Well this was it, the big one. This was the race that I've been looking forward to ever since tackling Tough Mudder in May. After the recent Spartan series races that I have completed, I was very excited that finally the time had come to take on the biggest Spartan Race in the UK, the Beast.
Billed as a 25km, 50+ obstacle onslaught, I was ready to shed blood, sweat and tears getting through this challenge.
The first impression unfortunately was a little off, as I didn't receive my normal confirmation email a few days beforehand with the waiver form and confirmation of the directions. I emailed the UK Spartan team in the end for confirmation as many people on the Spartan Facebook page said that the address provided on the website differed to that in the confirmation email. As always the lovely Jess from Spartan sorted my issues out pretty quickly.
Race day was upon me- An early start of 6am to get the family up and in the car to start the ~2 hour journey to Brands Hatch. The best thing about driving that early on a Sunday morning was that the roads were pretty quiet, so we made good time to the venue and parked up pretty promptly.
The air was pretty cold out of the sun, with think frost covering the ground anywhere the sun hadn't hit. Luckily once in the sun, it was actually a warm enough air temp for a nice run without the need for a shirt. That said, I did keep my top on until the beginning of the race, just in case :-)
There was no queue for registration but, as a season pass holder, I had to visit a second tent to have my timing chip entered. I thought this was strange as surely they should have my details- I have run twice on this number with them in the past year. Unfortunately the tent was empty and no-one knew where the people were. 5 minutes later and I was stuck behind a queue of 30 odd people all in the same boat.
With the timing chip sorted, I handed my shirt to the wife on the start line and after the normal Spartan speech (which we could barely hear!), we all set off. Mostly we were quite surprised that the first section of the race was a lap of Brands Hatch circuit. There were some barriers to jump over, 2 in total, but otherwise this was a road run. For those of us in extreme trail running shoes, this was more than slightly painful! It was a welcome relief that after approx 2 miles, we headed off the Tarmac...
A few more twisting sections on grass which involved running inside the track the wrong way round brought us into the woods in the centre of the circuit.
We soon reached several areas that simply hadn't been marked properly. There were either 5 different ways all of which had tape on them, or no tape whatsoever to follow. A large group of us followed the tape into the woods and completed a sandbag lift, cargo net and rope climb before being told that we should have been coming from the other direction. The initial marshals didn't mention this, too busy playing on their phones to care :-(
After losing another 30 seconds listening to more marshals try to decide where we should be running, we we sent back onto another track where we met more runners. I would like to say this was an isolated incident, but there we six separate occasions where we got completely lost due to lack of markings.
The marshals were simply awful. They weren't about where needed, doubled up on some places where they were not needed and either chatting or playing on their phones rather than giving encouragement to the racers or looking to be pro-actively helpful. This was such a huge change from every other Spartan Race that I had been to where the races have been so well staffed.
We ran through several more obstacles, 2 sets in total of the cargo climb, rope climb and sandbag lift- not exactly what you'd call imaginative. The worst part of it though was the running through brambles and holly hedges. Sure they hurt a bit and cut my body up, but that doesn't bother me. It felt like miles of doing this and as most of the time they surrounded us, it forced people to move single file which therefore forced queuing. YOU CANNOT HOLD A TIMED RACE WHERE YOU FORCE PEOPLE TO MOVE SINGLE FILE!!!! It simply doesn't work, at all. If you can't overtake, you're forced to run at the pace of the slowest person and as there are no qualifications needed even for the elite heat, you can get some very slow people in there.
This bored everyone who was around me. As we were down to walking pace, we had a good chance to chat and share war stories!
We progressed though the wooded section with a fire jump, some spiders' nests and a few obstacles suspended about 3 feet above the ground but nothing particularly innovative. There was also a brick hold for 50 seconds at arms length. Completely unregulated so people ran off whenever they felt like. The marshal there was simply awful, not telling us which way to run and again, three groups or people went in three separate directions. Not cool.
Final gripe (for now) was that as well as people getting lost, some groups just after this obstacle seemed to be purposely cutting the course. Not strictly running through tape, as there wasn't any, but not exactly playing by the rules or spirit of the runs either. This obviously isn't the fault of the organisers, but sad nonetheless.
We eventually made it out of the woods and on a run back up to where we started. After getting back on grass and a bit more running, we had some monkey bars to complete and two flips of a tyre. In reality the monkey bars were way too easy, cleared in 4 swings and 2 flips of a tyre isn't exactly challenging but enough for the volume of people that were running through. The monkey bars weren't thick, wet or greased- Three things that could have made it a tougher obstacle.
A quick loop around and we hit three farmers-walk style obstacles- 2 x ammo cases (I estimated 15kg each, the marshal didn't know!), a single car tyre run and a sandbag run (approx 30kg). I used these as time to catch my breath a bit and store some energy. After leaving these we hit balance beams and then started a crawl under cammo netting which went on seemingly forever, must have been at least 150m. I didn't even know you could get cammo netting that long! You could argue that it got tough on the knees, but really most of it you could stand and run as the netting was very loose. Not tough, just irritating.
Further up the hill we hit the seemingly impossible spear throw which this time had to hit a hay bale, and stick in. Previous races you simply had to hit the target. Suffice to say whist I was there, everyone was doing 30 burpees :-) After another jog we then had a hay crawl and then a new one (hurrah!)... 50 pull downs on vertically mounted Concept 2 rowers. Not bad actually, quite tiring and marshals there checking people were doing it right! Bravo!
We then moved on to the final 3 obstacles- ice crawl, pretty standard with no electrocution :-(, wall climb and the Gladiators. Well, Gladiator. The wall was different to the normal one- higher but the ropes seemed to be suspended differently. The tough part of the normal wall is that the rope stays very close to the peak when you get to the top.
I crossed the line not particularly tired and not feeling like I had run 25k. I went to pick up my Trifecta medal, only to find that I wasn't on the list for it. I argued my case giving details of the races I had completed and I was allowed both the Beast and Trifecta medals. I don't understand why this was missing from the system though.
My timing chip had been lost in the brambles, so I was given a line cross time of 1:52:20. Pretty fast for 25km... We later found out that several people GPS'd the run and had it down as 11 miles. No wonder that time seemed fast!
Then after scaring some people who were about the start with the blood pouring out of my legs, the final obstacle was in fact finding the showers. We were told about them on the start line but not a single member of Spartan Race staff that either my wife or I talked to could tell us where they were. We eventually tracked them down through word of mouth. It turns out some A4-size signs were what we were looking for!!!!
In conclusion I'm afraid to say it was a disappointment. The few things that they got right were vastly overshadowed by all of the bad points and poor administration. As I'm writing this, I'm currently looking at the Spartan Facebook page full of similar complaints. I have also emailed the UK team asking for a point of contact to give direct feedback to.
The most annoying thing is that these guys can organise really compelling, interesting races with innovative obstacles- The Sprint and Super that I completed earlier in the year was amazing. This just wasn't one of them. The general impression was that the course was thought up the night before over a beer. I will continue to support and run their races in 2013 under a season pass but I fear that they have severely damaged their brand name, due to this race.
Roll on the 2013 season and my next Trifecta :-)