Spartan Race 2016 Atlanta Sprint: Race Review

Spartan Sprint Vertical Cargo

“So, what’s it like to run one of those races?”

“Aren’t they all pretty much the same?”

Since I began running OCR, these are the two questions I’ve most often been asked. When answering the first, I do get a thrill out of relaying my experiences in great detail, essentially reliving the experience myself, and I often refer the person asking the question to ORM for additional extensive information on the sport. However, I find the latter is much tougher to answer. One of the things I find incredibly fascinating about obstacle course racing is that, while all the events have a similar makeup and general atmosphere about them (at least in my experience; I haven’t tried them all yet), each definitely has its signature obstacles and sets a tone all its own, creating a unique ‘flavor’ for each race. So, no they aren’t all the same, but it’s impossible to limit the answer to just that. The discussion inevitably continues, covering which events I’ve run, how they are the same, how they are different, which ones are harder than others, what skill set is needed to succeed, etc. In running my first Spartan Race this past weekend, I found the atmosphere of the event quite familiar though this one most assuredly sets itself apart in a number of ways.

Spartan is “one of the big ones”. It’s THE race most people outside the circle have heard of, read about, and recently may have even seen on tv. In prepping for this review, I asked myself what could I possibly write about Spartan that hasn’t already been written already given the enormous media footprint it already has. There’s not much more to say about the mud, the static walls, the fire jump, and the like. It’s pretty standard OCR fare, so, I’ll highlight the elements of this particular Spartan Sprint that stood out, that made an impression on me, and that challenged or in a few cases even beat me.

One of the first obstacles I encountered was a vertical cargo net. At first glance, it certainly seemed pretty unremarkable, but once I started climbing, it was evident it was less taught than comparable obstacles I’d climbed during other races. It’s amazing how much more challenging climbing a cargo net can be with the slightest adjustment in tension.

Spartan Sprint Vertical Cargo

It was the same story with the A-frame cargo. I’m not sure if the lack of tension on these nets was intentional for the sake of the challenge or if it was a result of having so many people climbing simultaneously. I was never worried about safety, but modifying my climb was necessary.

Spartan Sprint A-Frame

My absolute favorite obstacle of the day also had a cargo net… a big one … and it was high! It was so high, the officials were directing racers with a fear of heights to take an alternate route with much less of an incline. It’s worth noting that taking the alternate route was a burpee free option, which as far as I know is unheard of for a Spartan event. There’s always a penalty, so you know this beast was way up there. Hanging from the precipice of what can only be described as a cliff with a face made up of Georgia red clay was a loose cargo net. Hanging from the cargo net were a number of ropes of varying lengths. Below the ropes, there was quite a bit of bare cliff face before the cliff face met the level ground. If I had to guess, this towering obstacle was on an incline of only a few degrees less than ninety the entire way up. It was impressive, to say the least, and it was scary, but I would have regretted skipping this one.

Spartan Sprint Cliff Hanger

It took me three tries to successfully grab a rope after running up the muddy cliff face, but once I snagged it, I made my way and had a blast doing it. I was so excited when I reached the top I let out my only unsolicited “AROO!” of the day.

Spartan Sprint Cliff Hanger Peak

The one time I thought I might have injured myself was attempting to pull the weighted sled along the ground. It was much heavier than I’d expected. I think I may have chosen my sled poorly too; mine had a good bit of mud and ground debris build up on the rope side, which was certainly hindering its movement. The muscles in my stomach and waist barked at me for a while after that, but I did complete the obstacle without penalty.

Spartan Sprint Weighted Sled

Later in the race, the weights for the Atlas Carry and the Hercules Hoist were extremely heavy as well. I was unable to get either off the ground so both sent me to the burpee area.

Spartan Sprint Atlas Carry

There were two other obstacles that dealt with negotiating dead weight I was able to complete without much issue. The first was simply carrying a weighted bag along a set route. I’d done this before with a heavier Wreck Bag at BattleFrog last fall so it wasn’t too intimidating. However, the route for this segment was along wet, slick granite. An overzealous gentleman in front of me slipped on the rock and nearly went down hard from the weight on his shoulder.

Spartan Sprint Bag Carry

The second was the Bucket Brigade, one of Spartan’s signature challenges. Filling the bucket with gravel wasn’t too difficult. Neither was lifting it or walking with it. What nearly got me at the bucket brigade was the steep, slick, muddy slope I had to get down almost immediately after leaving the gravel pile. Of course, what goes down, must come up. After hauling my bucket along the route, I had to head back up the slope to dump my rock. Both slopes were littered with a few piles of rock where buckets had fallen. I came close a few times but never let go.

Spartan Sprint Bucket Brigade

Let’s discuss the water on this course. There was more than I had anticipated considering the pristine weather. I’m not sure how they managed to do it, but the temperature seemed just as cold if not colder than the aptly named Shriveled Richard obstacle at Savage Race even though there was no ice truck in sight. There were a few separate segments of the race where I was trudging through this cold water in some sort of drainage system for the horse park or the adjacent golf course. In addition to the cold, these concrete and steel tunnels were dark enough in spots where I felt the need to keep a hand on the wall to maintain my balance. They didn’t smell great either. My teammates and I dubbed this the Shawshank obstacle.

A few final thoughts on my Spartan Sprint experiences…

I still have trouble climbing ropes. I’d hoped and prayed for months that the ropes at Spartan would be knotted. In browsing through photos of previous Spartan events online, I’d seen both so the odds were pretty even on whether or not I’d have my prayers answered. No such luck. I really am going to have to rig up my own climbing rope and practice this. Those ropes aren’t going anywhere and neither am I. Another area where my OCR skill set needs work is the signature Spartan obstacle: the spear throw! Prior to race day, I’d been looking forward to trying this more than anything else. I’d carefully crafted my own Spartan spear and practiced, albeit not as much as I would have liked, in the weeks leading up to the event. Let’s just say I need to spend more time practicing my throw. Much more. My spear hit the hay bale angled down and to the left. I certainly threw it hard enough. Accuracy was my downfall. I absolutely hate racers only get one shot at this. It’s a lot of pressure.

Spartan Sprint Spear Throw

When navigating under barbed wire, is it common to turn 90 degrees to the length of the obstacle and roll from one end to the other as opposed to army crawling? I’d never seen anyone do that in races prior, but it seemed to be the preferred strategy at the Spartan Sprint. I tried it briefly and immediately went back to my army crawl. It was too disorienting for me. Had I continued, I feel confident I would’ve rolled right into another person or become nauseated, or both. One of my teammates rolled for the entire length of the first barbed wire segment, stood up at the end, then immediately became dizzy and fell over. No thanks.

There was a particularly long and steep decline toward the end of the race just prior to the Shawshank segments mentioned previously where you had no choice but to sit and slide the entire way. From the top, it looked like a hell of a lot of fun! I couldn’t help but think of that moment when the Goonies slid down through the caves to the pirate ship. I, along with a few of my teammates, discovered that regardless of how smooth the ground appears, there’s a good chance there’s a hidden stump or rock somewhere along the line. I’ll spare you from seeing photographic evidence of the resulting butt injuries.

Spartan Sprint Muddy Butt Slide

The Spartan Sprint was a great experience. It was extremely challenging and a lot of fun. I completed the vast majority of obstacles and even succeeded on a few on which I thought I might fail. None of my failures were unexpected. I know my strengths and know better my weaknesses. It’s time for me to acknowledge that I have the trail running down and I need to practice practical skills applicable to actual obstacles if I ever hope to improve my performance in this sport moving forward. Up until Saturday, I always felt like the rookie to some degree. While I’m no elite competitor and may never be, I have more and more fun each time I race and I finally feel like I belong in the OCR community.

Spartan Sprint Angled Wall

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John Bragg

John works full time as a technical writer for a software company in Atlanta authoring end-user procedures for IT professionals and is now enjoying the challenge of writing articles for ORM. He's still getting the hang of running obstacle races, but loving every minute of it. His other interests include outdoor cooking (grilling, smoking, seafood boils), home improvement projects, model building, and target shooting.
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