Thanks to the Trailmaster himself, Mr. Steve Hammond, the 2019 Spartan Socal Ultra, Beast, and Sprint at Tejon Ranch really sucked.
In the best way possible, that is.
OK, so maybe that doesn't exactly sound like a compliment, but it is. I'm talking about the moment you're cursing the torturous uphill climbs and wondering if there will be any part of the course that actually goes back down. Or wondering how a course that basically starts and finishes in the same place can feel like you're climbing 75% of the time. Yup…it defies logic. But more on that later. Let's start from the beginning.
The Festival Area
Located in the sprawling Tejon Ranch, about an hour north of Los Angeles, this is the second year for this particular location, and my second year participating. Despite the occasional bursts of wind that tend to sweep over open spaces like this, the Ranch actually provides a nice, flat, open space for the festival area, with ample parking alongside the venue. Besides being a little dusty, and having to be careful where one stepped (after all, it IS an equestrian center), I thought the location was well-suited for both spectators and racers alike. From a spectator's point of view, though, I will say it would have been nice to have more obstacles closer to the festival area (ala the course in Monterey, CA) so that those watching could cheer on the athletes coming through.
I ran the Beast course on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday. The only part of this weekend's trails I did NOT see was the extra four-ish miles that the Ultra participants ran, where they had and extra sandbag carry and an extra barb-wire crawl. In his constant quest to keep things fresh and exciting, Mr. Hammond reversed the course this time around, so that those of us who were here last year pretty much felt like we were running the course backward. The good: We didn't have to start with a long, flat, mile-long run, before finally slowing down in the hills. The bad: We had to finish with it when we were completely gassed.
Both the Beast and Sprint courses started with a moderate climb and the usual combination of walls and hurdles, before coming back down to the festival area for the Z-Wall, atlas carry, monkey bars, and Tube Crawl. Then it was back up into the hills, where the real fun began. The next eight miles, or so, of the Beast consisted of an up and downhill roller coaster ride, with the obstacles strategically placed where runners would be the most tired. Or at least that's how it seemed. I've overheard several people label this race as ‘Big Bear, Jr.', and I get it. While it doesn't have the total elevation gain that Bear has, nor is the terrain quite as challenging, there are definitely similarities. Overall, I don't think it's a fair comparison, but the steep and steady climbs definitely bring back memories. Or nightmares, as the case may be.
Sunday's Sprint course definitely favored those who can run fast, as it cut out most of the vertical gain that was Saturday's Beast, but for those who liked to push through pain, the full 12.6-mile course gave one lots of opportunities to make up time, especially if you were good at climbing. Again, descending to festival-level, then having to run that last flat mile was harder than you'd think on Saturday. Coming down, the momentum carried you, but once you got to flat earth, there was no momentum, only tired legs. That said, placing the last few obstacles (the rig, Rolling Mud, Slip Wall, Vertical Cargo, and the Herc Hoist) along that last mile definitely made for some exciting finishes. If I'm honest, as much as those climbs sucked, I think I actually enjoyed this year's course more than last. And that's the thing about this venue: the enjoyment factor sneaks up on you. You curse it, you hate it, you say you're not doing it next year, yet here you are. That's the kind, of course, that is Spartan Tejon Ranch. If you're looking for something with terrain more challenging than Chino in January, but maybe not quite as intense as Tahoe or Big Bear, then this should probably be on your 2020 list of races.
I thought Spartan did a lot of things well this weekend. Steve did a great job plotting the course. The obstacles were well-placed. Festival and parking were on point. And, as usual, Spartan DJ extraordinaire Marc Montano did a great job of keeping the crowd informed and the energy level up. Of course, there were a couple of things that maybe didn't go so well. Like I mentioned earlier, it would have added a little something if at least part of the course were to actually run through the festival area. There's always great energy for the runners when that happens, and it helps to keep the spectators engaged. Also on the ‘list of concerns', was the wifi issue. For reasons still unclear (I did attempt to get clarification, but most Spartan staff I spoke with seemed genuinely baffled), the wifi signal on Saturday was incredibly slow, or worse, not functioning at all, leading to delays in reported times, racers not being able to check their finish times at the timing tent, and awards ceremonies being delayed to the point that many couldn't stay. On Sunday the signal seemed better, and racers could check times immediately after finishing, but there were other issues, including long lines at registration, reportedly due to volunteers not showing up. Are these things Spartan's fault? Technically no. Was Spartan staff doing everything they could to remedy the situation? Absolutely. But I bring this up because it seems like these are the types of little things that should be anticipated. Maybe a back-up plan in case the wifi fails? Maybe securing more volunteers than you actually need, in case some don't show up on time? Just a thought, Spartan.
Despite the minor ‘hiccups', the thousands who were there, myself included, seemed to be having a great time. It's a pretty good bet I'll be there next year. Cursing the hills, of course.
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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.