Spartan Race – New York, NY

Published on August th, 2010

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. 


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  1. Posted by selica on August 18th, 2010, 10:42

    i am the canadian ceo if spartan race and can attest that our events are exactly what spartan race is and should be. i am sorry to hear the american counter part let you down, but i would like you to consider the venue for ny did not fit the branding experience of the event. i would like to offer you a discounted race entry to montreals event, exactly the adventure you are looking for!

  2. Posted by Adrian on August 18th, 2010, 14:25

    Hi Selica, thanks for reaching out! We agree, the terrain down here in NYC can be difficult to work with but us New Yorkers are a tough crowd to please and we’re always up for a good challenge so we felt a little mislead. That being said, we do appreciate that your North American counter part put together a fun event outside of the typical road race which are so prominent in the area. Perhaps next time they come around the course can feature more obstacles or challenges to overcome the relatively flat terrain.

    And I just may take you up on that offer for your Montreal event! Haven’t been there in quite some time…Sainte-Catherine Street here I come!

  3. Posted by Selica on August 19th, 2010, 05:32

    Great! Once the Montreal race registration opens in Nov 2010, shoot me an email with your details and I will give you a discounted entry! You will NOT be disappointed, this I guarantee you. The challenge and terrain you are seeking, we got it! Cheers and see you on the battle field soon enough Spartan!

  4. Posted by Noel Thompson on August 19th, 2010, 07:56

    Here is some interesting observations from a spectator in NY. The 2000 or so Brooklyn Spartans that battled on Sunday seemed extremely pleased. Although I myself have done 22 Ironman, climbed 23000 plus foot mountains, raced across Alaska by foot, etc etc, this course did seem easy at first glimpse for what I was expecting a Spartan to battle..but then after speaking to 1000 or so Spartans on site realized what the organizers were doing. They were getting people off their couches right in their home town….to get out and live like a Spartan for a day…The organizers seemed to have found a location right in the heart of the city to reach out and not have to pull a crowd to drive 3 plus hours to some ski resort in the middle of nowhere…How did the 1000 or so Spartans I observed react to the course….99% of them smiled ear to ear and asked officials where and how they could sign up for more….so I think sacrificing the ultimate battle field for proximity to the Spartans living rooms worked…

  5. Posted by selica on August 19th, 2010, 13:48

    yes our mission is to encourage everyone to try something new, to push themselves out of their comfort zones. The average person may find our event as the hardest thing they have ever done, but we also see professional athletes enjoying themselves, getting muddy, changing their usual basic running structure and of course, having fun sharing the day with friends, family, colleagues etc. Spartan is also an audition to find those really tough ones who want to push it to a whole new kevel of tough, the Death Race. For some of you, Spartan Race will not be tough enough, this is where Death Race comes in. Stay tuned though, we have heard your comments and exciting news coming from Spartan Race for those of you looking for a tougher Spartan Challenge!

  6. Posted by Todd on August 19th, 2010, 15:11

    Noel, congratulations on such an impressive endurance sports resume and thanks for your feedback. I’m glad we all had fun at the Spartan Race. Travlete is a site created and run by endurance athletes for endurance athletes, so I’m guessing our particular niche audience is not sitting around on the couch. And most likely, someone who is sitting around on their couch probably isn’t going to be very interested in reading Travlete reviews. But we couldn’t agree with you more that finding a fun way to do something healthy is always a good thing. If the Spartan Race got some non-athletes off the couch, Travlete is just as pleased as you are about that.

    As the author of this review, I do disagree with you that this event took place in the heart of the city. I live in Manhattan and it took my group an hour to drive to the race with no traffic. Anyone familiar with New York City knows there are countless areas within an hour’s radius that are more challenging and better suited to an obstacle course than the paved tarmac of an airfield. And my thoughts on the obstacles speak for themselves. I stand firmly behind my D grade for the terrain and the obstacles. Hopefully my higher grades for Atmosphere and Overall are evidence, however, that you and I see things eye to eye on the fun factor.

    Part of what Travlete tries to accomplish is to help endurance athletes like you and me be better educated consumers when we consider investing our limited time and money in a specific race. With so many events out there, it can be tough to sift through all the clever marketing to find the closest matches to what each of us is looking for. We try hard to keep that purpose and our niche audience in mind when we review any event.

    Thanks again for sharing your feedback with us.

  7. Posted by Lee on February 6th, 2011, 01:40

    I am currently signed up for the new spartan race in Vancouver and am a endurance athlete with many marathons and triathlons and ironmans events under my belt and hope that this race will be a real challenge like what is advertised and that the spartan head quarters have listened to the comments and have amped it up a bit to make it more of a challenge.

    Look forward to find out for myself come May.

  8. Posted by Adrian on February 6th, 2011, 15:11

    Thanks for the feedback Lee and please let us know how it goes in May! Btw, congrats on all the races as well!

  9. Posted by Bryan on February 6th, 2011, 16:38

    I’m planning on running the 5k Spartan Race this year in Austin with a couple of friends, and I couldn’t be more excited. Being the minimum age limit (16), I can’t wait to try to hold my own with adults.
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to live like a Spartan!

  10. Posted by Dan on February 12th, 2011, 09:06

    Spartan sprint in SoCal 12/18/2010 was much different than the NYC event explained in this article. The course was in the foothills of the mountains and offered 500 ft elevation gains which were repeated at least 4 times. The course was obstacle #1. Spartan Sprint was the hardest 5k I have ever run. I’m prepping for the 8mile Spartan on 2/26/2011 and have high hopes it will be equally as good.

  11. Posted by James Vogelsang on March 24th, 2011, 14:45

    The race in Texas last year was also quite different from the one in NYC. Located on a random ranch. It contained several sets of hills to go up and down on as well as good amount of mud. As they are one of the newer programs, I expect a lot of imporvement this 2nd go around.

  12. Posted by Stacy C on October 18th, 2011, 19:14

    Check out reviews from the PA (Blue Mountain) Spartan Race … that was a challenge.


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