When deliberating over which Spartan course to take on, the Super always wins out for me. The 12-15k distance isn’t too daunting, and allows the race directors to give the full Spartan experience, with a range of different obstacles. What I have since learned, is that it also gives you the opportunity to experience every different type of carry imaginable, but more on that later.
The backstory: I’ve been out of action since September, save for 3 events that I gently bimbled around and paid dearly for afterwards. Last Saturday’s South West Super was my first attempt at a return to running a course for the personal challenge rather than the footage. It was there to give me a baseline from which I could return to some semblance of fitness. My body was heavy, unprepared and untrained, but my brain was so geared up to get back onto a course and just do my best.
The Super, in short, was hilly, strewn with technical and punishing carries and difficult. Yet I regret nothing.
Often the biggest obstacle of the day at any event is getting in and out of the venue – this was made incredibly easy by that mythical beast they call ‘hard standing’, which is always nice to see. Spartan also did a brilliant job of signposting the venue and ensuring everybody knew where to go.
The event village itself was compact and easy to navigate, and all of the various drops and pickups were very efficient. The only thing obviously lacking in part was atmosphere – with waves being very spread out throughout the day, it meant that people trickled in and out, but the overall mood was somewhat flat. This general aura of anti-climax unfortunately carried on to the start line, where the absence of crowd-pleaser Spartan Phil was very noticeable.
Nevertheless, the runners themselves were enthusiastic, and we set off. Now, I’ve had a couple of bug-bears about Spartan set-ups before, so I was really pleased to see that there had been some attention to detail; permanent features at the venue had been reinforced, so racers weren’t destroying fencing and falling over bits of wire mesh as I’ve seen previously. Only one fence was missed out, but this will have been rectified by the staff after reporting it.
The race began with one of those dashes around fields, designed to spread the pack. This worked nicely and I was really happy that there were no further pointless runs around fields just to make up distance. The obstacles were fairly thin on the ground in the opening stages, but new obstacles such as ‘The Bender’ (yes, really), presented a simplistic looking but actually quite challenging problem. Marshals were delightful across the board, and water stations came just when I needed them (now with added bananas).
One stand out section of the course was a despicable little log carry through a very technical forest trail. I wouldn’t have liked to have been in road shoes for the many slippy inclines and winding trails, but it really was delightful to negotiate with the added difficulty of an ungainly log, and I felt like I was hitting my stride in these forest sections.
I personally struggled with some of the small hill repeats; new to the world of asthma, I had to shoot up some Ventolin as I oscillated between purposeful march up and dubious trot down the inclines, but again, it was nice to see that the hill repeats were over interesting trails rather than some boring hill in a field. It was also good to hear people around me having a good swear about the hills, so I didn’t feel so bad, and honestly, we’ve all conquered worse.
I started to develop my faithful headache running down towards one of the two long barbed wire crawls, but a friendly marshal had some painkillers, and once my brain stopped jangling about my head, I was able to get it back into the game, ready for quite possibly the best/worst section of the race.
In a little valley, I could make out lots of racers trudging up and down the steep sides, each section sported a different instrument of torture – there was a farmers carry, a tyre carry, atlas stones, a sled pull, a hoist and further into the distance, a loop with those ungainly sandbag pancakes. There were intermittent rallying cries of ‘Aroo!’ and ‘Come on, nearly there.’ In between long, tortured silences punctuated by grunts. Right then. There’s not much to say about these carries except they were long and largely horrible, but very much what makes a Spartan race. They’re laborious, and strength based, and I like how they can make a basic carry that little bit more dynamic, which was perfectly illustrated by the ‘AROO’ mapped out on the tyre carry.
One of the more dastardly aspects of this section was that there were a lot of arm-strength-sapping activities surrounding obstacles where you really needed your upper body to be on top form. Thankfully, there were some some super-grippy hang tough rings to play on at the bottom of the valley, but there were obstacles that played on the weakness created by the one before; for example, the Z walls require a lot of finger strength, just after you’ve grated your hands on a rope. Very clever, you little Spartan monkeys.
Once out of the valley of death, the event village was in spitting distance. All that was left to negotiate were the usual suspects; the rope climb monkey bars, that bloody spear throw, some walls, and, oh wait… A bucket carry. A bucket carry so nefarious that I saw grown men stop and have a little cry. Buckets had to be hand filled with gravel, and lugged through a series of twists and turns around a cross between a quarry and a scrap yard. The ground was uneven and rocky underfoot, and there was a scary house to trudge through. I think many would have welcomed being murdered to death in there rather than having to continue meandering around this horrible little scene with that damned bucket, but the majority of us survived with arms intact and spirits only slightly broken.
I was met after the carry by fellow Mudstacle member Matt, who fed me Kinder Bueno and platitudes as I tried to slap my arms back into life ready for the rope climb. Apparently it was just some monkey bars, muddy ditches and a traverse wall before I had to think up a suitable unique fire jump pose, but I knew with the spear throw looming, my first burpees were going to dampen my spirits. OH WAIT NEVER MIND, I NAILED IT. For the first time in my life, I got through the spear throw, and it was probably the one thing that he didn’t film, so that sums up just how useful he turned out to be.
Unfortunately a niggling cramp in my calf rendered me completely useless at the final traverse wall, which was really annoying because it looked like an interesting obstacle, and also I hate doing burpees in front of spectators, but alas, they happened. Then all that remained was to scale some walls and hop over some hot logs, before being welcomed over the finish line.
Honestly, it felt great. I’ve spent too long being sick and sorry for myself, and the Super felt like the perfect welcome back into the world. The distance was bang on, the course was well thought out (if intermittently dastardly), terrain was put to excellent use and the obstacles were interesting, dynamic and safe. If this is the way that Spartan is going in the UK, I’m very excited to see what the rest of the season holds.
But seriously, bring back Spartan Phil.