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Spartan Race UK's series opens at Pippingford Park

by Paul Hayward
Wednesday 3rd September 2014
Tags  OCR   |   Paul Hayward   |   Dan Tuffnell   |   Joe De Sena   |   Spartan Race   |   SRUK   |   Obstacle Course Racing

Race report: Our obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward reports from the Spartan Sprint and Spartan Super Sprint, which marked the beginning of the Spartan Series in the UK - August 30 & 31, 2014

Spartan Sprint and Spartan Super Sprint - August 30 & 31, 2014

Photos: Paul Hayward embraces the challenge © Epic Action Imagery

Since I last lined up at the iconic Pippingford Park; a lot has happened in the realms of Spartan Race UK. These include the key appointment of a new race director, Mr Dan Tuffnell (HERE); the appointment of the respected Mr Richard Pringle; the founder of Spartan Race Mr Joe De Sena touring the UK (HERE) and Reebok taking an active involvement in the partnership. The stage was set for Spartan to reclaim their crown as one of Obstacle Course Racing's ("OCR") leading providers.

This weekend saw the beginning of the Spartan Series in the UK with the 5k Spartan Sprint taking place on the Saturday and the 10k (or so) Spartan Super Sprint taking place on the Sunday. Dan has previously indicated that Spartan UK were expecting 4,000 people racing each day which showed huge signs of growth over the past few years and is really exciting for our sport.

On arriving to Pippingford Park on Saturday the first signs were not promising; despite the warnings to arrive early to the venue - access to Pippingford Park was a nightmare and was plagued by long traffic queues. After registering this disappointment was forgotten, by virtue of the atmosphere within the race village, which was absolutely pumping. I was pleased to see there was a good breakdown of women to men (nearly 50/50) and everyone was smiling in the remnants of August’s sun.

For the first time in a while I opted to race in the "elite" wave, so called as if you want to win the race you have to be in this wave. I was joined by 300 or so Spartans, eager to start. In a fantastic move, Joe De Sena joined the warm up and said a few encouraging words before the race started. I was running back down 'that hill' at pace to be met with a horrendous climb once again.

Pippingford Park is the perfect OCR playground and the first hill, which must go on for at least a kilometre, almost instantly did its job by splitting the field up quite quickly and ensuring that there were no queues or bottle necks.  

At the crest of the hill you were met by the traditional Spartan black walls, before getting to a barbed wire crawl and a sandbag carry. The notorious bogs, the bane of the Beast, featured again and I was thankful for the sun as I dashed in and out of these, before meeting my nemesis of the Spartan monkey bars. 

The monkey bars stood - in their glory - to the side of the race village and crossed a massive bog. Spartans were required to cross only half way to the middle before being asked to drop into the bog and continuing running. Sadly, like a number of Spartans, I failed and was punished with a 30 burpee penalty!

Spartan Sprint and Spartan Super Sprint - August 30 & 31, 2014

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

On finding my rhythm, as I was blowing quite hard at this point, and negating more hills and bogs, the forest opened into the village once more and I was met with the huge rope climb. Thankfully this year the ropes were supported by an abundance of hay which provided instant comfort of safety.

When I reached the top of the rope I felt a small sense of pride, as I realised that I actually could climb a rope despite my fear. This feeling was soon dashed by the following obstacle requiring me to hoist a weighted canister, through a rope pull, to the top and back! My arms were already burning from the rope climb and this obstacle provided the perfect hindrance to my efforts to get round quickly.

It was a short jaunt after these obstacles to the finish line, where participants faced further walls, the hugely enjoyable spear throw, which always brings smiles to Spartans and is one of the unique selling points of the race, the "Right Shoes" Reebok wall climb and the fire jump. All of these obstacles were well laid out, achievable and fun ,with the crowds taking particular delight in cheering anyone failing them and getting burpees.

On crossing the finishing line it was clear that Spartan had addressed some of their main criticisms from the previous season.

Dan has previously said to judge him next year for the Spartan series, but judging by the smiles surrounding Pippingford Park, ablaze with Spartan red medals, I think it is fair to say the event went down a storm. 

On this showing there were a lot of pluses. The course was much better managed compared to the previous ones; no confusion awaited competitors and importantly the marshals were in abundance, authoritative and excellent. In addition, the reward for finishing was superb, ranging from the highly tasty Chia Charge bars to a coveted Reebok "Trifecta qualifier" t-shirt.

The Spartan Sprint was much slicker than old. It was well organised and the atmosphere was cracking. In contrast to my memories of the Beast, everyone was smiling, laughing and the waves were still all going out, screaming, with hundreds of people clearly excited by the Spartan experience.

A concern for me was that I did not see anything that I did not expect or had not seen before. The Spartan Sprint was a great experience and enjoyable, but this is Spartan we are talking about, who are up against the big providers at the summit of OCR and I do not feel that they raised their game enough on this evidence.

Some very encouraging and important steps have been taken this weekend, as peoples’ concerns with safety were addressed; the race was slicker and with Joe De Sena in attendance, it was clear Spartan were setting out their stall as 'the race' to be at this year.  However, some of Spartan's competitors, and some of the smaller events, have come on very strongly this year, with new innovative obstacles, and they have provided some really good OCR experiences.

Dan said that this season he will be "finding his feet" and next year will be the one to judge him on; on this evidence he is well on his way to showing just what Spartan can do.

Spartan Sprint and Spartan Super Sprint - August 30 & 31, 2014

Photos: Fire and mud - and plenty more mud... © Epic Action Imagery


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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