The first Winter Spartan race was held only last year. We’d interviewed one of the participants and had since dreamt about playing in the snow ourselves. So when we heard that Winter races were back this year with more oomph–meaning more races and even a chance to collect a Winter trifecta–we of course immediately packed up our gear and headed towards one of the cold outposts where the Winter races are held: the town Liberec in Czech Republic.
Now, with our medals proudly in hand, we can say that Spartan Winter races are a whole new, exciting challenge. Don’t believe us? Just check out the promo video:
The local Uzirske mountains were the perfect place to host a Spartan Sprint: easily accessible being on the outskirts of a small town, yet remote enough to feature lots of snow, temperatures as low as -8C (roughly 20 F) and, more importantly, high peaks. By the end of the race, we’d topped out at almost 2000ft of elevation, with steep climbs and fairly steep descents.
My best racing experience to date
I had big plans for this race. With a spot in the elite heat, I was hoping to profit on my months of hardcore training and qualify for this year’s World Championships. How epic would it have been to qualify for this much bigger challenge in the first race of the season, only two weeks into the new year? Unfortunately, just days before the race I broke my toe. That’s right – one of the essential tools for running. Refusing to succumb to despair, I consumed anti-inflammatories and focused on practices that boost healing. When the race day came, I wasn’t ready to run or even walk briskly. My toe was still swollen and hurting but, like any Spartan, I put on my single-layer Reebok All Terrains and set out to finish the race. Luckily, because my shoes were gummy and single-layer, wearing them in the freezing cold had an instant cooling effect on my toe. After just 20 minutes of warming up for the race, I could no longer feel my toe… or my fingers… or my feet. 5 miles later, I finished as the 71st with clenched teeth, yet happy… The Liberec Winter Sprint was my best racing experience to date. Why? Mainly because it’s a race so much different from the typical muddy sprint.
What to expect from a Winter Spartan Race
Prepare for snow blizzards and freezing wind. The snow-covered ground means tree branches, water, rocky trails and other dangerous road obstacles aren’t always visible. Alongside this, the snowy paths can ice over quickly, making the race dangerous not just for you but also for fellow racers ahead of you and those behind you. This is where the typical single-layer, gummy OCR shoes will fail you – get a proper lightweight but warm, trail running shoe. Alternatively, you could also wear merino wool socks to keep your feet warm or .5 size bigger shoes with neoprene socks (wetsuit boots).
Little to no water
There will be some water, but only in the form of a creek or other water stream you might step into because it’s hidden under the snow. Do however prepare for soaking wet bottom and top layers of your gear: from sweat and snow. The obstacles, climbing and crawling will get you as wet as the usual mud race.
A transformed race camp with camp fires and hot winter food
The festival villages of obstacle racing events are one of my favourites places to hang out in – they’re great for meeting new people, trying new things (be it practice obstacles or new foods) and for generally immersing myself into the communal or rather tribal experience of OCR. In a cold climate, the festival area is even better, with an open campfire where people can warm up and socialise, and a spin on the usual burgers with warm winter-market hot dogs. The whole feel makes me think of ancient tribal times: where the hearth is central to daily life and preparation for battle.
Obstacles to break you down
No, there won’t be new obstacles. Well, apart from the spear in Spear Throw being replaced by DIY snowballs. (They’re just as tough a hit as the spear!) However, the usual obstacles doesn’t mean boredom. Even without the obstacles, the winter race course is already challenging with steep hills which you sometimes need to climb on all fours and all the snow-related terrain issues discussed above. Some of the obstacles are also made more challenging because of the snow – the balance beams for example were a surefire burpee maker due to the snow cover. And burpees are a bit different in snow where you’re getting your whole front and potentially even face wet in the snow.
Your typical gear won’t do
If all our talk of temperatures and terrain hasn’t convinced you yet that mud race gear is not enough for a Winter race, just consider the waiting times for a second. Usually in any race you will have to wait–prep and warm up–for the race at least 30 mins ahead of your start time. That’s at least 30mins standing in sub zero temperature in just a few layers of racing gear. Those water-draining OCR shoes get wet quickly and become a disadvantage as you slowly lose feeling in your feet What you need is the gear that will keep you warm while you are inactive, but which won’t make you overheat once you set off from the start line. Not sure what to get? Stay tuned for our Winter race gear picks – coming to Grit Camp very soon!
The road to success runs uphill. So does the Winter race, at least the one I was happy to experience in Liberec. I’d never climbed as much in any Sprint: up a peak and then quickly down the ravines and neck-breaking, icy pathways. Yet this is what made the race awesome: endless climbs, the scenic background of nearby mountains and sharp cliffs, and the falling snow. My usual approach to overcoming hills is to reduce speed, even to a brisk walk, then increase it once I’m back on the flat ground or running downhill. However, this race seemed like one big slow-ish climb followed by dashing downhill on slippery paths.
Unique Winter Spartan Race Trifecta swag
This is the point that gets people raving and I’m no different. These Winter races feature new Finisher shirts–long-sleeved technical shirts with a new look–as well as new medals which will be used in other 2016 European races too. The ones we were given in Liberec were still specific to the Winter race by having a grey counterpiece (Trifecta piece) and a ribbon featuring those scenic and sharp-cliffed mountains.
Along with the introduction of these more challenging races, it seems there is a rise in a new kind of OCR athlete. After all, the cold temperatures call for a champion who can navigate the snowy terrain well. So it wasn’t a surprise that the list of top finishers was mixed up of some known and many unknown names who seemed to specialize just in winter sports. Here comes a new niche of athletes that might just be your next competitor in the World Championships.
Spartan Race have been bombarding us with awesome news so far this year. Alongside the hooha over the new Spartan Delta and new racing concepts, we’ve also heard rumours that Winter races will be available in Canada and US in 2017. Exciting! Are you ready to take on this new challenge?
Once again, stay tuned for our gear picks for your next Winter race! You can subscribe to our weekly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out: subscribe here