Category Archives: Apps

So, Spartan Has an App, Sort Of, I Guess

This is a month and a half old news, and it’s a bit of a weird one. Spartan Race released an app in September.

(It released another one in October related to the world championships, but this post isn’t about that one.)

I delayed writing about it because, well, it’s complete shit.

It’s spectacularly shit, like the diaper of a baby with dysentery who burst. So much so, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure it’s meant to exist. This app is bad in a way that’s completely inconsistent with Spartan—there are plenty of things you could criticize about the company, but doing stuff half-baked is not one of them.

So I think the most likely explanation is that the version in the store is an early alpha version that will continue to be worked on. I don’t think Spartan has really promoted it—it doesn’t appear to be on Spartan’s website or promoted on its social media accounts. Maybe Spartan was hacked and they were supposed to have another six months of development for release.

But even if the release was intentional, I don’t think releasing such an alpha version is necessarily a terrible idea. The fact that the app is in the app store doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t be refined over time. And the very act of producing and publishing the app could catalyze further development. There are times, after all, when you need to make something before you can produce it.

I feel like it’s important to get that rational assessment out of the way. That’s the fair part of this post. The funny part is below, and it won’t be fair. Fair and funny don’t always go together, and this is the internet, where being an asshole is usually rewarded.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, shit.

Let’s go through it component by component:

Spartan App Home PageHome: You start on a list of races, with the obvious implication of “Register here and give us your money now!” I’m okay with that—commerce isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, even if one might wish its excesses could be reined in a bit. But the races are ordered by distance from your location, which isn’t really, you know, good.

The problem with that is, there are really only three distances from you that a race can be. It’s either local, or it requires travel, or it requires international travel. So the app displays Chicago races first, and that’s not bad, but Minnesota vs. Ohio vs. Atlanta vs. Los Angeles—all of those are functionally equidistant. So putting Minnesota next and Los Angeles last is pointless: any of them require a flight or some other major trip, and the length isn’t a particularly important factor in whether or not I decide to make the trip.

Perhaps this distance organization is a bit more useful for people who live in areas that have multiple events. But I have to assume that even they could also get some benefit from a date-ordered list, at least as an option.

One other thing, if Spartan doesn’t want to put races in an obvious order, it might want to use the other information it has. Specifically: Despite being not particularly nearby, I ran the Citi Field sprint in New York this year. My brother lives there, and it takes place at approximately my nephew’s birthday, so it’s a good excuse for me to visit. In other words, its one I’m likely to be interested in for years to come. So why isn’t Spartan making the fairly obvious conclusion that I’m likely to be interested in races I was interested in in the past and moving this one up to that coveted #2 spot.

Anyhow, if you try to register for a race through the app, it takes you to the Spartan website to do it. Which you really don’t need an app to do.

A second tab on the home page will show you photos from your friends. If you have friends who have posted photos to the app. If you don’t have friends, the app will recommend them for you, but the profiles don’t have much in the way of, you know, information. I guess you could just stalk random people, but I have a feeling that would be the least effective stalkery ever.

Spartan App Workouts tabWorkout: This is actually a good idea, but it’s ludicrously badly implemented. This feature allows people to post invitations to public (presumably) workouts that (I think) anyone can come and join in on. I’d actually really like to find some local groups that do OCR-related workouts—not necessarily as my everyday workout, but as a once-a-week kind of thing to mix up training and also have a chance to meet locals in the flesh, rather than through team Facebook pages.

I don’t know if these are ordered by how close they are to you. Many of them I can’t even get a location for. I’ve got an iPhone 5c, which is a bit smaller than the newfangled phones, and it cuts off the location field well before the city and state are fully shown. That’s why I missed the Relays workout in Pisc…

It doesn’t order workouts by date, which is pretty goofy, but even worse: I’m writing this on October 29, and it’s showing me workouts from September 23. I appreciate Spartan’s belief in my abilities, but I am not yet a timelord.

Take a photo: I guess? It’s very possible that this tab was designed by Banksy. It brings up a screen that looks a bit like the iPhone’s camera functionality, only it doesn’t function. I’m pretty sure I can turn the flash on and off, though.

No, seriously. I’m not making this up. This is what the page is.Spartan app photograph tab

Tribes: How many “h”s do I need to convey a sigh lasting fourteen minutes? Because that’s as many as I need to convey how ill-implemented this one is. There are a few public tribes that exist, and if you go to one you get… like, a Bulletin Board from the mid-90s, basically. No threads, just one massive ‘conversation.’

Spartan app tribe chat page

It’s possible to create your own tribe, which can be found by others, if they already know about it. Or if you manage a hit on a blind search. There doesn’t seem to be a directory or anything to actually find new people, though.

More: Which brings up this:

More! From the Spartan AppYou can, apparently, change the volume, even though the app is silent. I wouldn’t mind hearing the conversations that led to that decision (Though hearing those is perhaps what the button is intended to prevent.) Beyond that… oh, just fuck you thrice, Spartan app.

Does the app have a reason to exist? Not in its current state, certainly. If you’ve already got a collection of OCR friends, I can’t imagine you don’t already have better ways to communicate with them.

It might ultimately fill a niche at connecting people who don’t currently know each other but are local to each other and share similar interests. I think there’s a need for that—my experience with Facebook-based teams certainly hasn’t turned up any that function in that way. But in its current form, the app doesn’t do that at all.

I guess I hope it develops into something useful. Will it? I have no clue; I don’t know Spartan’s plans for it. It could just be a thing that happened that they’d like everyone to forget real soon, like the time they ran out of water in Vermont or the time Joe De Sena met the queen of England and farted on her. I also don’t know if the potential value even warrants the kind of development that would be necessary to make it good.

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Running and Me

I don’t think I like running.

I like that I’m able to run, and I accept that it’s kind of a significant component of the obstacle course races that I’ve started to do and want to do more of in the future, and I even do it regularly enough (see below for caveats) that it would qualify as a hobby, but I don’t really enjoy it.

At its best, it’s a good diversion in a lovely setting. From where I live, both obvious running tracks are along the Lake Michigan lakefront, so on summer days when the temperature is pleasant rather than stifling, it’s lovely. Additionally, I work at home, so it can be a desperately needed way to not sit in front of a computer for a little while.

At worst, it can be frustrating and painful and not interesting. In fact, a few years ago it would have been completely impossible. I was heavy enough that walking often hurt (although that was solved by the time I started training running).

A couple of apps really helped me. At first, I used Active’s Couch to 5K. I’d say it was a good starter program. The initial runs were pretty light—1 minute of running, 90 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times, with 5 minutes of walking to warm up and cool down. For me, at least, that was a good starting point. It also has several “coaches” – character voices that tell you when to run and when to walk, and that shout encouragement (or threats). My favorite was the zombie. I’m not particularly obsessed with zombies in entertainment, but its threats to eat me were always amusing.

The difficulty does kind of ramp up surprisingly at week 4 or 5. In most weeks, you’ll add a couple of minutes to your running time (with a corresponding reduction in walking time), but there’s one week where I think the running time and the lengths of the individual running intervals almost double. I’m not sure if that’s scientifically sound training strategy or just a bug; I survived, and it did prove to be a big psychological hurdle once it was cleared.

The app isn’t all that interesting once you’ve gone through it, so this year I switched over to Zombies, Run!, which I’m thrilled with. (I really don’t watch other zombie movies or TV shows or read zombie books, I swear!)

Zombies, Run! is ostensibly a game, although I consider it more of an audiobook that the listener is a character in. Namely, Runner 5, a silent individual who has made his or her way to Abel Township after the zombie apocalypse and who now performs a variety of running-based missions in order to justify his or her continued presence.

Each real-life training run is a game mission, and each mission has maybe 9 minutes of content (interspersed with music from the player’s phone, so it totals about 30 minutes—or an hour if you set it to long run mode—with a radio mode that lets you continue running and tracking the run when the mission is complete.

The missions are really engrossing, though. The app does a great job of bringing characters to life and creating the atmosphere of a desperate but hopeful post-apocalyptic society, with dangerous enemies both zombie and human. It’s engrossing, delivering moments of sadness and joy, and more importantly, it earns them.

The “game” elements—collecting supplies that you can use to build a settlement—is almost an afterthought. The settlement itself doesn’t seem to affect anything. The features related to tracking are useful but kind of what you’d expect if you have a rough idea of a smartphone’s capabilities, and I’m certain that other sources can tell you about them better than I can. The audiobook part, however—that’s what makes Zombies, Run! awesome.

I’m not currently thrilled with running, although that has a lot to do with the aforementioned caveat: I am definitely not into running enough to be a winter runner, and I haven’t done any running since the Milwaukee Spartan Race at the beginning of November. I’ve done a couple attempts as workouts this week while visiting my parents, and the rust really shows. This summer, I worked my way up to a 10K; in the past couple days, I couldn’t run more than a few minutes without needing to walk.

I have done a couple of pure running races—both 5Ks, and both in support of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (where I happen to volunteer). The first one, last year, was kind of a preliminary preparation for OCR. I figured if I could manage that, then with a bit more training, I’d be able to manage a 5K OCR. I did, finishing in 28:17. This year I dropped to 26:24. It’s weird to have a time goal—any other running-related goals I have are for distance and are directly related to OCRs, but I do kind of feel like a 25-minute 5K is within the realm of feasibility.

(Yikes, almost 900 words on running. Yes, I’m desperate for some non-family time!)

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Filed under Apps, Obstacle Course Racing, Running, Training