For the fourth year in a row, the Spartan World Championships were held in beautiful North Lake Tahoe, CA, specifically Squaw Valley Ski Resort. This was my second time here and it did not disappoint. When it was reported the week prior that this year's race would be a mild 13.5 miles long, as compared to last year's 17+ mile course, I'm pretty sure there were collective cheers among the Spartan community. But, alas, though the course was indeed shorter, there were other factors that made it as difficult, or even more difficult than last year's race.
The course began with a steady climb up the mountain, with inclines ranging from ‘runnable' to ‘power hike only', and included the usual Over Walls and Hurdles. The Herc Hoist greeted us at the top of the hill, shortly before the lake swim, which was reported to be a balmy 54 degrees, though it felt much colder. For many, that's where the trouble began. There was a short but swift run to the Bucket Brigade, then to the very top, where runners were greeted, not only by a series of obstacles like the Plate Drag, Atlas Lift, and the dreaded barbed wire crawl but by stinging winds and cold, as well.
To add insult to injury, directly after the barbed wire crawl, was the Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall. Any hope of remaining warm and dry, at that point, was lost. The Slip Wall was especially challenging with cold and numb fingers, and the shortened rope length didn't help. Another short downhill run led to the next series of obstacles, and more wind and cold.
If they got through the spear throw and a shortened version of Twister, the double sandbag carry up a steep hill definitely threatened to do them in. Many racers were pulled at this point, due to hypothermia, simply unable to regain decent body temperature after the lake swim, Dunk Wall, and being exposed to the wind and cold. There were reports that the Spartan medical team took in somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 people suffering from hypothermia symptoms by early afternoon on Saturday. The lake swim was closed shortly thereafter and remained closed for the Sunday Beast and Ultra Beast.
Those who made it past the sandbag carry stood a decent chance of finishing the race, as much of the second half was downhill. The remaining obstacles were a combination of on-hill obstacles (walls, hurdles, Stairway to Sparta, etc.), and those they had decided to bring to the Village area, including the A-Frame cargo, rope climb, tire flip, Tyrolean Traverse, and the infamous Ape Hanger.
The idea was to try and make the race a little more spectator friendly this year, and, personally, I think it worked. Crowds gathered at some of the more interesting obstacles, and those who had already finished got to cheer their friends on. After going through the Village, racers went back up a final climb, then back down to the finish area, where they had to conquer Bender and, finally, the Multi-Rig, before crossing the finish line.
I think the change in course this year was a welcome departure from last, and the choice and placement of obstacles was, in general, a success. As far as the wind and cold…well, judging from the number of DNF's this year, I'd say many will be re-thinking their choice of race attire for next year.
On a final note, the Village area, including the Spartan merchandise and sponsor tents, seemed particularly well thought out this year. I heard some people say that there were not as many people in attendance this year, compared to recent years, but judging by the number of people carousing through the Village, or in line to buy merchandise, you'd never know.
It did, however, seem like there were fewer volunteers this year, as compared to last. Spartan recently sweetened the pot for volunteers (including lunch), but, in hindsight, doing this well in advance of the World Championships probably would have helped them, staff, all the obstacles adequately. Overall, though, I'd say ‘well-done, Spartan'. Of course, there's always room for improvement, but this was a quality event for both the competitors and spectators alike. I'm already looking forward to returning to Squaw Valley in 2019.
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