Race Report: Spartan Sprint Birmingham 2011

To quote the originators of the Spartan Races:

Spartan Race (www.spartanrace.com) was a series designed by seven insane athletes and a Royal Marine. We wanted to create an event that had a soul, that changed constantly and that made you a different, better person by crossing the finish line.  Earn every step, relish the victory. Over the last 25 years we enjoyed running marathons to build our speed, we ran 50 mile runs to build endurance, and we ran 100 mile ultras for enlightenment. We climbed Everest to escape Death or succumb to it. We ran from headhunters and survived Jungles of the Amazon, the deserts and mountains, Death Valley, and Leadville. After all the experience we formed the Spartan Race Pyramid as a way for athletes and soon to be athletes to do the same. It’s about not giving up. Ever. It’s about choosing to continue. It’s about finishing. It’s about breaking free of limitations and finding out what’s possible.

And at the end of the 2011 Birmingham Spartan Sprint I have to agree with every word they have said.

So why the Spartan Sprint?

Pure and simply, it appealed to my personality and always wanting to push the boat out by doing something new, different and exciting. Having done a number of 10k races and twice entering The world coal carrying championships twice I was thirsty for something with that little bit extra.

Having managed to convince a work colleague that it would be a good idea to get out of our comfort zones we duly signed up about two weeks before race day. With very little race specific training being done we arrived at the race with a lot of nerves building up between us. The race was held at Gamecock barracks in Nuneaton. As we left the car park to hand in our liability waivers you could see a few of the obstacles we had to tackle later that day. And lets just say this only intensified the nerves and butterflies we were both suffering from.

The races are spaced by thirty minutes to limit the likelihood or large queues at some of the more difficult obstacles. And each race was given a 15 minute pre-race warm up by British military fitness which was nothing like I had expected and very good at loosening off the hips and firing up the central nervous system for what was about to happen. At the start line there was a lot of “AROO’s” and male machoness being blurted out as racers psyched themselves up for what was ahead. Even I have to hold my hand up and admit that I too let fly a few adrenaline fueled shots and screams.

With the heat blazing down on us and through a cloud of smoke we were off. As with all races there are those which set off at a cracking pace. For me and Kieran we had already decided that the game plan would be to maintain a steady constant pace throughout the whole course, at no point were we to walk. Jogging at all times. And once at the finishing line if I felt confident I would attempt the course again to make it a 10k run rather than the standard 5k. This is an option open to only those that choose to race in the last race of the day.

The first obstacle, after a short run, was a crawl under some camouflaged netting through a sandpit. This is more taxing than it seems because of the sand creating an unstable environment to move in and the sandpit being a lot longer than you realize. Once out of there it was under and over numerous hurdles and fences as we made our way out among the fields with even more hurdles and fences to clear. All of which start to tax you a little more than you expect. We then came to a steel gate which could either be vaulted or climbed over. From there we moved on along a dirt track and were met by a Marshall who ordered 10 burpees from each runner before we were allowed to pass. Once past it was a small climb then a very steep drop which we were ordered to slide down on your backsides so that you landed correctly and then up a short sharp climb and along the grassy path down towards a rather smelly, muddy tunnel which just caked your shoes but quite funny.

On we kept running through the fields and dirt tracks and past some man made lakes / fishing areas towards the one and only water station. Believe me it was that hot that even at this early stage a cup of water over your head was the order of the day after such a long run to get to this point. With a cup in each hand it was one over the head and the other drunk as we approached yet more hurdles to tax our legs as we made our way towards a small woody enclave. Into the wooded area along a dirt track as it weaved its way through the trees to a larger hurdle jump to get back into the field we had just left.

It was then a series of up, downs and drops as we wove our way through the field and its various obstacles and towards our first barbed wire crawl. This was where we hit our first backlog which on the one hand lets you catch your breath a little but on the other its very frustrating knowing its costing you valuable time. Once out of the crawl it was over a couple of further obstacles and to the dreaded wall. This was about ten feet in height with no hand or foot grips for the men but some on the women’s side. A quick sprint towards the wall, jump, foot out and hand up all working in sequence to get you up and over in one easy move. Ah well better attempt the second time because I fluffed that one and miss timed to foot and hand placement. Kieran on the other hand was up and over in one, much to his delight.

After the wall it was a five rep log press then a short run towards a small hillock with some hurdle jumps t get up and over the other side as you made you way towards the log carry. At this point we had that stations Marshall instruct us that we had to pick up a log and follow the flow of the hillock as it went along the top, down one side and back up the other to where you dumped the excess weight as quickly as possible. I found it quite easy myself and not overly taxing. Kieran on the other hand had picked up a log that was too heavy. Took a few steps and decided on getting another.

From there was made our way down and then back up a muck track and towards the dreaded fire jump. As you approach this obstacle your natural instinct is to speed up so that you can gain enough speed and height to clear it. Up and over we went and it takes your breath away. The heat was so intense I had to double check that the hairs on my legs were still there and Kieran was left having to blink numerous times because his eyes had dried up from the wall of heat.

Back down the dirt track we went and into the woods again with more hurdles to clear to a clearing where we had to do a lap of a grassy track whilst carrying roughly 10-15lbs of sand in a sack. Again for me this wasn’t much of a test because of the previous couple of years training with a 50kg sack of coal for the world coal carrying championships.

Once our lap was completed it was down with the sacks and over a hurdles and back into the wood with a few camouflager nets to get through and along a winding wooded path which lead you to the rope climb. This was hard on the hands and at all times to had to have total control as you went up and down the rope or it was a 10 burpee penalty. Then it was the cargo net. I make a complete hash of this. Firstly by not going over the top properly and squashing the family jewels to getting my feet tangled up on the other side and loosing valuable time. Once more Kieran was up and over in one.

Yet more hurdles were the order of the day to tax your legs and upset your rhythm before we hit a very very long barbed wire crawl along hard ground that was littered with peddles, small stone and sticks which cut into your knees, elbows and arms. As we made our way through this maze or pain we hit a section that was water logged and as you hit that section you just sank in the mud. Caking you from head to foot in heavy smelly mud which then made all the loose earth stick to you as you went through the last part of the crawl on loose earth.

After this was a log winch which again I found to be too easy. Then a decent run along the winding dirt track to a final hurdle that resembled something out of the grand national. Into another field with a steady run towards the tyre challenge which was a simple throw of the tyre so that it landed on another one a short distance away. After that a spear throw into a giant Spartan. Failure to complete either of these tasks was the ten burpee penalty.

Onto the finishing straight now with a short run and then sprint up the slipper wall, using the rope if need be to help clear the top. Over the other side and onto the electric fence. For this you had to cup your hands around the barbed wire and move then along trying to avoid getting a shock as you went up a step then over a seesaw.

Then it was the ice pit. A huge sand pit covered with barbed wire and stuffed full with thousands of ice cubes. In you go and the cold hits you but because the ice cubes move it makes getting to the other side harder and take longer. But that was not all. As you got withing a breath of the end of this ice crawl a wonderful cheerful chap dumps a couple of shovelfuls all over your back and head. that shocks you and you can’t throw yourself up to get the ice off because of the barbed wire above your head.

As you stumble out of the ice pit your met with two burly Spartan warriors armed with giant pugil sticks  all ready to knock your block off or sweep your feet from right under you resulting in a face plant into Terra Firma. A short sprint and your over the finishing line.

At this point I had decided to run the course again and as I ran back out I looked across and could see Kieran smiling with a smile I’ll never forget. Beaming from ear to ear. I called out, gave a wave and off into hell once more. But we”ll save that journey for another day.

Once the racing was over the sense of satisfaction we both felt was immense. We were tested and we came out the other the better for it. For Kieran with only three months running under his belt it was a fantastic achievement and one he is determined to do again with a possible two races planned for next year.

As for the race itself all I can say is that it was brilliant, well managed and organised, friendly atmosphere. The course was perfect and challenging but done in such a way that people of all abilities could attempt it. The medals for finishing and t-shirts for entering were the best I’ve yet seen at any race I’ve entered.

The whole thing was first class from beginning to end and I can’t wait for next years races to begin with a hope that they will be able to put on a Super Spartan race or two along with the Spartan Sprint format. A thoroughly fantastic way for people to get out there, push their own limits to new levels and have fun whilst doing it.

Highly recommended.

Steven A Barlow, Co founder www.spartan-warriors.co.uk and founder of Spartan Runners “because we don’t just run” © 2011

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