, I am sure this was meant to reduce the probability of the bell wrapping onto the top of the rig. Sadly, it did not, but more on that later. Spartans rigs usually aren’t very special, but this one offered a different challenge than most of the Beast rigs I have encountered.
With many open lanes and no grips on any of them, Twister seemed to go quicker than I have personally seen in other Spartans. The fact that I came off of it with silver paint on my hands makes me wonder if it had been freshly painted the night before, but it worked just as it should have. It was a long twister with three separate turning portions separated by trusts.
Some may consider this a negative and some a positive. Rather than a burpee pit, a penalty lap was offered for twister. The rub here being that the loop was only a quick quarter mile detour off of the race course. There was no elevation. There was no barbed wire crawl. This offered the potential to go a few rungs on twister, drop, and save grip while utilizing running speed to compensate. I’ll allow the reader to make their own judgment on whether or not that is “fair.”
Stairway to Sparta
Though it was much more difficult for many racers, I really enjoyed the adjust Stairway to Sparta. Stairway to Sparta is essentially just a large wooden A-frame with a difficult initial ascent placed at the bottom. For years, this was just a steep slip wall with a large board at the top racers could jump or climb to. The stairway now has a portion of planks which is rounded outward, towards the racer as they approach the stairway.
These planks do not continue on to the ground, but leave the bottom half open (i.e. no foot placement). On these planks are rock climbing grips. In order to ascend the stair way racers must utilize grip, core, and body awareness. They must pull themselves up using the grips until they can manage to sweep a leg and get a toe hold on one of the climbing grips. I found this a fun and welcome adjustment to an otherwise dull obstacle. Major kudos to Spartan on this design.
The adjustments made to Olympus have certainly upped the difficulty. Course designers made the clever/sadistic decision to put racers through the sloppiest mud pit that they could find in Florida before forcing them to tackle the new, steeper, and slipperier Olympus. For those of you who have yet to encounter it, Olympus still consists of the same mix of chain holds with a ball grip, holes, and rock climbing grips.
However, rather than being made completely of plywood the bottom portion is now covered with the same slick high durability vinyl like covering as “The Box.” The angle of Olympus is also a good bit steeper. The combination of these two factors along with wet shoes eliminates the technique I’ll admit I always utilized. I used it because it was fast. I strictly used chains and my leverage to always keep my feet under me I could make large strides across Olympus and get it done quickly which saved my grip.
Spartan must have caught on to many utilizing this and made the necessary adjustments. I’m completely okay with that. I discovered a hole in my game and I am going to fill it. That’s what new or adjusted obstacles are supposed to do.
Final Obstacles (Carries, Spear, and a Jump)
After the infamous box, racers faced: another wall, a short sandbag carry which required sinking into a pit of mud both on the way in and out, the vertical cargo (with killer Irish table), the spear throw, Atlas, the A- frame cargo, and a fire jump. This portion of the race was very spectator friendly all the way to the finish. I found many spectators enjoying themselves which is becoming a more frequent sight at Spartan Races. The exclusion of burpees on Atlas is a welcome change. It causes much less back up at the obstacle. The only draw back here was a lack of volunteers at the sandbag carry and vertical cargo.
The spectators were able to view a slew of obstacles from start to finish along easily accessible routes. The rope climb, the rig, herc-hoist, spear throw, sandbag carry, vertical cargo, the a-frame, Atlas, the fire jump, and one of the walls were all easily visible and not far from the festival itself. The box was only a short walk for spectators. The spectator route was one of the better ones I have seen at any Spartan.
The festival area featured much more to do than I have seen at previous races. Body buff had a free massage tent set up which was nice. There were quite a few vendors and contests. Alcohol and food tents seemed to be getting a lot of business. However, if you ask me, seven dollars for one beer is outrageous even for Spartan. All in all the festival areas have seemed to continue to improve which I greatly appreciate. There were many great areas for Spartans to get their much desired photo ops. All big teams were well represented. This was one of the better festival areas I have personally seen at a Spartan which was not a Stadion.
Now for the Negatives
The largest shadow cast over this sunshine was a problem that Spartan seems to have been dealing with all year- a lack of volunteers. I will give them credit. They were up front about it when the heats began. However, when I hang on the last rope of a rig asking for acknowledgment that my bell is wrapped on TOP of the rig and there is no way for me to hit it I would prefer an official be present. I dropped and did my burpees. It is what it is.
There were recurring issues such as racers continuously dropping bags at the herc-hoist only to be told to do burpees after the fact. That is a problem. There were no volunteers in sight at Armer which could have been easily ran past, racers could easily shorten the carry. That is a big problem. There were only a couple of volunteers at the vertical cargo (mostly after the Elite and Age group heats) who aren’t making it a point to tell racers not to use the pipes on which the Irish tables are mounted to climb- that is a big problem. Female racers wer not told IMMEDIATELY what sandbags to grab at a carry. That is a major issue.
Add Some Incentive
To my knowledge, Spartan values integrity. Spartan wants to remain top of the game. Spartan wants to become a globally recognized and televised sport. If all of these notions are true please show me how much you guys care about the integrity of your product. Offer better incentives to your volunteers. Pay some judges. The regulation Spartan upholds, when done correctly, is one reason that many die hard competitive athletes stay in the Spartan game.
Do not tell me all about how you are going to video my form on burpees ensuring I get full extension if you cannot first make sure that I properly have the ability to complete my obstacle avoiding them. Also please ensure that volunteers are at EVERY OBSTACLE. I had never seen Armer. Had I not asked before the race, I would have had no idea what to do. There were no lines. I saw only the giant Armer balls all in a row. My point is: Volunteers at a Spartan Race probably work harder and longer than at any other OCR. Give them reason to do so. Care about your people. Do not go the cheap corporate route or you lose the core values of Spartan as a brand.
Tweaks could have been made to the course, but all in all the Florida Beast was a pretty good experience. It was a good way to end my race season and I enjoyed it. I was happy with the course. I was happy with the obstacle quality for the most part. I was happy with what Spartan did do in order to spice up a otherwise bland chunk of terrain. If my schedule allows it, I will return next year. I would recommend this beast to anyone in the south who is close. However, if you aren’t there are many better options unless you just really want to run a flat, warm Beast, but who doesn’t want to do that?