Spartan Beast, Windsor (or close enough) – using the same race venue as last year, and after a strong year of popular events, Spartan was sure to be building to something incredible and ready to finish the season with a bang.
As a race, all the classic obstacles you could want were there. In particular it was nice to have Tyrolean Traverse, a rarely featured obstacle but one that catches a lot of people out. Weirdly, Spartan HQ teased us with race map a couple of days before the race which featured two Twisters bookending the 2nd sandbag carry, but on the day this wasn’t to be found in the course – I have no idea why they only chose one in the end, or why they put two on the map if it wasn’t going to be set out like that – maybe just a pointless trick to get people nervous and talking (as if they wouldn’t be anyway)? A couple of other things from the map were either in a different order or just not there – but at the same time I guess plans can always change last minute. Still a shame to not have two Twisters though!
The Twister that WAS included, however, was sneakily placed after a waist-deep muddy water pit – probably the only time we got really muddy on the course – surely leading to a lot of slips and failures as there was not much time to dry off before arriving at this notorious obstacle.
Every obstacle placement on the course was fairly spread with nothing particularly standing out – there was plenty of time to recover between obstacles due to running through twisting trails over bracken and undergrowth which made up most of the course – let me emphasise that there were long stretches of running between obstacles. Last year’s Windsor Beast came up a little short, and while this year the distance was there, it was made up by a lot of the same-same in between the obstacles – pretty much mostly flat and extra long carries. Oddly this was the shortest Bucket Brigade that I’ve ever done, but to make up for this there were two Sandbag Carries (one normal distance, one which went on forever), a Tyre Carry section, and a crazy long Log Carry..
Obstacles such as the Multi-Rig early on and especially the Monkey Bars towards the end were wet from rain adding an extra layer of challenge, and there was a nice little finishers field with the Sled Drag, Spear Throw, a short Block Drag, Balance Beam, Hercules Hoist, 6ft Walls, and Stairway To Sparta before the Fire Jump. Great to have a packed, intense section like this to finish on and especially for spectators because really this was the only spectator area – any attending family and friends could go for a long walk around the grounds but they wouldn’t really see anything of note so staying in the race village (and thereby spending more money. HELLO.) was the only smart option really.
Other than this, there were lots of water stations with sweets and sometimes amino acid drinks – it’s always a good sign having plenty of stations so we’re never felt left too thirsty, I personally would have like an option other than sweets, but this is why I took my own food bars and just had water at the stops. Throughout the course, it was always possible to hear Spartan Phil (who will definitely 100% be at OCRWC) setting waves off back at the startline, providing some good background cheering all through the race. Whether this was by design or lucky coincidence, I liked it.
Similar to last year, Spartan Beast Windsor could unofficially be labelled ‘Beast-Lite’ – not to undermine the challenge of completing this race as it is still a very tiring and hard to run course, it is designed to be absolutely achievable by beginners wanting to take on a Beast distance and tough in it’s own way without all-out brutality like the Scotland Beast tends to be.
Also it was a shame it was raining really as it’s usually nice to hang around but everyone was cold and wet so just wanted to get out of there.
Recorded distance: 14.3 miles
As a little addition, here’s a few specific downsides to the Windsor Beast this year:
The startline of the route went very narrow very quickly – this is so frustrating when actually trying to race as you get caught behind people very very easily leaving you in a situation where you can’t go round them due to terrain and have to sort of awkwardly ask (generally ignored) or just wait for an opening. Later waves filled with groups running together must also get hugely bottlenecked very quickly too, surely you don’t want the masses walking so soon into such a long race?
I never received my fastpass – this happened with every race this year but every other time a quick message to customer services fixed it and it always came through. Not this time. £5 parking and £2 bagdrop maybe might be a minor complaint but it’s still pretty annoying to have to pay those little extra charges. A lot of people seemed to struggle with customer service issues the week leading up to this race, including people’s wave times were given, then for some reason changed – this was naturally all over social media, a shame for people who are coming to a race like this for the first time.
The carpark being far away from race village is fine – there were an awful lot of people attending so they naturally need the space, but there was only one little entrance to get into that field, mostly blocked by people and cars getting in/out all day leading to some pretty slow moving traffic. I realise that you can only work with what you’ve got when it comes to a venue, but this seems like it was pretty obvious that it was going to happen and for a race this size to have people queuing out on a main road is a little silly. To be fair though at least there was a specific ‘Spartan Lane’ coned off on the main road outside!
Spartan Windsor Beast was, on paper, a fine race. All the obstacles and challenging terrain, but something just felt like it was missing. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it was, but there just wasn’t much magic in the course – nothing stood out as being a memorable section, and nothing felt particularly exciting. Perhaps this is fatigue from running a lot of Spartan Races, perhaps I’m expecting too much, but I haven’t felt like this on any other routes. I like Spartan’s obstacles, and I like off-road running, and by no means was this race easy – perhaps worse than that though, maybe the word I’m looking for is “boring”?
I don’t know – I’m happy for others to disagree as I really can’t figure why I came away with that “meh” feeling.
I ran in the Age Group category hoping for a good result – obviously from my whinges above I did get caught up in a big bundle at the start leading to that frustrating weave/dodge around some people, then spending a couple of miles trying to build up places. I was worried I was going to be too tired to have a good race from recent training, but is seems that I’ve finally (after many many years) got my build up sort of right and I felt fine running while taking the obstacles easily enough – I spent a lot of this race rolling back and forth in my mind from “run harder” to “take this as training, don’t push too hard” – I didn’t want to be spending the whole following week recovering so I think I found a nice balance between the two.
[I don’t have any pictures of me yet]
[Update: oh wait, now I do]
I pushed on and eventually found the back end of the waves before us, making it unclear who was racing in what category although it’s a good feeling to overtake Elite racers such as Dave Peters and Mark Turner despite them having a 30 minute headstart. About halfway through the race I felt like I’d got a bit of distance between myself and anyone in my wave but results on the little ipad thing at the end I was down as 2nd in category, 3rd in wave*. The two ahead of me must have been off like a rocket, I really wish I’d known they were there to see if I could have caught them – again, the perils of not setting off from the startline at 100mph.
*Edit: looking at the results and splits post-race, it shows me as finishing 6 minutes behind the person 1st in my category. Fair enough. However, by the first Sandbag Carry I was nearly 5 mins ahead so apparently not only did that time get made up before we reached the Tyre Carry but then an extra 6 minutes of distance was put between us. Hopefully that’s a timing chip error because that’s almost too much of a big gap to be realistic, and it wouldn’t have been hard to spot someone moving that fast overtaking! I certainly don’t want to imply any wrong doing and do hope that he beat me fair and square.
All obstacles here were fine despite the wet – I took the time to dry my hands before the Twister and Monkey Bars and took them with ease. I failed Spear Throw – it felt like a terrible effort as soon as the spear left my hand showing me that it really makes a difference when you practice this regularly. Following a fairly lazy effort on the burpee penalty, my hamstring nearly cramped on the Hoist but I pushed on like a hero thanks to the crowds around the village giving great support to all the runners. I dragged myself clumsily over the 6ft walls and Stairway at the end, and as usual finished with a shite attempt at a Fire Jump pic.
All in all I had fun, I did enjoy the running but it was a bit of a drag at times to pop out of some woods expecting/hoping for an obstacle, only to see a long gravel track in front of you, leading into another set of woods at the end. My legs were tired at the end but I didn’t feel demolished – I think this was thanks to the spread there was plenty of recovery time. I wore Salming OT Comps on my feet and they kept me gripped nicely on all the wet logs, dodgy footings, and slick obstacles.
That’s it for Spartans for me for 2018 as I didn’t do the Super and Sprint on the Sunday, however I really sympathise for those that did as this course will be ripped to shreds, boggy, muddy and slippy. Here’s hoping they had fun!
I finished in about 2hrs 36 and I think 2nd in 30-39 Age Cat. I didn’t stay around for the medal ‘ceremony’ as it took so long last time and it was pissing it down. As usual there was no mention or kudos on Spartan’s social media for Age Category racers which is a shame for all the people who put in the effort to race hard but hey ho.
Picture credits: Epic Action Imagery
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.