Author: John W
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In the days leading up to 2019 Palm Beach Spartan Sprint, the predictions were for bad weather…at best. By the time race day came, though, we were looking at perfectly clear spring skies and temps in the low 80’s. Many parts of the world call this “Summer,” by the way. We even had a cooling breeze at times. Things started off well and really set the tone for the day. For my first major South Florida obstacle course race (OCR) in a while, we weren’t at Amelia Erhardt Park. The race was at S. County Regional Park in Boca Raton. Access was easy to this venue. Parking was close to registration and quick, particularly when I arrived at 6:30…no doubt aided by the prepaid parking fee. It was also well manned by volunteers, something I noted throughout the day on the course. Registration was also moving well early on, although I did see some longer lines later in the morning. But Miami doesn’t do ‘early’ very well, so that’s not too surprising. Thanks to Lauren at Spartan, even my normally arduous registration went well…except for the fact that my new, earlier start time band apparently fell out a hole in the bottom of my packet bag!! The good news, I found one lying on the ground after realizing mine was gone…and that’s how the day went!
The course itself was very well designed. Obstacles were spaced out well and nothing made an obstacle exceptionally difficult for a new racer to overcome…well, until the final stretch anyway. Race director, Garfield Griffiths, described the course as “flat and fast,” a description echoed by a number of elite finishers. Of course, most OCR races in South Florida fit this description. There were some surprises in store too. As has been the case in recent Spartans, they started off with the hay bale hurdle. My legs feeling unusually well this morning, I was able to leap right up to the top. Unfortunately, in my slightly premature mental celebration, I also managed to snag my foot coming over and nearly nose-dived off the top. A note to beginners: don’t do that!!
As I’ve said many times, I never look at the course maps beforehand. It was surprising then to see the barbed wire crawl next, after a quick dip in one of the many water crossings. So we were like damp sponges rolling in fine dust during that crawl, which just added another level of sunblock I suppose. After that, we reached a string of the typical early Spartan obstacles as we headed north on one of the longer stretches away from the festival. We hit a pair of short, over walls (but no under or through walls…odd??), a pair of hurdles (which are actually sadistically angled 4’ high 6×6 beams) separated by another of the water crossings. Something most people declined to take advantage of by the way, a quick dip to cool down a bit. Then we hit the first of four water stations, leading immediately into the 6’ wall (no 8 footer on this course…again, odd!) before turning back towards Festival.
That’s when we hit the first of the heavy carries, the Atlas Carry. A concrete ball that’s harder to pick up than it is to carry. Following a moderately long stretch, we hit the spectator friendly series of obstacles coming into Festival, starting with the spear throw and Herc Hoist. Both, I was happy to see, were placed earlier in the race than usual. I threw a rocket on the spear throw! Unfortunately, that rocket would have hit the guy six inches over and two rows back from the target…damn! I took out my frustration on the Herc Hoist which, oddly enough, didn’t seem to concern the sandbag I was hoisting at all! At that point we were literally smack dab in the middle of Festival, climbing the A-frame cargo net and heading into another series of obstacles. Rolling Mud and the Dunk Wall were welcome chances to cool off again, leading naturally into the Slip Wall. I guess it’s a learned technique, but it’s surprising how complicated that obstacle seems to be for some people. I suppose I am aided by my friction-friendly 230 lbs. Of course, you can complicate any obstacle by losing your focus. The next obstacle up, the inverted wall, is actually one of my favorites. This time around though, I lost my concentration (again!!) in my premature excitement at a relatively quick and ‘crampless’ climb. Coming over the top, I came down on a part of your body clearly not intended to support that aforementioned 230 lbs. Another note to beginners…don’t do that!!
And then the fun was over…for a while. We headed back out away from Festival into a long, grueling series of carries and drags, which continued right up to the fire jump. First up was the plate drag. Now, something to understand about South Florida…unlike other places, it has about 1/8″ of topsoil, on top of 160 layers of sand. So, imagine putting four small kids in a box and dragging it 10 yards up the beach…yeah… So after those moments of joy under the baking Florida sun, we hit the sandbag and bucket carries, Z-wall and Rig while traipsing through desert-like terrain. It seems the last person carrying my sandbag thought it worked best by twisting it up and wrapping it tightly around your throat. I disagree. So there were precious minutes lost, untwisting that strangle-bag during the carry. Likewise, on the bucket carry, the normally sealed top on mine decided to part ways with the bottom halfway through the carry. Apparently, the gravel was in as much need of oxygen as I was…so I can’t really hold that against it. Eventually, though, we were into that last stretch of obstacles, the vertical cargo net (another of my favorites…and always tricky at the top) followed by the traditional monkey bars and rope climb (neither one on my favorite list). Then the fire jump and the finish line…and the rewards of knowing we completed another race.
One surprise at this event was the Festival area. It seemed huge…at least in terms of the number of booths and tents. At the same time, it was particularly well organized and everything seemed to be close by…something that isn’t true at many races with much less to offer. And the music was spot on all day (how did I forget to get the DJ’s name??!) I would also be remiss not to mention and thank some of the Spartan people who helped me during the event. First, naturally, are all the volunteers! Then there was Chris, who supplied the elite finisher names, and the other guy who helped me track down Chris after I lost him. And Jen, who is always there when I need something on timing.
I would give this a solid 5 out of 5 for a day well spent on the OCR circuit and certainly a fitting way to close out any OCR career. The one request I could make (after all, that’s what engineers do…fix things that aren’t necessarily broken) would be on tracking racers and adding intermediate notifications. These notifications all seemed to be right at the beginning and at the very end of the race. Having one before the spear throw would let people know their racer was coming back into view. That aside,
Tell us what you thought about the Palm Beach Spartan Sprint! Too easy, too tough…too hot? Was this your first race or one of many? We’d like to hear from you!
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