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Featured Review – Spartan Race at Fenway Park 2013

Fenway Park is a magical place to many New Englanders – but back in 2012 when Spartan Race announced their intention to hold a race there, many people did a double take … a Spartan Race, with no mud or fire or water?

Fortunately, as we now know, it was a success, and they have gone on to run several more of these Stadium events.

This past weekend marked the return to Fenway, and after a year of development, it was pretty clear that the Stadium Series has gotten bigger and more polished.

Credit: Aaron Farb

The weather for the day couldn’t have been more perfect. Mid 50’s and sunny – in November, in New England? The venue was also pretty special. Last year, we were racing on the 100th year of Fenway Park, this year we were racing mere weeks after they won the World Series – and many people would have paid the price of entry just to be there for that alone.

Of course, ballparks – especially 101 year old ball parks in the middle of Boston – pose some really interesting logistics. There’s no parking, for example – you use the T or you risk driving around Boston for a long, frustrating and ultimately expensive trip. The stadium isn’t exactly big, compared to other venues – so registrations, merchandise and other facilities that usually cause bottle necks are located across the street in a parking lot. As is typical of a Spartan Race, these are well run by staff and volunteers and flow quickly.

Once we had our packets, we moved over to the entrance to Fenway, where venue security did a bag check for … not sure, they didn’t look too hard. They did have a box with beer bottles in it, so I assume some people were trying to sneak those in. Then we were in the main concourse.

Again, Spartan make good use of the space. Bag check was to the left, and effectively made a road block stopping you walking the whole loop of the park – at $5 (refunded in the form of merchandise credit), it flowed fast and easy for me the both times I had to use it. To the right, you walked through a couple of vendor booths – Reebok, Spartan Merch, a spin gym had setup their bikes and were running competitions, then the finishers chute and just past that, the start line.

Sadly, despite having over 170 registrations, there was no concession or space provided for the biggest team which made logistics, like where to meet or where to have a team photo taken especially tough. Also sadly, we had been provided with 12:15 as a team heat, which collided with the kids race and forced several parents to have to scramble to change waves and run earlier or later. Team logistics are something that Spartan Race are always looking at and trying to improve upon – so I hope this is a learning process and stuff like this doesn’t keep happening – as it makes us sad. Local events are stepping up their team support in pretty dramatic style, and I’d hope the big guys keep up, or even innovate. That certainly hasn’t happened at the New England Spartan Races in 2013.

Credit: Aaron Farb

Despite that disappointment, we managed to find a corner of the venue that wasn’t being used (there *could* have been a tent / roped off area there, easily) and took it over for an hour or two before the official team heat. We put that time to good use, with much social time. Friends caught up, people picked up team gear, photos were taken, weddings were performed – oh, thats right, we had an actual, legal wedding ceremony in the concourse of Fenway Park – congrats to Sean and Brittany!

Credit: Rachel WeissAt the appropriate time, we moved through the Park to the start line, where really the only major confusion of the day was going on. To get into the starers corral there was a 6′ wall. While certainly not the most challenging wall we were going to face, it was high enough to provide a pretty big bottle neck. As our heat time approached, and people were still in a long line to get into the corral – it was a little concerning that we wouldn’t be running together. Of course, as veterans of stadium races know, things run a bit different – they take you up 10 at a time, have you do some burpees, then send you on the course in 1 minute slots – every 15minutes another 150 people have to get lined up and into the corral. It works, and keeps the course flowing, but needs to be better communicated.

I was running the course with my wife, Beth and my Dad who was over on a trip from the UK – along with about 140 of my closest friends in the New England Spahtens – we three Jones’ had run the race last year too, so we had a basis of comparison.

As is usual of these reviews, I’m not even going to try to provide a blow by blow description of the course – the usual “Race Brain” kicks in, and crawls merge with stairs merge with walls and things get confusing.

The obstacles of Fenway were very similar to the 2012 obstacles, and if you’ve ran a lot of stadium events, likely similar to the obstacles you’ve seen at each stadium. The venue is used to it’s maximum, and during your run you do everything from stair cases and concrete landings, the stairs in the seating area’s, the visitor locker rooms, the concourse and player parking lot – then the warmup track to finish the race off, running right past the green monster and into the gladiators.Credit: Aaron Farb

As I mentioned in my 2012 review – Stadium races are very much what you would expect if Spartan Race collided with Crossfit – many of the obstacles and challenges are functional fitness staples – from hand release pushups in the visitor locker room, to 500m rows in 2mins, rope climbs, atlas stones, 25lb slam balls and 2″ thick heavy jump ropes – these are all things you would see in a Crossfit or other functional fitness / HIIT facility, and a welcome break to the usual rolling mud or mountain climbs.

Of course, without Spartan Race staples, we’d be bored – so there were plenty of walls to get over – from the 6′ wall just to get into the starting coral, several over/under/through walls, a series of 5′ walls and a couple of good sized 7′ and 8′ walls. We also had a nice and challenging set of monkey bars, designed especially for stadiums, a big cargo net, traverse walls and the Spartan favorite spear throw – something I had been practicing since making my own spears – yet come race day, I still fluffed this one twice and ended up with burpees I shouldn’t have had to do! The herculean hoist was back, and seemed on the heavier side (maybe as much as the NJ Super?)

There were stations that seem a little out of place. I’m not sure what benefit the box jumps right at in front of the finish line serve, as they felt like a bottle neck again this year, and I had to wait for a spot for a while during the early afternoon time frame. I’m not a fan of putting body weight workouts in the middle of a high quality OCR, as it’s something we tend to beat up on the wannabe race series over. I was very glad to see the fairly pointless ball throw gone – it may have been fun, and I now have a souvenir Spartan Race baseball to show for it, but as a challenge in an OCR? Glad the carnival games have gone.

For me personally, my first lap with the team was about seeing Beth complete Fenway, and earn her medal. She didn’t have a good race last year, so there was a level of redemption involved, and with a finish around 1h 18min, she got that in spades – and maybe even had fun 🙂 I let my dear old Dad beat me this time – he was looking to beat his 2nd place spot in his age group (of four) from 2012 – and at time of writing, he doesn’t show in the results.

After our first lap – we picked up our bags, changed into less sweaty and stinky gear and went out as a smaller team for food and drink. Due to the recent demise of Ruckus Sports, Spartan had offered the “Ruckus Refugees” a free lap of Fenway in the 6pm heat, which we planned to take good advantage of. We killed time eating, drinking and taking Corrine’s comments as out of context as we possibly could, then a much smaller (and fuller) team met for the 6pm wave.

While my time was quicker – I hoped for under and hour, and got 51mins in the end – I can now confirm that running after two beers, a fish, chips and mushy pea’s dinner from the Lansdowne Pub is not the brightest idea in the world. I know you were all wondering, and I can now confirm it for you. You’re welcome. With shot arms, I came off the monkey bars, missed the stupid spear throw *again*, and nearly had second thoughts about the 8′ wall at the end, but did nail it once I got out of my own head a little bit.

Credit: Rachel WeissSo – was the 2013 Fenway Spartan Race a success? Yes. From a racers perspective, the venue was unique enough that the challenges of space, parking and cost (of beer, at $8.75???) don’t really detract. The course was a unique experience, and I can only bet that the number of new racers who came out simply due to the venue along was dramatically different to a regular Sprint, and they were introduced to a Spartan Race in a very cool way that was accessible to pretty much everyone – despite their fitness levels. I definitely saw both ends of the spectrum out there, walking the stairs and jumping the ropes. As is typical, the quality of the obstacles was top notch – the bottlenecks, while there, were minimal, and the quality of the venue (layout, logistics) was high. There were disappointments – from the biggest team support, to the generic finishers shirt (and low quantities of unique venue shirts at the Merch tent – buy those EARLY in the day, folks!), and a medal that was in very generic “sprint red”, with only a lanyard and embossment on the backside to differentiate. Those things are easy improvements that Spartan has heard all about before.

Fenway 2014 is open for pre-registration – and I have. It’s likely they won’t know for a while if they can use the venue, so don’t expect to be able to sign up for sometime, but when it’s open, the best prices come early, and Spartan Race is one of the few events I’d give my money to early, these days. The OCR market is volatile, but Spartan is one of the few with longevity and stability.

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The Ergometer – How To Beat the Machine we Love to Hate

When Spartan Race announced that they were bringing Concept II erg’s to Fenway, I knew we needed to find out more about them. While I use them at my Crossfit box on a fairly regular basis, they will be new to a lot of folks.

Fortunately, among our membership is Michele. She spent years in college living and breathing this stuff, and I asked if she would be able to write up something to help folks get the best technique when they hit this often misunderstood machine …

So, in her own words, here’s how to KILL the erg at Fenway. Thank you Michele!

 

 

SO – word on the street is that there will be Concept II Ergometers at the Fenway Spartan Race….so what? Well, this could be the one variable on the course that could ruin a well-planned race, so a quick education and session on your nearest ‘erg’ could be the difference between your PR and a DNF.
As a former collegiate rower, I still shudder when I think about winter training sessions on the ergometer – and it’s been almost 14 years!! There’s a good reason – this machine is the ultimate equalizer in a sport where you have to be both cardiovascularly superior as well as strong, and it does not let you cheat in getting there. Because of the nature of rowing itself, where your form is so crucial to your success, there is no better place to perfect your form than an ergometer.

FIRST THINGS FIRST
It may seem ridiculously obvious, but when you first get on the ergometer, make sure your feet are secured properly. You may think that by hoping on and just letting ‘er rip so to speak you’re shaving time, but if your feet slip while you’re rowing hard you’ll pay later. The bigger your feet, the lower you need to slide the footbed, making sure the plastic pegs are are the way in the hole. The foot strap should be tightened and fall across the base or just lower than your toes.

Next, check out the display. This might not seem important, but I am guessing the ergometer will be used to get to a pre-determined distance, so don’t mess with power or time on the display: the info used by every coach and rower is your 500 meter split. Your total distance will still be shown, but the lower you get this split, the better you’re doing. Plus, knowing your split will give you some legit boat cred.

The tamper (resistance lever located on the side of the flywheel) will more than likely been at a set number for men, and one for women to keep it fair. Make sure you’re where the Spartan Race wants it to be. Now grab the handle…

ALMOST READY TO LET ‘ER RIP
There are two places in the stroke you can begin at, and it’s really up to you which you choose. I like to start at the ‘Finish’ because I feel it is more conducive to a fluid stroke. At the Finish legs should be straight, your torso should be long and straight with a lean back of 20-25 degrees, coming from your hip. There should be NO slouch in your body, core is tight and your shoulders should be drawn back. The handle should begin at your xiphoid process ( the very bottom tip of your sternum), with a very loose grip of your hands. In fact, at no point in the entire stroke should your hands be tight around the oar/handle, but especially at the Finish, with your thumb hanging loose. Elbows are pointed out, wrists are flat – you should have a straight line from knuckles to elbow. Here we go…

EASY DOES IT
From the finish the stroke goes in order like this – arms, back legs – until you arrive at the ‘Catch’ – and you just reverse that order back to the finish. If you remember ONE thing when you get to the erg at Fenway, it should be “arms, back, legs…legs, back arms”. What this means is that the first move you make from the Finish is to straighten the arms – that is it. Only after the arms come out, you swing your torso forward ( from the hip joint, DO NOT round your shoulders) to about 30 degrees toward your feet. Resist the urge to lunge too far toward your feet – if your ass lifts up or your back rounds you will loose tons of power. From here, you have the most crucial part of the stroke that is the most screwed up. Keeping your body angle, slowly slide up toward the flywheel, without your butt coming up under your body. This slide forward has to be twice as slow as your drive, or you will make the chain go slack, and loose all the momentum on the flywheel.

Once you’re as far up as comfortable while keeping your body angle, you’re at the ‘Catch’. If you were really on the water this is the instance you would lift your hands to drop your oar in the water. Since you’re NOT on the water, don’t worry about lifting and lowering your hands through your stroke – it will just make the chain go up and down, and will make your wheel slow. At the Catch you want to find the instant that you are as far up as you can go without lunging your bogy forward or coming to a complete stop, and you begin your Drive. This is the power portion of your stroke, and it needs to be twice as fast as your slide forward. If you don’t have a ratio of at least 2:1 (time in the slide forward to time driving the legs) you will not be as effective. Trust me – watch an inexperienced person on an erg sliding back and forth and you will see why. They get tired faster, their meters go up slower, and you risk injury to yourself and the machine.

So here’s the second half of your ergometer mantra “arms, back, legs….legs, back,arms”. On your Drive you first straighten your legs ( like squatting while sitting ) without moving the rest of your body. This takes a little practice. Once your legs are almost completely down, swing your back to that first angle you had at the finish, once again making the movement come from your hip joint. Then, and only then, do you pull the arms back into your sternum, keeping your wrists flat, elbows out, and core tight and supported. And , VOILA! You’re back at the Finish.

REPEAT

Now that you know the basic components of the stroke you will need to connect them smoothly, finding a rhythm to putting them together with just an instance of pause at the Catch and the Finish, inhaling on the slide up and exhaling on your drive.

Good Luck Spahtens! I cannot wait to hear about Fenway, and how the NE Spahtens were the only team to crush the dreaded ERGOMETER!!!!

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Spahten Story: Nele Schulze

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to one of your fellow Spahtens – someone who is known for her accent (she sounds as funny as me), as well as for her ability to leave many of us in the dust on her way to the Championship Heat at Ruckus – or running with Team Reload at the Fenway Spartan Race.

You may not know that only a few months ago, Nele hadn’t really been active at all – having been a skate boarder and competition roller blader back home in the UK – since moving to the US she hadn’t picked up any active sport, and obstacle course racing jumped in at the right time!

Since replying to Facebook post about Team Reload, she is now one of their team of 7 pro racers hitting the course first thing Saturday morning – before she hits it again with the team heat and the New England Spahtens.

Her story is inspirational – let me introduce you to Nele.

My Story 11/8/12

“I’m thinking about running Ruckus…” my boyfriend Ben said to me one day, “what’s Ruckus?” I replied.

And this was where it all began…

Before April 2012 I was just your average person, working, applying to grad school, hanging out with friends etc. Then at the beginning of April that changed. Ben and some of his friends were thinking about doing Ruckus at Marshfield MA on June 16th 2012.  I had no idea what this was so he sent me the link to the website. I had never seen anything like it before, a 4 mile long race with lots of obstacles and plenty of mud.

I immediately wanted to do it, so I began training. I started running, going to the gym more frequently, and eating better. The first time I ran a mile, I almost vomited and had to sit down in the middle of the path until all the pain, nausea, and aching in my body went away.

Being at Ruckus and completing an OCR for the very first time felt like a massive achievement. I had friends come cheer me on and I was thankful for their support. I was in awe of all the people around me. I saw everyone covered in mud, wearing their medals with pride, laughing and smiling with a beer in hand. I couldn’t wait to be one of them.

I beat my goal of one hour by completing Ruckus in 58 minutes and 33 seconds. The ‘post-race blues’ set in almost immediately after finishing Ruckus. I had worked and trained hard for two months all for that one race. Now that it was over, I felt a little lost.

One day Ben told me about Spartan Races. “They’re like Ruckus, but harder,” he said. I couldn’t register quickly enough and I was back into training mode, setting a goal to work towards.

The Spartan Sprint in Amesbury on August 11th was when I began to feel ‘at home’ in this sport. My first Spartan experience was the Hurricane Heat. I then ran the race; climbing up ropes, crawling under barbed wire and leaping over fire, in just over 1 hour and 6 minutes.  I could feel the improvement in myself and my performance. Just completing a race wasn’t enough anymore, I had seen the elite athletes and I wanted to run with them.

After my first Spartan Race, Eric hosted an event at his house, now known as Mini Sparta. That day I met too many people to name and the atmosphere was fantastic! Everyone wanted to push themselves and work towards their goals. I left feeling stronger than ever and with a whole load of new friends.

It was then that I knew what my next goal would be, The Spartan Beast in Vermont. It was quite a leap, from a four mile race to a 14 mile race, but I knew I could do it. I threw myself into training, running, doing the Spartan Workout Of the Day, or going to running clubs every day after work.

My non-OCR friends thought I was becoming obsessed, that just made me train harder. I registered for the Warrior Dash as training for the Beast. I completed the race carrying a rock the whole way. It seemed like everything I did became training for the Beast.

I completed the Beast with someone I had never met and who will now be a friend for life, Patrick. Without him, some obstacles would have gotten the better of me, especially the rope traverse. Hanging upside down from the rope, hands burning and legs aching, ice cold water beneath me; that was the one and only moment I ever wanted to give up. Patrick wouldn’t let me; swimming next to me in that freezing water, shouting words of encouragement, I forced myself to complete the rope traverse. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a sense of accomplishment when I finished the Beast in 6 hours 15 minutes.

After the Beast I took part in Tough Scramblers, a small yet fantastic adventure race, with some amazing NE Spahtens. I remember being at that start line and asking Ben if he wanted me to run with him. I was looking at some of the other women running and never thought I could beat any of them. “I think you can do this,” he said to me and with those words of encouragement I was the first girl to cross the finish line and finished 8th out of the women.

A few weeks later I went on to finish second in the women 20-29 category in a local 15k trail race. Even after getting my second place medal, I still couldn’t believe it.

On November 3rd 2012 I ran Ruckus Fearless Fall 5k, returning to the place where it all started. In June 2012 I ran with my boyfriend, both of us new to the world of OCRs and with three friends there to support us. Five months later I was running with a large group of NE Spahtens, all supporting each other and cheering each other on. I was even able to qualify for the Champions Heat (top 10% of categories, in this case Open Women, qualified. I finished top 1.7%). What a difference. I finished 9th in my category and 29th overall.

I recently took part in a Worlds Toughest Mudder practice run with someone I had never met. Josh was doing 10 mile loops of the Charles River in Boston, complete with exercises, starting at 10am and going for 24 hours. How could I miss an opportunity like that?!?!  I have yet to do a Tough Mudder, that’s on the schedule for next year, along with GoRuck and Run For Your Lives.

So on a Tuesday evening after working 8 hours I drove to the house of a person I didn’t know to see how many laps I could do. The first 10 mile loop I did with Josh, Sean, Keith and Lubo. Then for the second lap, more people joined. It was just wonderful seeing people arrive and saying bye to others. Everyone just wanted a piece of the action and to show their support, whether or not they were doing WTM. I turned 27 at midnight at around mile 15.

In the space of 7 months I have gone from not being able to run a mile without wanting to throw up to being able to run a half marathon, completing the Beast, and finishing in top 10 of 3 races.

My focus is now on the Spartan Race at Fenway on Saturday November 17th. I have been lucky enough to have been selected to run on Team Reload Fitness with 6 other athletes. I also plan to run it with my fellow NE Spahtens and then again on Sunday November 18th. I will be ending 2012 with a new small local OCR, the Renegade Run, on November 25th. From there I will be looking onto 2013 and what that year will hold. 2012 has been a life changing year for me, I can only hope that I can push myself harder for 2013.