This past weekend marked my third year in a row competing in the Spartan Super and Sprint in Monterey, CA. To be honest, this is one of my favorite venues in all of California. The course is a perfect combination of challenging but runable climbs and descents, single track technical trails, and flat, open spaces, and is well-suited for setting up obstacles. Though I did run both the Super and Sprint, for the sake of this review I'll be focusing solely on Sunday's Sprint course.
The Festival Area
One of the reasons to like this venue is that it is tailor-made for setting up a festival area. Located in the town of Salinas, about 20 minutes outside of downtown Monterey, Toro Park is a mostly grass-covered park, with flat, wide-0pen spaces at the foot of the trails. Passing through registration, participants and spectators had to walk under the giant A-frame cargo net, as racers moved overhead, then through the merchandise tent (which seems to be a current Spartan Race venue theme). Once outside the merchandise tent, I noticed right away the festival area was well-thought out, and very spectator friendly, which seems to be another Spartan theme as of late. On one side of the festival area, spectators watched as the athletes came down from the hills to take on the rope climb and tire flip. On the opposite end, they could watch as runners tackled the last three obstacles of the course: The vertical cargo net, Herc Hoist, and the monkey bars, before crossing the finish line. The main stage was, of course, central to the festival area, and even with the usual vendor displays, rinse-off area and changing tents, and festival challenges, attendees still had plenty of room to navigate the area freely.
The Sprint course, which measured a lengthy 4.9 miles this year, included 20 obstacles and several challenging uphill climbs and fairly steep descents. Other than a mile-to-mile and a half section of the course between the sandbag carry and the Bucket Brigade, and the half-mile, or so, approaching the end of the course, the obstacles were fairly evenly spaced out, which made running the course a little easier and definitely more exciting. Interestingly, some of the obstacles typically found towards the end of the course made their appearance towards the beginning at this venue, including the Multi-Rig, Z-Walls, rope climb, tire flip, sandbag carry, and Bucket Brigade. Also of note was the fact that Spartan decided to reverse the course this year, moving the start corral across the service road, further opening up the festival area for spectators to get a better view of the course itself. Good call, Spartan.
Overall, it's hard to find fault with this race and venue. The course itself is a great compromise between some of the steeper, harder-to-run courses like Big Bear or Tahoe, and the flatter, less ‘challenging' locations like Chino, Las Vegas, or Arizona, making it perfect for those seeking a moderately difficult course they can still run. Spartan also seems to have the festival layout pretty much dialed in at this point, but I like that they are not afraid to change things up every once in a while, whether it be in the placement and order of the obstacles, or the direction of the course and start line. And the icing on the cake? The weather. Though it was on the slightly cooler side this time around (low 60's), this is simply a beautiful time of year and an ideal location geographically to hold a race. It's a pretty good bet that you'll be able to find me in the same place at the same time next year.
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This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.