Photo credit – Jenny Turak
“The crowds roll by and I’m falling in
Everyone’s invisible but it’s just pretend
And we all freaked out, what a shame
When only tears know how to remind us
We all break the same”
I’ve been hearing about Spartan Wintergreen since 2013, and for a very physically demanding race, I have a plethora of haunting images burned into my mind. From Operation Enduring Warrior masked athlete Todd Love ascending the rope climb unassisted to the dense fog and sloppy conditions that overtook the mountain in 2014, I had spent a fair share of time visualizing what the race was like. The time had come to experience it for myself. Not only would this be my first time on this section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it was also my first Spartan Race.
I should add that, while I had thought about this race for quite some time, I ran this race with my wife, who had no clue what I had gotten her into. We pulled into the parking lot for the shuttle to the resort at around 8am. For a race with only a few roads in, there was literally NO traffic. Parking was very smooth and getting on the shuttles was clear and simple. It took roughly 20 minutes to get up to registration. I am typically not a fan of shuttles, but in this case, it saved me gas money and my car strenuous miles up the mountain. I was glad to let the shuttle take the abuse. When we got to registration there was no one on our bib line, and we were processed in under a minute. Bag check was easy and cost $5, which could later be used as applied credit towards Spartan merchandise. I’ve done a lot of races, and this was the smoothest and fastest I have ever been processed at an event with this many people. The festival area flowed well in the sense that everything was visible, which made it easy to navigate so you could experience everything. My favorite part about the festival area was the merchandise booths. I really liked the look of them, and if not for a lack of size,s we would have left with a Women’s racerback tank top for my wife. Make no mistake, they had tons of other clothing to choose from, but our household takes the saying “Sun’s Out Guns Out” very seriously.
The race started off with an incredibly funny and witty send off from start line emcee Dustin Dorough, which was nice as it was the last funny thing we would experience for a long time. We headed off onto the course and quickly hit a log jump and then departed into the woods. When we emerged, we began the first of many climbs. Some took the climb fast and others began to walk. Having seen the projected elevation map from Race Director Jim Snyder on the event page, I knew that this was the first of many climbs so we kept a moderate pace. The beginning of the race concentrated on running, and the obstacles were spaced very far apart. If the reasoning behind this was to spread out the crowd then it worked, as we did not wait on a single line the entire time on the course. Once we got to the obstacle dense areas, we hit the standard menu of obstacles like walls, A-frames, Herc Hoist, Tyrolean Traverse and other Spartan staples. While these were all enjoyable obstacles, when I think back and remember the day what set this course apart for me are my defining moments of Wintergreen.
Defining Moments of Wintergreen
1. The Mountain: A rumored elevation gain of 5,183 feet over 9 miles is 575 feet of gain per mile. GPS watches from participants (including my Garmin) ranged from 3,500 feet to 5,500 feet leaving it at an average of 500 feet per mile. Simply put, there was a lot of climbing. Once we would reach the top of a climb we were often sent back down the mountain through the technical and rocky wooded trail area. This was mostly single track and resulted in a lot of single file walking through the woods as many were wary of going too fast over the wet rocks to pass. Once we left the woods it was back up the mountain. People were cramping early and often and many participants were sharing gels, salt pills and mustard packets in hopes of helping them through the course. We carried logs up and back down. We finished an ascent and were met with a sled pull. When we finally got to the dreaded sand bag carry we were sent down the mountain only to come right back up. Many participants were resting on the side of the incline with their sandbags waiting for their energy to return. At the sandbag drop off many people opted to sit down and rest before continuing on. This obstacle and climb left a defeated and glassy eyed look on many who passed.
2. The incline barbed wire crawl: This sloppy mess was constantly showered by multiple sprinklers. It was a soupy thick mud that was set under extremely low hanging barbed wire. Since I had a camelback I was unable to effectively utilize the roll technique as I kept getting stuck. As I crawled up what seemed like a never ending hill in the mud I repeatedly cursed the obstacle. There were many people going through at the same time which made it tricky to maneuver. This is the type of obstacle that makes people in online communities say things like, “It was nothing like the uphill barbed wire crawl at Wintergreen!”
3. The Upper Body loaded final mile: The final stretch of 8 obstacles included Bucket Brigade, Monkey Bars, the Clif Rig, and the Rope Climb. All in the final mile! The byproduct of this was a solid amount of burpees and what seems to be a common trend of people holding up participants as they attempt the monkey bars and the rig to avoid “failing” the obstacle. I find this practice silly as it seems as though people aren’t truly attempting and experiencing the obstacle, but to each their own. I enjoyed how they back loaded these obstacles as it really put participant grip strength endurance to the test.
I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I felt about this race after it was over. Much like our ascent up and descent down the mountain I had varying feelings about my experience. On one hand this race is not for the faint of heart and is probably a very bad introduction to an unassuming new participant to OCR who signed up because they thought a Spartan Race would be fun. On the other hand, those that took the challenge head on and completed it are left knowing that they conquered one of the more challenging events on the Spartan circuit and will have those memories burned into their minds forever. I personally participate in OCR to continually try and push my limits further than before and Wintergreen delivered. If you are making your race schedule for 2016 and are on the fence about Wintergreen, you should sign up. Just make sure you dial your treadmill incline up to 30 and start hitting the Stairmaster.