Photo Courtesy of Spartan

Given what happened to Ryan Woods in the first Spartan Championship Series race in Jacksonville, I think it’s high time someone addressed the elephant in the room. Oh…I am not talking about A-Frame-gate aka #InWoodsWeTruss, nor about Spartan’s fluid rulebook. No, this is about Woods getting shredded when he got tangled up in the barbed wire crawl and then donated a pint of blood as he made his way through the rest of the course. I think it may be time to call out the barbs.

Challenging or Sadistic?

Photo Courtesy of Spartan

First: Can we agree that having any significant downhill in the barbed wire crawl is either a bit ignorant or sadistic? Anyone who has rolled down hills at any speed knows that it’s very easy to lose control of your limbs. Acceleration will make your arms and legs fly out from your body, which is likely what happened to Woodsy. Either that or he hit a bump and got launched into the air. All it takes is a couple of inches and suddenly you’re fillet-o-racer. That’s a big fat nay-nay, Spartan.

Let me say this: Removing the barbs will not substantially change the challenge of the obstacle nor make it appreciably easier. I thought I’d get started on this early and repeat it often, as the most common hue and cry from people who like to bleed is that any change in the direction of safety and sanity will make the obstacle easier. IT WON’T.

Barbed wire is heavy gauge wire strung taut between metal posts hammered deeply into the ground. It’s also braided, so it’s actually at least two strands of stiff wire. The point is that it’s not like stringing, well, string between the posts and telling racers to go under it. Unlike with string, or even rope, racers cannot simply push their way through this. They still need to move forward below the level of the wire, which is the whole point of the obstacle.

Removing the Barbs Won't Make it Easier

Photo Courtesy of Spartan

I will grant that the barbs add an element of enforced caution to the crawl. Anyone crawling a bit too tall or rolling a bit too enthusiastically will get stabbed and cut. Best case scenario you get your pricey top or compression tights snagged and torn. If you have long flowing locks or a man-bun, you could easily snarl your hair with the barbs, as happened to defending series champ Lindsay Webster at a race last year. However, the most likely outcome is that you wind up cut and bleeding. Now that most races have done away with the potentially fatal sternum-checker, the barbed wire crawl remains the only obstacle that is deliberately designed to hurt or injure the racer.

BoneFrog is a full-on military-themed race, and as far as I know, even they don’t use barbed wire. If that’s tough enough for them, then it’s tough enough for everyone.

Raise your hands if you are fine with making your way through a muddy swampy course with open gashes on your body. How about going through all those water obstacles that thousands of racers have already been through? The chances of potentially serious infection are very, very real.

Safety First

Yeah, yeah, I know: people get cut up on other stuff too. Heck, you could take a tumble and split your knee on a rock. Absolutely and so what? Those the hazards of racing. The barbed wire gashes are by design, courtesy of the race director. Big difference I think, although Amelia Boone would know much better. #lawyered

Does everyone remember that time Rose Wetzel sprinted full-tilt in the barbed wire crawl and did a supergirl face-first sprawl across the wires? It could easily have been much, much worse. Its all fun and games until Wetzel loses an eye.

Finally, and most importantly, I have two words for y’all: Greg Louganis.

To save you a Google: he is a multiple World Championship and Olympics gold medalist in diving for the USA who hit his head during the springboard competition in Los Angeles. He split his scalp, and we all know how those things bleed. Anyone watching the live broadcast may have been surprised by his emotional reaction after the competition. The reason for that came out later: he was HIV positive at the time.

Ever since then there have been “blood rules” in most major sports.

Anyone getting snagged on those barbs after the lead elite men went through may as well have had unprotected sex with Woods as far as transmission of diseases through bodily fluids is concerned. But wait: there’s more! Ryan also had his hand/fingers sliced open and so was leaving a blood trail on all the grip obstacles: monkey bars, beater, rig, twister, spear, etc. Did any of you come out of Jacksonville with cuts on your hands?

In the meantime, here is some silver lining for everyone. Spartan can now have contests to decide on how to best use their miles and miles of soon to be retired barbed wire. Think outside the box! Off the top of my head here…

  • maybe wrap all the A-Frame trusses in barbed wire
  • implement a “roll of barbed wire carry” as the penalty for anyone kicking a bell

Have fun with it!