Without getting too bogged down in the exact obstacle locations and specifics of the course, Aston Down’s Spartan Super was packed out with treacherous trails – zig zagging up and down dense forest areas and open fields always keeping things uneven underfoot with some very steep downhills and edges of slopes putting our ankles at some ungodly angles. The Twister was placed early on to catch out a few, this usually comes right at the end of a race so to have it so early was a nice change.
Among plenty of walls and long crawls, the notorious Death Valley provided us with more hills to trudge around, broken up with some classic obstacles like the Atlas Stone, Z-Wall, and Hang Tough at the bottom of slopes. It came as a great relief that there were not really any carries on the hills, just the sandbag after the really steep sections.
Most of the paths had been cleared and trodden down – stinging nettles had been a bugger on this course in previous years, leading me to personally cover up with leggings on this very hot day, but thankfully they weren’t a big issue this year. That many not seem like something worth pointing out but to me this actually makes a big difference in course care.
Regarding care for a course – any fences that we were to jump over had been reinforced, and with it being so hot, there were plenty of water stations nicely spaced out for us. Additionally, Spartan did away with hay bales under the Rope Climb and other obstacles, replacing them with very smart looking Spartan branded crash mats and safety pads. Stairway To Sparta was a new structure and other ramps and walls were all new, fresh, and looked (and felt) great on the course. Spartan have obviously invested a bit of money and care into their events and you could see this from the event village out to the farthest fields. The event really was all the better for this attention.
Another change which was introduced this weekend and has already been the source of much conversation was the new bags for the Hercules Hoist! Rumours before the race were that it had been increased to 70kg. I scoffed at the suggestion, saying it would never be so heavy, yet when I arrived my bodyweight wasn’t enough to lift it… whether it was 70kg or not it was HEAVY!
This is bound to cause anticipation, nerves, and constant debate before Spartan’s next race, whether they keep it this heavy or not (I think they will) this is now an obstacles that has suddenly become failable (is failable a word?) for the front runners. Interestingly, this is potentially now one of the only obstacles that will favour the ‘heavier’ competitor – even the stronger guys were having a hard time lifting that bag, whereas a ‘heavier’ (sorry, can’t think of a better term for it right now) runner will have a huge bodyweight advantage in getting the bag to the top.
Following Bucket Brigade around a battered old house, abandoned boats, and scrap metal (you did us proud, Stroud), we were at the finishing section featuring the Hercules Hoist, Spear Throw, Rope Climb, Monkey Bars, 8ft Walls, Fire Jump. An awesome, intense section to burn out the upper body. The Spear Throw was a tricky one – there was chat of the hay bales being further away, or the spear being lighter? Whatever, the Spear Throw is almost always 50/50 and a lot of people suffered here.
A great course, a tough race, a heavy hoist. This was brilliant for any families coming along to watch people with loads of obstacles to see and plenty going on in the event village too.
Recorded distance: 7.7 miles
Pretty standard fare here for me – I started slow, getting caught up in a crowd at a fairly steady pace and jogging along narrow sections at the start, I plodded up hills, hands on knees and pretty much just kept moving forwards with as much momentum as possible, chipping away at placings and people around me.
All obstacles no problem whatsoever, anything bodyweight seems to be no cause for concern these days, and Ifelt strong on the carries, or at least stronger than I have done recently. Only one person overtook my on bucket I think which is a record for me as this usually ruins me. I pulled up Hoist with real effort, missed the (fucking) Spear, got 30 burpees and from then just walked to the Rope Climb and Monkey Bars but still got past them with no real trouble. Good obstacle work, just slow!
End result was just inside the top 20 I think.
Sunday’s Sprint was an incredibly intense course – measuring close to 6k, there was a fast, flat start broken up with 4ft walls, a couple of open fields and the A-Frame then it was almost straight into Death Valley. There’s not much to describe here from the course because obviously these sections were the same as yesterday, attacking it all again by power walking up the hills where the almost-spelling-Spartan route had been etched into the ground, dragging, carrying, climbing, and swinging where appropriate, and breaking into an attempted run wherever possible.
Once out of the valley, a (relatively speaking) flat run took us to where the bucket carry would have begun – there’s always pre-race chat, debate, and speculation on whether Bucket Brigade will be included on the Sprints, and today thankfully we were diverted away. The relief at noticing we won’t be hauling that bucket around leads into a fast run back into the spectator obstacle zone – same as yesterday, new heavy Hoist, Spear Throw, Rope Climb, 8ft Walls, Fire Jump, Finish.
This route showed exactly what Spartan were about – knowing that most first-timers are likely to go for the Sprint, removing high-challenge obstacles like Twister and Bucket Brigade but keeping in hard obstacles like Wall Traverse, Hercules Hoist, and Rope Climb among others is a great way to show off Spartan’s signatures, creating a very tough challenge but not being unacheivable. For an introductory obstacle race, this was brilliant, and with Spartan’s new very slick and professional looking crash mates, safety pads, and sturdy obstacles, for a first-timer this level of quality will set a bar of quality which other races may struggle to reach!
There was a much more sparse startline on the Sunday compared to the Super the day before, this led to a bit less crowding on the initial run – making it nicer to settle into my own pace rather than be caught behind others. Being very tired from yesterday – a combination of niggles created by the race, tired muscles, and exhaustion from being in the sun all day – my plan was just to keep moving forward at a ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ pace.
Personally I’m still surprised how many people I end up overtaking in the first couple of miles of races like this. So many people go off like a rocket and only seem to maintain it for a mile, or until the first obstacle – I can understand why they want to start quick but I’ve just never seen the reason to gas out so quickly (I suppose this is to my detriment because I’m always moaning about being stuck behind people so I should just hammer it at the start).
I felt like I moved fairly quick through the valley, taking the hills and obstacles a little bit smoother than the previous day, ran through the Sandbag Carry, and of course caught a second wind when I saw we were being led away from the bucket area. Entering the race village I could already see people doing burpees at the Hoist, it was clear to see that some people just didn’t weigh enough to get that bag moving, a real shame for them at that stage of the race. I got it up with an awful lot of effort and moved on to just stick the spear into the lower part of the hay bale – always a massive buzz to hit that, I leapt my way up the rope and across the finisher obstacles easily enough while feeling wiped out. According to the result 11th place – could definitely be worse, but could have been better in some places.
This was a really great weekend, I’ve always had it in my head that I only come to Aston Down because it’s so close to where I live – that if I had to travel further I probably would have given it a miss. After this weekend I am super (get it, Super? Do you get it?) happy that I do live so close to this race, but even if I didn’t it would be a course that is worth travelling for.
Spartan’s next event weekend is at Marston Lodge 13th-15th July. Enter any Spartan open wave in 2018 with code SPARTANKEITH for 25% off!
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.