Long hills, obstacles on hills, carrying objects up hills. A little bit of mud too!
Spartan Race Marston Lodge – I just did Sunday’s Sprint – word on the Super from Saturday was that it was pretty hard going, one of the toughest courses of the year so far.
The Sprint’s route took us in and out of event village a few times; trudging up long, steady climbs to get out of the main area, charging back down at an uncontrollable pace to get back in! This was of course great for spectators, with obstacles such as the Hoist, Spear Throw, Monkey Bars, and the 8ft Walls all within a viewing area meaning they really get to see their loved ones in moments of struggle (or pure frustration when it comes to the Spear). Spartan’s other signature obstacles such as the Hang Tough and Rope Climb were spread throughout the course on top of hills – it was pretty nice to have them thrown into the mix when you’re used to seeing them at the end like usual, similar to how Twister was given to us right at the start of Aston Down. Speaking of Twister, this along with the Bucket Carry and Stairway to Sparta were kept for the longer distance the previous day. I do enjoy the Twister as an obstacle but I can’t pretend that I was upset to have missed carrying a bucket around this terrain.
We were treated with a Sandbag Carry around a crazy steep, but thankfully short, section of woodlands. With it being so dry recently we could dig in and pretty much climb our way around here – had it been a wet week these inclines could have become near impossible! A mid-race gift for us from Spartan themselves were the new sandbags – for the men we had one lovely 20kg bag rather than the usual two small bags – this was much easier and less awkward to carry than 2, myself managing to balance it on the back of my shoulders while scrambling my way up a nearly vertical bank.
Having the recently much-debated and newly intimidating Hoist early in the race was tough, but after a bit of practice recently this obstacle today seemed perfectly manageable. I can only speak for myself but the bag moved nicely which I put down to the shock of the weight from Aston Down wearing off – at Aston Down we just weren’t expecting it to be quite so heavy so it caught many out. Saying that though this still reduced A LOT of people, Elite Wave included, to taking a burpee penalty. Interesting to see on what used to be a completely unassuming obstacle – now promoted to a game changer.
As mentioned, the route was filled out with steady climbs leading out of the village and through obstacles, to long descents back in about three times. About half a mile towards the end of the Sprint we came upon a series of muddy ditches and dunk under a wall – hugely refreshing (if not very smelly). Following immediately on was the Slip Wall, getting muddier and slippier as the day progressed providing yet another solid challenge for some from what is usually a completely manageable obstacle.
Thrown into the fast downhill towards the finish we were me with a super long Barbed Wire Crawl, believe me when I say it was Super long (not sprint long, har har har), straight into the 6ft Walls, a cheekily-placed Atlas Stone, and the 8ft Walls to finish. A unique finish line dragging our bodies up down and all around before the Fire Jump to end the race!
This was a really, really decent course. The Marston Lodge Sprint blended an ideal mixture of running, steady hill climbs and obstacles spread throughout. This is bang on what you want from an obstacle race.
It’s been widely noticed that Spartan have invested in new crashpads and safety mats, this weekend we got new spears and sandbags. A very nice touch were the new wristbands (as if you needed more wristbands at a Spartan Race) – with black bands for people who have raced before, red for newbies. The idea was for marshals to be able to spot new racers & offer help if it were needed, or even for experienced racers to be able to offer support to new runners if they notice a red wristband. A brilliant, subtle idea to create a hugely welcoming atmosphere around the whole event. Of course now if people in black wristbands question any rules or burpee amounts then they have no proverbial leg to stand on.
Recorded distance: 3.8 miles
I only decided to race at Marston Lodge last minute, with a 2 hour drive early in the morning to get there it was to be case of get up, drive, race, go home. I decided to go for Age Group here rather than Elite wave for a few reasons:
- Gives me an extra half hour in the morning to get up and arrive.
- Recently I’ve been scraping top 10/top 20 places in the Elite Wave and find myself getting lazy mid-race, not really battling for places when I should be – almost expecting some people to be ahead of me so accepting it and not pushing as hard as I should during a race.
- With the knowledge that I could have a hard race but potentially place high in an Age Group wave it might flick a switch that refreshes my racing attitude – no letting up because I could lose an actual placing.
- Racing against a different group of people will give me a kick as well, I don’t know who can beat me, I don’t know who I can beat. Just get out there and run my own race, not knowing anyone around me.
- I dunno, whatever.
That was my thinking anyway, in case you reading this are interested in how my mind works, or if anyone reading has thought similar at any point about racing when you enjoy a tough race! Overthinking racing comes part & parcel of this sport.
It was a packed wave with all Age Groups in together, making it hard to tell who’s in which category apart from Declan O’Traynor who I know is a fast runner but much older than me. We began with a nice steady start on a course that didn’t go narrow, so I was able to comfortably use the space to chip away those who started too quickly without getting stuck behind anyone, so often an early killer for me.
The long steady climbs suited me nicely. Quite early on I found myself leading the pack, desperate not to turn my head to check behind me I just wanted to keep pushing forwards. Due to the sweat of running on a hot day I was already a pillar of salt without stopping to look back (just FYI, this is a brilliant joke/reference here. If you don’t appreciate it, shame on you). At the A-Frame we had a hairpin turn which allowed me to see Declan close behind me – I know that’s he’s going to be pushing me/someone to chase so I was happy to be just about taking the hills better than him, credit to the hills in Morzine the week before for exhausting him I think. Also he is older than me.
I hit the Hoist with no problem, as I mentioned above I think I was expecting it to be heavy now so the shock from Aston Down had worn off. In fact today I found all obstacles no problem when it came to hitting them at speed and not getting gassed out. From training regularly at Mad Mike’s I’ve gotten more used to draining my energy then still hitting a rope climb or a heavy carry so it’s nice to see that paying off.
I’ve been practising the Spear Throw too (one session) and gave about 5 practices at the start of the day here so I’m completely confident on that – however today I made the amateur mistake of having my foot on the rope when I threw. I hadn’t noticed a bit of the rope had come back under the fence so my toes were just on it. As I threw I could see the spear sailing nicely in to the target, only for it to stop dead in the air and fall to the floor. For some reason my immediate action was to protest and ask if I could have another go – a knee jerk physical reaction that was happening as my brain was simultaneously saying “obviously you can’t have another go they haven’t changed the rules”, so I sloped off to do burpees feeling like a pretty idiot*.
This lost me a couple of minutes and a couple of places so I spent the rest of the race making that up. Declan (who is older) was well away but I caught the guy who was in second place at the Slip Wall. Our hands were muddy and slippery here but I rubbed them on some dry mud and got up the rope fairly easily (also #SalmingElements), noticing that he wasn’t moving as fast as I felt that I could (I also estimated that we were pretty close to the end at this point) so I picked up my pace, overtook, belted it down the hill and slid through the (very) long barbed wire crawl probably quicker than I’ve ever done previously.
The Walls and Atlas Stone right at the end were typically draining but no problem really, and I crossed the line with another pathetic attempt at a Fire Jump a couple of minutes behind Declan but first in my Age Group (Declan is an old guy).
Nice result, and a nice gold Age Group medal to go with it.
The Age Group race is a funny one – I was definitely spurred on and pushed myself harder, surprised to find myself leading – enjoying a hard battle with the faster, but older, Declan until I ballsed up the Spear Throw. At the same time, having done the penalty I was forced to push harder to make back the places I had lost. It was definitely a good experience trying out a different race style over a quality course.
Another funny observation about Age Group racing was that after finishing the race in around 43 mins, with I imagine all top 3 ages doing so in under an hour as well – the medal-giving “ceremony” wasn’t until 1pm. It was of course explained that they were double checking all penalties etc to make sure everything is on the level, but nearly 4 hours is a long time to be waiting. When it did come around of course we had the usual “you must put on a Spartan t-shirt” etc so we did, then we stood there getting applauded by the few people who were still around, but there were no photographers there?! So we stood and posed just to a crowd. I’m happy to have my medal and all that but probably wouldn’t have waited so long otherwise – it was a bit strange and a shame because it would have been nice to have had an official pic here as a memento but oh well – that’s the cost of being “only an Age Group racer” I guess!
Also it was boiling hot. Seriously it was just so hot all day.
*As I was writing this, I accidentally wrote ‘pretty idiot’ rather than what I was going for which was something like ‘feeling pretty stupid’ or ‘feeling like a bit of an idiot’ but as I went to change it, I realised that if I were to describe myself, I think the first word that comes to mind actually is ‘pretty’.
So yeah, kept it in. Don’t even act like I’m wrong.
Spartan’s next event is the Scotland Trifecta Weekend 15-16th September. 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.