On June 27th 2015, obstacle racers descended on the Skirmish USA Paintball Fields of Albrightsville for the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race. The driving wind and rain would add to the 25+ obstacles including the new Wheel World obstacle and the diabolical Sawtooth monkey bars. As the temperatures dipped into the low 60’s and high 50’s, racers streamed into the soaked and muddy venue undeterred by the nasty weather. Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster arrived only minutes before the starting gun due to a car accident that cut off access to local roads. Another power couple racing that Saturday were Corinna Coffin and Kevin Righi who sought refuge from the rain under the OCR World Championships tent. Groups of racers huddled under the swag tent, grabbing that extra Savage hoodie to keep warm, while everyone’s favorite race photographer Bob Mulholland readied his gear under a large picnic pavilion with the rest of the Gameface photography crew. When the announcer called everyone to the starting line, there was no more hiding under the shelters, it was go time.
Garfield Griffiths explained the rules of the SavagePro heat and athletes jostled through their final stretches, warm-ups, and jump-knee tucks. Leaving all the nervous butterflies to the side with the last trip to the porta potty, athletes put on their serious faces with shouts from the MC “SAVAGE!”, and they responded “RACE!” “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “GOOOOOOO!!!”
A complete unknown racer rocketed to the front, but soon burned out. Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Jordan McDougal knew their bodies and paced themselves with scientific precision. The lead wave soon disappeared into the woods of the first massive paintball arena. The technical trails challenged even the best racers and Corinna quickly fell victim to the rocks and roots, but managed to continue despite an ankle injury.
Winding among the tall timbers, racers caught glimpses of the monstrous paintball battle zones before emerging on a full-size castle complete with battlements, catwalks, and turrets. The venue sports even more of these themed areas which treated racers to a truly unique experience. Though Skirmish sits in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, the venue is surprisingly flat, so Savage made up for a lack of hills with barrage after barrage of challenging obstacles. As the first racers arrived at the castle and challenged the rock-wall traverse, Ryan was nowhere to be seen. He and a handful of racers went off course when they mistakenly followed some paintball field markers instead of the bright blue tape set up by Savage race designers. The mistake cost them all about half a mile, but as Ryan exited the wall in the middle of a pack (he should have left them behind long ago), the acceleration in his pace was blistering.
With Corinna injured, Lindsay controlled the women’s race from start to finish. The most exciting part about the Savage setup at this venue was the hub-and-spoke course that sent racers out into the trails, only to return a few minutes later where spectators could witness the biggest, toughest obstacles, in one central location. After two miles into the race with Ryan still pushing hard to come back, Lindsay crushed the “Block Party” cinder-block pull and delved back into the forest trails.
A shadow of movement played along the trees as the spectators held their breath. Who would exit the woods in first place this time? Like a phoenix, Ryan emerged from the ashes of his mistake to reclaim the race lead at mile 4 and only one mile remained. With Wheel World weighing on his mind and Colossus still looming in the distance, Ryan cleared the “Nut Smasher” balance beam followed by Andrew Machalick. They dove down into a muddy trench with some over-under logs, and then the forest swallowed the athletes once again.
Ryan exited the forest for the final time with a commanding lead. The rotating steel bars of the “Wheel World” obstacle proved to be only a matter of grip strength and timing, as Ryan swung through with considerable speed. He made quick work of the “Lumberjack Lane” log carry, the “Teeter Tuber” drainage pipe/see-saw, and the fire jump. Up the massive Colossus quarter pipe, and down the slide on the other side, Ryan finally broke the tape in 38:36. Soon afterward, Andrew Machalick crossed in 39:11, and Jordan McDougal salvaged a third place finish in 40:24 after running of course with Ryan earlier in the race.
On the women’s side, Lindsay Webster dominated the race with a finish of 43:01, besting the next woman by over 3 minutes and all but 6 of the men. Jackie Landmark came in 2nd with a time of 46:46 and Corinna Coffin gritted it out on a bad ankle to take 3rd in 51:20. Overall, 7 out of 14 women managed to keep their SavagePro wristbands in this Mandatory Obstacle Completion format, proving that Savage Race provides a good challenge without alienating the regular Janes and Joes coming out for fun. About 75% of the men’s field of 102 finished with their SavagePro wristbands.
Thus concludes the SavagePro report of the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race, read on for my personal experience.
With big things on the 2015 horizon I got a chance to chat with Joe DeSena, CEO of Spartan Race, about all the exciting changes. Right off the bat, he seemed to keep things in perspective and when I asked him about how big a year 2014 was for Spartan Race, he replied,
“Not as big as when we had our first child.”
“My wife is awesome and she said that I can be on the road 250 days a year. As long as I buy her nice things!” Joe replied. He also said that his kids workout 2+ hours per day, which allows him to spend more time with them.
We moved on to the new Spartan UP! Podcast and he talked about the whole goal being, to find the attributes that people have within themselves, or develop within themselves, that make them ultimately successful. Also to find out how they define success, and for some, it’s different from what Joe believes. Is there a common thread between all these successful people? That’s the challenge and mission of the Spartan UP! Podcast. He’s had some pretty funny moments, and some amazing guests like Richard Branson, so don’t miss it.
We talked next about the Spartan Cruise and how the idea stemmed from the second 300 movie based on a navy battle. To make it as authentic as possible, people won’t ride in the cruise ship, but will be swimming behind, he joked. But depending on whether you buy a VIP cabin, you might be in the lower decks rowing on the way to the private island.
Joe then answered another viewer submitted question, “Will the Hurricane Heats expand internationally?” and since HH director Tony Matesi sat just out of frame, it was a good chance to ask. Joe laid out a surprise new partnership with The Weather Channel, in which he and Tony will go to the nastiest places on earth to find the worst weather possible for the new Hurricane Heats. It started to seem clear that DeSena was joking, but you can’t always tell with Joe and so I take that one with a grain of salt.
Since we were talking international, I moved on to the new World Championship and Joe discussed briefly the new qualifying coin system, but I forgot to ask him why the Spartan World Championship moved to Lake Tahoe from Vermont.
Another viewer question Joe answered was about the quality of elite burpees at the 2014 World Championship Spartan Race in Killington Vermont that aired on NBC. Some people were pissed at how they didn’t reflect what we all think a burpee should be and Joe agreed. “I was pissed,” he said, “unacceptable.”
“So how do you combat that?” I asked.
Like any developing sport, Spartan Race will have to enforce stricter rules and scrutinize more closely, including disqualification for some elites. “You don’t do your burpees right…. You’re out,” he replied, “simple as that.”
I asked him about the trend of mandated obstacle completion and stated matter-of-factly that Spartan has been doing that for a while at the World Championship, but when asked straight up, will the burpee ever go away? He replied emphatically, “No. The burpee will never go away…. It’s too much of a staple, too important of an exercise to positively change this world…. I love the fact that it’s so aweful.”
Joe and I next discussed the governing body and he stated that they are still working on it, but with all the regulations, a governing body “does not go as fast an entrepreneur would like.” And he hates saying that, “It’ll just take time,” but it’s the hard truth.
When asked if Spartan Race will cooperate with other event companies to create a governing body and an Olympic bid, DeSena joked, “Are there other event companies?” But seriously, he said, “as long as they take it as seriously as we do, and they’ve got a solid foundation, and they’re going to exist a year from now, then sure…. Part of the problem is, a lot of these companies come and go.”
When asked how Spartan plans to stay on top, he answered, “Once you’re on top, it’s hard to stay on top.” He also believes that Spartan Race works hard to stay authentic, getting out there to the races, and living the Spartan lifestyle. Secondly, it’s everything on the periphery, the NBC show, the elite racing, the Spartan UP! book, and the new Spartan UP! podcast. It all come back to the secret sauce of Spartan which is the name. The Spartan brand comes from the first exclusive special operations military unit that evokes a strong emotional response when you hear it. Are “you gonna go to a race and say, ‘well, I did a mud-run’? No, you did a [Spartan]. You’re a Spartan,” and there’s a lot of power in that.
Lastly, I asked Joe about the short course racing that we got a taste of in Vermont in 2014 after the Beast, but you’ll have to watch to get his answer. Did you seriously think I was going to write the entire video transcript here so you didn’t have to watch?
In April of 2014 ION traveled to NYC to tackle the 2nd ever CitiField Spartan Stadium Sprint and report on all the race action. Watch the race unfold in this exclusive behind the scenes footage of elite OCR racers like Hunter McIntyre, Miguel Medina, Shaun Provost, Karlee Whipple, and Laura Messner.
In late April of 2014 Inside Obstacle News host Joel Getty interviewed OCR elite Glenn Racz to find out all the details on his win in Las Vegas and how he joined the Spartan Pro Team.
Just before the 2014 Winter Death Race, Andy Weinberg sat down with me and talked all things Peak. Watch the interview to hear all about the Ultimate Death Race Challenge, Spartan Race, and the Anvil Quintuple Ironman.