The weekend of January 25-26 marked the beginning of the 2020 U.S. season for Spartan, with the SoCal Super and Sprint at Prado Regional Park in Chino, CA.
This was my fourth year in a row doing this event, and the third year in a row at this venue. I always look forward to this race at the start of the new year, as it's a relatively flat course and the perfect way to get back into the swing of things (no pun intended) after a long holiday break. The event this year certainly did not disappoint. The course and festival area were a lush green, and the course was in perfect condition for running: soft, but not muddy. Although Sunday brought cooler temps and an overcast sky, Saturday was a perfect California day, with temps in the 70's and sunny skies. It was truly a great way to kick off the new OCR year.
The Festival Area
This venue is perfectly set up for the Spartan festival area. The space is flat, covered in grass, and spread out enough that all the normal festival components fit without feeling cramped. The entrance/exit flowed well (and, of course, through the merchandise tent), and registration lines in the morning also seemed to move efficiently. This year the start line was at the edge of a small lake, which made for both excellent pictures and a scenic opening run. The main stage was, of course, located in the center of the festival area, with the finish on the opposite side as the start. One of the advantages to a large, flat festival area is that Spartan can route the course through the festival area, making it more exciting for spectators and racers alike. In this case, runners came through the festival area at Saturday's Super to complete the likes of the Herc Hoist, rope climb, and the A-frame cargo net. At Sunday's shorter Sprint, these obstacles marked the end of the course, when racers then completed the inverted wall, then crossed the finish line.
Other obstacles, like Olympus, were just a short walk from the festival area, for those spectators that wanted to get a view of the action on Saturday. Overall, traffic within the festival area seemed to move freely, and I didn't notice any particularly long lines. Though it was not part of the festival area per say, I did hear several complaints about the parking and shuttle situation, especially from those who were counting on getting to their early morning heats on time. Off-site parking never seems to be ideal, and I'm not sure what Spartan could do to improve efficiency, but it's definitely something to think about.
Like I mentioned earlier, I personally think this is the perfect course to start the new calendar year, especially since many of us hadn't done much training over the holidays, and may not have been feeling 100% prepared. With Spartan standardizing the lengths of their races this year (5K Sprint, 10K Super, and half-marathon Beast), both Saturday and Sundays courses were short, flat, and fast, with Saturday's Super coming in at 6.4 miles, and Sunday's Sprint at just over 3.2. Both the Super and Sprint were heavy on the upper-body strength obstacles, with the monkey bars, atlas and bucket carries, multi-rig, tire flip, Herc Hoist, and rope climb making the list both days. Saturday's longer Super also saw Olympus, Beater, Twister, and the Box, among others.
With the course as flat and fast as it was, missing an obstacle or two meant almost certain exemption from a podium spot, especially on the shorter Sprint course. Sunday also brought with it cooler temps and condensation, making obstacles like the monkey bars and tire flip unusually difficult. Those that could find a way to quickly flip a wet tire back and forth definitely had a leg up on their competition. Overall, I thought the layout of the course and obstacles was great. Yes, the weekend was heavy with obstacles that tested your upper-body and arm strength, and, yes, those obstacles were often stacked together, but that's racing. One very noticeable absence from the obstacle line-up was the signature Spartan dunk wall (and usually adjacent Rolling Mud). Apparently the park would not allow Spartan to dig, forcing them to hold the race with the dunk wall not in attendance. Honestly, it felt a little awkward crossing the finish line still dry, but, on the upside, the after-race rinse station was largely vacant. In hindsight, I think the dunk wall is kind of like that annoying relative that's at EVERY family get-together, yet, when they're absent, you find yourself wishing they were there. Go figure.
I think it's safe to say I wasn't the only one with some trepidation about the standardization of Spartan courses this year, but if this event was any indication, the extra distance won't be missed by many. In general, I think most welcomed the shorter distances, and the stacked obstacles made for exciting battles among competitors for the spectators in attendance. And if a 5K Sprint or 10K Super still doesn't satisfy your need for long-distance running, there's always the half-marathon distance Beast, and the 30+ mile Ultra. Flat course not enough of a challenge? Well, there's always Big Bear, Tejon Ranch, or Tahoe. On a final note, though you certainly can't please all the people all the time, the new medals and finisher shirts seemed to be well-received by the vast majority of Spartans, leading to a pleather of smiling selfies throughout the weekend. Parking snafus aside, I think this event was just about as good a start to 2020 as one could hope for, and I'm already crossing my fingers that there's not a venue change next January. Well, that, and that the dunk wall returns to Chino in 2020.
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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.