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Race Review – Spartan Stadium Sprint – 15th Feb 2015, ANZ Stadium

16 February, 2015

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Wow, what en epic weekend! I had a nerve-wracking but ultimately awesome time completing the Spartan Stadium Sprint yesterday. While I have competed in events before, this was my first obstacle race. I’ve since learnt that Spartan races are the toughest obstacle races around! There are a few key reasons for this, one is the failed obstacle penalty of 30 Burpees (which, as a “rookie” I was able to skip!), the rule that you must attempt every obstacle (no touch-passes) and the sheer number of physically challenging obstacles. It seems that Tough Mudder and other obstacle events often get their “tough” reputation from emotionally challenging obstacles, such as dark tunnels and electrically charged wires, whereas Spartan Races are physically challenging in every way.

Yesterday’s event took place at ANZ Stadium, home of the Sydney Olympics and Sydney Thunder, as well as host to many other events such as International T20 Matches and a whole pile of other things I can’t think of now ;-). It’s a great venue, both from an accessibility point of view and the history, although the event itself doesn’t have the atmosphere of the City to Surf (or so I’m told, having not done the C2S) – there just aren’t the crowds of people around coming to watch the event.

Collecting your registration pack was simple, and bag check was fast and easy (I checked my phone in with my bag and so I don’t have any photos of the obstacles or me completing the obstacles). The event “festival” was indoors with about a dozen stalls, and they did a good job of catering for the current dietary fads (particularly coconut water and paleo diets). I arrived early and was pleased to discover that there were spots in the earlier waves and so I was able to move my start time to be an hour earlier than scheduled.

There were over thirty obstacles so I won’t pretend to be able to recall every single one, particularly not in order, but I will do my best to describe the obstacles encountered at the Spartan Stadium Sprint. The first obstacle was a wooden wall, with “windows” in it, and you had to climb through the window. This was followed by a wall to climb over (I’m guessing 4ft?). After that I’m afraid I get the order a bit muddled up. Since I’m talking about walls I’ll mention the two other sets of walls. One was a wall about ten metres long, with pieces of 4×2 screwed into it, at foot height and hand height and you had to travel the length of the wall sideways. That was the first obstacle I failed. There was also a series of walls (a few hundred metres apart down the spiralling ramps of the stadium) starting at I think 4ft, then 5ft, then 6ft and 8ft. I couldn’t make it over the 6ft wall even with a boost, and the 8ft wall that followed was the only obstacle I didn’t attempt.

There were also several other climbing obstacles. Another that I failed was a rope suspended above the ground and you had to hang upside down, with your hands and legs on the rope and climb along the length of it (second obstacle I failed, and right after the climbing wall). There was also a set of three shipping containers set up in a step-like formation, you had to climb up a cargo net, the height of a shipping container, hoist yourself up on top and then a few steps later you had to climb up the second shipping container. Once you reached the top there was a rope bridge made of cargo netting suspended over the pathway where you enter the event (for the signing in process). This was a challenge for those who were afraid of heights, and did require some strategic thinking, because if you chose the “easy” option of rolling down the first part it was hard to get up the right way and climb up the other side, but careful walking/climbing down meant an easier ascent. One you reached the top you had to jump off the side of the shipping container (onto crash mats) and then again off the second shipping container. There was another cargo net climb at a later stage in the event, and a rope climb (climb to the top of the rope hanging from the ceiling, ring the bell then back down) – I also failed the rope climb. I guess monkey bars also fit into climbing? because that was one of the other obstacles I failed – there were 5 monkey bars across, five up and then a rope to climb down. It sounds like an awful lot of obstacles I failed but there were only a few more, I struggled with the arm strength climbing the most.

I’ll go to the carrying obstacles next. One challenge we had to carry a “deadball” – 35kg for women and 50kg for men. I quickly discovered that while my arms were struggling to carry the weight (partly due to the slippery round shape), the challenge was pretty easy once I hoisted the ball up onto my shoulders. We didn’t have to carry this too far. We also had a tyre carry – up a ramp and down again, probably 200m in all. There was a ball carry which was up the stairs to the “members lounge”, around the top of the stairwell and back down again. The obstacle I found the most challenging (and I was not alone!) that I still completed was the sandbag carry. Women had a 12kg sandbag (men had 20kg) to carry around. Now this wasn’t just any ordinary walk but up and down stairs. There was well over 100 (at least 150, maybe even 200) in each “flight” and we had to go up and down them twice. Not to mention all the flat walking in addition to that. It was a really challenging obstacle but I have two tips that I think make it easier. Firstly, if you have a break, that’s fine but stay standing (don’t sit down) and don’t put your weight down. Some of the obstacles (like the deadball carry) you aren’t allowed to put your weight down, but for the sandbag carry you can take a break. If you take your weight off and sit down, it will be so much harder to get back up again and pick that weight back up. The other tip works for all the carrying obstacles. If you can, get someone who is completing the obstacle to pass you their weight, rather than you having to lift it from the ground, and try to do the same for someone coming after you.
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Then the pushing and pulling obstacles. There was a squat jump with a ball (12kg women) and you had to get the ball to hit the wall at or above the 3m metre line, 15 times. There was the pulley where you had to pull a weighted sandbag (I think 20kg for women) to the top of the rope and then lower it back down again slowly. The key to this challenge was using your bodyweight to pull the weight to the top (by grabbing the rope and squatting down to pull) rather than hand-over-hand brute strength. There was the spear throw – basically throwing a broomstick through a tyre that formed the “chest” of a wooden man. I failed this obstacle (just!) because you only got one attempt at this, and I managed to hit the tyre but not get the broomstick through the tyre. Towards the end there was the sled pull. You pushed a weighted sled downhill and then pulled it back up the slope with a harness strapped around you. The key to this one is to get nice and low when pushing and pulling. This was the last obstacle and I found I was quite good at it. Lots of leg strength and a bit of tactical knowledge that meant I knew it was easier to get down low where the weight was, instead of pushing from a full standing position.

There were three “jumping” obstacles. One was the box jump – 15 box jumps onto boxes that were 20, 24 or 30 inches high. There didn’t seem to be set rules about heights but the men seemed to be jumping 30 inches and the women 20 inches. I really took my time at this obstacle. I was determined to do it (and I did) but it took me a while. Another jumping obstacle was travelling burpees. I think I would have been able to complete this properly if I had given myself a bit of a rest, and/or if it hadn’t have been straight after the sandbag carry. The third jumping obstacle involved a giant version of the cheap silicone bands you buy from charities, except this one you put around your ankles. No “penguin walking” allowed, you had to jump with the band around your legs – up and down a flight of stairs! The stairs were broad and shallow so well suited to the challenge. It was an effort but not too hard.

Next the crawling obstacles. One was like a giant slip and slide – a wet sheet of plastic on the ground. However it had “obstacles” (probably just bricks underneath) for you to go around, so you couldn’t just launch yourself down the slope. There were also wires above to make you have to crawl on your stomach. This was a really fun obstacle and I even got genuinely complimented on how well I had completed it. I know I did it quickly as I caught up to the guy who had started it before me. The other was the “toblerones” (and there were two sets of these) – they were triangles made of plywood that you needed to crawl through – these also required a belly crawl, not hands and knees crawl. The extra challenge is that the “toblerones” were also obstacles that people were climbing over at the same time. There would be a series of five triangles and you had to climb over them. They were too tall and wide to hurdle. I was just tall enough to kind of straddle over them, super fit types managed to stand on the tops of them and traverse that way. (I guess climbing the toblerones fit into the climbing category?).

My favourite obstacle was a balance obstacle. It was 4×2 lengths of wood screwed into a pattern – similar to a number 5 on a digital clock but it had more turns. You could only attempt this obstacle once, if your foot touched the ground or another balance beam you failed the obstacle.

In other miscelaneous challenges there was a “maze” through the poles naming all the people who volunteered at the Sydney Olympics as well as many many stairs to climb, ramps to go up and down and some flat segments between obstacles. And I’ve just discovered I’ve specifically listed 29 obstacles! I must have missed something as the website says 30 plus but hey that’s pretty close! In fact, it may be all of them, as it’s hard to know whether the cargo rope climb, cargo rope bridge and jump down count as one or three obstacles, and we had two mazes to go through so that in itself brings it to 30. In all I’m told we travelled 7km (by an official at the event).
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My two biggest highlights of the event were, firstly, finishing in a time (1:37:36) much faster than my goal time of two hours. The second was a chat I had with a dad who was doing the event after being inspired watching his kids do a different obstacle run last year. He looked quite fit, and a fair bit lighter than me. He had said he had been trying to keep up with me and that he thought I really looked like I knew what I was doing. That was a massive compliment :-).

There are a few things I would do differently. I would like to go as a team next time – it could slow my pace down, as I help or wait for others – but it would be good to have help at obstacles (particularly the walls) and be able to help others in turn. I also forgot to eat my pre-race banana, with the extra excitement of being able to start an hour earlier than scheduled. I packed sunscreen and forgot to apply it but it wasn’t necessary as almost all the obstacles were in the shade, and even when we were in the sun it wasn’t for very long.

On the whole I found the event really well organised. There was barely ever any wait time at obstacles, there were plenty of all the items necessary. The volunteers and staff were really encouraging and other participants were polite and helpful. The only thing that wasn’t well organised is that by the time I finished (which was before some participants had even started) they had run out of water bottles and coconut water at the finish line. Many other events also offer fruit at the finish line but this wasn’t offered either. There were at least six water stops on the course but there was only water on offer, not sports drinks (which are sometimes offered at events).

The event shirt is pretty good quality – nicer than a tshirt, but not quite full technical sports fabric. The medals are also fairly impressive.
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I would love to do this again, although maybe with a team next time. The prospect of having to complete the burpee penalty at failed obstacles is daunting, but I would have (hopefully) a year to train for it. And in a team I would have friends to help me complete some obstacles so that would be fewer sets of burpees anyway.

I was really nervous beforehand but I’m so glad I went through with it and completed my first obstacle race. I’m even extra proud now I know that Spartan races are the toughest of the tough.

This awesome event will definitely be earning me a pile of Epic Quest points as I feel it really deserves the title of an epic achievement.

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Postscript: I wanted to add, this event was expensive, by far the most expensive I’ve completed. I think it was around the $120 mark, and that was an early bird price. However, I do think it was worth it. To see the number of security and ANZ Stadium staff involved, the set up and pack up time (two days either side I believe), on site medical crews not to mention the resources involved, I do think it was well worth the money involved.

Yet another postscript: After completing a survey for Spartan Race I remembered one obstacle I forgot to mention – skipping. You had a large, thick and quite heavy rope which you had to use to “jump rope” twenty times. The challenge was timing the jump correctly because, unless you are super duper strong, you just can’t swing the rope at the same pace as a normal rope.

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