Yup, it’s another adventure race! The Spartan Race is the latest event to vie for the blood, sweat and cash of weekend warriors all over the country and we’ve got all the dirt (sorry!) on it. Organizers claim their race will “test not only the strength and stamina but the cunning and creativity of each athlete’s warrior essence” by putting racers up against ”obstacles ranging from extreme to absurd”. Now, that’s certainly a lot to live up to and we’ve already covered Tough Mudder and Muddy Buddy. So does the Spartan Race live up to its namesake and conquer all? Todd, our newest TRAVLETE contributor, gives us the lowdown…
August 15th 2010 – Spartan Race, New York City
Course: D Quick caveat: I hate to start this review with such a low grade. As endurance athletes, we know a lot of time, money and effort are invested by well-intentioned folks to make a safe and successful event take place. But this is the Spartan Race, and they’re supposed to be tough. More importantly, the ranks of adventure-themed events have bulged to a large enough number now that the races themselves are going to be subject to survival of the fittest. That’s a good thing for consumers like us. So here goes.
The GOOD: It’s quick and it’s clean. If speed is your ultimate objective, Spartan Race offers a course that’s perfect for sprinting. It’s roughly a 5K run and, other than the obstacles, the entire course is flat as flat can be. Nearly all the NYC course was on the hard tarmac of an airfield, in fact. Other than one or two of the obstacles, the course was also free of anything dirty like mud, water, grease or grime.
The BAD:It’s very ordinary. This event was marketed on its website as “not your average 5K” but Spartan failed to deliver here. I mean, this is New York City for Pete’s sake. If we wanted to run on flat pavement with fellow crazies we could save the registration fee and run in Central Park. Speedos, capes and screaming are everyday occurrences there. This is Sparta? Give New Yorkers more credit – we came to get dirty!
The UGLY: It’s mostly a snooze. Once the novelty factor wears off, Spartan’s obstacles are too easy, predictable and unimaginative. Out of a dozen obstacles total on this course, two were repeated. Specifically, there were two instances of the same barbed-wire crawl (a third crawl was distinguished by using rope instead of barbed wire) and two sets of simple hurdles. Obstacle courses like this can be fun – don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day we’re paying money to be entertained and there are choices as to where we spend it. If this race survives to see future years, I hope they consider enhancing our experience with some diverse terrain complete with trails, mud and/or other elements. Better yet, some more diverse tests of balance, strength and agility – a swing across a puddle shouldn’t be too difficult to construct, or maybe use some tires, monkey bars, or a balance beam. Better still, throw in a mental challenge or two.
Organization and Logistics: C In the plus column, race site access and parking were solid. There was no pre-race packet pick up, but race-day registration was efficient, particularly since athletes were staggered by 30-minute waves. Portable toilets were both ample and clean. Good attention to spectator seating area. The race site and course were well marked. Volunteers at each obstacle station were helpful. And bravo for the finisher’s medal. Those were well above average and worthy of display. On the negative side, some of the obstacles were constructed poorly. The roof covering the hay bales, for example, had already started collapsing halfway through the first wave. And some of the ropes I mentioned above started falling down early in the race. There was also no water provided in the finish area. After the race, we had to wait around for the hoses to be hooked up and, because there were only two hoses and a growing line of Spartans in need of a shower, they couldn’t really moonlight as water fountains to drink from.
Atmosphere: B+ I would recommend this more as a group activity than solo. People came here to have fun, and everyone seemed to be succeeding from what I could tell. It’s a diversion from our normal Sunday routines to shake things up. Even the more serious-minded athletes were intent on putting fun first. The costumes, shtick and team uniforms were great. The Marine Corps was even there with its van, playing the soundtrack from the movie “300″. The beer garden at the start/finish also contributed to a casual outing type of environment.
Overall: C If you and your friends are looking for some casual weekend fun, Spartan Race should definitely remain an option to consider. Like many things, it’s best to know what you are looking for ahead of time. In full disclosure, I’m biased toward physical challenge. The greater the challenges involved, the more fun I’m likely to have. That perspective is not universal by any means, and what’s physically challenging for some is not for others. Compared to a few of the other events I’m familiar with in this genre, this is probably one of the easier ones in terms of physical and/or mental challenge. The 5K distance was not intimidating in any way. The terrain and the obstacles are easy and predictable. If a change of pace alone will suffice, Spartan Race can be a memorable and fun day outing. For those searching for a challenge that is brag-worthy beyond Facebook pictures, you may want to look elsewhere.