Tag Archives: Spartan Race Tampa

Spartan Special Ops: Major League OCR (Feb. 15, 2014)

By Pete Williams

An athlete battles to the finish on Saturday.

An athlete battles to the finish on Saturday.

TAMPA – Joe De Sena believes obstacle racing is a competitive sport, not a beer festival in the mud. Judging by today’s Spartan Race event here at Raymond James Stadium, Spartan is the new leader in the obstacle category, however we define it.

It wasn’t that long ago that Spartan seemed like another fledgling operation throwing races together in a field. These days, it’s a well-oiled professional machine. From the smooth traffic flow on the course and in the parking lot to the black-and-red Spartan signage blanketing the event to the premium medal and swag, Spartan now comes across as a major sports business that, indeed, has added big-name sponsors and private equity investors in the last year.

Raymond James configured for obstacle racing (courtesy Spartan Race).

Raymond James configured for obstacle racing (courtesy Spartan Race).

Then there’s the course itself. De Sena, the Spartan founder, bristles as the term “mud run,” believing that mud shouldn’t be the main draw of an event. There was opportunity to get dirty at today’s “Spartan Sprint Special Ops,” to be sure, but that was mostly limited to a crawl through dirt under barbwire the length of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football field (grass removed for the winter).

Spartan has had good luck with races staged at Major League Baseball venues such as Boston’s Fenway Park and New York’s Citi Field, but those events were limited mostly to the confines of the buildings with the baseball diamonds off limits.

But with Raymond James Stadium surrounded by vast grassy parking lots, Spartan could produce a hybrid event – its third overall race of 2014 – that combined the best of a sports venue race and a regular Spartan affair. That meant the second half of the 3.5-mile course was on the field or outside the stadium, incorporating a number of Spartan’s signature obstacles, including the spear throw, rope climb, and fire leap.

There also was the traditional concrete block hoist with a rope pulley and a newer event: carrying a 60-pound boulder (lighter for women) 10 yards, dropping for five burpees, and returning the boulder 10 yards.

Matt "Ultrabeast" Dolitsky reaches the top of the rope climb.

Matt “Ultrabeast” Dolitsky reaches the top of the rope climb.

Spartan also incorporated the football theme, requiring athletes to toss a foam football 15 yards into a bank of trashcans positioned in the endzone. The athletes mirrored the Tampa Bay Buccaneers historic quarterback troubles, with the vast majority missing the target and taking a 30-burpee penalty.

There are only so many creative ways to run people through a stadium, but Spartan positioned enough walls, obstacles, and stair climbs to make things interesting. Athletes had to carry heavy sandbags through the upper deck, penguin-walk stairs wearing ankle bands, and step over numerous railings separating sections of seating.

The 30-burpee penalty, which distinguishes Spartan Race from typical help-your-fellow-athlete events, loomed large. We took three penalties for failing to stick the spear throw, convert the quarterback toss, or navigate the horizontal peg wall.

The event got underway at 8 a.m. under dark skies with the first wave of athletes addressed by Admiral William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command at nearby Macdill Air Force Base. This will be the first of several military-themed Spartan events.

Not your typical Spartan Race (photo courtesy James Green).

Not your typical Spartan Race (photo courtesy James Green).

Raymond James Stadium proved the perfect location for an obstacle race and not just because it’s the rare venue located within a major market, not an hour out of town. Spartan organizers used the ticket windows for packet pickup and parking lots accustomed to crowds of 60,000 easily accommodated 6,000, even with the northern lots taken out by the racecourse.

We’d like to see more events at major sports venues in Florida, which unlike the rest of the country have grassy parking lots. We thought Tough Mudder’s best race was its event a year ago at Homestead Miami Speedway, which though not as centrally located as Raymond James Stadium provided many of the same advantages. Alas, Tough Mudder, forever searching for a consistent Florida venue, is not returning to Homestead.

Spartan has made numerous upgrades to the window dressing of its events. Gone are the black cotton T-shirts with a race calendar on the back that looked like 1980s concert T-shirts. Spartan now issues gray, fitted Gildan Softstyle shirts, arguably the best in the industry outside of the folks at Rock On Adventures.

Spartan Special Ops hardware

Spartan Special Ops hardware

We’re not big on medals, but Spartan now has the best in the business. Athletes at today’s event received not only a commemorative Spartan Special Ops event medal with the date (as opposed to generic medals issued in every city) but also a pie-shaped Spartan Sprint medal that can be combined with a Super Spartan and Spartan Beast medal to form a 2014 Trifecta medal. Athletes also received a black Spartan headband with their race numbers, a badass look suitable for everyday workout use (and no doubt a dig at the garish orange Tough Mudder finisher’s headbands typically worn only immediately after the event.)

After this morning’s Spartan event, we found a dozen postcard flyers for future races on our windshield. Those events, at fields across Central Florida, will continue to battle for a share of the crowded mud run market.

When it comes to obstacle racing, however, Spartan has gone Major League, and perhaps now is in a league by itself.



Spartan Race Meets Special Ops

By Pete Williams

Workers construct a barbwire crawl the length of the Raymond James football field.

Workers construct a barbwire crawl the length of the Raymond James football field.

TAMPA – The latest incarnation of the Reebok Spartan Race will have a distinctive military feel. Tomorrow’s  “Spartan Sprint Special Ops 2014,” held at Raymond James Stadium here not far from U.S. Special Operations Command, will include appearances from top military brass, paratroopers, military equipment from private collections, and a few badass special operators for whom competing will be something of a light workout.

For all of the talk about how obstacle mud runs mimic military training, the Spartan Race might be the one that comes closest to delivering. Joe De Sena, who debuted the Spartan Race in 2010, sees the event as a fierce competition with stiff penalties (30 burpees) for any obstacle not completed and worthy of the tradition of King Leonidas and his legendary band of 300.

That tends to scare away the type of corporate team-building groups that Tough Mudder and other untimed events draw. Which explains why Spartan is expecting a relatively modest 6,000 competitors to attend the most conveniently-located obstacle race ever held in Florida, smack dab in the middle of Tampa at the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a morning when the New York Yankees will open Derek Jeter’s final spring training across the street.

An athlete prepares for the spear throw for tomorrow's Spartan Race, part of which takes place in the shadow of Steinbrenner Field.

An athlete prepares for the spear throw for tomorrow’s Spartan Race, part of which takes place in the shadow of Steinbrenner Field.

Spartan Race has staged events at several baseball facilities, including Boston’s Fenway Park, New York’s Citi Field, and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Those races, though well attended, had more of a CrossFit Games feel to them since Spartan could not tear up the fields and was mostly limited to staging inside the stadiums.

That meant lots of climbing grandstands and running along concrete concourses. There will be some of that at Raymond James tomorrow – the first race at an NFL facility – as athletes will navigate three of the four concrete ramps and tackle challenges on two concourse levels, part of an 18-obstacle course spread over 3.5 miles. (Though a pedestrian overpass connects the property to the Yankees spring training home at Steinbrenner Field, the Bronx Bombers’ first workout made it impossible to make the Spartan Race a baseball-football affair.)

Much of the race will take place outside in the grassy parking lots north of Raymond James Stadium, including Spartan’s signature gauntlet of race-ending obstacles, including the spear throw, rope climb, and final dash past mallet-wielding Spartans. With grass removed from the stadium for the winter, Spartan was able to construct a barbwire mud crawl the length of the football field.

All of which makes the Tampa race something of a hybrid event for Spartan, closer to a traditional Spartan Race than the in-stadium baseball events, and more of a military-style competition.

Not your usual concourse obstacles at a Bucs game.

Not your usual concourse obstacles at a Bucs game.

Two years ago, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), based at Tampa’s Macdill Air Force Base, began looking to work with an event that might rival the Marine Corps Marathon. Though there’s no official relationship between SOCOM and Spartan Race, there’s some interaction.

Col. Tim Nye, a recently-retired SOCOM public affairs officer, now serves as Spartan’s military liaison officer and is helping plan races near other U.S. military bases.

“People are making a connection between obstacle races and the military in terms of health, fitness, and teamwork and that’s good,” Nye said today, overlooking the field as workers applied the finishing touches. “But with the proliferation of events, the question becomes what qualifies you to put on a race like this? Can you put it on and push people without breaking them? There’s a need in the industry for some standardization and the military is all about what the standards are and following them.”

Spartan athletes must scale a rope and ring a bell -- or face a 30-burpee penalty.

Spartan athletes must scale a rope and ring a bell — or face a 30-burpee penalty.

Spartan Race has come a long way since we tackled our first Spartan event at a paintball facility in Northern Virginia in June of 2011. Back then, it was a bare-bones, truly spartan affair lacking the window dressing of a major traveling national production. As recently as April 2012, Spartan’s biggest sponsor was Dial for Men (deodorant), which gave events a cheesy “Meet the Spartans” vibe.

These days, the Vermont-based Spartan Race has private equity backing, major corporate sponsors such as Reebok, an ambitious worldwide schedule of events at multiple distances, an NBC Sports television special, and an upcoming book. Driving it all has been DeSena, 45, who made a fortune on Wall Street, once completed a dozen Ironman triathlons in one year, and has made no secret of his desire to get Americans off the couch and his distaste for rival Tough Mudder’s untimed, non-competitive format. He bristles as the phrase “mud run,” viewing obstacle racing as a sport worthy of inclusion in the Olympics. (Indeed, with the exception of the barbwire crawl and a possible fall from the rope climb, there’s no mud in tomorrow’s affair.)

This all-steel depiction of two soldiers by Tampa artist Dominique Martinez will be on display at the race.

This all-steel depiction of two soldiers by Tampa artist Dominique Martinez will be on display at the race.

This morning, Spartan set up shop in the shadow of the Yankees and Buccaneers, two of the wealthiest franchises in sports. Dozens of workers wore red and black Spartan gear, blending in with the Raymond James and Buccaneers branding.

The workers rolled out chain link fencing and Reebok Spartan-branded signage, set up a huge Spartan souvenir tent, and prepared for both 6,000 Spartans and De Sena’s latest aggressive push into the world of professional sports.




Spartan Beast Coming to Central Florida

By Pete Williams


Courtesy Spartan Race

Courtesy Spartan Race

Spartan Beast, the most challenging of the Spartan Race’s three main formats, is coming to Central Florida this fall.


Spartan Race officials made a presentation this morning in front of Pasco County’s Tourist Development Council, proposing a Spartan Beast event, most likely at Little Everglades Ranch, in November or December. The TDC now will make a recommendation to Pasco County’s Board of County Commissioners, which almost always approves such measures.

The Spartan Beast is a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course race and considered considerably more difficult than the 8-mile Super Spartan, which has taken place in Miami in February each of the last three years. This will be the first Spartan Beast staged in or anywhere close to Florida; there is a Spartan Beast scheduled for Nov. 9 in Winnsboro, S.C.

While there are numerous Super Spartan races and 3-mile Spartan Sprints on the 2013 calendar around North America, there are only eight Spartan Beasts listed on the company’s website.

Athletes do Burpees at Super Spartan Miami in 2012

Athletes do Burpees at Super Spartan Miami in 2012

Spartan officials told Pasco County’s TDC that they had toured Little Everglades Ranch and projected to bring 8,000 participants to the race, at least 30 to 40 percent of which would travel 50 miles or more. Spartan plans only a one-day affair, but Pasco County officials hope that could be expanded into two days if there’s significant early registrations.

Spartan Race once made it a point not to hold events at venues previously used by its competitors, especially Tough Mudder, which held its first Florida event at Little Everglades Ranch in December of 2011.

IMG_3876But as obstacle events have proliferated in the last 18 months, races inevitably overlap at the same facilities, especially when so few have the right combination of ample land, parking, and convenience to major markets.

Little Everglades, a well-manicured, 2,050-acre ranch just north of Tampa, has proven to be perhaps the best venue for obstacle racing in North America. Located in a year-round warm climate, with numerous natural water obstacles, it also has multiple entrances from major thoroughfares and more than a hundred acres of parking, which makes handling big crowds no problem. For recent events, Little Everglades has provided large tents, one for men and one for women, to rinse off mud and change clothes.

SpartanMiami2012Tough Mudder drew more than 15,000 runners over two days in 2011 before moving to Hi Hat Ranch in Sarasota for last year’s race, where athletes encountered traffic delays of up to four hours getting to the property. Savage Race moved to Little Everglades in October after two events in Clermont, and returns to the venue on April 13. The Dirty Girl Adventure Run staged a successful event there as well in February.

Since its debut in 2010, Spartan Race has become perhaps the most challenging of the national obstacle race events, developing a following of athletes who travel North America participating in the various distances. Unlike other events, Spartan Race penalizes athletes 30 Burpees for each challenge they fail to complete.

Unlike Tough Mudder, which bills its event as a team-building, untimed challenge and encourages office groups to run together, Spartan Race is marketed as a highly-competitive, individual, timed race. Reebok recently signed on as a title sponsor for Spartan Race, which holds some of its shorter events at Major League Baseball venues.

The Spartan Beast, though tougher than the Super Spartan or the 3-mile Spartan Sprint, is not as challenging as the Spartan Ultra-Beast, a marathon-distance event in Vermont in November. There’s also the Spartan Death Race, also in Vermont, which has no set finish. Last year’s event lasted 67 hours and, as usual, only 20 percent of the field was left standing when the race was called.