On May 27th Spartan hosted a new race in a new location – just outside of Dublin, Ireland. As a country renowned for it’s beauty – with hills, mountains, and endless countryside – I was excited to go and see what Spartan would do with Ireland at their disposal.
The race was hosted at Punchestown Racecourse – race courses are often good choices as race HQ because there’s cover, seating, natural places for food vans etc, and it means the spectators will see the start/finishline and probably part of the race. Punchestown Racecourse was used to full effect in that regard.
Without getting too bogged down in registration details and the such – the doors were opened fairly late and those of us hoping to set off at 8am were registered by around 7.30am if we were lucky, within the racecourse itself there was one coffee van which managed to start selling at around 7.45am. This might not seem like much of a big deal but if, like me, you are a person of routine then you’d like to be there with plenty of time and know you can easily get pre-race coffee or whatever you’re after with no panic (coffee shops etc on the way to the course are obviously closed at 7am on a Sunday). As it stands the first wave actually set off around 8.15 or 8.20am – the first time I’ve personally know a Spartan Race to be behind schedule which I’m sure they had their reasons for!
Along with the normal little wall to climb over to get into the start pen, for some reason they had that huge wall thing they have – a sort of A-Frame climb wall(?) – I’m not sure what it’s name is. Odd place to put it as there was plenty of room on the course where it could have been added in nicely. We had the usual Spartan narrow gap to run through meaning everyone is bundled together for the first few hundred yards – at least this was leading to open fields rather than narrow trails so there wasn’t too much bottlenecking.
As mentioned, the start led straight into open fields where we then stayed for the rest of the run. The course was then a long spread of horse vaults, occasional walls, and long carries. This was a very, very flat running route so to make up for that it seems the carries were extended. The bucket carry is never really welcome but I think this is the longest I’ve done – Aston Down is long but this must be equal or longer. Anyway, it just seemed to go on and on, even with the new addition of lids to the bucket this was just gruelling. To be immediately followed by Olympus felt a little bit sadistic and must have led to burpees for many!
There was a long log carry section too and a (thankfully) shorter sandbag carry. Out and about these were how the course was filled out. It was on our way back towards the racecourse where we then encountered the Atlas Stone, the Sledge Drag, and ramped wall. The racecourse itself then housed the obstacles everyone had been waiting for – a strange order for them but nice to be mixed up a little, we hit the Fire Jump first, the Twister, Spear Throw, Hang Tough, 8ft Walls, and the Z-Wall, finishing with the Rope Climb. A short, intense section of some challenging obstacles – surrounded by stadium seating making it a great area for spectators.
Again, it was unusual to have the fire jump before these at that normally almost serves as the honorary finishline itself, but at the same time I suppose it’s not that big of a deal!
Recorded distance: 8.6 miles
I set out hard and felt like I was in for a good race, pushing hard in fast, competitive run sections – unfortunately for me the bucket carry killed me off and just took so long that I lost a crazy amount of places. My back just tightened up every hundred yards or so I had to let it settle. I say hundred yard it was probably more like fifty. I say fifty it was probably more like twenty.
I kept trotting on but never really felt like I picked up again until after the sandbag carry. Way too late and I was so far behind any decent result by then it didn’t really matter. The Atlas Stone was a killer too but I got through all obstacles easily and smoothly enough to finish with 0 penalties. End position was about 29th or 30th I think according to the results! Interestingly I think that has me qualified for the OCR World Championships..
The Sprint Race also set off late – due for 12.30pm it was 12.50pm that we started running. I’m sure there was something important happening and again they had their reasons but I obviously felt like I needed to point it out here! It felt like we were waiting for an age to get started, being entertained by chit chat from Spartan Phil.
The Sprint course itself was fairly fun as Sprints go – knowing it’s a flat course everybody would be going out fast and wouldn’t be letting up. We pretty much headed straight out into the open field to get over a couple of walls before coming right back around onto the end of the Super course from the Balance Beams to the Atlas Stones, Sled Drag, and back into the racecourse. Thankfully the only carry included here was the sandbags which came quite soon into the race.
That’s pretty much all there is to say about the Sprint course – flat fields, end of the Super course.
As mentioned, this started a little late so I was getting a little antsy on the startline. I can’t speak for anyone else but if you get yourself psyched up to race at a particular time it can be easy to deflate a little if you’re kept waiting. Ignoring that though, my legs and arms were obviously tired from the morning despite a couple of hours to recover, and everybody knew this was going to be a fast race. We were correct – everyone gunned it from the start and were constantly trading placings throughout the run. It spread a little bit further into the run but it was obvious that one obstacle failure would basically be the end of your race. I think the Atlas Stone and the Sandbag Carry must have slowed me because I can’t think where else people would have pulled away – I started off happily keeping pace with the front runners but I guessed I slowed there a little which made a big difference!
Coming back into the racecourse I felt shattered – it was so warm and we’d been running so hard. Thankfully I got through the Twister, yelling at the bars as I went – something along the lines of “rubflubrubaarg” which obviously helped – I think I overtook someone here unluckily for them, and took my time gettting the spear lined up but was very happy to see that land again. The rest of the obstacles no problem but did get taken right at the end by some guy who seemed to come from nowhere – he got to the rope just before me so took that spot that I’d sneaked on the Twister! It was a fun race despite being so hard going – when placings can go in any way like that it makes it quite exciting to be part of.
End position was 7th according to the website results and distance measured was 3.8 miles.
All in all, Punchestown Racecourse was used well in the regard that spectators could see the real action and watch the Spartan signature obstacles, but the whole course itself was relatively unimaginative considering the location. I know it’s not as easy as just picking a bit of countryside and putting a race there but Ireland has some stunning areas and it was a shame to make a trip to somewhere with the potential for epic scenery and just run around the edges of horsefields!
Afterthought: As mentioned above, the racecourse was an awesome area for spectators – knowing this, why are photographers placed in areas like the barbed wire crawl or sandbag carry? Surely obstacles like Twister and the Spear Throw would be super popular and potentially look really cool? I’d personally rather have a picture of me nailing (or failing) a spear throw or rope climb than a picture of me with my face in the grass. I dunno, just a thought.
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.