After wine-tasting several times in the Santa Ynez Valley (I fancy myself somewhat of a connoisseur), I had a general idea of what kind of terrain to expect for the inaugural Spartan Central California race. I knew it wasn't going to be Tahoe or Big Bear, but I also knew it wasn't going to be flat. It is a beautiful area, with plenty of green, rolling hills and wide-open spaces. My intuition proved right last weekend, when thousands of Spartans invaded the beautiful Ted Chamberlin Ranch in Los Olivos, CA. The event was a fitting end to a successful race season, both for myself personally, and for Spartan Race, as well.
The Festival Area
Whoever scouted the ranch for the perfect festival location deserves their own medal. From the ample designated parking area, the festival area was just a short hill climb away, making it both convenient and picturesque. On one end was the kids course, and on the other, the start line for the adult races. In between were all the usual festival components, including vendor tents, food trucks, and, of course, the obligatory merchandise tent. Occasionally the Spartan festival area can feel slightly claustrophobic, but at this particular venue, that was certainly not the case. There was a well-structured, spaced-out feel that I thought lent an air of relaxation to the race weekend.
In addition, I always feel it's a plus when Spartan can route at least part of the course through the festival area, both for the racers and spectators alike. In this particular instance, as the runners approached the end of the course (or, for the Ultra competitors, the first lap), spectators could watch as they attempted the Z-Wall, rope climb, Herc Hoist, and, finally, the A-Frame cargo net. This setup definitely added an air of excitement to the end of the race, both for the Ultra and Beast on Saturday, as well as the Super on Sunday.
This was, hands down, the most striking course of any I've raced this season in the Golden State, and I feel confident that many shared my sentiment. From start to finish, a picture taken at any point on the course could have easily been made into a OCR-specific ‘wish you were here' postcard. The winding, gentle-sloping single track eventually let to the top of a ridge, where, while running, you couldn't help but marvel at how lucky you were to be at that particular place, at that particular moment. Needless to say, there was no shortage of amazing photos to include in this review.
Due to a strained shoulder, I was personally dreading the high number of obstacles that required an inordinate amount of upper-body strength (i.e. monkey bars, Twister, Beater, etc.), I found myself enjoying the course immensely. The run portions were so serene, that I rarely wondered how far away the next obstacle would be, even when my elevated heart rate told me that I could use the break. After going up into the hills, the course wound downhill again to Olympus (one of two obstacles to have a penalty loop instead of burpees), before passing through the festival area, under the dunk wall, over the slipway, then the sandbag carry, before climbing back up and out of spectator view.
Noticeably absent was the tire flip, though, after Castaic last weekend, no one seemed to mind. And, as always, the Tyrolean Traverse, Vertical Cargo (with its infamous Irish table), and The Box gave plenty of people a chance to practice their burpee form. There was also a lot of talk among competitors about how heavy the sandbags at the Hercules Hoist were this weekend, though I'm pretty sure Spartan will neither confirm not deny they were any heavier than normal.
Bumps in the Road
Aside from the fairly common cell reception/internet difficulties, the resulting long lines for those willing to wait to check their finish time, and the lack of water pressure at the rinse station (I assume this was a venue issue, and not something Spartan could have improved), there were no major bumps in the road at this weekend's event.
Well, OK…there was one. Admittedly, this is something that's been irking me all season, but, since this is my last review of the year, I figured I might as well address it now: Age Group award ceremony times. That's right, I know this is not an issue that affects everyone, but the Age Group athletes do seem to be one of the fastest growing (not to mention most loyal) supporters of Spartan Race, and I, for one, will say that it's tough to wait four hours after finishing a race, just to pick up your well-deserved medal. I understand that Spartan would like to have their participants stick around for a while, and it's good business, but let's be honest: I'm not really spending money while I wait. I'm just trying to keep warm, all the while debating whether or not it's worth it to stick around. For many this past weekend, it wasn't, and Spartan was left with whole podiums that were empty, as well as some age groups where only one or two had stayed. This was not only frustrating for those who did stick around, but, more importantly, looked bad for Spartan. Here's a tip: If you move the Age Group award times up, you'll not only have full podiums and great pictures, but you'll also have bigger crowds and happier competitors. Just something to think about, Spartan.
Slight bumps in the road aside, this was an awesome event, and a fitting end to a great season. Spartan got a lot of things right this season, and my hope is they will continue to listen to their participants, both competitive and recreational, and improve on the things they can control. On a side note, there's no word as of yet if Spartan will return to this location in 2020, though I feel confident saying that the vast majority of those who participated last weekend certainly hopes they do, myself included. Fingers crossed that it'll be a last-minute addition to the 2020 calendar.
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