I was not looking forward to the Spartan Race Sacramento Super; in fact, it filled me with trepidation. I’d run at the venue before, when it was a Beast in 2013. That was my first Spartan Beast, and it was 14 painful, cramp-filled miles, from which I also ended up with a take-home prize of Staphylococcus infections on both ankles thanks to poor technique on the Tyrolean traverse followed by a swim through a disgusting, smelly, gray cow-pond. Combined with the broken, cracked earth throughout the course that threatened to swallow an ankle at every step, I had no intentions of going back… but this was my last opportunity to meet my trifecta goals for this year. Spartan Race’s invention of the trifecta has proved one of their most effective marketing techniques, and more than anything else, that drew me back to the Van Vleck Ranch outside Sacramento.
Decision made! A couple of friends, my wife, and I piled in my car and did the long drive from San Diego to Sacramento. Thanks to traffic, it took nearly 10 hours with a couple of breaks, and we arrived at about 3 AM, grabbed a couple hours of sleep at a friend’s house and made our way to the venue.
On-site parking and check-in was easy, and the festival area was large and well-laid out, with several local food trucks present to sustain hungry competitors. In a very short period of time, we were ready to go and jumped into the back of a very full heat at 9 AM. Unlike a few of our recent races, this was a relatively flat, fast course through rolling hills, trails and service roads. The long California drought meant the grass was very dry, resulting in cracked earth that turned much of the path into an agility course, and also forced Spartan to cancel their signature fire jump at the end of the race.
Obstacles were pretty standard Spartan fare, with plenty of walls, cargo climbs, and carries. A couple of standouts were a rope-assisted hill climb, a very heavy plate drag, and an uphill tire drag. The multi-rig, at around the 4-mile mark, was a spectator favorite as the course went back through the festival area. The course was dry for the first 2/3 of the 9 miles; then racers came across a shallow water crossing through thick grey clay, and shortly afterwards, rolling mud, a dunk wall, and the slippery wall. I was happy to see that the course bypassed the nasty smelly cow-pond that I remembered so vividly from my last visit. Z-walls and a dry rope climb finished off the course right before the finish line.
It was wonderful and inspiring seeing groups like FEAR Platoon (an organization devoted to helping combat veterans deal with PTSD) and BRAVO Co. (“Bringing Resources & Activities to Veterans Operation”) on course, hoisting the flags and getting through the obstacles as a unit, knowing that so much more is going on for them than “just” a Spartan race.
In spite of my misgivings going in, it was a fun day, and being on a Spartan course almost always beats not being on one. I don’t think the Van Vleck Ranch in Sacramento will ever be my favorite venue, but it provided a solid challenge and a change of pace from the ridiculously long, steep climbs that the race usually favors. It also allowed me to meet my trifecta goals for the year, picking up my triple trifecta medal while my wife Anne got her quadruple. Along the way, we had the chance to see many friends and familiar faces and were able to encourage others in their efforts and lend a hand when they needed one. One of my companions on this race brought along a marathon stick in his hydration pack, and we stopped a few times late in the race while he rolled out someone’s cramping calf muscle.
The camaraderie, the smiles, the words of encouragement, the hugs from race friends you haven’t seen in awhile; these things largely make the experience, and are in many ways more important and lasting than the details of the course itself. Together, they made the long drive up and back worth it.
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