Exactly one week after I did the Vermont Spartan Beast, I find myself at the Citizens Bank Park stadium in Philadelphia getting ready to start my very first Spartan Sprint race.
It was a beautiful sunny day with warm temperatures. Everyone at the stadium was excited and the energy was very palpable. You could just feel how lively the place was!
The course was a bit over 3 miles long and there was about 20 obstacles or so. Overall, I think it was a very easy course, especially since I just ran a Beast race a week prior.
There was no mud, no getting dirty, no so-steep-you-have-to-climb-on-all-fours types of hills. Just a bunch of stairs, different obstacles, a lots of fun.
Here’s a run down of how the course went for me, and the most important lesson I learned from this whole experience.
The race started at the top of the lower deck of the stadium. Since there was limited room at each obstacle, racers were sent off in waves 16 with a bout a minute or 2 between each wave. This gave enough time so it’s not a massive crowd cramming in between the small aisles.
I was registered on a team with my sister and 2 of her friends, but each of us agreed to run our own race to the best of our abilities. (I finished 1st out of us 4 by the way but that’s besides the point :))
The race started with a descent to the ground floor of the lower level, follow b a couple of sharp turns, a small flight of steps, and then our first obstacle.
This was the first “obstacle” of the race. Getting into the stadium’s changing room, we had to stand on top one of the few pre-placed Spartan logos on the ground and knock out 20 chest-to-ground pushups.
This is where I get to gloat (just kidding).
All those sets of 100+ pushups my dad used to make me do as a kid came in real handy here. Although I haven’t kept up with that kind of volume, I’ve never had a problem knocking 50 or so pushups ANYTIME.
Needless to say, this 20 felt like nothing to me.
Up and down 20 times, and off I went.
It was such a short race compared to the others that I’ve done, the obstacles tend to blend together in my mind. So I wasn’t sure if this obstacle was right after the pushups.
Either way, I was pretty happy with how I did on this one.
Men had to carry two 5-gallon water totes full of water and women had to carry one. I personally felt carrying two is easier with one in each hand, it balances out a lot more.
There were multiple points during the walk that I felt like putting down the totes and stopping. But it was during this part that I found that I’m capable of more than how I feel (huh?)
What I mean is that even though my heart was pounding, I was breathing heavy, my shoulders and arms were sore, and carrying those water totes felt like crap, I was able to keep going and not stop.
It was during this obstacle that I discover how much further my willpower can take me. Plus the desire to redeem myself for not finishing the Vermont Race added to the fire.
I went through quite a few flights of steps and then back to where I picked up the totes. Dropped those babies off and off I went to the next obstacle.
After carrying the two totes of water, the single sandbag carry felt like nothing. Holding onto it on my upper back, I breezed through the aisles and stairs of the stadium.
There was one aspect that I didn’t like very much about this race.
Unless you’re in the Elite Heat, you’re doomed to be trapped at one point behind people that are walking or just slower than the pace you want to go.
I ran into that the most during the sandbag carry since we were going through countless aisles in the stadium and up and down the stairs. Sections were taped off and the “outside” aisles that were left open for people to pass seem to always have people sitting in the chairs to take a break.
I can’t put a number on how much time I wasted walking behind people and trying to pass them but the line in front of them was too long.
Either way, the sandbags were dropped off back at the pickup station and on to the next obstacle I went.
Cargo Net, Wall Climbs And Z-Wall
Now I remember! The cargo net was the first obstacle of the race. But it was quite easy and over with really quickly, so not much to be said about it.
The only challenging part was climbing the on the edge of the net because everyone else was in the middle.
The wall climbs throughout the race were very basic. No 10′ walls from what I recall, the tallest was an 8′ foot. Plenty of pullups and muscle-ups prepped me well for these.
Not long after the cargo net was the Z-Wall, which I have failed miserably in the past during the Spartan Supers and Beasts. But not this time.
With no water, dirt or mud to slip on, I demolished this obstacle. Plus the replay of me doing burpees because of this obstacle in my mind was more than enough motivation to complete it.
Hercules’ Hoist And Wire Crawls
One of the staples of a Spartan Race is the Hercules’ Hoist, which I’ve gotten used to by now. Only difference between the one here and the ones in the Supers and Beasts is the lack of metal fence.
I’m used to putting my feet against the fence to help pull on the rope. Without the fence, the obstacle was a little bit harder, but it still wasn’t too bad.
Especially since it’s only a 3 mile race and this came in the middle of it, not after 6+ miles like it usually is in a Super or Beast.
The Wire Crawls were spread out through a half mile stretch of the race. No barb wires this time, just ropes tied across the banisters in the walkways to crawl under.
Some were high enough where bear crawling did the trick, others were low enough to warrant army crawl or rolling.
I was a bit too enthusiastic during this race and slid into each one of these Wire Crawls and rolled right out of it. During one of these slides I got a nice gash on my left knee from a small rock. Didn’t feel it til I looked down at the blood streaming down my leg but I lived.
Spear Throw, Heavy Jump Rope, And Plank Walk
No Spartan Race is complete without a spear throw. We are Spartans after all right?
Unlike the Z-Wall, I missed this obstacle just like all the other races I’ve been in so far. There were no problems with the spear’s orientation, it just went wide left.
Those 30 burpees would be my undoing.
I was so frustrated that I didn’t pace myself through the burpees. I wanted to get them done as quick as possible and was completely gassed at the 30th one.
I mustered up whatever strength I had left and made my way to the Heavy Jump Rope. We had to wear a band around our ankles and knock out 20 reps with a heavy rope.
I’d say the rope weighed about 10 lbs.
The band by the ankles didn’t help either. Being forced to keep our feet together at this point of the race and swinging a heavy rope and jumping was getting exhausting for my CNS.
After that fiasco, I jogged to the Plank Crawl, which was actually a “break obstacle”, as I’ll explain later. Keeping both feet on a small dolly, we all walked on our hands and “plank walked” about 20 yards. It was pretty easy as no obstacle up til this one had really tax the abs.
On to the monkey bars I went.
Monkey Bars And Rope Climb
I prepped my grip for this one knowing that I had grip trouble last week during the Vermont Beast.
This obstacle was a breeze overall. The gap between the bars got wider about half way through and I had to swing a little harder to reach the next one. But besides that it wasn’t much of a problem.
After running up some more stairs and climbing over more walls, I made the descent down to the field. At this point, I could see the finish line and that was my cue to empty the tank.
I dashed for the rope climb and made short work of that obstacle.
No J-hook technique, but I did cross my feet and gripped the rope with my feet and thighs. This climb was nothing compared to the Tarzan Swing from the Beast.
The rope climb and the next 3 obstacles were located behind the 3 bases on the field. So the rope climb was around where 3rd base is, and the next 2 obstacles were at 2nd and 1st base, respectively.
Box Jumps and Ball Slams
Sprinting my way to the box jumps, I knocked out the 20 reps of 24 inch box jumps in 2 sets of 10. This was mainly because all but one of the boxes were being used and that one had 3 people on it already.
Each person took one side of a box, so it was 4 people per box. I tried to be cordial and go when the others weren’t but I couldn’t wait for them to take their break.
After 10 jumps, I found a box with only 1 other person on it. I ran over to that and repped out the remaining 10 reps and moved on.
Sprinting my way to 1st base, I grabbed a 20 lb slamball and did my 20 overhead ball slams. At this point, I knew it was the last obstacle so I really went all out. I was pretty gassed by the end of the this, about the same as when I finished the 30 burpees.
I sprinted to the last “obstacle” of heavy bags and ran through them, crossing the finish line at 44 minutes.
Just a quick review of what I got from this race. I’m capable of much more than I had thought.
Those thoughts of burning lungs, lactic acid-filled legs, and general suckiness isn’t that bad when you know it’s only temporary. I felt I really had to go through this non-stop experience to truly understand the meaning of that.
And now I’m that much more confident of my abilities, especially in races like these.
I also have the “break obstacles” I mentioned.
These are obstacles that are essentially breaks from the constant running and heart rate jacking activities. Things like cargo net climbs, spear throw (although I end up doing burpees), monkey bars, and other less intense obstacles tend to lower my heart rate from the runs.
On top of that, being in the Open Heat creates bottlenecks in the race. People tend to gather up at the obstacles that take a while or where not enough spots are very limited.
I keep this in mind when I race in these Open Heats. Knowing that eventually I’ll have to stop or slow down due to bottlenecks, I plan to rest at those points only and constantly move whenever I can.
All in all, it was a great time at this Spartan Sprint event. I plan to do the same event next year as well and am aiming to be within the 30-35 minute range, hopefully under.