Nothing like a desert race while the rest of the country is cowering from the cold and snow, huh, Spartans? Well, that was my initial thought when booking my trip to the Grand Canyon State. Unfortunately, depending on when you arrived at Fort McDowell, you were either welcomed with below-freezing temperatures or a mildly chilly afternoon. For elites and age group racers vying for the podium, the cold definitely played a major role.

The Spartan Arizona weekend is one of the few that challenges participants to run a Sprint course on Saturday. While some may find it odd, even if they already planned to run a blue and red-combo anyway, Spartan occasionally starts off with the short course for those trifecta chasers normally unable to take time off on a Sunday. No complaints here as the Sprint felt like a true warm-up for Sunday’s Super, rather than a sore recovery run. I’d lobby for more of these races throughout the calendar.

The Course: We’ll concentrate mostly on the Super

Technical terrain, mild hills, a bit of sand and lots of cacti.

Competitors took off from the starting corral on a soft, flat surface, hitting the four-foot wall almost immediately. Within the first mile, racers bottlenecked on the vertical cargo climb. While normally placed later on the course, hitting this obstacle at the same time as other racers made it difficult to quickly ascend the loose-fitting net. Lots of kicking, nudging and movement on both days. Sunday’s race had a surprise visit from the 2.0 version of the obstacle, with a platform about a foot or so higher than normally experienced, since its introduction last year.

Monkey bars were next on both courses. With frigid temperatures overnight, ice and frost carpeted the course and obstacles. Many elites and age groupers fell victim to the monkey bars, filling up the normally empty burpee zone for such a simply executed obstacle. One more thing to note: the monkey bars were all level, but the spacing between each section has been lengthened. You’ll need to adjust your plan of attack if you’re used to the version of years’ past.

Olympus was another obstacle significantly impacted by ice in the first quarter of the race. Those like me, who place their feet flat on the wall, had to adjust, using more grip strength while sliding across on our knees. After Olympus, first-time 2019 racers came face-to-face with the 8-foot box, a literal box with ropes you’ll have to maneuver over. Only its second appearance in Spartan Race, participants are still getting used to the awkward climb, either treating it like a wall or muscling up with the ropes, trying to get their feet to the platform’s top first.

Lots of beautiful terrain awaited in the Super course, which varied from slight inclines and steep, hard declines, to beautiful sandy trenches and prickly bush juking. 

Halfway through both courses, racers approached the festival-adjacent area for the Hercules Hoist, Plate Drag, Z-walls, Spear Throw and Tire Flip. And yes, the new foam targets were used for the Spear. They are indeed narrower, and it’s more difficult to retrieve a spear if someone hits the target before you.

Spartans then tackled the steepest part of the course to take on some more of the classic obstacles, including the rope climb at the top of the mountain. The bucket carry was a decent distance, with tough trenches to maneuver. Buckets in Arizona were a bit heavier than the Chino race in SoCal a couple of weeks before.

Rounding out the course was a good amount of trail running, plus new obstacles Helix and Beater. Helix is the hybrid of Olympus and the Z-Wall, traversing along the slippery metal bars, without touching the top of the obstacle or the ground. Beater, which was not too far after the very muddy/icy Wire Crawl/Dunkwall combination, gave many racers problems due to the coordination and grip strength needed to succeed. There were only two twisting arms of the Beater, compared to Chino, which had three, but the second monkey bar before the first spinning mechanism was quite a high reach.

Excited racers leaped for joy over the first Fire Jump of the season, to end the race!

The Champs

Tremendous congratulations to the elite men and women who took on this challenging course and earned a spot on the podium! Veejay Jones and Nicole Mericle took first place both days. The women’s second and third place podium finishers repeated both days: Amanda Nadeau took home the silver and Ashley Heller the bronze.

Matt Rock and Daniel Sorensen placed second and third on Saturday for the Sprint, and Ivan Santana and Nikolaj Dam earned silver and bronze, respectively at the Super.

Take note: Nicole Mericle was third OVERALL for the Sprint!

Final Thoughts

Fort McDowell is one of the most beautiful courses on the Spartan calendar. While yes, it was unseasonably chilly, once the sun came out on Sunday, the course was a very comfortable temperature. Unfortunately, the elites and age groupers had to deal with ice everywhere, but we can’t win them all!

The beautiful hills, tricky terrain and gorgeous views make running without an obstacle for a mile or two, less frustrating as you concentrate to keep your footing, while avoiding cacti.

Parking for the event was very easy and accessible. Since Spartan Race now includes the parking fee in your registration, there’s less of a mad rush to get to your heat’s start time early. Traffic flows very nicely. No one parked more than a few minutes walk from the festival area.

One major race-related issue I had was the placement of the Vertical Cargo Net. That is an obstacle best suited for an area of the course where there is less bunching, With 20-50 people working to get up the net, it caused more logistical trouble than a competitive nature for the elites and age groupers.

 

 

 

Rating: 5/5

 

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