On the road to Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Big Fork, MT the first thing that struck me was the natural beauty of snowcapped mountains, blue Sky, and a glassy lake. The side of mother nature that we all dream about. However, as the day progressed it did not take long to realize that mother nature has a dark side.
Parking was well managed and reasonably priced with no wait and shuttles taking you to the event. Registration was one of the smoothest I’ve seen. Lines were moved very quickly and without any complication, but once passed registration you couldn’t help but stop and stare in awe at the welcome sign become obstacle. It was like walking through an entrance to a coliseum. A mammoth metal structure with logs laying across the top draped in cargo netting and human bodies. Racers were climbing up one side and as you walked through and looked up you saw the fear on the faces of fellow Spartans. Continuing through and into the (village) you couldn’t help but see Spartans struggling through the bag hoist, bucket brigade, and the rings. There was an incredible variety music playing to get the adrenaline flowing, your standard vendors, and practice rope climb and tire flip. However it would have been great to have technical demonstration as advertised in the participant guide. Overall, the village was entertaining and had enough to keep spectators happy.
Soon enough we heard our heat called and the pre-race rush began. With a quick wall climb we were standing at starting line shouting “I am Spartan”! Then we were off through a cloud of smoke and dust for an adventure of a lifetime that would challenge us in ways we could never have imagined. The first ½ mile was deceptively easy with standard OCR terrain but the next 4 miles were designed by sadistic evil monkeys. The terrain got steep quickly and included roughly 1.3 million trip hazards. In fact, it is safe to say that the most challenging obstacle was the terrain. It was relentless, unforgiving, and steep climbing at least 4,000 feet… our GPS died from lack of oxygen. It was common to see people with ankle or knee problems struggling and in pain. It could be wise to add a first aid kit to your hydration pack for this race. There are many opportunities to turn an ankle or get other minor injuries due to the terrain.
In general the obstacles were not innovative but were standard Spartan obstacles such as (names here). That is not to say they were not hard however. Many of the obstacles were difficult to complete without support of a teammate. In fact I was surprised to see the staff encouraging racers to help others in completing obstacles. One thing I commonly hear is how Spartan races are more of an individual race, but I loved the added encouragement of teamwork. Another thing I appreciated about the obstacles was how sturdy and structurally sound they were. The last obstacle before the fire jump was one I’d not done before and was awesome! I will lovingly call it the bicep breaker. It had rings that then transitioned to a 10” pole then to a short knotted rope swing. I did not see a lot of Spartans complete this obstacle without hitting the burped station. The transitions seemed to be what challenged racers the most. Particularly the transition from the rings to the pole because the pole rolled slightly making it feel unstable.
As we maneuvered through the course I couldn’t help but notice how well marked it was. Considering how rugged much of the course was it could have been easy to get lost, but there were flags tied to trees and markers in the ground that made it idiot proof… until they invent a better idiot.