The Citi Field Stadium Sprint this weekend (May 9, 2015) was an interesting experience for me because it was the first time I was running an OCR with a partner. My brother lives on Long Island, and was at one point a Mets fan, and so he agreed to run the race with me. As a result, my focus was less on running as fast as I could and more on trying to make sure we both were having an okay time.
From my perspective, the race was really well done. I’ve seen some specific complaints online, and while they didn’t affect me and I didn’t experience them, I could certainly see that they may very well have been true and very legitimate things that Spartan should address. I’ll talk about those later, and I’ll keep them separate from the things that I observed personally, so it should be easier to take them with the appropriate grain of salt.
I’m kind of comparing the race in my mind to the Miller Park (Milwaukee) sprint last year, since that’s the only Spartan Race I’ve done before to offer perspective. As with that one, I didn’t feel there were significant issues with backups at obstacles. Things were probably slightly worse than in Milwaukee, which may be because the race seemed (in my not-terribly-well-informed observation) to have more people, or because my brother and I found ourselves in the vicinity of several teams that took up a lot of space, which I didn’t recall so much of in Milwaukee. The crowding seemed to be more of an issues at stairs or in corridors than at obstacles, although I’m not sure how much that was just chance. In any event, I didn’t feel that crowding had a significant impact on my experience.
The only point where obstacle capacity was an issue that bothered me was at the box jumps—there were four boxes for men and four for women, and there could be one person on all four sides so there was “room” for 16 of each sex. There was a line when we got there—admittedly a short one, but it seemed like that was an obstacle Spartan could have easily had a couple more of without significantly increasing their costs. Fortunately, my brother and I arrived at the tail end of a group, so before long the boxes were a lot clearer, and it wound up being just the two of us at a box, because I didn’t feel terribly comfortable 4 at a box. I’m not a great jumper, and I’ve been known to have wipe-outs or near wipe-outs. I’ve also had it drilled into my head to get all the way on the box and to stand all the way up. I wasn’t involved in any collisions, but I was certainly nervous about the possibility.
There were, of course, some single-tracking issues when we ran through stadium seats, but I don’t see any way to avoid those, so calling it a “problem” isn’t really fair. There did seem to be a bit more running through the stands than in Milwaukee, although I’m not sure if that’s really true.
For the most part, the obstacles were similar to Milwaukee’s. One thing that stands out is that there was a lot of bear crawling at Citi Field that I don’t recall at Miller. The heavy jump rope also was a bit tougher, both because it was later in the course and because it was outdoors and raining, so the ropes were heavier. There was also a monkey bar rig, with bars that went up and down in a zig-zag pattern, that Miller Park didn’t have. I didn’t do that, however—it was closed by the time my brother and I got to it, presumably due to the rain. I hope that was done to prevent injuries, rather than as the result of them. When my brother and I arrived and did a bit of a walkthrough of the site, we saw a person getting medical attention there, but the rain hadn’t started yet so it wasn’t weather-related.
I was very happy that the ab wheel-wheelbarrow walk thingies that didn’t work at Miller Park weren’t a part of my race. But there’s a huge caveat to that point that will be addressed below.
Like I said, I was running with my brother. He’s been too busy being a dad to a two-year-old and preparing for a baby that’s coming in a few months and running the data collection system for a particle accelerator to dedicate himself to training the way that I do, plus he was in the middle of a bug that his son was just recovering from, so our pace wasn’t a challenge for me. From a purely personal standpoint, I was really disappointed that Citi Field didn’t have a traverse wall, because that was the obstacle that I failed at Miller Park that I was pretty confident that I could succeed at this year.
The others? The rope climb was promising—I managed to pull myself up a knot, which was certainly an improvement over last time, but not a success. And I didn’t manage the 8-foot walls unaided, although Citi Field did have a 6-foot wall that I did get over on my own, somewhat to my surprise.
My spear throw was not remotely close, which was especially aggravating since my brother hit. And his throw was terrible, a corkscrewing flopper that some how managed to have the pointy end flollop into the target and stick long enough for him to get away.
My brother was relieved that the monkey bars had closed by the time we got there, but I was disappointed. They would have been an interesting test: I feel like I’m on the cusp of being able to complete them, and I’m not sure which way they would have gone.
Rumor and Speculation
These two points come from a thread on the Spartan Racers Worldwide Facebook group. So let me make it clear that these are not entirely my experiences or observations—but I think that things I did experience and observe at least help to provide insight into these points. (The ones that I don’t have any insight on I’m not addressing.) Still, view my words from here down appropriately.
First, as happy as I was that the ab wheel-wheelbarrow walk thingies that didn’t work at Miller Park weren’t part of my race, they apparently were earlier in the day. I saw a bunch being not used at the crab walk obstacle, which suggests pretty strongly that the crab walk was substituted in on the fly. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an improvement, but I don’t know why Spartan didn’t already know that the ab wheel-wheelbarrow walk thingies that didn’t work at Miller Park don’t work—given that they already didn’t work at Miller Park.
Second, the race had a new chip timing system that may not have worked for everyone. This year the timing chip attached to our shoelaces, and there was a proper way to loop them around and an improper way to loop them around. There were instructions on the chip itself, but they were not at all clear, and there didn’t seem to be anyone providing guidance just past the registration area where a lot of people were putting on their miscellaneous bands. There was a person checking proper installation at the entrance to the starting corral, but it wasn’t a terribly easy thing to fix if it was attached wrong to begin with.
Both my brother’s and my time were tracked correctly, so again, this didn’t personally affect me. But if the chip is sensitive enough to improper installation that people are losing their times, it’s probably not a viable option for a race.