It’s taken me four days to recover from this year’s Spartan Virginia Super at Wintergreen 2015. This was not a race for the light of heart or the heavy of foot. Congratulations to everyone who completed this rigorous course – you deserve many pats on the back!
The Spartan Super at Wintergreen has become an iconic race among Spartans and OCRers. It is widely known to be one of the most difficult Spartan races each year and some racers consider all other Spartan Supers to be sub-par in comparison. Truthfully, even Spartan Beasts could be considered inferior in terms of difficulty.
This year’s course was no exception in relation to difficultly. Racers began this nine-mile trek with a gentle ascent into a forested area, followed by a very pleasant descent under the tree canopy. Don’t be fooled, though! Around the bend awaited a huge incline up a relatively steep ski slope with no tree cover.
At the top, we entered another forested area and worked our way down a slightly sharper decline. This was somewhat deceiving, as the trail soon opened up to yet another beastly hill, larger than the last. Up, up, and up the course went, until reaching the woods once more and descending briefly. Once at the bottom? You guessed it – another, even steeper and longer incline.
This pattern continued throughout most of the race until about mile seven when the real challenge began.
Racers are coining this segment of the race the “death march” and/or the “trail of tears.” For me, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other as I made my way up this mile-long black diamond ski slope. I didn’t stop…but others did. In fact, the trail was littered with fallen runners massaging muscles and inhaling salt tabs. Not only did it seem to go on forever, but the trail wound around bends that made you think the end was near, only to dash your little runner dreams into the ground as the torturous ascent continued.
The death march was followed by a pretty technical descent over slippery rocks and mud, making going slow even when it should have been fast. But the worst was over – at least in terms of the course itself – and there were no more major surprises as we crawled our way up and down a few more smaller hills to the finish line.
Spartan seems to be upping their obstacle game this year. There are more obstacles per race, sandbags and weighted objects are heavier, and walls are higher (even the starting wall has gotten taller!). The average number of obstacles for Spartan Supers in 2014 was only 24.5 – Wintergreen sported 29 obstacles, which is actually above the average number of obstacles in the Spartan Beast series last year. Overall, though, the obstacles were pretty typical of other Spartan races.
A few highlights: the barbwire crawl was uphill, the bucket carry was .25 miles long, and the tyrolean traverse was awesome!
If you do OCRing for the obstacles, Wintergreen did not disappoint. They were challenging enough, but nothing that couldn’t be done given enough preparation. Placement along the course seemed natural, although it did feel end-heavy. About 1/3rd of the hardest obstacles happened in the last two miles of the race.
Race Celebration and Festival Area
To be honest, I spent my most alert moments running and didn’t get to enjoy the festival area. I will say that things were organized well and the view was stunning! They played upbeat music that could be heard (joyously!) from the course at times and it was easy to watch the heats leave and runners finish.
I did note that the festival area seemed extremely empty when I was there. I attribute this mostly to the fact that the course took so long to complete for so many people. Average racers literally didn’t have time to enjoy the festivities after they finished. I didn’t even get my free beer!
Organization and Volunteers
Parking was the standard $10 per car, however it was a good 20 minute bus ride up to the festival area afterward….and by the end of the day, those buses were scary! I asked one of the drivers if they were used to driving up to the resort like that and he very adamantly told me that they were not. In fact, I personally saw one bus break down. As tired as I was on the way down, I was keenly aware of the way the breaks were screeching and smelling during our descent back to our car…
Registration was quick and easy, as was the bag check. They had plenty of scissors to cut off wristbands and, frankly, it was the smoothest racing process I have ever gone through. Volunteers knew what they were doing and helped with anything we needed. Overall, I’d say many kudos to the race planners and volunteers for a job very well done!
This was a hard race, to say the least. I hesitate to say that it was too hard, but only because I know how many dedicated Spartan OCRers will criticize my assessment, saying “If I didn’t like it, I shouldn’t have done it.” But that’s not what I’m saying. I like to be challenged and I totally embrace the Spartan mission to push the limits. What I do take issue with is misrepresenting facts or false advertising.
Spartan races have a hierarchy – Sprint, Super, Beast, Ultra Beast, Hurricane Heat, and so forth. They are supposed to progressively get harder, gradually introducing racers to new levels of exertion. I am working on my second trifecta, with some extra races thrown in, and it is my genuine opinion that the Virginia Super at Wintergreen 2015 did not adhere to the advertised Spartan progression. This super was, hands down, twice as hard as the Beast I ran in last year. In fact, this nine mile race took me an hour longer to complete than my twelve mile Beast and had just as many obstacles.
Spartan advertised this race with an average completion time of 2.5 hours – the winning time in the elite heat this year was 1:54:48 and the best time in the open was 2:30:10. The last racer crossed the finish line with a time of 14:55:53…I’m going to type that again…14:55:53. And just to show that wasn’t a fluke time, 60 other racers came in after the ten-hour mark. Even without calculating the exact average time, I’d say the 2.5 hour mark that Spartan advertised was a gross misrepresentation.
I was also disappointed that there was not more opportunity to run in this race. While I loved the obstacles and the ski slopes certainly provided a unique challenge, running is a different kind of fitness and I feel that it was underrepresented in this Wintergreen Super.
So, where does that leave my assessment? I give the Spartan Virginia Super at Wintergreen 2015 a rating of 4.0 out of 5.0. It was a great race, for sure, and I am so happy that I can say I completed it. However, this is not a beginner/intermediate-friendly course and, personally, I believe the Spartan race organizers got too caught up in the hype surrounding the anticipated difficulty of the race.
Personal Race Reflections
When I say that completing this year’s Wintergreen course was the single most physically difficult thing I have ever done, it is still probably an understatement. I literally cried at the finish line as the nice man gave me medal and a hug. Granted, I tweaked my arm and it hurt like hell, but that wasn’t the only reason I was crying.
This race pushed me to the edge. I love the feeling I get from accomplishing something I initially thought I couldn’t do. It’s a rush! But Wintergreen beat me down so far and so hard that my body was having trouble completing tasks I know I can do.
An example: I have done the slippery wall with rope several times without any trouble; this time, I actually fell (quite hard) into the wall and slid back down because I was so far beyond my physical and mental abilities. I remember kneeling there in the mud thinking, “This race has worn me so far down that I can’t even complete the obstacles I know I can do.”
Frankly, it was a shitty feeling. It sucked and that’s why I was crying. No Spartan race has ever made me feel that way and I hope I never feel that way again. While I did manage to make it over the wall, that memory of feeling hopeless still outweighs the feeling of success in this case, because I never should have struggled so badly with it to begin with.
I have been training quite hard recently, preparing for the Battlefrog Extreme I have coming up in 2016. My long runs are up to 10 miles and I consistently complete them in under two hours. Imagine my shock when I realized this race took me over five hours to finish! My finale time was 5:15:14.
I completed my last Beast in 4:22:30 and I actually injured my leg half-way through! That’s a huge difference. Couple that simple comparison with my utter exhaustion at the finish line and I was initially pretty damn disappointed.
I’ve sense recovered and can examine my performance more rationally.
- Bib Number:11354
- Overall: 1,973 of 4,990
- Overall Women: 304 of 1312
- Age Group: 71 of 308
- Time: 5:15:14
That means I was in the top 40% of racers in the open, which isn’t terrible considering how difficult this course was. Even better, I came in at 23% for both my age group and females overall. Despite the difference in time, when I compare my percentages to my previous Super and Beast, I actually did quite well!
And so ends my epically long review of the Spartan Virginia Super at Wintergreen 2015.
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Keep trotting, folks. Or, if you ran at this year’s Wintergreen, keep crawling!