Towards the end of that awesome day volunteering at a Spartan Super, I had the pleasure of meeting Sean – the International Quality Manager for Spartan Race. He works with Spartan Race licence holders across Europe to ensure that each race is developed and delivered to the same Spartan standard. If like me, you’ve ever wondered how a race course is designed and put together, do read on because Sean explains a few crucial aspects of his job.
So Sean – what does the process of designing a race course look like? How many takes does it usually take you to “get it right”?
Our partners send their course designs to me. I check through every course to make sure they are safe, exciting, have good racer flow (no crazy backlogs due to obstacle placement), and that they continue to evolve and improve throughout the season.
Every Spartan course worldwide is measured against the same standard. So no matter where you race you know it is Spartan event if there are little variations. The process can take several iterations.
Where do you even start when you just see a blank field?
Every course tries to use the best of the landscape around it. Spartan is all about getting people into nature. We look for water features, nice trails through forest, rivers, muddy sections etc., and start laying a route through this. The more hills the better as well
The festival usually needs a nice big open area. Most of the festival design is governed by making everything easy for the racers to get around and some good areas for spectator to watch course.
How do you agree on things with your licencees (obstacles, their placement, and so on)?
They agree pretty easily as they want to use the experience that Spartan US has. Certain things just don’t work, e.g. putting a rope climb as first obstacle or only having 30 sandbags. Mostly it is common sense so they agree pretty easily. Whenever there are little problems at events we will give them various solutions so it goes better the next time around.
What are your three favourite Spartan Race obstacles?
For me Spear Throw is our iconic obstacle. I love that the elite races can sometimes come down to this moment. The new Multi Rig is pretty cool – that seems to be challenging everyone. Bucket Brigade is the most difficult in my opinion. It can be pretty gruelling when it is long…
Eek! Indeed it is…
What’s your least favourite obstacle and why?
Personally when I am running I don’t like the super long muddy barbed wire crawls. Trying to get moving again after rolling through these can be a challenge!
V and I loved the inclusion of the two ‘Death Race’ style obstacles in this year’s UK Beast*. Can we look forward to more of new obstacles in next year’s UK season?
Absolutely. Lots of new ideas around. OCR is super competitive now so we need to keep things new and keep challenging people in new ways. With Spartan I think the key is to keep our obstacles physically challenging and start to challenge new skill sets.
What’s the one Spartan Race you think every fan of the sport should do?
In Europe I think Kitzbuhel was for sure pretty special this year. But there are so many events with their own character. The Orte event in Italy is awesome, the Scotland event was very cool. People always say that the Vermont Beast is the hardest one. That is where Spartan all began so I guess that is a good one for people to experience. Personally I would love to go to the Montana event some day.
A quick footnote from me to say that one of the things not conveyed in this interview is how much my conversation with Sean got me excited to try out non-UK European races. Living in the UK, the local races are more convenient, however there’s a lot of great stuff happening all over Europe and they don’t have to break the bank. Especially if you opt for Eastern European races – those cheap travel destinations are renowned for some of the toughest Spartan courses.
So for 2016, I am all the more excited to try out at least one of the Winter Trifecta races – yep, that’s happening! (And with a special medal design too.) – as well as the Orte sprint in Italy which I’ve heard always has a great atmosphere. Any other European events you’ve tried out? Do let me know in the comments below.
*The obstacles we’re referring to here were the memory test and the part where we carried a single brick for what felt like ages! What did you think of those obstacles?