Spartan came roaring back into California last weekend with the Monterey Super, Sprint, and Trail race weekend. Located at Toro Park in Salinas, CA, this location has long been used by Spartan, first as a Beast, and, in more recent years, as a Super and Sprint event. The past year and a half being what it was, I was eager to see how this year's race would compare to years past, and, though I may be giving away the punchline, I don't mind saying that I was not disappointed.
The Venue/Festival Area
Parking at this venue is off-site, so there was a short shuttle ride to the park. Spartan admitted to some ‘shuttle issues' on Saturday, but I couldn't get clarification on exactly what that meant. I arrived at the venue Saturday morning just before 7:00, and was immediately greeted with the news that Spartan's internet connection was down, and they were not currently scanning any registration bar codes till the connection was back up. Bad start. Eventually, after about 10-15 minutes of waiting (and lines building up), they decided to process registrations the old-fashioned way…by hand. Time was of the essence, and I just hoped that my timing chip would, indeed, be linked to my name for accurate results. Once inside the festival area, I had a sense of nostalgia that took me back to pre-COVID times.
The festival area here is mostly grass, which was a welcome relief from some of the drier, dustier Southern California venues. With the exception of there maybe being slightly fewer participants (and, admittedly, it was still early), the festival area setup was excellent and extremely spectator-friendly. Spartan even had an area in the center of the festival area where you could practice your spear throw, climb a short rope, or even hoist a bucket full of rocks, as a pre-course warm-up. Well done, Spartan. There were ample food choices, a functional rinse station (though no changing tents), and a return to the bag-check of old where volunteers were actually stationed there, and wrist bands in full effect, as opposed to bags just being left in a common area, at the owner's risk. Again, applause.
All in all, the festival experience was hardly different than any of the previous years I've been there, which was a relief, given the state of OCR recently, and in the light of the pandemic, and the attitude of both the racers and spectators seemed to reflect this. Positivity abounded throughout the weekend, and people were visibly excited to get back to what they love, and have missed, so much. Unfortunately, the internet issues earlier in the day prevented many of Saturday's Age Group awards from taking place, but Sunday did run much smoother, and awards ceremonies, for the most part, went off without a hitch on the second day, albeit slightly behind schedule.
This is, personally, one of my favorite Spartan courses. Monterey is a great mix of rolling hills, short but steep climbs, single track and technical trail, and fun downhills. Most of the course is hard-packed, as opposed to looser dirt or sand, which lends a slightly safer vibe, especially if you're running fast. Saturday's Super course has about 1,700 feet of elevation gain over approximately six and a half miles, where Sunday's Sprint course had about 1,000 ft. over four, which was slightly longer than the usual 5K Sprint course. As far as obstacles go, it was a good mix, with some of the more upper body-focused obstacles uncharacteristically located towards the beginning of the race, rather than the end. Obstacles such as Olympus, Beater, and Twister were found in the first half, the rope climb, bucket, and sandbag carries around the middle, and the Herc Hoist, Multi-Rig, and Monkey Bars towards the end. Saturday morning saw some early light drizzle, which made for wet, slippery obstacles, and an interesting race for the Elite and Age Groupers. Making a glorious post-COVID return was the infamous Dunk Wall, and I have to say I was never as happy to immerse myself in muddy water as I was last weekend. As mentioned, I thought the obstacle selection and layout were excellent, though I will say a noticeable absence was the Yokohama Tire Flip, and I wonder if this is a sign of things to come or just an isolated transport issue. On a side note, though I did not personally run any of Sunday's 50K, half-marathon, or 10K Trail races (and am not officially reviewing those), I did hear from more than a few people that there were course-marking and aid-station issues, and I certainly hope that Spartan continues to improve their Trail series, so as to attract those who love to run but might not be interested in an obstacle course.
Overall, I thought it was a fantastic weekend. Technical issues aside, the Spartan team was visibly working hard to make this a great experience for all, and, to that end, I think they succeeded. Race director Missy Morris put together a course that was challenging, yet fun. The obstacle layout was innovative and flowed well. As far as COVID rules went, racers and participants were left to make their own decisions. Masks were not required in the festival area or on the course, though some chose to wear them. Both the participants and Spartan staff seemed genuinely happy to be back, and that spirit permeated the event. With the exception of some of the Spartan Trail participants, most in attendance seemed to have a great time, and smiles were found in abundance. Obviously, no one knows for sure what the immediate future holds as far as COVID-related numbers and restrictions, but it was certainly awesome to spend the weekend in an environment where those concerns barely existed. It truly was a throwback to simpler, less worrisome times. Here's hoping that the months to come offer us the opportunity to experience more events like this. Welcome back to California, Spartan.
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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.