Holy fucking shit. That was traumatizing.
I’ve heard people calling the Indianapolis Spartan Sprint yesterday the hardest Sprint ever. I haven’t done nearly enough Sprints to make that claim, but… yeah. It probably was.
First off, it was long. I heard “official” distances of 4.6 or 4.7 miles. I’ve also heard numbers from people who wore GPS devices that calculated well over 5 miles, considering the distances of obstacles like the bucket brigade that make loops. I don’t know what the actual distance was, but that’s in the right range.
Much more importantly: So much slick muddy hill. There were heavy rains the night before, and light rains the day of, and there was a lot of hilly single-track path through the woods, and they were absurdly slick. Like, you have to slide down the hills on your backside slick. By the time I ran (1:15 pm), the amount of runnable terrain was maybe a quarter of the race. The rest was hills covered in six inches of loose mud that seemed to take ten draining minutes apiece to trudge up.
Finally, and this may be projecting based on inadequate information, but Spartan seemed to make several classic obstacles harder, which combined with the conditions made them nigh-impossible. The Z-wall replaced the Traverse wall, but the grips were so caked with mud that I didn’t see anyone who managed to do it solo. (Most people were going across with heavy support from another person, even riding on their shoulders, which the volunteer explicitly recommended.) Also, was it my imagination or were the blocks used for hand- and foot-holds a lot thinner than they were on the Traverse wall? In Milwaukee, I didn’t have any trouble mounting the obstacle, but I couldn’t even come close to that here.
The Atlas stones were way heavier than the equivalent at Stadium sprints as well, and I don’t think that I saw anyone doing them solo either, although perhaps less exhaustion may have made them somewhat feasible. The Spartan Rig and the rope swing didn’t look impossible, but they were near the end (for the Spartan Rig) or at the end (for the rope swing), and success rates at those were very low as well. And the bucket brigade and sandbag carry were heavy, and long, and very slippery.
It added up to 4 hours and 4 minutes for me. (By comparison, I did last year’s Milwaukee Stadium Sprint in about 1:22.)
That could be a problem.
On one hand, I’m all in favor of rising to all challenges and all that stuff. And, as I’ve seen suggested online in a source I can’t currently recall, it’ll be neat in a year to say “I survived the 2015 Indy ‘Sprint’.” But… it really wasn’t fun. It was fun for a while, but eventually the slog lost its appeal. And then it got aggressively painful, and then I said, “I’m never doing one of these again.”
I realized pretty quick that that last bit is over-the-top. And I don’t want to make too much out of what I think is a very atypical situation. But a 4-hour sprint for a slightly-to-somewhat-below-average racer really shouldn’t happen, and there are a few things that I hope Spartan and other race companies consider.
- Is it necessary to have so much single-track path through muddy woods? The other outdoor OCR that I’ve done, last year’s Illinois Warrior Dash, also had the problem of lots of sections where the wooded hills were too slick to run and had massive backups. I guess I don’t mind some of that, but in Indy, by about halfway through the race, the point was lost. I know that internet memery demands that a true Spartan relishes all hills and such, but… well, I wasn’t the one who broke the tape marking the course so people could take shortcuts whenever the course went up a steep hill and then came down the same side twenty feet to the left. And I sure as hell wasn’t the only one using those shortcuts. So, is it possible to set courses that aren’t so woods-centric that would permit more running regardless of conditions? And that’s a legitimate question, rather than a sarcastic one, because I genuinely don’t know if there are feasible venues with that kind of space.
- Is the increased obstacle difficulty a good idea? I don’t think the only proper obstacle difficulty level is “more.” Spartan Race isn’t Ninja Warrior—I don’t mind obstacles that are hard, but everything should be completable without super-human skills. And Spartan Race isn’t Tough Mudder—I don’t mind giving or getting help, but it should be possible to complete all of the obstacles solo. I don’t mind taking the burpee penalty at the rope climb, because I know that while I can’t do it yet, I know that it’s possible if I improve my technique and my fitness. Burpees on the Z wall were demoralizing for no good reason. I’ve been working on climbing in part to prepare for that class of obstacle, and while I’ve seen people at the climbing gym who I’m sure could complete it, they aren’t the norm. And it surprises me that the traverse wall needed a difficulty upgrade anyhow, since the burpee station in Milwaukee was plenty busy.*
- Conditions played a huge role in making this “race” what it was. When conditions cause the course to deteriorate the way it did here, is it possible (and necessary) to have a contingency plan to prevent the sprint from turning into a slog? Again, that’s a legitimate question rather than a sarcastic one, and the answer may very well be “no.” I don’t know what precisely goes into setting a course and what negotiations have to happen with landowners. But the woods weren’t that big, and I don’t think there were all that many obstacles actually within them; once it became clear that two-thirds of the race time was spent on the hills, would it have been possible to cut the last half of them and run around the woods instead?
* Part 2 of this post will balance out the complaining, because despite the course conditions, I thought the event was overall really well managed, and there are some really good things I can take from it personally. But while I’m talking obstacles, this race was my first time seeing the inverted wall, and while I kind of hated it at the time, I think it hit the difficulty sweet spot. It was hard for lots of people, and plenty needed help to get over it. But it was also one that a lot of people seemed to get unassisted—on their second or third try. Facing and beating a challenge that way feels really fucking good—and that’s why I run these things.