by Thomas Nastasi
On April 13, 2013, I competed in my first Obstacle Race of the 2013 season. It was the Spartan Sprint (3.5 miles, 15+ obstacles) at Citi Field in Queens, NY. This is a special series of Spartan races that are held at ballparks instead of mountains. They first started this in November of 2012, at Fenway Park, in Boston. There will be a few more of these ballpark races at the stadiums of the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, and Boston Red Sox in 2013. Being an OCR veteran, I have never seen so many people at an event. Apparently, there were around 18,000 people competing compared to the 6,000 norm at previously completed events. This fact alone leads me to believe that a Spartan Sprint will be coming to a ballpark near you shortly.
My cousin John joined me for this race. We arrived at the ballpark and were instantly surprised at how amazing the setup was. This was a perfect race to bring your friends and family as spectators. You pretty much had free range of walking around the stadium and sitting throughout the ballpark’s lower level seating. It was definitely a spectator’s event. I was a little upset I didn’t bring my wife and daughter, but now I know for next time.
We had an 11:30 start time which is a lot later than I like to have. I am always eager to start as early as possible. This race was unique due to the amount of people that were competing. You started in a gated area of the 1st level of the stadium. Every minute they released 20 people to begin the race. This helped ease congestion. It took a good 30 minutes to start after entering the gated area. We anxiously waited and then we were off.
The race began with a short sprint along the halls and down to the ground level. From there, you had to duck and jump over elastic bands that filled the giant cement ramps that took you to the top of the stadium. This was exhausting. There were at least six different levels that you had to navigate your way up. This really gassed me. You then hit a few obstacles in the hallways. The penalty for failing any obstacle was 30 burpees—you did not want to fail.
Next came a 15-pound medicine ball slam where you had to grab a ball and reach it above your head and slam it down ten times. It doesn’t sound too hard, but it fatigues you well enough. Then came some 6 foot walls which were no big deal; you had to go over some walls and under others. The obstacles were fast and furious. This was a relatively short race in distance so the obstacles were spaced closer than normal.
My favorite new obstacle was the rotating monkey bars. This was basically a 4x4 post with two handles on each side. The handles were either fixed or rotating. You had to travel across the monkey bars without falling. The guy in front of me had a very difficult time. I watched him to quickly learn what not to do. This was truly a cool way to do monkey bars and a good test of upper body strength. I enjoyed that obstacle.
The race continued throughout the ballpark seating. This aggravated me a lot. You had to run through roped off sections of the seats. The rows were narrow and could only fit one person. It was difficult to pass anyone and you really had to strategically make a quick move to another row only to be blocked by a handrail at the aisle. This really prohibited any chance you had to advance past a slower racer. There was a lot of running through the seating and up and down the stairs. You had to be very careful with your footing not to trip because it was a long way down the unforgiving concrete stairs. I saw a few people stumble, but get up quickly.
The next obstacle was a weighted jump rope. This was not a normal jump rope. It was a weighted manila rope about 1½ inches thick. You had to complete it 50 times. I went for it at a fast pace and pulled off thirty until I almost had a heart attack. I regained composure and methodically completed the next twenty at a snail’s pace. This was a great exercise. I am going to duplicate that rope and practice with it. (Update: bought the rope on the internet and created a jump rope for myself and my wife.) As I am writing this, I still feel throbbing in my triceps from that rope. Great workout.
The next obstacles consisted of wearing an elastic band around your ankles while travelling up 6 flights of stairs. This was difficult, but due to the congestion at this obstacle you couldn’t go very fast. Some more obstacles included carrying a water jug down a few flights of stairs and back, carrying a sandbag through the seats and aisles, hoisting a cement block up a pulley, carrying a cement block for a short distance and back, and a rope climb.
We were running throughout the whole stadium. One obstacle, no hands pushups (also known as hand release pushups), was done in the locker room. It was pretty cool being in the locker room at a professional ballpark. These pushups required you to lift your hands off the ground when your chest hit the ground. I had never done them before and was confused at first. After a few of them, I realized they were a challenge for a lot of people.
I had a great time until I hit the rowing machines. At this point, I had passed a lot of people and not many were passing me. I was making good time and really killing the obstacles. At the approximately 30 rowing machines, the line at each machine was four deep. I thought about just doing the thirty burpees penalty, but I run these races with integrity. You can always cheat, but you are just cheating yourself. The rowing machines are designed to go for two minutes while you look at a display that counts down from 500 meters. You either finish the 500 meters or the display reads “Burpees!!!” You have no idea how much time you have left, so you need to go fast. I patiently waited eight minutes for the four people in front of me to finish.
I jumped on the machine and went all out. I had the energy to do so because I just stood in one place for eight minutes. I kept thinking to myself, “If I had a long wait at the obstacle, its all relative because everyone else did as well.” I was wrong. My cousin who finished behind me did not have much of a wait. My other friend, Ron, had no wait at all. This really deflated me and marred this event.
The final few obstacles were the horizontal wall climb, the spear throw, cargo net, ten box jumps on the warning track, and the gladiators. Again, I failed the spear throw and had to do burpees. The box jump and gladiators were set up on the warning track along the third base line and home plate. It was really cool to be on the field. I allowed the gladiators to hit me in the stomach and didn’t see the second guy who was a giant. When he hit me, with all his might—rightly so because I was showboating—I almost threw up. I deserved it.
I finished the race in 54:22; good for top 14%.
I have mixed emotions about this race. If I did not totally kill my time at the rowing machines and finished in 46:22, I’m sure I would be singing a different tune. I always compete for time. Going into this event, I knew that the venue was different than what I was used to. I knew that the large amount of people in cramped quarters was going to cause backups at the obstacles. All my preconceived notions were correct. With that being said, I still really enjoyed this race. I have to mentally put aside my finishing time. I feel like I was physically prepared. I am so happy my shoulder did not have any issues and all the rehab I have been doing was correct. This race gave me my “fix” after six months of eagerly waiting. I cannot wait for the Spartan Race in Tuxedo, NY on June 1.
I would say that the ballpark series of Spartan Races are for everyone. At every Spartan Race they have kid’s races as well. This one seemed to have a great turnout and truly allowed it to be a family friendly event. It was hard to be competitive at a late start time, but I really enjoyed it and plan on signing up for 2014 Citi Field as well.
A week later, on April 20, I ran my first half marathon. I feel compelled to talk about this because of the Boston Marathon tragedy. Over the winter, I became a member of Team Braveheart.
Led by Jen “The Boss” Rosant, Team Braveheart’s goal is to:
“Motivate the world by sharing our life experiences. We encourage others to change their mindsets & do something new.” It is a “motivational team of 500+ members. (Chapters in Tri-State, California, Slovakia & Switzerland) We are endurance athletes and go getters. We are active in all endurance races and competitions. We compete in 5K's, half marathons, obstacle races, crossfit and more! Team Braveheart’s mission is to develop and promote healthy awareness, goal setting and team building. We are a team of men and women of all ages composed of diverse backgrounds but united by common goals, determination and an amazing team leader. We have all overcome obstacles not only in training and in races, but in life. We each have a unique and amazing story behind us individually, yet our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. We are Team Braveheart!”
I had yet to run a race with the members of Team Braveheart, but have met a few members at different local events. I saw Jen at numerous events last year. Five of us were signed up for the Asbury Park Half Marathon, my first one ever. The moment the tragedy in Boston happened, Jen Rosant began working on shirts for us to wear for the event. I have to admit that even though I hate running, I felt very emotional during this race. I wore my shirt proudly along with many other runners showing their respect in one way or another.
I finished the 13.1 grueling road miles and cramped up during the final 100 feet. This came just in time for the worst finish line photo in history. I accomplished my personal goal of finishing under two hours. I still much prefer OCR’s! What’s better than abusing your body physically and crawling through mud? I have one more half marathon and then my OCR season begins on June 1. I am truly glad I met some new people and am affiliated with a team that has a heart—a Braveheart (I’m corny, but it worked). Check them out on Facebook at “Team Braveheart” or visit their website at www.braveheartathletics.com.Citi Field photo by Richiekim (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons "