I think it needs to be said that Spartan Race has finally figured it out. In years past, Spartan races have been widely inconsistent, but these last two years have seen some changes that have given us a more consistent race experience from one of the most recognizable names in Obstacle Course Racing.
Over the last few years, I have participated in my fair share of “this year was easier than last year” discussions on social media and I think what people are missing is the target. For OCR to stay alive and thrive, Spartan needed to change a few things. I chose my words carefully there. OCR doesn’t only mean Spartan Race, but Spartan Race is the most widely recognized name in OCR right now, just like UFC is for MMA even though there is Bellator, ONE Championship and more.
Spartan, in order to become a consistent race experience, needed to change some of the things they have been doing on the course, and it looks like they are taking the right path.
So what makes things different between this year and last? Let’s start with the soul-sucking bucket carry. Now, Spartan has the buckets pre-filled and sealed. When the racer arrives, no fumbling about and tearing your hands up trying to fill the bucket with rocks. Also, no waiting for rocks to be dumped, no one checking your bucket to see if you have enough rocks in the bucket, and no chance of someone cheating (I run age group) unless you cut the course or are a man and go out of your way to pick up the red ladies bucket. Yes, by the way, I have seen that.
Additionally, they have also made the bucket carry more challenging. In most cases, they aren’t as long as they used to be and they aren’t featured on as steep an incline as before. Instead of making the bucket carry pure torture, they have made it an actual challenge. This makes sense for Spartan, after all.. the crazies (like some of you reading this right now) aren’t the ones that make Spartan money; instead, it is the band of friends that seek a challenge, or a group of people that are looking to do something different. In other words, the open heats…and there is nothing that says I never want to do OCR again like the New Jersey or Killington bucket carries of 2016.
While we are on the topic of carries, the sandbag/wreck bag carries have seen similar changes. Although they aren’t usually as easy as the bucket carry, they aren’t the absolute killers we have had in the past either. Again, this plays into the challenge, not torture theme. However, with Palmerton right around the corner, I reserve the right to change my mind if they throw that double sandbag carry up the double black diamond.
Did you forget about the log carries? I didn’t. The log carry was an absolutely horrible idea. I understand why they threw that at us – it’s pretty cool to carry half a tree up and down a mountain – but there was nothing more terrifying than some idiot’s log flying down the hill taking out racers like bowling pins. Glad we can cross that one off the list.
Additionally, the courses themselves have been cut differently. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me a good death march, just not as much as I used to. The older I get, the more “fun” I want to have and the pain thresholds have been moving, and not for the better. Again, this simple change is geared towards providing a more consistent race experience. While many of the “special” courses will still feature a Death March or loads of elevation, the majority of the racing will be much faster and much more inviting to “average” people. The race lengths are more consistent with their designation now. No longer will we be facing a Sprint that is nearly as long as a Super or a Super that is 11 miles (NJ 2015). Instead, a sprint is about three miles, a super close to eight, a beast around thirteen, and an Ultra is thirty plus.
If I have one hope for the upcoming race season in 2020, it would be that Spartan eliminates the barbed wire crawl. Well, at least the barbed wire part. First off, before you start tearing your hair out, lose the testosterone high and think about it for a second. You can call me whatever name you want, even germaphobe, but think about the sheer number of diseases and bacterial infections one can get / contract from a slice on the barbed wire. While it looks cool, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
This season’s races have been more fun, more “challenging”, and geared towards those that will keep OCR alive, ie the average person. We all want to be challenged, but very few want to pay for pure torture. This shift is more in line with where the industry needs to go. Spartan can maintain their endurance series for the hardcore athlete that wants to be beaten down and the competitive heats for the elite… but they need to streamline the race experience and deliver a consistent message to their constituents so you know what you are going to get.