I ran/walked/slogged/crawled/probably survived the Chicago Spartan Super yesterday. Here’s some thinkings about it.
The race started ominously. We entered a lengthy, narrow wooded path with deep, cement-like muck. So in addition to the fact that every step brought the real possibility of losing your shoes (it happened to me thrice), since it was right at the start, it was super-congested—and since it was super narrow, every time anyone had to stop to get their shoes back on, the whole crowd had to stop. The starter intended to split our heat into two groups to try to mitigate this, and in fact he did split the heat into two groups. But he split the heat vertically (down the middle from front to back) and didn’t say which group should go first, so both groups went at the same time.
Fortunately, despite some rain the night before, the rest of the course condition wasn’t nearly as wretched as Indianapolis. There was a pretty wide range of terrain—some open ground, which was generally perfectly solid, and some forest path which ranged from dry to slick.
The weather was very hot, which helped to make the race a lot harder. As a result, my favorite obstacle was the second half of the barbed wire crawl. It was through a fairly deep stream—not deep enough to swim but deep enough so it could support my entire body and just pull myself along the stream bed with my arms.
I’m not sure there were any particularly new obstacles, apart from possibly the Cliff Climb. (I won’t use the product-placement name on general principle). This looked nigh-impossible but turned out not to be particularly difficult—it was a climb up a near-vertical cliff face, but there were good ruts that served as sturdy footholds and a couple of sturdy roots to hold onto. There was a fair bit of backup at it, but it overall was a pretty neat use of the terrain. Some that I hadn’t done before were a couple of hurdles, which were just some square wooden logs maybe 4 or 5 feet off the ground, the log carry (which, aggravatingly, went through the second-worst muck of the course), and a haybale climb. (That last one wasn’t much of an obstacle—the hay bale was pretty worn down by the time I got there, so it didn’t pose much of a challenge at all.)
From the standpoint of my personal performance, things are pretty mixed. The good:
- While it was short for a Super (probably less than 8 miles, officially, although that doesn’t typically include the obstacles with loops), it was the longest race I’ve ever done, and I’m pleased to have survived it in much better shape than Indy.
- I’m feeling better on the cargo nets, which I’ve had some panic on in the past. The pyramid-shaped cargo net was a bit better for me than the vertical one, but there’s a bit of a caveat to that which I’ll explain below.
- The inverted wall came easier this time than in Indianapolis. Hercules Hoist was, once again, a wheelhouse obstacle, and the sled drag also went really well. The Atlas Stone went a lot better than Indianapolis, and I was able to do it alone. I think they were a bit lighter than the ones in Indianapolis, though heavier than the ones at Stadium sprints.
- I didn’t complete any of the “marginal” obstacles—the ones that I might be able to do under good circumstances but with the fatigue and poor grip of the course I couldn’t. That resulted in six rounds of burpees: the rope climb, spear throw, rig, monkey bars, Spartan steps, and Z-wall. The rope climb especially hurt, since I have recently learned how to climb the rope in the gym.
- I didn’t bonk nearly as bad as in Indianapolis, but I did bonk. Time was 4:12.
- Fundamentally… I guess I’m not really satisfied with just surviving the race, so I was kind of disappointed in my overall performance.
I don’t think I have anything more than trivial criticisms of the operation of the event itself. Parking was off-site, unless you wanted to spring for the very expensive VIP parking, but the shuttle buses seemed to be downright incessant—there was a line (well, really a ring) of about 10 buses at the lot when I left, so there was about a minute of time between when I got on the bus and when it left. And I was the second one on the bus. The one parking criticism that I have was at the very end. There were several overflow parking lots, which led to a bit of confusion on the ride home. The bus drivers asked which lot we were in, which perplexed me, since I hadn’t known that there was more than one. It turned out not to be an issue, because the buses went to all of the lots, but there was a moment of panic that I wouldn’t get back to my rental car.
I had the same luck at packet pickup, and at bag check—no lines either dropping my bag off or picking it up again.
There was a line at the end of the race, though: there was a mandatory photo op, like you were entering the Sears Tower or the Space Needle or the Atomium or something. If those photos turn out to be for sale for only $14 I’ll be really pissed. It was definitely a bit of an annoyance to have to wait for it.
There was also a lengthy, demoralizing line for the showers, but it traveled way faster than I expected. It was maybe a 10-minute wait, which isn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad.
This race had a code to memorize, but no place to recite it, which based on what I’ve seen online is now a thing. I have a few theories about it:
- It could be that it’s an obstacle for the elite heats but not feasible logistically to enforce it for the open ones.
- It could be something that’s intended to be a joke. If so, it didn’t really land. I’m not bothered by it, I just don’t get it.
- It could be something to build mystique. I could easily imagine Spartan HQ saying, “You know, if we do something nonsensical and random, people will assume that since they don’t understand it that we must be geniuses.” Spartan sometimes seems to be a bit of a cult of personality—which I don’t mind, but I do think we should all be aware of it when participating.
Anyhow, my code was HOTEL 1991845, so I’m special. Or something.
The trickiness of the vertical cargo net that I alluded to above was due to politeness. Specifically, that brand of politeness that leads to mucking things up, like when someone tries to hold a door for someone but the door opens the wrong way so in order to hold the door they have to stand in front of it and block anyone else from walking through. There’s probably a German word for it.
Anyhow, the cargo net was pretty loose at the bottom, if it was attached at all (I was in the middle so I didn’t notice if there was any bracing at the sides), so well-meaning people who had finished would hold the net down on the other side.
Unfortunately, by holding the net down, they also pulled it. The result was that we had to climb while leaning backwards, which probably added more difficulty than the loose bottom did.