The 2019 Spartan race season started with a bang last weekend in Chino, CA, with the SoCal Super and Sprint. This venue has been a favorite among SoCal Spartans for some time now, and, with its flat, grassy straights and gentle, rolling hills, it's the perfect course to kick off the new race year. Recent rains left the course extra soft and somewhat muddy, but the weather could not have been better for the actual event. Aside from some strong wind gusts on Saturday afternoon, the weekend saw mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70's. Adding an extra element of excitement to the weekend's events, Spartan announced the introduction of several new obstacles (more on that later), though they were simply labeled ‘Mystery Obstacle' on the course map, which was released just two days before the race. Combined with the already obvious ‘First Race of the Season' anticipation, competitors were pumped.
The Festival & Race Logistics
Upon arrival at the venue, I immediately noticed that the festival area was set up in a different place than the last couple of years. The course had also been reversed, which was a welcome change for anyone who's done this event consistently. This year, runners would start out heading into the open fields, and finish coming around the lake, instead of the other way around. The festival area also had a slightly different look, though the layout was efficient. Gone were the multiple Spartan merchandise kiosks usually spread throughout, as they were replaced by a central merchandise tent, much like the one used in Tahoe for the World Championship last year. Although there was a multitude of sponsor tents, they were cleverly laid out in a circle (centralized around the merchandise tent, of course), making it easier for people to navigate traffic when trying to get from one place to another. This year also saw the addition of bag drop and parking fees built into registration, which seemed to prompt larger-than-normal lines at the bag drop. I will say the volunteers were working hard to keep everybody moving. I can only assume that Spartan will keep an eye on this, as more people will be checking bags since they've already paid for it. On a final festival area-related note, though the general parking fee was included in the event registration, anyone who paid the $40 (definitely a bit steep) was probably glad they did.
As I mentioned earlier, there was nervous excitement about these new ‘Mystery Obstacles' and much speculation as to what they were and how difficult they would be. Out of the start corral for Saturday's Super, the first five miles saw a lot of running over mostly flat, soft ground, with minimal obstacles. The majority of obstacles were stationed on what would be Sunday's Sprint course. The first couple of miles included the familiar six- and seven-foot walls and Bender but then brought us to the first new obstacle, ‘Beater.' A hybrid of the monkey bars and Twister, Beater started with a rotating set of four monkey bars, similar in appearance to a beater (hence the name). From there, you had to get momentum enough to grab a single high bar, down to a second ‘beater,' then a final high bar. Its appearance was deceptively simple, and it took quite a few people (myself included) a moment to figure it out. Challenging, for sure, but, on the downside, only one person at a time could navigate the ‘beaters' without taking the chance that they'd make the person in front of them fall off. This seems to me like a slight design flaw, and I hope that Spartan can come up with a solution that will prevent bottlenecking at this obstacle.
Unless you count the addition of balls to the end of the chains on Olympus a separate obstacle, the second ‘Mystery Obstacle' on the Super-only section of the course was what most are calling the eight-foot Box. This consisted of an eight-foot wall with a rope going up it, a flat, table-like surface on top, and a short ladder going down the other side. Again, this obstacle was deceptively simple, as evidenced by the myriad Spartans doing burpees on the side, and the ‘one and done' rule didn't help. Anyone who took a running start and attempted to jump and grab the top of the wall quickly found out that it was a very smooth surface, with little to grab. The most effective (and popular) technique for conquering this new obstacle seemed to be getting high enough on the rope, that one could get at least one arm or leg over the top, and lift themselves completely over the edge. I'm fairly certain there will be a lot of chatter on social media over the next few weeks about the new obstacles, and which techniques are most effective to navigate them successfully.
Once runners circled back around to the Sprint section of the course, the obstacles came more frequently. We welcomed back old favorites like Olympus, Twister, Herc Hoist, Bucket Brigade, the sandbag carry, tire flip, Z-Walls, and, of course, the great equalizer: the spear throw (where the hay bales have been replaced with the Stadium-style foam targets for 2019). Though slightly narrower than the hay bales, most seemed to prefer the new foam targets, though there were frequent breaks when volunteers had to remove spears that racers could not. From the spear throw, runners came to the final unknown of the day: Helix. Though some characterized it as a cross between Olympus and Bender, it had a sheet of clear plexiglass over every other section, which added an element of difficulty. The idea is to navigate from one end to the other, using only hand and foot holds, without touching the top of the obstacle or the ground. Safe to say, most found this obstacle fairly easy, if not entertaining.
I was extremely pleased with the layout, conditions, and level of difficulty of the course. I overheard many finishers reiterate the same. I would not want to start the new season on a course like Big Bear, Tahoe, or even Lebec, but, especially with many coming off an extended off-season break, this was a great race to ease us into the new year. Kudos to Spartan for breathing some new life into what was, for some, becoming a bit stale, and I look forward to seeing what they have up their sleeve the rest of 2019. AROO!!!
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