The weather for the 2019 Spartan Sacramento Super and Sprint this past weekend couldn't have been much better: Clear and chilly mornings gave way to sunny skies, warming temperatures, and very little wind. It was, if I do say, the perfect frame to another successful Spartan Race weekend. This was my third consecutive year attending this event, and it did not disappoint. I raced both days, with the 8-mile Super course on Saturday, and the shortened 3.6-mile Sprint course on Sunday. Despite a few minor technical hiccups, the weekend, for the most part, was smooth sailing.
The Festival Area
The festival area this year didn't vary noticeably from the past few years, yet something felt slightly off to me, almost as if it were too spread out. On the plus side, there was ample space to move around, warm up, and mingle with friends, yet the layout felt slightly scattered. One thing I liked about the layout at Van Vleck (as opposed to, say, Tejon Ranch) is that several of the obstacles were located directly next to the festival area, making it a more exciting course for spectators. Also on the plus side was the minimal dust, despite being located on a working ranch. The numerous (and sometimes large) cow pies, however, were another story, and one definitely had to be careful where one was stepping. Despite the large crowd, registration and bag check lines seemed to move well. And while runners who finished Saturday's Super early were not able to check their times for a few minutes, the technical glitch was soon corrected and did not seem to rear its' ugly head again for the remainder of the weekend. One thing I think worth mentioning was the parking situation, which provoked numerous complaints from racers, especially those with late morning or early afternoon heats. While there was more than ample parking at the actual venue itself, getting into the lot was another story altogether. The ranch is located in a remote area, with the only access road being a one-lane highway. This proved to be an issue when traffic backed up for miles on Saturday. On Sunday it seems Spartan responded to the complaints by routing the cars basically in a loop before parking, hoping to alleviate the backup on the highway. Of course, it's not Spartan's fault that this is the only road leading in and out of the venue, but, knowing this, you'd think they would come up with a more creative solution. This racer's advice: Register for an early-morning heat. If that's not possible, then give yourself some extra time to get there. You're gonna need it.
As mentioned, Saturday's Super course was approximately 8 miles, which, considering Spartan's decision to standardize the 2020 Supers to all be 10 kilometers, was a pleasant surprise. If you've never run at this venue before, then you might not be familiar with its' reputation as an ‘ankle breaker'. That's real, folks. Because it is a working ranch, all the trails are covered with hoof prints, many of which are hard to see, due to the flattened grass over the top. Given the extremely dry weather these last few months, the ground was extra hard, and extremely unforgiving. If you were to step in one of those holes while running, it probably wasn't going to end well for you, and I definitely saw more than a few people in splints and make-shift casts. As someone who enjoys the open run between obstacles, this made finding those upper gears more challenging for sure, since running fast involved an extra risk of getting hurt, were you to suffer a misstep. For the most part, the obstacle layout followed the typical Spartan formula, with the first few being walls and hurdles, and slightly more spaced out than the majority of obstacles later in the course. One difference, which I felt made course slightly faster, was the fact that the majority of the ‘heavy carry' obstacles, including both the Atlas and sandbag, carries and the Herc Hoist, were within the first two to three miles of the race. One thing I had forgotten about from last year was how they like to put the tire flip directly after the dunk and slip wall at this venue. Well, I was rudely reminded on Saturday, when I couldn't get my wet hands under the tire to get a grip, and, thus, had to do my 30 burpees. Lesson learned. I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy that Sunday's Sprint course had been cut to just 3.6 miles, though, on the upside, much of that distance was in just two loops that had few obstacles. This made for an extremely fast, obstacle-packed Sprint race. There was clearly no room for error. Lucky for me, I had learned my lesson with the tire flip the day before. After coming down the backside of the slip wall, I rubbed my hands in the dirt and…voila! I was able to grip the tire from underneath and avoid doing burpees, leading to a much better finish for me, personally.
Despite the course pitfalls (pun intended), this is an extremely enjoyable race, especially if you're not particularly fond of hills, ala Big Bear or Tahoe. The course is relatively flat and fast, and the festival area is spacious and spectator friendly. The fact that a number of the obstacles borderline the festival area is an added bonus, both for the participants and the spectators. While nothing that happened this weekend would keep me from coming back next year, it would be nice to see Spartan re-think the parking situation, specifically the in and out. That was really the only thing that seemed to be able to put a damper on otherwise high spirits. I'm also counting, of course, on this awesome weather to make a return on the same weekend next year. That's not too much to ask, right?
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This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.