What a treat we have for you! Today's guest writer is the legendary Steve Curnyn of Project Awesome and Hell Week fame. We sent him along to the Spartan Sprint in sunny Scotland last weekend and he only went and won the open wave. I guess it should come as no surprise "...when you think of Steve Curnyn, you think of super heros, 'ey." Here's his review...
It’s about to hit the peak of the summer and, as to be expected, it is just below 10C, hammering it down with rain and its blowing a hurricane out in the Scottish hills of Edinburgh. It must be Spartan Race weekend!
The rumours of the Saturday events were everywhere - with an incredible 90% DNF for the Ultra Beast and the majority of racers having to be carried off with hypothermia. I was quite excited to see what was in store for the Sprint. If I’m brutally honest with myself, after Hell Week I completely let myself go. I lost all fire to train and compete and I’ve let the negative thoughts of “why am I doing this?” and “I have nothing to prove to anyone, so why do I want to put myself through so much pain again?” enter my psyche. Then nine months ago I entered the wonderful world of fatherhood. I have a little man in my life now and he got me thinking that I don’t want to be an ordinary dad who just goes to work and occasionally works out. For the first time in two years I heard that beast say “it’s time train and get back in the game!”- so when Pete asked me to run the Sprint in the open heats and write a review, I thought this is the perfect opportunity to test myself against the majority again.
I am fortunate enough to live on the doorstep of Nine Mile Burn / Spittal Farm, which in my opinion is one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever seen for an OCR. The hills here are very wild and can be very unforgiving if you haven’t prepared appropriately, even in the height of summer, as a number of people found out on the Saturday.
As the start approached, I cracked on with my usual warm up before the pre-race led warm up, which was a bit of a let down, if I’m honest. In the past I remember a big beautiful man wearing nothing but a Spartan helmet, a red cape and Y fronts screaming at everyone, telling them how bad-ass they are and making them scream ‘AROO!’ and ‘I AM A SPARTAN!’- It got you pumped up and made you feel you were about to go to war! Well not on this day. The girl leading the warm up was lovely and full of energy, but we were about to tackle the Scottish Hills in brutal conditions. I wanted the big handsome man screaming at me. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a big handsome warrior (case in point right here).
Anyway, after the countdown, we were off! And straight up the hills - a perfect way to start a race.
At first it wasn’t too steep and there were a good couple of obstacles, like the traditional hay bales and the cargo netting. The marshals (legends) who were standing out in those grim conditions were lovely and full of smiles - massive kudos to those Samaritans. The trails were amazing, winding over little burns and constantly undulating terrain which meant you could never switch off. The Mudclaws were chewing up whatever was in front of me and I felt complete trust in wherever my feet were taking me.
Then we hit the first water section... Holy f**k balls, it was freezing! You actually would have thought you were in the Killing Fields. It was just a simple (haha) jump in and go under the big planks of wood three times… Easy, right?! No... The water stole every ounce of oxygen in my lungs and after every dunk I had to take a good few seconds to get my breath back. Nonetheless, it was rather refreshing when I was out the other end (my testicles did not agree, however) and then it was straight back up the hills.
Next, we came swooping round to our first carry of the race. It was a nice simple ‘grab those 2 logs and run until we say stop’. I liked this one for two reasons. Firstly, Spartan kindly attach ropes to each log making them very easy to run with and secondly it wasn’t just a straight run - there were some lovely walls (not too demanding) to throw them over, duck under, then jump through the middle off. Fun!
A little further up the hill brought us to our second carry. Now, this one was more of a challenge. Men had to grab two sandbags, whilst women had to take one. They then sent you on an incline (which I can only assume was around 25% and completely un-runable). The terrain was thick, with a lot of ducking and weaving through the ‘obstacles’ that nature so kindly provided.. God damn jaggy trees! My arms were on fire, but they didn’t feel as bad as I remembered from previous years. This is where I was thanking my little man for the invaluable training - he, like most tiny humans, enjoys the ‘royalty’ treatment of being carried 95% of the time, which has had an incredible training effect for me… who knew?! One of the many* perks of parenthood.
Walking up the hill, I couldn’t help but notice the path was covered in sandbags, where I could only assume previous runners thought ‘f**k this’ and chucked them. Personally, I didn’t see the point in that, as you still had to run round, then you would have to do your 30 penalty burpees at the end anyway.
After the sandbag section came a very welcomed downhill. It was great just to let the legs go and trust my shoes to fly down that hill towards a ‘lovely’ barbed wire crawl. The downhill continued as the course became more technical, spiking to a sharp climb and then a jump over some burns. This is what I call beautiful running - It’s the type of running that you have to focus on and think where best to place your feet, whilst trying to do it at a decent pace. It heightens the senses and I always see it like a ‘hidden obstacle’, especially to people that are unfamiliar with this type of running.
As I climbed the uphill, I arrived at the infamous ‘spear throw’. Guess what? I missed! It's something I have learned to accept, with only one successful ‘attempt’ in my many years at Spartan. I practice this in my own time and always hit the target! Come game day when it matters, I throw and I miss. It earned me a ticket to my first set of burpees. Joy! 30 later and I was back on my way with heavier legs and more of a struggle to find my rhythm again.
The next obstacle was the balance beams. Surprisingly (or not so in the pissing wet rain), I slipped off, earning myself even more burpees. With even heavier legs than before, I had to dig a little bit deeper to kick on again.
It didn’t take long to summon my motivation, as I quickly found one of my favourite obstacles of all time, not too much further along the trail - a duo of atlas ball carries, straight into the rope climb. *Claps hands furiously and joyfully* I LOVE a rope climb! The best part of these obstacles, in my opinion, was that they were right next to the event village. This means that, not only can it be heavily speculated, it teases you by making you think you are near the finish line... and oh how wrong that assumption was. Spartan has a wicked way of bringing you close, then whisking you away back up a brutal hill- this particular hill came with some tricky rock climbing walls and a rather gruelling log carry. I don’t think anyone was smiling by this point, the logs were big and bulky and the lap was undulating and long.
Finally, the decent to the finish line arrived and I let my legs go. It was a beautiful downhill- not too steep or too technical, meaning you could let your feet feel the way down to the bottom.
The final three obstacles brought a kettle-bell pull (wasn’t too heavy compared to previous Spartan events), the “Twister” and the ‘high walls’.
The ‘twister’ was an awesome version of the monkey bars - the bar twisted as you grabbed on to the handles.. good fun! But four away from the bell, when I thought it was in the bag, I grabbed, it twisted and I fell on my face. Another 30 burpees before picking myself up, putting my mega awesome ‘finisher’s face’ on and gloriously jumped over the fire to first place in the open!
To summarise, I felt OCR satisfied with the Spartan Sprint. It wasn’t overly hard, but had its challenges from certain obstacles and the technical route it contained. The location is one of the best I have come across in my experience of OCR - both brutal but beautiful. All in all, it was good value for money (if you sign up super early and get the early bird discounts) and I would recommend this as a great event for beginners and elites alike.
Thanks to Epic Action Imagery for the photos.
*Dependant on how much sleep, food and sanity he has stolen from me at the time in question.