– Thomas Blanc wins Spartan Race London Sprint

London Spartan Sprint review – kicking off the 2013 season in style  August 26, 2013

Spartan gladiators

This year’s UK Spartan Race season has felt like it’s been a long time coming and their return has been shrouded by nervous anticipation, for me at least. If I’m going to be honest, I think this weekend’s London Sprint was make-or-break for the Spartan team, if they ever wanted to truly establish a dominant position in the UK obstacle course race market. There are so many other players out there, big and small, it was time for Spartan to reach their potential. Well, I am very pleased to tell you, this weekend’s Sprint massively exceeded my expectations. Many congratulations to the team… and welcome to the UK!

I’ll share my thoughts below but to set the scene, here’s our video edit:

As you can see from the video, Spartan have really put some work into the course this year. For a start the move to Pippingford Park was inspired. The variety and severity of available terrain is impressive. From the start we were subjected to a long hill that really set the scene for the rest of the course. Being in the first wave, I witnessed the power of the true competitors (the likes of Thomas Blanc, last year’s reigning London Sprint champion), who thundered ahead, unphased by the steady climb. As always it was great to see a long hilly section before the first obstacle, as it separated the field out and avoided congestion.

Although that first climb introduced what was going to be an extremely hilly course, it did nothing to prepare us for the terrain underfoot. It wasn’t until we darted off the road at the top of the hill, through a large pond and on to a mix of mud, bracken and rocks, that it was clear this was going to be a very wild experience.

Mudstacle Pete in water

One of the many water crossings (Photo: Epic Action Imagery)

I had the pleasure of running in the first and last waves of the day and had massively different experiences in both. In the first “competitive heat”, everything was a lot more serious and I had a go at hitting the raw course hard. The terrain was overgrown and wild. When working at speed it was very challenging to watch your footing on plant-covered bumpy terrain or trying to pick a path through dense woodland. However, the last heat was a completely different experience. The course had transformed. The paths were clearly trampled but it was slippery and muddy all the way. The serious element had subsided and there were just a bunch of people having fun slipping, sliding and wading around in mud (see the video).

I went into the Sprint thinking it would be a breeze, as it’s shorter than most races. I was in for a shock though, it’s certainly the hardest 5km race I’ve run… partly because it was more like 7.5km but mostly because of the terrain and the exhausting variety of challenges that were thrown into the race. The unexpected difficulty was a real highlight for me. Most of us first started taking part in these races because we wanted to be taken out of our comfort zone, for whatever reason. I don’t see any harm in making a challenge slightly longer or harder than you’re prepared for. Collapsing over a finish line is 100% more satisfying than blasting over it ready for more. To give you an idea of how much this course has changed, Thomas Blanc won the London Sprint last year and this year. Last year he finished in around 23 minutes, this year in around 45 minutes!

Thomas Blanc

London Sprint champ Thomas Blanc with Spartan Race UK Head Coach Michael Cohen (his coach & manager)

There were many of the same obstacles as last year but most had been upscaled or improved massively. The spears were more like spears, which I was really pleased to see, although I still ended up doing burpees on my first lap and lost a fair amount of time – gutted. There was a massive improvement on the obstacle where you hoist a lump of concrete high into the air with a rope and pulley. It got the better of many a competitor – big and small. The cargo net climb has now become an a-frame, rather than just dangling down straight, which is far safer and has allowed them to build it higher. There are some great sturdy walls of varying sizes, which are still one of the best OCR challenges.

The most energy draining challenges for me were the various load-bearing obstacles. There were tyre carries, ammo box carries and sand-bag carries on hilly terrain that got more slippery as the day went on. One obstacle that was far harder in the first wave was the “Tractor Pull”, where you have to pull a tyre around a circuit by a chain. I’m not sure what the tyres were filled with but they weighed a tonne and, in the first heat when you’re dragging it on dry grass, it’s one hell of a haul!

hauling concrete

Hauling concrete blocks!

One of the obstacles I was dreading the most was the rope climb. I’ve never managed it before and I haven’t had any opportunities to practice. However, I went into it having looked into a few techniques (you can watch a good video here) and I was dead chuffed to make it up to the top both times. As with most of these challenges, good technique can save you a lot of grunt work!

As you can tell from a lot of the obstacles I’ve mentioned so far, you really are going to give your whole body a good workout at a Spartan Race, more so than at a lot of races I’ve been to. Towards the end of the course, when you are feeling at your tiredest there are a couple of upper body killers. There are some new parallel bars that you have to shuffle along on your arms without touching the ground. I actually found that okay second time around by swinging from side to side with completely locked-out arms. However, as always, it was the monkey bars that killed. On the first time around the course I just about managed to make it through (I was very close to falling off the last two rungs) however I was exhausted by the end of the second lap and didn’t quite make it. Those 30 burpees hurt like hell, I wish I could have hung on!

Getting muddy

It got very muddy at times!

The icing on the cake is a final dart up a slippery sloped wall with a dangling rope and on to a series of pugil stick wielding gladiators. Both times I took a proper pounding…but I love it, it’s such a great finale.

After the race I managed to catch up with Richard Lee, one of Spartan Race’s founders and the man in charge of UK and Canadian operations. It was great to congratulate him on their success. He was really happy with the new location:

“[At Pippingford] we have the space to experiment. We can find the best terrain possible and then come back into the event village.”

That is a great thing about the layout, you go out into the wilds of the terrain but then find yourself winding back into the main events village four times, which makes you feel connected and is great for spectators. I also asked him whether the other locations will live up to the standard they’ve set:

“Yorkshire is incredible, it’s like the surface of the moon. It’s a tank testing area, so it’s really good and hilly. Edinburgh is similar to London. Birmingham is a bit flatter, there are a couple of hills but there’s loads of water. They’re all fun and they all have their own personality.”

Richard Lee

Spartan Race founder, Richard Lee

And are we going to see any more new obstacles?

“We’ve got around 75 obstacles in our truck. We rotate them and play around with them. Depending on how hard the race is in terms of elevation and terrain we’ll add a few more in or take them out, but we really want to keep it fresh, so we’ll keep throwing some curve-balls.”

I think this has got to be the hardest “5km” [ahem..] I’ve run, I’d say it was harder than most 10km races. With the 20km Beast being at the same location, what are we letting ourselves in for?

“We’re planning to put in as many obstacles as we physically can. We’ve got a two week build with around 30 guys, so it’s going to be hard. In terms of last year to this year, it’s going to be 100 times better.”

Damn I’m excited! Thanks so much Spartan team for giving us another race series to get excited about in the UK. Good luck for the rest of the season!

Original article can be found at


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