Looking to up your trail running game?

October 17, 2018

Spartan is too, with their hopes on 12 possible trails races next season! 


We have a first hand account of the first EVER Spartan trail race from OCRM guest contributer: Jessica Swank.  

"As the sun started to warm up the crisp autumn air, dew still shining on the grass, the roar of “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!” rung out across the open field that would soon be rumbling with 218 Spartans embarking on the first ever Spartan Trail Race. I was among one of the few to partake in this beta event hosted by the well-known Obstacle Course Race company--offering all the miles without the obstacles.

A few weeks prior, I had received an email offering me to sign up for the first ever trail race-with a choice of a 10k or 12k distance-for free (not including my 14$ racer insurance fee). What Spartan can say no to free and a first ever?! This girl certainly signed-up and prepared to show up. By prepared I mean I packed my bag and booked an extra night at the hotel; I had spent the past 9 weeks recovering from a severe ankle sprain, so my running was not exactly at a sub-10-minute mile pace.

Knowing Spartan was testing out how a trail race would go, I had low expectations for the entire experience, after all they were already hosting a Sprint and Super weekend at Infinity Downs, Virginia-the same location as the trail race. The Wednesday before race day, the email was sent out with the race day details, where I was pleasantly surprised at the free parking and bag check Spartan was offering that day.

Saturday morning, I arrived at the venue and parked quickly and easily (YAY a big win!). Walking up to the registration tents, I was looking for the “Trail Race” check in sign like my email told me to and internally groaned as the only long line was the line I had to go stand in. My groan quickly turned to a squeal of excitement as I watched the people in front of me receive their race day GOODIES! The volunteers efficiently checked racers in and before I knew it, I had my race day bib-elope, complete with: timer chip, free beer coupon, start time wristband, a JUNK Brands headband and a copy of Trail Runner magazine. Did I mention the JUNK headband?! SAY WHAT?!?!?! Spartan was doing this right!

At 9am the first open Sprint wave went off and the trail racers quickly climbed over the wall into the start corral to find out the details of what we signed up for. Here’s what the emcee had to say:

· The 10k and 21k would share some of the same paths

· There were clear signs, markings and tape on where we should and shouldn’t go

· We would share the first and last obstacle of the Sprint (haybales and the fire jump)

· The 21k was actually a half mile short as downed trees from a recent storm wrecked some of the path

· 2 water stops for the 10k, 4 water stops for the 21k

· There would be a sweeper just like any other race

They really took the time to hype us up, with an emphasis on this being a first ever for Spartan history, and while I participated in the ceremonial Spartan Send Off ritual, I couldn’t help but notice that this small group of racers were the epitome of all walks of life. We were tall, small, lean, husky, runners, walkers, all colors, all ages…and suddenly I didn’t feel so nervous, but just generally excited.

We took off, thundering toward the unknown…okay actually thundering toward haybales. For the first half of the 10k, trail markings were amazing! There were signs and volunteers to direct racers at the trail splits for the two distances, plenty of that Spartan tape and red arrows to show direction. The terrain was exactly like you would expect for a Spartan—elevation gain, rocks, tree stumps…. all the makings of a true trail. It wasn’t just a back road or ATV trails, but true wood trails. And as fast as everything was great, suddenly it wasn’t…

I was tracking distance with my FitBit and at mile 6.2, there was no finish line in sight….and within another 0.10 miles I realized I was lost. Somehow, I found myself on the Sprint course and facing the 6ft wall, bucket brigade and then Olympus. Volunteers told me to keep going as they had seen plenty of other trail runners with the super cool JUNK headbands come through. At Olympus, I pulled out my phone to check the map and see just how lost I was…and I was lost enough to ask the Staff Medic on the Gator for help. He gave me directions and I set off on my way—up a road and across a field…where there was no one else.

As I was crossing the field, the finish line in sight, a staff member comes flying up beside me on a Gator and asks me where I got lost…my initial thought was “If I knew where I got lost, I wouldn’t be lost now would I?” but instead I said I wasn’t too sure and as he and I exchanged conversation about where I got lost, he divulged that a lot of racers in the trail run had got lost that day. Oh, and he mentioned he was the trail master that weekend…good thing I kept my smarty-pants remarks to myself! But I appreciated him hunting me down to get feedback on how to improve.

I jumped the finish line, registering 7.18 miles…so just a few over the 10k I registered for but still impressed overall with how well the event went. As I left the finish chute, I got my Trail Race finisher shirt—another pleasant surprise—and was told that medals would be received via mail.

Overall, I liked:

· It felt like Spartan technical terrain we would expect

· How much the staff cared about it being successful

· The JUNK Headbands

· It didn’t feel too hard or too easy-finish times were relatively similar for everyone who participated

· Having the fire jump finish

· The way Spartan made it feel like their brand without obstacles

· Free photos

Overall Improvements:

· Different headbands for the different distances

· The splitting of trails with no way to differentiate racers felt like other races where you register for the cheaper distance but do the longer race

· Better markings so less racers get lost-it was common knowledge many racers got lost, getting lost should be rare, not common

· Race photos were not searchable by bib-the white numbers on light green are hard to see, maybe black print on the green headbands?

· The 10k and 21k started at the same time, different start times would be ideal

A Spartan staff member stated there are plans for 12 trail races next year. I am excited to see what they have planned, and plan on toeing more of those start lines, will I see you at the finish line?" 

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