In the five years or so since I began running OCR, I can't recall ever running an event in the rain. Well, until now, that is. The 2019 Spartan Los Angeles Sprint Weekend was a rain-soaked mud-fest, from beginning to end. I actually ran my very first Spartan event ever at this venue, and have run this race for the past five years, but have never seen it quite like this. The venue itself is set up well for a sprint-distance race, with varied terrain, water, and some serious hills, all part of the Castaic Lake Recreation Area. Though the weather was unrelenting, it could not dampen the spirits of those who came to conquer this course.
The Festival Area
This year, Spartan moved the base of the festival area uphill from the edge of the lake to a mostly grass-covered section of the park. I'm not sure if this was done in anticipation of the weather, or just to change things up, but, whatever the reason, it worked. In comparison with the last few years, the festival area was easier to navigate, and also felt a little more connected. Granted, there seem to be more and more sponsor tents every year, which makes the festival layout a challenge, but simple things like having the start line more centrally located help go give the race a more spectator-friendly feel. In addition, I'd say about 50-60% of the obstacles were accessible by spectators who were willing to walk a few short minutes in the rain. Compared to last month's Sacramento race, or Lebec the month before, that's a pretty good percentage and was a positive change. I can only imagine how glorious it would have been to have scores of spectators lined up at the obstacles, were the weather better. As it stood, it was pretty much the die-hards in their rain ponchos, and the multitude of parents obligated to watch their offspring take on the World Championship kids' course. Still, kudos to the Spartan West Coast team for planning a well thought out and spectator-friendly experience that worked well, even in the rain.
This was my favorite version of this race thus far, though I personally struggled with the wet obstacles. Starting from what was basically the middle of the festival area was energizing, and going into the lake within the first minute threw a twist into the race that many weren't expecting. Spartan made great use of the terrain, and especially the hills, to make this almost 4-mile Sprint one of the more challenging Sprints of the year. I ran the course both days, and I have to say that, as crazy as the course was in the rain on Saturday, it was ten times worse (or more fun) on Sunday. The consistent rainfall overnight and into the morning, combined with the thousands of runners who went through the course on the first day, left Sunday's course one for the ages. To be honest, though I did not meet my personal goal of making it onto the podium, Sunday's race ranks highly for the most fun I've had during a race. Granted, sliding backward down the hill I was trying to get the sandbag up was frustrating, as was not being able to lift the mud-covered atlas stone out of the water-filled pit it was in, but slipping and sliding around that muddy course, not caring that I was soaked to the bone, reminded me of why I found this sport attractive in the first place. If you're going to run a race in the rain, Castaic is the perfect venue, and the course this weekend was the epitome of what a ‘mud' run should be. And judging from the hundreds of pictures I've seen so far, there was no shortage of good times this weekend, despite the weather.
Though it was inspiring to see spirits so high, despite the adverse conditions, that's not to say the weekend was perfect. It is challenging to build and maintain a course in the rain, and, of that, Spartan did a good job. There were a few things, however, that I (and other Spartans) noticed, that could have used a little ‘tweaking'. For one, the nets on both the vertical and the A-frame cargo nets were unusually loose. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I've never seen them that loose before at any race. Normally, it might not be that big of a deal, but, in the rain, it seemed particularly hazardous. Trying to get up and over the vertical cargo net in the rain with all that extra slack was nerve-racking, and more than one person took a nasty spill coming down the backside. I don't know if this was just an oversight, but, in my opinion, after a multitude of racer complaints on Saturday, it should have been tightened for Sunday's race. Many also complained that the bells at the end of the multi-rig (just rings, in this case) were too high, and even some who completed the rings, which was a challenge enough in the wet conditions, ended up doing burpees anyway. To be honest, it seemed a bit cruel. We all know rain is going to make obstacles such as the monkey bars, tire flip, Herc Hoist, and Atlas Carry more difficult, but should those who can somehow complete these obstacles be rewarded by an out-of-reach bell? Just something to think about, Spartan. Like I said, conditions were difficult, and, all things considered, I thought it was a very successful event. This race will be a tough one to beat, but, honestly, I'd like the chance to run this same course under drier conditions, if only to have a shot at getting on that podium. I guess I'll only have to wait about 50 weeks to check the forecast.
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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.
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