I had the opportunity to compete in the 2017 Spartan World Championship Obstacle Course Race. This is a race summary, but I will include links for those interested with descriptions of all Spartan Obstacles found in this race. I raced in the Competitive Heat. I placed 19th out of 82 in my age group, 138th out of 558 for all males, and 151st out of 732 of all competitive racers and 223 out of 4,402 total racers for all heats. I feel pretty good about the results considering I live and train at sea level and the course starts at 6000 ft, reaching a peak at 9000 ft. The course itself was 17.9 miles long (billed at 16 miles, but I’ll talk about that later) with 5000 ft of elevation gain and 38 obstacles which included a lake swim in 45 degree water.  The initial run up the mountain had inclines of up to 38.5 deg and ended at its highest point of 9000 with an uphill bucket carry. The only way I can describe how steep the course was is to say that it was not hiking trail steep, it was ski slope steep.

On the run up after almost 2000 ft of climbing came the first bucket carry, down one side of a dirt half pipe and then up the other side. Then it was onto the spear throw, which I made and was a huge confidence boost so early in the race. After more climbing came the Gauntlet, which consisted of about 9 obstacles back to back. They were the Atlas Lift, 8 ft wall, Tyro Traverse, Ape Hanger, Barbed Wire Crawl 1, Rolling Mud, Barbed Wire Crawl 2, Dunk Wall and the Slip Wall. I made it a point to keep moving and not hesitate on any obstacles, so I was able to make it through all of these obstacles fairly quickly.

After this, there was a short run to the Olympus, a board that is slanted at least 45 deg with artificial rock, small circle holes and short hanging chains for hand holds. The wall was very slippery and getting a foothold was challenging to say the least. I struggled to make it through this, but failed 1/4 of the way, wasting valuable energy in the attempt. This was my first 30 burpee penalty. If you have never done burpees at 8000 ft, it’s quite and experience. Then it was a climb up to the first sandbag carry that sent us down a hill and back up. There was a total of 4 carries that accumulated to about 1.9 miles that was not counted in the course distance. Then more climbing to the second bucket carry which topped out the race course at 9000ft. This is where I really felt the altitude.

After the bucket carry, the course descended on a combination of access roads and singletrack down to the lake for the swim. On the way to the lake at 8000 ft, there is an elevation loss of about 1000ft and compared to the bucket carry at 9000ft, I began to feel really good. I hit the lake swim and found myself behind racers who were not swimming very fast. I’m ok with cold water, but in 45 degrees, you only have so much time until your body starts getting really stiff. I made my way around these other racers and completed the swim. I made the tactical decision before the race to carry water tight bags and put my warm layers in them during water obstacles. It was a good strategy, that I used earlier on the dunk wall and it paid off then. It was windy after the gauntlet, and putting on dry warm clothes was a game changer.

After the swim it was different, I decided since I didn’t have a shirt on and I was heading down the mountain, I would use my bodies natural “wicking” ability and just air dry while I ran. This paid off. It didn’t take long to get dry and warm up. I found a good rhythm on the way down the mountain and I didn’t bother to put my shirt back on. The rundown became a rocky single track which was fun to navigate. On the way down a pack of racers began to emerge, who were all running the same pace. I was part of that pack and we stayed together until the second Sandbag Carry. Then I pulled away. Pulling away in a carry obstacle is like saying my turtle is faster than yours. I was able to gain significant ground on the other racers, but to an outside observer it wouldn’t appear very dramatic. After the sandbag carry I never saw those racers again.

The course continued down until it returned to within 100m of the starting line with the Inverted Wall and the Bender (like the inverted wall, but with monkey bars). Then the course turned upwards again towards a different peak. I personally think this climb was the most challenging part of the race. The climb starts at mile 12 and ends at about mile 14, with an elevation gain of 2000ft. It felt like the bucket carry, but without the bucket. I was able to pass groups of  racers on the way up, but was also passed by about 3 racers.  At the top was the Spartan Wall.  Once over the wall, there was a Spear Throw, that I missed and incurred my second 30 burpee penalty.

Then it was downhill for the next 2 miles. The only problem was that my quads and adductors were beginning to rebel against me.  I had a solid nutritional plan prior to the race and that was to eat something every hour and take 2 cups of water at every water station. This would have been a great strategy for a course that was 4 hours to completion, which is what I planned. My completion time was 1hr 40min over that estimation, so I ran out of nutrition. The run down was rough, but I got it done and was able to stave off any severe leg cramps.

At the bottom there were still 7 more obstacles. The Rope Climb, Tire Flip and A Frame Cargo Net were no problem. Then came the Twister. This obstacle was about 50 ft of twisting monkey bars with 2 bells. The first bell was about 30ft from the start of the obstacle. The second bell was about 20ft farther. There was a 60 burpee penalty for the entire obstacle, but if you hit the first bell then you only had a 30 burpee penalty. Hit the second bell and there is no burpee penalty. Knowing there was a very grip intensive, yet shorter, obstacle less than a 800m away and only 100ft from the finish I chose to make it to the first bell and save my grip. I made the first bell, but as I reached for it my other hand slipped and I hit the bell and the ground with my foot at the same time. I turned to an official who said “60 burpees”.  I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t waste anytime starting my burpees. I’d estimate that it took me 10 minutes to finish those burpees.

Then it was onto the finish with the Hercules Hoist and the Multi Rig. The Hercules hoist was no problem. The Multi Rig consisted of gymnastics rings, a slanted 15ft pipe and short ropes with either knots or baseballs on the end. I made it past the first rings and baseballs and over the pipe, but when it came to grabbing the knotted rope, I couldn’t hang on and fell. That gave me my 3rd burpee penalty only feet away from the finish line. I finished my burpee penalty and crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 40 minutes.

After the race I was able to catch up with many of the other racers and when comparing tracking devices (I have the Fenix 5x), we all had distances for the course between 17.85 and 17.9 miles, which was different than the 16 miles that were posted on the course. I believe this is due to the fact that they did not include any of the 4 carries in the total. These same racers I talked with who have done multiple beasts and world championships, said this was the most challenging course they have seen or done.

I have to give it up to Spartan. They did an excellent job of pulling off such a complicated event with so many countries represented, while still maintaining the warmth and friendliness of a much smaller event. The courses were flawlessly marked, I never thought for a second that I would accidentally veer off course. The volunteers were cheerful and encouraging. The athletes would be in the midst of their own struggles, yet find the energy to encourage others who were either doing better or struggling more than they were.  The referees were as fair as they could be. All in all it was an amazing experience.

Whether you are looking to move up and becoming more competitive in your heat or are looking to do your very first obstacle course race, then check out my obstacle course coaching options.

Now get out there and train for something!

Bob