OK, so the Spartan ‘Las Vegas' weekend wasn't actually in Las Vegas, but let's be honest…after a year away from organized OCR events here in the West, I don't think anyone really cared. Of course, there were athletes present who had perhaps already competed at the Jacksonville or San Antonio events in the weeks prior, but for many there last weekend, this was a triumphant and long-awaited return to what we love and had missed so much: camaraderie, competition, and the chance to push ourselves to the limit once again. This was my first time at this particular event, so I didn't know quite what to expect from the course or venue itself, but, admittedly, it would have been hard to disappoint me after a year off.
The Festival Area
The venue itself was not hard to get to, and traffic both in and out seemed to move well, which was a departure from what I remember towards the end of 2019 and early 2020. Of course, it's difficult to say if this was the result of a reduced capacity, or simply better planning. As luck would have it, the weather last weekend was absolutely beautiful, which helped make this venue a winner, in my book. The festival area was flat and spread out, which worked well, though I could see how a little wind could change all that in a moment. COVID protocols were in full effect: Sanitizing stations everywhere, masks required in the festival area, and protective barriers for many of the volunteers and employees. Overall, no one seemed to mind having to keep their distance, and I didn't notice the new rules putting a damper on anyone's day. It was a little sad to see a smaller crowd and fewer food trucks and vendors, but it was expected, and I think the enthusiasm of the smaller crowd effectively diminished my initial disappointment. I know there were a few who were not happy with the ‘no spectators' rule, or only being able to access the festival area 30 minutes before their heat (60 if you're a Spartan+ member), but I have to say I thought all the Spartan employees and volunteers alike did well at throwing water on small fires here and there, and keeping the overall vibe positive.
With the exception of one hill on the motocross track at the end of the race, this is pretty much a flat course. The Super course on Saturday measured about six and a half miles, and the Sprint the next day about three and a half. A couple of notable sections were the sand towards the beginning and the divots in a couple of open, grassy segments. If you're a runner, the sand presents a distinct challenge, as it really sucks the energy from your legs fast. It was also difficult to run quickly over the divots, as you had to constantly gauge what was happening in front of you, so as not to step in one. They were hard and unforgiving, and I could definitely see someone easily twisting or even breaking an ankle if they weren't careful. Definitely recalled visions of Sacramento. Another highlight for me, personally, was the river crossing. Fun and refreshing on a hot day, but it also makes running that much more challenging with wet shoes. Obstacles were set up for social distancing, and sanitation stations were available in mass. The ropes on The Box were notably shorter, thus making that particular obstacle more challenging. I thought the layout of obstacles was excellent, though I was probably just happy to see most of them, including Twister, Beater, the tire flip, and, of course, the bucket carry. Interestingly, the sandbag has been absent from the first three Spartan events this year, though I suspect that it's because a sandbag is probably more difficult to disinfect than, say, a bucket. Just a guess, though. Spartan also got a little spicy and made the spear throw the third-to-last obstacle, which, I have to say, made for some really exciting Elite heats both Saturday and Sunday. And, being a West-Coaster, we don't get many fire jumps, so you know I took full advantage of this one, trying to get that cherished perfect fire jump pic.
Overall, I thought the course was challenging and well-thought out, and the weekend flowed well. Sure, there were hiccups here and there, and definitely some inconveniences, but to be able to get back out there and do what we love again, made those few inconveniences worth it. On a personal note, it was great spending the weekend with both friends and rivals I haven't seen for over a year, and just remembering what it feels like to push your body to the point of exhaustion was exhilarating. Spartan (and all of us) is obviously navigating new territory, and trying to re-create what we're all used to with fewer tools than before. There have been, and will continue to be, occasional missteps, but I give them credit where credit's due, and this past weekend they definitely earned it. It was a great weekend filled with the things we've all missed: a beautiful local, a challenging course, and plenty of smiling Spartan faces. I'm looking forward to the next Spartan event out here in the West, but until then I'll continue to reminisce about my time in the desert. AROO!!!
Rating: 4.5 Stars